Archive for February, 2012

[2b2k] The next Darwin is a we

Sebastian Benthall has a ">fervent post about the need for open networks in science, inspired by an awesome talk by the awesome Victoria Stodden.

Along the way, he offers a correction (or extension, perhaps) of a point that I make in 2b2k: the next Darwin is likely to develop her work within an open network that add values to her work. In some real sense the knowledge lives in that network. Sebastian responds:

He’s right, except maybe for one thing, which is that this digital dialectic (or pluralectic) implies that “the next Darwin” isn’t just one dude, Darwin, with his own ‘-ism’ and pernicious Social adherents. Rather, it means that the next great theory of the origin of species is going to be built by a massive collaborative effort in which lots of people will take an active part. The historical record will show their contributions not just with the clumsy granularity of conference publications and citations, but with minute granularity of thousands of traced conversations. The theory itself will probably be too complicated for any one person to understand, but that’s OK, because it will be well architected and there will be plenty of domain experts to go to if anyone has problems with any particular part of it. And it will be growing all the time and maybe competing with a few other theories.

I love the point.

(Nit: I want to clarify, however, that I wasn’t saying that this next Darwin’s web would consist only of “pernicious Social adherents.” Throughout 2b2k I try to make the point that networked knowledge has value mainly because it includes difference and disagreement. When it does not, it fulfills the nightmare of the echo chamber.)

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[2b2k] Moi

EconTalk has posted an hour interview with me by Russ Roberts about some of the topics in Too Big to Know that don’t come up so often.

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[2b2k] Linking is a public good

Mathew Ingram at GigaOm has posted the Twitter stream that followed upon his tweet criticizing the Wall Street Journal for running an article based on a post by TechCrunch’s MC Siegler, who responded in an angry post.

Mathew’s point is that linking is a good journalistic practice, even if author of the the second article independently confirmed the information in the first, as happened in this case. Mathew thinks it’s a matter of trust, and if the repeater gets caught at it, it would indeed erode trust. Of course, they probably won’t, and even if you did read the WSJ article after reading the TechCrunch post, you’d probably assume that the news was coming from a common source.

I think there’s another reason why reports ought to link to their, um, inspirations: Links are a public good. They create a web that is increasingly rich, useful, diverse, and trustworthy. We should all feel an obligation to be caretakers of and contributors to this new linked public.

And there’s a further reason. In addition to building this new infrastructure of curiosity, linking is a small act of generosity that sends people away from your site to some other that you think shows the world in a way worth considering. Linking is a public service that reminds us how deeply we are social and public creatures.

Which I think helps explains why newspapers often are not generous with their links. A paper like the WSJ believes its value — as well as its self-esteem — comes from being the place you go for news. It covers the stories worth covering, and the stories tell you what you need to know. It is thus a stopping point in the ecology of information. And that’s the oeprational definition of authority: The last place you visit when you’re looking for an answer. If you are satisfied with the answer, you stop your pursuit of it. Take the links out and you think you look like more of an authority. To this mindset, links are sign of weakness.

This made more sense when knowledge was paper-based, because in practical terms that’s pretty much how it worked: You got your news rolled up and thrown onto your porch once a day, and if you wanted more information about an article in it, you were pretty much SOL. Paper masked just how indebted the media were to one another. The media have always been an ecology of knowledge, but paper enabled them to pretend otherwise, and to base much of their economic value on that pretense.

Until newspapers are as heavily linked as GigaOm, TechCrunch, and Wikipedia, until newspapers revel in pointing away from themselves, they are depending on a value that was always unreal and now is unsustainable.

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[2b2k] Mr. Bezos’ Neighborhood

Valids Krebs put together a map of the “people who bought this also bought that” neighborhood at Amazon for Too Big to Know:

Amazon neighborhood
Click to enlarge

It’s interesting to me to see the direct links to works on the same topic (e.g., Reinventing Discovery), some indirect links to works on closely related topics (e.g., The Filter Bubble), and some direct links to topics within the more general field of “about the Internet” (Consent of the Networked, Public Parts). I have no conclusions to offer. Just interest.

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[2b2k] Ethanz on linguistic isolation

Ethan Zuckerman asks a simple question — is there a correlation between how many outside news sources the people in a country consult and whether those people’s language is spoken mainly in their own country? — and leads us through the quantifiable maze looking for an answer.

Ethan defines “linguistic isolation” as “how well does the dominant language of your nation affect your ability to engage with information produced in other countries?” Using data from Worldmapper, and after some careful discussion of the limitations of that data (e.g., he only considers first languages, which obviously skews results for countries where many residents speak a second language, especially since one would expect (note: I am data-free!) that in many linguistically isolated countries there is a premium on learning a second, more globally popular language), he concludes:

…looking at data from 31 countries, there’s some correlation (R2=0.38) between linguistic isolation and low international readership. But there are exceptions – Argentina and Chile both have very low isolation scores, but they don’t read a lot of Mexican or Spanish news… or even each other’s news. South Africans show high linguistic isolation (languages like Zulu and Afrikaans aren’t widely spoken outside South Africa), but read a lot of international media in English, though it’s a minority language. I’m looking forward to examining a larger set of media consumption data and trying this linguistic isolation score alongside other factors, like total population (small nations might read larger nations’ news) and migrant population (the desire to read news from home.)

I’m not a quant (obviously), but I like watching people who are when they are asking fascinating questions, and when they teach as clearly as Ethan does.

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[2b2k] The Surprisingly Free interview

Surprisingly Free has posted its podcast interview with me, by Jerry Brito. Unsurprisingly, it’s free!

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[2b2k] A conversation with Christopher Lydon

I’m delighted to count Christopher Lydon as a friend, albeit one I don’t see often enough. He has traveled the road, as a reporter for the NY Times, as an esteemed (and controversial) talk show host on NPR, and as one of the first adventurers in the world hybrid radio and Web.

Chris and I talked last week. Here are the liners notes, so to speak, and here’s the recording.

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[2b2k] Moi moi moi

I was on On the Media this morning. I love OTM, a radio show that loves the Internet, and I love Brooke, so this was a thrill. In fact, I was so smitten, and Brooke’s questions were so good and hard — not antagonistic, just thoughtful and hard to answer — that I gave barely coherent replies. Fortunately, they managed to find 6.5 minutes in which I didn’t ramble off the pike too far.

Also, AOL TV ran a 1.5 minute piece with me in their “You’ve Got…” series. Embarrassing story: In the first take, I confidently looked in the camera and gave their standard opening: “This is David Weinberger, and you have…zettabytes!” The friendly folks (I had a good time) politely asked me to try again. I thought I’d said it with appropriate verve, but it turns out that with a two-word opening, I still managed to get it wrong. It’s “You’ve got…” not “You have…” (In the next take, I nailed those two words, the professional that I am.)

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The Atlantic’s review

C.W. Anderson at the Atlantic gives Too Big to Know a long and thoughtful review. While C.W. finds much to like in it, s/he (sorry!) takes the book to task for ignoring the role of power in knowledge.

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Joseph Reagle’s review

My friend and colleague Joseph Reagle has posted a review that’s quite positive, but that wishes the book were more specific about how the change in knowledge changes our practices.

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