Connecting people and ideas through improvisation

What really makes something “news?”

(cc) Ines Njers on Flickr

(cc) Ines Njers on Flickr

Recently I’ve been pondering what makes something “news.” It seems simple, but when I asked people for their own definitions almost nobody agreed. Does it have to be recent? Does it have to be life changing? Does it have to be strictly facts? News is very subjective in its definition.

It’s also very subjective in its impact. For example, finding out you’re pregnant is big news to the people involved, but not news to 99.99% of the world. News can be personal or global.

I began noodling on all the different responses people gave me, and how to tell if something is really “news” or just “information.” What I came up with are different attributes of news, and a bit of a range within each attribute. The idea is anything you find to be “news” should have some combination of these, and different news may have different attributes.

This is still a rough draft, but I’d love any feedback. Does something in here describe just about anything you would consider news? Are there any attributes missing? Are the ranges clear?

And I know this topic has been cracked in other ways, by other people and institutions, but I’m doing this as my own exercise in deconstructing and learning about the topic. So I heartily welcome your personal thoughts, but am not interested in any links/references to other material.

I’m also totally uninterested in a discussion of the different news outlets you use (or hate) by name. This is about the concept of news itself.

Disclaimers out of the way, here is the list I came up with:

Impact

  • World view – It changes how I view the world on a global/national level.
  • Overall life – Changes how I live my life.
  • Short term plans – I’ll act on the information sometime soon.
  • Immediate – I need to act on this right away!

Importance

  • Breaking – Critical and worth interrupting me to learn about.
  • General – I could go a short time without learning.
  • Of interest  - I could learn about it anytime.

Factual

  • Completely fact based – No perspective or commentary.
  • Some perspective – Perspective or context that helps enhance the news item.
  • Opinion and viewpoint – Analysis and summary from respected individuals.

Source

  • Peer reviewed journals – Factual and objectively vetted.
  • Traditional media – Formally trained journalist in TV/newspapers/etc., either local or national/global.
  • Independent media – Self-trained reporters/bloggers.
  • Social networks – Hearing it from people you are friends with or connected with in life or online.
  • Self-discovery – Learning about it yourself.

Timeliness

  • Just happened – Occurred within minutes.
  • Recent – Occurred within hours.
  • New to me – Occurred a while ago, but I only just found out.

Location

  • Global – Happened somewhere else in the world.
  • National – Happened within my country.
  • Community – Happened within my city/tribe/group.
  • Personal – Happened just to me and possibly immediate company.

What do you think?

Take action – SOPA and PIPA could destroy the internet… really!

This may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Protect IP Act (PIPA) are two versions of legislation winding their way through Congress. Both are backed by the entertainment industry as a way (they say) to combat global video and music piracy.

The problem is this legislation is so vague it can give companies the power to order whole websites taken off the air for ANY sharing of content they feel violates their claims. Post a video of your kids with a movie poster in the background? That could get your blog taken down!

Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Wikipedia, YouTube, and hundreds of other huge sites oppose SOPA and PIPA. They could not exist if this legislation had existed when they were founded. Sharing ideas and content is how the internet works!

That’s why many of these sites, like Reddit and Wikipedia, are going entirely dark on Jan 18th, 2012, in protest of this bill.

This video does a great job of explaining PIPA, and SOPA is generally the same thing (House vs Senate versions).  Watch this, and please contact your congressman and tell them to oppose this legislation!

Don’t rely on someone else to do this – if you love what the internet has to offer, take action!

UPDATE: I was on Fox 10 this morning here in Phoenix to talk about SOPA/PIPA. If you are looking for a good introduction to what is SOPA to pass on to friends or family, this video might help!

My Beef with Klout

original image (cc) FotoosVanRobin

If you’re unfamiliar with Klout, it is a service that tries to measure social influence for people who are active online, and assigns them a score. The goal is to make it easier for companies to identify influencers in a topic area. If you haven’t checked your own score, hop over and take a look. Klout is watching you!

The big question is how good Klout does its job. In my humble option, Klout not only doesn’t do that great, but I don’t think it’s ever going to be possible for Klout to work the way businesses want it to.

The problem is that social influence is a hideously tricky thing to measure. Is it how often someone tweets? Is it what they tweet about? Does a retweet or reshare measure influence? Klout looks at all of these things and more, and has a ton of very smart people distill what works from what doesn’t to constantly improve your score.

There are two reasons I think it can’t work. The first is practical, the second is theoretical.

Klout Is Easily Confused

My first example of why I think Klout is silly is that I am not a terrorist.

I am many things, but not a terroristSee, a few months back a Phoenix area smart-ass gave me a fake +K bump on Terrorism for Klout. Others thought it was funny and did the same. I get a new one every so often, and for the past few months Terrorism has been my greatest topic of influence on Klout.

The thing is, I never talk about Terrorism. I only talk about it now in a weird meta-discussion about how I don’t talk about it, but that’s still a fraction of the things I say and do online. I work on local Phoenix events, work on digital publishing, and a ton of other things. To Klout, all of that falls below a practical joke. If you want hard proof that Klout’s engine is easy to game and trick, even with all those smart people they employ, here you go.

Summaries Are Always Incomplete

The second example is a bit more abstract, but I think just as real. Social relationships are a complex system, and you cannot simplify a complex system to a simple number without losing important information. Yes, Klout has more aspects than just the the Klout score, but even if you add in the other Klout items you still have a very small set of graphs and indicators to look at. Like the meat grinder at the top of this post, once the hamburger emerges you can no longer tell if what went in was Filet Mignon or leftover scraps.

Consider movie reviews as a less graphic analogy. Roger Ebert famously distilled the complex discussion of movies to Thumbs Up or Thumbs Down, and he has talked about the difficulties that creates. Does the Thumbs Up for a silly comedy like City Slickers mean the same as a Thumbs Up for a classic like Casablanca? They can both be good movies in their own way, but you need a lot more discussion to really compare the two. I personally love and respect Ebert’s opinion on movies, but I’ve disagreed with his ratings many times. I’d have missed many great films if I only used his Thumbs Up list as a starting point.

And that’s the problem with Klout – it will always be incomplete or wrong, and never be as good as business want it to be. Sadly, businesses want a shortcut to finding influencers, and they are going to start with Klout generated lists. This will drive people to try and game the system, and away we go. I understand why businesses want this short cut, but there will never be a replacement for simply being active in a community or social sphere. Then you will really know who the influencers are.

PS – If you want to opt out of Klout, you can do so by deleting your account an your Profile Settings page.
PPS – Krystofer James vanSlyke isn’t JUST a smart-ass. Check out his VoiceMuze project creating music from voice mail…

Moving On – Digital Publishing and Social Media Consulting

(cc) qisur on Flickr

powered by ideas

The one constant in my life may be my inability to sit still. New problems, emerging ideas, Gordian knots, gooey messes, I love them all. It’s not an issue of boredom, but a desire to explore that goes right down through my bones.

This time it is taking me into the world of consulting and digital publishing.

Stranger in a Strange Land

For the past two years I was the Director of Social Media Strategy at Sitewire, a great digital marketing company in Tempe. Sitewire is a fun, frenetic place to work, and I’m proud of my contribution that helped establish social media as a strong part of their capability suite.  At Sitewire I learned a ton about marketing, digital agencies, and mid-sized business operation.

I also learned that I’m not a marketer. I have skills that lend themselves well to that arena, but that’s worlds apart from it being my career. I’m a problem solver. I’m a connector.

Ideas + People

All the flash mobs, groups, and events I belong to seem random to some people, but really does have a common thread: I like to connect people with ideas. I enjoy helping someone find a voice, a vehicle, a way to share a passion and see where it leads. I also love helping people find the right forum to listen, to discover and digest new ideas that will take their own goals further. Often the specific ideas are less important to me than making connections and seeing what unexpected bits of greatness emerges.

It’s why I think things like Ignite Phoenix and Gangplank are so important. They build an environment for people to connect. What people do with those platforms is up to them. Some people expect magical serendipity, and they’ll leave disappointed, but people who are willing to put effort and energy behind their ideas often see incredible things emerge.

Digital Publishing for Authors

With Improv Media I’m doing independent consulting in social media, event planning, guerrilla marketing, and an assortment of odd things that fit my ranging background. I’m far from done with social media, as the interactions and impact it has on us sociologically remains endlessly fascinating for me. If you’re looking for some creative help in this realm, let me know.

However, my main focus is the bizarre, evolving world of Digital Publishing. I’ve launched a new effort with Evo Terra designed to help authors self-publish their work. The site, called ePublish Unum*, pulls together news, tips, and recommendations for authors, and will soon include courses and our first digital authors workshop here in Phoenix.

It still about the connecting. Old-school publishers are losing their role as middle-men in a shift very reminiscent of what hit the music industry. The tools are all there for authors to directly take their ideas out to readers, and I want to help make that happen for as many people as possible.

I have absolutely no idea how this will work out, but that’s the way I love to roll.

 

* the name is from the Latin motto “E pluribis unum“, which means “out of many, one“. Don’t worry, nobody else gets it either.