The following is an excerpt from Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis. Public Parts defends greater society’s move to public displays of personal information in an age of the Internet, social media and blogging.
We are publishing two excerpts from the book over the next two days, and today you’ll learn about the value of opening our data to online companies such as Google and why talking about our health publicly can actually help us in the long run. Tomorrow we’ll publish the second excerpt from Public Parts on this blog.
From Public Parts by Jeff Jarvis. Copyright (c) 2011 by Jeff Jarvis. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster.
The more we open, gather, analyze, and share our knowledge, the more we all know. Google’s engineers found that by tracking search queries for “flu,” they could map the spread of the disease around the world ahead of the U.S. Centers for Disease control and Prevention, helping health-care officials forecast the need for vaccine and treatment.
If each of us went only to our own doctors to seek information, it would be much more difficult to aggregate, track, and analyze that information. That we ask the same third party, Google—and can do so anonymously—adds up to public knowledge. For that reason, Google co-founder Larry Page told European regulators they should not be too quick to erase search data out of privacy concerns. To map trends and anomalies over time might allow Google and health officials to plot and predict the course of the next pandemic. “That could possibly save a third of the world popula- tion,” Page claimed at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York in 2010
U.S. Chief technology Officer Aneesh Chopra told how the government’s releasing hospital data in an open standard allowed Microsoft’s search engine, bing, to plot that information on its maps so users could find not only the nearest but also the best hospital to treat the flu.
As I’ve said, there’s nothing more private than our health information. But why? What’s the harm of sharing that data? There are many concerns. One fear is that insurance companies will reject us. But they already force us to sign over our medical histories. That is why the so-called Obamacare outlawed rejecting customers due to preexisting conditions. The law deals with the problem by restricting the use, not the flow of information.
Another fear is that we won’t get hired because of a medical problem. That, too, is society’s problem to solve. If employers may not discriminate on the basis of age, gender, race, religion, or disability, should they also be forbidden from discriminating on the basis of health? As many of us get our DNA mapped, will we need to forbid discrimination on the basis of genes? A larger fear of sharing health information is the stigma associated with illness. That stigma is most certainly society’s problem. Why should anyone be ashamed of being sick?
Consider a condition that is, by its nature, visible and thus public and carries its own stigma: obesity. There’s no hiding fat. Many countries now face crises of obesity and are grappling with its health risks and costs. New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, ordered restaurant chains in the city to post the caloric content of every item (it has changed the way I order a nosh at Starbucks, i can tell you). By tracking public data, students at my journalism school working with a colleague dug deeper into factors that contribute to the problem of obesity in poor neighborhoods, where the high cost and lack of availability of fresh, healthful food—tied to the low cost and easy availability of high-calorie fast food—contribute to obesity and diabetes. Open information about the problem will help us address it.
Rather than refusing to talk about weight because we think it is embarrassing for the overweight person, isn’t it better—isn’t it healthier—to encourage people to discuss their problems openly and to encourage others to offer solutions and support? A young star reporter at The New York Times, Brian Stelter, wanted to lose weight, so he tweeted everything he ate, reporting his diet publicly to pressure himself. That also allowed others to support and pressure him. Stelter confessed in The Times that he had problems at first telling even Twitter the truth and fell off the social wagon, not fessing up to a late-night slice of pizza. Then he found an audience. “We’ll be your support group,” said one reader. His brother started a Twitter diet alongside him. Friends told Stelter he was changing their habits by example. His disclosure became an act of generosity, helping others. He came to want to share. Exposing fast food’s fat and calories became his cause. “Monday, started w/McD’s, cinnamon melts and hash browns, 600 cals/44% of day’s fat—awful, and made me feel ill,” he tweeted. He even summoned the courage to buy a Wi-Fi scale that tweets one’s weight automatically, for all to see (no lying possible). Stelter lost ninety pounds on the Twitter diet and tweeted: “i haven’t fit into jeans in give or take ten years . . . Jeans shopping for the second weekend in a row. and i must say, it feels great.”
There’s a twist in Stelter’s story: He started his career writing the definitive blog covering the cable news industry, called cableNewser. He wrote it anonymously because he was only nineteen years old. If his industry audience had known he was a mere teen toiling in a dorm room, they likely wouldn’t have paid him much attention. The Times outed his age in a page-one feature. He sold his blog to another company, expanded it to cover broadcast news, and when he graduated, he got his job at The Times, where his byline is appearing on page one with regularity. Stelter found shelter in anonymity and then benefit in publicness.
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the web, said at a Google conference in london in 2010 that the data we make public become yet more valuable as they mix with other data. We can find new correlations, trends, and cause and effect in the aggregation. He argued that in government and elsewhere, we should make data public by default, using standards that enable such analysis. At the event, privacy advocate Shami Chakrabarti, director of the U.K.’s National Council for civil liberties, attacked Berners-Lee. She bristled at the idea of massive databases, jumping to the conclusion that they would violate privacy. Berners-Lee countered that after eliminating data that hold personal information, there is still an untold wealth of knowledge to be found in what remains, and we should not lose the opportunity it affords us. Mining that data may become the gold rush of our age.
A start-up called Kaggle facilitates contests to analyze open data. In one, government agencies in Australia put up data on traffic patterns and challenged the 364 teams that entered to find better ways to predict delays, enticing them with a $10,000 prize. The winning team’s analysis found, counterintuitively, that traffic jams can propagate both ways—that is, a slowdown behind you can end up catching up with you. Also on Kaggle, Ford offered $950 to come up with an algorithm that takes various data points—phone calls, conversations, eating, fatigue—to help determine which drivers are distracted. The Heritage Health Prize, which Kaggle administers, offered $3 million to the team that can best predict who will be hospitalized in the next year. These projects are made possible with open data.
Just look at what we have created with shared data so far: Wikipedia; Google search, which is built on using our links and clicks to learn which sites are most relevant; Wolfram|alpha, which tries to make sense of more complex data; Google Maps and open-source mapping projects, which collect our photos and annotations; review sites such as tripadvisor for travel, Yelp for restaurants, and rotten tomatoes for movies; PatientslikeMe, where patients share details about their medications and treatments; Twitter, Facebook, and Quora, which give us a place to ask questions and get answers; Ushahidi and seeclickFix, which let people report anything from graffiti to disasters around them . . . the list can and will go on and on.
Photos courtesy of Simon & Schuster
Tomorrow we’ll publish the second part of this excerpt from Public Parts. Come back tomorrow to learn how the “myth of perfection” is a lie and how being public, warts and all, can actually grant us more freedom.
A surprising survey result revealed 69 percent of Americans agreeing with the statement that if their local newspaper no longer existed, it wouldn’t have a major impact on their ability to keep up with information and news about their community, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and Internet & American Life Project.
The survey further found Americans learn about current affairs from a wide array of sources. The majority (64 percent) of American adults “use at least three different types of media every week to get news and information about their local community—and 15% rely on at least six different kinds of media weekly,” the survey’s press release stated.
A previous report by Pew called State of the Media 2011 discovered “more people said they got news from the web than newspapers. The internet now trails only television among American adults as a destination for news, and the trend line shows the gap closing.”
Worth noting is good old-fashioned talking with your neighbours. Around 55% of all U.S. adults get local news and information via word of mouth at least once a week, the survey revealed. “Adults age 40 and older are more likely to prefer word of mouth as a source for local politics, local government activity, housing and real estate, zoning, and social services.”
Of the 79 percent of Americans who are online, the Internet is the first or second most relied-upon source for 15 of the 16 local topics examined in the survey. Cellphones are fast becoming a preferred platform to read the news: nearly half of adults use mobile devices to get local news and information.
Turning to citizen journalism and community involvement, the Pew study found 41 percent of all adults can be considered “local news participators”, meaning they comment on articles, contribute their own info via social media or write articles about their community.
It’s not all gloomy news for print publishers. The study writes, “Newspapers (both the print and online versions, though primarily print) rank first or tie for first as the source people rely on most for 11 of the 16 different kinds of local information asked about—more topics than any other media source.”
TV news outlets can see a silver lining here too. Breaking news continues to be TV’s bread and butter. “Among all adults, 55 percent say they rely on local TV for breaking news, compared with 16 percent who say they rely on the internet and 14 percent who rely on newspapers,” the survey found.
The results in this Pew report are based on data from telephone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International from January 12 to 25, 2011, among a sample of 2,251 adults, age 18 and older.
Photo courtesy Flickr user (michelle)
by Lynn Herrmann (Guest Contributor/Digital Journalist)
After eight years as director general at Al Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar on Tuesday announced his decision to step down, and follows release of WikiLeaks documents suggesting the news agency, under US pressure, modified coverage of the Iraq war.
In an interview with Al Jazeera, Khanfar said his resignation “has to do with the fact that I have completed my eight years at the management of Al Jazeera.” He went on to add eight years was enough time for any leader to give his energy to such an endeavor.
An Al Jazeera spokesman noted: “Wadah Khanfar had made outstanding contributions to Al Jazeera and journalism worldwide. We all recognize his commitment to courageous reporting and want to continue to build upon those achievements.”
However, several leading news organizations suggest the WikiLeaks cable is connected to Khanfar’s resignation.
The Associated Press reports Khanfar “was in constant contact with the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency” in response to US complaints Al Jazeera was providing negative coverage of the Iraq war, and promised to modify such coverage.
CNET News reports the alterations in coverage, according to the leaked cable, involved removal of images of injured children from an online story in which witnesses provided accounts of US military action in Iraq. The cable came from the US embassy in Doha, Qatar, where Al Jazeera maintains its headquarters.
The cable references “problems” the US government had with Al Jazeera in “double-sourcing in Iraq; identifying sources’ use of inflammatory language; a failure to balance of extremist views; and the use of terrorist tapes.”
Also noted in the cable is Khanfar’s suggestion the website piece in question had “been toned down” and that he would “have it removed over the subsequent two or three days.”
In a note to Al Jazeera staff on Tuesday, Khanfar said: “Al Jazeera gained the trust of its audience through consistently speaking truth to power, and channelling peoples’ aspirations for dignity and freedom,” Al Jazeera reports.
This article was originally published on Digital Journal [Link]
Digital Journal, the parent company of Future of Media, today announced a new Achievements and Badge program designed to reward top members and highlight talent from the company’s 30,000+ members in 200 countries around the world.
Who is the most active member on Digital Journal? Who uploads the most original photography? Who comments most often?
Today Digital Journal is happy to introduce a new badge and Achievement program that showcases top talent and the most active members, giving everyone the chance to compete for top spots. Top contributors will be showcased more prominently across the digital media network and earn badges for reaching certain milestones and accomplishing various tasks.
How it works:
Digital Journal members can perform actions across the Digital Journal network such as posting news articles and blogs, uploading images and connecting to Facebook. Each member is given a certain number of points for completing actions and the people with the most points and who are most active can earn badges.
Also, every Digital Journal member is now ranked in order based on how active they are and how much they have contributed to the Digital Journal network. A leaderboard with the Top 50 members can be found here.
To view a person’s rank, points and badges simply click on their name. From here you can see how that person earned his or her points and who they are beating in the ranks. Points and Achievements are updated regularly to reflect activity in each calendar month and everything is reset at the start of the month to begin a new competition.
Digital Journal is launching its Achievements reward program with seven Achievements up for grabs, and the company will add more Achievements in the future.
The following Achievements are being announced at launch (a full list of who has earned each Achievement is here):
(1.) Power User The most active Digital Journal members who have earned the most points this month. Points are earned from doing various activities such as uploading articles, posting blogs, connecting to Facebook and receiving “Likes” on uploaded content this month.
(2.) Top Editor Digital Journal members who have submitted revisions on news articles that were approved. These are the top editors with the most approved edits.
(3.) Top Photographer Digital Journal members who have submitted the most original photos this month.
(4.) Top Commenter Digital Journal members who have commented the most this month.
(5.) Top Blogger Digital Journal members who have published the most blogs this month.
(6.) Top Content Producer Digital Journal members who have received the highest number of Likes on their content this month.
(7.) Million Pageviews Given to Digital Journal members who have received more than 1 million pageviews on their content.
To see a list of how many points each action is worth, bookmark this page.
The most coveted Achievement is the Power User reward, an honour that identifies the most active and prolific Digital Journal members. Because the Power User spot is the most difficult to maintain and earn each month, Digital Journal will reward Power Users with the following additional benefits:
• A special Power User badge will appear on the person’s profile page.
• Digital Journal Staff will promote and profile Power Users.
• Power Users will be listed in the TopFinds roundup each week.
• Power Users can participate in private chats with Digital Journal staff members to offer feedback, provide input on new features and maintain a direct line of communication with decision-makers behind the scenes.
• Digital Journal will issue a press release each month to showcase and promote Power Users.
• Power Users will be promoted and featured to new members when they sign up to the site as Suggested Users to follow.
• Digital Journal will also promote Power Users via the company’s sister site, Future of Media.
For Power Users, the above benefits will be given to Digital Journal members for one month after earning the Achievement (i.e. a person who earns a Power User badge in September will be given the above additional privileges in the month of October).
All Achievements will be reset each month to allow new people a chance to earn a badge for each action.
This article was originally published on Digital Journal [Link]
by David Silverberg
A new survey found younger news readers are three times more likely than those 55 and older to say that engagement tools will make them more likely to visit a site. Overall, though, a third of those surveyed said they never comment on sites.
News sites continue to push for engagement features to make their content “sticky”, but what kind of response are they getting from commenters? According to a new survey, it depends on the demographic.The Ad Age/Ipsos Observer American Consumer Survey reports “fully half of the 1,003 households that took part in our online survey said that adding more tools for engagement would have zero impact on the likelihood that they would visit a news site.”
Also, 37 percent of respondents said they never comment on news sites, while nine percent say they often comment.
The survey went deeper to find out who engages most on news sites. Readers aged 18 to 24 are three times more likely than readers 55-plus to visit a news site based on its engagement tools. Close to 20 percent of younger readers comment on news sites compared to four percent of the 55-plus crowd.
The survey offers some advice: “If media want to attract the readers who will be reading them in some media or another in five, 10 and 15 years, they’d better be investing in the tools to engage them the way they want to be engaged now. And then they’d better be ready to re-invent as needed.”The survey didn’t specify what kind of news site (or articles) the survey respondents had read recently.
In July, media expert Anil Dash wrote a popular blog post calling out publishers for having shoddy commenting guidelines. He said deplorable comment threads are the responsibility of news publishers. “When people are saying ruinously cruel things about each other, and you’re the person who made it possible, it’s 100% your fault.”
His advice for publishers? “You should make a budget that supports having a good community, or you should find another line of work”, and he adds, “Fix your communities. Stop allowing and excusing destructive and pointless conversations to be the fuel for your business.”
This article was originally published on Digital Journal [Link]