Reductionist world


One common trait unifies today’s successful and exciting media formats, services and brands: they are reductionist. They peel away layers and reorganize distribution and experience in new ways:

  • Reductionist formats: Think mp3, jpeg, newsfeeds (rss). These formats reduce file sizes and strip away packaging until only the bare bones of digital “content” is left.
  • Reductionist services: Search engines, feed readers, news aggregators, photo collectors, mp3 players. They impose new order and function on the core elements left by the reductionist formats.
  • Reductionist brands: Google, iPod. Their raw material is reductionist. By becoming the number one global distributor of raw media material, these brands themselves loom larger in our imagination than the artist, newspapers and TV channels that produce the “content”.

Form follows function: There’s more than fashion that dictates the stripped, functionalist style of the Google start page and the iPod. What’s intriguing about the reductionist world is that so far there are so few such brands. I am a Bloglines addict, but the service itself lacks the aura of Google and iPod – it’s ugly. It becomes clear – too clear – that the effect of newsfeeds is to split into atoms the whole publishing environment that editors and producers put great effort into nurturing. In Bloglines, a New York Times story that cost thousands to produce looks the same as my last blog entry.

This must be a potential problem for publishers: How to go with the flow of reductionism without flattening themselves in the process. And we still don’t have the text-iPod. Or the read-write iPod. Who will make it?

Citizen buzz

“Previously we journalists have been (like) a megaphone out into the public realm. In the future I think journalism will evolve more and more into a dialogue with readers.” Heard that one before? Yes, but this is editor Kalle Jungkvist of Aftonbladet, not Dan Gillmor. Sweden’s largest newspaper last week launched Läsarbladet, where all reader contributions – via forums, blogs, voting – will be presented (the paper also bought blog service will not be compensated for contributing. That might be an error: One of the lessons from Gillmor’s Bayosphere project was that readers should receive some sort of payment, as noted in OJR:

Perhaps payment could be based on the traffic and advertising that grassroots sites generate. This possibility is steadily moving to the forefront of the lively discussion of how to make citizen journalism work in the marketplace.

In an interview, Gillmor says we’re early in the development of citizen media. He’s right, but looking at the buzz building, there must be an awful lot of monologue, dialogue and conversation going on:

(citizen media).png

Legitimacy problem

14 percent of readers of major Norwegian newspapers believe that the ethical standard is lower at the online edition. That’s one of the results of a survey of almost 22.000 readers of 49 online editions, produced at the Oslo University College (link to text in Norwegian). The larger the newspaper, the less readers seem to trust the online editions.

As the researcher Arne Krumsvik notes here, it’s paradoxical (and more than a little worrying) that the newspapers that invest the most resources in their online editions, also have the most skeptical audiences. Skepticism towards the quality of journalism produced by online journalists is also very common in the business generally. Krumsvik also notes that very students at journalist schools want online jobs.

Some of the criticism of online journalism is unwarranted. But still it’s amazing that this is the state of affairs 10 years after online journalism was introduced. Clearly editors have done too little in promoting high standards of reporting. Generally they tend to stay leave journalism debates to print and broadcasting colleagues.

It would be very interesting to learn how the (probably) most critical audience of online news, active bloggers, view our online journalism. Some reactions have been noted here before.

This weekend # 2: Svenska dialektmysterier


This friday’s recommendation will be tough for non-Scandinavians. Come on, a TV series about Swedish dialects? But yes. In the programmes (many still available from the web page) Fredrik Lindström (photo) is the cool flaneur who travels around Sweden and discovers all the idiosyncrasies and historical peculiarities of dialect. Interviews with real people are interspersed with short excursions into history. In the programme about Stockholm, we learn through a young web development guy that home page is not “hemsida” any longer, but “hemsa”! Which inspires a new stroll into the archeology of language from Mr. Lindström. A piece of public TV at its best. Maybe television is the future after all?

How to read a book…

Bloggtider is a very useful book published in Swedish by Erik Stattin, Lars Våge and Gunnar Nygren, chronicling the evolution of blogging from the beginning to mid-2005. As I was reading it yesterday (only 98 small pages) I wondered what would be the best way to read such a text. Since it’s about blogs, it’s full of interesting references that you would like to look up while reading, but it’s awkward to read a book with one hand and type URLs with the other. So I finished it, and now I have to leaf through it to locate references such as the Blogging, journalism and credibility conference report. Or the important South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami Blog.

A printed book is clearly not a very user-friendly medium for a text like this one. This is a text that should be used, so the best solution I can think of would be to load it into a (wiki-style?) tool where you can make notes and comments in the margins (and all references to web-based material should be linked, of course). Maybe it’s a good prediction that interconnected wikis and blogs will soon be commonplace tools for researchers?

While I’m at it, a couple of other links to digest later:

Nieman Reports: The Future Is Here, But Do News Media Companies See It?

We Media

China’s losing battle?

Chinese authorities are fighting a losing battle against the dissemination of unwanted news and views in blogs, it is argued in Newsweek’s report about blogging in China. That must be one of the most optimistic assessments so far:

Indeed, whereas in the West bloggers tout themselves as an alternative to the mainstream media, in China they in many ways are the new mainstream: rather than, say, watching bland programs on state-owned CCTV, many urban Chinese turn to Web sites such as, and for breaking news-and then disseminate that information via e-mail and mobile-phone text messages. “A Chinese blogger is just like an American columnist,” says Zhao Jing, a journalist whose popular blog on Microsoft’s blog service, MSN Spaces, was recently shuttered on orders from Beijing. “We journalists can’t tell the truth, so we tell it with blogs.”

UPDATE: The Washington Post is running a series this week on The Great Firewall of China (via Center for Citizen Media).

Symbiosis, not revolution

A new logical development in the forming symbiosis between established media and blogs: US newspapers invite bloggers into the syndication service Blogburst. No big prize for predicting that the selling point “You get more traffic – exposure – readers” will tempt many (via Micro Persuasion).

Meanwhile, Daniel Drezner sums up several articles on the apparent, imminent death of the blogosphere (among them the recent piece from New York Magazine). What’s tiring about all these obituaries is their construction of an imagined opponent – the naive blog triumphalist. As Drezner notes, “a lot of bloggers have been stomping on that [triumphalist] balloon for years now”. A sophisticated, nuanced view of what bloggers can and can’t achieve has been forming for a long time, through – guess what – free and open debate. Last word to Drezner:

Hey, mainstream media types, I’ll cut you a deal — I will never say that the blogosphere is a harbinger of egalitarian democracy if you acknowledge that blogs, flawed though they may be, nudge the information ecosystem in many constructive ways.

This weekend # 1: Die Zeit

Hopefully a regular feature from now on: A weekend recommendation from Undercurrent. This week, what better than to pick an opinion piece from Die Zeit, the great German liberal weekly newspaper which this week celebrates its 60th anniversary. Freiheit und Hass by Thomas Assheuer. Excerpt:

Irgendwann wird sich zeigen, was die größere Faszinationskraft abstrahlt: die Energie der Selbstbeobachtung oder ein religiöser Dogmatismus, dessen Argument darin besteht, niemals zu argumentieren, niemals nachzugeben und sich in heiliger Monotonie zu wiederholen bis zum Jüngsten Tag.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Birthday interview with editor Giovanni di Lorenzo.