The other day social media journalist documentally was invited by Reuters to attend Gordon Brown's press conference. Being a streaming video kinda guy (to put it mildly), he streamed live via Qik:
This went around on Twitter, and I tuned in. It occurred to me that I wouldn't have bothered to watch it live on TV, so why did I watch this time?
Partly it was out of curiosity, this being one of the the first times social media type journalists have been in on a big, proper news event (ie a non-techie one). So I wanted to see what it was like.
But there was also an element of feeling more connected to the events. It seemed more like a personal invitation to tune in (I don't know Documentally, aka Christian, but a few of the OU folks do). This made me reflect that we have become rather distant from traditional journalists. Because you engage much more in a dialogue and the everyday aspects of a social media journalist, one can view them as your representative.
Creating a character that acts as the audience's representative, or a proxy for the reader in literature, is a common enough tactic. In Shakespeare, Falstaff and the Fool (in Lear) perform this function, and in Japanese theatre the secondary role of waki is often seen as the embodiment of the audience. I'm not an expert in journalism, but it seems to me that social media provides a means of increasing this relationship with the audience. This can be true even with 'conventional' journalists - for example if the BBC's Rory Cellan-Jones tweets that he is appearing on the news, I'm probably more likely to tune in and watch it, because I've been following his process in creating the story.
When I did my talk on Twitter a few weeks back I said it was a love song to Twitter. Last weekend I had some spare time to myself, so what did I do: did I sort out the back garden? Did I finish reading The Alexandria Quartet? Did I go to the gym? No, of course not, I wondered what a Twitter love song would be like, so I spent the time messing about with Camtasia to produce one. And here it is:
I've done a guest post for Ken Udas over at Penn State. It's called Exploring new ways of being open, and sets out some of the evolution of the term 'open' in education, from the Open University's perspective.
But more importantly, it contains a Billy Bragg quote, so go take a look.
Tony was giving a talk yesterday as part of a workshop with me and Grainne, to the OU Library and he said something I hadn't really appreciated before - namely that because Google refines its search results based on your history (if you are signed in to Google), the results, say, that Tony gets will be different from the ones you or I get. I know it came out in 2005, I told you I was slow on the uptake.
This made me think that your search history is actually valuable, because the results you get back are a product of the hours you have invested in previous searches and the subject expertise in utilising search terms. So, if you are an expert in let's say, Alaskan oil fields, and have been researching this area for years, then the Google results you get back for a search on possible new oil fields will be much more valuable than the results anyone else would get.
There are a couple of interesting implications to this. Firstly, just as people who don't have the time will pay others to build up their characters for them in virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft, so the time you have invested in your search history may become a valuable commodity. Time is the commodity we don't have enough of, and anything that can only be realised through the investment of time has some value to someone.
Secondly, if you can assemble and utilise the expert search of a network of people, then you can create a socially powered search which is very relevant for learners. Want to know about really niche debates in evolution? We've utilised Richard Dawkins, Steve Jones and Matt Ridley's search history to give you the best results. Or if you prefer, the search is performed as the aggregation of a specialist community.
You can see how this would play in a SocialLearn type context - the benefit of belonging to the network is that you gain access to a collective search refinement. And in a Google World search almost equals knowledge. Of course, this would require some means of you opening up your search history to be used by others, in a way that a) didn't reveal all of your searches (if you're an eminent historian you don't really want everyone to know the time you searched for 'Who is Paris Hilton?') and b) didn't corrupt your search data, in the same way as when you buy gifts for someone in Amazon and your recommendations get screwed. (Because I buy books for my parents I get recommended a range of London in the Blitz books - who knew there were so many?).
Anyone know if such a thing is in operation anywhere?
Our Vice Chancellor gave a talk on Digital Scholarship the
other day, a topic that is often on my mind (read: trying to legitimise all
this messing around I do). Scholarship, or rather ‘having your scholarship
recognised’ which is what people really mean, is all about reputation.
In the pre-digital world this reputation could roughly be pegged
to other filters. Publication in journals, books, keynote appearances, research
grants: all of these require other professionals to have filtered your
contribution, so your reputation could easily be established by the quantity,
and quality of these measures. Of course, it meant people learnt to game the
system – how to get publications out, how to network so you got invited for
keynotes, etc., but on the whole it worked reasonably well if you played along.
But the very nature of the digital world is about the
removal of the filter. Anyone can blog, produce a video, podcast, and generally
express themselves. So, reputation becomes much harder to verify. This is a
problem if we want to start rewarding digital scholarship. Put simply, 100 peer
reviewed journal articles probably means you are a decent scholar – 100 (or
10,000) blog posts doesn’t mean anything. So we need to find new ways of
establishing someone’s online reputation.
Let’s take Tony Hirst as an example. I think we’d all agree
Tony would qualify as a digital scholar. So how would we go about demonstrating
this? There would be traditional contributions too, such as developing courses,
giving talks, involvement in university projects, etc but let’s focus on the
online element. Here are some thoughts:
Quality of output – Tony, or colleagues, could be asked to
nominate significant contributions (blog posts, videos, etc). Personally, I've always liked the Feedistan post.
Quantity, or variety, of output – maybe being able to show
the range of online activity is important, e.g. blog posts, videos, mashups,
Impact – being able to demonstrate that what you have done
has been used by others. For example, Tony’s work with the OpenLearn material
inspired Jim Groom and David Wiley to incorporate openlearn units into blogs.
Testimonials – quotes from others about your work, eg Jim
Groom saying “over in Great Britain there is the legendary Open University, rich with
an unfair advantage of knowledge and innovation represented by cats
like Tony Hirst"
I think any one of these is easy to cheat or game, e.g. by
getting into blog wars you can get your technorati rating up, or by publishing
very small posts you can increase your quantity, but when taken overall they provide
an indication of reputation.
Which brings me on to George W. Bush. Reputation, online or
otherwise, is something that it takes a long time to establish, but only a
second to destroy. Bush’s failure to twice get the Paulson agreement through
congress seems to me less of a failure of the Bill itself (I have no idea if it’s
the right approach, and let’s face it, no-one does), but rather a failure of
reputation. Put bluntly, the Iraq
chickens have come home to roost. Dave Winer first pointed this out, saying:
Flash back to the United Nations on 2/5/03. An impressive almost Presidential Secretary of State, Colin Powell, delivering
some chilling news, not coming right out and saying it, but definitely
leading you to believe that Saddam has nukes and chemical weapons and
stuff even more horrible and is getting ready to use all of it in some
unspecified horrible way. .. Well, I did what a lot of Americans did that day, I
sucked it up and got behind my government. And they suckered me. And
I'll never forget it. I got fooled, and used, and a lot of people died,
in the name of freedom, and it was all a lie.
So Bush is suffering from having sacrificed his reputation
in order to legitimise the war in Iraq. And if you are going to
sacrifice your reputation you had better be sure that a) it’s worth it and b)
you aren’t going to need it again.
An awful lot of what us online folks do is not very
easily quantifiable. Exactly how does
sending a joke message on Twitter contribute to our bottom line? In the long
run what we are doing is establishing our own, and by association, our
institution’s online reputation. Given Bush’s reputation collapse the next time
someone asks you how much is reputation worth you can answer ‘ooh, about $700