Posts by Cheryll Barron

A New York Times reporter uses the dreaded ‘c’ (for cooperative)-word and finds his enthusiasm premature, just like post-Gutenberg’s … in 2010-11

Screen shots from ‘Medieval Help Desk’: 4.6 million views on YouTube, so far — NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation)

The painful birth of the book: screen shots from ‘Medieval Help Desk’: 4.6 million views on YouTube, so far
NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation)

Screen Shot 2015-08-06 at 00.15.37

 

[ a curious WordPress software bug appears to be interfering with linking to some earlier post-Gutenberg entries. Follow the asterisks to the bottom of this post for those missing links ]

 

Well done, New York Times, at last … for letting one of your sharpest technology reporters advocate turning Reddit into a ‘user’-owned cooperative to end the fight about the news-aggregator site’s comment moderation policies. We had yet to come across Farhad Manjoo’s missionary zeal for this possibility when we made the same suggestion two posts ago: ‘The media ownership structure that dare not speak its name? Or is it the writing on the wall that new media, too, are deciphering too slowly?’. We could scarcely believe our eyes when we did.

Think of our last post in 2011, ‘Will 2012 be the year of a great leap forward into media’s future — even at The New York Times?’*. It contained this passage:

My personal high-water mark for the media establishment’s resistance to the new dates from the spring of 2010, when I emailed a question to an editor near the top of The New York Times.

The press has been critical to the success of democracy as a form of government; how is it responding to its own democratisation, and how far would it be prepared to go on that road — voluntarily? If you could recommend the right person at the paper for these questions, I’d be immensely grateful.

Zzzzzzzzzing! … the editor’s reply came fast enough to set heads spinning:

I don’t know that anyone would have a specific opinion on this, at least not one that represented the Times in general. You might look to see if an editorial has ever been written about it. If not, I suspect your question doesn’t have an answer. [my ital.]

No search engine brings up any such NYT editorial. What that response was surely supposed to impress on me was that ‘our’ never having addressed the question meant that it was inherently unanswerable.

Which is patently untrue …

Still, that was a gracious and munificent response, certainly by comparison with The Guardian’s — which had banned a suggestion along the same lines, a few weeks earlier. We reprinted the censored comment in a 7 November 2011 post, ‘Why is The Guardian censoring debate about press reform and ignoring the Lord Chief Justice’s endorsement of citizen journalism?’** Here is what the axed comment said, in part (see that archived blog entry for the complete version ):

‘postgutenberg‘s comment 29 September 2011 9:34PM

This comment has been removed by a moderator.’

What the censored comment said:

postgutenberg

29 September 2011 9:34PM

[…]

Addressing Whealie‘s point, what if the Guardian were to try out an experiment in which commenters become part-owners of a section of the online newspaper and helped to decide on policies, including moderation?

More details here: Wanted: a brave newspaper, for an experiment in which readers become stakeholders.***

The lapse of four years has not made much of a difference. The cringing reaction to the idea of co-ownership today, of many ordinary people — not just of famous newspapers like the NYT and Guardian – was in the tweets replying to @fmanjoo’s advertisement of his piece on Twitter. A sample, not necessarily in the right chronological order – from tweeters who sound pessimistic even when they believe in the dream of democratised management and shareholding:

Jul 14

Michael Moeschler ‏@moesch

@fmanjoo baguettaboutit

Jul 14

Arlo Gilbert ‏@arlogilbert

@fmanjoo @nytimes the phrase “herding cats” comes to mind.

Jul 14

LornaGarey ‏@LornaGarey

@fmanjoo @nytimes Commie.

Jul 14

Jonathan Harrop ‏@harropj @fmanjoo Most redditors ALREADY think the site should bend to their whims and turn on a dime. This would be a terrible shit show.

Jul 15

Mark Devlin ‏@sparkzilla

@fmanjoo @nytimes But no mention of ethical issue of companies making millions/billions from the free work of contributors.

Jul 15

Mark Devlin ‏@sparkzilla

@fmanjoo @nytimes In the same vein: http://newslines.org/blog/reddit-and-wikipedia-share-the-same-disease/

All that will have been déja-vu for readers with excellent memories. The first post-Gutenberg.com entry, on 5 September 2011 — ‘Wanted: a brave newspaper, for an experiment in which readers become stakeholders’*** — offered this anatomisation of objections to publishing enterprises co-owned with ‘reader-commenters’ (‘users’, for @fmanjoo).

In January of last year, I outlined a scheme that a newspaper could run as an experiment in sharing ownership of a part of its site with reader-commenters. […] There were, broadly, five reasons for their reluctance to try it out:

  • ‘Too new’ – the scheme diverges too far from their ideas about the future evolution of media.
  • Protectionism. The mistaken belief that the scheme would entail paying commenters at the same rates as professional writers and journalists. That is not what the proposal says at all. The idea is that the arrangement would work very broadly in the way insurance does: people contributing more or less equal sums into a pool of money from which disbursements would be made in accordance with merit and need.
  • Semantics. Interpreting the scheme as ‘socialism’. There is no precise counterpart for the proposed arrangement – certainly not in publishing, as far as I know. But to convey the idea of shared ownership I used the word ‘cooperative’—which unfortunately spells ‘hippie’ utopianism or bankrupt socialist idealism to many people. It says something else entirely to me. For nearly 20 years, I have been a member of a rural electricity cooperative founded 75 years ago by a group of farmers – after the local power company refused to put them on its network. This organisation runs so beautifully that my electricity bills have always been a small fraction of sums I have paid for the identical usage patterns in other places.
  • Fear of losing power. Most publishers of the print era cannot give up the idea of journalists and editors performing on a stage for readers – the audience down in the pit, which is where they would like them to stay. They cannot accept that technology has made it realistic for readers to want – indeed, expect – to share the stage with them, even if only in walk-on parts, in most cases, at the start.
  • Pessimism. Publishers cannot conceive of making a bigger pie – that is, expanding revenue, and even earning profits, with luck – through sharing ownership with reader-commenters. They can only imagine being forced to accept smaller slices of an unchanged or shrunken pie.

Ah, well … none of that would be in the least surprising to anyone who lived through the 15th-century transition from scrolls and illuminated hand-made manuscripts to the printed book. The scholar Andrew Pettegree’s The Book in the Renaissance is a richly detailed, gripping account of that revolution. Many fell by the wayside in the quest for a workable economic structure (‘business model’) by entrepreneurs keen to use Gutenberg’s press to replicate manuscripts by the hundred — for citizens just as eager to become readers and acquire libraries of their own:

The investment that a printer made in type, paper and wages was all directed towards a clear goal: the production of a finished artefact. But unless the edition was supported by a wealthy sponsor or patron, the costs could only be recouped once the books had been sold. For many printers this demanded skills for which experience in a workshop offered little help, and a network of commercial contacts they did not possess. The pool of potential purchasers was large, but often widely dispersed. The desire of many printers to publish eye-catching, luxurious or innovative publications accentuated this problem, since books like this were most difficult to sell to a clientele dispersed around Europe. Printers would often have to hold stock for a long time before the edition was sold out: this again, was a problem not anticipated by those familiar with the retail manuscript trade …

http://post-gutenberg.com/2011/12/30/will-2012-be-the-year-of-a-great-leap-forward-into-medias-future-even-at-the-new-york-times/

**http://post-gutenberg.com/2011/11/07/why-is-the-guardian-censoring-discussion-of-press-restructuring-and-ignoring-the-top-judges-support-for-citizen-journalism/

***http://post-gutenberg.com/2011/09/05/wanted-a-brave-newspaper-for-an-experiment-in-which-readers-become-stakeholders/

 

Late July break: ‘electric messages’ flying between two variations on summer

Senigallia rooftop satellite dish

cloudwatching, tall Highway 139 poatgutenberg@gmail.com

Pictures of satellite dish and medieval rooftops are by MIL22; of clouds above electric wires, by postgutenberg@gmail.com

 

Across the wires the electric message came

He is no better. He is much the same.

— Alfred Austin, generally reckoned to be Britain’s worst Poet Laureate of all time, on the illness of the Prince of Wales in 1871

Nothing as gossip-worthy as that is travelling between the satellite dish on a tiled roof that could easily have been built in Gutenberg’s day — and an elongated expanse of semi-wilderness an ocean and oversized continent away. We might, if we only had the time to spare, tell a shaggy bat story — a four-day saga not quite over, starring the only known species of flying mammal. Never before have we kept company with a face copied often in medieval church gargoyles — yet oddly apt for its boffin-ish style of getting about.

Read these extracts from the Wikipedia entry on echolocation, and we defy you to come away less than one hundred per cent certain that bats are the ultimate geek totem animal:

FM signal advantages

The major advantage conferred by an FM signal is extremely precise range discrimination, or localization, of the target. J.A. Simmons demonstrated this effect with a series of elegant experiments that showed how bats using FM signals could distinguish between two separate targets even when the targets were less than half a millimeter apart. This amazing ability is due to the broadband sweep of the signal, which allows for better resolution of the time delay between the call and the returning echo, thereby improving the cross correlation of the two. Additionally, if harmonic frequencies are added to the FM signal, then this localization becomes even more precise.

[…]

CF signal advantages

The structure of a CF signal is adaptive in that it allows the CF-bat to detect both the velocity of a target, and the fluttering of a target’s wings as Doppler shifted frequencies. A Doppler shift is an alteration in sound wave frequency, and is produced in two relevant situations: when the bat and its target are moving relative to each other, and when the target’s wings are oscillating back and forth. CF-bats must compensate for Doppler shifts, lowering the frequency of their call in response to echoes of elevated frequency – this ensures that the returning echo remains at the frequency to which the ears of the bat are most finely tuned. The oscillation of a target’s wings also produces amplitude shifts, which gives a CF-bat additional help in distinguishing a flying target from a stationary one.

IMG_0213

Senigalli rooftops JULY 2015 unnamed

The media ownership structure that dare not speak its name? Or is it the writing on the wall that new media, too, are deciphering too slowly?

--  postgutenberg[at]gmail.com

flower shadow circle

— postgutenberg [at] gmail.com

Readers sautéing themselves on a powdery white beach who missed the Reddit.com hullabaloo last week that led Ellen Pao, its chief executive, to resign can catch up below in excerpts from a New York Times opinion piece begging for an answer to the obvious question.

Why not turn Reddit into a cooperative?

This is not only the obvious solution screaming from the particular problems the authors describe. It is in line with the visions of a fast-expanding minority who grasp the dimensions and implications — for man, the social animal — of the profoundly anti-hierarchical internet revolution. On the Guardian site last Friday, in ‘The end of capitalism has begun’ — a blog post based on his just-published book, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future — Paul Mason, economics editor of Britain’s Channel 4 News, showed why some new species of cooperative looms large, and not so far away:

Almost unnoticed, in the niches and hollows of the market system, whole swaths of economic life are beginning to move to a different rhythm. Parallel currencies, time banks, cooperatives and self-managed spaces have proliferated, barely noticed by the economics profession, … New forms of ownership, new forms of lending, new legal contracts: a whole business subculture has emerged over the past 10 years, which the media has dubbed the “sharing economy”. … [F]ew have bothered to ask what this development means for capitalism itself. … On a packed business flight, when everyone’s peering at Excel or Powerpoint, the passenger cabin is best understood as an information factory. … But what is all this information worth? … A study for the SAS Institute in 2013 found that, in order to put a value on data, neither the cost of gathering it, nor the market value or the future income from it could be adequately calculated. Only through a form of accounting that included non-economic benefits, and risks, could companies actually explain to their shareholders what their data was really worth. Something is broken in the logic we use to value the most important thing in the modern world. … [W]e … cannot imagine the kind of human beings society will produce once economics is no longer central to life. But we can see their prefigurative forms in the lives of young people all over the world breaking down 20th-century barriers around sexuality, work, creativity and the self.

… And now here is the NYT lament by two lawyers, Brian Lynch and Courtnie Swearingen — also serving as unpaid Reddit site moderators — that leapt to mind as we sped through the Mason extract:

Why We Shut Down Reddit’s ‘Ask Me Anything’ Forum

We are moderators for the website reddit.com, a place where, on a typical day, millions of users read and share content in self-contained communities called “subreddits.” We volunteer our time to help manage the subsection called IAmA — a popular part of the site where thousands of interviews, known as “ask me anythings,” take place. It’s where Bill Gates has talked about the importance of vaccines, …

We work hard to maintain the forum for the roughly eight million readers who turn to it each month. But last week we purposely shut it down for 24 hours. We did this after the company abruptly terminated Victoria Taylor, a Reddit employee who worked extensively with us as well as with other moderator teams on facilitating A.M.A.s.

Our primary concern, and reason for taking the site down temporarily, is that Reddit’s management made critical changes to a very popular website without any apparent care for how those changes might affect their biggest resource: the community and the moderators that help tend the subreddits that constitute the site. Moderators commit their time to the site to foster engaging communities. Ms. Taylor’s sudden termination is just the most recent example of management’s making changes without thinking through what those changes might mean for the people who use the site on a daily basis.

The issue goes beyond Reddit. We are concerned with what a move like this means for for-profit companies that depend on the free labor of volunteers — and whether they truly understand what makes an online community vibrant.

According to company numbers, IAmA hosts more than 8.5 million subscribers and between 20 and 30 million page views per month on its own. We started using Reddit as students, one of us around 2007 and the other around 2010, and now we are both attorneys. Reddit is not our job, but we have spent thousands of hours as a team answering questions, facilitating A.M.A.s, writing policy and helping people ask questions of their heroes. We moderate from the train or bus, on breaks from work and in between classes. We check on the subreddit while standing in line at the grocery store or waiting at the D.M.V.

We donate our time and talents to Reddit, a for-profit company, because we truly like building cool things on the Internet for others to enjoy

[…]

The community on the whole has also spoken quite loudly: Pay attention to the user base. Users are not simply a screaming mob. They are actually asking for reasonable support, and as moderators, we are trying very hard to do what we can to make those changes happen.