Friday, October 03, 2008

Trusting pollsters

But the pollster went on to ask Minden, who is Jewish, how she would vote if she knew that Obama was supported by Hamas, the Palestinian militant group that runs Gaza and was responsible for most of the suicide bombings against Israel. "It is scare tactics. It is terribly underhand," she said.

The Guardian on polling and dirty tricks in the American election.

Nora Ephron on CNN's debate coverage

Well this graph on CNN affected me, it affected me so much that I could barely focus on the debate, I was so busy watching the graph. I knew it was completely unreliable and irrelevant, and yet my heart sank and rose according to it. I sort of heard what the candidates were saying, but mostly I watched the orange (for women) and green (for men) lines rise and fall as each phrase was uttered. When Sarah Palin spoke and the lines went up, I felt irritable. When Joe Biden spoke and the lines went up, I felt happy.

CNN's tracking of undecideds doesn't please everyone.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Trust, Google, search and blogs - plus newspapers

The arrival of the new Google Blog search throws up a myriad of wonders.

Here's trust versus authority (on Google) from SEO Moves:

Trust means that a site overall is trusted. This will be one of the larger sites, with very high traffic, lots of content, one of the heavy players. This is a site Google trusts as a well established legitimate, respected sites. Amazon. Government sites. Wikipedia. Plenty of reasons to trust them, very few not to trust them. In my mind, I picture doing my own research on any particular topic, what sites do I trust? Trusted sites do rank higher even when less relevant. Trusted sites pass a lot of juice, a link from a trusted site is gold.

An authority would be a page or site that is an authority on a specific topic. This site may not be trusted, but this particular page, section, or site, becomes an authority on a topic. This is gauged by incoming links on the topic; the more links a site has on that topic/keyword, the more of an authority it is on that topic.

And...Trust and newspapers from "That's the Press Baby":
The problem with journalism's stock in trade, semi-omniscent objectivity, is that almost no one views the world with semi-omniscent objectivity. To see the world and see it whole, as a London Times editor once said of his calling (doing so before the Internet and thus having a not easily findable quote), is just not what the typical reader does, for the obvious reason that the typical reader is self-interested.

Advice for those watching "event" TV

And when it's over, don't be spun by the post-debate pundits. "Turn off your television and make up your own decision," said Aaron Zelinsky, Yale University debater and editor of the Presidential Debate Blog. He adds: "Don't listen to the campaigns set false expectations before the debate, either. It's just as bad."

San Francisco Chronicle on tonight's VP debate.

While Hollywood Newsroom goes with:
“A lot of people are anticipating this to be almost a ‘Saturday Night Live’ live,” said Tammy Vigil, an assistant professor of communications at Boston University and a co-author of the upcoming book, “The Third Agenda in U.S. Presidential Debates.” “The entertainment value on this debate is going to be huge.”

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

A Google US Election Data Mine

An election FAQ from Google's head of research, Peter Norvig. Ugly as hell, but utterly wonderful information. Isn't this what newspapers used to do?

This is an FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions list) for the 2008 United States Presidential Election. It is meant to portray factual information, not the author's opinions (except where so stated). Some of the questions inherently require subjective analysis; in these cases I have tried to show a sample of responsible opinions.

One betting site, at 12:24 GMT, Oct 1, has Obama at almost 80:20 with McCain!

How long before the papers link to this?

Lost Worlds

As a young academic economist in the 1980s, Mr. Bernanke largely developed the theory that the loan officers’ lost knowledge was a crucial cause of the Depression. He referred to this lost knowledge as “informational capital.” In plain English, it means that trust vanished from the banking sector.

The same thing is happening now. Financial markets are global, not local, today, so the problem isn’t that the failure of any single bank locks individuals or businesses out of the credit markets. Instead, the nasty surprises of the last 13 months — the sort of turmoil that once would have been unthinkable — have caused an effective breakdown in informational capital. Bankers now look at longtime customers and think of that old refrain from a failed marriage: I feel like I don’t even know you.

David Leonhardt in the New York Times


I think the new building block of journalism needs to be the topic.

Another way of conceptualizing the new news.

Instead, I want a page, a site, a thing that is created, curated, edited, and discussed. It’s a blog that treats a topic as an ongoing and cumulative process of learning, digging, correcting, asking, answering. It’s also a wiki that keeps a snapshot of the latest knowledge and background. It’s an aggregator that provides annotated links to experts, coverage, opinion, perspective, source material. It’s a discussion that doesn’t just blather but that tries to accomplish something... It’s collaborative and distributed and open but organized.

Buzzmachine & Jeff Jarvis.

School Days

Amherst College, in western Massachusetts, enrolled 438 first year students this fall, for a total student population of 1680+.

Here some findings from the school's head of IT.
By the end of August 2008 the total number of members and posts at the Amherst College Class of 2012 Facebook group: 432 members and 3,225 posts.

Average number of emails received per day: 180,000.
Percentage of email that arrives on campus that is spam: 94%.

Full data here - it's interesting. Found by Clive Thompson, and linked by Nicholas Carr - both have comments.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008


The Way We Were: trusting

What we are relearning is that without trust and fairness, capitalism risks its own sustainability, even while it unleashes forces that undermine those self-same values. London's money markets froze because of a trust collapse; banks simply don't believe each other when they say their businesses are sound and will not default on their obligations. Trust matters.

William Hutton stepping up to the plate.

An old newsman tells it like it is

For all the millions of dollars and thousands of people employed at the mainstream newspapers, broadcast networks and cable channels, Drudge had assembled the perfect mix of salient links and real-time information...

From Reflections of a Newsosaur.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Dowd of the Day

Who would have dreamed that when socialism finally came to the U.S.A. it would be brought not by Bolsheviks in blue jeans but Wall Street bankers in Gucci loafers?

Maureen Dowd this morning.

Holiday blues

Today you can never really leave. For one thing, most of the world looks alike now anyhow. For another, if anything big happens back home, friends will text you. And not just big things either. They'll tell you who's been fired on The Apprentice. They'll phone you from the toilet for help in their local pub quiz.

Just to make things worse, shortly before leaving I bought a swanky new "smart phone" aimed squarely at absolute cast-iron wankers. Go on, treat yourself, I thought. Be an unashamed cock and buy it. Turns out it does everything. Email, internet, GPS system, Google maps ... there's probably a can opener on it somewhere. If you're standing in the middle of nowhere you can push one button to be told precisely where you are and another to find out where the nearest synagogue is. Or sauna. Or both. Punch in a query and it'll recommend eight local restaurants, give you their phone numbers, and ask if you want to ring them. Then it'll give you directions. Since I'm on a road trip, it's proved incredibly useful...

The usually reliable Charlie Brooker moves close to the new century...

I am the Washington Post and I approve this message

Washington Post goes into links. So not just its own take on politics but other people too on its new site, Political Browser. According to Publishing 2.0:

...Political Browser was born of a determined effort by The Post to get into the news aggregation game. Eric [Pianin, the Politics Editor] told me that interest in news aggregation extends to the highest level of The Post’s senior leadership, including Katherine Weymouth — they have been “fascinated” by the success of aggregation sites like Drudge, Huffington Post, Hotline, and others.

Beyond aggregation - post-google perhaps? - comes the “stamp of approval”, trust and context. Interesting.

Transparent Bail Outs

So here is the bail out bill.

Wired asked:
Doesn't transparency amount to more than just posting a bit of legislation up on a Sunday, giving the public a few hours to wonder what it says, and then rushing to approve it in congress?

In 2002 Dame Onora O'Neill, president of the British Academy, gave the Reith Lectures on "trust".

There has never been more abundant information about the individuals and institutions whose claims we have to judge. Openness and transparency are now possible on a scale of which past ages could barely dream. We are flooded with information about government departments and government policies, about public opinion and public debate, about school, hospital and university league tables. We can read facts and figures that supposedly demonstrate financial and professional accountability, cascades of rebarbative [forbidding] semi-technical detail about products and services on the market, and lavish quantities of information about the companies that produce them. At the click of a mouse those with insatiable appetites for information can find out who runs major institutions, look at the home pages and research records of individual scientists, inspect the grants policies of research councils and major charities, down-load the annual reports and the least thrilling press releases of countless minor public, professional and charitable organisations, not to mention peruse the agenda and the minutes of increasing numbers of public bodies. It seems no information about institutions and professions is too boring or too routine to remain unpublished. So if making more information about more public policies, institutions and professionals more widely and freely available is the key to building trust, we must be well on the high road towards an ever more trusting society.

This high road is built on new technologies that are ideal for achieving transparency and openness. It has become cheap and easy to spread information, indeed extraordinarily hard to prevent its spread. Secrecy was technically feasible in the days of words on paper. But it is undermined by easy, instantaneous, multiple replication-and endless possibilities for subtle or less-than-subtle revision.

These lectures are a key moment in modern definitions of trust.

How Do They Know?

US-led efforts to tackle the al-Qaeda group are not regarded as successful, an opinion poll carried out for the BBC World Service suggests.Some 29% of people said the "war on terror" launched by President George W Bush in 2001 had had no effect on the Islamist militant network. According to 30% of those surveyed, US policies have strengthened al-Qaeda.

An opinion poll carried out for the BBC World Service. But on what is this opinion based? The BBC headline is "Al-Qaeda not weakening - BBC Poll".

Nick Davies writes a letter

Published in the Guardian this morning.

There is a nice irony in Roger Alton's huffing and puffing about my book, Flat Earth News (Interview, September 22). The book tries to track the scale and origin of falsehood, distortion and propaganda in news media. One of its central themes is the ease with which the PR industry now manipulates journalists. One of PR's regular techniques is to try to bury true stories with a "non-denial denial", ie a statement which has no value at all but which serves to mislead.

Roger replies to the revelations about his problems at the Observer by saying: "You can accuse me of incompetence, of being a shitty journalist or a shallow halfwit, but to say I would deliberately lie about stuff and manipulate information - nothing could be further from the truth."

It just so happens that "deliberate lying" is precisely what the book does NOT accuse him of. What the book describes is how, in the build-up to the invasion of Iraq, Roger was manipulated directly by Downing Street and indirectly through key reporters by intelligence agencies and Downing Street again. The result was that he published mighty falsehoods because he thought they were true and failed to publish true stories because he thought they were false. Deliberate lying does not come into it.

The manipulation of the Observer in the cause of war happened. It needs an explanation. A lot of Roger's readers might think it needs an apology. What it doesn't need is for the editor of a national newspaper who has been such a spectacular victim of PR to adopt its tactics.
Nick Davies, London

Nick Davies wrote Flat Earth News.
The Original Interview.
An extract:
What advice would he [Alton] have for young pretenders keen on getting to the top of his own profession? Not enter it, he chuckles. "Take up photography ... sell luxury goods. Maybe chocolate, people always want little treats, like the £1 Independent."

On Google and strategy and agency

Search is where Google started, and even though the mission was back then was (and officially still is) to "organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," no one at Google was really putting many of today's non-search services into a blueprint for success. Many of these products emerged from Google's own internal needs, opportunistic purchases, ideas that curious Googlers with "20% time" suggested and sudden departures into areas not envisioned at first but which made sense as Google evolved.

Danny Sullivan at SearchEngineLand on the idea of Google's hive mind.
The underlying theme with Google is the user. Google does things in the interest of the user.

And here's John Battelle's muscular response:
I don't agree with this. I think Google has made scores of moves calculated by centralized senior management to benefit the company as a whole, AND, at the same time, has green-lit scores of other projects which, taken as a whole, are in no way centrally planned. Examples of centrally planned moves? The AOL deal. The Dell distribution deal. Chrome. Gmail (I disagree with Danny that this was not a centrally planned move. Same with Checkout.) Book search (Google knew it was in for a legal fight and it engaged because it felt it was in the company's, and culture's, best interest.) YouTube (very much a central decision). Ummmm....going public.

From Battelle's Searchblog

After reading these pieces just think now about Google's scope: it is vast.

Even gay marriage.

More Newman

He was a rogue you could trust.

Chicago Tribune.

ITunes for the blind software - which transforms the written information on an iTunes-linked computer screen into speech or Braille - stemmed from an agreement between Apple, the Cupertino, Calif.-based computer company, the National Federation of the Blind and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley

From the Boston Herald.

Link missing at moment surprisingly...

Peter Preston, for many years the editor of The Guardian newspaper, and these days a "media" expert on the Observer wrote this yeterday in his Observer page (14):

Crucially, isn't press and broadcasting coverage getting more like blogging and less like conventional journalism? Blogging, after all, whirls on 24/7. Three in the morning, three in the afternoon. It doesn't worry much about fact checks. It exists in a tumult of constant outrage. It doesn't care what 'My View' was yesterday or last year. and to be sure, there is something of a plot there; a plot against ordinary understanding.

His story uses as a news peg of the comments of former Labour Deputy Leader (when Labour was Labour, not New Labour) Roy Hattersley, who claimed recently that political journalism here in the UK was now the "worst in the world."

For some strange reason there is no online version of Preston's article.


There we go.