Thursday, March 17, 2011

Felix Salmon's 5 ways Blogging has changed Journalism for better

Highlights from a interview of Felix Salmon, who is a journalist for Reuters, who explains the positive effect blogging has had on journalists:

1. I have a more conversational voice on the blog.
I think of any given post as being part of a much broader conversation between bloggers and between me and my readers. Nearly all of my posts are reactions to something elsewhere online, and I try to be as generous as I can with links.
2. The main impact I think is the way that blog reporting can iterate.
In traditional media, you report the story and then you publish it; with blogs, you can start with something much less fully formed and then come back at it over time in many ways and from many angles.
3. Blogs can also geek out in a way that traditional journalists can’t. 
There’s no space constraint online, and so if I want to spend 5,000 words writing about vulture funds, or a reporter at HuffPo wants to spend 4,000 words getting into the weeds of regulatory reform, they can.
4. Blogging has clearly given readers a much wider range of news sources to choose from.
(and) it’s great that readers are no longer confined to getting their news from a handful of outlets. 
5. How Blogging is better than Twitter.
 Professional journalists should always be beholden to high standards of professionalism, ethics, and accuracy. Random people with a Twitter account, not so much.

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Reason #1 behind rise of Social media: The fear of missing out

Caterina Fake, co-founder of Flickr and Hunch says that we are obsessed with Twitter updates and Facebook status messages (among other activities related to online obsessions) because 'Social media has made us even more aware of the things we are missing out on'.

FOMO -Fear of Missing Out- is a great motivator of human behavior, and I think a crucial key to understanding social software, and why it works the way it does. Many people have studied the game mechanics that keep people collecting things (points, trophies, check-ins, mayorships, kudos). Others have studied how the neurochemistry that keeps us checking Facebook every five minutes is similar to the neurochemistry fueling addiction.

...You're home alone, but watching your friends status updates tell of a great party happening somewhere. You are aware of more parties than ever before. And, like gym memberships, adding Bergman movies to your Netflix queue and piling up unread copies of the New Yorker, watching these feeds gives you a sense that you're participating, not missing out, even when you are.

Well said.

But, a cynical person will say that we fear missing out because we lead hollow lives, where little we do is of any lasting substance. We work to pay the bills. We seek solace in things others are doing. Social media may be the food for the 'despairing' hordes.

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Why most iPad news apps are bad: They restrict you to an 'isolated, one-person web'

At SXSW, Aron Pilhofer, the New York Times' interactive editor points out what is bad with most iPad news applications:

"I'm sceptical about apps generally. It takes you out of the web. You come in to this isolated, one-person web..." 

Why The "killer app" on every handset is the good old browser
Aron says,
"There's so little you cannot do with offline storage in the browser environment that to me [the iPad] is almost not worth the investment.

Apps are so anti-community
Aron says,
"Community is a place where the web is your friend and the app is not. If you consider community to be part of the answer to the future of news then going into the partially-stilted environment of the application walks away from that."

iPad news apps are minor footnotes in digital publishing history
This is what Khoi Vinh, who once headed the digital publishing design unit at the the New York Times, thinks. Khoi says,
The in the multiplatform browser - publishing's "natural home".

Are iPad news apps glorified CD ROMs?

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

If your government shuts down blogging, shut down your government

The above graphic became popular during the uprisings in the Arab world, in Egypt and elsewhere. The image of Pharaoh is modified to look like the eponymous 'V' of the famous 'V for Vendetta' movie, which many see 'an allegory of oppression by government'. Others see as 'a statement against government intervention into the lives of the citizens'.

During the best of times, the concept of Free Speech in our country is a 'tolerated' idea rather than a fundamental right. The Government of India reportedly plans to bring in something called 'Blogger Control Act", which will enable the authorities to work with Internet Access providers, filtering the content and blocking your blog temporarily/permanently if they find it 'objectionable'.

Nickil Pehwa puts it the best. He asks about the government's plan to censor online content:
How can a few people decide what we view online?
This time, even big newspapers have come out in support of bloggers' right. The Hindu says this about forthcoming Blogger Control Act:
The blocking of a blogging website, even if only for a short period, raises the disturbing question of curbs imposed on free speech in India through executive fiat. There is a clear pattern of Internet censorship that is inconsistent with constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression. It is also at odds with citizen aspirations in the age of new media. [...]
In 2009,  Namibia, and in Botswana passed laws making it mandatory for journalists and bloggers to register themselves with the government. I said:
In this mighty age of user-generated content, will they require the whole country to register themselves?
One positive thing I can think about this news is that Blogging is not dead. In fact, blogging has become so powerful that governments fear it. Take that, Twitter.

Essential Reading on the topic:

On This Blog:

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The State of Nuclear Power Industry Worldwide: Under-regulated, Untrustworthy, Unaccountable, Unproven Reactors, and ruled by Business-Politician Nexus

The simple truth about Nuclear Power is this: Unlike other sources of power, failure is not an option. More lives are at risk from failures of nuclear reactors than from failures of other types of power-generation units.

When Nuclear energy is run as a business, chances of inferior technologies being used for cost concerns are high.

When a small group of people, politicians/bureaucrats, get the power to decide where big Nuclear power plants will be located, the case of Japan shows that they will choose localities 'judged weakest in local civil society as host communities for controversial projects.'

The Guardian writes about the state of 'untrustworthy' nuclear industry:
The question now is whether the industry can be trusted anywhere. If this industry were a company, its shareholders would have deserted it years ago. In just one generation it has killed, wounded or blighted the lives of many millions of people and laid waste to millions of square miles of land. In that time it has been subsidised to the tune of trillions of dollars and it will cost hundreds of billions more to clean up and store the messes it has caused and the waste it has created. It has had three catastrophic failures now in 25 years and dozens more close shaves. Its workings have been marked around the world by mendacity, cover-ups, secrecy and financial incompetence.

The article writes about the dangers from experiments being done in a constantly evolving industry:
Fukushima is supposedly one of the safest stations in one of the most safety-conscious countries in the world. Chernobyl blew up not because the reactor malfunctioned but because an ill-judged experiment to see how long safety equipment would function during shutdown went too far. 
Read the whole article to learn more about the dangers facing the Nuclear Reactors in the future.

See, I am all for exploring other sources of power, decreasing our dependency on fossil fuels. But, using untested methods that are dangerous to millions of people, is perhaps not the way to go.


Rethinking Nuclear Power: The Bharat versus India problem

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Monday, March 14, 2011

Huffington Post: Google's Favorite News Content Farm

Aaron Wall has posted a screenshot of an Huffington Post article that is only tweet about a news link but is ranking on top of Google for that news topic.

Google has tried to clamp down on content farms full of 'thin content' with its Farmer Update. How about a clampdown on 'thin news rewriters' polluting much of Google News and others SERPs?

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Churnalism: How to detect whether a journalist is just printing a Press Release

Churnalism is a U.K.-based website that lets you paste content from a 'suspect' news article and then it will tell you whether the article is only a rehashed press release. Glorified printers of press releases, that is what most newspapers really. Indian newspapers do it on a wholesale basis, especially the business newspapers.

I covered Print Labels from Tom Scott and the Newscrud project in an earlier post. Both aim to bring out the truth behind most news articles, with help of succinct labels.

Also Read:
Can Journalism Warning Labels Create Better Journalism?


Rethinking Nuclear Power: The Bharat versus India problem

If city-living planners and decision makers of India do not have the guts to have Nuclear power plants in the suburbs, it is time to rethink the Nuclear power policy, don't you think?

The devastating Tsunami in Japan has caused 10,000 deaths (and counting) so far. It damaged Nuclear power reactors (Like France, Japan is heavily dependent upon Nuclear power). The authorities have shut down four reactors. 45,000 people living in the 10-kilometers radius of the Fukushima Nuclear reactor have had to evacuate their houses. There is a nationwide Nuclear Alert..

What the Indian Newspapers say about implications for India
The Mint Business Newspaper has a typical pro-business slant take about the implications for nuclear power in India. The paper abandons its normally sharp, to-the-point writing, and instead it writes a confusing piece that ends with this:

 ...There is always room for debate on the safety aspects of the subject and it has never ceased even when there have been no earthquakes around. What, however, is not evaluated dispassionately are the costs involved in giving up nuclear power in an age when hydrocarbon supplies are volatile and their prices even more so.
What the paper means is that big American or European companies are not interested in doing ground-breaking projects in renewable energy, where the margins may not be that rich (and that we are tired of lobbyists calling us up to put in a kind word about Nuclear energy).

The Indian Express does a quick FAQ about the safety of 20 Nuclear Power plants.
The plants here can withstand earthquakes up to 7 on the Richter scale (Japan quake measured 8.9 Richter).

So, no cause to worry? Actually, no.

The Japanese power plants were damaged by the surging Ocean waters.
How are our plants safe from terrorist attacks, sabotage, machine malfunction is a pretty big list.

The Daily News Analysis message board has a great comment.
It sums up the situation about Nuclear Power in India pretty well:

... Our only job, our unavoidable responsibility, our duty, is to repeal the nuclear liability law. Let us have a level playing field. No subsidy, no exemption of responsibility. Whoever can produce electricity safely and at an acceptable rate, by whatever means, will just do it. But if the nuclear industry does not trust its own technology to the point that it can't take responsibility for any damage they can cause, there is absolutely nothing we can do about it. It's not our job to solve their problem.

The Bharat vs. India problem
I think we will this issue becoming more important in the future as more Indians chooses to live in cities, and letting villages decay into the great Indian Wasteland, where all the effluent of the 'civilized' India goes to seed.

The villages don't get to enjoy the power produced by the polluting, land-hogging (forcefully bought/seized land) power plant in the neighborhood. The people of Kahalgaon in Bihar had to resort to street protests to get just a couple of hours of power from the huge NTPC Kehelgaon thermal power plant (2340 MW from 7 plants).

In India, they will drown towns so that the big cities get their electricity. Once there used to be a beautiful small town called Tehri that is under million of tons of water of the huge Tehri dam. Someone, somewhere always pays a price for your air-conditioner.

Who gets to face the aftermath case of a Nuclear fallout?
A list of things you should do when the rods start to melt: Shutting off air-conditioner fans, not going outside, covering the skin, wrapping wet towels around the face and buying some lead-lined clothing for those 'special' occasions.  (This is from an advisory from the authorities in Japan)

How long does an average nuclear fallout last? 
The Chernobyl area in Ukraine (the Chernobyl accident happened in 1986) is 'visitable' only now in 2011. Locals still debate the health-effects (E.g. more instances of thyroid, increased rates of cancer) from the 3-mile island reactor incident (United States) in 1979.

Soon, People from 'Bharat' will ask: If Cities want electricity, let them have Nuclear Reactors nearby.
Or, build any kind of 1000 megawatt Powerplant in your own locality. (A cynic will say that this will also solve our electricity transmission losses problem - we lose anything between 25-50% of electricity produced during transmission).

You want your power, Build it in your own backyard: This is what the people of Jaitapur Nuclear power plant want to tell the people (and the decision makers) of India.

Also read: 
Government of India: The Biggest Real Estate Agent in the World

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