More on Steven Johnson

January 31, 2007

The author of Emergence, our next book in Online Community, is prolific, and not just in writing books. He also is a programmer and Web designer.

Here is Johnson’s blog, which he uses to expand and extend his conversations from his books, the most recent of which is Ghost Map, and to discuss his many Web projects. I just got Ghost Map (thanks, Ross); I’ll let you all know what I learn. He also makes a cameo appearance in Powazek’s Design for Community book, which we’ll reference later in the course.

His most recent post discusses his Web site Outside-In, which puts into action much of what we’ve been discussing with Nan Lin’s Social Capital, in particular the marriage of networks and localities, or online and physical spaces.

And an interview with Johnson in Being There magazine.

My Photo Steven Johnson

Good research topic ideas for Online Community

January 30, 2007

I don’t expect anyone from COM 429: Distributed Media & Digital Society to actually go to Poland, but this call for research papers does provide some good topics for consideration for your research projects and papers. The bulleted list is where all the helps are.

Take a look:

Workshop on Social Aspects of the Web (SAW 2007) in conjunction with 10th International Conference on Business Information Systems BIS 2007, in co-operation with ACM SIGMIS

Poznan, Poland
April 25, 2007
Deadline for submissions: February 18, 2007

The emergence of community-based Web sites and the visible shift from the concept of “a Web of documents” towards “a Web of people” creates a strong need for inter-disciplinary empirical and theoretical research focused on Web-based communities. On one hand, this requires expertise in the IT domain, including some knowledge of systems architectures and information extraction technologies. On the other hand, a multi-aspect analysis of human behaviour on the Web is possible thanks to existing frameworks within social sciences.

The goal of this workshop is to bring researchers and practitioners together to explore the issues and challenges related to social aspects of the Web. We want to facilitate discussion on the topics of development and detection of Web-based communities, social interactions within and between them as well as technology for mining of social Web sources.


. social networks analysis in weblogs, forums and comment pages
. static and dynamic analysis of folksonomies
. advances in social networking services
. social bookmarking services paradigms and empirical analysis
. social roles and leadership in Web-based communities
. static and dynamic public opinion / mood analysis based on Web sources
. products / places rating based on user opinions from Web sources
. trust and distrust propagation in on-line communities
. on-line social identity / identities and social capital
. geographical-context-aware Web-based social applications
. social mash-ups for existing non-social web sites / applications
. topical and functional analysis of Web-based discourse
. social norms, social control and deviant behaviour in Web-based
. conflicts resolution in Web-based communities
. social, evolving Web sources use in information retrieval tasks
. dynamics and patterns of information propagation in social Web
. viral marketing in Web-based communities
. detecting user behaviour patterns and trends from large scale communities
. mining of interaction / discourse patterns in Web-based communities
. Web-based communities cohesion and stability

Hometown Headlines

January 26, 2007

John Druckenmiller, founder and editor of the local online news enterprise, Hometown Headlines, will join us Wednesday to talk about his business, his approach to journalism in Rome and the future of online journalism. Your job is to come up with at least three really good questions to ask Druck. Some talking points to help you:

Hyperlocal journalism: What does it (should it) look like in Rome/Floyd County?

If you had $25 million, what would you do with it vis-a-vis HometownHeadlines?

What do your traffic data tell you about the HH audience? When do they read the news? What are they particularly interested? What tends to be a bit evergreen, and what lends itself to multiple real-time updates?

OK, those are my three. What are yours? Post them as comments to this introductory post. Druck will be able to check in and see what you’re curious about before he comes over for pizza with us Wednesday.

John Druckenmiller

Conversational news

January 23, 2007

The Politico, an all-political news web site that uses cross-channel, multiple-platform promotion, made its debut today, and in a big way. In an earlier post, I celebrated its marriage with old media and the high value it is placing on the core, traditional values of good reporting and journalism. (This marriage is prominent throughout the home page, with a schedule of Politico coverage appearing in old media, and a CBS News feed for breaking news, among other features.)

In this post, I want to draw attention to a comment from its executive publisher on why it should work.

“People want their news faster and more conversationally,” Jim VandeHei told the Washington Examiner. “Waiting for a story that breaks at 10 a.m. and writing for the next day’s paper is over.”

Of course the venture is equally interesting for its business model. According to the Examiner report, ads will come from trade associations, lobbyists, government contractors and other companies looking to attract the attention of Congress. In other words, hyperlocal advertisers, with the locality being inside-the-beltline politics and government. We all are looking for predictable, calculable revenue streams for new media; this one looks promising.

I’m pulling for the Politico. (I’m not affiliated with it in any way, shape or fashion, btw.)

Welcome to the Politico

The strength of weak ties

January 22, 2007

That elegant title, from Mark Granovetter‘s groundbreaking research in the early 1970s helps to explain, reading this week’s news, how bloggers in China are threatening a Starbucks shop near the Forbidden City and why IBM is embracing social networking software.

The average blogger has about six readers. That’s weak. But all a blog needs is one bridge or connector to another, more widely read blog to contribute to what is a vastly interconnected blogosphere. It is the same dynamic that makes us fear avian flu, interconnected as our planet is by air travel.

IBM is looking to software to allow employees to set up virtual worlds, collaborate on projects, blog and share, among other things, favorite bookmarks. Some IBM divisions and units already have been meeting in SecondLife, which, further underlining the opportunity in empowering the latent expertise in all networks and groups, is moving to open source. (Now watch what happens in this 1.7 million-strong social networking sandbox!)

One of Granovetter’s central propositions is that weak ties allow any one node or atom or person to have better access to resources (knowledge capital, social capital, even capital capital) a network has because weak links join otherwise denser, reciprocally interactive social circles. These weaker links are the bridges, the connectors that can link two (and more . . . many, many more) of these network neighborhoods. Imagine this theory applied to the blogosphere. It works, and for much the same reason the Kevin Bacon six degrees of separation actually works. (What’s up with the magic of the number six?)

I think for anyone in communication, social networks, network and emergence theory, Granovetter’s work and social capital are topics worth studying.

Smart mobs blogging a Starbucks out of existence

January 19, 2007

January 19, 2007

Half a million Chinese Internet users have backed a campaign initiated by a television anchorman on his blog to drive a Starbucks outlet from the Forbidden City in Beijing, and the Palace Museum, which administers the Forbidden City, is thinking of closing it down, The China Daily reported. The anchorman, Rui Chenggang, wrote in his blog that Starbucks’s presence was “not globalizing, but trampling, Chinese culture.” Xinhua, the official Chinese news agency, said the museum was working with Starbucks, which opened the outlet in 2000, to find a solution.

The power of smart mobs, weak ties, the blogosphere married to the population of China? Look out!

Folksbloggin’ more and more

January 18, 2007

According to Reuters, a whole lot more folks are reading blogs. The number of people reading blogs from the Top 10 U.S. newspaper Web sites (New York Times, Washington Post, etc.) more than tripled in December 2006 from a year ago. Wow.

Here’s the full (albeit short) story from Reuters

As the story says, “U.S. news organizations are increasingly calling on their reporters and editors to write news blogs and compete with the expanding Internet format for informal analysis and opinion.”

Key stat: Blog pages accounted for 13 percent of overall visits to newspaper sites in that month, up from 4 percent a year earlier. That’s a huge jump, and it likely represents new readership rather than displacement or movement within the publication.

What would you do with $25 million in VC startup money?

January 11, 2007

(My Mac just crashed, and more than half-way into this post, which I’ll now have to re-create. That so sucks.)

As a follow-up to the “future of journalism” post and the great discussion it generated (thank you, all), I’m wondering what the ideal new media venture in journalism should look like, imagining it to be unencumbered by legacy media models (and recognizing that there isn’t one ideal). In other words, let’s dream up a couple of VCs interested in good journalism and open to leveraging new media to both gather and report that good journalism. What would the venture look like? Who would it serve? What kinds of information would it provide, and in what media forms?

A New York Times article on national political news startup The Politico spurred this question. Several aspects of the new news site intrigue me. First, its drill-down on one interest, national politics. Listen to the financier of the site, Robert Allbritton, tell the Times why he’s interested in such specialization:

“Newspapers have to be all things to all people. On the Internet, there is no one site that delivers everything. It’s broken down into mini-mini-subdivisions of interests and they attract people who are passionately interested in one subject.”

He’s describing the Long Tail and one of many reasons why old, big media are having such a rough go on the Net. Lots of niches, specialties, interests. The numbers of new competitors just keeps growing exponentially. Allbritton’s characterization also implies proximity, as we’ve been discussing it. On the Web, The Politico is just as close (or far away) to the reader as both the “national” and “international” sections of the Times, or anything else on the Web for that matter. Hypertext, RSS, tools of customization and good search mean that we no longer need omnibus publications that try to be all things to all people, or even most things to a lot of people.

I’m also interested in The Politico’s leveraging of old media to take advantage of the new. The new publication will have a weekly 30-minute cable TV program, a daily five-minute radio program, and its writers and reporters will appear on CBS News, write for Time, produce blogs and — gasp! — opportunistically promote themselves and the publication. This is entrepreneurism, and old media works very hard to erect and maintain high, thick walls separating editorial from the business side. This cross-platform, multi-channel coverage could really work in Northwest Georgia, which does not have TV stations between Chattanooga and Atlanta. A HUGE opportunity here for video.

So, here’s the exercise: You just got a big bag of money. Your charge is, like The Politico’s, to launch a journalism enterprise online that serves an audience very, very well. For the sake of this exercise, let’s say our audience is Northwest Georgia (not merely Rome, but not Atlanta, either). We have enough money to, as The Politico did, hire some really good journalists and put together a converged newsroom. We have enough money to not worry about debt . . . much . . . at least not yet. Describe your new venture.

(The first draft was so much better, but that’s always the case, right? Alas . . . Gotta start saving more often.)

Cole Campbell, in memoriam

January 9, 2007

To the many kind, fitting words written about Cole Campbell since he died from injuries related to his car crash last week, I have to add my thanks. 

Campbell was dean of the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, but before that he had been an editor at several newspapers, including the Greensboro News & Record. When I was in my early 20s, I took a class at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, an experience that led to a master’s degree and, ultimately, a Ph.D.

Cole taught that class, in business communication. More importantly, after reading my resume submitted as one of the course assignments, he asked if I would interested in covering sports for the News & Record. “Heck, yeah,” was my response, or something like it. For the next ten years, I covered minor league baseball, college soccer and some hockey, and I loved absolutely every minute of it. For a few of those years, Cole was interim sports editor, and I got to chase some of his wild and crazy story ideas.

Judging from the response to his tragic death, he impacted and influenced a lot of careers and lives. I point to a particularly insightful interview of Cole by Jay Rosen at

By the way, a memorial service for Cole is planned at UNC Chapel Hill at the George Watts Hill Alumni Center.

The future of journalism

January 5, 2007

What does it look like? I’ve spent a good chunk of my Christmas vacation (ah, one of the perqs of academic life) thinking about this question and reading a great deal about trends that suggest possible answers.

Based on that reading and on a lot of years in journalism, I’ve come up with a short list that hopefully at least informs the discussion. No one can give definitive answers. If you’re going to predict, predict often!

Journalism in the future likely will be:

  • delivered via devices that are mobile, portable and always on
  • socially networked and, therefore, contextualized and commented upon almost immediately
  • hyperlocal, though I do not define “local” in purely physical terms (think proximity online)
  • rich in media, particularly the visual (anyone read “Amusing Ourselves to Death” recently?)
  • transparent and, therefore, increasingly accountable (they are “fact-checking our ass”)
  • hyperlinked, cross-linked, meshed (have you seen EPIC’s Google Grid?)
  • one part of a media environment or landscape and not a destination location
  • participative and collaborative (the producer-consumer, sender-receiver dichotomy is gone)
  • open-ended, in process and always in play rather than “minted” (postmodernism)
  • entertaining, though not always necessarily overtly so (back to Postman)
  • datamapped, customized and, as I mentioned a few bullets up, highly contextualized and atomized
  • unbundled (think of The Long Tail and niches; the old news containers will no longer be relevant)
  • a profession in which reputation, independence, integrity and trust will still matter, and they will matter a lot; how these values will be demonstrated, however, will change (are changing)
  • a business sector where breaking news is merely a commodity, going back to the previous item, rewarding intead perspective, analysis and meaning, as well as new, more interpersonal elements like community and collaboration
  • de-massified, related to the unbundling of journalism; for lots of small audiences (the tail) rather than one mass audience
  • as many have said, a conversation rather than a lecture (my metaphor: more like improv, audience participation theater and less like opera buffo)

Oh, I could truly go on and on and on. In fact, I will, just not now. Plenty here to chew on for a while.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.