Our guest this week was Cody Brown, an undergraduate at NYU who started as a film major, got bitten by the news bug and immersed himself in the rebooting the news puzzle. He is now working on a start-up called Kommons.com.
We invited him because he’s smart and the author of two very provocative and well read posts explaining the ideas he is trying to build into Kommons. The first was MySpace is to Facebook as Twitter is to ______; the second, A Public Can Talk To Itself: Why The Future of News is Actually Pretty Clear. Both generated buzz on Twitter and in their comment threads.
Talk among yourselves
The public can talk to itself resembles an idea Dave has spoken of many times: the sources (of news) can now go direct.
Arthur Miller, the playwright, once said, “A good newspaper, I suppose, is a nation talking to itself.” That and reading the book The Trust, an institutional history of the New York Times, were two things that gave Cody the idea: that journalists should be the helpful intermediary between people who are talking to themselves.
Arthur Ochs, founder of the New York Times actually had this idea. “Ochs was selling a newspaper but what he was really selling was a belief that the pages of the Times reflected a kind of untampered public discourse.”
With Kommons.com, Cody is a developing a user interface for a bounded community to talk to itself and thereby “make” news. “There’s a social graph for talking to your friends and Facebook exists to map that. There’s a social graph for news and the role of Kommons will be to map that.”
Contributing a news article is hard. It takes a lot of time. But in the same way that people would find it difficult to create an entire Wikipedia article but might well contribute a fact or an edit, Kommons will try to aggregate effort. Users might contribute something as simple as a question.
Dave: We’re all trying to solve this. How do you capture bits from the stream and make order out of it?
Cody: In designing such a system you have to take account of many different motivations people may have, as well as the time constraints they have in real life, as well as the fact that some will try to game it.
Jay: In this new system of yours, what happens to the role of the professional journalist as digger, the person who knocks on doors and digs into documents? Are you cutting that out entirely?
Cody: When a reporter is digging it’s because she has a question she’s trying to answer. If we got those questions out through a distributed platform to lots of people, then the digging would go much better. A platform like mine could be a great advantage to a reporter doing that kind of work.
Instead of “institutional brand leverage,” where the powerful Senator from New York has to answer the question because a powerful newspaper like Newsday is answering it, we could have “fluid public leverage,” where the politician knows through a site like Kommons.com that tens of thousands of people in the public have this question… so he better answer it!
If it were possible to aggregate interest, aggregate questions, aggregate demand for information then the accumulated reputation of the existing news organization isn’t as large a factor.
Dave: As the professional news media and its network withdraws investment in reporting, “a platform that facilitates connections between individuals has a huge amount of power.”
Jay: “There’s been a good way to specify what the gatekeeping formula was and there never been a good way of legitimizing it.”
Dave: “Let’s teach journalism to everybody!”
Jay: The press is in the eighteenth century was much closer to this idea. Newspapers then were filled with letters from various correspondents. The readers were capable to contributing because they could write letters too.
Cody: “This is not a new thing, it’s the great return.” Now we have the technology that allows us to make good on a system that was impossible because of the one-to-many economy of print.
You’re looking for investors, partners, helpers, right, Cody? “I’m looking for engineers, the most talented engineers I can find.” (Ruby on Rails developers, give him a shout.) Dave: “Aren’t we all?”
Jay: How are people going to use them? is the big question. I’m kind of watching that.
Dave: List don’t do what I thought they would do. It’s like a bookmark in a browser.
Next week we should do a whole show on Twitter lists and invite a guest who is diving deeply into them.
Here’s this week’s podcast.
reboot09Nov02.mp3 (audio/mpeg, 10.3MB)
Monday, November 2, 2009.