Social Knowledge

I found the readings this week to be easier to read than some of the past sessions. The readings were much less statistics heavy than some of the others that we have read. Also, I think it’s the first set of readings that has connected libraries and social computing. Admittedly, I’m a ICS student and am aware that a lot of the people in this class are in the LIS program, but I did not really see the connection until now. Reading about the various ways libraries can take advantage of social annotation and mobile connectivity was quite neat and I hope that libraries take advantage of some of these technologies. And the issue of how easy it is to find bad information online (especially from popular sources like Wikipedia and Yahoo! Answers) encourages users to take things at face value instead of tracing the information found on these pages back to the source.

Since my project has to do with social news, I also found the paper on Digg to be quite interesting. I do use Digg, but I don’t have a very large friend network there. Even though I receive “shouts” from some people I have friended, I tend to ignore the requests mostly because I don’t know who these people are in real life. It seems to me that the users who contribute on Digg want to friend as many people as they can so that they can get Diggs for the stories they create (which is one of the conclusions in Lerman’s paper). I’m also not that inclined to Digg what my friends Digg as well, as I mostly just Digg what I find interesting. Despite the fact that I don’t fully take advantage of some of the things that Digg does as a social recommendation service, I chose to compare online recommendation systems vs. real world advice seeking.  Instead of using Digg as the comparison, I’ll be looking at the news recommendation service SocialMedian, which is a service I’ve heard a lot about but have never really used

In Digg, you can view all of the stories that make it to the front page or you can view the front page stories in a handful of categories.  What SocialMedian does instead is show you the news in the networks you participate in.  Some of the most popular networks are the iPhone network and the social networking network.  According to their Getting Started page, there are over 2500 networks for users to join.  Instead of the self contained social network that Digg uses, SocialMedian allows you to import contacts from a variety of sources, including Twitter and Facebook (SocialMedian also implements FacebookConnect, so creating a profile is as easy as logging in to your Facebook account and
choosing a SocialMedian username and password).  The clips feature allows you to indicate what stories you want to share with other users in your contact list and the network (similar to the Digg feature on Digg).  If you’ve connected your SocialMedian account to your Facebook account, the clipped story can be posted to your profile.

Figure 1: iPhone Network on SocialMedian

Figure 1: iPhone Network on SocialMedian

Figure 2: Post on Facebook from SocialMedian.

Figure 2: Post on Facebook from SocialMedian.

The story of SocialMedian is an example of how news stories are found in the real world.  In the White House, people read all of the morning papers and clip out the stories that the staff needs to know about.  While not all of us have people to clip stories for us, we do scan through the stories in the newspaper or magazine in order to find the articles we are interested in.  Sometimes, we even tell our co-workers and friends about stories you’ve seen or read in a particular news source.  It’s highly likely that they have also seen the story, so you can have a conversation about it.  If they haven’t seen it, you can at least summarize the story and get some initial reactions from them.

There’s a lot of information on the web and services like SocialMedian and Digg allow you to filter this data based on the recommendations of other users.  Online systems have a big advantage in that it can extend far beyond your own personal network.  Instead of a small group of editors deciding what stories you should read, it is a user base with thousands of users.  One downside though is that stories based on rumors can make it into your feed (a la false Yahoo! Answers in Leibenluft’s paper), so there’s a question of trustworthiness from Session 4.  Issues of trust don’t usually arise in real world news sources, although it seems that some rumor stories are making it into the news as real world news sources try to catch up to online sources.  Also, Digg and SocialMedian follow heavyweight models of peer production, so a moderate amount of work is needed in order to get stories based on your preferences.  Perhaps online news services can highlight news from reputable sources like CNN or the New York Times and give them priority in the news feed.  However, I’m not sure how real world news services can learn from the online services, seeing as how the online services have a big advantage in that their costs are much lower.  If there are any ideas out there, I’d love to hear them.


4 Responses to “Social Knowledge”

  1. 1 lisjennifer March 17, 2009 at 8:56 am

    I think real world news services can learn from new aggregator services such as SocialMedian in that they should try to tailor services to individuals. The online component of the Washington Post could have two front pages- one that is for the general public and one for each individual that they could log in and see. This individual front page would have news that you would be most interested in.

    One thing that I just wonder if in general with aggregated news we are encouraging journalism that favors odd and bizarre stories that don’t necessarily deal with the most pressing issues at hand. This is not a new concern but I’m just curious about what news stories are favored. I tend to just look at the BBC and Washington Post homepages to see what’s going on in the world but maybe I should start looking at a site like SocialMedian and seeing how the news looks from that point of view. Thanks for the great food for thought.

  2. 2 Carrie Consalvi March 18, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    I share Jennifer’s concern about the news being filtered through aggregaters. News has taken such a shift in the last decade. Why is Obama’s choice of pet dog blasted over the headlines when pivotal debates in the legislature are buried in the pages? I suggest that this has to do with escapism and the desire to be entertained in a world of stress and business. The more people select the types of stories they want, the less likely journalism is to focus on a range of materials. They will write what sells or they will sink. As a prior journalist, it pains me to write this, but I really feel that personal preference will kill off hard journalism. We need to have a balance between recommendation systems and integrity of the journalism code of ethics (in general, straying far from bias).

  3. 3 junie12e March 20, 2009 at 9:50 am

    I have also used Digg, but really haven’t found it very helpful. Too many stories that I’m not interested in seem to find their way to me. Related to your story about the White House and how people read papers and clip out stories of interest, I am trying Feedscrub, a service that “filters your feeds based on your preferences.” Basically, you subscribe to Feedscrub and tell it what posts you like or don’t like. Supposedly Feedscrub remembers your preferences and learns how to filter out the posts you don’t like. So far it’s been sketchy, but I need to give it more time to actually “learn” my preferences. At least it’s me (the supposed premise behind Feedscrub) that is making the recommendations, not strangers or online “friends.” It seems that sooner or later someone will come up with an application for everything. I like Carrie’s comment about having a balance between recommendation systems and the integrity of journalism. As with most online communities, you often have to take the bad with the good.

  4. 4 Dean March 22, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    Real world news could probably monitor the patterns of these social news sites and provide content that is influenced by user tastes. In a sense, the social news sites like digg and others could be utilized as a tv ratings equivalent by real world news organizations to monitor what types of stories are popular with what demographics. This is assuming that sites like digg are an accurate representation of general public interest.

    I was reading that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer recently halted print media and went to an web-only version. The majority of the staff was laid off in the process. There are some other prominent news corporations that are struggling financially.

    Original content comes at a cost. I’m looking at the business perspective but lots of these social news site utilize content at no cost. There should probably be some revenue sharing mechanism even it’s small. The traditional news organizations could probably follow the same business practices as social news aggregation sites and reach out to popular or interesting bloggers to provide for their own newspaper content at little or no cost.

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