Thursday, December 31, 2009

Prisoners Dilemma at COP15 in Copenhagen; Meanwhile in Mei Lin's Kitchen

Doug Engelbart and David Nordfors
(This blog post was published by Huffington Post 31 Dec 2009)

On December 9, world leaders debated global climate in Copenhagen and Obama was in Oslo to accept his Nobel. I was sharing a glass of wine with Doug Engelbart, father of personal computing as we know it, in the kitchen of Mei Lin Fung, Doug's long-time friend, in Palo Alto. It was a potluck dinner, shoes off, sparing Mei Lin's floors. I sensed links. Half a world away, people were commemorating the world's biggest problems, preparing for gala dinners, while we toasted the birth of perhaps the most powerful tool in human hands, sitting in that cozy kitchen among people who had made it happen.

Doug was guest of honor. In San Francisco, on Dec 9 1968, his 'Mother of All Demos' gave birth to the modern PC: Doug and his SRI team, with chief engineer Bill English, demo'ed for the first time personal computing as we recognize it today, showing the first computer mouse, interactive text, video conferencing, teleconferencing, email, hypertext and a collaborative real-time editor.
Mei Lin Fung
While Obama was receiving his Nobel, the Copenhagen Climate Conference was becoming a giant prisoners' dilemma. If all cut emissions, all win. If nobody cuts, all lose. If some cut but not others, non-cutters win more than cutters. Which courageous leader will commit first? As fictional Jim Hacker, Minister of Administrative Affairs in the political satire 'Yes, Minister' says: "Courageous? I don't want to do anything courageous! That's the kind of thing that ends careers." Swedish PM Fredrik Reinfeldt's was not happy: "Who sets the speed of progress? The least ambitious."

When groups face common problems, power goes to those who must agree for anything to happen. Often their political power and the value of their 'OK' grows as they hold out--supply and demand. If the problem is bad and people want their 'OK' they say 'Well, first YOU must [insert demads here].' They may be conscientious, backed by their constituencies, so it might not seem immoral. Leaders build power, stature and wealth for their followers by gatekeeping. Some may get a Nobel, others may end up in the International Criminal Court in the Hague. The need for consensus breeds gatekeeping. That's the game.

Back to Mei Lin's kitchen. It might be closer to the solution than banquet halls in world capitals. The name 'Mother of All Demos' came later. The actual name marking the birth of real personal computing was 'a research center for augmenting human intellect.' Doug's idea was not to make computers smarter, it was to help people be smarter. Computers had been about automation, replacing but not augmenting intellect. Doug was lucky, a chosen researcher supported by J.C.R. 'Lick' Licklider at ARPA, the visionary accredited for planting the seeds of computing in the digital age. Normal funders disdained people like Doug: the ideas did not fit their funding.

Lick coined the "intergalactic computer network," a vision of computers collaborating. The Internet protocol that enabled it was invented by Vint Cerf and Bob Kahn. Vint - often referred to as 'father of the Internet' - is today at Google, still reforming civilization.

Doug hosted the second node of the Arpanet, the predecessor of the Internet, at his SRI center, believing that by networking PCs humanity could improve its 'collective intelligence' and solve tougher problems: such as avoid nuclear wars, stop pandemics and solve environmental issues. Solutions via traditional multilateral agreements may be hard: they engender gatekeeping, brinkmanship and cheating on agreements.

But through improved PCs and the Internet, it is easier to innovate, to introduce game-changing novelties, that can bypass obstacles to getting things done. If gatekeepers disagree, innovate and re-design the game to work without them.
Doug Engelbart and Bill English
Bill is holding the Google Phone
This is happening in IT, including music, entertainment and media, not the least journalism. For example, Creative Commons is an innovation of copyright in the digital age. HuffPo bloggerEster Wojcicki, Chairwoman of Creative Commons, as well as the Palo Alto High School Teacher of Mei Lin's daughter among other kids, was also with us at Mei Lin's this evening.

Voices--including Thomas Friedman's--are saying that innovation, not multilateral regulation, should drive the climate issue. The ideal: a balance between innovation and regulation. Necessary international agreements can be driven by the innovation ecosystem, putting gatekeepers at risk of being bypassed. And international agreements can enable the innovation ecosystem, through creating incentives.

David Nordfors
Given the impact of personal computers and the Internet on humanity, I was struck by the intimacy in Mei Lin's kitchen vs. the grandeur of the manifestations of the world's problems in Oslo and Copenhagen. As Copenhagen opened our eyes to the difficulties of creating consensus in a cynical world, perhaps in 2010 meetings in kitchens and garage startups will be equally important to multilateral negotiations in large congress centers. One could leverage the other.

PS. The achievement of 'the Mother of All Demos' was astonishing. Mei Lin: "That demo was never supposed to work." It might not have if not for Bill English. Bill was there, showing his new cell phone. Later it became known that Google had given beta versions of its own Android to selected people (Bill probably among them). Did anyone in Oslo or Copenhagen get one?

Friday, December 11, 2009

Slovenian InJo-InCo 2009 Manifesto

Violeta Bulc's Vibacom have released the InJo-InCo 2009 Manifesto, the project is lead by Estera Lah P0ljak. The publication is in Slovenian, there is a summary in English here. It starts like this:
"Identifying significant events and projects, becoming aware of their importance in time and space, critically assessing their advantages and challenges, capturing responses of different stakeholders, proposing initiatives and future activities. These were our guidelines in drafting
the second issue of our annual publication, the InJo-InCo Manifesto 2009. All of the above is also included in the principles of innovation journalism, from which the InCo movement as a business-civil initiative was initiated and grew into wider innovation communication projects interconnecting different stakeholders of the innovation space based on dialogue. This publication is a result of this active involvement. The title “Manifesto” itself demands action or manifestation, thus we start by proposing initiatives for an innovative breakthrough of Slovenia drafted based on the philosophy, dialogue and experiences of the InCo movement in the field of innovation communication and journalism in 2009. These initiatives are accompanied by commitments the InCo movement will fulfil in 2010 and which we believe will raise awareness about creativity and innovation in Slovenian space."

PBS Mediashift InJo Feature

(Mark Glaser's PBS Mediashift published a very nice feature on Innovation Journalism. Mark is a leading innovation journalist himself, albeit not using that label, covering all aspects of innovation in journalism. The Mediashift blog is an important read, I have had it in my RSS feed for some time, and am now subscribing to the Twitter feeds @mediatwit (Mark Glaser) and @pbsmediashift.

Here is the beginning of Mark's piece - read all of it on PBS Mediashift.

Stanford Program Breaks Down Walls Between Business, Tech Journalism

I am so used to hearing about innovation in journalism that when I first heard about theInnovation Journalism program at Stanford, I assumed that's what it focused on. Not exactly.

The VINNOVA-Stanford Research Center of Innovation Journalism actually focused on helping journalists cover the field of innovation. David Nordfors, a Swedish punk rocker-turned-molecular-physicist-turned-journalist, found that journalists were stuck in silos of "business journalism" and "technology journalism" and couldn't see the big picture of innovation.

In 2003, Nordfors started the Innovation Journalism program, bringing mid-career journalists from around the world to Stanford University as fellows. They were placed in San Francisco Bay Area newsrooms to learn the new ways that reporters and bloggers were covering technology and innovation. Those newsrooms include the Wall Street Journal, San Francisco Chronicle, CNET and even the Technologizer blog. There's also an annual Conference on Innovation Journalism at Stanford, where the fellows present their work and discuss related topics.

IJ conference.jpg

While the program was set up to help journalists do a better job of covering the topic of innovation, there is now a need for journalists to do a better job of covering innovation in journalism itself. Nordfors told me that journalists charged with covering the media are good practitioners of innovation journalism, because they are mixing business, technology, lifestyle and political journalism in one beat. He stresses that journalists need to break out of their silos and go across disciplines for better coverage of innovation.

I recently sat down with Nordfors at Stanford to talk about the Innovation Journalism program, and get his take on the current state of journalism, and how media companies -- and even journalism schools -- need to change. The following is an edited transcript of our conversation, including audio and video clips.

[ read the rest of it on PBS Mediashift / David.]

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Journalism Needs a Business Model for the Truth

(This story is also published through the Huffington Post)

Journalism's first obligation is to the truth. Discussions about Truth and Objectivity in journalism often become questions of journalistic ethics and the trustworthiness of individuals and brands. These are good things but increasingly inadequate in backing up a story.

Convincing people the news is true by saying "because I told you so" is not working as well as it used to. The Internet is making it harder. Today people can read almost any news publication on the Internet, or check the sources of journalistic stories.

Some trusted news brands and individuals have experienced major scandals in recent years. The New York Times suffered from the fake star journalist Jayson Blair. Iconic anchor Dan Rathers of CBS’ high-profile investigative journalism show "60 Minutes" tripped with the fabricated Killian documents, and was brought down by blogger Charles Johnson.

How can professional journalism maintain its reputation for truth and objectivity?

The truth is often elusive. Events can have many explanations. Other circumstances are not what they seem. What we believe to be true today may be in doubt tomorrow. And then, of course, there has to be a news angle.

Physicists deal with the truth as closely as anyone can come to it. In science, models that can't predict are discarded and non-repeatable experiments dismissed. When scientific researchers write an article, the reader must always be given enough information to be able to repeat the observation. Otherwise the article should not be published.

Journalistic stories are much less accountable. A journalistic story rarely supplies readers with knowledge and references that lets the readers confirm the story. Links to information sources central for the story, even public ones readily available on the Internet, are omitted. Especially old-style journalism does not use links and references, bloggers do, much more.

Journalists and news outlets committed to the truth can make it into policy to link to important sources, and to write the news stories such that audiences can see how sources and assumptions were used to build the story. If readers reconstruct the story this way, they can add their own research. They can discuss the value of the sources, suggest other sources that were omitted, etc.

Traditional news organizations have never let that happen, because links lead readers away from their site. In their ‘attention’ business model – attracting eyeballs to pages and selling them to advertisers - the site needs to be sticky. Instead, the blogosphere is leading the way in developing the culture of linking to sources, because it depends less on ads.

Unfortunately, professional journalism has deeply rooted traditions. I was invited recently to a conference with the World Economic Forum, where we discussed the role of journalism in society. When I suggested that journalism should link to sources, a world-leading news organization chief commented that they wanted to do it and had tried, but their business did not allow it. For many journalists, that ends the discussion. But this is not where the discussion ends. Instead, it is where the discussion begins. We need to ask: "What are the business models for the principles of journalism?"

Societies that care about improving their collective ability to make priorities and informed decisions, need business models that promote journalists to link to sources, so that both readers and other journalists can check the stories and use them for continued research.

Some people think professional journalism is finished, that it can be replaced by citizen journalism or social interaction in social networks. I disagree. Professional journalists have an incentive to represent their audience. Who knows which incentives unpaid journalists have, or who they have their mandate from?

Professional journalism is needed as much now as ever before. With the Internet, peoples’ worlds of information are transforming from silent rural isolation to the bustling cacophonies of the metropolitan street. Journalists who focus public attention on issues that interest the public, working in the interest of and with the mandate of their audiences will be powerful. They will focus public discussion enabling people to improve society. The key for that is in the business model – journalists need the right incentives.