A recent flare up between Jay Rosen and Joshua Errett has provided an interesting opportunity to test some of my ideas on diagramming arguments. Errett’s piece has been covered elsewhere, but I want to look specifically at his comments to Jay over Twitter, and determine whether or not he’s being accurate in defense of his piece.

Key for the Argument outline below:
– All evidence supporting an argument is nested underneath it
– All arguments/conclusions are red
– General facts (that I accept as good) are in black

Joshua’s Argument (taken from his piece)

  • [After his description of Openfile]
  • There’s a lot going against OpenFile
    • Citizen Journalism sites have not been successful
      • [None cited]
    • The participatory journalism model has failed
      • NowPublic is dying
      • Others are so obscure Google was required to find more examples
    • Sites like Youtube/Twitter often hit stories first
      • They sometimes get stories first because everything is posted there
      • It’s difficult to harness them for consistently
    • Dependability is the primary problem of participatory sites
      • No consistent topic
      • No consistent time frame
      • No consistent tone
      • Exe – cited OpenFile piece
    • Recommendations for OpenFile’s success are slim
      • Author has never seen participatory journalism work to any degree of success

Assuming I’ve correctly characterized Joshua’s argument here, we can see he has five main points supporting his argument that OpenFile has a lot going against it. The argument is reasonably well structured, though the last point gets a little recursive, I’ll let it slide this time. Two things to note are the lack of evidence for his first point, and his use of a specific OpenFile article for his fourth point.

I won’t dive into the argument head first today. Instead, I’ll follow the Twitter exchange piece by piece, adding my comments along the way. I’ve kept the comments below as close to their Twitter counterparts as possible while keeping them readable.

Jay – Dude at Toronto Weekly dumps on OpenFile. But check the comments, he got the entire story wrong!

True to headline writing in the Internet sphere, this one is a bit over the top. If we boil down Joshua’s story to “OpenFile has some interesting things going for it, but it has a number of challenges as well,” then Jay’s statement doesn’t really hold up. However, if we go one level deeper, there is some room for critique in both the characterization of OpenFile, and in incorrect points (a majority of which would have to be wrong if the “entire story” is to be proven wrong).

Joshua – course. How did I mess up the story?
I never called the OpenFile site “citizen journalism” so comments aren’t fair to the piece. Maybe read again?

This statement is technically true, but I think very misleading. I think any reasonable person would read this piece’s points against OpenFile’s success and infer that Joshua was placing OpenFile in the category of citizen journalism. He even cites an OpenFile article as a case in point of problems that arise with Citizen Journalism. Straight from the piece:

…Citizen journalism sites are, by nature, all-over-the-place on all these fronts.

For instance, a post currently on OpenFile calls fringe mayor candidate Sonny Yeung “among the most measured and pragmatic” of all the politicians running for the position…

Does he directly call OpenFile a citizen journalism outlet? No, but it’s strongly implied and clearly communicated to anyone reading the piece.

Jay – You show no grasp of what OpenFile is about. You compare it to NowPublic, but its model is wholly different. You’re confused.

While I think Jay is being unnecessarily abrasive, I do believe he has a valid point. The comparison to NowPublic, and the greater point that the participatory journalism model has failed, only hold relevance if OpenFile is a participatory journalism institution.

I haven’t read deeply into OpenFile’s model, but the first comment from the person who works there indicates that they only hire professional journalists for reporting. The audience participation only comes in for topic/piece selection. Most media scholars I know would say by those standards, OpenFile is clearly not a participatory journalism institution, which generally requires a large portion (if not all) of the content on a site to be created directly by users.

Joshua – OpenFile faces the same challenges as NowPublic and anything driven by public. As demonstrated. Not confused, but slightly critical.

Here, it becomes clear that Joshua seems to have overstated his argument. Suggesting that a site that depends on users to write their articles faces the same challenges as one who depends on them for topic selection is a logical chasm he jumps cleanly, while Jay and I do not. A review of his supporting points shows that they are largely focused on equating these two sites, though common sense tells us the challenges they face are likely to be very different.

After all, it’s what thing to ask what a person wants to know, but another to ask them to research and write an article on it. Once scaled to the level of a news organization, there will be vastly different challenges between these two organizations, especially from the audience participation perspective.

Joshua – never wrote the models were the same. Not even inferred. Being critical is being supportive. You’re too defensive.

While I do agree that Jay was being too defensive, the rest of the sentence is untrue. The challenges that Joshua describes require a model equivalence between the two organizations… and while he never comes out and says it, I don’t think anyone who doesn’t know what OpenFile is could read that piece and not equate it to NowPublic in every substantial way.

Jay – Your understanding of OpenFile is incompetent; your story requires a correction. You failed to make clear how the site works.

While I don’t agree that there needs to be a correction (a healthy debate is enough for me at this point), I do agree that the piece was, at best, unclear about how OpenFile works. As to whether or not Joshua’s understanding of it is incompetent… I find myself tentatively voting yes for the context of this article. Every point Joshua makes suggests that the public writes the articles on OpenFile, something which the company specifically avoids. Joshua himself might understand the situation better, but the framing of his piece speaks directly to the contrary.

Johsua – editorial wasn’t about explaining the mechanism of OpenFile. It was predicting whether it could succeed.

A solid point from Joshua, but rather than absolve him from criticism, it only provides the motive behind his error. I’m completely in support of Joshua’s right to write a piece predicting the fate of OpenFile, but if he uses as primary justification for his critique an organization which is fundamentally different, and then harps on those flaws as drawbacks as things for Openfile to worry about, then he’s wide open to criticism about misunderstanding OpenFile.

It would be analogous to talking about the challenges apples face by noting all the problems oranges have been through. One can only say that insofar as an apple acts like an orange, and the forecaster would then be liable for linking those two things in the first place.

Johsua – OpenFile faces challenges. If you don’t think so, you’ve been in academia too long.

This is true, but doesn’t indicate whether Joshua correctly elucidated those challenges in his column, or whether or not he made a bad comparison to a fundamentally different company in doing so.

Joshua – attacking journalist/calling names because you disagree w an editorial is unbecoming of man your stature.

Jay was unnecessarily harsh, so I consider this fair play. Nothing in it provides justification for his position though.


While Joshua makes some fair points talking to Jay, he never really justifies equating OpenFile with companies who depend solely on user generated content. As a result, I have to agree with Jay that the piece is misleadingly written and largely unjustified.

Time for my favorite post of the series.

As I’ve looked around the web for opinions and analysis of Google Wave, I can’t help but notice they’re all talking about the wrong thing. They’re talking about the product, rather than the platform.

When email was first introduced, the exciting part of it wasn’t how it worked, but what it allowed us to do. In a similar way, I’ve put my imagination to use as to how Google Wave might be used. Some of the ideas I’ve listed below are good and some aren’t, but as I understand it, they should all be possible. And as best I can tell, that’s what the wave concept needs more than anything else right now… some creative thinking.

Let me know what you think in the comments or on Twitter.

Publishing Applications

While probably not possible for longer works (ie. novels), I think a great application for waves would be between reporters and editors. This is a situation where there’s a simply formatted document, produced under a deadline, that needs close-knit work between two or more people. The tools wave makes available could alleviate versioning issues and keep everyone more engaged with the document as it changes over time.

And once the document’s finished, why not simply publish the wave instead of creating a copy? Updates and corrections can be made to it as soon as they’re known, and comments can be taken in from the Web right on the wave. If one trusts the audience enough, they could even let them add links and supporting documentation from other sources straight to the wave. There may be a few rights issues to work out, but it seems possible that one single document could become the way news is written in the future from draft to edit to post.

One of my favorite feedback opportunities (listed below because it involves automation) is creating a gadget/robot that allows readers of a published wave to vote up or down not just on the post, but on every sentence. The could give the author very specific feedback on what people like and don’t like in the piece.

Automation Opportunities

I’m a big fan of the potential for robots working on waves. Here’s a brief list of some robot ideas I thought of:

  • A robot that checks out any link you paste in, filling out the appropriate bibliographic information in a specified format (MLA, etc.)
  • Create an in-house grammar/style bot so that errors might be caught as they are written (AP Style bot, etc.)
  • An automated spelling corrector… clearly only for egregious misspellings
  • If you use Wave as an RSS reader, automatically push blips you mark to a new, public wave
  • Measuring the thumbs up and thumbs down votes of every sentence in a piece, for specific audience feedback

That’s what I came up with in about a half hour of pondering, and I can’t wait to see what others come up with.

Waves as the New Forums

Forums are great and will probably never die, but what would they be like if we had a wave for each thread instead of a UI that varies from forum to forum? Each forum could implement things that make it unique such as particular gadgets or robots that respond to newcomers, banned phrases, and such, but users could manage all their forum posts from the same client.

Government Opportunities

One of the first things I thought of when I saw Wave was that Congress could literally put legislation together with the tool. Then, with the barriers to watching so low, people could also join in to their favorite legislation’s wave and follow along with the updates. Or, they could express their opinions right in the legislative text. While not the most efficient thing to do, it would certainly be a different way to interact with Congress compared to what people do now.

Being able to track amendments, earmarks, and all the rest with a clear time line seem like an easy win for the public in this case.

Give it a minute and really think, how could waves be used in the future?

Now that I’ve spent a few posts singing praises for Google Wave, it’s time to shoot down some of the hype that’s surrounded the product.

Step aside email, the waves are here

Google, like it has in the past, is working on a new product. They have big ambitions, sure, but they had big ambitions with Google Notebook and Orkut too. Heck, very little of what Google does is created by thinking small.

Google Wave is tricky because it’s a communications platform, a series of tools intended to help us communicate better. There’s a key word in that sentence: US. Ultimately what will make Google Wave die or thrive is the people who use it and how they use it. So before anyone starts making predictions about the end of SMTP, keep in mind that how Google Wave works (never mind how its implemented) will need to be common knowledge, something that at the moment, seems vastly lacking.

It’s REAL TIME!!! OMG!!!

I can see how one might use waves for real time communication, and how it might even be beneficial in certain collaborative settings. That said, I think the feature is vastly overrated. Content created quickly is headline grabbing and interesting, but it doesn’t have staying power. The things that will set waves apart are features that endure over time and make possible things that simply weren’t before. I already have an IM client for shooting the breeze with my friends… impress me another way.

You can play Sudoku in your email!

While I can think of a number of exciting things about waves, I can’t say that finding new ways to kill time is one of them. This might be a personal preference, but replicating a Sudoku game in the middle of a conversation just doesn’t strike me as adding much value to how people communicate. Perhaps if Google wanted us to live in the Wave product it would mean something, but there are are wave features and implications that deserve much more attention than this one has gotten.

That’s my short list for shooting down the Google Wave hype. Hit me with comments below, or on Twitter @remixer96.

Google Wave has a number of things going for it in theory, but I don’t think the most important ones have gotten enough attention from the rest of the web. I’ll cover what has been wrongly hyped in my next post, but for now I’ll stick to what I think is most important with regard to waves.

A wave goes ANYWHERE*

I mentioned this in my overview of Google Wave, but the fact that one can embed a wave in any web page is, to me, a HUGE deal. It takes the effort down tremendously on collaborative projects. It opens up a conversation to the entire Internet if you wish. It allows you to tap into the wisdom of the crowds to help with your research in whatever topic. It’s essentially an embeddable, flexible, more powerful wiki for everyone.

I don’t want to go into specifics, because I’m saving that for the last post in my series, but to me the potential here seems huge.

Comments (and debate) can be localized

It’s one thing to write a 5,000 words article and leave space for comments at the end. It’s another thing to have the ability to comment square on top of what you take issue with in a piece. Opening up inline commenting and keeping conversation physically close to what’s relevant seems like a huge win discussion comprehension.

Automation is awesome

I’m extremely excited about what robots will be able to do once some enterprising developers put them to good use. More than just being able to post to Twitter from your inbox, I can’t wait for bots that add value to a conversation or document as it’s being worked on. The more we lean on computers to handle lower level thinking, the more room in our heads there becomes for higher level thinking and drawing connections between ideas.

As always, comments are appreciated below, or feel free to shoot me an email.

*EDIT: I should be clear, Google hasn’t yet implemented this, and how they pull it off will be important, but I still think the idea is incredibly powerful.

To those who don’t know what Google Wave is, don’t think you’re alone. Google put out both an 80 minute video and an 8 minute video to try to explain it, and there still seems to be plenty of confusion to go around. Here’s my attempt to explain Google Wave in a way that anyone (Mom included) can understand, by highlighting what’s familiar and what’s unique to this new system.

Let’s start with something familiar, email. Email is a fairly simple thing to picture as if it didn’t exist on computers. It’s just like sending a letter. You can stuff things inside the envelope (attachments) or add pictures and make things bold/italic. You can write in several colors, and when you click send there’s no getting your letter back. As your correspondent writes, you can’t see anything in their letter until they send it back to you. When you get it back, there’s usually a snippet of your original message as well as the response. While this is fine for one or two people conversations, things start to get chaotic beyond that (see here).

Aside from links, which don’t fit too well into the letter paradigm, it’s all pretty easy to picture.

At it’s most basic, a wave isn’t tough to understand either. Instead of picturing a letter though, imagine a wall-sized whiteboard, and instead of sending a piece of paper to others, you invite people into the room where your whiteboard is. You (or anyone else) can start the message by writing something on the whiteboard. Once the conversation has started, anyone can write anything at any time (even at the same time), and since you’re all in the same room, you can see everyone’s writing as they do it. You can still write with different color pens, in different sizes, with italics or underlines. You can tape up pictures, maps, and even crosswords to the wall which, once posted, anyone can see and play with.

So far, it’s not too tough to picture. The main difference between a wave and email is that email uses multiple copies of a message, while a wave invites everyone to the same single whiteboard (that part is important). What you do, in terms of typing and putting pictures on them, is pretty similar.

Now for the twists unique to waves/whiteboards.

Twist 1

If you’re all in the same room at the same whiteboard (using dry erase markers), that means everyone in the room has the power to erase, rewrite, and tinker with what other people wrote. This could be done by redrawing graphs, reordering lists, rewriting paragraphs, or replacing taped up crosswords with taped up Sudoku puzzles. If it sounds like Wikipedia, that’s because it is.

HOWEVER, things written earlier will ABSOLUTELY NOT be lost, even though the latest version may not show earlier writings. The reason? Well, think of it as if the whiteboard has been filmed during the whole conversation. At any point in time, you can go back to the tape and see what was changed on the board at any point in the past. Google has built in just such a tool to Google Wave, complete with a play button and slider so you can jump to any previous version of the whiteboard.

Twist 2

In addition to having your friends writing on the whiteboard with you, you can have robots writing alongside you as well (I picture a shiny gold C3PO from Star Wars waiting behind me in case I need him). Google has built a couple of these robots already. For example, Rosy (a la the Rosetta Stone) is a robot that looks at whatever you write on the wall and writes the same thing just underneath it in a different language. That way, you can communicate with anyone who might not speak your language. Another example is Stocky, who we can stand in the corner of the room and write the most up to date price of any stock we want.

Twist 3

The third twist behind a wave is that all your friends don’t have to be in the room at once for it to work. If you need a bathroom break, or want to check out what’s going on in the whiteboard room across the hall, you can do that without any problem. When you come back, everything will still be up on the wall, and anything that’s changed will be briefly highlighted so you can quickly see what’s different.

Twist 4

The final twist (the coolest part from my perspective) is one that doesn’t fit 100% into the whiteboard paradigm, so I’ll talk in terms of technology. The twist is that though you usually look at waves through Google Wave (or Outlook 2011, or whatever), you can put the actual wave you’re working on anywhere on the web, such as in a blog post. Then, you can get input from people anywhere on the web, even if they don’t usually use waves. By contrast, the best you can do with email is post a copy on the Internet, where anything people comment about it stays on that website. I’ll go into why I think this connection is has great potential later, but for now know it’s enough to know that it’s doable.

So, in layman’s terms, that is Google Wave. Not so different from email, but there are a couple of twists that do make it unique. Let me know if you have any questions or complaints in the comments.

Oh, and I love you Mom. 🙂

There’s been a lot of chatter about Google Wave recently, and quite a bit of it isn’t so positive (unless you look on Twitter, where there are both constant pleas and offers for invitations). As one who doesn’t have an invite yet, I wanted to add my voice to the mix with a short series of posts with my thoughts and ideas regarding the wave concept.

For those who haven’t been putting the pieces together regarding recent credit card legislation, Andrew Martin brings up an issue I felt was coming for a while now:

Credit cards have long been a very good deal for people who pay their bills on time and in full. Even as card companies imposed punitive fees and penalties on those late with their payments, the best customers racked up cash-back rewards, frequent-flier miles and other perks in recent years.

Now Congress is moving to limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue for the industry. And to make up for lost income, the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit.

Frankly, while I understand the move by the industry is inevitable, I do have to wonder how effective it will be. I would think that the people who maximize their returns on their credit card offers will be especially sensitive to any policy changes such as annual fees or shortened grace periods.

As one who currently takes advantage of a cash back card, I’m already looking into fee-less debit card options for the day when my current rewards get cut.

Just a quick word for now. Like many other bloggers, I’ve let this site fall into a bit of disrepair. While my last post was technically January 20th, I’ve actually drafted several articles since then (on the Jon Stewart v. Jim Cramer situation, among others), but I haven’t felt that they were good enough to publish. However, I have been active on my Google Reader Shared Items, keeping the commentary going strong.

So, in an effort to revive the blog, I’m going to loosen my restrictions on what I post here. Rather than just long articles, I’ll be experimenting with shorter commentaries, as well as some other video and image-based ideas I’ve been kicking around in my head. If nothing else, it will be interesting to see how the experiments play out.

Today I find myself with split emotions… which isn’t what I was expecting.

I’m unsurprised to find that I feel incredibly hopeful. Today is truly a significant day in history. It is a day that for many holds great power, and I feel incredibly lucky to have helped make it happen in whatever small part I could. It is a day that breaks barriers, lifts hopes, and kindles dreams. It is a good day today.

However, I’m also surprisingly worried.

I know $170 million dollars could have been better spent than on such a show of pomp and circumstance in DC. I know putting so much faith in a single man, rather than the collective voice of many, is a large part of what brought us to this miserable point… yet we’re leaping into another single man’s arms without reservation.

I’m worried that we as a people have built the expectations so high for this one man, that the loss of faith in government if he fails could do tremendous damage to ever reforming it in any meaningful fashion. I’m worried that some will view today as the end of a great social struggle, while others still experience it every day. I worry that after today, the majority of Americans will consider their parts done, and leave the business of the country to “someone else.”

I don’t know what this feeling is called, this combination of hope and worry…

…but I pray that half of it turns out to be unjustified.

Radio MicI listen to NPR’s To The Point with Warren Olney because it’s one of the best sources of balanced information I’ve found. However, I’ve noticed that though the show handles bias better than any other I’ve seen, they have trouble with getting facts straight if people are willing to stand up for factual innaccuracies.

For example, I was listening to “Detroit Pleads for Survival” (12/04/2008) when I heard a clip of a UAW rep in his Congressional testimony. The quote said, roughly, given that Congress recently provided a loan to Citi, the UAW feels justified in asking for a similar loan for Detroit. A commentator when on to say after the clip that the US has started a bailout trend, and now that’s it’s begun, what’s the difference between giving money to Citi compared to GM?

I’ll tell you right here, because the answer is obvious to anyone who has taken Economics 101.

Citi is a bank. GM is not.

Citi participates in the money multiplier effect, which is a mainstay in the valuation of our currency. That doesn’t mean we should write them a blank check, but it does mean that a loan to Citi does not justify a loan to GM. End of discussion.

But even this basic point is missed on To the Point. So I’ve been wondering, how can we improve radio to help overcome this? How can the Internet help integrate factual knowledge as a check in real time against BS commentators?

My best thought right now is to have a team of fact checkers with laptops at their fingertips during the discussion, and to require guests to back themselves up with hard evidence whenever possible. Research in advance of the show could be chached for quick access and use by all parties as well as on the fly lookups.

If you have any better ideas, feel free to leave them in the comments.