Tuesday, July 31, 2007


9rules is a place where members and readers can connect, build relationships, gain exposure, learn new things, and have fun. 9rules started in 2003 with a set of 9 rules:

  1. Love what you do.
  2. Never stop learning.
  3. Form works with function.
  4. Simple is beautiful.
  5. Work hard, play hard.
  6. You get what you pay for.
  7. When you talk, we listen.
  8. Must constantly improve.
  9. Respect your inspiration.

These rules are the backbone of 9rules, implemented in everything 9rules does. In 2006 we realized we had two needs to fill, those of our members and our readers. We found that our member and reader needs were very different and to make things more complex, the needs of our readers varied greatly. 9rules will continue to expand membership to include diverse topics. As 9rules grows, how can our readers filter the massive amount of content generated daily on the 9rules site? To address these concerns a drastic change was required for the 9rules site. The new site, Ali, splits 9rules in two main areas:

Our Choices: An expanded 9rules member section called 9rules Live, giving the reader more options for viewing member content. Each member also has a unique page that integrates with my.9rules allowing readers to add member sites to their favorites in my.9rules along with showing the readers who added them as a favorite.

Your Choices: my.9rules is an area where readers can create a profile and customize their profile to include the content that most interests them. They can add friends, create favorites, and distribute points for content they enjoyed. They can also add their flickr and del.ic.ious content. More options will be added to give you more control over the content on 9rules.

During the creative process we realize that although we live by the 9 rules there were traits that we try to live up to as well:

  • Passionate - 9rules is passionate about helping our members and readers connect.
  • Trust - We realize people trust 9rules and we take that seriously.
  • Creative - We enjoy thinking of new ways to do things, or how to do old things better.
  • Fun - Using the internet is an excellent way to learn but one should have fun as well. On 9rules you can do both.
  • Strong - We have a strong community that we believe in.
  • Pioneering - We like to be creative, push boundaries and try new things.
  • Honest - We tell it like it is, and encourage others to share their thoughts. Some would call this transparency. We call it doing the right thing.
  • Respected - By being honest and making the right choices we earned the respect of our peers...very humbling the loyalty our community has for 9rules.
  • Focused - We have a goal, connecting writers and readers.
2007: a new year, a new 9rules


Blogging the Backstory

 Amy Gahran
  Reporters who are wondering what to blog about, take note of a post published today in Watchdog Earth, by Louisville Courier-Journal environment reporter  James Bruggers : Covering the Army Corps of Engineers (http://www.courier-journal.com/blogs/bruggers/2007/07/covering-army-corps-of-engineers.html ) . It's a great example of how a reporter's blog can tie together past and ongoing stories, to give readers insight into the process of reporting.

Here's an excerpt:

"It turns out there was something new to [USACE] report. It just wasn't in the press release. There's a panel of outside experts made the recommendation. But this is a different panel that had previously recommended an even lower water level [at Lake Cumberland], while also seeming to endorse the status quo. ...However, it was difficult to tell the new story fully because the corps declined to release the letter from the new panel of experts. That raises questions about what else in the new recommendation they may be hiding.

"...During my reporting for this [July 28] story ( http://www.courier-journal.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070728/NEWS01/707280434/1008/NEWS01) , an official told me I might have to file a federal Freedom of Information Act request for the new letter. That could take weeks, if not months, to work its way through the system."

All of that may seem mundane to news pros, but I suspect it's very useful information and education for local people who are interested in or affected by the troubled Wolf Creek dam. It's a way of saying: "I'm still on this story. Here's what I'm doing, here are the obstacles I face, and here are some ideas for what you can do if you want to gather your own information."

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Overdoing it?

Networking: Internet-service providers are worried that new online-video services, such as Joost, will overload their networks

WHEN Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis announce a new venture, the world takes notice. As the duo behind KaZaA, a file-sharing network that was widely used to trade music, and Skype, a free internet-phone service, they have already shaken up the music and telecoms industries. So when they took the wraps off their latest project, a television-over-internet service called Joost, it looked as though the television industry might be the next to suffer. Yet rather than adopting the defensive stance that has often characterised traditional media's response to new technology, the likes of Sony, Viacom and Turner Broadcasting have signed deals with Joost to provide the service with content.

As a result it is the rather less glamorous internet-service providers (ISPs) that are having sleepless nights. Fredrik de Wahl, Joost's boss, says software companies have been waiting for the internet's infrastructure to reach sufficient "maturity" before trying to pipe full-screen television over the patchwork of technologies that are used to deliver broadband to homes. Joost uses a proprietary peer-to-peer (P2P) protocol that pipes data to viewers at a rate of 350 megabytes per hour. But networks are now up to the job, and Joost is expecting to amass millions of users, if not tens of millions, within the year. "It is a bandwidth-intensive product, that much is obvious," says Mr de Wahl. ISPs, he says, should be "aware and prepared".

Some of the companies that run the telecoms networks over which Joost and other bandwidth-hungry services hope to run are less confident that the internet's foundations are ready to bear the strain. Concern over the internet's ability to handle large amounts of video has opened a niche for companies that offer guaranteed network links that run alongside, but separately from, the internet. PacketExchange, for example, trumpets its service as a "faster, safer and more reliable alternative to the public internet". Worries about overtaxed networks are also prompting outright bans on internet video. America's armed forces recently began blocking access to video services such as YouTube and MySpace from their internal networks, because of bandwidth limitations at their internet gateway.

ISPs are particularly worried. P2P applications such as Joost are used by less than 5% of a typical ISP's subscriber base, but they account for over half the total traffic. Comcast, an American cable operator, has been criticised for cutting off intensive P2P-using "bandwidth hogs", even though it refuses to specify exactly what it regards as acceptable usage limits.

Many ISPs have taken the less drastic measure of "throttling" the download speeds available to their heaviest users at peak times, which are between 4pm and midnight—in other words, prime-time for television. Virgin Media, a British ISP that recently introduced throttling, offers a maximum download speed of 20 megabits per second, but this is reduced once a three-gigabyte limit has been exceeded. If the connection is running at full capacity, that will take 20 minutes.

If Joost and other P2P video services become popular, they may prompt ISPs to change their business models. They might, for example, require users who wish to use such services to sign up for special service plans, presumably at a higher price, that allow such use and, perhaps, give priority to P2P traffic to ensure stutter-free video streaming. "There's got to be more realism—we may be coming to the end of one model of working," says Kevin Baughan, Virgin Media's technical-strategy director. Since many ISPs also offer video services of their own they are unlikely to look kindly upon free services carried over their pipes.

The question is whether blocking P2P traffic altogether would be legal. Some telecoms companies have blocked customers from making voice-over-internet calls over their broadband connections, because they are worried about how internet telephony will affect the money they make from traditional phone calls. In some countries internet telephony is outlawed for this very reason. But American regulators ruled that this practice was unacceptable when Madison River, a rural operator, tried it in 2005. And in 2006 after a Chilean operator, Telefónica Chile, tried to block Skype, a court ruled that its action was anti-competitive. It is not hard to imagine the same sorts of arguments being applied to video services.

Mr de Wahl says his company is happy to work with ISPs to overcome problems, and he is confident Joost is not about to break the internet. But he is prepared for conflict. "I'm sure some people are going to try and block us," he says. But he notes that similar worries arose with previous internet technologies, such as newsgroups, the web and file-sharing, all of which involved big increases in the amount of network traffic. "I'm not saying this isn't going to take some new infrastructure," he says. "But it's happened before, and the internet is still here."

Jun 7th 2007
From The Economist print edition

Copyright © 2007 The Economist Newspaper and The Economist Group. All rights reserved.

Ten steps to citizen journalism online

By Stephen Franklin, Knight Fellow

1.  Why the Internet? What do you want to say? What kind of guide is this?

We all have news and stories to tell. But the Internet lets us tell our stories to the world. If you want to tell something important to others, this guide will help you. It's a basic outline that will help you build the machinery that runs your blog: your words and images.  Other guides are technological.  This tells you how to gather information and how to tell it – and tell it accurately. It will offer some general advice on how not to break any laws. Even when you are telling the truth, you sometimes have to know how to protect yourself. You will find advice on that here, too.


"I am a blogger and not everyone wants to be a citizen journalist."

But some of us do.  We want to share information. Many of us think that it does not matter if you are one person or one thousand people. It's your information that is important. 

Online writing is different. To begin, bloggers learn to share their information. This may mean learning from the people who reply to your work on the Internet or from others who write online.

In many places, people like you are pioneers of a new journalism. This is a challenge. And if you hope to succeed and want others to listen and believe you, then you must win their support.

How do you do this?


2. Getting Started

It is easy.  There are many Internet places that are free and the software that is available is also free. Here are some websites that will get you started, will answer your questions and hopefully will inspire you. Some Internet gateways are safer than others. That is, they protect your privacy.

This is important if you want to speak out in a situation where you may face problems. In some situations, everything you do or write can be tracked. That is why protecting your privacy and your work is important.

Some internet hosts also make it easier for us to write in languages other than English. Find out from other bloggers what they use. Or consult some of these websites:

Blog hosts:


http://www.wordpress.com (also available in Arabic)

http://www.blogspot.com (also available in Arabic)


Blogging Advice:

www.kcnn.org (Knight Citizen News Network)

http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=542 (Reporters without Borders)


3. What to say and how to say it honestly and effectively.

Think of yourself as a voice in your community. Make what is important to you important to others.  Make the news you want to tell clear and explain why it is important. Provide as many details as you can and if possible include photos and video to show the truth of your report. If you can copy documents, then upload them to show what you are saying is accurate. If you can upload digital voice recordings, do so. The more we see and hear, the more we believe.

You can have your own point of view or opinion. But if you want people to pay attention to you, you must give them a chance to make a decision. You can present the information you think is important, and then explain your view. When people feel you are honest and credible, they will return to your place on the Internet. You can also separate your work into clear categories. This means you mark some of what you write as what you have learned and reported, and some as your opinion.

Learn how to use your camera effectively to catch the scene that most represents your story. The same is true if you can record on a digital tape recorder or camera telephone the voices that will add to your story.

If you use words to paint the scene or describe the persons you are talking about, you will make it more interesting and bring people closer to the scene you have witnessed. 

When it comes to writing, rely on powerful words to catch people's attention, but do not overstate the facts. If you are telling a story, use drama and suspense. Tell your readers in the beginning exactly what you want them to know. They can go elsewhere in seconds if they are not interested. Use lists and sub-titles to keep them interested. Use hyperlinks to show where to find more information.

There are several writing styles you can employ: You can use a question-and-answer format, in which you supply both the question and answer. You can report just the way you would read something on the front page of a newspaper. You can tell your story in a first-person format, as if you are writing a diary. You can begin the same way an author writes a book; your first few sentences are strong and powerful. You begin with a scene or a personal story and then you move to what the bigger story is all about.

For example, look at some of the ways that the young woman who had been blogging from Iraq in "Baghdad Burning" told.her story.( http://riverbendblog.blogspot.com/)

Be creative. Can you write a poem or draw a cartoon? These, like photographs, may be reliable way to tell a story – and sometimes they may be the best or safest way to provide an alternative point of view. If you want to be more visual, you might want to a flickr account or a similar service.

Construct your story like a building, with a variety of elements: stories, questions and answers, photos, video, audio. The more forms of media you use to tell a story and to convey your information and opinions, the more powerful it will be.


4. How to have people listen to you.

There are technical ways to draw followers to your websites. See the technical sources listed above. But you can also create an Internet location that invites followers. Here some rules that you might consider. 

• File your posts often. Show you are involved in your blog.  This generates interest.

• Ask your fellow online journalists to link to your blog on theirs.

• Use the tags that will link your blog or online journal to others.

• Sign on with an aggregator (like www.technorati.com or itoot.net) that will list your blog.

• Show that you are looking at different issues, and not always the same story.

• Provide as much information to support what you are saying as you can to convince readers that you are a source to rely upon.

When others think you offer a complete picture, they will rely on you as a source. Be honest and fair. Give others' points of view. Show that there is disagreement in what you are writing about and then draw a conclusion based on what you think is true. This assures some that you want them to make up their minds, and that you are looking at all of the issues.  Do not guess or say more than you know. Admit that you have only so much information.  Ask for others' help when there is information that you cannot acquire.

If you are interviewing, search for background information so you are prepared. Do not take up time in the interview making statements and pronouncements. Offer questions that will provide details and analysis. Use your questions as building blocks and remain open minded to changing the building you are making.

Don't discredit yourself or your colleagues by posting inaccurate information.  Don't say something that can have a strong influence over others unless you are confident the information is correct. Wait and think over what you have written before you send it.

Questions: is your work complete, fair, understandable, and interesting? What do you have to do next to take this story to another level?


5. Before you begin, consider your safety. How to protect yourself and others.

Unfortunately, in some places, we must consider your safety. Not everyone faces such a danger, but some of us do. And that is true even when we are doing our best to write honestly and fairly.

If you have reason to think your work online is being monitored by authorities, there are ways to use the Internet anonymously.  That is not easy, but it is possible with some effort.

Here are some sources on how to do that:




If you do not want to blog anonymously, then you have to consider the consequences. Some online journalists want to identify themselves and believe that it makes their efforts more credible.  That is why they include their photos to show who they are.

There are other ways to protect your privacy. If you use a computer in a public place such as an Internet café, you might want to consider a password that cannot be easily discovered. Such passwords contain letters and numbers or symbols. Do not use the same password on different Internet servers and do not share this password with others.

When you are finished with the computer at the Internet café, make sure you sign off. Always delete the computer's history and temporary files. Try to use software that provides more protection for your security. For your own computer, try to use software that protects your computer from being attacked by outside sources.

Many groups offer advice on security. One of them is www.security.ngoinabox.org. Others are:



What to do if your work online puts you at risk:

If you belong to a community of online journalists or bloggers, make sure you have daily and regular contact with them.  If one of you has a problem, then the others will be informed. They should know if you have been arrested or threatened. They should also know who to contact to see if you are safe, and who may be able to help you. Do not ignore threats. Keep them in mind and let others know about them.  Nor should you ignore attempts to attack you.

You have to remember the safety of your colleagues. You do not want to write anything or take any actions that would cause them harm. You also want to protect those who have given you information. Journalist rely on sources and sources rely on journalists to protect them.

Sometimes meeting with your others can create a problem for you and for them. You should keep up to date on the political climate. This is a major point. You need to know whether meetings or simply communicating with others outside of your country on the Internet will cause you problems. 

If you do not have a physical network, then try to create one online.  You might create a community with lawyers, legal rights groups, religious, human rights, community groups, academics or others who are aware of the work that you do in your country. If you cannot find these in your country, look for these organizations in the region.

Often journalists rely on what they read on the Internet and so you can use them as a security net when you have problems. International human rights groups, organizations that defend journalists or that help scholars are good sources of support if you have trouble. It is important to have a network. This can be in your town or on the Internet. They may not free you from prison, but the attention they raise may help gain your freedom.

Here are some of their websites.

http:// www.rsf.org (Reporters Without Borders)

http://www.cpj.org (Committee to Protect Journalists)

http://www.amnesty.org (Amnesty International)

http://www.hrw.org (Human Rights Watch)

We will talk later about learning about your rights as an Internet journalist, and what you should do to avoid unnecessary legal problems.


6. Why you need to manage your blog.

The magic of the Internet is that can be a conversation between you and me and possibly the rest of the world. By asking readers for their views and for information, you are telling them that you want to hear what they have to say.

But you have to be careful to screen for harmful or prejudiced views that will offend others. A good rule is to consider how you would feel if some harmful words were aimed at you.

If you are cautious and follow the technology that allows you to screen comments, you should create a community that talks to you and talks to each other in a civil way. You need to be in charge of the discussion, but you also should not stop others from giving different points of view.

When people disagree, be polite. That will help keep the conversation polite.

Question: What are your own limits for expression?


7. What are your rights? 

Human rights are not universal and they do not last forever.  All of us have rights. But they may differ according to where we live.  Do not ignore the rights and responsibilities that affect you because it may affect your ability to use the Internet. Remember that what you do may also affect others. Keep their safety and reputation in mind as you use the Internet.

Do not jump to say something. Make sure it is correct. Use sources that you trust and are reliable. Whenever possible, provide the source for your information for your readers. Avoid rumors and hearsay in most cases. Remember, freedom of expression is not absolute.

Here are some questions you should ask about your work.

How did you obtain your information?  Does the law in your country allow you to transmit or transfer information that you have not received officially? Most nations have laws that allow us to receive information. You should know the limitations of this law. Some nations also have laws that place restrictions on reporting certain kinds of information. What is restricted in your country? You may violate the law of trespass if you gained information without someone's permission to be there. And lastly, are you allowed to produce video or voice files without others' permission? Most of what we find on the Internet is protected by copyright laws.  

Often people will ask you to protect them if they give you information or their point of view. Can you protect your sources? You should know the legal limits to this protection.

Every society has its red lines. Some issues you cannot touch at all if you intend to continue sharing your voice on the Internet.  That doesn't mean giving up. Rather, it means being careful.

A steady voice is often better than no voice. If you intend to become an activist, then consider how that will impact your online work. What is the price you will pay?

You should be concerned about defamation.  You defame someone when you have injured their reputation. That is a very simple way of defining it. Does defamation differ in your country? Libel is what happens when written words create an attack on someone's reputation.  You can do your best to make sure you avoid this legal danger by making sure that what you present is true. Whenever possible, you should attribute the quotation or data to the source that provided it.

For example, let us say you write that Party spokesman Ahmed said publicly yesterday that member of parliament. Yusuf stole money from the government. That is not defamation because you cited a source.  You are not saying this. If you add the reaction from Yusuf, then you would also be showing that you are providing all the information that you know. You may not agree with what others' say, but it is your responsibility to be fair. Sometimes we make mistakes in what we write and courts in some countries recognize honest errors in cases involving libel.

If you have any doubts about the source of what you are writing, you should say that is reported or that it is alleged. This lowers your risk of legal action.

Let's say you want to report some critical information about Minister Hasan. You should do your best to make sure that the information is accurate and you should say who provided the information.  You might attempt to contact him or see if he has provided a reaction to this news before so you do not need him to give his point of view. The more sources you have the better. Remember, you are giving the news, not making it.

In some countries it is a crime to provoke the government or stir public unrest. The law is called sedition. You should know the government's views on sedition and recent examples of people who have been charged with sedition.

Here are some websites that offer general legal directions and information on media laws:





8. Open-Source Reporting

You can rely on others to help you do your work. This is especially true when you are working by yourself. You can do this several  ways. You send out a message, asking for people to report on a situation. This allows them time to gather the information. When they send it back, you use their words and list the sources they give you. Remember to ask them to provide sources. You then become the editor and assemble the words, pictures or sounds that they have provided.

The other way is that you ask people to send you tips or suggestions for what can become a story or a blog. Maybe you enlist several people in one area, or several experts. You ask them to regularly advise you about what is happening. When something important happens, you can ask them to quickly inform you. This will make your work timely and authoritative. It will also make it more personal.

Opening your blog or internet publication to readers is important. Their involvement can provide the humanity and reality that makes the Internet a new way of communicating. If they feel involved in your work, they will also encourage others to do the same. Consider the work of Global Voices Online. They collect interesting and important blogs daily from all over the world. And many blogs and Internet publications have learned how to become connected.



9. Why your voice is needed.

When we live in silence, we suffer in silence. When we live alone, we suffer alone. When we speak up, there is no silence, and we are no longer alone. Everyday somewhere bloggers make a difference. This is your work.

Please tell me your experience, and what you would add here. Please make this your work and the work of all of us on the Internet.

You can read my blog about Arab journalism at Stevebey.wordpress.com. Also you can contact the International Center for Journalists at editor@icfj.org.


This guide would not be possible without the advice and generosity of many Egyptian bloggers and online journalists. It would also not exist without the guidance and help of the Cairo-based Arab Network for Human Rights Information, http://hrinfo.net. The International Center for Journalists is an international independent organization that promotes quality journalism worldwide in the belief that independent, vigorous media are crucial in improving the human condition.

For more information about the Knight International Journalism Fellowships, visit http://www.knight-international.org/.



Facebook: Ripe for News Applications?

The Web is evolving to become less and less about getting people to visit your site, and more about being where your communities are online. Given that, forward-thinking news organizations are experimenting with various ways to distribute their content online -- including popular social media and networking services such as Facebook (http://facebook.com) .

According to recent statistics ( http://static.ak.facebook.com/press/facebook_statistics.pdf?12:51442) , Facebook now has over 31 million members and is the sixth most-trafficked site in the U.S. Although it started as a service for college students, now anyone can join. Facebook says: "More than half of Facebook users are outside of college. The fastest growing demographic is those 25 years old and older."

On May 24 Facebook launched Facebook Platform (http://developers.facebook.com/ ) , a site that supports Web developers' efforts to create third-party applications for Facebook members. Now there are hundreds of Facebook applications (http://www.facebook.com/apps/) , with more introduced daily. While the applications directory doesn't yet have a "news" category, there are many news applications listed (http://www.facebook.com/apps/index.php?q=news )  there -- mostly sports news.

Tidbits contributor  Matthew Buckland  recently told me that his paper, South Africa's Mail & Guardian, recently debuted its own news headlines application ( http://www.facebook.com/tos.php?api_key=edc5749a56fdbf8897adb05c17bef6ab&next=http%3A%2F%2Flabs.mg.co.za%2Fheadlines%2F&v=1.0&canvas)  for Facebook.

Why bother with Facebook? Buckland explained, "We did this so we could win over new readers and provide a regular stream of news to our current readers." He also noted that South Africa is the sixth biggest country on Facebook by membership, after the U.S., Canada, States, Australia and the U.K. The M&G also has its own Facebook group (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2392388530 ) .

Fellow Tidbits contributor  Steve Outing  (http://enthusiastgroup.com)  observed: "I've heard  Rob Curley  [Vice President of Product Development for Washingtonpost Newsweek Interactive] say that in developing their Facebook application, The Compass (http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=2376704994&b ) , his team didn't think it made sense to have a headline widget for Facebook; they wanted to do something that Facebook's younger crowd might be more likely to use. But I think that Facebook is evolving rather quickly away from its younger skew. I'm getting lots of Facebook friend requests from colleagues who are old fogies like me, so I think that Rob's observation may be becoming quickly outdated.

"I'm not sure that a headline feed widget is the first thing I'd do for Facebook if I were at a newspaper, but it may make sense now that Facebook's [member demographics are] changing."

To which Buckland responded, "I agree news headlines probably isn't the most ideal approach. We are working on more Facebook offerings. But I think news headlines hits the spot where there are readers loyal to certain media brands, and people who either don't understand RSS feeds or can't be bothered with using them. Some may think its handy having their news when they check their Facebook profile. Also, news is our core offering -- so if we were to do something on Facebook, logically that is what we would do that first.

"I agree with Steve: We can't assume the demographic of Facebook is all young and will stay young. Also, at the risk of being shot down, I also don't believe that all young people dislike news."

credit : poytner

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Assignment Zero

About Assignment Zero

Jay Rosen designed Assignment Zero to test "whether large groups of widely scattered people, working together voluntarily on the net, can report on something happening in their world right now, and by dividing the work wisely tell the story more completely." As a first attempt we've chosen to look at a small but growing trend, called crowdsourcing, and the larger practice it's part of— peer production on the new information commons.

Assignment Zero is an editorial project of NewAssignment.Net, in which we're collaborating with Wired.com, with Newsvine helping. NewAssignment.Net, founded by Jay Rosen, is a non-profit pilot project housed in the Department of Journalism at New York University, where Rosen teaches. Its misson is to spark innovation in "open platform" reporting by doing it and causing others to do--and develop--the practice. The site you are at is an example; there will be other projects, probably with different partners, after this.

NewAssignment.Net has received funding from several sources to pay for site development, design and editorial staffing, including the MacArthur Foundation, Wired.com, Reuters Media, and others. The full list of funders is here. If you are interested in funding the NewAssignment's development of open platform, pro-am reporting contact Jay Rosen. The goal is $1.5 million for two years; we have raised about $450,000. We also need in-kind donations of editorial talent, tech skills and other professional services. Assignment Zero works like this:

At each step we are going to enlist the help of anyone out there who wants to see the story of crowdsourcing get properly told. Some will be Wired.com or Newsvine users; the rest will come from across the Web. There's a team of about 10 editors, writers, designers and developers who are being paid to launch the platform, operate the site with users, set deadlines and organize the production of the story. They're going to take one big story -- on the spread of crowdsourcing and the people who are doing it -- and with your active assistance break that story down into interesting and reportable chunks. Some of them we already have. But we need more.

We're then going to develop those topics -- in the open, on the Assignment Desk and in the Reporters' Notebooks -- into more contoured pieces we can formally assign. Each is a part of the larger puzzle. We don't know yet how many pieces there will be.

We'll set deadlines for all those pieces, and with your help find contributors who are motivated and qualified to author them, not for pay (we're not at that stage yet...) but for public benefit and some byline glory in the final product. An "author" can be an individual writer, a team, a blog plus its users. A class could take on a subject area as an assignment, or maybe another high-participation site might take tackle an aspect of the larger story. We'll edit what comes in.

About two months from now -- not a set date, but in terms of a typical magazine schedule, soon -- Wired's Jeff Howe will write his own big story about crowdsourcing for Wired.com, drawn from all the research, reporting and survey responses you've contributed to Assignment Zero. We will publish in a big, splashy package at NewAssignment.Net, everything that came in and made the editor's final cut. Wired will be free to pick and choose from that material and publish any portion of it, in print or online. What isn't in the final package at our site or at Wired.com can appear elsewhere on the Net. (For more, see our Creative Commons license.)

The Story We're Covering

As a first attempt we've chosen to look at a growing trend in use of the Internet, the sort of thing Wired magazine and Wired.com cover. NewAssignment.Net is actually a part of it, but the story extends well beyond possible uses in journalism. We're going to report on the spread of what's called crowdsourcing and the larger practice it's part of: peer production on the new information commons, in all of its forms.

Collaboration online -- and why it works when it does -- is an expansive and nuanced story with lots of locations. It lends itself to swarm treatment. Wired has paid attention to the crowdsourcing of products, which taps people outside the firm as potential producers, typically unpaid but doing it for their own reasons.

While the geeks invented such practices, first with free software, then with open source software, the geeks long ago lost control of it; and today crowdsourcing is on the rise across a wide social landscape, from corporate America and government to the arts. (Wikipedia calls this open source culture.) It even made the cover of Time. The story is getting famous, but the underlying trends (and lurking problems) are for the most part still thinly understood. That's where Assignment Zero comes in. We're covering it and doing it.

Are some of these terms (open source, peer production) a little fuzzy for you? See the glossary. It might help.


E-mail and Journalism: Mix with Care

An expert on digital etiquette examines the advantages and risks of e-mail as a tool of reporting.

By Ellen E. Heltzel (more by author) Free-lance journalist & book critic

In his day job, David Shipley serves as editor for The New York Times' editorial and op-ed pages. But after hours he moonlights as expert in digital etiquette. He and Will Schwalbe, a senior vice president and editor-in-chief for Hyperion Books, wrote the recently published "Send: The Essential Guide to Email for Office and Home." Shipley brought together what he knows about journalism and e-mail in the following responses -- delivered via e-mail, of course -- to some work-related questions.

In every newsroom there's always someone who forwards wire pieces and other miscellany they find interesting to their colleagues. Is this a breach of e-mail etiquette?

It's not a breach of etiquette, but it can be an imposition. One reason many of us are fed up or frustrated with e-mail is because we get too much of it. So the question to ask, I think, before you send a link or a piece of information is: Why am I sending this? Am I sending it because it will be of use to a colleague who's writing a story? Or am I sending it because it's amusing, or because I'm bored, or because it will make me look smart (or funny)? Every e-mail is an interruption. It's worth keeping that in mind -- and asking ourselves if that link we're about to send is really worth an interruption.

A related thought: If you do decide to send that link, you might want to add "No Reply Necessary" to your message -- provided a reply isn't required. Doing so will save the link's recipient from having to send you an e-mail thanking you for sending the link; it will also probably save you from at least being tempted to reply to that thank you with a thank you of your own!

Obviously, interviewing by e-mail has limits: You can't do follow-up questions based on the subject's answers, and the reporter can't take body language into account. So when is this a good idea?

First, disclosure: I have never been a reporter. I have always been an editor. But why let that get in the way? Having seen how hard a lot of reporters work, and often what they're up against, my guess is that most reporters are eager to have as many different avenues to a prospective interviewee as possible. And while there are those obvious drawbacks to e-mail as an interview tool, there are also some obvious (and not-so-obvious) virtues. With e-mail, some out-of-reach people are suddenly within reach. E-mail gives you a virtually indelible electronic record; you can hold people to what they've written. In some instances, I imagine, e-mail can make people more comfortable. You don't feel grilled. You feel like you have time to reply. I understand how that can lead to canned or overly calculated responses, but I also believe it can lead people to be more relaxed and therefore more forthcoming. What's more, I don't think it's possible to underestimate our capacity to screw up on e-mail -- to say things we didn't mean to say. When people get comfortable, they also get careless; that giant "Send" key can lure anyone into sending a message before it's fully cooked. My guess is that more than a few scoops have been built around -- or triggered by -- people who said more than they meant to say in an e-mail interview.

That ringing defense aside, I do think that the e-mail interview should most always be the interview of last resort -- the method you choose when nothing else is possible.

What are some ways of building rapport with your subject through e-mail?

Well, try not to offend your subject! Start from a place of formality -- Mr., Ms. and so on -- and work down. If you're asking someone you've never met for an interview, it's probably best not to begin with "Hiya, Dave" -- or something along those lines. (Or to send out a mass e-mail: "Dear Subject ... ") Most of the reporters I know wouldn't make those mistakes. In fact, most of the reporters I know do a pretty great job on e-mail. They bring to bear in their e-mails the interpersonal skills they've developed over the years in face-to-face interviews. They generally know how to build rapport by knowing their subjects. They know how to build rapport by mirroring -- or picking up on the written cues of their subjects (i.e. using the same sign-off, responding at the same pace and at the same length and so on). And they know how to build rapport by finding ways to let personality (humanity) show through.

As you point out, the Internet gives people enough distance to break down their inhibitions. Should a journalist cut an interviewee some slack or adjust for this?

E-mail has been around for some time. While people make really boneheaded mistakes on it (see above), at this point they should know what they're getting into. My feeling, then, is that there should be no special adjustments. But a reporter should do what he or she does before any interview in any medium: spell out the rules -- and spell them out with extra care if the subject is someone who is not accustomed to dealing with the press.

Should what appears in print indicate that the quote came from an e-mail interview?

I think it should.

How about using e-mail as a form of rough draft -- i.e., after you've done initial reporting, is there anything wrong with summarizing where you're headed for the editor and saving it as a nut graph for yourself?

Nothing at all -- so long as both parties (writers and editors) consider this to be a productive way to work.

A couple of thoughts, though.

First, it's important to keep in mind that e-mail has a powerful ability to simulate forward progress. E-mails are flying around! Something is happening! We're moving forward! But are we?

Second, it's equally important to remember that email is not terrific for sorting out issues of great complexity. In this respect, an actual conversation can do wonders.

Among your seven reasons to love e-mail is that it gives you a searchable record. But later you quote Eliot Spitzer, New York's former fire-eating attorney general: "Never talk when you can nod. And never write when you can talk. My only addendum is never put it in e-mail." When should journalists be cautious about leaving a paper trail?

Always. Not just journalists, of course -- everyone. We have to remember to be aware that e-mails stay around for a very long time. I work under the presumption that everything I write using my New York Times e-mail address represents the paper.

Surprisingly, you and your co-author are fond of emoticons, those smiley and not-so-smiley faces that can be added to messages. When are they appropriate in the workplace?

Emoticons are not for every inter-office interaction. But with close colleagues -- sure. Look, e-mail is an affectless medium. You have to work hard to insert tone. This takes time. (Plus, how many e-mails do you get a day?) Emoticons are wonderful because they offer a really, really, really quick way to insert positive tone in an email.

A big word of warning: Emoticons should not be used to temper sarcasm; if you write something mean, a little smiley face will not cushion the blow.

Ellen Heltzel can be found on the Internet at www.thebookbabes.com.

  Copyright © 1995-2007 The Poynter Institute

MySpace bars 29,000 sex offenders

The social networking website MySpace has reported a four-fold increase in the number of convicted sex offenders using its service.

The company found more than 29,000 convicted sex offenders in the United States had profiles on MySpace - up from a figure of 7,000 given in May.

MySpace said it was pleased it had identified and removed the profiles of the offenders.

Critics of MySpace call for new laws to make such sites safer for children.

MySpace is a personal website tool allowing people to post blogs, music, and videos.

More than 80 million people have registered a MySpace page. News Corp bought the site for $580m last year.

'Screams for action'

The new figures were first released by officials in two states - North Carolina and Connecticut - which have been pressing MySpace to reveal data about sex offenders found to be using the site.

"The exploding epidemic of sex offender profiles on MySpace - 29,000 and counting - screams for action," said Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal.

In North Carolina, Attorney General Roy Cooper wants a state law that would require children to obtain parental permission before creating profiles on sites such as MySpace, and require the site to check parents' identity.

He said such a law would mean "fewer children at risk, because there will be fewer children on those web sites".

Under current rules, users must be over the age of 14 to register with MySpace.

In a statement, MySpace said: "We're pleased that we've successfully identified and removed registered sex offenders from our site and hope that other social networking sites follow our lead."

There are about 600,000 registered sex offenders in the United States.

Story from BBC NEWS:

Published: 2007/07/25 02:04:53 GMT


Social networking website Facebook could be closed if legal action in the US by a rival site's founders succeeds.

Facebook site faces fraud claim
Social networking website Facebook could be closed if legal action in the US by a rival site's founders succeeds.

Three founders of ConnectU say Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg stole their idea for the site while at Harvard.

Facebook has become a global phenomenon with about 31 million users, compared with ConnectU's 70,000.

A Federal case accuses Mr Zuckerberg of fraud and misappropriation of trade secrets, and asks for ConnectU to be given ownership of Facebook.

Last year, Facebook turned down a $1bn offer from Yahoo.

Facebook has asked a judge at a Boston district court to dismiss the case.

Copying claim

The ConnectU founders claim that while at college Mr Zuckerberg agreed to finish writing computer code for them, but that he stalled and eventually created Facebook using their ideas.

In court documents, Facebook's lawyers say that ConnectU's "broad brush allegations" had no evidence to support them.

"Each of them had different interests and activities," they said.

"Only one of them had an idea significant enough to build a great company. That one person was Mark Zuckerberg."

Like Facebook, ConnectU is designed to connect people online. Users create profiles and can post pictures and messages.

The legal action alleges that ConnectU founders Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narenda began developing a networking site in 2002.

They asked Mr Zuckerberg to help finish the code, which he agreed to, they claim.

"Such statements were false," the court documents allege.

"Zuckerberg never intended to provide the code and instead intended to breach his promise... and intended to steal the idea."

Friday, July 13, 2007

Digital Journalism, Paper Packaging

Annalee Newitz, a columnist for the local alternative newspaper, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, recently penned a thoughtful post called, "The future of paper," with the subtitle, "Post-print media, paper will survive. But will print journalists?"

The post's premise was formed through Ms. Newitz's sharp observation of a press release from a Finnish paper products company that is promulgating new product markets for paper, distinct from "traditional" ICT (information communication technology). Clearly, Ms. Newitz reasoned, if the paper industry is seeking new markets, then there must be some perturbation in existing ones.

You already know the answer. Print communication is dying out, and with it goes the paper industry. Over the past few months, I've witnessed the two biggest daily papers in my area, the San Francisco Chronicle and the San Jose Mercury News, announce budget cuts that will slash their staffs by one-quarter. What does that mean for the paper industry? Fewer orders for newsprint.

The reflection this initiates for Ms. Newitz is a lamentation for the fate of journalists who are left to weather this transformation without much or any assistance from their likely-to-be former employers, as newspapers and other media outlets cut headcount.

"I won't miss the paper, but I will miss the journalists," she observes.

This is a legitimate expression. As media industries are forced to radically transform their production and outputs, the individuals most immediately and profoundly impacted are the workers, often left without recourse, with few benefits, and little guidance to reshape their futures and their livelihoods. At the surface level, our economic system does not hold as a tenet of rational functioning the value of respect for labor. Yet any serious contemplation must observe that how we treat those undermined by transition speaks directly to our ability to apply the greatest volume of our creative energy to the problems that confront us as a society.

As Ms. Newitz concludes:

I live in a world where corporations care more about the future of paper than the futures of people who have made their living turning paper into a massive network of vital, important communications. This is not how technological change should work. You cannot discard a person the way you discard a market niche. That's because people revolt. Especially journalists.