Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Wikipedia and Open Journalism

Any discussion of Open Journalism is incomplete without a mention to Wikipedia. It has evolved as a potential source of information. It has even developed its own passionate fanbase called 'wiki-fiddlers'. Let us analyse the viability of wikipedia as a plausible solution to Open Journalism.

In a recent article on The Register, wikipedia cofounder Jimmy Wales, acknowledged that there are serious quality problems with the online work. This has initiated a lively debate as to the usefulness of wikipedia. Due to its collaborative framework, there has always been a problem of factually incorrect information which hampers its credibility. Moreover, sometimes even when the article is factually correct(in parts), it lacks a logical and consistent flow, which dilutes the intent of the article. In some cases, the article is crammed with too much redundant information, which again dilutes the original intent. Also, another co-founder admits of anti-elitism or lack of respect for expertise. Flamewars on controversial topics is also very common.

A lot of fixes are being suggested. The predominant being, maintaining 2 versions of the article - a stable and a updated. The stable version, is a verified (possibly old) version of the article ( ensures correctness of information ). Whereas the updated version, is the latest version ( having unverified content ). Now, the user has the option to search either the verified content or the latest content. The original author can be involved in the verification process which will help to ensure coherence. There is also a suggestion to include some rating mechanism, which will help to remove redundant content, weed out vandals and reward expertise. About controversial topics, keep the main story fairly unbaised and introduce separate comments to debate the issue.

We have learnt a lot from the wikipedia experience. The most important being collaborative intelligence and distributed editing, both of which would be critical to implement true Open Journalism. The problem with wikipedia is its implementation, not the concept.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Open Journalism and Free Speech

( About the Pic: This is a comic strip made by Bart from a famous The Simpsons Episode ( Season 15 Ep 22 - Fraudcast News ) where Burns buysout all the major media houses in Springfield in order to increase his popularity and Lisa starts her own daily in protest of this. This is a cartoon strip from one of the issues. )

Free Speech is one of the most important rights provided by the constitution. But it has no meaning if there is no proper channel to exercise it. A recent development has brought this problem to everyones attention. Gaurav Sabnis attemted to shed light on the questionable marketing ploy by IIPM, and ended up losing his job at IBM. Newspapers were initially skeptical about publishing his story due to IIPM's heavy ad budget ( main source of their revenue ;)

What we are missing currently ? Major portion of mass media is owned by corporate powerhouses governed by economic and political interests. This results in a Media Bias . A major portion of what we call news is actually moderated piece of information, just enough information to suit their economic and political interests. So, we are missing a medium to exercise true "free speech", without ownership and moderation.

Open Journalism provides an interesting solution to the problem. Firstly, let us consider what exactly we mean by Open Journalism. The sense of "openness" is analogous to that in "open source software"(OSS). In OSS, the source code of the program is available for the user to modify ( patch bugs, add enhancements etc. ). Thus the user community collaboratively works to enhance the software. Similarly, in Open Journalism, anyone is able to report a story and everyone is free to comment on it. This provides an ideal mechanism to implement Free Speech.

Implementation What better medium to implement this than the internet. Although implementing Open Journalism in its purest form ( without moderation and censorship ) and still maintain its usefulness is a difficult task, we make a humble effort towards a close approximation to it. The exact details are still being finalised ( collaborative filtering, distributed moderation etc. ) If any of this sounds interesting you can contact me at

Thursday, October 13, 2005

How to read my Blog

After writing technical documentation for a while, I have lost the ability to write unstructured articles ( thanks to LaTeX ). As a consequence, all my blog articles will have a structure (similar to what LaTeX imposes). You can actually exploit this structure to read the blog effeciently. Let me elaborate. ( If you think I am paranoid for doing this, just have a look at my love for symmetry. I made it from scratch, and it took me 4 complete hours!)

Paragraph Structure. You will notice that most of my articles will have a lot of paragraphs ( corresponding to \section in LaTeX ). Each of which will be complete in itself and will cater to a particular aspect of the topic at hand. Each paragraph will further have some terms highlighted. These terms act as titles for that paragraph ( corresponding to \section{title} in LaTeX). So, in short, the paraghraph will be dedicated to that subtopic. If you are in a hurry, you can just read the highlighted terms and you will get a fair idea of what is being discussed. You can also selectively skim a paragraph just by reading the highlighted title(if you think you already know what is being discussed or that it is not important(formalism creeps into structured articles and some information might be present just for the sake of completeness))

Linking and Cross Referencing. Although my effort is to keep the article complete in itself, I resort to linking when the justification of an unqualified statement is out of scope of the discussion, but presense of it is integral to the discussion. ( corresponding to references in LaTeX ).

Even the flow of article will be quite formal. First paragraph will generally provide the motivation (corresponding to \abstract in LaTeX), and subsequent paragraphs will elaborate various aspects of the topic. Finally, the article will end with some conclusion/interesting observation. Quick Tip: Most of the passages that appear in reading comprehension section of various competitive tests are also structured in a similar fashion ( each paragraph complete in itself, flow etc. ) hence you can use skimming technique as a first read, jump to questions, locate approximately where the answer might be, just read the relevant part and you are done! ( you'll end up reading only 100-200 words out of a 1000 word passage! )

Hope this was useful (even this article is sturctured ... damn!)