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Travelogue 3: Who is & What is developing with “Living Stories”?

December 09′ to Feburary 10′

Journalism has undergone a crisis in the past several years and so has the news that has followed it.  The ‘digital future of news’ is currently shaping the future of how we stay informed and connected to what’s going on in our world.  The internet with online news updates possesses the remarkable capacity to change the way we read news.  Moreover, news agencies have tried very hard to adapt to the changing climate of media within this digital era that has been underway for quite some time now.  Nevertheless, the multi-billion dollar corporation Google has once again tried to revolutionize the internet.  From December of 2009 – February 2010, it sought to experiment with the way people experienced the news online.  Since the experiment, there has been much optimism with how it could change the nature and interface of online news.

“We believe it’s just as important to experiment with how news organizations can take advantage of the web to tell stories in new ways — ways that simply aren’t possible offline.”  - Official Google Blog

So Google decided to team up with two of the most world renowned news organizations: The  News York Times and The Washington Post to see how they could develop a way in which  people could better experience reading the news online.  Like mad scientists (engineers) stuck in  some lab in Mountain View, California they created their own version of Frankenstein… they  called it “LIVING STORIES“.  It’s aliiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiive!!!  Essentially, it is  a “new format/interface for creating and consuming news online”.    Everyday the news of a particular topic or story would be covered or    reside  under one URL with a summary explaining a general overview with live updates of new material in a timeline format, which would give offer readers,  ”a different online approach to balancing the overview [of a topic/or story] with depth and context”.

On the other hand of the debate, Google has been looked at with a great deal of animosity and dislike because of how it devalues the content on the web.  Matt Asay posted one particular comment by Wall Street Journal managing editor Robert Thomson, to call into question this widespread attitude against Google:

Google devalues everything it touches. Google is great for Google, but it’s terrible for content providers, because it divides that content quantitatively rather than qualitatively. And if you are going to get people to pay for content, you have to encourage them to make qualitative decisions about that content.

Nevertheless, the question abounds to why Google would do such a seemingly benevolent thing to help out publishers and news agencies.  What is the underlying rationale or motive for helping the news agencies?  Yet, The NYTimes for example are welcoming the help from Google.  It appears as if the news agencies are following the age old adage, ‘if you can’t beat em’, join em’.  The NYTimes and The Washington Post have worked on a collaborative effort with Google so it doesn’t seem like their was any negative feelings towards each other.  It seems a big brother helping out his younger brother.  While Google has had its fair share of criticism, the NYTimes for example is trying to take its own journalistic endeavors and combine them with the ingenuity of Google.  ”It’s an experiment with a different way of telling stories,” said Martin A. Nisenholtz, senior vice president for digital operations of The New York Times Company, in a statement. “I think in it, you can see the germ of something quite interesting.”

February 10′ and Beyond

On February 17th, Google decided to open-source the code to see what people and developers can do with it.  My question and curiousity, which is basically Google’s question too, is – what are people doing with the code other than making bug fixes here and there?  In other words, How are people utilizing and improving the open-source code of Living Stories?

  • My research and journey will be to figure out what I’m able to on where the project is going since its release to the public.  I have already contacted some owners of the experiment from Google that were in charge of Living Stories and even some people at the New York Times and the Washington Post to see what they are continuing to do with the format.
  • In addition, I will try to seek out some developers who are working with it to see what they have been able to do with it.
  • Lastly, I will also attempt to contact various news agencies and inquire about whether or not they would implement such a format to their online site.

In our recent weekly readings on Travelogue 3, we saw a different viewpoint on collectivism and open source.  I wonder if this would contribute to a loss of authorship or a degradation in the quality of content.  Or would it turn into “mush” as Jaron Lanier wrote about:

Actually, Silicon Valley is remarkably good at not making collectivization mistakes when our own fortunes are at stake. If you suggested that, say, Google, Apple and Microsoft should be merged so that all their engineers would be aggregated into a giant wiki-like project—well you’d be laughed out of Silicon Valley so fast you wouldn’t have time to tweet about it. Same would happen if you suggested to one of the big venture-capital firms that all the start-ups they are funding should be merged into a single collective operation.  But this is exactly the kind of mistake that’s happening with some of the most influential projects in our culture, and ultimately in our economy.

Well Mr. Lanier, it seems as if Google did just that.  It created something and released it to the public for a ‘collective action’ to implement and improve upon the original test design.  If Lanier is correct in his assertion, than Living Stories would turn out to be a mistake in the long run.  However, I don’t think that this will be the case.  I believe that it will only be a matter of time before online news slowly transforms into this type of interface.  Only time will tell.  But for now, I’ll have to find out where the public is taking this “creative monster”.  Stay tuned for more “living updates”…

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  1. ElzbthMllr 10:05, Mar 1st, 10

    I think it will be interesting to talk about this in context of all the readings for this week. It will be interesting to see where your research takes you in terms of figuring out how much better the project becomes now that it is open-sourced. Of course, we have to define what we mean when we say “better”…

    Aside from your research I haven’t really heard much about this coming out of the more mainstream press, or via any of my social networks. Which doesn’t necessarily mean anything, but I wonder if this is going to be considered a success, or whether it will just fade away.

    I will be curious to see what other people comment and I think there’s a lot of stuff here we could talk about related to peer-to-peer production, collective action etc. In some ways it seems that these mainstream news sites are just desperate for audiences and are grabbing at them anyway that they can. But it will be interesting to see if they end up losing control of the content etc. Will there be other news sites that will be joining NYT and WP?

  2. juliette b 11:19, Mar 1st, 10

    Ryan I think your travelogue is actually a great case study of the real input of outsource. Your researches might definitely help the class discussion.

    It seems to me that Living stories offers a new opportunity for users to customize the news they receive by focusing on what interest them the most. But when reading a newspaper, people already look for a selection, not of their own but of specialist…
    Therefore what will be the quality of their selection?

  3. nadine 12:26, Mar 2nd, 10

    I also thought about Living Stories while reading Lanier. You could interpret Google’s move in two ways: was Living Stories turned into source open because it was a success or because it was a failure?!

    I am looking forward to read your feedback from the news papers! Could this become a business opportunity for them?

    Very interesting assumption: the New York Times and the Washington Post are now/have become the “small brothers.” Really?!

    Great point you raise about the problem between quantitative and qualitative content. A newspaper would rank its news by quality (central role: the editor), but Google by quantity (central role: algorithm). What is Living Stories doing?

  4. Harris 12:36, Mar 2nd, 10

    “was Living Stories turned into source open because it was a success or because it was a failure?!”
    Yes Nadine, I think this is the primary perspective in which I will look at Ryan’s findings.
    And so, I am wondering if qualitative ranking is a solution, a next step, or just irrelevant?