A trade journal of a still-emerging field, written by Adam Tinworth.

Posts tagged user generated content

On professional photography versus reader-contributed photography:

Not only did viewers know what they liked, but they were able to accurately identify which of the 200 photos and captions they were asked to view were shot by pros, and expressed a distinct preference for the professional over the user contributed images.

So, yes, then.

Interesting thing that happened while I was away: Facebook posts became embeddable by all.

For example:

That’s one heck of a potential resource for reporters pulling together witness accounts and the like. I’m amazed it took them this long to do it.

Today’s guessing game: who wrote this?

Despite the struggles of the traditional media, there remains an insatiable desire for great reporting, entertaining content, and powerful storytelling. Facebook, Twitter, and the other Silicon Valley-based social sites are amazing distribution platforms, but user generated content alone isn’t enough to fill the hole left by the
ongoing decline of print newspapers and magazines. The world needs sustainable, profitable, vibrant content companies staffed by dedicated professionals; especially content for people that grew up on the web, whose entertainment and news interests are largely neglected by television and newspapers.

Answer: Jonah Peretti, Founder and CEO, BuzzFeed

Publishers aren’t learning the right lessons from Buzzfeed yet…

Camera Work

Like many opinionated rant online commentators about journalism, I get fairly regular e-mails from students asking for my comments on journalism, blogging and social media. Inspired by Jon Bernstein making his responses to one set of questions public, I’ve decided to do the same, if only so I can point any future student who wants to ask about this to the post. Because, really, this is probably my last word on “citizen journalism”.

1) What are your thoughts on citizen journalism?

It’s a horribly dated, misbegotten concept from the mid-2000s that really should have died by now. It’s the bastard child of early online enthusiasts who had an axe to grind with the journalism profession, and wanted to see it wiped out, and the arrogance of journalists, who assumed that as soon as the general public had access to publishing tools, they’d start doing journalism. Instead, as we know, they mainly use these tools to publish pictures of babies, cats and inspirational quotes. That, if nothing else, is the lesson of Facebook.

There are three types of people:

  1. Professional journalists – people who are paid to do journalism
  2. Amateur journalists – people who do journalism for free
  3. Ordinary people – some of whom, once in a while, will do something that might be called “citizen journalism”. 
Sure, the internet has allowed the rise of more amateur journalists – but they existed before. On the whole, they’re either serving unprofitable niches, or, if they find a profitable one, rapidly become de facto professional journalists… The more significant elements has been the ability of eyewitnesses and participants in news events to publish material – information, photos and video – from breaking news events without going through a journalist. There is no such thing as a citizen journalist.
There are just citizens, who sometimes engage in the act of journalism.
Besides, since when does becoming a professional journalist make you no longer a citizen? I’m both a citizen and a journalist. Therefore, aren’t I a citizen journalist? This concept really wasn’t well thought through… And yes, I regret using the phrase “citizen journalist” in my headline on my Guardian Witness post. That was a mistake. 

2) Do you think that organisations with a valued reputation such as the BBC are losing out in terms of journalistic content to amateurs that just happen to be in the right place at the right time?

No, because they’re actively looking for such material, passing it through their social media verification processes and then building it into stories. “Citizen journalism” isn’t competition. It’s a source. 

5) Do you think that citizen journalism endangers any professional aspects of news gathering and the production of news today or do you think it displays a positive effect?

I think it’s a threat to lazy, inaccurate news gathering, as we’ve seen repeatedly. People can correct shoddy journalism publicly far more easily than they could in the past, and journalists’ reputations can be destroyed. It may have a positive effect in the long term, as the media learns how to operate in the knowledge that it will almost always be second reporter on any major breaking news, as people on the groups will end up pushing it out through social media instead. There’s a role for journalists in the social media chaos in the immediate aftermath of a major event – but that’s fodder for another post. 

joanna-geary.jpgThis morning’s launch of GuardianWitness has created some debate about what it actually is. The Guardian’s digital development editor Joanna Geary (friend of the blog 😉 ) was kind enough to give me a ring and answered some of my questions about the background of the service.

First up: this was built in two months. The sponsorship pot from EE gave them a budget and time to get the job done, but not necessarily have everything they wanted at launch. She says it’s a complete, working system that can be built upon. I suggest the phrase “minimum viable product” to Jo but she suggests that it’s a full product – one that will be built on. Do they have aspirations for more integration with social media? Yes, they do. And it’s something they’re looking at as the system develops. 

The key part of the development which is invisible to us right now is that the Guardian Witness system is deeply integrated with the Guardian’s CMS. Once the content has passed through verification, it’s available to the journalists, and they can insert it into a story or liveblog just by inserting an URL, which creates an embedded version of the contribution that links back to the contributor’s profile. 

“The really exciting thing is not what you see now, but what you see when Witness is included in a story,” she says. It’s a tool to facilitate genuine collaborative working between the journalist and external witnesses. Jo says they’ll collaborate with people on the ground, or with expert knowledge, in any way they can – and already do, via phone and other traditional methods. This adds another tool for doing that. 

Verification is journalism

Thumbnail image for GuardianWitness on the iPhoneVerification is critical, and there are basic verification tools built into the system, that look at things like a photograph’s EXIF data and compare it to the claimed location, for example. Once something’s through that front line, it goes through a series of journalist-driven verification checks, that start at “is this a tall building or is it actually a hippopotamus?” and ends with detailed checking of the veracity of the contribution. “People suggest this is about free content, but it’s actually costing a lot in time,” she suggests – although she acknowledges that the issue of payment (or not) for contributions will likely be a point of discussion and criticism. 

More than 100 journalists have been put through training around Witness, focusing on good stories for assignments and verification techniques, which was delivered by Jo and Claire Wardle. Jo describes the reaction from the newsroom as “exciting”, which, in my experience, is pretty uncommon in a launch like this. It’s a hopeful sign, if true. Generally it takes time and some successes to persuade the oft-skeptical journalism community that this is the right sort of initiative.  

An experienced team

Jo is clear that she and the team are aware of previous failures in this space – that’s why they’ve so consciously steered away from tainted terms like “user-generated content” and “citizen journalism”. They are not, she emphasises, just creating a place for the community to talk to itself, or for The Guardian to grab free content, but a system that facilitates collaboration between professional journalists and The Guardian community. 

Talking of the team – there’s some interesting talent on board. Phillipa Law is ex-BBC and is in the process of doing a PhD in online collaboration, while Caroline Bannock is a news producer from Channel 4 news. They’ve been working with both key community members and the journalists in the weeks building up to the launch to explain to them what The Guardian are trying to do

“We’re just getting started with it,” says Jo. “I’m really excited to see where it goes.”

Opening Remarks – Rob Grimshaw, managing director of FT.comRob Grimshaw

Rob Grimshaw kicked off by making a rather disparaging comment about digital being for the whole company (which I agree with) rather than “100 geeks in the corner” (which is a pretty shoddy way of describing the digital pioneers in publishing business)…

How to take traditional businesses and their successful models and translate them into digital models, he asks. And he admits that it might involve working in very, very different ways.

Harnessing the power of social media – Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia

Jimmy Wales first met Tim Bradshaw at one of these events – and coughed red wine all over him…

Wikipedia was based on the idea of giving every human being on the planet free access to the sum of all human knowledge. Wales asks how many of the audience have edited Wikipedia – I’d estimate about 10% based on the show of hands, and he thought that was low for a digital conference. Wikipedia isn’t just free for use, it’s free for reuse, too. That’s been an important element of its growth – the only requirement is attribution, which generally means a link back. And those links are a huge factor in its seach ranking and its traffic.

Wikipedia is very specifically an encyclopedia. Lots of people think that “harnessing the power of social media” is writing an advert for your company within Wikipedia – and that ends in tears, because it gets deleted by Wikipedians. The content isn’t evenly distributed by language, though, with English and European languages dominating. Content creation is roughly balanced in subject type across cultures, but content consumption varies wildly. The Japanese read more pop culture than any other nation. The Germans are the most interested in geography. Nick Clegg’s entry is only really read in the UK – the rest of the world isn’t interested in the UK’s deputy prime minister.

Who writes Wikipedia? For the next generation coming up, Wikipedia is just part of the infrastructure of the internet. They see encyclopedias in the light of Wikipedia, not the other way around. The creation community is 87% male right now – Wales is not happy about that, and want to address it. He suggests that the off-putting nature of wiki mark-up is part of that. It means that there are a disproportionate number of IT and tech workers editing the site. The average age of a contributor is about 26. And there’s double the percentage of PhDs as compared to the rest of the population.

Wikimedia Foundation – which runs Wikipedia – is a charity, and has around 100 employees. There are 100,000 volunteers. That “annoying” campaign – his words – when his face appears on every Wikipedia page asking for money is successful in raising the money they need to run. Wikia is their home for things that don’t fit in an encylopedia. For example: Lostpedia – for the TV show Lost. The contributors to Lostpedia noticed that every time someone in the show mentioned Canada, they were lying. The show’s writers hadn’t intended that, but they took note of it and adopted it…

Question from interviewer Richard Waters: a lot of people in this room are tired of giving things away for free.  Why haven’t anti-piracy measures worked?

Wales: To characterise SOPA as Silicon Valley versus business is wrong, it was the internet community that rose up against it. For paid media businesses, Wales thinks the rise of the app store models is interesting. Angry Birds is successful partly because it’s so easy to impulse purchase the game. If I have to go online and get out my credit card to pay for content, that’s a big barrier. Apps are so easy to buy that people do more of it. The way people pay for content has to make sense to them. People would be happy to pay for content they can’t get yet – like someone in India wanting to buy the BBC’s Sherlock. It’s game over for the industry’s staggered worldwide release model. He thinks there are things that can be done about piracy, but we can’t afford to be clumsy and bumbling about it. We can’t afford legislation that closes Wikipedia because one person uploads a copyrighted image. Megauploads was shut down – if we believe what was in the indictment their internal conversations were all about how to break the law – and the law is bringing them down. That’s the right approach.

We’ll always have teenagers finding ways of copying things – remember the cassette tape. You can still go after the large scale pirates where money is changing hands. The law needs to support the way people use media. Why should someone go to jail for sharing a track that they think their sister will love – and which might lead to her buying the album?

Wales is adamant about not using Wikipedia for general campaigning. The decision to black out Wikipedia in protest against SOPA was made by a community vote, not dictated from the “top”.

The audience of Wikipedia is a digital republic – 500m users a month. They’re seeing a shift towards more traffic from social meda – but he doesn’t know the exact figure. Anything huge and in the news sees parallel spikes from social media and search – routine topics are much more from search. Lots of funny, quirky articles get linked from social media. They care a lot about people’s privacy, so they don’t share server logs. They’re unlikely to add Facebook Like buttons for similar reasons. Editing Wikipedia should be a public action, reading it a private one, so no frictionless sharing.

Jimmy Wales

How do they feel about the “closed” world of iOS? He’s concerned. He’s not seeing a big push against net neutrality – but while people get uptight about that, there’s been this whole change where our devices get locked down. But he thinks the open web channel from Safari will stay – the issues are around software development.

The managing director of Encyclopedia Britannica UK is here and has a question (it’s looking like a prepared statement): he points out that Britannica comes higher in brand surveys in the UK than Wikipedia – and he gets asked to turn it into a question. He eventually asks why they went for a charity rather than a commercial model? Wales points out that it’s inherent in the model – it’s built on volunteers, from the writers and editors, to the advocates go out and publicise it. And he doesn’t want to be known as the man who killed the Britannica. No danger of that, quips the questioner.

What are they doing to encourage women to edit? He mentioned a simplification of the interface, and they’re also doing outreach work, to get new people to consider editing. And they’re also looking at the way the community works. When you have 87% geek men, you have certain personalities and behaviours you have to watch out for, because they drive away women and some men.

He hasn’t read Google’s new privacy poilcy – he’s amazed at the effort they’ve made to get him to read it, but he doesn’t care. He always assumed they’d combined information and was surprised that they didn’t. He was waiting to see if the internet got mad about it, and if they did, he would go and look. Wikipedia gathers some basic data, about most read articles, and the like. But they don’t personalise. Probably they should (he says) but they don’t.

Is he worried that making editing Wikipedia easier will affect the demographic? He’s hoping it will. They’re not worried about lots of dumb people trying to edit Wikipedia – that already happens. They’re worried about all the clever people who can’t be bothered learning Wikipedia markup.

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Claire WardleWarning: Liveblogging – error, omission and appalling grammar likely

Claire Wardle

Claire was an academic in Cardiff – deputy ethics officer – lots of conflict over journalist wanting to do illegal things in a “good cause”. On to the BBC College – where there were fights about contacting people and using materials from the web.
For her, the important stuff is the soft stuff – no-one is going to die if we do this, but is it right? Lots of journalists think that all information on the web is free for them to use. It’s nonsense that journalists are all lazy and unethical, but there is increasing pressure on them to get the best news possible… The infamous Hudson River plane crash got used for free. People are getting wise to this – and are starting to put contact details on their pictures. We should ask
Arab Spring: Bahrain – DMs on Twitter are being used to threaten people. Activists using social media are targeted in particular. If we don’t look at the darker side, we’re being naive. Protecting sources is not new.
Blagging? Journalists befriending people on Facebook just to get information about them. It’s not right, but it’s not new either. Journalists have always blagged. The BBC has a policy that an open profile is fair game, but one you only have access to through a calculated friending or because you’re in (say) a university network is wrong.
Verification: doesn’t go away just because the social web is there. 
Claire ran us through a bunch of challenges, and it became clear that there’s an interesting tension between journalistic misinterpretation of the social web, and users not understanding what they are exposing to the world. When those decisions are made in a pressured news environment, some pretty nasty mistakes can be made. 
Karin Robinson

Karin Robinson

Worked on the Obama campaign. Now advises major brands on social media policies. Has a day job and a night job – the night job is campaigning for the Democratic Party. Set up an Obama London blog for SEO purposes. 
Sarah Palin “All round fascinating human being” – put up a photo of Gabrielle Giffords in the cross-hairs of a gun prior to the shooting. Karin wrote a blog about this. And then she noticed that the one thing not removed from Palin’s Facebook page comments was about it being good that a child was killed. It got loads of media coverage – but no-one ever contacted her about it from the media. Karin ended up feeling ambivalent because she didn’t think it was that important in the scheme of things. 
This issue is about how important people are – Palin, for all her fame, is not in government. Should we hold public officials two higher standards that “ordinary” people. For what level of public good is it OK to use fake identities on social media sites? Context is everything. Karin suggests that the more powerful you are (brand or individual), the higher standard of behaviour is expected of you on social media. 
Categories of unethical behaviour: 
  • astroturfing – creating fake online grassroots reviewing/feedback. US airforce looked for persona management software to create fake personas on the social web. Why?
  • stolen identities – some brands write auto-posts from services you connect to Facebook as if you wrote it yourself. 
  • overreaction- Fouad Mourtada created a fake Facebook profile for the Crown Prince of Morocco – and was arrested and tortured for it. He shouldn’t have done what he did – but the punishment outweighed the crime. The Trafigura case was an example of trying too hard to silence things. 
  • spying – US government departments have mentioned that Twitter is hard to get information from – but Facebook is co=operative to requests. The NYPD have a team trawling social media for evidence of crime. Ethical? Probably!
  • inappropriateness – Habitat using an Iran protest hashtag with their marketing promotions. #mousavi. Wrong and stupid. 
So – have clear guidelines, reinforce them constantly, follow the Hippocratic principle – and keep some perspective. 
Danvers Baillieu
Getting harder for companies to maintain the “halo” of being good/ethical. Ethics and the law are not the same thing. Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 gives a carve-out for news reporting – but specifically excludes photos. The Pigs on the Wing debate about the BBC’s copyright stance… The Act suggests that you have to know you are infringing copyright for it to be criminal. Baillieu thinks that it’s reasonable to use it first and ask the question later, if it’s been pushed to a publishing platform like Twitter. It’s an “implied licence” Doesn’t apply to Facebook photos if you’re murdered, because they were published without that expectation…
Plenty of rules govern advertising, and some specifically make astroturfing a criminal offence. Two year stretch! OFT sys it is never acceptable for traders to prevent to be independent consumers. Still, lots of it is happening, and the chances of getting caught are slim. But it does happen. Are you responsible for comments left on, say, your Facebook wall? Yes, if you Like it or otherwise respond to it.
The “Twitter bomber” saga – the CPS are taking a zero-humour approach. Sean Duffy sent to prison for leaving hostile comments about people who had been in accidents our murder – both prosecuted under the Communications Act 2003 (section 127). Designed for heavy breathers on the phone, pressed into action as an anti-troll law. 
Dangers inherent about using people’s social media presence to research them. You can break discrimination act if you do this and discover their race/religion/pregnancy status… Pretending to be someone else for the sole purpose of gathering information is straightforward illegal. Fine or prison. 
(Unfortunately I can’t stay for the Q&A – will try to Storify any tweets later or tomorrow)

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Twitpic becomes the latest in a long line of web companies playing fast and loose with their users’ copyright:

The first part highlighted is a clause seemingly denying anyone who uploads a picture to Twitpic the media exploitation rights for that picture; it specifically targets those businesses who might want to pay for it. The second is a more vaguely-worded catch-all clause that, in the most draconian interpretation, could deny a user from uploading their own pictures to other hosting services like Flickr.

Chris Applegate has done a thorough exploration of what’s going on and Twitpic’s moves to correct the issue.

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Really nice summation of the problem with the “people will always turn to trusted brands” idea that many people in traditional media companies cling to as their hope for survival:

The community gathers around its self-created experts, and with little cost structure to manage, a quality content origination process is activated. It might seem impossible that the value that publishers create will be completely removed, but as we see more and more authors, musicians, and industry experts choose to set up without a ‘publisher’, the likelihood increases. Even beyond these emergent experts, we have an ocean of what is popularly called user generated content, which is of varying degrees of quality, but on aggregate poses a substantial risk to traditional publishers.

Andrew Davies, co-founder of Idio, hits the nail on the head here (and the whole article is worth a read). Yes, people will turn to trusted brands – but those brands will often be people rather than the traditional media brands of the past. And there will be a whole range of trusted sources, from friends, through to industry experts. The question is: can you build a business out of a group of trusted individuals? 

Warning: Liveblogging – errors and typos likely

iVillage – Lulu Phongmany:

Been around for 10 years without really talking to the community about what they wanted. Very different issues drive success in message boards as opposed to content. Content seems tool-based, forums more around mutual support issues.

Food site relaunch: Editors and community managers are of equal footing in the approval process. Integrated community with content so there’s no real distinction. In essence message board content is seen as no different to anything else. 285% up on page views.

The more options for participation, the better. Bake community into the whole editorial process.

Chris Taggart – OpenlyLocal

Journalists don’t generally know much about anything – they aren’t really interested in the subject, just the story. Fine for basic, traditional reporting. It worked because they had skills and access to information other people didn’t have. And all this (cuttings libraries, directories, contacts) have been subsumed by the web. But it’s still about the stories. And they can be focal points for conversations.
Your readers know more about the subject than you do. The thought of doing journalism without involving them is terrifying.

Naked Capitalism blog is a great example of journalism done with the audience.
Newspapers get blogs wrong because they’re not used to having a conversation.

Paul Bradshaw – Birmingham City Uni, Help Me Investigate

Citizen journalism is a patronising and outdated term. It covers a ridiculously wide range of activities: accidental journalism, value adder, data analyst, the ear or eye of a group of friends…

Collaboration is about many groups, overlapping, and working in collaboration. A journalist is an ideal overlap point. Join the dots, make interesting connections. That’s what Help Me Investigate has found in its investigations.

Help Me Investigate is essentially a project management tool for collaborative investigation.
How to get people involved: Don’t ask, don’t offer tokens; lead by example. Share.