Monthly Archives: October 2009

Imogen Heap reanimates Thriller, just in time for Halloween

Haunting. Gorgeous. And completely different from Michael Jackson’s iconic version.

[First played on the BBC. Hat tip to Popeater, via Kirstin Butler via Steve Silberman]

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At the NPR and PBS unconference, 2009 is the year of “We, the media”

John Boland at Pubcamp

John Boland at Pubcamp

“TV, radio and pro journalism still matter in this new ecosystem”-John Boland, PBS.

This past weekend, I attended Public Media Camp, an unconference at American University in Washington, D.C.

I came away from the two days of sessions, talks, informal discussions, random encounters and rapid-fire information exchange inspired, exhilarated and a bit exhausted. That last is why it took a day to get a post up. By its nature, I couldn’t go to everything. What I did attend, I tried to take notes upon and livestream to and uStream. When it comes to the archiving that video, unfortunately, I endured two crashes and suffered from the lack of a decent mic. Happily, much better video will be coming online from other sources over the next week. What follows are my thoughts, links and video from “Pubcamp.”

Citizen Journalism and public media

The first session of the day remains one of the most memorable. Citizen journalists and local bloggers have much to learn from – and about – one another. “We the media” is a theme I pick up later in this post. Suffice it to say that democratization of the tools for information sharing has taken some producers unaware and left many stations understaffed, at least at the level it takes to effectively engage with those in the community creating the content. That said, many NPR editors and writers are doing quietly effective work in finding, engaging and collaborating with bloggers in the community. I mentioned Universal Hub in Boston, although I’ll leave it to Adam Gaffin, Radio Boston and WBUR to relate exactly how well that relationship works.

@jessieX referenced the tensions in this session in her post on generational differences, “My Takeaway,” where she captures the insight she shared with me in person.

Video of the  citizen journalism session is available on-demand.

Tools for curation of audience-generated content

This was one of the best attended sessions of Public Media Camp and, due to any number of reasons, one of the best, at least in my view. The standing room-only group was organized into as a circle and shared dozens of useful tools and services that can aid stations and editors in aggregating, organizing, filtering and curating pictures, video and text generated from listeners.”We all want to open up the floodgates to UGC and crowdsourcing but there’s issues of trust,” said Andrew Kuklewicz.

My favorite metaphor from Public Media came from Andy Carvin here, in the idea of “trust clouds,” or the social network of people around us that represent who we can believe, retweet, link or otherwise invest with our own reputation. A tool for doing just that if at also came up as “a guide to good journalism.”

Such tools and relationships are critical to both the use of user generated content by stations and the decision of readers and listeners to trust and, in the social media world, pass on information. As I commented during the session, increasingly consumers of media follow bylines, not masthead. To borrow David Weinberger’s phrase, “transparency is the new objectivity.” By showing readers how and where the audience was sourced in real-time, media organizations can make a stronger case for the veracity of such information.

Tools included:

Greg Linch shared the approach to curation that Publish2 takes: “Social Journalism: Curate the Real-Time Web.”

Social Media Success

The most obvious case study in social media success may be Andy Carvin himself. The impact of his efforts have been deep and far-reaching throughout NPR’s shows and staffers. As Amy Woo put it, “I feel the same way about Andy and his tweeting as I do about Diane Rehm.”

Carvin offered compelling examples of success, like an NPR partnership with content discovery service Stumbleupon to create a reciprocal connection w/Twitter. With a little tweaking, a retweet can equal a stumble.

Another site,, “teaches kids to take pics as a way to be advocates for social change,” said Carvin.

He also said that NPR’s Facebook fan page generates some 8% of NPR web traffic. Their testing shows 1 post every 60-90 minutes is ideal for audience. That connection came courtesy of a listener, at least at the outset: The NPR fan page on Facebook was created by a fan. That fan then gave it back to the organization, says Jon Foreman. Carvin’s curation of public radio content took it to the next level.

Hurricanewiki is likely to be cited as a classic case in social media success, where more than five hundred people came together, organized through Twitter by @acarvin. You can see the results  at Carvin also created a hurricane resources community for Gustav on Ning, built in about 48 hours.

One example that came up in multiple sessions is NPR’s Vote Report . Jessica Clark and Nina Keim wrote a report on it: “Building #SocialMedia Infrastructure to Engage Publics.” And while Carvin pointed out where Vote Report fell short, the idea behind enabling listeners to “help NPR identify voting problems” holds some promise. The use of social media for election monitoring is spreading globally now, as can be seen in in India.

The was a different issue with InaugurationReport:- volume. Carvin said that there was simply “too much social media content to effectively curate.” By way of contrast, even a few hundred engaged listeners could effectively use the #factcheck hashtag by to fact check the U.S. presidential debates in real-time.

Greg Linch shared a collection of social media guidelines curated at Publish2, including NPR’s social media guidelines. There’s a careful eye keeping watch here on the ethics that go with the new territory: the @NPR ombudsman was present (she’s @ombudsman on Twitter) and brought attention to how the public will relate to any perceived bias shown on social media platform.

A standard for conduct matters. It’s not all peaches and cream, after all, given the ugliness that online discourse descend into on many occasions. “Posting on our site is a privilege, not a right,” said Carvin regarding the scrum on comment trolls, online spammers & NPR sites.

Video of the social media success session is available online at

Public Media and Gaming

One of the more entertaining and creative sessions at Public Media Camp was the hour on gaming. Educational gaming can raise literacy rates in children, after all – could NPR deliver further by reaching into this interactive medium? Nina Wall (@missmodular) said, in fact, that PBS Kids will soon have available an API similar to NPR’s for educational games.

An excellent summary of this discussion can be found at Video of the public media and gaming session is available online at

PictureTheImpossible is one intriguing example of the genre. The online, community-based game jointly developed by RIT & the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.

The discussion also included  Kongregate and their “social gaming” model, which provides a platform & revenue share for developers. Could NPR follow suit?

Or what if NPR created a fantasy league for news? Points could be accrued for newsgathering, with players trading shows or writers.

It’s been done for politics – check out the case study of an @NPR fantasy league, from Julia Schrenkler: Minnesota Public Radio’s “fantasy legislature.”

My favorite suggestion, however, came from Andy Carvin: a social “Wait, Wait, don’t tell me!” game where the audience can create news quizzes and then challenge one another on Facebook or the Web.

Social Media FAIL

The first FAIL from Andy Carvin? When the hype around crowdsourcing with Amazon’s Mechanical Turk didn’t deliver. Here’s the Wired story on questions about crowdsourcing.

Video of the social media FAIL session is available on-demand. Amy Woo and other attendees offered many more examples of failures.

Apps for Public Media

The last session of Pubcamp kicked off with a description of @AppsForDemocracy by Peter Corbett. Interesting examples about:

ParkItDC helps people find parking in DC, including which meters are broken.

AreYouSafeDC shows potential threats.

StumbleSafely is a guide to bars & avoiding crime in DC.

FixMyCityDC is a web-based application that allows users to submit service requests by problem type.

And the winner, DC311, enables iPhone access (download from iTunes) to the District’s 311 city service site, coupled with a  Facebook App.

There’s more to come: In 2 years, the vision laid out by Corbett  includes “muni data standardization, open civic app ecology and the ‘real-time muni web.’ And in 5 years, the vision for includes ideas seemingly lifted out of science fiction: augmented civic reality, AI-driven civic optimization & “virtual flow working.”

What could be created for public media? Apps that enable listeners to create channels from the API for specific topics. Apps that combine real-time data feeds from government sources with local bloggers and radio stations. Apps that allow listeners to help filter the flood of information around events, like the Vote Report project.

Why develop such apps? Andy Carvin believes that  “the line between content, services & apps is blurring. To create a more informed public, it now takes more.” To not create such innovation would, in effect, be irresponsible.

More posts, eclectica and public media resources

The PBS News Hour has partnered with the Christian Science Monitor on “Patchwork Nation.”

The work of Doc Searls at the Berkman Center on “vendor relationship management” came up, mentioned by one Keith Hopper. More details at is a free group text messaging tool for nonprofit that is useful in disaster and crisis response. was shared by @kookster: free, #opensource toolset for crowdsourced situational awareness.

Plenty of social media application develop is going on at PBS. Their social media guru, Jonathan Coffman,  pointed to the tools at

The Participatory Culture Foundation has launched is a cooperative effort of public media producers to provide financial literacy.

Check out Radio Drupal and for open source public netcasting information.

Session notes for @PublicMediaCamp are going up at the wiki at and are being aggregated under #pubcamp on by Peter Corbett.

My Takeaways

There a lot of smart, savvy, funny geeks in public media, passionate about delivering on the core mission of education, media literacy and good  journalism.

This same cadre is pushing innovative boundaries, whether it’s engaging the audience, creating new technology platform or expanding the horizons of computer assisted reporting. Database journalism is alive and well at NPR – just look at this visualization of the U.S. power grid.

Vivian Schiller said during her keynote that “2009 was the year everything changed.” Out of context, that statement drew raised eyebrows online. In person, there was more clarity. The massive disruption to the newspaper and traditional media industry is now resulting in significant layoffs and a seachange in how people experience events, share information and learn about the issues. Despite the issues presented by ingesting a torrent of new sources of information, the concept of “We the media” has deep roots, given that so many more people now have the ability to contribute news and help analyze it now that the tools for communication have been democratized and often made freely available online.

What’s missing in that fluid mix of updates, streams and comments is trust in veracity. As we all move into the next decade of the new millennium, the central challenge of public media may be making sense of the noise, taking much the same approach that it has in the past century: report on what’s happening, where it happened, who did it and why it’s important, with a bit more assistance from the audience. Given the loyalty of tens of millions of listeners, “we the media” might just have some legs.

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digiphile: Next up from @acarvin’s presentation of #socialmedia successes: @VoteReport: “Help NPR Identify Voting Problems” #pubcamp

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Business innovation through IT: “Computers create more productivity”

During the roaring 90s, technology evangelists convinced business owners to drop millions on IT equipment to cash in on productivity gains and chase digital goldmines online. A decade later, MIT professor Eric Brynjolfsson has published a new book entitled “Wired for Innovation: How Information Technology is Reshaping the Economy.”  He also recently co-authored “The New, Faster Face of Innovation” in the Wall Street Journal/Sloan Management Review.

innovation-ITProfessor Brynjolfsson presented the findings from his book at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington earlier today. After breaking down the components of a large IT project, the bulk of which consist of implementation and deployment, he examined  Dell Computers as a case study in IT innovation.

Professor Brynjolfsson visited a Dell factory, a bustling manufacturer where most PCs are built to completion in one day. During his visit, he noticed that the back third of the factory empty. He suggested to the Dell executive that was taking him on the tour that perhaps that space wasted.

The reply? “We used to use it but don’t need it any more. We’re producing more in less space.”

Brynjolfsson said that Dell had implemented i2 software and completed a business process redesign to gain these efficiencies. Orders are transmitted customers go right to suppliers, which deliver new parts to the facility every 4 hours in a classic case of “just-in-time manufacturing.” Managers are able to both see problems earlier and fix them, leading to a substantial improvement in efficiency.

The exec called up Brynjolffsson later to let him know Dell was now using that extra space, producing twice as much from the factory as a year earlier. In essence, says Brynjollfson, Dell had “built a second factory” – except that it was made of business processes and software, representing intangible assets. “That’s a microcosm of what’s been going on in the US economy,” he observed.

Photomontage showing what a complete iceberg m...
Image via Wikipedia

In that larger context, “computerization” has a greater effect than computers.

Brynjollfsson used the metaphor of an iceberg to describe the role of organizational assets. In that sense, IT capitol and other technological investment are the visible portion of  much vaster organizational complements below the surface. As he put it, “intangible assets are more important in the information economy”

Brynjollfsson cited an broad analysis by MIT of organizational assets, including 1167 large firms over 10 years and 10,473 observations.

The analysis colllected4 principle types of data:

  1. Revenue/market value.
  2. Computer capital from computer intelligence.
  3. Ordinary capitol, labor, other assets, R&D.
  4. Organizational assets.


Brynjollfsson cited three key findings, including identification of a distinct set of business practices common to heavy IT users.

  1. The “digital organization.” That concept describes a distinct corporate culture and organizational process are found at most (but not all) heavy users of computers and the Internet
  2. Higher productivity and higher market value. Firms that adopt this digital organization have higher performance
  3. IT and the digital organization are complements. Firms that adopt the digital organization and simultaneously invest more in IT have disproportionately higher performance.

According to Brynjollfsson, there are 7 identifiable practices of digital organizations:

  1. Move from analog to digital business process.
  2. Distribute decision-making rights.
  3. Foster open information access.
  4. Link incentives to performance.
  5. Maintain focus and communicate goals.
  6. Hire the best people.
  7. Invest in human capitol.

If these practices are better – and they’re noticeably better, says Brynjollsson – why aren’t they being adapted? The dispersion between successes and failures has been growing, if anything, in recent years. What’s the story?

A member of the audience suggested a well-known model at MIT, system dynamics, where a feedback loop that of poor practices trapped organizations in negative spirals.  Byrnjollfson observed as well that decisions that can be quantified or structured are becoming more centralized. Older & bigger firms had a harder time, both in terms of company & employee age. “Most of our metrics were focused on business performance: productivity, profitability, market value. When we asked about employees, we found employees were also better off.” According to Byrnjollfson, firms which adopt the tenets of digital organizations have higher pay, from top to bottom and are less likely to have turnover.

The bottom line, in terms of the professor’s findings, is that information technology is a catalyst for a productivity surge but that  organizational change is the bulk of the iceberg, so to speak. Payoffs only come when investments are made in both IT infrastucture and training, education and incentives in a coherent sytem.

He cautioned, however, that the IT investments of some organization were both overstated and overvalued during the dotcom bubbles, where intangibles were used to justify stratospheric valuations.  Many companies invested beyond an optimal point, and in assets that inevitably decreased in both value and utility over time.

These gains are also realizable only in the context of talented, educated knowledge workers. “Technology investments require more skilled workforce,’ he said. “If you make investments in IT education, you help narrow the wage gap.”

He ended by making an analogy to the invention of  microscopy by Anton Van Leeuwenhoek, which in turn led to a revolution in medicine and biology. In Professor  Brynjollfson’s view, the revolution in data flows inside companies and bureaucracy has the potential to lead to substantial improvements in public policy. The paradigm of managing large organizations through the analysis of real-time manufacturing data can be applied to economic policy, healthcare and energy, to name a few areas of far-reaching potential.

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National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) launches in DC

This afternoon, I was privileged to be at hand at the National Press Club today when Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack launched the National Institute of Food & Agriculture (NIFA).

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack speaks at the National Press Club

Agriculture Secretary Vilsack speaks at the National Press Club

The new institute’s website is

And, it being 2009, you can followed NIFA at @USDA_NIFA on Twitter.

According to Secretary Vilsack, ” NIFA will be the Department’s extramural research enterprise. It is no exaggeration to say that NIFA will be a research “start-up” company – we will be rebuilding our competitive grants program from the ground up to generate real results for the American people. To lead NIFA, President Obama has tapped a preeminent plant scientist from the Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis – Roger N. Beachy, winner of the Wolf Prize in Agriculture and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.”

As I mentioned on Twitter, @FoodSafety and @USDAFoodSafety are  already up and tweeting.

Among other many agricultural science initiatives, secretary Vilsack emphasized that this new USDA institution will identify agriculture opportunities in U.S. that, within 10 years, will be “net carbon sinks.”

“USDA science will support our efforts to radically improve food safety for all Americans,” said secretary Vilsack. “Each year in the U.S. alone, food-borne pathogens like E. coli kill 5,000 people and sicken 75 million more; the cost to the economy from these infections exceeds $35 billion.”

Following the Secetary’s remarks, Rajiv “Raj” Shaw, Under Secretary of Agriculture for Research, Education, and Economics (REE) and Chief Scientist at the United States Department of Agriculture, provided an overview of the different areas agricultural science could positively affect both the energy policy of the United States, food security and, in time, hunger at a global scale.

Raj Shah at the NIFA launch

Raj Shah at the NIFA launch

Following Shah, the @WhiteHouse science advisor, Dr. Holdren, t, leavened the event with casual humor of an agricultural variety, punning his way into a wave of chuckles.

Dr. Holdren was clearly inspired by what he’d seen at the “Astronomy Night” at the White House last night.

More information and video of that event is available at, courtesy of @WhiteHouseOSTP.

Video of the event, including the remarks of all three men, is archived and available on demand at NIFA launch at National Press Club.

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