Social communities

Is there a need for an open-source news media platform?

150 150 eriks

Campware is an organization that is an initiative of the Media Development Loan Fund, Inc., a New York-registered public charity organization. Personally I will contribute to that organization by developing an open source platform, for independent news media organizations with support by the Reuters Foundation. The idea is to create an online newsroom, which can be used by journalists and other communicators in emerging democracies.

That sounds like a great plan, but is there really a need for such a platform and is such a platform really a good business?

I am a 29 year old guy borned and raised in Sweden, a neat wonderful little place in northern Europe. I have been fed with information about everything since I made my stumbling steps in this world (and probably even before that). Ever since kindergarden I have been taught how to behave towards my fellow human beings, and to treat other people with respect regardless of skin, ethnicity, cultural background religion. As I grew and started school, we read about in principal everything that has happened in history without anything being censored.

When I started the university the IT-boom began and I got my own internet connection and thought it was so cool I usually spent hours in front of the computer browsing the web for all sorts of information. I can honestly say that I can read whatever I want to. Basically, I have spent nine years of my time at university level including PhD studies, which has made me a full-feathered, full-blooded academic guy. I have become who I am because I’d lived in a country where that is possible, and more importantly because I know I have the right to do so.

Now consider some boy or girl in a developing country, emerging democracy, state run by a dictator or even just a troubled area. By troubled area I mainly mean occupied territorium. What kind of information will that boy or girl see? Who will provide that to them? What difference between that information and the information I can see, hear or read is there?

The most common answer to that question is to say that the main source of information that reaches that boy or girl is filtered, censored and even wrong. But can I honestly say that the information I read in Sweden is not? I answer that question no.

So what is the big difference?

Well as I see it, the most important characteristics of any democracy is the freedom of speech. If the information "spoken" is right or wrong is not of the highest relevance. The main issue is really to provide enough sources so that there really are multiple sources, because what is "right" information? Who is the one to say that anything is the truth? What is the basis for such a comment? If somebody say to me that the earth is flat, I can present that person with numerous scientific arguments that he or she is wrong, but I can never force him to admit that I am right.

Why? Because of the right to have an opinion. This discussion might seem a bit far out, and a bit too philosophical, but a big issue for the areas I mentioned previously is that the sources of news coverage are very scarce and limited. Then you can easily force an opinion on people. For instance look at Iran that spend billions of dollars on filtering the web for information that the regime does not feel is inline with what the people should hear or is the word of the devil. If you just see one kind of information, that will become the truth. The same is of course true in those areas where the number of free nationalwide newspapers are very few.

So what will an open-source newsmedia platform do then? I discussed this with a close friend. Think of two possible sights to build a house. One that is commonly hit my storms, earthquakes, landslides and thunderstorms, and one that is neat, flat and robust. Which one would you pick to build your house? Everyone will always answer the second one. The same situation is acctually true for investors in troubled areas. There are very few people wanting to invest in an area where your investment (that is your house) is unsafe and can be destroyed in a flash.

The open-source newsmedia platform will work the same way as hiring the right construction firm to make the sight clean, secure it from landslides, and make the house earthquake and storm safe. Such efforts will cost and by releasing the software under an open-source licence, one can however assure that money will not be an issue.

I have spent most of this blog entry trying to describe the need for an open-source news media platform. This is a very complex issue and this blog entry should be considered as an attempt to encapsulate some of the parts of it. The details of how to make this a sustainable solution will be covered by upcoming blog entries.

Taxonomy – The Advantage of Tagging and Folksonomies for Communities

150 150 eriks

The marking of objects within a community with some marks/tags is called tagging. By this the users will acctually give the material the categorization and give it the ranking too. I friend of mine Hermann Keldenich has written an great blog entry about taxonomy and how it can be used.

Why taxonomy? The effects are that the educational power of the material increases drastically and new users can easily jump into a subject as you both have tags from users that no everything about the subject and users that no very little about it. Even misspellings will be covered somehow, as misspelled tags can still be used. No more clicking on "Did you really mean…?".

I like the idea as it really brings back the power to the users and really make sense for users that are not that technological orientated. Yesterday at the MIT-seminar the CEO of Feedster talked about being locked into an environment where everbody just agrees with you and that such an environment really stops the progress.

Isn’t that what they are doing when not listening to the signs of users having trouble finding information? Isn’t it worth looking if they are the ones that really have made the wrong turn? No news where presented yesterday at the MIT-lab acctually. Vertical search is not the solution to all problems, it is the way we are handling the users that want to search that is the problem. 

Here is the blog entry originally submitted in the development environment for AroundMe ( and it is written by Hermann Keldenich.

Addressing a Problem in Classification
An interesting change of handling metadata is going on since services like and Flickr have come out with a new approach to categorize items. Until now metadata had been top-down organization schemes. Services like yahoo hired a professional ontologist to develop their category schema. The classification by taxonomies yields an inflexible system. If you want information on painting a fence, should you look under "home and garden" or "household"? To work around this problem yahoo established the @categories, but this also won’t really fix the problem. Such classification systems, often copied by others, forcing users to view the world in potentially unfamiliar ways. Users often don’t understand highly specialized categorizations.

A further problem of taxonomy is its dullness. You’re not able to search for something that does not exist in the categorization schema. You always have to wait for the maintainers input. A dilemma in a fast growing information world.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against taxonomies, they make sense in many ways, but you only can search in ways someone else has determined. Masses of people depend on the few ones who have done the classifications. But those classifications are often bulky and baffling. The taxonomy structure may be too rigid to support user needs.

A promising way to solve the hassle with metadata is the semantic web. But the semantic web road map was originated by Tim Berners-Lee in late 1998. Now we write 2005. Seven years of struggling with standards and no end.

Giving the Power of Taxonomy to the People.
Now a grassroot solution is appearing. Very simple and very powerfull. What if the users’ thought processes on viewing the world can be mapped? By giving them the ability to tag (label) items we step out of the taxonomy hierarchy. The organic system of organization is called folksonomy, a neologism of the words taxonomy and folk coined by Thomas Vander Wal. One of the most important advantages of a folksonomy is that it reflects directly the vocabulary of users.

"Systems employing free-form tagging that are encouraging users to organize information in their own ways are supremely responsive to user needs and vocabularies, and involve the users of information actively in the organizational system."
– Clay Shirky

Tagging has a social component that gives it its power. Tagging is fundamentally about tapping the collective human wisdom, rather than relying on a computer algorithm, for search, said Ben Shneiderman, who teaches human-computer interaction at the University of Maryland.

Tagging gives you the ability to build systems of organization that are simple and effective and the value of “gardening” (Jon Udell) has a huge impact. If a category doesn’t work in the way you want it to, just adjust the tag by using a more reasonable expression. Step by step you come closer to what fits your needs. Sharing tags like you can do on flickr or empowers network/grassroots approaches. For the first time since computers came along, AI is the mainstream.

Folksonomy lowers the Barriers to Cooperation.
Individuals organize materials with their own vocabulary of terms. They now have the ability to tag their items with terms that will help them to organize things in a way that helps them to find these items later with much greater ease. By using self generated terms, the organizational scheme reflects the individual information needs.

Because of taking place in a public environment, the individual behavior is influenced by and related to other individuals with whom the tag use is shared. There is evidence of community forming through metadata.

A very good and quick outline is Jon Udell’s screencast

A must read
Ontology is Overrated by Clay Shirky

Also widely spread at the blogosphere
Folksonomies – Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata

Explaining and Showing Broad and Narrow Folksonomies by Thomas Vander Wal

Very interesting to see what the BBC is doing
BBC Backstage prototype: social tagging

You’re It!
a blog on tagging