This week's MozNewsLab lectures focused on the translation of ideas into workable products, with Aza Raskin on prototyping, Burt Herman from Storify on his career as journalist-entrepreneur, and Amanda Cox on New York Times infographics.
Both Aza (“to design is to inspire participation”) and Burt (“just build it”) were clear that early prototyping is invaluable: it's vital to have an artefact to which people can react. Aza's ultimate goal for prototyping is to convince yourself and others of the idea, and one of his principles is to tell a story while doing so.
So here is my story: while looking for links about prototyping, I came across this article quoting Jonathan Ives, top Apple design guy, which included this tidbit:
"Prototypes create this dramatic shift in the conversation - suddenly it becomes tangible and the silence goes away."
Looking at the bottom of the page, I noticed that it's a rewrite of someone else's tweets quoting Jonathan. This got me thinking about reputation and trust in the context of social media: I don't read macworld and I don't follow that twitter user - so should I trust this quote?
Burt's lecture also covered the issue: he was asked how Storify handles trust and reputation when reporting from social media sources. Burt was unequivocal: "there is nothing that can actually substitute for regular journalism ... you still need to do the work to figure out what is real", but noted that people need help dealing with the flood of information from Twitter.
The ongoing phone hacking scandal in the UK has sparked public debate about journalist ethics, which may push more readers to rely on social media more for news. Likewise, in a trend identified by Burt, journalists are relying more heaving on social media sources – e.g. The Guardian's infographics showing the Twitter evolution of the story. But how can both users and journalists be confident that their (social) media sources are reliable? Can we help them figure out what's "real"?
I propose a configurable tool, both for journalists and news readers, to support them in deciding who to trust. This tool would also fulfil two of Amanda Cox's goals of infographics: to reveal patterns and provide context. For example, if I wanted to check the Jonathan Ives quote above, I input a Twitter username (pfinette) and a subject (Apple). The patterns I'd see would be:
- what the user's published on the subject (timeline?)
- what percentage of their tweets are on this subject
- what else does the user publish about
plus context metrics like how long the user's been tweeting; location; ratio of following to followers etc..
The tool is not just about Twitter. The point is you can add any source (Twitter username, publication name, journalist's name) and find the patterns and context for any particular topic – for example, what has The Guardian published about Newscorp in the past? Is The Guardian's content consistent across the published paper RSS and social media outlets?
Next crucial step: prototype and gather feedback :).