Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Some video examples: SpinSpotting, annotation and editing news article

Last week we spent some time on a video project, the full fruits of which will call for videos of your de-spins. We decided to upload some portions of these videos. There are two here from which to choose (I suggest the second one).

The quickest one is simply me, Todd, doing some SpinSpotting; it shows how my cynical, pop-culture-addled little mind works and, much more importantly, it highlights what we call deep de-spinning. That is, in addition to the easier ways to be a SpinSpotter --highlighting reporter and editor opinion which creep into news, or calling out inaccurate information-- all of which teach our SpinBot what to find in all news, we show some deeper work can do to make news transparent (caution: I find deep de-spinning addictive). Use Spinoculars to reference source material, to out-link to additional information like a YouTube video. You can view that one, here.

The second video is, in effect, the longer version of the above, but it is eminently more interesting with the appearance of Amy McDougall, journalism teacher and SpinSpotter Community Manager. If you view only one of them, make it this one. Amy and I both talk about our excuse for existing and how groups can work together to be SpinSpotters the way some college students have already begun to function. SpinSpotter, featuring Amy, is here:

Friday, October 24, 2008

An Example of how you can SpinSpot Errors of Omission

I was reflecting about the post below ("ABC News Columnist 'Embarassed to be a journalist'") and how SpinSpotter can go past the spin-words on a page and better address stories that the media is not covering, what we might call Selective Disclosure, and how we can draw attention to omitted facts in automated form. Those things are on our road map filed under v-next. In geek-speak: something we want to do. Then it occurred to me that, in the same way that people teach our SpinBot what spin looks like when they mark up a story, users have already begun to point out errors of commission. I wanted a really quick example and remembered a piece I did some work on along with other SpinSpotters (you'll see their markers as well). The New York Times displayed a delicious spin-phrase as the reporter wrote:

Once, the artist formerly known as Barack Obama, the slim, smooth-faced fellow with the close-cropped hair and the trumpet of a voice would riff on 14 varieties of hope and propel crowds higher and higher until he sent them spinning out into the night ready to change the world. Teleprompters were for the earthbound.

I created a marker on the phrase "Teleprompters were for the earthbound" and used the SpinRule Reporter's Voice to describe this case of Spin which has subsequently been voted up to the highest Spin-Rating (5) and has entered into our SpinBot---in the unlikely event that the phrase somehow reappear on a page we scan, we'll tag it.

I copied a technique I picked up from another users (hat tip to "TMills"): I provided a link to a YouTube video showing Senator Obama speaking sans Teleprompter and asked the reader to judge for themselves whether it was hyperbolic to claim --as the Times Reporter had-- that Senator rarely or never used Teleprompters before this stage of the campaign. Here is the SpinSpotter article extract. You'll need Spinoculars to see the marked up original article.

When you see errors of omission you can use similar annotation to add links to where those stories are covered. Specific to the case below, if you believe the media has chosen not to interview Ayers --and, to be fair, he may refuse interviews so as not to add to the controversy if he wants Senator Obama elected-- then you use the SpinRule "Selective Disclosure" and add links to, in that case, the most recent Ayers interviews which disclose, at least, the man's most current public statement. It wouldn't be an interview about his alleged ties to Senator Obama but it may be more disclosure than the media may have provided on whom Ayers is now.

An ABC News Columnist "ashamed to be a journalist"

I find the words of ABC News Columnist Michael S. Malone, an extract of which appears below, both heartbreaking and heartening (does that make me bi-polar?). Malone is abjectly upsets at his profession because of what he considers their bias and their apparent lack of interest in hiding it. It breaks my heart to read that he is ashamed to be a journalist; I am heartened that he had the courage --a trait I still ascribe to the well-practiced profession of journalism-- to pen this. Selfishly, this is why SpinSpotter exists. Read Malone's entire piece, here. Hat tip to LittleGreenFootballs.

The traditional media is playing a very, very dangerous game. With its readers, with the Constitution, and with its own fate.

The sheer bias in the print and television coverage of this election campaign is not just bewildering, but appalling. And over the last few months I’ve found myself slowly moving from shaking my head at the obvious one-sided reporting, to actually shouting at the screen of my television and my laptop computer.

But worst of all, for the last couple weeks, I’ve begun — for the first time in my adult life — to be embarrassed to admit what I do for a living. A few days ago, when asked by a new acquaintance what I did for a living, I replied that I was “a writer”, because I couldn’t bring myself to admit to a stranger that I’m a journalist

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The New York Times on SpinSpotter and, well...

Wow. Richard Perez-Pena at the New York Times wrote an exhaustive piece about us. I got to meet Mr. Pena while in New York as I blushed and gushed my way through the incredible new lobby of the New York Times building which is very much like a modern art exhibit on the power of words. Mr. Pena asks tough questions but also really dug into where we are at the beta stage.

On the topic of coverage, we have gotten a ton of press and some spot-on criticism from bloggers (as well as some praise). I thank anyone who took the time to think about us at all, not to mentioning writing about our little start-up.

That said ... I really feel badly about this next entry:

We are seeing some early morning action with people teaching our system by de-spinning debate coverage. User name TMills sent this piece to me ... which, I regret to add, is from the folks at the Times who just favored us with very fair and very well done coverage (of course you can de-spin that, too). You'll need Spinoculars to see it's full glory.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Firefox Very Beta Learnings + Herman's Excuse for Lack of Posts

Someone recently asked me to describe what it is like to launch a start-up. I told her it is a bit like scuba diving; you have a tank of air, things you want to accomplish with that air and a huge incentive to make that air last. Wise divers don't go it alone. It's also similar in that it's inconvenient to stick your head up while diving. So, that's my excuse for having not posted more---thanks for your patience.

Here's what's up.

Our current Firefox beta test has taught us a lot:

1. SpinSpotters must be able to find each other's work
2. People are very passionate about media bias
3. Journalists are fascinated by the promise of technologies and systems like SpinSpotter.

So, our reaction to these facts:

SpinSpotters must be able to find each other's work: Man are our users diverse in their news tastes -- from MSNBC.com to Alternet.org. This means we have tapped a broad audience---it also means we need to do a better job of helping SpinSpotters find the work of their peers. To accomplish this, we have decided to encourage SpinSpotters to focus on some of the top-rated news sites as the places to both go de-spin and to see what others have de-spun. We will be making that easy to do from our web page and, in the next few days, you should be able to find higher quality and quantity de-spins of Yahoo News, MSNBC.com, CNN, The New York Times and Yahoo! News. Now, get in there with your Spinoculars and add your voice.

People are passionate about SpinSpotting: I guess we aren't the only ones, which is nice to know. The emails about the potential of SpinSpotter have been overwhelming. Because we had so much new technology to build simply to launch, we have failed to truly reward that passion by showing off the work of the people who have joined us in this very beta stage; that will change. Our next release will offer user pages so SpinSpotters can feature their work. There is an easy work-around to that while we work on the user pages: just click "email the article" after you do the work. The landing page people get isn't great and they will need Spinoculars to see all of your brilliance but, it's there. Please email me the work you do, too---I love this stuff. My name with that circled a and then our domain and the dot-com.

Journalists are fascinated: It is always nice to have people interested in your product, but for news-junkies who have long admired courageous journalism, this feels great. It also indicates what we have always felt about the vast majority of journalists: they are serious about their craft and want to understand how their readers view their work. In fact, we saw an instance just last week where, after a user marked up a news site and edited the story with Spinoculars, the news site actually changed the article in the exact way the SpinSpotter user suggested. It is possible that this was a mere coincidence -- but it still felt cool.

Thanks for reading,

Todd Herman