I have listened to all 82 episodes of ‘Rebooting the News‘, the podcast series by Jay Rosen and Dave Winer. (This probably means that I’m their biggest fan and/or that I should get a life)
I felt an urge to transcribe the following 9-minute passage from episode 82, recorded on February 14, 2011. (More about that later)
Forgive the occasional typos and other glitches.
How is that for a gesture?
[STARTING AT 04:43]
Jay Rosen: ‘Find me stuff that I’m interested in‘.
Dave Winer: Yeah, oh, that’s not a question for me, is it?
J: That’s an opening for our next theme here. This is something that’s interested you for a while; it’s interested me for a while.
D: I don’t know. No, actually this is a recent thing. This is recent. This is like the mantra, you know, when you are a product developer camped out in a category, you know – if you’re listening -, you know what people want. I mean, you get that short list of features that everybody wants and on that list are some thiings that you have no clue how to do. But you’re listening and trying to understand it. And *this* is at the top of the list.
Absolutely the one that you hear the most often is: ‘Just find me what I want.’ Now, my brain kinda turns off when I hear that, ’cause what I think is going to happen if you ever trust somebody to do that for you, they are not going to give you what *you* want; they are gonna give you what *they* want you to have.
That’s what I worry about, that you’re not gonna get… So, any diet of news that I’m interested in has to also include subscriptions to places that are going to give me news that I don’t know that I’m interested in.
J: That’s one of the problems.
D: Well, that’s easily solved, actually. Just take… but you know, here is the model. You might say that I’m addicted to Amazon. I just, like, in an idle moment, if there’s nothing happening in the world, I’ll go to Amazon, I’ll go through their recommendations, right?
J: Recommendations for what?
D: For products that they want me to buy. Things they want me to buy. So I can influence that, I can definitely influence it. Like, I was looking for a lamp a couple of weeks ago. And now they show me lamps. Or, I buy a lot of shirts through Amazon and… I always get shirts. I buy a lot of books, I get a lot of books. I’ve bought stereo equipment, computer nerd stuff, vitamins… This is an interesting mix…
J: It’s just reacting to what you bought before.
D: And I can manipulate it by just looking at things. I can inform them that this is an interest of mine. And they will start recommending things for me. I think, well, the epiphany was, why don’t we do this for news?
What we need is a way of expressing an interest in a news area, right?
D: In other words, the equivalent of looking at lamps. Or the equivalent of looking at cameras. Well, I look at a story about prince Charles, right? So, the system infers… Maybe I don’t look at a story, but I tweet a link to it.
J: Well that would be a stronger signal.
D: And maybe that’s the only signal I want it to use, is the fact that – and this is a way that I have become… I think of this as becoming my own editor-in-chief.
J: Yeah, I would love that. If it took everything that I tweeted…
D: Actually, you know, the technology…
J: That’s not a bad idea.
D: The technology here is…
J: It can’t be that far away.
D: It’s not far away. I was about to say, we know how to do this. This is like a well-worn path. It’s not something, not a whole lot of innovation, *no* innovation needed here.
The bad new is that, as far as I could tell, only one or two people reading that blog post understood what I was talking about. ‘Cause the responses that I got were like, oh that’s already been done.
J: People always say that.
D: They do. And they’re always wrong. Because usually they are the people who made the product and they are pitching it. They are trying to sneak in all their spam there.
So, I don’t know, if anybody listening to this wants to do this, just let me know. I want to do it. I’d like to get into a position to do this.
J: Every time I look at a product that [claims] to be able to do this, to send me a quote-unquote ‘personalized news stream’, the problem I find is that they have these pre-fab categories that represent what *they* think of as the significant divisions of news, right? Like: ‘business’. Well, I’m not interested in ‘business’.
D: That’s bogus. This is why I get bored, my eyes glaze over…
J: It’s a category of production, it’s not a category of use.
J: And that’s the problem…
D: Do you know why it’s a problem for them, is that they’re not… First of all, this wouldn’t work for everybody. Okay? Let’s be clear about this.
J: Right. What I want is something that works for me.
D: Exactly. And you would be easy, because we already have a very good handle on your stuff.
J: [Well, I would be...]
D: We have it in a database. I have your links in a database, right?
D: So, building it for you would be easy. And you know, once you get a little critical mass thing going there, it is just self-maintaining. Because the things I link to, you know, if I have a hundred people in this mix, I can now do collaborative filtering. That’s the name for the technology you use here.
J: Right, so give me a quick sketch: what is collaborative filtering? I think I know, but…
D: ‘People who like this, also like this’. That’s the idea.
J: Right right right.
D: It’s like Facebook recommending friends to you. It has noticed that you and this person are friends with five other people. Therefore we might guess that you might like anybody that this person is a friend with. So we’ll start suggesting this to you.
J: Product, yes, Amazon does that.
D: News is a product just like that. There is no reason news can’t submit to this. Also there is another source of valuable information here that could be used is your blog. You know, I’ve been blogging for god know how long. That is an incredible base of information about my interests.
D: So, I’ve always said Google ought to take that into account. I ought to be able to tell Google, ‘Hey Google, this is my blog and I can prove it to you.’ Okay? Now I want… or, why should I have to prove it? All I’m saying is I want my search results to be customized for the author of this blog.
D: Period. You know, that’s how Google… Everybody says, oh, we need a new generation of search. Why hasn’t anybody tried this yet?
J: Right. So, instead of using consumption behavior as the signal, you use authoring behavior as the signal.
D: That’s correct. Yeah.
J: Now we’re cooking.
D: I think we’re definitely cooking. I think, this is a business model by the way that would work for editorial organizations because the way we evolve something like this requires an understanding of news. Which the tech industry typically, as you have noted, doesn’t really have.
J: And also, the more of your user base you have authoring, the better the recommendation engine gets.
D: Always. That’s exactly how this stuff works.
J: And that’s the incentive – right? – to get more people blogging at your site an recommending things and sending links and comments and… yeah.
D: Well I don’t want people blogging on anybody else’s site. ’cause I want them to operate their own infrastructure.
D: But we’ll get to that later.
J: But you could affiliate your blog with the news system you’re using and it could therefore learn from what you blog about [...]
D: Oh, absolutely. Just give me the pointer to the feed. Or give me the pointer to the blog, from there you can get to everything. There is no… absolutely. But I think… just because you use Tumblr and I use Tumblr doesn’t mean we have anything in common as far as our interests are. [...] the list of feeds that I subscribe to might give you another good idea.
J: Here’s what I like to do. I don’t read most 99% of the news or commentary written about the NBA. I’m not a big fan of the NBA. However, if anybody writes and article about race and the NBA, I want it. Because it’s like this hidden subject that almost never gets talked about. Like, black players, white players, white coaches, black players, the compositions, the racial mix, different ways that these things play out in the politics of the sport. Like, I’m totally fascinated by that. But, the system as it stands says, ‘Do you want NBA news?’ No, I only want ‘race and the NBA’-news.
D: You can’t… I think that the point here is that you could never ever customize… you can never be the editor-in-chief of your own news channel by setting up queries like that. It has to be done with gestures. It has to be inferred from…
J: ‘With gestures’. What do you mean by that?
D: Gestures would mean pointing to… pointing to an article is a gesture. Reading an article is also a gesture.
D: As you pointed out, pointing to intuitively feels as a stronger endorsement, a stronger gesture if you will.
J: Well, let’s move on. That’s definitely need.
[ENDING AT 13:53]