Following on from comments on my last post, and at least in some part influenced by what I’d had bouncing around my head when I wrote this in 2006 (to do with Gresham’s Law and information), I’d like to spend a little time thinking about news as a commons, its damage and its repair.
If we consider news to be a commons, then, taking a leaf out of Clay Shirky’s book, we could think of news publishing tools and techniques slightly differently. We could think of them as ways to damage the news commons, and to repair the news commons.
What damages the news commons? Lies, inaccuracies, errors, omissions. How can we make sure that the news commons suffers the least damage? By ensuring, in turn, that the cost of repairing the news commons is at least as low as the cost of damaging the news commons.
Shirky made this point in the context of wikis originally, but I think it has merit in the context of news and the dissemination of news. Which leads me to thinking this way: if the tools and techniques used to disseminate news are such that the cost of repair is as low as the cost of damage, then the quality of the news disseminated will improve.
In other words, the cost of stopping a lie from spreading must be as low as the cost of spreading the lie in the first place; the cost of publishing a corrected text must be as low as the cost of publishing the error-strewn text in the first place.
Dave Winer, some years ago, regularly used the phrase “River of News”, usually in the context of RSS, if memory serves me right. Tools like Twitter, when used with techniques like snurl, already provide rivers of news, but usually in the context of the news publisher rather than the news topics. Search tools like Summize then convert that into topic-based tributaries. But by definition these are streams of information without the notion of damage or correction.
So what would happen if we had wiki-based newspapers? I’ve seen cursory attempts; I think there’s a lot more to come. Am I right in thinking that MSM tools and techniques are fundamentally asymmetrical in this respect, the cost of repair is far higher than the cost of damage, so damage increases over time.
Why would I say this? Two reasons. One, errata, error and omission correction, retractions. These things tend to be tucked in somewhere in the bowels of a paper, while the actual errors and omissions make the premium slots. Two, if you take something like the manuals and policy handbooks in most organisations, the reason they never get used is they’re usually out of date. And why are they out of date? Because the ‘cost of repair” is too high.
The manuals and guides and policy handbooks migrated into wiki space. In a wiki, there’s no place to hide the error or the correction.
So is it time for wikinews? Where does it exist already? Where does it work well, where does it fall down?