The Blog Mob – Part II

Xarker writes:

"It’s time to write a fond epitaph for the Information Age. Like it or
not, we’ve entered the Data Age, the era in which we recognize that a
glut of information doesn’t make us smart, just like buying a
dictionary doesn’t make us Shakespeare….


But here’s a more appropriate analogy: Information Age technologies
have proven instead to be wildly efficient at burying us in the pieces
from millions of jigsaw puzzles, all mixed up and practically
indistinguishable…


And at least the scientists are professionally equipped to deal with
the challenges of the Data Age. The rest of us are struggling.


Example: One explanation for the increasingly harsh tone this election
year is the accelerating fragmentation of political media, a potential
blessing but an enormous test of society’s ability to process
conflicting data. Hate President Bush? Google can provide in seconds
any number of Web sites that will provide you with facts to support
that feeling. Hate anybody who criticizes Bush? Ditto. Just turn on the
radio.


Without functional institutions equipped to integrate the complex data
of 21st-century life, citizens typically wind up just picking sides.
Raw data becomes a cultural Rorschach test, and what we see is
generally what we expected to find in the first place.


So we’re not just disagreeing — we’re speaking in different languages."

Good stuff, and spot on. What’s really neat is that these pearls were written more than two years ago, and subsequent developments have only confirmed Xarker’s insight.

Since Gutenberg, we have relied on various forms of media to provide information; we have become dependent on the providers for source, content, and editorial control. Without the means to access information ourselves, we have been subject to the control of the media. Like the illiterate peasants of the Dark Ages, we have depended on the Church of Journalism to provide the framework of our understanding for those things beyond our immediate and personal awareness.

The Data Age, in Xarker’s words, comes to us in the form of the Internet and it’s information provider, the Blogosphere.  The increasing flow of information has become so voluminous that the old information age providers have lost their power to manage the source, content, and editorial control of the process. Consumers, not satisfied with the information coming through the media pipeline, and increasingly aware of alternative sources, have begun to create new forms of information/data transmission. That the forms do not hew to traditional methodologies, or do not follow the format of the old ways, or even do a better job of transmission has caused the old media to question the efficacy and validity of these new forms. Can you say Flat Earth Society?  The most recent defender of the old media, Joseph Rabo of the Wall Street Journal, revealed his bias and his inability to see the future, here.  Hugh Hewitt interviewed Rabo and revealed the shallowness of Rabo’s position.

Now comes Wretchard, as usual, to the rescue with a post that lays out his version of how the Blogosphere can be a better provider of information that the old media. Says he:

"I wrote this paper as an attempt to describe how the blogosphere works; to
situate it vis-a-vis the mainstream media and to indicate some of the ways it
can be used as a weapon of information warfare. The reader may find many of the
ideas half-baked, and the reader would be right. But perhaps this flawed little
monograph can contribute in some small way to a discussion of what the
blogosphere is and what it’s future might be. I truly believe that "it is possible that
in the long run the global public will come to rely on fellow Internet users to
learn about the world more than it will from professional journalists."(
emphasis mine)…

It is possible that the blogosphere, in common with the
Internet — has no inherent
content, only a structure that can be filled by those
who provide the most content. But it is a most peculiar structure, one that is more congenial to
gathering and projecting  information that the mainstream media often
chooses to ignore, because MSM storylines, timing and content are often
driven by artificial editorial decisions unrelated to actual events in the wider
world. The blogosphere, on the other hand, is a far more "open"
system, responsive to external events in ways that the inbred MSM sometimes
cannot match. But like the mainstream media the blogosphere is also an
information processing engine which collects, analyzes and disseminates facts.

Wretchard proceeds to define the structure of a new media that uses the Blogosphere in place of the old media…

One of the most interesting properties of the
blogosphere is that its information collectors — the bloggers — are
sometimes significantly
better at gathering certain signals than professional reporters with
the mainstream media. This
is often the result of the Day Job Effect. A blogger, by definition a
part time writer,
can sometimes more accurately recognizes the significance of an event
because his professional training
prepares him to notice something that would be ignored by the
generalist
reporter. Bloggers who are lawyers, doctors, engineers or soldiers, for
example, are sensitive to issues in their area of expertise in ways a
layman could not match. Also working in the blogosphere’s favor is the
sheer number of bloggers — 55 or 100 million, whichever number one
prefers — which statistically ensures that a blogger will often be
present when a professional reporter
may be absent. The potential for signal reception — the crucial first
moment at which new information becomes visible to the rest of the
information processing
system is inherently high in the blogosphere. It defines the
Event Horizon
of the system, a boundary traditionally marked by the first wire service report
that carries the first news to the world. In the blogosphere the Event Horizon
is marked by the first post that recounts an event….

Observers have long noticed that blog sites tended
to fall into one of three categories: the Finders, Thinkers and Linkers, and
these correspond to the structure of the blogosphere.
Finders are sites dedicated to capturing direct experiences. Food bloggers,
reporters embedded with military units, the journals of expeditions,
institutions which monitor foreign language publications — the tourist who
posts pictures of a tsunami which has just wrecked his hotel — are all examples
of Finders. During the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, one Israeli
schoolboy described how he sheltered from rockets in a bunker on his personal
weblog. Others captured video of rockets striking their neighborhoods.
These are all Finders. They perform one simple function: to lift an event above
the Horizon and make it visible to the Internet for the first time. The
importance of this act cannot be oversated. Glenn
Reynolds, in a private conversation, referred to this original reportage, the
discovery of the primary fact, as "the Killer App".

Once an event has been blogged, however obscurely, it becomes potentially
accessible to one of the countless eyes, both human and robotic, which pore over
the Internet in search of facts to bolster or demolish an argument. Monitoring
websites is a task made easier by the widespread adoption of a protocols like RSS
which belong to class
of formats
which alert watchers to updated content, often with a
summary of the content itself. Programs which continuously monitor a number of
websites for content changes are called aggregators. Amateur and professional
specialists use these and a variety of other tools to scour the web looking for new trends and facts to bolster their
models. Some are industry analysts; others are academics; still others are
open-source intelligence gatherers. Some are amateurs. Collectively they may be
called the Thinkers. They are the people who find the stories in the raw data.

One
classic example of a blogger acting as a Thinker was how Flopping
Aces
tracked down and finally debunked the existence of AP source "Captain
Jamil Hussein"
, who was widely quoted by the wire service as an expert
on the atrocities in the Baghdad area. Using Internet search tools and email,
Flopping Aces gathered enough detail to make him suspect that that "Captain Jamil Hussein" was
an all too conveniently present and quotable to be plausible. Following his hunch, Flopping
Aces soon discovered that American officials in Baghdad had never heard of this
widely quoted AP source. He wrote up his findings and preciptated a storm.
Eventually, Hussein’s existence was categorically denied
by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior, leading to demands that the AP retract
stories based upon the phantom Captain. To this
day the Associated Press has not produced the person or even the photograph of
their star source, and a search for him finally involving CNN has not turned him
up either.

 

According to AP, Jamil Gholaiem Hussein is a police captain with an office
  at the Yarmouk police station in western Baghdad, and more recently in the al-Khadra
  district. He has been cited as a police source in 61 AP stories from April 24,
  2006 to November 25, 2006, and was said to have been "a regular source of
  police information for two years", however an Iraqi official stated he is
  not on their list of Interior Ministry employees. Besides Jamil Hussein,
  another source used in many AP articles is police Lt. Maithem Abdul Razzaq,
  who is not authorized to speak for the Iraqi Police. A warrant has been issued
  for his questioning by the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. A partial list of other
  suspicious police sources under investigation has been issued.

 

Former CNN news division chief Eason Jordan announced that his "IraqSlogger"
  staff in Baghdad is trying to find Jamil Hussein. He has offered to pay for
  Michelle Malkin to go to Baghdad to join the search along with him. On
  December 14. 2006, Malkin accepted, and convinced Jordan to extend the
  invitation to "Curt", the Flopping Aces blogger.

 

On December 17, 2006, it was reported that a Jamail Hussein may have been
  located in the Yarmouk police station, as originally claimed by AP, but later
  the same sources said that the individual in question was Sergeant Jamil
  Hussein, not the captain mentioned in the news stories. According to Michelle
  Malkin, two Civilian Police Advisory Training Team (CPATT) officials told her
  that there is a Captain Jamil Ghdaab Gulaim (or Ghulaim) who is currently
  working at the Khadra police station, and who previously worked at the Yarmouk
  police station, as AP claimed with regard to Jamil Hussein. She notes the
  similarity between the name Gulaim and Jamil Hussein’s middle name Gholaiem.
  Jamil Gulaim denies having contact with AP or any other media.

 

Associated Press maintains that after questions about the accuracy of
  events were raised, they returned and found ‘more witnesses who described the
  attack in particular detail’; these new witnesses are all anonymous, AP
  stating that they fear persecution if identified. AP also maintains that Capt.
  Jamil Hussein is a genuine police contact and argue that the Interior
  Ministry’s files are new and not accurate. A public affairs officer from the
  MNC-I Joint Operations Center has requested a retraction, or at least a
  correction, of the story by AP, claiming that it is false and that the AP’s
  source does not exist.

 

Given the widespread use of AP reports, Mark Tapscott, editorial page
  editor of The Washington Examiner, has suggested that "AP should ask the
  American Society of Newspaper Editors to oversee the appointment and conduct
  of an independent panel of respected journalists and outside evidentiary
  experts to determine the truth behind Captain Jamil Hussein and all other
  sources similarly in doubt."

Now we come to the Linkers. Although Flopping Aces
was a widely read blogsite, its traffic alone was
incapable of generating the attention to necessary to challenge the mighty
Associated Press. But the impact of the Flopping Aces analysis was soon magnified
by the hierarchical structure of the blogosphere, a structure we glimpsed by
running queries in Technorati.
Following Flopping Ace’s trailblazing efforts, posts casting doubt on the
existence of "Captain Jamil Hussein" began to appear at even larger
sites like Instapundit and Michelle
Malkin
‘s,
sites which specialize in spotting trending stories and spreading
them around. These bloggers are often called the Linkers. Blogsite
after
blogsite, following the lead of the Linkers, began to pile on to the
case of "Captain Jamil Hussein", and added their traffic to the growing
chorus.
Finally the signal jumped across the gap into the
mainstream media and the political world. One blogger — one Thinker —
had
forced the mighty Associated Press to respond to the question of
whether it was
making its sources up…

Understanding and exploiting the characteristics of blogosphere
will become a key skill in any information warrior’s manual of arms. Information
warriors can
improve the blogosphere’s receptivity and performance in key areas by proactive preparation.
But they should be advised. The blogosphere does not contain any preordained
political or cultural bias. Structurally, however, it is extremely hostile to
cant and disinformation. The political side which tells the most lies and
falsehoods is likely to suffer more at its hands than one which hews more
closely to the observable truth.

Although this process may seem to have the characteristics of a "mob", to use Rabo’s words, I think it is clear that an organic, self-correcting process is at work.  Perhaps we are seeing the first machine driven manifestation of the cellular automaton .

It is not clear how this new media process will change our understanding and awareness of the world, but it should be obvious that the old media’s participation in the Data Age is an oxymoron. To dismiss the Blogosphere and its role in the Data Age is shortsighted and possibly fatal for the scions of the old media.

 

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