Flash-life: The timeframe of relevance

news @ nature.com – Life is short in online news – How long did it take you to find this story?:

Are you reading this more than a day and a half after it was posted on Nature’s news site? If so, it’s a fair bet that either you’ve unearthed it from an archive or the article is unusually popular.

A team of scientists from Hungary and the United States has found that the majority of online news items have a lifetime of just 36 hours. As reporters have always suspected, yesterday’s news is stale, and the day before’s news is invisible.

We all know that news breaks fast and time is fleeting, now we’re trying to figure out how fast news becomes stale. The study goes on to explain that a “typical user” of the Hungarian site sees only 53 percent of the headlines before they fall off the home page and views only seven percent, the latter striking me as rather high in general but sensible in a small market.

What is important to understand is not what happens on the main page of a site, but how links to information are preserved and distributed so that they are more accessible than this study suggests. After all, bloggers (like I am doing now) point to stories, keeping those links alive for days or weeks. This study misses the vast majority of network effect that sustains and increases our access to information, albeit while containing a kernel of truth.

Nature is timing how long people take to find the story on its site. The original study is available here.

Butterflies in Seattle

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We spent the day at the Folk Life Festival in Seattle, getting face painted, eating and listening to music, finally dropping in to see the butterflies exhibit at the Seattle Science Center. The highlight is a muggy room full of tropical plants and butterflies. Butterflies of all colors. Butterflies just coming out of their chrysalis. Butterflies that land on your son’s shoulder, making him smile. See it if you have a chance. Couldn’t get the kids interested in seeing the Bob Dylan exhibit at the Experience Music Project, because they think he sounds like a donkey.

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David Weinberger sees the broad topology

Joho the Blog: The shape of the long tail:

Which raises an issue about the way the “long tail” is pictured. Clay’s charts are accurate depictions of his data, but they have a mythic power that’s misleading: The long tail looks like, well, a long tail when in fact it’s a fractal curlicue of relationships.

Nice to see some folks coming round to the view Persuadio is built on, that the concatenation of niche markets created by unlimited distribution is a deeply convoluted conversational environment, not a neatly drawn curve that places all competitors for people’s attention and engagement on a single vector.

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Blogs by volume doesn’t point to change, but blogs by influence does

The New York Times‘ Are Bloggers Setting the Agenda? It Depends on the Scandal is bound to raise a furor among bloggers, because it is a mainstream media outlet writing about the lack of influence in blogs, but it is much-needed, wherever it comes from, because there is an ongoing chorus of self-congratulatory babble without hard facts to back up announcements that media is forever changed. Transforming media demands a strategy, not just energy.

“…according to a preliminary study – the first rigorous look at the influence wielded by political blogs during the 2004 presidential campaign – bloggers are not always the kingmakers that pundits sometimes credit them with being. They can, it seems, exert a tremendous amount of influence – generate buzz, that is – but only under certain circumstances.”

The study, by the Pew Internet and America Life Project, found that blogs did not dramatically reshape the electoral debate—we still talked as a people about the issues introduced by politicians and the mainstream media.

However, because the Pew analysis was based on the volume of word or phrase occurrences across different print media, it largely misses the factors that make blogs a valuable part of the debate environment. Volume is not the critical factor, rather connectivity at key intersections of sentiment about a topic is the defining accelerant or dampening agent in a social network.

What we’ve been finding in our analysis at Persuadio is not that blogs aren’t influential, but that they exist largely on the raw material of mainstream media, serving as amplifiers of information, recasting information in the press to particular ends.

The Times article points to the failure of the blogosphere to pick up on the Koran desecration story despite extensive coverage in the mainstream press as evidence that bloggers are, basically, fickle. Likewise the Saddam-in-his-underpants story was dismissed from the attention of the blogosphere compared to subjects, like Dan Rather, that people actually experience on a day-to-day basis, but not because bloggers don’t care. They simply don’t have confidence in any information that they might use to justify a position about these stories. Rather, if what we’re seeing in our research bears out, it will take the definitive statement of a blogger respected for their knowledge of international law (vis-a-vis the rights of detainees, in the Saddam-in-underpants story) and the attendant linking to that expert posting by others with substantial influence networks to cast the topic in a light that will ignite debate among bloggers.

The fact is, blogs are already showing that they follow the same evolutionary process every other media does; it is not “different” even if it is new, because the blogosphere craves the legitimacy other media already have (or have squandered). But if individual blogs are going to become trusted sources, they must build reputation networks that support and amplify their original contributions to public discourse. Some blogs have done that in narrow areas of competence, certainly, but it would be unreasonable to expect even large clusters of blogs to achieve that competence across a wide range of topics when discussions among participating blogs tend to be among people with similar interests.

Don’t just fire people, make them permanently independent!

Ross Mayfield’s Weblog: How to fire your team and make them happy:

Today I fired the entire Socialtext team. Then I fired myself. We are all pretty happy about it.

We were subsequently hired by Administaff, the largest Professional Employer Organization (PEO). They are much better at employing people than we are.

Everyone should do something like this, but take it step further by creating an additional contribution system through which all participants create full-life healthcare coverage and unemployment/retraining insurance. It can be done and any employable person can participate in the benefits of a rich society if the system includes contribution matching by a company with which the person is currently working.

Did I mention that one-gig living is a thing that should pass, too?

Not a forecast I really want to get….

From the journal Nature, as they like to say on NPR….

California residents may soon have something else to ponder along with the weather forecast in their morning news. Starting this Wednesday, seismologists are providing them with earthquake forecasts too.

The quake forecasts, which are produced by adding together some of the best models of earthquake activity, aim to tell residents the probability that an earthquake big enough to smash their windows will strike in the next 24 hours. A map of these probabilities will be posted daily at http://pasadena.wr.usgs.gov/step.

A few weeks back, I said in a public venue that I think people worry too much and should just get over it. If you live in a home built to withstand earthquakes, if your office is safe—and these are things a reasonable person would check if they lived in an earthquake zone—why the hell would they want to get an earthquake report every day? “I can’t come in today, there’s a chance the ground is going to shake….”

All sorts of change afoot….

A quiet couple weeks have preceded this posting as I digest and plan based on the satisfying experiences of recent days. First, after 18 months I’ve given up the news blogging at Red Herring, as there is simply too much to consume my mind with business-related issues to write the arbitrary three commentary pieces a week about an item of the day’s news. I may be continuing to write about the startup life over there.

Persuadio is doing quite well and we’ll have some important news soon—a lot of folks think we’re just about visualizing links, but that’s the demo we put together and it’s what we can do before you see the data in a map that is winning our first customers. The challenge of thinking through the practical application of social network analysis to media, professional services and the enterprise is some of the most rewarding work I’ve ever done. There’s a great team growing around Persuadio.

My ongoing involvement with Audible, too, is tremendously interesting. We’re going to have a concerted blogging program in place soon to really talk with the market, to help developers take full advantage of the ten-year record of growth at Audible and its pioneering role in downloadable audio (sorry, Dave, you didn’t invent the category, just applied RSS to a portion of the Audible offering, which includes some really nifty subscriber services that enable every type of business, from free distribution to paid-access, which is what the media industry needs for a diverse approach to distributing audio). Audible is going to continue to do great things and it is an honor to be involved; you’ll be hearing things like my old program “Adventures in Technology” and much else.

The thing is, to get focused my business partner, Todd Parsons (who co-founded Persuadio), and I have decided to shut down InnovationWORLD, our three-year-old foreign direct investment research business; with the reduced commitment to Red Herring, I’ve actually had more time to concentrate than at any time in several years. This will let me get my head fully engaged with the strangely related problem of social networks and media development, both at Persuadio and Audible. It’s going to be a busy summer.

Look for a lot more writing here and elsewhere, not to mention a raft of business activity involving your humble correspondent.

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Listening to:

Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again from the album “Blonde On Blonde” by Bob Dylan