Journalism in the Age of Online Collaboration

Painting of Basho meeting two travelers, from the Library of Congress.

Savvy journalists have adapted (or have been forced to adapt) to a new, more collaborative publishing model online. Here are my notes from a keynote presentation I delivered on this topic at the OCLC Collaboration Forum, held at the Smithsonian, on September 21.

Matsuo Kinsaku was born around 1644 in Japan. As a young man, he became a master of a form of collaborative poetry.

It was a kind of party game: A poetry master would kick things off with a pithy short verse, and then other people in the group would collaborate (and compete) to come up with subsequent verses, each one subtly or cleverly linked to the one before.

He was very successful and popular, but around 1682 Matsuo became dissatisfied and started traveling around Japan.

As he went, he wrote compressed travelogues interspersed with very short poems. They were kind of like those kick-off verses, except they stood on their own.

Over time, his new approach gained popularity, power and subtlety. He took on the poetic name of Basho, and his artform is known today as haiku.

Since the 17th century it’s been primarily an individual activity, like other poetry.

But in my work over the past decade publishing an online journal of haiku, tinywords, I’ve seen haiku come full circle. On, haiku are published as poems, like on any other literary journal. But like many websites, we also allow readers to post comments, or as I like to call them, “responses.”

In some cases, those responses are simply comments like “great work” or “beautiful imagery.” But sometimes, people post their own haiku in response. On occasion, that’s sparked a whole chain of linked verses, each one responding to the one that came before.

Sound familiar?

A similar thing, I think, is happening in journalism.

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Journalism in the Age of Online Collaboration

The iPad Is (Just) Television 2.0

The iPad has touched a nerve in the geek community.

Judging by comments on and elsewhere, many people are outraged that Apple would try to foist a less-capable, dumbed-down device on an unsuspecting public. Thanks to clever marketing, these people point out, Apple has persuaded us to spend $500 and more for something that’s less capable and more restrictive than a netbook computer costing half as much.

Those critics are right. But their rage is misplaced.

The iPad is the ultimate media consumption device: It’s just a screen. It is a more beautiful and immersive screen than photos suggest, though. You really do have to hold one in your hand to appreciate how tangible it makes the digital world. Thanks to the in-plane switching LCD and the fast processor under the hood, photos, videos and web pages all come to life, in rich, vivid colors and with a presence that I’ve never seen on any laptop.

Apart from that, there isn’t that much that’s innovative about the iPad, technologically speaking. The rest of Apple’s innovations have to do with packaging, marketing, and a retail experience that’s almost frightening in its attention to detail.

But then, good customer experience, clever marketing, and a fast, bright screen that you can take with you may be just what Hollywood needs.

Because that’s who the iPad is made for: Hollywood. And Madison Avenue, Nashville, Fleet Street, Burbank and all the other places where mass media is produced. (Why do you think Stephen Colbert was one of the first to get an iPad? And why do you think the iPad ad debuted during the Oscars?)

In short, it’s a consumption device, not a production device. Sure, you can make short comments using the on-screen keyboard, but if this were your only device for writing and publishing blog posts, you’d want to fling it out a window.

In other words, the iPad is not ideal for the kind of interactive, distributed storytelling that the web has spawned: in a word, blogging. It’s not likely to do well as a photo or video editing tool or programming device either, though I haven’t tested that hypothesis.

The very thing that makes the iPad so good as a lean-back media device — its lack of a keyboard — is exactly the thing that makes it poorly suited to banging out thoughtful essays, outraged screeds or pointed corrections.

But you know what? That might be OK.

The iPad’s not taking away my keyboard, after all; it’s just another device. Sometimes the kind of passive entertainment it affords is exactly what I want after a long day at my keyboard. While its onscreen keyboard is no great shakes, I can type out a comment or a tweet on it if I feel the need to, and I can always walk over to my laptop if I decide I need to compose a full blog post to rebut some idiot.

As an entertainment device, it’s the next best thing to television. Actually, it’s kind of like television 2.0.

After a day with the iPad, I kind of like that. It’s no more, and no less, than Apple promised. For what it is, it’s a brilliant device: fun, dopamine-releasing, immersive, and easy on the eyes.

If I were to choose between a television and an iPad, I’m pretty sure I’d pick the iPad.

Thanks to by Brian X. Chen for the photo above, and some help sorting out my thoughts in this piece.

Check out this video, where I give a 3-minute first look at the iPad’s high and low points:

The iPad Is (Just) Television 2.0

You Could Easily Swallow This 32-GB MicroSD Card

electron microscope photo of cross-section of 32GB microSD card

Two — no, three — things in life are sure: Death, taxes, and the fact that storage manufacturers will continue to cram ever-more ridiculous quantities of memory into tinier packages.

SanDisk announced a new 32-GB microSDHC card on Monday, effectively doubling the maximum storage capacity of the tiny, less-than-dime-sized memory chips found in many modern smartphones. This is the maximum capacity that the HC-format microSD cards can hold, so any further advances will have to wait until manufacturers start installing microSD-XC slots in their phones.

The advance means it is now possible to swallow an entire 7,000-song iTunes library, or 10 hours of uncompressed HD video, without gagging.

SanDisk says its new card will be available for purchase on its website starting Tuesday, and through retail channels shortly thereafter.

(Samsung announced a 32-GB microSD card earlier this year, but the card does not appear to be available to consumers yet.)

With a retail price of $200 and a weight of just 0.5 grams, you’ll want to be extra-careful with this minuscule memory chip, as it’s worth about 11 times its weight in gold.

To achieve the increased capacity, SanDisk did two things: Switch to a 32-nanometer production process, and stack eight memory chips vertically inside the microSD card.

The first change refers to the size of a typical memory component, which is now around 32nm, or about the same size as the circuits used in Intel’s latest Core i3 and Core i5 chips. Using smaller circuitry enables the company to cram more bits onto a wafer of silicon.

The second change is pure micromechanical engineering. Although a microSD card is only 1mm thick, including the plastic housing, SanDisk’s engineers have managed to squeeze a vertical stack of eight memory chips inside it. Each chip holds 4 GB of data, so altogether the stack holds 32 GB.

“You’re basically talking about an entire jukebox on a flash memory chip the size of your pinkie fingernail,” said SanDisk vice president Eric Bone.

SanDisk microSDHC Cards (product site)

SanDisk First to Ship 32 Gigabyte microSDHC Card (press release)

Photos courtesy SanDisk

Originally published on Wired’s Gadget Lab blog

You Could Easily Swallow This 32-GB MicroSD Card

Nook E-Reader Promises, But Doesn’t Deliver

You can imagine that Barnes & Noble, with 774 stores scattered across suburban strip-mall America, finally got fed up with the way Amazon’s Kindle dominates the e-book market.

“I know,” some B&N exec must have said. “Let’s pull an Apple move on their sorry asses!” The result: a nearly buttonless e-book reader that has a color LCD touchscreen where the Kindle has a broad, ugly QWERTY.

The Barnes & Noble Nook is, in fact, a handsome device, close to the Kindle in size but with far cleaner lines and a less cluttered look.

But that’s where the Nook’s radical innovation ends. For the most part, the rest of the device is a Kindle clone with a few minor, but thoughtful, improvements.

The Nook is slightly shorter and narrower than the Amazon Kindle 2, although it’s thicker. Both e-book readers use the same E Ink technology for their main screen: a pale gray, matte surface that looks a bit like an Etch A Sketch but displays text (and monochrome images, with 16 levels of gray) in far more readable fashion than an LCD, thanks to its paperlike opacity. Instead of staring into the glowing eye of a LCD screen, you’re reading light reflected off the surface of the screen, just as you do with paper, and that’s much more comfortable. E Ink also uses less power, so battery life is long (about a week of ordinary use, B&N claims). Both the Kindle and the Nook have small, 6-inch, 600 x 800-pixel screens — only a little bigger than a 3×5 index card — but they seem bigger, thanks to the crispness of the text.

The Nook’s secondary LCD screen adds a splash of color to the reader’s face. This little screen (just 3.5 x 1 inches, with 480 x 144 pixels) displays the Nook’s menus and controls, and it’s where a virtual keyboard pops up whenever you need to type (when searching for a book). It’s not multitouch, but you won’t miss that feature on such a small screen: It’s all about tapping on virtual buttons or swiping menus back and forth.

Like the Kindle, the Nook lets you browse, purchase and download books via AT&T’s 3G wireless network. Most books cost about $10, or less than half what they’d cost as new hardcovers — but twice what they’d cost as used paperbacks. The Nook also has Wi-Fi support, although it’s perplexingly limited to B&N’s in-store networks, where you can use it to download books as well as special, location-specific offers (like free cookies).

There’s a built-in MP3 player and a headphone jack, which works for playing music while you read, or for playing audiobooks. You can load the Nook with e-books, PDF files, images and MP3 files via a USB connection simply by dragging and dropping, just as you can with the Kindle.

The Nook has some nice touches that the Kindle lacks. When shopping for books or browsing your library, you can swipe through color representations of their covers on the lower screen. While reading, the display lets you pick between 5 font sizes and two or three different font faces, depending on the title — so if you really like reading text in Helvetica Neue, go for it. And the Nook supports e-book lending for some titles, depending on the publishers’ preferences. If lending is enabled for a title, you can send to a friend, who can then download and read it on their Nook (or, soon, on Nook applications for the PC and iPhone). While they’ve borrowed the book, you can’t read it, but it automatically returns to your library after 14 days. Some people have also reported success getting the Nook to work with library e-books and audiobooks, via software called Overdrive.

Unfortunately, the Nook is marred by a frustrating interface and persistent slowness. Switching between the lower and upper screens is sometimes confusing, and the lower screen’s “back” button sometimes takes you all the way back to the top menu, clearing out whatever was on the upper screen. Occasionally the lower screen takes a few seconds to respond to a tap, so you impatiently tap again, accidentally triggering something you didn’t expect. The upper, E Ink screen is slightly slower to refresh than the Kindle’s — it takes about a second, instead of about half a second — which means these kinds of interface glitches quickly get very frustrating.

It seems reasonable to expect that the Nook’s software engineers will iron out these glitches in the next few months, and they’ve promised to deliver software updates wirelessly, with the first, minor update rolling out next week. When they finally get the kinks worked out, the Nook will be an elegant, customizable, competitive alternative to Amazon’s Kindle. Until then, it’s a slightly awkward runner-up.

WIRED Attractive, well-designed hardware. Color LCD makes menus and covers look pretty. Ability to switch fonts is a welcome change. Book-lending works with friends and with libraries. Easy reading experience. Expandable via MicroSD slot. User-replaceable battery.

TIRED E Ink screen is noticeably more sluggish than the Kindle’s. Occasionally poky interface on the touchscreen. Annoying interface glitches keep tripping up the browsing experience. $260 plus $10 per book might be cheap if you’re used to buying dozens of hardcovers a year — but it’s expensive for those accustomed to buying used paperbacks or visiting the library.

Originally published, with lots more gorgeous photos by Jonathan Snyder, on

Nook E-Reader Promises, But Doesn’t Deliver