Afloat on the endless news tide
This episode of Recovery is brought to you by second bananas. Ed McMahon knew he was one, but I'll bet Farrah Fawcett would have been surprised how things worked out. (What, too soon?)
There's an application just launching into beta called thisMoment, and I've had a tab open for it all week in hope that I'll catch some quiet time to try it out. Harry McCracken at Technologizer got there first, and he describes it as "part social network, part media sharing site, and part Facebook application."
It looks a little like some of the Digital Past to Digital Presence projects I saw last winter at Microsoft Research. ThisMoment -- again, I'm going by Harry's description, but you will encounter no finer tech observer anywhere -- is based around photos and videos (yours and other people's), which one tags, annotates and shares with others. You could work up something semi-private, like a collection of images and memories in the wake of a family reunion, or you could cast your lot with everyone else who went to Bonnaroo and recreate that larger experience, minus the $5 bottles of water.
A lovely idea. So what would it look like if we put the last week in there? Not just the Michael Jackson stuff -- there's already plenty -- but the whole thing and what the shared experience was.
Because we've sure got video -- Neda bleeding out, the Thriller video, Ed McMahon laughing at the Johnny Carson's "Carnac the Magnificent" routines, the crowds gathering in front of the UCLA Med Center and the Apollo, Mark Sanford's unendurably awkward press conference. We've got pictures -- Farrah in that red swimsuit, Michael Jackson's evolution from adorable kid to good-looking guy to monstrosity, all the avatars and icons that turned green in support of Iran's protesters.
And good grief, have we got annotation and tags. All week long, Twitter and Facebook have been providing their acolytes with the sense of bobbing on a great sea of humanity. Events splash in and ripple. Odd things come to the surface. Weird rumors stink in the sun like kelp (seriously, people, Jeff Goldblum did not fall off a cliff; stop making stuff up). The tide undulates -- Michael Jackson's a punchline, Michael Jackson's a tragic figure, Michael Jackson's the top artist today on blip.fm and BitTorrent; Sanford's a weirdo, Sanford's a liar and a hypocrite, Sanford didn't deserve the humiliation of having his love letters read out in public. And strange, mythical creatures float by: A mourning Lisa Marie Presley posts to her blog with an angry, sincere glimpse at that strange marriage to that strange man.
All this has happened before, of course. Stuff transpires, and we rush to the virtual barricades. But this week felt different, because there was simply no letup. We were one big real-time sea of reaction and information trafficking. And a remarkable portion of the news was stuff we broke ourselves: TMZ was, ironically, perhaps the most "mainstream" of the leaders on each of this week's big stories.
In fact, that may be the most important takeaway of all. TMZ had the drop on the Michael Jackson story, but a lot of people -- me included -- waited for the LA Times to make it official. Well, turns out TMZ and Harvey "People's Court" Levin had their facts straight and did fine work following the trail -- and, like the sources following Iran and the week's other events, it never stopped coming, with new sources picking up the thread as others stepped offline for whatever reason. There was no "news cycle"; there was only news, compiled iteratively as facts could be acquired.
In contrast, some of our more mainstream news outlets couldn't be bothered to show up as news broke over the weekend (I'm looking at you, MSNBC). Accuracy and reliability for online news sources is trending up, while non-online sources are dropping the ball repeatedly. At some point, these trend lines will cross. That time just might be now. (And how ironic that MSNBC, originally the child of a tech firm and a communications giant, is the symbol of the old system's fall.)
I'm not claiming that Twitter is your new BBC, or even your new Jon Stewart. As a press colleague put it the other day, Twitter is a source of news tips, not news. But something in the sea of online information changed this week. Mark the waterline. You'll want to remember it later. "This moment," indeed.
Let your geek flag fly and have a great weekend.