The future of eyewitness journalism

The photo that captured the incredible survival of the passengers of U.S. Airways Flight 1549, a shot of passengers standing on the wing in the middle of the Hudson River and sitting in an inflatable life raft, was taken by a guy named Janis Krums, who was on the ferry that was going to pick up the stranded passengers and snapped the pic with his iPhone. Within seconds, it was on Twitter, and within a matter of hours it had been viewed by almost a hundred thousand people (I reloaded the Flickr page several times, waiting about two seconds between clicks, and the number of views went up by 50 or 60 each time).

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Word of mouth can’t be manufactured


Belkin has released a statement saying it was unaware such activities were taking place and that it is “extremely sorry.” The company said that Belkin “does not participate in, nor does it endorse, unethical practices like this. We know that people look to online user reviews for unbiased opinions from fellow users and instances like this challenge the implicit trust that is placed in this interaction.” The full note is at CrunchGear.

Original post:

A couple of days ago, an astute blogger poking around Amazon’s Mechanical Turk “crowd-sourcing” engine discovered that someone from Belkin — a company that makes computer and electronic peripherals like mice, USB hubs and so on — was paying people through Mechanical Turk to submit fake reviews to Amazon of Belkin products. The wording of the ad (which offered to pay the princely sum of 65 cents for each review) was very specific. It said:

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Capucine, the tiny French storyteller

I guess I am getting soft in my old age, but as soon as I saw the video of Capucine — a young French girl who tells a magical story filled with monkeys and tigers and Winnie the Pooh and a hippopotamus that is allergic to magic — I fell in love with her, as did hundreds of thousands of other people who saw the Vimeo video. I showed it to my wife and three daughters, who also loved it. So we all eagerly read a story in the National Post this morning about how Capucines’s mother is using her daughter’s Internet fame to raise money for a charity that builds libraries in developing countries. So watch the video, and read the story — and then go buy a T-shirt. I just bought one for each of my daughters, and am seriously thinking about buying one for myself.

Come and join the Public Policy Wiki

(Note: This was originally published on the Globe and Mail website)

Although it is still very much in “beta” mode (and possibly even alpha), I’d like to talk about a new project the Globe has just launched along with the Dominion Institute — a project aimed at capturing some of your thoughts and ideas about a range of public policy issues. It’s called the Public Policy Wiki, and you can find it at I mentioned it briefly on Twitter the other day, and we’ve already gotten some great input from a number of contributors.

The idea behind the wiki is simple. Public policy in Canada often develops behind closed doors, with limited (if any) input from average citizens or even knowledgable outsiders. We’d like to throw open those doors to some extent, and the wiki seemed like an interesting way of doing that. It is still very much an experiment, but we think it’s a worthwhile one. Interestingly enough, I found out just yesterday that Barack Obama is doing something similar at called the Citizen’s Briefing Book.

Here’s how it works: We’ve chosen one important policy issue to start this experiment — the federal budget (which the Finance Minister is expected to introduce on January 27). We have background analysis and perspectives from a range of policy experts, two proposals on which you can vote or comment (one from TD Bank chief economist Don Drummond and one from Canadian Auto Workers economist Jim Stanford) and a forum where you can have your say.

Then there’s the wiki itself. We’ve prepared some “briefing notes” of the kind that federal ministers would have submitted to them in the lead-up to a budget. Each one addresses a specific policy recommendation — a tax cut, an auto-industry stimulus package, a Green Fund, a GST rebate, and so on. You can vote on each note, or you can use the wiki tools to actually edit these notes, and you can also create your own and have others contribute to it, as two contributors have already done.

Once you have had your say on the various proposals, we will pick the most popular briefing notes and submit them to the Prime Minister and other senior officials in Ottawa. For more on the details on what a wiki is and how you can can use it to contribute to the project, see the FAQ page at the site. I’d like to thank you in advance for contributing, and I’d also like to thank everyone who was involved in getting this experiment off the ground — including the team at the Globe and also Marc Chalifoux, the executive director of the Dominion Institute, for all of his help.

Why did we decide to do a wiki? For all their strengths, newspapers historically haven’t been all that good at the “two-way” information exchange, or what has become known as the “conversation.” Feedback or input from the general populace has typically been restricted to letters to the editor, “man on the street” surveys, and periodic focus groups.

The one-way nature of the newspaper business isn’t just a result of arrogance or lack of interest — it’s also a function of technology and time, and the limitations thereof. Finding people to interview on different topics isn’t an exact science, and even the most diligent journalist often misses people who might have worthwhile opinions. And public policy bodies such as the Dominion Institute face similar limitations when it comes to getting public input.

That’s why social-media or “Web 2.0” tools such as blogs, commenting systems, Twitter, Facebook and wikis are so fascinating. They dramatically lower the barriers to entry when it comes to getting input from knowledgeable (and, in some cases, not so knowledgeable) readers or interested people of all kinds. Even a single person on Twitter or Facebook can touch hundreds or even thousands of others, some of whom may have valuable viewpoints on something that a journalist is writing about (I’m @mathewi on Twitter, if you want to connect with me there).

We’re hoping the wiki will do that — and if it succeeds, we plan to use similar tools to solicit your ideas and input on a whole range of public policy and social issues, in a project we are calling the “Two Million Minds” experiment. I’d love to hear what you think, so feel free to email me at [email protected] or send me your thoughts via Twitter or my Facebook page.

An experiment: The Public Policy Wiki

Although it is still very much in “beta” mode (and possibly even alpha), I’d like to talk about a new project that the newspaper I work for — the Globe and Mail in Toronto — has just launched along with the Dominion Institute, a project aimed at capturing some of your thoughts and ideas about a range of public policy issues. It’s called the Public Policy Wiki, and you can find it at I mentioned it briefly on Twitter the other day, and we’ve already gotten some great input from a number of contributors.

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Mesh09: Calacanis and Kiva to keynote

The mesh 2009 team — that’s me, Rob “Hohoto” Hyndman, Stuart “Tripharbour” Macdonald, Mike “FreshBooks” McDerment and Mark “I’m a consultant now” Evans — have been working hard trying to nail down some kick-ass keynotes for the next mesh conference (April 7 and 8 at MaRS in Toronto), and we have a couple we can announce now: Jason McCabe Calacanis will be doing the business keynote, and Jessica Jackley Flannery is our society keynote. We’re pretty excited about both of them, and hope to have our media and marketing keynotes lined up soon.

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An iTunes for news? Dumb, dumb, dumb

David Carr, the New York Times media columnist, muses in a recent column about how it would be great if the newspaper industry could somehow come up with an “iTunes for news.” After all, record labels were on a long slide into oblivion just like newspapers, right? And then Steve Jobs came along with iTunes and saved everyone’s bacon, and now the record industry is just as profitable and healthy as it used to be, right? Wait — you mean the music business isn’t as profitable and healthy as it used to be? Hmmm. Maybe there’s a flaw in Dave’s analogy somewhere.

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Fred Wilson and the power of comments

Over the years that I’ve been blogging, I’ve continually made the argument (as plenty of other people have as well) that comments are an integral part of a fully-functioning blog. As part of my new job as communities editor at the Globe and Mail — which I wrote about here — I’ve been encouraging writers at the newspaper to not just read the comments but also respond to them. Why? A couple of reasons. One is that it helps to improve the tone of the comments, since it helps to make it obvious that a) someone is reading them and b) someone actually cares what is being said.

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Some thoughts on the Web and print

There’s been plenty written about the news that the Seattle Post-Intelligencer is up for sale, and that owner Hearst Corp. says if it doesn’t sell in 60 days the paper will become Web-only, or will be shut down completely. Some have argued that as the perennial second paper in a relatively small market, the PI has been doomed for some time now (it hasn’t turned a profit in almost a decade, apparently) and that the news about the Post-Intelligencer may actually be part of a strategic move by the Hearst family to acquire the newspaper’s main competitor in town, the Seattle Times.

I don’t have any strong opinions on any of that really, although I agree with Alan Mutter that being the second newspaper in a fairly small metropolitan market doesn’t look like a great value proposition at the moment (if it ever was). What really struck me was the story that the Post-Intelligencer wrote on its own demise — and in particular a photo that ran with the story, which I’ve included here (click through if you’re reading this through a feed reader). There’s not much remarkable about it, at first glance, but for some reason I kept coming back to it and thinking about it as I was reading.

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Get your own CNN Magic Wall touch TV

You tell I’m a gadget geek at heart, because I know I have no real use for this device, and yet I still want one: the iTable can apparently give you a Microsoft Surface-style, CNN Magic Wall-ish multi-touch television experience for as little as $2,400. As CrunchGear describes it, that will give you an overlay for a 32-inch LCD TV. For a little more — as much as $10,000 for the ultra-sophisticated version — you get a giant table-style TV with touch sensors built in and a computer that runs Windows XP.

More than a decade ago now, I remember seeing an IBM research labs demo in which they had a desk that was a touch surface (although single-touch only), where you could drag your documents around and pop up windows with photos in them or even videos. I thought it was a fantastic idea then, and I still do now. And having used the iPhone, the multi-touch interface just makes such a huge difference when working with photos or things like maps. Google Earth on a giant multi-touch table would be incredible.