Posted by: Nancy | December 6, 2009

Mass Collaboration

I’ve been using Google’s Wave for a couple of weeks now. I’ve been lurking in some of the public waves and started my own private ones.

Google’s Wave is a new tool that introduces mass collaboration. In a way, it replaces email and supplants Twitter and could have quite a ripple effect to Facebook, MySpace and other social networks. It’s real-time communications, incorporating text, photos, graphics, video, scanner content, location and applications. It’s real-time polling, real-time gaming, real-time open collaboration.

The most stunning use of Google that I’ve seen yet — the Seattle Times use of Wave to report and invite citizen reporters to share information in the wake of the brutal murder of four policemen. You can find a transcript of the Wave discussion here.

I’m delighted to see the Seattle Times take such a bold experiment with its audience, and to invite its readers to participate in the coverage. What an amazingly open approach to reporting news, what a way to engage EVERY one who’s interested.

The Wave includes maps, photos and tips from ordinary people as the manhunt was unfolding. It was sometimes sensational and amateurish, leading to questions of credibility of the content. It’s also messy, with tons of links and strikethroughs, some cogent commentary and some not very thoughtful. You’ll see questions calling for the source of information, and others correcting mis-information.  But that’s just the point — in a mass collaboration world, it’s all about immediacy and openness.

The experiment overtaxed the Wave (which is still in beta, not in full production) and the discussion imploded. Editors launched offspringing Waves and started implementing guidelines to keep information flowing with blips, taking casual discussion in replies only. They also removed off-topic comments, starting the first editing practice in a public wave. Fascinating.

The experiment certainly raises questions: what are the obligations of the media to manage this kind of open forum? can we trust the democratization of journalism? what about the relationship to law enforcement?

I don’t have the answers, but I applaud the Seattle Times for taking the leap and pulling us all into the story. I’m intrigued and I’ll be watching for more citizen reporting and related uses of this amazing tool for mass collaboration.

One more comment: I just found this presentation — a remarkably dispassionate and reasoned approach to reducing newspaper expenses. The gist of this solution: keep local reporters on the beat in critical areas, outsource copyeditors and layout functions, crowdsource all other local info. It may or may not work, but it’s the kind of thinking that can shake up a lot of newsrooms.  Crowdsourcing, or mass collaboration, is not going away.

(And yes, I still have some invitations to share the Wave beta. Let me know if you’d like one).

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