is the information any good?...don't ask Google 04.24.2005, 9:01 AM
Lately, I've been thinking about quantitative data vs. qualitative data and noticing that the web is really good at analyzing, packaging, and delivering the former, but woefully barren when it comes to the latter. The really elegant digital visualizations that I've seen work with quantitative data. They can show you, for example, the top news stories of the hour, day, or week; the spatial position and relative frequency of words in a novel; the most popular tags, etc... Search engines also privilege quantitative information; the first site that shows up on the Google list is usually the most popular. But determining the quality of that data is left, almost entirely, up to the user. Returning to a point I tried to make in an earlier post, the web is like high school popularity is not always a sign of quality, reliability, or substance.
Let's take the news for example: the results of a national survey on media consumption conducted by The Pew Research Center and released last year by the Brookings Institute, suggest “that news audiences are increasingly polarized, fragmented, and skeptical, opting for news outlets that most closely resemble their own ideologies…This shared skepticism not only applies to "opposition" news sources, but to the media in general—more than half of those surveyed said they don't trust the news media…Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellent in Journalism. "People want to know, 'Why should I believe that?'"
Why can’t we use technology to answer this need? What if instead of serving up the most popular stories, we created search engines and visualizations that identified the best stories, ranking information according to quality? Programs that answer the following concerns:
• how well-informed is the writer/news agency?
• are they honest?
• how good is the writing?
• how good is the art/photography/video?
• what are their political motivations?
• who are they paid by/owned by?
Many of these questions require investigation and/or subjective answers. Since subjectivity is still a uniquely human form of processing and evaluating, what I am really calling for is a program that helps us organize the veritable sea of human opinion surging about on the web. The news is not the only area where humans need humans to figure out what they should pay attention to. The massive amount of content that is being generated through the web creates an urgent need for filters in almost every imaginable category. Someone needs to design a critical apparatus for our networked world.
Posted by Kim White at April 24, 2005 09:01 AM
Well, there has been software written to "grade" essays. Seems like something like this might be used to "grade" a news article. I don't know if you could do the same for photos or other media.
I suppose another approach would be to somehow Googlify the NYT's "Most e-mailed" list to extend to all news articles. There's probably a way to do this using GMail, but that might get into privacy issues.
Posted by: dave munger at April 24, 2005 02:10 PM
Digital librarianship applies item selection, cataloging, the qualification of content and the assembly into a network of equivalent quality collections and both digital and print librarians develop software that runs bibliographic utilities. Helper applications are always appreciated, but why automate the intellectual activity of librarianship?
Posted by: gary frost at April 25, 2005 10:12 PM