MeFi Detectives go Pro March 5, 2003 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I have an idea for a new addition to the MeFi family of products... MoJo!

MetaonlineJournalism - A subsection of MetaFilter (like MetaTalk) where stories or rumors that need further investigation, research, or verification are actively worked on by webloggers, ideally working together to determine the truth of the matter.

This, I think, is increasingly important, since MeFi posts fade out a lot quicker than they used to, due to posting frequency. MetaOnlineJournalism posts might be around long enough to determine the truth of the matter, and would be presented in an environment that would ideally be far more about collaborative reporting, and far less about flaming.

I want my MoJo!
posted by insomnia_lj to Feature Requests at 9:20 AM (150 comments total)

The Mefi Magazine, or "MetaFocus", was first proposed by mathowie here and more brainstorming happened here. As I recall we had even set up a mailing list but it never got past the shoot-the-shit phase. However, it's a terrific idea and I hope it comes to fruition.

I like the name "MoJo", btw. The helper monkey from the Simpsons could be the mascot.
posted by PrinceValium at 9:26 AM on March 5, 2003

posts might be around long enough to determine the truth of the matter
posted by thomcatspike at 9:41 AM on March 5, 2003

I like the name "MoJo", btw. The helper monkey from the Simpsons could be the mascot.

what about Mojo Jojo?
posted by Vidiot at 9:46 AM on March 5, 2003

It's not the same idea as MetaFocus (which is also a good idea...) but it does have some things in common.

There are a lot of stories that find their ways onto MeFi that need verification, research, etc. Essentially, MoJo would provide a place to do this kind of work.

If a post came up which someone thought merited more investigation, they could reply in the MeFi post "I've opened up a MoJo investigation on the facts surrounding this post."

Meanwhile, the discussion element would continue, and if the investigation discovered something interesting, there would be a tendency for adding those facts to the comments of the MeFi post.

This would be a very healthy thing, IMHO. MetaFilter has already proven itself capable of generating news stories due to the investigations of its users. This would ideally help to encourage such investigations. It might lead to additional media interest in MeFi too, with journalists using it as a way of "discovering" emurging stories.
posted by insomnia_lj at 10:03 AM on March 5, 2003

I think it's a fine idea. I was one of the writer/editors on the now defunct Clockwork Storybook, and I miss editing. I think it would be a blast to participate on any level.
posted by vraxoin at 10:05 AM on March 5, 2003

I like it, it's a good idea. Let me think about how I would go about doing it.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 10:06 AM on March 5, 2003

I think it's a great idea, too. (And is anyone else seeing the word "Mojo" as a three-quarters-view face? Hair,eye,nose,eye. Could turn that into a logo.)
posted by wanderingmind at 10:25 AM on March 5, 2003

I think it would be waaaaay cool to have something like this combined with Political news, comments, and satire. It would lessen the NewsFilter on the Metafilter, too.

And we have plenty of people itching to get out the Photoshop.
posted by Shane at 10:32 AM on March 5, 2003

Count me in as very interested.
posted by gen at 10:39 AM on March 5, 2003

I'm afraid the name's taken, sort of.
posted by muckster at 10:56 AM on March 5, 2003

Good idea and I hope it gets implemented.
posted by konolia at 10:56 AM on March 5, 2003

Another Mojo...
posted by konolia at 11:12 AM on March 5, 2003

Awesome ideas, MoJo and MetaFocus both. I'd be interested in helping with writing/editing either of them.
posted by COBRA! at 11:14 AM on March 5, 2003

great idea. this should be fun.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 11:21 AM on March 5, 2003

Great idea, but would you want to release something like this in the midst of war?
posted by machaus at 11:30 AM on March 5, 2003

It does appear to be a very likely direction for Mefi, doesn't it? And there's so much energy here that it seems sometimes the membership begins devouring itself; this would give us something productive to sink our teeth into instead.
posted by taz at 11:53 AM on March 5, 2003

I heartily endorse this - it seems likely to have grown out of this thread, where I was only half-kidding about expecting Mefi to go the distance in nailing this down.
posted by soyjoy at 11:58 AM on March 5, 2003

Admittedly, there are cultural references to MoJo, which was kind of the point really. But perhaps there are too many. Hm... Unsure.

While MoJo is kinda sexy, MetaonlineJournalism is a bit long and awkward.

It could always be MetaMedia ... or MeMe for short.
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:02 PM on March 5, 2003

[this is good]

Let me know if I can help.
posted by y6y6y6 at 12:06 PM on March 5, 2003


posted by Shane at 12:15 PM on March 5, 2003

The perfect name for this is NewsFilter.

No, really.
posted by he opens a window at 12:23 PM on March 5, 2003

If this happens, it would be cool beyond all reckoning. The next step in the maturation of the weblog phenomenon or something. And a non-trivial development for the great media beast in general.

Distributed journalism, perhaps. If you can get 4,000 media-savvy people living all over the world to participate in coordinated information gathering, you can get shit done.
posted by gsteff at 12:28 PM on March 5, 2003

Can someone give an example of one of these situations? Is this basically a Laurie Garrett type situation where the response to a thread warrants its own followup?
posted by PrinceValium at 12:42 PM on March 5, 2003

I can think of a few... but the whole verisign/hoopla saga might be a good example. One of the threads here.
posted by taz at 1:01 PM on March 5, 2003

I can think of a small example. A while back, I and a couple others got all hot and bothered about uncredited source material that appeared in taz's otherwise enjoyable Rorschach blot post. Either an admonition from someone else within that thread to "take it to MoJo", or an unobtrusive "discussed here on MoJo" from me might have been a better alternative to discussing that aspect within the post, and a MoJo thread on that topic might have lasted long enough to actually get something done about the uncredited material being used.
posted by yhbc at 1:07 PM on March 5, 2003

This is very cool. I have actually been considering something like this -- not MeFi-affiliated, but a blog-style distributed investigative journalism site (using FreeFilter, actually). In any group of people this large, there is bound to be somebody who has an in, or knows someone who does, regarding many news items.

PrinceValium, I think Kaycee Nicole is a better example than Laurie Garrett (although her thread would probably qualify as well).
posted by IshmaelGraves at 1:11 PM on March 5, 2003

Agreed, YHBC. If MoJo had been in existence then, I would've posted my suspicions there, and a longevous MoJo thread might've been able to - like you said - get something done. Meanwhile, we'd have been able to have a nice discussion in Taz's MeFi thread about Rorschach blots in general.
posted by wanderingmind at 1:12 PM on March 5, 2003

[this is good]

The perfect name for this is NewsFilter.
No, it is not! NewsFilter is about commenting the news from other sources, MoJo is (if I got it right) about investigation, about finding something that is less known. Hence, MoJo is closer to MeFi than it seems. (I hope this clears some issues)
posted by MzB at 1:24 PM on March 5, 2003

great idea.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 1:25 PM on March 5, 2003

It could be for a situation like Laurie Garrett, or for a situation like Kaycee Nicole, or for simply factchecking a rumor before posting about it on MetaFilter.

I don't like the idea of people telling others to "Take it to MoJo" if they don't like the source of the article or believe in its credibility. Moving the discussion isn't what MoJo is about -- creating a space for factchecking stories or rumors is. If someone believes a story may be in error, they should consider taking it to MoJo and helping to independently verify the sources.

If you want to do more than just create a simple discussion, you could always follow the journalism metaphor to its reasonable conclusion and have features that would create mechanisms to allow people such as whistleblowers or those who may want to leak a story to do so anonymously, along with perhaps some kind of organized way for people to submit leads that should be checked out, to rate the reliability of stories based on existing evidence, to suggest other evidence that should be gathered, etc.

While it would be nice to have a lot of developers and the feedback of professional journalists to develop a really nifty web-based app to enable independent journalism, a lot can be done in a simple community space.
posted by insomnia_lj at 1:28 PM on March 5, 2003

I think that this is a very interesting idea. However, I have one fear. It's just that I'm afraid of neutering the metafilter threads. The best threads to me are those where the comments are full of links -- links to "more like this" "another perspective" and other helpful stuff (along with the oh so humorous elephants on this link) and the very best kind of links are those that change the course of the debate or discussion with further information. I too wish that that these links were more prominent, like when Matt linked to the Laurie Garrett thread after it "got interesting." But I really like metafilter for just this reason.

In the comment above, wanderingmind (not to pick on him at all) says that on MeFi, "we'd be abe to have a a nice discussion in Taz's MeFi thread about Rorschach blots in general." This to me sounds like the thread will be filled with "when I got a rorschach test..." comments without any substance. That scares me about the future of mefi.

That said, where do I sign up?
posted by zpousman at 1:30 PM on March 5, 2003

This sounds to me like grass roots oriented journalism. Or more pointedly - A useful outlet for 5000 weblogging busybodies - A MiFi Mob with some structure and constraints.


1) Noise. How do you prevent well motivated but clueless users from adding useless comments?

2) Moderation. Unless people are prevented from tossing in comments and editorial opinions, it just becomes another version of MetaFilter. If signal = facts, and noise = opinion, how do you keep out opinions?

3) Bullshit. "where stories [...] are actively worked on by webloggers" How do we prevent people from just making things up? it seems like we'd need to spend a lot of time investigating the investigators. Maybe some sort of flag for substantiated vs unsubstantiated comments?

4) MiFi Mob™ I remember people here doing some naughty things during the Tamera Nicole thing. Anyone remember Eric Brooks calling that priest and lying about being a staff reporter? How do we keep people from making the whole place look bad?
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:34 PM on March 5, 2003

"Kaycee Nicole"

posted by y6y6y6 at 1:36 PM on March 5, 2003

"create mechanisms to allow people such as whistleblowers or those who may want to leak a story to do so anonymously"

Eeeewww...... I like that. But there are huge legal issues. If things like that got posted here Matt would have lawyers lined up at his door demanding log files and IP numbers. As would his upstream provider. Which brings up another concern:

5) Legal issues. If we investigate something in a formal way we may open ourselves to subpoenas and law suits. If I report that married CEO Bob Smith had his car parked outside his secretary's apartment all night (since it's just down the street), am I going to get sued? Is Matt going to get sued?
posted by y6y6y6 at 1:45 PM on March 5, 2003

re: concerns...

"How do you prevent well motivated but clueless users from adding useless comments?"

Culture and focus, primarily. As always, community is self-moderating. Creating some kind of cultural FAQ for MoJo would probably be a good idea.

"How do we prevent people from just making things up?"

By making the mechanism open, it allows anyone to get called on anything, essentially. Getting caught making stuff up would look really bad. How do we prevent journalists currently from making things up when they get information from "reliable sources"?

"How do we keep people from making the whole place look bad?"

Rules of conduct. They might be able to say they're a freelance reporter, however. Again, this would be a good reason to create a FAQ on proper behavior on MoJo.

"Legal issues..."

Always important. My advice would be to contact F*ckedCompany and see how they deal with it. Obviously, they seem to manage to run a service based on rumors...
posted by insomnia_lj at 1:57 PM on March 5, 2003

Would it be fair to refer to this is a collaborative version of Snopes? If so that would be cool. I occasionally check stuff out on Snopes but it is not very transparent, they offer their verdict as fact, but I wonder at times how detailed their research is and if they have any agenda of their own. To see the train of though that leads to a conclusion would be great.
I would share y6y6y6y's concerns about "noise" though. Let's face it, Mefi has picked up a lot of people with their own agenda, and I'm sure these people would see this as another outlet for that, rather than as a place to seek truth. It would be a real shame if it were populated with questions such as "How many people were actually at that anti-war march in New York?" or "This article says Sharon has killed x number of Palestinians, but I think it's this amount, what does Metafilter think?". They may seem like extreme examples, but I hope you get my point. Each of these questions would then of course be accompanied by a Metatalk thread questioning their validity and another Metatalk thread asking why they were deleted.
Maybe these issues don't matter though, Mefi has all these problems and we still come here every day, and get tremendous value out of it.
posted by chill at 2:07 PM on March 5, 2003

This would definitely have to be moderated, wouldn't it? I could see having separate "areas"; one for discussion, contribution, hashing things out, suggesting leads, whatever, and then the second "presentation" area in which the pertinent information is condensed and disseminated, and, probably updated.
posted by taz at 2:14 PM on March 5, 2003

I'm in. I found this great website that helps you research--you type in what words you're looking for, and it will find them! I bet we could use it to investigate!
posted by gramcracker at 2:21 PM on March 5, 2003

5) Legal issues.

This is the biggest complication of the idea, but I've learned a lot in the past few months about legal issues. I'm confident I could insulate myself from any problems if I started something new with that in mind.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 2:28 PM on March 5, 2003

"How many people were actually at that anti-war march in New York?"

I actually think this would be a fantastic question for something like MoJo to address. You just wouldn't be able to ask participants to supply a number. You'd have to get someone with a digital camera to take an elevator up to the top of an appropriate building, snap as many useful shots as possible, then link to them for other MoJo participants to analyze themselves.

You aren't going to be able to trust any opinions on something like this, I expect. That's the curse of anonymity. Hopefully, MoJo could act as a really cool force for research and for adding extra hard observations to the media sphere.

(Admittedly, if MoJo is successful, then people will go to NY and upload doctored photos to artificially inflate or deflate the crowd estimates. I'm not sure how to deal with this. Perhaps, despite online anonymity, some participants will get repuations for accuracy. This is a central issue for any media outlet though).
posted by gsteff at 2:33 PM on March 5, 2003

Okay, everyone has completely legitimate concerns that we're now facing up to. So, no offense, but:

Here comes the bullshit where everyone hashes out terms and goals and semantics and what-ifs and scenarios and bugfuckall for 150 comments.

I think it's more important that something like this gets a start as some kind of experimental attempt. It can always be molded as it goes. I hope it survives all of the coming questions to actually get off the ground...
posted by Shane at 2:36 PM on March 5, 2003

3) Bullshit.

Professional reporters have their reputations, jobs and incomes at stake, and still, sometimes they make up bullshit, so this is a tough one. A member who has tracked down information that is a matter of public record is a different animal than a member who claims to have inside information, so the standards would have to be different there. There would have to be specific terms of accountability.
posted by taz at 2:42 PM on March 5, 2003

"a collaborative version of Snopes?"

I was thinking the same thing. Sort of a real time, distributed with a broader focus.

"Getting caught making stuff up would look really bad."

So we'd have closed memberships and no anonymity? If you get banned and just start another membership that would never work. And where would members come from? Only MeFi members? Can you be in MetaFilter but not MoJo? Just asking......

And I hate the nickname MoJo BTW.

"How many people were actually at that anti-war march in New York?" or "This article says Sharon has killed x number of Palestinians, but I think it's this amount, what does Metafilter think?"

Actually I like both those questions. If the goal of the new site is to find the facts, and that can be enforced, then that shuts down most of the reasons I/P and Bush posts go bad. Hmmmm..... This is sounding better and better.....

"My advice would be to contact F*ckedCompany"

Good tip. Didn't they get sued a while back?
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:50 PM on March 5, 2003

5) Legal issues.

If we maintain the standard of linking to outside sources, then everything stays kosher--we're just vigorously examining something, calling forth Exhibit A, Exhibit B, etc. But if someone cares enough to do their own investigative research (interviewing sources, taking photographs, etc.), then that person should upload their 'personal journalism' to their own blog, then link to it from MoJo. It would be easy to set up a informational resource (or even blog service, if you wanna go that far) with links, FAQs, etc. for people who don't already have a blog, to show them how to set up a simple one.

This would significantly protect the Blogjournalist's own copyright (and bragging rights) on the scoop, hold them accountable to their journalism, and protect MoJo from any libel issues. But judging from our already-established habits, I think most people will just dig up interesting material that already exists on the web to back up or challenge a claim.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 2:53 PM on March 5, 2003

Also - This sounds like a great subscription site. Distributed real time fact checking? Hello? This is a killer app. Five years ago we'd have had 20 million in venture capital by now.
posted by y6y6y6 at 2:55 PM on March 5, 2003

Five years ago we'd have had 20 million in venture capital by now.

I used to hate this catch-phrase, but here goes:

Signal-to-Noise Ratio.

Noise could ruin it all.
posted by Shane at 3:00 PM on March 5, 2003

"then that person should upload their 'personal journalism' to their own blog"

I like that idea. It seems to me that people would take things more seriously, have more pride of ownership, and be more concerned with quality if they had to do it that way. So maybe it increases signal AND limits legal exposure? Interesting... But I can see problems with it as well...

I'm talking too much. Sorry.
posted by y6y6y6 at 3:02 PM on March 5, 2003

As far as limiting legal exposure, one simple way for Matt to do this would be to comply with the DMCA, which automatically protects the owner of the site from what others post.

Not that I love the DMCA, but at least it protects site owners if complied with...
posted by insomnia_lj at 3:26 PM on March 5, 2003

Just woke up : this is a brilliant idea to leverage the community, _lj, and might finally make the endless 'is blogging journalism' argument actually interesting.

With strong moderation (a major caveat), this could be a Great Thing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:01 PM on March 5, 2003

(Needless to say, but : I'm in, if I can assist in any way to make it a reality. My email is on my profile.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:03 PM on March 5, 2003

I think this is a fantastic idea and this would bring a definite end to the weblog vs. journalism debate. Because in this case, webloggers would be practicing actual journalism. To link or comment upon an op-ed piece is one thing, to get your ass out there on the field, warchalking from the scene of the crime, citing sources on site, and then beating the pants out of the Washington Post strikes me as the ultimate scoop. And it would be more valuable to readers too.

In other words, count me in.

Of course, what we would need are beat reporters, people out there with wifi connections and laptops, doing the actual coverage of, oh say, what sort of twisted legislation and pomp and circumstance goes on in the two houses in Washington. And that would entail a time commitment.

A person with a bit of ingenuity could probably pass off compensation by setting this up as a nonprofit organization (viable, given that this could truly entail long hours of public service).

In fact, you boys and girls may want to give Rusty at Kuro5hin a call.
posted by ed at 4:06 PM on March 5, 2003

LOL. Stavros and I must be eating the same sandwich.
posted by ed at 4:09 PM on March 5, 2003

Strong moderation and community policing would be the key to the success of this, I feel. It could so easily turn into a worldwide witch-hunt every time someone gets a bee in their bonnet and we have already seen the power that the MeFi Mob can wield when it tries. The potential power of the same group, focussed and harnessed, would be awesome.

Count me in if I can do anything to help.
posted by dg at 4:16 PM on March 5, 2003

Concening members who might make errors or devise bullshit information, this is where a protocol comes into play. Before a story gets posted, we assign a story to a volunteer fact checker so that they can check out the information. If the manner of journalism is decided upon in advance (i.e., the subject understands that s/he may be contacted by MoJo fact checkers or some sort of committee to verify provenance), and we have a pool of devoted fact checkers available, then, really, folks, we'd be unstoppable. (And, dammit, I would love to see us fact check the whole corporeal being, rather than just the ass.)

Of course, this is a tremendous undertaking to advise. It relies a lot upon trust and community. And we would have to ensure that the community as a whole was practicing some quasi-legit journalism. And this is where a MoJo Vow of Chastity comes in. :)
posted by ed at 4:20 PM on March 5, 2003

I'm going to talk to Rusty about it. The scoop engine that he uses on k5 was the first thing I thought of when I wondered what kind of software could run such a venture.
posted by mathowie (staff) at 4:20 PM on March 5, 2003

Awesome idea. Count me in, too.

I'd think that some of the concerns about making things up could be allayed by the fact that this will, by its nature, be peer reviewed.
posted by biscotti at 4:21 PM on March 5, 2003

Very good idea, insomnia. I'd love to help. There are a few good editors on MetaFilter, able to understand the spirit of the place and a more free-form structure. Let me know if I can be of any use (old-style newspaper editor) - or where do I sign?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 4:21 PM on March 5, 2003

Great idea, but would you want to release something like this in the midst of war?

The current media's lack of perspective makes this essential.

Also, there's another reason to develop a true, fact-oriented, peer-to-peer journalism base: If the economy remains dour, then how many newspapers will fold in the next three or four years? 200? 1,000? Half of them?

Right now, newspapers are offering content to us for free. We can dispose of the two bits for the daily edition and link directly to an article found through Google News. But is there really any financial incentive for newspapers to do this? Absolutely not.

Furthermore, when we consider how much bloggers resort to newspapers for their links, what base would they have for information if the newspaper strata disappeared tomorrow? Friday Flash sites?

It is actually in our best interest to develop a collective voice that is more varied than the current hodgepodge of bias and advertising dollars that makes up today's media because if we can provide our own commentary, then certainly community can come together in this instance and devise its own base. Why make weblogs part of the food chain when we can be the farmers ourselves?
posted by ed at 4:31 PM on March 5, 2003

Color me in too. I have a lot of writing and editorial experience and it sounds like fun.
posted by dejah420 at 4:40 PM on March 5, 2003

This is an awesome idea. Just for the love of God do not actually call it Mojo.
posted by Hildago at 4:42 PM on March 5, 2003

Count me in! I have no experience with editing and the only writing I do is here and on my site, but count me in anyway--if there's anything I can do, of course.
posted by ashbury at 4:48 PM on March 5, 2003

Count me in. However I can be of help.

My questions:

This seems like a really cool idea. "Why didn't I think of that!" cool. Which makes me wonder if someone has thought of it. Has amateur journalism coordinated through the web been tried before, then crashed and burned? I doubt it, at least not on a site with anything near MeFi's pull, but history might be worth looking into. I'll dig some myself.

As Edison said, genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. As early as possible, someone needs to take charge of this (someone with experience coordinating projects?) and coordinate efforts. How should this be taken from Metatalk to reality?
posted by gsteff at 5:04 PM on March 5, 2003

".... sort of committee to verify provenance"

Okay. Two things.

1) Most people who might contribute have no idea what "provenance" means. Making it professional and tightly regulated will drive away a lot of people.

2) The power here is the blogger on the street. You don't want to create too big a barrier to real time contributions from average folks.

When the D.C. sniper thing was happening and the SWAT team converged on that van, we had two people here who lived just down the street. We got much more detail from them than we got from the "real" news. My point is that peer-to-peer journalism and a distributed FactFilter may be in conflict with each other.

Committees and editors? Isn't that one of the things wrong with established news media?

Having said that, I don't how you'd make it work without strict moderation. But maybe fostering a culture of quality would do the same thing with a lighter touch.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:04 PM on March 5, 2003

If you need someone to make annoying jokes and raise the noise level past the signal then count me in. Like, "With the help of Metafilter, we'll find those Weapons of Mass Destruction yet!" See? I do that great!

I'll also be secretly using this new MeFi service to research questions to GoogleAnswers, then keep all the money to purchase a yacht.
posted by Stan Chin at 5:05 PM on March 5, 2003


Of course I meant "peer reviewed journalism". Peer-to-peer journalism actually sounds wonderful.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:07 PM on March 5, 2003

You're on to the crux of the matter, y6. Editing (mainly sub-editing/"copydesk") skills are needed but in an unobtrusive, non-definitive, non-authoritarian way.

The best pure MeFi "editing" is done in-thread, but there's still a lot of dross that might be cut out. Take, as an example, the 9.11 thread - there's very little you'd cut out or rewrite if you wanted to maintain what's unique about MetaFilter community reportage.

Also, there are a lot of analytic and investigative talents here, which make for the best reading here, imo.

Thing is keep it loose, but have the roles played by subs and checkers made inline, in comments, which would keep it lively and MeFi. With everyone being able to answer back; thus keeping it fresh.

Insomnia's idea is great because it corresponds to something already going on here. The danger (as you and others suggest) is that it become sanitized and castrated, so to speak.

If any of this is vaguely understandable, that is... ;)
posted by MiguelCardoso at 5:41 PM on March 5, 2003

Another thought.

Open Source Software : Proprietrary Software :: MoJo : The Mainstream Media

Essentially, we're describing a bunch of people working for free, coordinated over the net, to produce content competing with private industry. That gives me hope. OSS is more or less working, and the content it produces generally doesn't suck, although its definately less polished. MoJo (or whatever) would produce less polished content that is able to compete with private industry because of its community-bonds and distributed work model.

If work on this actually starts, I'd suggest taking whatever lessons we can from the Open Source world.
posted by gsteff at 5:47 PM on March 5, 2003

y6y6y6: I think that under a P2P journalism base, you'd want a mix of descriptive accounts of what's going on, along with a journalism that provides a distinct alternative to editors too weasly to push the envelope. As such, that involves fitting into a few guidelines (sources, detail, etc.).

There's a distinct difference between one overworked copyeditor struggling to get the city coverage done by deadline and 100 English mavens who will do the job in an instance. What we would have in a P2P journalism base is 5,000 webloggers vs. anywhere from 25-200 journalists and editors. It doesn't take a Harvard valedictorian to see the virtues of that kind of uber-manpower, particularly if they are subscribing to a few modest guidelines (to ensure accuracy and reduce the noise) and are even more dedicated in their pursuit of a story than the stringer padding out his piece for a higher word rate.

Like a file being shared along a peer-to-peer network, with certain parts grabbed from one user and other parts grabbed from another, you could literally have 5 editors in a queue looking over the facts of a piece before it gets posted, particularly if some techie was to devise a content management system to split an article into its factual components. Meanwhile, another could look over the article and make some suggestions to an author, or possibly keep the ball running. If it's communal journalism you want, the emphasis would not be on the individual writer, but how facts are relayed, confirmed and then disseminated to the general public.

We may want to draw a distinction between what we want: (1) instant journalism disseminated without an independent control or (2) journalism that takes a few extra minutes to verify facts so as to stand up with greater integrity against the ivory towers.
posted by ed at 5:53 PM on March 5, 2003

There's a GIS data visualization tool called MoJo. Just sayin'.
posted by normy at 5:57 PM on March 5, 2003

If I remember right, mojos were also the name they gave for the first primitive faxes... big, huge wheeled things that the press would use to transmit pictures... which would explain alll the online references to 'the mojo wire'.
posted by insomnia_lj at 6:05 PM on March 5, 2003

This is genuinely exciting - I hope we can collectively get something off the ground!

I'm reminded by gsteff's

Open Source Software : Proprietary Software :: MoJo : The Mainstream Media

of adamgreenfield's recent musings on Open Source Democracy.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:24 PM on March 5, 2003

This is a great idea. Count me in.
posted by eilatan at 6:36 PM on March 5, 2003

"100 English mavens"

Thanks. You've just described my personal version of Hell. English mavens are one rung above lawyers and one rung below insurance salesmen.

I vastly prefer your (2) option, but webloggers don't expect to have to wait more than 3-4 seconds before their post gets added to the mix. I wonder what the blogger reaction would be to waiting an hour for posts to show up. Not saying it's a deal killer, just saying......

(Note: Every time I have to go into the preview and put an uppercase H in Hell, change there to their, and worry over whether "webloggers" has one g or two I stick another pin in my English maven voodoo doll. I hate you people.)
posted by y6y6y6 at 6:49 PM on March 5, 2003

This sounds like a idea with great possibilities, but if I may raise my hand and ask a question:

y6y6y6 brought up the issue of 'noise' or clueless users & useless comments. Part of the reason that MeFi is in such turmoil at time is because of the lack of editors. At the same time, the lack of editors is one of the reasons the community has flourished.

I guess my question is: Who gets to decide who is clueless and what is useless? I can't imagine Matt wanting to do that by himself. On the other hand, not much will get done with 17,000 cooks in the kitchen.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 6:55 PM on March 5, 2003

I guess my question is: Who gets to decide who is clueless and what is useless?

Right there is where the whole idea crumbles to dust. Even if "MoJo" is simply a blog patterned after Mefi, it still needs a Matt Haughey to decide what posts stay/go. Try moderating individual comments like that. Try appointing an editorial board with powers to delete.

I don't see it happening. One or two people could get together and do a blog like this and slowly gain the credibility of people the way Matt has. But how would you choose editors from the body of Mefi? Think of the politics, the dissension, the competition, the bickering...
posted by Shane at 7:09 PM on March 5, 2003

the credibilty of people
Err, make that "credibility with people" or "the trust of people."[/self-editing]

posted by Shane at 7:13 PM on March 5, 2003

sorry to rain on the parade....
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 7:17 PM on March 5, 2003

sorry to rain on the parade....
I think this has been in the back of all of our minds since the start. But it's fun to dream, eh?
posted by Shane at 7:18 PM on March 5, 2003

"Who gets to decide who is clueless and what is useless?"

We all do, in that we all control where our attention goes.

For instance, let's say that someone posted this:


Republican dirty tricks?!. Thieves caught/arrested breaking in to Democratic National Committee headquarters, trying to plant bugs.


Now, you might feel that some of the accusations going back and forth were completely inappropriate and polarized, and might not be interested in it. (Some might even start spouting wild conspiracy theories that the president was behind it, or something...)

Obviously, you wouldn't have to work on developing that kind of thesis. You could ignore the story alltogether and work on something else, or you could check facts on the story with a far more skeptical viewpoint, trying to find holes in the story, or perhaps contacting the reporter to check out their sources.

Ultimately, the facts are what matter. Sometimes, serious stories come out of rumors, but oftentimes, there won't be a clear consensus on anything, and that's okay too.
posted by insomnia_lj at 7:24 PM on March 5, 2003

Also, I don't see a huge need for editors or moderators. You can have a large collection of people research a story and come up with facts that allow people to write that story in a lot of different ways. The important part is trying to determine what the facts actually are through independent, collaborative research.

Generally speaking, trolls will not be fed. The "food supply" tends to flow to whatever interests people. That doesn't mean that people don't like junk food now and then, but in general, they eat what tastes palatable.
posted by insomnia_lj at 7:31 PM on March 5, 2003

That still doesn't answer the question "Who gets to decide...?"

Or are you just wanting to start a MeFi version of IndyMedia?

Don't get me wrong, I am not a nay-sayer, I think there is a lot of possibilities for this, I am just wondering what your vision is?
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 7:32 PM on March 5, 2003

Love the idea. Count me in.
posted by iconomy at 7:49 PM on March 5, 2003

Steve, go have a look around, if you haven't already, for an idea of what mathowie was talking about here. Baked into the way the software is structured are features that might address some of your questions.

Not that Scoop is definitely the way to go for something like this, but I agree it might be the best tool for the job.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 7:53 PM on March 5, 2003

"Who gets to decide who is clueless and what is useless?"

We all do, in that we all control where our attention goes.

For the record, I agree with insomnia.

The whole idea sounds exciting. I hope the name includes something that connects it to Metafilter in a more obvious way.
posted by Tarrama at 7:59 PM on March 5, 2003

So, insomnia_lj, how do you see this actually working, in a nuts and bolts way? Would you anticipate the works being something like a clone of MeFi, perhaps using FreeFilter or Phpilfer, or something else altogether? I can see that the form of this idea must either be fitted around an existing tool, or a new tool created to fit what you want it to become. Having to create a tool first could be a significant barrier to achieving critical mass.

As far as names go, I like MetaMedia rather than MoJo, which just sounds way too '70s.
posted by dg at 8:07 PM on March 5, 2003

i was going to bring this up actually,
i think its best if there is no vision at all and that all viewpoints are accomodated.
we could go down the road of 'what is truth' here and we could be here a long time debating that so i dont think its necessary to start debating this and we should just stick with agreeing to disagree.
the sniper story is a good example,
my example would be the jonathan richman thread that y2karl started , he went away and got some more information on jonathans tour and emailed it to me about 2 weeks later which was great.
thats not a very significant world event or anything,
but thats my point.
metafilter shouldnt be used to start any giant campaigns.
mojo (metasnoop,metaspy,metahack,metagate,metatattle,metameta -any other suggestions?) could be used if someone wished to have a wee dialectic going.
posted by sgt.serenity at 8:16 PM on March 5, 2003

I certainly like the spirit of this idea, but I too am confused about what is being suggested. Is it:

1) A place where the public can contribute news stories (as posts), with other people adding details? (Like Indymedia [sigh] with comments?)

2) A place that investigates stories? (eg: "Somebody hacked the White House! Let's find out who!") Presumably there wouldn't be an enormous number of such stories - one a week? - so MoJo wouldn't be very active the rest of the time.

1 isn't very interesting at all, frankly. 2 is, but the success of such pursuits on MeFi-as-it-is-Now suggests we don't need a system much more complicated than the one here.

I'm waiting for adrianhon to chime in. Back when Cloudmakers was wrapping up its distributed-detective work on the A.I. web-game, there was much talk about how to apply the swam's abilities to other challenges. Adrian, as a Cloudmaker moderator, likely has some insight into coordinating enormous group investigations.
posted by Marquis at 8:18 PM on March 5, 2003

I like MetaMedia

So do I.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:24 PM on March 5, 2003

...and MeMe spells 'meme'. Cool.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 8:28 PM on March 5, 2003

Has amateur journalism coordinated through the web been tried before, then crashed and burned? I doubt it, at least not on a site with anything near MeFi's pull, but history might be worth looking into. I'll dig some myself.

Indymedia kinda does this, but they have no real system or software for fact checking or filtering for quality i don't think, there's just a pile of what anyone wants to send in. If this has better software though and an ethic of fact-checking it could be much better. Also, MetaMedia is a better name, even more so with the meme thing.
posted by rhyax at 8:29 PM on March 5, 2003

guh, MeMe and 'meme' are reasons not to use MetaMedia.

maybe nthdegx would be willing to chime in on a name, his powers of wordplay can be astounding.

Conceptually though it does sound like a better organized and possibly more balanced version of Indymedia, "so far" this is good.
posted by yonderboy at 8:45 PM on March 5, 2003

I like MetaMedia

So do I.

Me case we're tracking votes.
posted by dejah420 at 8:51 PM on March 5, 2003

I have to agree with sgt.serenity (don't look so shocked, sarge) in that you could get all bogged down in what the exact aims of the project are and in working out strategies that everyone agrees on, but it would be better to "suck it and see" and see how it grows. The first step, in my mind (after name, domain rego, hosting etc) is to choose the most suitable tool from those already available and get started. As the project grows, directions and goals will emerge and crystallize.
posted by dg at 9:01 PM on March 5, 2003

guh, MeMe and 'meme' are reasons not to use MetaMedia.

Heh. I somehow knew someone would chime in as a representative of the hipper-than-thou Backlash Brigade. Almost did it myself.

Not that the name matters a great deal if there's nothing to name.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:21 PM on March 5, 2003

I find this idea very exciting and inspiring. In fact, I've spent the majority of the evening thinking about and writing this essay describing the nature of the thing that (I think) is being discussed and how it fits in with current trends in thinking about the Internet. Rather than clutter the whole thread with the entire thing, here's just the first two paragraphs. Note that this was one of those typing at the speed of thought things and is humbly presented as a starting poing for further discussion:

1. The evolution of the free software movement and new ideas about group interactions facilitated by instantaneous nonlocal communication ("smart mobs") provide a starting point for a new approach to journalism. Until now, news reporting has been mediated by large and medium-scale content providers who disseminated information based on assessments made by a handful of editors and publishers. In the vast majority of cases, the companies that provide news services are beholden to advertisers, the bias of publishers and editors, and the fickle attention of the buying public. Thus there is the constant danger that any given media outlet's editors will impose their own biases, overemphasize some facts, de-emphasize or ignore others, or create outright fictions. Further, content delivery is consistently delayed while the information is parsed, edited for content and length, and made presentation ready.

2. A new approach, that I will call "mob media"--as opposed to mass media--can be imagined that has no such information bottlenecks, and faster "time to market." Where traditional media is necessarily brief, mob media can be expansive. Where traditional media is moderated by a select few, mob media is unfettered and unmoderated. Where traditional media defines importance by virtue of "what sells," mob media allows importance to be assigned in an ad-hoc fashion and mediated by the individual news consumer. Where traditional media excludes many viewpoints, mob media by definition can convey all possible viewpoints. Where traditional media is packaged and delivered, mob media is organic and self-organizing; never finished and always developing. (more...)

posted by vraxoin at 9:24 PM on March 5, 2003

[this is good]
posted by lazaruslong at 9:28 PM on March 5, 2003

it would be better to "suck it and see" and see how it grows. The first step, in my mind (after name, domain rego, hosting etc) is to choose the most suitable tool from those already available and get started. As the project grows, directions and goals will emerge and crystallize.

From experience, this is the best course, I'd say. While we're all fired. In fact, I don't see why we couldn't try it out straight away with some difficult but fun exercise.

Perhaps after we've all we've given it a run (for its money, as it were) the technical, structural aspects can be narrowed down?
posted by MiguelCardoso at 9:32 PM on March 5, 2003

A thing like this would need editors or a Scoop-like community review process to keep from getting polluted by its own success.

Distributed reporting could be pretty cool, though. Given a single topic or question, collecting pieces information/research/reportage from multiple contributors could eventually result in a broad picture that would take a professional reporter a long time to put together. It would also be really cool to create a centralized outlet for first-hand accounts of events. But to be good it would need some sort of verification process -- some way of knowing where the material is coming from, and how accurate it is -- and some sort of filter for individual contributions to a thread/topic (conjecturing about the meanings of typos and English vs. American spellings really doesn't cut it). Otherwise, you end up with a large proportion of stuff no one would want to read it besides the people that wrote it.

In other words, if you don't want something like MeFi the way it is now, you need more than just a sharper focus -- you need some way of maintaining it.
posted by mattpfeff at 9:35 PM on March 5, 2003

Okay I'll ask:

Who's going to start this thing? :P
posted by Stan Chin at 9:37 PM on March 5, 2003

Kick-ass idea.

A few comments — as I mentioned earlier, I'd been tossing around something like this for the last few weeks with a friend. These are the ideas we've had:

1. I think some kind of moderation is essential. If pre-moderation is too time-consuming and the delay will discourage potential posters, perhaps just a much heavier-handed deletion policy would do.

2. It's in an environment like this — where each comment is much more discrete and the entire thread is less sequential — where ratings work well. If signal-to-noise was too bad, a rating system could be implemented wherein higher-rated comments float to the top. (I wonder if this would create a de facto recreation of the traditional inverse-pyramid newspaper style of writing?)

3. Summaries. If we want this to be used by the outside world and not merely by the people who are active in it, we need to keep in mind that nobody wants to read through an entire thread to get to the point of a story. Volunteers, or the original poster, could post a summary of what was discovered after a certain period of time. This shouldn't have to be mandatory.

I don't think quality control is as much an issue as some are making it out to be.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:57 PM on March 5, 2003

Matt emailed me and drew my attention to this thread, and here's basically what I sent back to him. It occurred to me that it might do more good to put it out for general public comment.

I think this is a fantastic idea, and actually is one of the things I had in mind for the CMF to do, as soon as it seemed possible for me to have some time away from running K5. But working on it with some other people would help shift some of the burden off of just me setting the whole thing up and whatnot, so I'm game to help any way I can.

I've done a bunch of thinking about how amateurs could do real journalism online collaboratively, and what kinds of things the software would need to do to help that happen. The short summary of my thinking is that what you need to do is take the process of investigating, writing, and editing a story, turn it inside-out, and make it all public.

So, to take an example from MeFi's history, say you've got someone claiming that longtime blogger Kaycee Nicole has died of leukemia. Someone thinks this is an interesting story, and probably will not get any coverage anywhere else, so they post a little item comprising whatever they know to the news site. "Today 17 year old blogger Kaycee Nicole Swenson, long suffering from leukemia, died. Blah blah blah, links here and here, tribute here." This would appear in something like a "leads" section. Basically story idea that aren't developed yet.

Someone else comes along and says "Gee, I'd like to know more about Kaycee's life, and struggle. She was an inspiration to us all." So they try to track down where she lived, people who knew her, and so on. They email the woman who sometimes posted for her, do some kind of interview, and post that. Other people might try to locate her, tell people where they can send flowers or when the funeral is, whatever. Anything anyone comes up with would be attached to the original lead, as "more info." It doesn't have to be digested or story-ized -- in fact, it's better at this point if it isn't. The point is to gather up all of the research that a reporter would do and staple it onto the lead. As people do this, the story starts to take shape. This is all just what a reporter would do to research a story, only it's being done sort of piecemeal by anyone who wants to contribute, and all of it is collected online for public or quasi-public viewing.

When a lead has some research attached to it, it might be promoted to a second area, "ongoing research," or something like that. At some point, stories in progress would have enough information associated with them that someone can start writing it up as an actual standalone story. It will totally depend on both the story and the prospective author what point that is, but it could be any time. But eventually there's some research, and someone wants to take a stab at writing the story. They do so. Now it goes into "stories in progress," where volunteer editors can make suggestions on changes, and/or the author can allow some people or everyone to just make changes to it, kinda wiki-style. In principle someone could write a completely alternate version of the story, which would just be there alongside the first. The whole thing basically moves along as a package, from lead to research, to story. When you read a story, you'd be able to look at the source documents like emails, interview notes, and so forth that it grew out of.

Some collaborative process ensues, and eventually the author or authors decide they think the story is done. It doesn't have to be done forever, but it's done for now. If more information comes out later, they can update it as needed through the same process. At this point, it becomes part of the raw feed. Past that, you could have a K5 style voting system that might refine the raw story feed into a polished news site, perhaps choosing the most important or best-written stories for special highlighting.

That's the basics. It could be expanded in a lot of interesting ways, for example you could let people add "local news" sections for their area, which would behave the same way but most stories would end up just appearing in the local section. If you had some way to promote things that could be of national or international interest, they could also appear at those levels if they were voted there. And so forth. That's probably down the road anyway -- the basic challenege is to design a process that works.

I think Scoop would work as a good basic platform, but to really do it right, it would need some extending. It doesn't, right now, have any good way for multiple people to work together on stories, and the story type system is pretty crude (editing, voting, and posted is all we've got). It also doesn't have any way to associate several documents as a "package."

None of these things are insurmountable, and I don't think there's anything else out there that's any closer to what we'd need. I think actually the social challenges are probably greater than the technical ones. It needs to be really clear to people what the point of the site is (reporting news) and what isn't appropriate (editorial, for one thing). There also need to be good documents describing how to go about being a reporter, since it isn't something a lot of people spend much time doing. This can all be taught to anyone, I'm firmly convinced, but we do need to make sure that's available from the beginning.

I've actually talked to some other people about a project like this. I know JD Lasica would probably be interested in helping any way he could. Probably most other journalist bloggers would too. I can think of three different mailing lists that would be interested to hear about his idea too, now that I think about it.


On a different note, about some of the things people have mentioned in the comments here. I think process and accountability are probably the two most important things the be aware of. Basically, for any finished story, it needs to be easy for anyone to see how it got to that state. Who did what research and when, who checked out what reported facts, who helped write and edit it. Most of the problems with reputability and reliability that people have brought up are inherent in the reporting process. The way newspapers deal with them is by being as careful as they can about protecting the good reputation of their paper. You don't care who the reporter was, necessarily, you just know that if it came from the Washington Post, it's probably solid.

In our case, we don't necessarily have that capability. You can build a reliable "brand name," or you can be open. I don't think you can have both. So what we'd need to have is an open audit trail. Most reporters can just stuff their notes in a file cabinet when the story is written. We'd need to have the notes available to anyone who wants to see them. The point is to be reputable, and openness is, I think, a perfectly good way to accomplish that.

I also think there needs to be filtering. One of the things that cripples indymedia as a news service is the commitment to being unfiltered. Filtering can be done "with a light touch," and can apply at many different points in the process. If someone attaches some research to a lead, there could simply be a way to rate the perceived reliability of that information. It doesn't have to be a bondage and discipline thing, just a way for many people to register their impression of how good the info is. Fact-checking is another kind of filtering. If someone does an interview and posts their notes, someone else could call up the interviewee and just confirm the basic facts of the notes, and make that public. Leads could be rated, and sorted according to interest level.

Basically, filtering and feedback can come in at many points, and all of it can be used to guide people toward the most promising stories. We have so much more experience with collaborative filtering systems now than we did three years ago, there's just no reason to be scared of it. :-)

The basic concept is to break down news reporting into its component parts, and open it up so that anyone can do a little piece of it, whatever they're good at. For example, I would be glad to call people up and interview them, if someone else was ultimately going to write up the story. I like interviewing people, but writing stories is a hard slog for me. I oughta know, I'm almost two weeks late on one right now (sorry Josh). Meanwhile Miguel would be up there at the end of the line weilding wielding the red pen.

I've been thinking about this for over a year now, and dammit let's do it.
posted by rusty at 10:31 PM on March 5, 2003

I think it would be extremely helpful at this point to list what kind of journalism "mob media", as vraxoin calls it, could accomplish. My expectations:

Google-fu. MetaFilter has already demonstrated that this kind of distributed reporting can be effective.

Major public events. Protests are the most obvious example of this, and I'm really excited about the potential for this kind of project to help get the some reliable crowd size estimates. If the coming war (sorry to bring it up!) spurs new worldwide protests, I think we could get major media attention AND perform a major public service by sending people with digital cameras to as many of them as possible and photographing the events with an eye for crowd estimates. I have no doubt that we could get an academic (obvious choice: Clark McPhail, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of America's preeminent authorities on protest crowds, or so says Salon) to provide advice and/or a rubric for getting the most helpful data. But any major event aimed at large numbers of people would be an obvious target for "mob media", although I'm not sure that there's much potential to get interesting information that the mainstream media would miss.

Interviews. A project like this would likely have very little luck getting interviews with big public figures. But more everyday ones (obvious choice: departing/returning American servicemen... another: people that heard the Columbia explosion or found debris in their yards) would be doable. Again, in the interest of providing readers with the raw data that they usually can't get from mainstream media, it might be desirable to record the actual interviews in full, and post the in full recordings as MP3s (which requires a much bigger server than MeFi has).

Eyewitness accounts of breakings news. MeFi has proved that this can be effective too, most notably in the 9/11 thread and the Seattle earthquake thread. With interested participants actually trying to newsgather, the results could be impressive, and definately add content that the mainstream misses.

Press conference reporting would be possible too, but I don't see the point. Joe Q. Public isn't going to be getting into any press conferences that interest the internet at large, not without doing some serious bluffing (which might be fun, however). And there's nothing that we could add to that kind of reporting anyway. I'd shy away from the government-watchdog sort of journalism. Amateurs won't be able to accomplish anything meaningful, that requires resources.

I also think that, if this is going to work, much more attention needs to be paid to what's motivating the participants. Altruism won't last a month. I'd think that the site needs to be able to offer a big audience, so that people know that if they provide content, they'll be read by thousands. And there needs to be some way to gauge reader reaction. Contributing content to this kind of site will require more work than contributing to MeFi, and the payoff, even if only psychological, will likely have to be greater. Again, I'm not an expert on the open source software movement, but you could do worse than trying to build a system that attempts to cultivate whatever it is that motivates them.
posted by gsteff at 10:36 PM on March 5, 2003

Here's a scenario that envisions one way in which such a site could operate (summarizes part of the essay linked above).

1. A newsworthy event occurs, like South by Southwest here in Austin.

2. "Reporters" go to the event, bringing along their hiptops, cell phones, WiFi enabled laptops and pencams. They upload a bunch of raw data to a freshly created "story." Anyone can be a reporter. Any information is fair game. They don't have to be aware of each others' existence.

3. "Editors" sift through the raw data and summarize it, providing links down to the raw data where appropriate. They add commentary, context, and check facts. Anyone can be an editor, but I would imagine the popularity of editors would follow a power law. A few very popular editors would emerge among a large number of relative unknowns. Readers rate editors based on their clarity, insightfulness, objectivity, and informativeness.

4. "Readers" read the editors' finished products, skim through whatever raw data they find useful, and comment or debate in a discussion forum.

5. "Reporters" and "editors" are allotted reputation based on how well they did.

6. News now exists where none existed before and all without the interference of some kind of moderating authority. Of course, a Matt-figure could be helpful, weeding out the utter nonsense, but as long as people know what's expected of them and there's enough social pressure to behave appropriately, most people will do the right thing.

On preview: what Rusty said.
posted by vraxoin at 10:36 PM on March 5, 2003

This is great. I'd love to help.

I have a couple wonderings though: coordinated newsgathering and editing sounds great, but how who will do the coordinating? It was great that beagle took the initiative to e-mail Laurie Garrett -- but people will be even MORE apt to tell us to "get a life" if they're bombarded by lots and lots of well-meaning e-mails and phone calls, all wanting to talk to the primary souce of their investigation.

Ultimately, editing seems to be about gatekeeping. You're relying on someone's judgment to decide what's important and what's not, what adds to the story and what doesn't, what's fair and what's not, and a host of other things (not least of which is how to go about telling the story.) I still think the proposal is a good idea...but I wonder if self-policing communities are compatible with these kinds of gatekeeping judgments.
posted by Vidiot at 10:44 PM on March 5, 2003

Ok, last post and I'm gone for the night, promise.

who will do the coordinating

I can see distributed solutions for this. There could, like Rusty said, be a "leads" box that anyone could post coverage ideas to. The system could be designed so that registered users could claim a lead, which, in a perfect world, would convince the other users to not call up dear Laurie themselves.

And much of the gatekeeping problem can be handled by distributed means as well. Especially questions like, "What's important?" and "Which contributions add to the story?" If this project really wants to be "the people's media" then you could do a lot worse than to handle (some) gatekeeping judgements democratically.
posted by gsteff at 10:54 PM on March 5, 2003

I would like to help, if you could use the services of a non-blogging journalist. :) Exciting possibilities here!
posted by Lynsey at 10:55 PM on March 5, 2003

gsteff: I agree. If you're doing something related to a lead, you don't even need to "claim" it necessarily, just have a way to post notes. "I've emailed Laurie Garrett to request her comments on this. [date stamp]" That kind of thing. Notes (or, to use the obscure technical term of art, "comments" :-)) could be type-coded as for example "action note" (the above), "followup suggestion" (like, "someone should do this but I'm not going to") and so on. Or not. It might be simpler just to have them be comments.

I think what gatekeeping there is should be democratic. Yeah yeah there's the whole issue about multiple personalities and sock-puppet accounts and all that, but frankly that can be dealt with pretty much ad-hoc. Scoop's getting better at that as time goes on. But I think the majority of gatekeeping issues are mainly a matter of people sharing info about what they're doing.

I also like the idea about being able to upload media, like mp3s of full interviews, video files, pictures and so on. That shouldn't make the software any harder to implement, but would require some storage space. I'm sure we can come up with something.
posted by rusty at 11:15 PM on March 5, 2003

Rusty, all I can say is wow.

Well I am not the first, nor will I be the last. But I fully support this and will give whatever assistance I can.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 11:17 PM on March 5, 2003

hear hear about the full unedited media...have the edited "story so far", but have the primary sources available as well.
posted by Vidiot at 11:19 PM on March 5, 2003

Heh. I did say I've been thinking about this for a long time, Steve. :-)
posted by rusty at 11:34 PM on March 5, 2003

this sounds really cool. Count me in, for what it's worth.
posted by condour75 at 11:38 PM on March 5, 2003

It was great hearing Rusty's ideas on this. I was actually kicking this idea around for awhile before posting it to MetaTalk, but it seems that I'm not the only one interested in seeing this come about.

Given the level of interest, it seems to me that the best step would be to:

1> Get a team together to plan out such a site... probably one that functions as a seperate but "sister" service of MetaFilter that would be open to a larger amount of contributors, planners, and developers.

2> Create something simple soon that would both serve as a way of experimenting with the process, creating guidelines and culture, and ideally providing feedback into a more polished web-based journalism application.

I think that Rusty is right in that there needs to be some kind of filtering, especially when it comes to allowing people to and provide feedback regarding the reliability of information.

One of the things that I did years ago at Covad was help out with their customized process automation system. Basically, you would start with an order coming in to their system, and it would progress through hundreds of logical steps, many of which were automated, towards final installation.

Now, we can't expect everyone to be professional journalists, but if we could define the logical steps necessary to get from unconfirmed gossip to something that could be considered serious journalism, and design a web-based application accordingly, then it becomes much more possible for anyone to contribute to a serious journalistic effort in a meaningful way. Such a system could automate the process of confirming the story with several reliable sources, for instance... ideally using non-anonymous sources.

A more complicated issue would be how you would use and validate anonymous sources, and how you would keep them anonymous should push come to shove. One big plus about doing such a site, though, is that it could be seen as having the same rights as the media do to keep their sources confidential.

This is an initially simple project, that with time and development can and should become a whole lot more complex, and a whole lot more meaningful and powerful. We could (and probably will...) talk a lot about the ramifications of such a site, but it would be nice to just work on getting something out there for starters.

With all that said, can we agree at this point that we should either create a forum or schedule an online meeting to start planning out where to go with this idea?
posted by insomnia_lj at 12:47 AM on March 6, 2003

Go Matt and Rusty. Rusty and Matt are the ideal editors. It will be something they daily do already - and well.

Everyone else should fall into line. I certainly will.
posted by MiguelCardoso at 1:09 AM on March 6, 2003

Just noticed this story that was mentioned over on Scripting. It seems as though this Korean website is doing something somewhat similar to what we are talking about. I'm checking it out in Babelfish to see how they implement this... looks pretty simple, really, though it would certainly help if I read Korean.
posted by insomnia_lj at 1:11 AM on March 6, 2003

My Korean wife just did a very quick scan of, and the basic gist is that you can send them an article anywhere up to ten pages, for which you are held personally (and legally) responsible for with regards to its facts. If it's acceptable, they edit it and pay you for it. Discussions are hung off the individual pieces that make it to the site. It doesn't seem as if there is any moderation beyond once-off editorial filtering and smoothing of language.

So not really what we're thinking of.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:29 AM on March 6, 2003

Er. I just noticed that most of that was mentioned in the NYT article. Oops.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 1:47 AM on March 6, 2003

Maquis: Thanks for the mention. I am not sure how accurate the analogy of Cloudmakers to MoJo (or Metamedia or whatever) is, but there are clearly some common issues here.

I've just set up a site where people can discuss Mojo outside of this thread, at, running on the FreeFilter engine. It doesn't work perfectly yet, and it's lacking a few features, but those should hopefully be improved very soon (which is the reason why I have been holding off from launching GamesFilter for now).

I agree with Rusty in that the Scoop engine, as it is now, is just not good enough. It needs to be extended such that it can include multiple (discrete?) stages of editing and commenting, with varying levels of 'editability'. An interesting point to bring up here is whether we can change the nature of news. Almost all forms of media (TV, newspapers, Internet) present their stories as finished products, whether or not the facts have been fully confirmed. This is obviously not in touch with reality, which doesn't sit just stop as soon as someone's written a story about it. One thing that MoJo could do is to present an evolving story that's constantly updated and refined. However, for those people who don't like that (most people, I should imagine, at first), editors could generate snapshots of stories (rather like 1.0 and 2.0 releases for software) for mass consumption.

In fact, I wonder if there are more parallels to collaborative software development here. Anyway.

I also think that some kind of trust-metric system would be highly useful on MoJo, such that more trusted people are given the ability to make more edits and more prominent comments. I'm told that the trust metrics Advogato uses are highly resistant to attack, which would be absolutely essential on MoJo.
posted by adrianhon at 3:28 AM on March 6, 2003

This is a brilliant idea.
gsteff: An additional merit of such a system would be of course that it would scan the world. Between MeFi members we probably read more languages than any foreign office or think tank (or even a linguistics department). This translates (if successful) into an unbelievably useful resource for searching the web, since it makes visible in a single language news stories and resources written in many. Notice how quickly the Korean issue web site content was suggested and then clarified by stavros?
Vidiot: About gatekeeping. Matt's scheduled new feature of voting on threads, might be a (partial) solution if applied to individual comments.
posted by talos at 4:42 AM on March 6, 2003

Thieves caught/arrested breaking in to Democratic National Committee headquarters, trying to plant bugs.
cool. first order of business: who was deep throat?
posted by quonsar at 5:42 AM on March 6, 2003

"Create something simple soon that would both serve as a way of...."

Unless someone else thinks they have a better idea, I'll try to build something out this weekend. It will be bare bones but give us something to use as a sandbox.

I'll try to include:

- User registration, with the possibility for multiple levels of access and or administration.
- A section for leads which can be filtered and moderated.
- A section for research that will be mapped to the leads
- A section for abstracts which will expand on leads and draw from research
- A section for group edited stories with versioning (that's a biggie, I won't get that done)
- A section for discussion that will be mapped to each of those sections. So, the possibility of separate discussions at each stage.
- A moderation system.
- A system for moving things and consolidating threads.

I have boilerplate code for much of that. I don't necessarily want to be the one who owns the coding project. I'll make whatever I come up with open.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:49 AM on March 6, 2003

I haven't seen this mentioned, but I think SlashCode (or a modified version of) might do most of what you're looking for...
posted by Jairus at 6:18 AM on March 6, 2003

Things are quiet this a.m. Has everyone awoken with a sense of futurist netopia hangover? I hope not. I think any idea that can generate over 100 on-topic comments with almost zero derision and not a single vibration allusion must have something going for it.
posted by vraxoin at 6:53 AM on March 6, 2003

This sounds like it might shape up into something, maybe with the guidance of Rusty and MattH. I might be interested in participating.
Please don't take this the wrong way, though, but I can't see myself writing something and letting someone else from Mefi take a red pen to it. Not gonna happen.
posted by Shane at 7:15 AM on March 6, 2003

Oops. Just thought of another section.

- Task list.

This wouldn't be so much assigning people things to do as it would be to just keep track of what's getting done. So, one task might be: "y6y6y6 will call the local police and try and get the following info...." That way only one person calls them.

My girlfriend teaches Mass Comm at the university level as is bringing up all sorts of gotchas. Competition for sources being one of those.

The absurdity of all you clowns collaborating being another.....
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:16 AM on March 6, 2003

I posted this on my site in response to a comment I got, but I think it makes sense here too:

"What would your alternative title be?"

Sprorgaul. Then we don't have to worry about some stupid abbreviation.

"I'm thinking that the BS factor can't be completely taken out of the mix."

Of course it can. Most online discussion forums don't have the level of BS you are referring to. If the point of the application is facts then BS gets easy to moderate out. Especially if you don't have open membership. MetaFilter allows a certain level of BS by design. That's part of the charm.

"And I don't think it should be set up calling itself "journalism" for that reason"

Spoken like a professor. This is something new. And we will be trampling all over your precious paradigms. Better get use to the new technology old timer.

[aaaahhh!! I'm kidding... Stop hitting me...]

"I think you may find there will be some people who get so into the Scooby Gang mentality"

Well fuck them. If they want to bring an agenda and screw things up with it, or they're really idiots who make us look bad, then they can get banned. It's pretty rare for people to get banned on Metafilter and other boards because people have some sense of ownership and know the rules.

The thing won't work without rules and guidelines. It won't work if people are going to call sources and make an ass of themselves. I have no idea what the solution to that is. We'll have to find one. But it will no doubt be less formal than traditional journalism.

"How will these people collaborate?"

We'll need a process. The application will have to facilitate such things. Version control, shared resources, and collaboration is very much part of software design. Those ideas will translate well here I think. SourceForge is a good example. Real software gets created by open groups of people around the world who have never met.

"In the media there are only going to be a certain number of journalists assigned to one story."

This isn't that. Think the Kaycee thing. Or the 9/11 post. Hundreds of people collaborating on a developing story in real time. We already have the proof of concept. It just needs to be refined.

"Oh and the English mavens are going to drive you up the wall."

I fucking hate English mavens. Grammer [sic] Nazi MoFos.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:39 AM on March 6, 2003

How about a wiki interface for finished products or shared collaboration?
posted by PrinceValium at 7:47 AM on March 6, 2003

A few points, because I'm on my way out the door.

If we are to create a P2P journalism, or a user-based journalism that stands head-to-head next to the Washington Post or The New York Times, seeing something along the lines of:

There are ____ users available to edit. Would you like this piece to be proofed? (Yes/No)
Users available to proof:
quonsar (Estimated turnaround time: ___ hours, _____ minutes.)
y6y6y6 (Estimated turnaround time: ___ hours, _____ minutes.)

There are ____ users available to fact check. Send piece through fact check queue? (Yes/No)
Users available to fact check:
quonsar (Estimated turnaround time: ___ hours, _____ minutes.)
y6y6y6 (Estimated turnaround time: ___ hours, _____ minutes.)

then we could very well offer a MoJo that rivals traditional media. Offer the journalistic tools that even newspaper staffers have to wait half a day for in an instant and you not only empower your users, but truly transform the current media landscape.

Creating user profiles that very easily allow one user to consult with another or find interests and location would be helpful too. Say you're a Californian investigating the Great White story and you want someone in Rhode Island to track down those who survived the Station for a few followup interviews. You click upon the "Great White" subject within the user base and you have perhaps 3-4 users in Providence who are working on this.

Under the "Great White" story page, a list of unresolved issues and leads is found. You see that 4 users are investigating the Palo Alto club that Great White played and you begin coordinating your efforts with them.
posted by ed at 7:55 AM on March 6, 2003

"then we could very well offer a MoJo that rivals traditional media."

I don't like this goal. At all. Anyone else like this? Ick.
posted by y6y6y6 at 8:00 AM on March 6, 2003

I thought of a better name than MoJo (or MetaMedia).

How about "Dijon"? Short for Distributed Journalism Network.
posted by wanderingmind at 8:02 AM on March 6, 2003

Blue Poupon?
posted by PrinceValium at 8:07 AM on March 6, 2003

1) This is a great idea.

2) Give it wiki-like features as well as thread-like features. It would be nice (for this application) to be able to directly edit someone's comments, and have that show up in a "recent changes" delta. The user whose comment I'm editing could then choose to either approve my changes, or just leave them in the delta page for historical purposes. That way, perhaps we build a collaboritive thread, not a competitive one?
posted by walrus at 8:27 AM on March 6, 2003

Great idea and discussion! Mojo is not quite as bad as a Metafocus turned Mofo. I am leaning toward something a little more drawn out. The Metafilter Report: too stuffy? MetaDepth: too playful? Or my favorite so far: MetaMatters!
posted by john at 8:33 AM on March 6, 2003

Distributed Online JOurnalism, following wanderingmind's lead? DOJO? Martial arts connotation giving "take it to the dojo" double meaning?
Literally it means:
Dojo - Literally: the room or hall (do-) of the way (-jo). Dojo is often used interchangeably with zendo, however, the 'way' referred to by 'dojo' does not necessarily have to be zen. Technically speaking, dojo could also refer to a room where judo is taught, for example. For our purposes, however, it refers to a room or building in which zen is practiced.
Just an idea...
posted by talos at 8:47 AM on March 6, 2003

Oooh. Forget "Dijon". I like Dojo much better. And for our purposes, it refers to a room or building in which Google-Fu is practiced.

...Of course, that would make Matt/Rusty/whoever-ends-up-in-editorial-charge "sensei", wouldn't it?
posted by wanderingmind at 9:02 AM on March 6, 2003

a user-based journalism that stands head-to-head next to the Washington Post or The New York Times

if it stands next to the wester hailes sentinel that should be enough.
(thats a free community newspaper round my way btw)
metamedia is good isnt it ?
although 'brian' is short and catchy too !
posted by sgt.serenity at 9:34 AM on March 6, 2003

Why do I always get in on the good threads after there's a million comments? I'm very interested in this idea and will contribute in anyway I can. Anyhoo:

Multi-level moderation and 'moderation threshold filtering' seem like the keys to to making a 'trusted blog' news site work. This would allow readers to see the "Breaking News" version (high signal:noise; low trust) or the "Top Stories" version (all signal, no noise; high trush).

How about MetaTimes( or Tribune, or Gazette, etc) for a name?
posted by maniactown at 9:50 AM on March 6, 2003

Two quick things:
* The fact-checking thing - what originally made me so excited about this - may require a tag of where each proposed fact-checker is physically located. Sure, we may have varying degrees of Googling skills, but someone who lives down the street from where an event happened will have a quantum value of being able to get info that may not be available on the Web to anybody. I realize that this would require a cultural shift for some Mefi users, so I'm just bringing it up as something that should be considered.
* The versioning thing (mentioned by y6 as "a biggie" that can't be done as readily) is what excites me the most now. Winding up with a "story" that is transparent in its construction - whichever version you come into it through, you can see previous versions, how and why it was changed, by whom, etc. - this would be a revolution in newsgathering/reporting. (Is this already a built-in feature of Wiki, or just the group-editing capability?) Who was it that asked if we could "change the nature of news"? Wait, I can just check. It was adrianhon. Well, I say we can, and in fact that could be our tagline:

Metamedia: Changing the nature of news.
posted by soyjoy at 9:59 AM on March 6, 2003

I think it would be quite nice to have some info about where people are physically located. Not only will this make fact-checking easier, as soyjoy said, but it will allow people to quickly identify people who might be able to help out on stories. Also, it'll help casual browsers who just want to find out news that's relevant to their location.

So, for example, there's some story that you want to check up on in Cambridge, England. You'd type your parameters in, and up would pop a list of people who could ask for help. Conversely, members could set a little tag saying 'I would like to help out on stories that are within x miles of my home location' and whenever such a story emerges, they'd get a notification.

Of course, this stuff is not exactly necessary and shouldn't be considered for the first build, but it's nice to think about.
posted by adrianhon at 10:05 AM on March 6, 2003

RylandDotNet and I were discussing this at lunch today, and my fortune cookie read, "Your efforts will be worthwhile." Coincidence? I think not.

It seems to me that the key factor here is that someone in the position of "trusted authority" such as Matt or Rusty needs to step up and say, "Okay, here's how we're going to get this show on the road. You: register a domain. You: start customizing Scoop. You: begin composing the FAQ." Or what have you. Otherwise, this idea will sink into a quagmire of good intentions. It doesn't matter if the details are in place. It does matter that somoene whom everyone trusts take the wheel as quickly as possible.
posted by vraxoin at 10:45 AM on March 6, 2003

Incidentally, there is some discussion on Mojo/Dojo/Dijon/Metama/MetaMatter going on at the FreeFilter site I set up at Some interesting stuff being said there. I'm hoping to get categories enabled at the site very soon which will help things get more organised, and I can set up a wiki as a working table/FAQ if needs be. (Of course, we could just grow one off the Metafilter wiki).
posted by adrianhon at 11:31 AM on March 6, 2003

I think Matt's in Boston today so I've just been waiting for him to get back online and catch up with developments. I'm willing to co-dictate with him, if the hordes will get behind that.

I know what you mean about a quagmire of good intentions. Seen it happen way too much. I actually think that the big projects are probably going to have to be done by a relatively small number of people. There are things that can be usefully distributed, though, like especially writing documentation about how to be a good collaborative reporter, how journalism works, and so forth.

Bouncing ideas around is fine. I think probably if Matt wants to put some time into it, we'll coordinate on getting a domain and working out some of the software and interface stuff. Also need to find hosting.

Given the length and cumbersomeness of this thread, I'd recommend taking it to MoJoFilter for further discussion.
posted by rusty at 11:33 AM on March 6, 2003

a quagmire of good intentions

I don't think so. This thread alone indicate that there is a collective desire to push blogging/MeFi commenting to the next level of journalism. Even if a full-blown content management system (and related site) can't be created immediately, one thing we can do right now is start creating some kind of infrastructure.

Up until now, P2P has predominantly been about swapping media that we like. Well, why don't we start this project by creating a killer app that permits anyone to find others in relation to a story or a piece of information? Looking at this in conjunction with IMing, it's particularly astonishing to me that niche-specific user info has failed to be implemented into today's IM programs with success. Say there was an almighty plug-in that permitted you to type in "electrical engineering expert" and then immediately get someone on stand by to fit the bill to answer to information you might have about the structure of the new WTC design. (Dialog: "35 experts available.") Say that you can find someone's specific expertise or articles a mouse-click away within that same box. Say further that you could also collaborate with someone else forming a particular story or developing a set of facts.

That kind of infrastructure would offer tremendous possibilities.

Begin laying down the groundwork and prepare a web nexus point in conjunction with this.

Open source wizards, start your engines!
posted by ed at 11:37 AM on March 6, 2003

"It does matter that somoene whom everyone trusts take the wheel as quickly as possible."

Oh bull. Matt built MetaFilter before anyone trusted him. Same with Kuro5hin. Same with Slashdot. Same with Yahoo. Same with........... People need to run with it and get things done.

Matt and Rusty are busy. If they can help, that's fantastic.
posted by y6y6y6 at 11:56 AM on March 6, 2003

I've been reading along with all commenting in this thread over the last couple of days and mulling over the disparate ideas expressed. My overwhelming reaction is one of enthusiasm for the overall idea, tempered by trepidation at its ambitiousness.

Can I be boring and suggest things like:
Define the project scope in some sort of vision document.
Define the user-types and their use-case scenarios.
Use these to specify functional requirements.
Iterate through the above a few times until development goals are well defined and realistic.
posted by normy at 6:55 PM on March 6, 2003

normy - for the moment, at least, the MoJo(working title)Filter is the place to do the suggesting! (And very good suggestions they are - I'm with you on the wisdom of use-case analysis.)
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 11:54 PM on March 6, 2003

As a wise man said earlier today, "Who needs MoJo, when you have #mefi?"
posted by riffola at 1:20 PM on March 10, 2003

The wise man is/was filmgoejuan, just so there is no confusion.
posted by riffola at 1:34 PM on March 10, 2003

filmgoerjuan not filmgeojuan!
posted by riffola at 1:35 PM on March 10, 2003

I have no idea what this riffola character (if that is even your real name) is talking about. He must be on some kind of cold medication.
posted by filmgoerjuan at 1:36 PM on March 10, 2003

Hmmm.....interesting thread. Much has been said and thought of here and I'm still reading through it, BUT..........

To work towards a mass media alternative, a 'Mojo' with muscle, or, "taking the idea and running amok":

First, even with the current Mefi membership, I don't see how any of the models discussed here could begin to approximate the massive resources of major media organs.......except in the case of specific stories, where energy/firepower could be concentrated. So, initially, this would limit the scope - and possible billing of the "Mojo", Metajo" (or whatever) to a narrower selection of the range of stories major media can cover (even if those stories are covered badly or with prejudice). SO initially, the Mojo (or whatever) would be at best, for many, a secondary read (after NYT/BBC/CNN/FOX, whatever) But as participation grew, so would resources - and scope.

So, initially, draw would be as a cult status (as the read of those "truly hip, in the know, yada yada") news/humour/lifestyle/?! read and, as such, I think it would be far more attractive -and far more like to vault beyond mere cult status- if it could be accessed, besides the current webpage format, in other formats : If it could leap from the world of onscreen text to "richer"/different formats - streaming net radio, streaming small screen, downloadable (for those with fat pipes), cable access, whatever. Anything and everything. Obviously humans cannot talk as fast as most of us can read - 'spoken Mefi' loses depth and flexibility but, of course, becomes far more accessible. There's a fantastic entertainment value, in many Mefi posts, which could animate and propell other media forms........nothing stodgy either. contemporary/cult value format? Simple (cheap/free) production, but.....

people would have something to stare at or listen to - if their eyeballs were tired, if they were just waking or wanted to cook, eat, have sex, or whatever- but still partake of Mefi-ness

Of course, this is all easily spoken, quickly enivsioned: always, always there is the hulking detail demon lurking in the shadows 'round the corner . And this little vision/observation of mine may be at aesthetic odds with a simple onscreen text net based collaborative. But I think "rich" (audio/visual) format could be invaluable in adding "juice"....

But that's getting ahead of things a bit.....
posted by troutfishing at 9:55 AM on March 11, 2003

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