What is the Medium?

Medium.com is working to remake online publishing.  Again.

Medium.com is a project of Ev Williams.  His creds for remaking media are impressive.  He was a co-founder of blog pioneer Blogger and then of micro-messaging pioneer Twitter. Both companies changed the way the world communicates.  Blogs turned every person into a publisher, and twitter wired up the global nervous system.

The rolls-royce domain name gives the site a primacy of placement, and telegraphs the scope of the founder’s ambition.  It’s reasonable to assume that Medium.com was a 6 figure, and perhaps a 7 figure, purchase.  We’re looking here at another bid to remake media.

“It’s not too late to rethink how online publishing works and build a system optimized for quality, rather than popularity. Where anyone can have a voice but where one has to earn the right to your attention. A system where people work together to make a difference, rather than merely compete for validation and recognition. A world where thought and craftsmanship is rewarded more than knee-jerk reactions.”

from Welcome to Medium

It’s hard to read “Medium.com” without recalling Marshall McLuhan’s seminal and concise teaching – “The Medium is the Message.”  McLuhan seemed to presage the birth of Twitter in particular when he spoke of the explosive impact of electronic media.  Instant information overthrows governments.  And more.

It’s that kind of understanding of the sensitive dependance on the structure of the medium that seems to be underlying the work of the company.  They’re creating a publishing system that aims to improve the quality of conversation, and they’re doing it from the medium on up.

Getting My Geek Head Around Twitter

My brain balks at fully understanding Twitter. I feel as if I can understand other media – newsprint, TV, Wiki, whatever. Twitter feels to me as if it’s half born – as if we haven’t yet seen what this baby is going to do.

Global Social Message Bus

In essence, it’s the pure social network – no frills, hobbies, books I’ve read, pokes, movie reviews. It’s just nodes, directed connections, and the ability to pass messages along those connections.

Massive Messaging Anything Market

The power is multiplied when combined with URLs. Nodes, directed connections, and the ability to pass ANYTHING along those connections.

Neurons and Synapses – Rewire at Will

We’ve spoken for decades about electronic communication becoming the nervous system of the planet. This baby is laying it bare and bringing it out to the edges.

How do we judge truth in the Twitter age?

Massive messaging markets (3M?) are changing the game in news reporting. The generation of news is already a distributed and complex interweaving of parsed and recombined news streams – we can expect that to only grow and take on new forms. It will be staccato and rapid fire.

Living in what is arguably the most focused-on city in the world, I am well acquainted with how even reputable news outlets routinely slant their stories.  With tens of millions of news providers, all of whom adjust and filter what they report consciously or sub-consciously, how will we judge what is true?  How do we judge truth in the Twitter age?

Instinctively, we judge the reality of a message by how distributed and consistent the corroboration is from multiple sources.  This already is, and will continue to be, gamed by groups with targeted agendas.  Any group with a semblance of organization is busy flooding relevant forums with their message.

When the same message comes from varied quarters – people from many different backgrounds – it starts to earn believability.  But this too can be gamed. 

‘Witnessing’ has a certain power and weight – one who claims to have seen an event with their own eyes.  Yet, the claim is easy, how do I know it’s true?

A rare, but convincing, argument for the truth of a story is when it is propagated by someone with an explicitly contrary agenda – a story which is injurious to the teller. To even come to this evaluation, though, I need to be acquainted with the teller’s true leanings.

So tell me, how do you know when what you read is true?

Questions for Social Media Man

We teeter hysterically on the consequences of rumor
about President Eisenhower’s viscera.

These are Marshall McLuhan’s words (circa 1955) about the impact of electronic media on the human psyche and society.  Substitute ‘twitter’ for ‘teeter’ and virtually anything for Eisenhower and you have a compelling picture of the present age. Information moving instantaneously to all parts of the globe, he writes, is explosive. 

We can, and do, have world events pouring through us like electricity.  I can easily become a twitching, twittering nerve cell in a massive identity-robbing global network.

What are the emotional impacts of this for the individual?

Do we have a moral obligation to be present to all of this information – to feel it?

How can I live if I do not put up walls or selectively empathize?

Who do I become if I do put up walls and selectively empathize?

This is Your Brain on Twitter

With condolences for all those who lost relatives in Mumbai.

As Indian special forces made their way into the Neriman house in Mumbai, I found myself on the front lines of the reporting – sitting in front of my computer, in Jerusalem.

The latest news was always on Twitter, and I was, for a time, one piece of the rapid-response network pushing the news through. Collectively, we had our eyes on every news source, first-hand, second-hand, and other. The stream of tweets often contained every fact and its opposite – there are gunshots, the raid is over, the hostages are dead, there is celebrating in the streets, the commandos are still in action, the police are charging the crowd, there’s gunshots, the hostages are released, the police should push the crowd back. Time delays of different sources made for a bizarre admixture of contradictory reports.

I bounced between browser tabs – video feeds, blackberry messages from men on the ground. Those that seemed to have the ring of truth (how do we judge truth?) I sent on. I was a nerve cell. I received signals and sent them forward. 40 years ago, Marshall McLuhan pointed out that electric media effectively creates a worldwide nervous system for the planet. Indeed.

I feel as if I personally lost someone close to me. A consequence of being a nerve cell in this global body, it seems.