Economics and similar, for the sleep-deprived

A subtle change has been made to the comments links, so they no longer pop up. Does this in any way help with the problem about comments not appearing on permalinked posts, readers?

Update: seemingly not

Update: Oh yeah!

Friday, July 29, 2011

We're all linked up in a great big social network. Not you, you're in a different network

Illegally copying music, calling people nasty names on the internet ... the world is full of things which are a) basically pretty obviously morally wrong, but b) fun. And therefore, there's always a market for clever and counterintuitive arguments to the effect that they are actually not wrong at all! They're just new! And probably actually quite essential to our modern way of life.

So it is, I think, with the modern, wired, "connected", socially networked concept of "passing on spurious shite that you read off Twitter". Which differs from mere "gossiping" in a myriad ways which take five hundred words to explain why. Felix explains that Twitter isn't really a kind of broadcast media, it's a social networking site and so the standards should be those of the lads and lasses gossiping in the news room, not yeractual journalism.

The thing is, is Twitter like a newsroom? Maybe. But you know, given the job I do, I pretty much know from rumours. And in my world, although people trade in tips and hearsay all the time, you make a pretty big effort not to get a reputation for passing on crap. And if you do pass on something that turns out to be bollocks, I think you'd expect to apologise to the people you passed it on to. I expect that newsrooms are just the same - that journalists do gossip a lot with each other, but that it isn't possible to have the reputation of your professional work completely isolated from the quality of the stuff you pass on there either. In actual fact I'm sure Felix thinks so too - Twitter has a direct message facility and if Felix used that to pass on a rumour to me, I'm sure he'd regard himself as standing behind it.

So I think that in the view of Twitter linked above, Felix wants it to be like a newsroom, but like a newsroom which happens to have a massive tour party of schoolchildren or visiting trade delegations walking through it. People who are just visiting a newsroom are allowed to hang around, and pick up the excitement of the general vibe, and they can even get a bit of a vicarious thrill by listening to some of the goss that nobody dares print, or the stories covered by superinjunctions. But if you're an outsider you're certainly not allowed to rely on the miscellaneous blag you happen to overhear in the newsroom. There's a small interlinked social network of people who trust each other and swap information, and who value their reputations with each other for sifting out good stuff from bad, but who also know how to interpret each other's style and are usually aware of how much personal credibility someone is investing in a particular piece of information (the FT Alphaville blog even does this with marks out of ten).

And then there's a horde of plebs who are allowed access to the unmediated stream, but they don't have any idea of the underlying matrix of Bayesian weights that would allow them to make it into anything useful. And the insiders' view of the outsiders is that the outsiders should only be viewing this stuff as entertainment and they hardly give a toss if the outsiders end up materially misinformed, because the outsiders shouldn't be using the proceeds of their eavesdropping as a source of information in the first place; if it's information they want, they can get their backsides down to the newsagent and pay for it.

It's definitely got an internal logic. It seems a bit odd to me, but then I come from a somewhat different culture. This tension between media industry insiders and outsiders[1] from off the internet has been playing out for years now, and it's still fascinating.

[1] Particularly, of course, outsiders who are actually a bit tasty themselves - "gentlemen" who are better than the "players". I've remarked in the past that contra Andrew Marr, "bloggers" are in general normal human beings who, in their area of expertise, know a hell of a lot[2] more than he does. But this was actually underselling things; there have been plenty of regular commenters on my various blogs who as far as I can tell were actually teenagers (and who therefore probably did live with their parents, and probably did have occasional outbreaks of acne) and I've often been very impressed indeed with the level of knowledge of quite specialised areas that they were able to demonstrate based on nothing other than curiosity, lots of spare time and widespread availability of primary sources online. It really is a new information economy in some ways.

[2] A wonderful example of this was at some lecture when David Aaronovitch, after talking for an hour about bloggers, excused himself with the words "I have to leave because I'm going to an interview with the Nobel Prize-winning economist Amartya Sen. You wouldn't get a blogger doing that". I calculated at the time that if you added up the contributors and blogroll of Crooked Timber, between them they would likely have had sufficient hours of face-time with Amartya Sen that if he'd been an aeroplane, they'd have been able to fly him.
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