Sunday, 19 March 2006

Mousetrap - 45

The traditional model of information dissemination is top down – experts, professionals, editors, call them what you will, find and select content and then present it to their readers. This newspaper you’re holding is an example. The restrictions of space (or time, in the case of broadcast media) make that a viable model. On the web, those restrictions don’t hold. Or, at least, they’re not that strong. Each of these sites represents a challenge to the established way of doing things.

DIY News
Ignore the rather awful name. The poster child of the citizen journalism movement, it launched in 2000, with “Every Citizen is a Reporter” as its motto. Anybody can become a reporter and submit stories, and get paid (though not at the same levels as professionals would). There is editorial intervention: stories are selected and edited by staffers. Wildly successful in its home country, Korea (one of the world’s most wired countries, with over 75% broadband penetration), OhmyNews is now also available in English, and is planning to move beyond text soon, with OhmyTV. Gosh! (See also: Wikinews)

Rising to the top
Digg takes the concept even further. It’s a technology news site that is run by its readers. Anybody can submit stories, and based on “diggs,” a kind of reader feedback, stories are promoted to the front page. And stay there. It also builds in other buzz concepts like social bookmarking (in plainspeak, sharing links with friends), and is blog friendly - you can easily add items or selected feeds to your own site. Doesn’t pay its contributors, though.

Get the picture?
One way to look at Flickr is as a photo-sharing site. It lets you upload pictures, specify who can view them – family, friends, the whole world – and you use those pictures on other sites and blogs. But that’s not all. The killer add-on: ‘tags.’ You can tag your pictures with descriptors of your choosing. That’s where collective intelligence, or collaboration steps in. Take a big event, and chances are that a ‘tag cloud’ has formed around it as well. It happened at the time of the Tsunami. And when the Bombay got flooded, some of the best on-the-spot pictorial coverage was by individuals putting up their digicam pictures and Flickr-tagging them. Instant news, worth a thousand words each one.

Radio YOU
The Kamla Bhatt Show
Kamla was India’s first podcaster (‘podcast’ is a neologism, from the popular iPod music player + broadcast; it basically means a sound file you can download and play on your digital music player or computer), with and Podcast shows like hers require little investment: a computer and a recorder, a sound editing app (many free options available) and a net connection. Of course, to gain an audience, you need good content, something she has been working hard on, and has continued to do after a move to the USA. She has just launched her own “show” and has already scored her first coup, an interview with Azim Premji. Not many conventional radio shows can claim that!

Reader suggestions welcome, and will be acknowledged. Go to for past columns, and to comment, or mail The writer blogs at

Published in the Times of India, Mumbai edition, 19th March, 2006.

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