Buzzfeed implements the IndieWeb concept of backfeed to limit filter bubbles

The evolution of comments on articles takes a new journalistic turn

Outside Your Bubble

This past Wednesday, BuzzFeed rolled out a new feature on their website called “Outside your Bubble”. I think the concept is so well-described and so laudable from a journalistic perspective, that I’ll excerpt their editor-in-chief’s entire description of the feature below. In short, they’ll be featuring some of the commentary on their pieces by pulling it in from social media silos.

What is interesting is that this isn’t a new concept and even more intriguing, there’s some great off-the-shelf technology that helps people move towards doing this type of functionality already.

The IndieWeb and backfeed

For the past several years, there’s been a growing movement on the the internet known as the IndieWeb, a “people-focused alternative to the ‘corporate web’.” Their primary goal is for people to better control their online identities by owning their own domain and the content they put on it while also allowing them to be better connected.

As part of the movement, users can more easily post their content on their own site and syndicate it elsewhere (a process known by the acronym POSSE). Many of these social media sites allow for increased distribution, but they also have the side effect of cordoning off or siloing the conversation. As a result many IndieWeb proponents backfeed the comments, likes, and other interactions on their syndicated content back to their original post.

Backfeed is the process of pulling back interactions on your syndicated content back (AKA reverse syndicating) to your original posts.

This concept of backfeed is exactly what BuzzFeed is proposing, but with a more editorial slant meant to provide additional thought and analysis on their original piece. In some sense, from a journalistic perspective, it also seems like an evolutionary step towards making traditional comments have more value to the casual reader. Instead of a simple chronological list of comments which may or may not have any value, they’re also using the feature to surface the more valuable comments which appear on their pieces. In a crowded journalistic marketplace, which is often misguided by market metrics like numbers of clicks, I have a feeling that more discerning readers will want this type of surfaced value if it’s done well. And discerning readers can bring their own value to a content publisher.

I find it interesting that not only is BuzzFeed using the concept of backfeed like this, but in Ben Smith’s piece, he eschews the typical verbiage ascribed to social media sites, namely the common phrase “walled garden,” in lieu of the word silo, which is also the word adopted by the IndieWeb movement to describe a “centralized web site typically owned by a for-profit corporation that stakes some claim to content contributed to it and restricts access in some way (has walls).”

To some extent, it almost appears that the BuzzFeed piece parrots back portions of the Why IndieWeb? page on the IndieWeb wiki.

Helping You See Outside Your Bubble | BuzzFeed

A new feature on some of our most widely shared articles.

BuzzFeed News is launching an experiment this week called “Outside Your Bubble,” an attempt to give our audience a glimpse at what’s happening outside their own social media spaces.

The Outside Your Bubble feature will appear as a module at the bottom of some widely shared news articles and will pull in what people are saying about the piece on Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, the web, and other platforms. It’s a response to the reality that often the same story will have two or three distinct and siloed conversations taking place around it on social media, where people talk to the like-minded without even being aware of other perspectives on the same reporting.

Our goal is to give readers a sense of these conversations around an article, and to add a kind of transparency that has been lost in the rise of social-media-driven filter bubbles. We view it in part as a way to amplify the work of BuzzFeed News reporters, and to add for readers a sense of the context in which news lives now.

And if you think there’s a relevant viewpoint we’re missing, you can contact the curator at bubble@buzzfeed.com.

Source: Helping You See Outside Your Bubble | Ben Smith for BuzzFeed

Editorial Perspective and Diminishing Returns

The big caveat on this type of journalistic functionality is that it may become a game of diminishing returns. When a new story comes out, most of the current ecosystem is geared too heavily towards freshness: which story is newest? It would be far richer if there were better canonical ways of indicating which articles were the most thorough, accurate, timely and interesting instead of just focusing on which was simply the most recent. Google News, as an example, might feature a breaking story for several hours, but thereafter every Tom, Dick, and Harry outlet on the planet will have their version of the story–often just a poorer quality rehash of the original without any new content–which somehow becomes the top of the heap because it’s the newest in the batch. Aram Zucker-Scharff mentioned this type of issue a few days ago in a tweetstorm which I touched upon last week.

Worse, for the feature to work well, it relies on the continuing compilation of responses, and the editorial effort required seems somewhat wasted in doing this as, over time, the audience for the article slowly diminishes. Thus for the largest portion of the audience there will be no commentary, all the while ever-dwindling incoming audiences get to see the richer content. This is just the opposite of the aphorism “the early bird gets the worm.” Even if the outlet compiled responses on a story from social media as they were writing in real time, it becomes a huge effort to stay current and capture eyeballs at scale. Hopefully the two effects will balance each other out creating an overall increase of value for both the publisher and the audience to have a more profound effect on the overall journalism ecosystem.

Personally and from a user experience perspective, I’d like to have the ability to subscribe to an article I read and enjoyed so that I can come back to it at a prescribed later date to see what the further thoughts on it were. As things stand, it’s painfully difficult and time consuming as a reader to attempt to engage on interesting pieces at a deeper level. Publications that can do this type of coverage and/or provide further analysis on ongoing topics will also have a potential edge over me-too publications that are simply rehashing the same exact stories on a regular basis. Outlets could also leverage this type user interface and other readers’ similar desire to increase their relationship with their readers by providing this value that others won’t or can’t.

Want more on “The IndieWeb and Journalism”?
See: Some thoughts about how journalists could improve their online presences with IndieWeb principles along with a mini-case study of a site that is employing some of these ideas.

In some sense, some of this journalistic workflow reminds me how much I miss Slate.com’s Today’s Papers feature in which someone read through the early edition copies of 4-5 major newspapers and did a quick synopsis of the day’s headlines and then analyzed the coverage of each to show how the stories differed, who got the real scoop, and at times declare a “winner” in coverage so that readers could then focus on reading that particular piece from the particular outlet.

Backfeed in action

What do you think about this idea? Will it change journalism and how readers consume it?

As always, you can feel free to comment on this story directly below, but you can also go to most of the syndicated versions of this post indicated below, and reply to or comment on them there. Your responses via Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ will be backfed via Brid.gy to this post and appear as comments below, so the entire audience will be able to see the otherwise dis-aggregated conversation compiled into one place.

If you prefer to own the content of your own comment or are worried your voice could be “moderated out of existence” (an experience I’ve felt the sting of in the past), feel free to post your response on your own website or blog, include a permalink to this article in your response, put the URL of your commentary into the box labeled “URL/Permalink of your Article”, and then click the “Ping Me” button. My site will then grab your response and add it to the comment stream with all the others.

Backfeed on!

H/T to Ryan Barrett for pointing out the BuzzFeed article.

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🎧 This Week in the IndieWeb February 10 – 17, 2017 (audio edition!)

This Week in the IndieWeb February 10 - 17, 2017 (podcast) by Marty McGuire (martymcgui.re)(Duration: P)
Audio edition for This Week in the IndieWeb for February 10th - 17th, 2017
Thinking about doing this as a regular thing, if I can get the production time down. Feedback welcome!

I just ran across this podcast and it’s totally awesome!

I’ve been thinking a lot since just before IndieWebCamp LA of creating a podcast for the IndieWeb movement, but sadly haven’t been able to carve out the time to make it happen. Things have been coming to a proverbial boil lately as I’ve been thinking about podcasts/IndieWeb more and listening to back episodes of fellow IndieWebber Jeremy Cherfas‘ excellent food podcast Eat This Podcast. The trouble is that he makes doing fantastic little podcasts seem all too easy in part because of how effortless his seem to be while still maintaining a production quality level of major content producers like NPR.

I had imagined doing a short interview version with individual people in the IndieWeb world to see what they’ve been up to, what they’re working on, and examples of how they’ve gotten things working. In some sense I also wanted it to be a mini-history that highlights the personal stories of the people based movement. (If anyone is interested in being interviewed, let me know and perhaps it’ll motivate me, and possibly others, to get it off the ground.)

But the ever-resourceful Marty Mcguire has obviously been thinking about the intersection as well. His take revolves around the weekly IndieWeb newsletter [subscribe] and covers not only the highlights, but he delves into the seemingly inconsequential individual changes in the wiki and to an even greater level helps to uncover some of the most worthwhile gems hiding within the growing number of links. What a fantastic resource! It doesn’t seem like it’s got a dedicated, subscribe-able RSS feed (yet), but the page does have an h-feed and Marty helpfully tags them on his site. As Aaron Parecki points out, one can also use Huffduffer to create an RSS feed if necessary.

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📺 Face the Nation 2/19/17: Priebus, Graham, Nunes

Face the Nation 2/19/17: Priebus, Graham, Nunes by John Dickerson (cbsnews.com)
After a contentious week for the White House, "Face the Nation" breaks down the problems the Trump administration has faced in its first month. White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, and others join the show.

Reince Priebus is far preferable as a White House spokesperson to either Conway or Miller, but he still doesn’t have the ability to listen and push a particular agenda. While I get the message that they’ve done a lot of work, they still need to deal with the political realities of potential scandals in a more even-handed manner. All of the other Republican appearances on today’s show were far more sober about the realities of what seems to be going on. In my mind, the only reason not to admit there’s a problem is that you have no plan for dealing with it or moving forward. It’s the administration’s appearance that they don’t seem to have any kind of overall plan that concerns me most.

It seems like the administration had the 10 word answers down pat during the campaign, but that’s all they had and sadly they don’t seem to have the paragraphs or even the books worth of information and plans to follow up on any of their ideas.

Again, I’ll note that I think it’s a continuing mistake for the Sunday morning shows to allow administration spokespeople to appear remotely via camera than to appear in person.

The best part of the episode, to me, was the re-appearance of Michael Morell, who I don’t think I’ve seen on television since before the inauguration. His depth of knowledge and analysis, even now that he’s on the journalistic side of the game, is just always superb. I don’t think anyone else in the game has the ability to lay out facts in a simple and straightforward manner without a pointed agenda. I’ll note that he even had an aside in the conversation here underlining the agenda portion.

I really like the sober voices of Bob Woodward and Jeffrey Goldberg at the end. It would be nice to see more of them in shows like these.

On a technical production note, I will mention that Face the Nation seems to have a set problem with John at the head of the table and guests on one side. The camera angles (particularly with just two guests on the same side of the table) seem to diminish the roll of the guest seated furthest from John. This doesn’t seem to be a problem with 4 or more guests, but is highlighted when there are only two. Perhaps the production could take a page from Charlie Rose’s blocking around his table with multiple guests? There was also a small chyron issue that leaked into Graham’s segment which identified him incorrectly as Nunes.

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🔖 Linking Economic Complexity, Institutions and Income Inequality

Linking Economic Complexity, Institutions and Income Inequality by Dominik Hartmann, Miguel R. Guevara, Cristian Jara-Figueroa, Manuel Aristarán, César A. Hidalgo (arxiv.org)
A country's mix of products predicts its subsequent pattern of diversification and economic growth. But does this product mix also predict income inequality? Here we combine methods from econometrics, network science, and economic complexity to show that countries exporting complex products (as measured by the Economic Complexity Index) have lower levels of income inequality than countries exporting simpler products. Using multivariate regression analysis, we show that economic complexity is a significant and negative predictor of income inequality and that this relationship is robust to controlling for aggregate measures of income, institutions, export concentration, and human capital. Moreover, we introduce a measure that associates a product to a level of income inequality equal to the average GINI of the countries exporting that product (weighted by the share the product represents in that country's export basket). We use this measure together with the network of related products (or product space) to illustrate how the development of new products is associated with changes in income inequality. These findings show that economic complexity captures information about an economy's level of development that is relevant to the ways an economy generates and distributes its income. Moreover, these findings suggest that a country's productive structure may limit its range of income inequality. Finally, we make our results available through an online resource that allows for its users to visualize the structural transformation of over 150 countries and their associated changes in income inequality between 1963 and 2008.

MIT has a pretty good lay-person’s overview of this article. The final published version is separately available.

 

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📺 PBS NewsHour full episode Feb. 17, 2017

PBS NewsHour full episode Feb. 17, 2017 (PBS NewsHour)
Friday on the NewsHour, President Trump touts his economic plans at a Boeing plant, while the Senate approves Scott Pruitt, a climate change skeptic, to head the EPA. Also: An update on the fate of an Iraqi translator, two Texas cities offer a microcosm of the nation's deep political divide, Mark Shields and David Brooks analyze the week's news and a new film about a controversial love story.

PBS NewsHour’s reporting on the political divide is really interesting. The fact that they’re going into middle America and bringing stories that others aren’t covering is laudable. It helps explain the divide, though I still see a tremendous disconnect between these people’s lives, their desires, their education and how the political theater is playing out with the current administration’s lack of ability and any semblance of logic.

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🔖 Post filtering fixes at Homebrew Website Club | Colin Devroe

Post filtering fixes at Homebrew Website Club by Colin Devroe (cdevroe.com)
Last night Tucker Hottes, Den Temple and I held the first Homebrew Website Club at The Keys in Scranton, PA. I really appreciate that HWC will force me to set aside some time to work on my personal site since it is often neglected for more pressing projects.

Nota bene: Colin is dogfooding his IndieWeb friendly WordPress theme on Github! It’s a beautiful, simple, and very clean theme for a personal website/blog.

Colin, do you mind if we provide a link to your theme on https://indieweb.org/WordPress/Themes for others to potentially use and/or improve upon? (See also discussion at https://indieweb.org/WordPress/Development#Themes.)

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Pulling the plug on @tumblr, and why is @feedly so hard to use?

Pulling the plug on @tumblr, and why is @feedly so hard to use? by David Mead (davidjohnmead.com)(Duration: P)
I’ve now unfollowed everyone on Tumblr. It’s been turning into a dust bowl for me, people I followed haven’t been posting in years. Since the ads made the app annoying for me to u…
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📺 The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Sally Field S2, E96

The Late Show with Stephen Colbert: Sally Field S2 E96 by Stephen Colbert (CBS, 16 February 2017)
These turbulent times remind Sally Field of the unrest from the 1960s. That, and the fact that polka dots are trendy again.

Nice coverage of the Trump press conference today.

Camerawork on the Furry Hat segment was shaky and made the moderate jokes there even shakier.

Sally Field has still got it after all these years and her analysis of Tennessee William’s Glass Menagerie was quite interesting.

📺 The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: February 16, 2017

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: February 16, 2017 by Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
President Trump holds a turbulent press conference, Jordan Klepper talks to New Jersey residents living on Dick Street, and Ezra Edelman discusses "O.J.: Made in America."

The opening five minutes was about as compact as you could make the craziness of today’s press conference. Holy Crap!

📺 The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: February 15, 2017

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: February 15, 2017 by Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
Trevor reflects on having a president with grandpa tendencies, Donald Trump weighs in on the Israel-Palestine conflict, and Mark Mazzetti discusses Russia's election hacking.

The Trump “Old Guy” opener was about as good as it gets for political satire lately.

The capper: http://maketrumptweetseightagain.com/

📺 The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: February 14, 2017

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: February 14, 2017 by Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigns and Republicans don't know how to handle questions about it, and Laverne Cox discusses the TV show "Doubt."

“That guy gets so much poutine.” -Trevor Noah on Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s good looks.

The Mike Flynn “cartoon” was an interesting method of storytelling.

There was a nice portion just before the interview in which Noah shows several examples of the ways in which the Trump administration tries to have things both ways, and then denies that they’re not telling the truth. Why must they waffle? Why can’t they just stand up and say “this is who we are.” We couldn’t do anything but respect them for that, but lying just ruins it all.

A map of Russia on the episode makes me wonder why I haven’t seen any pundits or comedians take the map and turn Russia’s highlight into Trump’s hair and then superimpose his face over South Asia. This image may help others with the idea:

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📺 The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: February 13, 2017

The Daily Show with Trevor Noah: February 13, 2017 by Trevor Noah (Comedy Central)
President Trump meets with Japan's Shinzo Abe, Trevor profiles Trump's senior adviser Stephen Miller, and Elaine Welteroth and Phillip Picardi discuss Teen Vogue.

Interesting to see what’s happening at Teen Vogue. The Stephen Miller portion actually went pretty easy on his performance on the Sunday Morning shows this week. Not quite as funny as most episodes, but still interesting and relevant within the overall political environment.

The “Moment of Zen” at the end with Trump shaking hands with Abe was truly hilarious.