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January 05, 2005



A little something topical I found via EPIC 2014

Patrick Hall

What about distributing translation?

I've thought a fair amount about what a system of coordinating translation would look like.

Perhaps there could be teams for given language pairs: a Korean to English team, another for English to Korean, still another for Persian to... whatever. There are many possibilities. Some teams may turn out to work very well together and attract a large readership of their own. Other teams might get bored and fade away, but that's to be expected.

* I for one would love to follow the translation of a popular discussion thread from

* Japanese speakers might be interested following the same thread in Japanese.

* What about reading an Iraqi blog that's originally written in Arabic? Even if the translators only followed it over a period of a few weeks, it would be really interesting.

* Many readers have limited English skills, and it might be worth trying out the model at "translating" from English into a simpler variety.

Those are just a few ideas. But all the details of how to set up such a translation framework are complex. Perhaps the Creative Commons folks could advise on the IP issues here: I believe they have talked a bit about licensing translations.

Translation is potentially a big area for collaboration, I'd love to hear what other people think about it.

Jozef Imrich

I agree with Dan that prevention is better than cure. It is much better to rock the legislative boat now rather than later to do the impossible and rock the river...

Back in the year of the Sydney Olympics 2000, one single Australian snowflake by the title of the Press Secretary to a political leader dropped his tools when he found his tasks unacceptable and started a grassroot type website cheekily entitled Crikey!

Margo Kingston of the Sydney Morning Herald fame also begun something unprecedented in the journalism Down Under. Paul McGeogh supported her and a trickle of citizen created storytelling became the avalanche of interactive activities

Like democracy, media is not an exclusive game played by experts such as journalists and their political and business masters; it is an ongoing conversation within and between communities. It is a meeting place for different arguments and perspectives, an arena in which large and small problems are ventilated. It is in a human nature to turn community conversation becoming a monologue ... Let us not be outfoxed by the idea that a handful of rich and powerful characters have a monopoly on truth and what matters in terms of legislation and regulations.

A former independent Member of Parliament by some miracle survived in the NSW Parliament, known as the Bear Pit for 23 years and this veteran politician, (now a brilliant artist and poet,) John Hatton, used to say to me that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Put information into the light and all will be remedied or repaired. After my communist experience, I have some strong belief in that!

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.
- Sun Tzu - Complements of Dana VanDen Heuvel

Kris Beevers

Another good example of this type of idea already in action is Project Gutenberg's Distributed Proofreaders project for digitizing public domain books. A simple concept, remarkably effective.

Mack Zulkifli

The increasingly pertinent issue that discouraged this form of coordination on this geographic and numerical scale has always been communications, initially the availability of said technology and subsequently the cost. However, it is more than possible to communicate effectively, conveying images of emotions that inspire the rest to a greater depth of commitment. Working in isolation can bring about feelings of detachment, away from euphoria. It also creates opportunity for disconnected thinking, often parties moving in different paths.

I am of the opinion that, while it is recognisable that a certain form of horizontal tasking be distributed, the goals, let us assume here might be different, yet the end-result, the objective, must be very much similar in everyones mind. There must exist a 'chemistry' that works of mutually preordained coordination, very much like trackbacks and ping boards that aggregate the development of the task in hand.

I see structure, communication and the overall culture in applying tools and innovating to solve dillemma's as the key to unlocking your vision of a scattered network of loosely coordinated individuals that are not exactly alike in terms of opinions and core competencies, but each having a certain peronal trait the gels with the other. Like any good relationship, communications is key and with Skype, ICQ or even a chatroom with a key, the choice of cow to communicate is a matter of choice.

What to communicate say to each other so each motivates inspires the other, now that is a completely different matter that bears som thought.

Jozef Imrich

At the risk of underestimating or overestimating the definition of a good news, I would like to share this article published at the cleverly coined Common Dreams:

By Robert McChesney:
Ttitle: The Moment Has Come for Media Reform

Millions of citizens understand that our bankrupt media system is the direct result of government policies made in the public's name but without our consent. Unprecedented numbers of citizens joined together and organized to win a number of historic victories in 2004, proving that public participation is indeed the answer to the media problem. A genuine media reform movement is gaining momentum and getting results...

Daniel Conover

The SETI At Home project might be a good analog for distributed journalism, except for the inconvenient fact that the "taskings" one gives machines wouldn't go over well with human beings.

I think the concept is brilliant, maybe even transformative. The trick, as usual, lies in creating the right structure. Traditional thinking dictates a top-down, "directed" organization, but that's not the spirit of the technology or the age. We need something that would be, in a sense, self-organizing. Sounds like gobbly-gook, I know, but I can imagine a couple of models right off.

Is the new Wikimedia News project similar to this? I've been meaning to investigate it further, but haven't yet.


Nader's Raiders was an earlier instance of this.

(back when he wore a white hat)


(oops, wrong closing tag)


How about some form of mass predictive polling?
Assemble a pool of participants, and poll them periodically on what's coming (painfully alliterative, sorry) - find out if there's a pattern to how the best prognosticators think or what heuristics they use ( e.g. see Daniel Davies' excellent One-Minute MBA ) - and also place more weight on their predictions in future.

fran wilson

Just an aside. I want to compliment you on what I'm seeing so far on this web site, Dan.

Serious commentary on tech and societal issues related to new media journalism. Even when you delve into politics, as in this item, it has a strong "distributed media" connection.

Frankly, it's everything your Mercury News sponsored blog could have been, but was not.

Stick with this, and continue to stay away from the reflexive Bush bashing and leftist talking points. You might, just MIGHT, keep those of us right of center along for the ride, in this (sadly) slowly unfolding "dialogue" about your future plans.

Tim Andonian

As my first comment to you, I'd like to say bravo for your strength in your efforts and actions.
May you inspire us all.
If what we are engaging in in this space is the citizen journalism you speak of, we have only to build it stronger and empower our selves, no? Do you have any plans in this domain to moderate and incubate writers in some way such as Markos ZĂșniga is doing with his site dailyKos? Where users can register and post 'diarys' which can then be recommended by anyone, and 'trusted users' can elevate newer writers to the front page, etc. I see this as direct action towards adding new nodes to the distributed citizen journalism network. As someone becomes more developed in their writing they could be helped onto a blog of their own or even run their own server and thus replicating the process, adding value to the network.

Jodi Dean

Distributed journalism is a good idea. Yet, there is a problem that enters the picture once one takes politics into account. The more distributed the process, the more likely that political antagonisms emerge to disconnect and disperse the outcomes. To this extent, there is a limit to distributed journalism, a limit that comes in when folks have to say, no I cannot accept that turn or that outcome.

Tim Andonian

Concerning Jodi's comment

"there is a problem that enters the picture once one takes politics into account. The more distributed the process, the more likely that political antagonisms emerge to disconnect and disperse the outcomes."

Can you site some specific examples(sites or stories) of where you are seeing this happening. If this is indeed a problem which we all face in conducting ourselves with and using this tool, it is forums like this where we are also going to discuss the solutions.

Distributed journalism is in effect the opposite direction from which we are currently heading with News conglomerates like Fox, etc. My feeling is that everyone in this forum is pushing for this opposite path to seek some sort of equilibrium between big and individual journalism. And if we want to see it spreading into being the very foundation of our civic structure, it is then by nature politics.
Lets offer solution topics to the problems we face.


Taking a step back, or out, or something -

Wikipedia is distributed journalism that's not 4th-dimension-obsessed: it reports on [the noncontroversial parts of] all of what's known, not just the narrow "delta" of what we know today that we didn't know yesterday.

And the knowledge that we already have could be made much more accessible if leveraged into a Wiki form, like Wikipedia.

But not Wikipedia itself, since Wikipedia feels like one vast entity, not a smaller set of overviews+pointers to specialized standalone wiki entities. There's a scale factor, psychologically - something huge and widespread elicits less of a proprietary feeling? and there's no real "there" there, to link to, beyond the front page.

How many people link to Wikipedia's "citizen journalism" page?

Blogging is great, comments sections are great, but maybe we're a little too distributed for our own good, and more (or better forms of) aggregation/coordination of existing knowledge are worth pursuing.

Amy Wohl

I've found the Open Source community, particularly as it relates to defending itself in the SCO case, to be a good example of distributed journalism.

Every time SCO has said something questionable or incorrect, someone from the Open Source community has been quick to contradict them with expert knowledge, often gained by working on long ago UNIX projects.

Every time I've written about the SCO escapades and noted that I'm missing some piece of information I quickly hear from multiple Open Source resources, offering me information and further sources (complete with URLs, academic cites, page numbers, and email addresses) where I can get additional information.

In the transparent world of the web we can support a new kind of distributed journalism that is stunning in the way it punishes mistakes and lies and rewards and truth.

I can't wait to see where you can take this.


Ihink the story of the cia jet caught disappearing people was my favourite recent example of this.

Indymedia ireland was a tiny part of the way the story was put together. A Journalist in Sweden started with the number on an executive jet and hooked up with an international array of bloggers, indymedia heads and planespotters to track the movements of the plane.

It literally went in my personal perspictive from a big list of numbers I saw on Indymedia ireland published by a planespotter to national news in sweden to national news in ireland as the story fed back from sweden and then went on to be published in the washington post.

I ended up later FTPing DV footage (one of many on routes of plane doing this) of an Irish Airport and irish Antiwar protesters and Planespotters to the Swedish National TV station and later, after a transcript of the Swedish TV programme came back to being published on Indymedia ireland I sold the same footage to national TV here.

Am I a journalist. Well I'm not paid to be one but I like it - especially when what DG is talking about here happens. Swarm Reporting (armies of bloggers/armies of eyes and boots on the ground/intermixing of social protest and reportage as an engine) as a conceptual approach to current affairs reporting comes directly from Indymedia Seattle 1999 imho but is mutating super-fast.

Tim Andonian

I think this thread is great and a lot of cool ideas are coming in and being shared, but they are also collioding with eachother. Is there a switch you can flip so we can start comment threads on other comments. so we know exactly what is being resonded to and for what reason.

Dan Gillmor

Tim, I would like to have threaded conversations, but the software doesn't permit it yet, unfortunately.


Dan, speaking of distributed journalism -- I wonder what you make of this situation.

Short version: Congress has sequested the valuable reports of the Congressional Research Service and said, essentially, that taxpayers should only get them as their representatives see fit. But the GAO makes its reports available online. The main culprit, it seems to me, is Representive Ney, who chairs the relevant committee. It seems like a case for not only distributed activism, but also a case for distributed journalism, because what Congress is reading affects us all. And an informed society is a free society.

Stephen Aftergood has been doing the legwork to get the reports online, but it takes no small amount of effort to track them all down, I suspect.

What do you think?

Tim Andonian

Someone you know must beable to take this site over to software that does permit it Dan. In fact Im sure if you asked, one of the many respecting readers of your ideas would probably help set you up. I unfortunately am not that tech savy yet, but I would like to learn so I can better be a part of these grassroots in action.
Does anyone have a suggestion as to how to make Dan's site more suited for discussion. What tools are you all using or seeing being used. DailyKos is a stand out in what I am reading these days and it is run on Scoop,
Right now I see atleast 5 very interesting threads that should be developed from this one.
Lets allow for flourishing before we get lost in great ideas.


Scoop or Drupal are good solutions.

Sheldon Rampton

The idea of distributed journalism dovetails with some projects I'm working on. In particular, I've been working on ways to interconnect Drupal/Civicspace with the MediaWiki software that powers Wikipedia. Drupal/Civicspace is an open source, modular (and therefore easily extensible) software package with strong features for bloggers and some tools specifically geared to facilitate online collaboration (such as modules that enable contact tracking, volunteer coordination and shared moderation of content).

Specifically, I've written an extension to Drupal called "wmfilter.module," which makes it easy for Drupal users to link to the Wikipedia and other wiki-based websites (such as my own Disinfopedia. What I'd like to see emerge is a system whereby people can use Drupal or other blogging software for daily journalism (writing the "first rough drafts of history") while using wikis as a place where information is synthesized into backgrounders that offer greater depth, balance and fact-checking. It seems to me that this approach retains the strengths of blogging (immediacy, timeliness, informality, the distinctive voices and points of view of individual writers) while also drawing upon the strengths of wikis (collaboration, peer review, fact-checking).

If there are any Drupal users here who want to try out the wmfilter module, you can download it from the Drupal website. In the future, I hope to contribute another module that adds newspaper-like "headlines" pages to Drupal sites, making it easier organize content both chronologically and by category (which is how information is organized on leading news sites such as CNN, the New York Times or Google News). The end goal is to have a free, open source software package that anyone can download and install in an hour or so to set up their own online newspaper.


Hey, Sheldon, I just installed your module! It works great. Here was my first test.

One question we had is: how possible it would be to make a WikiMedia hack that recognized incoming links from Drupal? As in, adding nodes to What Links Here. I'm afraid with my php/mysql skills, I'd screw it up.

Tim Andonian

Sheldon, thanks for the nice outline of how these tools might work. It is invaluable to have good explainations painting the picture of the landscape; the future becomes more the now for me when I read this.
As these systems and tools become more easily configured and used by the masses we need people like Dan to moderate and foster use for good journalism. The trust in a person arises out of the people and clearly Dan has proven himself as someone many people trust and respect. I feel that by people congregating in Dan's discussion forums, his "town square' if you will, we are asking for his guidance and empowerment in the people's quest for a distributed citizen journalism.
Flip the switches Dan, and give us more ways to build your town square in the light of your vision.
Sunnyvale, Ca.

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