November 10, 2004
Everyone's an Editor?

I think I realized it sometime after Evan set up Anarchoblogs, and mentioned how easy it is to set up: widespread syndication through RSS feeds is setting up the conditions for (the possibility of) another major shift in how information is distributed and organized.

The vaguely corporate line (which I've been admittedly stuck in) was that having everything in a feed will be great, because we can set up a "daily me"--a customized set of feeds--and serve it up to customers. This has been realized and then commoditized by apps like NetNewsWire, which are lovely, and quite useful.

But I think that some exciting prospects come from giving everyone the ability to make their own feeds. The implications are particularly interesting for open publishing, where I could see "everyone gets to make a selection of the interesting articles" complement the chaos of "everyone gets to post" quite well. I told this to Kellan, who politely informed me that blogs (and feeds) already provide this functionality, which is of course true... and to some extent, weblogs already do this.

My impression is that other, interesting possibilities could be unlocked by speeding up and automating the intermediary bits of the interface, and making the end result more sophisticated.

I'm fascinated by the idea of setting up an entire newspaper site that consists only of articles fed in from elsewhere. Ideally, I would use a program like NetNewsWire, and whenever I click on an article, contextual use of keyboard presets would let me stream that article into any number of preset categories (opinion, local news, international news, analysis, etc.). These would accumulate on a list as I went through, and a simple verification at the end would let me cull duplicates or missteps before posting. All these would show up in the relevant columns of a site laid out like... the Guardian, or whatever.

I'm particularly interested in this in the case of It would work a lot better if all the sites had RSS feeds; as it stands, very few of them do. This, in turn, could be fixed by using an easy interface to assemble a list of url/title/description/category, with a tool like Fun.

I think the aspect of speed is crucial. Maintaining a website like, when I was still doing it with the help of two other people, was a constant drain on my mental faculties. The daily process of posting a few articles required that I find the articles, log in to MT, copy the text, format it, post it, check it again for formatting errors, and then repeat for any other articles. It's only a few minutes a day, but the amount of stuff to keep track of is taxing. However, if all that was automated (or rendered unnecessary), it could just be a piece of my normal news-browsing activity, taking maybe 10-15 extra minutes.

This is the difference between my being able to maintain a couple of site to my being able to maintain a couple more sites. For other folks, it might be the difference between running no site and running a site. (Then again, I've been trying to get my environmentalist friends out of forwarding crappily-formatted emails to using the web for years... to no avail, so who knows what motivates people.

The other really interesting possibility, as I mentioned, is moving custom feeds closer to the indymedia interface. What if people who browsed an Indymedia site while logged in saw a little widget at the top and bottom of every article that said "add this article to feed". (Again I think speed details are important: clicking on the widget should not open a new sets a good precedent here with their in-place rating system.) The feed would be useful for the reader and anyone they sent the feed page to, but it would also provide a service to all the other readers.

A list of feeds could be available at the top of the newswire page, sortable by frequency of activity, indicating the possible subsets of a busy newswire that are available for reading. A list of the most-selected articles could also be useful. This could fit well into the recent development of regional Indymedia centres, like, which already provides one selection of articles--those chosen by local editorial collectives.

If I wasn't too impatient and preoccupied to learn how to write basic scripts, I could probably accomplish these things on my own without too much trouble at all. But as usual, I'm fascinated not so much by the possibility of someone like me being able to accomplish this (I already can), but in the final layer of details: the political effect of making these capabilities ubiquitous.

Some details that could use some smoothing:

  1. The amount of time it takes to post something (why not just grab the title/url/desc with one keystroke?)
  2. Moving away from the one- or two-column format of weblogs, slash, etc. (why not have some prominent headlines, a few news stories, a photo, and so on?)
  3. Ease of use (geeks tend to make the technology, and have their own speedy ways of making things work... the speed should be popularized)
  4. Integration (if it's built in, a subset of the users will end up making use of it... if they have to go find it and set it up, fewer will)

This is born out in experience, at least mine. had a lot of these kinds of features running in Bijan's irc interface, which had the benefit of being somewhat collaborative, existing in a social context, and being speedier than any popup window-based web interface... but I still found myself not posting things due to the amount of concentration involved, however tiny. I think that this is a test of technology (though the result implies nothing of its social value): the extent to which it can fade into the background, being an afterthought, rather than requiring forethought.

Update: I'm embarassed that I forgot about Full Coverage for the People, an idea I had a few years ago about a collaborative newsfeed, based on the technologies and considerations available to me at the time.

posted by dru in politicsoftech