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On my good days I scan the screen for the re-invention of local news in a personalized framework, which is how I have defined “hyperlocal” for some years now. On the bad ones, I search for news of Ashley Highfield, erstwhile creator of the BBC web customization service, iPlayer, and now running Johnston Press. If he cannot re-invent the press, then who can? Or maybe there is another Johann Carolus in somewhere like Strasbourg, just about to do digitally what his namesake did in 1605, and develop the first news sheet. Yet Mr Carolus put the news to work for local businessmen (seventeenth century Germany was as yet oblivious of the bogus distinction of B2B from B2C), and it thus occurs to me that I may be looking in the wrong place for the renaissance of local news.
These thoughts were triggered by a piece in the New York Times (November 10) which did look as if it was going to tackle my “hyperlocal” anxieties.
(http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/11/technology/gathering-more-data-faster-to-produce-more-up-to-date-information.html?_r=0&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=2&adxnnlx=1384288878-xYaeMfcYZuVjg950SS64xg&pagewanted=print) This piece, entitled Big Data’s Little Brother”, is in fact a story about data analytics, featuring Premise , a service which collects and analyses photos of market stalls around the globe in order to compile inflation and availability data for food supply and cost analysis, and Clear Story data, which does custom predictive analysis from the data available on the web and/or supplied by clients. Indeed this works with my own observations: SaaS in data analytics is becoming a boom industry, with players like RecordedFutures.com now creating multi-faceted analysis from cyber intelligence to competitive positioning. And these tools can only get smarter, which leads me to believe that we may have to re-create “news” for people who will have commercial reasons to pay before we can personalize news for the general reader/citizen at large.
So what are these data- driven, analytical insight organs going to look like? Well, for a start, we shall have to redefine the word “news”. The services that grab the attention now do not use the news to report something so much as to predict something. When Takadu.com is deployed by a water utility company, it is putting together analysis around sensor, image, staff and public reporting on water leaks. Since 25-30% of global water supplies are NRW water – non-revenue contributing, a glorious term for leaks – this is as vital to the utility as it is to the globe, but the important matter may not be the leak itself, but the trend, the order of repair, and the potential future impact. While it is hard to appreciate FoodGenius.com, which helps food processors develop ever more nutritional disasters for our consumption, it reads 300,000 menus daily to find the trend and create the prediction – lambs’ kidneys in guacamole will be big in 2014 – and will be available everywhere. And moving swiftly to a subject that makes me feel less emotional, companies like Molecular Connections can use the analytics on one side of their business for advanced drug discovery processes, finding and analysing news from the future, while using their technology to give meaning to archival news, as they have done with Nature, the pre-eminent science journal.
None of this is News as we know it, and part of me now accepts the idea that the networked society will never quite want News as newspapers once knew it. Things like the Huffington Post are hybrids, the results of miscegenation, not a new evolutionary track. Things like Buzzfeed are entertainments, brilliant if you want to contemplate the life and works of Rob Ford, Torontonian mayor/buffoon/jester, reduced to 22 captioned images, but only customizable in the “more like that” sense. Nothing here speaks to me about the use of the one thing we have in plenty – data – to inform us of the patterns of our lives and the way that they may change in future.
And we know so much. Isotrak.com reckon they are saving their haulier clients £150 m per annum on areas like building patterns of more efficient driving. This links to my interest, already expressed here, in lower motor insurance costs as your car speaks to your insurer via your smartphone and reports your performance. While recording your journey on Wayze, and noting car accidents and traffic congestion as a result. So maybe these services of the future have active advertising – not just “buy our service to save money” – but lets do it and save it now! And maybe the “news” is about you – in society, against the backdrop of the performance of others, all living anxiously in a rated, graded world. After long years when news tycoons and advertising gurus fought to create “My” service environments and telling us all how to behave, it would be poetic justice if we ended up making them for ourselves, and letting the data modelling tell us how to behave.
Which is what I think we will do. Soon the tools will become available to view all the niche networks that we join in the post-Facebook world in a single viewer which allows us one view of our separate networks for family, for college friends, for business and professional associates, sports aficionados etc. Here we will pull in more data – is anyone getting better wholesale prices for his home- produced electricity than I am? And analysis. And prediction. And we will move the dial from the congested relief road to who is standing for office who wants to do something about it. And before we know it we are back to wondering how any group of well-adjusted people elected Rob Ford, or Boris Johnson, or any other mayor, and then we want commentary and analysis to explain these things. Here “journalism” is by definition self-employed.
But in the meanwhile, the deconstruction of news has to be total before we can begin to reconstruct the flows of data and information which will make a digital economy in a networked society perform and function. So it is probably just as well we have the guys we have in charge of our press. From power-broking to phone hacking , they are doing a grand job of destroying public trust in the world of paper and preparing us all for the digital yet to come. So good, in fact, that rather than put them on trial we should give them an award!keep looking »