Twitter as lifesaver

Here is an instance where poking around online – by which I mean clicking on some promising links – led me back to some fairly significant writing on social media and journalism that I’d overlooked, just simply missed.  lnitially, I logged onto a website called kommons.c0m, which was launched recently by a couple of friends based in Brooklyn as a sort of online public square, “a place to ask and answer questions from anyone in the world.”  According to the site, “Right now, the only way to get an invitation to kommons is to be asked a question by another kommons user.  From there you can direct a question to any of Twitter’s 110+ million users:  anyone from @kanyewest to @cshirky.”  But hang on – can’t any Twitter user do that already, without waiting for an invitation?  Here is how Cody Brown, a co-founder of kommons, distinguishes its project.

Announcing Kommons Beta:  Last fall I wrote a long blog post about how the internet was changing journalism and announced a website that was going to address those changes. Fast forward through an insane 8 months that included 7 pivots, 2 trips to SF, thousands of lines of code written by two people with previously no CS background, and we are excited to announce today that kommons.com is live. 

After going through a number of iterations we’ve landed on a simple starting point. Kommons is a place to ask questions to public figures. The public figures, in this case, are any of Twitter’s 110+ million users.

There are already plenty of ways to ‘contact’ a public figure like Sarah Palin by tweeting at her or posting on her wall but the experience is woefully imbalanced. For all the rah rah of Twitter’s bilateral format, it’s easy for major public figures like Palin to just use social media as a bully pulpit: she can ignore individual tweets and, in the case of Facebook, outright delete wall posts that challenge her beliefs. Kommons is designed to change this dynamic and rebalance the way public figures answer to their public. 

We do this by giving those who want to contact a public figure a substantially better place to talk to each other. Forming a group is often the only way to get public figures to take notice and Kommons helps you form them on the fly by coordinating those with similar questions to build public leverage. 

I used Sarah Palin as an example because she’s our most challenging use case and someone I personally have a lot of questions for, but we aren’t designed to benefit any particular party or group. We also aren’t made to be used just for antagonistic use cases. I have questions for Sarah Palin but also questions for people I respect like danah boyd and Tim O’Reilly or even someone like a neighborhood blogger or a friend. Our goal is to apply the journalistic principle of impartiality to every level of the site’s design. A public forum to ask and answer a question from anyone in the world that is fair to everyone involved.

While I have nothing to say to Sarah Palin, interrogative or otherwise, I confess that this is a club I would consider joining even if they wanted me as a member.  This impulse was only strengthened when I clicked on the link on the kommons.com homepage that directed me to a post by Rachel Sklar for Mediaite:  “Kommons Will Sneakily Make You Blog for Free.”  [ http://www.mediaite.com/online/kommons-will-sneakily-make-you-blog-for-free/

Understandably, kommons cites Sklar’s piece as a blurb for their ambitious start-up:  “Last Wednesday, Sept. 15th, a website called Kommons went live – and is sort of brilliant.  It’s basically Formspring meets Twitter meets “Meet the Press,” or something:  A community that seeks smart, conversation-furthering answers prompted by smart, probing questions – publicly…. smart questions of smart people made in an open forum, viewable by the public and their peers.”

But the hook, for me, came in the next paragraph of Sklar’s post.  “It’s like pre-curation:  You know that what you’re going to get will be interesting and good.”  Pre-curation? (Someone intelligent and motivated has cleared a path for you?  Done at least part of the dirty work?)  You know that what you’re going to get will be interesting and good?  (That’s an insurance policy I’d be happy to sign.)  And foremost among my racing thoughts:  What a time-saver!  Maybe I could actually cook dinner once in a while instead of ordering in every night.

As I compulsively checked my Twitter timeline and watched the clock, convinced that my invitation must be in the mail, I read on in Sklar’s post, which reproduces her response to a question posed to her on the kommons site by “Kool Kid Kody”:  “What was the NYC media community like before Twitter?”  Her answer is well worth reading (and it’s free), particularly for anyone interested in Twitter’s impacts on journalists and journalism.

Here (and in an earlier post dated June 15, 2009 and published on charitini.com), Sklar alludes to an interview with Biz Stone and Evan Williams, co-founders of Twitter, conducted by Maureen Dowd, op-ed columnist for the New York Times, in April 2009.  At the time, this one passed under my radar. [ http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/22/opinion/22dowd.html ] 

If you want a taste of the arrogance and cluelessness with which certain journalists sought to dismiss Twitter’s potential to supplement journalistic practice before even attempting to understand it, click and read.  Read to the end, which I reproduce here.

[Dowd]:  I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account.  Is there anything you can say to change my mind?

[Biz Stone]:  Well, when you do find yourself in that position, you’re gonna want Twitter.  You might want to type out the message ‘Help.'”

(Mo, il ne faut pas exaggerer.  But to be honest, that’s exactly how I feel about Facebook.)

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Filed under History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

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