I've just spent a couple of lazy Sunday afternoon hours reading the paper. Only it wasn't any ordinary Sunday paper - it was Things Our Friends Have Written On The Internet 2008, the tabloid-sized compilation of blog posts that Russell and Ben published recently. Russell was kind enough to give me a copy at Bookcamp last weekend.
It's a bit like reading blogs, largely because that's where the content comes from, but it's also not like reading blogs. The lack of a computer or any hyperlinks means you don't get distracted, and ink on paper is still the better medium for reading longer articles. It also showed why Dan Hill's excellent The Street as Platform took me so long to get through - it takes up a whopping four pages of print!
But more interesting was how it felt less about the personalities and more about the content. Blogs are very personal places, each with their own unique vibe and feel; even when consumed via my RSS-reader, which often strips out the presentation, I get the impression that it's So-and-so's blog post that I'm reading rather than just an article. The blogger is foremost, and colours how I perceive the blog post. I didn't get that when reading TOFHWOTI because the layout is more newspaper-like in its style - the blog post title is the headline item, the content the important text, and the name, date, etc. smaller and in the byline. I like that.
As I neared the end of it I was wondering just how cheap the newsprint run was. And how cool it would be for this to happen more frequently. Would it be cheap enough that you could subscribe and get a monthly compilation of interesting stuff from the Internet? Wouldn't it be cool if instead of hundreds of people on the tube reading fluff-dressed-up-as-news (like the Metro), there were people reading things like this? Could there be local versions with more regional content? It would be nice if Russell and Ben published their costs in getting it printed, so we could see how likely this is.
On the back page (which surely should've contained a sports blog post ;-) the explanation of the project includes this text:
"It's partly a gift. It's partly a compilation of stuff we really like. It's partly a prototype for a product of the future. We took our time making this, but there's no reason it couldn't be done automatically with some tagging and some clever software. That'd be good wouldn't it? We're going to be thinking more about this. If you'd like to play too please let us know."
That sounds interesting. Count me in. I think the important part is in the curation - the person/people who choose what goes into the paper are the key to how well it would work, but as they say - it would be fairly easy for the curators to just tag things for consideration and then make a final choice of articles for entry just before the publication date.
Copyright is a concern, but there should be ways to streamline the process of asking for consent, and maybe also allow authors to automatically give their consent for any future articles to be included.
The only amendment I'd make to the format would be to include the hyperlinks. As was mentioned at Papercamp, newsprint encourages tearing out bits that are interesting, or writing on the paper to mark important points. If the hyperlinks from an article were included in a list at the end of the article (maybe with the URL for the article itself) then it would be easy for me to tear out that part of the paper if I wanted to explore things further when I was back at a computer. Maybe even run through a custom URL-shortening service like tinyurl.com so that it's easier to type, but that would lose some of the information about the URL itself.
"this idea that ... a vital, distinct part of what you do and what you’re about or what you consider important to you is on other machines that you don’t run, don’t control, don’t buy, don’t administrate, and don’t really understand."
No self-respecting river can be without a Twitter account these days. If the River Thames has one then it's about time that the River Mersey was twittering too.
Rather than go on about the tides, I thought it would be more interesting to get a feel for the traffic using the river.
From his office in Tower Building, my granddad used to be able to look out over the river and see the ships coming and going. I'm a bit further away from the river, but I've knocked together a simple service to watch the ships for me and then twitter about them. I might not be able to see them (unless I walk round to the other side of the cathedral) but by following @merseyshipping on Twitter I still get to hear what's happening.
I think more people should be worrying about the answer to that. This paper proposes a good solution, where all data is given an expiry date and is deleted at that point.
I think there's scope for a more nuanced solution though, where data gets fuzzier over time. For a while it could be useful to know that I made a phonecall at 10:34am this morning, but in 10 years if I need to know at all then surely something like "early Jan 2009" would be close enough?
Tricky to implement, because remembering is such a hard task that deliberately forgetting feels very wrong, but I think we should be exploring what we do and don't want to keep for ever.