A reporter just asked me what I thought of the — to put it mildly — controversial new terms of service at Instagram. Here’s what I said:

First, this is a Facebook issue, since Facebook owns Instagram. The coverage of this has tended to ignore or downplay that fact.

Second, Facebook has a long record of treating users’ rights and privacy in unfortunate ways. It doesn’t surprise me that they’re doing it again. I would expect, in the next few days, to see Facebook/Instagram follow the standard FB playbook: Take one step back, having taken three steps forward, and call it “listening to our users”.

Third, a user of the Instagram app should not have to make a choice of either accepting such sweeping terms or quitting the service altogether. (I use neither Facebook nor Instagram at this point.)

Fourth, this is a clear example of why we should be willing to pay for some software and services. I want to be a customer, not a product, and I’m willing to pay for that — but increasingly I’m not given that opportunity.

Finally, this is a great opportunity for Flickr or other photo services to create a more user-friendly ToS, and lure people away from the sites that don’t.

Thanks for stopping by…

This is what I consider my “anchor site” on the Web. Think of it as a portal to (almost) everything I’m doing, online and offline.

My primary gig these days is at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism & Mass Communication at Arizona State University, where I work to bring entrepreneurship and digital media literacy into the curriculum. I’m also a blogger, author, speaker, media investor and co-founder of several online businesses. 

  • About: More about me and my work
  • Permission Taken: My upcoming book/web/etc. project.
  • Mediactive: My most recent book/online project
  • We the Media: The official site of my previous book, We the Media: Grassroots Journalism by the People, for the People
  • Calendar: My whereabouts and speaking engagements
  • Contact: How to get in touch with me

This is a reprint (with permission) of a column I wrote for the San Jose Mercury News in 2004, during that year’s presidential campaign. I’ve added a few links. In several respects I’ve changed my mind about real-time fact-checking, but I’d still like to see a more “we” approach to debates than the “I” crapola we have now.

In the 2004 presidential campaign’s latest detour into relative trivia, there’s been a small uproar over whether President Bush was wearing some kind of audio receiver during one or more of the debates with John Kerry. The implication was that the president might have been getting unfair coaching.

Bush and his people deny they broke the rules prohibiting such devices or other aids. I don’t see any big reason to doubt them even if the bulge in the back of Bush’s suit was remarkably rectangular.

I would argue that in this case the rules need updating. Voters would have been better off if the candidates had all kinds of technology at their disposal, so they could double-check their own facts and precisely rebut opponents’ misstatements.

In the Information Age, the ability to find relevant information quickly and use it intuitively will be at least as important as the ability to memorize numbers or slogans. This will be as true for everyday people as presidents and their staffs, and powerful tools will soon be at our beck and call.

Technological aids of this sort aren’t new, though their use has sometimes been contested. Remember the debate when children first started taking calculators to school? It was assumed (with some truth) that kids would forgethow to add and multiply the old-fashioned way, using a pencil and paper.

Of course, the abacus and slide rule predated the electronic calculator. Were those shortcuts also a problem?

It wasn’t so long ago, meanwhile, that we had to go to the public library to look up facts in books or periodicals we didn’t own. I love libraries, and they’re still essential institutions for many things, but more and more data and facts can be found online.

School officials have gone into panic mode because students are telling each other answers to specific questions via mobile phone text messages. Maybe the answer is to make most testing an ”open book” process, where the student ultimately shows a command, or not, of the subject in other ways than rote memorization.

As information technology becomes embedded into more of what we touch, and as wired and wireless networks become more ubiquitous, we can expect to be able to look things up pretty much everywhere. This will be no more unusual for people tomorrow than it was to pull out a calculator a decade ago.

How far might this go? Advances in display technology suggest that eyeglasses will soon become excellent data displays, and eventually digital technology will augment our eyes directly. Audio will have a similar trajectory.

I’ve often said I’d like to have a music implant in the brain, letting me ”know” the scales without thinking about them. This wouldn’t make me more musical, but it would free some time for more valuable kinds of practice and creativity.

As facts, figures and other data become instantly retrievable, many kinds of endeavors will change. One is journalism.

Imagine, for example, that a journalist in the future is interviewing a corporate chief executive or politician, and that the reporter can double-check what he or she has been told on the spot. Imagine further that the journalist is broadcasting the interview in real time to a cadre of experts who can suggest follow-up questions or point out misstatements on the fly. Interviews would never be the same.

The ”fact squads” major news organizations assembled during the debates to check candidates’ statements were operating in something close to real time, but not close enough for me. I would prefer to see TV networks flash corrections on the screen as soon as they caught the candidate in a lie. Distracting? Perhaps, but maybe the candidates would lie less often or at least less brazenly.

Even more valuable would be giving the candidates more tools to correct each other. I would build a personal computer into each podium, connected to whatever online resources the candidate and his staff found useful.

I would hate to see candidates and officials rely entirely on technological props, because preparing for debates and press conferences is a vital way for politicians to synthesize details into coherent policies. I would hope for some balance, and that we could find out when someone was just reciting someone else’s lines on the fly.

But when I vote for a candidate, I’m not looking for a wonk whose chief skill seems to be rattling off facts and figures. I’m looking for people with strategic vision and the ability to lead. Leave the memorization — the details — to other people, and to Google.

The New York Times has given anonymous sources a platform to slime other people in this story about the Romney camp’s reaction to Clint Eastwood’s beyond-bizarre appearance at the Republican National Convention.

One person from inside the campaign is quoted, and he’s one of the people who was attacked. On Twitter I called this (and it wasn’t a compliment) “[s]tandard NY Times political journalism,” a reference to the Paper of Record’s unfortunate propensity to use anonymous sources, often in violation of internal policies it routinely ignores.

A Times editor challenge my take.  “[W]ould you really expect on-the-record reax from Romney aides?” he asked. “And if not, don’t write the story?”

Of course I expect cowardly attacks from political operatives. That’s the nature of the political system.

But I don’t expect journalists to be complicit in the sleaze, even though that’s become a feature of modern journalism. It doesn’t have to be, and the Times should lead the way in saying no.

Yeah, I know — when pigs fly.

(Note: There’s an expanded version of this post at the Guardian.)

UPDATED

Twitter has suspended the account of a British journalist who tweeted the corporate email address of an NBC executive. The reporter, Guy Adams of the Independent, has been acerbic in his criticisms of NBC’s (awful) performance during the Olympics in London.

Adams has posted his correspondence with Twitter, which claims he posted a private email address. It was nothing of the kind, as many including Deadspin have pointed out. (Here’s the policy, which Adams plainly did not violate, since the NBC executive’s email address was already easily discernible on the Web — NBC has a firstname.lastname@ system for its email, and it’s a corporate address, not a personal one — and was publicly published over a year ago.)

What makes this a serious issue is that Twitter has partnered with NBC during the Olympics. And it was NBC’s complaint about Adams that led to the suspension.

Twitter has been exemplary in its handling of many issues over the past several years, including its (for a social network) brave stance in protecting user privacy. So I’m giving the service the benefit of the doubt for the moment, and hoping that this is just a foolish — if well-meaning — mistake by a single quick-triggered Twitter employee. If so, Twitter should apologize and reinstate Adams’ account immediately. If it does so, there’s little harm done — and the company will have learned a lesson.

If not, this is a defining moment for Twitter. It will have demonstrated that it can be bullied by its business partners into acts that damage its credibility and ultimately the reason so many of us use it as a platform. And if that’s the case, there will be much less incentive to use it.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Awards are open for nomination:

What does it take to be a Pioneer? There are no specific categories, but nominees must have contributed substantially to the health, growth, accessibility, or freedom of computer-based communications. Their contributions may be technical, social, legal, academic, economic or cultural. This year’s pioneers will join an esteemed group of past award winners that includes World Wide Web inventor Tim Berners-Lee, security expert Bruce Schneier, open source advocate Mozilla Foundation, and privacy rights activist Beth Givens.

The EFF honored me with one of these awards in 2002.

LinkedIn Today Image

UPDATED

What big-time Internet social-media company is creating a valuable news site? I’m not talking about Google, or Facebook, or Twitter, though of course they are among major players in the news sphere these days.

I’m talking here about a company you won’t typically connect to news: LinkedIn. When it comes to news about business, technology and economic issues I follow, LinkedIn Today is becoming a useful source of information.

Useful, but not nearly what it should be on a site that could just about own aggregated business news. And later today, when I moderate a social-media-in-journalism panel at the International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas, I’m looking forward to hearing one of the site’s editors, Chip Cutter, describe his view of the service’s future. (Update: He spent more time, as a good panelist should, on broader issues than just his own company’s site.)

When I’m signed in to LinkedIn and select the LinkedIn Today menu tab, I get a nicely arranged aggregation, shown on this page. It’s compiled from topics I’ve designated and from people in my LinkedIn “connections” list — more than 500 people with whom I have some kind of business connection. It goes beyond that, including links from the industry I’m interested in and even from outside that industry.

LinkedIn’s aggregation algorithm doesn’t strike me as particularly great; in many ways Google’s produces (subjectively) better results. But when I combine it (rather, when LinkedIn combines it) with the choices made by the people to whom I’m connected by reputation or personal knowledge, plus the shares of others who care about the topic, something new happens. I get much better results.

LinkedIn Today is only the latest example of what I’ve been wanting for years — and wrote about most recently in my book, Mediactive — the notion that combining human and machine intelligence will get us closer to the kind of news aggregation that truly serves our needs. We’ve seen progress with blogs, Twitter (one of my most essential news feeds in a variety of areas), Google+, Facebook and other services.

What makes LinkedIn so intriguing is the way it leverages business contacts, not just social ones. These folks are connections whom I’ve chosen because I trust them in some way, not as friends (though some are) but as people in another kind of circle that is about professional life.  And others in the same industry will be more likely than not to be noting interesting or at least relevant news.

I’m not especially interested in what they think, for the most part, about topics outside the ones I’m choosing. Their likes and dislikes in, say, film won’t be in my feed, because I want to keep this site’s news content strictly organized by the professional part of my existence.

Like its competition, LinkedIn Today is way, way short of what it could be. Users need to be able to make much more granular choices about sources (including people) and topics (and more), and user-interface customization features are at best crude in this early version.

In general, the product feels and operates like a side project, not a truly core feature. If I were running the company, I’d move it higher on the list of things that are strategic as opposed to tactical. I’m told that news is strategic, but I don’t see remotely convincing evidence.

It also seems obvious Google and Facebook are going to try to capture the aggregation-recommendation space — and they have at least as much ability to do so, if not more, when it comes to technical talent and user bases. Google, in particular, needs to figure out how to combine Google+ with Google News ((and other parts of the empire). Facebook’s news feeds send huge amounts of traffic to linked items, but in my experience (before I closed my FB account) the value of those links to me was low at best.

What neither Google nor Facebook can boast — yet — is the business-oriented membership base that LinkedIn has made its unique selling proposition. Again, it’s essential who makes the recommendations, along with who’s doing the programming in the cloud, and that’s why LinkedIn still has every chance of being preeminent in business/economic news aggregation if not more.

Bottom lines: Aggregation and curation — sorting the good from the bad, the useful from the useless — are still in their early days. But LinkedIn Today is an extremely interesting step forward.