Painting: Jan van de Heyden – inventor of the fire hose – Fire Amsterdam Town Hall 1690 (translated link)
Two major financial losses have we seen in the last two months. Not because of the credit crunch, but because everything in this digital world is connected.
On the web new information is true until proven false. This is something you might like, or not. It is not a choice, it’s the fact of a connected medium that gives everyone a voice. We have to find ways to work with it. And we are just starting to find out the effects of this dense and very well connected network that is continues searching for the next big thing… And the network is trigger happy.
About those losses
Ten billion dollar in total. Last month an old article about United Airlines re-appeared in Google News because of a date failure. News spread across the web in no time. Traders started selling shares, loss $1 billion.
Last week a wrong story about Steve Jobs having a hearth attack made it to CNN iReport. News spread across the web very fast and Apple stock plunged. Instant decrease in value: $9 billion.
Both stories started an online fire that could only be stopped by checking the story. But, when there is smoke in the air, the whole town is already alerted. You can’t hide it. All you can do is report facts as soon as possible.
In a dense societies, like the web, and cities in the seventeenth century. The high speed spreading of information is crucial. If there was a fire in your neighborhood. It didn’t really matter that much if it small or big, you would wanted to know about it. Since all houses were close to each other and stopping a fire was difficult. Alert first, check later.
The web is not paper
Reporting fragments of information is what the web is good at. We still use it as if it is a piece of paper. We publish hypertext, but we won’t alter it, like paper. We give web pages unique addresses, like paper. After all these years we still treat hypertext like paper.
Wikipedia doesn’t. This is what makes Wikipedia more an internet product instead of a print product. Wikipedia is alive, it uses fixed urls and the content changes all the time. Everything can be altered and deleted. Hypertext is alive. Wikipedia is – like the web – a continues and endless process.
Open Source Journalism
The live web poses not directly new problems for journalism, but it requires more speed and a different way of working. It will eventually require a different approach. Journalists will have to be live reporters. They don’t decide if it will be news or not. They will decide if something will stay news or not.
As a reporter you can’t ignore the smoke in your town. Everyone wants to know what’s going on and it’s the job of the journalist to figure this out, as fast as possible. And the best way to do this is by using the collective wisdom and make his or her knowledge and process public. The open source journalist will be a better informed journalist.
And about the truth?
We will see many more of these short-time information failures in the future and those will probably also lead to large financial losses. We have to find a way to live with it. The journalist that works on the web will be more active as a firefighter instead of a fire starter.