February 17, 2005

Miracle Memory Up-Close and Very Personal

FRANCIS PORRETTO @ Eternity Road applies his prodigious hammer to an unstruck nail in the discussion of the New Infonauts versus the Ancient Ones:

[W]hat is the nature of the Internet's power? Is it the ability to shout past the "gatekeepers" of print and broadcast journalism? Has the Commentariat tapped into sources of information that had previously been kept under lock and key? Or is "distributed intelligence" proving itself superior to the more concentrated forms that prevail in the offices of executive directors and editors-in-chief?

There's some substance to all of those. However, insufficient attention is being given to a practice that should be familiar to any reporter: note-taking.

The Internet's communications capacity is prodigious, but its memory -- its ability to retain facts and statements, and to retrieve them at need -- is near to miraculous. When millions of avid note-takers are on the case, all of them proficient with Google and many also armed with LexisNexis, it becomes all but impossible to slip cleanly away from one's past words and deeds. Someone will remember -- and given the powers of the search engines and the retentiveness of the Internet, he'll find the citations he needs to call his target to account.

This point about note-taking is well taken. Indeed, it is probably the blogworld's single techno trick that MSM has yet to catch onto, and has no hope of ever being able to emulate.

And it is not merely the "note-taking" of being able to run Google faster than a speeding bullet. Google is still at the stone ax level of information tools since it must do so much for so many. I'd be willing to bet that a lot of MSM researchers just come up on the plain vanilla Google, enter the search term, hit "I'm feeling lucky" and work the first ten results that come up. They don't set their home page to "Advanced Search," and running Boolean operations on the most fundamental level eludes them. The ones sitting in offices and seeking to impress their non-typing bosses may run Nexis-Lexis but have no idea how to weed it. Result: way too much information of a superficial sort.

Google (Advanced Search) is amazing, but more powerful still is a slowly acquired personal note-base. Since my interests are, to say the least, broad I am more interested in note-taking software than any other kind. As far as Macs go, I've pretty much tried them all. The one that suits me down to the ground is an application called NoteTaker from AquaMinds. I could write thousands of words of praise for this brilliant software but I'll save that for another time. Suffice it to say that, over time, NoteTaker has become my own personal and local Google.

The most valuable part of NoteTaker is its ability to create clipping services. Dozens of times a day when I see something that catches my interest, I'll select it on the screen and send it to NoteTaker in the background. At the end of the day, I'll take a look at it and dispatch various items to one or several other NoteTaker notebooks I've created. Each item will have the title and the URL of the page it was clipped from. Right now I have about 36 "notebooks" with up to 50 different subject pages each. They run from about 100K up to 12 megabytes in size. And they are all indexed -- automatically in the background. I use NoteTaker for everything from notes on financial matters to exceedingly complex novels and non-fiction projects I'm working on. I literally would be lost without it.

But what this means, to return to Poretto's point is that my little corner of the web has come to possess its own clippings morgue, research library, and fact-checking bureau all inside the G4 on my desk. This is more raw news analysis power than mid-level newspapers enjoyed twenty years ago. In addition, I have my own minor life experience and fields of semi-expertise to draw on as well. Include web-rings, email loops, URL managers, groupblogs, and link orgies. Then add in the deeper linking that comes from personal affiliations and distant distributed friendships across the infinite strands of the web. Make it global. Now multiply all this by many millions of people -- each of whom knows and is something unique -- and, oh yes, tack on Google. Then factor in a blog growth rate that is becoming exponential by the month. Not only should Mainstream Media be very afraid, everybody should be very afraid. Which, of course, is no reason not to run towards this brave new world at full speed. Is it?

UPDATE: Bowen @ Cobb: Bloggers on Charlie Rose takes my point and, in an excellent "Brain Jazz" rif moves it up:

The point is that it is not just blog software and 'the internet' but a kind of softwarey-augmented discipline in the hands of millions that make the magic.

Even in the blog world, there are different levels of technical expression. LiveJournal -> TypePad -> MT -> WordPress to full blown CMS. What needed to be expressed was that content managment software has become relatively commodified, and in the hands of millions, it has generated a powerful capability. But there is much more software out there waiting to come down in price and up in usability which will create many spheres and powerful and as influential as the blogosphere. Or if one likes the blogosphere, think of the blogosphere growing more arms and legs and pressing other industries besides journalism.

He's right, software is out there waiting to power more steps. In his comments section I point out that my current favorite for a program that could increase individual empowerment is Adobe's Acrobat. Currently listing at $499, this program is the way into the shared document standard for the world but is out of reach for most users. Just think what could happen in the creation and sharing of PDFs if Adobe would bring out a Photoshop Elements version of Acrobat listing at $89. It would, at the very least, being on the ebook revolution that is still delayed. It would enable the shared documents and writings of millions upon millions to explode across the world in all their infinite variations. Yes, I know you can save documents as PDF, but that is not the same as creating them in Acrobat. In fact, it's sort of on the same level as blogging by email list servers once was. "Save as PDF" does not really unleash the creative potential in the way that authoring in Acrobat does.

What's the real importance of an Acrobat Elements besides opening a standard to millions who can't or won't pay $499? Very simple. It puts the world's laser printers in play as part of the media revolution. That step puts the world's copier machines in play as well. And that step moves millions of documents extant or to be created down off the web and ready for distribution into the analog world, to all those billions who do not have a high-speed internet connection. And it does it fast and cheap. In a manner of speaking we come full circle back to the age of Samizdat publishing. Which is a proven tool for creating more freedom in the world.

The way I see it, Acrobat Elements would not only be good for Adobe's bottom line, it would also be their patriotic duty. Email campaign anyone? I'm sending mine now.

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Posted by Vanderleun at February 17, 2005 2:03 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

AquaMinds, hmmm. Anything comparable for the demon-haunted Windows user?

Posted by: slimedog at February 17, 2005 3:29 AM

Mozilla Firefox has a plugin called ScrapBook that I have recently loaded but have not investigated fully its effectiveness.

Posted by: Hugh Smith at February 17, 2005 5:48 AM

My only fear of it is that it becomes self-aware.

I'm thinking this happens around 2010.

Posted by: The Colossus at February 17, 2005 7:56 AM

Heh. Another good point. What we don't have & can't match is Big Media's access to high muckamucks, though. When I read a blogger interviewing a head of state, I'll fall off my chair, surely.

Maybe that's where its all going, hey? The news channels will all go the Nightline route & lock out the access, while bloggers go towards the investigative....

Why does that remind me of pre-revolutionary France?

Posted by: urthshu at February 17, 2005 6:04 PM
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