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This is your mind on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Chiming in on a Long Bet

Wired Magazine has an article devoted to several Long Bets, or bets made on industries and trends coming up in the next decade. The site itself is devoted to improving long-term thinking about society and the “bet” is a donation that gets made to the winner’s favorite non-profit charity. In one bet, Martin Nisenholtz, CEO, New York Times Digital says that blogs will not outrank the New York Times in searches on Google by the year 2007. His reasoning for why the blogosphere won’t overtake the New York Times on Google searches:

“Readers need a source of information that is unbiased, accurate, and coherent. News organizations like the Times can provide that far more consistently than private parties can. Besides, the web-blog phenomenon does not represent anything fundamentally new in the news media: The New York Times has been publishing individual points of view on the Op Ed page for 100 years. In any case, and web-blogs are not mutually exclusive. We would like to extend our ability to act as a host for all sorts of opinions, and web-blog technology might well be useful in doing so. After all, in countries whose citizens don’t enjoy First Amendment protection, blogs are run by people who’d be considered professional journalists in the US. In its six years online, has been a center of innovation, and it’ll continue to be, incorporating blogs and whatever else will enable our reporters and editors to present authoritative coverage of the most important events of the day, immediately and accurately.”

I’m not here to say that his reasoning is unsound but it is based on a couple of faulty premises and generally misses the context of the bet — namely how Google’s technology works. His first premise is that “readers need a source of information that is unbiased, accurate, and coherent.” You don’t have to be a media cynic in regards to the major media outlets to point out that those three adjectives hardly describe them these days. Between the latest CBS debacle and the Jason Blair incident at the times, information dissemination has called the credibility of most major media and their accuracy into doubt. Insofar as bias is concerned many people are rightly concerned about consolidation in the industry. As far as “coherent” is concerned, well, read the Post. Millions of people do.

So his main premise is a little questionable but the thing that strikes me as more short-sighted is that he makes the assumption that a news “hub” like the New York Times is somehow going to generate a larger number of linkages than a thousand-plus blogs turning out obscure entries on any subject known to man. As most folks know, Google generates its rankings according to how many pages containing keywords link to other pages with those keywords as well. That’s an oversimplification, but the basic point is that the page about Subject A that has the most pages about Subject A linking to it is the most popular page. Two things that have generally annoyed me about the Times is that you have to register and that they don’t link to a lot of other sources. This makes it a relatively insular online publication. It’s hard to link to due to registration and you likely won’t get linked from it. Those user interface problems alone make it hard to believe that the Times online is going to keep up with the blog revolution — a revolution not because people are writing online but because people writing online are connecting, linking, and trackbacking each other.

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