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Building a Theory of Collaborative Sensemaking

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Using new media technology to make the filmmaking post-production process more collaborative has uncovered some interesting theoretical insights. It has introduced some constraints that have allowed me to abstract some broader concepts that can be applied to journalism and collaborative sensemaking.

Below I explore some of the parallels between Collaborative Filmmaking, New Media Technology, Journalism, The Intelligence Cycle, Knowledge Management Pyramid and the Scientific Method...

* Constraints Can Be Good
* Scaling Up Complexity with Folksonomy Tags & Playlists
* Towards a Theory of Collaborative Sensemaking

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Interview Audio: Duane Elgin, Futurist & Media Activist,

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Listen to the Interview with Duane Elgin, Futurist & Media Activist, (Length: 9:46)

More interviews from the Consciousness & Healing Conference.

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Transcript Coming Soon...
July 10th, 2005

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Interview Audio: Don Beck, National Values Center & Spiral Dyanamics Integral Model of Worldviews

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Listen to the Interview with Don Beck, National Values Center & Spiral Dyanamics Integral Model of Worldviews and Value structures (Length: 12:41)

More interviews from the Consciousness & Healing Conference.

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Transcript Coming Soon...
July 8th, 2005

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Interview Audio: Dean Radin, Senior Scientist at Institute of Noetic Sciences

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Listen to the Interview with Dean Radin, Senior Scientist at Institute of Noetic Sciences (Length: 27:12)

More interviews from the Consciousness & Healing Conference.

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Transcript Coming Soon...
July 8th, 2005

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Interview Audio: Marilyn Schlitz, Vice President for Research & Education, Institute of Noetic Sciences

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Listen to the Interview with Marilyn Schlitz, Vice President for Research and Education, Institute of Noetic Sciences (Length: 12:06)

More interviews from the Consciousness & Healing Conference.

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Transcript Coming Soon...
July 9th, 2005

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Interviews from an Open Source Intelligence Conference

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I attended a conference on Open Source Intelligence and collected over 3 hours of interviews from the 10 of the presenters. My citizen journalism coverage was looking through the following two lenses:

* What types of insights could intelligence analysis provide to journalism?
* How can information and communications technologies be used to help avoid and prevent armed conflict?

UPDATE:Here is a 90-second video introduction to these interviews

Music: On The Moon (Trip Hop mix) by disharmonic

FYI:You can use this feed to download all of the interview audio.

More information below...

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Fractals & Folksonomies: A New Map for Participatory Journalism

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The press is supposed to provide us maps that help us understand our complex and chaotic world, but the media's maps have failed to keep pace with the exponential growth of technological innovation and changes in our society.

Below I propose that folksonomies and playlisted sound bites could be used to map out the links and associations between the Long Tail of factual nuggets that are usually lost on the cutting room floors of news stories or documentaries -- as well as how "fractal geometry" can provide a powerful metaphor for helping visualize and comprehend this complexity. This type of approch could be extended to journalism and other knowledge management contexts.

Participatory journalism is the key to mapping out this fractal-like map of interconnections, and this post describes what "news as a conversation" might look when it is scaled up beyond the linear limitations of blog dialogues.

Continue Reading...

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Defining Sound Bite Edges for Collaborative Editing

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As I've described before in my collaborative editing schema, my plan is to use the playlist mechanism to have users help filter through the interview audio content to help identify good sound bites. But who takes the takes the first cut of defining the boundaries of the "sound bites"? Well, I'll be taking a first crack at defining the sound bite edges, but the volunteers will be able to redefine the "In" and "Out" points.

I was chatting with Kevin Marks yesterday -- who is a former Apple employee, podcasting technology pioneer and Technorati engineer -- and Marks made the great point that there are three stages to editing: "shot-logging, sequencing and polishing."

Later in the conversation, Marks split the first shot-logging into two separate sections, and this is how he described the post-production process of editing a massive data set (with spelling errors corrected):

one is labeling times of interest, which is naturally sloppy -- let people tag as it goes by

second is making good sound bite clips, or chunks of meaning -- which involves a bit of effort to pick good in and out points -- and appeals to a subset of people

3rd is sequencing clips, which once you have good standalone ones defined by meaningful chunk rather than time, is easy -- and gives you a much better granularity to tag, annotate, vote on and so on

the difficulty is bridging the stages

Indeed, there is a lot of difficulty and complexity in bridging these stages. And so that's why I've planned on doing the shot-logging and clean-up process myself so that I can distribute the sequencing portion.

I'll be doing the shot-logging offline using the Final Cut Pro blade tool to select sound bites IN and OUT times in the timeline, and then export this IN and OUT times via Final Cut Pro XML. Then the text will be aligned with timecode data for each sound bite and then uploaded as a Drupal node with a unique URL, which will allow volunteers to then annotate the sound bites will tags and comments. Volunteers will also be able to shorten or lengthen each sound bite, and so there may need to be ways to account for the metadata associated with sound bites that a high variance of IN/OUT edges. Or perhaps the variance will be negligible considering that the context and meaning of the sound bite will be relatively the same.

Then volunteers help with the sequencing stage through web browser-based "editing" using the playlist mechanism. Marks makes a distinction between "editing" and "sequencing":

The key is to distinguish editing and sequencing -- editing needs sample accuracy -- and you aren't going to get that with XML and intermediates without a lot of pain.
sequencing of self-contained chunks without attempting laps or dissolves

So these "sequenced" sound bites will be done within playlists by volunteers, and then I'll be exporting the timecode data from this "edited" sequence back into Final Cut Pro so that I can "polish the edits" offline.

In an ideal situation, I would distribute the first editing phase of sound bite parsing to a large set of eager volunteers who would listen to over 45 hours of footage. They would highlight an interesting audio segment, and then tag it and annotate it on the fly as Marks suggests.

The mechanism to do this online could be accomplished with something like the BBC's Annotatable Audio Project as described by Tom Coates -- but it's still behind the firewall of the BBC. I plan on talking with Coates about it in more details soon, and maybe he'll give me some more insights into how the BBC will be normalizing or making sense of this fuzzy data set. But either way, I probably won't have the resources or technological mechanisms to be able to effectively distribute this task.

So I'll be the one who will be taking a first cut of determining "In" and "Out" points of the sound bites. This is certainly a huge bottleneck that could eventually be overcome by integrating something like the Annotatable Audio tool into the workflow. But doing it myself is a satisfactory workaround for the moment considering that volunteers will still be able to either shorten or lengthen the edges of the sound bites. And also considering that I'm ultimately interested in the distributed sequencing portion of the editing process.

I'm still on the lookout for PHP coding help in making this happen, so please e-mail me at if you're interested in helping out.

Below is the full transcription of the IRC chat that I had yesterday about Kevin Marks with more commentary on this issue.

I was specifically searching for a way to automatically create smaller sections of MP3s by entering in a set of IN and OUT times. Marks says that it's theoretically possible to automate this task in QuickTime or Final Cut Pro as well as with iTunes, but it's way too complex for me to figure out, and so I'm sticking with the SMIL solution for the moment...

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Migrating Open Source Intelligence Insights Into Participatory Journalism

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I have argued before that the field of Intelligence Analysis can provide many insights for how journalism could do a better job at discovering, discriminating, distilling, and disseminating knowledge.

It seems as though Open Source Intelligence advocate and founder of Robert Davis Steele has also been suggesting that there be a migration of these analytical insights into the public domain:

Because the policymaker is inundated with contradictory information lacking methodical evaluation, a critical priority must be the transfer of the proven methods of classified intelligence analysis, to the world of unclassified information.

Steele calls it a "critical priority" to transfer these advanced analytical techniques and methodologies into the hands of ordinary citizens. This is part of Steele's larger vision for creating an open source network of NGOs, academic institutions, international organizations and potentially individual citizens that could tap into the wisdom of the electorate and create the "possibility of revolutionizing governance by revolutionizing what government can know, how it knows it, how it decides, and how it communicates both its decision and supporting information."

Steele suggests creating a public intelligence "skunk works" that would "focus on creating public intelligence sources, softwares, and services that elevate the utility of all information to all citizens all the time."

There are many unanswered questions for how Steele's vision will be implemented by the coalition of private corporations that he's building, and how much government support and cooperation he will eventually receive. But I would argue that the press should have some role to play in this type of coalition because it sounds very similar to the public interest mandate that the field of journalism aspires to fulfill.

The press is facing an economic and credibility crisis as they attempt to reinvent how they create and deliver their information products. Wall Street pressures are moving the newspaper industry towards implosion by forcing cutbacks and diminishing the amount of available resources for journalists to gather the news -- let alone introduce even more complexity to how they analyze and make sense of the endless stream of facts. But the industry is at a cross roads, and they must change or die.

There happens to be many similar dot-connecting challenges facing the US Intelligence agencies where reform has been hindered by an obsession with secrecy as well as the business models of vested interests that are more focused on "esoteric collection systems" than figuring out how to make sense of the hoards of collected data.

This post is intended to explore the parallels to these challenges and how solutions to all of these challenges can be found through the converging trajectories of Open Source Intelligence and Participatory Journalism. As Steele says,

It is essential that operational, logistics, acquisition, and other information be managed as a coherent whole, not in isolation from classified intelligence. Sharing and sense-making, not hoarding and secrecy, are the watchwords today.

The opposite of information hoarding is collaborative participation, and the opposite of secrecy is transparency. Blogging is pushing journalism to be more participatory and transparent while Steele's Open Source Intelligence initiatives are doing the same in the national security domain. In both cases, the cooperative principles of Open Source holds the keys to unlocking these potentials of the wisdom of the crowd and the trust of the electorate.

The post looks at the following issues...


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