Subtitle: Making a game of watching the flow of a news story.

Hi, my name is Grelmar, and I’m an addict.

My drug of choice is information.

It started at an early age. In Elementary, when most boys my age were watching G.I. Joe, I’d race home to tune into PBS and watch Nova, National Geographic, and an assortment of documentaries.

By Jr. High my dad and I were swapping sections of the daily newspaper over breakfast and I had a subscription to Time.

And then in High School things really started to go downhill as I plugged into the mid/late 80’s BBS culture, FidoNet and OpusNet. I was mowing lawns to support my dial-up habits, which required a dedicated phone line so I could stay connected at all hours and run my own BBS on a smokin’ hot PC AT running at 10Mhz with 640K of RAM and a massive 20Meg hard drive. It was about this time that I began to dream of becoming a Gibsonian Coppertop, with a jack embedded into my skull to enable a constant flow of information directly to my brain.

Arpanet, FidoNet, OpusNet, Internet…

And now…

I’m sitting at my computer, with two mongo 19″ flat panels, one panel filled with my browser, the other with a mix of “steady stream” info programs – E-Mail, Net Radio, two messenger programs, and an RSS feed aggregator. Sometimes I’ll swap the Net Radio for CNN run through my computer’s internal TV tuner.
In the immortal words of Johnny 5 – “More Input!”

One of the results of all this info being constantly flung at me, is a perpetual sense of Deja Vu. Not being content to get my info from top level news distribution sources like CNN, CBC, Slate, and Wired, (which are all in my RSS Feed List anyway), I draw feeds from “Source Level” feeds as well – Netcraft, F-Secure, Monkey Bites, WebMasterWorld (you might notice a slight leaning towards “tech” in these choices).

Now, as anyone who subscribes to top level feeds and source level feeds has probably already noticed, there’s an interesting ecosystem of cross-feeding between these sources. By the time a tech story reaches CNN, chances are it’s already percolated through one, or several, source level feeds. In the odd case where CNN gets the drop on a story, it’s quickly picked up by the source level tech news outlets.

And sometimes, the whole thing goes full circle.

What sometimes starts as a backchatter discussion on WebMasterWorld, (“WTF – Goog just knocked me our of the SERPS, did they change their algo?” – “Dude, I’m checking all their data centers, and the results are all over the map.” – “What’re you guys new? It’s November! Time to Tango the Google Dance.”) – gets picked up by Netcraft a day or so later as a question mark post (“Google Update in Progress?”) – then as semi-authoritative in Wired (“Cyberspace chatter has led Wired to question an unnamed source at Google who admits ‘We’ve been testing variations of a new algorithm across a couple of different data centers,'”) followed by a brief post in Reuters (“Google Changes the Rules: ‘We occasionally tweak our algorithm to reflect changes in surfing habits and to improve the results our customers depend on’ – an inside source at Google admits.”)

And then on back to WebMasterWorld (“It’s Official – Google Update Jagger Takes hold.”) NB: Jagger is an older update – not the one we’re expecting to arrive any day now.

The funny thing is, if you really read all the chatter and stories, nothing much changes in going from speculation to confirmed story. The geeks over at WMW live and die by analyzing the search engines – their livelihood depends on it. If Larry Page farts, you’re going to read about it on WMW. If you read the top level story in Reuters or Wired, you’ll realize that they’re mostly quoting Netcraft, who based their post from the chatter at WMW. But the geeks at WMW won’t “front page” the story until it’s confirmed by the big news outlets.

Confirmed? Some un-named source inside the G-Plex admits that they occasionally update their algorithm?

What the f*ck kind of confirmation is that? This is news?

No, it’s not news. It was news when the geeks started noticing the data centers going squirrelly. By the time Reuters has picked up on it, the pros who it really affects have already acknowledged, and dealt with the change.

Now, as much as I’m an information junkie, I just don’t have the time to tunnel into more than one vertical subject matter. For the rest, I’m reliant on the big news sources. But when you do tunnel into one subject vertically, as it’s now possible for anyone to do thanks to the internet, you start to realize just how much of a lag there is between the actuality of an event, and when it gets reported by the big news outlets. You also start to realize just how thin the research is behind a lot of their reporting.

So, do you trust the big news outlets, or not?

Actually, yes. While if you really follow the backstory on some of the bigger news events, you can catch out the big papers on some inconsistencies and bias, in the end, you find out that they mostly get it right.

And mostly right is about as good as most of us really need. We just don’t have the time to dig into the source of all these stories. We have to rely on sources that we can mostly trust.

Just so long as we take into account that we can only mostly trust them. That the top level news agencies do have bias, and that they’re not the be-all-to-end-all of any story. And that if the story really does matter to you, you’d better look into it deeply, dig down to the source, and find out all the nuances that the big outlets just can’t spend the time covering.

4 Responses to “RSS Feedback Loop”

    Huh…. y’know, while I’m not into information as a drug etc. I did just “re-look” at your blog description: “about as subtle as a Viking in an Irish monastery” (which btw you’ve minorly misspelled….) – and it strikes me that it would make more sense rephrased as “about as subtle as a Viking in an Irish nunnery” – unless of course you’re into male sexual partnerships…. (though I did think your wife was female, goddess knows I could be wrong!)

    Well, it’s a historical reference.

    “The monastery of Lindisfarne was founded by Irish born Saint Aidan… around AD 635.”

    “In 793 a Viking raid on Lindisfarne caused much consternation throughout the Christian west, and is now often taken as the beginning of the age of Viking raids. A very famous passage in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle reads:

    “In this year fierce, foreboding omens came over the land… There were excessive whirlwinds, lightning storms, and fiery dragons were seen flying in the sky. These signs were followed… [by] the ravaging of heathen men [who] destroyed God’s church at Lindesfarne.””

    AFAIK, the Vikings never raided any Irish nunneries.

    Ah – those historical refs will get me every time! One of the best fantasies I ever read was set in maybe about that time period…. I think it was RA McEvoy, but not sure of the title (loaned the books, never got them back, you know how that goes…..) – tracing the patterns on a Celtic cross….

    Got it! The Book of Kells, by Roberta A. MacAvoy…. and y’know, I’d forgotten about her Tea With the Black Dragon, and Twisting the Rope titles too….

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