Real time news

I don't know if it is the number of trade shows, the rapid pace of change, or just coincidence, but I've been overwhelmed with tons of news - and new products - over the past few weeks. The stack of unreviewed software on my desk has reached a new all-time high, as both Netscape and Microsoft pump out betas and previews galore of new clients and servers. New web servers continue to arrive at my doorstep, along with web-based applications and add-ons. Mega mergers arise like the Compaq/Tandem deal. And our government tries to grasp how the Internet will be incorporated into our legal system, what with the CDA going down before the Supreme Court with last week's decision.

Whoever said that news slows down during the summer (the traditional journalism view) hasn't seen our industry lately. I guess this is a good thing, giving us pundits plenty of things to do.

Lost in the news overload is the big change in the delivery mechanisms of news. Take the CDA decision as a good case in point. It was a historical decision, not just because of the ruling but how the court distributed the information. Within ten minutes of announcing the decision, the full text of it was on the net. That has to be some sort of record in real-time journalism.

The Supreme Court is automated, to be sure, but they don't currently post their decisions to the net in real time. It took the efforts of Jonah Seiger, communications director of the Center for Democracy and Technology to do it. He was present at the court on the day when they handled down the decision. By prior agreement, he received from the court a diskette with the decision in Word Perfect format. (It is nice to see Corel hang on to its core legal market here, while the rest of our industry has pretty much standardized on Word.)

He and John Morris converted the text into HTML on Seiger's PowerBook, and ftp'ed the file to the web site. All this was done while they were right outside the court building - he used Metricom's wireless modem to connect to the Internet. As I said, within minutes everyone on the net had access and could read the decision for themselves.

So let's suppose that other organizations get into the act of distributing the full text of their actions in this way: think about things like United Nations' debates and treaties, transcriptions of meetings, election-night results. It is happening more and more, and faster and faster.

News feeds is certainly a growth industry for the net: look at all the push products that deliver things like stock tickers, Reuters and BusinessWire to your desktop. And there are even web sites springing up that can search and digest various news feeds in near real-time. Most of the search engines like Yahoo, Excite and Lycos now have ways to personalize themselves so you can get updates on your local weather and sports scores when you stop by to type in a few keywords. Wired has a similar offering.

Indeed, this very essay is part of the accelerated trend: it takes minutes or hours to send these thoughts to you, where as the article I just wrote for Infoworld won't see its way into print for several weeks. And even more importantly, it takes minutes or hours for you to respond back, instead of waiting the typical weeks or months before I get a call or email from something that has appeared in one of my print publications.

The capacity to overwhelm our senses is now enormous: anyone can do instant research on just about any topic, and call up the latest facts with a few mouse clicks. I guess this is a Good Thing.

A year ago I wrote about this topic in WI#30. I think things have gotten more advanced, if nothing for the abundance of software that can monitor or gather news from various web sites.

But being your own journalist carries with it a responsibility of checking your sources and making sure that what you see isn't tainted by someone's own agenda. The CDA decision is a good case in point: would the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition have been so diligent about getting the word out if the court had upheld the law? Perhaps.

You see what I mean: people have a natural tendency to spin the "facts" to suit their own purposes and perspective, and nowhere is that more the case than on the net.

Ironically, I could have written this essay last week, but waited till now to distribute it. Why? I wanted more perspective, and to check my facts, before sending this out. Call me old-fashioned.

Site keeping and self-promotions dep't

In keeping with our topic, I should point out that I will once again be part of Computer Associates annual trade show in New Orleans the week after next: I'll be doing the "Roving Reporter" gig, posting news about the show daily to their web site beginning Sunday, July 13th. If you are planning on being down there, let me know and we can connect.

There is something about the July 4th holiday that defines the American summer mindset, bringing about the charring of animal flesh and consuming mass quantities. I wish those that are off from work a happy and safe holiday.

David Strom
+1 (516) 944-3407
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