January 25, 2010

Can You Filter for Quality News Amidst Instant Analysis?

With real-time news and distribution increasingly becoming the norm for many product launches and events, the interpreters of the news who pass their findings your way don't often have additional information that was gleaned as exclusive. As events are live streamed directly to the public, or presentations are mass broadcast to large groups simultaneously, those headlining the news are armed not with inside sources and first person quotes, but instead with immediate analysis of the events to try and put their own unique spin on history, separating themselves from their peers.

Nearly three years ago, I wrote a post titled Launching Products in the Age of Instant Analysis, highlighting the tech media's instantaneous interpretation of products like Google Finance and semi-regular introductions from Apple. You could later see tech bloggers swarm around Cuil and Microsoft's Origami platform, declaring each of them as failures, fairly accurately.

In the ensuing time, news has gotten even more rapid, and even more participants are helping to broadcast events, not just through their blogs and publications, but on Facebook, Twitter and many other social media properties. Those that attend live gatherings get an edge over their competition through speed of publishing, speed of transmission of photos and videos, higher quality videos, a better angle, or through an innovative use of a new Web service. We saw this with the recent Nexus One announcement from Google, and will inarguably see it again this Wednesday, when Steve Jobs entertains a hungry press corp looking for the latest from Apple.

Wednesday's entertainment will be much like many similar events before it, no doubt. Scads of gadget bloggers and Macintosh faithful will be there, flanked by general tech reporters, and the mainstream press. There may be a QuickTime stream, and if not, the absence of said stream will be made fairly irrelevant thanks to near-immediate live blogging, best exemplified by the work at Engadget or MacRumors Live in years past. Other sites will try to do the same, but to choose their work over the seasoned pros should only be done out of compassion by family members or significant others of the writers themselves.

Essentially, as Steve Jobs and his team flip through each successive Keynote slide, or walk through each carefully rehearsed product demo, those waiting and watching will all find out at the same time. The news you see or read through your computer screen will not be substantively less accurate or less speedily discovered than by those who were actually there. The press corp, in an effort to drive home their own relevancy and highlight their value through a key thing called "access", will drive home their recaps of the proceedings. Those driven by the quantity of posts will give each major product or feature its own story. Quotes off the cuff may be spun as insight themselves, and others will simultaneously post how each introduction will place in history, or judge its success or failure relative to the meteoric expectations they drove themselves. Subsequent stories will fawn over the first views of the product at stores, we will see glorious unboxing videos, disassembly of the parts, and estimates to total costs and product margins. Speculation will ensue as to whether the company built too many machines or not enough, if it's taking too long to reach customers, or if they priced the product too high. (They never complain that it's too cheap, after all)

All these angles and all this spin from all these places... While in the past, media properties were judged by their ability to get access to individuals and find things out that were not known by anyone else, or before they were supposed to be aired, the flattening of the media and the measurement of what some would say are the wrong metrics (be it page views, retweets or whatever your favorite statistic of the day is), have delivered a scenario by which there is more noise than ever, and as consumers, we must filter like mad.

Robert Scoble, a peer, and fellow geek and curator, said that he will be skipping out on Wednesday's news, and watching the news ink feeding frenzy as it seeps through our computer screens. His goal won't be necessarily to report on the news, which will be common knowledge as soon as he starts typing, but to find the best interpretations of the news from his favorite sources. He publicly will be doing something we all must learn to do - separating the news discovery artists from the news spin artists. With tools like Twitter and other networks making it ever easier to hit the publish button, our ability to screen, filter and decide what information is good for us is going to be increasingly tested.