Nexus 2007: So how did it go?

Pretty good turnout for "Crowdsourcing The Media"
See this photo blown-up or see the entire photo set

It was fun… the morning bit was a little draggy for me. The individual panels were a little better, but the best part was about meeting old friends, calming down some fans and making new acquaintances. I also realized how some bloggers I thought I knew, actually had multiple pseudonyms. Note to self: They don’t tell you anything until you ask them *hint hint*…

Okay, I was joking about the fans part. Still, out of the 500+ people who attended the Web 2.0 event, surprisingly few many have now shared photos and blog posts using the “nexus2007” tag. So far there’s been only one video from the event, weren’t there anymore? Perhaps Technorati is just slow to find them all. If you’re interested, here are the photos I took at the conference.

Kevin's Helmetcam With my helmetcam mounted on the Timbuk2 shoulder strap this time (see Vantan’s photo), it was less jerky than being head-mounted, but the resulting videos might still be a challenge to watch. It’ll take me a while to process the gigabytes of footage on my Mac laptop, which has decidedly ran out of its 160gb hard drive space. Whoever said living with bits is better than atoms never archived files the way I do. If I do manage to get the video out, it’s cute because it feels like you’re watching a first-person shooter. Instead of a gun, I was either holding a plate of food, a bottle of water or my cell phone. I’ll probably string them together and find a huge block of time to dump it on Google Video. Speaking about uploading, Singapore really redefines “broadband”, since Youtube videos actually stutter when you watch it locally. Can anyone recommend a place with a reliable high-speed upstream connection?

Moderator for "Crowdsourcing the Media" On my end, the “Crowdsourcing the Media” panel at Nexus 2007 turned out quite well as there was a good amount of interaction. The panel speakers included Kathy Teo, Managing Director of CNET Networks (Asia Pacific), Jennifer Lewis, Editor of the Straits Times’ STOMP, and James Seng, Editor of Tomorrow.sg. They were all very pleasant in person and given their diverse experience, each had interesting anecdotes to share. When I presented them the question set printed from the conference wiki, Ms. Jennifer jested about how I’m a typical academic because I had about twenty questions to share (really?). Time flew by and before we knew it, we were whisked away from the speaker room to the larger conference room, which presented us with the sight above.

I took to the stage and after introducing the speakers, I got it going by presenting a snapshot on the state of user-generated content in Singapore:

Top Ten Anonymous Wikipedia Contributors

First, I shared some statistics on Wikipedia contributors, where the top anonymous contributor was in fact, a Singaporean (hat tip to Dan Li). Ms. Jennifer of STOMP chimed in with how Jimmy Wales has once visited Singapore to meet our avid contributors, and became pleasantly surprised when most of them turned out to be young Secondary school boys and girls. This puts Singapore in a unique position where we have a far younger contributor demographic compared to the rest of the world. This might also be a positive testament to the education system here, which even Cory of Linden Labs noted before deciding to open shop in Singapore.

Youtube videos by Country (24th March 2007)

Second, in response to James Seng’s question at the E27 Unconference on why we don’t see enough local videos on Youtube, I probed deeper. Doing a simple count of search results by entering countries as keywords into Youtube’s search engine, I was able to chart out the amount of video contributed onto Youtube from Singapore versus our neighbors. For our population size, we share a lot more video content than some of our bigger counterparts (about 23,000 videos as of publishing). Both these trends lead me to believe that Singapore does indeed have a healthy dose of user-generated content.

At this point I polled the audience on whether they’ve shared content online, and while about 40% of them have contributed videographic or photographic specific content, I realized that close to 90% of them were contributing textual content as bloggers! (Bloggercon anyone?) Intrigued, I asked them what they were expecting from this panel and found that they were interested in learning more about crowdsourcing and how one would define citizen journalism.

Korea's OhMyNews has influenced many others

Third, and lastly, I showed how citizen journalism took form in other countries, such as in the Korea (Ohmynews.com), which has in turn influenced user-generated news in India, Denmark, Israel, China and the States (hat tip to Preetam). I also highlighted how some were grassroots motivated (bottom-up), while others were driven by existing commercial news agencies (aka crowdsourcing, top-down, e.g. CNN, Yahoo). In the case of Singapore, most of what we know of citizen journalism seemed to be more top-down rather than bottom-up, such as the case of STOMP and CNet. Popular blog aggregators such as Tomorrow.sg and Ping.sg stood to be more bottom-up.

As Kathy Teo of CNet highlighted, citizen journalism would seem to be a subset of user-generated content. The question then became: How would we determine when a piece of user-generated content becomes a work of citizen journalism? My take on this is simply on whether the content was shared with an agenda attached. Whether it’s the creator or the subsequent viewer, I mentioned how anyone could purpose or re-purpose a piece of work as a form of citizen journalism through the process of agenda-setting (note: agenda doesn’t always mean politically-motivated).

Another thread came about in the nature of the news content sent on STOMP. I reiterated the popular notion that their content seem to thrive on the low brow rather than significant issues. Jennifer made an excellent point in how this could be the nature of Asians, as we’ve seen in the China’s Molive.cn example which I showed earlier (the site seems to be down). She believed that there’s a tendency by the common Asian folk to say less but show more through the use of SMS and MMS photos and videos. This seems to go in line with Wired magazine’s “Snack Culture” phenomenon.

I went further with this by asking all three speakers if there were any kind of news that wouldn’t be published. Aside from the typical political or sexually sensational content, Jennifer said that the role of STOMP would be to publish everything that people sent them, that it was important for them to be a democratic medium in order to set themselves apart form the other media. This was particularly refreshing to me, and would be worth trying out simply by SMSing them news at 75557. When I asked about the rate of messages STOMP was getting, Jennifer claimed that they were getting about 100 messages an hour. She then noted how it was particularly interesting when the recent tremors in Singapore became a major talking point, and was something which turned their online news service into an important socially-coordinating medium.

Kathy of CNet also noted how such was the case during the UK bombings, where she shared a personal account of how she was in UK at that time and how BBC was forever changed by citizens who sent in footage from the ground. I summarized how perhaps a natural calamity would unfortunately be the most significant kind of content to give online news agencies more legitimacy.

James took the opportunity to explain how news gets published on Tomorrow.sg. He considers Tomorrow.sg as a form of human news filter, where they depend on a diverse set of editors to create balanced gatekeeping. From geeks to celebrities, conservatives to liberals, tomorrow.sg has them all. Still, this has never been enough for some bloggers. Some time ago, I witnessed that the power law was developing in the Singapore blogosphere, and it was Clappingtrees (aka JK) who revitalized this idea at the panel’s Q&A, by raising the issue on why we need editors to filter the public’s content in the first place (i.e. censorship). I do feel that this issue has been beaten to death years ago and that the more productive route would be to try new ways of getting around this.

We Love Ping.sg

While I don’t work for tomorrow.sg, I tend to agree that bloggers could always start their own blog community or aggregator if they feel a need to. The Singapore Angle is a great example of a blog community, and they has carved their own niche by sharing political commentary. Another example came in the form of the Ping.sg aggregator, where its creator, U-Zyn (seen here with hottie blogger Veron), was on-hand to explain what it’s about. After adding your blog to his system, blog posts will be pinged there where users can then pong it to give it more popularity (Ping-ponged? Just think Digg). U-Zyn says that the aim was to have a more democratic platform for bloggers and that he doesn’t see it as a competitor to Tomorrow.sg. I mentioned how there are plenty of gaps to fill in our local blogosphere so sites like these help increase the definition of our social fabric. At the conference, everyone cheered U-Zyn for creating Ping.sg, which is a marvelous feat of code.

While I tend to agree that the popularity of Tomorrow.sg would likely be due to its editors consisting of well-known bloggers (reputation transfer), perhaps sites like Ping.sg could learn from this by getting help from other popular bloggers, at least to provide some form of endorsement. It’s ironic because Tomorrow.sg has personality since it consists of humans, while Ping.sg seems to be less personal with it’s mechanical “wisdom of the crowds” filtering system. I am interesting in how we could give ping.sg more of that missing personality. I could help make widgets…

Second Life Panel @ Nexus 2007

There might have been that more we talked about, but I think there’s been plenty to read already. I’ve been contacting the Nexus organizers to acquire the video for this panel and the Second Life one (as seen above thanks to U-Zyn), which was more causal. As soon as I get them, I’ll share them here. If you have photos or videos, please plug them in the comments too.

Meantime, here are the powerpoint slides (4.6mb) I produced on the state of user-generated content in Singapore which I used at the beginning of the conference panel. Feel free to use them with Creative Commons: Attribution to Dan Li, Preetam and me.

Aside 1: How about some Post-Nexus 2007 thoughts from Bjorn Lee (spot me in the crowd?), VanTan (OMFG, how does she do it?!?), Marina (she’s in today’s Sunday Times!), Ben Koe (StumbleUpon for Singapore?) and Siva, who was SMSing Kenneth at home where he was nursing a bad cold. Keep an eye on technorati tag “nexus2007” for more related content.

Aside 2: Big thanks to the incredibly talented people of The Digital Movement, namely Ming Yeow, Swati and Su Yuen. Frankly speaking, I was amazed that for a volunteer group of graduate students, they’ve managed to secure prominent speakers and sponsors for the event. Not only was the event professionally organized, it had interactive elements such as Twitter and Campfire for participants to play with as well. Looking forward to working with these guys again!

  • http://decayonnet.blogspot.com DK

    I was at the crowdsourcing panel. I think it is the best panel for Nexus.

    But 1 thing I disagree. The youtube figures show videos relating to Singapore. It does not necessary be by a Singaporean. Could be a tourist visiting Singapore.

    Same goes for other countries. :)

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    DK: You’re right. I didn’t point that out as I was concerned about complicating the presentation. I figured that the estimated numbers were differentiated widely enough to show the distinct ratio of videos from each country. The actual figures aren’t as dependable as the proportions. :)

  • http://micoolcho.blogspot.com Michael Cho

    Hey Kevin,

    It’s a pity that I didn’t get to attend your panel~ In any case, I’m curious about your Wikipedia data. Where did you get it? I think I might have actually read somewhere that mentions that edits coming from Singapore all go through one single IP address (at least for StarHub users) so it might actually be the aggregation instead of one single contributor. I might be very wrong on this thou. Can anyone verify this? Cos something similar happened to Qatar before:

    http://www.techcrunch.com/2007/01/01/wikipedia-bans-qatar/

  • http://www.sgentrepreneurs.com BL

    Unfortunately, I manage to catch your earlier presentation, and not the later parts. I guess that I have to wait for the podcast or videocast when it is out. The data is interesting actually, and it reminds what my Cambridge students once commented about Singaporeans studying there as “Walking encyclopedias.”

    In any case, I look forward to speak to you again soon. :)

  • http://www.sgentrepreneurs.com BL

    One thing I thought that I should clarify for Singapore Angle: we are not an aggregator, but a content provider. All the SA members have our own blogs prior to forming SA and they write additional social-political commentaries about Singapore. The aggregator if I adhere to the strictest definition will be Intelligent Singaporean whom we synergize with most of the time.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Thanks, BL. I’ve edited the post to reflect this point clearly.

  • http://theory.isthereason.com Kevin

    Michael Cho: The proxy notion may be possible, but I haven’t come across data which shows that. It’d be good if we can find it, otherwise we could try to determine if it is one contributor by comparing his / her signature style of writing.

  • http://micoolcho.blogspot.com Michael Cho

    yup kevin..but that’d be hard to do…I know someone who worked in StarHub engineering dept…i’d ask him abt that…