Monday, March 28, 2016

News Genius! An Entirely NEW Way to Make Lame Comments Online

Because the Internet isn’t already awash with nasty, banal, nonsensical and otherwise useless comments on the nasty, banal, nonsensical and otherwise nonsensical stuff that is clogging the tubes, we now have News Genius, a new tool that allows the ordinary Joe or Jane the power to “annotate” the written word as it appears online.

They might be annotating this blog right now. Though to find out, well, I’m not sure. Notifying folks their stuff is being annotated doesn’t seem to be a feature of News Genius (probably you can find out if you’re being annotated by becoming a News Genius member, but I don’t know as their FAQ is a little on the sketchy side).

I applaud their goals as lofty. They include this in their brief FAQ on how to make a “Good” annotation:

The best annotations confront the underlying text in some way—whether it’s a fact check, a difference of opinion, or simply an updated look at an older piece of writing.
Highlight a strong word, phrase, or succinct idea. Then add your original take, coupled with:
  • Meaty context with links to sources
  • Rich imagery (i.e. interesting videos, photos, infographics, archived tweets, or gifs)
  • A question or prompt for other readers/annotators to reply to
Nicely said. This is the kind of annotation I try to do myself (the old-fashioned way, with sticky notes and pencils or pecked out on my tablet) and what I encourage my English students to do as they read a text.

So let’s look at some of the examples (a link taken directly from the News Genius FAQ):

Don’t worry if you can’t actually see any of the annotations there. I couldn’t either. They appear to be missing, without explanation. Maybe you have to have a Genius account to see them. Although I could see riveting annotated Buzzfeed articles when the links are provided properly. Also missing are annotations from the other examples they provide. I don’t know why. I also don’t know why you’d want to annotate an article about Kim Kardashian, but then I am a stuck-in-the-mud fuddy-duddy who only encounters the Kardashian clan when looking up “Keeping Up Appearances” on YouTube. (Annotate this: I am a snob, yessir.)

Here’s what annotations are supposed to look like.

I’m not sure how I’m supposed to be enriched or enlightened by any of this (and this is offered by “Leah,” Managing News Editor at News Genius (in an era when anyone with any semblance of a website can declare themselves Managing News Editor, just as John Pinette can declare himself the Boss of Ham).

I see a lot of good potential here. But if anyone thinks News Genius is going to elevate discourse or whatever, snork, you’ve got another thing coming. The trolls will take over, as they have every other commenting platform – and that’s basically what this is, another commenting platform. Here’s what the Captains Obvious at have to say:

One thing News Genius hasn’t taken into consideration: a very real potential for abuse.

No kidding. Because the Internet is rife with abuse and scorn, drowning out the useful in a wave of stupidity. In fact, I’ve even had to give up reading the comments on local news stories because even in this hick tub area, the trolls are dominant. And no matter how much hand-wringing goes on at News Genius about how they’re not all trolls, that the vast majority of annotators are wonderful, thoughtful people who contribute to web culture and commentary and love to pet furry kittens, trolls will come in and it’s the trolls that will get the notoriety and will stain the very webby fabric that makes up News Genius.

The only way to combat that is outright censorship – banning the worst of the trolls. But as soon as a site starts banning, well, you can guess what happens.

So I want to know:

When I read an annotated article, can I easily filter the banal from the constructive without spending more time curating the list of annotators than it would to read the article?

Can web sites opt out of Genius annotations? (A corollary: Should they? (And if you answer YES or NO, than it’s clear you don’t realize the answer is best given as “is grey area”.)

Will News Genius do anything to bring us out of our news bubbles (given that we can probably opt to technologically follow or ignore people we want to see or would rather not)?

Can I declare myself the Boss of Pizza?

Does News Genius really think your garden-variety commenter/annotator want to be “accountable for the things we say and the sensitivity behind them”?

No comments: