Amazing. I’ve installed the Photosynth preview on my own machine (sadly it seems to work in IE only on a PC—not surprising, but a little disappointing), and I am zooming around in the Piazza San Marco courtesy of photos shot by a Photosynth Program Manager. The experience is incredible, and totally unique.
There are questions that arise: Is participation something that is voluntary, or is it something more ubiquitous and automatic that will just happen when you upload pictures to the web? (In the case of the preview that I’m running, we can assume it was a Microsoft sponsored trip. But the question is pertinent for future plans.) What are the mechanisms in place to provide privacy? What are the mechanisms to allow for editorializing; for instance, what if I wanted to see only shots taken at night? The images I’m looking at of Saint Mark’s Plaza were all shot by the same person on what looks like the same day with the same camera. How will this work with a different set of images taken with different hands, shutter speeds, attention to details like focus, lighting, foregrounding, etc.? And a larger, geographical and geopolitical question: how were these sites chosen? Will we (the public) be able to contribute models as well as photos so that I can make my city block a photo-navigable space? Or, more importantly, someone in São Paulo can make a map of their city block?
But aside from the questions, this is the most exciting way to view photos from the ‘net that I have ever seen.
Everyone (and that includes us) has spent a lot of time complaining about Times Select, the paid online access to the New York Times editorial content. As I still subscribe to the paper version & thus get free access, I haven’t complained so much. One thing that seems not to have been noticed in the debate is that Times Select coverage isn’t exactly the same as the print version: increasingly, they’ve been creating dedicated web content which wouldn’t work on the paper version at all. The most notable web-only content so far has been that they’ve given Marjane Satrapi, her own blog, titled An Iranian in Paris. Satrapi’s a Persian graphic novelist; her Persepolis beautifully illustrates her experience growing up in Iran before, during, and after the revolution.
Her blog’s worth a look – get someone else’s account info, if you don’t have an account. It reminds me not a little of the blog of Alex Itin, our artist in perpetual residence, who continues to fill his blog with pictures, some moving, with occasional dollops of text. Satrapi’s work here feels astonishingly human and casual, thanks in no small part to the handwriting fonts used for the text. It’s interesting to me that they’ve chosen to put this on the web: it’s decidedly paper-based art. But the Web lets her be a bit more expansive than her usual black and white work: consider this image, where she seems to have scanned her passport, than drawn over its image, which would be difficult with electronic technology.
She’s posted three (extended) entries so far, and the Times has given no indication of how long they intend to keep this up – or, really, any explanation of what they’re trying to do here – leading one to hope that this is an open-ended series. Is this worth shelling out money for Times Select? Maybe not by itself. But if they keep providing this sort of web-dedicated content, naysayers might think about reconsidering.
Katrina blew through the news business just as furiously as it tore through the Gulf Coast. For a good discussion of this, I highly recommend last night’s podcast of Open Source, a great new program on public radio that is of, by and through the web, generating story ideas and discussion on its blog. The show operates in an exciting border zone, dealing with general interest stories while always keeping an eye on the changing communication practices that are affecting/chanelling them. Last night’s show – “Craigslist and Nola.com: Information as News” – deals with citizen coverage of Katrina and the big changes underfoot for professional journalism.
Host Christopher Lydon speaks, with the breathless excitement of a man watching his profession change before his eyes, about “changing terms of authority in the news business” after Hurricane Katrina. He has on as guests Craig Newmark of craigslist (New Orleans site), nola.com editor Jon Donley, and media critic/blogger/citizen journalism guru Jeff Jarvis. From the intro:
The best reporting in the world — no hyperbole, the best reporting in the world — this week came from the web division of the New Orleans Times Picayune, nola.com. Information — missing person reports, safe and alive person reports — became news. And it became a source, even, for rescue teams, more accurate than anything else they had to go on.
Craigslist, after Katrina, became a forum for finding the missing and housing the saved, and what you find on Craigslist are stories as compelling as anything on CNN. Maybe what communities want in a time of crisis is good information, and maybe detailed, accurate information makes the best story. Craig and Jeff helped invent two new ways of collecting and distributing information; Jon is perfecting it right now in the Crescent City.