The Web Issue Index is prototypical tracking instrumentation that provides regular indications of leading (global and national) social issues, according to the Web. The Web Issue Index harnesses the forecasting value of 'word on net', and distils issue trends for journalists, analysts, and multiple issue managers.
The Web Issue Index is currently comprised of two intuitively compelling baskets of 'issue-making sources'. Both baskets comprise civil society organizations (CSOs), a Dutch national set and an international set. The first, the Echte Welvaart (or ‘genuine welfare’) basket, is made up of those Dutch CSOs of various stripes that have joined the Echte Welvaart campaign. The second is an international group of campaigning organizations, on the streets of Seattle during the WTO meeting in 1999, and all mentioned in the eyewitness book, Five Days that Shook the World: Seattle and Beyond. The baskets of issue-making sources on the Web are queried for issue lists on a regular basis. The Seattle basket is the most active, and is queried monthly for issues. Somewhat more stable in their issue selection and campaigning, the Dutch Echte Welvaart basket is queried bi-monthly.
The issues listed on each of the sites of the basket actors are sought, and co-issue occurrence analysis is performed. The purpose of seeking issue co-occurrence relates to deriving the issues of collective significance. The recurring issues are placed in the index, and then compared to the previous periods, a month ago for the Seattle basket, and two months ago for the Echte Welvaart basket. With this comparative data, the Web Issue Index shows the rise (and fall) of issues over time.
Before discussing the design considerations of the new information stream and presenting the findings of the indices, the main body of the chapter makes an argument about the significance and distinctiveness of the source pools for issue identification, in comparison both to other issue-makers on the Web as well as to more conventional issue-makers, the mass media. There is also a discussion of the suitability of the Web more generally for ‘issue awareness’.
One may inquire into the relevance and rigor of using the particular source baskets as well as the Web more generally for deriving the Issue Indices as describe above. Where the first inquiry is concerned - the relevance and rigor of basket selection - a number of explanations are in order. The first relates to the notion of an 'intuitively compelling' set of sources comprising the baskets. Why would the Seattle protesters be an intuitively compelling list of actors from whence to derive lists of social issues? The selection of actors that make up the 'Seattle Index' from the eyewitness book - relies on a watershed and highly symbolic event that made a burgeoning 'global civil society' into a recognised and palpable social actor set, and placed it on the world stage for media, government, industry and social science alike. (One could stretch that list to entertainment, for ‘Seattle’ is also now an action video game; see figure.) Given the historical context, understanding the place and positions of a new actor set, brought to life in Seattle as an object of issue research, a news-maker as well as an agent of social change, is sufficient reason for an index of this nature. But, equally, there is an opportunity to demystify Seattle - perhaps allow 'it' to speak on its own terms or on our newly mediated terms, as opposed to those of other web-based mediators or to the mass media. Shortly, I return to the empirical question of the ‘distinctiveness’ of the issues put forward by our webby issue-makers, by contrasting the issue lists in print newspapers and on activist and official web sites around the Genoa G8 summit.
Secondly, there's the concern of using a ‘basket’ of CSO sources. Analytically, one could argue that such basket-making ‘collectivises’ voices. Indeed, basketing sources in our manner fits with the picture emerging around the transformation of social movements. Once understood in terms of single-issue groups (or special interest groups), ‘global civil society’ is being aggregated and viewed as a collective voice for multiple issues. Examples of global civil society issue aggregators are NGO and issue news-makers such as Oneworld International and Indymedia. Dedicated to ‘global justice’, Oneworld has upwards of 1,000 partner NGOs, whose sites are crawled regularly for fresh stories by special ‘spidering’ software, and put on the Oneworld.net site, in the style of BBC news online. Indymedia, with sister organizations set up in a number of countries, publishes stories from alternative, freelance journalists, often on the ground and in the communications centers at major summit protest events. Site visitors, often part of a larger Indymedia movement with affinities to ‘open’ source, open directory and similar post-copyright projects, put comments on the site and recommend or load further articles. Both sites attract millions of hits.
Once one takes on board the idea that there are multiple-issue collectives, as the ones described above, means may be developed to chart issue movements according to similar aggregated groupings.
It should be pointed out that the Web Issue Index takes a different approach to the above aggregators in a number of respects. It does not amalgamate news by a variety of ‘partner’ NGOs or ‘solidarity’ journalists. We also are not endeavouring to make news per se, or attract a campaigning organization or similar group to tailor their communications to our format, as news organizations do. (One of the claims to fame of the critical art group, RTmark.com, has been their ability to manufacture newsworthy stories in the form of a short videobite, easily digestible for broadcasters. They post videotapes of their ‘stories’ to broadcasters, and have had some success in making the evening news.) Moreover, the organizations are unaffiliated to the issue indexing project. In the Web Issue Index the organizations are not knowingly ‘participating’ in the aggregation, and the baskets are not ‘open’ to interested parties to join, as is the usual culture of the movement. Thus there is some critical distance between the aggregator and the aggregated, between indexing project and the movement.
Instead, we take advantage of a largely given information delivery style of our collective(s) - the issue list. We make the Index by stablising groupings - the ‘echte welvaart’ set and the ‘seattle’ set - and watch how stable sets of actors define their issue lists over time. Additionally, we may ascertain the lengths of time particular issues are of currency to these sets, noting ‘attention spans’ in comparison with governmental as well as mass media attention spans, as we do in the following chapter, in a discussion of alternatives to a politics driven by the mass media and public opinion polling.
Allow me briefly to situate the notion of our collective, of (global) civil society as an issue-maker, in competition with other issue-makers first on the Web, and later off the Web. To gain a sense of the space in which an issue aggregator such as Oneworld International is operating, it is instructive to compare its issue list with those on the ‘issue portals’ of the World Bank and the United Nations. The point is to demonstrate the issue list competition between parties, as well as the distinctiveness of one global civil society listing. Figures xa, xb and xc are the issue portals of Oneworld, the World Bank and the UN, respectively.
Insert issue portal pages.
OneWorld International's Topics
United Nations - Issues on the UN Agenda
World Bank’s Development Gateway
Note that only five topics or issues overlap across the three issue portals.
2. Indigenous rights / peoples / knowledge / health
3. Food / food safety
5. Labour / child labour
Note the topics shared by at least two of three portals:
2. Climate Change
3. Sustainable Development / Development Cooperation
4. Landmines / de-mining
9. Human rights
13. Nuclear Issues / Atomic Energy
17. Trade / Trade Development
18. Democracy / Elections
19. Defense / Peace & Security
So far I have argued that on the Web a collective grouping of newly significant issue-makers may be tracked for issue movements in an approach differing from other movement aggregators. In the brief comparison above, it is noted that the issue-makers representing or even comprising a notional ‘global civil society’ have sets of issues fairly distinct from their issue list competitors at the World Bank and the UN. In speaking about ‘competition’, we also could take note of the similar styles of issue presentation, on portal-type pages with their own stories and projects behind them. Significantly, the competition extends to proposed policies and ongoing projects. In sum, the argument involves the worthiness of the collective, the distinctiveness of its issues vis a vis its Web competitors as well as the attractiveness of an issue tracker with distance from its sources.
But we are also interested in the ‘demystification’ of the collective. One rationale behind such an endeavour lies in the difficult and abstract subject matters at hand - ‘global issues’, ‘globalization’, ‘global justice’. Asking an intuitively compelling basket of global civil society actors to tell us the (global) issues of collective significance and determining when they are rising and falling in significance provides more than ontologies of (globalization) issues, a subject of chapter two. It also balances and checks up on other reality-makers, as officialdom, the press and even conventional press analysts.
Thus an important rationale behind the demystification exercise is to see whether that other, foggy picture of globalization emerging around world summits must continue to hold sway. In the newspapers and on the TV news we note tear gas, violent protest, ‘robocops’, barracades, death in the streets of Genoa. Just beyond the press in the intelligent weeklies, monthlies and on such sites as mediachannel.org we read analyses of mass media portrayals of the events. Summit reporting and analyses of summit media reporting - have become a dominant story of globalization and anti-globalization. What are the pictures provided, and how are they to be understood? Do these pictures of globalization square with understandings provided by the Web, by the Web issue-makers?
Analyses of mass media coverage of Genoa and the preceding protest events in Quebec, Prague, Washington, DC and elsewhere naturally pick apart and disapprove of the storyline of the ‘few violent protestors spoiling it all’ for the peaceful rest, and other often repeated lines and framings. Here is one example of Genoa media analysis, consisting of the main points of brief research into the biases in print and TV news reporting of Genoa. The analyst is attacking the assumptions feeding the pictures in the news and in our heads.
1. The first assumption is that 'The ruling class are peaceful. The protesters are violent'.
2. The second assumption is that it is shocking when journalists are attacked (by the police) because they are innocent. By implication, all protesters are if not guilty, than at least suspect. They could well have deserved the beating they got.
3. The third assumption is that it is the right of the G8 powers to meet, the protesters have no right to be there.
4. The fourth assumption is that a minority cause violence.
5. The fifth assumption is that the protests aren't political. Real politics is conducted by the world leaders only.
Apart from dissecting bias in coverage, another large part of the media analysis around Genoa revolves around the rhetorical aspects of the ‘debate’ spurred on by the events, that is, what is said about the protestors to the newspeople, how the protestors are ‘branded’. After all, the communicators must prepare positions, storylines and quotations for the press. What is the line? To take one example of such analysis, Susan George outlines three aspects of what may be termed the communication strategy of the summiteers and other pro-globalization forces. These forces, we learn from George, are now dubbing the protesters ‘enemies of the poor’, ‘unelected’ and thereby ‘illegitimate’ representatives of not the people but of ‘interest groups’. They also are ignorant and nonsensical in their ideas. She writes of incidious monitoring of the movement by such Internet surveillance contractors as eWatch as well as the pulling of NGO funding by major foundations, now under the influence of the conversatives. The overall point of the analysis is to lay bare the rhetoric fed to the mass media as well as the quiet corridor politics - that in fact we are dealing with competing issue-making tactics to be played out in the mass media and that there are dirty powerplays in evidence behind the scenes. Finally, she issues a warning to the NGO community and the protesters to watch their backs.
If we may sum up the points made, there are illegitimate framings behind the pictures we gain of the events from the mass media and their feeders, and these are made as if by disinformation tacticians. This is serious; it also quickly invites one to take sides, as many have, often unreasonably.
One means to evaluate at least the framings of events is to put back into plain view the competition of our new issue-makers on the Web with its most formidable issue-making opponent (the press). In order to strengthen the argument and our interest in having a ‘Seattle’ or similar aggregations speak on their own terms or in our mediated Issue Index terms, we may contrast sets of issues made around the Genoa G8 Summit, in July of 2001. We compare those issues raised by two newspapers to those by the protest groups and by the summiteers. That is, we may make and compare issue lists from the ‘yellow zone’ and the ‘red zone’ - the places of the protesters and the summiteers at Genoa, respectively - and see whether and how they are ‘made’ also in the newspapers. (Figure x is a map of Genoa made by local authorities, where the summit red zone and the protest yellow zone are depicted. ) Part of any decision to take a side in the overall dispute and also make some sense of the analysts’ media assessments are also matters of ascertaining whether there are competing realities on offer, whether there are compelling and distinctive realities provided by each of our competitors.
Insert red zone / yellow zone map here
We watched the aftermath of the G8 Summit in Genoa on the Web (and on TV and in the newspapers), during an issue mapping workshop in Budapest. The exercise we undertook at the workshop a few days after the completion of the summit was straightforward. We asked, what are the issues, according to the leading web sites of the protesters and the summiteers, and what are their respective issues according to selected newspapers? Thus, again we made issue lists, compared them and drew some preliminary conclusions. The findings would be of relevance not only to potential issue index-makers interested in the distinctiveness and demystification of organizations treating globalization, but also to those using the web as 'reality check' (as featured in chapter two) and to those evaluating whether the printed press or perhaps other starting points (e.g., search engines) are to be the chosen inroads into 'issue networks' on the Web (chapter three). Whilst the above media analysts are mainly discussing coverage bias, standpoint engineering and (serious) subpolitics, the conclusions may be pertinent to them as well. Even if in finding wide discrepancies between the mass media and the Web realities on offer, the point would not be to add fuel to debates about journalisitic biases, driven by the pecuniary interests of media empires and other forces, and introduce indymedia alternatives, however valuable. Rather we are enquiring into the distinctiveness of a Web reality as a worthy competitor to the official reality-makers, in the sense put forward by C. Wright Mills:
In the absence of political debate that is wide and open and informed, people can get in touch neither with the effective realities of their world nor with the realities of themselves. Nowadays especially, it seems to me, the [public] role [of social science] I have been describing, requires no less than the presentation of conflicting definitions of reality itself. What is termed ‘propaganda’ (…) consists not only of opinions on a variety of topics and issues. It is also the promulgation of official definitions of reality. Our public life now often rests on such official definitions, as well as upon myths and lies and crackbrained notions. When many policies debated and undebated are based on inadequate and misleading definitions of reality, then those who are out to define reality more adequately are bound to be unsettling influences.
We would like to get to the heart of whether the various official definitions of especially the yellow zone issues put forward by the newspapers and the summiteers are indeed ‘informed’ or ‘crackbrained’, in the sense that Wright Mills describes. But we also would like to raise the idea that the Web (as opposed to the media analysts we read about above) may serve as that valuable ‘unsettling influence’. Thus, as we have done in preceding chapters, here, too, we introduce a medium and a web analytical technique as the authors of a competing reality.
Before we discuss the issue lists side by side, it should be mentioned that newspapers often have different print and online versions. To gain a grasp of the difference between the webby and the lesser webby worlds, it is instructive first to compare the link lists for Genoa stories provided by the offline Der Standard and its online version. (In their newspaper analysis, the researchers relied on two Austrian newspapers, the more respected Der Standard, and the more populist, Der Kronen Zeitung.) Typically, link lists serve as recommendations for further reading and research, but they also may be thought of as source checks and potential displays of journalistic knowledge.
In the event, the variation in the lists provided by the online and the offline papers is great, with the online version providing copious (and deep) links to the official summit site, three government sites, one mainstream media site, and numerous activist sites, while the print version furnishes a series of recommended sites that the online version does not find germane to understanding Genoa (as the homepages of the WTO, IMF, World Bank, and the UN). Put differently, the print version could be said to ignore the reality competition with the Web as well as that between the issue-makers on the Web.
Offizielle Seite zum Gipfel
CNN- Special zum G8-Gipfel
Info-Website zum G8-Gipfel
Ministero del Commercio con l'Estero
Bild des Schiffes, wo die Minister übernachten
Genova Social Forum (GSF) - Mobilisierungsseite der Gipfelgegner
Deutsches Dokument des GSF
Independent Media Center
Menschen statt Profite
Infohefte für die Proteste beim G8 Gipfel
Was geht ab in Genua?
Bilder von den Sicherheitsvorkehrungen in Genua
Italienische Seite mit ausführlichen Nachrichten
Seite mit weiteren Links
Official G-8-Site: www.g8italia.it
Zum Gegengipfel Weltsozialforum und zur Nachrichtenbörse der Globalisierungskritiker: www.genoa-g8.org
Die Seite von Attac: attac.org
Die Welthandelsorganisation WTO: www.wto.org
Zur Weltbank unter: www.worldbank.org
Die Vereinten Nationen: www.un.org
Looking at the link lists in more detail, one observation is that the print newspaper would be of scant aid in serving up starting points to enter the web issue network around Genoa, a concern of the previous chapter. More telling to our current concerns is the skewing of the offline list of reader recommendations towards the intergovernmental sites (and ‘shallow’ links). This finding occasioned the researchers to raise the issue of the traditional standards of reliability, and the channels, upon which the printed press rely and continue to uphold, as if the Web is marginal. Moreover, our researchers wished to make an argument about the rise of digital journalism, where, perhaps contrary to the expectations of those seeing a merging of the offline and online worlds allegedly owing to a commercialisation and mainstreaming of the Web, the Web’s new journalism, and presumably its outgoing stories and issue framings, would seem to diverge significantly from the offline’s, at least in our small exercise in comparing source recommendations. (Thus one could find an argument here for aggregating Web stories, and providing this new ‘wire’, as is already the case with the Web news aggregators discussed above.)
It is fair to remark that the offline newspaper has not done its Web source homework, and that journalistic knowledge is not on display. Rejoinders about newspaper space constraints or old-fashioned editors would not alter an observation about distinctive digital journalism too greatly. To make a point stronger about separate story paths would require thorough-going comparisons of the online and offline versions of Der Standard around Genoa. But here we are still making a case in defense of a Web-only Issue Index, and in doing so we are in search of converging or diverging issues agendas on the part of the protesters, the summiteers and the newspapers. Even if the offline newspaper is not recommending the sources that online producers and audiences ‘know’ are relevant and appropriate, Der Standard, and its populist counterpart, may very well be presenting the issues of the summiteers and the protestors.
Below the issue lists of the summiteers and the protestors are followed by those made (by our researchers) in the newspapers.
G8 Summit in Genoa, 2001
||Poverty, especially in Africa (and “making globalization work”)
||Africa development plan (democratisation, conflict prevention and reduction, human development, particularly health and education, information and communication technology, the fight against corruption, stimulating private investment, increasing trade within Africa.)
||Global health fund
||Kyoto mechanism (leaders divided)
Conflict resolution (former Yugoslavia, Macedonia, Middle East, Koreas)
||Protest and implications for future meetings (next summit in ‘remote Canadian Rockies, with smaller delegations’)
G8 Summit in Genoa, 2001
- Debt cancellation for poor countries
- National emission control policies
- Native population and forest rights
- Ombudsman to arbiter IMF activities
- Tax on international capital flows
- No licenses granted on plants, animals and other living beings
- Stabilise prices of medicines in southern countries
- Export credit agencies reform
blacklist credits for atomic research stations, garbage incinerators or thermoelectric installations that don't respect neither the highest standards about the energetic efficiency nor the progressive reduction of gases emissions; big dikes; the export of weapons, toxic and noxious substances not admitted by the International Conventions; the export of technology and products that could be used by police and military forces for repressive purposes and that could involve human rights violations (dual use goods); development projects or infrastructures in protected areas, natural reserves and parks that are not compatible with the park's purposes; new exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels (gas, oil, coal) projects in sensitive areas from a social and environmental point of view, such as virgin forests; extraction and processing activities on industrial scale of wood from virgin, tropical, boreal and temperate forests; infra structural project that would involve a forced evacuation of over 1000 people
- white-list credits for projects and technologies with low-impact, such as renewable energetic sources on a small scale (fotovoltaico, geothermal, aeolian)
- Impact evaluation for other projects
- Genetic technologies (no patents on living organisms)
- Arms trade suspension with warring countries or with countries that do not respect human and civil rights
- Suspension of use of depleted uranium
- Institution of un-armed Peace Corps to be called in before any armed intervention
- Suspension of embargo against Iraq, except for military supplies
(28 articles in 7 days, 19-26 July 2001)
- Personal contact amongst the world’s leaders
- The inclusion of the poorer countries in world summits
- Fight against poverty (through free tade)
- Fight against organized crime
- Energy and environment
- Trade relationships
- World hunger
- Poverty and exclusion
- Power of multinational companies
- Environmental exploitation
- Concentration of power
- Wealth redistribution
- Distance of politicians from the people
(66 Articles in 7 days, 19-26 July 2001)
- Fight against poverty in non-developed countries (free trade)
- Marshall Plan for Africa
- Drop the dept (and open markets for Third World products)
- Health fund (AIDs, TB)
- Education and information technology
- Wealth redistribution
- Regulate globalization and International money markets
- GM food
- Missile defence system (USA vs. Russia)
- NATO expansion
- International terrorism
- International espionage
- Informal meetings, face-to-face talks
- Inclusion of protesters at summits
- Anti-Free trade
- Youthful idealism
- Tobin Tax
- Child Labour
- Debt elimination
- Peace (in Chechnya)
- Health (Asia, Africa)
- Refugees / Asylum policies
- Decentralised network, universal movement
- Police state militarism
In an earlier demystification exercise, surrounding the French farmer protests in June 2000, we were faced with newspapers calling the protesters ‘phoney farmers’ and ‘disorganized anarchists’ on demo-holiday. We took Le Monde and de Volkskrant to task with a Web finding, using the issue network technique, described in the previous chapter:
The farmers are not farmers, but an organizational figuration that moves from the national to the global and from the political-ideological to the issue-activist. It is quite an organized picture, whereby neither farmers, nor ‘phoney farmers,’ nor ‘a bunch of disorganized anarchists’ make up the protests, but a professional national-international network.
In the French farmers case we offer actor network ontologies, and demonstrate the extent to which the Web could very well ‘stretch the limits of reported reality’ of the identity of the protestors. In the Genoa case, we join with the previous research in asking whether the Web and Web collectives, perhaps counter-intuitively, are again closer to the streets (and to the conference tables) than the insider reporters and their stories. (Before undertaking the Genoa exercise, we had the suspician that print journalists had caught up with digital journalism in understanding professionalised networks of groups as the sources. But where Der Standard is concerned, this idea was not borne out in the link list comparisons.)
Now, in the Genoa research, we are keen to raise other prospects for the Web as issue-maker, in comparison with the newspapers (and also in preparation for the design of the new information stream). Does the Web exhibit an issue stability distinct from the well-known issue volatility of the newspaper? If the answer is in the affirmative, we can begin making normative noises for a Web-driven as opposed to a mass-media-driven politics. Is it more specific? If it’s both more stabile and more specific, we can begin making reading recommendations for journalists and staffers of world leaders, not to mention many other followers of events and processes. There is another question, however, that comes up if we find stability and specificity. Does it lead us to unexpected ideas about real-time-ness, about issue news? If issues are stickier and more durable on the Web than in the newspapers, we arrive at very different ideas about the consequences for print of Web and Internet information transmission speeds than we have held previously. If the Web succeeds in competition with the press for recognition as issue-maker, does the Web show that issues do not come and go with the attention accorded to them by summit events?
Examing the issues lists side by side, we may note that the populist newspaper, Der Kronen Zeitung, raises only a few of the larger and none of the specific issues or policy plans of the G8 summiteers. The more respected newspaper, Der Standard, engages in the summiteers’ global issue specifics, albeit leaving out the conflict resolution issues. (Is it that all summits are now made into globalization - the historically ‘minor’ departmental issues - as opposed to foreign affairs and ‘major’ State Department issues?) Der Standard also attempts to broaden the scope of the Summit, and indeed ‘lectures’ world leaders about what they should be talking about, expanding the global issue list to GM food, and also encouraging a regulation of ‘globalization’, as opposed to the summiteers’ remarkable pronouncement of ‘making globalization work’. (Next to the newspapers’ and the protesters’ issues and positions, the summiteers’ statement startles for its nakedness. Without a more nuanced position on their part, it is as if the yellow zone behind the wall does not exist. Here we may recall Susan George’s analysis of the communications strategy of the summiteers; if the protesters are branded illegitimate, then their views may be safely ignored.)
Turning to the yellow zone issues, our radar screens almost blacken, with both newspapers missing most of the Genoa issues, apart from Der Standard’s flagging of Tobin Tax and debt elimination for poor countries. We take notice of the treatment of ‘activist culture’ in Der Standard’s talk of ‘youthful idealism’, but also its mention of the ‘decentralised network’ with universalist ideas. In all, with the newspapers out of touch with the current specifics of the yellow zone, we also cannot climb done from our previous speculation, based on the link list recommendations, that the print newspaper has not caught up with digital journalism, not to mention with the Web as source, if one agrees, as we are increasingly finding, that the positions and points of view of our new collective are really only on the new medium. They’re certainly not in these newspapers.
More crucially, in just reading the newspapers we may miss the interaction between the issue lists of the summiteers and the protesters as well as the issues themselves. In the event, the world leaders and the activists are ‘far apart’, to put it as a newscaster may, not only on the approaches to specific issues (debt relief versus debt cancellation; emissions trading versus national emission limits) but also in the formulation of the agenda the longer issue lists. Here it may be remarked that the range of issues as well as the ‘policy proposals’ put forward by the yellow zone extend beyond what are becoming ‘traditional’ globalization issues (e.g., climate change) to geo-political and diplomatic considerations (peace-keeping policies). In general, one may be tempted to say their disagreements over the issues agendas and policies of the day, together with being ignored, is why they are protesting. There’s also the protest network culture, locked into movement momentum since Seattle, as writers as Naomi Klein have discussed.
From our brief research enterprise, we have found some basis to defend the case for a Web Issue Index, as a supplier of issues, issue lists (potential agendas) and also policies distinct from more conventional issue-makers, as the summiteers and the mass print media.
But the Web seems to be taking us beyond ‘journalism’. Making the comparison of issues made in the newspapers to those made by the summiteers and the protesters at Genoa assumed a kind of analytical symmetry of the media, new and old. Of course, we wanted to defend our case of the Web versus print journalism, but we did so with a particular point of departure that they are in competition and that they should or must be compared. In doing so, we were quietly upholding a remediation thesis, as if new media were ‘remediating’, perhaps merely ‘automating’ or ‘digitising’ the old. We could find reasons to defend a remediation thesis; there’s plenty of typically formatted news stories on the Web, however much the sources feeding them may differ from the those of old media, as we found. But our results allow us to pursue different avenues of thought.
One writer discusses the reality challenges put forward by the Web in the following terms, in connection with Internet campaigning against Monsanto's terminator gene in 1999.
Internet-based communications seemed to facilitate the spread of alternative and non-Western points of view in an era in which the activist press in the United States seems to have grown weak. Concerns that this technology has been colonized primarily by advertisers and marketers for their own purposes are well supported by the proliferation of public relations-oriented corporate Web sites, as well as sites specifically designed to sell products. But there can also be little doubt that Internet technology is filling part of the gap between the range of the opinions the U.S. press accommodates and the range that actually exists.
In reaction to the author, one could argue that opinions do not come ready-made, unless one is of the school of thought that they derive from set interests, worldviews or the like. Rather, views are formed with the media, new and old. Additionally, in terms of the idea that the Web provides the range of opions that actually exist, one also may point to a differentiation in the availability of that range owing to Internet access issues, Web media consumption habits and skills as well as the delivery mechanisms and the design of the information stream. In other words, the opinions may be there, but who’s looking at them, and who’s referring to them? (Our newspapers weren’t.) Indeed, the New York Times, relying on marketing data and a study by the Pew Center, has reported a new tendency in web site visitation that shows that the accessed range is shrinking. Free-form browsing and searching are being displaced by habit, as we also found, in chapter two, with regard to the preferences and routines of our research group ‘looking up’ viagra:
[N]ew data shows that for many people, the Web has become a routine electronic device. Often, Internet users stick to a half- dozen sites for news, sports scores, airline tickets and other things they need regularly. Many set up "personalized portals" that display only the categories of news, entertainment and financial information they are interested in when they log on.
It should be mentioned that there is an assumption in these sorts of writings that derives from ideas of a ‘hit economy’ as well as a free-for-all Web - that all sites are out to attract general audiences and general publics, and that it doesn’t matter who visits, as long as there are many visits. Thus it’s worrying if many people are increasingly visiting fewer sites. But the overall point about the narrowing of the sheer quantity of sites visited is also an invitation to take seriously a particular style of information provision. We shall follow that lead and design a space that concentrates information, as opposed to multiplying and diversifying information and sources, say, with a long link list, as in a portal or a search engine returns page. At the same time, we would like to design a new information stream that competes with other providers of concentrated ranges of issue definitions - that actually exist.
The Web Issue Index assumes the form of an 'Issue Ticker'. Apart from a means to concentrate information, a Ticker was chosen for two more reasons, for its rising ubiquity as a normal delivery mechanism for information, beyond professional circles as newsrooms and stock brokerages, as well as for its expression of real-time-ness, a notion we shall be redefining with the aid of our issue-makers on the Web. To take up the first reason for its choice, the ticker is resonating across the media landscapes from TV broadcast to street-level. The attractive ‘sight-line’ is often present in restaurants and similar establishments, where stock prices, sports scores, weather reports and more roll across the bottoms of screens, or flow in dedicated spaces. (CNN, for example, has been streaming only grey blocks - units awaiting information plug-ins. The point seems to be that something - if only grey blocks - must flow.) Where the second reason is concerned, ticker streams capture one of the dominant forms of expression for ‘currency’, as is obvious, however much that currency varies according to access privileges. (For example, the difference in delivery of the stock market ticker for ‘paying professionals’ and ‘freeloading daytraders’ is ten to fifteen minutes.) In all, we are interested in designing an attractive sight-line following dominant cultural forms that concentrates information and displays new forms of currency. We do so with the knowledge that currency has built-in delays, which we will attempt to define for issues.
In the run-up to the design explanation, it's important to anticipate a criticism. One rightly may take issue with the overall gravity as well as the normative consequences of an Issue Ticker. For example, it was learned that 'allochtonen' (ethnicities) and 'asylum seekers' are 'declining issues' in the Echte Welvaart ticker, comparing basket data from March and May, 2001. (A full listing of the findings is in the appendix.) This would not be such a palatable finding for many concerned; its explicit delivery in an information stream that harkens to the stock market - buying and selling behaviour - is no less unsavoury. The ticker could reek of the marketplace; it also could ‘feed’ short-termism. The Issue Ticker, however, is a critical input; it puts on center stage the very idea of issue currency, in a delivery form that is as literal as possible. It challenges the issue-making sources (and issue recipients) to review their own attention spans. More crucially, if single-issue movements are transforming into collectives for multiple issues, one may enquire into the collective’s ‘engagement drift’ whether they drift from issue to issue depending on its ‘currency’, just like the newspapers and other currency markets do. Thus, from this particular perspective, the Issue Ticker is a self-exemplifying vehicle of critique.
Continual engagement drift would have consequences for the ticker refresh rate - how frequently one must query the basket to note relative change. As was mentioned in the introduction, we have begun with a monthly refresh rate for Seattle and a bi-monthly for Echte Welvaart. Apart from the rationale concerning the campaigners’ web activity cited earlier, we have chosen these refresh rates in an attempt to contrast event and process. So far, we only noticed from our Genoa research that activist activity may be ‘real-time’ for events. Is that activity per issue also longer-term? If we find that the baskets are news-driven and short-termist, then we can abandon the Issue Index, and watch the NGO and Indymedia news aggregators only.
In the event, we have mixed results durable issues and fluctuating subissues and ‘issue-bites’. We have what we could call a process news. We have chosen to design this process news in the following manner. The Web Issue Index shows a composition of issues in stacks. On the top level is the issues stream, the second layer the subissues (per issue) and on the bottom layer is termed the 'infoid'. The notion of an 'infoid' has been coined to convey a piece of information that tells a serious story, in the vain of the well-known word, factoid - a fact that often tells a ludic or silly story. Put differently, an infoid is a serious issue-bite. Consider an interest in the issue, climate change, note current subissues such as 'arctic meltdown' and 'pacific islands in peril', and realise that the term of value to demonstrate a summary instantiation of the issue is 'Kirabatu', the country which has witnessed two of its small, uninhabited islands disappear in the ocean. A list of currently recalled consumer products containing 'StarLink' corn, we thought, is an instantiation summary of the genetically modified food issue.
The infoids are construed in the Ticker project as the bottom-up terms of value; the Index regards the source of the infoid as perhaps the most valuable site of issue information, in a 'ticker' sense. What I mean here is that the Ticker analysis has 'drilled down' through the information layers to a source. Here the ticker, with its one-source-in-context feature, takes on a certain 'webbiness', compared, in spirit only, to Google, which allows the searcher to drill up to the highest ranking return by pre-selecting the 'feeling lucky?' query feature.
In sum, our information stream design leaves behind the encyclopaedic approach to information provision of many portals (the heavy meal) with a 'knowledge nugget' approach of the Web Issue Index (the sushi belt). Both already have their place in an internetted information society that caters to diverse audience time and attention constraints of ‘general audiences’, but also more appropriately to winnowed audiences concerned with ‘issue awareness’, as our journalists, analysts, and multiple issue managers.
By way of a conclusion, I would like to contrast the Issue Index with other leading Web services, mainstream or otherwise, that attempt to make people aware of information trends. In 2000 the Lycos search engine began a service that shows the 50 most frequent queries made to the engine per week. In 2001 Google began a similar query analysis service, with top 10 risers, and decliners per week. Yahoo! later added ‘Buzz’. To get a flavour in the week of 16 July 2001, Google's Zeitgeist and Lycos Top 50 services had this to report:
Week of July 16, 2001
1. chandra levy
2. final fantasy
3. herman brood
4. goran ivanisevic
5. big brother 2
7. reese witherspoon
8. emmy nominations
9. backstreet boys
Week of July 16, 2001
4. loft story
5. msn messenger
7. jim morrison
8. jennifer capriati
These were the 50 most popular Lycos user searches for the week ending July 14, 2001.
1 Dragonball - 9th week at #1
2 Big Brother - Controversial reality show
3 Britney Spears - Pop tart
4 Tour de France - Bike race
5 Tattoos - Skin is in
6 Final Fantasy - Movie tanks
7 IRS - Refunds coming
8 Napster - No music left
9 Pamela Anderson - Still hot
10 Morpheus - Hot music swap
In Google's zeitgeist a click on a term would bring up a current Google engine query; in Lycos's top fifty, a click brings the user to the Lycos directory. For the presentation of the Issue Index here, we have placed the issues in a similar style to the services’. The sites to be visited per issue appear below in the infoid table.
|Global Trade Agreements
||Campaign Finance Reform
||National Budget and Tax Policy
Biodiversity Conservation / Restoration
||Occupational Health and Safety
||Work and Family
||Environment and Population
||Land Conservation / Restoration
||Labour and Rights
||Debt Union Organization
||Violence Against Women
|Environment and Sustainable Development
||Rivers / Dams
|Free Speech Foreign Policy
|Lesbian Gay Rights
||Animals in Entertainment
In the appendix the full data set is to be found for both indices over the six-month period of research. As was alluded to above, we have found an issue stability, with subissue and infoid fluctuation over all the periods.
In the echte welvaart index above, climate change has been 'selected', and the subissues, Waddenzee, 8% and Kyoto appear. The infoid is The Bet, a Dutch student initiative. (This is an early mock-up, so not all information layers correspond to the data.)
All actors mentioned in 5 Days That Shocked the World: Seattle and Beyond by Alexander Cockburn, Jeffrey St. Clair, and Allan Sekula (Verso, London, 2000)
Alliance for Sustainable Jobs and the Enviroinment
Boise Cascade Corp.
Direct Action Network (DAN)
Earth Island Institute
Federal Communications Council FCC
Food and Drug Administration
Food Not Bombs
Friends of the Earth
Global Trade Watch(Citizens Trade Campaign)
International Brotherhood of Electric Workers (IBEW)
Independent Media Center
Inland Boatman's Union (ILWU)
International Forum on Globalization
International Monetary Fund (IMF)
International Rivers Network (IRN)
Jobs with Justice
International Longshoremen Assoc.
International Assoc. of Machinists and Aerospace Workers
National Lawyers Guild (NLG)
National Rifle Association (NRA)
National Wildlife Federation
Oil,Chemical and Atomic Workers
Organization of American States
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals
Press for Change
Rainforest Action Network (RAN)
Steelworkers of America
United Students Against Sweatshops
World Resources Institute
World Trade Organization (WTO)
World Wildlife Fund (WWF)