Tuesday, January 01, 2008


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Posted by Barb Iverson 1:49:27 PM
A Sliding Scale to Soften Political Polarities
Vipul Vyas , recently profiled in India On (http://www.indiaon.com/careers/articles/565-entrepreneur-of-the-month-vipul-vyas) , is an entrepreneur who thinks he can harness political passion to invent a better news aggregator. His site, Skewz (http://skewz.com) allows registered users to submit news stories (including blog posts), rate ("skew") them on a polarity scale from "strongly liberal" to "strongly conservative," and add comments or their rationale for the rating.

Skewz seeks to establish a middle ground between the polarities of not just politics, but how people view the biases and credibility of news organizations. This site attempts to structure a process that lets you blow the whistle on stories you think are biased or highlight advocacy journalism you admire. Vyas explained that ultimately this should "create a place to get nuanced news on some topic that would ordinarily be polarized."

To do this, Skewz offers what he calls the "different shades" view of stories, which shows articles ranked by popularity or recency. Slide the red or blue handles on the slider to narrow your selection from all stories to any combination of liberal and conservative.

The site also offers a split-screen view, showing liberal vs. conservative coverage. This indicates where a story's overall skew falls on the political spectrum. You can also drill down into how individual users rated the story, and view their comments.

In addition to placing individual stories along a political spectrum, Skewz can provide insight into how the media frames issues. The site offers a media comparison chart (http://skewz.com/source/compare_sources) with several ways to view and compare news organizations or blogs whose stories have been posted and skewed. Skewz creates a profile for each venue with stories that have been skewed.

For example, the Skewz profile (http://skewz.com/source/source_profile/189) for littlegreenfootballs.com (http://littlegreenfootballs.com) (a site that restricts who can register to post in order to deter flaming) indicates that its stories rank from center right to moderate right on several issues. As more items from littlegreenfootballs.com are skewed, its profile will grow more detailed. Meanwhile, the Skewz profile (http://skewz.com/source/source_profile/3) for sfgate.com (http://sfgate.com) suggests that site's coverage ranges from strong left to center on stories about issues that have been posted so far on Skewz.

Skewz currently has about 600 registered users, of whom 15 to 20 percent post regularly -- some several times daily. Vyus says his goal is to build the site's user base to 10,000 or more because this kind of reputation ranking system produces better information when it is based on ratings by many individuals. You can add the Skewz widget (http://skewz.com/widget/main) to any site to encourage readers to rank your stories there.

For now, Skewz only handles political stories. While they expect to get a boost from the upcoming primaries and elections next year, their goal is to establish a genuine political meeting ground where the wisdom of the crowds as expressed in posts and skews creates a new kind of political news aggregator and online community.

The social networking structure they have created could be applied to "anything with polarity" -- even celebrities, though Vyas said that was "lower brow" than what they want to do. Being from a town with two baseball teams, I immediately thought of creating a site to rate the quality of coverage of the two teams in local papers and blogs.

As a journalism educator, I find this kind of data-driven, socially networked, interactive application to be exciting and challenging. Exciting because the use of the polarity scale algorithms could become an important part of creating a news site that does more than provide yet another version of the "Daily Me." Challenging, because of the need to integrate journalistic ethics into a site powered by user ratings in order to avoid building an echo chamber that reinforces the beliefs of zealots, rather than a news-oriented community that fosters public discourse.