I’m a noise junkie. I used to be a news junkie, but I’ve hung out with the world’s top journalists enough now to see that the good ones are noise junkies. They are the types that head into a crowded party and listen to pitch after pitch (noise) and drunken story after drunken story (noise) to find something that their audiences will find interesting (news). I’m not the only one who likes the noise: Hutch Carpenter defends the noise too.
Last year I got a tour of the Wall Street Journal’s West Coast printing plant. They print 60,000 copies an hour. At the end of the tour the head pressman said “I’ve been reading this six hours before you did for more than 15 years now and it hasn’t helped yet.” Why? Cause the news isn’t where the action is: the high value bits are stuck in the noise.
I’ve been studying noise and news now for quite a while. I’ve been wondering why sites like Google News and TechMeme have no, or little, noise? Tomorrow I’ll tour the New York Times headquarters in New York to pick up even more tips of how they make sure noise doesn’t sneak onto its pages.
First, let’s do a little definition of the difference between news and noise. The noise examples were pulled off of Twitter in the past few minutes.
NEWS: tens of thousands dead in China quake.
NOISE: BrianGreene: some pirate is playing old radio nova tapes on 92FM dublin, with old jingles and old ads. adverts for rent a 20″ TV 48p a day (48 pence!)
NEWS: Janitors go on strike.
NOISE: flawlesswalrus: @craigmod Iron Man’s fun times. Enjoy!
NEWS: Facebook blocks Google
NOISE: dmkanter: organizing my igoogle homepage
So, how come services like Twitter and FriendFeed have so much noise? Who likes the noise? Who likes the news?
I like the noise. Why? Because I can see patterns before anyone else. I saw the Chinese earthquake happening 45 minutes before Google News reported it. Why? Because I was watching the noise, not the news.
Let me ask you something. Do you think Walt Mossberg will wake up tomorrow and worry about what’s on TechMeme or Google News, or will he sit through yet another boring PR pitch from some gadget company trying to find something unique to tell his readers?
The news is in the noise. Which is why Twitter is crack for newsmakers. There’s no better place to find noise, er news, than on Twitter. Even on FriendFeed there’s less noise than there is on Twitter (if you subscribe to both). Why? Because of the “Hide” link and clustering. I can put 156 Tweets in my Twitter follower’s faces, blocking all other Twitterers from getting to their pages. But on FriendFeed? All my Tweets are clustered together and blocked from view unless you expand them to read them all.
So, anyway, how does Google News and Techmeme keep the noise from hitting their pages?
Google News: Only tracks sites that have “teams” of people working on them. That usually means there’s an organized effort. That alone blocks 99.9% of bloggers and Twitterers from even being considered.
TechMeme: requires multiple “votes” by an elite to get on the page. Even a link from TechCrunch (which is the #1 “voter” on TechMeme) won’t get you onto Techmeme. You’ve gotta have something else to go with that link.
Google News: the more “big city newspapers and news sources” that cover something, the more likely that story will get to the home page.
TechMeme: watches signaling from key members on Twitter and Google Reader. If enough people who are on the TechMeme Leaderboard Twitter and share an item on Google Reader you’ll see the item pulled onto the page.
Both Google News and Techmeme: only stuff in past 24 hours gets onto the page.
What differentiates Techmeme and Google News? Google News only considers news from news teams (mostly, only a few blogs are there among hundreds of thousands of newspapers, TV stations, magazines, and news blogs like Huffington Post). Techmeme? Looks at Twitter and Google Reader for signaling mechanisms (what news is getting hot) but mostly considers blog posts and professional journalism that have gotten the attention of a limited number of “elite” bloggers/journalists. Techmeme gets news from sources that aren’t always professionally run sites, which is the biggest differentiator. Techmeme could be said to have more noise than Google News, which is what makes it more interesting than Google News — to me. To my dad? I bet he’d like Google News better because it only has news, no noise.
The problem with both Google News and Techmeme? New ideas and new people won’t get onto the page easily. You have to convince multiple people who control these sites that your stuff is important. In Google News’ case you’ll probably have to publish your news on a site that already is added to Google News’ database. That’s one reason why I see Dave Winer’s stuff only when he writes for Huffington Post show up there. Convincing someone like Huffington Post that you’re important enough to publish is pretty hard and takes building up a reputation and an audience of your own.
If you’re looking for new faces and new conversations that haven’t yet gotten to be important enough to get onto Google News or Techmeme, then FriendFeed and Twitter are far better places to hang out.
Getting on TechMeme? You better convince someone near the top of the TechMeme leader board (getting me to link to you doesn’t really matter unless someone in the top five also links to you) to talk about you and link to you. That’s really hard. Why? Cause we don’t agree on what’s important. You can see that come out in last Friday’s Gillmor Gang. Heck, we’re yelling at each other on the phone. You think we’re going to decide to link to you? Hah!
I know Google News and TechMeme will get more of a mainstream audience because all they report is news, but excuse me if I spend a lot more time over on Twitter and FriendFeed swimming in the noise.