13 Aug

Markham Nolan: How to separate fact and fiction online

This TED Talk speaks doubly so with me as the nature of its title brings about the question of what can we trust when we look to things online?

EDTalksTed is in many ways, a two sided coin where one, Ted Talks bring both insight and questions and the other, using the internet to solve these questions and hopefully gain additional insight. 

The Internet is the “big book of answers” that I dreamed about in my childhood, but it is fairly obvious that it also the “big book of lies and exaggerations”.  Where does one begin to sift through the madness that exists in its’ data distribution and interpretable facts, how is it better to read from a source that has multiple redundancies (ie> Wikipedia) or follow the word of a singular author/expert (ie> a university paper) ?    How balanced are the two in contrast, and at the end of the day, if knowledge is about accepted ideas (from peer review perspective), what happens when that knowledge is segregated to the point that armchair fans can’t relate to each other?

To make an analogy, sports jock meets science fiction nerd, these two experts in their own right have to simply take each others’ word on what is what in the prospective topic.  When someone quotes something they read on the internet, it’s not a ‘yes, I remember that from school’, rather it becomes a future confirmation.

In any case, Markham Nolan tells his side of finding truth in online news.

Speaker: Markham Nolan

Filmed: Nov 2012 at TedSalon London

Total running time: 13 minutes, 29 seconds

Views so far: 866,018


Now in Nolan’s case, he is referring more into the investigation of sources (sources being material found on the web).  Be it for legitimacy or copyright or even the dig deep of further details, this kind of data verification is definitely one of the new ‘skills’ of the modern age.

Secondly, it takes advantage of the randomness and volume of posts that exist today.  The idea of crowd sourcing news details on a local level, or a personal level, could create the additional bonds between events and readers.  It’s that personal touch that might sway a person into having a conversation with someone else.  News truly takes form when viewers speak about the story to other viewers (or non viewers). 

When that crowd sourcing happens to be every single person on the planet with a cellphone, it fractures the importance of having a person on the scene versus the team of experts Nolan is part of.

So what to ask?  I’d have to say, that I’m mostly curious about the tools Nolan references to.

What are three tools that help search the internet


1. Spokeo – The people search engine. 

What in the blue blazes, a people search engine?  Holy stalker batman!  From the looks of it, it is strictly for the United States and popular searches include famous celebrities such as Amanda Seyfried. 

Much to my surprise, she only weighs 105 lbs.  And it shows more details than I would ever want to know about her.  This is like some weird offshoot descendant of TMZ marrying the Farmer’s Almanac.  

Nonetheless, it exists and it seems to be ripe full of information, about your favorite celebrities. 

(I’m just kidding.)

2. Wolfram Alpha – The Computational Knowledge Engine

With that incredibly vague description, I’d imagine this thing must by Skynet plus Hal 9000.  It probably has learned more about me than I could learn about it just by typing it into a search engine.  (*cold shivers*)

It starts off innocuous enough.  A single text box asking what you want to calculate or know about. 

I have no idea what to look for with this thing.  Amanda Seyfried was a listed link on Spokeo so…

Amanda Seyfried:  Gives first name, date/place of birth, and some high level details that I would have expected.  This seems to be on par with my expectation and not anywhere near as creepy as Spokeo.  Let’s see if I can stump this thing.

“What do you get when you divide the circumference of a pumpkin with its diameter?”

Answer I’m hoping for:  Pumpkin Pi !

Actual answer: definitions for ‘divide’.  Ok, so it isn’t a snarky Skynet.  On the other hand, it does seem to be providing relatively solid answers for topic searches and general data.  I’m going to favorite this page.

3. Storyful – (Nolan is the managing editor of Storyful) – The first news agency of the social media age

Storyful is exactly what Nolan’s Tedtalk is about (what the heck, I didn’t even realize this was a ‘product/service kind of talk’)  A group of individuals whose expertise is to sift through the deluge of media (social or otherwise) to extract relevant details and turning the results into viable information which is more applicable. 

That’s not a canned description, it’s simply my interpretation so far. 

There is a .pdf on the site that is about Social Newsgathering which looks quite interesting, unfortunately, I cannot seem to download it at this time.  (Most likely because my laptop is old and everything is out of date)

Storyful definitely seems aimed at news organizations or possibly other social media reporters (or anyone else who wants real time news).   Below is a link to their Youtube video:

What is truly amazing is that this is a new form of media journalism, and it could easily be a foreshadowing of days to come.

Share what you know, even if they’re just ideas.


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Posted by on August 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


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