Wikitribune, Google and the fake news bandwagon

The Guardian reports that Jimmy Wales is launching an online publication that will fight fake news by pairing professional journalists with an army of volunteer community contributors.

Those who donate will become supporters, who in turn will have a say in which subjects and story threads the site focuses on. And Wales intends that the community of readers will fact-check and subedit published articles.

Describing Wikitribune as “news by the people and for the people,” Wales said: “This will be the first time that professional journalists and citizen journalists will work side-by-side as equals writing stories as they happen, editing them live as they develop, and at all times backed by a community checking and rechecking all facts.”

I’m skeptical.

I’m not convinced that that the model, as described, will actually work financially and, even if it does, it looks geared towards encouraging niche and specialist interests. As such, it will probably do little to address either the echo-chamber effect or the over-reliance of much of the mainstream media on advertising and the clickbait type articles which that encourages.

In other news, Google has announced its first attempt to combat the circulation misleading or offensive content being surfaced by its search engine.

The technology company said it would allow people to complain about misleading, inaccurate or hateful content in its autocomplete function, which pops up to suggest searches based on the first few characters typed.

Quite frankly, this looks more like a PR move on Google’s part than anything else. It’s all well and good letting people report bad or misleading search results, but I don’t see any indication of what Google intends to do about these reports.

Fake news is a problem, but gimmicks like these don’t really address the problem. For that, we need to encourage greater media literacy and stronger critical thinking skills.

Farewell Google Reader, Hello NewsBlur

There are times when I have the impression that Google is so determined to be social that they lose sight of the fact that their online dominance is a result of being useful. This morning was one of those times when I hopped online to check the headlines and was presented with an announcement that Google Reader is to be retired.

This is not entirely unexpected, Google seems to have been looking for an excuse to kill off their RSS reader for a while. Their reasoning seems to be that ‘social’ means kitten videos, so the community of news junkies that has built up around Reader isn’t ‘social’ and should, therefore, be killed off. With fire, if necessary.

Google have already taken steps in this direction, such as removing social features from Reader and trying to push Reader users into Google Plus, and I would be willing to guess that most users of Reader knew that the application’s days were numbered. Now we have a number: On July 1st 2013 Google Reader will be no more.

This means, of course, that I now have to pull my finger out and find an alternative. I did, briefly, consider going back to Liferea, the desktop RSS reader that I used until a few years ago, but what I really want is an online solution. I use several devices and want to be able to access the same news feed from all of them.

A quick scoot around the web turned up NewsBlur, “a social news reader with intelligence.” It’s an open-source application and the README on GitHub does provide full instructions for installing your own instance. But I’m lazy and went to look at the hosted service instead. They have two sign-up options: Free for people subscribe to fewer than 64 feeds, and $1 per month for real news junkies.

One nice feature on the site is a ‘Try out NewsBlur’ option that lets you play around with the features without committing yourself to anything. It’s a bit slow but, poking around the community feedback pages revealed that this is down to a sudden influx of visitors. Action is being taken and things should improve shortly.

$1 a month isn’t much, so I shall be signing up to NewsBlur as soon as the Import From Google Reader link stops timing out.

Posting directly from Google Reader to

File this under Handy for Me.

I use Google Reader to manage to keep up with various news sites and blogs. It’s convenient and – being a web application – I can easily access it from anywhere.

Sometimes, I want to post news articles from Google Reader to I could, of course, copy the link and paste it into whatever client I happen to be using, but there is a simpler way.

Within Google Reader, go to Settings > Send To and click on Create a custom link.

URL:${title}: ${short-url}
Icon URL:

Click Save and you’re done.

Go back to Google Reader and now you can send any post to by clicking on the posts Send to button.

What is the value of LinkedIn?

Over in iDevelop, Jon Paris and Susan Gantner ask Are you ‘LinkedIn’? The post touches on LinkedIn’s initial purpose – essentially keeping in touch with colleagues and making new (work) contacts based on who you know. They then go on to question LinkedIn’s role now.

On the one hand it’s increasingly utilized as a marketing tool. Sometimes overtly: “Company XYZ is pleased to announce. …” Very often covertly: “Does anyone know of a good tool that can. …” Threads of this latter type often eventually reveal that the original poster was either an employee of a company offering tooling in this arena or is a “satisfied customer.” We find these kinds of threads particularly annoying, in part because we feel we’re already subject to enough advertising without having it rammed down our throats everywhere we go. In the long run they may well have a negative effect because they can result in even users avoiding responding to the most genuine of queries.

It also seems to be being increasingly used for the pure “How do I” or the “I’m getting decimal data errors …” type of questions that we feel are much better suited for Internet forums such as or IBM’s RPG Cafe. It just seems to us that LinkedIn really wasn’t designed for these types of questions. As result, the same question is often asked in multiple groups.

This does ring very true for me. There are innumerable professional groups on LinkedIn and they are increasingly cluttered with either job adverts, recruitment requests or (often very basic) technical problems that would be better handled elsewhere.

The redundancy of the groups is also a problem. I see the same posts and same conversations cropping up over and over again. This is annoying because, even if I was interested in a question the first time around, seeing it cropping up repeatedly does become increasingly spammy.

The thing that keeps LinkedIn afloat is its focus on being a network for business users but the site really does need to keep the clutter to a minimum if this approach is to work.

I still have a LinkedIn account, and will be retaining it for the forseeable future – primarily because there are work related contacts that I want to maintain on there. But I also find myself increasingly considering whether an IBM i circle on Google+ would be a better way of staying in touch with current, former and future colleagues.


Having signed up to Google+ at the start of this month, I have finally found some time to add a +1 button to this blog, thanks to The Google +1 plugin.

I don’t get a lot of comments on here, and don’t expect to either. But if you do find yourself stumbling across a post or page that raises a smile, give the button a click. Or not.

Google +1

It’s not immediately obvious, but linking to stuff on Google+ from outside the network is very easy. Which means I can say thank you to Robert Graffham for sharing this handy cheat sheet.


Now that the initial hype has died down somewhat, it appears that Google are now letting people into their latest attempt to do social networking. So I have a Google+ Account.

I’m not convinced that I need yet another social network – or any unfocussed network, for that matter – but I am willing to see how it goes. Feel free to drop by, add me to a circle or do whatever counts as social in the Chocolate Factory.