June 17th, 2008

Connecting The Dots Of The Web Revolution


For several days my brain has been connecting the blogstorm over AP trying to dictate how much of their content can be quoted on the web with the “quote” that Nick Carr lifted from one of my blog posts in his Atlantic article — I finally figured out why. The problem with the AP isn’t really about linking, it’s about quoting. And the problem with quoting is that, now that anyone can publish any thought or idea on the web, and anyone can link to it or reproduce it, the whole notion of quoting and citation has been completely turned on its head. Let me try to explain.

Ever since Nick Carr’s Atlantic article appeared on the web (finally), there’s been a spike in Google alerts for my name. Prior to this quote in the Atlantic, whenever I checked out a site where my name was mentioned, it almost invariably had a link back to my site — because someone was quoting me from my blog and linked back. But The Atlantic article had no link to my blog, even though Nick lifted the quote verbatim from the site. So here are all these reproduction of this citation, but no links. And I’m getting a spike in traffic from people searching for “Scott Karp blog” because they’re looking for the source.

Something is very wrong on the internet.

Take a look at the way Nick quoted me:

I’m not the only one. When I mention my troubles with reading to friends and acquaintances—literary types, most of them—many say they’re having similar experiences. The more they use the Web, the more they have to fight to stay focused on long pieces of writing. Some of the bloggers I follow have also begun mentioning the phenomenon. Scott Karp, who writes a blog about online media, recently confessed that he has stopped reading books altogether. “I was a lit major in college, and used to be [a] voracious book reader,” he wrote. “What happened?” He speculates on the answer: “What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

It’s very similar to the way journalists have traditionally quoted sources that they actually TALKED to. Substitute “he said” for “he wrote,” and you would think that this was a phone or in person interview. Even when articles with such quotes are published on the web, the source isn’t typically linked because it doesn’t exist on the web.

But in this case, the source did exist.

The traditional practice of journalism also requires that you ask a source’s permission to quote them. Nick never asked my permission — he assumed he didn’t have to, because I had already published what he was quoting. And yet he doesn’t cite the post or even name my blog. It’s like he’s quoting me, personally, yet also citing a published source. When I first saw the quote, my gut reaction was to feel annoyed that Nick didn’t ask my permission, although technically he didn’t have to. Sources have forever complained about journalists quoting them out of context, and that’s exactly how I felt — yet if there had been a link, or a URL in print, I don’t think I would have felt that way.

It’s like Nick and The Atlantic were trying to play by the old rules and the new rules, and yet not really adhering to either.

So what does this have to do with the AP?

If The Atlantic, with its top shelf editorial standards, can do this, then why can’t a blogger quote AP — almost as if the AP were a person?

What’s happened is that the lines between quoting a person and quoting a published source have blurred.

Bloggers aren’t really reacting to the copyright issue, although that’s what everyone is taking about. It’s more like AP is giving on the record interviews to bloggers with its stories, and then when bloggers quote them, the AP turns around and claims the interview was “off the record.”

The AP found itself deeper in the hole when a blogger discovered a page where the AP was asking payment per word for citations. Yet the AP quotes from blogs and other sites — as if they were abiding by interview standards. Which has led some bloggers to turn the tables and demand payment for all the times the AP quoted them.


Yesterday Jay Rosen wondered on Twitter how the AP could have so distanced itself from Tom Curley’s speech in 2004. Mathew Ingram expressed what so many are of us were thinking:

@jayrosen_nyu: i’d love to explain how they got here from there — i wish i knew :-) do you think curley has been steered wrong by others?

It just defies comprehension.

Here’s why I think this is all such a mess, why the AP is cutting off their nose to spite their face, defying comprehension, why Nick Carr thinks access to more information and more connections between information is making us dumber (also defying comprehension).

Nobody has really been able to conceptualize yet just how dramatic the change is in our traditional systems of information, media, publishing, reading, writing, relating ideas, and thinking itself. Nick Carr has come close with his recent writing, and he’s brave enough to try, but he gets too distracted by his nostalgia for a simpler age.

Nick argues that we are losing our ability to “read deeply,” e.g. read a whole book and contemplate it, without “distraction.” The problem is he’s using an antiquated yardstick to measure the quality of thought.

Maybe I don’t need 250 page books anymore because the web enables me to connect ideas and create narratives that I used to depend on book authors to do for me, because I wasn’t able to access all the information and connect all the dots myself.

Maybe the reason why Nick and so many other literati are losing their patience with long form information is that it is so fundamentally inefficient and inferior to connected bits of information.

You look at a book, read a book, and you easily perceive a coherent whole. You look at all the information on that book’s topic on the web, all connected, and you can’t see the sum of the parts — but we are starting to get our minds around it. We can’t yet recognize the superiority of this networked thinking process because we’re measuring it against our old linear thought process.

Nick romanticizes the “contemplation” that comes with reading a book. But it’s possible that the output of our old contemplation can now be had in larger measure through a new entirely non-linear process.

Just look at this post. If there’s any insight here (which still remains to be seen), it didn’t come from a linear process of A to B to C. It came from all of these seemingly random nodes connecting, and all these bits of information coming together, and then suddenly I saw the whole. If you had watched me, tracked my reading and my thoughts, you would have judged me positively scatological by traditional standards.

But even in presenting my “aha,” I’m jumping all over the place because I’m still trying to figure out how to make sense of networked thought process. The end of this post may seem completely disconnected from the beginning, but it’s all deeply connected. (Although it makes choosing a pithy title difficult.)

So what’s the lesson for the AP and every other media business? We don’t “get it” yet — none of us do. We’re starting to connect the dots, slowly but surely, but we’re looking through a glass darkly at the change we’re immersed in.

As Jon Fine observed about all the Titans of Media speaking at the All Things D conference:

It is sobering when not even the smartest guys in the room have any plausible answers. But then, no one has the answers.

What is increasingly clear is that the thought processes, assumptions, and standards that governed analogue media, information, and thought are increasingly going to get us into trouble in a digital media world.

What I’m hoping is that we’re bumbling through a “period of stupid” before we realize that we’ve actually become a lot smarter.

The next media business to connect those dots will be the next Google.


TheAtlantic.com is now linking to this blog in Nick’s article, which I suppose proves the squeaky wheel maxim, but there still aren’t links to other quoted blogs, e.g.

Bruce Friedman, who blogs regularly about the use of computers in medicine, also has described how the Internet has altered his mental habits. “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,” he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me.

I’ve searched for this blog, but can’t find it (for shame, Google) — so a link isn’t just about principle, it’s about real utility.

Of course, Nick actually talked to Bruce, and also quoted him the old fashioned way. Ah, well.

Comments (42 Responses so far)

  1. I think one of the big problems is AP’s business model. They make their money from charging publishers to reprint their content and my understanding is, after paying the rates, they can mash it up with their own reporting and don’t need to give attribution to the AP. I’ve seen wire stories run with maybe two sentences added and the AP byline stripped…

    If bloggers really want to get around this, they should just quote from a member publisher running the same piece that won’t care about having a paragraph quoted (and would probably appreciate the link back, too..)

  2. scatology noun 1 the scientific study of excrement, especially in medicine for the purpose of diagnosis. 2 the palaeontological study of fossilized excrement for the purpose of identifying and classifying fossils. 3 a morbid interest in or preoccupation with the obscene, especially with excrement, or with literature referring to it. 4 such literature containing these references.

    I suppose we do refer to the gutter press, don’t we? All these definitions seem wonderfully apposite ;-).

  3. The internet is like we think. Books are how we talk (and tell.)
    The internet-style is only ‘good’ for people who (already)know how to think. Most get lost in the vortex of twitter inanities or pornland. But no matter how smart you are, the incestuous nature of blogs actually reduces most conversations that ordinary people can find to alarming homogeneity, lacking substance. If the blogosphere is stripped of- opinions + quotes/citations, there is very little originality left.

  4. 5 the art of jazz speak-singing. love this whole series, scott, it’s pure jazz improvisation. and by the way, wasn’t it ironic that carr’s article was so…short?

  5. Well,

    I really asked your permission to quote you and translate one of your precedent post, and you didn’t gave me any answer.
    So what?

  6. 6 the science of scaring away felines. Not cool for cats.

  7. I think you’re very right about the power of networked thought and links versus books. I am an avid book reader but it’s now a fraction of my time versus online because my online time is PRODUCTIVE.

    If you think about being productive with books it generally involves stacks of them, open to different sections, being worked and combined into an essay, project, report or other outcome that involves intellectual effort.

    Reading information online is getting information in a context of learning, making connections and then creating those outcomes much faster, with better quality results.

    I didn’t bother to read the Carr article because he seems to be more interested in selling magazines and books than illuminating any real new knowledge about the incredible time we are going through with information technology.

  8. Great post, Scott. That’s one of the reasons why I find the media business so fascinating right now — no one really knows what the right answers are. Some are still struggling to find the right questions :-)

  9. Nicholas Weir-Williams

    This is a fascinating area of debate. Alex Wright from the New York Times gave an excellent keynote speech at a recent scholarly conference outlining some of the cognitive differences between the way we read and absorb information on the Internet as opposed to the way we read books and traditionally understand information. He quoted a work “Orality and Literacy” by Ong. What this will mean as the Semantic Web develops is that old business models (AP style) will become impossible to administer and eventually obsolete. What is required is citation though (as in scientific publishing where the number of times an article is cited is more significant than anything else). But not easy to transfer that into a business model that will keep anyone in profit…it’s going to be a very different world

    Nick W-W

  10. Excellent post, Scott. As an ex-print journalist, I find this discussion fascinating. I think you said it all:

    “What is increasingly clear is that the thought processes, assumptions, and standards that governed analogue media, information, and thought are increasingly going to get us into trouble in a digital media world.”

    And Dennis is right about the danger of the incestuous nature of blogs, but I would point out that may not be a causal relationship. After all, we typically only read, talk about, watch and follow media that reflect our point of view, Internet or no. The web’s propensity for immediately available feedback (via comments, e-mail, etc.) may actually make shutting out unwanted opinions harder to do online.

  11. Nick W-W

    Those Alex Wright articles were indeed fascinating.

    The AP business model felt a bit tired when I started working for them 20 years ago. It already seemed like something from another era. While I watched some of their video news output the other day (including some citizen journalism, I believe), I was left scratching my head, thinking was there any value in this?

    The original business was built to create a kind of public good shared between the newspapers to meet their demand for non-local news. The content I watched appeared trivial and far from exclusive in an overly trivia-rich news ecology.

    But I’m ready to be surprised. They are experimenting, it would seem. As indeed we all are.


  12. I don’t know about the AP thing but I like your dot idea. Maybe we are approaching pure thought or concept. Words really are just a bridge from you to me, away to move my thought to your brain. I would suggest the digital environment is a more efficient bridge. What we then have to ask is how do we credit original thought and how do we link back to the creator of that original thought.

  13. [...] Link Connecting the Dots of the Web Revolution — Publishing 2.0 [...]

  14. No one gonna stick up for books? Ok, I will…

    You might well be able to get the ‘information’ of a 300 page book in one Wikipeida article, but fiction doesn’t deal in solely ‘information’.

    Fiction deals with abstract concepts of what being alive and human is about, it’s about the poetry of language, it’s about the momentum that 300 pages of well written drama/romance/thriller/philosophising can generate.

    I’m reading ‘The Man in the High Castle’ by Philip K. Dick right now. I can tell you that it’s about what might have happened if Germany and Japan had won the 2nd world war. But you still have no idea how exciting it is to actually read or the artistry in some of the passages.

    That stuff is still important, despite the thrill of instant information on the net (which I also love!)

  15. Giving the idea that books eventually won’t matter any credence is the kind of thinking that got you Americans into Iraq. The people making the decisions didn’t know their history – because they didn’t read.
    Not reading – IN DEPTH – is kind of like looking at an algebra equation in a textbook, thinking about it and then going to the back of the book for the answer and convincing yourself that you have solved the equation. You have to read the book all 250 pages if that’s what it comes to, to know something.

    The net, Google and all that other stuff are great tools, fabulous tools. The shovel is a tool too, but you have to use it to dig a hole.

  16. Thanks for the essay, but can you make it a little shorter next time…? ;-)

    (I read Marcel Proust once, before the internet, but it was ponderous even then. I couldn’t endure it today. I suspect that people a century ago did have vastly different cognition patterns. The title “Does Google Make Us Stupid?” seemed to focus on one linkbaity aspect, but even the ability to use a mobile telephone changes the way we expect to process information. Mental exercise with technology likely changes neurons and glial structures.) (And the AP stuff, that’s just weird. ;-)

  17. [...] Connecting The Dots Of The Web Revolution | Publishing 2.0 Quote – …The thought processes, assumptions, and standards that governed analogue media, information, and thought are increasingly going to get us into trouble in a digital media world. (tags: blogging copyright journalism media publishing) permalink | categories: All other | Time posted: 12:15 am on Thursday, June 19th, 2008 [...]

  18. [...] en zoals te verwachten valt dus nu de hele wereld van bloggers over AP heen. In bijvoorbeeld Publishing 2.0 en Daily Kos (”More on the AP Idiots”) wordt fijntjes uitgelegd dat ook de gevestigde [...]

  19. [...] Karp. We’ve been a sponsor of his for several months and it’s because of posts like this one that make all of us think [...]

  20. To answer Steve’s question… ie ‘What we then have to ask is how do we credit original thought and how do we link back to the creator of that original thought…

    Or at least potentially, particularly now they’ve got $350,000 of Knight funding up their sleeve…


    Almost made missing out on a trip to Vegas worth it.

  21. I really enjoyed this post, especially because I am one of those people who looked your blog up after reading Carr’s article.

    I disagree with you that Carr romanticizes contemplation. As an educator, I have seen first-hand the changes in students’ abilities to read deeply and to process information, and I strongly believe the Internet is one of the sociological factors that has prompted this change (not the only one, but I think it is the predominate one).

    I also think you’ve misunderstood Carr’s point about contemplation. Our brains do not work in a linear fashion, but the Internet, following the algorithm of Industrialization mentioned in Carr’s article, imposes a specific linear structure on our thinking. That’s the issue at hand.

    You yourself say, “Just look at this post. If there’s any insight here (which still remains to be seen), it didn’t come from a linear process of A to B to C. It came from all of these seemingly random nodes connecting, and all these bits of information coming together, and then suddenly I saw the whole. If you had watched me, tracked my reading and my thoughts, you would have judged me positively scatological by traditional standards.”

    That’s the point exactly! Our brains collect raw, random data, and impose its own structure on it. That’s how we learn. The Internet, on the other hand, is taking data and imposing a structure on it for us, thus forcing everyone to make the same connections. Therein lies the problem; because computers are linear, and rely on algorithmic programming, there are only so many outcomes possible. Our brains, on the other hand, can conceive of infinite structures.

    This is also why educational programs that impose standardized testing as a way to measure learning don’t work; because everyone links information differently. By having only a finite number of outcomes, the Internet is stunting the brain’s ability to think creatively.

  22. [...] Connecting The Dots Of The Web Revolution (tags: journalism socialmedia web2.0) [...]

  23. [...] Connecting the dots of the wseb revolution. Scott Karp. [...]

  24. Great points. Book reading has changed for me. I’ve been reading a book about the social impact of blogs, and there are plenty of times where I wish the text could have hyperlinked to the online source. I’ve found myself going to Google, to the blog source, searching for the original posts. Is this contemplative reading? No, it’s far better. It’s interactive reading, discursive reading. It compresses the time reading multiple linear narratives into a tumble of reading multiple interlinked narratives, and finding key source materials, ala The Smoking Gun.

    The AP has gone off the rails at the moment. I think they’ll get back on-course soon.

  25. Setting aside for a moment the very intriguing questions you raise about link policy, I’d like to go after the idea of the book as obsolete.

    There is certainly a huge sector of the population for which books are no longer relevant. However, for most of those, books were never relevant in the first place. You’ve seen the studies, I’m sure, about how many people never read another book after they graduate–very sad!

    I’ve been a voracious consumer of books since age 3 and don’t see e-media replacing that any time soon–though I get far more of my news over the Net than from magazines and newspapers these days. Some of it is a simple case of computer eyestrain (even with the vaunted Kindle)–some of it is the ex treme portability of a book (I wouldn’t take an e-reader in the bathtub!) and some is just that the user experience is so much better.

    As the author of seven books and publisher of four of them, I note that paper sales of my titles are exponentially stronger than e-book sales. And I’m glad.

    Shel Horowitz, award-winning author of Principled Profit: Marketing That Puts People First, Grassroots Marketing: Getting Noticed in a Noisy World, and five other books

  26. Ironically, your thoughts about non-linear learning on the web are not that different from the AP’s own conclusions in their study called “A New Model for News” (http://www.ap.org/newmodel.pdf) in which they state “Hypothetically, new value can be created if news producers and distributors can figure out ways to help consumers connect the dots more coherently. But where do you start? This study confirmed the need to maintain two parallel tracks of work. First, create more appealing content for the key entry points. Second, and more difficult, build the connections that will transport consumers to that content across both media platform and brand.”

    They got it right all the way until the last line. The platform is the Internet, not the AP.

    (hope they don’t send a bill for the quote)

    Best regards,


    Alex Nesbitt

  27. [...] Connecting The Dots Of The Web Revolution – Publishing 2.0 Karp explains what’s so deeply wrong with the AP’s link/quote/copyright scheme. (tags: ap blogging copyright journalism new.media msm publishing2.0) [...]

  28. I’m actually the opposite. I’m reading more books now, even though I’ve been working in the internet industry for the past decade. Spending too much time reading on the internet turns my brain into smush just as much as watching too much TV.

    I guess it depends on what you do. If you’re writing articles, you tend to want to track how people have reacted to it. Nowadays, when you read articles, you also tend to want to read other peoples’ perspectives and reactions to the article.

    It’s different from reading a book though, I think. It’s like watching a movie versus watching a youtube video. I still prefer to watch movies.

    Anyway, regarding the AP. Yeah, it’s their business model, and they have to protect that. Getting a link doesn’t help them at all, because the article usually tend to be housed on another website.

  29. [...] Scott Karp [...]

  30. [...] Press Hands Local And National News Sites An Opportunity To Get Links And Traffic” and “Connecting The Dots Of The Web Revolution.” Also, Dave Winer suggests this morning that, “(it would be great to) have a discussion, even [...]

  31. [...] Karp of Publishing 2.0 has posted an article entitled Contecting the Dots of the Web Revolution. A quick summary of his points on how the internet has affected media [...]

  32. [...] Connecting The Dots Of The Web Revolution (tags: internet journalism trends web2.0 blogs) [...]

  33. Thank you, Scott, for putting a different spin on Nick’s article. Nick seems to be a very contemplative person, and his view that the internet is changing the way people think is extremely thought provoking. However, I disagree with his pessimistic view of the phenomenon. I am an avid reader of books, and have been for most of my life. Though I consider myself an ‘intellectual type,’ I have never been to college, I have therefore never been exposed to the culture of research that is taken for granted at the university level. The internet is perfect for me. My attention deficient mind is wired in a way that allows me to be able to flip from one topic to the next and play that hypothetical connect-the-dots game with a myriad of informational sources. In a library I would be lost. . .wandering from book to book with no conscious idea of where I’ve been or where I am going. The internet, with its historical archiving, allows me to keep track of my informational walkabouts. Acting as a bibliographic compass, the internet gives my disorder free range to find whatever I am looking for and more. Perhaps my lack of focus gives me a leg up in the evolution of the mind in our connected world. My adult life has been shaped by the internet, yet I am NOT stupid. I just come by information in a different way than others. But, in the end, I can take away many views from many sources and form my own opinion. Can I keep track of it and get paid for my accomplishments? Doesn’t look like it. But that’s OK. . .the information and insight is payment enough.

  34. [...] Published June 28, 2008 aggregation Tags: long-form writing, texts I’m not sure if Scott Karp is correct to compare AP’s attempt to stop people using more than 4 words of its copy to the Atlantic’s use of [...]

  35. [...] The Internet may be making me dumb, but as Scott Karp’s blog response to Nicholas Carr’s atribution demonstrates, it makes for interesting fodder to verbal fights. This is more interesting than Carr’s [...]

  36. [...] like Scott Karp, I’m not convinced that we’re losing the capacity for deep thought as much as we might [...]

  37. “What I’m hoping is that we’re bumbling through a “period of stupid” before we realize that we’ve actually become a lot smarter.”

    I think this is where we’re at, similar to the period of time just before the industrial revolution, where we invented a whole bunch of new technology, failed to understand it, and decided to get drunk for a decade or so (as described by Clay Shirky).

    I think that while the Titans in the publishing industry may not “have any answers” yet, there’s a lot of good, innovative and productive thought happening in the tech/web 2.0 startup space, and there’s a lot of potential to marry the ideas being generated there with the classic world of publishing.

  38. [...] New Yorker Journalistprofessor und Blogger Jeff Jarvis sieht – befeuert von der Debatte um die von der Nachrichtenagentur AP aufgestellten Zitationsregeln für Blogger – die Links sogar als zentrales Dienstleistungsmerkmal künftiger Nachrichtenagenturen: [...]

  39. [...] Case in point: I did not stumble upon Carr’s article, or the study it referenced or Scott Karp, whose ideas may have equally inspired Carr’s article, until I read a passing, negative [...]

  40. [...] The way we get our information online has instilled a remote-flipping mentality in every other aspect of life. But maybe that’s not so bad.  Who’s to say that deep focus on a single book is better than broad focus on a set of interlink… [...]

  41. Fascinating issues to grapple with. When cars were new there were no traffic rules, no parking regs, no stop lights, no parking lots. City streets were seas of raging chaos filled with horses and carriages, cars, trolleys, and pedestrians. Movement became almost impossible and people began to avoid central business districts. The consequences were different than with the internet but just as road traffic had to be sorted out at some point so does the web.

  42. [...] this time, it had a hyperlink to Scott Karp’s blog…so I decided to click into it (and Karp had some insightful things to say about the difference between quoting and linking: [and maybe my senses are dull, but I sense some animosity — Karp actually has a lot to say [...]

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