6505 Kaiser Drive
Fremont, CA 94555
510 713 3550
Date: Sun, 09 Jan 2005 21:10:40 -0500
03 00050 60 05010901
Mr. Douglas C. Engelbart, Ph.D.
6505 Kaiser Drive
Fremont, CA 94555
Fleabyte and civic journalism
Please, take a quick look at the latest Fleabyte page...
http://www.fleabyte.org .. You may first notice that the web magazine has not
been touched since January 2003. You may further notice that it concerns
digital augmentation of the human intellect ("thinking with computers")
and do so to a social purpose (Literacy. Computency. Both are needed for
the proper functioning of an environmentally healthy, prosperous,
Persusing the page you'll find it divided into two main sections named
"First off" and "Reflections." You will also find that we consider the
editorial content as open, i.e. free for the taking, but with the
expectation the source is credited as indeed Fleabyte credits all its
sources doubly: publications as well as authors.
.. You may also quickly recognize a small technical contribution to
internet journalism called "click-step." Clicking on either up or down
arrow you will quickly step from headline to headline, a feature that
permits you to move faster through the page than scrolling by either
mousing a slider or turning a mouse wheel. (You may find an elaboration
of this feature by turning to www.fleabyte.org/exp-1.html)
When we publish an article on the front page, we place it at the same
time in an achive. For the contents of that archive, click on "contents"
in the menu bar. On next going to any article, you will find its
paragraphs marked with purple numbers. Maybe not the best choice of
purple number system, but for now let this be an issue we might address
.. Now that you have seen some aspects of Fleabyte we might turn to some
features that regular readers would only grow conscious of over time.
One, it attempts to stay within its scope: digital augmentation to a
limited set of world-wide social objective and, two, it attempts to do
so with a minimum of words; but still enough words to maintain a story
format for even the shortest article because mere listings are like
grains of sand clogging the mental gears. In short, we want the
publication to be and remain interesting to busy people.
.. Fleabyte does not aim to publish original content, although it will when
warranted. We recognize that there hardly exists a subject about which
others are far more knowledgeable. Thus we have adopted a mode of
publishing the lead paragraphs of articles that appear elsewhere on the
Internet whence we link to those original articles. Unlike most, notably
the commercial publications, we avoid duplication. What we would like to
do, though, is taking another step: to digest the contents of relevant
articles into summaries, but summaries that make for good reading, in
other words, not summaries like those introducing technical articles or
so-called "executive summaries."
.. To make myself clearer, allow me to use a technical term: pyramidal
writing. Pyramidal writing is when a journalist presents the essence of
a story in a lead paragraph. Next, he will elaborate a bit in some
subsequent paragraphs and then, he will continue to elaborate further in
subsequent paragraphs. Ideally, the very essence of the story is
captured in the headline, but headlines, having been written by someone
else, are not infrequently somewhat misleading.
.. Fleabyte aims to present tops of pyramids but with sufficient depth to
maintain good contextual linkage with the publication's objectives.
Consider it a form of civic journalism.
What is civic journalism? I'll take the Fleabyte approach to practicing
what I just preached: copy a few paragraphs from elsewhere on the
.. "What makes civic journalism different from every-day good journalism?
Civic journalism is everything that good journalism is -- but it's also
a bit more.
"Civic journalism is both an attitude and a set of tools. The attitude
is an affirmation that journalists have an obligation -- a
constitutionally protected obligation -- to give readers and viewers the
news and information they need to make decisions in a self-governing
society. The emerging tools try to help readers and viewers see how they
can be active participants, not only in building news coverage, but also
in building their communities.
.. "Simply raising an alarm or spotlighting an injustice, which is
traditional journalism, is not enough. Citizens these days need more
help. They need to see some ways they play a role, have a voice, or make
a difference -- some ways they can reclaim their participation in civic
life. Citizen participation, therefore, is a defining feature of civic
journalism. For journalists, citizens help them do better journalism.
And citizens, once invited and once engaged in a menu of opportunities,
seem to be developing a civic appetite." (Full article here:
.. Clearly, Fleabyte is still falling far short of the practice of good
civil journalism. In part we are hindered by much literature only being
available in print format. We would be far more efficient if we could
simply extract from electronic text and digest material from there. This
would be especially helpful in doing book reviews. In part we are
hindered by the absence of purple numbers in our sources. Such numbers
would permit us to direct reader attention to specific paragraphs in our
sources. (It is said that publishers don't like such aids because they
want readers to encounter all the advertisements.)
.. In part we are hindered by lack of funds: we cannot purchase all the
books we wish to peruse or subscribe to newspapers and journals that
restrict access to paying subscribers.
In part we are hindered by our inability to make good use of available
technologies to permit reader participation AND do so in a way to make
every word count, to keep reader contributions as brief as possible
(while maintaining story format).
.. Reader participation calls for technologies such as Doug Engelbart's
"Augment" co-operative tools and/or Wiki, etc. Digesting stored or
otherwise referenced materials may be best done with the aid of a good
search engine and a tool such as Rod Welch's POIMS technology for
optimizing an organization's memory.
Clearly, for Fleabyte to work best we need management, technical
expertise, and appropriate journalistic expertise. This is not to say
that Fleabyte cannot do a creditable job when run by one person. I
myself did so for several years running, but it did become exceedingly
tiring. Hence the fact we have not continued the effort since January of
.. I am 77 years of age now and no longer able to do what I did before.
That leaves the question, should I or should I not continue to maintain
the Fleabyte website? Should we just give up? I would very much like
your responses to this question.
I also wonder whether this could be a suitable topic for discussion on
the Yak forum.