Siberian Baseball

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Many hands make light work

Let's file this under "the Internet can be a dangerous place for a multitude of reasons."

A week or so ago, a friend sent along word that a new sports site was out of beta - Bleacher Report.

The idea is pretty simple. Take sports written by bloggers and fans and create a massive, open-ended site that allows people to make all sorts of changes to the original postings. The end result should be a well-edited, fact-checked monster collaboration, right?

Well, sorta.

I'll admit that I'm only ankle deep in the site at this point, but so far I'm not very enthusiastic about the whole experience after my first foray into the Bleacher Report world.

I'll quote here from the Tech Crunch write up:

Perhaps the most innovative thing about Bleacher Report is its built-in community editing system. Writers who published to Bleacher Report actually give an extensive amount of control over their articles to other members. The community serves as a collective editor that works not only to correct grammatical and spelling errors but to improve the prose more generally. Nothing is strictly out of bounds, including article headlines, but the original writers do have the power to revert changes made by the community. According to the site’s founders, this group editing system has been a very popular feature during the beta period.

There's the rub. While most bloggers enjoy the total control they have on their individual blogs and posts, it's a strange feeling to see those posts take on lives of their own and get mildly warped from multiple changes made by multiple users.

In my case, it was a quick post that was essentially a set of links from USA Today that was a quick and dirty write up of teams to watch out of the gate in spring training.

I think most bloggers fall into the same category I do when it comes to protecting online content - we know firsthand how awful it is to have someone else rip you off and feel the need to obsessively cite sources. In the case of my post, it quickly had a graphic added, tags for content and unknown changes to grammar, spelling, etc.

What got me was changes made to the headline and what I assume is part of the coding for the site which summarizes the stories by saying "User X breaks down the favorites heading into 2008."

That rubbed me the wrong way, as even by stretching the truth, I don't feel that linking to someone else and paraphrasing their work makes the content any more yours.

One of the great things about the current state of blogs is that it allows for original content and for commentary and discovery. Take a solid mega-blog like Deadspin and you'll see this type of mix that is staking out territory and laying groundwork for the next wave of media expansion.

There's a school of thought that in 10 or 15 years there won't be traditional newspapers or online news sources as the primary gatekeepers for the information people receive on a daily basis. Instead, people will subscribe - possibly for a fee - to online editors who would aggregate the information that they find interesting and pass it along down the line to readers.

In this case, there is a solid division between those who create content and those who compile it and present it to readers. The major reason that I'm hesitant to buy into the Bleacher Report concept is because the addition of outside influences make it too easy to start twisting the meaning of what the original author had in mind. Additionally, I feel that separation between author and editor makes it too convenient to start giving credit where it isn't due.

While community editing is nice for spell checking and cleaning up tricky grammatical passages, I'm not impressed by the end result.

I'll hold back on a final judgment until the site has a few months to find its feet.



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