A few years back, I imagined what it might be like if one stood the notion of an international wire service on its head. Rather than a series of bureaus sending reports back to a central office, I doodled with the idea of something more like a loose intelligence network.
Something like this: I own stock in a factory in Kiev, and political unrest leads to riots there. I'm reading the news stories and watching the video, but what I really want is information on "my" factory. In this model, I'd contact the "Acme News Wire Service" and inquire about having one of its stringers pick up my tasking. With contract in hand, "Our Man in Kiev" would report back on my request -- not broadcasting the information, but stovepiping it.
Yes, I'd pay for it, and individual taskings might have to be negotiated. But the ability to connect individual information consumers with individual information collectors just seemed like a natural outgrowth of networked media.
The thing was, I wasn't so sure who the information providers would be. Journalists picking up a little freelance cash? Maybe, but consider the potential conflicts of interest. Private investigators? Stay-at-home-Moms who register their profiles online and compete for freelance contracts? Every type of person I considered had drawbacks, and ultimately I figured that the economics of such a system were too ponderous, too top heavy, to ever turn a profit on such infrequent business.
Then last night I had a dream. There was a citizen journalism conference that I wanted to attend but couldn't, and so I was keeping up with the event by reading a blog that someone in the audience was updating every few minutes. At one point I thought the panel had gone off the topic, and so I posted a comment on the audience blogger's board. He responded. "Great question. I'll ask it."
And that's the way it went in my dream. The audience blogger at the journalism conference became my real-time representative in the room, asking questions that I would have asked, then posting the responses. More of his readers began asking questions. More responses.
When I woke up, I had two thoughts waiting for me.
First, it might actually be possible to create that international wire/intelligence network I thought of years ago if you built it around bloggers.
Second, it might be very helpful if we could create a blogging events calendar. Something like this: Today Al Franken is going to be broadcasting his radio show from Charleston. If I planned to attend the show and blog from it live on a laptop, I could stop by the blogging events calendar site and post my URL and schedule.
That way, anyone who wanted to follow that event could schedule themselves to check in on my blog. That's a trivial example, but imagine the more interesting ones. Corporate shareholders meetings. Academic conferences. FEMA news conferences after natural disasters. Sessions of state legislatures and meetings of county councils. Awards ceremonies. Anything that people have an interest in.
As things stand today, I think the biggest hole in our emerging multi-node networks is the inability to connect people to things that might interest them. It's an insider's game today: If you know about the party, you're invited, but if you don't know where to find the address, you'd never know it was even going on. A calendar like the one I suggest might be one tool for making those kinds of hookups between collectors and consumers.
Make those connections robust enough, and perhaps you can develop the kind of personal informational abilities that seemed like science fiction... just yesterday.