Rainie, Cerf interview: Google, Internet encounters and economic problems of journalism

28 04 2010

Special session four kicked off just after 4 p.m. with Lee Rainie interviewing Vint Cerf, co-inventor of the Internet Protocol and chief technology evangelist for Google. Cerf helped Rainie establish the Pew Internet Research Center and assisted with its earliest research initiatives.

Lee Rainie interviews Vint Cerf during a special session at FutureWeb2010. "The part I like most about my job is the repeated and regular exposure to people who are smarter than I am," Cerf told Rainie. (Photo: Dan Rickershauser)

Cerf addressed questions about his position at Google, which he describes as developing in real time; unexpected encounters with the Internet over the years; and the controversy surrounding services in China.

“A piece of me is always astonished (by the Internet),” Cerf said. “Every time a page comes back with all the pieces, I’m astonished. If you knew all the things that had to happen for that page to come back, it’s really amazing.”

He says younger generations have a different view of the Internet and its technologies because “it’s always been there, and isn’t always remarkable,” quoting the adage, “technology is what you didn’t grow up with.”

Cerf reminisced over the initial stages of the Internet, including the moment when he realized that it would be possible to commercialize the system. Prior to the late 1980s, there had been no attempts to utilize the tool to make money.

He said the turning point came in 1989 when commercial email systems were able to connect online to different email systems. Instances of spam mail that followed broke the policy in government that said no commercial traffic could flow through a government-sponsored system.

Rainie asked Cerf to elaborate on the “dark side” of the Internet, including the continuing problem of spam.

“Spam became a problem because email was free,” Cerf said. “If we found a way to charge a little for email, then span would have been less of a problem.”

Another problems that Cerf attributed to the dark side is cyberwarfare, which he said occurs on an international level with the general population gains access to technology and abuses it. He said its important to realize that when something because this essential to society’s infrastructure, problems are bound to arise. The important thing is to learn how to cope with the issues.

Rainie and Cerf discussed the possibility of government intervention and the implications of asserting authority in an effort to maintain order. He said he is sympathetic to the idea that there should be a plan for dealing with a serious disruption to the system. At the same time, he hopes that “if there is such a plan, the openness of the Obama administration will allow for greater scrutiny.”

When addressing  the question of Google’s management of its China services, Cerf said he is part of a group whose job is to discuss corporate policy. His group has long debated whether Google should offer services to China, because it didn’t want to be in a position where the government could demand information to expose someone.

Click to see Vint Cerf speak on the recent controversy between China and Google:

“The outcome is pretty interesting, and of course some of it is still in play,” Cerf said. “China isn’t the only regime exhibiting concern about the use and abuse of the Internet. There isn’t any pixie dust we can sprinkle and make everything better. In this decade, we have to live through the bad parts and the good parts.”

Cerf discussed the economic problems of modern journalism and the ways he thinks the news media can best survive.  He said the steady erosion of newspapers began well before the Internet had a strong presence. Journalists should consider the cheapest and most efficient method of distributing news.

“I think if the news industry is going to survive in online mode, they’re going to have to provide more than just news,” Cerf said. “They’re going to have to engage with readers in a way that they can take reactions. This more engaged form of news reporting might be an interesting way of gaining readership and increasing the likelihood that advertising can support it.”

He said the quality of news reporting is now essential to the success of a publication.

“People are going to have to be a little braver about going online and doing things they haven’t done before,” Cerf said.

-by Ashley Dischinger

Video and more written FutureWeb coverage:
FutureWeb YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/Futureweb2010#p/u
Flickr photos: http://www.flickr.com/photos/38539612@N02/sets/72157623891937652/


Pew Research Center releases new study on participatory news consumerism

4 03 2010

The Pew Internet & American Life Project and Project for Excellence in Journalism released a joint report Monday exploring the “participatory news consumer.” This new breed of news consumers is the product of advancing technologies and interactive media that continue to enhance the news consumer’s experience.

Lee Rainie, director of the Pew Internet Project and a keynote speaker at FutureWeb, is a co-author of the Pew Research Center report on the participatory news consumer. (Photo courtesy of Flickr.)

Lee Rainie, Director of the Pew Internet & American Life Project and leading participant in the FutureWeb 2010 conference, is co-author of the report. Rainie is scheduled as a keynote speaker to address issues surrounding the future of the Web, a topic that directly relates to his recently released participatory news consumer report.

The full 50-page report details research gathered on topics such as the general American news environment, the specific ways in which people use the news and the Internet’s impact on the news industry. The report also covers more recent trends in consumer news such as the attitudes and behaviors of on-the-go news consumers and news that takes on the characteristics of a social activity.

Pew’s research reflects many of the topics that will be discussed at FutureWeb 2010, namely the growing trend of participatory news. The explosion of the digital era, along with interactive Web sites, social media and new technologies, allows an overwhelming 92% of Americans to access their news through multiple platforms on a daily basis.

Almost half of those surveyed say they get news from four to six media platforms, including national TV, local TV, the Internet, national newspapers, local newspapers and the radio. The report also revealed that the Internet is now the third most popular source of news.

The increasing popularity of the Internet is directly related to the survey’s findings that Americans are now embracing a variety of participatory news media. Approximately 37% of Internet users have contributed to the creation of news, commented on stories or propagated news through postings on social media sites such as Twitter or Facebook.

The majority of those surveyed say that their news experience is becoming increasingly social. Friends, family and co-workers commonly share links, post news stories to their social networking sites and link to other news on personal blogs. Topics and current events are discussed through the Internet platform.

Pew reports:

“The advent of social media like social networking sites and blogs has helped the news become a social experience in a fresh way for consumers. The ascent of mobile connectivity via smart phones has turned news gathering and news awareness into an anytime, anywhere affair for a segment of avid news watchers.”

Pew also reports:

“Online, the social experience is widespread: 75% of online news consumers say they get news forwarded through e-mail or posts on social networking sites and 52% say they share links to news with others via those means.”

The report is based on the findings of a daily tracking survey on Americans’ use of the Internet, with data collected through phone interviews conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International between December 28, 2009 and January 19, 2010. The sampling reviewed the responses of 2,259 adults, age 18 and older. Pew Internet reports a 95% confidence rate that the range of error is plus or minus 2.3 percentage points.

The Internet & American Life Project continues to conduct surveys and analyze research on Internet-related issues that continue to impact the daily lives of Americas, as part of a nonpartisan, not-for-profit initiative. The team has been examining the social impact of the Internet since the late 1990s.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism aims to conduct research to better understand the information revolution. This project specifically evaluates press performance through content analysis in a manner that simultaneously helps journalists who produce the news and news consumers.

The Pew Internet & American Life Center is currently conducting research on what specific technologies are utilized the most, what people are doing online and how consumers are using Pew’s research. For more information, visit the Pew Internet homepage.

By Ashley Dischinger