Phil Sim

Web, media, PR and… footy

Man vs Machine: The Edit Wars

In this corner, weighing in with more than a dozen years editing experience on websites, newspapers and magazines, I give you – the Human Editor.
 
And in the other corner, weighing in with quad-Intel Titanium processors and capable of churning through a gazillion mathematical functions a second, is the beige box.Let’s get ready to rumble…
 
A couple of days ago, I penned this piece about a search engine that might leverage off the knowledge and understanding of subject experts in the blogosphere. The part of the post that generated most interest in the subsequent comments was my assertion that for the most part a human editor could pretty much match the output of a Google News or Memeorandum. In fact, I reckoned given the set-up that I could do it.
 
I got this comment from Paul Montgomery post responding to my claim that I reckon I could out-memeorandum, memeorandum”.
 
“I wouldn’t be so quick to make claims of your out-Memeoranduming powers. No one ‘gives’ you those tools, you have to build them yourself, as Gabe has done. Show some respect!”
 
First of all, a big Pffft to the throw-away line at the end. I respect my mother and that’s about it. Secondly, heard of a little site called Google, Monty. It’s contains a bunch of tools that are indeed given away, which makes it mighty easy to track news stories, blogs, and other such information.
 
Memeorandum’s Gabe also chipped in saying: “Nah, human editors can’t keep up. They are useful, and maybe memeorandum would be somewhat better with them somehow, but the most informed kind of reading will increasingly need to rely in part on algorithms.”
 
Gabe doesn’t discount that a human editor could add value but he still believes conversations generally move too fast for a human to keep up with.
 
I’m just looking at memeorandum now and there are less than 100 links on the page (admittedly, it’s Sunday…). Those links pretty much have rolled on and off the page over a 48 hour period. I gotta tell you, it ain’t that many. Without memeorandum or like services, I’d have to pound away on a search engine all day but I do think I’d be able to keep pretty good pace. But the reality is I’ve got a secret weapon. There’s nothing stopping me using memorandum and other like services, which will save me oodles of time on the collection front and enable me to focus most of my effort on re-packing the content, based on human judgement, to make it as interesting and appealing to my reader as possible (and before you say that’s hardly fair, automated aggregation systems are heavily reliant on the judgement of human editors in deciding which stories are important and deserve precedence, so in the context of my argument, which is that a hybrid system will always be superior, I believe it’s totally fair).
 
People are forgetting that we’ve always had content aggregation services. They’re called newspapers. Every day, thousands of editors sift through mountains of news stories, columns, letters and use their highly-tuned understanding of what turns their reader on, to piece together a compelling information package. It’s absolutely no different to what web-based aggregation services are doing, only I reckon the human will generally do it better.
 
Which makes it kind of hard for me to fathom, the millions of dollars being thrown at sites like digg.com. I can’t help but think their success comes down to 1) novelty value and 2) the fact that mainstream publishers have such shithouse online services.
 
Anyway, I’m ready to put my theory to the test. Me and memeorandum. If this generates enough interest, one day early January, when I’ll be able to devote a working day to it, I’m going to see if I can out-memeorandum, memeorandum. And then the blogosphere can decide. Human or machine – who edits best?

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Filed under: Content Aggregation, memeorandum

9 Responses

  1. One day? One measly day? That would hardly qualify as a fair test. Part of the appeal of machine-based systems is that they can work 24/7/365 for no more investment than the time taken to write the software, plus the cost of the hardware and bandwidth. Humans, meanwhile, require constant daily infusions of pizza, caffeine, sunshine, positive reinforcement… plus the cost of hardware and bandwidth. And they only work for half the day at most on five out of seven days, not counting holidays.

    If you want to fight the machine, make a startup out of Epitome. Get some code together that will help anyone to quickly and painlessly write a daily Epitome-style column on any subject niche with auto-inserted links/blockquotes. Then share the ad revenue.

  2. Phil Sim says:

    “For no more investment than the time taken to write the software”.

    In memeorandum’s case about two years based on what Gabe has said previously. Which gives me a fair start on pure economics.

    “Humans, meanwhile, require constant daily infusions of pizza, caffeine, sunshine, positive reinforcement… plus the cost of hardware and bandwidth. And they only work for half the day at most on five out of seven days, not counting holidays.”

    Maybe, we can get all blogs to be machine-written too, Paul?

    Blog = Harvest link + “Found an interesting piece over at..” + Insert link + Insert first 4 paragraphs + Random witty quip. (Actually, that’s scarily on the money)

    “If you want to fight the machine, make a startup out of Epitome. Get some code together that will help anyone to quickly and painlessly write a daily Epitome-style column on any subject niche with auto-inserted links/blockquotes. Then share the ad revenue.”

    Exactly, my point. You serioulsy think Epitome is just a bunch of quotes bunched together. Nobody would read that. It’s the observation and anaysis that makes Epitome what it is. So what your suggesting wouldn’t be fighting the machine, it would be conceding to it.

  3. Machines write a lot more blogs these days than humans do. 90-95% of all pings are spings, according to which figures you look at.

    Your equation is pretty much how one of those would work, and I would bet that there is a subset of bloggers who would welcome such a tool so that they can easily insert their witty quips around the boilerplate. And weren’t you just asking for tools to help humans?

    We’re on the same side here, Phil. I’m as much in favour of humans’ primacy over machines as you are, perhaps more since I’m betting my business on it. However, machines are a formidable opponent which should not be underestimated. My solution is not to remove machines substantially from the process, since you leave yourself open to getting overrun by the machines’ advantages. Take the best from the machines, but retain a human overseer, a gatekeeper.

  4. Gabe says:

    The contest wouldn’t be man vs. memeorandum, it would be man+memeorandum vs memeorandum. Because there would be no way to stop you from referring to memeorandum.

    So it doesn’t seem very interesting to me. Actually, the general question is already settled in my mind: I’m planning extensions to my system to enable a hybrid man+memeorandum. Not so much for tech but for other areas.

    I should add I lose this battle daily. Vastly more people turn to the Drudge Report, edited by 1 guy, than the Political page on memeorandum.

  5. Phil Sim says:

    Gabe why not tech?

  6. […] In response to a Squash posting arguing the merits of a hybrid human/machine aggregation system, memeorandum creator Gabe Rivera said: “I’m planning extensions to my system to enable a hybrid man+memeorandum. Not so much for tech but for other areas.” […]

  7. […] Squash » Blog Archive » Man vs Machine: The Edit Wars […]

  8. […] aggregator announced he was adding a human editor to his payroll. Ironically, I was involved in a blog conversation about two years earlier with Gabe over the merits of a human editor versus an all-automated […]

  9. Great idea, but will this work over the long run?

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