Building a revolution in relevance in an age of information abundance

Revolutions rooms“We’ve had a decade’s worth of news in less than two months,” Mike Allen, chief White House correspondent for Politico. In the Saturday edition of Politico’s Playbook, Allen looked back at the Arab Spring and Japanese ongoing challenges:

It was Feb. 11 – seven weeks ago — that Mubarak fled the Arab spring, a rolling reordering of Middle East power that could wind up affecting global security as profoundly as 9/11.

It was March 11 – 15 days ago – that we woke to the news of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, which will have ripple effects on the fragile global economy for months to come.

And, oh, we’re in three hot conflicts at once, for the first time since World War II.”

Related, in the NEW YORK TIMES: “Inundated With News, Many Find It Difficult to Keep Up on Libya

“People interviewed across four states said that at a time when the world seems to stagger from one breathtaking news event to another — rolling turmoil across the Middle East, economic troubles at home, disaster upon disaster in Japan — the airstrikes on military targets in Libya can feel like one crisis too many.”

Through it all, I’ve been following Andy Carvin (@acarvin), whose Twitter feed has been a groundbreaking curation of the virtual community and conversation about the Middle East, including images, video, breaking news and unverified reports.

To wax metaphorical, his account has become a stream of crisis data drawn from from the data exhaust created by the fog of war across the Middle East, dutifully curated by a veteran digital journalist for up to 17 hours a day.

Carvin has linked to reports, to video and images from the front lines that are amongst the most graphic images of war I have ever seen. While such imagery is categorically horrific to view, they can help to bear witness to what is happening on the ground in countries where state media would never broadcast their like.

The vast majority of the United States, however, is not tracking what’s happening on the ground in the region so closely. NEW YORK TIMES:  

“A survey by the Pew Research Center — conducted partly before and partly after the bombing raids on Libya began on March 19 — found that only 5 percent of respondents were following the events ‘very closely.’ Fifty-seven percent said they were closely following the news about Japan.”

Understanding the immensity of the challenges that face Japan, Egypt and Libya is pushing everyone’s capacity to stay informed with day to day updates, much less the larger questions of what the larger implications of these events all are for citizens, industry or government. In the context of the raw information available to the news consumer in 2011, that reality is both exciting and alarming. The tools for newsgathering and dissemination are more powerful and democratized than ever before. The open question now is how technologists and journalists will work together to improve them to provide that context that everyone needs.

Finally, an editor’s note: My deepest thanks to all of the brave and committed journalists working long hours, traveling far from their families and risking their lives under hostile regimes for the reporting that helps us make it so.

About Alex Howard

Alexander B. Howard is a DC-based a technology writer and editor. Previously, he was the Washington Correspondent at O'Reilly Media, where he covered the voices, technologies and issues that matter in the intersection of government, technology and society. If you're feeling social, you can follow him on Twitter, like him on Facebook or circle him on Google Plus In addition to corresponding for the O’Reilly Radar, he has contributed to the Huffington Post, Govfresh, Mashable, ReadWriteWeb, National Journal, The Atlantic, CBS News and Forbes. He graduated from Colby College with a bachelor's degree in biology and sociology. Currently, he is a resident of the District of Columbia, where he lives with his greyhound, wife, power tools, plants and growing collection of cast iron pans, many of which are frequently used to pursue his passion for good cooking.

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