For the past 5-years, I’ve been working on an app to help serious writers, as you say,
show you how we made the cake. So when I heard you said during your A Very Stable Genius book tour that
we’re no longer in the Walter Cronkite days and that journalists need to practice greater transparency, to demonstrate how they did their reporting, I made a mental note that you might be a good person to ask to beta-test my app once it was ready for testing.
What I want from you:
I’d like your feedback (to 4 questions) about my app so that I can determine its potential value for journalists.
1) The Problem I’m Trying to Solve:
Often when I read a quotation, I think to myself, “that’s a nice quote, but I wonder what it says two sentences prior, or two sentences after the quote. In other words, what’s that context, and how do I know that this quote wasn’t cherry-picked?
Out-of-context (or Cherry-picked) quotations are an age-old problem, but one which new digital tools are uniquely able to combat.
There is a Cherry-Picked Quote on the Jefferson Memorial.
Take for example the following quotation from Thomas Jefferson’s 1821 Autobiography, which is etched into the wall of the Jefferson Memorial in Washington DC:
Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.
In this case, if you click on the blue down arrow, you can see from the subsequent 500 characters of context that Jefferson talks about a process of “emancipation and deportation“, a detail that is missing from the compilation of excerpts etched into the Jefferson Memorial.
Demonstrate your Credibility: Show Your Sources:
As the Jefferson Memorial shows, cherry-picked quotations aren’t a new problem, but today’s authors face a growing climate of distrust and accusations of “Fake News“. The level of suspicion has gotten so bad that many Americans refuse to believe even direct quotations from mainstream publications.
I’ve created CiteIt.net to develop tools to allow credible authors to better inform their readers and differentiate themselves from the unserious and malicious and with the goal of creating a higher standard for citation authorship.
2) Examples: “How we Made the Cake”
I took a quote from your book tour presentation and turned it into the following example of contextual citations. It can be expanded: (click blue arrows)
We’re no longer in Walter Cronkite days. The consequence is people don’t agree on facts. And Phil and I have an extra job in addition to bringing you facts and that extra job is something the Post also takes really seriously with is now we got to show you how we made the cake. We’ve got to show you how we did the reporting or else you’re not going to believe us. And that’s our new chore.
I’ve listed a few other examples of how contextual citations like this can be displayed:
A. Laurel Thatcher Ulrich: (inline popup)
Harvard Professor Laurel Thatcher Ulrich‘s recently popularized quip that “
Well-behaved women seldom make history” appears on T-shirts, but do you know it’s original context?.
B. Rabbi David Wolpe:
I think that Judaism has the same problem that any thick civilization has in a world in which, as you say, context is stripped away. And not only is context stripped away, but attention to any one thing is scanter and less than it used to be. So, for example, a lot of Jewish commentary is based on your recognizing the reference that I make. Who recognizes references anymore? Because people don’t spend years studying books.
3) A Tool to make Contextual Citations easy:
I’ve developed a free plugin for WordPress and a Web Service that makes it easy to create contextual citations. You can try it out on the demo page.
I expect larger institutions like the Washington Post would like to download and customize my code to work with their particular software. That should be fairly easy, because my code is open source and freely available.
4) What’s In it for Me?
My long-term goal is to work on CiteIt.net full-time for a nonprofit with an aligned mission, like the Internet Archive. (See Long-term Goals)
5) Feedback Request: Questions for Carol:
- Do you think the type of contextual citations created by my App would be valued by some portion of the journalism profession? If only a subset, who do you see as the early adopters, and who would be the laggards?
- What do you think the most difficult challenges would be to overcome?
- Do you see a contextual citations being more relevant to some stories than others: breaking news, investigative stories, opinion columns, etc?
- Would you like to hear more about this project in the future?
- Contact: click for Tim’s email address
About me: Tim Langeman
I was born in Winnipeg Manitoba but grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. I majored in history at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. I took some electives in computer science while I was there. After I graduated in 2001, I’ve worked as a computer programmer ever since.
The CiteIt.net app arose out of an interest in writing a review of hypertext pioneer Ted Nelson that was more in the spirit for his original vision for hypertext. I’ve been working on this Citation project since 2015 as a hobby.
If everything works according to plan, I’d like to work on this full-time for an organization like the Internet Archive under a grant from an organization like the Knight Foundation. I’d like CiteIt.net to expand to include text, audio, and video and my goal is to maximize the good that I create rather than the amount of money that I capture.
If you have any suggestions for how I should proceed, sent me an email.
I intend to pursue CiteIt.net using a nonprofit model, making the code available as open source. I would allow others to develop commercialized applications, just as Tim Berners-Lee has allowed the web to be commercialized.