Digital Compass: Navigating Through the Online Ocean

Information sharing is by no means a new concept; the idea of public dissemination of news dates back centuries. It was revolutionized by the industrial printing press in the 19th Century, which created the modern day newspaper we see today. This was further revolutionized with the rise of the Internet and more sophisticated communications technologies. Underlying all these evolving mediums, however, is the constant of the journalist: that is what I hope to be. I study journalism and media because they have become intrinsic in today’s society. But I often find myself a bit overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on the web. As a journalist, how am I supposed to navigate that information?

The rise of the Internet has created a global online database, easily accessible almost anywhere in the world from wireless technologies. The Information Age (or Digital or Computer Age) has emerged since the commercialization of the personal computer in the 1970’s and reached a peak in the early 1990’s with the adoption of the Internet. This Digital Age has resulted in a shift to online transfers of information. This means that we are sharing, creating and communicating more information much faster than ever before. Information is constantly being uploaded and consumed and as a result, breaking news is more readily available. Aside from the obvious advantages to having a 24-hour information network, there are some obstacles now for modern journalists. The Internet has become an ocean of information that is often hard to navigate. As a journalist, being on top of the most up to date events in the world is part of the job description. So how then does a journalist navigate the vastness of the information ocean?

Vsauce has a great video about the Internet that touches on a lot of points I make in my essay. Worth a watch, but focus on 3:00 minutes to about 4:00 minutes to hear Michael explain Tim Berners-Lee’s theory on networks.

The journalist recognizes “that there are no longer canonical sources [of information]” (Miles, 2007), modern news media has evolved into a sprawling hypertextual landscape, complete with various applications for information communication. News mediums are changing, they are now “unrestricted by sequence”; hypertextual (Nelson, 1992). And as these mediums are changing, new journalistic styles are emerging. Despite all this evolution, there is still a constant element in journalism – research. In the times of print research denoted a smaller, more specific aspect of journalism: interviews and events summaries. But with the shift online came more information. There was still a need for research and contextual evidence, but now there is so much more information available and it is mostly online. The journalist needs to be literate in this form of online research.

Journalists hailed the programming code that allowed the interweaving and categorization of information; Tags are a journalist’s best friend. The key aspect to a journalist’s ability to navigate various sources on the Internet is the fact that these different sources (websites and services) are all able to communicate with one another. This is a result of XML and RSS. “XML is a way to standardize the publication of information so that it can be shared, while RSS is a simple syndication system based on XML that allows for the exchange of this information between various services”(Miles, 2007). Essentially information on disparate websites, in separate locations can be shared, linked and transferred to each other, regardless of the Internet service. This is probably one of the most underrated achievements of the recent Internet and it has made not only journalistic life, but also Internet surfing life easier. This achievement facilitated the ability to tag and link pieces of information so that they are categorized and can then be linked to other content of the same tag. Unlike in print networks (libraries or the like), where a keyword has to fit into a predefined and limited selection, online tags can be generated by users and linked out to other similar posts they have found. This can professionally, by the website itself, or by users reading the content and it makes the navigation of this information so much smoother.


The Opte Project creates visualizations of the 14 billion pages that make up the network of the web.

In the map above the red lines represent links between web pages in Asia, green for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, blue for North America, yellow for Latin America and white for unknown IP addresses.


Many thinkers have explored the field of network science – the most popular conclusion to come out of it being the idea of ‘six degrees of separation’. The idea states that every person is only six or fewer step away from any other person in the world – the chain of ‘a friend of a friend’. This concept was explained by Watts (2003) that, because “the world is highly clustered”, people tend to group together in communities of like mindedness. Websites are no different; “they’re organized in an interconnected hierarchy of organizational themes, including region, country and subject area” (Stromberg, 2014). Hungarian physicist Albert-László Barabási (1999) discovered that any of the estimated 1 trillion documents in existence on the Web (over 14 billion pages as well as images, videos and other files) could be navigated to any other, within 19 clicks. The actual theory is much more in depth but the general idea carries over to the concept of tagging and linking. Take (or any news website). At the bottom of an article page is a list of tags that categorize and link that article to similar articles. The comments also act as reader-generated links. This becomes an invaluable tool to the researching journalist.

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The Herald Sun has links within articles to other related articles, as well as links on the side and categories on the bottom of the page that link out to similar and recommended articles.

Or take a broader website like Wikipedia for example (budding journalists please don’t use Wikipedia as a source… I’m only mentioning it for context!). Printed encyclopedias suffer in their medium, being in a printed form makes linking related articles a tedious effort and any new information that would need to be added to the encyclopedia would require an entire reprint. Being an online encyclopedia, Wikipedia is being constantly updated and has a plethora of links to various articles. This allows research to be seamless and integrated.

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Open any Wikipedia article and you will be bombarded with little blue links, these are all links to other articles based on tags, or keywords.

However we have been talking about research using an online database rather than a print one, and publication on an online newspaper rather than a printed broadsheet. But these seem reminiscent of traditional journalistic methods, just upgraded online. What about the new mediums of news transfer that the Internet has provided? How does a journalist react when the information transferred is condensed and shifted into high gear? What happens when millions of bits of information are saturating the media in one targeted website? How can a journalist sift through this ever-growing sea of information? This is what twitter has become: succinct, almost instantaneous journalism.

Social media has emerged as a new forum for journalists, and twitter is its mascot. The ability for a journalist to navigate twitter has become integral to the profession and twitter has become a hub for news. Hashtags have emerged as an extension of the generic tagging concept. While the hashtags has become largely a social tool they are still indispensable to journalists on twitter. Hashtags act as simplistic user-generated sorting function and journalists can use them to sort and disseminate information. They can track trends in hashtags to see which stories are gaining most attention. Hashtags can also be used as a way to find targeted audiences.

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Just a snapshot of some of the astonishing numbers Twitter churns out

Ultimately the Internet has facilitated a paradigm shift in the way we communicate, a shift that has positive and negative aspects. “It is often an informal, loquacious and occasionally garrulous medium that has made strength of the formal qualities of hypertext” (Miles, 2006). Despite this changing media landscape, there is still a need for the journalist. News production and broadcasting has been accelerated and the amount of information available has been greatly expanded. As a journalist I must evolve with the medium and learn to adapt to the growing social medium enterprise. Along with that I must also be able to navigate my way through the deep ocean of information that is the Internet. In that endeavor I am unbelievably grateful for the development of the XML and RSS systems. I have no idea how the coding works, but the ability to tag and link information online is instrumental to the researching journalist.





Cruz, D.J 2014, ‘”Hashtags” – A Quick Look with its Effects to Modern Social Media’, International Business Times, 12 May, viewed 20 October 2014 <>

Editor 2014, ‘Young Australians spend more time speaking to their friends on social media than in person’,, 9 June, viewed 21 October 2014, <>

Hughes, S 2014, ‘15 Twitter Facts and Figures for 2014 You Need to Know’, jeffbullas’, viewed 21 October 2014 <>

Miles, A “Network Literacy: The New Path to Knowledge.” Screen Education Autumn.45 (2007): 24–30.

Miles, A. “Blogs in Media Education: A Beginning” Australian Screen Ed. 41 (2006): 66-9

Mlot, S 2013, “Every Webpage Is Connected by 19 Clicks or Less’, PCMag, 19 February, viewed 18 October 2014, <,2817,2415589,00.asp>

Nelson, T.H, ‘Literary Machines 91.1: The Report On, and Of, Project Xanadu Concerning Word Processing, Electronic Publishing, Hypertext, Thinkertoys, Tomorrow’s Intellectual Revolution, And Certain Other Topics Including Knowledge, Education and Freedom’. Sausalito: Mindful Press, 1992. Print.

Watts, D.J ‘Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age’, London: Vintage, 2003. Print.

Stromberg, J ‘Any Two Pages on the Web Are Connected By 19 Clicks or Less’, Smithsonian, 18 February, viewed 18 October 2014 <>

The Web Is Not The Net 2014, YouTube Video, Vsauce, YouTube, 8 May <>

Wikipedia 2014, Welcome to Wikipedia,, viewed October21 2014, <>


Limewire, Pirating, and Game of Thrones, oh my!

Corporations like Apple and Amazon have taken advantage of the ease of downloadable products, especially music. Online stores like iTunes have capitalized on the single, low cost download of music tracks. But along with that, file sharing has rising dramatically.

Although Limewire has been shut down and forced to pay out artists and corporations, file sharing systems are still in place and music is still being illegally downloaded. Limewire was just the face of the underground industry. Its not just music that is being pirated. Game of Thrones has become the most illegally downloaded TV show of all time.

But does the mean that the artists or producers lose income? Game of Thrones is still showing and artists are still making music so there must still be a profit to be made. Would it then be easier for entertainment companies to just kill the pirating industry by making some or most of their content free? Is a system like Netflix the better way to go?

Symposium #10

This unique and deep meaning of power laws perhaps explains our excitement when we first spotted them on the Web. It wasn’t only that they were unprecedented and unexpected in the context of networks. It was that they lifted complex networks out of the jungle of randomness where Erdős and Rényi had placed them forty years earlier and dropped them in the colorful and conceptually rich arena of self-organization.(p.77)

Power laws rarely emerge in systems complete dominated by a roll of the dice. Physicists have learned that most often they signal a transition from disorder to order. The emergence of them on the Internet signaled just such a change and laid groundwork for the establishment of more complex, but orderly, systems of networking.


The long tail theory has facilitated an abundances of niches. The internet and the incredibly vast amount of information available has led to outliers, normally forgotten in retail settings, to be capitalized on. This has also given consumers an abundance of choice and markedly lower prices.

Three Rules:

  1. Make everything available.
  2. Cut the price in half, not lower it.
  3. Help me find it.

Split Personalities

“To be a realistic whole is not an undisputed starting point but the provisional achievement of a composite assemblage” -Latour.

Adrian took this to mean that people are not ‘entirely whole’. Simultaneously, people can be many things and fit many roles. Adrian used himself as an example and listed off all the things he saw himself as being in a classroom setting. He presumed that he could embody all of these different titles to different people, but do those titles extend to how others view us, or how we view others?

While Adrian may be a friend, employee, teacher, and many other things, I have only ever know him as my lecturer. That gives me a limited perception of him now that I just how many roles he fills, but to me that is all of him; he is a whole lecturer.

So I tried to imagine how different people in my life may view me. I get to experience all of my moods, thoughts and feelings. I see first hand how I interact with other people, my likes and dislikes, my inner thought. But all this is lost to on everyone. Could we be simultaneously be the same person yet viewed as completely different  by two separate persons?

For example, my mother would claim to know me very well; she’s known me my whole life and is there when I go to sleep and when I wake up, same could be said for my family. But do they get to see the same Nathan that my friends do? I know I act differently around my family and friends. There are things I do and tell my friends that I wouldn’t with my parents and vice versa. But they don’t know that. So which version of myself is then the real me? Me as a Friend or as a Son/Brother? Maybe its a little of both.

Either way, both my family and friends have a completely different perception of the person that I am, and probably neither of them are completely accurate. Does that then mean that we are never whole within our own minds (because we have these different personalities for different people), but are whole from their point of view because that’s all they’ve ever known of us?

80/20: A Real Life Application?

Seems legit.

80% of profits come form 20% of employees, 80% of customer service complaints come from 20% of customers, 80% of your grades come from 20% of the work you do?

The more I thought about this the more it actually started to make sense. I know Barabasi said that applying the 80/20 rule to just about anything would be a “gross overstatement”, it does seem to fit for a lot of common, non-businness, situations.

The pessimist in me would infer from this that 4/5 of all my efforts would be largely irrelevant, yet it seems that this is not entirely untrue. If I take my academic work for example, for most classes 80% of my final mark comes from only about 20% of my time spent working for that class, whether that be essays or other assignments. Of all the work I do, only 20% will be marked towards my final grade. But does that mean that the other 80% of the work I did for that class becomes irrelevant?

What about all the readings and notes I took? I spent way more time in the semester reading and going to class or lectures than I did on my assignments. But without those readings and notes, would I have been able to complete my assignments? Doesn’t that mean that more of my efforts have contributed to my results, if indirectly?

Would this apply to business oriented models of the 80/20 rule? Would that 20% of the workforce have been able to produce that 80% of the profits for a company without the help of another percentage of the workforce?…

Symposium #8

  • Nothing is neutral; on the other hand nothing is coercive either.
  • Technologies were created with an intended purpose, however that purpose may be lost as the technology is used for different purposes besides the one it was originally intended for.
  • In relation to gun violence: a key argument in relation to gun regulation is that it is not the technology that kills people, it is the person wielding the technology.
    • This can be applied to any technology. E.g. A hammer may have originally been intended as a tool, but it can be used as a weapon, or to destroy rather than build, or as a chew toy for a dog, dinner for a termite.. etc.
  • Networked media and technology follow this same logic with communications technologies in particular.
  • Networked technologies are intricate and complex ‘soups’ of histories, interlocking social reforms, social conditioning etc.
  • Nothing is isolated; everything exists in relation to something else.

Six Degrees of Facebook Separation

I’ve heard the phrases “what a small world” and “six degrees of separation” so often that I had never really thought to deeply about them. I just accepted that fact that I would run into people with whom I had a mutual acquaintance, and by that logic, it seemed likely that by extension/association I would know a lot of people.

But when I sit down and try and think how, through only 6 relationships, that I would know the President of the USA, that seemed a bit of a stretch. Who would I know that would even have hopes of knowing someone who knew the President, and not just on some superficial level; “oh yeah! I sat on next to a guy on the bus who said he knew a guy who once went to school with Barack Obama”….come on now.

I mean real legitimate associations, a friendship or family relation; some kind of meaningful link. That notion of 6 degrees of separation seemed more unlikely to me. So I tried to map it out – how could I know the President? I turned to Facebook.

I had lived in America so that should have made it easier right? If I could keep going through mutual friends until I found someone who worked in the US government I would count that as a win. Turns out it was easier than I thought.. within 20 minutes I had found a few Congressmen’s Facebook pages and a couple of other people who have listed they worked in the White House. Another 15 minutes and I had trimmed it down to 7 links (more than 6 degrees but I’m chalking that up as a W). I could have probably found it in less links but Facebook isn’t the most reliable medium for this kind of research!

Maybe one day Facebook will have a “mutual friends of your mutual friends” option when looking through peoples’ profiles?

The Oscillated Jogger

I’m a runner, anything from a lazy afternoon 5k around the park, a 10k training run, or a 21k half marathon, I love it all. I have my routines for each run and it varies depending on if I’m training for an upcoming event. A prep for anything over 10k usually involves some carbo-loading the night before (pasta, potatoes, or something like that) and heaps of water, a small breakfast of maybe a banana and a muesli bar, then about a 1k walk and light stretch to warm up (got to stay limber!). I also have running playlists on my Ipod, varying based on pace, distance, intervals etc. and have a BPM that is set to my footsteps.

Last night I went for a run after work, just around Jells Park for a couple of laps, it was about 6-7k. But I had lost my headphones so instead of focusing on my music, breathing and footsteps, I just kind of daydreamed. There were a few other runners out doing my loop and that reminded me of Watts’ analogy of joggers to explain synchronized systems.

None of the other joggers were paying attention to me or my pace (coupling strength) and we were by no means running as a pack (or in a synchronized state), our lap times (intrinsic frequencies) would have been different. But I started wondering how this would have been different if it was a race. Would we all be together, waiting for someone to break away or fall behind? Or would we still be spread out? Each runner just trying to maintain his or her best pace.

This was a weird feeling seeing myself acting out a theory from the readings. Maybe I can use my knowledge of complex systems to give myself an edge next time I’m running a race.