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A review copy of Reality Check turned up on my desk in 1996. The book by Brad Wieners and David Pescovitz (ISBN 1-888869-03-8) is published by Hardwired, the book division of Wired magazine.

According to the review at Amazon.com:

Reality Check is based on the popular and amusing futurism section in Wired magazine. It makes bold predictions about when we will see some of the wonders suggested by pundits, thinkers, science fiction and today’s technological revolution.

Wondering when we’ll finally see universal picture phones? Electric cars? Contact with extraterrestrial life? Tricorders? Predictions for all of those are here, along with when the two-party system will die and–of grave importance–when we’ll all have virtual sex slaves.

You have to hand it to the authors for putting their reputation’s on the line with the predictions. Few are so public with forecasts.

Here at the start of 2010 we’re about halfway through the book (in terms of pages). So far  the authors have had more misses than hits – that’s only likely to get worse as time goes on.

According to the authors this year will bring:

  • Smart drugs. The description in the book is hazy, but so far, to my knowledge this doesn’t look like being on the agenda.
  • Robot surgeon (in a pill). While there is some robot surgery and some advances of this nature, I think the idea of swallowing a robot pill which swims through your body fixing up ailments is still a way off being an everyday reality.
  • The Audio CD becomes a format of second choice. In reality this happened four or five years earlier, but seeing as the book was written in 1996 we can give the authors a big tick for this prediction. What they failed to predict is in many places the Audio CD is now third behind digital music and vinyl – but that’s another story.

Admitting ignorance is one of the great things about being a journalist.

Well, maybe not ignorance. But it is OK to not know things. Journalists can ask questions without feeling dumb.

People expect it of you and make allowances: although constant questions may explain why surveys show journalists are unpopular.

Professional ignorance

What’s great about admitting you don’t know?

Society is intolerant when people don’t know things.

This means many adults are reluctant to admit to knowledge gaps. We feel the need to disguise our ignorance.

Disguising a lack of knowledge is a problem for people who work in knowledge industries. That’s understandable. Employers hire knowledge workers for expertise and insight. They may feel cheated when told: “I don’t know” or “I’ll find out”.

Not knowing everything is glorious

Yet no-one knows everything. Not even in a narrow subject area.

Admitting you don’t know is liberating. Being able to ask questions is liberating.

Asking people to explain what they mean when they say something strange or incomprehensible is liberating.

Pretending to understand when you don’t is stifling. And learning new information is hard when you are busy trying to hide your ignorance.

As a journalist, I make a point of asking questions even when I suspect I know the answer. It is the best way of learning new knowledge, even if it makes me sound like an inquisitive child.

It can often provide fresh insight.

Appearing ignorant doesn’t bother me. Staying ignorant does.

Australian Reseller News, Computer Reseller News, New Zealand Reseller News and The Channel serve readers at the sharp end of the information technology industry.

While many of the stories they cover are similar to those in other technology publications, their specialist audience means  journalists have a filter. They look at the trade side of the computer business.

Mostly this means asking “what does this mean for the channel” and sticking the answer at the top of the story.

People who sell or distribute technology read these titles, they are ahead of market trends. That’s because companies need to speak to resellers and distributors before speaking to the public.

When channel publications work well, there’s a flinty realism to their approach. They deal with the nuts and bolts of the business and not airy-fairy possibilities.

New Zealand’s The Channel is mainly advertorial – that is companies pay the publisher for stories written about their offerings. And all three other titles run sign-posted advertising supplements – they also pad local coverage with overseas news stories of variable worth.

Otherwise the publications are news-oriented.

You need to show the publishers of these titles you are a bone-fide computer industry person to get a subscription to the print publications, but all four run free access web sites.

Australian Reseller News

Computer Reseller News (Australia)

New Zealand Reseller News

The Channel (New Zealand)

Liam Tung wasn’t the only Australian journalist providing coverage of the trial between Perth-based ISP iiNet and the Australian Federation against Copyright Theft (AFACT, now the Australian Screen Association). See: When Twitter is great journalism.

Until Monday Andrew Colley from The Australian was also tweeting regular reports in addition to his regular reporting duties.

Colley ran into technical problems. But he was ultimately ordered to stop by managers at the News Corporation newspaper.

Although it may have got him into hot water, Colley deserves praise for pioneering what is already proving a viable alternative news channel.

Twitter isn’t going to replace conventional journalism – 140 character tweets are not enough to convey complex ideas – but it complements traditional news reporting.

Hidebound, timid, sensible?

Some commentators see The Australian as hidebound or out of touch with modern technology for banning tweeted reports. They have good reason.

The newspaper’s representatives have a point when they say there are legal risks associated with a high-profile publication sending unfiltered messages directly from the scene of a breaking news story.

On the other hand, this doesn’t bother the BBC, which allows tweets and even provided Twitter coverage of The Ashes cricket series earlier this year. And it clearly doesn’t bother ZDNet.

Where’s the money

Don’t forget journalism is a trade and newspapers, web sites and other media outlets are businesses.  News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch, the founder and owner of The Australian newspaper has already voiced his concern online news sites don’t pay their way.

But at least web sites can display advertising and earn some revenue. There’s no obvious way to make money from offering a Twitter news feed.

ZDNet is experimenting. It also publishes Liam Tung’s tweets on a conventional web page with online advertising. There’s some value and traffic coming from the feed – but on its own probably not enough to pay Tung’s salary.

The Australian has higher overheads than ZDNet. There’s a danger a Twitter feed could not only fail to generate revenue. It may replace revenue-generating news reports.

This is an issue that goes beyond the current paid content argument and something likely to stifle Twitter’s growth as a new channel.