Vice-President, Comtech Services, Inc.–>

Last fall, Walter Bender, Senior Scientist and Director of the MIT Media Lab, presented his ideas on the future of information publishing to the IEEE Professional Communication Society conference in Boston. He pointed out that the purpose of information publishing should be to help people think, to organize the content so that it has meaning to the user of that information. The context of the information is the real value added of our profession.

The problem, Bender pointed out, with publishing today is its general nature. Reuters New Services, for example, claims to write the news for everyone. That’s fine if all readers were the same. With computer-assisted publishing, we have the ability to localize content for the individual, the ANY one rather than the EVERY one.

Bender’s work at the MIT Media Lab is focused on learning how the computer can serve as a computational tool for information rather than just a tool to post articles on the Internet. He described the ZWRAP project, which offers a new structure for news editing. Experts annotate the text of an article and add their ideas about the content. The computer generates a rich context for the article using the metadata provided by the annotations. Thus, the services around the information product, supported by the technology, become just as valuable as the information product itself.

Bender described the project in place at the Melrose Mirror. The Mirror is an online news service generated weekly by senior citizens of Melrose, MA. The citizens have become the authors of the stories. The publish button has been replaced by the send button from the citizen to the editor. The consumer becomes the producer of information. The division between author and reader is blurred.