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Daily Digest: On Blogosphere Imaging, SEC's XBRL, and "White-Collar Populism"

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, December 23 2008

  • Imaging the Blogosphere: Ars Technica's Julian Sanchez has a fascinating report on models of the blogosphere's many-tendriled thought sharing that go far beyond information-thin "A is connected to B is connected to..." mappings. Morningside Analytics' John Kelly, details Sanchez, has developed 3D modelings that shine light on everything from "term valance" -- that is, the semantics employed by different clusters of online conversations to talk about everything from "home schooling" to "preemptive war" -- to topics that bookmarking reveals to be of deep interest in some sectors but spark little visible online feedback. As Sanchez suggests, the time is soon coming where we'll have to greatly refine the crude strategies we now use to understand how online worlds interact.

  • A Big Step Forward for Standard Financials: Don't let the acronyms fool you -- the SEC's embrace of XBRL is exciting stuff. The Securities and Exchange Commission has mandated that public companies and mutual funds publish their financial data in a common structured format, NextGov's Gautham Nagesh reports. Banks and corporations today often file in paper or simple digital text, and often using their own special way of reporting information. Standardized balance-sheet reporting posted online makes it, in theory, that much easier for investors, regulators, and reporters to navigate institutions' financial realities -- perhaps uncovering the next Enron or Lehman Brothers before all heck breaks loose.

  • Changing Congress, One Salon at a Time: Stanford professor Larry Lessig was recently the guest of honor at a salon sponsored by Netroots Nation. Lessig was there to get into the weeds on Change Congress, his effort, co-launched with Joe Trippi, to rework the Capitol Hill's stimulus-response framework. Big things seem to be afoot for Change Congress, not the least of which is Lessig's pending move back east to Harvard's Edmond J. Safra Foundation Center for Ethics, whose work with be refocused to center on corruption. Some slightly rough video of the salon has just gone live.

  • Representin': One way that forward-looking newspapers are looking to survive the armageddon facing their industry is to work on repackaging the great reporting they already produce in ways that are more topically or geographically relevant -- down to the congressional district. The New York Times' interactive division has just released a beta version of Represent -- think married to the Times' still vanguard political journalism and its somewhat less vanguard political blogging. (Thanks Erica Sagrans) Tell Represent an address in central Brooklyn, for example, and out pops "Your Councilman David Yassky and your Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton appeared in the article Mayor's Aide Pushes Hard for Kennedy." Yeah, we know it's beta, but location-specific RSS feeds would be a great addition. Represent is built using the Django open-source framework, which we'll take from's Scott Gilbertson is a somewhat big deal.

  • PdF Under the Microscope: Wed developer Matt Garland has authored a thoughtful critique of the Personal Democracy Forum universe, ground zero for, as Garland sees it "the digerati's white-collar populism." Garland suggests that PdFers' (count yourself among them!) special blend of wonkish of-the-people democracy comes from the fact that we see ourselves as bulwarks of civil society, neither the ruling class or the ruled -- or, as he frames it, "a counter-elite balancing out corporations [whose] middleman position leads them to place great faith in process, rules and transparency, fixate on corruption, and attribute regenerative powers to post-political or a-political 'civics.'" Of course, an alternative explanation is that such fixations rise from the near total absence of institutional transparency, good-government processes, and the like from the modern American political scene -- and without them, boots-on-the ground participatory democracy stands a much poorer chance of success. And far from "post-political" or "a-political," it's a leveling of the playing field so that the wonderful clashes of ideologies and theories of practice that make American democracy so swell have a better chance of taking place. Anyway, well worth a read.

In Case You Missed It...

Speaking about putting great faith in process, Nancy Scola reports on a nascent name standardization project that might just "streamline fundraising reports, regulatory records, and more."