CB: What else can computers enable for journalists besides searching for information?
BS: Content management. People are really good at making social connections and that’s going to happen whether there are computers or not. What computers help with is scale. It’s easy to manage hundreds or thousands of friends on Facebook, and that scale isn’t possible without some pretty heavy-duty computing going on.
CB: What about interactive multimedia and graphics?
BS: Well, it’s pretty much required that there’s some arms race now going on among news organizations to do this better. What you’re not seeing in a lot of organizations, and where The New York Times is ahead, is the productivity and the manpower it takes to support all of this work. Where the computer science comes in, it’s not so much doing a one-off information graphic. That’s a practice that news organizations have done for decades, and for a lot of the interactive info graphics that go on Web sites, it’s the same sort of production pipeline. But now you build this machine, for lack of a better term, which functions as an information graphic, but it will take yesterday’s information, and it’ll take today’s information, and it’ll also take tomorrow’s information.
CB: So this is also a paradigm shift-less retrospective, more ongoing and fluid?
BS: That’s really the essence of computational journalism-that you’re building tools that deal with streams of information. You deal with streams on the pre-production, research, reporting, newsgathering, sensemaking, insight-generating side of things, to develop news stories and find out where trends are going and what hasn’t been told to the public. And then once that’s done, there’s the final product, the public-facing side of the machinery - and once you’ve got something figured out, these sorts of machines can be built to run and run and run.
CB: You’ve said that your conference “set the stage for disruptive innovation.” How so? What will that look like?
BS: I think it’ll just look like more. You’ll have everything that you have today, it’s just that computation gives more-more opportunity, different media formats, more opportunities to generate insight, tell stories, and bring people in who can build bridges from legacy skill sets to the newer skill sets. There is no limitation to what someone is going to invent in terms of combining existing legacy interfaces and newer interfaces like Twitter, Digg, and others sites that are impacting the news.
CB: Accepting that there are no limitations, how long will it be until we stop talking about this arrangement as a point we want to get to and start talking about it as where we are?
BS: What Web 2.0 enables in software development is a really fast development process. So you can go from an idea to a working prototype to something that lots of people can use very quickly-on the order of a couple of months. What I think will happen is at some point, and we might already be a couple months into this, there will be a twelve-month window when you see an explosion of creativity and interfaces where people understand what existing tools they can leverage. And then it stands to reason that once people start seeing where the sweet spots are, you could get another boom going where it will seem like at the beginning of twelve months we’ve got the world we’re in, but by the end of it, we’ve got a completely different world. That hasn’t started noticeably yet. I’m hoping that what we did at Georgia Tech helps to push that forward, maybe even trigger it.