Sound bites

The following blurb appeared in my RSS reader this morning:

Paul Graham: Great Hackers
In one of the most entertaining presentations [clip] from OSCON 2004, Paul Graham answers the questions, what motivates great hackers? [clip] What do they need to do their jobs? How do you recognize them? [clip] How do you get them to come and work for you? [clip] And how can you become one?
[IT Conversations]
I missed Paul Graham's talk at OSCON, but caught some of the ripple effects -- in particular, the reaction to his trashing of Java in favor of Python. This blurb, from the IT Conversations RSS feed, gave me a link to the clip. By repeating the link here, in conjunction with some keywords -- "Paul Graham Java Python" -- I'm pretty certain that in a week or so, this Google query will lead you to the item you are now reading, and thence (if you're so inclined) to Graham's controversial remark, and thence (if you're further inclined) to the complete 30-minute segment posted by Doug Kaye at IT Conversations.

Let's check that prediction next week. If I'm right, it'll be a compelling demonstration of one of the principles I outlined in my inaugural Prime-time Hypermedia column: the best way to pierce the opaqueness of large media files is to point into them, and then wrap the pointers with words that the search engines can see.

Actually, that column itself was a similar experiment. I included within it a self-referential link, and suggested that searching for "web services" and "Liberty" would be a way to find the JavaOne demo by Nokia that was excerpted in the column. It sort of worked. You need to include a few more terms to make the column appear -- search?q=%22web+services%22+javaone+liberty+nokia+video -- and it's only the #8 result currently, but you get the idea.

This isn't just a parlor trick. Indexing media content in this way will create a level of access to primary sources that we've never experienced. Consider Paul Graham's remark. I suspect that most who commented on it did not actually hear it, but instead read it, or read about it. How much of its impact is conveyed by the text, and how much by the delivery? Whatever that ratio, access to the primary source -- the words as actually spoken -- is bound to affect the perception of the remark.

In the realm of public discourse, it's easy to imagine what this could mean. The presentation and analysis of sound bites has been almost entirely at the discretion of the broadcast media. Think how different it will be when we the media can choose the sound bites that we want to discuss.

On a more mundane level, it starts to make a lot more sense to record business meetings when you know that sound bites can be clipped and blogged. Think about how we "write up" meetings today. Some people try to transcribe, and fail to synthesize. Others synthesize, at the risk of revising history. A collective synthesis rooted in the audio transcript seems like the best of both worlds.

PS: Apropos of nothing, I used Linky to check the links in this item before posting it. This is what I heard. It's strangely reminiscent of Glenn Gould's The Idea of North.

Former URL: