January 2008

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It’s a huge stretch to think about society, and about business, from the perspective of the independently empowered individual. In business, and even in government, we are so accustomed to thinking about people as dependents, and to seeing their abilities in terms of what we as institutions allow, that it’s difficult to switch our perspective around — and think about companies, and organizations, existing at our grace, and building their services on what we bring to the collective table.

Until I read this piece by Adriana Lukas this morning I hadn’t fully realized how the ubiquitous use of the word content, which I’ve griped about for years (and which Adriana quotes) frames our understanding of markets, and media, in ways that place presumed control in the hands of “providers” other than ourselves. Even UGC — “User Generated Content” — is not seen as ours, but as freight for media companies to forward for their own purposes. As John Perry Barlow put it a few years back, “I didn’t start hearing about ‘content’ until the container business felt threatened”.

Media is where the madness is maintained. And that madness will persist for as long as we continue to assume that business is shipping, and that our worth is measured as freight for The Media’s container cargo business.

But rather than gripe some more, Adriana offers a useful way of framing the full worth of individuals, the creative goods they produce, and what they bring to both social and business relationships: the concept of the person as the platform:

Content is media industry term. The number of people talking about content grows every day as they assume roles that before only media could perform. With more tools and ways of distributing, photos, videos, writings, cartoons etc. are being ‘liberated’ from the channel world. Alas, often sliding into the platform and silo world. As far as I am concerned there are only two platforms – the individual user and the web.

That gives us something interesting to work with as we continue exploring how this changes everything.

The link behind that picture leads to a small set of shots I took with my new little inexpensive Canon pocket camera (with a name like a license plate, so I don’t remember it). Takes some getting used to, but I like it.

One of the pleasant discoveries I’ve made since moving (at least temporarily) Back East (as we, or they, say in California), is that I enjoy the winter. Nothing is prettier than New England under a fresh snow. That’s what I was trying to shoot there.

What I missed was taking some shots the day before the snows came, when the ponds were both frozen and clear. I bought some skates and went out on one of the local ponds with The Kid, who with a total of hours on skates was far better than his old man, who hadn’t been on the things in at least three decades — and hadn’t skated on a pond or a lake since his teens. So we’re talking, like, 45 years ago, give or take.

Now it’s warmed up and about all that’s left of the snow is gray glaciers of former slush along the sides of roads. Still, it’s pretty to me.

This weekend we’ll go skiing with friends up in Vermont. My first time skiing there. Looking forward to that, here at midnight in Toronto (at the moment).

That headline is the one I was going to use at first when I wrote Journalism in a world of open code and open self-education, over in . It’s a thinky piece, but that’s what can happen when journalists hang out in a place like the Berkman Center, where we did a lot of thinking out loud about journalism yesterday.

For my part, I thought about stories, and their limitations as ways to freight facts. Also of their advantages for telling truth. As my old friend the priest Sean Olaoire once said, “Some truths are so deep that only stories can tell them”. Sean is one of the world’s best story-tellers. I’m not always sure about his facts, but I also know that’s not his business.

The business of journalism is also worth thinking about. Because telling stories is what we do, and moving facts from mind to mind isn’t the whole job there. There are other purposes. I visit at least one of those in that piece too.

Life Imitates Onion

Or, Times Imitates Onion. Or so I thought when I saw the headline, Slashdot Founder Questions Crowd’s Wisdom. It’s great PR for Idle.Slashdot.org. Times sez, The new site, which is currently in testing mode, is clearly aimed at taking some audience away from weird-news-of-the-day sites like Digg and Fark.com.

In asking Are Journalism Conferences Worth It? Lisa Williams offers Bloggercon, Gnomedex and Blogher as examples of success. (I agree.) Of course she could have said “Are _________ Conferences Worth It?” without singling out journalism.

But since we’re there, lets.

I start, as is my occasional custom, with Tony Pierce, whose blog bears the legend nothing in here is true, and who is now in the employ of the Los Angeles Times. Tony’s latest investigates the vast cloud of growing nonsense and fun jive surrounding a video of the Rev. Thomas Cruise enthusing about his church. The first source in Tony’s post is I can has research papar?, which uses the adjective “epic” to describe its own mission. A sample paragraph:

  In a more semantic sense, the lulz found on 4chan and YTMND is a perfect example of pure simulacrum. There is nothing real about the lulz: it is entirely fake, yet original. It uses representations of things like pop culture icons in a totally virtual space. The map of 4chan precedes the territory it covers. The proponents of the lulz – specifically Anonymous – also embody the collective hive mind that the internet presents. One image macro may technically be the product of one person, but the idea of image macros and the contributions to internet culture are dictated by a hive collection of users. Encyclopedia Dramatica exemplifies this.

Yes. So. Tony explains,

  The well-designed online essay perfectly explained, among other things “lulz”, several Internet memes, and the roots behind the group Anonymous whose moto is “We do not forgive. We do not forget. We are legion. Because none of us are as cruel as all of us.”

  A few days after I Can Has Rezearch Papar came out Gawker found itself in possession of the now famous Tom Cruise video…

Below which Tony shares Tom’s and seven other videos, all of which together obsolete television as well as Tony obsoletes Journalism As We Knew It.

Bottom line: I want to go to a conference with Tony there. That would be good.

That headline just fell out of a conversation between Dr. Weinberger and myself as way of characterizing astroturf — fake grass-roots — campaigns.

I’ll be at There’s a New Conversation, in New York, on the evening afternoon of Feb 13. Subtitled, Cluetrain Manifesto – 10 years later. Numbers aren’t really ages, of course. While Cluetrain hit the webwaves in early ’99 and the book was written that summer (to come out in January of ’00, just in time to cause the dot-com bubble crash… sorry), the conversations that eventuated in the Cluetrain instantia began in ’98, so I guess we’re cool dating the dawn from then. Via Ted Shelton and James McKee.

It, and who else?

Bill Clinton: ‘Screw It, I’m Running For President’.

Bonus link.

Andrew Sullivan on book writing vs. blogging:

  I have to say that producing a book – I have four under my belt if you count my dissertation – is a draining, soul-sapping catharsis. Part of the strain is working for a long time and not knowing if any of it will be worth it. Blogging is almost the polar opposite: almost everything you write is read and used by someone. On a simple hour-by-hour basis, blogging is harder work. But the thinking required for a book – the slow sifting and weighing of competing ideas, themes, structure, arguments – is a deeper, more painful process.

  Most of my books have clocked in at around 80,000 words. I write around half a million words a year on this blog. On a pain-per-word basis, books are harder. But at least there is a point at which they are over, at least in the writing. A blog never stops. The deadline is always with you…

Actually, Blogging is more like watering plants. Ya gotta do it often enough that they don’t die, but not so often that you drown the things.

Nice to learn via Virginia Postrel that ‘s archives are now open and linkable, liberated from incarceration behind the paywalls that were fashionable at major magazines until too many of their writers also became bloggers (or ), and the logic of openness began to prevail. (Or so my theory goes.) Note that the story at the third link is from the New York Times, which saw the same light a few months back.

Anyway, bravo. Now I’ll start subscribing to the print magazine again.

Woops! I just tried to subscribe, by clicking on the Subscribe link at The Atlantic site, went through a remarkably fast & easy process that featured opt-in (rather than opt-out) radio buttons for promotional stuff, hit the Send Order button and… bzzzt: went straight to Page Not Found. Not good.

Just tried it again with a different browser. Same result. :-(

Hope they fix that soon.

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