May 2008

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For some reason this blog has failed to post the comment that I just wrote in response to Simon Edhouse‘s latest comment in response to the Clues vs. Trains post. It’s within a good dialog that involves Simon’s post here, which makes some subtle but important points about the degree to which the client-server nature of commercial activity on the Web contributes to normative acceptance of the many silos there. I’m trying to convince Simon that we’re on his side in opposition to that. Anyway, here’s what I just tried to post:

  Simon,
  We need the invention that mothers the necessity. One “bite” I hope will hold is the relbutton on iPhones and other mobile devices, giving listeners a way to interact with, and pay for, otherwise free online radio streams and podcasts. I haven’t said too much publicly about this yet because we have a lot of details to work out. But on the “sell” side we already have the interest of (and participation by) Forces That Be in public broadcasting, just for starters.
  Q: “It’s going to need vendor buy-in to actually work?”
  Not at first. But we have a data type escrowed on the buyer’s side called MLOTT, for Money Left On The Table. That should help.
  Q: “You can’t shame them into action”
  Not the plan.
  Q: “or count on enlightening them”
  Not the plan either. Some of “them” are among “us” to begin with anyway.
  Q: Vendors are not going to volunteer to be ‘managed’
  Carrot before stick. It has to be attractive. That’s the plan.
  Q: “… the name of the meme itself, almost jinxes it, for non-adoption by traditional product/service suppliers in the value-chain.”
  It’s a big world. There are lots of vendors, some more traditional than others. We don’t need to boil the ocean here. We just need to get a few lagoons heated up first. That’s why starting with public media will help.

By the way, after I failed to post that on this blog, I tried posting a comment on Simon’s blog, which is on Blogger. There I was given three choices for identifying myself: Google/Blogger, OpenID and URL. Sxipper, which is normally helpful, got in the way of the first and wouldn’t let me get it to work. I forgot all of my OpenID IDs, and Blogger told me I had “illegal characters” in http://doc.searls.com.

I’ll tell ya, if all we ever do with VRM is eliminate that kind of gauntlet, I’ll be happy. Oh, by the way, I don’t think any current identity system by itself will cut it — worthy as each may be. When an individual shows up at a site, or otherwise interacts with an entity or a service in the networked world (and not just on the Web), we need to know if a relationship is already in place, and then skip consciousness-required-identification (hell, let’s call that CRI) of ourselves. And no vendor alone is going to give that to us. We need to make the user the point of integration and origination. We have to make the individual the driver, and not just the center of vendor-side “attention” or whatever. Code has to be present on our side that says to the other side that a relationship already exists, or could exist (on our terms and not just theirs), and then let computation take care of the rest.

Elselinks

VRM Linkage and Thinkage.

This is mostly true:

This one is my fave.

There is no business I wish more that I had thought of than Despair.com. Just freaking brilliant. And humbling.

Thought du jour

The Net is a way to work around the silos that substitute for it.

This came to me after seeing “Twitter is over capacity.” for the Nth time.

Twitter will be better off when it’s the best of its own breed, rather than the only place to do what can only be done there.

That’s why questions like Dave’s are essential.

Not saying that exclusivity, or exclusive advantages, are wrong and should not be rewarded. I am saying that walled gardens are inherently inadequate in a networked world.

Twitter is a terrific tool that needs to be just as open at the back end as Dave wants it to be at the front. Not sure how to do that, but I am sure it needs to be done.

Tropical Massachusetts

It was a clear morning yesterday when I flew out of Boston, and almost identical when I landed in San Francisco. For  oddball reasons of season and perspective, many of the sights on the outbound looked like the coast of Mexico or Brazil. In fact the above is Plum Island and its inlet on the North Shore near Ipswich.

Anyway, a fun set. Many more coming. See the slide show version here.

A little

Good news.

Yesterday on the drive from SFO to Palo Alto, I hit SCAN on the rental car radio. Aside from the sports shows and the still-awesome KPIG (with a little signal on 1510 out of Oakland… check it out), most of what I heard was partisanship at all costs.

Eventually you get slips like this one on Fox News, by the formerly substantive journalist Liz Trotta. What began as a slip of the tongue ended with a slip of the mind that is just freaking scary.

Sez Trotta,

I am so sorry about what happened yesterday and the lame attempt at humor. I fell all over myself, making it appear that I wished Barack Obama harm, or any other candidate, for that matter, and I sincerely regret it and apologize to anybody I have offended. It is a very colorful political season, and many of us are making mistakes and saying things we wish we had not said.

… but saying things which, at some level, we still mean. That level in this case is a warped and degraded form of conservatism, dressed as news and delivered as entertainment. Again, partisanship at all costs.

What Liz Trotta told her audience was to hate Obama as much as it hates Osama. And to trivalize the advice, all in one move. Were any unhinged future assassins watching? Let’s hope not.

I don’t begrudge anybody going after advertising money. And I don’t have anything against advertising itself. For many products and services advertising will remain the best way for supply and demand to get acquainted.

But advertising also involves guesswork and waste, and always will. It is also, by its shout-to-the-world nature, not a “conversation”.

This is why I’m uncomfortable with the notions of “conversational media” and “conversational marketing”. Especially when gets used to justify it. Such is the case with the awful current entry for Conversational Marketing in . It begins, “Conversational (or Conversation) Marketing arose as a current buzzword after the [ClueTrain Manifesto], which starts ‘All Markets Are Conversations’.

First, it’s Cluetrain, not ClueTrain. Second, it begins “People of Earth…” Third, it’s true that the first of its 95 Theses says “Markets are conversations” (no “All”, no headline-type caps); but the next 94 unpack that point, along with a few more, none of which are justifications for advertising. In fact, we mention advertising only once, at #74, which says, “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.” (Even if that’s not true, it’s what the thing says, so at least get that much right.) Fourth, a phrase is not a word, even if the phrase buzzes.

I could go on, but why bother. I just hope the Wikipedians delete or bury the whole topic until its promoters start thinking and stop buzzing.

Anyway, this all comes up because I’m thinking about what to talk about tomorrow night at There’s a New Conversation in Palo Alto. (Details here.) The event is one in a series occasioned by the upcoming 10th anniversary of Cluetrain’s publishing on the Web; but I’m not much interested in talking about that. Instead I’d rather talk about what’s going to happen after we finish throwing both media and marketing out the window.

Both will live, of course. But not the way they’ve lived in the periods that began with their common usage and can’t end soon enough.

More to a piont, I’d like to explore what happens after buyer reach exceeds seller grasp. Because that will happen. And when it does neither media nor marketing will be able to live in their old halls of mirrors. Even with Wikipedia’s help.

While the kid had his violin lesson this evening at his school, I went out and shot hoops for as long as it took. Hits vs. Misses, all shots from beyond the foul line in any direction. When the kid came out, I was up 42 to 37. After we started playing HORSE, a couple of athletic young folks, a guy and his girlfriend, invited us to play a quick game to eleven, two on two. Make-it-take-it. The Kid made most of our points, but I hit the winning shot from out near top of the key. Swish. Nothing but net: 11-8.

Of course, the guy on the other team wanted his girlfriend to take most of their shots. He probably could have beaten us one-on-two. He was that good. But still, it felt satisfying. I think the last time I played an Actual Game was in the Ford Administration. Made me want to do more. Which is ludicrous, since I’m overweight, pushing 61, and gifted with the leaping ability of a culvert. Still, I played, made rebounds and put up shots that went in; and that alone felt good.

More Motown

It’s a warm breezy day in Cambridge, a perfect pre-summer day for the Motown Orgy that WHRB is holding right now. I caught it first this morning on my way back from dropping the kid off at school, and it’s been hard to tune away since. Great radio, even though it’s weird getting schooled by DJs a third my age about what I still regard as my music (along with that of a billion or so other people).

WHRB doesn’t have a huge signal on the air. But their stream sounds great (in 96kbps stereo), worldwide. That’s the high-bandwidth one. If you’re listening over the cell system or someting, use the low bandwidth one.

Remembering Catherine Burns

My grandmother, who was born in 1882 and died in 1990, came from sturdy Irish and German stock. It’s a combination that yields what I like to call “very organized party people”. She lived longer than her sisters, but not by a huge sum. The other three all lived into their 80s and 90s.

Grandma was the third of four daughters whose parents were Henry Roman Englert and Catherine Trainor. Catherine died in her thirties, so I assume that when this picture was taken, the girls were without a mother — although grandma often spoke fondly of her Aunt Mag, Catherine’s sister. I still remember lessons handed down from Aunt Mag. Such as, “You’ve got it in your hand. Put it away.”

Catherine Trainor Englert was the daughter of Thomas Trainor and (as I recall) Catherine McLaughlin. Thomas emigrated from Ireland in 1825 at age 15 and worked as an indentured servant to Catherine McLaughlin’s dad in Boston, learning the carriage trade. After marrying Catherine he moved to New York, living at a farm in Harlem while running a successful carriage business on Lower Broadway, where the World Trade Center later stood and fell. The Trainors had two daughters and at least two sons. As I recall one of them fought in the Civil War and died of injuries not long after the war was over. As the family story goes, the son arrived home on Christmas in a box.

Henry Englert was the son of Christian Englert and Jacobina Rung, who emigrated from the Alsace region of Germany in the mid 1800s. Henry was the head of the Steel & Copper Plate Engraver’s Union in New York City. The family’s home was at 742 E. 142nd Street in the Bronx. Grandma described the site as a paradise for the girls growing up.

Grandma was third of the four girls. Fourth was Florence, with whom Grandma stayed closest all their lives. Grandma Married George Washington Searls and had three children. The middle of those was my father. His older sister was Ethel and his younger was Grace. Florence married John Jackson “Jack” Dwyer, and had three children: William, Catherine and Jack Junior. William died at 19, a tragedy that was still fresh many decades later when I was growing up. Catherine married Donald Burns and had two sons, Martin and Kevin. Jack Junior had many kids with his wife Ruth. This all added up to more cousins and second cousins than I can count.

From the late 1940s into the early 1960s, our extended family maintained three adjacent properties on the edge of the New Jersey pine barrens. In one, called “Bayberry” lived Grandma and Aunt Ethel — Grandma’s oldest daughter and my father’s older sister. Ethel was a successful businesswoman, running a Newark office of the Prudential Insurance company. As I recall she held the highest position of any woman in the company, which says a lot about glass ceilings in those days. In another lived Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack. In the third lived us. We were summer inhabitants, while Grandma and Aunt Florence became year round somewhere in the middle of the Fifties.

This post, written in summer of 2003, gives a good sense of what a wonderful place and time that was. I still remember vividly Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack’s 50th wedding anniverary, on June 8, 1960. (The photo series from that day begins here.) Now even the kids pictured in that post and those pictures are getting old. All but a few from our parents generation passed on years ago. Notable exceptions have been my aunt Grace and Catherine Burns, the mid-born among Florence and Jack’s three kids, and the third Catherine in four generations.

Grace will be 96 next month, and is doing fine living up in Maine. Yesterday, however, came news that Catherine had passed on Sunday. She was 94.

While I haven’t seen Catherine in many years, I’ve kept up a warm correspondence with her son Martin (pictured with the cat in that last link — a cat that he recalls scratching him while we were posing for Uncle Jack, who set up a large view camera on a sawhorse).

Catherine did an amazing job over several decades studying the genealogy of her family’s roots, and adjacent ones (such as the Searls) as well. Nearly all the photos in this collection are from her archives. Her studies informed many of the notes in the captions as well.

I’ll try to make it up to Portsmouth this evening for the visitation announced in Catherine’s obituary.  Meanwhile, it is moving to look back through her early life in this series here. It shows how the children and adults we were and become stay alive in us, and in our loved ones.

Love is life. To give it is to live it, and vice versa. I thank Aunt Catherine for giving us so much for so long.

What the deaf can teach us about listening. The short version:

 
  1. Look people in the eye.
  2. Don’t interrupt.
  3. Say what you mean, as simply as possible.
  4. When you don’t understand something, ask.
  5. Stay focused.

I’d call all that common sense, if it were more commonly applied. Including by me.

Interesting video on the Threat to Net Neutrality.

Well done, but I’m not crazy about bills that legislate something that isn’t well-enough defined or understood. By which I mean both the Net and Neutrality.

Here’s S.215, for example. (Full text here.)

What’s meant by “lawful”? Or “broadband”? I suspect the language in this bill will be as antique in five years as the languge of the 1934 act is today. And if this new bill passes, the untintended legacies of both will still be in force.

The framing bothers me too. It is all inside what Bob Frankston calls The Regulatorium. I’d rather see the Net defined and understood outside of that.

This is not to say I don’t think the Net is threatened. It is. I just think its biggest enemy is lack of imagination, not lack of regulation. And by that I mean lack of imagination by both the carriers and their opponents.

The carriers have trouble imagining being in any businesses other than the “triple play” or “quad play” they’re offering now, or to imagine there are any benefits to incumbency other than improvements on the customary forms of coersion.

The pro-neutrality folks have trouble imagining any case to make other than one that involves more lawmaking and regulatory relief.

Both are arguing inside the Regulatorium.

By policy and temperment Libertarians and dynamists like to think and work outside the Regulatoriium. So I’m wondering where creative ones might want to go with this thing. Adam Thierer’s 2004 Cato Institute policy analysis on Net Neutrality makes some important points, especially about unintended consequences of legislation, but it’s framed entirely within The Regulatorium, and the belief that the Net is (in Bob Frankston’s words) a “thing” we “consume”. And the somewhat Libertarian Wall Street Journal, now more than ever the Church Bulletin of the Republican Party, still sees “The Market” (at least where the Net is concerned) as “Your Choice of Lock-In”.

I’d rather look at the Net as the best marketplace the world has ever known. Nothing is more wide open and supportive for business, as well as culture. Is the best way to grow that marketplace to have it reduced to a crippled “service” offered as gravy on top of TV and telephony? Or to oppose that with legislation?

I think the Net will grow best if lots of players enter its marketplace with new value-adds — including the carriers themselves, leveraging advantages to incumency other than their position to charge monopoly rents.

I think there is lots of opportunity for individuals and small businesses to take the lead by connecting to each other any way they can, with or without carrier help.

Think about all the small businesses that could be liberated to do inventive new stuff if the carriers didn’t overcharge “business” customers (a legacy of Ma Bell that hasn’t gone away, and needs to). Think about how many generic (and generative) servers, services and data storage facilities could be installed in old switching plants and cable head-ends, operated by the carriers themselves or in partnership with the likes of Amazon, Google or Rackspace — taking advantage of both existing real estate and low latency connections to customers. Think about what will happen when the last mile becomes the first one — when consumers not only become producers, but when electricians, small contractors and homeowners can start deploying their own infrastructure from the edge inward. For a peek at how that will start to work and look, check out some of the pictures here.

My point is that we need other voices here, other ideas, new arguments. Fighting threats is good. Pursuing opportunities is better.

Remembranes

The hardest I ever laughed in my life was right after Paul Marshall, Ken Raabe and I were already laughing our asses off at something in Mad Magazine about a gun called “Death 26″. Just when we caught our breaths enough to talk, Ken said “I haven’t laughed so hard since the pigs ate my sister”. The timing was so perfect that the line nearly killed me.

Paul, my roommate for two years (named “Class Wit” in the yearbook), has gone on through careers in parish ministry and academics (he was a professor of homiletics at the Yale Divinity School) to become the Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem in Pennsylvania, and the author of many books. (Here’s a diocesan blog post on his latest.) We used to correspond often, but when he got elevated to high ecclesiastical office (he is now The Right Reverend Paul V. Marshall, Th.D., D.D., D.C.L.), his old email no longer worked, and we’ve both been too busy to keep up, I guess.

Ken I never saw again. So I just looked him up, and found this. Mouse over the mask and … well, it sure looks a lot more like he did at 17 than I resemble the kid I was at the same age. I think I’ve been much better at aging.

Anyway, Ken, if you ever look yourself up, howdy.

VRMmings

Here’s a round-up of VRM blogs and twits from conferences and stuff over the last couple weeks. Not all of them, but a bunch.

Click on the above for a nice series of shots I took while flying out of Chicago in the evening, looking east toward the skyline with the sun behind me in the west. Early on is a nice series of the Bensenville Yard, one of the most impressive, and busy, rail yards in the world.

Here’s the slide show.

Flying out now. They have free wifi here. No spash page, no goofy PR. Just an open hot spot. Or a bunch of them. A major high five for that to the CMH folks.

That’s a headline from a slide I just dropped from the talk I’m giving this morning. But I still like the line, so I’m sticking it here.

The Relating Game

Are markets role playing games? If so, can we change them by making customers more capable? And if the answer to that is yes, what existing RPGs best resemble the game we want markets to become? Say, one where we either kill marketers or win them over to our side? Or something like that?

Those are the questions behind what I just posted here.

Shot this series of pictures, mostly of islands in Boston Harbor, while ascending to the skies out of Logan on Sunday, en route to San Francisco. The one above is Rainsford Island. (And my shot is a lot prettier than the one at that last link, on Wikipedia. They can use it if they like.)

Like many islands and hills in the Boston area, Rainsford is a drumlin or two. Given its shape, I’d call it Fish Island.

Got a lot more pictures from that trip, but they’ll have to wait. Meanwhile, here’s a slide show from the last cross-country trip.

Dawn breaks outside my window in Columbus, Ohio, where I got in after midnight. It’s now 6:07am. Another minimal sleep night, but better than the night before.

We passed through Columbus last September when we drove across the country, but that’s no more Being In Town than one would be flying over it. Charles Kuralt once said that the Interstate Highway System made it possible to go coast to coast without seeing anything at all. Such was our acquaintance with Columbus.

But here I am, about to head over to iCitizen, where I get to listen and participate in discussions today, then give the opening keynote tomorrow. (Here’s the Agenda. Here’s the blog.)

For that I’m looking for a metaphor to describe what VRM will do for customers by equipping them with tools that are theirs alone, and not those of vendor silos. I’ve never done Dungeons & Dragons or any of those adventure games where one acquires special powers while going off to fight bad guys and slay hostile andimals and stuff, but I think what I’m looking for might be in that area. (Though the tools would be for relating, not killing. Maybe stuff along the strength and charisma lines…) Got any ideas?

Dave points to Mark Evans’ post on the Blogging for Bux biz — which produces about as much income as a paper route. But I dunno, because I’ve never had advertising on my blog and never would.

Dave says “professional blogging” is oxymoronic. “It’s like calling someone a professional amateur.” Mark thinks it’s the beginning of the end of the field anyway.

I’m not so sure, but in any case I’ve never been fond of it. Early on I didn’t begrudge good bloggers picking up a few extra bucks by carrying advertising, since good bloggers wouldn’t be corrupted by the practice. That is, they weren’t being “pro bloggers”, just bloggers whose blogs had some ads. But in the last year I’ve seen a lot more real corruption. Here’s Mark:

  I’m starting to think that running a mass-consumption blog doesn’t lend itself to deep, insight writing unless you’re a Robert Cringely. Blogs that attract a lot of traffic are pumping out a lot of posts so they can appeal to a broad audience. And these posts – regardless of the subject – tend to be content snacks as opposed to be meals.

I wrote about the subject a couple times recently, in Blogging & Flogging and NY Times covers blogorrhea sufferers. Key point from the former:

  …blogging only to make money is actually flogging. So is jumping onto a topic only to goose it up on TechMeme. So is not being original.

My dream here is that blogging survive the flogging craze. But I’m not holding my breath.

Ya think?

Vint Cerf in 1993: It seems likely that the Internet will continue to be the environment of choice for the deployment of new protocols and for the linking of diverse systems in the academic, government, and business sectors for the remainder of this decade and well into the next.

Framing making

Publius.cc is a new project by the Berkman Center, launched at the Berkman@10 celebration, which is going on now. The original Publius was the name used by the multiple authors of the Federalist Papers, which argued successfully for the U.S. Constitution. The Publius Project is a compilation of “essays and conversations about constitutional moments on the Net” at the singular moment that happens to be now.

I spent most of the last month working on several Publius essays, writing dozens of thousands of words on three aspects of the Net: Framing, Infrastructure, and Relationship. I finished the framing piece during yesterday’s Berkman @ 10 sessions, and handed it in at the end of the day — only to find that it needed to be no more than a thousand words. (I’ve never been good about following directions.) So early this morning I edited down and rewrote the piece, and submitted it in time for the session I was to lead on the topic. Talk about under the wire.

Anyway, Framing the Net is now up. Look for the others in the next few weeks.

]|||[|||||]||[||

Esthr just pointed to a cool idea: Barcode Wikipedia.

Sic Transit Gloria Laptopi is a long and wrenching piece about the project by Ivan Krstic. Just one man’s take, but Ivan’s been a strong advocate for the OLPC’s highest purposes. Performer too.

Some pushback from Taran Rampersad. Also this from Tom Hoffman. (And privately from some people.)

For what it’s worth, I’ve loved the ambitions of the OLPC program from the beginning, even if I thought they were crazy to start in 5th gear by rolling a zillion laptops out to 3rd world countries, too many of which are run by dictatorships that could be bought by actual vendors.

Still. Ordinary laptops have been stale for a long time.

Even if they crater, they’ve blazed a worthy trail along the way.

What’s up at IIW?

Not seeing large amounts yet on Technorati or Google Blogsearch. One Flickr shot so far, tagged iiw2008. Unfortunately, iiw tags also pertain to other stuff.

Andy Carvin & NPR crew get kicked out of a public place for taking pictures with a weird (but way cool) camera.

Hillary Clinton’s candidacy, which has recently resorted to what Joe Klein calls a “paste-on populism”, has been reduced, even with her West Virginia victory, to a Monty Python sketch.

Remembranes

If you’re busy thinking business is war, you may miss the fact that you still haven’t been killed on the job.

That’s one line from Rebuilding the software industry, one word at a time, written more than seven years ago for Kuro5hin, which is still, commendably, around. Just ran across it again now. Hadn’t read it in years. Holds up pretty well.

Very nice to discover, via many excellent comments on a Flikr fotoset, that the Minuteman Bikeway has a blog.

Here’s the beginning. Good story.

One of the worst effects of the Reagan Revolution was a near-complete loss of conscious caring about public infrastructure in the U.S. Most capital-intensive essentially public projects with no Wall Street box office were neglected. For decades.

I’m reminded of this by On the pot-holed highway to hell, by John Gapper in the Financial Times. It begins,

  If anyone doubts the problems of US infrastructure, I suggest he or she take a flight to John F. Kennedy airport (braving the landing delay), ride a taxi on the pot-holed and congested Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and try to make a mobile phone call en route.

  That should settle it, particularly for those who have experienced smooth flights, train rides and road travel, and speedy communications networks in, say, Beijing, Paris or Abu Dhabi recently. The gulf in public and private infrastructure is, to put it mildly, alarming for US competitiveness...

  There are lots of ways in which infrastructure inadequacy matters to the US but I would focus on two.

  First, it imposes a drag on economic growth. The private infrastructure is poor enough – broadband speeds lag behind other countries and mobile coverage is spotty. But much of the public infrastructure is unfit, a fact that was becoming clear even before Hurricane Katrina flooded New Orleans and a Minneapolis bridge collapsed during rush hour last year.

  Second, it presents an awful image of the US to investors and other visitors. The state of transport and communications infrastructure is a symbol of a nation’s economic development and the US is starting to look like a third world country. In fact, scratch that. Many developing countries look and feel better.

  Of course, they are in a different phase of development. The US invested 10 per cent of its federal non-military budget in infrastructure in the 1950s and 1960s as it built the interstate highway system – at the time, the envy of the world. While US investment has fallen to less than 1 per cent of gross domestic product, China has been matching its double-digit postwar record.

Will this be an issue in the upcoming election? Barack Obama lists 21 issues in a pull-down menu. One of those is “additional issues“. There are six of those. Last on the list is “transportation“. Its entire text says “As our society becomes more mobile and interconnected, the need for 21st-century transportation networks has never been greater. However, too many of our nation’s railways, highways, bridges, airports, and neighborhood streets are slowly decaying due to lack of investment and strategic long-term planning. Barack Obama believes that America’s long-term competitiveness depends on the stability of our critical infrastructure. As president, Obama will make strengthening our transportation systems, including our roads and bridges, a top priority.” But there is a .pdf of the full plan. Argue with it if you like, but at least he has one.

John McCain lists 13 issues in his pull-down Issues menu. None of them cover this stuff, near as I can tell.

is starting to pick up steam just in time for IIW this week. For details, follow the links from Mine! and A nice unpacking of VRM. And thanks to Adriana Lukas, Eve Maler, Alec Muffett, Ben Laurie and Joe Andrieu (along with currently uncredited others) for getting many conversational as well as developmental box cars packed and rolling.

It’s great to see what I saw coming in 2003 finally start to take off.

I’ve long believed that the crossover from the Industrial Age to the Information Age will be marked by an awakening to the need by customers to control their own selves, rather than to remain subordinated to the controlling interests of companies. Same thing with citizens and governments.

, for me at least, was about that.

So now user freedom is at issue again, this time in the context of “social networking”, which in the current popular sense happens almost entirely inside company walled gardens. Some companies are larger than others, and some gardens have openings in their hedges for “federation” of user data, at the latter’s grace. But your data is still theirs, pretty much. That’s how it plays in the media, and probably in the minds of most of the companies involved as well.

So I just wrote about where I think this is going, in Who controls your data, over at . See what ya think.

This morning I got a request from a friend to connect through Reunion.com. Seemed innocent enough, and I fell for it. Which is to say, they got one of my email addresses. Nothing more. Far as I know. But somehow they put X and N together and began spamming people I know.

Now I have five emails from friends, so far, plus one each from my wife and my sister, each with copies of spams from Reunion.com. The reunion.com emailings go like this:

Hi,
I looked for you on Reunion.com, but you weren’t there. I use Reunion.com to search for lost friends and contacts, and to stay connected with people I know, so please connect with me.
– Doc
RESPOND TO DOC:
Connect with Doc Now! – You’ll also find out if anyone else is searching for you.

I left out the links.

Oh, I also got one like the above, from myself. Another other notified me that “You’ve just been added to Doc Searls’s Reunion.com Address Book.”

What address book? And how exactly did they get that list of contacts?

Fortunately all those friends and relatives who wrote back were smarter than I was and saw the email from reunion.com as the scam it is. Others? I dunno. Live and re-learn, I guess.

Here’s the Google lookup of Reunion.com and spam. Plenty there.

I am among the least litigious people on Earth. But I can’t help but wonder … Could I (or we) sue these bastards for false representation? Invasion of privacy?

[Later, on 28 October 2008...] Since this post currently comes up first in Google searches for Reunion.com spam, it’s a lightning rod for continued complaints about Reunion.com, which is obviously still an asshole company. Though that they may be, I’m not going to sue them, since I have lots of better things to do. So I just posted this update, and suggest readers go to the Wikipedia article on Reunion.com for details about what’s wrong with the company and what little you can do about it other than avoid and complain.

Wright makes Right

Back when Bush the Elder was running for President, campaign strategist Lee Atwater said he was going to make Willie Horton into Michael Dukakis‘ running mate. He did, and it was a lesson that has been applied to great effect ever since.

Now in Wright Controversy Deepens Voter Divide, the Washington Post says,

  Religious voters in Indiana and North Carolina held to familiar patterns in Democratic primary balloting Tuesday, with the controversy over Sen. Barack Obama’s relationship with his former pastor deepening the divide.

Exit polling sought associations between votes, race, religious affiliations and frequent churchgoing. What it didn’t probe, apparently, was talk radio listening. Every time I hit SCAN on the car radio’s AM band, Rush or Savage or some other right-wing yakker is still working the topic like a fat piece of gum.

The other tar for Obama is culture. Here’s Charles Krauthamer:

  The line of attack is clear: not that Obama is himself radical or unpatriotic, just that, as a man of the academic Left, he is so out of touch with everyday America that he could move so easily and untroubled in such extreme company and among such alien and elitist sentiments.

They’re working that one too.

Here’s Obama’s path to the election.

Via Andrew Sullivan.

Scott Bradner writes,

Network neutrality exists as an issue primarily because there is little real competition for residential high-speed Internet service.
In most of the United States there are only one or two ISPs — that is, a monopoly or a duopoly — offering residential Internet connections — if there are any high-speed service offerings at all. A number of technologies have been touted as a potential “third wire” (after the phone line and cable coax) into the home, but none has shown much deployment.

Where I live, not far from where Scott works (also where I work, for what it’s worth), we have more than three wires going into the house, and past us on the street. We have Comcast cable, Verizon DSL (phone wire), RCN fiber and Verizon FiOS (also fiber). Since Verizon offers the best Internet deal — 20Mb symmetrical service — we go with them. (And yes, it rocks. Worse, it spoils. I only upload large numbers of photos when I’m home. And they all go up in seconds or minutes.)

What Scott has me wondering is if Verizon is only offering its symmetrical service where there are also two or more competitors. Anybody know?*

It would be interesting data, if true, and an argument on behalf of a robust marketplace.

* CZ does, and notes in the comments below (also on his blog) that Verizon offers symmetrical service to all its FiOS customers. When I ordered the service, and got on the horn with a technician to shake down the setup, he told me it was only being offered in certain areas. Maybe that was wrong information, or right only at that point in time, which was several months ago.

Hmm, cont’d

More Live Web buzz.

PaidContent.org reviews the announcement by CBS of “a new media player desktop app that brings together song personalization and recommendation for users, with a broad, contexual canvas for marketers to reach listeners.”

It goes on,

  The new media player, called Play.It, groups all stations in the CBS Radio network together, providing a wide choice of formats for users and advertisers. The player features large space for contextual ads that displays marketers’ slides, along with banner ads that are synched with the content coming out of the player.

Imagine a car radio that only played one owner’s stations and nobody else’s. (Oh, we already have those. They’re called Sirius and XM.)

Then there’s this:

  The deal that CBS and AOL Radio announced last month is key to CBS Radio achieving its goal of being the “number one internet radio station.” Goodman claimed that will be the case when the unified AOL/CBS network launches next month. That led into further promises of the much talked about integration with Last.fm, which CBS bought last May for $280 million. Lastly, Goodman previewed a new internet radio ad program Called the i5 – with a logo designed like an official Interstate Highway sign – that promises seamless cross-network, cross-platform deals.

Fred Wilson unpacks this a bit. A sample:

  As my friend David Goodman explained, when the next Eliot Spitzer moment happens, you can go from the wonderful WNEW stream to 1010 WINS to get the news and then go back, all in a single state of the art flash player.

He also tweets “These guys have nailed it”.

No, they haven’t. It’s a closed system from a closed-minded company. As of today WNEW doesn’t have an open live stream, via .mp3 or anything else. They have their own live player you can only use on their site. WINS has no live stream at all, near as I can tell (correction: it has one just like WNEW, that’s a player that runs only in a browser window), though it does have podcasts.

Here’s an exercise. If you have iTunes (which most of you probably do), click on Radio under Library. Count how many live streams they have there. “Alternative” has 146. “Public” has 94. “College radio” has 37. And you can add whatever you like with the “open stream” command. Go to a station like KRCL and you’ll find a bunch of choices that in many browsers will automatically open iTunes or the player of your choice. Chances are most or all of them don’t bother you with ads.

All the stations in the iTunes directory, and countless more, already comprise a wide-open radio dial controlled by no one company.

I don’t care how pretty CBS/AOL make the UI, or how big the back-end deals are. If it’s just another silo’d sluice for advertising and mass-appeal “content” from a single source and its partners, it’s not radio. And it’s not fulfilling the promise of the Web, which is direct interaction between any two parties, where anybody can produce, consume or both.

A real open market supports transaction, conversation and relationship between anybody and everybody, on terms any party can assert and any party can accept or reject. It’s not “your choice of silo” alone. It has business models other than just advertising. And at is base are open standards for interaction.

There will be far more business in an open world with many kinds of radios, from many sources, playing anything by anybody for anybody, than there will be in yet another closed system by yet another bunch of big boys trying to turn the Web into a 1980s-style online service with a Web 2.0 paint job and all the advertising you can stand.

This CBS thing is a silo. Sez Fred,

  And that flash player can be launched whenever you visit a CBS radio station’s website, whenever you play an AOL radio station, and whenever you play a custom station you or your friends create using the new CBS digital radio network

We can do better.

In fact, we will do exactly that. Stay tuned.

Haven’t heard from riverbend since October. Anybody know if she’s okay?

I thought of her after I read this.

I went in yesterday for routine bloodwork, which I do every few days, to make sure my blood maintains optimum clot-resistance. While there I also decided to ask the medical folks to listen to my chest again, since the pain that started this whole thing — and which turns out to have been a pulmonary embolism, a “moderate-sized” blood clot in the middle lobe of my right lung — never went away. In fact, I still feel like I’m nursing some broken ribs.

The diagnosis is nothing more than slow healing. The broken rib pain is actually residual pain around the scar tissue forming where the blood clot did its damage. The bubbling feeling I get near the pain is probably fluid still in the lungs, and air sacks making popping sounds as they heal, or get used in a new way, or something.

The upshot is that I need to exercise my lungs more. Ride the bike more. Walk. Get up, move around.

All this while I have more writing work than ever, all due approximately now, while also prepping for travel and speaking and event engagements over the next few weeks. I’m looking forward to all of it, but it’s wierd getting up and down a lot. I’m used to sagging into a chair and cranking on the laptop. Like I’m doing now, sort of.

Anyway, people have been asking for health updates, so that’s the latest.

I’ve now passed 20,000 shots on Flickr. When doing that few things please me more than finding out that one of them now illustrates its subject on Wikipedia. (Where I remain a stub, by the way. I don’t mind. Wikipedia entries about living folks are too often wrong.)

Here’s another. I know there are more, but not how to find them.

But that’s not the point, which is that the primary source of media now is each other. We’re rebuilding everything back up from Layer Zero. That’s us.

While stading in Harvard Square yesterday, taking pictures of NSTAR workers fixing whatever it was that caused the underground fire there last Friday, a guy on a bike comes up and says, “YouTube. Just look up Harvard Square fire. Some great footage.”

He didn’t say, “Tune in Channel 4 at 6pm.”

Here are the results.

I hope that answers Chris Pirillo’s question.

Unrelated…

A few minutes ago I transfered all the photos I took yesterday while biking, driving and walking around Cambridge. Got a lot of great ones, including shots of the work at Harvard Square, Spring on The Yard, sunset on railroad tracks, friends at a restaurant, family doing fun stuff…

Then I put the SD card back in the camera and re-formatted it.

Then I discovered I had failed to transfer the pictures.

I’m still bummed.

And that doesn’t even cover yesterday’s other screw-ups.

In the midst of which the doctor told me I still have chest pain because my lung isn’t done healing and I should give it more exercise.

Anyway, enjoy the footage. The longest. The best.

In Linux Journal: Is Linux now a slave to corporate masters? I think it’s a serious question, though the comments there so far have not yielded a serious answer. I’m kinda surprised by that, but maybe it’s still early.

Speaking of Serious Stuff, Stephen Lewis visits The Infrastructure of Repression, and vice versa, at HakPakSak. A sample:

  To enforce the ban and prevent mass protests, the Turkish government bussed an army of police to Istanbul from throughout the country, stationing dozens of riot geared policemen at every street and alleyway leading to Taksim and to Istiqlal Caddesi, the main pedestrian artery that feeds into the square. Policemen carried truncheons, shields, automatic weapons, gas masks, and tear gas cannisters. Larger arteries were blocked by tank-mounted water cannons manned by police…

  The quickness and effectiveness of this shutdown of the infrastructure of urban movement of one of the world’s largest cities was alarmingly effective. By knowing exactly where the pressure points of urban movement are and how to pinch them, the government and police succeeded in isolating neighborhoods from neighborhoods, halting the movement of people, and putting a pulsing, hyper-alive city into a state of near sleep. Even the communications infrastructure of the present age — internet and mobile voice and sms — could not compensate for the atmosphere of isolation and the breakdown of information flows and of the ability to exercise the basic rights of citizenship that ensued when the infrastructure and freedom of physical movement, the most elementary components of cities and civilizations, were frozen.

While matters are far more peaceful here, infrastructure matters no less. Hence Comparing hard and soft infrastructure, another recent post in Linux Journal. This one vets what I’ve learned on photo explorations of infrastructure in Boston, Cambridge and the Minuteman Bike Trail. Try looking at them in slideshow mode. Click the “i” for information, and you’ll see the captions that go with each.

And here’s a Cinco de Mayo link roundup at the ProjectVRM blog.

Bill Moyers on Rev. Wright (via Dave):

  Behold the double standard: John McCain sought out the endorsement of John Hagee, the war-mongering Catholic-bashing Texas preacher who said the people of New Orleans got what they deserved for their sins. But no one suggests McCain shares Hagee’s delusions, or thinks AIDS is God’s punishment for homosexuality. Pat Robertson called for the assassination of a foreign head of state and asked God to remove Supreme Court justices, yet he remains a force in the Republican religious right. After 9/11 Jerry Falwell said the attack was God’s judgment on America for having been driven out of our schools and the public square, but when McCain goes after the endorsement of the preacher he once condemned as an agent of intolerance, the press gives him a pass.

  Jon Stewart recently played a tape from the Nixon White House in which Billy Graham talks in the oval office about how he has friends who are Jewish, but he knows in his heart that they are undermining America. This is crazy; this is wrong — white preachers are given leeway in politics that others aren’t.

  Which means it is all about race, isn’t it? Wright’s offensive opinions and inflammatory appearances are judged differently. He doesn’t fire a shot in anger, put a noose around anyone’s neck, call for insurrection, or plant a bomb in a church with children in Sunday school. What he does is to speak his mind in a language and style that unsettle some people, and says some things so outlandish and ill-advised that he finally leaves Obama no choice but to end their friendship. We are often exposed us to the corroding acid of the politics of personal destruction, but I’ve never seen anything like this ? this wrenching break between pastor and parishioner before our very eyes. Both men no doubt will carry the grief to their graves. All the rest of us should hang our heads in shame for letting it come to this in America, where the gluttony of the non-stop media grinder consumes us all and prevents an honest conversation on race. It is the price we are paying for failing to heed the great historian Jacob Burckhardt, who said “beware the terrible simplifiers”.

Well, there were stories at their times about Fallwell, Robertson and McCain & Hagee. They weren’t as big as Obama and Wright, but they were still stories.

Indeed, we need honest conversation sabout race. I thought Barack Obama’s speech on the subject right after the Wright mess first broke was an excellent opener for lots of conversations, many of which are still going on.

We need honest conversations about gender too. A couple days ago my wife caught an interview on NPR with a voter in North Carolina who regretted that the choice among democratic presidential candidates had come down to a black man and a woman — and that he’d prefer the former over the latter. Of course, that was just one voter, but still: what does that say? Other things being equal, is sexism a bigger handicap to a female candidate than race is to a black candidate? Before I heard that, I hadn’t considered the possibility. Nor the possibility that voters in the U.S. might be less favoring of women candidates than voters in Israel, the U.K., Germany and India, all of which have elected women as heads of state. Something more to think and talk about, if we can possibly get past the personalities at hand.

The Wright-Obama story, however, isn’t just about race. It’s about stories. It’s about the reason we need to “beware the terrible simplifiers”. Because simplification is what journalists do.

Even the best reporters don’t just communicate facts. They organize those facts into stories. That’s what they’re assigned to write, or to show on TV, or report on the radio, and that’s what they do. And they do it because stories are by nature interesting. They are, I believe, the base format of human interest. Here’s how I described that format in an earlier post:

  To understand journalism, you need to know the nature of The Story. Every story has three elements: 1) a character, 2) a problem, and 3) movement toward resolution. The character could be a person, a cause, a ball club — doesn’t matter, as long as the reader (or the viewer, or the listener) can identify with it (or him, or her, or them). The problem is what keeps us reading forward, turning the pages, or staying tuned in. It’s what keeps things interesting. And the motion has to vector toward resolution, even if the conclusion is far off in the future.

In the Wall Street Journal, columnist Daniel Henninger asks, Where are Obama’s Friends? The story, in Henninger’s words: “supporters who let Barack Obama hang out to dry”. (He doesn’t mention Bill Moyers, who certainly qualifies now.)

We need to remember that all stories are simplifications. Sometimes they are terrible, and sometimes not. But still, they always veer toward the simple, because that’s what’s most interesting.

Back on December 11, 2005 — long before there were blogs, but not long after I learned to write in HTML — I posted Microsoft + Netscape: Why the Press Needs to Snap Out of its War-Coverage Trance. (It was one of the many articles I failed to sell to a magazine, but still managed to post on the Web.) The bottom lines:

  The Web is a product of relationships, not of victors and victims. Not one dime Netscape makes is at Microsoft’s expense. And Netscape won’t bleed to death if Microsoft produces a worthy browser. The Web as we know it won’t be the same in six weeks, much less six months or six years. As a “breed of life,” it is original, crazy and already immense. It is not like anything. To describe it with cheap-shot war and sports metaphors is worse than wrong — it is bad journalism.

Actually, it’s typical journalism. More than a dozen years later, it’s a lesson I’m still learning.

Glad to help

Connie Bensen: As a Community Manager the Cluetrain Manifesto provides the foundation for my philosophies & underlines the relevance of my work

I may be alone in thinking that Microsoft’s offers for Yahoo were all mistakes. All were too much to pay for a company that would be hollow on Day Two. But don’t get the idea that I care all that much. I don’t.

On the Gillmor Gang (where I am also a participant at the moment) Dan Farber just called online advertising “the most efficient way to make money in the world right now”. That might be true. But advertising itself is a bubble in the long run, because it’s guesswork even at its best, and making it better and better only improves a system that has been flawed fundamentally from the start, because it proceeds only from the sell side, and still involves enormous waste (of server cycles, of bandwidth, of pixels, rods, cones and patience).

Advertising is a big churning system by which sellers hunt down buyers, rather than the reverse. It pollutes the media environment and theatens to corrupt the producers it pays.

I could go on. Or I could just point to Bill Hicks’ wisdom on the matter. Bill goes way over the top in that routine, but he’s talking to your soul, not to your wallet. It’s important to pull them apart once in awhile.

Yes, I know some advertising is good. A lot of it, in fact. But I’m not talking about that advertising. I’m talking about the 99+ percent of it that’s wasted.

I’m sure few at Google, Microsoft, Yahoo or Facebook (or TechCrunch, or pretty much anywhere that makes money from advertising) agrees with much if anything of I just said. And I’d rather not argue it, because I don’t have evidence to prove my points. There still is no system by which demand takes the lead in driving (and not just finding) supply. But I believe that’ll happen eventually. And when it does, advertising will fall. Advertising is not a tree that grows to the sky, no matter how fast the Google redwood is gaining altitude.

But… I might be wrong. I dunno. It happens.

Mike Arrington just said on the Gang that he is “outraged” by something I said. I forget what it was. Some of the above, I guess.

Anyway, I don’t know what will happen to Yahoo or Microsoft. I am sure Google will still grow like crazy as long as advertising money flows from other media to the Web. But that’s not the whole story. What Google’s doing with Web services, with Android, with the Summer of Code, with Earth, Maps, Talk, Gmail, Docs… are mostly Net-friendly, cross-platform (including Linux) innovative and positive. They’re far from perfect, but not as far as Microsoft and Yahoo. That’s an advantage, if you’re into vendor sports. Which I’m not. (Well, a little, but not much.)

Who’s buying whom, who’s committing suicide by saying yes or no to acquisition offers, or the rest of the Stuff that’s front and center right now, kinda bores me. I care far more about the independence and empowerment of individual users, and of independent developers working to make a world where free markets are not “your choice of walled garden”. We don’t have that world yet. One walled gardener succeeding or failing to buy another doesn’t move us any closer.

What gets us closer will come from the edge. It’ll move under the feet of clashing giants.

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Quote du jour

Stephen Carl Brooks: I like to think that the war is not lost to turn marketing into an honourable profession if we can use the technology now available to us to return to the time when you knew your butcher, baker and sausage-maker by their first names, and they knew you and your preferences.

So John Cass started this thing, asking five questions about the Cluetrain Manifesto. The latest answers come from Jason Falls. In addition to his own, Jason points to Valeria Maltoni, Richard Binhammer, Michael Walsh, Phil Gomes, Mack Collier — and John Cass.

I’ll save my own answers for the next There’s a New Conversation event, in Palo Alto, on 29 May. Here’s a video of my talk at the last one. The next will be different, though. Times change.

Adam Tinworth: The next mindshift change journalists need to go through is that they no longer have a finished product. The issue is never complete. The feature is never done. The news is always evolving. And this is hard for us old-school hacks. If you were to ask a group of people what words they associate with journalism, I’d lay odds that “deadline” would be in there somewhere. But we’re moving into a post-deadline age, when the publishing time is now, and then as soon as you have new information. Or a new conversation. Or a new contribution.

Thing is, deadlines help. They are the procrastinator’s brutal friend. But they are no longer finish lines. They are stages in building projects that may never be finished. Not if the subject stays interesting.