March 2009

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The Internet Identity Workshop , aka IIW, started as the Identity Gang way back in ’05, and has since grown (thanks more to Kaliya and Phil than to yours truly) to become a fixture event in the calendars of many developers and other folks supportive of development work toward working user-driven identity systems. (These today include…

(That’s somewhat abbreviated from the list here.)

What’s cool about IIW is that we have a large bunch of individuals and outfits working in converging directions, creating and/or mashing up solutions to problems faced by individuals needing to control and assert their identity information in the digital world. For all the activity going on here, the whole field is still brand new, with lots of work left to be done before it’s ready for Prime Time, which has been going on in any case since the commercial Web was born 1.5 decades ago. More importantly, much effort is made by everybody involved not to foreclose progress or lock out other solutions where development vectors converge or cross. it’s the only thing like it I know.

What also rocks is that progress happens at every single IIW, sometimes a great deal of it. The whole thing is about doing. We have participants, not just attendees.

There is, however, urgency. Making sure we get our usual space at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View depends on getting enough registrants today.

Do that here.

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Got these shots of St. Louis and the convergence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers while flying to Austin by way of Chicago two Fridays ago. You can see the Gateway Arch, right of center, Busch Stadium, the Edward Jones Dome, the City Museum, and lots of barge traffic on the river.

I actually didn’t see much of St. Louis. My window seat didn’t have well-placed windows, and I couldn’t see downward in any case. But my little Canon Powershot 850 could look for me. So I held it against one of the windows, angled it downward, and shot away, checking from time to time on the back of the camera to see if my shots were accurate. Didn’t do too poorly, considering.

What I want is a small camera like this one that can shoot RAW without taking forever to do it. (As was the case with my old and much missed Nikon Coolpix 5700, which also featured a flip-out viewer, making shots like this much easier.) The PS 850 has no RAW mode, and its processing is rather thick with artifacts. Still, fun to use.

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Some do. My long-time favorite magazine is The Sun. I bought one of the first issues Sy Safransky sold on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, in 1974, and found myself writing regularly for the magazine for several years after that, watching it improve with every issue.

Back near the turn of the 80s, Sy and his staff decided to improve the magazine by getting rid of advertising. They did that by becoming a non-profit; but that was secondary to the main purpose, which was to become an instrument for readers and writers, and not of one for advertisers. In other words, advertising was beside the magazine’s journalistic points. The Sun publishes for readers, and readers pay the magazine for good writing. Not surprisingly, The Sun’s subscribers are highly involved, contributing an abundance of letters, plus my favorite section: Readers Write (on a different topic every month).

My point is that it’s possible to have an excellent journal that lives on subscriptions, which are a value-for-value exachange. In the VRM community we propose another: PayChoice, which I wrote about in my last post. The idea here is for readers (or listeners, or viewers) to pay any amount for anything they like. The price is not under the seller’s control. Nor are other forms of signalling by the customer.

Direct support from readers (or listeners, or viewers) matters more and more for media where advertising contributes less and less. I’ve been thinking about this lately, as I contemplate a world with fewer (or no) newspapers and many fewer magazines.

Both newspapers and magazines have been supported in most cases primarily by advertising and secondarily by subscriptions. When print publications need to cut overhead, it’s the writers who get cut. Sometimes whole sections go away. The Boston Globe killed its Northwest section last week. Far as the Globe is concerned, where we live is now West. And how long will that last?

I pay the same for the Globe every week, but they deliver less and less, because their advertisers are buying less and less space. Yet I don’t read the Globe for the ads. I read it for the writing, the editorial content. Would I pay more, to take up the slack? Or would I look for the Globe to cut overhead other than just editorial? The latter, I would think. Still, either way, I’m a paying customer.

As a paying customer with an interest in seeing the Globe survive, I would like to know what the costs of producing the paper itself are. What are the costs of printing and distributing the paper? And what are the costs just of editorial? Never mind advertising for a minute, and what it buys. Just tell me what it costs to support the editorial staff, and to put the paper up online.

What would I have to pay if there were no advertising?

I’d ask the same of magazines.

Just fact-seeking here.

Where I’m going is toward where The Sun is today. I’d like to help publications survive by subscriptions and other forms of direct payment, rather than by advertising.

I’m not against advertising here. I’m just trying to pull the topics apart so they’re easier to discuss.

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Thesis #74 of The Cluetrain Manifesto says, “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.” We wrote that in 1999, when everybody thought that advertising was going to be THE model for businesses on the Internet. The crash came less than a year later.

Then the next bubble came, and this time everybody thought (surprise!) that advertising was going to be THE model for businesses on the Internet. This time they were right, because Google made it so. In fact, Google makes billions with advertising, not just for itself, but for millions of other sites, including countless blogs. Google does it by making advertising accountable, and by moving the wasteful side of guesswork. They take it off ink, paper, airwaves and billboards, and shift it to server cycles, pixels, rods and cones.

Still, most advertising is still wasted. The difference now is that advertising is accountable while it wastes less costly things. This is fine as far as it goes, which is pretty far, even in the current crash.

But advertising is still a bubble, and has been since it was invented more than a century ago. I’ve been saying this for many years, including last month right here.

In fact, last May I reported how Mike Arrington of TechCrunch was “outraged” by my suggestion that advertising was a bubble (or something to that effect… it’s in this podcast somewhere… maybe one of ya’ll can hunt down the quote). [Later... Dave Wallace found a clip.]

Now comes Why Advertising Is Failing On The Internet, by Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management at Wharton, writing in TechCrunch, no less. When I read it the thought balloon over my head said “Yess!” and “Amen, brother!” over and over. For example:

Pushing a message at a potential customer when it has not been requested and when the consumer is in the midst of something else on the net, will fail as a major revenue source for most internet sites.  This is particularly true when the consumer knows that the sponsor of the ad has paid to have this information, which was verified by no one, thrust at him.

Exactly what we said in Cluetrain, and what most people say when they look for havens from advertising, which they find with TiVo and many ad-free places on the Web.

Clemons follows that with this:

The net will find monetization models and these will be different from the advertising models used by mass media, just as the models used by mass media were different from the monetization models of theater and sporting events before them.  Indeed, there has to be some way to create websites that do other than provide free access to content, some of it proprietary, some of it licensed, and some of it stolen, and funded by advertising.

At ProjectVRM we have been working on one, called PayChoice. [Later... changed to EmanciPay.]  Since most of you don’t follow links, I’ll drop the first two sections in right here:


PayChoice is a new business model for media: one by which readers, listeners and viewers can quickly and easily pay for the goods they use — on their own terms, and not just those of suppliers’ arcane systems.

The idea is to build a new marketplace for media — one where supply and demand can relate, converse and transact business on mutually beneficial terms, rather than only on terms provided by thousands of different silo’d systems, each serving to hold the customer captive.

PayChoice is a breed of VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management. VRM is the reciprocal of CRM or Customer Relationship Management. VRM provides customers with tools for engaging with vendors in ways that work for both parties. PayChoice is one of those tools. Or a set of them.


We now live in a media environment where goods previously sold directly or paid for by advertising are freely available and shared widely over the Internet. A number of factors contribute to a business and social conundrum for suppliers of those goods:

  • Easy copying and sharing makes the goods freely available at growing ease and convenience.
  • Copying and sharing is so widespread and common that punishment for copyright and other usage violations touches only a small minority of offenders, and has proven to be a losing proposition.

What the marketplace requires are new business and social contracts that ease payment and stigmatize non-payment for media goods. The friction involved in voluntary payment is still high, even on the Web, where one must go through complex forms even to make simple payments. There is no common and easy way either to keep track of what media (free or otherwise) we consume (see Media Logging), to determine what it might be worth, and to pay for it easily and in standard ways — to many different suppliers. (Again, each supplier has its own system for accepting payments.)

PayChoice will create a “buy button”-simple payment system to allow readers, listeners and viewers to pay whatever they like, at their discretion, for whatever media products they use. For too many media the traditional business models — subscriptions, newsstand sales, advertising and underwriting — are not sufficient. (Especially in the current economic environment, which is akin to an earthquake that won’t stop.) Nor do they support full participation and involvement with their users.

PayChoice differs from other payment models (subscriptions, newsstand, tip jars) by allowing the customer to pay any amount they please, when they please, with minimum friction — and with full choice about what they disclose about themselves. PayChoice will also support credit for referrals, requests for service, feedback and other relationship support mechanisms, all at the control of the user. For example, PayChoice can provide quick and easy ways for listeners to pay for public radio broadcasts or podcasts, for readers to pay for otherwise “free” papers or blogs, and paid request for stories or programs to be expressed and aggregated, without requiring the customer to disclose unnecessary private information, to become a “member”. This will scaffold real relationships between buyers and sellers, and for supporting journalists covering what Jake Shapiro calls “microbeats.” It will also give deeper meaning to “membership” in non-profits. (Under the current system, “membership” means putting one’s name on a pitch list for future contributions, and not much more than that.)

PayChoice will also connect the sellers’ CRM (Customer Relationship Management) systems with customers’ VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) systems, supporting rich and participatory two-way relationships. In fact, PayChoice will by definition be a VRM system.


The idea of “micro-payments” for goods on the Net has been around for a long time, and has recently been revitalized as a potential business model for journalism by an article by Walter Isaacson in Time Magazine. What ProjectVRM suggests instead is something we don’t yet have, but very much need: micro-accounting for actual uses. These including reading, listening and watching.

Most of what we now call “content” is both free for the taking and worth more than $zero. How much more? We need to be able to say.

So, as currently planned, PayChoice would -

  1. Provide a single and easy way that consumers of “content” can become customers of it. In the current system — which isn’t one — every artist, every musical group, every public radio and TV station, has his, her or its own way of taking in contributions from those who appreciate the work. This can be arduous and time-consuming for everybody involved. What PayChoice proposes, however, is not a replacement for existing systems, but a new system that can supplement existing fund-raising systems — one that can soak up much of today’s MLOTT: Money Left On The Table.
  2. Provide ways for individuals to look back through their media usage histories, inform themselves about what they have been enjoying, and to determine how much it is worth to them. The Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel (CARP), and later the Copyright Royalty Board (CRB), both came up with “rates and terms that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller” — language that first appeared in the 1995 Digital Performance Royalty Act (DPRA), and tweaked in 1998 by the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), under which both the CARP and the CRB operated. The rates they came up with peaked at $.0001 per “performance” (a song or recording), per listener. PayChoice creates the “willing buyer” that the DRPA thought wouldn’t exist.
  3. Stigmatize non-payment for worthwhile media goods. This is where “social” will finally come to be something more than yet another tech buzzmodifier.

All these require micro-accounting, not micro-payments. In fact micro-accounting can inform ordinary payments that can be made in clever new ways that should satisfy everybody with an interest in seeing artists compensated fairly for their work. An individual listener, for example, can say “I want to pay 1¢ for every song I hear on the radio,” and “I’ll send SoundExchange a lump sum of all the pennies wish to pay for songs I hear over the course of a year, along with an accounting of what artists and songs I’ve listened to” — and leave dispersal of those totaled pennies up to the kind of agency that likes, and can be trusted, to do that kind of thing.

Similar systems can also be put in place for readers of newspapers, blogs and other journals.

What’s important is that the control is in the hands of the individual, and that the accounting and dispersal systems work the same way for everybody.

No, we don’t have it yet, but we do plan to put it in the Public Radio Tuner in due time. It will help that well over a million of those tuners have been downloaded so far for iPhones.

Back to Eric Clemons’ piece:

The internet is the most liberating of all mass media developed to date.  It is participatory, like swapping stories around a campfire or attending a renaissance fair.  It is not meant solely to push content, in one direction, to a captive audience, the way movies or traditional network television did.  It provides the greatest array of entertainment and information, on any subject, with any degree of formality, on demand.  And it is the best and the most trusted source of commercial product information on cost, selection, availability, and suitability, using community content, professional reviews and peer reviews.

My basic premise is that the internet is not replacing advertising but shattering it, and all the king’s horses, all the king’s men, and all the creative talent of Madison Avenue cannot put it together again.

This is exactly where we were going in Cluetrain. Back then, and still today, people tend to think of the Net as yet another one-way producer-to-consumer “medium” for “delivering messages” along with goods that “consumers” pay for. But the Net was and remains a place that serves demand at least as well as it serves supply. The demand side just hasn’t been fully equipped yet. That’s what the VRM movement (which includes but is not limited to ProjectVRM) is all about providing. When we (and others) succeed, we won’t just be consumers anymore. We’ll be customers in full standing.

Eric Clemons goes on to explain many reasons why advertising is a bubble. I agree with all of them, though I am not as pessimistic about Google, for the main reasons Jeff Jarvis visits in What Would Google Do? The fact remains that Google, more than any other large company operating on the Web, gets the fundamentals of abundance: that you make money because of it rather than with it. They know the vulnerability of advertising as a model, and I expect them to work no less hard disrupting the model than they have at building it out. (Perhaps in their secret labs they are already at work on this. I don’t know. But if they’re smart, which they are, they’re on the case.) Clemons closes with this:

The internet is about freedom, and I suspect that a truly free population will not be held captive and forced to watch ads.  We always knew that freedom comes at a price; perhaps the price of internet freedom and the failure of ads will be paying a fair price for the content and the experience and the recommendations that we value.

Among the other tools we need are pricing guns for customers. We haven’t had that since before Industry won the Industrial Revolution. But we’ll get them. PayChoice is one example of them. There will be more. And they’ll work because not paying will be increasingly stigmatized.

Right now, for example, most music is available for free. Never mind that some of us call downloading it “theft” or “piracy”. The other price is 99¢, which millions pay in iTunes and through other online stores. Those two price points are not enough. We need ones we can set on our own.

For years Congress and its regulatory arbitrators (first the Copyright Arbitration Royalty Panel and later the Copyright Royalty Board) have been saying there is no “willing buyer” to match the “willing seller” in the online radio, or streaming, business. That is, Internet radio. So, in the absence of that buyer, these panels have handed the pricing gun to the sellers (the RIAA and its collection agency, SoundExchange), but set the prices first. Last I heard, the royalty rate was set to peak at $.0019 per recording, per listener, in 2010.

If you pay 99¢ per song, you’d have to listen to it, what, 521 times to equal the same rate? If you use iTunes, check and see how many times you listen to any song.

So I’m thinking, hey, I’d be glad to pay a penny a recording for what I hear on the radio. These days you have a huge choice of radio stations on the Net. Most play music. All could carry data about that music. I’d be glad to account for that listening, and pay accordingly. And I’d like right now to set that price at a defaulted penny a song. I’d be glad to aggregate my listen-logging with others, with a pledge or an escrow account containing a sum of money for dispersal to artists at that rate. And see what happens.

In fact, that’s what I want to do with PayChoice after we work out the kinks by providing a supplementary business model for public media. Stay tuned.

Oh, and this topic will be among the many I’ll talk about at lunch tomorrow at the Berkman Center. More here.

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We were driving somewhere the other day when the kid asked if he could play around with the iPhone for awhile. Among the podcasts I subscribe to is The Best of YouTube — although, as with most of the too-many podcasts I subscribe to, I hardly ever watch it.

I wasn’t paying much attention to what the kid was doing until I heard the unmistakable sound of a country farmer from piedmont North Carolina. My kid was mostly amazed that this farmer could do with a sling-shot what most people can’t do with a rifle: hit nearly anything, whether it was moving or holding still. I was just trying to guess where this guy was from. The announcer was from somewhere in the region, I figured. Probably Greensboro. But the farmer had to be from somewhere, maybe, south of there.

I had the kid re-play the piece, called “Sling Shot Man” (that’s on Best of YouTube; on YouTube itself the full title starts with “Carolina Camera:”). Turns out the farmer lives “past a one-lane bridge on a dirt road south of Asheboro”. In Greensboro — at least when I went to college there in the ’60s — that town was pronounced, (as by this feature’s announcer), “Ashburra”. Locally it was “Aishburra”. Announcers suppressing their local accents would say “Grainssburra”, with elongated s’s and r’s. Otherwise they’d just say “Grainsbura”.

Which leads me to Bob Oakes, the morning host on WBUR here in Boston. The way he pronounces his surname “aOkes” (with a tiny long a in front) and calls NPR’s early show “Mo-ar-ning Edition” sounds Southern to me. According to his bio at that last link, Bob has been around New England for quite a while. But I’m willing to bet he’s from pretty far south of here. I’ll write to him and ask. (Hi, Bob!)

By the way, NPR’s Karl Kassell is from Goldsboro, though you’d never know from hearing him talk.

Oh, and you can hear (and see) a much younger me talk in piedmont dialect on this YouTube video here.

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Fasting and foods

I haven’t eaten today, and it’s well past noon. I spent much of the last couple hours enjoying a long Skype call with Stephen Lewis, who is currently in Turkey, and whose latest post dilates deliciously on an old Mimas Foods bag — “a relic of a turning point in the economic and social history of Bulgaria and much of Eastern Europe.” Makes me hungry for any of the “Flafel, Humberger, Shaourma, Ships Pataos, All Kind Of, Meats” offered by Mimas. Steve writes, “it is the use of international English that catapulted the fare of Mimas from the improvised and local into the realm of coveted, truly international, fast-food.”

By the way, the only result for a “Mimas Foods” search on Google is Steve’s post. As of today, anyway.

A capella wonderful

Whatever else you’re doing, tune right now to WERS. If you’re not in Boston, here’s the online stream. The show is All Acapella, and it’s freaking amazing. There is so much outstanding a capella music being made right now, by college students alone. Stevie Wonder’s “As” is playing now, sung by the Stanford University Everyday People. Before that was “Some Kind Of Wonderful” by UMass Amherst Doo Wop Shop. Just great, great music and performances that are flat-out astonishing. Talk about good Web integration: here’s the current playlist

What’s On Now

Current Show: All A Cappella
Most Recent Songs: (View Full Playlist)
4:05 pm “As” by Stanford University Everyday People
CARA 2000
4:03 pm “Some Kind Of Wonderful” by UMass Amherst Doo Wop Shop
Black Friday
3:58 pm “Every LittleThing She Does Is Magic” by Washington University Mosaic Whispers
3:55 pm “Elenor Rigby” by Tonic Sol Fa

And that’s on top of a Backwoods show I heard this morning on WMBR. Not much Web integration, but still a great station.

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Collateral casualties from blog spam bomb

I just deleted a heap of blog spam comments. I think I may have hit one or two legit ones in the process. If so, forgive and try again.

Just got a survey from OMNI hotels, inquiring about my stay there during SXSW in Austin earlier this week. Here’s what I wrote under “Please provide more details on the missing amenity in your guest room. “:

  The wi-fi signal strength went up and down, and most of the time was unusable. Twice I was told that perhaps a “wi-fi bridge” could be given to me, but was told later that they were all loaned out. I was there four days during SXSW and really needed a solid network Internet connection. I asked every day if the problem was being resolved. It never was. On the last day they told me they had “escalated it to the manager.” I also had to join the loyalty program to get free wi-fi. A quibble: the sign-up survey’s question about newspaper preference suggested to me that a newspaper would be delivered outside the room door, which is customary in many hotels. I never saw one.

Another quibble: the desk height was too high. This is standard in most hotels. Still, if you’re going to serve business customers, you should have a desk with a top that’s low enough to type comfortably on.

Otherwise it was a fine hotel. As I said before, I’d recommend it to people who don’t care about Internet service.

Props to Joe Andrieu for pointing out the Cult of Done, for which I am constitutionally disqualified, but wish I were not.

Why? Because I: 1) Bite off more than I can eschew, 2) Keep more balls on the floor than anybody I know, and 3) Plan for my epitaph to read “He was almost finished.”

But I am at home right now, mostly getting things done while regretably missing Free Libre Planet, happening right now at Harvard, and for which I am registered. Just too much to catch up on, and I don’t know when Wes Felter is speaking. Hope it’s tomorrow, by which time I hope to have more done.

Ah, I see that Wes’ personal servers is up for an unconference session tomorrow. I’ll be there for that. Yay.

Journalism x.x Re-draw your own conclusions.

It’s fun to fact-check a futurist when plenty of future has already gone by. Here’s some of what Alvin Toffler wrote thirty years ago in The Third Wave:

Humanity faces a quantum leap forward. It faces the deepest social upheaval and creative restructuring of all time. Without clearly recognizing it, we are engaging in buiding a remarkable new civilization from the ground up. This is the Meaning of the Thrid Wave.

Until now the human race has undergone two great waves of change, each one largely obliterating the earlier cultures or civilizations and replacing gthem with ways of life inconceivable to those who came before. The First Wave of change — the agricultural revioution — took thouseands of years to play itself out. The Second Wave — the rise of industrial civilization — took a mere three hundred years. Thoday history is even more accelerative, and it is likely that the Third Wave will sweep across history and complete itself in a few decades. We who happen to share the planet at this explosive moment, will therefore feel the full impact of the Third Wave in our own lifetimes.

Tearing our families apart, rocking out economy, paralyzing our political systems, shattering our values, the Third Wave affects everyone. It challenges all the old power relatinships, and privilege and prerogatives of the endangered elites of today, and provides the backdrop against which the key power struggles of tomorrow will be fought.

Much in this emerging civilization contradicts the old traditoinal industrial civilization. It is, at one and the same time, highly technical and anti-industrial.

The third wave brings with it a genuinely new way of life based on diversified, renewable energy sources; on methods of production that make most factory assembly lines obsolete, on new, non-nuclear familes, on a novel institution that might be called the “electronic cottage”; and on radically changed schools and corporations of the future. The emergent civilization writes a new code of behavior for us and carries us beyond standardization, synchronization and centralization, behyond the concentration of energy, money and power.

This new civilization, as it challenges the old, will topple bureaucracies, reduce the role of the nation-state, and give rise to semiautonomous economies in a postimperialist world. It requires governments that are simpler, more effective, yet more democratic than any we know today. It is a civilization with its own distinctive world outlook, its own ways of dealing with time, space, logic and causality.

Above all… Third Wave civilization begins to heal the historic breach between producer and consumer, giving rise to the “prosumer” economics of tomorrrow. For this reason, amongh many, it could– with some intelligent help from us — turn out to be the first truly humane civiization in recorded history.

When I first re-read this (before I re-typed it from these Amazon scans), I thought some of what Toffler said was hooey. Factory assembly lines are hardly obsolete, except here in the U.S., perhaps. There are plenty left in the world — especially in China, which now thrives with a capitalist system run by what’s still called the Communist Party. (Shades of Animal Farm, written by Orwell in 1945.) Human nature and politics-as-usual will probably never change.

As for families, they were already well-torn in the Industrial Age. My late former father-in-law, the historian Hiram Hilty, once told me that “family values” could hardly be more ironic in the U.S., which was settled and populated by people who left home (many of them involuntarily), and now have the most transient population on Earth. Our families are so loosely knit that moving away to distant locations is more the norm than the exception. Accoring to Dr. Hilty, the most common record of young men in the post-Civil War South — in census surveys, family bibles and church enrollment lists — is two words: “Went west.”

Yet we all tend to overestimate historic changes in the short term and underestimate in the long. At this Toffler was no exception. Look at what the Internet has done, and many of his predictions seem spot-on or close enough.

But I know one area where the Third Wave is still waiting to crest. Toffler again:

The Second Wave, like some nuclear chain reaction, violently spit apart two aspects of our lives that had always, until then, been one. In so doing, it drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy, our psyches, and even our sexual seves.

At one level, the industrial revolution created a marvelously integrated social system with its own distinctive technologies, its own social institutions, and its own information channels — all plugged tightly into each other. Yet another level, it ripped apart the underlying unity of socieity, creating a way of life filled with economic tension, social conflict and psychological malaise. Only if we understand how this invisible wedge has shaped our lives thoughout the Second Wave era can we apreciate the full impact of the Third Wave that is beginning to reshape us today.

The two halves of human life that the Second Wave split apart were production and consumption. We are accustomed, for example, to think of ourselves as producers or consumers. This wasn’t always true. Until the industrial revolution, the vast bulk of all the food, goods, and services produced by the human race was consumed by the producers themselves. their families or a tiny elite who managed to scrape off the surplus for their own use….

The Second Wave viloently changed this situation. Instead of essentially self-suffieicnt people and communities, it created for the first time in history a situation in which the overwhelming bulk of all food, goods and services was destined for sale, barter or exchange. it virtually wiped out of existence good produced for one’s own consumption — for use by the actual producer and his or her family — and created a civilization in which almost no one, not even a farmer, ws self-sufficient any longer…

In short, industrialism broke the union of production and consumption, an split the producer from the consumer. the fused economy of the First Wave was transformed into the split economy of the Second Wave.

That economy is still split.

We noticed that in 1999, when we cited Toffler in Chapter Four of The Cluetrain Manifesto:

The advent of the Industrial Age did more than just enable industry to produce products much more efficiently. Management’s approach to production and its workers was quickly echoed in its approach to the market and its customers. The economies of scale they were gaining in the factory demanded economies of scale in the market. By the time it was over we had forgotten the one true meaning of the market, and replaced it with industrial substitutes.

In The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler wrote that the rise of industry drove an “invisible wedge” between production and consumption, a fact Friedrich Engels had noticed over one hundred years earlier. As production was ramped up to unheard-of rates, the clay pot of craftwork was broken into shards of repetitive tasks that maximized efficiency by minimizing difference: interchangeable workers creating interchangeable products.

In the market, consumption also needed to be ramped up — not just to absorb the increased production of goods, but also to promote people’s willingness to buy the one-size-fits-all products that rolled off mass-production lines. And management wasted little time noticing the parallels in efficiencies they could achieve all along the production-consumption chain. If products and workers were interchangeable, then interchangeable consumers began to look pretty good too.

The goal was simple. Customers had to be convinced to desire the same thing, the same Model-T in any color, so long as it’s black. And if workers could be better organized through the repetitive nature of their tasks, so customers were more easily defined by the collective nature of their tastes. Just as management developed a new organizational model to enhance economies of scale in production, it developed the techniques of mass marketing to do the same for consumption.

So the customers who once looked you in the eye while hefting your wares in the market were transformed into consumers. In the words of industry analyst Jerry Michalski, a consumer was no more than “a gullet whose only purpose in life is to gulp products and crap cash.” Power swung so decisively to the supply side that “market” became a verb: something you do to customers.

In the twentieth century, the rise of mass communications media enhanced industry’s ability to address even larger markets with no loss of shoe leather, and mass marketing truly came into its own. With larger markets came larger rewards, and larger rewards had to be protected. More bureaucracy, more hierarchy, and more command and control meant the customer who looked you in the eye was promptly escorted out of the building by security.

The product of mass marketing was the message, delivered in as many forms as there were media and in as many guises as there were marketers to invent them. Delivered locally, shipped globally, repeated inescapably, the business of marketing devoted itself to delivering the message. Unfortunately, the customer never wanted to take delivery.

Well, maybe 1% did — or whatever percentage actually responded to any given ad. Still, the points are valid. We still live in a world where mass production is the norm, and so is treating customers like cattle.

A couple days ago a friend pointed to Customer UNinterupted, which pitches “Next-generation strategies for owning the customer experience across all channels.” Raise your hand if you wish to have your experience “owned” by anybody. Even the people who wrote that pitch don’t want their experienced “owned”. But they could easily write it because they still have that wedge in their heads. There is no corpus calossum between their inner producer and consumer.

But I’m still optimistic. Mass media are falling apart. All all of us on the Net are in position to be producers as well as consumers. We can produce information — real intelligence — that improves markets. Many of us are already doing that. A few of us are engaged in development efforts that will equip individuals with tools both of independence and engagement.

In fact, I think we should soon be in a good position to turn the old system around, and to “own the seller experience.” That is, to tell sellers how we wish to be treated, and to have our demands respected.

The fact that we’ll arrive, money in hand, will help.

Bonus link.

Igo 2 Oggi

Deep in the nerve center of Harvard University, in the building called Holyoke that overlooks Harvard Square, is a corridor which in some ways resembles a public marketplace. There’s a pharmacy, a book store, a Harvard schwag shop, and windows through racks of pastries into the Au bon Pain next door. In the middle of the middle of this is an Oggi Gourmet restaurant, with stools at stone counters, tables on the small plaza outside, and friendly folks behind the counter, making the best pizza in New England.

I say that only because it’s the best pizza I’ve had here so far. I’m sure there must be better, just given the odds. I’m also operating in the tradition of proclaiming as universal one’s limited but vividly remembered personal experience. In my case that experience began more than sixty-one years ago in parts of New Jersey close enough to New York’s center to qualify as boroughs. This, I submit, qualifies me as an expert. There is no better pizza than that you’ll find in my memory of New Jersey’s best, which consists entirely of Aroma Pizzaria off Route 23 in Wayne, in which I have not set foot since the early 1970s. Something by that name is still there, but I kinda doubt it’s the same one that Joe and Louie DeFrederusso ran, now more than a third of a century ago. In fact, I can’t get a match on that surname on Google, so I’m sure the spelling is wrong. (Although the phonetics are right.) Their Sicilian pie still makes me salivate, after all these decades.

Anyway, I’m also writing this by grace of Oggi, which has a wi-fi hotspot called OGGI Gourmet, and which does not even bother with a spash page. I love that too.

Okay, off to work.

SXSW this year is the first big conference I’ve ever attended where the wi-fi is not only solid, but fast. I’ve meaured a steady 20Mb upstream and down, over and over. HUGE high five to Hugh Forrest and the crew for making that happen.

At the same time, this is the first conference I’ve ever attended where a cellular provider has just flat-out failed. In this case it’s AT&T, and I’ll bet it’s because the majority of attendees are packing iPhones. I’m one of them.

Om said on Sunday that AT&T was to have added capacity to their downtown Austin cell facilities. It made no difference, far as I could tell, by the end of Monday. Today (Tuesday) I’m at my hotel on phone calls until late this morning.

Meanwhile my hotel, the OMNI, isn’t doing much better. While I’m getting okay cell service here from AT&T, my Sprint data card is getting very slow data rates over the Sprint 3G network. But that’s the best I can do because wi-fi at the OMNI is terrible. Once in awhile I’ll get a good wi-fi signal, but then it goes away. Sometimes the speeds are good (up to 5Mb up and down), then: nothing. I arrived last Friday night. When I told the front desk about it, they said they were aware of the problem, and were working on it. Meanwhile they woud try to find me a “wi-fi bridge”. Never used one of those. May never, either, because they never got me one. “All of ours are loaned out,” they told me a few minutes ago. When I pressed the woman behind the counter for hope that the problem would be solved, she told me “we’ve taken it all the way up to the manager.” My message for that manager: this is unacceptable. For many customers, especially during shows like SXSW, Internet access is as essential as a working shower.

At least it’s free for guests who sign up for the hotel’s loyalty program, which at least allows you to opt out of promotional junk. But it also raises expectations, for example by asking you to check off which of four newspapers you like to get. I checked them all, expecting to see the now-customary USA Today outside my door in the morning. Alas, it wasn’t there. Putting a USA Today outside one’s door has become pro forma at higher-priced hotels, of which the OMNI is one. I suspect that’s one reason why USA Today is one of the very few papers with increasing circulation. But I dunno.

For what it’s worth, the OMNI is excellent most other respects. Very comfortable beds. Good shower. So, if you don’t care about the Internet, I recommend it.

Twitter says “Something is technically wrong”. The hotel wi-fi is up and down. Mostly down. My Sprint data card gets squat from this hotel. AT&T is borderline useless at #sxsw, probably because 90% of the attendees have iPhones.

My wife is headed off to Europe in the morning, and I’m trying to get her going with a Skype account for her laptop because we failed to unlock the Nokia phone that used to run on AT&T but hasn’t been used in a bit — and because Skype would be good to have in any case. But Skype just gives her a spinning wheel for long periods before saying “Unable to connect to Skype P2P network”, which is apparently a known problem. A post there says to go to … but that page doesn’t load.


Now it loads and says everything is fine. It ain’t. So we’re giving up.

As seen off TV

Check out this video. I make a damn fool of myself about halfway into the thing.

Sums of differences

Here at SXSW there are two conferences happening on the same floors: Interactive and Film. Interactive is mostly computing geeks. Film is mostly film geeks.

The main visual difference: tatoos and laptops. In the film crowd there is a high tatoo/laptop ratio. In the interactive crowd, there is a high laptop/tatoo ratio — lthough many laptops have tatoos in the forms of decals, which are left on tables and handed out to attendees by companies or causes with something to promote.

I’m on the Interactive side, but have attended very few sessions here, mostly because we have a bunch of VRM developers here, and are taking advantage of sharing meet/meat space to get stuff done. It’s been very productive, actually.

Anyway, I decided yesterday to visit one of the film sessions: the enthusiastically titled Henry Selick and Robert Rodriguez talk 3D at SXSW! The room was packed. The only laptops I saw were my own and two others in the back row. It felt only a bit less strange than it did seven years ago when I attended my first Digital Hollywood in Los Angeles. Back then computer users and Hollywood were at “war.” Or so the Hollywood folks said. “Piracy” was the big topic. I didn’t raise my flag.

A little different now. Great session too, by the way.

A well-hacked planet at work

Ran straight into Wes Felter at #sxsw yesterday right after he sent me an email I hadn’t seen yet suggesting we sit and talk. Which we promptly did. Very productive conversation.

Wes will also have cool ideas to share at the FSF Libre Planet 2009 Conference this coming weekend at Harvard’s Science Center. I’ll be there too.

Naturally good

Had a great breakfast with Rex at the Bouldin Creek Coffee House and Café in Austin this morning. It’s about 1.5 miles from downtown on South 1st. Found it on Yelp.

Great little place. I had two vegetarian egg variant tacos. One was a veggie chorizo thing (I forget the details), and it was outstanding. The cappuccino was good too. Service and atmosphere are both friendly and comfortable. Highly recommended.

Clay Shirky in Newsxpapers and Thinking the Unthinkable: …what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. Great essay. Required re-reading.

Digging KGSR

Until I hit SCAN on the little radio I carry with me on trips, I had forgotten how much I enjoyed KGSR/107.1 the last time I was here at SXSW. They’ve added some power since then (up from 39kw to 49kw), but their stream still plays hard-to-get. There appears to be no .mp3 stream coming from the station (so forget using it on iPhones*), and one can only listen live in the browser, with a pop-up window that doesn’t work (at least for me).

They do note that they are in “HD”, which is audible only on a few expensive radios that almost nobody has, since the radio industry decided that HD needed to be a proprietary play, coming to the world only by grace of a company called Ibiquity. I could get started, but it’s not worth it. (Go here and click on “buy a radio” and see what happens.)

Anyway, if you’re in town, give it a spin. As I said three years ago here, great radio lives.

*[Later...] Thanks to Rod K, I am now listening to KGSR on my iPhone. WunderGround Radio did cost $5.99, and it took me awhile to find where in the app’s vast directory tree the radio listings were stored, but once I got there I was very impressed. And quite surprised that one can listen to a Windows Media stream. I sit corrected on that.

I still wish KGSR also had an .mp3 stream, but it’s still good to be able to hear them in any case.

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Very slick. You can’t link to the flashy videos, or I’d point to the one with Padma Lakshmi‘s beautiful bod. T+A, complete with cleavage. Very nice. But very Times? Hey, when your whole industry is being bulldozed off the cliff… whatever works, I guess.

If you want to keep something in orbit around the Earth, you need it to be flying parallel to the surface at speeds exceeding those of bullets. Get high enough above atmospheric drag, and stuff will continue to orbit as long as the moon does.

The moon has been around for 4,530,000,000,000 years, give or take.

Humans have been throwing junk into space, and occassionally blowing orbiting crap into countless smithereens, for about fifty years. As a result, the risk of impact to large objects such as shuttles, observatories and space stations is one-in-a-few hundred.

Or, in the case of the International Space Station, one-in-what? Today the ISS was evacuated, just in case.

#iss tweets.

Since it’s obvious that it’s a bad idea to fill the orbital environment with junk that’s damn near impossible to get rid of, why do we keep doing it?

Because every species operates in its own flawed self interest, I guess.

Kathy Moran has a great line — “Blogging about productivity began to feel like drinking about alcoholism” — that somehow comes to mind as I point to The Free Beer Economy, which I just put up at Linux Journal, in advance of SXSW, where I’ll moderate a panel titled Rebuilding the World with Free Everything. The panel will happen next Tuesday, right after the keynote conversation between Guy Kawasaki and Chris Anderson, whose book Free: The Future of a Radical Price is due out this summer, and who will join our panel as well.

The gist:

So we have an ecosystem of abundant code and scarce imagination about how to make money on top of it. If that imagination were not scarce, we wouldn’t need Nicholas Carr to explain utilities in clouds with The Big Switch, or Jeff Jarvis to explain how big companies get clues, in What Would Google Do?

More to the point for us blogging folk, I’ll add Dave’s How I made over $2 million with this blog.

His point: He made money because of it. As I have with mine. Neither one of us, more than coincidentally, has advertising on our blogs. Neither one of us burdens our blogs with a “business model”. Nor do we feel a need to hire some outfit to do SEO for us. Good blogs are self-optimizing. That can go for their leverage on income as well, even without cost to one’s integrity.

As with so much on the Net, it’s still early. Much future is left to unfurl. The millipede has many more shoes to drop. So there is much fun left to be had, and much money to be made, even in a crap economy.

But hey, I’m an optimist. What else can I say?

Look forward to seeing many of ya’ll in Austin. I fly down tomorrow, back on Wednesday.

[Later...] I tweeted a pointer to the post earlier, and did something I’ve never done before, which was ask people to digg the piece. It’s kind of an experiment. Curious to see how it goes.

I’ve only had one post dugg to a high level before. It was fun for the few hours it lasted, but I’m not sure it did anything substantive (other than drive traffic to Linux Journal, which was more than agreeable). What I mean is, I’m not sure it drove a conversation about its subject. Hence, the next experiment. Applied heuristics, you might say.

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Love this line, from Dave: I have no idea how these guys got the idea that they could save the news industry by becoming the tech industry.

Dave’s the only guy I know who reliably schools both the journalism and the tech industries, often at the same time. Well done.

So I shot a bunch of pictures of Niagara Falls from 35,000 above, on a trip last week from San Francisco to Boston. Click on the pic for the whole set.

Interesting to think that the falls are only about ten thousand years old. A blink in geologic time.

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Clearing up

Media Cloud is a Berkman project that has been in the works for a bit, and has just launched into the public space. More here.

It’s new and the folks there are looking for feedback. Enjoy.

Pining for clones

The economy may be tanking, and our belts may be tightening to the dimensions of a sphincter, but … what can I say? I’m having a great time. I just wish there were more of me, to do all the many things that need to get done at once.

In the absence of clones, I keep more balls on the floor than anybody I know. One of them is this blog. Posting has been light lately because I’m too busy doing other stuff.

Right now it’s 3:27am, the laptop says. There are 26 items on my to-do list. I’m up early so interruptions won’t pre-empt more than 25 of them. I’m not sure if it’s a curse or a charm that I remain optimistic that all 26 will get done anyway. Probably both. What’s life without irony?

Flying out of SFO yesterday morning, I had a great seat for shooting: on the left side of the plane, away from the sun, facing The City on departure. I got several hundred shots crossing the country, more of which will go up on Flickr over time. Meanwhile, I’ve uploaded a set of San Francisco alone. Here ya go.

Sitting by Gate 88 at SFO, waiting to board United’s next Boston flight. I just took my chances and ordered a short dry decaf cappuccino. I figured I had a good chance of getting what I wanted because the coffee shop at the gate is Peets, of which I am quite fond because more often than not they make them right.

Not this time. Even with careful instruction (“just some foam and a tiny bit of milk on the espresso”), I got what remains the default for coffee shops everywhere, and which I’ve complained about before.

It’s cool. I just met Tony Mamone, founder of Zimbio, who introduced himself after he heard my name called for an upgrade. Fun coincidence.

So now I’m sitting in seat 1a: a biz class window on the shady side of the plane with no obstructions. The window could be cleaner, but it’s not too bad. The shooting should be good.

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Putting a bolder face on Google is a New York Times piece about which Reshma Kumar at WebGuild says Marissa Mayer’s Attempt To Put a Bolder Face on Google Falls Flat. One paragraph:

  Google is too busy being drunk on its own cool-aid and telling the same boring stories they’ve been pedaling for the last dozen years over and over again. Maybe some people outside the Valley still buy all this holier than thou start-up slop but it’s become tired. The company is no longer a start-up and these stories are no longer relevant. According to the article, in reviewing resumes she looks at GPAs and SATs and expresses concern over someone getting a C in a course “That’s troubling to me,” Ms. Mayer says. “Good students are good at all things.” However, despite the public facade of hiring only A students, Google has many C and D students in its midst.

I doubt I’d call a positive Times piece “falling flat”; but Reshma’s slam isn’t what caught my eye. It’s this stuff about grade point averages. I’d bet that some of Google’s best employees had bad grades in school. If I worked for Google, I’d be one of them. What I did in school has approximately zero relevance to everything I’ve done since. I’d guess that the same is true for lots of other people who have found the professional world a more productive one than the academic. (Or, in my case, have found the academic world far more friendly after 40 years away from it.)

But that’s not what made me want to write this post. Instead it was to give props to Cindy McCaffrey, Marissa Mayer’s predecessor at Google. Cindy ran corporate marketing at Google from the late 90s through the IPO in 2004. As it says here, Cindy’s approach was low-key. Long on substance and short on flash. More importantly, she was geek-friendly. In the early days, when Google was still getting its act together, I would occasionally send a note to Cindy suggesting that her inside geeks at Google needed to talk with outside geeks who were either having problems, or had some good ideas that Google could use. And good stuff would follow. This wasn’t “corporate communications” of the usual sort, but it was helpful all around. Reading these two stories reminded me of that.

A microquibble

I don’t like candy that doesn’t taste like its color. The green hard candies in the bowls here at #ecomm are peppermint. The orange ones are… grape? The purple ones are… not sure. I shouldn’t eat the damn things anyway, but hey, my resistance is low.

We withdrew from TV this morning. I called Verizon and cancelled our FiOS TV service. Kept the Internet, of course: $64.99 for 20Mb symmetrical service. No complaints there. But what I want from Verizon is á la carte — or something close — and they don’t offer that. If it’s HD you want, it’s kind of all-or-nothing.

The interesting thing: after escalating the call to a higher-level customer service person, Verizon offered to drop the rental fee for the DVR/set top box, and to drop the price of Extreme HD (“more than 100 HD channels”) to $47.99. That’s a good deal, actually, if you watch a lot of TV. The problem is, we don’t. And we need to save money. So: off it went.

If my plane beats the snow out of Logan in 40 minutes, I’ll be speaking and hanging out at Ecomm for the next couple of days. When I get back I might rig up something to get OTA (over the air) TV stations on an old laptop. Not sure, though. I kind of like the idea of moving on completely, to see how that feels.

After that I called Dish Network and cranked service at our West Coast place down to the minimum required to keep the account active. After we get out there in April, we’ll see how we feel about killing the old tube there too. The situation there is a bit different because we’ve invested in a nice big Sony flat screen, and we often have guests over.

By the way, credit where due to Verizon. The quality of the video is better than you’re going to get either from cable or satellite, simply because the data rates through fiber are so much higher. If you’re into TV, and it’s available, go for it. In fact, if you’re into Internet, that service can’t be beat either. Unless you live in France of something.

Meanwhile, I can think of a lot better uses for that bandwidth, especially in the long run.

I just put up Get ready for “fourth party” services, over at Linux Journal. It comes from thinking about new kinds of businesses that serve users, or customers, first.

Traditionally, “third party” companies are accessories to sellers. So I’m thinking we should call accessories to buyers “fourth party” companies.

See what you think.

blogs exist because they fill a void, blogs that refuse to do so become void. Tony Pierce.