April 2009

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Don Marti in Do Not Feed the Troll: “The latest trend in the IT Media is trolling as business model. In the old days, trolling was a hobby. How many users of newsgroup or other forum could you draw into a pointless argument? But when a participant in an argument is either (1) visiting a comment form and seeing an ad, or (2) linking in to a blog post and giving you some Google Juice, then trolling becomes a business.”

That post is close to two years old. Meanwhile, shameless plays for traffic and obsessions with “popularity” of a mostly numeric form are more common than ever, given that more means serve the same ends, faster than ever.

Is anything other than vanity improved by that? I mean, besides checking accounts marginally enlarged by Adsense residues that remain where Google Juice has flowed? I mean, anything that matters: that adds substance to the world in some way.

Could it be that Twitter has become the gin cart of our time – not in all cases, but in enough to constitute a kind of methadone for TV addicts? Just a thought.

My point, however, isn’t about TV or Twitter, or SEO, or obsessive posting for its own sake. It’s about being constructive. Because I think life is a constant series of choices. Either we put our shoulder to a wheel, or we just take a ride. Either we build something, or we just occupy a space.

There are more ways than ever to be constructive in the world. Also more ways to loaf. The trick is to know when the latter is not the former.

[Later...] An example. I just learned that Chrysler has sold what’s left of its ass to Fiat. Wikipedia doesn’t mention that yet in its entry on Chrysler. I could go into Wikipedia and (perhaps) be the first to update it with this new info. Or I could make an intstructive post on my own blog, about how there are other Wikipedians, far more qualified (and obsessive) than I, ready to make those edits, and to do a much better job of it. Or, I could do neither. So, I posted. Was it worthwhile? Or should I have gone back to writing the book, or doing other Things That Matter? Not sure, actually.

New Innerface

Sorry I’ve been quiet. Let’s see… I’ve only blogged on 12 days this month. A new low for me, I’m sure. There are several reasons, all good. The new one, though, is that I’m hunkering down on a book. For the first time, ever. Not easy for me. I’m a sprinter, not a marathon runner. I’m also more distractable than a kitten. That’s good for blogging and tweeting, bad for book-writing. (Where would either blogging or tweeting be without sublimated ADHD? Dropped in half? More?)

I’ve also been awol during an overhaul of Berkman blogs. (Not all those at the last link are hosted by Berkman, but I can’t find another link at the moment, and I need to get back to work.)

In any case, there’s a new WordPress dashboard here, which I’m using for the first time. This little authoring section is called “QuickPress”. I’m writing in HTML, because I assume there’s no other way. At least within this section. Which is cool. I like writing in HTML.

Haven’t found the wysiwyg authoring thing yet. More importantly, I need to get my OPML editor working with the blog. That’s my main means, and that connection seems to be broken. Might be at this end, because I’ve been switching laptops around too. Miss it. I’m an outline-y kinda guy.

Anyway, just letting ya’ll know that I’m here. Just busy.

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Says Stowe Boyd (in a post that has been re-tweeted a bit),

We need to move past the Cluetrain Manifesto, and acknowledge that what people are doing on the web is much, much more than conversing. It’s not just a chat room: it’s an entire culture under development, and the conversation is just the tip of the iceberg.

All due respect to Stowe and the RTers, the Cluetrain Manifesto didn’t say the Web was about conversing. What it said was,

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations.

If you read down through that original Web page, or the book chapter titled Markets Are Conversations, you’ll find that Cluetrain is not only a brief against marketing in general, but that it’s a book about markets.

Somewhere back there, Jakob Nielsen told me that Cluetrain’s authors had “defected” from marketing, and sided with markets against marketing. Now that the world is thick with “conversation marketing” and worse, I’d say that’s more true than ever.

So, to set the record straight, “Markets are conversations” is a statement about markets. It’s about getting real. Not about getting talkative.

Of course, countless marketers have jumped on what they think is the clue train, and with lots of BS about “conversational” marketing. In the old days, we called this “sales”.

For what it’s worth (a lot, I hope), a 10th anniversary edition of Cluetrain is due out this summer. It’s the original with some more chapters added, including a couple by other folks who found Cluetrain useful. I hope it helps correct other misunderstandings as well.

Stowe’s post is about “unmarketing”, about which he says,

I think companies need to take several steps back, and rethink their own motivations, before attempting to grapple with the new motivations of an open web citizenry.

First to be reconsidered — a la Cluetrain — is that markets are not what they used to be, where relatively passive consumers were messaged ‘to’. It has become an overused maxim that markets are conversations, which trivializes what is going on in the web, actually, and props up the notion of markets.

That stuff is right on. Bravo. But Stowe follows that with the first item I quoted. That’s where he — and everybody who thinks Cluetrain is just about “conversing” — goes off the rails.

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Here’s a job for the Citizen Media’s long tail: find the fist time anybody used the terms “Craigslist killer”, “Craigslist case” or “Craigslist murder”. What the effort will highlight are two issues for journalism. One is the absence of an engine that allows easy first-date or date-range search. (Unless I’m mistaken about that, which I’d be glad to be. [Later... I am.]) The other is the unfairness of turning the name of a business into an adjective that modifies the noun for a crime — essentially re-branding that business as a criminal accessory.

Why “Craigslist killer”? Well, the easy answer is that the killer apparently targeted victims he found on Craigslist, and that’s interesting. Meaning it’s kind of new and different. Murder goes digital. Hey, you don’t hear about “the phone book killer” or “the newspaper killer,” do you? (Well, actually, Craigslist has been called that too.)

My point here isn’t about how natural and easy it is to name a case “Craigslist murder”, but about what that does to Craigslist. I think it’s unfair, as well as a bummer for Craig Newmark and the rest of the Craigslist folks, even if the label is hard to avoid using.

Meanwhile, I’d love to see better chronological search on Google Blogsearch and Technorati, both of which offer it, at least for syndicated sources.

Dr. Weinberger covers this, and adjacent topics.

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It all started here.

It all started here. With Platform A: the first of thirty-some oil platforms built in the 1960s off the coast of Southern California. To anybody looking seaward from Santa Barbara, the platforms are nearly as much a fixture of the horizon as the Channel Islands beyond. The three closest, Platforms A, B and C, are just several miles out.

On January 28, 1969, Platform A had a blow-out. As much as 100,000 barrels of oil rose to the surface and spread. Had the oil been carried away from shore, the event might have been small news. But instead it gunked up the coast, ruining Santa Barbara’s harbor for a time, and treating the world to the first of many iconic visuals: tar-covered sea birds.

Long story short, Earth Day followed.

Some pictures from the time.

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I’m listening right now to On Point*, where the topic is Pushing E-Health Records. The only case against electronic health records (EHR, aka electronic medical recordsk, or EMR) is risk of compromised privacy. Exposure goes up. The friction involved in grabbing electronic medical records is lower than that involved in grabbing paper ones, especially with the Internet connecting damn near everything.

Here’s the problem with privacy in the Internet Age (which we are now in, with no hope of ever getting out, unless we live the connectionless life): the Net is a big copy machine. It’s amazing how a fact so simple escapes attention until a first-rate metaphorist such as Kevin Kelly comes along to expound on what ought to be obvious:

The internet is a copy machine. At its most foundational level, it copies every action, every character, every thought we make while we ride upon it. In order to send a message from one corner of the internet to another, the protocols of communication demand that the whole message be copied along the way several times. IT companies make a lot of money selling equipment that facilitates this ceaseless copying. Every bit of data ever produced on any computer is copied somewhere. The digital economy is thus run on a river of copies. Unlike the mass-produced reproductions of the machine age, these copies are not just cheap, they are free.

Our digital communication network has been engineered so that copies flow with as little friction as possible. Indeed, copies flow so freely we could think of the internet as a super-distribution system, where once a copy is introduced it will continue to flow through the network forever, much like electricity in a superconductive wire. We see evidence of this in real life. Once anything that can be copied is brought into contact with internet, it will be copied, and those copies never leave. Even a dog knows you can’t erase something once it’s flowed on the internet.

We’re not going to fix that. The copying nature of the Net is a feature, not a bug. We can fight some of it with crypto between trusting parties. But until we find ways to make that easy, the exposure is there. And, as long as it is, we’re going to have people who say risk of exposure overrides other concerns, such as the fact that dozens of thousands of people in the U.S. alone die every year of bad health care record keeping and communications — in other words, of bad data.

Still, if we want good medical care, we need EHR. That much is plain. The question is, How?

The answer will not be an information silo, or a set of silos. We have too many of those already. That’s the problem we have now — both on paper and in electronic formats (as I discovered last year in one of my own medical adventures).

The patient needs to be the point of integration for his or her own data, and the point of origination about what gets done with it. Even if the patient’s primary care physician serves as a trusted originator of medical decisions, the patient needs to anchor the vector of his or her own care, for the simple reason that the patient is the one constant as he or she moves through various medical specialties and systems.

The patient needs to be the platform. Not Google, or Microsoft, or your HMO, or the VA, or some kieretsu involving Big Pharma, Big Software Companies and Big Equipment Makers.

This requires classic VRM: tools of independence and engagement. That is, tools that enable the patient to be independent of any health care provider, yet better able to engage any provider.

In other words, while the answer needs to be systematic, it does not need to be A Big System (which I fear both BigCos and BigGovs whish to provide).

The answer needs to come from geeks who know how to eliminate big problems with simple solutions. For example,

  • Consider how the Internet Protocol solved the problem of multiple networks that didn’t get along.
  • Consider how email protocols such as SMTP, POP3 and IMAP solved the problem of multiple email systems that didn’t get along.
  • Consider how the XMPP protocol solves the problem of multiple instant messaging systems that don’t get along.

We need new ways of organizing our own health care data, and communicating that data selectively to trusted health care providers through open and standard protocols (that may or may not already exist… I don’t know).

I wanted to get those thoughts down because there’s a bunch of stuff going on around health care right now (including two conferences in Boston), detailed to some degree in Health Care Relationship Management, over at the ProjectVRM blog.

* On WBUR, a Boston station I pick up here in Santa Barbara over my Public Radio Tuner.

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First, a big thanks to all the folks at Yahoo who ran down and helped fix the problem behind the post below. Turns out I had two IDs, one for Yahoo and one for Flickr, and that the two were never joined, or merged, or whatever it is. They still aren’t, but it’s cool. The only one I care about (at least at this point) is the Flickr one. I still don’t understand what went wrong, exactly, but at least now I know for sure what the logins and passwords are, for both accounts.

So I just celebrated by uploading some shots of the Channel Islands, which I took two days ago, en route from LAX to SFO. I have a huge backlog of shots to upload, but I’m too busy these days to keep up. But this is a nice batch, and labeling and tagging everything didn’t take too long.

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On Wednesday I somehow signed out of my Yahoo account on Flickr. When I tried to sign back on, my login/password failed. So I went through Yahoo’s authentication process to recover those, and it sent them to me by email.

Still didn’t work.

Then I went for help here, and got thanked by a page that said “one of our knowledgeable and well trained Sign-in & Registration agents” would get back to me within 24 hours. At 2:42 this afternoon I received this:

Subject: Auto Confirmation – Your Yahoo! Account Verification support request was received …
From: Yahoo! Account Services  <my-login-help@cc.yahoo-inc.com>
Reply-To: Yahoo! Account Services  <my-login-help@cc.yahoo-inc.com>

Hello,

This is an automated message regarding your recent request for Yahoo!
Account Verification Customer Care support. Your message was received,
and you will hear back from us within the next 24 hours with an answer.

Thank you for reaching out to us. We look forward to helping you!

Sincerely,

Yahoo! Customer Care

**Please do not respond to this message as no one will receive it.

I look forward to being helped too.

FWIW, I have had a Pro account that  since Flickr was a start-up in Vancouver. I have 28,000 pictures on Flickr so far. I’d like to put up more.

Now, of course, we’re entering the weekend. Still, I’d like some real help here. If any of ya’ll know one of those “knowledgeable and well trained Sign-in & Registration agents” — or just anybody who can help, please send them my way. Thanks.

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I’m bummed that I’m drinking a beer on the deck here in Santa Barbara while Dave is in Cambridge. Would have enjoyed having coffee with him this morning. So instead I’ll raise a glass in his general direction, and post a bunch of loose notes here.

Sez Dave, Doc Searls likes to say that markets are conversations, but people are conversations too. Right. And markets are people, which is our point in this Cluetrain chapter. They are not marketing. The market in marketing is a verb. A synonym for sell, basically. (See definitions 13 to 16 here.)

Which is why I think “conversational marketing” is oxymoronic. Federated Media’s Conversational Marketing Summit, for example, came to my attention by way of a fellow Cluetrain author who attached a promotional email from Federated, adding “yep, looks like our work here is done! Off to find some good stout clothesline and a high enough limb.” Among the speakers is Comcast’s “Director of Digital Care.” Feeling cared for, Comcast customers?

Okay, that was unfair. The director in question is Frank Eliason, who has a fine blog and is running at about 16,000 followed and followers as @comcastcares on Twitter. I’m one of those thousands (on the following side, anyway).

Anyway, here’s just one paragraph from the CM Summit pitch:

CM Summit will provide key insights from some of the world’s largest brand advertisers and the web’s most successful social media properties. Don’t miss this opportunity to look under the hood of conversational marketing and find out what’s driving innovation and success for the publishers, marketers, and consumers who occupy the social Web.

Gag me with a shovel.

Gag Steven Hodson too. He says The wrong people are promoting Social Media. Specifically,

We are increasingly be told that Social Media is about being able to open lines of conversations with corporations and governments. It is supposed to be the new way for us to interact with those in more powerful positions than us. We are increasingly being marketed to about the benefits of being connected to brands – be it personal or corporate ones.

As a result people are beginning to think that social media is nothing more than a round table with corporations, marketers and public relation people deciding on what the conversation is all about. Once more we are finding ourselves being talked to even though it is carefully couched in terms of openness and transparency.

Yep. Later Steven adds,

We have only begun to taste the incredible freedom and personal power that comes with being a part of a social media world. It is this taste that companies fear because it removes them from the top down position. It brings them onto a level playing field where even the poorest person in the world can have an effect.

Social media doesn’t belong to the marketers, the public relation flacks or the corporations so desperately trying to take ownership. It belongs to the people. For the first time the media truly is made up of people for the people.

It is us who should be out there promoting Social Media – not the Facebooks, not the MySpaces, not the Twitter and especially not the marketers and corporations. The sooner we realize that the sooner we can take back our social media from the grasp of those who would bastardize it to their own means.

I’m with him in every respect other than love for the term “social media.” That’s because most people equate “social media” with Facebook, MySpace and all the other conversation containment silos.

Let’s go back to fundamentals. For that I’ll defer first to Larry Josephson, my favorite personality in the history of radio, who naturally isn’t working there any more. Larry once told me, “Radio is personal. That’s my philosophy.” The road radio traveled to hell (where its commercial corner has rotting for the last thirty years or so) was paved with jive like Federated is talking in that pitch. It’s all sell-side shit, and about as conversational as a billboard.

The Net is personal too. So is the Web. Also email, SMS, IM and the rest of it.

And before all of those, so was the telephone. Nothing could be more conversational than that. Back in the 80s, Reese Jones told me that the phone — a tech communications mode that is senior in the extreme, was both the original and the ultimate platform. And now there are close to a billion app downloads for the iPhone. One of the iPhone’s 25 thousand apps is the Public Radio Tuner, which is now passing 1.6 million downloads. That app, plus WundeRadio, have turned my iPhone into my radio. Together they get many more stations than would ever fit in a dial.

Reese’s point: conversation is personal. It’s one-with-one, not one-to-many.  It may be social in the sense that talking with another person is a social act. But it’s not a group thing. Orignally a brain researcher, Reese pointed out that none of us are capable of listening to more than one other person at a time.

In other words, talking may be social, but listening is personal.

Talk “social” and the silos show up. That’s what “social media” are. The good stuff Steven wants us to save, and advocate, are inherently personal qualities of the Net and the Web.

By the way, without Reese schooling me about phones and conversations, I doubt I would have come up with the “markets are conversations” line.

Speaking of which, in Brian Solis’ The Conversation Index, he says this:

<!–
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Communities support each other. Citizens actively help others make decisions, offer suggestions and referrals, proactively share negative experiences, and repeatedly ask question – with or without our participation.

Doc Searls calls this Vendor Relationship Management (VRM). Others refer to it as Customer Relationship Management (CRM). But, as we are quickly learning, “management” and “relationships” are as distant from each other as their intentions. Perhaps it’s better stated as Community Relations or better yet, Public Relations.

Well, VRM is not CRM. Nor is it public relations. It is nothing that the seller does. VRM is something the customer has. It comes from the customer. There will be, in the VRM world, both individuals and user-driven and customer-driven services, which I call fourth parties. More about those distinctions here.

Other stuff…

Mike Arrington’s post about The Cenralized Me and Data Portability is all about VRM, though he doesn’t mention it.

Great interview with Richard Rodriguez, one of my favorite writers and thinkers. Richard’s book Brown foreshadowed Obama’s presidency. This is outstanding, too.

Umair Hague is in high dungeon about The Geithnerconomy, which Umair considers a coup.

Long as we’re down on Obama, Tim Jones of the EFF says In Warrantless Wiretapping Case, Obama DOJ’s New Arguments Are Worse Than Bush’s. That’s on top of Jennifer Granick’s post about a proposed federal take-over of the Net. More centralization and concentration of power, anyway.

Not sure whether or not I’m creeped out by this new biz model for journals and Twitter.

To answer the question “How come you’re not posting your usual giant piles of photos on Flickr?” the answer is that I stupidly somehow signed off Flickr and can’t sign back on, because I have no idea what the hell my ID or password are. (Actually I do, but they don’t work.) I have appealed to Yahoo for help here, and its automatum has thanked me for that. They may not want to thank me for what I’ll say if “one of our knowledgeable and well trained Sign-in & Registration agents” doesn’t get back to me within the promised 24 hours. That’s by tomorrow afternoon. FWIW, I’ve always been vexed by Yahoo’s ID system. Not that it’s much different than anybody else’s but … somehow it has always been a bit of a problem.

The Failure of #amazonfail, by Clay Shirky, is a good read too. What he calls “conservation of outrage” (that is, “finding rationales for continuing to feel aggrieved, should the initial rationale disappeared”) is exactly why I am always slow to get worked about stuff that get crowds excited. In fact, VRM is in part a way not to get outraged at vendors, but rather to engage them constructively. (But we don’t have those ways yet, so go ahead and get outraged anyway.)

Here’s a nice rationale for PayChoice. (Which needs a different name, by the way.)

Okay, beer done. Later, folks. I’m heading in.

Looking forward to Media Logging across many devices and media types. Thinking about this while digging KKFI out of Kansas City. Currently I’m listening over my laptop, but I just added it to my favorites on the WunderRadio tuner (found it by a search there). Other faves are Radio Paradise, KPIG (which is playing the excellent”Lord, Don’t Move That Mountain” by Angela Strehli), KGSR (playing David Bowie’s Fame), WBJB, WERS, WBGO, Cruisin’ Oldies, WUMB, WMBR, KRCL, KUAT, KVMR, Whole Wheat Radio, Missing are WBCR-lp (from Great Barrington, deep in the Berkshires, currently playing the Dead’s Tennessee Jed) and Power106 from Jamaica. Still, a pretty amazing list.

Also digging the tweeter nowplayingon. Is he or she using the Yes thingie to get those 21,525 updates, so far? Not sure.

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First VRM West Coast Workshop: 15-16 May 2009

We’re a little more than a month away from The first ProjectVRM West Coast Workshop. It will will take place on Friday-Saturday 15-16 May, 2009 in Palo Alto. Graciously providing space is SAP Labs which is a beautiful facility at 1410 Hillview Street in Palo Alto. That’s up in the hills overlooking Silicon Valley and San Francisco Bay. (With plenty of parking too.)

It’s free. Sign up here.

The event will go from 9am to roughly 5pm on both days, and come just ahead of the Internet Identity Workshop (IIW2009a), down the hill in Mountain View, at the Computer History Museum. If things go the way they have for the last couple years, VRM conversation and sessions will continue at the IIW.

The tags are vrm2009 and vrm2009a.

As with earlier VRM gatherings, the purpose of the workshop is to bring people together and make progress on any number of VRM topics and projects. The workshop will be run as an “unconference” on the open space model, which means session topics will be chosen by participants. Here is the Wikipedia page on open space. In open space there are no speakers or panels — just participants, gathered to get work done and enjoy doing it. VRM Workshop 2009 wiki is now set up and ready for more detailing.

Our previous workshop was held last summer at Harvard Law School. Here’s the wiki for that. Here are some pictures as well. Those give a good sense of how things will go.

(This is cross-posted from the ProjectVRM Blog.)

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Good of Vanity Fair to interview some of the Net’s and the Web’s fathers and sons (alas, no mothers or daughters), in a piece titled How the Web was Won.

On vision:

Leonard Kleinrock: Licklider was a strong, driving visionary, and he set the stage. He foresaw two aspects of what we now have. His early work—he was a psychologist by training—was in what he called man-computer symbiosis. When you put a computer in the hands of a human, the interaction between them becomes much greater than the individual parts. And he also foresaw a great change in the way activity would take place: education, creativity, commerce, just general information access. He foresaw a connected world of information.

The culture was one of: You find a good scientist. Fund him. Leave him alone. Don’t over-manage. Don’t tell him how to do something. You may tell him what you’re interested in: I want artificial intelligence. I want a network. I want time-sharing. Don’t tell him how to do it.

On intellectual property sanity:

Larry Roberts: After we built the Arpanet, lots of people built networks. Everybody was competing. Everyone had their own thing that they wanted to do. So it became very important that the world have one protocol, so they could all talk to each other. And Bob Kahn really pushed that process. And Vint. And it wasn’t licensed. They proved to the world that making something free as a driver would make a huge difference in making it a standard.

Robert Cailliau: We looked for a name for several weeks and couldn’t come up with anything good, and I didn’t want yet another one of these stupid things that doesn’t tell you anything. In the end Tim said, Why don’t we temporarily call it the World Wide Web? It just says what it is.

At one point cern was toying with patenting the World Wide Web. I was talking about that with Tim one day, and he looked at me, and I could see that he wasn’t enthusiastic. He said, Robert, do you want to be rich? I thought, Well, it helps, no? He apparently didn’t care about that. What he cared about was to make sure that the thing would work, that it would just be there for everybody. He convinced me of that, and then I worked for about six months, very hard with the legal service, to make sure that cern put the whole thing in the public domain.

On how markets are conversations after all:

Steve Case: We always believed that people talking to each other was the killer app. And so whether it was instant messaging or chat rooms, which we launched in 1985, or message boards, it was always the community that was front and center. Everything else—commerce and entertainment and financial services—was secondary. We thought community trumped content.

On the dawn of a different democracy:

Wes Boyd: I think the biggest shock for us, and it was from the very beginning, was not: Oh, boy, these big people are paying attention to us. It was that there are no big people; it’s up to all of us. And that’s a very scary thing, you know, when you realize what a vacuum there is in many ways in politics.

On the end of media as usual:

Dave Winer: The press is very susceptible to conventional wisdom. The press buys into certain things being true that really aren’t true. The conventional wisdom was that Apple was dead and there was no new software for Macintosh. Yet I was a software developer making new software for the Macintosh. So I went to bat for Apple.

That was the reason why I got so heavy into blogging—I didn’t want the verdict of the press to be the last word. And I’d argue that the same thing is happening now in politics. Today it’s: Is Reverend Wright really a disaster for the Obama campaign? Well, the press seems to think so, but if we want to get a different story out there we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

It’s far from a Compleat History, but it’s a fun read. Makes me wish The Media (including bloggers) had reported more about What Happened after Gutenberg invented movable type. I don’t think the parallels would be few.

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Toward a bigger world of business

Over the last several days I’ve been writing VRM and the Four Party System. Also illustrating it, with much help from graphics courtesy of Hugh McLeod). I’ll let the piece speak for itself. Right now I need to hit the sack.

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One of the geeks here at the Berkman Center walked into a room recently and started poking his index finger down on a newspaper that was laying on the table, as if expecting it to do something electronic. “This isn’t working,” he said.

So true, in so many ways.

Take for example the Boston Globe, New England’s landmark newspaper, and one to which we have subscribed since we got here in 2007. Like nearly all newspapers, the Globe is in Big Trouble. Here’s the opening paragraph from today’s bad news story:

The New York Times Co., which has threatened to shutter The Boston Globe, is seeking deep concessions from the Globe’s largest union that could include pay cuts of up to 20 percent, the elimination of seniority rules and lifetime job guarantees, and millions of dollars in cuts in company contributions to retirement and healthcare plans.

The Times may own the Globe in a legal sense, but in a much broader way the Globe also belongs to the people of Boston and New England. Everybody in New England benefits from the Globe, even if they don’t read or subscribe to it. It was in this sense that Scott Lehigh‘s column yesterday was titled, Readers, have a say in saving your paper. Here’s the long gist:

We’re suffering from a double whammy: A bad recession and a self-defeating business model. Troubled times have sent advertising revenues plummeting. Meanwhile, we’re selling the paper with one hand and giving it away on Boston.com with the other. That’s never made any sense – the more so since website ads aren’t anywhere near the revenue-generator that print ads are.

…I also doubt we’ll be able to maintain the kind of quality newspaper and website readers expect unless we start charging online visitors who don’t subscribe to the paper.

Newspapers, eyeing several earlier failed experiments, including one by the New York Times, are skittish. That approach has worked for the Wall Street Journal, however. And as someone long wary about giving away our product on the Web even as we sell it in print, I think it’s time to try.

So back to my question: What does the Globe mean to you?

Would you pay to read the paper online? Seven-day home delivery currently costs $9.25 a week in the Boston area. Would it be worth $10 or $12 a month to read Globe content on Boston.com? Another idea under discussion in the news industry is micropayments. You’d give a credit card number once, and then be charged a small amount – a nickel, say – for each story you clicked on. Which would you prefer, a subscription or micropayments?

Some think charging for Web content will only deter readers, while keeping links to our website from appearing on other sites. Any payment system must be voluntary, they say. I’m dubious. But tell me, if we nagged you incessantly – ah, make that, politely prompted you at frequent intervals – would you make a voluntary payment of some sort?

Finally, can you think of better ways to have online readers pay for Globe offerings?

Yes, I can. It’s the fifth item in the series of posts below:

  1. Newspapers 2.0 (October 5, 2006)
  2. Still at Newspapers 1.x (August 15, 2007)
  3. Toward a new ecology of journalism (September 12, 2007)
  4. Earth to Newspapers: Abandon Fort Business. (September 19, 2007)
  5. PayChoice: a new business model for newspapers (February 5, 2009)

PayChoice (later re-named EmanciPay) will be an easy way for listeners to pay stations for public radio programming. It is in the early stages of development, aimed toward appearing later this year in the Public Radio Tuner on iPhones. At last report, downloads of the tuner were moving past 1.5 million, so far.

We could do PayChoice for newspapers as well.

Informing PayChoice on the Public Radio Tuner will be a Listen Log, which is one form of Media Logging. We can do a Read Log as well, at least for the electronic versions of newspapers. Among the many things I’d like the log to perform is what I call ascribenation. That is, the ability to ascribe credit to sources — and to pay them as well. Among other things, this addresses the Associated Press’ concerns about ‘misappropriation’ of its role as the first source for many stories for which it goes uncredited.

Jon Garfunkel also has a good idea worth considering. It’s called PaperTrust.

The bottom line here is that a lot of good people are working on solutions. These solutions are not the same old stuff in new wrappers. They’re original ideas, some of which the papers will have no control over.

But they can help. They can tune in to tech development efforts like the ones I descibe here, and welcome their geeks’ participation in them. They can write and post linky text. (The Globe is better than some in this respect, but still link-averse on the whole.) They can finish following the other recommendations they’ll find here (the first of which isn’t too far from what Scott would like to do).

And, it might still be impossible to save the paper.

The question comes down to living without advertising. Can it be done? If so, how? I guarantee that the answer to those questions will come from the outside. From geeks, mostly.

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garanti-obamaStephen Lewis has an excellent post from Istanbul on the occasion of President Obama’s visit to Turkey, which was completed this morning.

Steve explains, “Yes, that’s Garanti with an ‘i’ and not a double-’e', as in Garanti Bank, one of the largest banks in Turkey.  For the last two months Garanti Bank has mounted these advertisements on billboards throughout Istanbul — with text offering low interest loans set below an image looking convincingly like Barak Obama and printed in a very Islamic green.  Actually, the face is that of a local actor and Obama look-alike.  The choice of an Obama-like image for the ads might imply a guarantee of stability in a time of instability and a recognition of vox populi rather than the very real and desperate need of the US economy for low-interest capital.”

More of Steve’s thoughtful postings at his alterblog, Hak Pak Sak.

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Hanging in The Cities on (what wants to be) a Spring Day (a little snow still on the ground), talking deep blogging trash with Sharon Franquemont and Mary Jo Kreitzer. They’re both new to the practice (which isn’t quite a discipline, at least in my case). So bear with me as I show off some stuff.

For example, I just looked up personal health records on Google. As it happens, I already had Greasemonkey and the twitter search script installed. Thanks to that neat little hack, a pile of Twitter search results from the live web appears at the top of a Google search. Here’s a screen shot:

Note that among the Twitter results is one from adriana872, who is none other than my good friend Adriana Lukas, who I see also has a tweet that says “targetted advertising is visual spam”. Which resonates with me totally, of course. She links to her own post on the subject, which sources this post by Brian Micklethwait.

Which is all cool and conversation-inducing as well as expertise-spreading and authority-building and stuff like that. (Remember I’m showing how to blog here. Bear with me.)

I’ll also tag the shit out of all the above. Not sure if the tags appear here (I blog in too many places and I forget), but they exist.

I also just tweeted this post, with a #blogging hashtag, and instantly, we get this:

The Live Web indeed.

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Flying from Boston to Minneapolis by way of Chicago today. The second leg is through the middle of this:

Shouldn’t be much to see out the window.

But I’m looking forward to talking tomorrow morning at MinneWebCon. The title is The Intention Economy: What Happens When Customers Get Real Power. I gave a shorter talk by the same title to a small group at the Berkman Center a couple weeks back. The video and audio are here. This one will be for Web development folks rather than the somewhat academic folks that come to Berkman lunches. Should be fun.

I also expect to be hanging Monday night with other folks interested in seeing Carolina beat Michigan State in the NCAA championship game. :-)

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In response to Can Journals Live on Subscriptions, Mimi Hui asked a number of questions, which I would rather answer here, where more people are likely to read them. Here goes…

Mimi: …it’s largely infrastructure, and not editorial, that is costly.

This is true, and much overlooked in debates on the topic.

Mimi: …what exactly do you like about The Globe? Meaning, if it is purely for the content, which is arguably generated by the writers, would you still love it as much if their content was not aggregated by The Globe as a brand?

First, I don’t think of what I read in the Globe as “content.” Instead I’m with John Perry Barlow, who said, “I didn’t start hearing about ‘content’ until the container business started going away”. I’m a writer. I write posts, editorials, tweets, emails, columns, essays and books. (Or parts of some… but just wait.) Those all have a worth that exceeds their sum of pixels or ink. To me “content” suggests a pure commodity — or worse, packing material.

Second, I don’t think of the Globe as a “brand.” Nor, I suspect, does anybody on the editorial side of the paper. The word “brand” was borrowed from the cattle industry, and I never liked it, even when I worked for many years in the advertising industry. I have a relationship with the Globe. The paper is part of my life. So are my wife, kids and friends. I don’t consider any of them “brands” either.

Mimi: Why can’t a publishing house eliminate all of the physical portions and switch to a pure digital play?

First, printing on paper costs more to produce and distribute, but advertising on paper makes more money. Many publications will cease printing on paper when the cost outweighs the income. But there will be existential costs to doing that. The Washington Post is a newspaper, not just a news site.

Mimi: Perhaps one question to ask is, is it possible to trim infrastructure in such a way as to provide valuable content to readers in a cost competitive way? And if so, what are methods for readers to discover the same content in a time efficient way?

Well, this is already being done. Writing online has none of the space limitations of writing on paper, and is far cheaper. And discovery systems improve every day.

But it’s still very early in the course of the Internet revolution.

This was put in context for me by a participant in a  breakout session at an event this past weekend. He said something like, “Here’s the idea. We’ll cut down forests in Ontario, turn them in to giant rolls of paper, use barrels of ink to print news articles and advertisements onto that paper, and hire people to drive around and deliver the results to people’s doorsteps, fresh every day — but only once a day. Whaddaya think?”

Such an idea is absurd, but only in fully modern context. Equally absurd are other institutions central to our civilization, including television, telephone and automobile industries.

In fact we are only at the beginning of a great transition caused by the presence of the Internet in our midst. Here’s how Clay Shirky describes some of what happened during the last Great Disruption, and what it teaches us during the current one:

During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change — take a book and shrink it — was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.

And so it is today.

While there is much that can be done on the supply side, I think there is much left to be done on the demand side. We need much better tools for expressing demand, and for crediting sources of the editorial goods that enlarge our minds and help us inform others.

Meanwhile, the breakage continues.