May 2009

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I’ve been a Wall Street Journal subscriber since the 1970s. I still am. The paper shows up at my doorstep every day.

I’ve also been a subscriber to the Journal online. It costs extra. I’ve gladly paid it, even though I think the paper makes a mistake by locking its archives behind a paywall. (Sell the news, give away the olds, I say.)

I’d still be glad to pay it, if the Journal made it easy. But they don’t. No paper does, far as I know. In fact very few media make it easy at all to give them money for their online goods.

As it happens, my Journal online subscription just ran out. To fix matters, the paper’s site prompted me not to renew, but to update my credit card. So I went through the very complicated experience of updating that data, with the form losing most of the data each time I had to fill in a blank missed on the last try. (Why separate house number from street name?) In the midst it wouldn’t take my known password, and I had to have them do the email thing, through which I got to create a new password after clicking on a link in an email sent to me by the WSJ “system.” Even after doing that, and getting the new credit card info in there, and everything seemed to be fine (no more mistakes noticed on the form)… I can’t get in.

Did the payment go through? I have no idea. The credit card, from Chase, also has an impossible website. I don’t even want to go there.

In any case, I can no longer get in. At the top of the login page, it says “Welcome, Doc Searls.” Below that it tells me to log out if I am not myself. And below that it says

Your Current Subscription(s)
None

I can still access my Personal Information, which includes rude questions about my income, the number of people in my organization and how many stock transactions my household made in the past 12 months. Earth to Journal: Readers hate filling out shit like that. Why put readers over a grill like that? Does it really help sales? Please.

Okay, between the last paragraph and this one I somehow got far enough into the site to actually read some stuff. Specifically, this Peggy Noonan piece, and this PJ O’Rourke piece. In the midst of hunting those down, search results that failed said this:

No Information Available

Your subscription does not include access to this service.

If you have any questions please call Customer Service at 800-369-2834 (or 609-514-0870) or contact us by e-mail at  onlinejournal at wsj.com. Representatives are available Monday-Friday from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. & Saturday from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. (ET). Subscribers outside the United States, click here.

Good gawd.

Why put readers through #$%^& ordeals like these? Not to mention a website that’s already cluttered beyond endurance.

Because it’s always been done this way, they say. “Always” meaning “since 1995.”

Actually, it’s gotten worse in recent years, all the better to drag eyeballs across advertising, and to maximize the time readers spend on the site.

Hell, I’ve been on the WSJ site for the last hour, hating every second of it.

We can do better than this. I say we, because I have no faith at all that the Journal, or any of the papers, will ever fix problems that have been obvious for the duration. The readers are going to have to tell them what to do. And I mean all of them at once. We need one basic way to interact with media and their systems for accepting payments. Not as many different ways as there are media, all of them bad.

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– is All A Capella, on WERS/88.9 in Boston. Listen here. Or on the Public Radio Tuner. Or on WERS own iPhone app. Or iTunes (it’s in the list called “Public”). They just started tweeting too: @allacappella889. The performances are just freaking astonishing. You’d think they were playing instruments. And harmonies tight enough to make Manhattan Transfer envious. Awesome shit. Dig. Really.

I’ve blogged about WERS before. My mind hasn’t changed. I can’t stress too strongly how good this station is. You may not like everything on there. (It would be odd if you did.) But the quality is always good, and the goods always original.

There are original stations out there too, of course. KPIG, Radio Paradise, WIOZ, KGSR…  the list goes on. I’d continue, but I have to drive.

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So I’m walking across the Harvard campus, going from one Berkman office to another, listening to KCLU from Santa Barbara on my iPhone. The guest on the show is Berkman’s own John Palfrey. I think, that’s coolwhat’s the show? The tuner doesn’t tell me, because (I assume) KCLU doesn’t provide that data along with the audio stream.

To find out, I just sat down on a bench, popped open the laptop and started looking around. KCLU’s site says what’s on now is OnPoint. That’s because the time on the scuedule block says 9:00am. It’s currently 10:45am, Pacific. The next show block on the schedule is Fresh Air at 11:00am. John isn’t listed as an OnPoint guest, so… what is the show he’s on?

I wait until the interview with John ends, and then I learn that the show is Here & Now, which KCLU says comes on at 2pm. Here & Now has the JP segment listed. Says this:

More Countries Use Internet Censorship
Listen
We’ve heard about countries like China, Iran and North Korea censoring websites. But our guest, John Palfrey of Harvard’s Berman Center for Internet and Society says the practice is becoming more widespread—more than three dozen countries do extensive censoring, even France, Australia and the U.S. engage in some type of censorship.

Now it’s 11:00am Pacific, and KCLU brings on Science Friday. Also at variance from the schedule.

I’m not sure how to fix the problem of not including show data in a stream (or, if included, getting it displayed on software tuners), though I am sure it’s fixable. More importantly, I am convinced of the  need of listeners to know what they’re hearing, to bookmark it, and to find out more about it later. At the very least they should be able to find the answer to the “What was that?” question — without spending fifteen minutes surfing around a browser on a laptop.

Being able to know what you’re hearing would also inform decisions about, say, how much money you’d like to throw at the station or a program, if you’d like to do that. That’s what EmanciPay (which I wrote about yesterday) would help do.

Anyway, that’s why we’re working on Listen Log, as a variety of Media Logging. Input welcome.

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Yesterday I reported hearing that the New York Times was thinking about putting its editorial behind a paywall again. Today James Warren gives substance to the rumors:

Here’s a story the newspaper industry’s upper echelon apparently kept from its anxious newsrooms: A discreet Thursday meeting in Chicago about their future.

“Models to Monetize Content” is the subject of a gathering at a hotel which is actually located in drab and sterile suburban Rosemont, Illinois; slabs of concrete, exhibition halls and mostly chain restaurants, whose prime reason for being is O’Hare International Airport. It’s perfect for quickie, in-and-out conclaves.

There’s no mention on its website but the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group, has assembled top executives of the New York Times, Gannett, E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communication Inc., among more than two dozen in all. A longtime industry chum, consultant Barbara Cohen, “will facilitate the meeting.”

I can see the headline already:  Newspaper Bigs Form Trust To Set Content Prices.

Just kidding.

We do need to be serious here. The Situation is dire. Humpty Dumpty is reaching terminal velocity.

But don’t bother wishing the king’s horses and men luck with the fix. They can’t do it. No newspaper trade group, no collection of top newspaper executives, will come up with a creative solution to problems that have already earned Top Rank status in the innovators dilemma casebook. The best these execs can do is make Humpty’s fall a drop into cyberspace. They have to make Humpty Net-native. They can’t do that just with better-and-better websites, or with “monetization” schemes such as “micropayments” or other scarcity plays with a net-ish gloss.

As disruptive technologies go, it’s hard to beat the Interent. The Net didn’t just push  Humpty off the wall. It blew up that wall and the whole world on which both sat. In that wall’s place is a wide-open space where abundance is not only the prevailing condition, but a severly reproductive one that’s especially suited to interesting “content.” As Kevin Kelly aptly puts it, The internet is a copy machine. One measure of content’s worth is how much it gets copied and quoted. How the hell do you monetize that?

In a New Yorker piece this week, Bill Keller, the Times‘ Executive Editor, said, “There’s a crying demand for what we do and, sadly, a diminishing supply of it. How we get the demand to pay for the supply is the existential question of newspapers in general and the Times in particular.” He’s right in all but one respect: that first person plural we. Unless he’s referring to a population of sufficient generality to include readers. Or, more importantly, hackers. Geeks bearing gifts.

As it happens, we (the geeks) have one. It’s called EmanciPay. It hands the pricing gun over to the customers (readers in this case) and then makes it easy for them to pay as much as they like, however they like, on their terms. Or at least to start with that full set of options. Whatever readers decide to pay, the sum of it won’t be $0, which is what readers are paying now. (Online, at least, in nearly all cases.)

Evidence:::

Peter Kafka reports this from the D7 conference today (over a Wall Street Journal AllThingsDigital blog):

Time for some polls! No surprise: People like to read newspapers online. Also no surprise: But people don’t pay for it. Somewhat of a surprise: People say that they are willing to pay for some kind of news.

My boldface.

I conduct similar audience polls often, though my subject is usually public radio. “How many people here listen to public radio?” Nearly all hands go up. “How many of you pay for it?” About 10% stay up. “How many would pay for it if it were real easy?” More hands go up. “How many would pay if stations would stopped begging for money with fund drives?”  Many more hands go up, enthusiastically.

So the market is there. The question is how to tap it.

At ProjectVRM we propose tapping it from the customers’ side: for newspapers, from the readers side. We also propose doing it one way for all readers and all newspapers, rather than X different ways for X different papers, each designed by each paper for their own readers. In that direction lies a field of silos, all with their own scarcities, their own frictions, their own lock-ins. We need one way to do this for the same reason we need one way to do email.

Remember back when AOL, Prodigy, Lotus Notes, MCIMail and the rest all had their own ways of making you correspond? That’s what we’ll get if we leave content monetization up to the papers alone. They’ll all have their own ways of locking you in, just like retailers all have their own “loyalty” programs, each with their own cards, their own barcodes for you, their own reward systems, their own special ways of inconveniencing you for their own exclusive benefit.

EmanciPay will be simple and straightforward. It will make it easy for you to pay what you want (which may be what the papers what you to pay … or more … or less), and to do it on your terms and not just theirs. This doesn’t mean that the papers can’t have terms of their own. Maybe they have a suggested price, or a minimum they’re willing to accept. Whatever they come up with, however, will be informed by interaction out in the open marketplace, rather than their own private ones, where they make all the rules.

Think of EmanciPay as a way to unburden sellers of the need to keep trying to control markets that are beyond their control anyway. Think of it as a way that “free market”  can mean more than “your choice of captor.” Think of it as a way that “customer relationships” can be worthy of the label because both sides are carrying their ends of the relationship burden — rather than the sellers’ side carrying the whole thing (as CRM systems do today).

EmanciPay is an open source project. When it rolls out, it will be free and open to anybody.

Want to help? Let me know. (firstname at lastname dot com) I’m serious.

The only problem is that development work on EmanciPay is just getting started. (I haven’t wanted to publicize it, because I wanted it to be ready to go — or at least to vet — first.)  But that’s also an opportunity.

What matters for the papers is that there’s at least one answer to their challenge out there. And it’s free for the making.

Cross-posted here.

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WebTV webtvwas way ahead of its time and exactly backwards. The idea was to put the Web on TV. In the prevailing media framework of the time, this made complete sense. TV had been around since the Forties, and nearly everybody devoted many hours of their daily lives to it. The Web was brand new then. And, since the Web used a tube like TV did, it only made sense to make the Web work on TV, rather than vice versa.

Microsoft bought WebTV for $.425 billion in April 1997. It was the most Microsoft had ever spent on an acquisition, and a stunning sum to spend on what was clearly a speculative play. But Microsoft clearly thought it was skating to where the puck was going.

Not long after that I heard from Dave Feinleib, an executive at Microsoft. Dave wanted to know if I would be interested in writing a chapter for a book he was putting together on the convergence of the Web and television. What brought him to my door was that I was the only writer he found who claimed the Web would eat TV, rather than vice versa. Everybody else was saying that history was going the other way — including Microsoft itself, with its enormous bet.

Dave was an outstanding editor, and did a great job pulling his book together. Originally he wanted it to be published by somebody other than Microsoft, but that didn’t work out. If I’m not mistaken (and Dave, if you’re out there somewhere, correct me), his choices of title also didn’t make it. The title finally chosen was a kiss of death: The Inside Story of Interactive TV and (in much larger type) WebTV for Windows. (Cool: You can still get it at Amazon, so death in this case is only slightly exaggerated.)

It was a good book, and an important historic document. At least for me. Much of what I later contributed to The Cluetrain Manifesto I prototyped in my chapter of Dave’s book. My title was “The Message Is Not the Medium.”

Amazingly, I just found a draft of the chapter, which I assumed had been long gone in an old disk crash or something. Begging the indulgence of Dave and Microsoft, I’ll quote from it wholesale. Remember that this was written in 1998, at the very height of the dot-com bubble.

About the conversational nature of markets:

So what we have here are two metaphors for a marketplace: 1) a battlefield; and 2) a conversation. Which is the better metaphor for the Web market? One is zero-sum and the other is positive-sum. One is physical and the other is virtual. One uses OR logic, and the other uses AND logic.

It’s no contest. The conversation metaphor describes a world exploding with positive new sums. The battlefield metaphor insults that world by denying those sums. It works fine when we’re talking about battles for shelf space in grocery stores; but when we’re talking about the Web, battlefield metaphors ignore the most important developments.

There are two other advantages to the conversation metaphor. First, it works as a synonym. Substitute the word “conversation” for  “market” and this fact becomes clear. The bookselling conversation and the bookselling market are the same. Second, conversations are the fundamental connections human beings make with each other. We may love or hate one another, but unless we’re in conversation, not much happens between us. Societies grow around conversations. That includes the business societies we call markets…

About the Web as a marketplace:

Today the Web remains an extraordinarily useful way to publish, archive, research and connect all kinds of information. No medium better serves curious or inventive minds.

While commerce may not have been the first priority of the Web’s prime movers, their medium has quickly proven to be the most commercial medium ever created. It invites every business in the Yellow Pages either to sell on the Web or to support their existing business by using the Web to publish useful information and invite dialog with customers and other involved parties. In fact, by serving as both an ultimate yellow page directory and an endless spread of real estate for stores and businesses, the Web demonstrates extreme synergy between the publishing and retailing metaphors, along with their underlying conceptual systems.

So, in simple terms, the Web efficiently serves two fundamental human needs:

1.    The need to know; and
2.    The need to buy.

While it also serves as a fine way to ship messages to eyeballs, we should pause to observe that the message market is a conversation that takes place entirely on the supply side of TV’s shipping system. In the advertising market, media sell space or time to companies that advertise. Not to consumers. The consumers get messages for free, whether they want them or not.

What happens when consumers can speak back — not just to the media, but to the companies who pay for the media? In the past we never faced that question. Now we do. And the Web will answer with a new division of labor between advertising and the rest of commerce. That division will further expose the limits of both the advertising and entertainment metaphors.

On Sales vs. Advertsing, and how the Web does more for the former than the latter:

“Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all  it is.” — Fairfax Cone

Fairfax “Fax” Cone founded one of the world’s top advertising agencies, Foote, Cone & Belding, and ran it for forty years. A no-nonsense guy from Chicago, Cone knew exactly what advertising was and wasn’t about. With this simple definition — what you do when you can’t go see somebody — he drew a clear line between advertising and sales. Today, thirty years after he retired, we can draw the same line between TV and the Web, and divide the labors accordingly.

On one side we have television, the best medium ever created for advertising. On the other side we have the Web, the best medium ever created for sales.

The Web, like the telephone, is a much better tool for sales than for promotion. It’s what you do when you can go see somebody: a way to inform customers and for them to inform you. The range of benefits is incalculable. You can learn from each other, confer in groups, have visually informed phone conversations, or sell directly with no sales people at all.

In other words, you can do business. All kinds of business. As with the phone, it’s hard to imagine any business you can’t do, or can’t help do, with the Web.

So we have a choice. See or be seen: see with the Web, or be seen on TV. Talk with people or talk at them. Converse with them, or send them messages.

Once we divide these labors, advertising on the Web will make no more sense than advertising on the phone does today. It will be just as unwelcome, just as intrusive, just as rude and just as useless.

The Web will call forth — from both vendors and customers — a new kind of marketing: one that seeks to enlarge the conversations we call business, not to assault potential customers with messages they don’t want. This will expose Web advertising — and most other advertising — as the spam it is, and invite the development of something that serves supply without insulting demand, and establishes market conversations equally needed by both.

This new marketing conversation will embrace what Rob McDaniel  calls a “divine awful truth”  — a truth whose veracity is exceeded only by its deniability. When that truth becomes clear, we will recognize most advertising as an ugly art form  that only dumb funding can justify, and damn it for the sin of unwelcome supply in the absence of demand.

That truth is this: There is no demand for messages. And there never was.

In fact, most advertising has negative demand, especially on TV. It actually subtracts value. To get an idea just how negative TV advertising is, imagine what would happen if the mute buttons on remote controls delivered we-don’t-want-to-hear-this messages back to advertisers. When that feedback finally gets through, the $180+ billion/year advertising market will fall like a bad soufflé.

It will fall because the Web will bring two developments advertising has never seen before, and has always feared:  1) direct feedback; and 2) accountability. These will expose another divine awful truth: most advertising doesn’t work.

In the safety of absent alternatives, advertising people have always admitted as much. There’s an old expression in the business that goes, “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” (And let’s face it, “half” is exceedingly generous.)

With the Web, you can know. Add the Web to TV, and you can measure waste on the tube too.

Use the Web wisely, and you don’t have to settle for any waste at all.

About advertising’s fatal flaw:

Television is two businesses: 1) an entertainment delivery service; and 2) an advertising delivery service. They involve two very different conversations. The first is huge and includes everybody. The second is narrow and only includes advertisers and broadcasters.

TV’s entertainment producers are program sources such as production companies, network entertainment divisions, and the programming sides of TV stations. These are also the vendors of the programs they produce. Their customers and distributors are the networks and TV stations, who give away the product for free to their consumers, the viewers.

In TV’s advertising business, the advertising is produced by the advertisers themselves, or by their agencies. But in this market conversation, advertisers paly the customer role. They buy time from the networks and the stations, which serve as both vendors and distributors. Again, viewers consume the product for free.

In the past, the difference between these conversations didn’t matter much, because consumers were not part of TV’s money-for-goods market conversation.  Instead, consumers were part of the conversation around the product TV gives away: programming.

In the economics of television, however, programming is just bait. It’s very attractive bait, of course; but it’s on the cost side of the balance sheet, not the revenue side. TV’s $45+ billion revenues come from advertising, not programming. And the sources of programming make most of their money from their customers: networks, syndicators and stations. Not from viewers.

Broadcasters, however, are accustomed to believing that their audience is deeply involved in their business, and often speak of demographics (e.g. men 25-54) as “markets.” But there is no market conversation here, because the relationship — such as it is — is restricted to terms set by what the supply side requires, which are ratings numbers and impersonal information such as demographic breakouts and lifestyle characterizations. This may be useful information, but it lacks the authenticity of real market demand, expressed in hard cash. In fact, very few viewers are engaged in conversations with the stations and networks they watch. It’s a one-way, one-to-many distribution system. TV’s consumers are important only in aggregate, not as individuals. They are many, not one. And, as Reese Jones told us earlier, there is no such thing as a many-to-one conversation. At best there is only a perception of one. Big difference.

So, without a cash voice, audience members can only consume. Their role is to take the bait. If the advertisements work, of course, they’ll take the hook as well. But the advertising business is still a conversation that does not include its consumers..

So we get supply without demand, which isn’t a bad definition of advertising.

Now let’s look at the Web.

Here, the customer and consumer are the same. He or she can buy the advertisers’ goods directly from the advertiser, and enjoy two-way one-to-one market conversations that don’t involve the intervention either of TV as a medium or of one-way messages intended as bait. He or she can also buy entertainment directly from program sources, which in this relationship vend as well as produce. The distribution role of TV stations and networks is unnecessary, or at least peripheral. In other words, the Web disintermediates TV, plus other media.

So the real threat to TV isn’t just that the Web makes advertising accountable. It’s that it makes business more efficient. In fact the Web serves as both a medium for business and as a necessary accessory to it, much like the telephone. No medium since the telephone does a better job of getting vendors and customers together, and of fostering the word-of-mouth that even advertisers admit is the best advertising.

The Web is an unprecedented clue-exchange system. And when companies get enough clues about how poorly their advertising actually works, they’ll drop it like a bad transmission, or change it so much we can’t call it advertising any more.

We may have a blood bath. Killing ad budgets is a snap. Advertising is protected by no government agencies, and encouraged by no tax incentives. It’s just an expense, a line item, overhead. You can waste it with a phone call and almost nobody will get fired, aside from a few marketing communications (“marcom”) types and their expensive ad agencies.

About TV’s fatal flaw:

Few would argue that TV is a good thing. Hand-wringing over TV’s awfulness is a huge nonbusiness. TV Free America counts four thousand studies of TV’s effects on children. The TVFA also says 49% of Americans think they watch too much TV, and 73% of American parents think they should limit their kid’s TV watching.

And, as the tobacco industry will tell you, smoking is an “adult custom” and “a simple matter of personal choice.”

Then let’s admit it: TV is a drug. So why do we take it when we clearly know it’s bad for our brains?

Six reasons: 1) because it’s free; 2) because it’s everywhere; 3) because it’s narcotic; 4) because we enjoy it; 5) because it’s the one thing we can all talk about without getting too personal; and 6) because it’s been with us for half a century.

Television isn’t just part of our culture; it is our culture. As Howard Beale tells his audience, “You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube.” And we do business like the tube, too. It’s standard.

Howard Beale had it right: television is a tube. Let’s look at it one more time, from our point of view.

What we see is a one-way freight forwarding system, from producers to consumers. Networks and stations “put out,” “send out” and “deliver” programs through “channels” on “signals” that an “audience” of “viewers” “receive,” or “get” through this “tube.” We “consume” those products by “watching” them, often intending to “vege out” in the process.

Note that this activity is bovine at best, vegetative at worst and narcotic in any case. To put it mildly, there is no room in this metaphor for interactivity. And let’s face it, when most people watch TV, the only thing they want to interact with is the refrigerator.

Metaphorically speaking, it doesn’t matter that TV contains plenty of engaging and stimulating content, any more than it matters that life in many ways isn’t a journey. TV is a tube. It goes from them to us. We just sit here and consume it like fish in a tank, staring at glass.

Of course we’re not really like that. We’re conscious when we watch TV.

Well, of course we are. So are lots of people. But that’s not how the concept works, and its not what the system values. TV’s delivery-system metaphors reduce viewing to an effect — a noise at the end of the trough. And they reduce programming to container cargo. “Content,” for example, is a tubular noun that comes straight out of the TV conversation. What retailers would demean their goods with such a value-subtracting label?   Does Macy’s sell “content?” With TV, the label is accurate. The product is value-free, since consumers don’t pay a damn thing for it.

There is a positive side to the entertainment conversation, of course. Writers, producers, directors and stars all put out “shows” to entertain an “audience.” Here the underlying metaphor is theater. By this conceptual metaphor, TV is a stage.  But the negotiable market value of this conversation is provided entirely by its customers: the TV stations and networks. The audience, however, pays nothing for the product. Its customers use it as advertising bait. This isolates the show-biz conversation and its value. You might say that TV actually subtracts value from its own product, by giving it away.

And, the story of TV’s death foretold:

In the long run (which may not be very long), the Web conversation will win for the simple reason that it supports and nurtures direct conversations, and therefore grows business at a much faster rate. It also has conceptual metaphors that do a better job of supporting commerce.

Drugs have their uses. But it’s better to bet on the nurtured market than on the drugged one.

Trees don’t grow to the sky. TV’s $45 billion business may be the biggest redwood in the advertising forest, but in a few more years we’ll be counting its rings. “Propaganda ends where dialog begins,” Jacques Ellul says.

The Web is about dialog. The fact that it supports entertainment, and does a great job of it, does nothing to change that fact. What the Web brings to the entertainment business (and every business), for the first time, is dialog like nobody has ever seen before. Now everybody can get into the entertainment conversation. Or the conversations that comprise any other market you can name. Embracing that is the safest bet in the world. Betting on the old illusion machine, however popular it may be at the moment, is risky to say the least…

TV is just chewing gum for the eyes. — Fred Allen

This may look like a long shot, but I’m going to bet that the first fifty years of TV will be the only fifty years. We’ll look back on it the way we now look back on radio’s golden age. It was something communal and friendly that brought the family together. It was a way we could be silent together. Something of complete unimportance we could all talk about.

And, to be fair, TV has always had a very high quantity of Good Stuff. But it also had a much higher quantity of drugs. Fred Allen was being kind when he called it “chewing gum for the eyes.” It was much worse. It made us stupid. It started us on real drugs like cannabis and cocaine. It taught us that guns solve problems and that violence is ordinary. It disconnected us from our families and communities and plugged us into a system that treated us as a product to be fattened and led around blind, like cattle.

Convergence between the Web and TV is inevitable. But it will happen on the terms of the metaphors that make sense of it, such as publishing and retailing. There is plenty of room in these metaphors — especially retailing — for ordering and shipping entertainment freight. The Web is a perfect way to enable the direct-demand market for video goods that the television industry was never equipped to provide, because it could never embrace the concept. They were in the eyeballs-for-advertisers business. Their job was to give away entertainment, not to charge for it.

So what will we get? Gum on the computer screen, or choice on the tube?

It’ll be no contest, especially when the form starts funding itself.

Bet on Web/TV, not TV/Web.

Looking back on all that, I wince at how hyperbolic some of it was (like, there really is some demand for some messages), but I’m still pleased with what I got right, which is that the Web eats TV. Which brings me to the precipitating post, YouTube is Huge and About to Get Even Bigger, by Jennifer Van Grove in Mashable. Sez Jennifer,

According to YouTube, the hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute has been growing astronomically since mid-2007, when it was just a measly six hours per minute. Then, in “January of this year, it became 15 hours of video uploaded every minute, the equivalent of Hollywood releasing over 86,000 new full-length movies into theaters each week.”

Now, just a few months later and we’ve hit the 20 hour per minute milestone, which means that for every second in time about 33 minutes of video make it to YouTube, and that for any given day 28,800 hours of video are uploaded in total…

Even though YouTube (YouTube reviews) is seeing such massive upload numbers, and we think that speaks to the strength of their community, they still have monetization challenges that are only exacerbated by the rising bandwidth costs required to support such an enormous load. Bandwidth costs are already proving to be the bane of YouTube’s existence, possibly resulting in $470 million in loses for this year alone.

So while YouTube’s outwardly celebrating that we’re dumping 20 hours of video on their servers every minute, we think they should count their blessings with a little more realism since, based on previous patterns, this number, along with bandwidth costs, will only continue to rise.

“Rise” is too weak a verb. What we have here is something of an artesian flood, a continent of blooming volcanoes.

In the old top-down world of broadcasting, all we had were a few thousand big transmitters, each with limited reach, stretched and widened by cable and satellite TV. (Remember that what we call “cable” began as CATV: Community Antenna TeleVision.) It is over these legacy systems, plus the upgraded phone system, that most of us are connected to the Internet today.

In the legacy TV world, transmitters are obsolete to the verge of pointlessness. So are “channels.” So are the “networks” that are now just distributors for TV shows. All that matters is “content,” as they say. And that’s moving online, huge-time.

Tomorrow’s shows  won’t be coming only from big-time program producers.  We’ll be getting them from each other as well. We already see that with YouTube, but in relatively low-def resolutions. Still, it’s a start. At the end of the next growth stage we’ll be producing out own damn shows, and at resolutions higher than cable can bear. So will the incumbent producers, of course, but they won’t be taking the lead in pushing for wider bandwidth. That’s an easy call because they’re not taking the lead right now, and they should be. Instead they’ve left it up to us: the “viewers” who are now becoming producers and reproducers.

Already you can get a camcorder that will shoot 1080p video for well under a $grand. That’s more resolution than you’ll get from cable or satellite, with a few pay-per-view exceptions. Combine the sphinctered nature of cable and satellite TV bandwidth with the carriers’ need to compete by carrying more and more channels, and what you get is stuff that’s “HD” in name only. While the resolution might be 720p or 1080i, the amount of actual data carried on each channel is minimal or worse, resulting in skies that look plaid and skin that looks damaged. All of whch means that the best thing you can see — today — on your new 1080p screen comes from your new 1080p camcorder. (Unless you pay bux deluxe for a Blu-Ray player, which not many of us are doing.) So: how long before ordinary folks are producing their own high-def movies, in large numbers? How long before that pounds out the walls of pipes all over the place?

Even if that takes awhile, we have to face facts. We’re going to need the bandwidth. Storage and processing we’ve got covered, because that’s at the edges, where there’s not much standing in the way of growth and enterprise. In the middle we’ve got a world wide bandwidth challenge.

The phone and cable companies can’t give it to us — at least not the way they’re currently set up. Even the best of the carrier breed — Verizon FiOS, which I’m using right now, and appreciating a great deal — is set up as a top-grade cable TV system that also delivers Internet. Not as a fat data pipe between any two points, which is what we’ll need.

Pause for a moment and recall this scene from the movie “Jaws”. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” Roy Scheider says.

TV on the Net is the shark in this story. The Quinn role is being played by the carriers right now. They need to be smarter than what we’ve seen so far. So do the rest of us.

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madison-at-dawn

On the same flight that started with The Cities in darkness and ended with Chicago at sunrise, my flight glided over Madison, Wisconsin, which I shot in the dawn’s early light. The shot above leads to the whole series. I need to go back and correct the botched tags on many of them. Meanwhile, locals can fill me in on what I got right and wrong.

One of these years I’d like to actually visit Madison, on the ground. Meanwhile, this will have to do.

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I don’t go to TV for Journalism any more, even though I’m sure there’s plenty left: needles scattered thorugh a haystack of channels and program schedules that have become so hard to navigate on satellite and cable systems that it’s just not worth the bother. So, while I wait calmly for TV to die (and it will, except for sports), I go to other sources, most of which are on the Web, but some of which are still in print.

The New York Times, for example. This last week we took a bus down to New York, where we visited museums, went kayaking in the Hudson and did fun family stuff. Each morning we were greeted by the Times, which still astonishes me with the quality and abundance of its Good Stuff. We saved a bunch of it to haul back and read on the bus along the way. I still have the stack here. They are, let’s see…

The Times’ treatments of serious subjects — say, for example, President Obama’s nomination of Sonia Sotomayor for the Supreme Court — are both essential and unequaled in their thoroughness. For any subject I care about, I’d rather mine the depths of the Times’ coverage (that last link leads to dozens of  pieces) than take on faith the opinionating — or even the in-depth coverage — of all but a handful of other papers; especially those with sharp axes to grind. (Even though I often enjoy those. The Wall Street Journal‘s especially. Here’s WSJ take this morning on Sotomayor.)

The Web and the World are well-met by an easily-navigated website and a fine newspaper. I can think of many ways the Times could do a better job; but right now few if any others (the Washington Post, primarily) are in the same league.

Which is why I’m annoyed by the likes of Bloggingheads, and the Times’ video section in general.

For example there’s this: “Hanna Rosin, left, of Double X and Ann Althouse of the University of Wisconsin Law School debate the sincerity of President Obama’s anti-torture pledge.” I like both these talking writers, but not in a she-said/she-said setup that sinks down into the lame argument culture that Deborah Tannen argued against (unsucessfully) long ago.

There’s some great stuff in there. This piece about Venezuela’s Motorizados, for example. And I suppose this David Pogue take-down of the Verizon Hub is fine; but I’d rather scan Pogue’s review (even though it does drag my eyes across two pages, so I get “exposed” to all those ads I turn to white space with AdBlockerPlus).

But why imitate bad TV?

Television, almost from the beginning, suffered from the need to turn programming into advertising bait: packing material to fill time time slots between spot breaks. What the New York Times is doing with Bloggingheads is imitating one of the most annoying conventions of a dying institution. The Times can do better than that. So can the blogging heads that don’t talk nearly as well as they blog. (At least not in this format.)

In Dave Winer and Jay Rosen‘s latest Rebooting the News, Jay points out that debugging, which works so well for software and hardware, has not been part of the culture of BigTime Journalism. (The proximal example involving the Times and Maureen Dowd is summarized well by Scott Rosenberg.)

A larger issue for me is a structural one visited by David Carr in his review of Newsweek’s wholesale changes. Sez Carr,

The makeover represents a rethinking of what it means to be a newsweekly, but no redesign can gild the cold fact that it remains a news magazine that comes out weekly at a time when current events are produced and digested on a cycle that is measured with an egg timer, not a calendar…

More notably, the new Newsweek will no longer attempt to re-report and annotate the week’s events — an expensive, unsustainable approach to making a weekly news magazine. The magazine will not scramble the jets and deploy huge resources to cover a breaking story unless, as Mr. Meacham put it, the magazine is “truly adding to the conversation.” Instead, the reimagined magazine will include reported narratives that rely on intellectual scoops rather than informational ones and pair them with essayistic argument.

The wonky, government-centric DNA of the magazine is dominant in the new execution, which may have been the idea. The first redesigned issue includes an interview of President Obama by Mr. Meacham; a feature on the retired life of the last president; a look back at the last treasury chief; a profile of the speaker of the House; and a column by George F. Will, who will always be George F. Will no matter what typeface you render him in.

So, what’s “the conversation” Meacham is talking about? Whatever it is, it shouldn’t exclude the helpful voices that come from outside Newsweek’s customary sphere. Much of Dave and Jay’s conversation in their Rebooting podcast is about the subject of listening. They come at it from the angle of empathy, but that’s what real listening requires. If you’re really listening, you’re not ignoring, and you’re not preparing a dismissal or an excuse to pivot off the other party’s points to more of your own. To listen is to accept the speaker as a source.

Journalism without sources is not worthy of the name. Journals today have more sources than ever. And the abundance of sources requires better jouralism than ever. Much of this journalism will have to be original rather than derivative. He-said/She-said fighting-heads is derivative. Worse, it suggests a structure that is inherently narrow and even misleading. It assumes the issues can be reduced to pairs of competing views, each from a single source.

We are still only at the beginning of journalism’s great Reboot. It’s hard for big old papers like the Times to be the boot and not the butt that the boot kicks. There is so much to protect, and that stuff is so much easier to see than the sum of stuff that’s still left to pioneer.

Yet the frontier is much, much bigger.

This weekend I heard second-hand that the Times is on its way to rebooting the late Times Select, by another name. In other words, it’s thinking about putting its content behind a paywall again. And, in so doing, leading the way for the rest of its industry to do the same.

I hope this isn’t true, though I suspect it is, for the simple reason that it’s easier to protect the known than to pioneer the unknown.

Toward the end of Dave & Jay’s podcast (at 32:45), Jay reports that he dropped off  Howard Kurtz’s Relaiable Sources, as had Dave. Neither found it to their liking. Which makes sense to me, because Kurtz’s show is television. And television is a highly mannered game. Those manners are fast becoming anachronisms. Jay’s critique of elitist journalism — what he calls the “Church of the Savvy” — is as much about manners as it is about other skills required for mastering The Game.

That game is, as Jay puts it, insideous, because it’s manipulative by nature. Manipulation and reporting are not the same. You might find manipulation in conversation, but it’s not a healthy thing, even if getting manipulated works for you.

Jay says that the power of The Church of the Savvy is in decline. He gives good reasons, to which I’ll add one more: it’s adapted to television, and television as we know it is a near-absolute anachronism.

Last night I had a long talk with an old friend who is a very wise and quiet investor. A measure of his wisdom is that he’s navigated his way through the crash, and is being very smart about what’s coming along as well. While our conversation ranged widely, it centered on television. His take is that TV is a Dead Thing Walking. From the investment standpoint, you short the satellite guys first, and then the cable companies. There are many good business reasons, starting with the abandonment of the medium by advertisers (for all but, say, sports). But the primary problem is that the audience is walking away. They’re going to Hulu and YouTube and other workarounds of the Olde System. There will be many more of these than the few we already have.

It would be wise for survivors among other Olde Systems not to ape what’s failing about television. Among those failings are forms of journalism that never were. Also the convention of locking up content behind paywalls and indulging in other coercive subscription practices. Nothing wrong with subscriptions, of course. You just don’t want them to be self-defeating. Times Select was exactly that. So are all cable and satellite TV deals. (A la Carte hasn’t been tested, but will be, as a desperate measure, probably much too late in what’s left of the game.)

The bottom line isn’t that the Net is changing everything, even though that’s true. It’s the need to comply with the nature of the Net itself. That nature is both cheap and immediate. The cost of connecting is veering toward zero. So is the distance it puts each of us from the rest of us, and the digital resources we require. There will be costs involved. There will be businesses in providing resources. But they won’t be the old scarcity games. They will be abundance games. That is, games played on a field defined by abundance and to a large degree comprised of it as well.

What’s scarce are talent, originality, and the arts to which both are put. We need to find new and Net-native ways of determining value and paying for it. That’s what the VRM community is doing with EmancPay. If anybody from the Times (or any journal tempted to lock up their content rather than to reboot the market in more creative ways) is reading this, talk to me.

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chicago_skyline

Just posted this series of shots taken while flying into Chicago at dawn in early April

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As a kid I screwed up in many ways, but none of those ways excluded a central lesson good parents start teaching as soon as kids are capable of conversation: responsibility. The word always sounds reproachful and corrective to a kid, but it matters. It says you can be depended upon to do what is expected of you — and a bit more. Civilization itself depends on that.

The Responsibility Lesson comes to mind as I read this post by Candy Beauchamp. The stand-out section:

Many of you may know that Tom just got his degree from the University of Phoenix. He went there for 3 years and finished his last class in late April. He ended up with 3.67 GPA in Business Marketing. Not too shabby. We are very proud of him and have been eagerly awaiting actually receiving his degree….

Apparently, there’s a problem. From what we can piece together, Wells Fargo – as part of the bail out – sold his student loan to the Department of Education. This means they basically stopped his loan, but didn’t tell him or anyone else. This means that the school is looking at Tom wanting him to pay them, they are basically holding his degree for ransom.

This is inexcusible.

The story goes on, and the lessons Candy and Tom take from the experience are all good ones. What’s remains screwed up, and in need of deeper understanding, is the institutionalization of responsibility-shifting, with hardly any tracks left in the sand. This is what happened in with what Kevin Phillips calls the “financialization” of the economy. When you’re one shell in a giant shell game, it’s not hard to see what’s going on; but it’s easy to ignore the whole thing, because the system is all about moving problems, long after it stops being about moving opportunities. We’re still in the problem-moving stage of This Thing, this financial mess. That’s what Wells Fargo reportedly did in this case. Others too.

Responsibility isn’t about who’s to blame. It’s about who can act, and what they can do.

My optimistic take is that we’ll wake up and smell more than blame cooking. We’ll smell the need to take responsibility for the debts and assets that we’ve taken on. And not just in the financial sector.

Or so it seems to me on a Saturday in New York. Beautiful outside. See ya later.

One among any

On the ProjectVRM blog: A Declaration of Customer Independence.

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TwitSeeker lets you search for a subject on Twitter, find who tweets on that subject, and then selectively or gang-follow everybody you find. Look at the stats — especially the search tem collection at the bottom. Or search for a subject to see what comes up. What you’ll see is a picture that equally interesting to both the curious and the promotional. So, you might say, it can be used for good or evil.

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See ya on the Coast

Heading to the first VRM West Coast Workshop. Runs the next two days in Palo Alto. Should be fun. Free too. If you’re up for putting your shoulder to some of the wheels we’ve got rolling, come on down. Instructions for signing up are there at that link.

Getting into the plane. (Man, the connectivity is slow today at Logan. Grr.)

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It’s good that Twitter is learning a lot from its experience in the last day. It’s not good that tweeting, which most of us treat as something inherently public and non-proprietary, such as blogging and emailing, seems to be privately controlled, with one company in the sole responsible position. Sez Biz at that last link,

The problem with the setting was that it didn’t scale and even if we rebuilt it, the feature was blunt. It was confusing and caused a sense of inconsistency. We felt we could do much better.

So here’s what we’re planning to do. First, we’re making a change such that any updates beginning with @username (that are not explicitly created by clicking on the reply icon) will be seen by everyone following that account. This will bring back some serendipity and discovery and we can do this very soon.

Second, we’ve started designing a new feature which will give folks far more control over what they see from the accounts they follow. This will be a per-user setting and it will take a bit longer to put together but not too long and we’re already working on it. Thanks for all the great feedback and thanks for helping us discover what’s important!

Here’s what’s important: tweeting needs to a standard convention that’s NEA: Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, and Anybody can improve it. Like blogging, texting and emailing.

Maybe it’s already there — meaning that implemented Web, Net and Phone standards, plus the API, take care of business. Maybe Twitter’s mashability with other services is “open enough.” Maybe the fact that I can use gwibber or Thwirl to access multiple microblogging services covers enough bases.

Certainly Twitter is carrying the tweeting world on its shoulders for two reasons: 1) they invented it; and 2) they have the best and most widely used tweeting service out there. And maybe Twitter isn’t running a walled garden, but just a service that makes it easy for tweeters to operate in a wide open tweeting environment.

But I’m not sure. If laconi.ca implements a cool new wide-open functionality in Identi.ca that’s good for everybody, in an NEA way, will Twitter adopt it? Maybe that’s the test.

(And has it already happened? I don’t know. If so, fill me in.)

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Pano of Harvard Yard

We are severely into Pano. It’s an amazing free (woops, $2.99) app for the iPhone that lets you take panoramic shots — first by helping you line up one shot after another, and second by stitching them together remarkably well. The above is the first of two shot at Harvard’s Old Yard. I made small mistakes on both, but so what. They’re a load of fun, and not bad, considering.

Check these out.

Jan Lewis gave me my first solo work in Silicon Valley: writing stuff for her monthly newsletter. This was in the fall of 1985. Jan was an industry analyst at the time, with a solo practice. I met her at Comdex, where she was offering free foot massages to weary conventioneers in a suite on the top floor of the space-themed Landmark Hotel, which has since been replaced by a parking lot.

Jan was sharp and funny and appreciative of good writing, which was about all I had to offer back then. I helped her on the side while I prospected for my North Carolina based advertising agency, which was brand new in the Valley and looking for action.

We got plenty of action not long after that, and Jan moved on to other things, including her original passion, which was music. She was a vocalist and poly-instrumentalist with a number of bands. It was Jan who turned me on to KFAT, KHIP and KPIG, which were (and are) serial incarnations of the same crew, and the same mutant approach to music that one jock at KPIG called “mutant cowboy rock & roll.”

Anyway, Jan has a fun YouTube video up. It’s called Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Bankers. Fun stuff. (And love the hat.)

Bonus Link: Jan with the Remington Riders, performing I’m a YouTube Junkie. Dig it. In fact, dig all the Remington Riders’ pieces on YouTube.

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A stand-up job

Obama gets funny. Some of the jokes fall flat, but most are pretty good. A few are LOL.

He gets serious toward the end. You can skip that part.

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Jonathan Zittrain: “I don’t think .gov and .com never work. We too easily underestimate the possibilities of .org — the roles we can play as netizens rather than merely as voters or consumers.” Yesss. Putting a “vs.” between government and business tends to narrow conversation to arguments that miss important points. Such as what .orgs can do.

That’s a big reason why why I love being at the Berkman Center (of which JZ is a founder). Here’s my .org there. It has (speaking toward Cato‘s libertarian sympathies) the intention of liberating the demand side of the marketplace, and making gazillions of dollars for business, without government help.

I believe some .orgs can create public goods with enormous private leverage. I also think some .orgs can also have the effect of lessening .gov urges to mess with .com business. (Heck, Cato itself is a .org.)

Anyway, I urge folks to check out the whole Cato Unbound thing. It’s the tip of a thoughtberg.

Flying larger

I want to fly in one of these — an Airbus 380. From the looks of the interior shots here, it’s an upscale airport lounge that flies. But that’s not what interests me. What I like are the positions of the lower deck windows, which line up below the equator of the fuselage. For passengers like me, who like to look at the ground below, that provides a better angle.

Many of the shots here and here were made out the windows on either side of the rear galleys of a United B777, next to the space where people wait to use the toilets. These windows are lower than the ones by seats, and taller. That makes them ideal for shooting pictures. They are also why I would rather have a seat in the back of coach than in the “premium” coach seating on that plane, all of which is over the wings. Or even in business or first class. Flying for me is about flying. That requires a view. Not nice food and television at altitude.

On the A380, as on all jumbo jets, the wings are huge. Also, the whole top deck (the plane has two floors) has windows that angle skyward. So the percentage of windows that look down is not large. But I’d love to try it out.

Right now only Emirates is flying the A380 as a commercial plane. (<strike>There are cargo versions already in service.</strike>) So I’ll need to find an excuse to fly to one of that airline’s destinations. On the right plane. Might not be easy. (See comments for corrections.)

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jesusita_google_modis10

Where most of my earlier shots in this series were of fire detection and spread across time, the one above (and in the larger linked shot, on Flickr) is of “fire radiative power”. If you look at the whole set, you can get an idea of both intensity and spread across time. Again, these are from MODIS, which is an instrument system on satellites passing more than 700km overhead. Still, it finds stuff, and dates it. That’s why this next shot is very encouraging:

jesusita_google_modis11

It will sure spread some more, but we can see the end coming. Here’s the whole photo set.

And here’s the latest update on exactly what burned (addresses and all) from Matt Kettmann (Contact), Sam Kornell , Chris Meagher (Contact), Ben Preston (Contact), Ethan Stewart (Contact) of the Independent.

They also issue a caution:

The bad news is that the fire still threatens parts of Goleta to the west, the Painted Cave community to the north, and, to the east, parts of Santa Barbara and Montecito, where the evacuation order was just extended once again.

Those Indy folks did — and are still doing — an outstanding job, deserving of whatever rewards are coming their way. Great work by everybody else reporting on the fire as well. Kudos all around.

And great work, of course, by the firefighters. They saved the city. If you’ve ever seen a fire this big and threatening (for example, Oakland, which I did see, and which took out more than 3500 homes), you know how hard it is to stop. Around 80 homes were lost in this one. It could have been many more. If Cheltenham, or the Riviera, had gone up, and the sundowner winds kept blowing, it’s not hard to imagine losing the whole city, since the rain of flaming debris would have caused a true firestorm. From the same Indy report:

“The firefighters must have sat in every single backyard and held it off. The fire reached literally the backyards of every single one of them, but I didn’t see a single house burned up there.”

The mountains won’t be as pretty for a couple of years. But the city will also be safer. That’s the upside. 2:54pm Pacific

Here is a great map that shows all three fires in the last year, as well as good information about the ongoing Jesusita Fire.

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But where?

@Jesusitafire, of the Los Padres National Forest, is tweeting. So far following ø, followed by 12. Hey, it’s a start.

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An IT Conversations interview on Framing the Net. At eComm 2009.

On how free customers are more better than captive ones. At The Ideas Project. I spoke in closer to final draft than usual here. A transcript. Some samples:

  • What we’ve had since companies won the Industrial Revolution is the belief that a captive customer is more valuable than a free one. We never knew what a free customer was. We never encountered one. The Internet makes that possible; the Internet sets customers free. Free customers are far more capable of providing intelligence to companies than captive ones are.
  • …’free range’ customers are going to be coming at companies, telling them things that the old dairy-system cattle chutes never allowed customers to say before. That’s going to be good for companies; it’s going to be good for CRM systems…
  • …it would be really great if we had our own terms of service. When you walk into a store, you have great terms of service. You look like a good customer; you’re wearing a blazer. It doesn’t matter if you’re wearing jeans; you might actually buy something. They don’t want your identity. They don’t want you to become a member, or anything else like that, in order to spend your money and be a loyal customer. In fact, you’re more likely to be a loyal customer if they don’t interrogate you and make things difficult for you. The way CRM systems tend to work, especially online; they want to scrape up as much data about you so they can spam you later with guesswork about what you might want. It’s almost always annoying, and give you surveys which are almost always a bad guess at what you want.
  • VRM, which is vendor relationship management, (is) the reciprocal of customer relationship management. It’s where the customer controls their information. We become, as a customer, the integration point for our own data, our transaction histories, our credit histories, our preferences, and then the origination point for the way those are used.
  • Advertising is fundamentally flawed. It’s flawed because it’s guesswork. It’s flawed because it’s monologue. It’s flawed because the systems in place are predicated on a whole bunch of assumptions that elevate guesswork to an art. In the meantime, the customers are out there with actual demand, money on the table, ready to buy, for something.

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jesusita_google_modis8

(Scroll to the bottom for my latest. Not the latest, just mine.)

The shot above looks west from the eastern flank of the Jesusita fire, above Montecito.  The overlays are MODIS (the dots and squares) and GEOMAC (the red line). I think the GEOMAC data is older, but I’m not sure. Both were downloaded at about 4:42am, Pacific time. The newest detections are red and the oldest are yellow. They are from instruments on satellites and may or may not indicate major fire activity. One during the Tea Fire suggested that the fire had spread far down into the Riviera district and toward town. When I checked the spot, it turned out to have been a fire in part of a small isolated oak tree. No fire had spread to or from there.

Still, the data do show changes in the fire’s approximate perimeter over time. Step through this photoset and you can see how the fire has gone over the past few days.

Sean Trek has a way of seeing MODIS with radiative power.

It looks to me now like the next challenge, after saving lives and homes, is keeping the fire from burning for many more days or weeks across the back country. The trick here is to let the fire take nature’s course while also keeping it away from civilization. It is a significant fact that California’s state tree (the Coast Redwood) and state flower (the California Poppy) are both adapted to fire. One might also make the case that the latter is adapted to earthquakes.

I don’t doubt that if any of the three most recent fires — Gap, Tea and Jesusita — had hit fifty years ago, much of Santa Barbara would have been cremated by this morning. Since we are among more than 30,000 current evacuees, that might  have included our house too. Firefighting and team coordination have vastly improved just since the 1990 Painted Cave Fire, when more than 600 homes were lost. Experience from that fire led to many of the improvements that saved homes this past week. (For a history of Santa Barbara’s wildfires, go to Santa Barbara Outdoors, and read the remarkable series that starts here. It covers the eight fires between 1955 and 1990.)

Life everywhere is a losing game with death. We just hope that the substantive things we do and build will outlive us. In much of California, the chance that our homes will outlive us is smaller than most other places. Some homes lost in the Tea Fire had replaced homes on the same property that had burned in 1964 Coyote Fire and again in the 1977 Sycamore Fire. Among disasters that might befall homes in California, only earthquakes are more certain to occur, and in more places. Hence the higher insurance costs.

But still the graces of living here are exceptionally high. Mild, sunny weather. Clean air. Beautiful mountains and beaches. Wonderful people. Excellent university. So we do.

And every day we should thank the heroic work required of the firefighters who keep the worst of nature at bay. Posted 5:38am, Pacfic.

Meanwhile, I’m glad to see the subtitle in Gretchen Miller’s report in the Independent, Fires Burn In Canyon Near Painted Cave: Favorable Weather Conditions Keep Fire Under Control. From around 10pm last night. 6:20am

The LA Times has a story on the fire, dated 10:28pm last night.

Last night on KCLU before going to sleep I heard that the Gane House at the Santa Barbara Botanical Garden was destroyed. This confirms it. 6:28am

A news conference is scheduled for 8am. Just heard that on KNX, which has done an excellent job covering the fire.

Okay, the press conference just ended. KCLU, KNX and KTYD (and, presumably, some or all of its four sister stations) all carried it. KCLU bailed before it was over. So did KNX, though they stuck it out a bit longer. Only KTYD stayed until the end. (Bravo for them.)

The news that matters is that the fire is “contained” along the northern border of Santa Barbara. Thus spake SB Fire Chief Andrew DeMizio (who always starts by spelling his name). He was glad to see “that black line” on the new Incident map. Contained does not mean put out. He had another word for that, but I forget what it was.

The language is interesting. A fire is an “indicent”. Police, fire, Red Cross and other personnel are “assets”. Lifting an evacuation order is “repopulation”. My kid just said, “I thought ‘repopulation’ was what you got after the first population has died”.

Inexcusable, if true: No questions about locations still apparently threatened. (Could be that somebody asked and I didn’t hear it.) Specifically, the only two communities up in the Santa Ynez Mountains, overlooking the city: Painted Cave and Flores Flat. I gathered from the Indy story mentioned above that Painted Cave was okay. But the only way I knew that Flores Flat survived was from a little human interest feature that KNX has been running over and over again: comments by a woman who gave advice about what to take and what to leave behind. She said she had resigned herself to losing her home in Flores Flat, but was surprised to find it had survived. Frankly, I’m amazed that Flores Flat is okay. I’ll bet the firefighters gave special attention to that one. Maybe one of the places where the DC-10 laid down some of its 12000+ gallons of fire retardant was between Flores Flat and the fire.

Flores Flat is far up Gibraltar Road, between Gibraltar Peak (where many of Santa Barbara’s FM stations radiate from, including KCLU and KTYD) and the site farther up the mountain face where hang gliders and paragliders launch toward the city when the winds are right.  From the looks of the map and overlays above, the fire movement was eastward away from Gibraltar, and up and over the crest of the ridge near Montecito Peak to the east and LaCumbre Peak to the west.

The Tea Fire surely created a fire break as well. It burned much of Gibraltar road, and up the face of Gibraltar Peak, where it roasted the antennas of KCLU and many of the other stations there. KTYD and its AM sister KTMS are located a few hundred feet above and behind there, so they survived.  To the west of there are some of the main power lines that supply the city. As I recall those lines are draped quite high, and I suppose survived the fire as it approached Gibraltar road this time. Other high power lines coming into the Goleta side of town were hurt in the Gap Fire last summer, knocking out power for much of the city at the time.

The weather is much better now. Cooler, and moist, with marine layer fog moving in off the Pacific Ocean to the south. Vari0us officials cautioned that this could change, and in fact it probably will. Typical late Spring and Summer weather is early morning fog, burning off as the day goes on. Whether hot “sundowner” winds return is still an open question, but various weather sources suggest that won’t happen. On the other hand, if the fire gets into Paradise Valley on the north side of the ridge, the story might be different. The climate there tends to be much hotter and dryer than on the Santa Barbara side of the mountains. 8:50am

We have friends in Worchester who were going to Santa Barbara to see Katy Perry’s last show, in her home town. That last link is from Noozhawk, which I’ve neglected to follow more closely. The reason is that Santa Barbara is being repopulated with a raft of new and improved media sources growing like a ring of redwood sprouts where a mighty tree has fallen. That tree is the Santa Barbara News-Press, a once fine newspaper that was (and remains) in a much better position to survive than papers in other cities that are owned by stressed public companies or private individuals with shallower pockets. The story of the News-Press’s meltdown is not yet the stuff of legend, only because it’s still going on. Kind of like a fallen tree with a few intact roots, staying alive, but barely. For more on that, just look up Wendy McCaw on Google. Or read Craig Smith. It’s his main beat. A sample:

A major fire in town didn’t stop the Santa Barbara News-Press from doing business as usual. In this case, “business as usual,” meant laying people off.

This time, the unlucky employee was Jued Martinez. He was a digital image technician for the paper, the “go-to-guy for Photoshop issues,” as he put it, working in the camera (pre-press) department for many 15 years.

He announced his own layoff via Twitter around 1:40 Thursday afternoon by saying, “Wow! I’m available for Design work now. Just got laid off from the SBNP. Feel a little better now, not worrying about it.”

To witness how retro and self-destructive the News-Press is, go to their Jesusita Fire Coverage page. Click on a story. Say, this one. You get one sentence. Then you’re told to long in. Subscribers only. Hell, even when we were subscribers, we couldn’t get in there. I’m sure it all disappears or scrolls behind a paywall after a few days in any case. Gone like snow on the water.

Except as a source of fodder about itself, the News-Press plays a self-minimized role in the local news ecology. For getting news on the fire, that includes:

  1. Twitter search for Jesustiafire or Jesusita (@latimesfires uses this search)
  2. Google News search for Jesusita (most recent)
  3. The Independent
  4. Edhat
  5. Noozhawk
  6. City2
  7. KNX
  8. KTYD
  9. KCLU
  10. KCSB

With the radio stations, I mean their streams, not their sites.

I’ll add others later (including stream addresses). Gotta go. Here’s a photo pool in the meantime. 9:33am

And here’s one last photo, courtesy of the only commenter so far on this post:

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Thanks, nathan. 10:19am

They’re “repopulating” at last. The worst is over. 10:48am

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The shot above, a screen capture of a Google Earth view, with a .kml overlay from MODIS, shows the first fire detections (that I’ve seen at least), south of Foothill/Cathedral Oaks and west of 154. It also shows the first detections across the spine of the Santa Ynez Mountains. 3:02am. (All times Pacific.)

These detections do not mean fire spreading. During the Tea Fire, there were many detections that didn’t spread, at some distance from the fire itself. Still, this map gives a good visualization  of the growing fire perimeter. 3:03am

KEYT/3′s 3:00am video report. 3:04am

Far as I know, only KTYD is covering the fire live right now, at 3:10am. All the talk is about evacuations. Nothing about homes burning. KTYD’s four sister stations are also carrying the same audio. Click on “Listen Live” on the website. 3:13am

The latest from the Independent:

The fire is only a few hundred yards from Foothill in the San Roque area, but doesn’t appear to be burning any houses at the moment thanks to the firefighters concerted effort to hold Foothill Road.

Firefighters extinguished a small spot fire at Steven’s Park and trying to save homes at Canyon Acres off Ontare. One structure is already burning there; firefighters requested three to four extra engines to protect approximately 12 houses. 3:28am

Collected Independent coverage. 3:28am Copied from a byline: Ray Ford, Matt Kettmann, Chris Meagher, Ben Preston, Nick Welsh. These guys are doing a great job. Near as I can tell, the Indy is the only news organization with reporters working the fire around the clock. Outstanding work.

Hats off to Edhat as well. There are 328 comments so far to Ed’s latest report. 5:32am

From among the Edhat comments, this collection of GOES-10 satellite photos. Interesting to see where the smoke goes. 5:35am

John Wiley has lots of photos. 5:41am

I listened to the first three or four speakers in the 8am press conference, and then made the good chap I had an appointment with wait while we both listened to see if anybody would say what listeners most wanted to hear: what homes were lost, and what homes were most in danger. I hate to be critical of people doing heroic and much appreciated work, especially when it is quite true — as these speakers said — that many more homes were saved than lost, and at great risk and effort. I’ll just say it was frustrating not to get specifics about homes. Maybe they came around to it eventually. I don’t know. Eventually I had to turn off the radio (actually an iPhone tuned to KTYD) and get on with my meeting.

On the positive side, dig what Matt Kettmann (Contact), Sam Kornell , Ben Preston (Contact), Ethan Stewart (Contact) of the Independent wrote in Assessing What’s Burned: Damage Report, Updated Friday:

Although the task can be difficult in a wildfire zone — especially one with as many twists, turns, and long driveways as the foothills of Santa Barbara — The Independent’s reporters are trying their hardest to deliver what everyone who’s evacuated wants to know: the addresses of homes that have not survived the Jesusita Fire.

And deliver they do. First, the disclaimer:

We are fully aware that mistakes in this sort of reporting could be horrible for homeowners who get the wrong information, so we’ve strived for the utmost accuracy. Furthermore, based on responses we’ve already received during this fire and others, we believe that this public service is one of our most valuable roles as a media entity, and hope you find the information useful.

As of 1:30 p.m. on Friday, the following is what The Indy’s team of reporters has been able to put together.

Then the list, with very careful qualification. Excellent stuff. If the Indy doesn’t get an award for its fire coverage, there is no justice in Officialized Journalism.

Here is a recent Google Earth shot with a MODIS overlay of fire spottings by satellite. Note the difference between this one and the shot at the top from early this morning:

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The nearest red spot is above San Jose Creek in the canyon above Patterson Ave, near some orchards or vineyards. This is in or below the area burned by the Gap Fire in July of last year. Perhaps more scary is the set of new red squares advancing northwest toward Painted Cave, which is on the left edge of this shot. Here’s a better view:

painted_cave

The last big fire in Santa Barbara — and the biggest ever in terms of home loss — was the Painted Cave Fire of 1990. More than 600 homes were lost. But none in Painted Cave itself. The fire started near there, but advanced straight down toward the sea. Many of the houses you see on this picture between the 101 and 154 symbols on this shot were burned in that fire. 5:09pm

There’s a press conference going on. I’m listening on KNX/1070. Also KCLU/1340/102.3. The KCLU stream (which is what I’m now listening to, here in Boston) is here. 5:14pm.

30,500 are evacuated. (That includes us, by the way. We’re kind of extremely evacuated, staying about 3,000 miles away.) “There will be no re-population tonight.” Shelter is available. Room left at the Multi-Activities Center at UCSB. Find it off Mesa. “A supurb evacuation center.” Special needs folks should go to the Thunderdome on the campus. KCLU is summarizing now. KNX continues to carry the audio of the conference. Surprising since KNX is a Los Angeles news station that covers all of SoCal, and needs to run advertising every few minutes. So they’re eating that income. KCLU is back to its regular NPR program. 5:22pm

Inciweb has a Jesusita Fire incident page now. For earlier fires, Inciweb has been the canonical (if unofficial) source of data. KNX just directed listeners looking for non-Santa Barbara news to KFWB, its sister station in Los Angeles. KNX has a strong signal in Santa Barbara. KFWB has none and is much more local to L.A. itself. 8:27pm

They’ve been using “multiple arial assets” including a DC-10 that can deliver large payloads.5:32

Getting close to posting addresses and other “assessments”. “Confident we’re moving towards” posting those. In the next two days. Close to 2500 personnel. More than 200 fire engines. Massive mutual aid program. 5:33pm

Can somebody ask about Painted Cave? 5:34pm

Pictures from Mercury Press. 5:40pm

Ray Ford has another excellent piece in the Independent. To answer a commenter, below, Cocopah was okay. Ray names names on other streets as well. 7:31pm

Here is a view toward MODIS fire findings. I’ve added Gap and Tea Fire perimeters as well. When this thing is over, we’ll have a charred mountain face, but not a bad fire break. For a short while, anyway. 7:38p

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Okay, that’s enough pictures for your browser to suffer. I’m heading for bed. It’s 10:39 here and I need to be up early. 7:39pm

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I’ll post the rest of today’s observations here. Times are Pacific.

The LA Times has an excellent set of 53 photos that start here. 10:32am

Twitter search for #jesusita or #jesusitafire.

Listening to KTYD, where they’re reviewing the news conference I missed. (Hey, business goes on.) Lots of cooperation. All businesses on State Street are open. Free coffee for firefighters. They’re talking about Peets on Upper State Street, which is my main caffeine source when I’m in town. Lots of numbers about helicopters and planes. (They don’t know what kinds of planes do the dropping. They’re P3 Orions.) 1300 acres burned. 13000 people evacuated. Another 13000 warned. 26,000 total. 177 engines. 8 injuries. 3 burned, 1 smoke inhalation. 1700 personnel.

Talking to a firefighter, and his boss. Some concern about swirling winds, and the ability of the fixed wing airplanes to make drops. Six type two, other type ones. Helicopters, that is. (What are those?) 10:41am.

Interesting piece on wildfires in Wikipedia.

Why does Inciweb have nothing on the Jesusita fire? 10:53am

The Independent has an excellent and detailed report, including street addresses of some burned homes. Losses on Las Canoas, Montrose, Tunnel, Holly, Palomino.  Another here from Matt Kettman. Here is the paper’s Jesusita Fire page. Look through the whole list. It’s long and it’s good. 11:15am

The News-Press has some good photos. Will they scroll behind a paywall later? 11:17am

Just posted this map with notes in the Flickr pile. 11:35am

Here’s the latest from the Independent. Great report, as usual. 7:40pm

Just added the above map, with a link to this one, which has notes. 7:45pm

Spoke to two families, among our best friends in town. Both are leaving. Smoke is thick and shrouding the city. Ash falling everywhere. Flames appear to be moving west down toward 154 and threaten the houses south of that path. That’s above  Foothill west of Lauro Reservoir…  North Ontare (where there was action yesterday). Northridge. Barger Canyon Road. LaVista. All those head up canyons or ridges toward the mountains. San Antonio Creek and Canyon. 9:00pm

Listening back and forth between KTYD and KCLU. Good stuff from both. A caller to KTYD confirms that the fire has not jumped Highway 154. 9:04pm

John Palmintieri is calling in to KCLU. John is a local reporting workhorse, long a veteran on KEYT-TV and other stations. When we moved to Santa Barbara in ’01, he was the morning guy on the late local news station, KEYT/1250. KCLU has filled some of that gap, since buying the signal at 1340am. John says that the land burning now is mostly grassland, which burns quickly and dramatically, but isn’t as dangerous because it doesn’t drop embers at a distance. 9:18pm

An unconfirmed report on KTYD of the fire jumping west over 154. That area is now also under mandatory evacuation orders. West of 154, north of Cathedral Oaks. To Old San Marcos Road. This was an area evacuated for the Gap Fire as well. North of this was the large area burned by the Gap Fire, not long ago. 9:39pm

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The above shows the situation, somehat. It’s a MODIS overlay on a Google Earth terrain view looking north from over downtown Santa Barbara. Go to that shot and mouse over for more.

Meanwhile, it’s clear that at least some hot spots have spread into the back country, above the city. But if those fires are still big, and the winds come strong toward town, we’ll be in very high danger.

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With all due respect to the good jobs that most of the legacy media are doing, their coverage could be much, much better if they paid respect to those listening and watching online, which includes their smart phones. What they need are plain hard facts, rather than the vague, boiled-down or sensationalized stuff that was News As Usual for the duration. Here are a few clues that should help:

  1. Make your audio easy to get. If you stream audio, do it in .mp3 and link to the actual IP address or URL of your stream. Don’t force users to open a “player” in a window. Many of us are listening online with other programs or on phones with sofware tuners. I’m listening to KNX right now using WunderRadio on the iPhone. I listen to KCLU on there too. (They’re not yet on the Public Radio Tuner, alas) Also feel free to use lower bandwidths. 24Kbps or 32Kbps deliver good-enough audio and make it to listeners who aren’t on wi-fi or 3G cell signals. The online equivalent of a 50,000-watt “flamethrower” (yes, they called them that) is a low-bandwidth .mp3 stream.
  2. Remember how many people are listening on hand-helds. Over 1.6 million copies of the Public Radio Tuner alone have been downloaded so far. Cell phones are the new radios. (They’ll be the new TVs soon. Count on it.) And they are much easier for listeners to “tune” than websites that hide means for listening. Which brings me to…
  3. Uncomplicate your damn websites. Without exception, legacy media have websites that are far too complicated and jam-packed with visual noise, including promotions of junk that is highly uninteresting to visitors looking for hard facts about their homes and neighborhoods. Look at Craigslist. Its “design” fails to qualify for the noun. Yet it succeeds because it’s it’s in simple HTML that loads instantly. It also confines itself to facts, and is easy to figure out. In other words, it is 100% helpful. Not 90% promotional.
  4. If you read emails on the air, or take phone calls, put your email addresses and phone numbers in places where they can be found on your websites, and say them on the air. KTYD last night kept reading emails from people, but I couldn’t find an email address.
  5. Remember you’re not alone. Your tweet stream is not the only one, or even the main one. Neither is your audio or video stream. The people who matter most — the ones listening, reading and viewing with the most interest — aren’t just paying attention to you. They’re jumping around looking for best sources. They’ll be watching Twitter search expecially closely. They don’t need you to boil down the story, or just to show one thing and say how awful it is. Let them do the boiling, and do your best to get them the ingredients they need.
  6. If you’re running Incident Command or otherwise in charge of Official Communications, set up your own live stream for your press conferences. That’s because police and fire chiefs, plus communications directors, tend to drone on in Officialese and that causes radio stations to drop the feed, summarize and move on. In the most recent of these (the one Saturday morning, May 9), KCLU and KNX both bailed, summarized and went to their usual programming. Only KTYD stayed for the whole thing (and kudos to them). In fact, I’d suggest setting up your own blog and Twitter accounts.
  7. For TV stations with helicopters on the scene, several key points:
  • Carry a map or a GPS and use it. KSBY’s reporter and pilot (and/or cameraman) seemed to have no idea where they were. (Wouldn’t they have a GPS that could tell them?) The streets are not hard to identify. Tell us what the hell streets they are. “This is Lauro Canyon Reservoir. The fire we’re seeing is north of it on Holly.” Not just “Look at this house that’s burning out of control in the foothills.”
  • Don’t just report on the flames. Tell us more about what else is happening. Where are they dropping water and retardant? Where are the power lines down? What escape routes are being used?
  • If you’re running a live feed, remember that everything you’re saying is going out there. I don’t know if we were hearing the pilot or the cameraman, or both. But most of what they talked about was getting interesting shots, not reporting good information for viewers for whom these guys were the only source of information about what’s actually happening on the ground where they live, or where their friends and neighbors live. Several times the guy talked about one large house that appeared to be getting an unusually high level of protection, saying “That must be the mayor’s house.” Well, we know where the mayor lives, and it’s not a fancy house in the hills. The firefighters were defending that house for a good reason: because it was defensible. When they are forced to make choices, they’ll always go for the high percentage shot.

I really hope, if KSBY folks read this, that they don’t react by shutting off the live feed from their helicopter. Even though the talk was about going to the Elephant Bar and other irrelevancies, it was far more real and interesting than anything the reporter said. I’m guessing that the pilot was not an employee of the station. Even if that’s the case, it doesn’t matter. What matters is getting hard about real stuff out there. Not just a few sound and sight bites for news breaks.

On a big plus side, KSBY is set up already (at 7:13am) to carry the official news conference at 9am here. I remember listening to one of the key news conferences after the Tea Fire on KSBY while driving up to San Francisco from Santa Barbara, last November. KSBY is on Channel 6. The audio for Channel 6 is on 87.7 FM. After June 12, no TV stations will remain on lowband VHF, which include Channels 2 to 6. They will all be broadcasting digitally on other (mostly UHF) channels. Even if they’re still branded with their old channel numbers. All the more reason to recognize that we’re all just tributaries of vast digital rivers pouring the Live Web into the Static Web sea.

No tweets on #jesusitafire OR #santabarbara OR roque OR jesusita in the past three hours. That’s because it’s 5:45am in Santa Barbara right now. Not because nothing is happening. Check this scary image, from 3:25am.

I’m listening to KCLU. They did  good job last night. So did KTYD/99.9, the audio of which was substitued for the usual programing on sister stations KTMS/990 and KIST/1490.

Now it’s 6am, and KCLU only reports that three Ventura County firefighters were injured, some seriously. KTYD is taking a break from music programming to talk about what’s happening. Mostly it’s school closing.

KNX, at 6:05 has a reporter “live from the fire line.” Another at the fire command center. A story about a guy on Palomino Road (where some of our closest friends live) who did something with bush reduction that saved his house and those of neighbors. Doing correct pronunciations, too. “San Row-kee”. “La Coom-bra”. Well done.

Among the local TV stations yesterday, KSBY was the most helpful, because they had a helicopter parked a few hundred feet above the Foothill/San Roque intersection, looking for good video in the burning residential areas, that appeared to run west to east from upper San Roque/Santa Terasita to Tunnel Road. The shots I put up here were mostly from KSBY’s copter.

(Not quite oddly, KSBY is a San Luis Obispo station. SLO is a long drive over and around several mountain ranges. Over the air, KSBY’s signal is already weak where it’s walled off by the Santa Ynez mountains. But it doesn’t matter because almost nobody watches over the air TV in Santa Barbara anyway. There’s only one local English-speaking station (KEYT). If you want more TV, you get cable or satellite. KSBY is a cable station in SB.)

6:15am Pacific. KNX has a guy from Spyglass Ridge, who says all the houses on Holly Road burned, while Spyglass Ridge was spared. The fire jumped over his whole neighborhood. When a fire “jumps” it is usually by dropping burning “debris” at a distance from the fire itself. A the vertical winds in a fire can be high enough to lift burning shingles, bark, hunks of fences and whole flaming bushes, high into the sky, and drop them, still burning, up to half a mile or more away. The Oakland fire in 1991 leaped from Hiller Highlands across Temescal Lake, and two highways — 13 and 24 — to set the Piedmont district on fire. Well over 3000 homes burned in that one. It was easily the most amazing thing I have ever seen. At the height of the fire, a home was blowing up, literally exploding, every four seconds. We had friends who lost houses in that one, and not even the chimneys were standing. The heat at the center of the fire was several times that required for cremation. Cars were reduced to puddles of metal and glass. Once a fire like that gets going, “fighting” it is an optimistic verb.

This is the risk in Santa Barbara. The Cheltenham area, shown on the near side of the smoke in this shot here, is very much like Hiller Highlands and the Upper Broadway sections of Oakland, which burned in that ’91 fire. It’s a neighborhood of closely spaced homes on narrow winding roads, packed with beautiful yet highly flammable forests and landscaping. In other words, the kind of place that can go almost at once, and fast. Santa Barbara’s Riviera district is also like that. So is Barker Hill. And so were some of the regions burned by the Tea Fire.

As of right now, 6:25am, the winds are still calm. But the fire is 0% contained, and burning away on the face of the Santa Ynez mountain range that rises like a wall behind the city to nearly 4000 feet (at La Cumbre Peak). The woods here are dense with what they call “fuel”, and can be an abundant source of burning debris if the winds shift back south toward the civilization and the sea. High winds are expected later today.

So how can we keep up with news?

First, there’s Twitter. At 6:29am, the latest tweet on this search is from 3 hours ago and says

zbasset: #jesusitafire Has anyone been outside to do a visual this morning? How does it look? about 3 hours ago from web

This is actually helpful. So are any other tweets with actual reports, or links to useful information. Most of them are. Kudos to the tweeters.

It’s remarkable to see how far we’ve come since @nateritter started @sandiegofire in 2007. That showed what Twitter can do. In Santa Barbara it did much more in the Gap Fire and the Tea Fire. But now it’s mainstream. Every radio and TV station that wants to play in the clue flow has a Twitter account. The problem is, most of them are clueless in other ways, mostly because they still don’t realize that they are no longer the only lighthouses on the coast. There is an emerging ecosystem of news now, and it’s one in which everybody pariticipates. The result looks and sounds more like a trading floor than a newspaper or a radio or TV dial.

Speaking of which here’s a good list of local radio stations in Santa Barbara.

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We’re in Boston, watching neighborhoods near our own in Santa Barbara, burning as the Jesusita Fire spreads south out of the mountains and into town. KSBY is running a live feed from a helicopter here. The audio is on constantly, so you can hear the pilot talking with the studio when reporters aren’t.

Here are some screen captures and Google Earth views, enhanced by MODIS satellite overlays. MODIS detects heat on the ground from a satellite that passes overhead a few times per day. One of those is above. The MODIS information is from early this afternoon. No new ones have been posted since then, and it’s now 7:50pm. The fire has spread into the middle left part of the shot above. If you go here and mouse over the picture, you’ll see the area that has been burning. The fires are in patches.

Here’s a google map with lots of helpful info.

KCLU radio is running constant coverage. Listen here. Good that they fired up a good new signal on 1340am. Lots of listeners calling in right now. [Later... KTYD is now running nonstop coverage.]

Much of the town is under evacuation orders, including areas that run all the way down to State Street, which is the main drag through the middle of town. Our home is in one of the mandatory evacuation zones. We’re highly evacuated, yet wishing we were there.

The winds are clearly from the west, moving straight east, toward Mission Canyon. In the path is the Cheltenham Road area, which is hill covered with lots of foliage and lots of houses. This is an area very much like the Oakland Hills, where I watched more than 3000 homes burn in 1991.

The last house that burned on TV is west of San Roque Road and Lauro Canyon Reservoir (which appears in some of the footage). I think it’s on Santa Terasita Road, off North Ontare. I’m taking some screen shots and trying to match them with the terrain view on Google Earth. I’ll put those shots up too.

One structure I see burning appears to be on the north side of E. Alamar Avenue, behind the Cheltenham neighborhood. Not sure, though.

I’d say this is surreal, but it’s all too real, and familiar. And scary as shit.

Okay, flames on San Roque Road, above the reservoir. Spyglass Ridge Road. Maybe Palomino Road. It would be nice if the reporter or the pilot would identify the roads they’re looking at. Instead they’re talking about hitting the Elephant Bar after they land.

I also notice that the winds have stopped. There appears to be a lull. The smoke is moving in the vertical direction. This is very good. Hope it lasts.

8:13pm Pacific. Here’s a Twitter stream on the fire. Props to KCSB for that one.

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Nothing on Inciweb yet on the Jesusita wildland fire above Santa Barbara’s San Roque district, on the slope of the Santa Ynez mountains, very close to town. Meanwhile Twitter is all over it. Or, citizen reporters are all over Twitter. Either way, it’s the Live Web at work.

By the latest report, about 160 acres have burned. In this dry back country, however, fires can spread far and fast. So, we’re concerned.

Here’s a map of the area, with evacuation areas and other details.

Some photos from the LA Times.

The Independent, always strong in fire coverage, has a section devoted to the Jesusita fire.

Here’s Edhat’s running news.

Tweets to follow:@KTMS, @City2, @LATimesFires, @LATimesfires, @SBRedCross, @KTYDFM, @KSBY @edhat, @socalincidents, @NBCLosAngeles, @borisalves, @PlanetSantaBarb, @sbinde

A wall-o-TV-feeds.

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Tristan Louis asks, Is ownershp passe? Or, from his first paragraph, “…our ownership society seems to be started a slide towards a new mode of being: a rental society.” He uses the examples of Netflix, Apple, Kindle and build vs. buy vs. rent choices at the enterprise level, and suggests, “The change in our relationship to media forces us to reassess the value of the physical good.” Except for books, most media are either disposable or self-disposing.

Good points. Got me thinking…

The concept of ownership is embedded in human nature, for the simple reason that we are grabby animals. Our hands are built for grasping. Most languages have a possessive case. “Mine!” (in whatever language) is one of the first words a toddler learns. Possession is 9/10ths of the three-year-old — especially if you try to take something away from the kid.

Yet all possession is temporary, because life is temporary, and our conditions are temporary. Even the things we love change. The physical appeal of our mates changes. Our little sweet babies grow into big hairy adults.

Could it be that the evanescent nature of the Net is in greater alignment with the temporal nature of life than the physical world we also inhabit? Think about it. Do you really “own” your domain name? Or do you rent it? Do you really own your data, or any of the identities you use? You may be able to hide your data, or encrypt it so only you and trusted others can make sense of it. But how valuable is your data in a world that operates as one big copy machine? The words I write here are not mine alone. They are available to everybody with a Net connection. If they repeat what I’ve written, does that make my words theirs? Or is there something in the nature of words that is also beyond the scope of possession — even given that possession as a quality can have great value? (If, however, a temporary one.)

The older I get the less I wish to hold on to anything, other than what is truly worthwhile to hold. (If “holding” is even what I’m doing.) What matters most, it seems to me, is neither possession nor control, but responsibility. There are things only I can, and must, do. I have an unknown budget of time to do it in. Time is something we can only spend, even when we talk about “saving” it. We are born with an unknown sum of it, and we spend it at a uniform rate until it’s gone. We just don’t know what that rate is. We do know we have 100% of what remains.

Today, here on the Net, we have a new world of our own making that is very different than the one our inner three-year-olds know too well. The concept of possession inside a system that works by copying is an odd one to apply. The concept of distance-free connecting is another. At a functional level the Net puts us all at approximately zero distance from everybody else. More than a World of Ends, the Net is a World of Beginnings. Every word we say, every key we stroke, every gesture we commit, is the beginning of something — even as we do those things at the ends of a network comprised of countless other ends.

My grandfather, George W. Searls,  was a carpenter in Fort Lee, New Jersey in the early days of silent movies, when Fort Lee was the first Hollywood. (Lon Chaney was a good friend of his, and lived for awhile in one of the family’s upstairs apartments.) Among other things, Grandpa built movie sets. Here is a picture of one. It appears to be a ballroom with a stage at one end. This is how they did movies back then: on stages. They shot there because theater was what they knew. They did theater on film.

I think we’re still at that stage (no pun intended) with the Internet. We’re doing old media stuff in this new place that’s not really a medium at all. It’s a strange new disembodied environment that doesn’t make full sense to our embodied selves, because bodies aren’t there. I think the Net will only make sense, eventually, to our disembodied selves. These are the selves that require bodies but are not reducible to them. Possession gives us something to do with our bodies. But not with our souls.

The work of life is doing, not having. Even if having is what you’re doing, it’s the doing that matters. Life is process, not product. That process is one of contribution, I think. We want to leave the world with more than it had when we entered it. And with goods that are beyond measure or price. Goods which, like time, we can only give.

With the Net we have invented an excellent place to do that.

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East Coasters, look up

Minotaur rocket trail from 2005 launch

Minotaur rocket trail from 2005 launch

Glaring Rocket Launch Could Surprise East Coast Residents Tuesday Evening reads the headline of a post by Joe Rao at Space.com. In it he points to a video I taped in 2005 with my kid of a similar launch on the west coast. You can watch it here.

The launch will take place on Wallops Island, Virginia, but should become visible up to hundreds of miles away as the rocket arcs upward into space. Look for the launch starting at 8pm Tuesday. If the view is clear, you’re in for a treat.

Click on the image above (or here) for some still shots from the same launch.

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Dave asks, When Google has to cut its own revenue stream by enhancing search, will they do it?

Good question. Here is another: Has Google’s success at advertising slowed its innovations around search? And, How far will Google go with search engine improvements if there’s clearly no advertising money in it?

I’m not suggesting answers here. I’m just asking.

There are many things I would love to search for that Google doesn’t cover. But then, nobody does. For example, a date-range search just of blogs. Google Blogsearch does feature date-based search, with the most recent on top. But what if I want to search just in November and December of 2004? Near as I can tell, it can’t be done. (Correct me if I’m wrong. I’m glad to be.) [Later...] I am corrected by the first two comments.

I once had high hopes that Technorati would support that kind of search, but both Technorati and Google Blogsearch are playing the What’s Popular game. (For what it’s worth, I used to be on Technorati’s advisory board, but now David Sifry is gone and I’m not sure the company even has one any more.)

Anyway, it’s hard for me not to appreciate the many different ways Google lets me search for stuff. Their geographic services, for example, are amazing. So is stuff like this. But I can’t help but notice that the basic search offering has changed relatively little over the years. Is it because of the advertising? You tell me. I really don’t know.

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A tip of the asshat

I’m trying not to blog. I really am. Everything I’ve blogged today is finished leftovers or mooshed-together debris thrown off by Actual Work. But not this post here. This is one I have to put up because I can’t help pointing to this post by Chris Locke — cuz it’s good and it made me laugh. Best line:

“Hobgoblins are the consistency of silly putty.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Yeah, Chris had some nice things to say about me in there too. But Chris does not kiss ass. But he might make you laugh yours off.

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Thanks to Keith McArthur for clueing me in on Cluetrainplus10, in which folks comment on each of Cluetrain’s 95 theses, on roughly the 10th anniversary of the day Cluetrain went up on the Web. (It was around this time in 1999.)

The only thesis I clearly remember writing was the first, “Markets are conversations.” That one was unpacked in a book chapter, and Chris Locke has taken that assignment for this exercise. Most of the other theses are also taken, so I chose one of the later ones, copied and pasted here:

71. Your tired notions of “the market” make our eyes glaze over. We don’t recognize ourselves in your projections—perhaps because we know we’re already elsewhere. Doc Searls @dsearls

Ten years later, that disconect is still there. Back when we wrote Cluetrain, we dwelled on the distance between what David Weinberger called “Fort Business” and the human beings both inside and outside the company. Today there is much more conversation happening across those lines (in both literal and metaphorical senses of the word), and everybody seems to be getting “social” out the wazoo. But the same old Fort/Human split is there. Worse, it’s growing, as businesses get more silo’d than ever — even (and especially) on the Net.

For evidence, look no farther than two of the most annoying developments in the history of business: 1) loyalty cards; and 2) the outsourcing of customer service to customers themselves.

Never mind the inefficiencies and outright stupidities involved in loyalty programs (for example, giving you a coupon discounting the next purchase of the thing you just bought — now for too much). Just look at the conceits involved. Every one of these programs acts as if “belonging” to a vendor is a desirable state — that customers are actually okay with being “acquired”, “locked-in” and “owned” like slaves.

Meanwhile, “customer service” has been automated to a degree that is beyond moronic. If you ever reach a Tier One agent, you’ll engage in a conversation with a script in human form:

“Hello, my name is Scott. How are you today?”

“I’m fine. How are you?”

“Thank you for asking. I’m fine. How can I help you today?”

“My X is F’d.”

“I’m sorry you’re having that problem.”

Right. They always ask how you are, always thank you for asking how they are, and are always sorry you have a problem.

They even do that chant in chat sessions. Last week I had a four chat sessions in a row with four agents of Charter Communications, the cable company that provides internet service at my brother-in-law’s house. This took place on a laptop in the crawl space under his house. All the chats were 99% unhelpful and in some ways were comically absurd. The real message that ran through the whole exchange was, You figure it out.

Last week in the New York Times, Steve Lohr wrote Customer Service? Ask a Volunteer. It tells the story of how customers, working as voluntary symbiotes in large vendor ecosystems, take up much of the support burden. If any of the good work of the volunteers finds its way into product improvement, it will provide good examples of what Eric von Hippel calls Democratizing Innovation. But most companies remain Fort Clueless on the matter. Sez one commenter on a Slashdot thread,

There’s a Linksys cable modem I know of that has a recent firmware, and by recent I mean last year or so. Linksys wont release the firmware as they expect only the cable companies to do so. The cable companies only release it to people who bought their cable modems from them directly. So there are thousands of people putting up with bugs because they bought their modem retail and have no legitimate access to the updated firmware.

What if I pulled this firmware from a cable company owned modem and wrote these people a simple installer? Would the company sing my praises then?

The real issue here is that people frequent web boards for support because the paid phone support they get is beyond worthless. Level 1 people just read scripts and level 2 or 3 people cant release firmwares because of moronic policies. No wonder people are helping themselves. These companies should be ashamed of providing service on such a low level, not happy that someone has taken up the slack for them.

Both these annoyances — loyalty cards and customer support outsourced to customers — are exacerbated by the Net. Loyalty cards are modeled to some degree on one of the worst flaws of the Web: that you have to sign in to something before you make a purchase. This is a bug, not a feature. And the Web makes it almost too easy for companies to direct customers away from the front door. They can say  “Just go to our Website. Everything you need is there.” Could be, but where? Even in 2009, finding good information on most company websites is a discouraging prospect. And the last thing you’ll find is a phone number that gets you to a human being, even if you’re prepared to pay for the help.

So the “elsewhere” we talked about in Cluetrain’s 71st thesis is out-of-luck-ville. Because we’re still stuck in a threshold state: between a world where sellers make all the rules, and a world where customers are self-equipped to overcome or obsolete those rules — by providing new ones that work the same for many vendors, and provide benefits for both sides.

This whole issue is front-burner for me right now. One reason is that I’m finally getting down (after three years) to unpacking The Intention Economy into a whole book, subtitled “What happens when customers get real power” (or something close to that). The other is that this past week has been one in which my wife and I spent perhaps half of our waking lives on the phone or the Web, navigating labyrinthine call center mazes, yelling at useless websites, and talking with tech support personnel who were 99% useless.

A Tier 2 Verizon person actually gave my wife detailed instructions on how to circumvent certain call center problems in the future, including an unpublished number that is sure to change — and stressing the importance of knowing how to work the company’s insane “system”. And that’s just one system. Every vendor of anything that requires service has its own system. Or many of them.

These problems cannot be solved by the companies themselves. Companies make silos. It’s as simple as that. Left to their own devices, that’s what they do. Over and over and over again.

The Internet Protocol solved the multiple network problem. We’re all on one Net now. Email protocols solved the multiple email system problem. We don’t have to ask which company silo somebody belongs to before we send email to them. But we still have multiple IM systems. The IETF approved Jabber’s XMPP protocol years ago, but Jabber has been only partially adopted. If you want to IM with somebody, you need to know if they’re on Skype or AIM or Yahoo or MSN. Far as I know, only Google uses XMPP as its IM protocol.

Meanwhile text more every day than they IM. This is because texting’s SMS protocol is universally used, both by all phone systems and by Twitter.

The fact that Apple, Microsoft, Skype and Yahoo all retain proprietary IM systems says that they still prefer to silo network uses and users, even after all these decades. They are, in the immortal words of Walt Whitman, “demented with the mania of owning things.”

Sobriety can only come from the customer side. As first parties in their own relationships and transactions, they are in the best position to sort out the growing silo-ization problems of second and third parties (vendors and their assistants).

Once customers become equipped with ways of managing their interactions with multiple vendors, we’ll see business growing around buyers rather than sellers. These are what we’re starting to call fourth party services: ones that Joe Andrieu calls user driven services. Here are his series of posts so far on the topic:

  1. The Great Reconfiguration
  2. Introducing User Driven Services
  3. User Driven Services: Impulse from the User
  4. User Driven Services: 2. Control

(He has eight more on the way. Stay tuned.)

Once these are in place, marketers will face a reciprocal force rather than a subordinated one. Three reasons: 1) because customer choices will far exceed the silo’d few provided by vendors acting like slave-owners; 2) customers will have help from a new and growing business category and 3) because customers are where the money comes from. Customers also know far more about how they want to spend their money than marketers do.

What follows will be a collapse of the guesswork economy that has comprised most of marketing and advertising for the duration. This is an economy that we were trying to blow up with Cluetrain ten years ago. It’s what I hope the next Cluetrain edition will help do, once it comes out this summer.

Meanwhile, work continues.

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New England is full of ruins. Woods everywhere are veined with stone walls, relics of an agrarian age that ended when the industrial one began. Shipping canals, which were thick with horse-drawn cargo when the Thoreau brothers rowed past them up the Concord & Merrimack Rivers, were abandoned once railroads did the same job better. Mills along canals and rivers have long since been torn down or turned into museums, stores or condos. Bypassed by cars and trucks on highways, old railroad beds have lost their easements or turned into bike trails.

So now what happens to radio and TV — two more old industries with landmarks on landscapes? I visited the subject to some degree over in Linux Journal yesterday, with What if they gave a DTV transition and nobody came? Here I want to go farther, and look at an industry we know is going to die — and to start doing it well before the end arrives.

AM radio, which operates on such low frequencies that signals are radiated by entire broadcast towers, are built as single or multi-tower “arrays” sitting on buried conductors: “ground systems” that can take up more space in soil than their towers occupy in the air above. Most of these facilities were built between the 20s and 80s. Since then scarce land and environmental restrictions have slowed their spread. I would add that available frequencies are also scarce, but that hasn’t stopped the FCC from easing rules, over and over, turning the band at night (when signals bounce off the sky to reach hundreds of miles from their transmitters) into wall-to-wall hash.

FM radio has only been around in a serious way since the 1950s. Operating on a VHF band, where the antennas themselves don’t need to be large (as they do on AM), FM does best when radiated from altitude, meaning the tops of mountains, buildings and high towers. Some of the latter grow to the legal limit of 2000 feet.

With its VHF and UHF signals, television also requires transmission from altitude. When you see a very high tower standing on landscape, or a bristle of short towers atop mountains and skyscrapers, you’re looking at sources of TV, FM or both. A huge percentage of the world’s tallest masts (a category that includes buildings and towers) stand in the U.S., and many are the full 2000-foot height. Most were built for TV stations. (Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of these. Also of tower collapses — a remarkably long list.)

The first set of these to go the way of ship canals is low-band VHF TV. That is, channels 2-6. After June 12, no antenna broadcasting on those channels in the U.S. will continue to operate. Most high-band VHF TV channels — ones operating on channels 7-13 — will also be abandoned, though a few will continue to transmit digital signals. All stations that formerly occupied channels 2-6 will move to a UHF channel (14 to 50).

Old analog TV transmitters are mostly worthless and can’t be re-purposed. (Here’s an excellent piece on that subject, from The Current.)

What I’m wondering about are the towers. The Current’s story suggests that they’re too expensive to take down (not worth enough in scrap), and that most will be re-purposed in any case.

I don’t think so.

It might be easy enough to re-purpose a few former Channel 2 or Channel 4 towers. But what happens when AM and FM transmission is obsoleted by webcasting? This hasn’t happened yet. There are many architectural and UI challenges, plus the added legal burden of copyright restrictions, which are much tougher on music broadcast on the Web than on the air (at least in the U.S.) But the end will come. The brightest writing on the wall right now is the Public Radio Tuner, a project of CPB and several public radio organizations. Last I heard (disclosure: I’m involved in the project), downloads of the free tuner for iPhone were past 1.6 million. This and other tuners, on the iPhone and other portable devices, will account for more and more listening, especially as more cell phone data plans take the ceilings off data consumption — as AT&T has already done for the iPhone.

Some have suggested that TV and FM towers can be re-purposed for cellular use, and to some degree that’s true. But cellular coverage requires many sites at low elevations, rather than a few at high elevations. As one Cisco guy told me, “they might be able to lease out the bottom 200 feet” of a tower.

Still, ends always come, and The End is in sight for over-the-air radio as well as TV. Then what?

Bonus linkage: Scott Fybush‘s amazing series of visits to broadcast towers, over many years; and a few of my own photos of transmitting sites, many shot from altitude. Also the blog and tweets of George Clark, both of which led to this digression.

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