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.

On the ProjectVRM blog: A Declaration of Customer Independence.

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