I just learned by Dave that Chris Gulker died on Wednesday. (Somehow I missed the news at first pass.) I barely knew Chris, I knew enough to get that he was terrific guy, citizen, friend, photographer, blogger and much more. I don’t think it’s possible to die more consciously and graciously than Chris did. Dave’s right that it’s wrong not to read Chris’s obituary in a mainstream paper. But there are plenty of good ones out there* where it matters most. Start with Scott Rosenberg’s.
You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2010.
In The Data Bubble, I told readers to mark the day: 31 July 2010. That’s when The Wall Street Journal published The Web’s Gold Mine: Your Secrets, subtitled A Journal investigation finds that one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet is the business of spying on consumers. First in a series. That same series is now nine stories long, not counting the introduction and a long list of related pieces. Here’s the current list:
- The Web’s Gold Mine: What They Know About You
- Microsoft Quashed Bid to Boost Web Privacy
- On the Web’s Cutting Edge: Anonymity in Name Only
- Stalking by Cell Phone
- Google Agonizes Over Privacy
- Kids Face Intensive Tracking on Web
- ‘Scrapers’ Dig Deep for Data on the Web
- Facebook in Privacy Breach
- A Web Pioneer Profiles Users By Name
- Personal Details Exposed Via Biggest U.S. Websites The largest U.S. websites are installing new and intrusive consumer-tracking technologies on the computers of people visiting their sites—in some cases, more than 100 tracking tools at a time.
- See the Database at WSJ.com
- What They Know: A Glossary
- The Journal’s Methodology
- The Tracking Ecosystem
- Your Questions on Digital Privacy
- Analyzing What You Have Typed
- Video: A Guide to Cookies
- App Developers Weigh Business Models
- How the Leaks Happen
- Some Apps Return After Breach
- Facebook Faces Lawsuit
- Social Networks Weigh Privacy vs. Profits
- Four Aspects of Online Data Privacy
- How to Protect Your Child’s Privacy
- How to Avoid Prying Eyes
- Graphic: Google’s Widening Reach
- Digits Live Show: How RapLeaf Mines Data Online
- Digits: Escaping the Scrapers
- Privacy Advocate Withdraws From RapLeaf Advisory Board
- Candidate Apologizes for Using RapLeaf to Target Ads
- Preview: Facebook Leads Ad Recovery
- How to Get Out of RapLeaf’s System
- The Dangers of Web Tracking (buy Nicholas Carr)
- Why Tracking Isn’t Bad (by Jim Harper)
- Follow @whattheyknow on Twitter
Two things I especially like about all this. First, Julia Angwin and her team are doing a terrific job of old-fashioned investigative journalism here. Kudos for that. Second, the whole series stands on the side of readers. The second person voice (you, your) is directed to individual persons—the same persons who do not sit at the tables of decision-makers in this crazy new hyper-personalized advertising business.
To measure the delta of change in that business, start with John Battelle‘s Conversational Marketing series (post 1, post 2, post 3) from early 2007, and then his post Identity and the Independent Web, from last week. In the former he writes about how the need for companies to converse directly with customers and prospects is both inevitable and transformative. He even kindly links to The Cluetrain Manifesto (behind the phrase “brands are conversations”).
In his latest he observes some changes in the Web itself:
Here’s one major architectural pattern I’ve noticed: the emergence of two distinct territories across the web landscape. One I’ll call the “Dependent Web,” the other is its converse: The “Independent Web.”
The Dependent Web is dominated by companies that deliver services, content and advertising based on who that service believes you to be: What you see on these sites “depends” on their proprietary model of your identity, including what you’ve done in the past, what you’re doing right now, what “cohorts” you might fall into based on third- or first-party data and algorithms, and any number of other robust signals.
The Independent Web, for the most part, does not shift its content or services based on who you are. However, in the past few years, a large group of these sites have begun to use Dependent Web algorithms and services to deliver advertising based on who you are.
A Shift In How The Web Works?
And therein lies the itch I’m looking to scratch: With Facebook’s push to export its version of the social graph across the Independent Web; Google’s efforts to personalize display via AdSense and Doubleclick; AOL, Yahoo and Demand building search-driven content farms, and the rise of data-driven ad exchanges and “Demand Side Platforms” to manage revenue for it all, it’s clear that we’re in the early phases of a major shift in the texture and experience of the web.
He goes on to talk about how “these services match their model of your identity to an extraordinary machinery of marketing dollars“, and how
When we’re “on” Facebook, Google, or Twitter, we’re plugged into an infrastructure (in the case of the latter two, it may be a distributed infrastructure) that locks onto us, serving us content and commerce in an automated but increasingly sophisticated fashion. Sure, we navigate around, in control of our experience, but the fact is, the choices provided to us as we navigate are increasingly driven by algorithms modeled on the service’s understanding of our identity.
And here is where we get to the deepest, most critical problem: Their understanding of our identity is not the same as our understanding of our identity. What they have are a bunch of derived assumptions that may or may not be correct; and even if they are, they are not ours. This is a difference in kind, not degree. It doesn’t matter how personalized anybody makes advertising targeted at us. Who we are is something we possess and control—or would at least like to think we do—no matter how well some of us (such as advertisers) rationalize the “socially derived” natures of our identities in the world.
It is standard for people in the ad business to equate assent with approval, and John’s take on this is a good example of that. Sez he,
We know this, and we’re cool with the deal.
In fact we don’t know, we’re not cool with it, and it isn’t a deal.
If we knew, the Wall Street Journal wouldn’t have a reason to clue us in at such length.
We’re cool with it only to the degree that we are uncomplaining about it—so far.
And it isn’t a “deal” because nothing was ever negotiated.
On that last point, our “deals” with vendors on the Web are agreements in name only. Specifically, they are a breed of assent called contracts of adhesion. Also called standard form or boilerplate contracts, they are what you get when a dominant party sets all the terms, there is no room for negotiation, and the submissive party has a choice only to accept the terms or walk away. The term “adhesion” refers to the nailed-down nature of the submissive party’s position, while the dominant party is free to change the terms any time it wishes. Next time you “agree” to terms you haven’t read, go read them and see where it says the other party reserves the right to change the terms.
There is a good reason why we have had these kinds of agreements since the dawn of e-commerce. It’s because that’s the way the Web was built. Only one party—the one with the servers and the services—was in a position to say what was what. It’s still that way. The best slide I’ve seen in the last several years is one of Phil Windley‘s. It says,
HISTORY OF E-COMMERCE
1995: Invention of the Cookie.
About all we’ve done since 1995 on the sell side is improve the cookie-based system of “relating” to users. This is a one-way take-it-or-leave-it system that has become lame and pernicious in the extreme. We can and should do better than that.
Phil’s own company, Kynetx, has come up with a whole new schema. Besides clients and servers (which don’t go away), you’ve got end points, events, rules and rules engines to execute the rules. David Siegel’s excellent book, The Power of Pull, describes how the Semantic Web also offers a rich and far more flexible and useful alternative to the Web’s old skool model. His post yesterday is a perfect example of liberated thinking and planning that transcends the old cookie-limited world. The man is on fire. Dig his first paragraph:
Monday I talked about the social networking bubble. Marketers are getting sucked into the social-networking vortex and can’t find their way out. The problem is that most companies are trying small tactical improvements, hoping to improve sales a bit and trying tactical savings programs, hoping to improve margins a bit. Yet there’s a whole new curve of efficiency waiting in the world of pull. It’s time to start talking about savingtrillions, not millions. Companies should think in terms of big, strategic, double-digit improvements, new markets, and new ways to cooperate. Here is a road map
This week at IIW in Mountain View, we’re going to be talking about, and working on, improving markets from the buyers’ side. (Through VRM and other means.) On the table will be whole new ways of relating, starting with systems by which users and customers can offer their own terms of engagement, their own policies, their own preferences (even their own prices and payment options)—and by which sellers and site operators can signal their openness to those terms (even if they’re not yet ready to accept them). The idea here is to get buyers out of their shells and sellers out of their silos, so they can meet and deal for real in a truly open marketplace. (This doesn’t have to be complicated. A lot of it can be automated. And, if we do it right, we can skip a lot of the pointless one-sided agreement-clicking friction we now take for granted.)
Right now it’s hard to argue against all the money being spent (and therefore made) in the personalized advertising business—just like it was hard to argue against the bubble in tech stock prices in 1999 and in home prices in 2004. But we need to come to our senses here, and develop new and better systems by which demand and supply can meet and deal with each other as equally powerful parties in the open marketplace. Some of the tech we need for that is coming into being right now. That’s what we should be following. Not just whether Google, Facebook or Twitter will do the best job of putting crosshairs on our backs.
John’s right that the split is between dependence and independence. But the split that matters most is between yesterday’s dependence and tomorrow’s independence—for ourselves. If we want a truly conversational economy, we’re going to need individuals who are independent and self-empowered. Once we have that, the level of economic activity that follows will be a lot higher, and a lot more productive, than we’re getting now just by improving the world’s biggest guesswork business.
We have two iPhones in our family. Yesterday we traded in the older one — my wife’s first-generation model, bought in 2007 — at Radio Shack. They gave us $72.94 for the phone and charger, against $199 for a new 16Gb iPhone 4. We’ll probably trade our other iPhone, my second-generation 3g one, pretty soon too.
Apple doesn’t have the same offer. I’m not sure who else does. I wouldn’t have known about it if I hadn’t stopped in a Radio Shack to buy an ethernet cable a few days ago, when the kid behind the counter told me about it. Turns out Radio Shack will take a lot of stuff in trade. Since my iPhone 3g is brand new (I replaced it at an Apple store last month for $79, before I knew about this deal), I can get $116.13 for it, according to the online appraisal system at that last link.
Yes, it bothers me that we’re staying inside Apple and AT&T’s joint silo. It also bothers me that Fake Steve Jobs is right about Android fragmentation. I also see a serious risk that Real Steve Jobs might succeed at repositioning closed systems as “integrated”. Just because, well, he’s Steve. We’re all in his reality distortion field now.
I still see this as a phase, and not a bad one. Apple and Google have together cracked open the unholy death grip that phone makers and carriers have long had on the mobile world. At some point those two halves will come completely apart.
Until they do, we won’t have ambient connectivity, or what I call the Frankston Threshold.
But we’ll get there. It’s inevitable.
[Later...] If you do trade in an old iPhone, be sure to erase it before handing it over. Do that under Settings/General/Reset/Erase all content and settings.
The summary paragraph of a great column by Tom Friedman:
A dysfunctional political system is one that knows the right answers but can’t even discuss them rationally, let alone act on them, and one that devotes vastly more attention to cable TV preachers than to recommendations by its best scientists and engineers.
Here’s a link to Rising Above the Storm, the study Tom cites. There is a free download routine that requires giving ID information, though what you say is up to you.
I took the picture above while I was crossing Harvard Yard yesterday. Pretty much captures the look and the mood of the region lately.
It’s 72° on my back porch right now, 9 o’clock at night. It was another warm day here in eastern Massachusetts. While it’s snowing in Minnesota and raining everywhere else on the East Coast, it’s pretty damn nice here.
In fact it’s so warm that I regret having taken the air conditioners out of the windows last week. Could have used them today, especially here in the attic, where I do most of my writing. Instead the windows are open. Outside, crickets and tree frogs sing. For them it’s still summer.
Fall colors are peaking a bit more gradually than usual, thanks to the absence of frost so far this year. Whether or not the globe is warming, things are not cooling off much here.
I love it. Reminds me of North Carolina. Fall happens there too. It just comes later, lasts longer, and lacks a critical mass of maples.
Of course in a month this will all be over for sure. In two months there will be frozen slush on the ground. But for now, it’s mighty sweet.
Bonus sentiments, from the Bard himself:
That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.
In me thou seest the twilight of such day
As after sunset fadeth in the west,
Which by and by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest.
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie,
As the death-bed whereon it must expire
Consumed with that which it was nourish’d by.
This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
To love that well which thou must leave ere long.
For folks interested in what makes Steve Jobs and Apple (same thing) tick, Being Steve Jobs’ Last Boss, in the current Bloomberg Businessweek, is helpful reading. It’s an interview of John Sculley by Leander Kahney of Cultofmac.com. Sculley had been a very successful president of Pepsico when he was recruited as CEO of Apple in 1983, essentially to serve as Steve Jobs’ adult supervisor. While Sculley oversaw much growth at Apple in the following decade, mistakes were made (including the ousting of Steve), and Sculley himself was ousted after a decade on the job.
The encompassing statements:
Steve had this perspective that always started with the user’s experience; and that industrial design was an incredibly important part of that user impression. He recruited me to Apple because he believed the computer was eventually going to become a consumer product. That was an outrageous idea back in the early 1980s. He felt the computer was going to change the world, and it was going to become what he called “the bicycle for the mind.”
What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do. He’s a minimalist. I remember going into Steve’s house, and he had almost no furniture in it. He just had a picture of Einstein, whom he admired greatly, and he had a Tiffany lamp and a chair and a bed. He just didn’t believe in having lots of things around, but he was incredibly careful in what he selected.
Everything at Apple can be best understood through the lens of designing. Whether it’s designing the look and feel of the user experience, or the industrial design, or the system design, and even things like how the boards were laid out. The boards had to be beautiful in Steve’s eyes when you looked at them, even though when he created the Macintosh he made it impossible for a consumer to get in the box, because he didn’t want people tampering with anything.
The reason why I said it was a mistake to have hired me as CEO was Steve always wanted to be CEO. It would have been much more honest if the board had said, “Let’s figure out a way for him to be CEO.”
The simple fact is that Apple always was Steve’s company, even when he wasn’t there. The force that allowed Apple to survive more than a decade of bad leadership, cluelessness and constant mistakes was the legacy of Steve’s original Art. That legacy was not just an OS that was 10 years ahead of the rest of the world, but a Cause that induced a righteousness of purpose centered around a will to innovate — to perpetuate the original artistic achievements. And in Steve’s absence Apple did some righteous innovation too. Eventually, though, the flywheels lost mass and the engine wore out.
In the end, by when too many of the innovative spirts first animated by Steve had moved on to WebTV and Microsoft, all that remained was that righteousness, and Apple looked and worked like what it was: a church wracked by petty politics and a pointless yet deeply felt spirituality.
Now Steve is back, and gradually renovating his old company. He’ll do it his way, and it will once again express his Art.
These things I can guarantee about whatever Apple makes from this point forward:
- It will be original.
- It will be innovative.
- It will be exclusive.
- It will be expensive.
- It’s aesthetics will be impeccable.
- The influence of developers, even influential developers like you, will be minimal. The influence of customers and users will be held in even higher contempt.
And here we are.
Nice interview with Dan Levy of Sparksheet:
From Part I:
What opportunities does the widespread adoption of mobile smartphones present for VRM?
This is the limitless sweet spot for VRM.
Humans are mobile animals. We were not built only to sit at desks and type on machines, or even to drive cars. We were built to walk and talk before we did anything else.
This is why mobile devices at their best serve as extensions of ourselves. They enlarge our abilities to deal with the world around us, with each other, and with the organizations we relate to. This especially applies to companies we do business with.
Right now we are at what I call the “too many apps” stage of doing this. Every store, every radio station, every newspaper and magazine wants to build its own app. At this early stage in the history of mobile development we need lots and lots of experimenting and prototyping, so having so many apps (where in lots of cases one would do) is fine.
But as time goes on we’re going to want fewer apps and better ways of dealing with multiple entities. For example, we’ll want one easy way to issue a personal RFP, or to store and selectively share personal data on an as-needed basis.
We won’t want our health data in five different clouds, each with its own app. We may have it in one cloud, for example, much as most of us currently have our money in one bank. But we’ll also need for that data to be portable, and the services substitutable.
From Part II:
I want to ask you about privacy, which is an important part of the VRM discussion. We want businesses to recognize our past interactions and treat us in a personalized way, but we’re also a little creeped out when it happens. So how do you see people using VRM tools to navigate that line in a way that makes us feel safe and well served?
We need our own tools for controlling the way our data and other personal information is used. Some of these tools will be technical. Others will be legal. That means we will have tools for engagement that say right up front how we want our data used and respected. We can do this without changing any laws at all – just the way we engage.
As I said in The Data Bubble, the tide began to turn with the Wall Street Journal article series titled “What They Know,” which is about how companies gather and use data about us. More and more of us are going to be creeped out by assumptions made by marketers about what we might want.
This is also part of what I believe is an advertising bubble. Our tolerance of too much advertising is like the proverbial frog, boiling slowly. The difference is that the frog dies, while we’re going to jump out. Everything has its limits, and we will discover how much advertising we’re willing to suffer, especially as more of it gets too personal.
The holy grail of advertising for many decades has been personalization. If we know enough about a person, the theory goes, we can make perfect bull’s-eye messages for them. But this goal has several problems.
The first problem is that personal advertising is kind of an oxymoron. Advertising has always been something you do for populations, not individuals, even if ads show up in searches by individuals, and advertisers are looking for individual responses.
From the individual’s side, advertising shouldn’t be any more personal than a floor tile. You don’t want the floor tile in a public bathroom to speak into your pants.
In fact, we’ve never liked personalized advertising of the old conventional sort, such as direct mail. We see our name on the envelope and then toss it anyway, most of the time.
The second problem is the belief that it’s actually possible to have perfect information about somebody. It’s not. And where it gets close it gets creepy.
The third problem is that advertising is still guesswork.
We need it, to let lots of customers know what we’ve got. But there should also be more efficient ways for supply and demand to meet and get acquainted – ways in which, for example, individual customers eliminate guesswork by telling vendors exactly what they want. VRM is one answer to that need.
Tags: Slush OpenFirst
I just learned by Craig Smith that KCET, the flagship PBS TV station in Los Angeles, is “going rogue.” Specifically, Craig says, “KCET will be dropping its PBS affiliation at the end of the year. That means if you live in Santa Barbara and want to watch the PBS NewsHour, Tavis Smiley, Charlie Rose, Antiques Roadshow or even Sesame Street, you may be out of luck starting at the beginning of next year.”
KCET is a Los Angeles station that puts no signal at all into Santa Barbara (except though a translator on Gibraltar Peak). But it’s the nearest PBS affiliate and is therefore on the local cable system (Cox), thanks to must-carry rules.
As all those pieces point out, KCET isn’t the only source of PBS programming in the LA area. KOCE, licensed to Huntington Beach in Orange County, is another long-time PBS affiliate and promises to at least help pick up the slack. And it’s in a good position to do that. Where KOCE used to radiate from a local site in Orange County, it now also broadcasts from Mt. Wilson, which overlooks Los Angeles and is home to nearly all the area’s TV and FM stations. In fact, KOCE is actually putting out a signal that maxes at one million watts, while KCET is currently at 190,000 watts with a construction permit for 106,000 watts. This means that technically, at least, KOCE is now a bigger station. At 162,000 watts, so isKLCS, another PBS station in Los Angeles.
At least one of those others is sure to show up on cable systems in outlying areas such as Santa Barbara, bringing familiar shows to PBS audiences there. (The bihg question for KOCE is whether it can still be an Orange County station, and not morph into National/Southern California one.)
But the real story here is the death of TV as we knew it, and the birth of whatever follows.
Relatively few people actually watch TV from antennas any more. KCET, KOCE and KLCS are cable stations now. That means they’re just data streams with channel numbers, arriving at flat screens served by cable systems required to carry them.
What makes a TV station local is now content and culture, not transmitter location and power. In fact, a station won’t even need a “channel” or “channels” after the next digital transition is done. That’s the transition from cable to Internet, at the end of which all video will be either a data stream or a file transfer, as with a podcast.
All that keeps cable coherent today is the continuing perception, substantiated only by combination of regulation and set-top box design, that “TV” still exists, and choices there are limited to “channels” and program schedules. All of those are anachronisms. Living fossils. And very doomed.
KCET bailed on PBS because it didn’t want to pay whatever it took to stay affiliated with that program source. This means KCET has some faith — or at least a good idea — that Whatever Comes Next will be good enough for lots of people to watch. If we’re lucky, what’s liberated will also be liberating.
I sure hope so. Dumping PBS was a brave move by KCET. They deserve congratulations for it.
[Later...] Please read John Proffitt’s comment below. He lays out a scenario so likely yet easily denied that it has the ring of prophesy. TV is still TV, and KCET and its competitors are all TV stations. The next digital transition for the likes of KCET will indeed give us more more kinds of Ken Burns. The one that follows will bring us whatever we bring ourselves. Yes, there will still be big heads and long tails, but the game won’t be a closed one, or assume a sphinctered distribution system (which TV still is—and will still be if everything still has to run through regulated BigCos). More in my own responses and others that follow in the comments.
For bonus links, check out what KETC (not a typo and no relation), the landmark PBS station in St. Louis has been up to lately. There is lots of co-thinking out loud, including this stuff, facilitated by Robert Paterson—
- Creating a conversation on immigration (it’s also about public TV in general) with three wise guys:
- Euan Semple
- Jay Rosen
- Doc Searls
(For some reason the text here keeps reverting to an earlier version, then back to a later one, each time I edit it. Very strange. In fact, I just discovered that half this post disappeared somehow. I just restored it from Google search cache. I hope.)
You could build a shallow history of computing by looking only at which company looked like it was taking over the world at any given moment. First there was IBM, then Microsoft, then Google, and now there’s Facebook. None of them ever did take over the world, and no one company ever will.
Responding in his own Newsweek blog, Barrett Sheridan called Zuckerberg’s plans a “Play to Take Over the Entire Internet“. In TechCrunch, MG Siegler’s headline read, “I Think Facebook Just Seized Control Of The Internet“. Whether or not Facebook is that ambitious, it won’t succeed at anything other than enlarging itself. The limits to that are those of any private architecture. It can get big, but not bigger than the planet. What Facebook has built is The Great Indoors. A lot of people like going there, just like a lot of people like going to shopping malls. But Facebook is a building, not geology.
The Web is geology. It is a wide open public space on which private and public structures can be built in boundless variety. Linux is probably the most widely used building material below and within those structures. Calculating its value is pointless, because — as Eric S. Raymond made clear long ago — Linux has use value more than sale value. As useful stuff, its leverage is boundless and therefore incalculable. It will also last as long as it remains useful.
The same cannot be said of Facebook, whose value is quite calculable, and which will thrive only as long as its revenue model and its investors’ patience holds out. Both of those will be shortened by the dissatisfaction of users, which Facebook has been risking increasingly over the years.
Of course, Facebook has little choice in that matter. To rephrase The Social Network‘s poster copy, you can’t make a billion friends without making a few million enemies. And, of course, following Facebook right now is kinda necessary. A few links I just moved here from tabs on my browser:
- CNet: Facebook granted geolocation patent. Here it is: United States Patent 7,809,805Stremel, et al.October 5, 2010, Systems and methods for automatically locating web-based social network members
- Wikipedia: Facebook
- Wikipedia: Criticism of Facebook
- FT: Facebook to imporove transparency
- HuffPo: The Social Network and the Real Social Network…
- Bloomberg Businessweek: Facebook Sells Your Friends
But then there is this, by Paul Boutin in the New York Times‘ Gadgetwise blog: Facebook Now Lets You Take Your Data With You. Thanks, Mark.