January 2012

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So I’m at Micah Sifry’s Politics of the Internet class at the Kennedy School, and risk live-blogging it (taxing my multitasking abilities…)

Some questions in the midst of dialog between Micah (@Mlsif) and the class (#pol-int)…

  • Was there a $trillion “internet dividend” over the old phone system, and was it a cost to the old system?
  • Did the Internet have to happen?
  • Is the IETF‘s “rough consensus and running code” still a prevailing ethos, or methodology?
  • Is it an accident that the rough consensus above is so similar to the #Occupy methods?
  • When you add value, do you also subtract value? (And did I — or David Weinberger and I) actually say that in World of Ends?)
  • Does this new un-owned decentralized medium cause or host culture?
  • How is the Internet used differently in different societies? (Assertion: it’s not monolithic.)
  • What is possible in a world where we assume connectivity?
  • What are the major disruptive effects?
  • What is the essence of the starting point in the early connection of computers? (What is the case for the Net, and how would you make it to, say, a legislator? Or you’re in an elevator with your boss, and you want to make the case against legislating how the internet is structured?)

Topics brought up:

  • Net-heads vs. bell-heads (the Net as its transcendant protocols vs. the Net as a collection of owned and controlled networks)
  • Commercialization
  • Authentic voice
  • Before and after (what if Compuserve and AOL had won?)
  • How can we speak of a giant zero when companies and governments are being “smart” (either through government censorship or carrier limitations, including the urge to bill everything, to pick a couple of examples)

My Linux Journal collection on the topic (from a lookup of “giant zero”):

Well, I wrote down nothing from my own talk, or the Q & A following. But there are clues in the tweet stream (there’s some funky html in the following… no time to fix it, though):

dskok David Skok
 An excellent read re: the battle @dsearls was referring to. I recommend @scrawford‘s @nytimes op-Ed: nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opi… #pol-int
NoreenBowden Noreen Bowden

 @dsearls! #pol-int Death From Above – 1995 essay by John Barlow on future of internet. w2.eff.org/Misc/Publicati…
dskok David Skok

 .@dcsearls reading list: Death from above by John Perry Barlow: w2.eff.org/Misc/Publicati… #pol-int
NoreenBowdenNoreen Bowden
Stanford prof leaves to start online university. allthingsd.com/20120125/watch… #pol-int
dsearls Doc Searls
My live blog from @mlsif‘s #pol-int class: hvrd.me/xd3Iki #politics #internet
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 Tweet “+1″ if you think @MlSif should slide over 3 feet to his left or right so the classroom projector isn’t shining on his face. #pol-int
dskokDavid Skok

 Listening to @docsearls referring to the Internet Protocol Suite: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_… #pol-int
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 ”Anyone can join it and work to improve it.” @Mlsif: Is it a coincidence that #OWS and the Internet are structured so similarly? #pol-int
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 Testing live classroom Twitter feed @Mlsif‘s new @Kennedy_School course, “The Politics of the Internet.” #pol-int
dsearlsDoc Searls

 Fun to be sitting in on @Mlsif‘s #pol-int class, described here: hvrd.me/w3hCbI
 MlsifMicah Sifry
I hadn’t realized up til now just how much the IETF and its working groups resemble Occupy Wall St and its working groups. #pol-int

Enjoyed it. The class will be blogging. Look forward to reading those too.

According to this…

… the Aurora is on.

The Kp Index has hit 5, and a geomagnetic storm is on.

Here’s today’s SpaceWeather on the matter. Follow the links there.

Bear in mind that the aurora are curtains of light up to a thousand miles high. So if the auroral oval is pushed down over southern Canada (which these storms tend to do), it should still be visible far south across the United States. Current links:

Marcel Bullinga is a Dutch futurist and author of Welcome to the Future Cloud. Today I got pointed on Twitter to a Q&A with Bullinga by Aaron Saenz at SingularityHub. Interesting stuff. An excerpt:

SH: Welcome to the Future Cloud seems to be very supportive of intellectual property (IP) rights and digital rights managements (DRM). Are IP and DRM necessary to the development of a healthy future?

MB: Yes and no. The trend is twofold. We will have ironclad ways to protect our data, our virtual sources and our identities. We will wrap our virtual belongings with what I call a Cloud Seal. A seal that contains the ownership and the Terms of Use of your data. This goes way beyond something as simple and as easy-to-cheat thing as DRM.

On the other hand, more and more, we do not need control over our creations and we do not need IP protection, because we let go — voluntarily. We find other ways to earn money. Think of the startup musician who gives away his music for free in order to get his fans to visit a live concert.

The point is, in the future cloud, we need to have the choice. The choice to trade privacy for services, the choice to sell privacy for money, the choice to buy your privacy. The choice to control or to let go. For that , we need this personal dashboard. Without it, the Cloud is a new disaster.

Control over our virtual life wasn’t that important in the past. Until now, virtual life was more of a toy thing. In the next few years, virtual identity is becoming a life vest. Therefore, it is getting more and more important that we actually own our identities and our data. Right now, we do not own them. Google and Facebook do, plus all the company sites we are subscribed to. We must change this, or the future will turn into a privacy nightmare.

The dashboard turns the world upside down. It creates a bridge between any organization and you. You grant companies access to your dashboard and you control what they do with your data. Not the other way around, as is now. From the hundreds of “myvodafone” and “mygovernment” and so on into the single “mydashboard”.

This is right up many VRM alleys. One’s virtual cloud sounds a lot to me like what Phil Windley has been talking and writing about lately, calling it both a personal cloud and a personal event network (though more of the latter). In his latest blog post, Phil dives into the real-world example of “delivering flowers in a distributed event system” in which all parties are both autonomous yet interconnected in ways that the autonomous parties control. In other words, it happens inside nobody’s silo, and between each party’s cloud. A sample:


flowershop pen

In the preceding diagram, there isn’t one event system that manages the interactions between the shops and the drivers. Rather, each driver has their own personal event network, each shop has their own personal event network, and the guild has one too. The interactions aren’t simply events raised within a single event network, but rather events raised between the networks of each participant. I’ve shown some of the apps that drivers, shops, and the guilds have installed on their personal event networks, but they would each be individually managed and configured. In fact, it’s reasonable to assume that different drivers or shops might use different apps for the same purpose as long as they understood the events.

Phil concludes,

Overall, this example isn’t terribly different from the fourth-party ecommerce example I wrote about last June except that example featured hardwired connections between the shopper and the merchant rulesets. In contrast, this example uses the idea of event subscription to link merchants and customers. Event subscription takes the fourth-party example from a nice little demonstration to a conception of how VRM could work in the real-world. The diagram shown above can be partitioned to illustrate this:

flowershop partiesTogether with our ideas about how notification occurs and how personal data can be managed in personal event networks, event subscription creates a powerful system for enabling a completely new kind of interaction between vendors and customers (note that in this example, the flowershop is the customer who is negotiating for and buying delivery services from the drivers).

Now back to the Marcel Bullinga Q&A:

SH: Which technology (or branch of science) do you feel will have the biggest impact in the next fifteen years? Who do you see as the leader in the development of that technology?

MB: My pick: a small startup called Qyi.com. It is the closest thing to my vision of a personal dashboard that I have discovered so far. I met the owner, Marcel van Galen, and he convinced me that in his business model the individual owner will stay in control. This will sweep aside the Google and Facebook attitude of “company owning”. It is vital, by the way, that neither Google nor Facebook will ever buy Qyi. That is a major threat to innovation in general: big companies buying startups. It is the surest way to kill them. It makes the startup owner a millionaire and humanity a beggar.

I am sure “Qyi” is a typo, and that Marcel means Qiy, which is indeed cool. Check ‘em out.
I wanted to point out all this stuff (including the Qiy typo) in a comment on SingularityHub, but it appeared (to me at least) that one could only do that being a member (and I couldn’t see where one signed up) or by logging in through Facebook. I hate doing anything through Facebook, but I tried — and ended up being sent to the top of the page, centered on this:

I can parse some of that, but mostly I don’t want to deal with any of it. In any case, my trying to make a comment with the help of a Facebook ID was a fail.

This kind of minor ordeal (the comment gauntlet, even if one succeeds with it) is just one bit of evidence for how lame the commercial Web still is (on the whole — not blaming SingularityHub alone here), how much we remain stuck in the calf-cow world of client-server, and why we will remain stuck until making comments is as simple as creating an event that we control and other autonomous peers respect in a useful way.

In any case, that future is not far off. We’re making it today.

I was near the end of my career as a PR guy when I wrote the essay below for the January 1992 issue of Upside. Since then Upside has been erased. Some bits of it still persist on the Internet Archive, but nothing before 1996. But I did save my own draft of the piece, and put it up here, back in the mid-90s, where it has remained all but invisible. So I thought it would be fun to surface it now on the blog, on the 20th anniversary of its original publication. Here goes:

THE PROBLEM WITH PR

Toward a world beyond press releases and bogus news

By Doc Searls

There is no Pulitzer Prize for public relations. No Peabody. No Heismann. No Oscar, Emmy or Eddy. Not even a Most Valuable Flacker award. Sure, like many misunderstood professions, public relations has its official bodies, and even its degrees, awards and titles. Do you know what they are? Neither do most people who practice the profession.

The call of the flack is not a grateful one. Almost all casual references to public relations are negative. Between the last sentence and this one, I sought to confirm this by looking through a Time magazine. It took me about seven seconds to find an example: a Lance Morrow essay in which he says Serbia has “the biggest public relations problem since Pol Pot went into politics.” Since genocide is the problem in question, the public relations solution can only range from lying to cosmetics. Morrow’s remark suggests this is the full range of PR’s work. Few, I suspect, would disagree.

So PR has the biggest PR problem of all: people use it as a synonym for BS. It seems only fair to defend the profession, but there is no point to it. Common usage is impossible to correct. And frankly, there is a much smaller market for telling the truth than for shading it.

For proof, check your trash for a computer industry press release. Chances are you will read an “announcement” that was not made, for a product that was not available, with quotes by people who did not speak them, for distribution to a list of reporters who considered it junk mail. The dishonesty here is a matter of form more than content. Every press release is crafted as a news story, complete with headline, dateline, quotes and so forth. The idea is to make the story easy for editors to “insert” with little or no modification.

Yet most editors would rather insert a spider in their nose than a press release in their publication. First, no self-respecting editor would let anybody else — least of all a biased source — write a story. Second, press releases are not conceived as stories, but rather as “messages.”

It is amazing how much time, energy and money companies spend to come up with “the right message.” At this moment, thousands of staffers, consultants and agency people sit in meetings or bend over keyboards, straining to come up with perfect messages for their products and companies. All are oblivious to a fact that would be plain if they paid more attention to their market than their product.

There is no demand for messages.

There is, however, a demand for facts. To editors, messages are just clothing and make-up for emperors that are best seen naked. Editors like their subjects naked because facts are raw material for stories. Which brings up another clue that public relations tends to ignore.

Stories are about conflict.

What makes a story hot is the friction in its core. When that friction ceases, the story ends. Take the story of Apple vs. IBM. As enemies, they made great copy. As collaborators, they are boring as dirt.

The whole notion of “positive” stories is oxymoronic. Stories never begin with “happily ever after.” Happy endings may resolve problems, but they only work at the end, not the beginning. Good PR recognizes that problems are the hearts of stories, and takes advantage of that fact.

Unfortunately, bad PR not only ignores the properties of stories, but imagines that “positive” stories can be “created” by staging press conferences and other “announcement events” that are just as bogus as press releases — and just as hated by their audiences.

Columnist John Dvorak, a kind of fool killer to the PR profession, says, “So why would you want to sit in a large room full of reporters and publicly ask a question that can then be quoted by every guy in the place? It’s not the kind of material a columnist wants — something everybody is reporting. I’m always amazed when PR types are disappointed when I tell them I won’t be attending a press conference.”

So why does PR persist in practices its consumers hold in contempt?

Because PR’s consumers are not its customers. PR’s customers are companies who want to look good, and pay PR for the equivalent of clothing and cosmetics. If PR’s consumers — the press — were also its customers, you can bet the PR business would serve a much different purpose: to reveal rather than conceal, clarify rather than mystify, inform rather than mislead.

But it won’t happen. Even if PR were perfectly useful to the press, there is still the matter of “positioning” — one of PR’s favorite words. I have read just about every definition of this word since Trout & Ries coined it in 1969, and I am convinced that a “position” is nothing other than an identity. It is who you are, where you come from, and what you do for a living. Not a message about your ambitions.

That means PR does not have a very good position. It’s identity is a euphemism, or at least sounds like one. While it may “come from” good intentions, what it does for a living is not a noble thing. Just ask its consumers.

Maybe it is time to do with PR what we do with technology: make something new — something that works as an agent for understanding rather than illusion. Something that satisfies both the emperors and their subjects. God knows we’ve got the material. Our most important facts don’t need packaging, embellishment or artificial elevation. They only need to be made plain. This may not win prizes, but it will win respect.

Are we in that “world beyond” yet? If so, how far?

At the time I wrote that essay, my company was morphing from a PR agency to a marketing consultancy, mostly because I had become tired of being hired to do BS, even if the stated ambitions were more high-minded than that. Then, as the Nineties unfurled, I became tired of doing the BS that was expected of  marketing as well, especially since the Net and the Web had come along and changed the communications environment for nearly everything and everybody.

Yet both PR and marketing continued to be funded by corporate demand for better BS — even when BS could be exposed and disproven far more easily and by many more people. Persistent oblivity to the obvious was one big reason why Chris Locke, David Weinberger, Rick Levine and I co-wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto, and why much of the essay above was leveraged in the Markets are Conversations chapter of the book.

Now another decade has passed, and questions still stand. For example, Is PR still a synonym for BS? And, if not, how?

On the definition (or re-definition) front, the PRSA has floated three new definitions for PR, with the hashtag #PRDefined:

Definition No. 1:

Public relations is the management function of researching, engaging, communicating, and collaborating with stakeholders in an ethical manner to build mutually beneficial relationships and achieve results.

(Read the annotated version here.)

Definition No. 2:

Public relations is a strategic communication process that develops and maintains mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their key publics.

(Read the annotated version here.)

Definition No. 3:

Public relations is the engagement between organizations and individuals to achieve mutual understanding and realize strategic goals.

(Read the annotated version here.)

This is a serious effort, with much involvement by Phillip Sheldrake, whom I respect very much.

The main challenge, both for PR and for companies in general, is that individuals — both within companies and out in the marketplace — are going to be taking more and more of the lead in relations with the market’s supply side. Reduction in demand for BS by company brass will help that progress happen. But engagement will be the main thing. That’s why I vote for Definition No. 3, without the “realize strategic goals” clause (which is straight out of BuzzPhraser).

PR for most of its history has been less about relations with publics (a term only PR folk use, far as I know) than about relations between companies and mediators: the press, TV, radio and (more recently) “influencers” on the Web. The best people in PR and marketing have for decades been trying to move business relations in the personal direction. That is, toward the public itself, directly.

But will PR will still be PR when that happens? In other words, if somebody’s job is to help companies relate personally to customers, and to welcome customer input and leadership, what should we call that somebody’s job?

Bonus links:

Can’t lose, in a way

I grew up in New Jersey and New York, rooting for the Giants. (And, in the Namath era, the Jets too.)

Then, after 20 years in North Carolina (mostly as a college basketball fan), I lived in the Bay Area for 25 years, and rooted for the 49ers there. One daughter lives in the Bay Area, and most of my wife’s huge family lives in the Bay Area, and most of them are hard-core for the Niners. We were out there a week ago and got some great hang time watching the Niners beat the Saints.

However, I’ve worked and lived in New England for five and a half years now, and have been rooting for the Patriots here. Our fourth kid lives here too and pulls for the Pats.

One of our kids lives in Baltimore, along with both of our grandkids. Another kid lives in Maryland too. That’s our Ravens connection.

So I won’t mind too much if the Ravens beat the Pats. Very close game so far.

But I do want the Pats to win. Niners too. We’ll see how it goes.

[Later...] Pats won, on a heartbreaking field goal miss by the Ravens. Feel bad for that kicker. Also for the whole Ravens team, which I thought played better than the Pats. Would have been a good overtime game.

Now the Niners are up by seven in the rain. A Niners-Pats game would be terrific. Hope it happens.

[Later still...] Giants take it in overtime, off a Niners fumble. A hard way for the Harbaugh brothers to lose: on late errors, after well-played games.

Pats-Giants will be a good game. I’m picking in the Pats, but it’s hard not to respect the Giants after the run they’ve had late in the season. Wow.

 

Read here about Raditaz, which I hadn’t heard about before. It’s a competitor to Pandora. Some differences: unlmited skips, no ads, geo-location.

I started out by setting up three “stations,” based on three artists: Lowell George, Seldom Scene and Mike Auldridge. I’m on the Mike Auldridge station now, and guess what comes up? Dig:

Mike Auldridge 8-string swing

Not just a great Mike Auldridge album cut, but a cover by Ray Simone, my late good friend and business partner, about whom I wrote this yesterday and this last month. It’s like seeing a friendly ghost.

Anyway, some first impressions and thoughts…

  • Need an Android and iPad app [Later... See the top comment below, with better information than I had when I first wrote this.]
  • Would like integration with creative terrestrial stations like KEXP, KCRW, WMBR, WFUV, et. al. (I other words, FM still cuts it. Think symbiosis, not just competition)
  • Would like opportunity for comments with skips, thumbs up and thumbs down. A skip isn’t always a dislike, or a preference. Sometimes it’s just curiousity at work.
  • The Twitter link works well. Give us a short URL for the current song.
  • Need more genres and decades. How about the ’50s?
  • Idea: Let listeners add their own audio — to be their own DJs — for some of the tunes. Make the ability a paid premium service
  • Work with the VRM development community on EmanciPay. Hey, some of us might like to pay more per play than SoundExchange wants. If you’re interested, DM me at @dsearls or dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.
  • Add a back button.
  • Make one’s whole listening history available as personal data one can copy off and use on their own.
  • RadioInk has quotage from the CEO, Tom Brophy, from this week’s launch announcement. I’d like to find that from a link at Raditaz.com.
  • Says here, “when you create a new station, your station is automatically assigned geographical coordinates so other users can find your station in our map view or when browsed on our explore page.” That’s cool, but what if my head or heart aren’t really where I am when I create a station? I do like exploring the map, though. Listening right now to Johnny Cash from Cleveland, while I’m in Boston.
  • Integrate with Sonos.

Gotta go. But that’s a start.

Reality 2.0 was my original blog: a pile of stuff I wrote before there were blogs. All of it is old now, but some of it still rings new. Since Reality 2.0 is deep in the Searls.com basement, I’ve decided to surface some old pieces that might be interesting, for whatever reason. The one below was first written on April 16 1998, about a year before Chris Locke, Rick Levine, David Weinberger and I put up The Cluetrain Manifesto, and updated one year later to recognize Cluetrain’s successful launch on the Web that month. It was still nearly a year before Cluetrain appeared in book form, and a decade before the 10th Anniversary Edition.

Never mind that Lycos, HotBot, Tripod and WhoWhere are blasts from the past. Note instead that these are zombies that were once hot stuff, and led by CEOs that talked very much like the CEOs walking around today. Note also how little progress we’ve actually made toward Cluetrain’s ideals.

Here goes:

Listen up

“All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value! So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

— Howard Beale, in Network, by Paddy Chayevsky


Bob Davis is the CEO of Lycos, Inc., whose growing portfolio of companies (excuse me, portals) now includes Lycos, Hotbot, WhoWhere and Tripod. I’m sure Bob is a great guy. And I’m sure Lycos is a great company. A lot of people seem to like them both. And you have to admire both his ambition and his success. To witness both, read his interview with PC Week, where he predicts that the Lycos Network (the sum of all its portals) will overtake Yahoo as “#1 on the Web.”

Lycos will win, Davis says, because “We have a collection of quality properties that are segmented into best-of-breed categories, and our reach has been catapulting.”

I can speak for Hotbot, which is still my first-choice search engine; but by a shrinking margin. I often test search engines by looking for strings of text buried deep in long documents on my own site. Hotbot always won in the past. But since Lycos bought it, Hotbot has become more of a portal and less of a search tool. Its page is now a baffling mass of ads and links. And its searches find less.

In today’s test, Infoseek won. Last week, Excite won. Both found pages that Hotbot seems to have forgotten.

Why? Bob Davis gives us a good answer.

“We’re a media company,” he says. “We make our money by delivering an audience that people want to pay for.”

Note the two different species here: audience and people. And look at their qualities. One is “delivered.” The other pays. In other words, one is cargo and the other is money.

Well, I don’t care if Lycos’ stock goes to the moon and splits three times along the way. The only #1 on the Web is the same as the only #1 on the phone: the people who use it. And the time will come when people will look at portals not as sources of “satisfying experiences” (another of Davis’ lines) but as useless intermediaries between supply and demand.

 Words of Walt

You there, impotent, loose in the knees,

open your scarfed chops till I blow grit within you.

Spread your palms and lift the flaps of your pockets.

I am not to be denied. I compel.

It is time to explain myself. Let us stand up.

I know I am solid and sound.

To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow.

I know that I am august,

I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself

or be understood.

I see that the elementary laws never apologize..

Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself

“Media company” guys like Davis are still in a seller’s market for wisdom that was BS even when only the TV guys spoke it — back when it literally required the movie “Network.” That market will dry up. Why? Because we’ve been mad as hell for about hundred years, and now we don’t have to take it anymore.

Three reasons.

  1. Humanity. This is what Walt Whitman reminded us about more than a hundred years ago. We are not impotent. Media companies may call us seats and eyeballs and targets, but that’s their problem. They don’t get who we are or what we can — and will — do. And the funny thing is, they don’t get that what makes us powerful is what they think makes them powerful: the Internet. It gives us choices. Millions of them. We don’t have to settle for “channels” any more. Or “portals” that offer views of the sky through their own little windows. Or “sticky” sites that are the moral equivalent of flypaper.
  2. Demand. There never was a demand for messages, and now it shows, big time. Because the Internet is a meteor that is smacking the world of business with more force than the rock that offed the dinosaurs, and it is pushing out a tsunami of demand like nothing supply has ever seen. Businesses that welcome the swell are in for some fun surfing. Businesses that don’t are going to drown in it.
  3. Obsolescence. Even the media guys are tired of their own B.S. and are finally in the market for clues.

Alvin Toffler had it right in The Third Wave. Industry (The Second Wave) “violently split apart two aspects of our lives that had always been one… production and consumption… In so doing, it drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy, our psyches … it ripped apart the underlying unity of society, creating a way of life filled with economic tension.” Today all of us play producer roles in our professions and consumer roles in our everyday lives. This chart shows the difference (and tension) between these radically different points of view — both of which all of us hold:

Producer view
Consumer view
Metaphor Business is shipping (“loading the channel,” “moving products,” “delivering messages”) Business is shopping (“browsing,” “looking,” “bargaining,” “buying”)
Orientation Business is about moving goods from one to many (producers to consumers) Business is about buying and selling, one to one
Markets Markets are shooting ranges: consumers are “targets” Markets are markets: places to shop, buy stuff and talk to people
Relationships Primary relationshiphs are with customers, which are more often distributors & retailers rather than consumers Primary relationships are with vendors, and with other customers

These are all just clues, which are easily deniable facts. Hence a line once spoken of Apple: “the clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery.” But Apple was just an obvious offender. All of marketing itself remains clueless so long as it continues to treat customers as “eyeballs,” “targets,” “seats” and “consumers.”

For the past several months, I have been working with Rick Levine, David Weinberger and Chris Locke on a new railroad for clues: a ClueTrain.

Our goal is to burn down Marketing As Usual. Here is the logic behind the ambition:

Markets are conversations

Conversations are fire

Marketing is arson

The result is here — in what The Wall Street Journal calls “presumptuous, arrogant, and absolutely brilliant.”

Take a ride. If you like it, sign up. Feel free to set fires with it, add a few of your own, or flame the ones you don’t agree with. What matters is the conversation. We want everybody talking about this stuff. If they do, MAU is toast.

Here is my own short form of the Manifesto (inspired by Martin Luther, the long version has 95 Theses). Feel free to commit arson with (or to) any of these points as well.


Ten facts about highly effective markets:

  1. Markets are conversations. None of the other metaphors for markets — bulls, bears, battlefields, arenas, streets or invisible hands — does full justice to the social nature of markets. Real market conversations are social. They happen between human beings. Not between senders and receivers, shooters and targets, advertisers and demographics.
  2. The first markets were markets. They were real places that thrived at the crossroads of cultures. They didn’t need a market model, because they were the model market. More than religion, war or family, markets were real places where communities came together. They weren’t just where sellers did business with buyers. They were the place where everybody got together to hang out, talk, tell stories and learn interesting stuff about each other and the larger world.
  3. Markets are more about demand than supply. The term “market” comes from the latin mercere, which means “to buy.” Even a modern market is called a “shopping center” rather than a “selling center.” Bottom line: every market has more buyers than sellers. And the buyers have the money.
  4. Human voices trump robotic ones. Real voices are honest, open, natural, uncontrived. Every identity that speaks has a voice. We know each other by how we sound. That goes for companies and markets as well as people. When a voice is full of shit, we all know it — whether the voice tells us “your call is important to us” or that a Buick is better than a Mercedes.
  5. The real market leaders are people whose minds and hands are worn by the work they do. And it has been that way ever since our ancestors’ authority was expressed by surnames that labeled their occupations — names like Hunter, Weaver, Fisher and Smith. In modern parlance, the most knowledge and the best expertise is found at the “point of practice:” That’s where most of the work gets done.
  6. Markets are made by real people. Not by surreal abstractions that insult customers by calling them “targets,” “seats,” “audiences,” “demographics” and “eyeballs” — all synonyms for consumers, which Jerry Michalski of Sociate calls “brainless gullets who live only to gulp products and expel cash.”
  7. Business is not a conveyor belt that runs from production to consumption. Our goods are more than “content” that we “package” and “move” by “loading” them into a “channel” and “address” for “delivery.” The business that matters most is about shopping, not shipping. And the people who run it are the customers and the people who talk to them.
  8. Mass markets have the same intelligence as germ populations. Their virtues are appetite and reproduction. They grow by contagion. Which is why nobody wants to admit belonging to one.
  9. There is no demand for messages. To get what this means, imagine what would happen if mute buttons on remote controls delivered “we don’t want to hear this” messages directly back to advertisers.
  10. Most advertising is unaccountable. Or worse, it’s useless. An old advertising saying goes, “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” But even this is a lie. Nearly all advertising is wasted. Even the most accountable form of advertising — the junk mail we euphemistically call “direct marketing” — counts a 3% response rate as a success. No wonder most of us sort our mail over the trash can. Fairfax Cone, who co-founded Foote Cone & Belding many decades ago, said “Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all it is.” With the Net you cango see somebody. More importantly, they can see you. More importantly than that, you can both talk to each other. And make real markets again.

 

Hassle House poster panel

That’s what many thought when they first saw the poster for Hassle House, in Durham, North Carolina, back in ’76 or so. As soon as any of the posters went up, they disappeared, becoming instant collectors’ items. At the time, all I wanted was to hire the cartoonist who did it, so he could illustrate some of the ads I was creating for a local audio shop. That cartoonist was the polymath Ray Simone, who went on to become the creative leader of Hodskins Simone & Searls (HS&S), the advertising agency I co-founded with Ray and David Hodskins, in 1978, and which thrived in North Carolina and Silicon Valley for the next two decades.

When I put up Remembering Ray, which (among much else) expressed my wish to re-surface the Hassle House poster, Jay Cunningham said in a comment that he could scan his copy. Which he did, and the results are here. In another comment Rob Gringle gives more of the back-story than I had known at the time.

Before HS&S, David and Ray were both with a small “mutilple media studio” called Solar Plexus Enterprises, which grew out of the Duke Media Center. Also there was Helen Hudson Whiting, who was a first-rate epicure as well as the fastest and most capable typesetter I had ever known. I just looked Helen up and found this nice write-up from Duke Magazine Books:

In Helen’s Kitchen: A Philosophy of Food


By Helen Hudson Whiting. Regulator Bookshop, 2000. 241 pages. $17.95.

In the text below is this:

Helen Hudson Whiting ’75 was, among other things, a bookseller and co-owner of Durham’s Regulator Bookshop, a reader, a writer, and an amateur chef. For nineteen years, she wrote food commentaries for Triangle area publications: first for WDBS-FM’s The Guide, and then for The Independent.

In Helen’s Kitchen, organized posthumously and edited by her friends and colleagues, features an eclectic selection of these columns, as well as remembrances from people who knew Whiting and cherished her enterprising, adventurous culinary attitude and her zest for pleasure and her keen intellect.

I worked with Ray, Helen and David at Solar Plexus before we founded HS&S, and Helen continued to work alongside the new agency, doing most of our typesetting. So she became a good friend as well.

But that’s not my point here. My point is that ours was a special community, and at the beginning of many things, although we didn’t know it at the time.

At Ray’s memorial gathering in Pacifica last Sunday, Steve Tulsky made that point beautifully. He said our artsy-hippie community in Durham and Chapel Hill back then was a special group. Much was born there, in music, art, performance, writing, publishing, business, events, and other fields. The Independent, modeled by The Guide, is still going strong. So is the Regulator Bookshop. WDBS is long gone. So are WQDR and WRDU (as what they were then, anyway), which carried forward the radio torch WDBS lit when it went on in 1971. But their spirits survive in Good Radio everywhere. The Festival for the Eno, still going strong, began as the Folklife Festival, in 1976, on the country’s bicentennial. WDBS was highly involved, as the station broadcasting the many musical acts playing there. (Perhaps some old tapes still survive.)

While I was working with David, Ray and Helen at Solar Plexus in ’77, I also worked with the Psychical Research Foundation, which studied scientifically evidence for life after death, and was located at Duke University. The PRF spun off of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, led by J. B. Rhine, who launched the whole parapsychology field out of research he conducted at Duke in the 1930. Among the many decendents of that work is the Institute of Noetic Sciences, headed by Marilyn Schlitz, another member of our community back in the decade.

Here’s another weird connection. One of the central institutions of that time in Durham was the Durham Bulls single-A baseball team, which played at an old athletic field surrounded by brick tobacco warehouses. It was a special team at a special time and place. You might remember the movie about it.

Anyway, I just wanted to bring back to the foreground some of what we’ve lost or forgotten from that wonderful formative period in so many lives, and in so many ways.

Subway car interior

When I was young, New York subways were dirty, noisy and with little risk of improvement. But, even if the maps weren’t readable (as with this 1972 example), there were lots of them.

Now the subways are much nicer, on the whole, and being improved. But there is now a paucity of maps. In fact, I notice an inverse relationship between the number of maps and the number and size of ads in subways and on subway cars. Some of the cars, such as the one above, have an all-advertising decor, in addition to the usual cards in frames.

Since loud panhandlers are also common past the threshold of annoyance in subway cars, I found myself yesterday tempted to stand up and say,

“EXCUSE ME, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN. I’M NOT HERE TO ASK FOR YOUR MONEY, BUT JUST TO DRAW YOUR ATTENTION TO A SHORTAGE OF SUBWAY MAPS AND AN ABUNDANCE OF ADVERTISING. THANK YOU VERY MUCH AND HAVE A GOOD DAY.”

… and then sit down. Who knows? Might help.

Today I’m in solidarity with Web publishers everywhere joining the fight against new laws that are bad for business — and everything else — on the Internet.

I made my case in If you hate big government, fight SOPA. A vigorous dialog followed in the comments under that. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Nobody who opposes Big Government and favors degregulation should favor the Stop Online Piracy Act, better known as SOPA, or H.R. 3261. It’s a big new can of worms that will cripple use of the Net, slow innovation on it, clog the courts with lawsuits, employ litigators in perpetuity and deliver copyright maximalists in the “content” business a hollow victory for the ages.

I also said this:

SOPA is a test for principle for members of Congress. If you wish to save the Internet, vote against it. If you wish to fight Big Government, vote against it. If you wish to protect friends in the “content” production and distribution business at extreme cost to every other business in the world, vote for it. If you care more about a few businesses you can name and nothing about all the rest of them — which will be whiplashed by the unintended consequences of a bill that limits what can be done on the Internet while not comprehending the Internet at all — vote for it.

This is the pro-business case. There are other cases, but I don’t see many people making the pure business one, so that’s why I took the business angle.

The best summary case I’ve read since then is this one from the EFF.

The best detailed legal case (for and against) is A close look at the Stop Online Piracy Act bill, by Jonathan @Zittrain. The original, from early December, is here.

Not finally, here are a pile of links from Zemanta:

Oh, and the U.S. Supreme Court just make it cool for any former copyright holder to pull their free’d works out of the public domain. The vote was 6-2, with Kagan recused and Breyer and Alito dissenting. Lyle Denniston in the SCOTUS blog:

In a historic ruling on Congress’s power to give authors and composers monopoly power over their creations, the Supreme Court on Tuesday broadly upheld the national legislature’s authority to withdraw works from the public domain and put them back under a copyright shield.   While the ruling at several points stressed that it was a narrow embrace of Congress’s authority simply to harmonize U.S. law with the practice of other nations, the decision’s treatment of works that had entered the public domain in the U.S. was a far more sweeping outcome.

No one, the Court said flatly, obtains any personal right under the Constitution to copy or perform a work just because it has come out from under earlier copyright protection, so no one can object if copyright is later restored.  Any legal rights that exist belong only to the author or composer, the ruling said.  If anyone wants to resume the use or performance of a work after it regains copyright, they must pay for the privilege, the decision made clear.

IMHO, the U.S. has become devoutly propertarian, even at the expense of opportunity to create fresh property from borrowed and remixed works in the public domain. One more way the public domain, and its friendliness to markets, is widely misunderstood.

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I got to know Judith Burton when she was still Judith Clarke and Senior VP Corporate Marketing for Novell, in 1987. Novell had just bought a company called CXI, which had been a client of Hodskins Simone & Searls, the Palo Alto advertising agency in which I was a partner. By that time HS&S had come to specialize in communications technology clients, and the chance to do something with Novell as well seemed more than opportune, since it was clear that Novell was smarter about comms than just about anybody at that time.

So David Hodskins came up with the idea of putting together a “connectivity consortium” made up of Novell and several other HS&S clients. In seeing connectivity as a hot topic on the horizon, David was way ahead of everybody’s time. But that made it perfect for the two most forward-thinking minds at Novell: Judith and Craig Burton, who would later become her husband.

I didn’t know Craig before I pitched Judith on the connectivity consortium idea — and she took the bait. She brought Craig to our first meeting, and the two of them together blew my mind. Judith saw no boundaries to what could be done with marketing, and Craig saw the Big Picture of connectivity better than anybody I had ever met, before or since.

In the short term, over subsequent conversations and meetings, I saw how it was that Novell changed the networking conversation so quickly and completely. It was during these learnings that I came up with the “markets are conversations” line that became the first thesis of The Cluetrain Manifesto, more than a decade later. Because Novell was busy proving it, more than any other company in technology at that time.

Just a few years earlier, the network conversation was mostly about “pipes and protocols.” Data Communications and Communications Week were the leading trade pubs in the space, fat with stories and ads that pushed and compared the virtues of Ethernet vs. Token Ring and bus vs. ring vs. star topologies. Every vendor sold whole networks from the wires on up, including everything that ran on those wires, file servers, network interface cards in the backs of PCs, and applications. If you bought a Sytek or a Corvus network, you couldn’t use anybody else’s hardware, software or wiring. Every vendor had its own silo (or, in some cases, such as IBM’s, an assortment of silos). And it occurred to almost nobody that there should be a choice other than silos and lock-ins.

It was Craig Burton’s idea make Novell’s NetWare a “Network Operating System” (NOS) that could run on everybody’s hardware and wiring. NetWare thus became a new platform for network services that could run everywhere, starting with group file storage (the first local “cloud,” you might say), and printing.

But nobody talked about networking on Novell’s terms until Judith Clarke literally invented whole new venues for network conversations. These included a magazine (LAN Times), a trade show (NetWorld), a reseller channel and a class of networking professionals (Certified Netware Engineers, or CNEs). By the end of the Eighties the world talked about networking in terms of capabilities and services rather than of pipes and protocols.

One move that stands out for me was Novell’s decision to drop its grandfathered position at the center of the Comdex show floor (this was when Comdex was one of the biggest trade shows on Earth) and rent ballroom space next door on the ground floor of the Las Vegas Hilton. So rather than show stuff off on the floor with everybody else, Novell set up a storefront and business meeting space right where the traffic was thickest. And it worked.

As Craig put it to me a few days ago, ”She changed the industry in the way she approached people and ideas, taking a podunk company in Provo and making it look like it owned the planet — which, in many ways, it did. And she unselfishly gave credit to everybody else all along the way.”

Novell began to slide after Judith and Craig left the company, in 1989. With the Burtons gone, Novell forgot where it came from. While Judith and Craig liked to zig where Microsoft zagged, and to embrace Microsoft’s — and everybody else’s — platforms and technologies, Novell CEO Ray Noorda preferred to attack Microsoft head-on, by acquiring already-lame competitors (remember WordPerfect?) and failing over and over to make a dent in Microsoft’s hull. It was sad to watch.

For reasons I forget, the connectivity consortium didn’t happen, but I got to be close friends of both Judith and Craig, and have remained so ever since. I also consulted the couple after they left Novell to co-found The Burton Group with Jamie Lewis, another brilliant Novell veteran.

A few years later Judith and Craig moved on to consulting on their own. (Under Jamie’s continued leadership The Burton Group was sold to Gartner a couple years ago.) Craig especially has been a steady source of original thinking on countless subjects. Judith sometimes participated in projects with Craig, but mostly focused on philanthropic and civic projects, and time with family. (Here is her Linkedin profile.)

On Tuesday of this week she collapsed at her home, and died later in the hospital. Her death is a shock to everybody. Even though she hit a few medical bumps this past year, she seemed to be doing better. And she was just 66. Being 64 myself, I consider that age way too young for life’s end.

My heart aches for Craig, and for Judith’s kids and grandkids, whom she adored. In my own memory, her amazing blue eyes, bright smile and sweet voice persist. She was a beautiful woman, as well as a smart, creative and loving one. The picture above gives just a hint toward all of that.

It does bother me a bit that her death has not made bigger news. If she had passed during her heyday at Novell, the news would have been huge. But then, the news ain’t what it used to be, and will continue to evolve away from the old top-down few-to-many systems. The Internet is everybody’s connectivity consortium now.

We didn’t end up needing Data Communications, Comms Week, LAN Times, NetWorld, Comdex or countless other once-sturdy institutions that were obsoleted by something Craig and Judith both saw coming long before it arrived: the ability of anybody to connect with anybody, outside of any one company’s system for trapping customers and users.

Judith’s work back in the decade helped make the future in which we now all live and thrive. We’ll miss her, but we won’t miss each other. To Judith, all of us were the people networks were for. And now we have that, regardless of how hard any company or government works to lock us back into silos or limit what we can do in them. Had she been less loving, I doubt she would have seen that, or worked so well at what she did for all of us.

[Later...] Here is an email from Jamie Lewis that fell through the cracks when it arrived (apologies for that):

I first met Judith in 1984, when I was working for a publication for PC retailers. I was writing about PC networking, so I inevitably met both her and Craig in my coverage of Novell. I started getting to know Judith in 1985, when the magazine I was working for folded, and Novell offered me a job in the corporate marketing department.

As many people know, there’s a very long list of things Judith did in making Novell the company it was in its hey day. She founded the LAN Times, a corporate newspaper devoted to networking. (Yes, it sounds obvious today. But in 1983, not so much. And there are more than a few technology writers still working today that earned their chops writing for the LAN Times.) She created the NetWorld tradeshow. (Again, obvious or even antiquated in today’s context, but then, it was the first of its kind.) She built a PR and marketing machine, complete with relentless press tours, events, and other efforts to get the NetWare word out.

The list goes on. But that list is just that—a list. While most, if not all, of the stuff on that list was important, innovative, and impactful, it really doesn’t do the woman justice to simply enumerate things on a list. She was more than the sum of the items on that list.

If you look the word “dynamic” up in the dictionary, you’ll find Judith’s picture there. When she walked into the room, the room changed. She commanded attention. She ran the show. She exuded authority and confidence. This could rub some people the wrong way, but it is what made her successful. That she accomplished what she did in a time and place that wasn’t exactly ideal for a career-oriented woman says a lot about her resolve.

And that gets to the most important thing I learned from her, something that I think was at the heart of why Novell did so well during her tenure. Simply put, it’s this: Have the balls to act like who or what you want to become. If you wait until you are that to start acting like that, you’ll never be that.

It’s clear how this approach worked so well for Novell. When I joined, Novell had about 250 employees. Its revenues were microscopic in comparison to the “big guys” – IBM, Digital Equipment and, later, Microsoft – that it was challenging while simultaneously doing battle with a host of similarly sized companies on the other.

But I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say, “Wow, I thought Novell was a lot bigger than that,” when they heard how many employees we had, or what annual revenues were at the time. Novell in every way looked and behaved like it belonged in the big leagues—like a much bigger company—due in large part to Judith’s skills in marketing and communications. It’s a mistake to underestimate how important this was to Novell’s success.

The fact that NetWare was a great product certainly helped. But we all know that the information technology market is littered with the corpses of companies that had great technology but didn’t know how to market it or sell it. Judith’s ability to position Novell played no small part in ensuring the success of what was a very good product. Because Novell acted like it belonged in the big leagues, it did belong. This raised the customers’ comfort level, making it easier for them to bet on a small company for such an important product. It also forced much larger companies, such as DEC and IBM, to treat Novell as a peer.

I can distinctly remember when I realized how important this was. We were in final competition with DEC for a very large deal with a very large company. A Fortune 200 company. If we got the business, it would be a major win, a win at the “corporate standard” level, the kind of win that would be a major milestone. During the final stages of the competition, DEC issued a 30-page white paper that we later subtitled “why NetWare causes cancer in rats”. The sales person on the account phoned me in an absolute panic. The paper was full of misinformation, she said, and she was afraid the customer was going to believe it. I told her that we first needed to thank DEC for establishing Novell as a legitimate competitor in the eyes of the customer. We would respond to the paper, I said, but would be careful not to spoil the big favor DEC had just done for us. We did respond, but in the high road fashion that Judith (and Craig) established as our modus operandi, the approach that drove my initial answer to the call. And we won the business.

That positioning also made Novell look superior in comparison to the companies that were much closer to it in size and revenue. 3Com was our nemesis, the one company that everyone in our company loved to hate. Yes, 3Com was hardware to Novell’s software, which is why NetWare prevailed. But NetWare also succeeded because Judith was so good at positioning Novell, establishing software as the issue in the market and forcing 3Com (and later Microsoft and IBM) to fight on Novell’s terms.

There were, of course, a very large number of people responsible for making Novell what it was. It’s also nice to be on the right side of the issue, and there’s no question that Novell and NetWare were in the right place at the right time. But the attitude, the positioning, and the messaging that was Novell’s essence during that amazing run in the 80s and early 90s, that was all Judith. Novell wouldn’t have been the same company without her efforts. That win over DEC, for example, wouldn’t have happened without the months and years of relentless and effective marketing that preceded it. And I don’t think the correlation between Judith’s personality and Novell’s was any coincidence. Novell had the audacity to act like it belonged because Judith did.

Years later, at Burton Group, whenever I heard people say they thought we were bigger than we actually were, I never failed to think of Judith. We carried that same attitude, a willingness to believe and act like we belonged. I learned a great deal from Judith, but it’s that lesson that had the biggest impact. She and Craig took a chance on a journalism major that had never written a line of code, and for that I will be forever grateful. She inspired and drove those around her to be better, to be what they aspired to be. I think I can speak for all of the people who knew and worked with her when I say she’ll be missed, and that we appreciate what she did for us, and for the industry she played such a large part in creating.

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Leveraging Hal

Hal Crowther remains my favorite essayist, regardless of whether or not I agree with him. (And on some things I don’t.) Like Hunter S. Thompson, Hal’s writing is beyond enviable and his characterizations often over the top. Here’s some of his latest, addressed to the #Occupy movement:

“Go get a bath right after you get a job,” snarls Newt Gingrich, an influence-peddler who’s had no legitimate job for 15 years and exists only to give the word “hypocrisy” a human face.

My sympathies are obvious. What you in the tents can accomplish remains to be seen. But what I think I see, through the media fog of polarized America, is the return of the full-fledged idealists (as opposed to single-issue idealists) who seemed to go underground around 1980, possibly because the mass media abandoned them during the mudslide of self-celebration that began with Reaganism and culminated in Facebook.

I say God bless them, and God will if he still has any investment in the United States of America. The Goliath they challenge has crushed a thousand Davids. The good news is that “the kids” are right on target. Their diagnosis is bull’s-eye correct, and the patient is critical. For this country to survive, it must find saner ways to pursue and multiply wealth, and find them quickly. The cannibal capitalism that produced a Goldman Sachs and a Bernie Madoff is subhuman and obscene. There’s no form of government more inherently offensive than plutocracy—only theocracy comes close. When a citizen comes of age in a plutocracy, he has no moral choice but to slay Pluto or die trying.

The history of American plutocracy is shockingly simple. The Industrial Revolution fueled the metamorphosis of capitalism into a ravenous monster that devoured resources, landscapes and human beings on a scale no wars or natural disasters had ever approached. The wealth generated by this devastation created colossal corporations and financial operations far more powerful than elected governments; long ago the individuals who controlled these giants learned that it was cost-effective to buy up the politicians and turn governments into virtual subsidiaries. Along with the unprecedented wealth of the new ruling class came two protective myths, transparently false but widely accepted: one, that the feeble, compliant federal government was somehow the enemy of free enterprise; two, the outrageous trickle-down theory, which urged us to choke the rich with riches in the hope that they would disgorge a few crumbs for the peasants.

Investment banks and hedge funds were designed as perfect engines for multiplying the assets of the affluent. The Wall Street elite of the 20th century—Masters of the Universe, Tom Wolfe called them—flew so far above the laws of the land that they began to imagine themselves exempt from all laws, including economics, physics and averages. This magical thinking came to a head with a wave of death-defying speculation in mortgage-backed securities, and quite suddenly, in 2008, the walls came tumbling down, exposing a phantom economy based on nothing but arrogance and sleight of hand.

… In a recent German study that established a “social justice” index (poverty levels, education, health care, income equality) for countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States ranked 27th among 31 nations, outstripping only Greece, Turkey, Chile and Mexico. Meanwhile, also, Wall Street banks on taxpayer life support continued to pay out billions in bonuses, monstrously inflated CEO salaries showed no signs of shrinking and the Republican Party campaigned for more of the bloody same, and a stronger dose of it: no taxes, no regulations, no unions.

This is beyond unacceptable, much closer to unspeakable, like an economic survey comparing the French court at Versailles to the sans-culottes.

…a slate of demands from Occupy Chicago struck me as savvy and dead-on: repeal tax cuts and close loopholes for the rich, prosecute the Wall Street felons of 2008, separate commercial lending from investment banking, rein in lobbyists, eliminate corporate personhood and overturn the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision of 2010.

This last demand is perhaps the most critical. The decision that defined campaign contributions as free speech, delivered by the court’s 5-4 Republican majority, removed the last legal obstacles to a wallet-based political system that leaves the 1 percent, or one-hundredth of 1 percent, in unchallenged control of our fortunes and our public lives. It opened the floodgates for a multibillion-dollar campaign to defeat President Obama, and any candidates who might resist corporate feudalism, in 2012.

In the words of the late Molly Ivins, “We either get the money out of politics or we lose the democracy.”

Molly’s gone, but Hal lives. I just wish he wrote more often. Here’s the archive.

Bonus links:

Long Valley from Mammoth

For the last three days I’ve been skiing at Mammoth Mountain, an 11,059-foot volcano built to its current shape between 110,000 and 57,000 years ago. It is still active. The mountain’s last eruption of rock and lava was about 1200 years ago, essentially in the geologic present. Lethal gasses burp out of fissures, and hot springs push steam through snow. Up to 150 tons of carbon dioxide seep out of the mountain — enough to produce a necklace of “tree kills” around its base. In 2006, three members of the Mammoth Mountain ski patrol were killed by gasses from a volcanic vent.

Mammoth overlooks the Long Valley Caldera on the east side, which is where most of the ski runs are. That’s it in the photo above, which I shot yesterday from the summit. About 760,000 years ago, a short tick before the geologic present, a supervolcano stood where Long Valley is now.Long Valley Caldera It was obliterated in one of the largest explosions in the known history of the Earth. Over 150 cubic miles of material were blown out, so violently and completely that what remained was a wide deep crater. Lava flows spread for dozens of miles, while ash and debris spread from the Pacific to Kansas. The image on the right (via Wikipedia and courtesy of Roy A. Bailey, USGS Volcanologist with the USGS in Menlo Park) is a cross section of the view above.

To put this in perspective, Krakatoa blew 5 cubic miles into the sky. Mount St. Helens blew out less than one cubic mile. Long Valley was a VEI7 event. Only VEI8 events are bigger. Perhaps the biggest risk of a similar event is the Yellowstone caldera, which sits over a hot spot that has already produced four cataclysms exceeding the Long Valley one. Only two other events have been larger than any of those, and the largest was in Colorado. All were VEI8 events. Here’s a list of those, from Wikipedia, in decreasing order of material displaced:

  1. La Garita CalderaColorado, United States—Source of the enormous eruption of the Fish Canyon Tuff ~27.8 million years ago (~5,000 km³) This was in
  2. Lake TobaSumatraIndonesia—~74,000 years ago (~2,800 km³). The Lake Toba eruption plunged the Earth into a volcanic winter, eradicating an estimated 60%[11][12][13][14] of the human population (although humans managed to survive even in the vicinity of the volcano[15]).
  3. Island Park CalderaHuckleberry Ridge TuffIdaho/Wyoming, United States, Yellowstone hotspot—2.1 million years ago (2,500 km³)[8]
  4. Atana Ignimbrite, Pacana Caldera, northern Chile—4 million years ago (2,500 km³)[9]
  5. Whakamaru, Taupo Volcanic Zone, North Island, New Zealand—Whakamaru Ignimbrite/Mount Curl Tephra ~254,000 years ago (1,200–2,000 km³)[7]
  6. Heise volcanic field, Kilgore Tuff, Idaho, United States, Yellowstone hotspot—4.5 million years ago (1,800 km³).[10]
  7. Heise volcanic field, Blacktail Tuff, Idaho, United States, Yellowstone hotspot—6.6 million years ago (1,500 km³).[10]
  8. Lake Taupo, Taupo Volcanic ZoneNorth IslandNew ZealandOruanui eruption ~26,500 years ago (~1,170 km³)
  9. Cerro GalanCatamarca ProvinceArgentina—2.5 million years ago (1,050 km³)
  10. Yellowstone CalderaLava Creek TuffWyomingUnited StatesYellowstone hotspot—640,000 years ago (1,000 km³)[8]

Following that is a list of  VEI7 events, including Long Valley:

Over the last 3/4 million years, the Long Valley Caldera has been decorated by many smaller volcanic eruptions and formations (including Mammoth), as well as by glacial advances and retreats and gradual erosion. The result looks as innocent as any other valley filled with cones and old tuff — though less innocent than Yellowstone, whose charms are mostly those of hot water.

Still, knowing the provenance of Long Valley and Mammoth gives the observer reason to pause and wonder — not only at the hugeness of Earth’s formative events, but of our species’ oblivity to them.

Bonus links: