May 2012

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[This post was read by Bitly folks, who reached out appreciatively. The thread continues with a follow-up post here.]

Last night huge thunderstorms moved across New Hampshire, and later across Boston. NOAA radarThere was even a tornado watch (the red outline north of Keene, in the radar image on the left, from the NOAA.) So I thought I’d tweet that.

It has been my practice for quite a while, when tweeting, to use the Bit.ly extension in my Chrome browser.

But then came a surprise. The little Bitly image had changed, and the pop-down word balloon, rather than giving me the shortlink I had expected, told me that Bit.ly was improving. I thought, “Oooh, shit.” Because there was nothing wrong with the old Bit.ly. It was simple and straightforward. You could either copy the shortlink from a window, or know it was on your clipboard after you clicked on the “copy” button, and it said “copied.”

The new and improved Bitly looks like this:

WTF? Ya gotta work to get this many things wrong. My personal list, from the top:

  1. I don’t know what a bitmark is and I don’t want to know. I want a shortlink.
  2. My Twitter handle is there, with my face. Why?
  3. Does the blue “x” close the whole thing or just my twitter handle?
  4. Why is it telling me the URL I want shortened? I see that one already. I want the short bit.ly URL.
  5. Why is it telling me the title of the page? I know that too.
  6. Why would I add a note? And to what? Is this a kind of Delicious move? I hardly ever used Delicious because it was too complicated. Now this is too.
  7. Why “Public?”
  8. What’s the “bundle” I would add this to?
  9. “CANCEL” what? Is something already in progress I don’t know about? (In this brief but intense Age of Facebook, when sites and services — e.g. Facebook Connect — silently provide means for advertisers and third parties to follow your scent like a cloud of flies, that’s a good bet.)
  10. What is Save+ for? To what? Why?
  11. What is “Save and share…” and what’s the difference between that and save? Why would I want a shortlink if not to share it on something that requires it, like Twitter?
  12. What are the symbols next to “Public” and “Save and share…”?
  13. And if, as I suspect, the only way I can get to the shortlink is to hit “Save and share…”, why make me go through that extra click — or, for that matter, ford the raging river of kruft above it to get there?

That was as far as I got before I had to go out to an event in the evening; and when I came back the storm (or something) had knocked my ISP’s Net connection off. So this morning, naturally (given all the above), there’s a tsunami of un-likes at https://twitter.com/#!/search/bitly, as well as out in the long-form blogosphere.

In URL Shortener Bitly Announces Big Update (Unfortunately, It Sucks, And Everybody Hates It), Shea Bennett of All Twitter at MediaBistro writes,

Yesterday, URL shortener of choice Bitly, which has generated more than 25 billion shortened links since inception, announced a change to their platform. A big change. New Bitly, they’re calling it.

Great. There’s only one small problem: everybody, and I mean everybody*, hates it.

Why? Because it’s taken what was a really useful and fast service into something that is bloated with unnecessary add-ons and buzzword crap, and made a one-click share into something that now takes at least three clicks, and is really, really confusing.

In the good old days, which we’ll refer to from now on as BNB (Before New Bitly), shortening links on Bitly was a breeze. A pleasure. It was fast, responsive and if you used an extension you could crunch down the URL of any webpage in a matter of seconds. If you had a Bitly account, you could then share that shortened link straight to Twitter via Bitly using the title of your choice.

So simple. So effective. So perfect.

And so gone.

The Bitly announcement is long: too long for a URL-shortening company. But this excerpt compresses the meat of it:

So what’s new? Now you can…

  • Easily save, share and discover links — they’re called bitmarks, like bookmarks.
  • Instantly search your saved bitmarks.
  • Curate groups of bitmarks into bundles and collaborate on bundles with friends.
  • Make any bitmark or bundle private or public.
  • See what friends are sharing across multiple social networks, all in one place.
  • Save and share links from anywhere with our new bitmarklet, Chrome extension and iPhone app.

It doesn’t stop here. We have big plans for bitly, and we want to build this neighborhood with our community. So get in there, start bitmarking and please tell us what you think!

So they want to be Delicious. And they want to play the social game. Or, as Samantha Murphy in Mashable puts it,

Bit.ly — which has more than 25 billion links saved since 2008 and gets about 300 million link-clicks each day — launched a redesign to not only expand its presence but give users more curation power. Among the most notable of the new tools is a profile page and what the company is calling “bitmarks,” which are similar to bookmarks.

I just checked Dave Winer, who, as I expected, weighs in with some words from the wise:

Based on what I see in their new product release it looks like they’re taking a step toward competing with Twitter. But they didn’t do it in an easy to use way. And the new product is not well user-tested. It looks like they barely used it themselves before turning it on for all the users. Oy. Not a good way to pivot.

Here’s some free advice, what I would do if I were them.

  1.  Immediately restore the old interface, exactly as it was before the transition.
  2. Concurrently, issue a roadmap that goes as follows, so everyone knows where this thing is going.
  3. Take a few weeks to incorporate the huge amount of feedback they’ve gotten and streamline the new UI.
  4. Instead of launching it at bitly.com, launch it at newbetaworksserver.com

The list goes on, and it’s exactly what they should do. At the very least, they should take Step #1. It’s the only way to restore faith with users.

Meanwhile, three additional points.

First is that URL shortening has always been a fail in respect to DNS — the Domain Name System, which was invented for ARPANET in 1982, and has matured as into hardened infrastructure over the decades since. (It’s essentially NEA: Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, and Anybody can improve it.) On the other hand, URL shortening, as we know it so far, puts resolving the shortened URL in private hands, and those hands can (and will) change. That’s exactly what we’re seeing here with Bitly, and what we tend to see with all private infrastructures that serves public purposes.

Second is that Bitly, like Facebook, Twitter, Google and other advertising-supported businesses with millions (or billions) of users that pay nothing to those companies for the services performed, has a problem that has been familiar to commercial broadcasting since it was born in the 1920s: its consumers and its customers are different populations, and they are financially accountable only to the customers. Not to the consumers. In Bitly’s case its customers, so far, are enterprises that pay to have customized, or branded, short URLs. Could they make their consumers into customers as well, with a freemium model? Possible. I’d recommend it, because it would make the company financially accountable to those users.

Third is that people want their own curation power. The Cloud is a good and necessary form of utility infrastructure. But it’s a vulnerable place to have one’s own digital goods. True, everything, even the physical world, is ephemeral in the long run. But digital ephemera can be wiped out in an instant. We should have at least some sense of control over “what’s mine.” Bitly shortlinks are not really “mine” to begin with. As Yahoo showed with Delicious, commercially curated links are especially vulnerable. And, after this last move, Bitly has given us no new reason to trust them. And many new reasons not to.

So, will I use the new Bitly? Let’s look at what comes up when I hit the “Save and share…” button for Dave’s piece:

This is no less f’d than the other one. Let’s run it down.

  1. Okay, I’ve done the Delicious thing, I guess, if this is saved somewhere. Curation achieved, maybe. Guess I have to go Bitly.com to see. I’ll do that later.
  2. At first I thought the saved link (or whatever) might be under my @ handle on the upper right, but that just brings up a “sign out” option.
  3. I have no intention of connecting to Facebook.
  4. When I click on the blue bar with the checkmark in it, changes happen in the window, but I’m not sure what they are, other than getting un-checked.
  5. I have no intention of emailing it to anybody in this case. And actually, when I email a link, I tend to avoid shortlinks, because they obscure the source. And I’m also not dealing with a 140-character space limit. (Hmm… while we’re on short spaces subject, why not offer texting through SMS?)
  6. Did something get tweeted when I hit the blue bar? I dunno. Checked with Twitter. Nothing there, so guess not.
  7. I see “Shortlink will be appended to tweet,” but does that mean I tweet something if I put it in the box? Guess so, but not sure.
  8. I see the “Copy” next to the almost-illegible shortlink in the blue button. Okay, guess that’s what I should use. But I don’t yet because I want to understand the whole thing first.
  9. What does “NEVERMIND. DON’T SHARE” mean, except as a rebuke? Translated from the passive-aggressive, it says, “You don’t want to play this game? Okay, then fuck off.”
  10. The symbol in the orange “Share to” is barely recognizable as Twitter’s. I think. Not sure. I just clicked on it, and something came up briefly then went away.

When I clicked on it again, I got this:

I don’t want to try again, because I’m not sure it failed. So I check Twitter, and see this:

Damn! I didn’t want that!

This tweet has no context other than me and Bitly. Worse, it looks like a spam. Or like I’d been phished or hijacked in some way. At no time in the history of my blogging or tweeting have I ever uttered a single URL, let alone a shortened one. Or, if I did, I’m sure the context was clear.

This isn’t even a “copy.” It should say “tweet,” if it were to have any meaning at all. I guess I should have written something in the box above. But would that have worked? I dunno.

So I just went through the routine again, this time hitting the blue button that says COPY in orange. I did that for Dave’s post, and this one after I published it, and the result is this normal-form tweet: https://twitter.com/dsearls/status/207856808012951553

It is also now clear to me that the box is for writing a tweet to which the shortlink will be appended. But usually I don’t like to append links, but to work them into the text of the tweet.

Bottom lines:

  1. As Rebecca Greenfield says in The Atlantic Wire, Bit.ly Isn’t Really a Link Shortener Any More. Too bad.
  2. It still works, but the new routine now takes three clicks rather than two, and is far more complicated. The curation does work,, for now. When I go to Bitly.com, below “Welcome to the new bitly,” I see “1–10 OF 900 BITMARKS.” I can also search them. That’s cool. But I’d rather have something in my own personal cloud. And I’d pay Bitly, or anybody who values my independence, for helping me build that.

Mark these words: The next trend is toward independence for individuals, whether they be users or customers. Yet another new dependency is not what anybody wants. Dependencies like Bitly’s new one are a problem, not a solution. Bitly, Facebook, Google and Twitter making their APIs work together does not solve the dependency problem, any more than federations among plantations makes slaves free.

The end-to-end nature of the Net promised independence in the first place. When client-server became calf-cow in 1995, we sold out that promise, and we’ve been selling it out, more and more, ever since.

Now we need to take it back. Hats off to Bitly for making that abundantly clear.

When Underwood typewriterour kid started using a computer in the seventh grade, I got him a copy of Mavis Beacon so he’d learn how to touch-type.

I didn’t see him using the program, but I did see him typing. So I asked him what was up with that. He said “I looked at it a couple of weeks ago. It was good.” I asked, “Did you learn to touch type from it?” “Sure,” he said. “It has tests. I used them. I did fine.”

So I asked him to show me. He did. First try: 30 words per minute. Second, 45 wpm.

I took typing in the seventh grade ,which ran from September 1959 to June 1960. work keyboardIt was a year-long class, one period per day. My typewriter at school was an early-Fifties Underwood Rhythm-Touch like the one on the left. For practice at home my parents got me a WWII-era Underwood that looked exactly like the code machine.

I got an F in my first semester of typing class, because I made a lot of mistakes. I got a D in my second semester, for the same reason. For what it’s worth, I doubt anybody in that class has done more typing since then than I have.  Or have worn out more keyboards. Such as the one on the right, which I’m using now.

My handwriting, long neglected, looks about as good.

Some old habits died hard. Here they are:

  • Returning the carriage after the bell five spaces before the end of a line.
  • Wanting to set tabs the old-fashioned way, feeling the physical insertion, literally, of a metal tab into the carriage path.
  • Double-spacing between sentences. Not doing this was my most common error, back in typing class.
  • Hyphenating long words at the ends of lines.
  • Indenting the first line of a paragraph, with a tab five spaces in.

For years I hated word processing without hyphens, and double-returns between paragraphs with no indents. But after awhile I became accustomed to that new norm, and came to appreciate its benefits as well. (For example, when copying and pasting a bunch of text and not having to take out the hyphens and indents that only made sense in the old layout.) I also taught myself to restore my original proclivity to single spaces between sentences.

As for typing speed, I have no idea how fast I am now. What I love about not knowing is that it truly doesn’t matter.

Making the rounds is , a killer essay by in MIT Technology Review. The gist:

At the heart of the Internet business is one of the great business fallacies of our time: that the Web, with all its targeting abilities, can be a more efficient, and hence more profitable, advertising medium than traditional media. Facebook, with its 900 million users, valuation of around $100 billion, and the bulk of its business in traditional display advertising, is now at the heart of the heart of the fallacy.

The daily and stubborn reality for everybody building businesses on the strength of Web advertising is that the value of digital ads decreases every quarter, a consequence of their simultaneous ineffectiveness and efficiency. The nature of people’s behavior on the Web and of how they interact with advertising, as well as the character of those ads themselves and their inability to command real attention, has meant a marked decline in advertising’s impact.

This is the first time I have read anything from a major media writer (and Michael is very much that — in fact I believe he is the best in the biz) that is in full agreement with The Advertising Bubble, my chapter on this very subject in The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge. A sample:

One might think all this personalized advertising must be pretty good, or it wouldn’t be such a hot new business category. But that’s only if one ignores the bubbly nature of the craze, or the negative demand on the receiving end for most of advertising’s goods.  In fact, the results of personalized advertising, so far, have been lousy for actual persons…

Tracking and “personalizing”—the current frontier of online advertising—probe the limits of tolerance. While harvesting mountains of data about individuals and signaling nothing obvious about their methods, tracking and personalizing together ditch one of the few noble virtues to which advertising at its best aspires: respect for the prospect’s privacy and integrity, which has long included a default assumption of anonymity.

Ask any celebrity about the price of fame and they’ll tell you: it’s anonymity. This wouldn’t be a Faustian bargain (or a bargain at all) if anonymity did not have real worth. Tracking, filtering and personalizing advertising all compromise our anonymity, even if no PII (Personally Identifiable Information) is collected.  Even if these systems don’t know us by name, their hands are still in our pants…

The distance between what tracking does and what users want, expect and intend is so extreme that backlash is inevitable. The only question is how much it will damage a business that is vulnerable in the first place.

The first section of the book opens with a retrospective view of the present from a some point in the near future — say, five or ten years out. A relevant sample:

After the social network crash of 2013, when it became clear that neither friendship nor sociability were adequately defined or managed through proprietary and contained systems (no matter how large they might be), individuals began to assert their independence, and to zero-base their social networking using their own tools, and asserting their own policies regarding engagement.

Customers now manage relationships in their own ways, using standardized tools that embrace the complexities of relationship—including needs for privacy (and, in some cases, anonymity). Thus loyalty to vendors now has genuine meaning, and goes as deep as either party cares to go. In some (perhaps most) cases this isn’t very deep, while in others it can get quite involved.

When I first wrote that, I said 2012. But I decided that was too aggressive, and went with the following year. Maybe I was right in the first place. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, here’s what Michael says about the utopian exhaust Facebook and its “ecosystem” are smoking:

Well, it does have all this data. The company knows so much about so many people that its executives are sure that the knowledge must have value (see “You Are the Ad,” by Robert D. Hof, May/June 2011).

If you’re inside the Facebook galaxy (a constellation that includes an ever-expanding cloud of associated ventures) there is endless chatter about a near-utopian (but often quasi-legal or demi-ethical) new medium of marketing. “If we just … if only … when we will …” goes the conversation. If, for instance, frequent-flyer programs and travel destinations actually knew when you were thinking about planning a trip. Really we know what people are thinking about—sometimes before they know! If a marketer could identify the person who has the most influence on you … If a marketer could introduce you to someone who would relay the marketer’s message … get it? No ads, just friends! My God!

But so far, the sweeping, basic, transformative, and simple way to connect buyer to seller and then get out of the way eludes Facebook.

The buyer is a person. That person does not require either a social network or absolutely-informed guesswork to know who she is or what she wants to buy. Obviously advertising can help. It always has. But totally personalized advertising is icky and oxymoronic. And, after half a decade or more at the business of making maximally-personalized ads, the main result is what Michael calls “the desultory ticky-tacky kind that litters the right side of people’s Facebook profiles.”

That’s one of mine on the right. It couldn’t be more wasted and wrong. Let’s take it from the top.

First, Robert Scoble is an old friend and a good guy. But I couldn’t disagree with him more on the subject of Facebook and the alleged virtues of the fully followed life. (Go to this Gillmor Gang, starting about an hour in, to see Robert and I go at it about this.) Clearly Facebook doesn’t know about that. Nor does any advertiser, I would bet. In any case, Robert likes so many things that his up-thumb has no value to me.

I have no interest in Social Referrals, and if Facebook followed what I’ve written on the subject of “social” (as defined by Facebook and its marketing cohorts), it wouldn’t imagine I would be interested in extole.com.

I’m 64, but married. “Boyfriend wanted” is a low-rent fail as well as an insult.

I get the old yearbook pitch every time I go on Facebook, which is as infrequently as I possibly can. (There are people I can only reach that way, which is why I bother.) I don’t even need to click on the the ad to discover that, as I suspected, 60s.yearbookarchives.com is a front for the scammy Classmates.com.

I’ve never been fly flishing, and haven’t fished since I was a kid, many decades ago.

And I don’t want more credit cards, of any kind, regardless of Scoble’s position on Capital One.

In a subchapter of  titled “A Bad Theory of You,”  calls both Facebook’s and Google’s data-based assumptions about us “pretty poor representations of who we are, in part because there is no one set of data that describes who we are.” He also says that at best they put us into the  — a “place where something is lifelike but not convincingly alive, and it gives people the creeps.” But what you see on the right isn’t the best, and it’s not uncanny. It’s typical, and it sucks, even if it does bring Facebook a few $billion per year in click-through-based revenues.

The amazing thing here is that business keeps trying to improve advertising — and always by making it more personal — as if that’s the only way we can get to Michael’s “sweeping, basic, transformative, and simple way to connect buyer to seller and then get out of the way.” Three problems here:

  1. By its nature advertising — especially “brand” advertising — is not personal.
  2. Making advertising personal changes it into something else that is often less welcome.
  3. There are better ways to get to achieve Michael’s objective — ways that start on the buyer’s side, rather than the seller’s.

Don Marti, former Editor-in-Chief of Linux Journal and a collaborator on the advertising chapters in my book, nails the first two problems in a pair of posts. In the first, Ad targeting – better is worse? he says,

Now, as targeting for online advertising gets more and more accurate, the signal is getting lost. On the web, how do you tell a massive campaign from a well-targeted campaign? And if you can’t spot the “waste,” how do you pick out the signal?

I’m thinking about this problem especially from an IT point of view. Much of the value of an IT product is network value, and economics of scale mean that a product with massive adoption can have much higher ROI than a niche product…. So, better targeting means that online advertising carries less signal. You could be part of the niche on which your vendor is dumping its last batch of a “boat anchor” product. This is kind of a paradox: the better online advertising is, the less valuable it is. Companies that want to send a signal are going to have to find a less fake-out-able medium.

In the second, Perfectly targeted advertising would be perfectly worthless, which he wrote in response to Michael’s essay, he adds this:

The more targeted that advertising is, the less effective that it is. Internet technology can be more efficient at targeting, but the closer it gets to perfectly tracking users, the less profitable it has to become.

The profits are in advertising that informs, entertains, or creates a spectacle—because that’s what sends a signal. Targeting is a dead end. Maybe “Do Not Track” will save online advertising from itself.

John Battelle, who is both a first-rate journalist and a leader in the online advertising industry, says this in Facebook’s real question: What’s the native model?:

Facebook makes 82% of its money by selling targeted display advertising – boxes on the top and right side of the site (it’s recently added ads at logout, and in newsfeeds). Not a particularly unique model on its face, but certainly unique underneath: Because Facebook knows so much about each person on its service, it can target in ways Google and others can only dream about. Over the years, Facebook has added new advertising products based on the unique identity, interest, and relationship data it owns: Advertisers can incorporate the fact that a friend of a friend “likes” a product, for example. Or they can incorporate their own marketing content into their ads, a practice known as “conversational marketing” that I’ve been on about for seven or so years (for more on that, see my post Conversational Marketing Is Hot – Again. Thanks Facebook!).

But as many have pointed out, Facebook’s approach to advertising has a problem: People don’t (yet) come to Facebook with the intention of consuming quality content (as they do with media sites), or finding an answer to a question (as they do at Google search). Yet Facebook’s ad system combines both those models – it employs a display ad unit (the foundation of brand-driven media sites) as well as a sophisticated ad-buying platform that’d be familiar to anyone who’s ever used Google AdWords.

I’m not sure how many advertisers use Facebook, but it’s probably a fair guess to say the number approaches or crosses the hundreds of thousands. That’s about how many used Overture and Google a decade ago. The big question is simply this: Do those Facebook ads work as well or better than other approaches? If the answer is yes, the question of valuation is rather moot. If the answer is no…Facebook’s got some work to do.

But Facebook isn’t the real issue here. Working only the sell side of the marketplace is the issue. It’s now time to work the buy side.

The simple fact is that we need to start equipping buyers with their own tools for connecting with sellers, and for engaging in respectful and productive ways. That is, to improve the ability of demand to drive supply, and not to constantly goose up supply to drive demand, and failing 99.x% of the time.

This is an old imperative.

In , which Chris Locke, David Weinberger, Rick Levine and I wrote in 1999, we laid into business — and marketing in particular — for failing to grok the fact that in networked markets, which the Internet gave us, individuals should lead, rather than just follow. So, since business failed to get Cluetrain’s message, I started in mid-2006 at Harvard’s Berkman Center. The idea was to foster development of tools that make customers both independent of vendors, and better able to engage with vendors. That is, for demand to drive supply, personally. (VRM stands for .)

Imagine being able to:

  • name your own terms of service
  • define for yourself what loyalty is, what stores you are loyal to, and how
  • be able to gather and examine your own data
  • advertise (or “intentcast”) your own needs in an anonymous and secure way
  • manage your own relationships with all the vendors and other organizations you deal with
  • … and to do all that either on your own or with the help of that work for you rather than for sellers (as most third parties do)

Today there are dozens of VRM developers working at all that stuff and more — to open floodgates of economic possibility when demand drives supply personally, rather than “socially” as part of some ad-funded Web giant’s wet dream. (And socially in the genuine sense, in which each of us knows who our friends, relatives and other associates really are, and in what contexts our actual social connections apply.) I report on those, and the huge implications of their work, in The Intention Economy.

Here’s the thing, and why now is the time to point this out: most of those developers have a hell of a time getting laid by VCs, which on the whole have their heads stuck in a of the Web, and can’t imagine a way to improve the marketplace that does not require breeding yet another cow, or creating yet another ranch for dependent customers. Maybe now that the bloom is off Facebook’s rose, and the Filter Bubble is ready to burst, they can start looking at possibilities over here on the demand side.

So this post is an appeal to investors. Start thinking outside the cow, and outside the ranch. If you truly believe in free markets, then start believing in free customers, and in the development projects that make them not only free, but able to drive sales at a 100% rate, and to form relationships that are worthy of the word.

Bonus links:

HT to John Salvador, for pointing to Life in the Vast Lane, where I kinda predicted some of the above in 2008.

sendWith The Story of Send, Google follows a single email as it travels through wires, under streets, through an ISP’s high-rise, in and out of Google’s various gear, including one of its vast data centers, and finally up a tower and out via a telco’s data system into a smartphone. What happens in the data center is explained in a video that lasts more than seven minutes, with a sped-up voice-over like you hear in disclaimers at the ends of ads for car dealers and pharmaceuticals. There are lots of other promotional side-trips like that one, along the way.

What it doesn’t tell is the real story of email as we use it today. That story starts with RFC 821, by Jon Postel, posted in August 1982. It begins,

The objective of Simple Mail Transfer Protocol (SMTP) is to transfer mail reliably and efficiently.
SMTP is independent of the particular transmission subsystem and requires only a reliable ordered data stream channel.

What makes SMTP so useful and universal today is that it intentionally transcends any intermediator’s silo or walled garden. It simply assumes a connection. So do the POP (RFC918 and IMAP (RFC1064) protocols (used at the receiving end), for which the relevant RFCs were issued in 1984 and 1988.

Those protocols ended up winning — for all of us — after it became clear that their simplicity, and their oblivity to the parochial interests of network owners and operators, were what we really needed. That was in 1995. In the meantime, a pile of proprietary and corporate email systems competed in a losing battle with each other. Compuserve, Prodigy, MCI Mail, AppleLink, and a host of others were all obsoleted by the obvious advantage of having nobody own the means by which we simply send electronic mail to each other.

The main intended message of The Story of Send is a green one: Google saves energy. A secondary message is that Google is a big nice company that treats your mail well and has good security practices. But the main unintended message — or at least the one that comes across — is that email is a big complicated business, and you need big complicated companies to do it right. It also ignores the real story, which is about a handful of simple protocol.

Two voices in the wilderness of corporate rah-rah that ought to be heard on this are Phil Windley and Bob Frankston.

Phil has a terrific blog post called Ways, not Places, in which he makes a good straightforward case for understanding the Internet in term of ways (protocols) rather than places (e.g. domains, with locations, addresses, and the rest). Because it’s the ways that make everything else possible.

In his essay on Ambient Connectivity, Bob says, “The nuanced definition of Ambient Connectivity is that we can view connectivity as infrastructure but we need to take responsibility if we find ourselves disconnected. This is in contrast with today’s telecom industry in which we’ve shifted responsibility to providers and can only assume connectivity where a third party has subscribed to a service and there is an unbroken chain of providers all the way to your destination.” The latter is the case that Google makes. Its also the case argued by every bill we get from our phone and cable companies.

But we need to keep hearing the all-but-silent argument for the Net and its protocols. Because without those we wouldn’t have the rest.

 

 

 

Independent commercial alternative rock radio in Boston is heading to the grave. The Boston Phoenix‘ WFNX has been sold to Clear Channel, which — says the press release — will expand its “footprint” in Boston. (Bambi vs. Godzilla comes to mind.) Boston Business Journal suggests the signal’s fate will be to carry country music or Spanish programming. But it doesn’t matter. FNX is done.  In Thanks For The Memories You’re Fired, Radio INK puts the end this way:

Independently owned WFNX has been competing in the Boston market for nearly 30 years. Until yesterday that is, when Stephen Mindich notified his staff he was selling to Clear Channel. He then fired 17 of the 21 employees. Mindich said, “Despite its celebrated history, its cutting edge programming , its tradition of breaking new music, its ardent fans among listeners and advertisers, for some time it has been difficult to sustain the station  — especially since the start of the Great Recession.”

NECN reports,

The sale also means 17 of the 21 people working at FNX were suddenly let go Wednesday. The remaining three full-timers and one part-timer will keep the station on air until the sale goes through in next couple of months.

WFNX Program Director Paul Driscoll said, “I think of it as a two month Irish wake, so we’re going to send this legendary station off the right way.”

That will mean celebrating the station’s roots and its 29 year run – one that had a hand in bringing groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam to wider audiences.

Driscoll said, “The community, the artists that we’ve developed relationships with, the listeners, it’s more than just a spot on the FM dial.”

No doubt the change has been coming for a long time. WBCN went away (actually to an HD subchannel, which is pretty much the same thing) a couple years back after 41 years as one of the country’s landmark rock stations. FNX was always more alternative than BCN. WBOS and WAAF still fly the rock flags; but there was only one FNX, and now it’s headed out the door.

Since coming to Boston in ’06 I’ve been surprised to see FNX continuing to make it. The ratings in both March and April had dropped to nil (literally, nada). You can’t sell advertising with that.

The signal is also sub-second-tier. Licensed to Lynn as a Class A station (maximum of 3000 watts at 300 feet above average terrain), it radiates with 1700 watts at 627 feet (equivalent to 3000 watts, trading watts for height), from atop One Financial Center, but with far less power in most directions other than north:

Meanwhile, most competing Boston commercial stations are Class B: 50,000 watts at 500 feet, or the equivalent. (Most radiate with fewer watts at higher elevations, on either the Prudential Building or out at Boston’s antenna farm in Needham, where a collection of towers exceed 1000 feet in height.)

Presumably WFEX, which simulcasts WFNX from Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, will also go to Clear Channel. (See the engineering and ownership details here.)

There’s a lot of tweeting on the matter. The most poignant so far is this one from David Bernstein (@dbernstein):

Why #WFNX mattered (photo taken by @CarlyCarioli) http://pic.twitter.com/dIjOjsfT

Make that minus seven now.

[Later...] The sale price is $14.5 million.

Okay, my foursquare experiment is over. I won, briefly…

4sq… and, about 24 hours later (the second screenshot) I was back in the pack somewhere.

So now I’m done playing the leaderboard game. I’d like to say it was fun, and maybe it was, in the same way a hamster in a cage has fun running in its wheel. (Hey, there’s a little hamster in all of us. Ever tried to “win” in traffic? Same game.)

The experiment was to see what it would take to reach #1 on the leaderboard, if only for a minute. The answer was a lot of work. For each check-in I needed to:

  1. Wake up the phone
  2. Find foursquare (for me it’s not on the front page of apps)
  3. Tap the app
  4. Dismiss the “Rate foursquare” pop-over window
  5. Tap on the green “Check In” button
  6. Wait (sometimes for many seconds) while it loads its list of best guesses and actual locations
  7. Click on the location on the list (or type it in, if it’s not there)
  8. Click on the green “Check In Here” button
  9. Take a picture and/or write something in the “What are you up to?” window
  10. Click on the green “Check In” button, again.

And to do that a lot. For example, at Harvard Square a few days ago, I checked in at the Harvard Coop, Radio Shack, Peets Coffee, the Cemetery, Cambridge Common and the Square itself. For just those six places we’re talking about 60 pokes on the phone. (Okay, some of the time I start at #5. But it’s still a lot of pokes.)

To make sure I had the poke count right, I just did it again, here at the Berkman Center. Now my phone says, “Okay. We’ve got you @ Berkman Center for Internet & Society. You’ve been here 45 times.”

Actually, I’ve been here hundreds of times. I only checked in forty-five of those times. The difference matters. What foursquare says in that statement is, If you haven’t checked in on foursquare, you haven’t really been there. Which is delusional. But then, delusion is part of the game. Being mayor of the 77 bus (which I have been, a number of times) confers no real-world advantages to me at all. I even showed a driver once that I was mayor of the bus. She looked at my phone, then at me, like I was a nut case. (And, from her perspective, I surely was.) Being the mayor of some food joint might win you a discount or a freebie if the establishment is so inclined. But in most cases the establishment knows squat about foursquare. Or, if it does know something, squat might be what it does.

That was my surreal experience after checking in at a Brookstone at Logan Airport last October. I coudn’t miss the large placard there…

… and asked the kid at the cash register what the “special” would be. He replied, “Oh, that’s just a promotion.” At the other end of the flight, while transferring between concourses in Dallas-Fort Worth, I saw this ad on the tram:

On my way to the next plane I checked into as many places as I could, and found no “great deals.” (Here is my whole mini-saga of foursquare screenshots.)

But, credit where due. An American Express promo that I ran across a number of times at SXSW in Austin earlier this year provided $10 off purchases every place it ran, which was more than a few. (Screenshots start here.) We also recently got a free upgrade from Fox, the car rental company, by checking in with foursquare. And I agree with Jon Mitchell of RWW, in What Is the Point of… Foursquare?, that the service has one big plus:

Isn’t Foursquare just for spamming Twitter and Facebook with what Geoloqi’s Amber Case calls “geoloquacious” noise about your trip to the grocery store? It can be, and for too many users, it is.

But turn all that off. Forget the annoying badges and mayorships, too. There’s one useful thing at which Foursquare is very, very good: recommendations.

So I’ll keep it going for that, and for notifying friends on foursquare that I’m in town, and am interested in getting together. (This has worked exactly once, by the way, with the ever-alert Steve Gillmor.)

But still, you might ask, why have I bothered all this time?

Well, I started using foursquare because I like new stuff and I’ve always been fascinated by the Quantified Self (QS) thing, especially around self-tracking, which I thought might also have a VRM benefits, somewhere down the line. I’m also a born geographer with a near absolute sense of where I am. Even when I’m flying in the stratosphere, I like to know where I am and where I’ve been, especially if photography is also involved. Alas, you can’t get online in the air with most planes. But I’ve still kept up with foursquare on the ground, patiently waiting for it to evolve past the hamster-wheel stage.

But the strange thing is, foursquare hasn’t evolved much at all, given the 3+ years they’ve been around. The UI was no bargain to begin with, and still isn’t. For example, you shouldn’t need to check in always in real time. There should be a setup that keeps track of where you’ve been, without the special effort on your part. If there are specials or whatever, provide alerts for those, on an opt-in basis.

But evolution is planned, in a big way. Foursquare Joins the Coupon Craze, a story by Spencer E. Ante last week in The Wall Street Journal, begins with this:

Foursquare doesn’t want to be another popular—but unprofitable—social network. Its new plan to make money? Personalized coupons.

The company, which lets users alert their friends to their location by “checking in” via smartphone from coffee shops, bars and other locations, revealed for the first time that it plans to let merchants buy special placement for promotions of personalized local offers in July in a redesigned version of its app. All users will be able to see the specials, but must check into the venue to redeem them.

“We are building software that’s able to drive new customers and repeat visitors to local businesses,” said Foursquare co-founder and Chief Executive Dennis Crowley.

This tells me my job with foursquare is to be “driven” like a calf into a local business. Of course, this has been the assumption from the start. But I had hoped that somewhere along the way foursquare could also evolve into a true QS app, yielding lat-lon and other helpful information for those (like me) who care about that kind of thing. (And, to be fair, maybe that kind of thing actually is available, through the foursquare API. I saw a Singly app once that suggested as much.) Hey, I would pay for an app that kept track of where I’ve been and what I’ve done, and made  that data available to me in ways I can use.

Meanwhile, there is one big piece of learning that I don’t think anybody has their head fully wrapped around, and that’s the willingness of people to go to all this work, starting with installing the app in the first place.

Back in the early days of ProjectVRM, it was taken as fact amongst developers that anything requiring a user install was problematic. Now most of us have phones with dozens or hundreds of apps or browser extensions that we’ve installed ourselves. Of course Apple and the browser makers have made that kind of thing easier, but that’s not my point. My point is that the conventional wisdom of today could be old-hat a year from now. We can cite example after example of people doing things which, in the past, it was said they were unlikely to do.

Enticed by Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald (aka @DutchCowboy) in this tweet, I fired up Layar (an AR — Augmented Reality — browser from the company by that name, which he co-founded), and aimed it at the cover of my new book. What followed is chronicled in this Flickr set. Start here, then follow the links at the end of each caption.

It’s a fun way to see what linky stuff might be found with any image you can visit in the world. Right now its purposes are mostly commercial. But I’d love to see the technology applied to questions we might have in the much larger non-commercial world, answering questions like…

  • What kind of flower is this?
  • What breed of dog is this?
  • What’s the name of this bridge?
  • What’s the history behind this building?
  • This crystal is produced by what chemical compound?
  • Show me older photos of this same scene
  • What is the geology beneath this scene?
  • Where else can I buy this?
  • What are all the news stories about this?
  • Who made this, and what went into it?
  • Show me the standard information sharing label for this

The biggest one for me — and maybe one I could actually work on — is this:

  • What am I seeing out the window of this airplane?

Given that planes are moving, usually at speeds of hundreds of miles or kilometers per hour, this might be hard to do. But what about after the fact? I’d love it if my own captions (or better ones) to photos such as these…

… could pop up when somebody looks at them, whether on a browser, a phone or any other device.

Just one more way I keep learning that it’s still very early in whatever it is we’re making of the digital world that coexists with the physical one.

According to The Cost of Reading Privacy Policies, a paper by Aleecia M. McDonald and Information Sharing LabelLorrie Faith Cranor of Carnegie Mellon University, “national opportunity cost for just the time to read policies is on the order of $781 billion.”

This is based on reading 1462 policies with a median length of 2518 words, taking about ten minutes per policies, adding up to 76 work days per year, or a total of 53.8 billion hours for the U.S. population reading those polcies. This number, observes Alexis Madrigal, senior editor of The Atlantic, exceeds the GDP of Florida.

So, Joe Andrieu and Iain Henderson think, why not eliminate the cost of that work by adopting a Standard Information Sharing Label — like the nutrition label you see on foods of all kinds? So they’ve started a Kickstarter project to do exactly that. Their funding goal, $12,500, is, by my calculations, 1/00000001600512th of the opportunity costs we already run up every year.

Joe and Iain are already quite a bit downstream, having worked for some time on the Information Sharing Workgroup at Kantara, where they are already underway with a draft specification for the label.

So give the a hand, in the form of a pledge.

 

That’s the Navajo name for what everybody else calls Shiprock. It’s a rock spire that rises out of the desert southeast of Four Corners in the far northwestern corner of New Mexico. Elevation at the peak is 7,177 feet, with a prominence of 1,583 feet.

Technically, it’s what geologists call a monadnock, an inselberg, or a volcanic neck or plug. By whatever name, it’s what remains of a volcano that was active 27 million years ago, in the Oligocene epoch, one among many volcanic perforations of what later became the American southwest. Radiating in three directions from the center are long volcanic dikes,: walls of intrusive rock that formed were once, like Shiprock, lava. From the air they give Shiprock the look of a giant symbol.

I’ve been wanting to shoot pictures of Shiprock for years, but flights east to and from from LAX tend to go a bit north of there, and since I like to shoot out the shady (usually northern) side of the plane, I’ve tended to miss it. But my flight from LAX to BOS on Sunday took an unusually southern route, and I got a good view, though it was hazy.

Got lots of other good stuff too, but it was easy to put this one up first.

[Later...] Just found I’ve shot it before, from the north side, in 2008. See here.

One nice thing about blogging is that you get to correct what you write.

Tonight I put up a long post that I had second, third, fourth and fifth and additional thoughts about, and finally decided to kill.

I do that a lot, actually. Just not usually with stuff I’ve already put up. But I did it this time.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll have another go at the same subject. Meanwhile I’ll grab some much-needed sleep.

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