August 2012

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Just discovered YouReputation while checking on what Drazen Pantic has been up to. (I met Drazen a decade ago while researching public Wi-Fi in New York for Linux Journal.) YouReputation is Drazen’s “viral search” engine. Here is the top result in a search for “John Hagel”:

Thu Aug 23 06:33:50 2012
Viral Probability: 0.7092
Sentiment: 31% POSITIVE0% NEGATIVE

Demographics prediction: 45-60
Pinterest / John Hagel’s followers
Jul 22, 2012 … John Hagel. I live and work on the edge – the views are breathtaking, the experiences deep and satisfying and the learning is limitless.
Viral Impact:  Sentiment: POSITIVE

Here are additional searches for Scoble, Robert Scoble, Jonathan Zittrain, IdentityWoman, Kaliya Hamlin, Stewart Brand, danah boyd, Drazen and myself. The one thing I love about this is that it says I fall in the same demographic as Scoble (18-30), and that both Scoble and I appear younger to Drazen’s algorighm than Robert Scoble (30-45). A few weeks back, on a Gillmor Gang, after getting some age-ist flack from Robert, I yelled back at him (like the juvenile I still am), “I’ve been young a lot longer than you have!” Stewart Brand, older than me in years, also comes in at 18-30.

Drazen is a mathematician as well as a hacker, which I’m sure is a big reason YouReputation exists. I just hope he doesn’t use these findings to tweak the results. Keep me young, okay?

If posts seem a bit infrequent here (I went more than half a month between the last two posts), it’s because I’ve been busy elsewhere. One of those other places is The Well, the deep, durable and original (in several senses) online community. There Jon Lebkowsky has convened an Inkwell conversation between myself and all comers that you can read and join here. Most of what happens on The Well is a discussion among members. But Inkwell is open to everybody. Dive in.

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Nothing has creeped me out more lately than reading HTML5 – The Catalyst for Network as a Service? by Michael Crossey of Aepona, in Telco 2.0. His topic: NaaS, or Network as a Service. Makes me think, If the network is just a service, is it still the network? And, If the service can only come from phone and cable companies, what benefits does that prevent for everybody else? And, Is the cable modem already a body-snatching pod for the Net?

Background: telcos and cablecos — what we call “carriers,” and the industry calls “operators” — are hounded by what they call “over the top,” or OTT (of their old closed phone and cable TV systems). Everything that makes you, app developers and content producers independent of telcos and cablecos is OTT.  NaaS, as Crossey explains it, is a way for the telcos and cablecos to put the genie of OTT independence back inside the bottle of carrier control.

As I see it, the free and open Internet, a generative horizontal development that likely has produced more positive economic externalities than any other in the history of civilization, is at risk of being upstaged and then quietly strangled by “services” — including the Net itself — that can only come from centralized and silo’d carriers. Vertical integration, bottom to top.

Here is a compressed excerpt:

NaaS is a manifestation of the 2-sided business model described by Telco 2.0, in which the Telco’s network, contextual, informational and commercial assets are exposed as APIs to organizations such as enterprises, ISVs, content providers and application developers. These APIs are then used to create additional functionality within those organizations’ applications and services, which in turn enables them to differentiate their offerings, improve productivity and customer service, open new payment channels, and ultimately expand their addressable market…

Unlike native OS application development, HTML5 (like previous versions of HTML) is fundamentally based on a client-server programming paradigm. In its simplest manifestation, an HTML client (for example, a desktop web browser) acts only as the presentation layer for the application or service: the application/service itself runs on a web server, which services multiple clients…

This client-server paradigm of HTML5 lends itself extremely well to Network as a Service, since NaaS is itself based on the model of applications/services “calling” network API services on-demand, using the same types of HTTP requests and responses that are used between the client-side and server-side of HTML5-based apps…

This contrasts with the native app model: many native applications are designed to run locally on the device…

…another developing feature of HTML5 is its ability to access device capabilities, such as accelerometers, GPS functions, cameras and so on. This will eventually allow HTML5-based applications to be endowed with the same level of functionality as native applications…

However, the commercial potential for HTML5 applications will be maximized by combining device-side capabilities with network-side services provided by the Telco, rather than relying solely on the device side.

Take location-based services as an example. Network-derived location…can locate any device whether GPS-enabled or not, and can operate without user intervention or needing an app to be running. Moreover, the developer can “write once” on the server-side to call the network APIs, versus having to write towards different handset and OS implementations.

Of course there are many other network-side features and capabilities that can be built into HTML5 applications … examples include rich user context (data connection type, roaming status, zonal presence), customer profile information (identity, tariff/data plan, age/gender), advanced communications capabilities (multi-party/multi-media conferencing, instant messaging, network Quality of Service control) and of course Payments (for in-application billing and subscription services)…

Today, Telcos are rightly seeing the emergence of HTML5 as the pre-eminent platform for future mobile application development as an opportunity to regain some of the ground they have lost to the OTT players over the past 5 years… HTML5 can become a significant demand driver for Network as a Service, providing the catalyst for a huge variety of cross-platform business and consumer app developers to embed the Telco’s core network capabilities within their applications, and allowing the operators to finally realize the full potential of the “2-sided business model” vision put forward by Telco 2.0.

I don’t know if the telcos and cablecos are savvy enough to do what Crossey recommends. (Telco 2.0 has been lecturing them for years on the two sided business model, but I don’t know how well it’s taken.) I also don’t know if NaaS has to be as pernicious as I fear it might be. APIs on the whole are Good Things, and have huge potential, as Craig Burton explains here.

It’s at least clear that TV is the elephant in the snake of the Net’s time. It is moving off the air and over the top of cable and telephony. Still, the Internet is sold as a service already by cablecos and telcos that hate the thought of remaining a “dumb pipe.”

If things go the way Crossey expects, the Net’s carriers will likely expand Net service offerings in ways that fracture the Net into pieces, each with hard-wired dependencies on the carrier. The result will be the biggest body-snatch in the history of business. Standing where the Net used to be won’t be Telco 2.o, but TV 2.o, with lots of marketing gravy. (Think of all that jive the “big data” pushers are saying about “delivering personalized experiences.”)

So, rather than having the greatest marketplace ever created, we’ll have a set of entertainment and marketing services, available only from phone and cable companies, working only on devices they sell or sanction: basically the worst scenario imagined by Jonathan Zittrain in The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. We’ll still have some of the Net’s huge open marketplace, but far less of it than would would have been possible if what ran on the pipes were structurally separated from the pipes themselves.

I see little reason for hope here. Big Business and Big Government, enemies in the theater of politics, are in fact completely aligned around the wishes of Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, Verizon and Hollywood. People like me have been remarkably ineffective in advocating for the free and open Internet and its importance for the free and open marketplace, as well as a free and open society. On letting the Net slide into the clutches of its enemies there is no daylight between Obama and Romney, because it’s a non-issue for both of them. Just like it’s a non-issue for most of us.

Hope I’m wrong. And I’d be glad to hear arguments to the contrary. I’m a born optimist, and I try to keep an open mind. But I’m not feeling good about this thing right now.

At home in Santa Barbara we get our TV from Dish Network. We’ve been customers of Dish since it was Echostar, back in the mid-90s. We’ve had dishes on five different houses over those years. Since we tend to do a lot of our living elsewhere, much of our watching (what little we do, actually) is on our iPad over a Slingbox attached to the set top box, which is in a cabinet rather than on a set. (An advantage of Dish over Cox, our local cable company, is that we can hide that box, and control it without pointing a remote directly at it. Cox doesn’t have that option.)

Here in Boston (where we are currently), we can watch the Olympics on the local NBC station, or on the iPad over the Slingbox; but I wanted to try watching live on NBC’s own Live Extra app on the iPad. Says the app page, “204 Nations. 302 Medal Events. 3,500 Live Hours. ONE SOURCE. Get to ready to watch every moment of the 2012 London Olympic Summer Games LIVE for FREE with the NBC Olympics.”

So I downloaded the app, got it rolling, clicked on “Live,” got forwarded to a page where I had to choose my provider, clicked on the Dish logo, entered my login and password, and then got this fail, over and over:

I checked the NBC FAQ. I checked to make sure with Dish that my login and password were good. They were. Then, starting yesterday, the new fail was “We’re sorry. You do not have a subscription to view the requested content. To upgrade your programming go to mydish.com and then log back in to view content.”

So I went to http://mydish.com/programming and got re-directed to my login page at https://my.dish.com/customercare/usermanagement/prepLogon.do?overlayuri=-myprogramming-showMyProgramming.do When I logged in there I get to my programming page, which says I have:

  • America’s Top 120
  • HBO & Sho
  • HD 120
  • DVR Service

America’s Top 120 is the fifth among nine American Core Packages. It’s $44.99/mo. Bottom is Smart Pack at $24.99/mo. Top is America’s Everything Pack at $104.99/mo. The HD 120 costs us $10. Showtime is $1/mo. HBO is $16/mo. DVR Service is $6/mo. The total is $86.99/mo.

Nothing there about the Olympics or NBC. So I called Dish.

The first customer service person told me I would need something called “Blockbuster@Home.” Here’s the link. Nothing there about the Olympics or NBC. When I told her we had a Slingbox, however, she said, “Oh! That’s very helpful information. I’m going to send you over to Broadband Support. They can help you.”

The guy at Broadband Support at first told me he knew nothing about the Olympics app, and that there was no way Dish could pay attention to the zillions of apps that can be downloaded on iPads. I told him there was no way that Dish itself would not be aware of the problem I’m having right now, given the interest in the Olympics at this time. He put me on hold. After coming off hold a couple more times to say he was looking into the situation, he came back and told me that I would need to upgrade to America’s Top 200, which is #7 out of the nine Core Packages. It’s $59.99, or $15 more per month than we’re paying now. So I looked to see if there are better deals available from Dish, and found this page here. It says,

AMERICA’S TOP 200™.

Love sports? Get in the game with channels like NFL Network, CBS Sports Network, MLB Network, NHL Network, NBA TV and your Regional Sports Network(s) (based on ZIP code). All of this on top of all the great programming in America’s Top 120™. Plus, get the local channels available in your area included at no extra charge.

That didn’t look too bad, since — as I recall — we do pay extra for the local channels. But, when I look at our billing details, I see that’s not the case. I’m guessing that’s because they come bundled with America’s Top 12o™. But I see nothing about that when I look at details about the package from within my logged-in state. There’s just a grid or a list of channels (many of which are audio and not video) in a link-proof pop-over window. When I look up Dish America’s Top 120 in a search engine, I get http://www.dish.com/entertainment/packages/americas-top-120/, it says, “Entertainment the family will love at a price that’s right. Get over 120 of America’s most-watched channels including CNN, ESPN, Disney Channel and Discovery Channel at an exceptional price. Plus, get the local channels available in your area included at no extra charge.” I suppose that answers the local channel question, meaning that I’m still paying $15 more per month for the Top 200.

But… for how long? On both the America’s Top 120 and the America’s Top 200 pages they say, in tiny print that can’t be copied and pasted, “…requires 24-month agreement.” In other words, I would need to pay $360 more just to watch the Olympics for the next week on my iPad. Or so it appears. Ergo: no way. Ain’t happening.

Far as I can tell (or am willing to put the labor into telling) I have no way of knowing which of these two Dish people is right, at least not by checking on the Web. And at this point I don’t care. I’ve put way more time into solving the problem than any customer should have to, and my only hedge against diminishing returns at this point is provisional satisfaction in hope that this post might help Dish and NBC debug what’s not working between them.

I would also like them both to probe a deeper problem for the whole cable/satellite TV industry (which now includes NBC, since Comcast owns it). In the perfect word of  Scott Adams, they together operate a confusopoly. He explains it this way:

A confusopoly is any group of companies in a particular industry that intentionally confuses customers about their pricing plans and products. Confusopolies do this so customers don’t know which one of them is offering the best value… The classic examples of confusopolies are phone companies, insurance companies, and banks.

He should have put TV networks and cable companies in there too.

The market — meaning you and I — do not demand a confusopoly. Nor do we demand getting this stuff for free. I’m already paying, and am willing to pay more. So are millions of other people. We just don’t want to lose the confusopoly game to get it. Seems like a fair request.

Oh, one last fail to report. At the beginning of my call to Dish, a robot asked if I’d like to take a survey after the call. I said yes, but they didn’t come on when the call ended, and then never called back, even though they have my number.

[Later...] Wanting to make a positive change here, we just posted Let’s help NBC prep for the 2014 Winter Olympics at Customer Commons. If you have some positive ideas in that direction, head over there.