October 2012

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On FlightAware I see three spaces filled with the same message. That’s a screenshot of one, on the right.

The guilty extension, I am sure, is Adblock Plus for Chrome. What that extension blocks is an ad, not a page. I can tell it’s an ad by looking on other browsers without that extension.

The block is also not an error. It is intentional, on my part. I’d rather not see the ads, or wait for them to load before I do.

On other sites in Chrome, such as the New York Times, blocked ads are just blank or closed spaces. On Firefox, where I also run AdBlock Plus, the same spaces are blank. So, what causes that image to appear? Is it Google (maker of Chrome) saying a blocked ad is a blocked page? Is it FlightAware? Does it appear only for Google-placed display ads? Or is there some other mechanism involved that has nothing to do with the Chrome brand? (Which is diminished by this practice, regardless of who’s doing it.)

[Later... It's a bug. Thanks to Hanan Cohen in the comments below for digging up that fact.]

The unclarity of all this testifies to the opacity of the whole advertising system to users, and even to the media through which ads are placed.

For example, an ad for laundry detergent that appears next to a story about little league baseball on the YourTown Journal site may not be placed by the detergent maker, its ad agency or the YourTown Journal. Its provenance might be any combination of ad networks, ad exchanges, dynamic auctions with real time bidding (RTB), demand side platforms (DSPs), supply side platforms (SSPs), or or some other arcane mechanism inside the millworks of online advertising placement.

In many — perhaps most — cases, no one person has the whole picture of how a given ad gets placed at any given time. That’s why you don’t know whether the detergent ad is meant for all the readers of the YourTown Journal, or if the ad was targeted to you personally. Or, in the latter case, if it was targeted because you have kid who plays baseball or because the system at the moment “thinks” it knows some other personal facts about you.

In the case of Flightaware, on another browser (without ad blocking) I see three ads in the three spaces occupied by “error” messages such as the one above in Chrome. Those ads are for Fisher Investments, Verizon FiOS and Target Stores‘ weekly savings. All three are wasted on me, except as brand messages. I already have FiOS, I’ll probably never use Fisher Investments (though now I’ve heard of them) and sometimes I shop at Target (but would never want to get into their promotional mill, which clicking on the ad would likely do).

For what it’s worth, which is more than zero, I love FlightAware, and would gladly pay them for the services they provide.

And, for what it’s also worth, which is $billions more than zero, it is important to understand the distinction between brand and direct response advertising:

  1. Brand advertising is not personal. It is broadcast to whole populations, and conveys what economists call a signal of sufficiency. That signal says “we are substantial enough to afford advertising.”
  2. Direct response advertising, which began decades ago as direct mail, and then grew to become direct response marketing in general, is personal. That’s an economic signal that says “this is for you.”

On broadcast and print media, which are not personal, the distinction is clear. Here on the Web, which for each of us is personal, the line between brand and direct response advertising is fully blurred. It is very hard — or impossible — to tell if an ad is just for you or for lots of people that some system thinks resemble you — or for everybody, because the advertiser and its agency happen to like the site where the ad is displayed.

I want to make clear here that I don’t dislike advertising or marketing. I was in that business for most of my adult life, made a good living at it, and am proud of the work we did. Our agency was Hodskins Simone & Searls. It was born in 1978 in North Carolina and headquartered in Silicon Valley from 1985 to 1998, when it was acquired by Publicis. One of our core principles was to “respect the media environment.”

Lack of respect for the Web is a big reason I have a problem with the blurred distinction between brand and direct response advertising there, and with the extreme liberties that are taken by sites and services with our personal spaces and our personal data. They take those liberties because they enjoy a lopsided power advantage over users — an advantage that has turned an ordinary distributed computing model called client-server into a complex but hardened system of obfuscation and entrapment we call calf-cow. We users are the calves and the sites are the cows. We go to the cows for the milk of HTML, plus cookies and other tracking files we neither want nor ask for.

The market is pushing back on bad practices by the cows of the world. For evidence look at the Mozilla stats for AdBlock Plus:

  • 176,853,243 Downloads
  • 3,442,720 in last 30 days
  • 14,781,239 Average Daily Users
  • 14,645,444 average in last 30 days

Look also at ClarityRay’s report on ad blocking. While the company has an interest in the subject, the figures seem close enough to real for me, because advertising on the Web is clearly out of control — namely, ours.

The original browser was like a car: a private vehicle that was operated by the individual for his or her own purposes. Like a car its spaces and operations were ours. We drove it around, “browsing” and “surfing” up and down the “information superhighway,” seeing and collecting only what we wanted to see and collect.

Today the Web has gone almost fully commercial, becoming a vast strip mall. In it the browser has morphed from a car into a shopping cart that gets skinned afresh at each commercial site we visit. As a shopping cart, the browser is no longer private. Its spaces are those of the sites we visit, and so are the liberties taken with those spaces when we are there. That’s why sites feel free to infest our browsers with tracking files that we carry around the way a deer carries fleas and ticks. Those files report our travels, choices and behaviors back to the sites and their third parties, most of which are advertising mills. Operators of today’s online marketing mills are now urged by vendors of big data analytics to imagine that constructing a “portrait” of us is a worthy substitute from knowing us directly, and that this portrait — rather our real and human selves — is the “chief executive customer.” (More about that.)

Here is what I said about all this in The Wall Street Journal, back in July:

…the Internet is young, and most development work has been done to improve the supply side of the marketplace. Individual customers have benefited, but improving their own native technical capacities has attracted relatively little interest from developers or investors.

As a result, big business continues to believe that a free market is one in which customers get to choose their captors. Choosing among AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon for your new smartphone is like choosing where you’d like to live under house arrest. It’s why marketers still talk about customers as “targets” they can “acquire,” “control,” “manage” and “lock in,” as if they were cattle. And it’s why big business thinks that the best way to get personal with customers on the Internet is with “big data,” gathered by placing tracking files in people’s browsers and smartphone apps without their knowledge—so they can be stalked wherever they go, with their “experiences” on commercial websites “personalized” for them.

It is not yet clear to the perpetrators of this practice that it is actually insane. Think about it. Nobody from a store on Main Street would follow you around with a hand in your pocket and tell you “I’m only doing this so I can give you a better shopping experience.” But that is exactly what happens online (as The Wall Street Journal has shown at length in its investigative series “What They Know”).

It’s easy to forget that a founding and persistent grace of Google is the relative lack of promotional cruft on its index page. For a brief sweet moment before we search there, we don’t see ads for anything. Its brand value at that moment is maximally “thick” (as Umair Haque explains here).

We need to get back into that headspace and zero-base our thinking about advertising. Leave business-as-usual outside the door and look again at what a site or a service was born to do. In most cases it’s not advertising.. Peter Drucker says a company doesn’t go into business to make a profit, but “to make shoes.”

Most businesses don’t call themselves “advertisers.” If they do advertise, they see that as one activity among many, and as a form of overhead. It’s mostly people in the advertising business who call companies advertisers.

What makes FlightAware valuable is not its ads. Same goes for Google, Facebook and Twitter. None of them went into business just so they could run ads. They created their services to do other things, and only later came to rely on advertising as a business model.

The Web as we know it is only seventeen years old. That’s old enough to develop some bad habits and young enough to change them.

Do we want the Web to be a strip mall when it grows up? Or what it was born to be in the first place?

Bonus linkage: Don Marti’s business posts.

Hurricane flag

7:30am Tuesday morning: I can tell the storm is over by tuning in to the Weather Channel and finding it back to the normally heavy load of ads, program promotions and breathless sensationalism. So I’ll turn ya’ll back over to your irregularly scheduled programs. Rock on.

11:14pm The Weather Channel just said 4.1 million homes are without power now. The numbers bounce around. For a good list of outages, check with Edward Vielmetti’s blog.

11:07pm Bitly stats for this page  http://hvrd.me/YerGzj). Interesting: 442 clicks, 30 shares. Below, two comments other than my only one. Life in the vast lane, I guess. FWIW, I can’t see stats for this site, and generally don’t care about them; but I put some work into this post and the list over at Trunk Line, so some feedback is helpful.

10:48pm When you look up “Sandy” on Bing images, shouldn’t you see at least one hurricane picture? Instead, a sea of pretty faces. Here’s Sandy + hurricane. Credit where due: I can figure a way to shorten the tracking cruft out of the URL with Bing. Not so with Google’s Sandy search, which looks like … well, I killed it, because it f’d up this page royally. Please, Google, have mercy. Make the search URL’s sensible again.

10:42pm Glad I stayed in Boston, with power running and a solid Verizon FiOS fiber connection (25mbps upstream and down), right through the storm. Looks like the New York place is powerless right now, and the Verizon DSL connection there is awful even in good weather. Got lots of stuff to do here too, through Thursday.

9:54pm TV stations with live streams online:

In a city-by-city rundown, Hartford wins with four stations, Washington and New York is second with three each, Boston, Baltimore and Philadelphia come in third with one station each, and Providence loses, with no live stations online at all. (Thanks for the corrections, which I keep adding.)

All the CBSlocal.com stations have “listen live.” C’mon, guys. You’re TV stations.

Some TV stations, e.g. WFXT in Boston, have pages so complicated that they don’t load (again, for me). On the whole, everybody’s site is waaay too complicated. At times like this they need three things:

  1. Live video
  2. Rivers of news
  3. Links to files of stories already run

Better yet, they should just have an emergency page they bring up for crises, since it’s obviously too hard for many of them to tweak their complicated (often crap-filled) CMSes (Content Management Systems) to become truly useful when real news hits the fan.

9:50pm When you go to bed tonight in #Sandy territory, take the good advice of Ready.gov, with one additional point I picked up in California for earthquake prep: have shoes nearby, and upside down, so they don’t take glass if any breaks nearby.

9:46pm What’s the ad load right now on the Weather Channel? Usually it seems like it has more ads than programming. Clearly there is less advertising now. How much less? Are the advertisers paying more? Anybody know the answers?

9:37pm A moment of calm. Rain slowing. intellicast map

The current weather map, via Intellicast, on the right. Note the snow and ice in West Virginia. Eye-less, #Sandy is currently spinning around the juncture of Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania. BTW, this is Intellicast’s “old” map, which I like better.

9:29pm A friend runs outage totals from many sources:

  • Total out 3,0639,62:
  • Maine 65,817
  • New Hampshire 120,687
  • Vermont 14,482
  • Massachusetts 378,034
  • Connecticut 254643
  • New York 836,931
  • New Jersey 929,507
  • Pennsylvania
  • Delaware
  • Maryland 279,396
  • Virginia 118,766
  • DC 16,608
  • West Virginia
  • North Carolina
  • Ohio 49,091
  • Michigan
  • Illinois

With so many blank TBDs, the numbers must be higher.

9:18pm Please, radio stations, stop streaming in highly proprietary formats (e.g. Silverlight and Windows Media) that require annoying user installs (which won’t work on some platforms, e.g. Linux). Right now I’d like to listen to WOND in Atlantic City, but it wants me to get Silverlight. Not happening.

9:12 Via @WhoaNancyLynn, boardwalklooks like the Boardwalk is without boards in Atlantic City. Bonus link from Philly.com.

9:06 Water covering the runway at LaGuardia, says the Weather Channel. (Which I’m still watching here in Boston over our Dish TV connection in Santa Barbara. Amazing how solid it has been.)

8:54 Added newspapers to the list of sources at Trunk Line.

8:49 Courant: More than 500,000 without power in Connecticut. Boston Globe: 350,ooo out in Mass. Weather Channel: “More than 3 million without power.” Kind of amazed our house isn’t among those. Winds have been just as big in gusts as the microburst from last summer, which caused this damage here. One big difference: leaves. Fall was post-peak to begin with, and remaining color has mostly been blown away. In the summer, trees weren’t ready to give up their leaves, and many got blown over or torn up.

8:03 Just heard Con Edison has shut down the power in lower Manhattan. Con Ed outage map“Completely dark down toward Wall Street.” No specific reports on the Con Ed site. But here’s an outage map (on the right).

7:56 Listening to WCAI (Cape and Islands radio), on which I hear locals saying that things aren’t as bad as had been expected.

7:54 The Christian Science Monitor has a story on the sinking of the Bounty off Cape Hatteras. Two crew are still missing. What was it doing out in that storm? The story says they left Connecticut last week for Florida and was in touch with the National Hurricane Center; but Sandy was already on the radar then, wasn’t it? Maybe not. Dunno. In any case, bad timing.

7:38 Heard a loud pop across the street, followed by a flickering orange light between the houses, and reflected on the windows. Wondering if a fire had started I went out in the wind and rain, found it was nothing and got thoroughly soaked — and almost hit by a car. This is a quiet street that should have no traffic under the conditions, but there it was. Fortunately, we spotted each other just in time.

7:33 Curious: what’s up with JFK, LGA,EWR, BOS. If the seas rise enough, some runways may be under water. But… haven’t heard anything yet.

7:31 Water continues to rise, etc. Yet… Not seeing or hearing about any Big Disasters. The Weather Channel is reporting lots of storm surge levels, all-time records… but no unusual damage reports yet.  Their reporters are still standing on dunes, walking on sea-walls. In a real big-time storm surge, they’d be long gone, along with geology and structures. You can almost hear a bit of disappointment for lack of devastation to show. “We still have hours and hours and hours left…” Translation: “and time to fill.”

7:28 @TWCbreaking: “The water level at the Battery in #NYC has reached 11.25 feet, surpassing the all-time record of 11.2 feet set in 1821.#Sandy

7:25 Big winds, long ping times over my FiOS connection.

7:21 List of mainstream live media covering #Sandy.

7:17 I wonder if the main effects of #Sandy will be like #Irene‘s: while most of the media attention was on the coast, Vermont was quietly destroyed.

7:12pm The Weather Channel just said that #Sandy has lost her (or is it his?) hurricane status, and is now just a “superstorm.” I also notice that Crane 9 quit reporting winds at 4pm. :-( Meanwhile Huffpo says on Twitter than #Sandy has it down.

6:41pm Here’s a “before” shot of the crane on 57th Street that’s now broken. (@DaveWiner has a closer shot here.) I took it on 27 August. Between staying in hotels (e.g. the Salisbury, twice), going to meetings, shopping and other stuff, I’ve gone back and forth in front of this construction site more times than I can count. So, naturally, I shot some pictures of it. Fun fodder: the OUT and IN liquid concrete vats that the crane hauled up and down for many months. These shots are Creative Commons licensed for attribution only, so feel free to re-use them.

6:22pm Just heard on the Weather Channel that up to 10 million people may be without power soon. This “will take a big bite out of retail in November.”

5:59pm Dark now. Just in time for the biggest winds yet. Whoa. House is shaking. Tree pieces flying by.

5:46pm More evidence that station-based radio is declining: the great WBZ, which still carries three of the most august call letters in radio history, is http://cbsboston.com on the Web and @cbsboston on Twitter. Same goes for CBS stations in Washington, New York and elsewhere. Clear Channel meanwhile is blurring all its station brands behind iHeartRadio.

5:43pm @WNYC reports that many of New York’s major bridges are soon to close. Earlier I heard on WBZ that toll booths are abandoned, so feel free to ride through without paying if you’re busy disobeying advice to stay off the roads.

5:22pm Five “creative newsjacks” of #Sandy by “savvy marketers”. At Hubspot. Explanation: “Newsjacking is the practice of capitalizing on the popularity of a news story to amplify your sales and marketing efforts. The term was popularized thanks to David Meerman Scott’s book Newsjacking.” All are, in the larger scheme, trivial, if not in bad taste. For that, nothing beats The Onion:

5:12pm Crane 9 in New Jersey (see the graphic below) now reports steady winds of 46mph from the northeast with peak gusts of 63mph.

4:45pm I have some “before” shots of the crane that broke on 57th Street. I’ll put those up soon.

4:40pm Right now we have the highest winds since a microburst in July took out hundreds of trees in a matter of seconds across East Arlington, Mass. Here’s a photo tour of the damage that I took at the time. In fact I have a lot more shots that I haven’t put up yet. I might do that when I get a break.

4:38pm A gust just peeled back some siding on the house across the street. Watched some pieces of trees across the street break off and fall.  The trees taking it hardest are the ones with leaves, which increases the wind loading. Interesting to see how the red maples give up their colored leaves while the black oaks do not. Same with the silver and norway maples. The leaves on those seem to resist detachment.

2:55pm Given the direction of the storm, it will continue longer in New England than elsewhere, even though the hit is not direct.

2:52pm Just heard a crane on W. 57th Street went down. That’s the site next to the Salisbury Hotel, I believe. Across from the Russian Tea Room.

2:45pm Now it’s getting scary here near Boston. Very high wind gusts, shaking the house, along with heavy rain. Check out the increasing peak winds at Crane 9 at the New York Container Terminal in New Jersey, on the right.

2:21pm Thinking about fluid dynamics and looking at a map of the New Jersey and Long Island coasts, which in two dimensions comprise a funnel, with Raritan Bay and New York Harbor at the narrow end. High tide will hit about 8pm tonight there. Given the direction of the storm, and the concentrating effects of the coastlines toward their convergence point, I would be very surprised if this doesn’t put some or all of the following under at least some water:

  • All three major airports: JFK, LaGuardia and Newark.
  • The New York Container Terminal.
  • The tower bases of New York’s AM radio stations. Most of them transmit from the New Jersey Meadows, because AM transmission works best on the most conductive ground, which is salt water. On AM, the whole tower radiates. That’s why a station with its base under water won’t stay on the air. At risk: WMCA/570, WSNR/620,  WOR/710, WNYC-AM/820,  WINS/1010, WEPN/1050, WBBR/1130, WLIB/1190, WADO/1280 and several others farther up the band. WFAN/660 and WCBS/880 share a tower on High Island in Long Island Sound by City Island, and I think are far enough above sea level. WMCA and WNYC share a three-tower rig standing in water next to Belleville Pike by the  New Jersey Turnpike and will be the first at risk.
  • [Later... According to this story, WINS was knocked off the air.]
  • [Later still... Scott Fybush's Northeast Radio Watch says WMCA and WNYC were knocked offAnd the WNYC site says it was knocked off too. He has a long list of silenced stations there.]

Funnel #2, right where the eye will hit: Delaware Bay. Watch out Philly/Camden/Wilmington.

Funnel #3, Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor.

1:03pm: I forgot to bring a portable radio, so I got a new little “travel radio” for $39.95 from Radio Shack, along with some re-chargeable batteries. After charging them overnight, I put the batteries in, and… nada. The clock comes on at 12:00, but nothing else happens. None of the buttons change anything. The time just advances forward from the imaginary noon. So, it’s useless. Oh well. I have other radios plugged into the wall. But if the power goes out, so do they.

12:48pm: In a crisis like #Sandy, one of the great failures of public television is exposed: there is almost no live local coverage of anything, despite a boundless abundance of presumably willing helpers in the Long Tail. Public TV’s connection with What’s Actually Happening is astoundingly low, and ironic given its name. Scheduled programs throb through the calendar with metronomic precision. About the only times they ever go live is during pledge breaks, which always give the impression of being the main form of programming. If they were as good at actual journalism as they are at asking for money*, they would kick ass. I’ve included local public stations in my list here. None of them are go-to sites for the public. I just scanned through them, and here’s the rundown:

  • Maryland Public Television displays no evidence that a hurricane is going on.
  • WHYY Philadelphia-Wilmington: Pointage to Radio Times with Marty Moss-Coane, which ran from 10-Noon today. The top Special Announcement is “Visit NewsWorks.org or follow @NewsWorksWHYY on Twitter for continuing coverage of Hurricane Sandy.”
  • WNET in New York is itself almost inert. But it does have links to its three broadcast outlet pages. thirteen.org in Metro Focus has a scary visual of likely flooding in New York, last updated at 7:38pm Sunday. WLIW, another of its stations, has the same pointage. That’s about it. Its NJTV site is a bit more current. They post this: “Committed to serving Garden State residents during what is predicted to be an exceptional storm in Hurricane Sandy, NJTV will provide updates throughout the day plus Gov. Chris Christie’s next press conference. Monday night, join Managing Editor Mike Schneider for full storm analysis during live NJ Today broadcasts at 6 pm, 7:30 and 11 pm. Residents can also expect ongoing weather-related news updates on the network’s Facebook andTwitter sites. NJTV is also planning a joint broadcast with WNET’s MetroFocus news program on Tuesday night at 9:30 pm, to assess the effect of the storm on the Tri-State area.” Can’t wait.
  • WETA in Washington, D.C. has exactly nothing. WHUT appears to be down.
  • CPBN, the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network, has nothing.
  • WGBH in Boston points to a show about the great hurricane of ’38. Almost helpful, that.

* See Jan Hooks’ legendary Tammy Jean show on the old Tush program, which ran on Ted Turner’s original cable station back at the turn of the ’80s. It was a perfect parody of a low-end religious program that seemed to exist only for seeking money, which viewers were told to put in the “money font”: a fish bowl on a pedestal. Watch here, starting around 2:50 into the show. Bonus show, with the pitch point arriving about five minutes in.

12:43pm: Normally I’d be headed this afternoon to Jay Rosen‘s Studio 20 journalism class at NYU. But after NYU announced its closures yesterday,  I decided to stay here in Boston and report on what some corners of journalism are up to, as Sandy hits New York. To help with that, I’ve put up a roster of what I’m calling “infrastructural” sources, on Trunk Line, a blog that Christian Sandvig and I set up at the Berkman Center, and which is coming in handy right now. I have websites, feeds, radio and TV stations. Haven’t added newspapers yet. Stay tuned.

12:38pm: A Weather Channel reporter on the beach in Point Pleasant, New Jersey just said, live, “We’ve been told to get out of the shot. Sorry. Gotta cut it off.”

12:28pm: Getting our first strong wind gusts here, from the north. The fall colors, which were right at peak on our street, just flew past my window here in the attic.

12:19pm: We have no TV here at the Boston place. Normally I carry an EyeTV Hybrid thingie to watch over-the-air TV on a laptop, but the thingie is at our New York place (yes, we’re there too; just not now). But we have Dish Network back home in Santa Barbara, so that’s what I’m watching, over our iPad here in Boston, thanks to the Slingbox on the Dish set top box. (Which is actually in a hall cabinet, since “sets” these days don’t have tops. They have edges, none of which supports a box.) Consider the route here. TWC distributes to Dish over a 50,ooo mile round trip to a satellite. Then Dish sends the signal to Santa Barbara over another round trip through a satellite just as far away. Then I’m watching 3000 miles away over a wireless connection at our place in Boston. Credits en route go to Cox for the cable connection in Santa Barbara, and to Verizon FiOS for the connection here. This will work until the power goes out here.

12:12pm: Finally heard somebody on the Weather Channel mention that there is a full moon today, which means maximized tide swings. Here’s the tide chart for the Battery, at the lower end of Manhattan.

11:20am Weather Channel gets all ominous, sez InsideTV at Entertainment Weekly.

11:18a: Slate is on top of Frankenstorm coverage in the papers.

11:05am: Radio stations should list their stream URLs as clearly as they list their dial positions. None do. Some have many steams but not enough links. WNYC, for example, has a nice help page, but the links to the streams are buried in a pop-up menu titled “other formats” (than the “Listen Now” pop-up page).

11:00am: How New Nersey Broadcasters Have Prepared for Sandy, at RadioINK. It begins,

New Jersey Broadcasters Association President and CEO Paul Rotella tells Radio Ink stations in his state have been preparing for Hurricane Sandy since Friday. “This is a perfect example of how only  local radio and TV can provide the critical information our audiences need to know in times of emergency. Sure, you can get a “big picture” overview from some media sources, but our citizens need to know much more detailed and salient information that only local broadcasters can provide.”

No links. Anybody have evidence of that yet? I’m listening to WKXW, aka New Jersey 101.5, After a lot of ads, they have lots of weather-related closings, followed by live talk, where they’re talking about other media at the moment.

10:56am: I’ve put up a fairly comprehensive list of infrastructure-grade Sandy information sources over on the Trunk Line blog. Much of what I’ll write about here will come from checking over there. Note that all the TV and radio stations from DC to Boston carrying live (or nearly live) coverage are listed, plus a number of live streams from stations providing them.

NOAA has Sandy headed straight at New Jersey and Delaware. The Weather Channel has a prettier map:

I was going to go to New York today, but decided to stay around Cambridge instead. All the media are making dire sounds, and there is lots of stocking up going on. Home Depot, Costco, all the grocery stores have had packed parking lots all day. Schools are closed all over the East Coast. New York City is shutting down the subways and Mayor Bloomberg has advised everybody to stay inside. Huge storm surges are expected.

I’m a natural event freak, so I’m on the case, but also need some sleep, in the calm before The Storm. More in a few hours.

wallet Nothing you carry is more personal than your wallet, or more essential for interacting with the marketplace. You can change your pants or your purse, but your wallet is a constant. And, while your wallet contains cards and currencies that are issued by companies and governments, your wallet is yours, not theirs. That’s why none of those entities brand your wallet as theirs, nor do you operate your wallet at their grace.

This distinction matters because wallets are becoming a Real Big Topic — partly because a lot of Real Big Companies like having their hands in our pockets, and partly because we really do need digital versions of the wallets we carry in the analog world.

This is why individuals and individual-driven developers need to take over the mobile wallet conversation, before the Big Brands do, with their Big Plans to fill their Big Data coffers with personal information about you, so they (not you) can do the analytics and the routing between your butt and the rest of the marketplace.

IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — is the perfect place to talk about that. It’s an unconference in Mountain View that takes place tomorrow through Thursday at the Computer History Museum. It’s cheap and informal, and ideal for vetting and discussing developments and moving them forward.

IIW also comes  in advance of the Under The Radar conference in San Francisco next month, where mobile wallets will be discussed. The companies working on mobile wallets and listed in this blog post by Beth Burgee are mostly new to me. That’s way cool, and I invite them to show up at IIW too.

Here’s the key, and my challenge to them: they need to be driven by individuals like you and me, and not by Business as Usual, especially what Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter and the rest would like to do with their hands in our pockets. (And I invite them to come as well, and show us how that’s not what they’re trying to do.)

Here’s the thing: if your wallet has a brand, it’s not yours. If it’s for putting companies hands, and not just their instruments of convenience (such as cards, the boundaries of which are mostly clear), in your pockets, it’s not yours.

Let’s give the individual a way to drive here. Just like we did with the PC, the Net, email, web servers, blogging, podcasting, syndication and other instruments created with freedom rather than capture in mind.

Think of Dave Winer‘s “Ask not what the Internet can do for you, ask what you can do for the Internet,” and substitute “individual,” “customer” or “user” for Internet. (They are all the same thing, when you think about it. And Dave was the prime mover between the last three developments listed in the prior paragraph.)

A couple of bonus links, not fresh but perhaps more relevant than ever:

Google’s Wallet and VRM

Circling around your wallet

Uninstalled is Michael O'Connor ClarkeMichael O’Connor Clarke’s blog — a title that always creeped me out a bit, kind of the way Warren Zevon‘s My Ride’s Here did, carrying more than a hint of prophesy. Though I think Michael meant something else with it. I forget, and now it doesn’t matter because he’s gone: uninstalled yesterday. Esophogeal cancer. A bad end for a good man.

All that matters, of course, is his life. Michael was smart and funny and loving and wise far beyond his years. We bonded as blogging buddies back when most blogs were journals and not shingles of “content” built for carrying payloads of advertising. Start to finish, he was a terrific writer. Enviable, even. He always wrote for the good it did and not the money it brought. (Which, in his case, like mine and most other friends in the ‘sphere, was squat.) I’ll honor that, his memory and many good causes at once by sharing most of one of his last blog posts:

Leaky Algorithmic Marketing Efforts or Why Social Advertising Sucks

Posted on May 9, 2012

A couple of days ago, the estimable JP Rangaswami posted a piece in response to a rather weird ad he saw pop up on Facebook. You should go read the full post for the context, but here’s the really quick version.

JP had posted a quick Facebook comment about reading some very entertainingly snarky Amazon.com reviews for absurdly over-priced speaker cables.

Something lurking deep in the dark heart of the giant, steam-belching, Heath Robinson contraption that powers Facebook’s social advertising engine took a shine to JP’s drive-by comment, snarfled it up, and spat it back out again with an advert attached. A rather… odd choice of “ad inventory unit”, to say the least. Here’s how it showed up on on of JP’s friends’ Facebook news feeds:

I saw JP post about this on Facebook and commented. The more I thought about the weirdness of this, the longer my comment became – to the point where I figured it deserved to spill over into a full-blown blog rant. Strap in… you have been warned.

I’ve seen a lot of this kind of thing happening in the past several months. Recently I’ve been tweeting and Facebooking my frustration with social sharing apps that behave in similar ways. You know the kind of thing – those ridiculous cluewalls implemented by Yahoo!, SocialCam, Viddy, and several big newspapers. You see an interesting link posted by one of your friends, click to read the article, and next thing you know you’re expected to grant permission to some rotten app to start spamming all your friends every time you read something online. Ack.

The brilliant Matthew Inman, genius behind The Oatmeal, had a very smart, beautifully simple take on all this social reader stupidity.

It’s the spread of this kind of leaky algorithmic marketing that is starting to really discourage me from sharing or, sometimes, even consuming content. And I’m a sharer by nature – I’ve been willingly sharing and participating in all this social bollocks for a heck of a long time now.

But now… well, I’m really starting to worry about the path we seem to be headed down. Or should I say, the path we’re being led down.

Apps that want me to hand over the keys to my FB account before I can read the news or watch another dopey cat video just make me uncomfortable. If I inadvertently click through an interesting link only to find that SocialCam or Viddy or somesuch malarkey wants me to accept its one-sided Terms of Service, then I nope the hell out of there pretty darn fast.

How can this be good for the Web? It denies content creators of traffic and views, and ensures that I *won’t* engage with their ideas, no matter how good they might be.

All these examples are bad cases of Leaky Algorithmic Marketing Efforts (or L.A.M.E. for short). It’s a case of developers trying to be smart in applying their algorithms to user-generated content – attempting to nail the sweet spot of personal recommendations by guessing what kind of ad inventory to attach to an individual comment, status update, or tweet.

It results in unsubtle, bloody-minded marketing leaking across into personal conversations. Kinda like the loud, drunken sales rep at the cocktail party, shoe-horning a pitch for education savings plans into a discussion about your choice of school for your kids.

Perhaps I wouldn’t mind so much if it wasn’t so awfully bloody cack-handed as a marketing tactic. I mean – take another look at the ad unit served up to run alongside JP’s status update. What the hell has an ad for motorbike holidays got to do with him linking to snarky reviews of fancyass (and possibly fictional) speaker cables? Where’s the contextual connection?

Mr. Marketer: your algorithm is bad, and you should feel bad.

As you see, Michael was one of those rare people who beat the shit out of marketing from the inside. Bless him for that. It’s not a welcome calling, and Lord knows marketing needs it, now more than ever.

Here are some memorial posts from other old friends. I’ll add to the list as I spot them.

And here is his Facebook page. Much to mull and say there too. Also at a new memorial page there.

It’s good, while it lasts, that our presences persist on Facebook after we’re gone. I still visit departed friends there: Gil Templeton, Ray Simone, R.L. “Bob” Morgan, Nick Givotovsky.SupportMichaelOCC.ca is still up, and should stay up, to help provide support for his family.

His Twitter stream lives here. Last tweet: 26 September. Here’s that conversation.

New York at night

The conditions were what pilots call “severe clear” from Charlotte to New York on Thursday night. I made sure (paying $44 to USAirways) that I had a window seat on the left side, and had a perfect view through an imperfect window of nearly every city and town from Charlotte to New York.

Rolling by went Greensboro-High Point-Winston-Salem, Burlington-Graham, Chapel Hill and Durham, Petersburg, Richmond, Fredericksburg, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, and then, finally: New Yawk in her great sparkling self. From the air at night it does indeed appear to be what the Letterman show calls The Greatest City in the World. From altitude at night most other cities look like splats of light; but New York bristles with buildings and throbs with traffic coursing through streets and urban arteries.

Where skyscrapers in lesser cites often seem there just to show off, in New York they are natural expressions of the city’s muscularity. They have to go up.

So I shot the whole trip. Most didn’t come out. (Not the best camera, lens or window — and shooting stationary settings at f1.8 at 1/20th of a second while flying through by “light chop” at 500 miles per hour tends to produce less than ideal results.) But The City looked too good not to post. So here it is.

Mobile maps matter, and Apple now has the worst mapping you can get on a phone. The best, one would think (given the Apple vs. Google coverage) is Google’s. But maybe not, because Nokia has NAVTEQ, which rocks. Or so says Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic, in a fascinating piece that visits just some of what NAVTEQ has been doing since 1985. For example, providing most of the maps you see on Garmin, Magellan and other legacy GPS companies.

This should be tempting for Apple. Here’s Alexis:

…if a certain tech giant with a massive interest in mobile content (Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo) were looking to catch up or stay even with Google, the company’s Location & Commerce unit might look like a nice acquisition they could get on the cheap (especially given that the segment lost 1.5 billion euros last year). Microsoft and Yahoo are already thick as thieves with Nokia’s mapping crew, but Apple is the company that needs the most help.

Tristan Louis makes the case as well:

So maps are now essen­tial to one’s mobile strat­egy and Apple is behind. When you’re as far behind as they are, there are two ways you can get back to the table: you can either run like crazy and try to iter­ate your prod­uct at light speed or you can buy your way back at the table.

And what bet­ter com­pany than the mar­ket leader if you are to make the invest­ment? On top of it, Apple would get some inter­est­ing sup­port for its AppleTV product.

Apple would get Nokia’s huge mobile tech patent portfolio, which includes a license to Qualcomm’s impressive collection. Tristan suggests that Nokia’s idle patents on mobile TV tech would also help Apple. No doubt it would. Let’s also remember that Google bought Motorola Mobility a short while back pretty much for the same reason: to get an edge in the “nuclear showdown” that patent-based tech wars tend to be. And mobile, alas, is a patent-based game.

The downside would be owning a struggling giant with lots of baggage Apple surely does not want. But Apple has to do something.

Nokia and Microsoft are deeply in bed, however, and both are unlikely to consider selling out to Apple, an enemy in the marketplace. (One can easily imagine Steve Ballmer going nuclear at the very thought of it.)

Eric Bleeker at Motley Fool responds to Tristan while laying out a number of possibilities. His conclusion: “The simple reality is that Apple will probably continue taking smaller bets on emerging technologies.”

Such as? In Yandex to Power Apple Maps, Alexander Vostrov of Russia Beyond the Headlines writes,

Russian software fans are glowing with pride, while analysts make the most improbable assumptions: the Russian IT giant Yandex has entered into a partnership with Apple and will have its Yandex Maps location service integrated with Apple’s new iOS 6 operating system.

This piece from June in The Verge also points to an attribution list at Apple. The page is copy-proof, so just go look at it. The list of data sources is long.

So how about OpenStreetmap? I don’t see them in the above list, but this OpenStreeMap Foundation blog post by Harry Wood on 2 October offers confirming evidence. Says Harry,

Apple’s new maps for iOS6 make use of OpenStreetMap in some parts of the world. We’re not sure how extensive this use is, but it’s fair to say they are mostly using other sources. Apple have used TomTom as a key supplier of data for example. This means that inaccuracies in apple maps are probably not the fault of OpenStreetMap (contrary to some commentary!) However OpenStreetMap is mentioned in apple’s credits, and we have spotted some areas where we think we can see our data in use.

This means your contributions to OpenStreetMap at least have a chance of helping Apple, along with everybody else. But, if you want to go direct to Apple, here’s the trick:

  1. Open Maps on your iOS device
  2. Go to a map view with a problem in it
  3. Lift the lower right (turned up) corner of the map
  4. Look for the very small gray-on-gray text above the Print button that says “Report a problem.” Click on that.
  5. Fill out the short form

I just reported one of Apple’s absent subway stations, just to see how it works. (In fact, they’re all missing, and not just here in New York. I also saw none in London or Paris.)

Meanwhile, I continue to believe selling their own map apps on iOS would be good for Google, and Nokia as well.

[Later...] eWeek has what may be the best suggestion yet: get out of the maps business entirely. Let the Maps companies give away or sell a maps app on the phone. If Nokia and Google decided not to, that would hurt Apple, but it would make them (especially Google) look like silo-building schmucks playing passive-agressive games against a competitor.

Probably too late now. But maybe the open game is the only one for Apple to play now. Dunno though. Food for re-thought.

I’ll be speaking tomorrow (Thursday, 4 October at Subscribed 2012 London, at the Kensington Roof Garden, near the Kensington tube stop on High Street. Seats are still available, and it’s free.

The intention economy and the subscription economy are both about relationships. I’ll be exploring markets, challenges and opportunities where the two meet.

Looking forward to seeing local friends old and new there.

(Or, if you like, tune in live on Ustream. If I have the chance I’ll post a link here.)