April 2013

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There is a classic scene in Cool Hand Luke where the prison warden (Strother Martin), says to the handcuffed Luke, (Paul Newman), that he doesn’t like it when Luke talks to him as an equal. So, to teach a lesson, the warden smacks Luke hard, sending him rolling down a hill. The warden then says to the crowd of prisoners below, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

That’s also what we’ve got with login failures on the Web. Case in point: In response to The Illusion of the Gifted Child in Time, I tried posting this comment:

Standardized education and testing both deny that which makes us most human: our differences, as individuals, from everybody else. Whitman said it best: “I was never measured, and never will be measured… I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenter’s compass… I know that I am august. I do not trouble my spirit to vindicate itself or be understood. I see that the elementary laws never apologize.” Standardized schooling cannot respect any of that.

As the great teacher John Taylor Gatto put it, genius in children is common, not exceptional. Thus the job of the teacher is not to fill empty heads with curricula, but to remove whatever “prevents a child’s inherent genius from gathering itself.” The first thing to remove (which Gatto did, year after year, winning awards along the way), is standardized schooling. Or at least framing our understanding of education in standardized terms. We’ve been in that box so long we can no longer think outside of it. Yet we must. For lack of thinking outside that box, we ruin kids.

When I was a kid, my mother taught in the same school system, and had access to my text scores. Between those and others, my IQ score had an eighty point range, from very smart to very dumb. Those scores showed that there is no such thing as “an IQ.” It also suggested that giftedness has little or nothing to do with test scores, and may not be something schools can deal with at all. My own gifts didn’t appear until after college, and all the achievements for which I am known came after I was fifty.

All of us are profoundly unique. Even identical twins, split from the same egg, are complete, separate and distinct individuals with independent souls. School teaches otherwise. And that’s the problem. Not the parents, and not the kids.

I failed to post that, which is why I’m posting it here. But my point is about digital identity, which is is no less fucked up in 2013 than it was in 1995, when the Web went viral.

What’s fucked up about identity is that every site and service has its own identity system. None are yours. All are theirs, all are silo’d, and all are different. For this we can thank the calf-cow model of client-server computing, and we are stuck in it. That’s why we are forced to remember how we identify ourselves, separately, as calves, to many different cows, each of which act like they’re the only damn cow in the world.

When I attempted to post the comment above under the essay at Time, I was given a choice of social logins (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), plus Time‘s own. Not remembering if I ever created an identity for myself (or, actually, for Time) at that site, I chose to log in with Twitter. This should have worked, given the expectations we all have with “social” login. But it didn’t work, because Time still required an email address to go with the login ID. When I provided the email address I use with Twitter, Time said the address was taken. When I tried another email address, it said that one was taken too. Then I guessed that maybe I had already used one of the handles (login+email A or email B) I had just attempted, as a login with Time. So I tried several new combinations. All failed.

There are two main difference between this failure and Luke’s with the warden: 1) machine programming does the smacking, and 2) no lessons are taught to the rest of the prisoners.

This is a design issue, and it’s as old as computing. It’s called the namespace problem. Every system has its own namespaces, and getting different systems’ namespaces to work together is very hard. Maybe impossible. After all these years (hell, decades), it damn sure looks that way.

I believe, as do more many others, that the only solution is for those with the damn names to be in charge of those names, and to identify themselves in their own ways to the many different systems that require putting those names in their namespaces.

In a blog post last year, Devon Loffreto in Moxy Tongue laid out Why sovereign source authority matters. He was right then and he’s right now. So was Walt Whitman, quoted above in the failed comment to Time.  I believe sovereign identity is the only answer — or at least the only right place to start finding the answer.

I’ll be defending that position when we meet to talk about it, among lots of other subjects, in a couple weeks at IIW. If you’re interested, be there. It’t about time, doncha think?

Dave makes a profound distinction in his post this morning titled Outliners and Word Processors. For the first time I not only grok what I already knew about outlining, but why it’s so much better as a way to write than word processing ever was.

The distinction is a bit hard to see because Word — the word processor that approximately everybody uses — has a “view” called “Outline.” That view has made lots of writers hate outlining, for a good and ironic reason: it was never about outlining, so it botched the job. Dave explains,

What they called outlining was more like outline formatting. Putting Roman numerals on the top sections, capital letters on the first level. Numbers on the second and so on.

Word is a word processor. Its primary function is writing-for-printing. The choices the designers made make it a relatively strong formatter and a weak organizer.

Design choice is the key point. Dave again:

Word is a production tool – good for annual reports, formal papers, stories, books. Fargo is an organizing tool, good for lists, project plans, narrating your work, presentations, team communication. You could organize a conference with an outliner. The slides would naturally be composed wiht an outliner.

An outliner is designed for editing structure more than it is for editing text. The text is sort of “along for the ride.” Or you could see an outliner as text-on-rails. Outliner text is always ready to move, with a single mouse gesture or keystroke. You enter text into an outliner so you can move it around, like stick-up notes on a whiteboard.

…Word processors are good at selecting words, sentences and paragraphs. Outliners select headlines and all their subs.

This makes me think that Word should have been called a “format processor” from the start. We already had text editors. Word processing was actually about how things looked. Still is. See, when you write in Word, you are in a land called “styles,” no matter what. All styles format text, in countless ways. The default, called “Normal,” comes pre-set with font, size, justification, line spacing, paragraph spacing and so on. If you make changes to it, those get added as well, until you concatenate a long list of formatting variables, which get carried forward by copy and pasting, often in bizarre ways, conditioned on whatever other style choices may or may not have already been made in another part of the text.

For a long time I wrote entirely in an outliner called MORE, which was created by Dave and friends back the 1980s. As a writer I found MORE a far better tool than Word, especially for long pieces, because its structure-first design made it easy for me to move around whole sections, and to jump from one section to another. Fargo works the same way. Take this outline, for example:

Earth

  • Geology
  • Astronomy

Air

  • Chemistry
  • Weather

Water

  • chemistry
  • bodies

Fire

  • Material
  • Temperature

Writing that in WordPress (which I’m doing now) is a chore, because all the choices are formatting ones, not outlining ones. Let’s say I want to move Water above Fire. I need to copy and paste it, and then hit the HTML tab so I can un-screw whatever happens under WordPress’ very thin covers, and the formatting elements of HTML reside.

In Fargo, I just hit hit Command-U (or Control-U on Linux or Windows computers). Everything under Fire moves up. I can do the same with the subheads, or with the paragraphs under the subheads. (I would illustrate that here if the HTML hack weren’t so arduous.)

When I was writing The Intention Economy, I wished every day that I could have written it in MORE, because it would have been so much easier than it was in Word. MORE really was text-on-rails.

At its peak, The Intention Economy was 120,000 words long. The finished book was about 80,000 words. The outline view: four main parts and twenty-seven chapters. If I had been writing it in MORE, I could have collapsed the whole book to just the top-level (the four parts), expanded just to the chapter level, and then edited text within any of those, while seeing the whole outline in collapsed form above and below. I could have moved whole chapters or subchapters forward or back, and I could have promoted or demoted parts, chapters and subchapters, again with keyboard commands. I could easily have managed writing the whole book with an ease that Word simply would not allow, except to the degree that I could master working in its awful outline view.

(To be fair, there have been improvements in Word that make something like real outlining possible. I bring this up in case you’re writing a book and need easy navigation in Word. What you want is Document Map Pane under Sidebars in the View menu. That makes an outline pane appear to the left of the text. If you are using Word’s default outline and text formatting, you can expand and collapse subheads and text, and move about your document by clicking on the heading or subheading you like. It’s a huge help, though nothing as useful as what we lost when MORE went away a few years ago.)

By the way, on the production side, MORE actually did some things that Word still doesn’t do, such as giving you the choice of putting the saved date and time in the header or footer, rather than the current date and time. This is extremely handy for matching printed drafts with saved drafts on the computer. I believe MORE did that because it came from outline designers rather than format designers. It showed respect for the need to organize, and not just to format and produce.

The assumption with Word, even today, is that you will be printing the finished thing out, rather than publishing it on the Web. While Word does have a Web Layout view, and will produce HTML, it’s the gawd-awful-worst HTML the world has ever known. (Look up Word + HTML in a search engine and you’ll find lots of links to fixes for Word’s hideous HTML.) Again, this is a design legacy from a time before the Web, and we are still forced to live with it today.

Outlining is a much better fit for writing on, and for, the Web.

Consider this old writing aphorism: What you say matters more than how you say it. Outlining respects this by giving you a way to shape and re-shape what you say. As it was originally conceived, so did HTML. Although it did markup, which was formatting, HTML was as simple as possible, leaving particulars such as fonts and sizes up to the reader’s browser, rather than up to the writer’s word processor. This has changed over the years, as HTML has become far more complex, and design along with it. Right now, for example, I’m coping with designing a couple of new WordPress blogs, and the choices I face are all between different piles of complexity. If you want to color outside the lines of whatever themes you choose — or hell, just to choose a theme you can work with — you’re going to need professional help, or to spend a lot of time learning and re-learning how to write on the Web. That’s because the choices of how you say it have totally overrun those of what you say.

By coming from what you say rather than how you say it, Fargo is both an antidote to the complexities of writing for the Web today, and a throwback to the original design graces of HTML, and of the Web itself.

So I highly recommend to serious writers that they get on board and learn outlining, as Dave and his team at SmallPicture iterate Fargo toward whatever it will end up being. Hey, it’s still new. And what better time to get on board than when you’re new to the whole thing as well.

Bonus link: Outlining solves syncing and sharing, by Chris Wolverton.

I’m in Boston right now, and bummed that I can’t attend Start-up City: An Entrepreneurial Economy for Middle Class New York, which is happening today at New York Law School today.

I learned about it via Dana Spiegel of NYC Wireless, who will be on a panel titled “Breakout Session III: Infrastructure for the 21st Century—How Fast, Reliable Internet Access Can Boost Business Throughout the Five Boroughs.” In an email Dana wrote, The question for the panel participants is how fast, reliable internet access can boost business throughout NYC.” The mail was to a list. I responded, and since then I’ve been asked if that response might be shared outside the list as well. So I decided to blog it. Here goes:

Fast and reliable infrastructure of any kind is good for business. That it’s debatable for the Internet shows we still don’t understand what the Internet is — or how, compared to what it costs to build and maintain other forms of infrastructure, it’s damned cheap, with economic and social leverage in the extreme.

Here’s a thought exercise for the audience: Imagine no Internet: no data on phones, no ethernet or wi-fi connections at home — or anywhere. No email, no Google, no Facebook, no Skype.

That’s what we would have if designing the Internet had been left up to phone and cable companies, and not to geeks whose names most people don’t know, and who made something no business or government would ever contemplate: a thing nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve — and for all three reasons supports positive economic externalities beyond calculation.

The only reason we have the carriers in the Net’s picture is that we needed their wires. They got into the Internet service business only because demand for Internet access was huge, and they couldn’t avoid it.

Yet, because we still rely on their wires, and we get billed for their services every month, we think and talk inside their conceptual boxes.

Try this: cities are networks, and networks are cities. Every business, every person, every government agency and employee, every institution, is a node in a network whose value increases as a high multiple of all the opportunities there are for nodes to  connect — and to do anything. This is why the city should care about pure connectivity, and not just about “service” as a grace of phone and cable companies.

Building a network infrastructure as neutral to purpose as water, electricity, roads and sewage treatment should be a top priority for the city. It can’t do that if it’s wearing blinders supplied by Verizon, Time Warner and AT&T.

Re-base the questions on the founding protocols of the Net itself, and its city-like possibilities. Not on what we think the carriers can do for us, or what we can do that’s carrier-like.

I came to the realization that networks are cities, and vice versa, via Geoffrey West — first in Jonah Lehrer’s “A Physicist Solves The City,” in the New York Times, and then in West’s TED talk, “The Surprising Math of Cities and Corporations.” West is the physicist in Lehrer’s piece. Both are highly recommended.

Bonus link.

We’re not watching any less TV. In fact, we’re watching more of it, on more different kinds of screens. Does this mean that TV absorbs the Net, or vice versa? Or neither? That’s what I’m exploring here. By “explore” I mean I’m not close to finished, and never will be. I’m just vetting some ideas and perspectives, and looking for help improving them.

TV 1.0: The Antenna Age

In the beginning, 100% of  TV went out over the air, radiated by contraptions atop towers or buildings, and picked up by rabbit ears on the backs of TV sets or by bird roosts on roofs. “Cable” was the wire that ran from the roof to the TV set. It helps to understand how this now-ancient system worked, because its main conceptual frame — the channel, or a collection of them —  is still with us, even though the technologies used are almost entirely different. So here goes.

tv antenna

Empire State Building antennas

On the left is a typical urban rooftop TV antenna. The different lengths of the antenna elements correspond roughly to the wavelengths of the signals. For reception, this mattered a lot.

In New York  City, for example, TV signals all came from the Empire State Building — and still do, at least until they move to the sleek new spire atop One World Trade Center, aka the Freedom Tower. (Many stations were on the North Tower of the old World Trade center, and perished with the rest of the building on 9/11/2001. After that, they moved back to their original homes on the Empire State Building.)

“Old” in the right photo refers to analog, and “new” to digital. (An aside: FM is still analog. Old and New here are just different generations of transmitting antennas. The old FM master antenna is two rings of sixteen T-shaped things protruding above and below the observation deck on the 102nd floor. It’s still in use as an auxiliary antenna. Here’s a similar photo from several decades back, showing the contraptual arrangement at the height of the Antenna Age.)

Channels 2-6 were created by the FCC in the 1940s (along with FM radio, which is in a band just above TV channel 6). Those weren’t enough channels, so 7-13 came along next, on higher frequencies — and therefore shorter wavelengths. Since the shorter waves don’t bend as well around buildings and terrain, stations on channels 7-13 needed higher power. So, while the maximum power for channels 2-6 was 100,000 watts, the “equivalent” on channels 7-13 was 316,000 watts. All those channels were in VHF bands, for Very High Frequency. Channels 14-83 — the UHF, or Ultra High Frequency band, was added in the 1950s, to make room for more stations in more places. Here the waves were much shorter, and the maximum transmitted power for “equivalent” coverage  to VHF was 5,000,000 watts. (All were ERP, or effective radiated power, toward the horizon.)

This was, and remains, a brute-force approach to what we now call “delivering content.” Equally brute approaches were required for reception as well. To watch TV, homes in outer suburban or rural areas needed rooftop antennas that looked like giant centipedes.

What they got — analog TV — didn’t have the resolution of today’s digital TV, but it was far more forgiving of bad reception conditions. You might get “ghosting” from reflected signals, or “snow” from a weak signal, but people put up with those problems just so they could see what was on.

More importantly, they got hooked.

TV 2.0: the Cable Age.

It began with CATV, or Community Antenna Television. For TV junkies who couldn’t get a good signal, CATV was a godsend. In the earliest ’70s I lived in McAfee, New Jersey, deep in a valley, where a rabbit-ears antenna got nothing, and even the biggest rooftop antenna couldn’t do much better. (We got a snowy signal on Channel 2 and nothing else.) So when CATV came through, giving us twelve clear channels of TV from New York and Philadelphia, we were happy to pay for it. A bit later, when we moved down Highway 94 to a high spot south of Newton, my rooftop antenna got all those channels and more, so there was  no need for CATV there. Then, after ’74, when we moved to North Carolina, we did without cable for a few years, because our rooftop antennas, which we could spin about with a rotator, could get everything from Roanoke, Virginia to Florence, South Carolina.

But then, in the early ’80s, we picked up on cable because it had Atlanta “superstation” WTCG (later WTBS and then just TBS) and HBO, which was great for watching old movies. WTCG, then still called Channel 17, also featured the great Bill Tush. (Sample here.) The transformation of WTCG into a satellite-distributed “superstation” meant that a TV station no longer needed to be local, or regional. For “super” stations on cable, “coverage” and “range” became bugs, not features.

Cable could also present viewers with more channels than they could ever get over the air. Technical improvements gradually raised the number of possible channels from dozens to hundreds. Satellite systems, which replicated cable in look and feel, could carry even more channels.

Today cable is post-peak. See here:

catv and cable tv

That’s because, in the ’90s, cable also turned out to be ideal for connecting homes to the Internet. We were still addicted to what cable gave us as “TV,” but we also had the option to watch a boundless variety of other stuff — and to produce our own. Today people are no less hooked on video than they were in 1955, but a declining percentage of their glowing-rectangle viewing is on cable-fed TV screens. The main thing still tying people to cable is the exclusive availability of high-quality and in-demand shows (including, especially, live sports) over cable and satellite alone.

This is why apps for CNN, ESPN, HBO and other cable channels require proof of a cable or satellite TV subscription. If cable content was á la carte, the industry would collapse. The industry knows this, of course, which makes it defensive.

That’s why Aereo freaks them out. Aereo is the new company that Fox and other broadcasters are now suing for giving people who can’t receive TV signals a way to do that over the Net. The potential served population is large, since the transition of U.S. television from analog to digital transmission (DTV) was, and remains, a great big fail.

Where the FCC estimated a 2% loss of analog viewers after the transition in June 2009, in fact 100% of the system changed, and post-transition digital coverage was not only a fraction of pre-transition analog coverage, but required an entirely new way to receive signals, as well as to view them. Here in New York, for example, I’m writing this in an apartment that could receive analog TV over rabbit ears in the old analog days. It looked bad, but at least it was there. With DTV there is nothing. For apartment dwellers without line-of-sight to the Empire State Building, the FCC’s reception maps are a fiction. Same goes for anybody out in the suburbs or in rural areas. If there isn’t a clear-enough path between the station’s transmitter and your TV’s antenna, you’re getting squat.

TV stations actually don’t give much of a damn about over-the-air any more, because 90+% of viewers are watching cable. But TV stations still make money from cable systems, thanks to re-transmission fees and “must carry” rules. These rules require cable systems to carry all the signals receivable in the area they serve. And the coverage areas are mostly defined by the old analog signal footprints, rather than the new smaller digital footprints, which are also much larger on the FCC’s maps than in the realities where people actually live.

Aereo gets around all that by giving each customer an antenna of their own, somewhere out where the signals can be received, and delivering each received station’s video to customers over the Net. In other words, it avoids being defined as cable, or even CATV. It’s just giving you, the customer, your own little antenna.

This is a clever technical and legal hack, and strong enough for Aereo towin in court. After that victory, Fox threatened to take its stations off the air entirely, becoming cable- and satellite-only. This exposed the low regard that broadcasters hold for their over-the-air signals, and for broadcasting’s legacy “public service” purpose.

The rest of the Aereo story is inside baseball, and far from over. (If you want a good rundown of the story so far, dig Aereo: Reinventing the cable TV model, by Tristan Louis.)

Complicating this even more is the matter of “white spaces.” Those are parts of the TV bands where there are no broadcast signals, or where broadcast signals are going away. These spaces are valuable because there are countless other purposes to which signals in those spaces could be put, including wireless Internet connections. Naturally, TV station owners want to hold on to those spaces, whether they broadcast in them or not. And, just as naturally, the U.S. government would like to auction the spaces off. (To see where the spaces are, check out Google’s “spectrum browser“. And note how few of them there are in urban areas, where there are the most remaining TV signals.)

Still, TV 2.0 through 2.9 is all about cable, and what cable can do. What’s happening with over-the-air is mostly about what the wonks call policy. From Aereo to white spaces, it’s all a lot of jockeying for position — and making hay where the regulatory sun shines.

Meanwhile, broadcasters and cable operators still hate the Net, even though cable operators are in the business of providing access to it. Both also remain in denial about the Net’s benefits beyond serving as Cable 2.x. They call distribution of content over the Net (e.g. through Hulu and Netflix) “over the top” or OTT, even though it’s beyond obvious that OTT is the new bottom.

FCC regulations regarding TV today are in desperate need of normalizing to the plain fact that the Net is the new bottom — and incumbent broadcasters aren’t the only ones operating there. But then, the feds don’t understand the Net either. The FCC’s world is radio, TV and telephony. To them, the Net is just a “service” provided by phone and cable companies.

TV 3.0: The IPTV age

IPTV is TV over the Internet Protocol — in other words, through the open Internet, rather than through cable’s own line-up of channels. One example is Netflix. By streaming movies over the Net, Netflix put a big dent in cable viewing. Adding insult to that injury, the vast majority of Netflix streamed movies are delivered over cable connections, and cable doesn’t get a piece of the action, because delivery is over OTT, via IPTV. And now, by producing its own high-quality shows, such as House of Cards, Netflix is competing with cable on the program front as well. To make the viewing experience as smooth as possible for its customers, Netflix also has its own equivalent of a TV transmitter. It’s called OpenConnect, and it’s one among a number of competing CDNs, or Content Delivery Networks. Basically they put up big server farms as close as possible to large volumes of demand, such as in cities.

So think of Netflix as a premium cable channel without the cable, or the channel, optimized for delivery over the Internet. It carries forward some of TV’s norms (such as showing old movies and new TV shows for a monthly subscription charge) while breaking new ground where cable and its sources either can’t or won’t go.

Bigger than Netflix, at least in terms of its catalog and global popularity, is Google’s YouTube. If you want your video to be seen by the world, YouTube is where you put it today, if you want maximum leverage. YouTube isn’t a monopoly for Google (the list of competitors is long), but it’s close. (According to Alexa, YouTube is accessed by a third of all Internet users worldwide. Its closest competitor (in the U.S., at least), is Vimeo, with a global reach of under 1%.) So, while Netflix looks a lot like cable, YouTube looks like the Web. It’s Net-native.

Bassem Youssef, “the Jon Stewart of Egypt,” got his start on YouTube, and then expanded into regular TV. He’s still on YouTube, even though his show on TV got canceled when he was hauled off to jail for offending the regime. Here he tells NBC’s Today show, “there’s always YouTube.” [Later... Dig this bonus link.]

But is there? YouTube is a grace of Google, not the Web. And Google is a big advertising business that has lately been putting more and more ads, TV-like, in front of videos. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a proven system. The question, as we move from TV 3.0 to 3.9, is whether the Net and the Web will survive the inclusion of TV’s legacy methods and values in its midst. In The TV in the Snake of Time, written in July 2010, I examined that question at some length:

Television is deeply embedded in pretty much all developed cultures by now. We — and I mean this in the worldwide sense — are not going to cease being couch potatoes. Nor will our suppliers cease couch potato farming, even as TV moves from airwaves to cable, satellite, and finally the Internet.

In the process we should expect the spirit (if not also the letter) of the Net’s protocols to be violated.

Follow the money. It’s not for nothing that Comcast wishes to be in the content business. In the old cable model there’s a cap on what Comcast can charge, and make, distributing content from others. That cap is its top cable subscription deals. Worse, they’re all delivered over old-fashioned set top boxes, all of which are — as Steve Jobs correctly puts it — lame. If you’re Comcast, here’s what ya do:

  1. Liberate the TV content distro system from the set top sphincter.
  2. Modify or re-build the plumbing to deliver content to Net-native (if not entirely -friendly) devices such as home flat screens, smartphones and iPads.
  3. Make it easy for users to pay for any or all of it on an à la carte (or at least an easy-to-pay) basis, and/or add a pile of new subscription deals.

Now you’ve got a much bigger marketplace, enlarged by many more devices and much less friction on the payment side. (Put all “content” and subscriptions on the shelves of “stores” like iTunes’ and there ya go.) Oh, and the Internet? … that World of Ends that techno-utopians (such as yours truly) liked to blab about? Oh, it’s there. You can download whatever you want on it, at higher speeds every day, overall. But it won’t be symmetrical. It will be biased for consumption. Our job as customers will be to consume — to persist, in the perfect words of Jerry Michalski, as “gullets with wallets and eyeballs.”

Future of the Internet

So, for current and future build-out, the Internet we techno-utopians know and love goes off the cliff while better rails get built for the next generations of TV — on the very same “system.” (For the bigger picture, Jonathan Zittrain’s latest is required reading.)

In other words, it will get worse before it gets better. A lot worse, in fact.

But it will get better, and I’m not saying that just because I’m still a utopian. I’m saying that because the new world really is the Net, and there’s a limit to how much of it you can pave with one-way streets. And how long the couch potato farming business will last.

More and more of us are bound to produce as well as consume, and we’ll need two things that a biased-for-TV Net can’t provide. One is speed in both directions: out as well as in. (“Upstream” calls Sisyphus to mind, so let’s drop that one.) The other is what Bob Frankston calls “ambient connectivity.” That is, connectivity we just assume.

When you go to a hotel, you don’t have to pay extra to get water from the “hydro service provider,” or electricity from the “power service provider.” It’s just there. It has a cost, but it’s just overhead.

That’s the end state. We’re still headed there. But in the meantime the Net’s going through a stage that will be The Last Days of TV. The optimistic view here is that they’ll also be the First Days of the Net.

Think of the original Net as the New World, circa 1491. Then think of TV as the Spanish invasion. Conquistators! Then read this essay by Richard Rodriguez. My point is similar. TV won’t eat the Net. It can’t. It’s not big enough. Instead, the Net will swallow TV. Ten iPad generations from now, TV as we know it will be diffused into countless genres and sub-genres, with millions of non-Hollywood production centers. And the Net will be bigger than ever.

In the meantime, however, don’t hold your breath.

That meantime has  now lasted nearly three years — or much longer if you go back to 1998, when I wrote a chapter of a book by Microsoft, right after they bought WebTV. An excerpt:

The Web is about dialog. The fact that it supports entertainment, and does a great job of it, does nothing to change that fact. What the Web brings to the entertainment business (and every business), for the first time, is dialog like nobody has ever seen before. Now everybody can get into the entertainment conversation. Or the conversations that comprise any other market you can name. Embracing that is the safest bet in the world. Betting on the old illusion machine, however popular it may be at the moment, is risky to say the least…

TV is just chewing gum for the eyes. — Fred Allen

This may look like a long shot, but I’m going to bet that the first fifty years of TV will be the only fifty years. We’ll look back on it the way we now look back on radio’s golden age. It was something communal and friendly that brought the family together. It was a way we could be silent together. Something of complete unimportance we could all talk about.

And, to be fair, TV has always had a very high quantity of Good Stuff. But it also had a much higher quantity of drugs. Fred Allen was being kind when he called it “chewing gum for the eyes.” It was much worse. It made us stupid. It started us on real drugs like cannabis and cocaine. It taught us that guns solve problems and that violence is ordinary. It disconnected us from our families and communities and plugged us into a system that treated us as a product to be fattened and led around blind, like cattle.

Convergence between the Web and TV is inevitable. But it will happen on the terms of the metaphors that make sense of it, such as publishing and retailing. There is plenty of room in these metaphors — especially retailing — for ordering and shipping entertainment freight. The Web is a perfect way to enable the direct-demand market for video goods that the television industry was never equipped to provide, because it could never embrace the concept. They were in the eyeballs-for-advertisers business. Their job was to give away entertainment, not to charge for it.

So what will we get? Gum on the computer screen, or choice on the tube?

It’ll be no contest, especially when the form starts funding itself.

Bet on Web/TV, not TV/Web.

I was recruited to write that chapter because I was the only guy Microsoft could find who thought the Web would eat TV rather than vice versa. And it does look like that’s finally happening, but only if you think Google is the Web. Or if you think Web sites are the new channels. In tech-speak, channels are silos.

When I wrote those pieces, I did not foresee the degree to which our use of the Net would be contained in silos that Bruce Schneier compares to feudal-age castles. Too much of the Web we know today is inside the walls governed by Lord Zuck, King Tim, Duke Jeff and the emperors Larry and Sergey. In some ways those rulers are kind and generous, but we are not free so long as we are native to their dominions rather than the boundless Networked world on which they sit.

The downside of depending on giants is that you can, and will, get screwed. Exhibit A (among too many for one alphabet) is Si Dawson’s goodbye post on Twitcleaner, a service to which he devoted his life, and countless people loved, that ”was an engineering marvel built, as it were, atop a fail-whaling ship.”  When Twitter “upgraded” its API, it sank Twitcleaner and many other services built on Twitter. Writes Si, “Through all this I’ve learned so, so much.Perhaps the key thing? Never playfootball when someone else owns the field. So obvious in hindsight.”

Now I’m having the same misgivings about Dropbox, which works as what Anil Dash calls a POPS: Privately Owned Public Space. It’s a great service, but it’s also a private one. And therefore risky like Twitter is risky.

What has happened with all those companies was a morphing of mission from a way to the way:

  • Google was way to search, and became the way to search
  • Facebook was way to be social on the Web, and became the way to be social on the Web
  • Twitter was way to microblog, and became the way to microblog

I could go on, but you get the idea.

What makes the Net and the Web open and free are not its physical systems, or any legal system. What makes them free are their protocols, which are nothing more than agreements: the machine equivalents of handshakes. Protocols do not by their nature presume a centralized system, like TV — or like giant Web sites and services. Protocols are also also not corruptible, because they are each NEA: Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it and Anybody can improve it.

Back in 2003, David Weinberger and I wrote about protocols and NEA in a site called World of Ends: What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It For Something Else. In it we said the Net was defined by its protocols, not by the companies providing the wiring and the airwaves over which we access the Net.

Yet, a decade later, we are still mistaking the Net for TV. Why? One reason is that there is so much more TV on the Net than ever before. Another is that we get billed for the Net by cable and phone companies. For cable and phone companies providing home service, it’s “broadband” or “high speed Internet.” For mobile phone companies, it’s a “data plan.” By whatever name, it’s one great big channel: a silo open at both ends, through which “content” gets piped to “consumers.” To its distributors — the ones we pay for access — it’s just another kind of cable TV.

The biggest player in cable is not Comcast or Time Warner. It’s ESPN. That’s because the most popular kind of live TV is sports, and ESPN runs that show. Today, ESPN is moving aggressively to mobile. In other words, from cable to the Net. Says Bloomberg Businessweek,

ESPN has been unique among traditional media businesses in that it has flourished on the Web and in the mobile space, where the number of users per minute, which is ESPN’s internal metric, reached 102,000 in June, an increase of 48 percent so far this year. Mobile is now ESPN’s fastest-growing platform.

Now, in ESPN Eyes Subsidizing Wireless-Data Plans, the Wall Street Journal reports, “Under one potential scenario, the company would pay a carrier to guarantee that people viewing ESPN mobile content wouldn’t have that usage counted toward their monthly data caps.” If this happens, it would clearly violate the principle of network neutrality: that the network itself should not favor one kind of data, or data producer, over another.Such a deal would instantly turn every competing data producer into a net neutrality activist, so it’s not likely to happen.

Meanwhile John McCain, no friend of net neutrality, has introduced the TV Consumer Freedom Act, which is even less friendly to cable. As Business Insider puts it, McCain wants to blow the sucker upSays McCain,

This legislation has three principal objectives: (1) encourage the wholesale and retail ‘unbundling’ of programming by distributors and programmers; (2) establish consequences if broadcasters choose to ‘downgrade’ their over-the-air service; and (3) eliminate the sports blackout rule for events held in publicly-financed stadiums.

For over 15 years I have supported giving consumers the ability to buy cable channels individually, also known as ‘a la carte’ – to provide consumers more control over viewing options in their home and, as a result, their monthly cable bill.

The video industry, principally cable companies and satellite companies and the programmers that sell channels, like NBC and Disney-ABC, continue to give consumers two options when buying TV programming: First, to purchase a package of channels whether you watch them all or not; or, second, not purchase any cable programming at all.

This is unfair and wrong – especially when you consider how the regulatory deck is stacked in favor of industry and against the American consumer.

Unbundle TV, make it á la carte, and you have nothing more than subscription video on the Net. And that is what TV will become. If McCain’s bill passes, we will still pay Time Warner and Comcast for connections to the Net; and they will continue to present a portfolio of á la carte and bundled subscription options. Many video sources will continue to be called “networks” and “channels.” But it won’t be TV 4.0 because TV 3.0 — TV over IP — will be the end of TV’s line.

Shows will live on. So will producers and artists and distributors. The old TV business to be as creative as ever, and will produce more good stuff than ever. Couch potatoes will live too, but there will be many more farmers, and the fertilizer will abound in variety.

What we’ll have won’t be TV because TV is channels, and channels are scarce. The Net has no channels, and isn’t about scarcity. It just has an endless number of ends, and no limit on the variety of sources pumping out “content” from those ends. Those sources include you, me, and everybody else who wants to produce and share video, whether for free or for pay.

The Net is an environment built for abundance. You can put all the scarcities you want on it, because an abundance-supporting environment allows that. An abundance system such as the Net gives business many more ways to bet than a scarcity system such as TV has been from the antenna age on through cable. As Jerry Michalski says (and tweets), “#abundance is pretty scary, isn’t it? Yet it’s the way forward.”

Abundance also frees all of us personally. How we organize what we watch should be up to us, not up to cable systems compiling their own guides that look like spreadsheets, with rows of channels and columns of times. We can, and should, do better than that. We should also do better than what YouTube gives us, based on what its machines think we might want.

The new box to think outside of is Google’s. So let’s re-start there. TV is what it’s always been: dumb and terminal.

 

I’ll be participating in a run of good and fun events over the next few weeks, taking me to at least five cities in five countries. Here they are:

There is also a trip Down Under planned. But no events there. At least not yet. :-)

CISPA roundup

EFFLast week, while most of us were busy watching the Boston Marathon bombing events unfold, an icky bill called CISPA, or HR264was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, with enormous lobbying help from IBM and other industrial giants. There are lots of angles on why CISPA is a Bad Thing (see the link pile below for a small sample); but I like the way Joe Andrieu puts it best. He says CISPA “explicitly allows companies to ignore their privacy agreements in the name of cybersecurity,” adding,

This is Regulatory capture of the worst kind. Please get the word out. Fight this thing.

If we can’t even depend on the blatantly one-sided Terms of Service and Privacy Policies of our service providers, entire fields of solutions evaporate.  Efforts to improve, fix, clarify, negotiate or automate the privacy and service agreements will be essentially worthless if Congress is willing to give corporations a free pass.

“Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a self-protected entity may, for cybersecurity purposes … share such cyber threat information with any other entity, including the Federal Government.”

Enshrining corporate protections like this in law isn’t just a privacy problem. It undermines the very notion of contract as a mechanism for constructing agreements in a free society. This is unaccepatble.

Fight CISPA. Call your senator. Call the white house. Blog it. Tweet it. Repost this. Tell everyone. 

The EFF is on the case. To take their lead, start here.

Bonus link pile:

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Omni, December 1978I was excited to learn, via BoingBoing, that “The complete run of Omni… is now available for free on the Internet Archive.” So I eagerly went there, hoping to find two pieces of mine published early in the legendary magazine’s run. The first (there on the left) ran in December 1978 and the second ran in August 1979. I recalled both in Remembering the Future, a little over three years ago.

Learning the whole thing was online meant I could finally add these old analog pieces to my digital oeuvre.

Alas, it appears that December 1978 is the only issue not in the Archive.

At least the second piece, titled “Vagabond,” is there, on pages 55 and 56 of the August ’79 issue. As with the first one, I was paid $800; but I gave much of it to  Ray Simone, my good friend and business partner, who did the orignal art, which OMNI knocked off without attribution.

Somewhere in my Santa Barbara basement is a copy of the December ’78 issue. I’ll try, sometime in the next few months, when I have a few spare hours to go digging, to find it and send it along to the Internet Archive: the last piece of a fine puzzle.

 

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brokenFor me, news of the Boston bombing broke on my phone, in a remote hotel on the island of Providenciales in Turks and Caicos, where I had gone for a speaking engagement at a corporate offsite. First came emails with no context, from friends asking if I was okay. Next I checked the Web to see what was up, and got the basics. Then, back in my hotel room, I got WBUR on my phone and listened for awhile to live coverage. Then I fell into an old habit: finding CNN on the hotel TV and watching it until the looping of already-said stuff became intolerable, and moved on.

Today, back in New York, we’ve been working at home with CNN running on our “TV” (an old flat screen connected to an older laptop channeling our Dish Network receiver in Santa Barbara). The sound is muted, and every so often we look up to see what’s being scrolled across the bottom, noting how the need-to-scoop outruns the facts of the case, whatever they are. I stifled the urge to document the silliness of it all, because I was sure somebody or other would do a better job. The first I found was Josh Marshall on TPM, inviting us to “Relive It (CNN’s 90 Minutes of Awesome).”

Specifically, CNN said somebody had been arrested, and there would be more at 5pm. Then CNN said nobody had been arrested, but continued to harp on the allegedly suspicious actions of some guy caught on pixels. “SOURCES: POSSIBLE SUSPECT SEEN ON VIDEO” it says now. (Bonus link.)

From a journalistic perspective, what we see here is a dissolving of the old canon, and with it old habits, and the more gradual construction of a new canon, by countless persons other than those who maintain the old one (but including maintainers who are not in denial). The new canon, when it coheres, years from now, will be the omelette we make of many factual eggs, seen and heard by many eyes and ears, and cooked by many brains. Many professional journalists will still be involved, because journalism will remain a profession and cream will still rise.  But we won’t be putting Humpty’s new guts back in TV news’ broken shell. (Going for a new metaphorizing record here.)

In How podcasting got its name, Dave nicely outlines the derivation of the terms podcast and podcasting.

That last link goes to the Wikipedia page, because pretty much any other link I put in there has a greater risk of breaking. And that’s what’s at issue here.

Dave was able to date usage in part because others, including yours truly, knew that history was being made, live, at the time. My contribution was DIY Radio with PODcasting, on a Linux Journal blog called IT Garage, on 28 September 2004. In it I wrote this linky passage:

But now most of my radio listening is to what Adam Curry and others are starting to call podcasts. That last link currently brings up 24 results on Google. A year from now, it will pull up hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions.

Which it did, and still does.

But what matters here is that Linux Journal has kept IT Garage up on the Web, even though it has long since run its course.

In The Web We Lost and How We Lost the Web, Anil Dash describes the slope down which we have collectively slid over the last decade or so, as more and more of our documents and activities online have become streams instead of pages, and locked up in what Bruce Schneier calls a feudal world of walled POPS: Privately Owned Public Spaces.

I saw the streamed world emerging when my son Allen predicted the “Live Web” in 2003. I thought that was an amazing insight, especially since the Web of pages we had known since 1995 was fundamentally a static one. My first substantive piece about the Live Web was probably this one in 2005. My last was this one in 2011. More recently Phil Windley has run with it, which I like because he’s a real developer and not just a writer/instigator like me.

We can find these historic details because links have at least a provisional permanence to them. They are, literally, paths to locations. Thanks to those, we can document the history we make, and learn from it as well.

Links also, as David Weinberger has always put it so well, subvert hierarchy. There is something about the loose joining of our small pieces that keeps the big centralizers from turning everything we do into snow on the water.

Yesterday, when Anil Dash (@AnilDash) spoke about The Web We Lost at Harvard, I took notes in my little outliner, in a browser. They follow. The top outline level is slide titles, or main points. The next level down are points made under the top level. Some of the outline is what Anil said, and some of it is what I thought he said, or thought on my own based on what he said, and then blathered out through my fingers. Apologies to Anil for what I might have heard wrong. Corrections invited.

David Weinberger also blogged the event This wasn’t easy, because David also introduced Anil and moderated the Q&A. His notes are, as always, excellent. So go read those first.

You can also follow along with this photo set.

Here goes:

POPS — Privately Owned Public Spaces

A secretive, private Ivy League club.

  • Facebook was conceived as that.

Wholesale destruction of your wedding photos

  • We hear stories about this, over and over, when a proprietary silo — even a POPS — dies, gets acquired or otherwise goes poof
  • Think of what matters. (e.g. wedding photos) Everything else you own is just: stuff
  • The silo makers are allowed to do this, because they have one-sided and onerous terms of service. For example:

Apple’s terms for iOS developers

  • Amazing: “We view apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.”

There is a war raging against the Web we once had.

  • “Being introduced as a blogger is like being introduced as an emailer”

They are bending the law to make controlling our data illegal

  • Watch what’s happening. We won SOPA/PIPA, but that was just one thing. Are we going to do that twice? The same way?

Metadata is dying. And we didn’t even notice.

  • Compare Flickr (old Web) and Instragram (new Web), which has no metadata
  • Props to Berkman for doing the right thing by RSS

Links were corrupted. Likes are next.

  • Economics are getting divorced from original contexts.
  • Remember Suck.com? It was all about linking outward. (See David Weinberger on hyperlinks subverting hierarchy)
  • Now links (at pubs and ad-supported sites) go to internal aggregation pages. SOA.
  • Google converted the meaning of links from the expressive to the economic. (Or, to an economic statement.) Link-spam went viral in less than six months.
  • Facebook has what they call Edgerank. “Likes” at first were an expression of intent. Now they are fuel for advertising. We’re seeing “like fraud.”
  • On Flickr, favorites are still favorites because they aren’t monetizable. Thus Flickr has remained, relatively speaking, blessedly uncorrupted

They are gaslighting the Web.

  • Note how unevenly Facebook places warnings. “Please be careful…” they say, about clicking on a non-Facebook facebook link. You see this on many non-BigCo sites that use Facebook logins. But…>
  • With big Facebook partners you don’t get the message. Coincidence
  • >Also, sites that register with them get the warning, while those that don’t register don’t have the message, even though they are less trustworthy. (Do I have that right? Not sure.)
  • This is not malicious. It’s well-intended in its own pavement-to-hell way.>

In the best case, we’re stuck fixing their bugs on our budgets

  • In the worst case, they’re behaving badly
  • This is true for all the things that compete with the Web

Ideas get locked into apps that will not survive acquisition

  • Content tied to devices dies when those devices become obsolete

We’ve given up on formats. We lost.

  • Watch out for proprietary and under-documented formats
  • Exceptions are .jpg and .html.

Undocumented and non-interoperable are now too common.

  • There is an intentional pulling away from that which lowers switching costs, and creates public spaces.
  • “Town halls” in POPS are not happening in public spaces. Example: the White House “town halls” on Facebook

TOS + IP trumps the constitution

  • Everything you say can be changed on FB and they would be within their rights to do that

It’s never the Pharoah’s words that are lost to history

  • POPS and walled gardens are not level playing fields
  • Ordinary people’s interactions are being lost.
  • Can’t we just opt out? What does that cost?
  • There are opportuity and career costs
  • Can I meaningfully expand my sphere of opportunities in a silo’d world run by pharoahs?
  • “If I hadn’t participated in the blogosphere I wouldn’t be here today”

Our hubris helped them do this.

  • We, the geeks of the world, the builders of public spaces, created non-appealing stuff. It didn’t compete. (e.g. OpenID)
  • Thus we (i.e. everybody) are privileging prisons over the Web itself.
  • We (geeks) did sincerely care
  • We were so arrogant around the goodness of our own open creations that Zuck’s closed vision seemed more appealing
  • That Z’s private club was more appealing says something.
  • How we told the story, how we went about it, also mattered. We didn’t appeal. We talked to ourselves.
  • It’s not just about UI, though we did suck at that too. It was about being in tune with ordinary non-geeks
  • If we had been listening more… and had been a little more open in self-criticism…

Too much triumphalism in having won SOPA and PIPA.

  • Can we do that again? Our willingness to pat ourselves on the back isn’t helpful.
  • The people we count on to rally behind our efforts may not show up again

The open web faded away was not for lack of a compelling vision.

  • We were less inclusive than Facebook and Apple.

But it’s only some of the Web, right?

  • We built the Web for pages
  • Then we changed from pages to streams… narrow single column streams
  • Yahoo is now a stream too. See recent changes there. The Web is now more like radio. Snow on the water.
  • These streams feel like apps. But users are chosing something different.
  • (Shows a graph.)
  • Half the time we spent in 2010 was already in a streaming experience. The percentage is much higher now.
  • These streams are controlled-access. They are limited-access highways. This is part of the mechanism for constraining the conversation. A mismatch between the open web advocacy community and what people do. These others have a much more

Geeks always want to fight the last battle.

  • What they need is a new kind of stream compelling enough for normal people to use.
  • Mozilla is an exception, thanks to Microsoft being evil and IE bad.

So, what do we do?

  • Are FB, LI and TW the new NBC, ABC and CBS?
  • The web follows patterns.
  • The pendulum swings
  • Google is trying to be the evil empire now (whether they know it or not), overreaching, making us feel itchy the way Microsoft did in ’97.

Policy works. Fighting Microsoft helped.

  • Reality is: public policy can be an effective
  • Policy is coming around social networking. Count on it. Facebook’s overreach has that effect
  • There are apps that want to do the right thing. (Anil, for example, is doing ThinkUp)
  • The open web community mostly makes science projects and tool kits. Not enough.
  • Are you being more sensitive to what users want than Zuck is?
  • Item: it’s very hard to learn the history of the software industry, even here. How did software impact culture? How did desktop office suites affect business? The principal actors are still here. They have phones and email addresses. Yet we can’t seem to learn from them.

There are insights to be gleaned from owning our data.

  • Can’t imagine a less attractive name for something than Quantified Self; but the movement matters
  • This stuff that is already digital we pay no attention to. Instead we (companies) rely on marketing reports.
  • Odd: it’s much easier to track my heart rate than how often I visit Twitter.
  • These are the vectors for displacement, e.g. Google on meaning, emotion, expression… We have to be able to do better than them.
  • Think about it: if you allow one more color than blue you’re ahead of Facebook

There are institutions that still care about a a healthy web.

  • The White House has a podcast
  • The Library of Congress? (not clear about the reference here)
  • Facebook terms of service had a conflict with federal law
  • Would hve been fun to see them shut down the White House Facebook account.
  • Terms of service aren’t laws. Break them sometimes.

PR trumps ToS 10 times out of 10

  • Look at our culture as being negatively affected by ToSes
  • Look at Facebook’s ToS the same way we look at public laws. They even eliminated the token effort.
  • Look at YouTube. “No infringement intended.”
  • The people have already chosen a path of civil disobedience
  • A Million Mixer march happens every day

Bonus links: Bruce Schneier in the Q&A brought up his Feudal model, which he talked about on Thursday in conversation with Jonathan Zittrain. And this very thoughtful piece by

VRM, Privacy, Personal Clouds

Outlining, programming, business

Marketing

Journalism

Not yet classified