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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.

Just noticed Blogrunner, which looks like a mash of Technorati and Google News. The brief About:

  Blogrunner is a news aggregator from The New York Times that monitors articles and blog posts and tracks news stories as they develop across the Web.

Below that is a link to its blog. Here’s the FAQ.

Good, tight story of what happened on . In the International Herald Tribune.

By the way, somewhere in this weekend’s Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Keillor sings a delightful tribute to the crew of flight 1549. Heard it live yesterday. The show is running again today on many public stations. Public Radio Fan has times and stations. If you have an iPhone, catch it on your free Public Radio Tuner.

Speaking of which, our first planned VRM feature for the tuner is a “listen log”, to answer “What was that?” questions and to provide fun data that’s yours (not anybody else’s) to do with what you wish.

If you have other features you’d like, on this tuner or on future ones (not just on the iPhone — that’s just where you’ll see it first), let us know.

Yo!Yo!

Lessig returns to Harvard. Local souces confirm. Heres the tweet. Watch the blog for more. (Here it is.) Overheard among the locals: Aslan is on the move.

Twthbbbbt!

This…

… is getting tiresome.

Tags: ,

I call Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004 a crock.

Paul Boutin wrote it. He’s an old friend, and I hate to crap on anybody’s work. But he’s wrong about this one. A sample from my reply:

As personal journals on the Web go, blogs have no substitute. Twitter is fine for 140-character micro-postings, and for the ecosystem surrounding it. But micro-posts are not journals. Flickr is great for posting, tagging, organizing and annotating photographs, and for allied services such as creating groups and the rest of it, but it ain’t blogging. Facebook has some blogging features, but at the cost of forcing the blogger to operate in a vast hive of non-journalistic activity — and flat-out noise.

Bonus link.

Several weeks ago, while we were walking around Mystic Seaport, in the mist of shooting these pictures, I dropped my camera, a Canon 30D — a workhorse that has served ably for more than two years. Afterwards it seemed to work fine mechanically, but it could no longer read light properly. For whatever reason, it overexposed shots by two stops or more. (All the shots I took with it after that were in manual mode using guesswork about light, trial and error.)

So I took it in to a camera repair shop near Boston, and they sent it to Canon. On Friday (yesterday) I got it back. It was an almost entirely new camera. New back, new top, new electronics. I didn’t have time to test it out before hitting the road for the weekend in Vermont and New Hampshire, but I didn’t expect any problems.

I was wrong. The problem wasn’t fixed. It still reads light wrong and overexposes by two or more stops. How could they replace so much of the camera and not fix the one thing that was wrong with it? Amazing.

I suppose I should bring the camera back on Monday and repeat the process, but I really want to have it in California this next week, and on the trip that follows that one. In fact, the first day I’ll be able to pick it up is September 12.

Right now I’m hoping that Samy’s in Santa Barbara (where I bought it) will be able to send it into Canon and expedite a fast turn-around on a fix.

Meanwhile I’m wondering if I should just go ahead and get a soon-to-be-discontinued Canon 5D, which is getting down around $1000 now. It’s a great camera, much better than the 30D. And use the 30D as a second camera. But… I dunno. Probably not, mostly because I’d also have to invest in all those good lenses that will make the 5D sing. Right now I have only one really good lens for the 30D. The other two are cheapies: a Tamron 18-200 (sharp, but not fast, and with fuzziness at the long end and barrel distortion at the wide) and a Canon f1.8 you can still get for just $80 or so.  They do a good job for the money, but they’re not real good lenses.

I’m a pretty good photographer. Not great, but pretty good, on the whole. And I feel like a pretty good musician using an almost good instrument. The 5D is a good instrument. Not the best, but close enough. To get a 5D and the “glass” that would do it justice… say, three primes (fixed length lenses) and a zoom would cost several thousand dollars. That’s out of my range, at least until my get-rich boat comes in.

I’m sure it will. And for that to happen, I need to focus on other work.

Sic Transit Gloria Laptopi is a long and wrenching piece about the project by Ivan Krstic. Just one man’s take, but Ivan’s been a strong advocate for the OLPC’s highest purposes. Performer too.

Some pushback from Taran Rampersad. Also this from Tom Hoffman. (And privately from some people.)

For what it’s worth, I’ve loved the ambitions of the OLPC program from the beginning, even if I thought they were crazy to start in 5th gear by rolling a zillion laptops out to 3rd world countries, too many of which are run by dictatorships that could be bought by actual vendors.

Still. Ordinary laptops have been stale for a long time.

Even if they crater, they’ve blazed a worthy trail along the way.

Listening to, and blogging, Lessig live from the Ames Courtroom here at Harvard, as part of the Berkman@10 celebration. Lessig was here at the founding. Some public notes from his talk…

There are two and a half doctors for every drug representative.

Story: He disqualified himself as a geek by asking a question about law at a geek conference.

Question: Is government just stupid?

The government often gets the easy cases wrong. Such as. There is a consensus among public policy makers that any copyright term change should be prospective only. But governments always extend terms. An easy case the gov gets wrong.

Nutrition… The sugar lobby urged the government to get the Food Nutrition Board to say no more than 25% of your caloric intake from sugar, while the WHO said 10%.

Global warming… There is a consensus that it’s real and we need to work on it. 1000 peer reviewed articles over a period of time. None disagreed. But junk science did, and the government, by doing as little as possible, got it wrong.

This leeds geeks to a position of hopelessness and disengagement. Most think government is a waste of time.

The problem is not stupidity. The system of influence by lobbyists and campaign fundraising that radically effects access, attention and understanding, weakening the government’s ability to get it right.

If money distorts, then pubic financing of elections would stop it. That’s one of Lessig’s theses. He also thinks the right should like public financing because it would result in smaller geovernment. Many on the right were against deregulating cablecos and telcos because deregulating them would remove them as sources of campaign financing.

So. Need a netroots campaign that is not DC centered. That’s why Creative Commons was born.

Change Congress wants a simple way for citizens to signal what they want.

Next is wikified tools for an army of collaborators to suss out who is for reform.

Fund reform after that. Take the problem you’re trying to solve, and make it manageable, digestable and segmentable.

These aren’t new ideas. Just a new opportunity.

Argument: Only if the outside makes a demand will the inside change.

Bribery in congress was not illegal until 1853.

Jefferson expected expected bribery to win.

The top 1% protect themselves from the bottom 99%.

“We do nothing as this happens.” This is exactly what Larry said to the geeks in his first Free Culture speech, by the way.

Criticism: people care more about substance rather than process.

Comparing the current problem to alcoholism. It’s the first problem. We can address no problems sensibly until we face this first problem. Until we change congress.

People tell them they’re happy about this project, but that he will fail.

Yet even certain failure teaches. It’s not excuse not to do something.

We, the most wealthy, secure and articulate people in this polity must be the first to work on this.

These corruptions are promulgated by the most privileged.

Now he’s asking us to “join me here.” The moment is straight out of Billy Graham. We should recall the success of the technique.

Introducing Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee…

  “You have witnessed an important moment in American History.”
  He was once the youngest congressman in America. “Sadly this is no longer true.”
  “We’ve got to change Congress.” Impressed that a man like Lessig would “risk his career and reputation to do the right thing.”
  Rep. Graham is for Senator Obama, by the way. No surprise there. A main point of Lessig’s is that Change is more than a slogan. It’s not an empty phrase or a campaign slogan.

Lessig again: Congresspeople spend hours a day telemarketing. Looking for money.

“Congresspeople have an extraordinary job… they get to do the right thing.” Geeks need to push them to do this.

“If it’s my movement it fails.”

It’s still early. No board. No structure yet.

Note to selves: a lot of what Larry wants here is what Britt Blaser and friends are working on.

By the way, Larry will be speaking a week from today, at noon, at UCSB’s Multicultural Center Theater, courtesy of the Center for Information Technology and Society (with which I am also affiliated) there. I can’t recommend it too highly. Larry’s talks are a great show, as well as a call to commitment that’s likely to be as strong and appealing as any you’ll experience in your life.

[Later...] Here’s a picture gallery from the talk.

In my last post I quoted some Doors lyrics. Uncharacteristically, I did not do any linking.

I didn’t link to The Doors’ site because it’s full of Flash and other crap that is not only at stylistic variance from the spare and artful nature of The Doors’ work, but likely to either annoy you or crash something. (My Linux box can’t see or hear the Flash stuff, my Windows box wants to download all kinds of stuff and then fails with it anyway, and my Mac just flat-out crashes on it. I don’t recall any other site recently that actually brings down a computer. But that’s what The Doors site did in this case.)

I didn’t link to any lyrics pages because all of them, far as I can tell, bury what the reader wants — just the lyrics, please — inside walls of advertising. Go do a phrase/keyword search for “When the music’s over” and “doors”, on Google. Click on the top results and you’ll find that every one has a pop-up window, plus lots of other advertising jive. Of course, you can block those in your browser; but still, pop-up windows suck. They break the Web’s social contract, which says (among other things) that the publisher should not abuse the reader’s intentions. Nobody goes to a page saying “I want a pop-up window”.

These lyrics pages exist for a good (though bad) reason: most artists don’t publish their own lyrics. People want to see lyrics, however, so the advertising baiters publish the lyrics anyway. Copyright be damned.

So my advice to artists such as The Doors is to publish their own lyrics, in ways that respect the music and their own artistry — as well as the readers’ good will and good intentions.

And while they’re at it, quit making the sites so damn fancy and complicated. Quit burying text inside graphics (where the type can’t scale up and down). Make the pages into blogs that are live and written, rather than static and built. It’s cheaper, too.

I say this, by the way, as a fan of the Doors since the band was new. At one time or another I’ve bought every album, both in vinyl and CD form. I’d love it if the band (or whoever constitutes them now) would just give us a nice simple site that’s easy on readers and their browsers.

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