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nytimesriverDave says “The New York Times home page needs a re-think.” But he doesn’t stop there, because thinking isn’t enough and complaining is worse than useless. (As I’ve often found. For example, here.)

We need to hack up something new, different, better and — most of all — simpler and easier to implement than anything the Times can do on its own.

(The Times is kinda busy now anyway. And it’s not inclined to simplicity, especially on the Web. That’s not a knock. We’re talking DNA here. But the Times can listen and act, as it did back when Martin Nisenholtz and his team followed Dave’s lead and adopted RSS, reforming and reinvigorating the whole publishing business in the process. We want the same kind of adoption and effects again this time.)

The simplest thing you can do as a programmer is leverage something Dave came up with years ago called river of news. As a reader you can blog, tweet and otherwise submit to the world your suggestions.

Hashtag: #timesriver.

Tagline: All the news that’s fit to flow.

Here’s Dave’s own current set of rivers.

That’s a handy model, but neither Dave nor I want that to restrict your thinking or your coding. We want new thinking, new hacking, new (and renewed) heads on the case and fingers on keyboards.

For that Dave has convened a hackathon. Here’s how he got it rolling:

Here’s an OPML file with all the NYT feeds I could find, in Oct 2012.#

Your task: Build a website using the flow of these feeds. A new way to sample the flow of news from the NYT.#

Here’s what I’m using now, designed years ago. Surely you can do better!#

Share a pointer to your work with this hashtag: #nytfeedfun.#

There’s a lot of data flowing through there. #

A picture of a slice of cheese cake.

PS: Deadline? We’re having an RSS meetup in NYC in mid-June.#

Guidance from my (non-programming) corner:::

Think about turning the Times from a static thing to a live one* — literally, from a paper to a river.

Think about how a river forms. Its sources are tributaries: branches that flow in, not out. The biggest rivers sustain life in their waters and alongside their banks. They are at the very core of culture and civilization. And they pour out through a delta to the ocean. The ocean is the Web. The delta is whatever we make it.

I’ll be writing more about this topic in the coming days and weeks, both in service to journalism’s cause (whatever it is — and I mean that seriously) and to wrap my tour of duty as a visiting scholar at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter,Journalism Institute. (In that I’m following the large footsteps of Dave, who served in the same post under our friend and mentor Jay Rosen.)

So hack away. I’m very eager to see the results — but not as eager as I hope the Times itself will be — for everybody’s sake. (I’m serious about that too. The Times is the anchor institution for civilization as well as journalism. Helping it adapt may be the highest calling we have.)

* Some background on the static/live distinction, written almost a decade ago, and now more relevant than ever.

Fred WilsonI’m bummed that I missed LeWeb, but I’m glad I got to see and hear Fred Wilson’s talk there, given on Tuesday. I can’t recommend it more highly. Go listen. It might be the most leveraged prophesy you’re ever going to hear.

I’m biased in that judgement, because the trends Fred visits are ones I’ve devoted my life to urging forward. You can read about them in Linux Journal (starting in 1996), The Cluetrain Manifesto (1999, 2000, 2011), this blog (starting in 1999), ProjectVRM (starting in 2006) and The Intention Economy (2012). (Bonus links: What I said at Le Web in 2007 on stage and in an interview.)

He unpacks three megatrends, with an additional focus on four sectors. Here are my notes from the talk. Some of it is quotage, but little of it is verbatim. If you want to quote Fred, go to the source and listen.

1) We are making a transition from bureaucratic hierarchies to technology-driven networks. The former is the way the world has been organized for the last two hundred years. Markets, government, businesses are all pyramids. Transaction and communication costs were so high in the industrial era that these pyramids were the best way to organize work and run systems. But now technology-driven networks are replacing bureaucracies. Examples…

Twitter. Replaces the newspaper. The old army of reporters that reported to divisional editors who chose what would appear in limited spaces and distribute through printing mills and trucked to your doorstep was slow moving and bureaucratic. Now all of us are reporters. The crowd determines what’s important. This is an example of a tech-driven network.

YouTube. TV was hierarchical. Now all of us are video creators.

SoundCloud. Anybody can create audio or music. No labels. No radio or music industry required.

We first saw this trend in media and entertainment. Now we’re seeing it in AirBnB, One Fine Stay. Creative industries like Kickstarter and VHX. Learning with Codecademy and DuoLingo for languages.

We are very early with all of these and more to come.

2) Unbundling. This has to do with the way services are packaged and taken to market. In the traditional world, you only got to buy the thing that had everything in it. Now tech is changing that. More focused, best of breed, delivered a la carte. Now on mobile and internet you get better everything. Best of sports, fashion, classified advertising.

Banking is being unbundled. Banks used to do everything. Now entrepreneurs are picking off services. Lending Club. Funding Circle. auxsmoney in Germany. Taking profitable lending franchises away. Working capital. c2fo. Management services. All new, all based on networks.

Education. It’s expensive to put a lot of students in a building with a professor up front of every class. You needed a library. Administration. Very inefficient, costly, pyramidal and centralized. Now you can get books instantly. Research is no longer as highly centralized and capital dependent. See Science Exchange: collaboration on an open public network.  All this too is also early.

Entertainment. Used to be that you’d get it all on cable. Now we get Netflix and YouTube on our phones. Hulu. A la carte. Airplay, Chromecast.

3) We are all now personally a node on the network. We are all now nodes on the network, connected all the time. Mobiles are key. If forced to make a choice between phone and desktop, we go with the phone. (About 80% of the LeWeb audience did, along with Fred.) In the larger world, Android is being adopted massively on cheap phones. Uber, Halo.

This change is profoundly impacting the world of transportation. Rental cars. Delivery. Payments. Venmo, Dwolla, Square. Peer to peer. You can send money to anybody. For dating there’s Tinder. Again, this is new. It’s early.

The four sectors…

a) Money. Not just Bitcoin. At its core Bitcoin is a protocol: the financial and transactoinal protocol for the Net. We haven’t had one until now. As of today it is becoming a layer of internet infrastructure, through a ledger called the blockchain that is global. All transactions are cleared publicly in the blockchain. Entrepreneurs will build tech and services on this. Payments and money will flow the way content now flows. No company will control it. Others’ lock on our money will be gone.

b) Health and wellness. Health care is regulated and expensive. Health and wellness is the opposite. It’s what keeps you out of the hospitals. (QS is here.) The biologies of our bodies will be visible to us and connected. Some communications will be personal and private, some networked, some with your doctor and so on. Small example: many people today gamify their weight loss.

c) Data leakage. When the industrial revolution came along, we had polluting. It took a century to even start dealing with it. In the information revolution, the pollution is data. It’s what allows Google, Facebook and the government spy on us when we don’t want them to. We have no control over that. Yet.

d) Trust and identity. We have allowed Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter to be our identity services. It’s very convenient, but we are giving them access to all we do. This isn’t good. Prediction: a bitcoin-like service, a protocol, that is distributed and global, not controlled by anybody, architected like the Internet, that will emerge, that will give us control over identity, trust and data. When that emerges I’ll let you know. I haven’t seen it yet.

Talk to me, Fred. :-)

[4:45pm EDST  2 October 2013 — Late breaking news: RadioINK reports that Darryl Parks' blog post — the first item below — has been pulled off the 700wlw site. — Doc]

In A SERIOUS Message To The Broadcast Industry About Revitalizing AM Radio, Darryl Parks of 700WLW made waves (e.g. here, here, here) by correctly dismissing six FCC ideas intended to make life easier for owners of AM radio stations. Those ideas are detailed at that last link (by David Oxenford of the excellent Broadcast Law Blog).

All six, Darryl says, would increase interference. Instead, he suggests, “The answer is not MORE interference. The answer is LESS interference. And you do that by turning off non-viable stations. And before station owners start crying poverty, many of these non-viable AM stations have one thing that is worth a ton of money. The land their towers sit on.”

Well, not all stations own the land their towers sit on. KCBS/740 leases their land from a farmer up in the North Bay. Other stations’ towers, such nearly all of those serving New York, sit in tidal swampland or on  islands that would revert to nature if the towers came down. (For example, WMCA and WNYC, which share the towers next to the New Jersey Turnpike, shown here. Likewise KGOKNBR and WBZ.)

But Daryyl’s right: there are too many stations, and too much interference — not only between them, but also from electronic thingies that didn’t exist when AM’s base technology and regulatory system were framed out in the 1920s.  Computers, mobile phones and energy-saving light bulbs all play havoc with AM reception.

I see three other solutions, only one of which is likely to happen.

The first is better AM receivers. The old tube and transistor types were much better, on the whole, than the newer chip-based ones. But even the chip-based receivers were better in the early days than they are now. The faults are not just in the electronics, but in the methods used for gathering signals. In cars, for example, the fashion in recent years has been to shorten antennas or to embed them in windows, mixed in with defrosting wires. Radios in cars I drove in the 1960s and 1970s would get New York’s biggest AM signals (on 660, 770 and 880) past Richmond, Virginia, in the middle of the day. The radios were not only better, but served by whip antennas on their fenders. Even portable radios were better. When I was a kid riding in the back seat of our new Chevy, on a family trip in the summer of 1963, I listened to WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota, from the Black Hills to Minneapolis, again in the daytime (when AM signals don’t bounce off the sky, as they do at night — on a Zenith Royal 400 seven-transistor radio. Alas, modern receivers and antennas are studies in cheap-out-y-ness, and don’t do the same job. In the absence of regulatory or market urgings, the chance of improvement here is zero.

The second is moving to an all-digital AM band. In this Broadcast Law Blog post David Oxenford says all-digtial “has shown promise for an interference-free operation in recent tests,” but “would require that there be a digital transition for AM radio just as there was to digital TV. That might be problematic, as it would require new AM receivers for almost everyone (except for those few people who already have Ibiquity IBOC receivers which should work in an all-digital environment).” I have one of those receivers in my kitchen. (That’s a shot of its display, there on the left.) HD on AM sounds like FM. Combine that with better receivers and antennas, and it’s a double-win. Here there is a small amount of regulatory urging, but try to find find a portable HD radio at Amazon or Radio Shack. Not happening.

The third is to develop better ways of getting radio streams on mobile devices. I have a mess of apps for getting radio streams on my iPhone and iPad, and none of them provide the simplicity of radio’s original dial & buttons system. If one app provided that simplicity, radio would move smoothly to mobile along with every other medium already re-locating there. Stations would continue to operate on the AM and FM bands until doing so no longer made technical or economic sense. But the path would be clear.

The one company that might have made this easy is Apple; but Apple has never been interested in improving radio as we know it. For years it buried radio station streams in an iTunes directory most people didn’t know was there — and then created a Pandora competitor with iTunes Radio. Like Pandora, Apple calls its streams “stations,” which also fuzzes things. The old stream directory still exists, for what it’s worth, under “Music.”

So it’s up to app developers. TuneIn, WunderRadio and Stitcher are currently the big three (at least on my devices), but all of them bury local radio deep in directories that are annoying to navigate and often incomplete. For example, let’s say I want to navigate the “dial” for Boston while I’m here in New York. On TuneIn, I hit “Browse,” then “Local Radio,” then find myself in New York. Not Boston. Then I hit “By Location.” That gives me a map I can pinch toward a red pin on Boston, where I find a virtual dial in the form of a list. That’s less work than it used to be, back when TuneIn wanted me to drill down through a directory that started (as I recall) with “Continent.” But it’s also missing all the great discoveries I used to make in local radio elsewhere in the world, such as the UK. (There are red pins only for major cities there.) Over on Stitcher one hits “Live Radio,” then “Massachusetts,” then “Boston” to do the same kind of thing, but the directory is has just three minor AM stations, then a bunch of FMs, but not WEEI/93.7, my favorite sports talker there. Between WBOS/92.9 and WTKK/96.9 there is nothing. All three do offer search, but that’s not easy to do when you’re driving or walking. (Nor is any of the above.)

All of them also assume, correctly (as do Apple, Pandora, Spotify, LastFM and many others), that individuals would rather put together their own “stations” in the form of music types, program collections, or whatever.

Individuals doing what they want is both the threat and the promise of radio online. Bring back dial-like simplicity, marry it to “roll your own,” and you’ll have the holy grail of radio.

Right now if you want live streaming of TV news, 24/7, on the Net, here in the U.S., from a major global news organization, you have just two choices: Al Jazeera and France24.

Soon you’ll have just one, because Al Jazeera’s stream is going away. That’s because the company will turn its stream off when it fires up its new cable channel, Al Jazeera America, on August 20.

Which means this will go away from the Al Jazeera website…

… along with this option when you open up your mobile app:

… and you’ll get no more live video like this:

Or so I gather.

Everything I just wrote is a provisional understanding: the best I can do so far. Some or all of it might be wrong.

Here’s what I do know for sure.

First, Al Jazeera bought Current TV from Al Gore and is re-branding it Al Jazeera America. In Al Jazeera America: A Unicorn Is Born, Joe Pompeo of New York Magazine calls this move “arguably the biggest American TV-news launch since Fox News and MSNBC more than a decade ago.”

Second, if you go to http://america.aljazeera.com/get-aljazeera-america, you’ll see this:

In case you can’t make out the small print, it says “When Al Jazeera America launches on August 20th, Al Jazeera English will no longer be available on TV or as an online stream in the U.S.” That means gone completely, right?

Maybe not. Al Jazeera English isn’t all of Al Jazeera. If you click on the “Watch Live” button here…

… you’ll get a page with the URL http://www.aljazeera.com/watch_now/, where there is this set of choices:

Click on “Al Jazeera Mobile Services” and it lists apps for a variety of mobile devices. All talk up “free access to the live stream” (or equivalent copy) as a main feature. Are they just late to removing or qualifying that copy? Or will the live stream be gone only from the website?

Click on “How to watch Al Jazeera English online” and you get this copy:

How to watch Al Jazeera English online

View our network through the internet via websites, online TV providers and mobile apps.

Last Modified: 12 Jul 2013 14:50
Watching Al Jazeera English via the internet is now easier than ever. The network is broadcast around the world to over 220 million households, but don’t worry if you can’t find us on your television.A range of websitesonline TV providers, and mobile apps now offer a live stream of our channel. Browse the list below to discover the best way for you to watch and click the links on the left for specifics.

Websites
Al Jazeera English Watch the broadcast on our website.
Livestation Our UK-based partner streams AJE live.
YouTube See our live stream, programmes and news clips.
Facebook On the social networking site, stay tuned with AJE.
Dailymotion Watch programmes and news clips on AJE’s channel.
Connected TV 
Samsung Smart TV Watch the live stream and video-on-demand from the app.
LG Smart TV Watch the live stream and video-on-demand from the app.
Roku In the channel store, access the Newscaster.
Google TV See the AJE feed through the Google play app.
Boxee Watch AJE on your box through the Livestation app.
PlayStation 3 Open up the Livestation AJE feed through your console’s browser.
Mobile
iPhone/iPad/iPod View live news from AJE on Apple devices through the iTunes app.
Blackberry Open your internet browswer and watch Al Jazeera live.
Android Use our new app to watch AJE on your smart phone.
Symbian/Windows Live stream Al Jazeera English on your mobile through Mobiclip.

Due to copyright and distribution restrictions, not all viewers will be able to access all of our streaming video services.

Are they killing off all of that stuff in the U.S. or just some of it? What exactly are those copyright and distribution restrictions, and how are they involved in this new move? They surely aren’t killing off the live Net streams for no reason, so obviously they were forced to make trade-offs. What were they?

Hey, they’re a news organization. What they’re doing by going all-cable with no-Net, is sacrificing the future for the past, seems to me. At the very least they should be transparent about what they’re doing and why .

I’ve been trying to get answers out of @ajam (Al Jazeera America), @aljazeera (Al Jazeera PR), @ajenglish and facebook.com/aljazeera. Here’s one Twitter conversation that began with an @ajam tweet:

  1. Attention Al Jazeera fans in the US: Al Jazeera America launches on August 20. Find out how to get it here: http://aljazeera.com/getajam 

@ajam It says “Al Jazeera English will no longer be available on TV or as an online stream in the U.S.” That mean no phone or tablet too?

  1. @dsearls @ajam imho, AJAM will lose credibility if AJE no longer available in US after AJAM launch.

  2. @dsearls @ajam The streets will run with the blood of the infidel.

  3. Credibility a must for terrorists. RT@mwiik: imho, AJAM will lose credibility if AJE no longer available in US after AJAM launch.

  4. @dsearls @ajam have you received an answer yet? I don’t see a reply and I’m wondering same thing

  5. @ajam Let me put the Q another way: does AJAM’s debut on cable turn off all AJ streams in the U.S? Or just some? Please be clear.

  6. @dsearls Al Jazeera English online videos will not be available in the U.S. You will still be able to read articles on their site.

  7. @dsearls Al Jazeera America follows in the same tradition of hard-hitting unbiased journalism so be sure to check us out when we launch.

  8. @ajam Please don’t succumb to corporate/gov pressure and fade into MSM inanity. We need a real adversarial truth2power option. @dsearls

  9. @ajam Does this mean no Al Jazeera streams of any kind in the U.S. except via cable or satellite?

  10. @ajam @dsearls Does this similarly apply to their YouTube channel? iOS apps?

  11. @ajam Am looking forward to the AJAM launch, but was hoping to still have access to both services.

  12. @ceebeth @ajam Asked the same question at http://facebook.com/aljazeera  and it got erased. Guess AJ killing live streams isn’t news. #journalism

  13. @ajam Will Al Jazeera apps for US users on iOS and Android still have the “LIVE” button after 20 August? #VRM

  14. @dsearls One might get the idea @ajam‘s lack of transparency on this first blow on its credibility, even before it launches.

(I have no idea why WordPress puts a strike through the @ sign. I just copied the list out of Twitter and pasted it into the composing window here.)

I also went to Al Jazeera’s Facebook page and politely asked what was going on. I’d quote what I wrote, but it’s gone. I don’t know why. Maybe they erased it somehow. Or maybe, not being as adept at Facebook as I should be, I just can’t find it.

Whatever the story, Al Jazeera isn’t covering it — and, I am guessing, they don’t want it covered.

But it is a story. The world’s most ambitious news organization is making a big move on the U.S. news marketplace by subtracting value from what it’s already doing — and none of its competition are doing.

There is no bathwater in the live news streams Al Jazeera is tossing on the 20th. It’s all babies. Here are four of them:

  1. Leading edge early adopters. Cord-cutters. That’s the audience Al Jazeera already has online.
  2. Advocates. Friends. I was one. See here.
  3. Companions. Meaning everything else on the Net that isn’t on cable, such as YouTube.
  4. A platform for networked journalism. Cable ain’t it. The Internet is.

Cable is still big, but it’s the past. The Net is the future. Hey, just ask James Dolan, the CEO of Cablevision. In The Future of TV Might Not Include TV, the Wall Street Journal begins,

Predicting that transmission of TV will move to the Internet eventually,Cablevision Systems Corp. Chief Executive James Dolan says “there could come a day” when his company stops offering television service, making broadband its primary offering.

But I guess Al Jazeera is a cable channel at heart. And less of a news organization than it aspires to be — or they’d come a lot cleaner about what they’re doing here. And why they’re stiffing their entire online audience in the U.S.

Well, at least we still have France24.

[Later...] According to Janko Roettgers in Gigaom, Al Jazeera is not only getting ready to block its English streams in the U.S., but is killing off access to news clips on YouTube as well.

[19 Aug, 11:23pm Pacific time...] The deed is done:

 

 

The history of computing over the last 30 years is one of lurches forward every time individuals got the power to do what only big enterprises could do previously — and to do a much better job of it.

It happened when computing got personal in the ’80s.

It happened when networking got personal in the ’90s.

It happened when both together got mobile and personal in the ’00s.

And it will happen with personal data as well in the ’10s.

We as individuals will be able to do more with our own data than big enterprises can. Meanwhile, nearly all the “big data” jive today is about what only big companies can do. Yet we’ve seen this movie before, and we know how it ends: with individuals winning, because they were better equipped. And we know the big companies will win too, because they are comprised of individuals. Both will end up doing what only they can do best.

This is why Big Data needs the modern equivalent of the PC, the Internet and the mobile phone: an invention that mothers necessity.

I think that invention is the personal cloud. All we — today’s developers — need to do now is build a good and compelling personal cloud. Or a choice of them. Once that happens, and people start using them, the big companies (and government agencies) of the world will cave in and release personal data that they clutch like a treasure, thinking that only Big Solutions to their Big Data problems, from Big Vendors, will do the job. They caved in on computing when they embraced PCs, on networking when they embraced the Internet, and on mobility when they embraced smartphones and tablets.

I could be wrong, but I’ve made the same prediction three times already. This is the fourth. To me, the only question that matters is: How?

Some pretty cool startups and open source dev groups will vet their answers at IIW. See ya there.

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.

Two years ago I called Al Jazeera’s live coverage of the revolution in Egypt a “Sputnik moment” for cable in the U.S. Turns out it wasn’t. Not since Al Jazeera agreed to pay half a $billion, plus their live internet stream, to sit at U.S. cable’s table. Losing Al Jazeera English reduces to a single source — France24 — the number of live streams available on the Net from major video news channels. It also terminates years Al Jazeera English’s history on the Net at 5.25 years.

It’s a huge victory for cable and an equally huge loss for the open Net. I dearly hope Al Jazeera feels that loss too. Because what Al Jazeera screws here is a very loyal audience. Just, apparently, not a lucrative one.

In Al Jazeera Embraces Cable TV, Loses Web, The Wall Street Journal explains,

…to keep cable operators happy, Al Jazeera may have to make a difficult bargain: Giving up on the Web.

The Qatar government-backed television news operation, which acquired Current TV for a few hundred million dollars from investors including Al Gore, said Thursday that it will at least temporarily stop streaming online Al Jazeera English, its global English-language news service, in about 90 days. That’s when it plans to replace Current TV’s programming with Al Jazeera English.

Al Jazeera plans later to launch an entirely new channel, Al Jazeera America, that will combine programming from the existing English-language service with new material. The new channel likely won’t be streamed online either, a spokesman said.

And it is unclear whether the original English service will reappear online: the spokesman said Thursday a decision about that was dependent on negotiations with cable operators.

The network’s decision to pull its service off the Web is at the behest of cable and satellite operators. It reflects a broader conflict between pay television and online streaming that other TV channels face. Because cable and satellite operators pay networks to carry their programming, the operators don’t want the programming appearing for free online. Aside from older series available through services like Netflix, most cable programming is available online only to people who subscribe to cable TV.

You won’t find better proof that television is a captive marketplace. You can only watch it in ways The Industry allows, and on devices it provides or approves. (While it’s possible watch TV on computers, smartphones and tablets, you can only do that if you’re already a cable or satellite subscriber. You can’t get it direct. You can’t buy it à la carte, as would be the case if the marketplace were fully open.)

For what it’s worth, I would gladly pay for Al Jazeera English. So would a lot of other people, I’m sure. But the means for that are not in place, except through cable bundles, which everybody other than the cable industry hates.

In the cable industry they call the Net “OTT,” for “over the top.” That’s where Al Jazeera English thrived. But now, for non-cable subscribers, Al Jazeera English is dead and buried UTB — under the bottom.

Adverto in pacem, AJE. For loyal online viewers you were the future. Soon you’ll be the past.

Bonus links:

Nearly all smartphones today are optimized to do three things for you:

  1. Run apps
  2. Speak to other people
  3. Make you dependent on a phone company

The first two are features. The third is a  bug. In time that bug will be exterminated. Meanwhile it helps to look forward to what will happen with #1 and #2 once they’re liberated from #3.

Both features are personal. That’s key. Our smartphones (or whatever we end up calling them) should be as personal as our clothing, wallets and purses. In other words, they should work as extensions of ourselves.

When this happens, they will have evolved into what Martin Kuppinger calls life management platforms, good for all these things —

— in addition to the stuff already made possible by the zillion apps already out there.

What kinds of smartphones are in the best position to evolve into Life Management Platforms? The short answer is: open ones. The longer answer is: open ones that are already evolving and have high levels of adoption.

Only one platform qualifies, and that’s Android. Here’s what Wikipedia says (as of today) about Android’s open-ended evolutionary position:

Historically, device manufacturers and mobile carriers have typically been unsupportive of third-party firmware development. Manufacturers express concern about improper functioning of devices running unofficial software and the support costs resulting from this.[81] Moreover, modified firmwares such as CyanogenMod sometimes offer features, such as tethering, for which carriers would otherwise charge a premium. As a result, technical obstacles including locked bootloaders and restricted access to root permissions are common in many devices. However, as community-developed software has grown more popular, and following a statement by the Librarian of Congress in the United States that permits the “jailbreaking” of mobile devices,[82] manufacturers and carriers have softened their position regarding third party development, with some, including HTC,[81] Motorola,[83] Samsung[84][85]and Sony Ericsson,[86] providing support and encouraging development. As a result of this, over time the need to circumventhardware restrictions to install unofficial firmware has lessened as an increasing number of devices are shipped with unlocked or unlockable bootloaders, similar to the Nexus series of phones, although usually requiring that users waive their devices’ warranties to do so.[81] However, despite manufacturer acceptance, some carriers in the US still require that phones are locked down.[87]

The unlocking and “hackability” of smartphones and tablets remains a source of tension between the community and industry, with the community arguing that unofficial development is increasingly important given the failure of industry to provide timely updates and/or continued support to their devices.[87]

But the community doesn’t just argue. It moves ahead with implementations. For example, Ubuntu for Android and custom ROMs for Google’s Nexus 7.

The reason there is an aftermarket for Nexus hardware is that Google intended for Android to be open and generative from the start, pointedly saying that Nexus is “unlocked and contract free.” This is why, even though Google does lots of business with mobile phone company operators, it is those operators’ friend only to the degree it helps lead those operators past current customer-entrapment business models and into a future thick with positive economic externalities. Amidst those externalities, phone companies will still enjoy huge built-out infrastructure and other first-mover advantages. They will wake up and smell the infinity.

While Apple deserves huge credit for modeling what a smartphone should do, and how it should work (Steve Jobs was right to see Android as something of a knock-off) the company’s walled-garden remains a monument of feudality. For a window on how that fails, read Barbara Lippert’s Samsung vs. Apple: Losing My Religion in MediaPost. Barbara is an admitted member of the “cult of Cupertino,” and is — along with droves of other Apple serfs — exiting the castle.

Samsung, however, just happens to be (deservedly) the maker of today’s most popular Androids. The Androids that win in the long run will be true life management platforms. Count on it.

For a window on that future, here are the opening paragraphs of  The Customer as a God, my essay in The Wall Street Journal last July:

It’s a Saturday morning in 2022, and you’re trying to decide what to wear to the dinner party you’re throwing that evening. All the clothes hanging in your closet are “smart”—that is, they can tell you when you last wore them, what else you wore them with, and where and when they were last cleaned. Some do this with microchips. Others have tiny printed tags that you can scan on your hand-held device.As you prepare for your guests, you discover that your espresso machine isn’t working and you need another one. So you pull the same hand-held device from your pocket, scan the little square code on the back of the machine, and tell your hand-held, by voice, that this one is broken and you need another one, to rent or buy. An “intentcast” goes out to the marketplace, revealing only what’s required to attract offers. No personal information is revealed, except to vendors with whom you already have a trusted relationship.

Within a minute offers come in, displayed on your device. You compare the offers and pick an espresso machine to rent from a reputable vendor who also can fix your old one. When the replacement arrives, the delivery service scans and picks up the broken machine and transports it to the vendor, who has agreed to your service conditions by committing not to share any of your data with other parties and not to put you on a list for promotional messages. The agreement happened automatically when your intentcast went out and your terms matched up with the vendor’s.

Your hand-held is descended from what they used to call smartphones, and it connects to the rest of the world by whatever ambient connection happens to be available. Providers of commercial Internet connections still make money but not by locking customers into “plans,” which proved, years ago, to be more trouble than they were worth.

The hand-held itself is also uncomplicated. New technologies and devices are still designed by creative inventors, and there are still trade secrets. But prototyping products and refining them now usually involves actual users at every stage, especially in new versions. Manufacturers welcome good feedback and put it to use. New technology not only evolves rapidly, but appropriately. Ease of use is now the rule, not the exception.

OK, now back to the present.

Everything that I just described can be made possible only by the full empowerment of individuals—that is, by making them both independent of controlling organizations and better able to engage with them. Work toward these goals is going on today, inside a new field called VRM, for vendor relationship management. VRM works on the demand side of the marketplace: for you, the customer, rather than for sellers and third parties on the supply side.

It helps that Android is already huge. It will help more when makers of Android devices and apps squash the phone company dependency bug. It will also help that the “little square code” mentioned above already exists. For a pioneering example, see SquareTag.com. For examples of how individuals can program logical connections between other entities in the world, see Kynetx and Iffft. (Kynetx is for developers. Ifttt is for users.)

As for investors, startups and incumbent big companies, it will help to start looking at the world from the perspective of the individual that each of us happens to be. The future is about liberating us, and equipping us with means for managing our lives and our relationships with other entities in the open marketplace. Personal independence and empowerment is what the PC, the Internet and the smartphone have all provided from the start. Trying to rein in that independence and empowerment comes naturally to big companies, and even some startups. But vector of progress to the future has always been along the line of personal freedom and empowerment. Free customers will be more valuable than captive ones. Android’s success is already starting to prove that.

Jackson Pollock[Updated 1 December to add the addendum below. If you're new to this post, start here. If you've read it already, start down there.]

In Journalism as service: Lessons from Sandy, Jeff Jarvis says, “After Sandy, what journalists provided was mostly articles when what I wanted was specifics that those articles only summarized. Don’t give me stories. Give me lists.”

Journals aren’t going to stop giving us stories, because stories are the main attraction. But lists are the service. They are also the frontier, because journals on the whole suck at lists. That’s what we’ve been learning over and over and over again, every time something Too Big happens. (Sandy, Katrina, the Arab Spring, the financial meltdown, yada yada.) We get plenty of stories, but not enough lists. Or, not the lists we need if we’re affected by the event.

Back when Sandy was going on, I stayed in Boston and blogged it live. One of my main sources was The Weather Channel, aka TWC — on TV, more than the Net. (My “TV” was an iPad channeling our Dish Network set top box in Santa Barbara.) As I recall, TWC had two main reporters on two scenes: one in Point Pleasant, New Jersey and one at Battery Park in Manhattan. Both had lots of stories to tell and show, but as a service TWC missed approximately everything other than what happened in those two places. I say approximately because the damage being done at the time was widespread, huge, and impossible for any one news organization to cover. (And TWC actually did a pretty good job, as TV channels go.) Seen as an outline, TWC looked like this:

SANDY

  • General coverage from studios
    • TWC
    • National Hurricane Center
  • Field coverage
    • Battery Park
    • Point Pleasant

That’s far simpler than what TWC actually did at the time, of course. But I’m trying to illustrate something here: that coverage itself is an outline. Also that cover, as both noun and verb, is something no single news organization can create, or do. They all do a partial job. The whole job, especially for a massive phenomenon such as Sandy, requires many journals of many kinds.

In a way we have that with the Web. That is, if you add up all the stuff reported about Sandy — in newspapers, on radio and TV, in blogs, in tweets, on social media — you’ve got enough info-splatter to call “coverage,” but splatter isn’t what Jeff needs. Here are his specifics:

I wanted lists of what streets were closed. I wanted lists of what streets the power company was finally working on. Oh, the utility, JCP&L, gave my town, Bernards Township, lists of streets, but they were bald-faced lies (I know because my street was on that list but their crews weren’t on my street). The town and our local media outlets only passed on these lists as fact without verifying. I wanted journalists to add value to those lists, going out to verify whether there were crews working on those streets. In a word: report.

I wanted media organizations or technology platforms to enable the people who knew the facts — my fellow townspeople — to share what they knew. Someone should have created a wiki that would let anyone in town annotate those lists of streets without power and streets — if any — where power crews were working. Someone should have created a map (Google Maps would do; Ushahidi would be deluxe) that we could have annotated not only with our notes and reports of what we knew but also with pictures. I’d have loved to have seen images of every street blocked by trees, not just for the sake of empathy but also so I could figure out how to get around town … and how likely it was that we’d be getting power back and how likely it would be that buses would be able to get through the streets so schools could re-open.

But instead, we got mostly articles. For that’s what journalists do, isn’t it? We write articles. We are storytellers! But not everything should be a story. Stories aren’t always the best vehicle for conveying information, for informing the public. Sometimes lists, data bases, photos, maps, wikis, and other new tools can do a better job.

What Jeff wanted was a painting, or set of puzzle pieces that fit together into a coherent and complete painting. A good outline does that, because it has structure, coherency, and whatever level of detail you need. Instead Jeff got something out of Jackson Pollock (like the image above).

We need outlines, we get splatter. Even the stories, high-level as they often are, tend to work as just more splatter.

How do we get outlines? Here are some ways:

  1. If you’re a journal, a journalist, a reporter, a blogger… start responding to the demand Jeff lays out there, especially when a Big Story like Sandy happens. Provide lists, or at least point to them. It’s a  huge hole. Think about what others are bringing to the market’s table, and how you can work with them. You can’t do it all yourself. Nor should anybody.
  2. Listen to Dave Winer, who has been working this frontier since the early ’80s, and has given the world lots of great stuff already. (Here’s his latest in outline form.)
  3. Start looking at the world itself as a collection of outlines, and at your work as headings and subheadings within that world — even as you don’t wish to be confined to those, and won’t be, because the world is still messy.
  4. Go deeper than wikis. Wonderful as they are, wikis are very flat as outlines go. They are only one level deep. So is search, which is worse because every search is temporary and arcane to whatevever it is you search for at the moment, and whatever it is the engine is doing to personalize your search.

It’s not easy to think of the world as outlines. But seeing the plain need for lists is a good place to start.

Addendum

After reading the comments, I should make a few things clearer than I did above.

First, Jeff’s line, “Don’t give me stories, give me lists,” does not mean stories are wrong or bad or without appeal. Just that there are times when people need something else. Badly. Giving somebody a story when they need a list is a bit like giving somebody who’s fallen overboard a meal rather than a life preserver. It’s best to give both, at the right time and place. One of my points above is that no one journal, or journalist, should have to do it all. A related point I didn’t make is that pulling together lists, and linking lists together, is less thankful work than writing stories. True, writing stories isn’t always easy. But story-writing is rewarding in ways that compiling lists are not. Yet lists may save lives — or at least hassles — in ways that stories may not.

Second, seeing “the world as outlines” does not require that any one person, site or journal produce lists or outlines for anything. The totally flat and horizontal nature of hyperlinks (and, not coincidentally, wikis) makes it at least possible for everything to be within a link or few from everything else. While this linky flatness can excuse what I call “splatter” above, it also suggests a need for mindfulness toward coherency, and the absent need for anybody to do everything. As structure goes, the Web is more like scaffolding than like a building. If we see journalism as outlining, and lists as an essential part of any outline, and hyperlinks as a way of connecting multiple lists (and stories) together, we can make multiple scaffolds function together as a coherent whole, and ease the labor required, say, for piecing one’s life back together after a storm.

Third, we are dealing with a paradox here. Outlines are hierarchical, and — as David Weinberger put it so well in Cluetrain — hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. Thus one of the things that makes the Web a web also makes it a poor place for persistent structure. Yes, we can create buildings of sorts. (For example, anything with a domain name.) But all are temporary and vulnerable to future failings or repurposings. Big as Facebook is, there is nothing about the nature of its mission or corporate structure, much less of the Web beneath it, to assure the site’s permanence. (I have exactly this concern about Flickr, for example.) Built into the Web’s DNA, however, is a simple call to be useful. That too is a call of journalism. It is a more essential calling than the one to be interesting, or provocative, or award-worthy, or any of the other qualities we like to see in stories. A dictionary is poor literature, but a highly useful document. It is also a list. A bookshelf with several dictionaries on it is an outline. So is a library.

Fourth, there are many reasons that outlining hasn’t taken off as a category. Some are accidents of history. Some have to do with the way we are taught outlining in school. (Poorly, that is.) But the biggest, I’m convinced (at least for now) is that we fail in general, as a species, to see larger pictures. We fail to see them in the present moment, or in the present situation (whatever it is), and we fail to see them across time. This is why even people called “conservatives” see little reason to conserve finite resources for which there are no substitutes after they run out.

Fifth, we need new development here. My point about wikis is that they don’t cover all the ground required for outlining the world. Nothing does, or ever will. But we can do other things, and do them better. It’s still early. The Web as we know it is only seventeen years old. The future, hopefully, is a lot longer than that.

Meanwhile, a grace of a storm like Sandy is that it can make a serious journalist call out for something serious that isn’t journalism-as-usual. And that the result might be better scaffolding to hold together the temporary undertakings we call our lives.

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.)

 

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