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Here is my short list:

  1. Larry Josephson
  2. Howard Stern
  3. Bob Grant
  4. Bob & Ray
  5. Barry Gray
  6. Bob Fass
  7. Steve Post
  8. Rush Limbaugh
  9. Alex Bennett
  10. Allan Handelman

And here are my qualifications: a) the performer has to do (or have done) a show that runs daily (or close),  b) the listener has to sense that they are missing something if they’re not listening, and c) I need to have been a listener.

I bring this up because in January I heard Howard Stern speak regretfully — and movingly — about how Bob Grant was something like “the greatest broadcaster who ever lived,” and how he (Howard) blew the chance to say that to Bob directly while the old guy was still alive. Bob died on New Years Eve at age 84. (Later Howard was not only reminded that he did say kind things to Bob, but somebody produced recorded evidence. Apparently Howard is correct that his memory sucks.)

I first heard Bob in the early ’70s, when he came to WMCA in New York from KLAC in Los Angeles. (Staying at the same spot on the dial, since both were on 570am.) WMCA had dropped its Top 40 format (conceding that ground to WABC and the FM band) and became the first full-time talk station in New York. I agreed with very little that Bob espoused, but found the show highly entertaining, especially when some dumb caller made no sense and Bob yelled “Get off the phone!”

But Howard is by far the best radio performer, ever. There’s nobody close. He’s funny as hell and his celebrity interviews are masterful to an extreme nobody will ever exceed. All his shows are longer than Gone With The Wind, filled with original comedy bits and supported by a veteran and gifted staff of interesting characters who are themselves sources of entertaining studio encounters. On days Howard’s not on, the re-runs — both from the past few days and from archives that stretch back a quarter century — are also brilliant. The show is blue, but I enjoy that. Life fucks itself all the time, or none of us would be here.

I put Larry Josephson ahead of Howard because I’ve never loved a morning host more than I loved Larry. Back when he was on WBAI in the ’60s and early ’70s, my daily life was anchored in Larry’s show. Larry spoke frankly about his personal life, and flouted just about every morning-host formalism you can list. (As Howard still does. But Larry was first.) He’d show up late, eat on the air, and take calls during which you heard nothing of the person at the other end. He was funny (among other things, like me, he was a sucker for puns), wickedly smart, hugely informed, and deeply interested in big issues of many kinds. Years later he leveraged all that into the public radio shows Modern Times and Bridges. I still have many recordings of both on cassettes in my garage. After leaving the air Larry made a living selling recordings of Bob & Ray (next on my list), who were two of the funniest guys in radio, from the fifties into the seventies. Find those and other goodies (including What is Judaism and Only In Amercia) from Larry at RadioArt.org. Meanwhile, also dig what Larry is doing today at An Inconvenient Jew: My Life in Radio. A better biography than this one or Wikipedia’s is here.

Bob & Ray are next on my list because they were the funniest radio comics of their time. Both had warm baritone voices, which hardly changed whether they were playing characters young or old, male or female. Their humor was droll and dry and played for irony at many levels. Buy some samples from Larry.

I’ve got Barry Gray next because he was — at least for me — the father of all the radio talk shows that followed. His slot from 11pm to 1am on WMCA seemed highly anomalous, given WMCA’s role as one of New York’s Top 40 music landmarks. But for me as a kid growing up in the 50s and early 60s, it was a window on the intellectual and cultural world, giving me lots of stuff to talk and think about the next day. I liked Barry Farber too (they were both pioneers, and Farber is still at it today) but to me, growing up, the better Barry was Gray.

I put Bob Fass and Steve Post next because they were Larry Josephson’s teammates on WBAI during the station’s heyday, and I loved all three of them (and some others I hate not mentioning, but I’m trying to keep this from getting too long). Bob Fass’s Radio Unnameable was required late night radio listening in The Sixties, and had enormous influence on the spirit of that time, including too many events and personalities to mention. I recall Steve as WBAI’s smart and witty utility infielder and team captain. He was more than that, both for WBAI and later for WNYC, where he was active while I was elsewhere. Mostly I enjoyed listening to him whenever he was on.

I put Rush Limbaugh next because he is just so damn good at what he does. For many years I enjoyed listening to him, even though I mostly disagreed with his politics. He was tuned in to a sensibility that I knew well, and in many ways he understood the political left better than it understood itself. Maybe he still does. I’m just so tired of right wing talkers at this point that I don’t listen to any of them. But I want to give credit where due, and Rush deserves plenty.

I first heard Alex Bennett on WMCA in the late ’60s, and followed him to WPLJ while I was still living in New Jersey. Later I picked him up again in the Bay Area when he was on a variety of stations there. Alex was at his best (for me at least), when he brought comedians into the studio to hang out. I’m sure Alex played a key role in the surge in comedy clubs that happened in the 1980s. (Wow, I just learned that Ronni Bennett is Alex’s ex. Guess I missed that.)

Allan Handelman is the only guy on this list (and I regret that they are all guys) who has had me as a guest on the air. It was in the early ’80s on WPTF in Raleigh, to talk about radio, like I am now. I first heard Allan when he was on a little FM station in Farmville, North Carolina. I was 100+ miles away, in Chapel Hill, but had a big antenna on my roof that I would aim east to get Allan’s signal, amazed at the guests he would get to come on. Most notable among those was Frank Zappa. Allan’s discussions with Frank are among my treasured radio memories.

So that’s it for now. I started to write this in January and decided to finally throw a few more sentences in, and liberate it from the Drafts folder. If you care, tweet or comment on your own faves. One I would volunteer for a slightly different category (such as “uncategorizable”): Phil Hendrie.

You can’t sled on slush

I grew up on Woodland Avenue in Maywood, New Jersey, a few miles west of where I am now in New York City. Flexible flyerThe street was unremarkable, except when it snowed. Then the town would often block it off, so kids could sled on it. It wasn’t a big hill — just an ideal one for sledding: steep at the top, with a long glide path. With a good start you could ride your Flexible Flyer down past Garden, Cole and Elm Streets, all the way to Cole’s Brook. On the other side of that was Borg’s Woods, which was then owned by the Borg Family. They had a steep back yard behind their house on Summit Avenue in Hackensack, and kindly encouraged neighborhood kids to sled there.

So snow was a big deal for us, and still is for me. I love it. Alas, too often Winter forecasts in New York went like this: “Snow, changing to rain.”

Well, that’s what happened today in New York. We had a beautiful snowy day before it turned into rain and worse. For the last hour or so we’ve also had lightning, thunder and hail. The result is thick white slop, atop the frozen and half-thawed mess left over from the last storm. Here is how it looks right now at Weather.com:

I am sure there are kids in Maywood (and all over the East Coast) who wish the snow didn’t turn to slush today. My inner kid knows how they feel. (I’m also hoping my grandkids in Baltimore fared better. They got a bunch of snow today too — I think with less rain.

(By the way, our original Flexible Flyer looked just like the one above, only a bit longer. It could seat three or four kids. And nobody ever wore helmets.)

Cities aren’t simple, especially mature ones. They are deep and complicated places that require equally deep attention to appreciate fully.  That’s what I get from Stephen Lewis‘ insights about the particulars of present and past urban scenes and characters in Sofia, New York, Istanbul and other cities he knows well. His latest post, titled  The Women’s Market, Sofia, Bulgaria: The Endurance of the 19th Century, Layers of Unwarranted Blame, and the Virtues of Slow Lenses, goes even deeper than most — accompanied, as always, by first-rate photography that speaks far more than words in any sum can tell. A sample passage:

The endurance of the 19th century

In a lifetime of working in and observing cities throughout the world, I’ve noticed that late-nineteenth century neighborhoods are amongst the last to be regenerated.  This is due in part to the resilient endurance of their economic and social functions throughout the twentieth century and into the early-twenty-first.  In such neighborhoods, cheap rents and high vacancy rates in storefront occupancy enable the provision of inexpensive goods to those whose budgets constrict their choices.  The same interstice of factors offers opportunities for marginal entrepreneurship and a shot at mobility to those who might otherwise fall outside of the economy.  The low profit-margins inherent to such entrepreneurship, however, can make for dubious goods and equally dubious practices.  Thus, shopping in the Women’s Market calls for a taste for sharp-tongued banter and a quick eye ever on the lookout for rigged scales and for good looking produce on display but underweight and damaged goods placed in one’s shopping bag.  Still, where else can one buy, for example, persimmons or grapes, albeit on the last legs of their shelf-lives, for a third of the price of elsewhere and serviceable tomatoes for even less?

To live is to change — and eventually to die. Yet cities are comprised of many lives. They are always an us and never just a me, even if we don’t get along. Who we are changes as well, and that too is a subject of Steve’s attention. For example:

Layers of unwarranted blame

There is a fine ethnic division of work and functions at the Women’s Market.  Meat, cheese, and fish  kiosks, and stands offering wild herbs and mushrooms, are run by Bulgarians. Fruit and vegetable stands and peripatetic bootleg cigarette operations are run by Roma (Gypsies).  Storefronts in adjacent streets include honey and bee keeping supply stores run by Bulgarians and rows of “Arab” shops — halal butchers, spice stores, barbers, and low-cost international telephone services — run by and catering to increasing numbers of legal and illegal immigrants from Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Turkey, Central Asia, and Afghanistan. Many Bulgarians, their weak self esteem shakily bolstered by contempt for “others,” blame the shoddier commercial practices of this wonderfully vibrant marginal neighborhood on the presence and “inferiority” of such outsiders.

Blaming others may be among our most human of tendencies. I have often thought that the human diaspora, wandering out of Africa and across oceans and forbidding landscapes, was caused by disaffection between tribes — the dislike, subjugation or dehumanizing of others, and the construction of specious narratives that rationalize a simple urge to blame. In known history there have been countless migrations, some for opportunistic reasons, but many more simply to escape misery. (Or, in the case of slavery, in states of misery dismissed by traders who regarded their captives as mere property.)

Yet cities, perhaps alone among human institutions, invite and thrive on human diversity. What hope I have for our species I get more from living in cities than from being anywhere else, no matter how pleasant. Steve’s photos and essays don’t always give me more hope, but they always give me more understanding, which is the better deal.

Bonus postings:

 

Aunt Grace — my father’s younger sister — died yesterday at her home in Maine. She was 101 years old, and in good health until just a couple days ago. Last month, in fact, she flew to San Diego to visit one of her granddaughters.

Grace often said she wanted to live to 108, like her mom, Ethel F. (née Englert) Searls. We should all be so lucky as either one.

Talk about a good life.

Grace was a lifelong artist, best known for her ceramic Toby Mugs, which she made in the basement studio of the Apgar family home alongside Big Brook in Marlboro, New Jersey. She and Uncle Archie moved there around the turn of the ’50s, with their three kids, George, Ron and Sue. The house was first built as a mill in the early 1700s and had been through many incarnations afterwards. Archie continued to work on improving it through the rest of his life. Same went for the land, which the family also farmed for many years.

When Grace finally “retired” a few years ago, after the age of 90, she didn’t go south like so many seniors. Instead she moved to Edgecomb, Maine. There she continued to maintain a vigorous and independent life.

To help remember her, I’ve put together a couple photo sets on Flickr: one of shots throughout her life, and one of her 100th birthday party last year. The former are mostly from her own photo collection, which I’ve been scanning and posting over the last several years. Some are of Grace, some are of her relatives and friends, and some are mine that she’s commented on, as “gsapgar.” She was the last person whose approval I still craved.

I’ll miss her smarts, her humor, her hospitality, her generosity, and her loving presence in the world. She was as fine a Mom, aunt, grandma, great-grandma and friend as anybody could wish for.

We’ll all miss her.

In , opens with this sentence: “On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.” Sixty-four years have passed since White wrote that, and it still makes perfect sense to me, hunched behind a desk in a back room of a Manhattan apartment.

That’s because privacy is mostly a settled issue in the physical world, and a grace of civilized life. Clothing, for example, is a privacy technology. So are walls, doors, windows and shades.

Private spaces in public settings are well understood in every healthy and mature culture. This is why no store on Main Street would plant a tracking beacon in the pants of a visiting customer, to report back on that customer’s activities — just so the store or some third party can “deliver” a better “experience” through advertising. Yet this kind of thing is beyond normative on the Web: it is a huge business.

Worse, the institution we look toward for protection from this kind of unwelcome surveillance — our government — spies on us too, and relies on private companies for help with activities that would be a crime if the  still meant what it says. ( more than two years ago.)

I see two reasons why privacy is now under extreme threat in the digital world — and the physical one too, as surveillance cameras bloom like flowers in public spaces, and as marketers and spooks together look toward the “Internet of Things” for ways to harvest an infinitude of personal data.

Reason #1

The was back-burnered when  (aka ) got baked into e-commerce in the late ’90s. In a single slide  summarizes what happened after that. It looks like this:

The History of E-commerce
1995: Invention of the cookie.
The end.

For a measure of how far we have drifted away from the early promise of networked life, re-read ‘s “Death From Above,” published in January 1995, and his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” published one year later. The first argued against asymmetrical provisioning of the Net and the second expressed faith in the triumph of nerds over wannabe overlords.

Three years later  was no less utopian. While it is best known for its 95 Theses (which include “” and ““) its most encompassing clue came before of all those. Chris Locke wrote it, and here’s what it says, boldface, color and all:

if you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get…
we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

Note the first and second person voices, and the possessive case. Our reach was everybody’s. Your grasp was companies’.

Fourteen years later, companies have won. Our reach has not exceeded their grasp. In fact, their grasp is stronger than ever.

Another irony: the overlords are nerds too. And  they lord over what Bruce Schneier calls a feudal system:

Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone. Some of us have pretty much abandoned e-mail altogether … for Facebook.

These vendors are becoming our feudal lords, and we are becoming their vassals. We might refuse to pledge allegiance to all of them – or to a particular one we don’t like. Or we can spread our allegiance around. But either way, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to not pledge allegiance to at least one of them.

Reason #2

We have loosed three things into the digital world that we (by which I mean everybody) do not yet fully comprehend, much less deal with (through policy, tech or whatever). Those are:

  1. Ubiquitous computing power. In the old days only the big guys had it. Now we all do.
  2. Ubiquitous Internet access. This puts us all at zero virtual distance from each other, at costs that also veer toward zero as well.
  3. Unlimited ability to observe, copy and store data, which is the blood and flesh of the entire networked world.

In tech, what can be done will be done, sooner or later, especially if it’s possible to do it in secret — and if it helps make money, fight a war or both. This is why we have bad acting on a massive scale: from click farms gaming the digital advertising business, to the NSA doing what now know it does.

Last month I gave a keynote at an  event in New York. One of my topics was personal privacy, and how it might actually be good for the advertising business to respect it. Another speaker was , a “gentleman hacker” and CEO of WhiteOps, “an internet security company focused on the eradication of ad fraud.” He told of countless computers and browsers infected with bots committing click-fraud on a massive scale, mostly for Russian hackers shunting $billions from the flow of money down the online advertising river. The audience responded with polite applause. Privacy? Fraud? Why care? The money’s rolling in. Make hay while the power asymmetry shines.

Just today an executive with a giant company whose name we all know told me about visiting “click farms” in India, which he calls “just one example of fraud on a massive scale that nobody in the industry wants to talk about.” (Credit where due: the IAB wouldn’t have had us speaking there if its leaders didn’t care about the issues. But a .org by itself does not an industry make.)

Yet I’m not discouraged. In fact, I’m quite optimistic.

These last few months I’ve been visiting dozens of developers and policy folk from Europe to Australia, all grappling productively with privacy issues, working on the side of individuals, and doing their best to develop enlightened policy, products and services.

I can report that respect for privacy — the right to be left alone and to conceal what one wishes about one’s self and one’s data — is far more evolved elsewhere than it is in the U.S. So is recognition that individuals can do far more with their own data than can any big company (or organization) that has snarfed that data up. In some cases this respect takes the form of policy (e.g. the EU Data Protection Directive). In other cases it takes the form of advocacy, or of new businesses. In others it’s a combination of all of those and more.

Some examples:

 is a policy and code development movement led by Ann Cavoukian, the Information & Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. Many developers, enterprises and governments are now following her guidelines. (Which in turn leverage the work of Helen Nissenbaum.)

, the Fondation Internet Nouvelle Génération, is a think tank of leading French developers, scientists, academics and business folk, convened to guide digital transformation across many disciplines, anchored in respect for the individual and his or her full empowerment (including protection of privacy), and for collective action based on that respect.

 is a Fing project in which six large French companies — Orange, La Poste, Cap-Digital, Monoprix, Alcatel-Lucent and Societe Generale — are releasing to 300 customers personal data gathered about those customers, and inviting developers to help those customers do cool things on their own with that data.

The  in the UK is doing a similar thing, with twenty UK companies and thousands of customers.

Both Midata and Etalab in France are also working the government side, sharing with citizens data collected about them by government agencies. For more on the latter read Interview with Henri Verdier: Director of Etalab, Services of the French Prime Minister. Also see Open Data Institute and PublicData.eu.

In Australia,    and  are working on re-building markets from the customer side, starting with personal control and required respect for one’s privacy as a base principle.

In the U.S. and Europe, companies and open source development groups have been working on personal data “stores,” “lockers,” “vaults” and “clouds,” where individuals can harbor and use their own data in their own private ways. There is already an  and a language for “” and “pclouds” for everything you can name in the Internet of Things. I posted something recently at HBR about one implication for this. (Alas, it’s behind an annoying registration wall.)

On the legal front, Customer Commons is working with the  at the Berkman Center on terms and privacy requirements that individuals can assert in dealing with other entities in the world. This work dovetails with , the  and others.

I am also encouraged to see that the most popular browser add-ons and extensions are ones that block tracking, ads or both. AdblockPlus, Firefox’s Privowny and  are all in this game, and they are having real effects. In May 2012,  a 9.26% ad blocking rate in North America and Europe. Above that were Austria (22.5%), Hungary, Germany, Finland, Poland, Gibraltar, Estonia and France. The U.S. was just below that at 8.72%. The top blocking browser was Firefox (17.81%) and the bottom one was Explorer (3.86%). So it was no surprise to see Microsoft jump on the Do Not Track bandwagon with its latest browser version. In sum what we see here is the marketplace talking back to marketing, through developers whose first loyalties are to people.

(The above and many other companies are listed among developers here.)

More context: it’s still early. The Internet most of us know today is just eighteen years old. The PC is thirty-something. Pendulums swing. Tides come and go. Bubbles burst.

I can’t prove it, but I do believe we have passed Peak Surveillance. When Edward Snowden’s shit hit the fan in May, lots of people said the controversy would blow over. It hasn’t, and it won’t. Our frogs are not fully boiled, and we’re jumping out of the pot. New personal powers will be decentralized. And in cases where those powers are centralized, it will be in ways that are better aligned with individual and social power than the feudal systems of today. End-to-end principles are still there, and still apply.

Another reason for my optimism is metaphor, the main subject in the thread below. In , George Lakoff and Mark Johnson open with this assertion: The mind is inherently embodied. We think metaphorically, and our metaphorical frames arise from our bodily experience. Ideas, for example, may not be things in the physical sense, but we still talk of “forming,” “getting,” “catching” and “throwing out” ideas. Metaphorically, privacy is a possession. We speak of it in possessive terms, and as something valuable and important to protect — because this has been our experience with it for as long as we’ve had civilization.

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law” because it is nine-tenths of the three-year-old. She says “It’s mine!” because she has hands with thumbs that give her the power to grab. Possession begins with what we can hold.

There is also in our embodied nature a uniquely human capacity called indwelling. Through indwelling our senses extend outward through our clothes, our tools, our vehicles, to expand the boundaries of our capacities as experienced and capable beings in the world. When drivers speak of “my wheels” and pilots of “my wings,” it’s because their senses dwell in those things as extensions of their bodies.

This relates to privacy through exclusion: my privacy is what only I have.

The clothes we wear are exclusively ours. We may wear them to express ourselves, but their first purpose is to protect and conceal what is only ours. This sense of exclusivity also expands outward, even though our data.

 ”the Internet is a copy machine.” And it is. We send an email in a less literal sense than we copy it. Yet the most essential human experience is ambulation: movement. This is why we conceive life, and talk about it, in terms of travel, rather than in terms of biology. Birth is arrival, we say. Death is departure. Careers are paths. This is why, when we move data around, we expect its ownership to remain a private matter even if we’re not really moving any of it in the postal sense of a sending a letter.

The problem here is not that our bodily senses fail to respect the easily-copied nature of data on networks, but that we haven’t yet created social, technical and policy protocols for the digital world to match the ones we’ve long understood in the physical world. We still need to do that. As embodied beings, the physical world is not just our first home. It is the set of reference frames we will never shake off, because we can’t. And because we’ve had them for ten thousand years or more.

The evolutionary adaptation that needs to happen is within the digital world and how we govern it, not the physical one.

Our experience as healthy and mature human beings in the physical world is one of full agency over personal privacy. In building out our digital world — something we are still just beginning to do — we need to respect that agency. The biggest entities in the digital world don’t yet do that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t. Especially after we start leaving their castles in droves.

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Mom died ten years ago yesterday, just as I was putting up the post below. I learned a short while later that she was gone. It was a good post then, and still is now. So I thought I’d run it again. — Doc

1953 Wanigan:
Except for school, I had a happy childhood. That means my summers were idylls.
In the summer of 1949, a couple months after my sister was born and while I was turning two, my parents bought an acre and a half of land near Cedarwood Park on the edge of the pine barrens in South Jersey (near The Shore, pronounced Da Shaw), bought a small wooden building, towed it to a clearing on a flat-bed truck, sat it on a shallow foundation, built a kitchen out of cast-off boards and windows, erected an ourdoor privy over a pit, pounded a pipe into the ground for well water, screwed a hand-pump on the top of the pipe, furnished the place with garage sale items, hung a pair of Navy surplus canvas hammocks between scrub oak trees, and called our new summer home “The Wanigan,” which they said was “Eskimo” for “house that moves.” (Apparently the derivation is Ojibwa, but so what.)
It was paradise. Grandma and Aunt Ethel had a place nearby. So did my great aunt Florence and Uncle Jack. Aunt Grace, Uncle Arch and my cousins Ron, George and Sue all lived in Marlboro, not too far away. They’d bunk in Grandma’s garage. Other friends and relatives summered nearby, or would come visiting from near and far, sometimes staying for weeks. Over the next thirteen years the Wanigan got an additional room and indoor plumbing, but was otherwise blissfully unimproved. We never had a TV. For years our only phone ran on DC batteries and connected only to Grandma’s house.
We went to Mantoloking Beach almost every day. For a change we swam the beaches and lagoons of Kettle Creek (we had a little land with a dock on Cherry Quay Cove) or the Metedeconk River on Barnegat Bay. We fished and crabbed in small boats. On the way home we stopped at roadside farm stands, bought tomatoes and corn, and enjoyed perfect suppers. We rode our bikes through the woods to the little general store about a mile away, bought comic books and came home to read them on our bunk beds. We grazed on blueberries, three varieties of which comprised the entire forest floor. We built platforms in the oak trees, collected pine cones and played hide-and-seek in the woods. Bedtime came when the whip-poor-wills started calling. We fell asleep to a cacaphony of tree frogs and crickets.
The picture above was shot in the summer of 1953, when I was turning six (that’s me with the beer in the front row), behind “Bayberry,” the house Grandma Searls shared with her daughter, our Aunt Ethel. That’s Grandma at the top left. Aunt Ethel is in the next row down next to Mom. Behind both are Aunt Grace Apgar and my great Aunt Florence Dwyer (Grandma’s sister). Then Aunt Catherine Burns, cousin Sue Apgar, Mary Ellen Wigglesworth (a neighbor visiting from back in Maywood, our home town), then Uncle Arch Apgar. In front of Arch is George Apgar. Pop (Allen H. Searls) is in the middle. In the front row are my sister Jan Searls, Kevin Burns, myself, Uncle Donald Burns and Martin Burns (who today remembers being scratched by that cat).
Grandma lived to 107. Aunt Florence made it to her 90s too, as I recall. Aunt Grace is now 91 and in great health. (Here we are at Mom’s 90th birthday party last April.) Aunt Katherine is still with us too, as is everybody from my generation (now all in their 50s and 60s).
I’m waxing nostalgic as I plan a return visit this weekend to North Carolina, probably for the last time in Mom’s life.
I’m also remembering what late August was like back then, as we prepared to end another perfect summer. It was wanting paradise never to end — and knowing, surely, that it would.

Among those in the photo who were alive when this post went up, we’ve lost two: aunt Katherine passed several years ago, in her late 90s; and ccousin Ron Apgar, who was shy of photos when this shot was taken, died at 70 last year. The rest of us are all still doing fine — especially Aunt Grace, now 101 years old.

Los Angeles at nightFirst, time.

Earth became habitable for primitive life forms some 3.X billion years ago. It will cease to be habitable in another 1 billion years or less, given the rate at which the Sun continues to get hotter, which it has been doing for the duration.

Species last, on average, a couple million years. Depending on where you mark our own species start, we are either early or late in that time span.

If you mark our start from the dawn of the Anthropocene — now being vetted as a name for the geological epoch in which human agency is as obvious as that of other natural agents in Earth’s story, such as asteroid collisions, volcanic outpourings and radical weather changes — we’re about ten thousand years into this thing. We’ve done a lot in not very long.

From a pained perspective, the Anthropocene is a time of pestilence by a single species — one with an insatiable hunger for what that species calls “natural resources.” To test that pain, give a listen to “When the music’s over,” on the Strange Days album by The Doors. In it Jim Morrison sings,

What have they done to the Earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and
Ripped her and bit her.
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn and
Tied her with fences and
Dragged
Her
Down.

From a disinterested perspective, dig Robinson JeffersThe Eye, written during World War II from Tor House, his home in Carmel overlooking the Pacific:

The Atlantic is a stormy moat; and the Mediterranean,
The blue pool in the old garden,
More than five thousand years has drunk sacrifice
Of ships and blood, and shines in the sun; but here the Pacific–
Our ships, planes, wars are perfectly irrelevant.
Neither our present blood-feud with the brave dwarfs
Nor any future world-quarrel of westering
And eastering man, the bloody migrations, greed of power, clash of
faiths–
Is a speck of dust on the great scale-pan.
Here from this mountain shore, headland beyond stormy headland
plunging like dolphins through the blue sea-smoke
Into pale sea–look west at the hill of water: it is half the
planet:
this dome, this half-globe, this bulging
Eyeball of water, arched over to Asia,
Australia and white Antartica: those are the eyelids that never
close;
this is the staring unsleeping
Eye of the earth; and what it watches is not our wars.

There is also this, from Jeffers’ “The Bloody Sire” :

Stark violence is still the sire of all the world’s values.

What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine
The fleet limbs of the antelope?
What but fear winged the birds, and hunger
Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?

Our teeth, right now, wing limbs and jewell eyes we will never see.

And the life here will end, perhaps in less time than has passed since the planet made half the rocks in the Grand Canyon‘s layer cake.

Now, space.

Astronauts speak of the “Overview_effect” that leaves them changed by seeing Earth from space.

I’ve made do with what I can see from the stratosphere while flying in commercial aircraft. It was from that perspective, for example, that I’ve documented effects of strip mining in the Anthropocene.

Ironies abound. My photo series on coal mining in the Powder River basin has been used both for pro-environmental causes and to promote business in Wyoming.

I’ve got more on this, but neither time nor space for it now.

Bonus link.

And more on the Anthropocene:

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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.

 

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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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

Eleanor SearlsMom would have turned 100 this week. She got to celebrate her 90th ten years ago, though it seems like yesterday. She died several months later, of a stroke while recovering from a botched gall stone removal procedure. The stroke was preventable, I believe; but I won’t lay blame. Mom lived a long and full life, and wouldn’t have wanted to make a stink about it. That wasn’t her style.

She was a smart, fun, loving and thoroughly wonderful woman. I remember once, when I was in my twenties, sitting around a fire in the little commune-like community where I lived near Chapel Hill. One of the others asked, “Who is the most sane person you know?” When I answered “My mother,” the rest were amazed. Not many people our age said things like that about either of their parents. But there was no doubt in my mind. Mom was profoundly sane. There wasn’t a crazy cell in her mind.

She was raised in Napoleon, North Dakota, the middle child among five. Her parents were from large Swedish homesteading families. (For the genealogists, Oman — or Ohman — and Sponberg.) She could read as a small child and entered school early, graduating high school at sixteen. Her colleges were North Dakota State and the University of Chicago. For a while she taught in a one-room schoolhouse, starting at age 19. She was doing social work  in Alaska when she met the man who became my father, and who proposed to her by mail while in Europe fighting in WWII. They married when he returned in 1946 . I showed up a year later, and my sister Jan two years after that. We lived in Maywood, New Jersey, during the year, and in Brick Township, by the Jersey Shore, in the summers. Mom’s last and longest job was teaching 3rd and 4th grade in the Maywood school system. She and Pop retired to Graham, North Carolina in 1974. Pop died in 1979, and Mom carried on as a pillar of the local community — just as she was a pillar of everything she supported in her life.

I could go on, but instead I’ll share what I posted on my blog on the day she died:

1953 Wanigan:
Except for school, I had a happy childhood. That means my summers were idylls.
In the summer of 1949, a couple months after my sister was born and while I was turning two, my parents bought an acre and a half of land near Cedarwood Park on the edge of the pine barrens in South Jersey (near The Shore, pronounced Da Shaw), bought a small wooden building, towed it to a clearing on a flat-bed truck, sat it on a shallow foundation, built a kitchen out of cast-off boards and windows, erected an ourdoor privy over a pit, pounded a pipe into the ground for well water, screwed a hand-pump on the top of the pipe, furnished the place with garage sale items, hung a pair of Navy surplus canvas hammocks between scrub oak trees, and called our new summer home “The Wanigan,” which they said was “Eskimo” for “house that moves.” (Apparently the derivation is Ojibwa, but so what.)
It was paradise. Grandma and Aunt Ethel had a place nearby. So did my great aunt Florence and Uncle Jack. Aunt Grace, Uncle Arch and my cousins Ron, George and Sue all lived in Marlboro, not too far away. They’d bunk in Grandma’s garage. Other friends and relatives summered nearby, or would come visiting from near and far, sometimes staying for weeks. Over the next thirteen years the Wanigan got an additional room and indoor plumbing, but was otherwise blissfully unimproved. We never had a TV. For years our only phone ran on DC batteries and connected only to Grandma’s house.
We went to Mantoloking Beach almost every day. For a change we swam the beaches and lagoons of Kettle Creek (we had a little land with a dock on Cherry Quay Cove) or the Metedeconk River on Barnegat Bay. We fished and crabbed in small boats. On the way home we stopped at roadside farm stands, bought tomatoes and corn, and enjoyed perfect suppers. We rode our bikes through the woods to the little general store about a mile away, bought comic books and came home to read them on our bunk beds. We grazed on blueberries, three varieties of which comprised the entire forest floor. We built platforms in the oak trees, collected pine cones and played hide-and-seek in the woods. Bedtime came when the whip-poor-wills started calling. We fell asleep to a cacaphony of tree frogs and crickets.
The picture above was shot in the summer of 1953, when I was turning six (that’s me with the beer in the front row), behind “Bayberry,” the house Grandma Searls shared with her daughter, our Aunt Ethel. That’s Grandma at the top left. Aunt Ethel is in the next row down next to Mom. Behind both are Aunt Grace Apgar and my great Aunt Florence Dwyer (Grandma’s sister). Then Aunt Catherine Burns, cousin Sue Apgar, Mary Ellen Wigglesworth (a neighbor visiting from back in Maywood, our home town), then Uncle Arch Apgar. In front of Arch is George Apgar. Pop (Allen H. Searls) is in the middle. In the front row are my sister Jan Searls, Kevin Burns, myself, Uncle Donald Burns and Martin Burns (who today remembers being scratched by that cat).
Grandma lived to 107. Aunt Florence made it to her 90s too, as I recall. Aunt Grace is now 91 and in great health. (Here we are at Mom’s 90th birthday party last April.) Aunt Katherine is still with us too, as is everybody from my generation (now all in their 50s and 60s).
I’m waxing nostalgic as I plan a return visit this weekend to North Carolina, probably for the last time in Mom’s life.
I’m also remembering what late August was like back then, as we prepared to end another perfect summer. It was wanting paradise never to end — and knowing, surely, that it would.

As a postscript, I should add that Grace is still doing fine at age 100. Katherine made it to 99. My cousin Ron Apgar (one of Grace’s two sons, who opted out of the picture above when he was eleven) died early this year at 70. He was an awesome dude and like a big brother to me when we were growing up. The rest of us are all well. Life is good.

It’s raining here now, in Manhattan. It was snowing earlier, but then came the sleet, and now the rain, and the slush. Here’s what I shot with my phone a few minutes ago, on my way back from the subway:

Blcch on broadway

And here’s what this kind of thing looks looks like on Intellicast‘s radar:

Blcch map

The red X marks where I grew up, on Woodland Ave in Maywood, New Jersey, about 5 miles from the George Washington Bridge and Manhattan. Woodland Avenue was (and still is) a hill. Not a big one; just one ideal for sledding. It had a nice steep slope at the top, and a long flat stretch at the bottom, so you could get up some good speed and glide a long way. Sometimes the town would designate Woodland Ave as the sledding hill, and block off the top and the bottom except for residential traffic. If the snow was deep enough, cars would pack it down and make sledding better.

Terrace Ave, one street over, was good for sledding too: steeper at the top, with a shorter glide path at the bottom. So was the back yard of the Borg house on Summit Ave in Hackensack, which was a short walk through Borg’s Woods, also owned by the family. (It’s now a nature preserve.) The Borg family owned the Bergen Evening Record (now just The Record).

This was back in the 1950s, which were simpler times. There was no cable, no Weather Channel. Almost nobody in our social stratum went skiing. Few civilians had four-wheel (or even front-wheel) drive vehicles. For kids, sledding was the favored recreational activity in snow, and the best sleds were Flexible Flyers. The family had a big old heavy one, good for seating two or three people. It looked like the one on the right (from 1936), but a bit longer. It may have been that old too. We also had a smaller one, good for solo flights.

If snowy weather threatened, as it does now, we’d be glued to our radios, eager to hear a forecast that did not include the dreaded word “rain.” The most disappointing forecast was this one: “Snow mixed with and then changing to rain.” It was also the most typical for New York. An inch or few of snow would fall, and then it would turn to sleet, or drizzle, and then rain, and the street would turn to slush. These days they call snow/rain combo “wintry mix.” That’s the pink on the map. Almost always the forecast would say something like “significant accumulations in the outlying suburbs.” Those are the areas in blue already.

So my heart’s is back in Maywood today, while my ass is in Manhattan, watching the blizzard fail to happen — at least here. On the iPad is the Weather Channel, tuned in to our Dish Network box in Santa Barbara. The forecast, as always with TWC, is breathless and dire. They (or somebody) have named the storm “Nemo.” Oy.

In a slightly more ideal world, we would have already rented a four-wheel drive, thrown a suitcase and ski clothes in the back, and have driven up to Hunter Mountain, or some place in Vermont. I’ll bet the skiing up there will be perfect for the next few days. But we’re busy, and not in a position to indulge.

TWC says it’s still going to snow later, with accumulations even as close as Maywood. So, for the sake of the kids out there, I hope the pink turns blue.

I came late to personal computing, which was born with the MITS Altair in 1975.

The first PC I ever met — and wanted desperately, in an instant — was an Apple II, in 1977. It sold in one of the first personal computer shops, in Durham, NC. Price: $2500. At the time I was driving one of a series of old GM cars I bought for nothing or under 1/10th what that computer cost. So I wasn’t in the market, and wouldn’t buy my first personal computer until I lived in California, more than a decade later.

By ’77, Apple already had competition, and ran ads voiced by Dick Cavett calling the Apple II “The most personal computer.”

After that I wanted, in order, an Osborne, a Sinclair and an IBM PC, which came out in ’82 and, fully configured, went for more than $2000. At least I got to play with a PC and an Apple II then, because my company did the advertising for a software company making a game for them . I also wrote an article about it for one of the first issues of PC Magazine. The game was Ken Uston’s Professional Blackjack.

Then, in 1984, we got one of the very first Macs sold in North Carolina. It cost about $2500 and sat in our conference room, next to a noisy little dot matrix printer that also cost too much. It was in use almost around the clock. I think the agency had about 10 people then, and we each booked our time on it.

As the agency grew, it acquired more Macs, and that’s all we used the whole time I was there.

So I got to see first hand what Dave Winer is driving at in MacWrite and MacPaint, a coral reef and What early software was influential?

In a comment under the latter, I wrote this:

One thing I liked about MacWrite and MacPaint was their simplicity. They didn’t try to do everything. Same with MacDraw (the first object- or vector- based drawing tool). I still hunger for the simplicity of MacDraw. Also of WriteNow, which (as I recall) was written in machine, or something, which made it very very fast. Also hard to update.

Same with MultiPlan, which became (or was replaced by) Excel. I loved the early Excel. It was so simple and easy to use. The current Excel is beyond daunting.

Not sure what Quicken begat, besides Quickbooks, but it was also amazingly fast for its time, and dead simple. Same with MacInTax. I actually loved doing my taxes with MacInTax.

And, of course, ThinkTank and MORE. I don’t know what the connection between MORE and the other presentation programs of the time were. Persuasion and PowerPoint both could make what MORE called “bullet charts” from outlines, but neither seemed to know what outlining was. Word, IMHO, trashed outlining by making it almost impossible to use, or to figure out. Still that way, too.

One thing to study is cruft. How is it that wanting software to do everything defeats the simple purpose of doing any one thing well? That’s a huge lesson, and one still un-learned, on the whole.

Think about what happened to Bump. Here was a nice simple way to exchange contact information. Worked like a charm. Then they crufted it up and people stopped using it. But was the lesson learned?

Remember the early Volkswagen ads, which were models of simplicity, like the car itself? They completely changed advertising “creative” for generations. Somewhere in there, somebody in the ad biz did a cartoon, multi-panel, showing how to “improve” those simple VW ads. Panel after panel, copy was added: benefits, sale prices, locations and numbers, call-outs… The end result was just another ugly ad, full of crap. Kind of like every commercial website today. Compare those with what TBL wrote HTML to do.

One current victim of cruftism is Apple, at least in software and services. iTunes is fubar. iCloud is beyond confusing, and is yet another domain namespace (it succeeds .mac and .me, which both still work, confusingly). And Apple hasn’t fixed namespace issues for users, or made it easy to search through prior purchases. Keynote is okay, but I still prefer PowerPoint, because — get this: it’s still relatively simple. Ugly, but simple.

Crufism in Web services, as in personal software, shows up when creators of “solutions” start thinking your actual volition is a problem. They think they can know you better than you know yourself, and that they can “deliver” you an “experience” better than you can make for yourself. Imagine what it would be like to stee a car if it was always guessing at where you want to go instead of obeying your actual commands? Or if the steering wheel tugged you toward every McDonalds you passed because McDonalds is an advertiser and the car’s algorithm-obeying driver thought it knew you were hungry and had a bias for fast food — whether you have it or not.

That’s the crufty “service” world we’re in now, and we’re in it because we’re just consumers of it, and not respected as producers.

The early tool-makers knew we were producers. That’s what they made those tools for. That’s been forgotten too.

I wrote that in an outliner, also by Dave.

Interesting to see how far we’ve come, and how far we still need to go.

Bonus link, on “old skool”.

One day, back around 15,000 BCE, half a mountain in Southern California broke loose and slid out onto what’s now the Mojave desert. The resulting landform is called the Blackhawk Slide. Here it is:

It’s that ripple-covered lobe on the bottom right. According to Robert Sharp’s Geology Underfoot in Southern California, it didn’t just flow off the mountain, as would happen with a typical landslide. It actually slid intact, like a toboggan, four and a half miles, on a slope of only two to three degrees. It could not have traveled so far, and have remained so intact (with rock layers preserved, in order, top to bottom), if it had merely flowed.

Geologists can tell it slid because it didn’t just heap at the base of the mountain from which it detached. Instead it soared, at low altitude, four and a half miles, on the flat, on a cushion of air, out across the desert, before plopping down.

To get some perspective on this, here are two facts to consider. First, we’re talking about ten billion cubic feet of detached mountain face here. Second, in order to travel that far out onto the desert, shattered but essentially in one piece, it had to glide on a cushion of air, at speeds up to 270 miles per hour. Or so goes the theory.

One wonders if humans were there to see it happen. Ancestors of native Americans were already on the continent by then, thanks to the last glacial maximum, which still had several thousand more years to go. There may have been some ice on the mountains themselves, and perhaps that helped weaken the rock, which was already raised to the sky by pressures on the San Andreas Fault, which lies on the back side of the San Bernardino Mountains, a couple dozen miles from here.

I came along a bit late, but was glad to get my first chance to gander at the slide, the day after Thanksgiving, on a United flight from San Jose to Houston. I was shooting against the sun, and it was a bit hazy, but I was still able to get a good look, and this photo set too.

Additional links:

I’m on a list where the subject of patents is being discussed. While thinking about how I might contribute to the conversation, I remembered that I once cared a lot about the subject and wrote some stuff about it. So I did some spelunking through the archives and found the following, now more than twelve years old. It was written during Esther Dyson‘s PC Forum, and addressed via blog to those present there. So, rather than leave it languishing alone in the deep past, I decided to run it again here. I’m not sure if it contributes much to the patent debate, but it does surface a number of topics I’ve been gnawing on ever since. 

— Doc


I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals…
Not one is demented with the mania of owning things.

Walt Whitman


PC Forum 2000,
Phoenix, AZ. March 15, 2000.

Source Coders

Six years ago, at PC Forum 94, John Gage of Sun Microsystems stood on stage between a twitchy Macintosh Duo and a huge projection screen, and pushed the reset button on our lives.

He showed us the Web.

It was like he took us on a tour of the Milky Way — a strange, immense and almost completely alien space. With calm authority and the deep, warm voice of a Nova narrator, he led us from the home page of a student in Massachusetts to a Winter Olympics report archive in Japan, then to a page that showed everything useful piece of data about every broadcast satellite, compiled and published by a fanatic in North Carolina.

We all knew it was fabulous, but why? How could you make money in a world of ends where nobody owns the means? How could you make sense of a network that is nobody’s product and everybody’s service? And where the hell did it come from?

  • Not Compuserve, AOL, Prodigy or any of the other online services
  • Not Novell, 3Com, Crisco, or any of the infrastructure companies
  • Not AT&T, MCI, Nortek or any of the phone companies.
  • Not Microsoft, Apple, Sun or any of the other platform companies.

Sure, it ran on all of them; but it belonged to none of them. And since they couldn’t own it, they never would have made it. So who the hell did make it?

In a word, Hackers. Programmers. Guys who were real good at writing code. Lots of those guys worked for companies, including the companies we just listed. Lots more worked in the public sector, for schools and government organizations. What they shared was a love of information, and of putting it to work. They put both passions into building the Net, working cooperatively in what Eric Raymond calls a “gift culture,” like Amish farmers raising a barn.

Hackers didn’t build the Net for business. They built it for research. They wanted to make it easy for people to inform each other, no matter who or where they were.

Several days ago Tim O’Reilly and I were talking about information, which is a noun derived from the verb to form. We use information, literally, toform each other. So, if we are in the market for information, we are asking to be formed by other people. In other words, we are authors of each other. It follows that the best information is the kind that changes us most. If we want to know something — if we are in the market for knowledge — we demand to be changed.

That change is growth. Our identity persists, yet who-we-are becomes larger, because we know more. And the more we know, the more valuable we become. This value isn’t a “brand” (a nasty word that comes to us from the cattle industry). It’s reputation.

What these hackers made was an extraordinarily vast and efficient market for knowledge — a wide-open marketspace for information — where everybody gets to participate, to contribute, to grow, and to increase the value of their own reputations.

Utopia

It turns out that the Net is also good for business, even though it was not written for business. In fact, “good” is too weak a word. The Net is a Utopia for business.Think about it. This is a place where —

  • The threshold of enterprise is approximately zero.
  • All you need to get millions of dollars is an idea that looks like it could be worth billions more.
  • You can create those billions of dollars in value just by impressing people with your idea.
  • The value of your idea can grow from zero to billions in a matter of hours.
  • You see investment as income, because you’re obligated to burn it, and you don’t need to hock your house or your car to get it.
  • Promise of reward far out-motivates fear of punishment, because there is no punishment.
  • Failure informs and therefore qualifies you for more money to fund your next idea, because both your knowledge and your reputation have grown in the process

To succeed in this world, your business only needs to be Utopia-compatible. That is, your people need to be in the market for information — or, in the parlance of The Cluetrain Manifesto — in the market for clues.

Yet many companies, especially traditional industrial ones, are not in the market for clues. They neither supply nor demand them. They put up a Web site, strictly as a pro forma measure. The corporate face is blank, the voice robotic. David Weinberger writes, “Companies that cannot speak in a human voice make sites that smell like death.”

The medium is the metaphor

Their problem is conceptual. They literally concieve markets — including the vast information market of the Net — in obsolete terms. They see them as real estate, as battlefields, as territories, as theaters, as animal forces. And none of those metaphors work for the Net.

Three years ago, at PC Forum 97, George Lakoff told us how metaphors work (a good source is his 1980 book, Metaphors We Live By). We were taught in school that metaphors were poetic constructions. In fact, metaphors scaffold our understanding of the world. Conceptual metaphors induce the vocabularies that describe every subject we know.

Take life. In a literal sense, life is a biological state. But that’s not how we know life. If we stop to look at the vocabulary we use to describe life, we find beneath it the conceptual metaphor life is a journey. We cannot talk about life without using the language of travel. Birth is arrival. Death is departure. Choices are crossroads. Troubles are potholes or speed bumps. Mistakes take us off the path or onto dead end streets.

Take time. Our primary conceptual metaphor for time is time is money. We save, spend, budget, waste, hoard and invest it.

Conceptual metaphors are equally ubiquitous and unconscious. They are the aquifers of meaning beneath the grounds of our consciousness. Think about how we turn what we mean into what we say. When we speak, we usually don’t know how we will finish the sentences we start, or how we started the sentences we finish. Think about how hard it is to remember exactly what somebody says, yet to know exactly what they mean. Conceptual metaphors are deeply involved in this paradox. They help us agree that we all understand a subject in the same metaphorical terms.

Now lets look at markets. This morning Steve Ballmer told us that Microsoft’s first principle was “to compete very hard, do your best job, study ideas, move forward aggressively.” What is the conceptual metaphor here? Easy: markets are battlefields. There are two sets of overlapping vocabularies induced by this metaphor: war and sports. So you can talk about “blowing away” competition and “level playing fields” in the same sentence. (Microsoft’s problems derive from a confusion between the war and sports metaphors. “All’s fair” in war, but not sports.)

There are related metaphors. One is markets are real estate. By this metaphor, companies can own market territory, or lease rights to it. To a large extent, both the battle and playing field metaphors derive from the real estate metaphor.

There are unrelated metaphors. One is markets are beings. The investment community describes markets as bullsbears, and invisible hands. They growand shrink. They have moods. They get nervouscalm or upset. Another is markets are theaters. Companies perform there, for audiences, who they would like to enjoy a good experience.Another is markets are environmentsIn The Death of Competition, James Moore speaks of markets as ecosystems where companies and categories evolvecompete in a habitat, for resources like plants and animals, and evolve or become extinct.

So what the hell is a market, really? The answer isn’t complicated when we subtract out all the modern metaphors.

Markets are markets

The first markets were markets. They were real places where people gathered to talk about subjects that mattered to them, and to do business. Supply and demand, selling and buying, production and consumption, vendor and customer —all those reciprocal roles and processes that describe market relationships — were a handshake apart. Our ancestors’ surnames — Smith, Hunter, Shoemaker, Weaver, Tanner, Butcher — derived from roles they played in marketplaces. They were literally defined by their crafts.

Yet the balance of power favored the buy side: the customers, buyers and consumers who were one and the same. The noun “market” comes from the Latin mercere, which means to buy. That’s why we call malls “shopping centers.” Not “selling centers.”

The industrial revolution changed everything. Our ancestors left their farms and shops and got jobs in the offices and factories of industry. On the sell side, they became labor, and on the buy side they became consumers. As the Industrial Age advanced, the distance between production and consumption grew so wide that we came to understand business itself in terms of a new metahor: business is shipping. Now we had content that we loaded into a distribution system or a channel, and addressed for delivery to an end user or a consumer. Eventually, industry came to treat market as a verb as well as a noun. Marketing became the job of moving products across the complex distribution deltas that grew between a few suppliers and vast “markets,” where demand was perceived categorically, rather than personally. Every categorical subject or population — consumer electronics, cosmetics, yachting, 18-34 year old men, drivers, surfers — were all “markets.”

My work as a journalist flanks twenty-two years in marketing, advertising and public relations. These are professions which, in spite of good advice of gurus from Theodore Levitt to Regis McKenna, conceived marketing as the military wing of industry’s shipping system. Marketing’s job was to develop “strategies” for “campaigns” to wage against “targets” with munitions called “mesages” which would succeed by “impact” and “penetration. Those targets were not customers, but “consumers,” “eyeballs” and “seats.” There was no demand by those people for messages, but that didn’t matter because those people were not paying for the messages we insisted on lobbing at them.

So, by the end of the Industrial Age, we had not only forgotten what a market really was, but we had developed new and often hostile meanings for both the noun and the verb. We also understood both in terms of conceptual metaphors that were far removed from markets as places and as activities that defined those places.

Around the turn of the 90s, I began to float a new metaphor: markets are conversations. I liked it for two reasons: 1) it worked as a synonmym (try substiting conversation for market everywhere the latter appears and you’ll see what I mean); and 2) every other metaphor — with the notable exception of markets are environments — insulted the true nature of markets, especiallly in a networked world built by a gift economy, where product categories and their competing occupants all grow, often at nobody’s expense.

The idea didn’t catch on until it was put to work as Thesis #1 in The Cluetrain Manifesto. Now it’s all over the place. But it also has a long way to go. Conceptual metaphors such as markets are battlefields are huge reservoirs of bad meaning. Even highly clueful e-businesses make constant use of them.

Which brings us to patents, which operate on the conceptual metaphor inventions are property. This metaphor worked, more or less, through the entire Industrial Age; but it runs into trouble with the Net. While patents and properties may have been involved in the development of the Net, we don’t see them among the credits. As Larry Lessig puts it, the Net grew in the context of regulation, but regulation that broaded access to the very limits of plausibility, essentially by making cyberspace a form of public property — or, more accurately, nobody’s property.

But when we frame the argument over patents in terms of property, we must use the conceptual metaphor on which patents depend, and which also that deny the nature of the Net. We will also argue in terms of market metaphors that employ property concepts: war, games, real estate, theater, and shipping. We will not talk in terms of knowledge, information and conversation.

The challenge

This is where we found ourselves today, when Larry Lessig spoke to us. He said,

“…In the context of patents, the passion to regulate rages. Some 40,000 software patents now float in the ether; a new industry of patent making was launched by a decision of the federal circuit in 1998 — the business method patent. Gaggles of lawyers, my students, now police the innovation process in Internet industry. 5 years ago, if you had a great idea, you coded it. Today, if you have a great idea, you call the lawyers to check its IP.

“This change is the product of regulation. And while in principle, I’m in favor of patents, we should not ignore the nature of the change that this creates. Unlike open access, the regulations of patent don’t decentralize the innovative process. They do the opposite. Unlike open access, the regulations of patent don’t increase the range of those who might compete; for the most part, they narrow it. Unlike open access, patents don’t broaden the architecture of innovation. They narrow it. They are part of an architecture — a legal architecture — that narrows innovation.” (You’ll find this and many other speeches at his site.)

A year ago I defected from marketing. I went over to the other side, joining markets in their fight against Business as Usual. That’s why I write for Linux Journal. It’s also why I co-wrote The Cluetrain Manifesto.

Linux is the Amish barn operating system. It was conceived and built on the same principles as the Net. Not surprisingly, much of what we see on the Net is served up by Linux and other software described as “open” and “free.”

Cluetrain insists that we start to understand the Net on its own terms. This means we have to go back to our founding hackers and look at the virtues embodied in the Utopia donated to business by the hackers’ gift culture.

I suggest we start with these three:

  • Nobody owns it
  • Everybody can use it
  • Anybody can improve it

Eric Raymond suggests many more. So do Bryan Pfaffenberger (who also writes for Linux Journal), Larry LessigRichard Stallman,Tim O’Reilly,James Gleick and Dave Winer, to name just a few.

Let’s start there.

If we start with the industrial world, we’ll stay there. And we can kiss Utopia good-bye.

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.

I want to drive on the Web, but instead I’m being driven. All of us are. And that’s a problem.

It’s not for lack of trying on the part of websites and services such as search engines. But they don’t make cars. They make stores and utilities that try to be personal, but aren’t, and never can be.

Take, for example, the matter of location. The Internet has no location, and that’s one of its graces. But sites and services want to serve, so many notice what IP address you appear to be arriving from. Then they customize their page for you, based on that location. While that might sound innocent enough, and well-intended, it also fails to know one’s true intentions, which matter far more to each of us than whatever a website guesses about us, especially if the guessing is wrong.

Last week I happened to be in New York when a friend in Toronto and I were both looking up the same thing on Google while we talked over Skype. We were unable to see the same thing, or anything close, on Google, because the engine insisted on giving us both localized results, which neither of us wanted. We could change our locations, but not to no location at all. In other words, it wouldn’t let us drive. We could only be driven.

Right now I’m in Paris, and cannot get Google to let me look at Google.com (presumably google.us), Google.uk or Google.anywhere other than France. At least not on its Web page. (If I use the location bar as a place to search, it gives me google.com results, for some non-obvious reason.)

After reading Larry Magid’s latest in Huffpo, about the iPhone 5, which says this…

Gazelle.com is paying $240 for an iPhone 4s in good condition, which is $41 more than the cost of a subsidized iPhone 5. If you buy a new iPhone from Sprint they’ll buy back your iPhone 4s for $235. Trouble is, if you bought a 4s it’s probably still under contract. Sprint is paying $125 for an 8 GB iPhone 4 and Gazelle is paying $145 for a 16 GB iPhone 4 which means that it you can get the $199 upgrade price, your out of pocket could be as little as $54.

… I wondered what BestBuy might give me for my 16GB iPhone 4. But when I go to http://bestbuy.com, the company gives me a page in French. I guess that’s okay, but it’s still annoying. (So is seeing that I can’t get a trade-in price without visiting a store.)

Back in the search world, I’ve been looking for a prepaid wireless internet access strategy to get data at sane prices in the next few countries I visit. A search for “prepaid wireless internet access” on google.fr gets me lots of ads in French, some of which might be more interesting if I knew French as well as I know English, but I doubt it. The “I’m feeling lucky” result is a faux-useful SEO-elevated page with the same title as the search query. The rest of the first page results are useless as well. (I did eventually find a useful site for my UK visit the week after next, but I’ll save that for another post.)

To describe what the Web has become, two metaphors come to mind.

The first is a train system that mostly runs between commercial destinations. In a surreal way, you are transported from one destination to another near-instantly (or at the speed of a page loading ads and cookies along with whatever it was you went there for), and are trapped at every destination in a cabin with a view only of what the destination wants you to see. The cabin is co-occupied by dozens or hundreds of conductors at any given time, all competing for your attention and telling you something they hope will make you buy something or visit other sites. In the parlance of professionals on the supply side of this system, what you get here is an “experience” that they “deliver.” To an increasing degree this experience is personalized, and for every person it’s different. If you looked at pants a few sites back, you might see ads for pants, or whatever it is that the system thinks you might want to buy, whether you’re in a buying mood or not at the time. (And most of the time you’re not, but they don’t care about that.)

Google once aspired to give us access to “all the world’s information”, which suggests a library. But the library-building job is now up to Archive.org. Instead, Google now personalizes the living shit out of its search results. One reason, of course, is to give us better search results. But the other is to maximize the likelihood that we’ll click on an ad. But neither is served well by whatever it is that Google thinks it knows about us. Nor will it ever be, so long as we are driven, rather than driving.

I think what’s happened in recent years is that users searching for stuff have been stampeded by sellers searching for users. I know Googlers will bristle at that characterization, but that’s what it appears to have become, way too much of the time.

But that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that browsers are antique vehicles.

See, we need to drive, and browsers aren’t cars. They’re shopping carts that shape-shift with every site we visit. They are optimized for being inside websites, not for driving outside them, or between them. In fact, we can hardly imagine the Net or the Web as a space that’s larger than the sites in it. But we need to do that if we’re going to start designing means of self-transport that transcend the limitations of browsing and browsers.

Think about what it means to drive.  The cabin, steering wheel, pedals, controls, engine, tires and chassis of a car are all controlled by you. The world through which you move is outside, not inside. Even in malls, you park outside the stores. The stores do not intrude inside your personal space. Driving is no less personal and no less masterfully yours when you ride a bike or a motorcycle, or pilot a plane. Those are all personal vehicles too. A browser should have been like one of those, and that was kind of the idea back in the early days when we talked about “surfing” and the “information highway.” But it didn’t turn out that way. Instead browsers became shopping carts that get fresh skins at every website.

We need a new vehicle. One that’s ours.

The smartphone would be ideal if it wasn’t also a phone. But that’s what it is. With few exceptions, we rent smartphones from phone companies and equipment makers, which collude to sentence us to “plans” that last for two years at a run.

I had some hope for Android., but that hope is fading now. Although supporting general purpose hardware and software was one of Google’s basic ideas behind Android, that’s not how it’s turning out. Android in most cases is an embedded operating system on a special purpose device. In the most familiar U.S. cases (AT&T’s, Sprint’s, T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s) the most special purpose of that device is locking you to a plan and soaking you for some quantity of minutes, texts and GB of data, whether you use the full amounts or not, and then punishing you for going over. They play an asymmetrical knowledge game with you, where they can monitor your every move, and all your usage, while you can barely do the same, if at all.

So we have a long way to go before mobile phones become the equivalent of a car, a bicycle, a motorcycle or a small plane. I don’t think there is an evolutionary path to the Net’s equivalent of a car that starts with a smartphone. Unless it’s not a phone first and a computing/communication device second.

The personal computing and communications revolution is thirty years old now, if we date it from the first IBM PC.  And right now we’re stuck, mostly because we think having the Web “personalized” is the same thing as having a personal vehicle. And because we think having a smartphone makes us independent. Neither is true. That’s why we won’t make progress past those problems until we start thinking and inventing outside their old boxes.

Geologists have an informal name for the history of human influence on the Earth. They call it the Anthropocene. It makes sense. We have been raiding the earth for its contents, and polluting its atmosphere, land and oceans for as long as we’ve been here, and it shows. By any objective perspective other than our own, we are a pestilential species. We consume, waste and fail to replace everything we can, with  little regard for consequences beyond our own immediate short-term needs and wants. Between excavation, erosion, dredgings, landfills and countless other alterations of the lithosphere, evidence of human agency in the cumulative effects studied by geology is both clear and non-trivial.

As for raiding resources, I could list a hundred things we’ll drill, mine or harvest out of the planet and never replace — as if it were in our power to do so — but instead I’ll point to just one small member of the periodic table: helium. Next to hydrogen, it’s the second lightest element, with just two electrons and two protons. Also, next to hydrogen, it is the second most abundant, comprising nearly a quarter of the universe’s elemental mass.  It is also one of the first elements to be created out of the big bang, and remains essential to growing and lighting up stars.

Helium is made in two places: burning stars and rotting rock. Humans can do lots of great stuff, but so far making helium isn’t one of them. Still, naturally, we’ve been using that up: extracting it away, like we do so much else. Eventually, we’ll run out.

Heavy elements are also in short supply. When a planet forms, the heaviest elements sink to the core. The main reason we have gold, nickel, platinum, tungsten, titanium and many other attractive and helpful elements laying around the surface or within mine-able distance below is that meteorites put them there, long ago. At our current rate of consumption, we’ll be mining the moon and asteroids for them. If we’re still around.

Meanwhile the planet’s climates are heating up. Whether or not one ascribes this to human influence matters less than the fact that it is happening. NASA has been doing a fine job of examining symptoms and causes. Among the symptoms are the melting of Greenland and the Arctic. Lots of bad things are bound to happen. Seas rising. Droughts and floods. Methane releases. Bill McKibben is another good source of data and worry. He’s the main dude behind 350.org, named after what many scientists believe is the safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere: 350 parts per million. We’re over that now, at about 392. (Bonus link.)

The main thing to expect, in the short term — the next few dozen or hundreds of years — is rising sea levels, which will move coastlines far inland for much of the world, change ecosystems pretty much everywhere, and alter the way the whole food web works.

Here in the U.S., neither major political party has paid much attention to this. On the whole the Republicans are skeptical about it. The Democrats care about it, but don’t want to make a big issue of it. The White House has nice things to say, but has to reconcile present economic growth imperatives with the need to save the planet from humans in the long run.

I’m not going to tell you how to vote, or how I’m going to vote, because I don’t want this to be about that. What I’m talking about here is evolution, not election. That’s the issue. Can we evolve to be symbiotic with the rest of the species on Earth? Or will we remain a plague?

Politics is for seasons. Evolution is inevitable. One way or another.

(The photo at the top is one among many I’ve shot flying over Greenland — a place that’s changing faster, perhaps, than any other large landform on Earth.)

[18 September...] I met and got some great hang time with Michael Schwartz (@Sustainism) of Sustainism fame, at PICNIC in Amsterdam, and found ourselves of one, or at least overlapping, mind on many things. I don’t want to let the connection drop, so I’m putting a quick shout-out here, before moving on to the next, and much-belated, post.

Also, speaking of the anthropocene, dig The ‘Anthropocene’ as Environmental Meme and/or Geological Epoch, in Dot Earth, by Andrew Revkin, in The New York Times. I met him at an event several years ago and let the contact go slack. Now I’m reeling it in a bit. :-) Here’s why his work is especially germane to the topic of this here post:  ”Largely because of my early writing on humans as a geological force, I am a member of the a working group on the Anthropocene established by the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy.” Keep up the good work, Andy.

I started working in retailing, wholesaling, journalism and radio when I was 18-24. I co-founded an advertising agency when I was 25-34. Among other things there, I studied Nielsen and Arbitron ratings for radio and TV. The radio station I did most of that work for was an album rock station, one of the first, target demographic 18-34. It’s a country station now, target demographic, 25-54. Other “desirable” demographics for commercial media are 18-49 and 25-49. The demographic I entered between the last sentence and this one, 65+, is the last in the series and the last least desirable to marketers, regardless of the size of the population in it. Thus I have now fallen over the edge of a demographic cliff, at the bottom of which is nothing of interest to marketers, unless they’re selling the cushy human equivalent of parking lots. Cruises. Golf. “Lifestyle” communities. Gack.

For individuals, demographics are absurd. None of us are an age, much less a range of them. We’re animals who live and work and have fun and do stuff. Eventually we croak, but if we stay healthy we acquire wisdom and experience, and find ourselves more valuable over time. Though we’re less employable as we climb the high end of the demographic ladder, it’s  not because we can’t do the work. It’s mostly because we look old and our tolerance for bullshit is low. Even one’s own, sometimes.

Nearly 100% of the people I work with are younger than me, usually by a generation. Sometimes by two. I almost never feel old among them. Sometimes I joke about it, but I really don’t care. It helps to have been around. It helps to know how fast and well the mighty rise, and then fall. It helps to see what comes and stays, and to know why it matters more than what comes and goes.

For most of my life I’ve worked in the most amazing industry the world has ever hosted. Technology is a miracle business. Lots of good new things come and go, but three are staying for the duration. I knew it when I saw each arrive and then fail to leave. They were things nobody owned, everyone could use and anyone could improve. For all three reasons they supported boundless economic growth and other benefits to society. The first was the personal computer. The second was the internet. The third was the smartphone. All three were genies that granted wishes without end, and weren’t going back in their bottles.

Yeah, they all had problems and caused many more. They were like people that way. But these two graces — compute and worldwide communication ease — in your pocket or purse, is now an expectation as human as wearing shoes. Nobody owns the design for those too. Also, everyone can use then and anyone can improve them. That’s pretty freaking cool, even though it’s hardly appreciated.

I could go on but I’ll let this interview with Dorie Clark suggest the rest. I’ve gotta sleep before we hit the road early in the morning to celebrate the beginning of the rest of my life. May yours be at least as long. And as good.

 

When I was a kid I had near-perfect vision. I remember being able to read street signs and license plates at a distance, and feeling good about that. But I don’t think that was exceptional. Unless we are damaged in some way, the eyes we are born with tend to be optically correct. Until… what?

In my case it was my junior year in college. That’s when I finally became a good student, spending long hours reading and writing in my carrel in the library basement, bad flourescent light, cramping my vision at a single distance the whole time. Then, when I’d walk out and the end of the day or the evening, I’d notice that things were a little blurry at a distance. After a few minutes, my distance vision would gradually clear up. By the end of the year, however, my vision had begun to clear up less and less. By the end of my senior year, I needed glasses for distance: I had become myopic. Nearsighted. I remember the prescription well: -.75 dioptres for my left eye and -1.oo dioptres for my right.

I then began the life of a writer, with lots of sitting still, reading things and writing on a typewriter or (much later) a computer. Since I tended to wear glasses full-time, the blurred distance vision when work was done — and then the gradual recovery over the following minutes or hours — continued. And my myopia gradually increased. So, by the time I reached my forties, I was down to -3 dioptres of correction for both eyes.

A digression into optics… “Reading” glasses, for hyperopia, or farsightedness, are in positive dioptres: +1, +2, etc. As magnifiers, they tend toward the convex, thicker in the middle and thinner toward the edges, or frames. Corrections for myopia tend toward the concave, thicker on the edges. You can sort-of see the thick edges of my frames in the YouTube video above, shot in June, 1988, when I was a month away from turning 42 (and looked much younger, which I wish was still the case). My glasses were Bill Gates-style aviators.

I also began to conclude that myopia, at least in my case was adaptive. It made sense to me that the most studious kids — the ones who read the most, and for the longest times each day — wore glasses, almost always for myopia.

So I decided to avoid wearing glasses as much as I could. I would wear none while writing and reading (when I didn’t need them), and only wear them for driving, or at other times when distance vision mattered, such as when watching movies or attending sports events. Over the years, my vision improved. By the time I was 55, I could pass the eye test at the DMV, and no longer required glasses for driving. In another few years my vision was 20/25 i

n one eye and 20/30 in the other. I still had distance glasses (mostly for driving), but rarely used them otherwise.

I’ve been told by my last two optometrists that most likely my changes were brought on by onset of cataracts (which I now have, though mostly in my right eye), and maybe that was a factor, but I know of at least two other cases like mine, in which myopia was reduced by avoiding correction for it. And no optometrist or opthamologist I visted in my forties or fifties noted cataracts during eye examinations. But all have doubted my self-diagnosis of adaptive myopia.

Now I read stories like, “Why Up to 90% of Asian Schoolchildren Are Nearsighted: Researchers say the culprit is academic ambition: spending too much time studying indoors and not enough hours in bright sunlight is ruining kids’ eyesight“… and the provisional conclusion of my one-case empirical study seems, possibly, validated.

It also seems to me that the prevalence of myopia, worldwide, is high enough to make one wonder if it’s a feature of civilization, like cutting hair and wearing shoes.

I also wonder whether Lasik is a good idea, especially when I look at the large number of old glasses,  all with different prescriptions, in my office drawer at home. What’s to stop one’s eyes from changing anyway, after Lasik? Maybe Lasik itself? I know many people who have had Lasik procedures, and none of them are unhappy with the results. Still, I gotta wonder.

 

I fired up Searls.com in early 1995, and began publishing on it immediately. A lot of that writing is at a subdomain called Reality 2.0. Here is one piece from that early list, which I put up just days before Bill Gates’ famously (at the time) “declared war” on the browser market (essentially, Netscape). Interesting to look back on what happened and what didn’t. — Doc


THE WEB
AND THE NEW REALITY
By Doc Searls
December 1, 1995 

Contents


Reality 2.0

The import of the Internet is so obvious and extreme that it actually defies valuation: witness the stock market, which values Netscape so far above that company’s real assets and earnings that its P/E ratio verges on the infinite.

Whatever we’re driving toward, it is very different from anchoring certainties that have grounded us for generations, if not for the duration of our species. It seems we are on the cusp of a new and radically different reality. Let’s call it Reality 2.0.

The label has a millenial quality, and a technical one as well. If Reality 2.0 is Reality 2.000, this month we’re in Reality 1.995.12.

With only a few revisions left before Reality 2.0 arrives, we’re in a good position to start seeing what awaits. Here are just a few of the things this writer is starting to see…

  1. As more customers come into direct contact with suppliers, markets for suppliers will change from target populationsto conversations.
  2. Travel, ticket, advertising and PR agencies will all find new ways to add value, or they will be subtracted from market relationships that no longer require them.
  3. Within companies, marketing communications will change from peripheral activities to core competencies.New media will flourish on the Web, and old media will learn to live with the Web and take advantage of it.
  4. Retail space will complement cyber space. Customer and technical service will change dramatically, as 800 numbers yield to URLs and hard copy documents yield to soft copy versions of the same thing… but in browsable, searchable forms.
  5. Shipping services of all kinds will bloom. So will fulfillment services. So will ticket and entertainment sales services.
  6. The web’s search engines will become the new yellow pages for the whole world. Your fingers will still do the walking, but they won’t get stained with ink. Same goes for the white pages. Also the blue ones.
  7. The scope of the first person plural will enlarge to include the whole world. “We” may mean everybody on the globe, or any coherent group that inhabits it, regardless of location. Each of us will swing from group to group like monkeys through trees.
  8. National borders will change from barricades and toll booths into speed bumps and welcome mats.
  9. The game will be over for what teacher John Taylor Gatto labels “the narcotic we call television.” Also for the industrial relic of compulsory education. Both will be as dead as the mainframe business. In other words: still trucking, but not as the anchoring norms they used to be.
  10. Big Business will become as anachronistic as Big Government, because institutional mass will lose leverage without losing inertia.Domination will fail where partnering succeeds, simply because partners with positive sums will combine to outproduce winners and losers with zero sums.
  11. Right will make might.
  12. And might will be mighty different.

Polyopoly

The Web is the board for a new game Phil Salin called “Polyopoly.” As Phil described it, Polyopoly is the opposite of Monopoly. The idea is not to win a fight over scarce real estate, but to create a farmer’s market for the boundless fruits of the human mind.

It’s too bad Phil didn’t live to see the web become what he (before anyone, I believe) hoped to create with AMIX: “the first efficient marketplace for information.” The result of such a marketplace, Phil said, would be polyopoly.

In Monopoly, what mattered were the three Ls of real estate: “location, location and location.”

On the web, location means almost squat.

What matters on the web are the three Cs: contentconnections and convenience. These are what make your home page a door the world beats a path to when it looks for the better mouse trap that only you sell. They give your webfront estate its real value.

If commercial interests have their way with the Web, we can also add a fourth C: cost. But how high can costs go in a polyopolistic economy? Not very. Because polyopoly creates…

An economy of abundance

The goods of Polyopoly and Monopoly are as different as love and lug nuts. Information is made by minds, not factories; and it tends to make itself abundant, not scarce. Moreover, scarce information tends to be worthless information.

Information may be bankable, but traditional banking, which secures and contains scarce commodities (or their numerical representations) does not respect the nature of information.

Because information abhors scarcity. It loves to reproduce, to travel, to multiply. Its natural habitats are wires and airwaves and disks and CDs and forums and books and magazines and web pages and hot links and chats over cappuccinos at Starbucks. This nature lends itself to polyopoly.

Polyopoly’s rules are hard to figure because the economy we are building with it is still new, and our vocabulary for describing it is sparse.

This is why we march into the Information Age hobbled by industrial metaphors. The “information highway” is one example. Here we use the language of freight forwarding to describe the movement of music, love, gossip, jokes, ideas and other communicable forms of knowledge that grow and change as they move from mind to mind.

We can at least say that knowledge, even in its communicable forms, is not reducible to data. Nor is the stuff we call “intellectual property.” A song and a bank account do not propagate the same ways. But we are inclined to say they do (and should), because we describe both with the same industrial terms.

All of which is why there is no more important work in this new economy than coining the new terms we use to describe it.

The Age of Enlightenment finally arrives

The best place to start looking for help is at the dawn of the Industrial Age. Because this was when the Age of Reason began. Nobody knew more about the polyopoly game — or played it — better than those champions of reason from whose thinking our modern republics are derived: Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin.

As Jon Katz says in “The Age of Paine” (Wired, May 1995 ), Thomas Paine was the the “moral father of the Internet.” Paine said “my country is the world,” and sought as little compensation as possible for his work, because he wanted it to be inexpensive and widely read. Paine’s thinking still shapes the politics of the U.S., England and France, all of which he called home.

Thomas Jefferson wrote the first rule of Polyopoly: “He who receives an idea from me receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.”

He also left a live bomb for modern intellectual property law: “Inventions then cannot, in nature, be a subject of property.” The best look at the burning fuse is John Perry Barlow’s excellent essay “The Economy of Ideas,” in the March 1994 issue of Wired. (I see that Jon Katz repeats it in his paean to Paine. Hey, if someone puts it to song, who gets the rights?)

If Paine was the moral father of the Internet, Ben Franklin’s paternity is apparent in Silicon Valley. Today he’d fit right in, inventing hot products, surfing the Web and spreading his wit and wisdom like a Johnny Cyberseed. Hell, he even has the right haircut.

Franklin left school at 10 and was barely 15 when he ran his brother’s newspaper, writing most of its content and getting quoted all over Boston. He was a self-taught scientist and inventor while still working as a writer and publisher. He also found time to discover electricity, create the world’s first postal service, invent a heap of handy products and serve as a politician and diplomat.

Franklin’s biggest obsession was time. He scheduled and planned constantly. He even wrote his famous epitaph when he was 22, six decades before he died. “The work shall not be lost,” it reads, “for it will (as he believed) appear once more in a new and more elegant edition, revised and edited by the author.”

One feels the ghost of Franklin today, editing the web.

Time to subtract the garbage

Combine Jefferson and Franklin and you get the two magnetic poles that tug at every polyopoly player: information that only gets more abundant, and time that only gets more scarce.

As Alain Couder of Groupe Bull puts it, “we treat time as a constant in all these formulas — revolutions per minute, instructions per second — yet we experience time as something that constantly decreases.”

After all, we’re born with an unknown sum of time, and we need to spend it all before we die. The notion of “saving” it is absurd. Time can only be spent.

So: to play Polyopoly well, we need to waste as little time as possible. This is not easy in a world where the sum of information verges on the infinite.

Which is why I think Esther Dyson might be our best polyopoly player.

“There’s too much noise out there anyway,” she says in ‘Esther Dyson on DaveNet‘ (12/1/94). “The new wave is not value added, it’s garbage-subtracted.”

Here’s a measure of how much garbage she subtracts from her own life: her apartment doesn’t even have a phone.

Can she play this game, or what?

So what’s left?

I wouldn’t bother to ask Esther if she watches television, or listens to the radio. I wouldn’t ask my wife, either. To her, television is exactly what Fred Allen called it forty years ago: “chewing gum for the eyes.” Ours heats up only for natural disasters and San Jose Sharks games.

Dean Landsman, a sharp media observer from the broadcast industry, tells me that John Gresham books are cutting into time that readers would otherwise spend watching television. And that’s just the beginning of a tide that will swell as every medium’s clients weigh more carefully what they do with their time.

Which is why it won’t be long before those clients wad up their television time and stick it under their computer. “Media will eat media,” Dean says.

The computer is looking a lot hungrier than the rest of the devices out there. Next to connected computing, television is AM radio.

Fasten your seat belts.

Web of the free, home of the Huns

Think of the Industrial world — the world of Big Business and Big Government — as a modern Roman Empire.

Now think of Bill Gates as Attilla the Hun.

Because that’s exactly how Bill looks to the Romans who still see the web, and everything else in the world, as a monopoly board. No wonder Bill doesn’t have a senator in his pocket (as Mark Stahlman told us in ‘Off to the Slaughter House,’ (DaveNet, 3/14/94).

Sadly for the the Romans, their empire is inhabited almost entirely by Huns, all working away on their PCs. Most of those Huns don’t have a problem with Bill. After all, Bill does a fine job of empowering his people, and they keep electing him with their checkbooks, credit cards and purchase orders.

Which is why, when they go forth to tame the web, these tough-talking Captains of Industry and Leaders of Government look like animated mannequins in Armani Suits: clothes with no emperor. Their content is emulation. They drone about serving customers and building architectures and setting standards and being open and competing on level playing fields. But their game is still control, no matter what else they call it.

Bill may be our emperor, but ruling Huns is not the same as ruling Romans. You have to be naked as a fetus and nearly as innocent. Because polyopoly does not reward the dark tricks that used to work for industry, government and organized crime. Those tricks worked in a world where darkness had leverage, where you could fool some of the people some of the time, and that was enough.

But polyopoly is a positive-sum game. Its goods are not produced by huge industries that control the world, but by smart industries that enable the world’s inhabitants. Like the PC business that thrives on it, information grows up from individuals, not down from institutions. Its economy thrives on abundance rather than scarcity. Success goes to enablers, not controllers. And you don’t enable people by fooling them. Or by manipulating them. Or by muscling them.

In fact, you don’t even play to win. As Craig Burton of The Burton Group puts it, “the goal isn’t win/win, it’s play/play.”

This is why Bill does not “control” his Huns the way IBM controlled its Romans. Microsoft plays by winning support, where IBM won by dominating the play. Just because Microsoft now holds a controlling position does not mean that a controlling mentality got them there. What I’ve seen from IBM and Apple looks far more Monopoly-minded and controlling than anything I’ve seen from Microsoft.

Does this mean that Bill’s manners aren’t a bit Roman at times? No. Just that the support Microsoft enjoys is a lot more voluntary on the part of its customers, users and partners. It also means that Microsoft has succeeded by playing Polyopoly extremely well. When it tries to play Monopoly instead, the Huns don’t like it. Bill doesn’t need the Feds to tell him when that happens. The Huns tell him soon enough.

market is a conversation

No matter how Roman Bill’s fantasies might become, he knows his position is hardly more substantial than a conversation. In fact, it IS a conversation.

I would bet that Microsoft is engaged in more conversations, more of the time, with more customers and partners, than any other company in the world. Like or hate their work, the company connects. I submit that this, as much as anything else, accounts for its success.

In the Industrial Age, a market was a target population. Goods rolled down a “value chain” that worked like a conveyor belt. Raw materials rolled into one end and finished products rolled out the other. Customers bought the product or didn’t, and customer feedback was limited mostly to the money it spent.

To encourage customer spending, “messages” were “targeted” at populations, through advertising, PR and other activities. The main purpose of these one-way communications was to stimulate sales. That model is obsolete. What works best to day is what Normann & Ramirez (Harvard Business Review, June/July 1993) call a “value constellation” of relationships that include customers, partners, suppliers, resellers, consultants, contractors and all kinds of people.

The Web is the star field within which constellations of companies, products and markets gather themselves. And what binds them together, in each case, are conversations.

How it all adds up

What we’re creating here is a new economy — an information economy.

Behind the marble columns of big business and big government, this new economy stands in the lobby like a big black slab. The primates who work behind those columns don’t know what this thing is, but they do know it’s important and good to own. The problem is, they can’t own it. Nobody can. Because it defies the core value in all economies based on physical goods: scarcity.

Scarcity ruled the stone hearts and metal souls of every zero-sum value system that ever worked — usually by producing equal quantities of gold and gore. And for dozens of millennia, we suffered with it. If Tribe A crushed Tribe B, it was too bad for Tribe B. Victors got the spoils.

This win/lose model has been in decline for some time. Victors who used to get spoils now just get responsibilities. Cooperation and partnership are now more productive than competition and domination. Why bomb your enemy when you can get him on the phone and do business with him? Why take sides when the members of “us” and “them” constantly change?

The hard evidence is starting to come in. A recent Wharton Impact report said, “Firms which specified their objectives as ‘beating our competitors’ or ‘gaining market share’ earned substantially lower profits over the period.” We’re reading stories about women-owned businesses doing better, on the whole, because women are better at communicating and less inclined to waste energy by playing sports and war games in their marketplaces.

From the customer’s perspective, what we call “competition” is really a form of cooperation that produces abundant choices. Markets are created by addition and multiplication, not just by subtraction and division.

In my old Mac IIci, I can see chips and components from at least 11 different companies and 8 different countries. Is this evidence of war among Apple’s suppliers? Do component vendors succeed by killing each other and limiting choices for their customers? Did Apple’s engineers say, “Gee, let’s help Hitachi kill Philips on this one?” Were they cheering for one “side” or another? The answer should be obvious.

But it isn’t, for two reasons. One is that the “Dominator Model,” as anthropologist (and holocaust survivor) Riane Eisler calls it, has been around for 20,000 years, and until recently has reliably produced spoils for victors. The other is that conflict always makes great copy. To see how seductive conflict-based thinking is, try to find a hot business story that isn’t filled with sports and war metaphors. It isn’t easy.

Bound by the language of conflict, most of us still believe that free enterprise runs on competition between “sides” driven by urges to dominate, and that the interests of those “sides” are naturally opposed.

To get to the truth here, just ask this: which has produced more — the U.S. vs. Japan, or the U.S. + Japan? One produced World War II and a lot of bad news. The other produced countless marvels — from cars to consumer electronics — on which the whole world depends.

Now ask this: which has produced more — Apple vs. Microsoft or Apple + Microsoft? One profited nobody but the lawyers, and the other gave us personal computing as we know it today.

The Plus Paradigm

What brings us to Reality 2.0 is the Plus Paradigm.

The Plus Paradigm says that our world is a positive construction, and that the best games produce positive sums for everybody. It recognizes the power of information and the value of abundance. (Think about it: the best information may have the highest power to abound, and its value may vary as the inverse of its scarcity.)

Over the last several years, mostly through discussions with client companies that are struggling with changes that invalidate long-held assumptions, I have built table of old (Reality 1.0) vs. new (Reality 2.0) paradigms. The difference between these two realities, one client remarked, is that the paradigm on the right is starting to work better than the paradigm on the left.

Paradigm Reality 1.0 Reality 2.0
Means to ends Domination Partnership
Cause of progress Competition Collaboration
Center of interest Personal Social
Concept of systems Closed Open
Dynamic Win/Lose Play/Play
Roles Victor/Victim Partner/Ally
Primary goods Capital Information
Source of leverage Monopoly Polyopoly
Organization Hierarchy Flexiarchy
Roles Victor/Victim Server/Client
Scope of self-interest Self/Nation Self/World
Source of power Might Right
Source of value Scarcity Abundance
Stage of growth Child (selfish) Adult (social)
Reference valuables Metal, Money Life, Time
Purpose of boundaries Protection Limitation

Changes across the paradigms show up as positive “reality shifts.” The shift is from OR logic to AND logic, from Vs. to +:

 

Reality 1.0 Reality 2.0
man vs nature man + nature
Labor vs management Labor + management
Public vs private Public + private
Men vs women Men + women
Us vs them Us + them
Majority vs minority Majority + minority
Party vs party Party + party
Urban vs rural Urban + rural
Black vs white Black + white
Business vs govt. Business + govt.

The Plus Paradigm comprehends the world as a positive construction, and sees that the best games produce positive sums for everybody. It recognizes the power of information and the value of abundance. (Think about it: the best information may have the highest power to abound, and its value may vary as the inverse of its scarcity.)

For more about this whole way of thinking, see Bernie DeKoven’s ideas about “the ME/WE” at his “virtual playground.”]

This may sound sappy, but information works like love: when you give it away, you still get to keep it. And when you give it back, it grows.

Which has always been the case. But in Reality 2.0, it should become a lot more obvious.

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Apple TV (whatever it ends up being called) will kill cable. It will also give TV new life in a new form.

manhole coverIt won’t kill the cable companies, which will still carry data to your house, and which will still get a cut of the content action, somehow. But the division between cable content and other forms you pay for will be exposed for the arbitrary thing it is, in an interactive world defined by the protocols of the Internet, rather than by the protocols of television. It will also contain whatever deals Apple does for content distribution.

These deals will be motivated by a shared sense that Something Must Be Done, and by knowing that Apple will make TV look and work better than anybody else ever could. The carriers have seen this movie before, and they’d rather have a part in it than outside of it. For a view of the latter, witness the fallen giants called Sony and Nokia. (A friend who worked with the latter called them “a tree laying on the ground,” adding “They put out leaves every year. But that doesn’t mean they’re standing up.”)

I don’t know anything about Apple’s plans. But I know a lot about Apple, as do most of us. Here are the operative facts as they now stand (or at least as I see them):

  1. Apple likes to blow up categories that are stuck. They did it with PCs, laptops, printers, mp3 players, smartphones, music distribution and retailing. To name a few.
  2. TV display today is stuck in 1993. That’s when the ATSC (which defined HDTV standards) settled on the 16:9 format, with 1080 pixels (then called “lines”) of vertical resolution, and with picture clarity and sound quality contained within the data carrying capacity of a TV channel 6MHz wide. This is why all “Full HD” screens remain stuck at 1080 pixels high, no matter how physically large those screens might be. It’s also why more and more stand-alone computer screens are now 1920 x 1080. They’re made for TV. Would Steve Jobs settle for that? No way.
  3. Want a window into the future where Apple makes a TV screen that’s prettier than all others sold? Look no farther than what Apple says about the new iPad‘s resolution:
  4. Cable, satellite and over-the-air channels are still stuck at 6MHz of bandwidth (in the original spectrum-based meaning of that word). They’re also stuck with a need to maximize the number of channels within a finite overall bandwidth. This has resulted in lowered image quality on most channels, even though the images are still, technically, “HD”. That’s another limitation that surely vexed Steve.
  5. The TV set makers (Sony, Visio, Samsung, Panasonic, all of them) have made operating a simple thing woefully complicated, with controls (especially remotes) that defy comprehension. The set-top-box makers have all been nearly as bad for the duration. Same goes for the makers of VCR, DVD, PVR and other media players. Home audio-video system makers too. It’s a freaking mess, and has been since the ’80s.
  6. Steve at AllThingsD on 2 June 2010: “The only way that’s ever going to change is if you can really go back to square one and tear up the set-top-box and redesign it from scratch with a consistent UI, withall these different functions, and get it to the consumer in a way they are willing to pay for. We decided, what product do you want most? A better tv or a better phone? A better TV or a tablet? … The TV will lose until there is a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem.” He also called Apple TV (as it then stood) a “hobby”, for that reason. But Apple is bigger now, and has far more market reach and clout. In some categories it’s nearly a monopoly already, with at least as much leverage as Microsoft ever had. And you know that Apple hasn’t been idle here.
  7. Steve Jobs was the largest stockholder in Disney. He’s gone, but the leverage isn’t. Disney owns ABC and ESPN.
  8. The main thing that keeps cable in charge of TV content is not the carriers, but ESPN, which represents up to 40% of your cable bill, whether you like sports or not. ESPN isn’t going to bypass cable — they’ve got that distribution system locked in, and vice versa. The whole pro sports system, right down to those overpaid athletes in baseball and the NBA, depend on TV revenues, which in turn rest on advertising to eyeballs over a system made to hold those eyeballs still in real time. “There are a lot of entrenched interests,” says Peter Kafka in this On the Media segment. The only thing that will de-entrench them is serious leverage from somebody who can make go-to-market, UI, quality, and money-flow work. Can Apple do that without Steve? Maybe not. But it’s still the way to bet.

Cable folks have a term for video distribution on the net Net. They call it “over the top“. Of them, that is, and their old piped content system.

That’s actually what many — perhaps most — viewers would prefer: an à la carte choice of “content” (as we have now all come to say). Clearly the end state is one in which you’ll pay for some stuff while other stuff is free. Some of it will be live, and some of it recorded. That much won’t be different. The cable companies will also still make money for keeping you plugged in. That is, you’ll pay for data in any case. You’ll just pay more for some content. Much of that content will be what we now pay for on cable: HBO, ESPN and the rest. We’ll just do away with the whole bottom/top thing because there will be no need for a bottom other than a pipe to carry the content. We might still call some  sources “channels”; and surfing through those might still have a TV-like UI. But only if Apple decides to stick with the convention. Which they won’t, if they come up with a better way to organize things, and make selections easy to make and pay for.

This is why the non-persuasiveness of Take My Money, HBO doesn’t matter. Not in the long run. The ghost of Steve is out there, waiting. You’ll be watching TV his way. Count on it.

We’ll still call it TV, because we’ll still have big screens by that name in our living rooms. But what we watch and listen to won’t be contained by standards set in 1993, or by carriers and other “stakeholders” who never could think outside the box.

Of course, I could be wrong. But no more wrong than the system we have now.

Bonus link.

Another.

When Underwood typewriterour kid started using a computer in the seventh grade, I got him a copy of Mavis Beacon so he’d learn how to touch-type.

I didn’t see him using the program, but I did see him typing. So I asked him what was up with that. He said “I looked at it a couple of weeks ago. It was good.” I asked, “Did you learn to touch type from it?” “Sure,” he said. “It has tests. I used them. I did fine.”

So I asked him to show me. He did. First try: 30 words per minute. Second, 45 wpm.

I took typing in the seventh grade ,which ran from September 1959 to June 1960. work keyboardIt was a year-long class, one period per day. My typewriter at school was an early-Fifties Underwood Rhythm-Touch like the one on the left. For practice at home my parents got me a WWII-era Underwood that looked exactly like the code machine.

I got an F in my first semester of typing class, because I made a lot of mistakes. I got a D in my second semester, for the same reason. For what it’s worth, I doubt anybody in that class has done more typing since then than I have.  Or have worn out more keyboards. Such as the one on the right, which I’m using now.

My handwriting, long neglected, looks about as good.

Some old habits died hard. Here they are:

  • Returning the carriage after the bell five spaces before the end of a line.
  • Wanting to set tabs the old-fashioned way, feeling the physical insertion, literally, of a metal tab into the carriage path.
  • Double-spacing between sentences. Not doing this was my most common error, back in typing class.
  • Hyphenating long words at the ends of lines.
  • Indenting the first line of a paragraph, with a tab five spaces in.

For years I hated word processing without hyphens, and double-returns between paragraphs with no indents. But after awhile I became accustomed to that new norm, and came to appreciate its benefits as well. (For example, when copying and pasting a bunch of text and not having to take out the hyphens and indents that only made sense in the old layout.) I also taught myself to restore my original proclivity to single spaces between sentences.

As for typing speed, I have no idea how fast I am now. What I love about not knowing is that it truly doesn’t matter.

Independent commercial alternative rock radio in Boston is heading to the grave. The Boston Phoenix‘ WFNX has been sold to Clear Channel, which — says the press release — will expand its “footprint” in Boston. (Bambi vs. Godzilla comes to mind.) Boston Business Journal suggests the signal’s fate will be to carry country music or Spanish programming. But it doesn’t matter. FNX is done.  In Thanks For The Memories You’re Fired, Radio INK puts the end this way:

Independently owned WFNX has been competing in the Boston market for nearly 30 years. Until yesterday that is, when Stephen Mindich notified his staff he was selling to Clear Channel. He then fired 17 of the 21 employees. Mindich said, “Despite its celebrated history, its cutting edge programming , its tradition of breaking new music, its ardent fans among listeners and advertisers, for some time it has been difficult to sustain the station  — especially since the start of the Great Recession.”

NECN reports,

The sale also means 17 of the 21 people working at FNX were suddenly let go Wednesday. The remaining three full-timers and one part-timer will keep the station on air until the sale goes through in next couple of months.

WFNX Program Director Paul Driscoll said, “I think of it as a two month Irish wake, so we’re going to send this legendary station off the right way.”

That will mean celebrating the station’s roots and its 29 year run – one that had a hand in bringing groups like Nirvana and Pearl Jam to wider audiences.

Driscoll said, “The community, the artists that we’ve developed relationships with, the listeners, it’s more than just a spot on the FM dial.”

No doubt the change has been coming for a long time. WBCN went away (actually to an HD subchannel, which is pretty much the same thing) a couple years back after 41 years as one of the country’s landmark rock stations. FNX was always more alternative than BCN. WBOS and WAAF still fly the rock flags; but there was only one FNX, and now it’s headed out the door.

Since coming to Boston in ’06 I’ve been surprised to see FNX continuing to make it. The ratings in both March and April had dropped to nil (literally, nada). You can’t sell advertising with that.

The signal is also sub-second-tier. Licensed to Lynn as a Class A station (maximum of 3000 watts at 300 feet above average terrain), it radiates with 1700 watts at 627 feet (equivalent to 3000 watts, trading watts for height), from atop One Financial Center, but with far less power in most directions other than north:

Meanwhile, most competing Boston commercial stations are Class B: 50,000 watts at 500 feet, or the equivalent. (Most radiate with fewer watts at higher elevations, on either the Prudential Building or out at Boston’s antenna farm in Needham, where a collection of towers exceed 1000 feet in height.)

Presumably WFEX, which simulcasts WFNX from Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, will also go to Clear Channel. (See the engineering and ownership details here.)

There’s a lot of tweeting on the matter. The most poignant so far is this one from David Bernstein (@dbernstein):

Why #WFNX mattered (photo taken by @CarlyCarioli) http://pic.twitter.com/dIjOjsfT

Make that minus seven now.

[Later...] The sale price is $14.5 million.

News rivers were a brilliant idea in the first place. Perhaps, now that at least one high-profile publisher has embraced them, the rest might follow. New York RiversBut first, some history, in the best chronological order I can muster —

  1. Sometime way back there, Dave Winer created rivers of news for the NY Times and the BBC (NYTimesriver.com and BBCriver.com). Being RSS-fed and in plain formatting, they loaded instantly, and were so Web 1.0+ compliant that they even looked great and loaded fast on phones (such as my Treo) that were not yet smart in the iOS/Android manner, or fed by 3+G data connections. Hoorays and encouragement flowed (non-ironically, since that’s what you’d expect) from everywhere but the very publications that benefitted from the free work that Dave did for them.
  2. The River of News, by Jeff Jarvis, in August, 2006.
  3. Newspapers 2.0, in October, 2006. It recommended ten things. Here is the last:, “Tenth, publish Rivers of News for readers who use Blackberries or Treos or Nokia 770s, or other handheld Web browsers. Your current home page, and all your editorial pages, are torture to read with those things. See the examples Dave Winer provides with rivers of news from the NY Times and the BBC. See what David Sifry did for the Day Fire here in California. Don’t try to monetize it right away. Trust me, you’ll make a lot more money — and get a lot more respect from Wall Street — because you’ve got news rivers, than you’ll make with those rivers.”
  4. A year later I repeated the list in Still at Newspapers 1.x.
  5. Future to Newspapers: Jump in a River, in August, 2007.
  6. The Future History of Newspages, in April, 2008.
  7. A Newspaper Progress Report, Sort of, in June 2010.

The BBC river is gone, but the Times‘ river is still going strong, and as good as ever. (Not that the Times is actually doing anything other than keeping its RSS feed alive. The river is Dave’s.) So is the very idea of the news river, which remains as uncomplicated and hyper-useful as the Web’s own uncomplicated original purpose (publishing, linking) and protocols.

But publishers are complicators, and for the most part have never understood the Net or the Web. Nor have they fully embraced its inherent simplicities, with the remarkable exception of RSS (which Dave made into Really Simple Syndication — a purpose that could not possibly be misunderstood by publishers, and which now brings up 4,270,000,000 results on Google).

The bigger and older the industry, the harder it is to make fundamental reforms, or to embrace disruption. Publishing, including newspapers, had been working the same way for many generations, so it has taken awhile for the obvious to sink in. But that’s what we see in Jason Pontin’s Why Publishers Don’t Like Apps, which is must-reading for everybody in the business. Its concluding paragraphs:

Today, most owners of mobile devices read news and features on publishers’ websites, which have often been coded to detect and adapt themselves to smaller screens; or, if they do use apps, the apps are glorified RSS readers such as Amazon Kindle, Google Reader, Flipboard, and the apps of newspapers like the Guardianwhich grab editorial from the publishers’ sites. A recent Nielsen study reported that while 33 percent of tablet and smart-phone users had downloaded news apps in the previous 30 days, just 19 percent of users had paid for any of them. The paid, expensively developed publishers’ app, with its extravagantly produced digital replica, is dead.

Here, the recent history of the Financial Times is instructive. Last June, the company pulled its iPad and iPhone app from iTunes and launched a new version of its website written in HTML5, which can optimize the site for the device a reader is using and provide many features and functions that are applike. For a few months, the FT continued to support the app, but on May 1 the paper chose to kill it altogether.

And Technology Review? We sold 353 subscriptions through the iPad. We never discovered how to avoid the necessity of designing both landscape and portrait versions of the magazine for the app. We wasted $124,000 on outsourced software development. We fought amongst ourselves, and people left the company. There was untold expense of spirit. I hated every moment of our experiment with apps, because it tried to impose something closed, old, and printlike on something open, new, and digital.

Last fall, we moved all the editorial in our apps, including the magazine, into a simple RSS feed in a river of news. We dumped the digital replica. Now we’re redesigning Technologyreview.com, which we made entirely free for use, and we’ll follow the Financial Times in using HTML5, so that a reader will see Web pages optimized for any device, whether a desktop or laptop computer, a tablet, or a smart phone. Then we’ll kill our apps, too.

An aside. I am a paid subscriber to a number of publications both on the Web and through Apple’s iTunes store. While I do appreciate being able to read them on the iPad in a plane or on a subway, I much prefer reading linky text to reading the linkless kind, on an electronic device. As Jason Pontin puts it earlier in his essay,

But the real problem with apps was more profound. When people read news and features on electronic media, they expect stories to possess the linky-ness of the Web, but stories in apps didn’t really link. The apps were, in the jargon of information technology, “walled gardens,” and although sometimes beautiful, they were small, stifling gardens. For readers, none of that beauty overcame the weirdness and frustration of reading digital media closed off from other digital media.

Now back to Dave, who today wrote this in River of News — FTW! —

Now while I have your attention, let me point in the next direction. Once you have a river, do something bold and daring. Add the feeds of your favorite bloggers and share the resulting flow with your readers. Let your community compete for readership. And let them feel a stronger bond to you. Then when you learn about that, do some more. (And btw, you’re now competing, effectively with your competitors, Facebook and Twitter. Don’t kid yourselves, these guys are moving in your direction. You have to move in theirs and be independent of them. Or be crushed.)
I wish I could work with the teams of the best publications. If that could happen, we’d kick ass. But I’m here on the sidelines giving advice that you guys take on very very slowly. It’s frustrating, because it’s been clear that rivers are the way to go, to me, for a very long time. A lot of ground has been lost in the publishing business while we wait. There’s a lot of running room in front of this idea. We can move quickly, if publishers have the will.

Please, this time, listen to the man. While you still can.

[Later...] Bonus link: Facebook social readers are all collapsing. HT to Euan Semple (@Euan) with this tweet.

 

Music was a huge part of my life when I was growing up. It’s still big, but not the same. My life today does not have a soundtrack. As a kid my life was accompanied by music from start to finish. At that finish was another start, as a grown-up. From that point forward, music was less of a soundtrack and more of a break from conversations and silence, and a devotion of its own. The transition was not a sharp one, but rather a growing independence from music radio. Accompanying me the whole way, though I hardly knew it, was Carole King.

She was the composer behind dozens of songs I still hum or sing along to. She wrote or co-wrote 118 Billboard top 100 songs, between 1955 and 1999.  Though I always enjoyed her music and appreciated her talent, I hadn’t thought much about why they were appealing before listening this morning to this Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross (who, it turns out, was a neighbor of Carole’s when they were both growing up in Brooklyn). When I heard that some old videos of Carole had leaked out on YouTube, I went there and was blown away by this performance of Chains, a hit she and Jerry Goffin wrote for the Cookies, which was then Little Eva‘s back-up group.

What you see on that video is pure fun. The song is a simple one, almost a throw-away. But the energy is amazing. Watching and listening to that performance, it’s hard not to fall in love with her. The Carole King I got to know through Tapestry, and other mature works, was more seasoned and complete. But what I see here is something I also realized I knew all along: that her work was also play.

I’m also sold on her memoir, A Natural Woman. Looking forward to checking it out.

Newspapers got off on the wrong foot when they started publishing on the Web, by giving away what was valuable on the newsstand, and charging for last year’s fishwrap. That is, they gave away the news and charged for the olds.

This was understandable, because the papers wanted to participate in this new Web thing, which was very live and now and all that; and the Joneses they needed to keep up with were mostly doing the same thing. And, since selling archives had been a business all along — though not a very big one — they stuck with charging $2.95 or $3.95 for, say, a sports story from 1973.

Now the big papers, led by the The New York Times, are charging for at least some of the news in their digital versions, but also still charging for the old stuff. So they’re not quite charging for the news and giving away the olds (as I recommended back in 2006), but they seem to be moving slowly in that direction. More about that later. What I’d rather talk about first is their bait-and-switch game. It’s not bait-and-switch by the letter of the law, but the spirit is there, because the true costs are hidden.

Today, for example, the Times announced it will be cutting in half the number of articles readers on the Web can view for free in a given month, starting on April Fools Day. The old number was twenty. The new one is ten. Specifics for non-subscribers:

  • Get 10 articles each month on NYTimes.com, as well as access to the home page, section fronts, blog fronts and classifieds.
  • Articles, blog posts, slide shows, video and other multimedia will continue to count against your free monthly limit.
  • If you’ve already read your 10 free articles, you can still read our content through links from Facebook, Twitter, search engines and blogs.

Digital subscribers will —

  • Enjoy unlimited access to the full range of reporting from the world’s most respected journalists in their fields.
  • No limit on the number of articles, videos, blogs and more on your computer, smartphone or tablet.
  • Access to 100 Archive articles every four weeks.
  • Access to Election 2012, our exclusive politics app for iPhone and Android as well as The Collection, our fashion app for iPad — depending on the subscription you choose.

Home subscribers get free digital access.

The boldest print on that same page says “pay just 99¢ for your first 4 weeks.” That’s your bait. Below that it says “subscription options,” which links to this page here. Nowhere on either page does it say what happens after those first four weeks. For that info you need to select a button next to one of the three 99¢ choices, then click on the “GET UNLIMITED ACCESS” button. This takes you to the order page where you enter your credit card info. There it also says,

TRY IT TODAY FOR JUST $0.99  NYTimes: All Digital Access Unlimited access to NYTimes.com, and the NYTimes smartphone and tablet apps.* $0.99 for your first 4 weeks ($8.75 / week thereafter)

The asterisk is unpacked at the bottom of the page, where the it says,

Your order (applicable taxes may be added)
First 4 Weeks $0.99
Thereafter $35.00 every 4 weeks

So the real price is about $455 per year, after that first month. (Math: $8.75 x 52 weeks.) It’s an old game, and lots of sellers play it, but it’s still icky. If the Times is bold enough to be blunt about the value it’s subtracting from its free product, why not be bold enough to say the price goes up $35.01 after the first $.99?

Maybe because they’ve had that same pitch for awhile, and it’s working fine. In this Poynter storyAndrew Beaujon writes, “The New York Times Media Group says it has ‘approximately 454,000 paid subscribers’ to its digital products.” That comes to about $206,570,000 per year, after the first month. Pretty good. I have no problem with that, if the market bears the cost, which it seems to be doing. And maybe now more subscribers will get tired of being cut off after 10 views, or using multiple browsers to get around the limit a bit.

But why keep charging for the old stuff — especially the really old stuff? Wouldn’t it be a Good Thing make all of it easily reachable?

Well, they do, to some degree. Here are the details from the Times‘ digital archive page:

Accessing and Purchasing Articles

Digital Subscribers:

  • — 1923–1986: Your digital subscription includes 100 archive articles every four weeks in this date range (from January 1, 1923 through December 31, 1986). After you’ve reached the 100-article limit for the month, articles from 1923 through 1986 are $3.95 each.
  • — Pre-1923 and post-1986: Articles published before January 1, 1923 or after December 31, 1986 are free with your digital subscription and are not limited in any way.

Learn more about digital subscriptions »

Nonsubscribers:

  • — 1923–1986: Articles in this date range (from January 1, 1923 through December 31, 1986) are available for purchase at $3.95 each.
  • — Pre-1923 and post-1986: Articles published before January 1, 1923 or after December 31, 1986 are free, but they count toward your monthly limit.

Learn more about your monthly limit as a nonsubscriber »

I don’t know how much the Times makes on $3.95/article for the 1923-1986 time frame, but I suspect it’s not much. Why not make everything before (pick a date) free, each with a permanent link? This would throw off many scholastic, cultural and economic benefits. On the economic front, it would draw more inbound traffic to the Times‘ site, with lots of opportunities to advertise to visitors. In fact, I’ll bet the paper would make more off advertising to traffic arriving at archived articles than it makes off those $3.95 purchases.

But, maybe I’m wrong. Corrections welcome.

In any case, I’m not yet in the market. I love the Times, and often buy it on the newsstand. But $455 per year is steep for me. Plus, I’m already paying the Times‘ parent company for my printed copies of the Boston Globe. I’d like to read the digital edition of that too, because it’s free for print subscribers; but the login/password thing has yet to work for me.

Off the top of my head, here are some other paid subscriptions around here:

  • Consumer Reports
  • The Wall Street Journal (both print and online)
  • Forbes
  • Fortune
  • Bloomberg BusinessWeek
  • The Economist
  • Vanity Fair
  • Vogue
  • The Sun
  • The New Yorker
  • Linux Journal (which I get free, actually, because I write for it)

All but The Sun have digital editions, and I read those as well. The only one I don’t read digitally, so far, is the Globe. I’ll try to fix that again tomorrow and see where it goes. I’ll let you know.

Meanwhile, I urge all those pubs to make the old stuff free on the open Web, while we still have one. It’ll help.

 

Check the Arbitron radio listening ratings for Washington DC. You have to go waaaay down the list before you find a single AM station that isn’t also simulcast on FM. But then, if you go to the bottom of the list, you’ll also find a clump of Internet streams of local radio stations.

You’ll see the same pattern at other cities on this list from Radio-Info.com. FM on top, AM below, and streams at the bottom.

Together these paint an interesting picture. At the top, Innovators, at the bottom, Dilemma. (Some context, if the distinction isn’t obvious.)

Note that Pandora, Spotify, SiriusXM and other radio-like streaming services are not listed. Nor are podcasts or anything else one might listen to, including stuff on one’s smartphone, ‘pod or ‘pad. If they were, they’d be way up that list. According to Pandora CEO Joseph Kennedy (in this Radio INK piece),

…we have transitioned from being a small to medium sized radio station in every market in the U.S. to one of the largest radio stations in every market in the country. Based on the growth we continue to see, we anticipate that by the end of this year, we will be larger than the largest FM or AM radio station in most markets in U.S. As a consequence, our relevance to buyers of traditional radio advertising in skyrocketing. We have already begun to see the early benefits of this dramatic change. Our audio advertising more than doubled to more than $100 million in fiscal 2012.

Back when I was in the biz, public radio was a similar form of dark matter in the ratings. If you added up all the stations’ shares, they came 10-13% short of 100%. If one went to Arbitron’s headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland (as many of us did) to look at the “diaries” of surveyed listeners, you’d find that most of the missing numbers were from noncommercial stations. Today those are listed, and the biggest are usually at or near the top of the ratings.

But today’s dark matter includes a variety of radio-like and non-radio listening choices, including podcasts, satellite radio, and what the industry calls “pure-play streamers” and “on-demand music services.” Together all of these are putting a huge squeeze on radio as we knew it. AM is still around, and will last longest in places where it’s still the best way to listen, especially in cars. In flat prairie states with high ground conductivity, an AM station’s signal can spread over enormous areas. For example, here is the daytime coverage map from Radio-Locator.com for 5000-watt WNAX/570am in Yankton, South Dakota:

WNAX Daytime coverage

And here’s the one for 50000-watt WBAP/820 in Dallas-Fort Worth:

WBAP coverage

No FM station can achieve the same range, and much of that flat rural territory isn’t covered by cellular systems, a primary distribution system for the data streams that comprise Internet radio.

True, satellite radio covers the whole country, but there are no local or regional radio stations on SiriusXM, the only company in the satellite radio business. To some degree rural places are also served by AM radio at night, when signals bounce off the ionosphere, and a few big stations — especially those on “clear” channels — can be heard reliably up to several thousand miles away. (Listen to good car radio at night in Hawaii and you’ll still hear many AM stations from North America.) But, starting in 1980, “clears” were only protected to 750 miles from their transmitters, and many new stations came on the air to fill in “holes” that really weren’t. As a result AM listening at night is a noisy mess on nearly every channel, once you move outside any local station’s immediate coverage area on the ground.

Even in Dallas-Fort Worth, where WBAP is the biggest signal in town (reaching from Kansas to the Gulf of Mexico, as you see above), WBAP is pretty far down in the ratings. (Copyright restrictions prevent direct quoting of ratings numbers, but at least we can link to them.) Same for KLIF and KRLD, two other AM powerhouses with coverage comparable to WBAP’s. News and sports, the last two staple offerings on the AM band, have also been migrating to FM. Many large AM news and sports stations in major metro areas now simulcast on FM, and some sound like they’re about to abandon their AM facilities entirely.WEEI in Boston no longer even mentions the fact that they’re on 850 on the AM dial. Their biggest competitor, WBZ-FM (“The Sports Hub”) is FM-only.

But while FM is finally beating AM, its ratings today look like AM’s back in the 1950s. FM wasn’t taken seriously by the radio industry then, even though it sounded much better, and also came in stereo. Today the over-the-air radio industry knows it is mightily threatened (as well as augmented, in some cases) by streaming and other listening choices. It also knows it’s not going to go away as long as over-the-air radio can be received in large areas where data streams cannot. It’s an open question, however, whether broadcasters will want to continue spending many thousands of dollars every month on transmitters of signals that can no longer be justified financially.

One big question for radio is the same one that faces TV. That is, What will ESPN do?

ESPN is the Giant Kahuna that’s keeping millions of listeners on AM and FM radio, and viewers on cable and satellite, that would leave if the same content were streamed directly over the Net.

Right now ESPN appears to be fine with distributing its programming through cable and local radio. But at some point ESPN is likely to go direct and avoid the old distribution methods — especially if listeners and viewers would rather have it that way.

On cable ESPN’s problem will be that the distribution will still largely be through cable and phone companies that will wish to be paid for the carriage. That’s a two-sided model that applies now only for TV and satellite radio, but not for anything traveling over the Net, which the cable folks call “Over The Top,” or OTT. (I’m guessing that ESPN already pays for that, in a limited way, through Akamai, Level 3, Limelight and other Content Distribution Networks, or CDNs, which serve a role you might call, in broadcast terms, of local transmitters. Some cable companies, I am sure, do the same. It’s a complicated situation.) If, say, Comcast and Verizon start offering mobile Internet services that are just Facebook, Google+, Twitter and ESPN, they will have kept ESPN from going OTT, and brought Facebook, Google+ and Twitter into the bottom. And, in the process, we will have moved a long way toward the “fully licensed world” I warned about, two posts back. (Interesting that ESPN and others want Arbitron to do “cross-platform measurement”, even as it continues to help make the case for AM and FM radio.)

Regardless of how that goes, AM and FM are stuck in a tunnel, facing the headlights of a content distribution train that they need to embrace before it’s too late.

Read here about Raditaz, which I hadn’t heard about before. It’s a competitor to Pandora. Some differences: unlmited skips, no ads, geo-location.

I started out by setting up three “stations,” based on three artists: Lowell George, Seldom Scene and Mike Auldridge. I’m on the Mike Auldridge station now, and guess what comes up? Dig:

Mike Auldridge 8-string swing

Not just a great Mike Auldridge album cut, but a cover by Ray Simone, my late good friend and business partner, about whom I wrote this yesterday and this last month. It’s like seeing a friendly ghost.

Anyway, some first impressions and thoughts…

  • Need an Android and iPad app [Later... See the top comment below, with better information than I had when I first wrote this.]
  • Would like integration with creative terrestrial stations like KEXP, KCRW, WMBR, WFUV, et. al. (I other words, FM still cuts it. Think symbiosis, not just competition)
  • Would like opportunity for comments with skips, thumbs up and thumbs down. A skip isn’t always a dislike, or a preference. Sometimes it’s just curiousity at work.
  • The Twitter link works well. Give us a short URL for the current song.
  • Need more genres and decades. How about the ’50s?
  • Idea: Let listeners add their own audio — to be their own DJs — for some of the tunes. Make the ability a paid premium service
  • Work with the VRM development community on EmanciPay. Hey, some of us might like to pay more per play than SoundExchange wants. If you’re interested, DM me at @dsearls or dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.
  • Add a back button.
  • Make one’s whole listening history available as personal data one can copy off and use on their own.
  • RadioInk has quotage from the CEO, Tom Brophy, from this week’s launch announcement. I’d like to find that from a link at Raditaz.com.
  • Says here, “when you create a new station, your station is automatically assigned geographical coordinates so other users can find your station in our map view or when browsed on our explore page.” That’s cool, but what if my head or heart aren’t really where I am when I create a station? I do like exploring the map, though. Listening right now to Johnny Cash from Cleveland, while I’m in Boston.
  • Integrate with Sonos.

Gotta go. But that’s a start.

Reality 2.0 was my original blog: a pile of stuff I wrote before there were blogs. All of it is old now, but some of it still rings new. Since Reality 2.0 is deep in the Searls.com basement, I’ve decided to surface some old pieces that might be interesting, for whatever reason. The one below was first written on April 16 1998, about a year before Chris Locke, Rick Levine, David Weinberger and I put up The Cluetrain Manifesto, and updated one year later to recognize Cluetrain’s successful launch on the Web that month. It was still nearly a year before Cluetrain appeared in book form, and a decade before the 10th Anniversary Edition.

Never mind that Lycos, HotBot, Tripod and WhoWhere are blasts from the past. Note instead that these are zombies that were once hot stuff, and led by CEOs that talked very much like the CEOs walking around today. Note also how little progress we’ve actually made toward Cluetrain’s ideals.

Here goes:

Listen up

“All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. You’ve got to say, I’m a human being, goddammit! My life has value! So I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window, open it, and stick your head out, and yell, ‘I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!’”

— Howard Beale, in Network, by Paddy Chayevsky


Bob Davis is the CEO of Lycos, Inc., whose growing portfolio of companies (excuse me, portals) now includes Lycos, Hotbot, WhoWhere and Tripod. I’m sure Bob is a great guy. And I’m sure Lycos is a great company. A lot of people seem to like them both. And you have to admire both his ambition and his success. To witness both, read his interview with PC Week, where he predicts that the Lycos Network (the sum of all its portals) will overtake Yahoo as “#1 on the Web.”

Lycos will win, Davis says, because “We have a collection of quality properties that are segmented into best-of-breed categories, and our reach has been catapulting.”

I can speak for Hotbot, which is still my first-choice search engine; but by a shrinking margin. I often test search engines by looking for strings of text buried deep in long documents on my own site. Hotbot always won in the past. But since Lycos bought it, Hotbot has become more of a portal and less of a search tool. Its page is now a baffling mass of ads and links. And its searches find less.

In today’s test, Infoseek won. Last week, Excite won. Both found pages that Hotbot seems to have forgotten.

Why? Bob Davis gives us a good answer.

“We’re a media company,” he says. “We make our money by delivering an audience that people want to pay for.”

Note the two different species here: audience and people. And look at their qualities. One is “delivered.” The other pays. In other words, one is cargo and the other is money.

Well, I don’t care if Lycos’ stock goes to the moon and splits three times along the way. The only #1 on the Web is the same as the only #1 on the phone: the people who use it. And the time will come when people will look at portals not as sources of “satisfying experiences” (another of Davis’ lines) but as useless intermediaries between supply and demand.

 Words of Walt

You there, impotent, loose in the knees,

open your scarfed chops till I blow grit within you.

Spread your palms and lift the flaps of your pockets.

I am not to be denied. I compel.

It is time to explain myself. Let us stand up.

I know I am solid and sound.

To me the converging objects of the universe perpetually flow.

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..

Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself

“Media company” guys like Davis are still in a seller’s market for wisdom that was BS even when only the TV guys spoke it — back when it literally required the movie “Network.” That market will dry up. Why? Because we’ve been mad as hell for about hundred years, and now we don’t have to take it anymore.

Three reasons.

  1. Humanity. This is what Walt Whitman reminded us about more than a hundred years ago. We are not impotent. Media companies may call us seats and eyeballs and targets, but that’s their problem. They don’t get who we are or what we can — and will — do. And the funny thing is, they don’t get that what makes us powerful is what they think makes them powerful: the Internet. It gives us choices. Millions of them. We don’t have to settle for “channels” any more. Or “portals” that offer views of the sky through their own little windows. Or “sticky” sites that are the moral equivalent of flypaper.
  2. Demand. There never was a demand for messages, and now it shows, big time. Because the Internet is a meteor that is smacking the world of business with more force than the rock that offed the dinosaurs, and it is pushing out a tsunami of demand like nothing supply has ever seen. Businesses that welcome the swell are in for some fun surfing. Businesses that don’t are going to drown in it.
  3. Obsolescence. Even the media guys are tired of their own B.S. and are finally in the market for clues.

Alvin Toffler had it right in The Third Wave. Industry (The Second Wave) “violently split apart two aspects of our lives that had always been one… production and consumption… In so doing, it drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy, our psyches … it ripped apart the underlying unity of society, creating a way of life filled with economic tension.” Today all of us play producer roles in our professions and consumer roles in our everyday lives. This chart shows the difference (and tension) between these radically different points of view — both of which all of us hold:

Producer view
Consumer view
Metaphor Business is shipping (“loading the channel,” “moving products,” “delivering messages”) Business is shopping (“browsing,” “looking,” “bargaining,” “buying”)
Orientation Business is about moving goods from one to many (producers to consumers) Business is about buying and selling, one to one
Markets Markets are shooting ranges: consumers are “targets” Markets are markets: places to shop, buy stuff and talk to people
Relationships Primary relationshiphs are with customers, which are more often distributors & retailers rather than consumers Primary relationships are with vendors, and with other customers

These are all just clues, which are easily deniable facts. Hence a line once spoken of Apple: “the clue train stopped there four times a day for ten years and they never took delivery.” But Apple was just an obvious offender. All of marketing itself remains clueless so long as it continues to treat customers as “eyeballs,” “targets,” “seats” and “consumers.”

For the past several months, I have been working with Rick Levine, David Weinberger and Chris Locke on a new railroad for clues: a ClueTrain.

Our goal is to burn down Marketing As Usual. Here is the logic behind the ambition:

Markets are conversations

Conversations are fire

Marketing is arson

The result is here — in what The Wall Street Journal calls “presumptuous, arrogant, and absolutely brilliant.”

Take a ride. If you like it, sign up. Feel free to set fires with it, add a few of your own, or flame the ones you don’t agree with. What matters is the conversation. We want everybody talking about this stuff. If they do, MAU is toast.

Here is my own short form of the Manifesto (inspired by Martin Luther, the long version has 95 Theses). Feel free to commit arson with (or to) any of these points as well.


Ten facts about highly effective markets:

  1. Markets are conversations. None of the other metaphors for markets — bulls, bears, battlefields, arenas, streets or invisible hands — does full justice to the social nature of markets. Real market conversations are social. They happen between human beings. Not between senders and receivers, shooters and targets, advertisers and demographics.
  2. The first markets were markets. They were real places that thrived at the crossroads of cultures. They didn’t need a market model, because they were the model market. More than religion, war or family, markets were real places where communities came together. They weren’t just where sellers did business with buyers. They were the place where everybody got together to hang out, talk, tell stories and learn interesting stuff about each other and the larger world.
  3. Markets are more about demand than supply. The term “market” comes from the latin mercere, which means “to buy.” Even a modern market is called a “shopping center” rather than a “selling center.” Bottom line: every market has more buyers than sellers. And the buyers have the money.
  4. Human voices trump robotic ones. Real voices are honest, open, natural, uncontrived. Every identity that speaks has a voice. We know each other by how we sound. That goes for companies and markets as well as people. When a voice is full of shit, we all know it — whether the voice tells us “your call is important to us” or that a Buick is better than a Mercedes.
  5. The real market leaders are people whose minds and hands are worn by the work they do. And it has been that way ever since our ancestors’ authority was expressed by surnames that labeled their occupations — names like Hunter, Weaver, Fisher and Smith. In modern parlance, the most knowledge and the best expertise is found at the “point of practice:” That’s where most of the work gets done.
  6. Markets are made by real people. Not by surreal abstractions that insult customers by calling them “targets,” “seats,” “audiences,” “demographics” and “eyeballs” — all synonyms for consumers, which Jerry Michalski of Sociate calls “brainless gullets who live only to gulp products and expel cash.”
  7. Business is not a conveyor belt that runs from production to consumption. Our goods are more than “content” that we “package” and “move” by “loading” them into a “channel” and “address” for “delivery.” The business that matters most is about shopping, not shipping. And the people who run it are the customers and the people who talk to them.
  8. Mass markets have the same intelligence as germ populations. Their virtues are appetite and reproduction. They grow by contagion. Which is why nobody wants to admit belonging to one.
  9. There is no demand for messages. To get what this means, imagine what would happen if mute buttons on remote controls delivered “we don’t want to hear this” messages directly back to advertisers.
  10. Most advertising is unaccountable. Or worse, it’s useless. An old advertising saying goes, “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” But even this is a lie. Nearly all advertising is wasted. Even the most accountable form of advertising — the junk mail we euphemistically call “direct marketing” — counts a 3% response rate as a success. No wonder most of us sort our mail over the trash can. Fairfax Cone, who co-founded Foote Cone & Belding many decades ago, said “Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all it is.” With the Net you cango see somebody. More importantly, they can see you. More importantly than that, you can both talk to each other. And make real markets again.

Today I’m in solidarity with Web publishers everywhere joining the fight against new laws that are bad for business — and everything else — on the Internet.

I made my case in If you hate big government, fight SOPA. A vigorous dialog followed in the comments under that. Here’s the opening paragraph:

Nobody who opposes Big Government and favors degregulation should favor the Stop Online Piracy Act, better known as SOPA, or H.R. 3261. It’s a big new can of worms that will cripple use of the Net, slow innovation on it, clog the courts with lawsuits, employ litigators in perpetuity and deliver copyright maximalists in the “content” business a hollow victory for the ages.

I also said this:

SOPA is a test for principle for members of Congress. If you wish to save the Internet, vote against it. If you wish to fight Big Government, vote against it. If you wish to protect friends in the “content” production and distribution business at extreme cost to every other business in the world, vote for it. If you care more about a few businesses you can name and nothing about all the rest of them — which will be whiplashed by the unintended consequences of a bill that limits what can be done on the Internet while not comprehending the Internet at all — vote for it.

This is the pro-business case. There are other cases, but I don’t see many people making the pure business one, so that’s why I took the business angle.

The best summary case I’ve read since then is this one from the EFF.

The best detailed legal case (for and against) is A close look at the Stop Online Piracy Act bill, by Jonathan @Zittrain. The original, from early December, is here.

Not finally, here are a pile of links from Zemanta:

Oh, and the U.S. Supreme Court just make it cool for any former copyright holder to pull their free’d works out of the public domain. The vote was 6-2, with Kagan recused and Breyer and Alito dissenting. Lyle Denniston in the SCOTUS blog:

In a historic ruling on Congress’s power to give authors and composers monopoly power over their creations, the Supreme Court on Tuesday broadly upheld the national legislature’s authority to withdraw works from the public domain and put them back under a copyright shield.   While the ruling at several points stressed that it was a narrow embrace of Congress’s authority simply to harmonize U.S. law with the practice of other nations, the decision’s treatment of works that had entered the public domain in the U.S. was a far more sweeping outcome.

No one, the Court said flatly, obtains any personal right under the Constitution to copy or perform a work just because it has come out from under earlier copyright protection, so no one can object if copyright is later restored.  Any legal rights that exist belong only to the author or composer, the ruling said.  If anyone wants to resume the use or performance of a work after it regains copyright, they must pay for the privilege, the decision made clear.

IMHO, the U.S. has become devoutly propertarian, even at the expense of opportunity to create fresh property from borrowed and remixed works in the public domain. One more way the public domain, and its friendliness to markets, is widely misunderstood.

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I got to know Judith Burton when she was still Judith Clarke and Senior VP Corporate Marketing for Novell, in 1987. Novell had just bought a company called CXI, which had been a client of Hodskins Simone & Searls, the Palo Alto advertising agency in which I was a partner. By that time HS&S had come to specialize in communications technology clients, and the chance to do something with Novell as well seemed more than opportune, since it was clear that Novell was smarter about comms than just about anybody at that time.

So David Hodskins came up with the idea of putting together a “connectivity consortium” made up of Novell and several other HS&S clients. In seeing connectivity as a hot topic on the horizon, David was way ahead of everybody’s time. But that made it perfect for the two most forward-thinking minds at Novell: Judith and Craig Burton, who would later become her husband.

I didn’t know Craig before I pitched Judith on the connectivity consortium idea — and she took the bait. She brought Craig to our first meeting, and the two of them together blew my mind. Judith saw no boundaries to what could be done with marketing, and Craig saw the Big Picture of connectivity better than anybody I had ever met, before or since.

In the short term, over subsequent conversations and meetings, I saw how it was that Novell changed the networking conversation so quickly and completely. It was during these learnings that I came up with the “markets are conversations” line that became the first thesis of The Cluetrain Manifesto, more than a decade later. Because Novell was busy proving it, more than any other company in technology at that time.

Just a few years earlier, the network conversation was mostly about “pipes and protocols.” Data Communications and Communications Week were the leading trade pubs in the space, fat with stories and ads that pushed and compared the virtues of Ethernet vs. Token Ring and bus vs. ring vs. star topologies. Every vendor sold whole networks from the wires on up, including everything that ran on those wires, file servers, network interface cards in the backs of PCs, and applications. If you bought a Sytek or a Corvus network, you couldn’t use anybody else’s hardware, software or wiring. Every vendor had its own silo (or, in some cases, such as IBM’s, an assortment of silos). And it occurred to almost nobody that there should be a choice other than silos and lock-ins.

It was Craig Burton’s idea make Novell’s NetWare a “Network Operating System” (NOS) that could run on everybody’s hardware and wiring. NetWare thus became a new platform for network services that could run everywhere, starting with group file storage (the first local “cloud,” you might say), and printing.

But nobody talked about networking on Novell’s terms until Judith Clarke literally invented whole new venues for network conversations. These included a magazine (LAN Times), a trade show (NetWorld), a reseller channel and a class of networking professionals (Certified Netware Engineers, or CNEs). By the end of the Eighties the world talked about networking in terms of capabilities and services rather than of pipes and protocols.

One move that stands out for me was Novell’s decision to drop its grandfathered position at the center of the Comdex show floor (this was when Comdex was one of the biggest trade shows on Earth) and rent ballroom space next door on the ground floor of the Las Vegas Hilton. So rather than show stuff off on the floor with everybody else, Novell set up a storefront and business meeting space right where the traffic was thickest. And it worked.

As Craig put it to me a few days ago, ”She changed the industry in the way she approached people and ideas, taking a podunk company in Provo and making it look like it owned the planet — which, in many ways, it did. And she unselfishly gave credit to everybody else all along the way.”

Novell began to slide after Judith and Craig left the company, in 1989. With the Burtons gone, Novell forgot where it came from. While Judith and Craig liked to zig where Microsoft zagged, and to embrace Microsoft’s — and everybody else’s — platforms and technologies, Novell CEO Ray Noorda preferred to attack Microsoft head-on, by acquiring already-lame competitors (remember WordPerfect?) and failing over and over to make a dent in Microsoft’s hull. It was sad to watch.

For reasons I forget, the connectivity consortium didn’t happen, but I got to be close friends of both Judith and Craig, and have remained so ever since. I also consulted the couple after they left Novell to co-found The Burton Group with Jamie Lewis, another brilliant Novell veteran.

A few years later Judith and Craig moved on to consulting on their own. (Under Jamie’s continued leadership The Burton Group was sold to Gartner a couple years ago.) Craig especially has been a steady source of original thinking on countless subjects. Judith sometimes participated in projects with Craig, but mostly focused on philanthropic and civic projects, and time with family. (Here is her Linkedin profile.)

On Tuesday of this week she collapsed at her home, and died later in the hospital. Her death is a shock to everybody. Even though she hit a few medical bumps this past year, she seemed to be doing better. And she was just 66. Being 64 myself, I consider that age way too young for life’s end.

My heart aches for Craig, and for Judith’s kids and grandkids, whom she adored. In my own memory, her amazing blue eyes, bright smile and sweet voice persist. She was a beautiful woman, as well as a smart, creative and loving one. The picture above gives just a hint toward all of that.

It does bother me a bit that her death has not made bigger news. If she had passed during her heyday at Novell, the news would have been huge. But then, the news ain’t what it used to be, and will continue to evolve away from the old top-down few-to-many systems. The Internet is everybody’s connectivity consortium now.

We didn’t end up needing Data Communications, Comms Week, LAN Times, NetWorld, Comdex or countless other once-sturdy institutions that were obsoleted by something Craig and Judith both saw coming long before it arrived: the ability of anybody to connect with anybody, outside of any one company’s system for trapping customers and users.

Judith’s work back in the decade helped make the future in which we now all live and thrive. We’ll miss her, but we won’t miss each other. To Judith, all of us were the people networks were for. And now we have that, regardless of how hard any company or government works to lock us back into silos or limit what we can do in them. Had she been less loving, I doubt she would have seen that, or worked so well at what she did for all of us.

[Later...] Here is an email from Jamie Lewis that fell through the cracks when it arrived (apologies for that):

I first met Judith in 1984, when I was working for a publication for PC retailers. I was writing about PC networking, so I inevitably met both her and Craig in my coverage of Novell. I started getting to know Judith in 1985, when the magazine I was working for folded, and Novell offered me a job in the corporate marketing department.

As many people know, there’s a very long list of things Judith did in making Novell the company it was in its hey day. She founded the LAN Times, a corporate newspaper devoted to networking. (Yes, it sounds obvious today. But in 1983, not so much. And there are more than a few technology writers still working today that earned their chops writing for the LAN Times.) She created the NetWorld tradeshow. (Again, obvious or even antiquated in today’s context, but then, it was the first of its kind.) She built a PR and marketing machine, complete with relentless press tours, events, and other efforts to get the NetWare word out.

The list goes on. But that list is just that—a list. While most, if not all, of the stuff on that list was important, innovative, and impactful, it really doesn’t do the woman justice to simply enumerate things on a list. She was more than the sum of the items on that list.

If you look the word “dynamic” up in the dictionary, you’ll find Judith’s picture there. When she walked into the room, the room changed. She commanded attention. She ran the show. She exuded authority and confidence. This could rub some people the wrong way, but it is what made her successful. That she accomplished what she did in a time and place that wasn’t exactly ideal for a career-oriented woman says a lot about her resolve.

And that gets to the most important thing I learned from her, something that I think was at the heart of why Novell did so well during her tenure. Simply put, it’s this: Have the balls to act like who or what you want to become. If you wait until you are that to start acting like that, you’ll never be that.

It’s clear how this approach worked so well for Novell. When I joined, Novell had about 250 employees. Its revenues were microscopic in comparison to the “big guys” – IBM, Digital Equipment and, later, Microsoft – that it was challenging while simultaneously doing battle with a host of similarly sized companies on the other.

But I can’t tell you how many times I heard people say, “Wow, I thought Novell was a lot bigger than that,” when they heard how many employees we had, or what annual revenues were at the time. Novell in every way looked and behaved like it belonged in the big leagues—like a much bigger company—due in large part to Judith’s skills in marketing and communications. It’s a mistake to underestimate how important this was to Novell’s success.

The fact that NetWare was a great product certainly helped. But we all know that the information technology market is littered with the corpses of companies that had great technology but didn’t know how to market it or sell it. Judith’s ability to position Novell played no small part in ensuring the success of what was a very good product. Because Novell acted like it belonged in the big leagues, it did belong. This raised the customers’ comfort level, making it easier for them to bet on a small company for such an important product. It also forced much larger companies, such as DEC and IBM, to treat Novell as a peer.

I can distinctly remember when I realized how important this was. We were in final competition with DEC for a very large deal with a very large company. A Fortune 200 company. If we got the business, it would be a major win, a win at the “corporate standard” level, the kind of win that would be a major milestone. During the final stages of the competition, DEC issued a 30-page white paper that we later subtitled “why NetWare causes cancer in rats”. The sales person on the account phoned me in an absolute panic. The paper was full of misinformation, she said, and she was afraid the customer was going to believe it. I told her that we first needed to thank DEC for establishing Novell as a legitimate competitor in the eyes of the customer. We would respond to the paper, I said, but would be careful not to spoil the big favor DEC had just done for us. We did respond, but in the high road fashion that Judith (and Craig) established as our modus operandi, the approach that drove my initial answer to the call. And we won the business.

That positioning also made Novell look superior in comparison to the companies that were much closer to it in size and revenue. 3Com was our nemesis, the one company that everyone in our company loved to hate. Yes, 3Com was hardware to Novell’s software, which is why NetWare prevailed. But NetWare also succeeded because Judith was so good at positioning Novell, establishing software as the issue in the market and forcing 3Com (and later Microsoft and IBM) to fight on Novell’s terms.

There were, of course, a very large number of people responsible for making Novell what it was. It’s also nice to be on the right side of the issue, and there’s no question that Novell and NetWare were in the right place at the right time. But the attitude, the positioning, and the messaging that was Novell’s essence during that amazing run in the 80s and early 90s, that was all Judith. Novell wouldn’t have been the same company without her efforts. That win over DEC, for example, wouldn’t have happened without the months and years of relentless and effective marketing that preceded it. And I don’t think the correlation between Judith’s personality and Novell’s was any coincidence. Novell had the audacity to act like it belonged because Judith did.

Years later, at Burton Group, whenever I heard people say they thought we were bigger than we actually were, I never failed to think of Judith. We carried that same attitude, a willingness to believe and act like we belonged. I learned a great deal from Judith, but it’s that lesson that had the biggest impact. She and Craig took a chance on a journalism major that had never written a line of code, and for that I will be forever grateful. She inspired and drove those around her to be better, to be what they aspired to be. I think I can speak for all of the people who knew and worked with her when I say she’ll be missed, and that we appreciate what she did for us, and for the industry she played such a large part in creating.

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Ray SimoneRay Simone, my good friend and long-time business partner, died this morning. He was 63 years old. He is survived by his wife Gillian, his daughter Christina, and many good friends for whom he remains an inspiration and a delight.

Ray was one of the most creative people I have ever known. Though we originally shared the Creative Director title at our agency, Hodskins Simone & Searls, Ray was the Main Man. While I was a good copywriter, Ray could do it all: come up with killer campaigns, clever headlines, great design and art, tight scripts, whatever. His knowledge of art, of typography, of technologies and sciences — actually, pretty much everything — was encyclopedic. He worked his ass off, and he was great to work with as well.

We met in the mid-’70s in Durham, North Carolina, when I was still “Doctor Dave,” an occasional comic radio character for WDBS and columnist for the station’s magazine, and Ray was an artist whose equally comic work appeared in the same publication. We both circulated in the same low-rent Hippie creative-art-music-dance-weekend-party crowd surrounding Duke University. Ray was working with Hodskins Simone and Searls 1978David Hodskins and some other folks at small “multiple media” shop (decades ahead of its time) that had somehow spun out of the Duke Media Center. One day, when I called up Ray to talk about collaborating on an ad for an audio shop I was working for part-time, Ray put me on hold and told David that Doctor Dave was on the line. David told Ray to arrange a lunch. A team was born over that lunch, and in 1978 it became an advertising agency: Hodskins Simone & Searls. The photo on the right dates from that time.

By 1980 we were specializing in high tech clients up and down the East Coast, and after several years decided to open a satellite office in Silicon Valley. After winning some major West Coast

Hillbilly Jazzaccounts we moved the whole agency to Palo Alto, and by the early 90s HS&S was one of the top shops there. (Huge props to David Hodskins for his leadership through all that. David was the agency President and another truly brilliant dude.)

Twenty years after its founding,  HS&S was acquired. By then I had moved on to other work, and after awhile so had David and Ray. While I went back to journalism, Ray went back to art, teaching at Ocean Shore School in Pacifica, as well as at Brighton Preschool, which he and Gillian, his wife and soulmate, ran in the same town. He was Sting Ray to the kids there. Says Gillian, “He made story time come alive.”

He also went back to painting. But his full portfolio of accomplishments includes much, much more. For example, Ray designed covers for dozens of major country and bluegrass albums, mostly for Sugar Hill Records. Two samples, one for Vassar Clements and the other for the Red Clay Ramblers, are on the left and right. Here is a partial discography (drawn from here and other places), in alphabetical order:

Ray was himself a musician. When he was a student at what is now Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, he played keyboards in a band that traveled to gigs in a used hearse. Some of the stories he told about those days were beyond wild and very funny.

Ray designed countless t-shirts and posters, most of which were worthy of collection. Panel from Ray Simone Hassle House poster(Wish I still had some, but alas.) Old friends from Durham will fondly remember the Forklift Festival at the late Plantation (an run-down mansion on North Roxboro that should have been preserved), which sprang up as a wacky alternative to the annual Folklife Festival (now Festival for the Eno). Same goes for the Good Time Boogie, an annual gathering in Eastern North Carolina for which there was huge attendance, pass-the-hat funding and no publicity.

Ray did brilliant t-shirt designs for both. His cartoon poster for a place called Hassle House, done in the style of MAD’s Will Elder by way of Vaughn Bodé, was the first thing that turned me on to Ray. It was funny as hell, and I can still remember every panel of it. (Rob Gringle provides more background in a comment below, and also reminds us that Ray did many covers for The Guide, the monthly published by WDBS. I still have a stack of Guides somewhere.)

[Later...] Big thanks to Jay Cunningham for providing scans to the poster. That’s one panel, there on the right.

Ray was a born athlete, though he never exploited his talents beyond casually (but never maliciously) humiliating anybody who took him on at ping-pong, darts, softball or whatever. I remember one softball game where he grabbed a hard grounder bare-handed at third base, and — while falling down — threw out the runner at first base. All in one move. Like it was no big deal. It was awesome.

He took up fencing when we were still in North Carolina, and quickly won trophies.

A student of fun history, he was active for years in the Society for Creative Anachronism. In that capacity he once served “stargazy pie” at Monkeytop, the rambling Victorian urban commune where he, David Hodskins and many others lived at various times on Swift Street. (It’s now the restored E.K. Powe House.)

When Ray and Gillian (also an artist) were married at a California ranch in 1991, everybody was costumed as cowboys and cowgirls.

A devoted reader of science fiction and watcher of movies, Ray could expound with insight and authority on either subject, plus too many others to list.

Yet what matters most is that Ray was a loving guy and a first-rate friend. Back at the turn of the ’90s, when I had sworn off dating after a series of failed relationships, Ray pulled me out of my shell. As a direct result I’ve now been happily married for more than twenty years, with a wonderful teenage son. I know Ray had similar influences on others as well.

I could add much more, but I want to post this today. I’m sure other old friends will weigh in as well. Additions and corrections of course are welcome. Here are a few I failed to string among the pearls above:

      • His full name: Raymond George Simone. Most of his album credits are for Raymond Simone.
      • Simone is pronounced with three syllables and a long e: Simonē. That is, the correct Italian way.
      • He was born in Potsdam, New York, and grew up in High Point, North Carolina.
      • He had one brother, Jim, who died of throat cancer many years ago. Ray’s malady was lung cancer, no doubt an effect, as with Jim, of smoking. Ray quit many years ago, but it still caught up with him.
      • His mother, born and raised in Oklahoma, was part Cherokee. Both his parents passed in recent years.
      • He sometimes called himself The Weasel (others shortened that to “The Weez”), and drew himself in cartoons as a weasel with a mustache. For most of the early years we worked together, Ray’s signature look was long hair and a mustache, sometimes waxed at the tips.
      • Here is Ray’s Facebook page, with a self-portrait from when he was more full-bodied, a couple years back.

The photo at the top of this post is cropped from this one, shot by Gillian last Friday when David and I came to visit Ray at their home. Ray knew he didn’t have much time left, but was still in good humor. That was the day after Thanksgiving. So I’m thankful that I was in town and that these three old partners could get together one last time.

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I was in the midst of late edits on The Intention Economy this afternoon, wondering if I should refer to Steve Jobs in the past tense. I didn’t want to, but I knew he’d be gone by the time the book comes out next April, if he wasn’t gone already. So I decided to make the changes, and stopped cold before the first one. I just couldn’t go there.

Then the bad news came a few minutes ago, through an AP notification on my iPhone. Tonight we all have to go there.

Thirteen years, one month and one day ago, I wrote an email to Dave Winer, in response to a DaveNet post on Steve’s decision to kill off Apple’s clones. (Dave had also posted notes from an interview with Steve himself.) Dave published the email. Here’s the part that matters:

So Steve Jobs just shot the cloners in the head, indirectly doing the same to the growing percentage of Mac users who prefered cloned Mac systems to Apple’s own. So his message to everybody was no different than it was at Day One: all I want from the rest of you is your money and your appreciation for my Art.

It was a nasty move, but bless his ass: Steve’s art has always been first class, and priced accordingly. There was nothing ordinary about it. The Mac “ecosystem” Steve talks about is one that rises from that Art, not from market demand or other more obvious forces. And that art has no more to do with developers, customers and users than Van Gogh’s has to do with Sotheby’s, Christie’s and art collectors.

See, Steve is an elitist and an innovator, and damn good at both. His greatest achievements are novel works of beauty and style. The Apple I and II were Works of Woz; but Lisa, Macintosh, NeXT and Pixar were all Works of Jobs. Regardless of their market impact (which in the cases of Lisa and NeXT were disappointing), all four were remarkable artistic achievements. They were also inventions intended to mother necessity — and reasonably so. That’s how all radical innovations work. (Less forward marketers, including Bill Gates, wait for necessity to mother invention, and the best of those invent and implement beautifully, even though that beauty is rarely appreciated.)

To Steve, clones are the drag of the ordinary on the innovative. All that crap about cloners not sharing the cost of R&D is just rationalization. Steve puts enormous value on the engines of innovation. Killing off the cloners just eliminates a drag on his own R&D, as well as a way to reposition Apple as something closer to what he would have made the company if he had been in charge through the intervening years.

The simple fact is that Apple always was Steve’s company, even when he wasn’t there. The force that allowed Apple to survive more than a decade of bad leadership, cluelessness and constant mistakes was the legacy of Steve’s original Art. That legacy was not just an OS that was 10 years ahead of the rest of the world, but a Cause that induced a righteousness of purpose centered around a will to innovate — to perpetuate the original artistic achievements. And in Steve’s absence Apple did some righeous innovation too. Eventually, though, the flywheels lost mass and the engine wore out.

In the end, by when too many of the innovative spirts first animated by Steve had moved on to WebTV and Microsoft, all that remained was that righteousness, and Apple looked and worked like what it was: a church wracked by petty politics and a pointless yet deeply felt spirituality.

Now Steve is back, and gradually renovating his old company. He’ll do it his way, and it will once again express his Art.

These things I can guarantee about whatever Apple makes from this point forward:

  1. It will be original.
  2. It will be innovative.
  3. It will be exclusive.
  4. It will be expensive.
  5. It’s aesthetics will be impeccable.
  6. The influence of developers, even influential developers like you, will be minimal. The influence of customers and users will be held in even higher contempt.
  7. The influence of fellow business artisans such as Larry Ellison (and even Larry’s nemesis, Bill Gates) will be significant, though secondary at best to Steve’s own muse.

Turns out Steve’s muse was the best in the history of business. No one-hit wonders. We’re talking about world-changing stuff. Again and again and again.

Watch this clip from Robert X. Cringeley’s “Triumph of the Nerds” public TV special, filmed back when Steve was still running NeXT. This one too. Then look at what Steve did after coming back. Not just the iPod, iPhone, iPad, Pixar and the laptops we see with glowing apples all over the place. Look at the Apple Stores. I’ve been told that Apple Stores are top-grossing retail shops in every mall they occupy. Even if that’s not true, it’s believable.

I’ve also been told that Apple Stores were Steve’s idea. I don’t know if that’s true either, but it makes sense, because they succeeded where nearly every other attempt at the same thing failed. To get there, Steve and Apple had to look past the smoking corpses of Gateway, Circuit City, Computerland, Radio Shack and all the other computer stores that had failed, and do something very different and much better. And they did.

I was wrong about one thing in my list above. I don’t think Steve regarded customers and users with contempt, except in the sense that he believed he knew better than they did. As an elitist, he also knew that calling the smartest and most employable Apple users “geniuses” was great bait for employment serving customers at Apple Stores.

There is no shortage of quotes by and about Steve Jobs tonight. But the best quote is the one he uttered so long ago I can’t find a source for it (maybe one of ya’ll can): The journey is the reward.

His first hit, the Apple II, was “The computer for the rest of us.” So now is his legacy.

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Bookmarking the past

I’ve been digging around for stuff I blogged (or wrote somewhere on the Web) way back when. After finding two items I thought might be lost, I decided to point to them here, which (if search engines still work the Old Way) might make them somewhat easier to find again later.

One is Rebuilding the software industry, one word at a time, in Kuro5hin. (And cool to see that Kuro5hin is still trucking along.) The other is Cluetrain requires conversation. Both are from early 2001, more than ten years ago. A sample from the former:

I went through my own head-scratching epiphany right after the Web got hot and I found my profession had changed from writer to “content provider.” What was that about? Were my words going to be shrink-wrapped, strapped on a skid and sold in bulk at Costco?

No, “content” was just a handy way to label anything you could “package” and “deliver” through the “vehicle” of this wonderful new “medium.” Marketers were salivating at the chance to “target,” “capture” and “penetrate” ever-more-narrow “audiences” with ever-more-narrow “messages.” Never mind that there was zero demand at the receiving end for any of it. (If you doubt the math, ask what you’d be willing to pay to see an ad on the Web. Or anywhere.)

Soon I began to wonder what had happened to markets, which for thousands of years were social places where people got together to buy and sell stuff, and to make civilization. By the end of the Industrial Age, every category you could name was a “market.” So was every region and every demographic wedge where there was money to be spent. Worse, these were all too often conceived as “arenas” and “battlefields,” even though no growing category could be fully described in the zero-sum terms of sports and war metaphors.

And from the latter:

Cluetrain talks far less about what markets need that about what they are. The first thesis says Markets are conversations. Not markets need to be conversations. Or people need the right message. In fact, we make the point that there is no market for messages. If you want to see how little people want messages, look at the MUTE button on your TV’s remote control. Sum up all marketing sentiment on the receiving end and you’ll find negative demand for it.

There’s nothing conversational about a message. I submit that if a message turns into a conversation, it isn’t a message at all. It’s a topic.

Not many people noticed (including me, until Jakob Nielsen pointed it out) that The Cluetrain Manifesto was written in first and second person plural voices, and was addressed not by marketers to markets, but by markets to marketers. It said —

if you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get…

Chris Locke wrote that in early 1999. Marketing still doesn’t get it. Maybe it can’t.

And, because marketing (and the rest of business) didn’t get it, I started ProjectVRM, and am now finishing a book about customer liberation and why free customers will prove more valuable than captive ones.

This stuff seems to be taking awhile. But hey, it’s fun.

My parents, Eleanor and Allen Searls, were married 65 years ago today. Allen and Eleanor Searls wedding The wedding was in Grace United Methodist Church, in Minneapolis.* Mom’s family, all descendents of Swedish immigrants to homesteads in Minnesota and North Dakota, were the primary attendees, as I recall being told. Pop’s family was from New Jersey, and that’s where the couple settled down and raised their family. Additions were myself, a bit less than a year later, and my sister Jan, another 20 months after that.

We were lucky kids. Our parents were good, sane, loving, smart, hard-working and convivial people. Our home was a safe and happy one. We had lots of family gatherings, and lots of friends in our town and around the little summer place Pop and uncle Archie Apgar built on the edge of the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. For us that place was paradise.

Mom and Pop are gone now, but the family is still intact. We celebrated my birthday at Pop’s little sister Grace’s place in Maine two weekends ago. She’s 99 now, and doing great. (Here’s a photo set from that trip. All the shots of me in that set were ones Grace shot. As you can see, I enjoyed the company.)

So here’s a toast to Mom and Pop. We love ya both, and always will.


*Today that’s Northeast United Methodist Church, and it’s not clear to me if the church where Mom and Pop got married is the one still at 2510 Cleveland Street N.E., or the one the website says is for sale at 2511 Taylor St. N.E. I suspect not, though, since the picture of that church, called Trinity United Methodist Church, doesn’t have steps like the ones we see in this picture of Mom and Pop leaving the church after the wedding.

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I didn’t know George DesdunesGeorge Desdunes, though now I wish I’d had the privilege. He was a friend of acquaintances who sent out emails in March to lists of people who might want to know he had died and to provide details about his funeral. Those emails were among many others I barely noticed at the time. This afternoon I ran across those emails again while looking for something else, and I became curious. The emails said nothing about who he was and why he died, so I looked him up.

Turns out George was a nineteen-year old sophomore at Cornell when he died during a fraternity hazing event. The university has since rescinded recognition of the fraternity, and George’s mother has sued the fraternity for $25 million, naming twenty fraternity members in the lawsuit. According to that last story, in The Cornell Daily Sun,

Desdunes participated in a mock kidnapping before his death, court documents state. He and another SAE brother were taken to the townhouse apartments on North Campus by several pledge members, and they had their hands and feet tied with zip ties and duct tape. The two were quizzed about “fraternity information and lore,” and when they answered incorrectly they did exercises or were given drinks, such as flavored syrup or vodka, the documents state.

After his death, authorities discovered Desdunes’ blood alcohol level was 0.35, according to court documents related to the criminal charges. However, Andres’ lawsuit states that her son’s blood alcohol level was 0.409. By comparison, the legal limit to drive in New York State is 0.08.

By all accounts (here’s one) George was the kind of kid anybody would like to have as a son, a friend, a mentor: smart, caring, friendly, a good student and athlete… the list goes on. (My second-degree acquaintance with him comes through the camp he attended for a number of years before serving as a counsellor in the last summer of his life.)

One reason I went to a college without fraternities was that I had already endured enough hazing at the boarding school I attended as a teenager. While I know fraternities can be a lot of fun, and that they yield lifelong friendships and support networks, I also believe they formalize social exclusion and (in some cases) cruelty rationalized by tradition.

All I said in the last sentence is arguable, of course; but that’s not what I’m after here.

What I’m after is remembering something more than the story of a young man who died for no good reason (plus a number of bad ones). What I want us to remember is the moral philosophy of Kurt Vonnegut, the author and soldier who survived the bombing of Dresden as a prisoner of War during WWII (and whose forced labor required pulling burned bodies from the smoking rubble). Vonnegut summarized that philosophy in just two words: “be kind.”*

Being kind is not at the core of most academic curricula at the college level, much less of fraternity hazing ceremonies. But among our many contradictory human natures, no moral imperative is more essential to our well being, and to the persistence of all that is good in the world.

Kindness is a grace without which George would not have become the good guy he was. That he died for lack of it is less important than what he had of it, and what the rest of us still need to enjoy, and to practice.

* Kurt Vonnegut’s full dictum (from God Bless You Mister Rosewater, his funniest book) is “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies—God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.” Elsewhere, however, he boils it down to those last two words.

 

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“When I’m Sixty-Four” is 44 years old. I was 20 when it came out, in the summer of 1967,  one among thirteen perfect tracks on The Beatles‘ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album. For all the years since, I’ve thought the song began, “When I get older, losing my head…” But yesterday, on the eve of actually turning sixty-four, I watched this video animation of the song (by theClemmer) and found that Paul McCartney actually sang, “… losing my hair.”

Well, that’s true. I’m not bald yet, but the bare spot in the back and the thin zone in the front are advancing toward each other, while my face continues falling down below.

In July 2006, my old friend Tom Guild put Doc Searls explains driftwood of the land up on YouTube. It’s an improvisational comedy riff that Tom shot with his huge new shoulder-fire video camera at our friend Steve Tulsky’s house on a Marin County hillside in June, 1988. It was a reunion of sorts. Tom, Steve and I had all worked in radio together in North Carolina. I was forty at the time, and looked about half that age. When my ten-year-old kid saw it, he said “Papa, you don’t look like that.” I replied, “No, I do look like that. I don’t look like this,” pointing to my face.

Today it would be nice if I still looked like I did five years ago. The shot in the banner at the top of this blog was taken in the summer of 1999 (here’s the original), when I was fifty-two and looked half that age. The one on the right was taken last summer (the shades on my forehead masking a scalp that now reflects light), when I was a few days short of sixty-three. By then I was finally looking my age.

A couple months back I gave a talk at the Personal Democracy Forum where I was warmly introduced as one of those elders we should all listen to. That was nice, but here’s the strange part: when it comes to what I do in the world, I’m still young. Most of the people I hang and work with are half my age or less, yet I rarely notice or think about that, because it’s irrelevant. My job is changing the world, and that’s a calling that tends to involve smart, young, energetic people. The difference for a few of us is that we’ve been young a lot longer.

But I don’t have illusions about the facts of life. It’s in one’s sixties that the croak rate starts to angle north on the Y axis as age ticks east on the X. Still, I’m in no less hurry to make things happen than I ever was. I’m just more patient. That’s because one of the things I’ve learned is that now is always earlier than it seems. None of the future has happened yet, and it’s always bigger than the past.

While arguments over network neutrality have steadily misdirected attention toward Washington, phone and cable companies have quietly lobbied one state after another to throttle back or forbid cities, towns and small commercial and non-commercial entities from building out broadband facilities. This Community Broadband Preemption Map, from Community Broadband Networks, tells you how successful they’ve been so far: Broadband Preemption Map Now they’re the verge of succeeding in North Carolina too.

This issue isn’t just close to home for me. I lived in North Carolina for nearly two decades, and I have more blood relatives there than in any other state. (Not to mention countless friends.) Not one of them tells me how great their broadband is. More than a few complain about it. And I can guarantee that the complaints won’t stop once the Governor signs the misleadingly-named ”Level Playing Field/Local Gov’t Competition act” (H129), which the cable industry has already been lobbied through the assembly.

The “free market” the phone and cable companies claim to operate in, and which they mostly occupy as a duopoly, is in fact a regulatory zoo where the biggest animals run the place. Neither half of the phone/cable duopoly has ever experienced anything close to a truly free market; but they sure know how to thrive in the highly regulated one they have — at the federal, state and local levels. Here’s Ars on the matter:

Let’s be even clearer about what is at stake in this fight. Muni networks are providing locally based broadband infrastructures that leave cable and telco ISPs in the dust. Nearby Chattanooga, Tennessee’scity owned EPB Fiber Optics service now advertises 1,000Mbps. Wilson, North Carolina is home to the Greenlight Community Network, which offers pay TV, phone service, and as much as 100Mbps Internet to subscribers (the more typical package goes at 20Mbps). Several other North Carolina cities have followed suit, launching their own networks. In comparison, Time Warner’s Road Runner plan advertises “blazing speeds” of 15Mbps max to Wilson area consumers. When asked why the cable company didn’t offer more competitive throughput rates, its spokesperson told a technology newsletter back in 2009 that TWC didn’t think anyone around there wanted faster service. When it comes to price per megabyte, GigaOm recently crunched some numbers and found out that North Carolina cities hold an amazing 7 of 10 spots on the “most expensive broadband in the US” list.

And here’s what Wally Bowen and Tim Karr say in the News & Observer:

North Carolina has a long tradition of self-help and self-reliance, from founding the nation’s first public university to building Research Triangle Park. Befitting the state’s rural heritage, North Carolinians routinely take self-help measures to foster economic growth and provide essential local services such as drinking water and electric power. Statesville built the state’s first municipal power system in 1889, and over the years 50 North Carolina cities and towns followed suit. In 1936, the state’s first rural electric cooperative was launched in Tarboro to serve Edgecombe and Martin counties. Today, 26 nonprofit electric networks serve more than 2.5 million North Carolinians in 93 counties. Strangely, this self-help tradition is under attack. The General Assembly just passed a bill to restrict municipalities from building and operating broadband Internet systems to attract industry and create local jobs. Although pushed by the cable and telephone lobby, similar bills were defeated in previous legislative sessions. But the influx of freshmen legislators and new leadership in both houses created an opening for the dubiously titled “Level Playing Field” bill (HB 129).

No one disputes the importance of broadband access for economic growth and job creation. That’s why five cities – Wilson, Salisbury, Morganton, Davidson and Mooresville – invoked their self-help traditions to build and operate broadband systems after years of neglect from for-profit providers, which focus their investments in more affluent and densely populated areas. Not coincidentally, all five cities own and operate their own power systems or have ties to nonprofit electric cooperatives. (While the bill does not outlaw these five municipal networks, it restricts their expansion and requires them to make annual tax payments to the state as if they were for-profit companies.) How does a state that values independence, self-reliance and economic prosperity allow absentee-owned corporations to pass a law essentially granting two industries – cable and telephone – the power to dictate North Carolina’s broadband future? This question will be moot if Gov. Beverly Perdue exercises her veto power and sends this bill where it belongs: to the dustbin of history.

We don’t need more laws restricting anything around Internet infrastructure build-outs in the U.S. That’s the simple argument here.

We need the phone and cable companies to improve what they can, and we need to encourage and thank them for their good work. (As I sometimes do with Verizon FiOS, over which I am connected here in Massachusetts.)

We also need to recognize that the Internet is a utility and not just the third act (after phone and TV) in the “triple play” that phone and cable companies sell. The Net is more like roads, water, electricity and gas than like TV or telephony (both of which it subsumes). It’s not just about “content” delivered from Hollywood to “consumers,” or about a better way to do metered calls on the old Ma Bell model. It’s about everything you can possibly do with a connection to the rest of the world. The fatter that connection, the more you can do, and the more business can do.

Cities and regions blessed with fat pipes to the Internet are ports on the ocean of bits that now comprise the networked world. If citizens can’t get phone and cable companies to build out those ports, it’s perfectly legitimate for those citizens to do it themselves. That’s what municipal broadband build out is about, pure and simple. Would it be better to privatize those utilities eventually? Maybe. But in the meantime let’s not hamstring the only outlet for enterprise these citizens have found.

Here’s a simple fact for Governor Perdue to ponder: In the U.S. today, the leading innovators in Internet build-out are cities, not phone and cable companies. Look at Chatanooga and Lafayette — two red state cities that are doing an outstanding job of building infrastructure that attracts and supports new businesses of all kinds. Both are doing what no phone or cable companies seems able or willing to do. And both are succeeding in spite of massive opposition by those same incumbent duopolists.

The Internet is a rising tide that lifts all economic boats. At this stage in U.S. history, this fact seems to be fully motivating to enterprises mostly at the local level, and mostly in small cities. (Hi, Brett.) Their customers here are citizens who have direct and personal relationships with their cities and with actual or potential providers there, including the cities themselves. They want and need a level of Internet capacity that phone and cable companies (for whatever reason) are not yet giving them. These small cities provide good examples of The Market at work.

It isn’t government that’s competing with cable and phone companies here. Its people. Citizens.

No, these new build-outs are not perfect. None are, or can be. Often they’re messy. But nothing about them requires intervention by the state. Especially so early in whatever game this will end up being.

I urge friends, relatives and readers in North Carolina to Call Governor Perdue at (800) 662-7952, and to send her emails at  governor.office at nc.gov. Tell her to veto this bill, and to keep North Carolina from turning pink or red on the map above. Tell her to keep the market for broadband as free as it’s been from the beginning.

Bonus link.

[Later, as the last hour approaches...]

Larry Lesig has published an open letter to Governor Perdue, Here is most of it:

Dear Governor Perdue:

On your desk is a bill passed by the overwhelmingly Republican North Carolina legislature to ban local communities from building or supporting community broadband networks. (H.129). By midnight tonight, you must decide whether to veto that bill, and force the legislature to take a second look.

North Carolina is an overwhelmingly rural state. Relative to the communities it competes with around the globe, it has among the slowest and most expensive Internet service. No economy will thrive in the 21st century without fast, cheap broadband, linking citizens, and enabling businesses to compete. And thus many communities throughout your state have contracted with private businesses to build their own community broadband networks.

These networks have been extraordinarily effective. The prices they offer North Carolinians is a fraction of the comparable cost of commercial network providers. The speed they offer is also much much faster.

This single picture, prepared by the Institute for Local Self Reliance, says it all: The yellow and green dots represent the download (x-axis) and upload (y-axis) speeds provided by two community networks in North Carolina. Their size represents their price. As you can see, community networks provide faster, cheaper service than their commercial competitors. And they provide much faster service overall.

2011-05-20-broadbandgraph.png

 

Local competition in broadband service benefits the citizens who have demanded it. For that reason, community after community in North Carolina have passed resolutions asking you to give them the chance to provide the Internet service that the national quasi-monopolies have not. It is why businesses from across the nation have opposed the bill, and business leaders from your state, including Red Hat VP Michael Tiemann, have called upon you to veto the bill.

Commercial broadband providers are not happy with this new competition, however. After spending millions in lobbying and campaign contributions in North Carolina, they convinced your legislature to override the will of local North Carolina communities, and ban these faster, cheaper broadband networks. Rather than compete with better service, and better prices, they secured a government-granted protection against competition. And now, unless you veto H. 129, that protection against competition will become law.

Opponents of community broadband argue that it is “unfair” for broadband companies to have to compete against community-supported networks. But the same might be said of companies that would like to provide private roads. Or private fire protection. Or private police protection. Or private street lights. These companies too would face real competition from communities that choose to provide these services themselves. But no one would say that we should close down public fire departments just to be “fair” to potential private first-responders.

The reason is obvious to economists and scholars of telecommunications policy. As, for example, Professor Brett Frischmann argues, the Internet is essential infrastructure for the 21st century. And communities that rely solely upon private companies to provide public infrastructure will always have second-rate, or inferior, service.

In other nations around the world, strong rules forcing networks to compete guarantee faster, cheaper Internet than the private market alone would. Yet our FCC has abdicated its responsibility to create the conditions under which true private broadband competition might flourish in the United States. Instead, the United States has become a broadband backwater, out-competed not only by nations such as Japan and Korea, but also Britain, Germany and even France. According to a study by the Harvard Berkman Center completed last year, we rank 19th among OECD countries in combined prices for next generation Internet, and 19th for average advertised speeds. Overall, we rank below every major democratic competitor — including Spain — and just above Italy.

In a world in which FCC commissioners retire from the commission and take jobs with the companies they regulate (as Commissioner Baker has announced that she will do, by joining Comcast as a lobbyist, and as former FCC Chairman Powell has done, becoming a cable industry lobbyist), it is perhaps not surprising that these networks are protected from real competition.

But whether surprising or not, the real heroes in this story are the local communities that have chosen not to wait for federal regulators to wake up, and who have decided to create competition of their own. No community bans private networks. No community is unfairly subsidizing public service. Instead, local North Carolina communities are simply contracting to build 21st-century technology, so that citizens throughout the state can have 21st-century broadband at a price they can afford.

As an academic who has studied this question for more than a decade, I join many in believing that H.129 is terrible public policy…

Be a different kind of Democrat, Governor Perdue. I know you’ve received thousands of comments from citizens of North Carolina asking you to veto H.129. I know that given the size of the Republican majority in the legislature, it would be hard for your veto to be sustained.

But if you took this position of principle, regardless of whether or not you will ultimately prevail, you would inspire hundreds of thousands to join with you in a fight that is critical to the economic future of not just North Carolina, but the nation. And you would have shown Republicans and Democrats alike that it is possible for a leader to stand up against endless corporate campaign cash.

There is no defeat in standing for what you believe in. So stand with the majority of North Carolina’s citizens, and affirm the right of communities to provide not just the infrastructure of yesterday — schools, roads, public lighting, public police forces, and fire departments — but also the infrastructure of tomorrow — by driving competition to provide the 21st century’s information superhighway.

With respect,

Lawrence Lessig

To contact the governor, you can email her. If you’re from North Carolina, this link will take you to a tool to call the governor’s office. You can follow this fight on Twitter at @communitynets
You can follow similar fights on Twitter by searching #rootstrikers.

Well put, as usual. Hope it works.

Ford River Rouge plant

Got my first good clear look at Detroit and Windsor from altitude on a recent trip back from somewhere. Here’s a series of shots. What impressed me most, amidst all that flat snow-dusted spread of city streets, a patch of grids on the flatland of Michigan and Ontario, flanking the Detroit River and its islands, was what looked like a dark smudge. Looking at it more closely, and matching it up with Reality, I discovered that this was Ford’s famous River Rouge Complex in the city of Dearborn.

Says Wikipedia,

The Rouge measures 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide by 1 mile (1.6 km) long, including 93 buildings with nearly 16 million square feet (1.5 km²) of factory floor space. With its own docks in the dredged Rouge River, 100 miles (160 km) of interior railroad track, its own electricity plant, and ore processing, the titanic Rouge was able to turn raw materials into running vehicles within this single complex, a prime example of vertical-integration production. Over 100,000 workers were employed there in the 1930s.

As an inveterate infrastructure freak, I would love to see this thing sometime.

 

Gibraltar Reservoir

One hundred and fifty years ago yesterday, the scene above had no water in it, besides the Santa Ynez river, which barely flowed most of the year. Looking down on that scene was William Brewer, who led a survey sent out by Josiah D. Whitney, who had recently been named California’s state geologist, and whose surname was later given to the state’s highest mountain. Brewer wrote many letters from the survey, which are collected and parsed out, exactly 150 years after they were written, by Tom Hilton in Up and Down California. Tom has been using a few of my many photos to illustrate Brewer’s blog posts. Yesterday’s contained the picture above.

Tom’s own shots are here. He explains the project here and here. It’s a cool thing. Check it out.

The question on Quora goes, What lessons can be learned from the first browser war between Microsoft and Netscape?

I covered that war when it broke out, more than fifteen years ago. No magazine was interested in my writing then. Blogging was several years off in the future. All we had were websites, and that was good enough. The following is what I put up on mine — in as much of the original HTML as can survive WordPress’ HTML-rewriting mill. I’ll continue below the piece…


MICROSOFT+NETSCAPE

WHY THE PRESS NEEDS TO SNAP OUT OF ITS WAR-COVERAGE TRANCE

By Doc Searls
December 11, 1995

Outline

Wars?

Am I wrong here, or has the Web turned into a Star Wars movie?

I learn from the papers that the desktop world has fallen under the iron grip of the most wealthy and powerful warlord in the galaxy. With a boundless greed for money and control, Bill Gates of Microsoft now seeks to extend his evil empire across all of cyberspace.

The galaxy’s only hope is a small but popular rebel force called Netscape. Led by a young pilot (Marc Andreesen as Luke Skywalker), a noble elder (Jim Clark as Obi-wan Kanobe) and a cocky veteran (Jim Barksdale as Han Solo), Netscape’s mission is joined by the crafty and resourceful Java People from Sun.

Heavy with portent, the headlines tromp across the pages (cue the Death Star music — dum dum dum, dum da dum, dum da dummm)…

  • “MICROSOFT TAKES WAR TO THE NET: Software giant plots defensive course based on openness”
  • “MICROSOFT UNVEILS INTERNET STRATEGY: Stage set for battle with Netscape.”
  • “MICROSOFT, SUN FACE OFF IN INTERNET RING”
  • “MICROSOFT STORMS THE WEB”

The mind’s eye conjures a vision of The Emperor, deep in the half-built Death Star of Microsoft’s new Internet Strategy, looking across space at the Rebel fleet, his face twisted with contempt. “Your puny forces cannot win against this fully operational battle station!” he growls.

But the rebels are confident. “In a fight between a bear and an alligator, what determines the victor is the terrain,” Marc Andreessen says. “What Microsoft just did was move into our terrain.”

And Microsoft knows its strengths. December 7th, The Wall Street Journal writes, Bill Gates “issued a thinly veiled warning to Netscape and other upstarts that included a reference to the Pearl Harbor attack on the same date in 1941.”

Exciting stuff. But is there really a war going on? Should there be?

are the facts?

After reading all these alarming headlines, I decided to fire up my own copy of Netscape Navigator and search out a transcript of Bill’s December 7th speech.

I started at Microsoft’s own site, but got an “access forbidden” message. Then I went up to the internet level of the site’s directory, but found the Netscape view was impaired. (“Best viewed with Microsoft Explorer,” it said.) I finally found a Netscape-friendly copy at Dave Winer’s site. It appears to be the original, verbatim:*

MR. GATES: Well, good morning. I was realizing this morning that December 7th is kind of a famous day. (Laughter.) Fifty-four years ago or something. And I was trying to think if there were any parallels to what was going on here. And I really couldn’t come up with any. The only connection I could think of at all was that probably the most intelligent comment that was made on that day wasn’t made on Wall Street, or even by any type of that analyst; it was actually Admiral Yamomoto, who observed that he feared they had awakened a sleeping giant. (Laughter.)

I see. The “veiled threat” was Bill’s opening laugh line. Even if this was “a veiled threat,” it was made in good humor. The rest of the talk hardly seemed hostile. Instead, Bill showed a substantial understanding of how both competition and cooperation work to build markets, and of the roles played by users, developers, leaders and followers in creating the Internet. In his final sentence, Bill says, “We believe that integration and continuity are going to be valuable to end users and developers…”

Of course, I wish he’d pay a little more attention to Macintosh users and developers, but I don’t blame him for avoiding them. I blame Apple, which dissed and sued Microsoft for years, to no positive effect. Apple played a zero-sum game and — sure enough — ended up with zero. Brilliant strategy.

Think how much farther along we would be today if this relationship was still Apple plus Microsoft, rather than Apple vs. Microsoft.

The truth is that the Web will be better served by Microsoft plus Netscape than by Microsoft vs. Netscape. Plus is what most of us want, and it’s probably what we’ll get, regardless of how the press plays the story.

give a big AND to the Web

So what is the best way to characterize Microsoft, if not as the Heaviest of Heavies?

I think Release 1.0‘s Jerry Michalski gets closest to it when he says: “Microsoft thinks more broadly than any other company about what it’s doing. Its plans include global telecommunications, information creation, applications — even community building.” That tells us a lot more than “Microsoft goes to war.”

Markets are more than battlefields. The OR logic of war and sports get us excited, but tells us little of real substance. For that we also need the AND logic of cooperation, choice, partnership and working together. What we all want most — love — is hardly an OR proposition. Imagine a lover saying “there’s only room in this relationship for one of us, baby.”

But the press is caught in an OR trance. Blind to the AND logic that gives markets their full color, the press reduces every hot story to the black vs. white metaphors of war and sports. Why cover the Web as the strange, unprecedented place it is, when you can play it as yet another story about two guys trying to beat the crap out of each other? Especially when the antagonists are little good guy and a big bad guy?

Look, the Internet didn’t take off because Netscape showed up; and it wasn’t slowed down because Microsoft didn’t. It took off because millions of people added their creative energies to something that welcomed them — which was mostly each other. Death-fight competition didn’t make the Web we know now, and it won’t make the Web that’s coming, either.

That’s because every site on the Web is AND logic at work. So is every vendor/developer relationship that ever produced a product or created a market. So is the near-infinite P/E ratio Netscape enjoys today.

, what IS Microsoft doing?

“Embrace and extend,” Bill Gates called it in his December 7 talk. That’s what he said Microsoft will do with products from Oracle, Spyglass, Compuserve and Sun. Is this an AND strategy? Or is it yet an other example of what Gary Reback, Judge Sporkin and other Microsoft enemies call a “lock and leverage” strategy, intended to drive out competition and let Microsoft charge tolls to every traveler on the Information Highway?

We’ll see.

It should be clear by now that the Web does not welcome OR strategies. Microsoft Network was an OR strategy, and it didn’t work. If history repeats itself (as it usually does with Microsoft), the company will learn from this experience (as Apple learned earlier from its eWorld failure) and move on to do the Right Thing.

Not that most of the press would notice. To them Microsoft is The Empire and Bill is its gold-armored emperor. But reporters are the ones putting clothes on this emperor. To the people who make Microsoft’s markets — the users and developers — “billg” is as naked as a newborn.

Take away the war-front headlines, the play-by-play reporting, the color commentary by industry analysts, the infatuation with personal wealth — and you see Bill as an extremely competitive guy who’s also trying to do right by users and developers. And hiding little in the process. Is he a bully? Sometimes. Is this bad? No, it’s typical of big companies since the dawn of business. It looks to me more like a personality trait than a business strategy. And what makes Microsoft win is far more strategic than personal.

George Gilder puts it this way in Forbes ASAP (“Angst & Awe on the Internet“):

Blinded by the robber-baron image assigned in U.S. history courses to the heroic builders of American capitalism, many critics see Bill Gates as a menacing monopolist. They mistake for greed the gargantuan tenacity of Microsoft as it struggles to assure the compatibility of its standard with tens of thousands of applications and peripherals over generations of dynamically changing technology.

to win users and influence developers

How does Bill express that tenacity? As Dave Winer puts it in “The Platform is a Chinese Household,” Bill “sends flowers.” Bill courts developers and delivers for customers, who return the favor by buying Microsoft products.

Markets are conversations, and there isn’t a more willing conversational participant than Bill. That’s why I’m not surprised when Dave says “the only big company that’s responsive to my needs is Microsoft.” And Dave, by the way, is a pillar of the Macintosh community. To my knowledge, he hasn’t developed a DOS-compatible product since the original ThinkTank.

Users and developers don’t need to hear vendors talk about how much their competition sucks. No good ever comes of it. Is it just coincidence that Microsoft almost never bad-mouths its competition? Though Bill is hardly innocent of the occasional raspberry, he’s a long way from matching the nasty remarks made about him and his company by leaders at Sun, Apple, Netscape and Novell, just to name an obvious few.

It especially saddens me to hear competition-bashing from Guy Kawasaki, whose positive energies Apple desperately needs right now. As a customer and user of both Apple and Microsoft products, I see Guy’s “how to drive your competition crazy” rap as OR logic at its antiproductive worst.

At the opposite end of the diplomacy scale, I like the way Gordon Eubanks of Symantec has consistently been fair and constructive in his public remarks about Bill and Microsoft (and has reaped ample rewards in the process).

What makes markets work is a combination of AND and OR processes that deserve thoughtful and observant journalism. They also call for vendors who can drop their fists, open their minds and look at opportunities from users’ and developers’ points of view. This is how Microsoft came to change its Internet strategy. And this is what makes Microsoft the most adaptive company in the business, regardless of size. No wonder the laws of Darwin have been kind to them.

new breed of life

Urge and urge and urge,
Always the procreant urge of the world.
Out of the dimness opposite equals advance…
Always substance and increase,
Always a knit of identity… always distinction…
Always a breed of life.
—Walt Whitman

Where the language of war fails, perhaps the language of Whitman can succeed.

By the great poet’s lights, the Web is a new breed of life. An original knit of identity. Its substance increases when opposite equals like Netscape and Microsoft advance out of the dimness and obey their procreant urges — not their will to kill.

The Web is a product of relationships, not of victors and victims. Not one dime Netscape makes is at Microsoft’s expense. And Netscape won’t bleed to death if Microsoft produces a worthy browser. The Web as we know it won’t be the same in six weeks, much less six months or six years. As a “breed of life,” it is original, crazy and already immense. It is not like anything. To describe it with cheap-shot war and sports metaphors is worse than wrong — it is bad journalism.

A week after this experience, I went back to Microsoft site and found its whole Internet Strategy directory much more Netscape-friendly and nicely organized. Every presentation is there, including all the slides. Though the slides are in PowerPoint 4.0 for Windows, my Mac is able to view them with the Mac version of the program. [Back to *]

George Gilder’s Forbes ASAP article archives are at his Telecosm site.

Dave Winer’s provocative “rants” come out every few days, and accumulate at his DaveNet site. Check out “The User’s Software Company,” which inspired this essay.


One might look back on this and say “Yeah, but Microsoft still killed Netscape.” I don’t think so. Netscape had many advantages, including one it tried too late to save the company — but not too late to save the browser and keep it competititve: open-sourcing the Mozilla code. Five years after I wrote the above, I wrote a piece in Linux Journal describing Netscape’s mistakes:

For a year or two, Netscape looked like it could do no wrong. It was a Miata being chased down a mountain road by a tractor trailer. As long as it moved fast and looked ahead, there was no problem with the truck behind. But at some point, Netscape got fixated on the rear-view mirror. That’s where they were looking when they drove off the cliff.

Why did they do that?

  1. They forgot where they came from: the hacker community that had for years been developing the Net as a free and open place—one hospitable to business, but not constrained by anybody’s business agenda. The browser was born free, like Apache, Sendmail and other developments that framed the Net’s infrastructure. The decision to charge for the browser—especially while still offering it for free—put Netscape in a terminal business from the start.
  2. They got caught up in transient market’s fashions, which were all about leveraging pre-Web business models into an environment that wouldn’t support them. Mostly, they changed the browser from a tool of Demand (browsing) to an instrument of Supply. They added channels during the “push” craze. They portalized their web site. They turned the location bar into a search term window for a separate domain directory, to be populated by the identities of companies that paid to be put there (a major insult to the user’s intentions). Worst of all, they bloated the browser from a compact, single-purpose tool to an immense contraption that eventually included authoring software, a newsgroup reader, a conferencing system and an e-mail client—all of which were done better by stand-alone applications.
  3. They became arrogant and presumptuous about their advantages. At one point, Marc Andreessen said an OS was “just a device driver”.
  4. Their engineering went to hell. By the time Netscape was sold (at top dollar) to AOL, the dirty secret was that its browser code was a big kluge and had been for a long time. Jamie Zawinski (one of the company’s first and best-known engineers) put it bluntly: “Netscape was shipping garbage, and shipping it late.” Not exactly competitive.
  5. They lost touch with their first and best market: those customers who had actually paid for that damn browser.

So, back to the original question. What have we learned, now that IE is still around, and most of its competitors are either open source or based on open source code? Here’s a quick list:

  1. The browser was never a product in the sense that it’s something that can be charged and paid for as a scarce good. It wanted to be open source in the first place.
  2. The war metaphor is distracting and misleading, even when it’s appropriate.
  3. No browser is even close to perfect, and none will ever be.

Feel free to add more of your own, here or on Quora. (I’m very curious to see how Quora evolves.)

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This week the Bay Area loses two of its radio landmarks. On 102.1fm, , which has been broadcasting classical music since 1946, will be replaced by a simulcast of (“K-FOX”), a classic rock station in San Jose. And on 90.3 fm, KUSF, which has been one of the most active and community-involved free-form college radio stations in history, has gone silent. When the signal on 90.3 comes back on the air, it will carry the KDFC call letters and classical music programming. Meanwhile the old KUSF will continue in some form online. The new KDFC will also broadcast on 89.9, which is the former home of , a station licensed to .

This graphic, combined from three coverage maps at Radio-Locator.com, shows the before-and-after situation. One red line is KDFC’s old primary coverage area on 102.1. The other two are its new primary coverage areas on 90.3 and 89.9:

(More about signals below at *)

Since the 90.3 signal is tiny, and the 89.9 signal is far away, KDFC will be losing a great deal of coverage. Neither of the new signals serves the Peninsula, the South Bay or the East Bay beyond Berkely and Oakland. KUSF needs to start over online. On the FM band, it’s dead.

What happened was a three-way deal between , the and the . Entercom is the one of the largest owners of broadcast properties in the country, and an aggressive buyer of broadcast properties. So is USC, which has expanded its classical network from in Los Angeles to five stations spread from Morro Bay to Palm Springs. USF, like many universities, held a broadcast license that had monetary value on the open market while producing no income for the university itself.

According to Radio Ink and other sources, here’s how the deal went down:

  1. USF sold the 90.3 frequency to USC for $3.8 million.
  2. USC also bought KNDL for $2.8 million.
  3. Entercom, which owns KDFC, bought KUFX from the Clear Channel Aloha Trust, and will simulcast KUFX (still as “K-FOX”) over KDFC’s old 102.1 facility. Entercom will also give KDFC’s call letters and record collection to “A new San Francisco-based nonprofit.”

The press releases:

While it’s nice that KDFC has stayed alive, its move to much weaker signals is a far bigger loss for Bay Area classical music listeners than losses suffered by listeners when New York’s WQXR and Boston’s WCRB made similar moves. WQXR stayed on the air with a smaller signal from the same antenna, and WCRB moved to a same-size transmitter a couple dozen miles from the center of town, but most listeners could still get the stations. KDFC’s new facilities only cover a fraction of the population reached by the old signal. Essentially the new station covers San Francisco, and that’s it. More about coverage below*.

KDFC’s listenership is not small. The raw numbers are actually outstanding. According to Radio-Info.com (which leverages Arbitron), KDFC had 632,000 listeners in the most recent ratings period (December 2010), a notch above news-talk leader KGO (624,100). KDFC’s 3.2 average quarter hour (AQH) share was tied for #8 in the market, one notch above “sports giant” KNBR, which scored a 2.8. (KGO was #1 overall for most of the last six decades, and KNBR is an AM powerhouse that covers at least half of California by day and the whole West at night.) In fact, KDFC had better overall numbers than any other Entercom station in the Bay Area.

The problem for Entercom was the format. It’s hard to sell advertising for classical music stations, which have less inventory to offer (sports, news and popular music stations carry many more minutes of advertising per hour), and serve an older audience as well.

Judging from the KDFC statement on its website The Classical Public Radio Network () will hold the license, even though it closed down a few years ago, sort of. It also says,

The new KDFC has already begun to look for new signals to offer reception in the South Bay and the entire Bay Area for our around-the-clock classical programming.

We are happy to let you know Dianne Nicolini, Hoyt Smith, Rik Malone, and Ray White will continue as your on-air hosts, and KDFC’s partnerships with the Bay Area arts and culture community will continue to grow and thrive.

KDFC is the last major commercial classical station in America to make the transition to public radio. This move ensures that classical radio is sustainable for our community into the future. Since 1947, Bay Area classical fans have shown their passionate support for KDFC. Now more than ever, we’re grateful for that support as we begin the new era of Classical KDFC. Comments can be made to  comments at myclassical.org, or by phoning 415-546-8710. If you’d like to send a check as a Founder for the Future of KDFC, please send a check to:

The Classical Public Radio Network, 201 Third Street, 12th floor, San Francisco, CA 94103.

It’s signed by Bill Leuth, Vice President, KDFC. Bill and the other names he mentions are Bay Area classical radio institutions as well.

As for KUSF, maybe going online will be a form of liberation. As signals go, 90.3 barely covered San Francisco. The Internet covers the world. And Internet radio is growing fast. Aribitron now includes online streams in its ratings, which it wouldn’t do that if those streams were not signifiant. In San Francisco, KNBR’s stream had more than 50,000 listeners in November. In Los Angeles, KROQ’s stream had 67,900 listeners in December. Many more people every day are listening to radio on phones and other portable devices. Even Howard Stern, when he renewed with Sirius in December, said the future of satellite listening isn’t over satellite — it’s over the Internet. (Which Jeff Jarvis and I both told him, back when he was still making up his mind. Latelr Howard kindly gave a hat tip to Jeff on the air.)

And hey, KDFC can benefit from the same thing.

Here’s more from The Bay Citizen and the San Francisco Chronicle. And a rescue mission report at SF Weekly… And here’s the audio from a KQED Forum program on the matter. It says that KUSF is slated to become “an online-only training station for students.] Here’s a San Francisco Chronicle story on a gathering at USF at which “almost 500 backers” of KUSF came to confront Stephen A. Privett, the University President. The part that matters:

Privett said he made the decision because the station, dominated by outside volunteers, “was of minimal benefit to my students.”

“This was not a crass business decision about dollars,” Privett said. “This was about ensuring our programs involve our students. … Our primary mission is to our students, it is not to the community at large.”

Privett said some of the $3.75 million would be used to fund the student-led online station, with the rest going to other unspecified educational projects.

Well, “student-led” suggests that the community might still be involved.

For frequent updates follow @KUSF. and at SaveKUSF on Facebook. Feelings are not weak on this matter. KUSF is much loved by its community.

On January 20, I put up a new post suggesting that the KUSF community go for 87.7fm. I think it’s available.

It also amazes me (it’s still January 20) that this post and the next one have not yet received a single comment. Meanwhile my earlier post about Flickr now has 86 comments, and even the highly arcane Geology by Plane has 6. Could it be that the total number of people who care just isn’t that large? Not saying this is a bad thing, just that it’s an isolated one. So far 3,384 people say they like SaveKUSF on Facebook. But liking and doing are way different. As I suggest here, the best bet for doing isn’t trying to make a university turn down $3.8 million for something they clearly wish to unload. It’s to start something new.

* Signal stuff, for the technical:

Here’s a post I put up in 2003:

A pain in the friend

Gil Templeton:
I haven’t seen my old friend Gil Templeton since his brother David’s wedding, whenever that was. Ten years ago? Twelve? Both Gil and David worked for me — Gil as a copywriter in North Carolina and David as a PR account executive in California. Both guys were as different as two primary colors, with a few significant exceptions, especially in the humor department. Both were very funny guys. I remember how Gil (who went on to write piles of sketch comedy … and act in some too) and I co-wrote a country music song, or part of one, anyway, when we should have been working late one night. Most of it was Gil’s. All I remember is the refrain:
I’m too old to fuck
and too young to die
but not too drunk to eat
So bring my baby some likker
and burn me up some meat
David used to crack everybody up with a perfect imitation of… (gulp) me. Before then I never had any idea that I was imitable, or that I had a walk others called a “waddle.”
The Templeton Brothers were terrific company. I loved them both. Still do. However, as too often happens, geography gets in the way, and life goes on with less and less contact, until…
A few minutes ago I got a email from David, who’s now in Connecticut, pointing to a cover story by Gil in the Nashville Scene, the arts weekly in the Music City, where Gil moved after he left North Carolina in the early 80s. It’s The Pain Chronicles: One man’s life-changing, body-aching, drug-addictive struggles with a devastating injury — a shorter version of Gil’s forthcoming book by the same title, from Coldtreepress. It’s a harrowing tale, and told, as always, with sharp humor.
I had no idea. Seeing the picture above brought tears to my eyes. There’s My Man, with a cane. Same glasses. Same hair. Same strong chin. Same wise-ass smile. I had forgotten how much I miss him.
We’re so lucky, most of us. Life is a death sentence, but most of our time on death row is a cakewalk. The journey is the reward, right? Except for those of us whose ships are caught on the rocks.
Right now I’m feeling lucky to have these two good brothers as friends. Even after all these years apart.

Last night I got an email from David reporting that Gil died in his sleep that morning. He was just 53.

Among our favorite comedy bits was one — I think it was from National Lampoon’s Lemmings show — in which a stoner musician mumbles a tribute to “the late Neil Young,” who once played with “Crosby Ogden Nash,” and who was “a credit to both rock and roll.” There was another line in there, where the stoner says, “We used to eat beans and hitch to gigs…” When he’d see me, or call on the phone, Gill would yell “BEANS!” just to recall the bit. After awhile, “Beans” became what we’d call each other.

In creative sessions at our agency, we used to spend hours in the “Think Tank” coming up with ideas. None of those ideas today is as memorable as what Gil once said to sum up a long filibuster by another guy in Creative: “So what you’re saying is, ‘The client sucks and the product cannot be sold.’” It cracked everybody up, and the ideas began flowing like a river.

I guess you had to be there. I’m glad I was.

Bonus links:

[Later...] Here’s Gil’s obituary.

Tags: ,

woman, dog, car

The Kid has been scanning archival family photos and I’ve been uploading them to Flickr (where I have now passed 39,000 shots in that one site alone). Many of these photos are well over a hundred years old. Most are about eighty years old, give or take a decade or two. They’re from the collection of Grace Apgar, my father’s sister, who is now 98 and doing fine. She’s been putting corrections and contexts into the comments. (There is a lot of longevity here. Grace’s mom, my grandmother, lived almost to 108.)

The shot above has me intrigued, because I’m curious to know what kind of car that is. Here’s another shot, of my father and a buddy, with a different car. That shot has a date, but the car’s identity isn’t clear to me yet. There are more car shots here and here.

So, just some fun stuff on a weekend, identifying old things.

My great uncle Jack Dwyer worked in the shipping and steamship business through the first half of the last century. He also took a lot of pictures, including my favorite family photo of all time. (I’m the kid with the beer.) I was going through a bunch of these on Flickr yesterday, when I noticed the name of a ship launched in Biloxi, in 1919. It was the Elizabeth Ruth. Look closely and you can see the ship is wooden. In fact it was one of the last of the masted schooners on which Biloxi specialized.

Thanks to Google Books and the Library of the University of Michigan, we have an account of the Elizabeth Ruth’s launch, in March 1917, in Volume 35 of The Rudder, edited by Thomas Fleming Day (in a day when using full names was still as current as sails on ships). Writes Day, “The Mississippi Shipping Corporation, at Biloxi, put out Elizabeth Ruth, of the Schooner type, one of the prettiest little vessels ever built in the United States, of 1400 tons cargo capacity.”

So I wondered whatever happened to the Elizabeth Ruth. And I quickly found out. From Papers Past, we have this account:

Sez the About page:

Papers Past contains more than one million pages of digitised New Zealand newspapers and periodicals. The collection covers the years 1839 to 1945 and includes 61 publications from all regions of New Zealand.

New Zealand. I just love that. Here I am, wanting to know what may have happened to a minor ship, built and launched from a minor port on one continent ninety-two years ago — that I have just learned about from a book scanned in Michigan and probably not cracked open in the library stacks there except to get scanned — and I get the answer from a scanned strip of equally old print, kindly curated by  archivists half a world away.

That just rocks. Hats off to librarians, archivists and their technical facilitators everywhere, doing the good work of opening up history and letting the world have at it.

Bonus link. Another.

For folks interested in what makes Steve Jobs and Apple (same thing) tick, Being Steve Jobs’ Last Boss, in the current Bloomberg Businessweek, is helpful reading. It’s an interview of John Sculley by Leander Kahney of Cultofmac.com. Sculley had been a very successful president of Pepsico when he was recruited as CEO of Apple in 1983, essentially to serve as Steve Jobs’ adult supervisor. While Sculley oversaw much growth at Apple in the following decade, mistakes were made (including the ousting of Steve), and Sculley himself was ousted after a decade on the job.

The encompassing statements:

Steve had this perspective that always started with the user’s experience; and that industrial design was an incredibly important part of that user impression. He recruited me to Apple because he believed the computer was eventually going to become a consumer product. That was an outrageous idea back in the early 1980s. He felt the computer was going to change the world, and it was going to become what he called “the bicycle for the mind.”

What makes Steve’s methodology different from everyone else’s is that he always believed the most important decisions you make are not the things you do, but the things you decide not to do. He’s a minimalist. I remember going into Steve’s house, and he had almost no furniture in it. He just had a picture of Einstein, whom he admired greatly, and he had a Tiffany lamp and a chair and a bed. He just didn’t believe in having lots of things around, but he was incredibly careful in what he selected.

Everything at Apple can be best understood through the lens of designing. Whether it’s designing the look and feel of the user experience, or the industrial design, or the system design, and even things like how the boards were laid out. The boards had to be beautiful in Steve’s eyes when you looked at them, even though when he created the Macintosh he made it impossible for a consumer to get in the box, because he didn’t want people tampering with anything.

And,

The reason why I said it was a mistake to have hired me as CEO was Steve always wanted to be CEO. It would have been much more honest if the board had said, “Let’s figure out a way for him to be CEO.”

As I wrote to Dave (in September 1997, after Steve came back to Apple),

The simple fact is that Apple always was Steve’s company, even when he wasn’t there. The force that allowed Apple to survive more than a decade of bad leadership, cluelessness and constant mistakes was the legacy of Steve’s original Art. That legacy was not just an OS that was 10 years ahead of the rest of the world, but a Cause that induced a righteousness of purpose centered around a will to innovate — to perpetuate the original artistic achievements. And in Steve’s absence Apple did some righteous innovation too. Eventually, though, the flywheels lost mass and the engine wore out.

In the end, by when too many of the innovative spirts first animated by Steve had moved on to WebTV and Microsoft, all that remained was that righteousness, and Apple looked and worked like what it was: a church wracked by petty politics and a pointless yet deeply felt spirituality.

Now Steve is back, and gradually renovating his old company. He’ll do it his way, and it will once again express his Art.

These things I can guarantee about whatever Apple makes from this point forward:

  1. It will be original.
  2. It will be innovative.
  3. It will be exclusive.
  4. It will be expensive.
  5. It’s aesthetics will be impeccable.
  6. The influence of developers, even influential developers like you, will be minimal. The influence of customers and users will be held in even higher contempt.

And here we are.

Bonus link.

You could build a shallow history of computing by looking only at which company looked like it was taking over the world at any given moment. First there was IBM, then Microsoft, then Google, and now there’s Facebook. None of them ever did take over the world, and no one company ever will.

It was with that perspective in mind that I wrote Waving Goodbye to Facebook in the August issue of Linux Journal, which is now on the Web. The pull-grafs:

Responding in his own Newsweek blog, Barrett Sheridan called Zuckerberg’s plans a “Play to Take Over the Entire Internet“. In TechCrunch, MG Siegler’s headline read, “I Think Facebook Just Seized Control Of The Internet“. Whether or not Facebook is that ambitious, it won’t succeed at anything other than enlarging itself. The limits to that are those of any private architecture. It can get big, but not bigger than the planet. What Facebook has built is The Great Indoors. A lot of people like going there, just like a lot of people like going to shopping malls. But Facebook is a building, not geology.

The Web is geology. It is a wide open public space on which private and public structures can be built in boundless variety. Linux is probably the most widely used building material below and within those structures. Calculating its value is pointless, because — as Eric S. Raymond made clear long ago — Linux has use value more than sale value. As useful stuff, its leverage is boundless and therefore incalculable. It will also last as long as it remains useful.

The same cannot be said of Facebook, whose value is quite calculable, and which will thrive only as long as its revenue model and its investors’ patience holds out. Both of those will be shortened by the dissatisfaction of users, which Facebook has been risking increasingly over the years.

Of course, Facebook has little choice in that matter. To rephrase The Social Network‘s poster copy, you can’t make a billion friends without making a few million enemies. And, of course, following Facebook right now is kinda necessary. A few links I just moved here from tabs on my browser:

But then there is this, by Paul Boutin in the New York Times‘ Gadgetwise blog: Facebook Now Lets You Take Your Data With You. Thanks, Mark.

Back in the 1920s my grandparents, Erick and Caroline Oman, took their four kids on the family’s one and only trip west from their home in Napoleon, North Dakota, which is about as far out in the prairrie as you can get. When the Rockies came in sight, Grandpa turned to Grandma and said, “See, Mama: It’s just like home, only different and more of it.”

That’s the only quote I know that survives from a grandfather who was gone before I was born. Right now I’m in Baltimore with my grandkids, telling old family stories. Fun stuff.

Several pieces worth noting.

From back in February, The Smarter You Are, the Less You Click, in ReadWriteWeb. It begins,

If the latest numbers from online ad network Chitika are anything to go by, then we may well be on our way to the world of Idiocracy. According to the study, which compared click through rates to college education, the less educated your audience, the more likely they are to click through on an advertisement.

While this may be good news for some, it certainly seems to spell doom for supporting intelligent content through advertising.

From almost ten years back, Andrew Odlyzko’s Content is not king. Way ahead of its time, even if current winds continue to blow against his vectors. Andrew concludes,

General connectivity is likely to lead to demands for symmetrical links on the Internet. Hence fiber to the home may be needed sooner than is generally expected.

Whether content is king or not has direct relevance for the question of whether the Internet will continue to be an open network, or whether it will be balkanized. If content were to dominate, then the Internet would be primarily a broadcast network. With value proportional to the number of users, there would be few inherent advantages to an open network. The sum of the values of several completely or partially separate networks would be the same as of a unified network. On the other hand, if point-to-point communications were to dominate, and if Metcalfe’s Law were to hold, there would be strong economic incentives to a unified network without barriers. This is considered more fully in Section 4 of [Odlyzko3]. The general conclusion there is that even though Metcalfe’s Law is not fully valid, the incentives to maintain an open network are likely to be very strong. This will be largely because content is not king, and effective point-to-point communication will demand easy interconnection.

An extreme form of the “content is king” position, but one that is shared by many people, and not just in the content industry, was expressed recently by the head of a major music producer and distributor:

“What would the Internet be without “content?” It would be a valueless collection of silent machines with gray screens. It would be the electronic equivalent of a marine desert – lovely elements, nice colors, no life. It would be nothing.” [Bronfman]The author of this claim is facing the possible collapse of his business model. Therefore it is natural for him to believe this claim, and to demand (in the rest of the speech [Bronfman]) that the Internet be designed to allow content producers to continue their current mode of operation. However, while one can admire the poetic language of this claim, all the evidence of this paper shows the claim itself is wrong. Content has never been king, it is not king now, and is unlikely to ever be king. The Internet has done quite well without content, and can continue to flourish without it. Content will have a place on the Internet, possibly a substantial place. However, its place will likely be subordinate to that of business and personal communication.

From GBN: The Evolving Internet: Driving Forces, Uncertainties and Scenarios to 2025. Specifically,

One scenario describes a familiar roadmap in which the Internet continues on its trajectory of unbridled expansion and product and service innovation. The other three challenge that future, and in the process illuminate various risks and opportunities that lie ahead for both business leaders and policy makers. These scenarios are:

Fluid Frontiers: The Internet is pervasive and technology makes connectivity and devices more and more affordable.

Insecure Growth: Users—individuals and business alike—are scared away from intensive reliance on the Internet as cyber-attacks and security lapses proliferate.

Short of the Promise: Prolonged economic stagnation and protectionism slow the Internet’s spread and potential.

Bursting at the Seams: The ubiquitous Internet is a true success story…until capacity bottlenecks create a gap between big expectations and a more modest reality of Internet use.

I had more on this list, but somehow the post got truncated, and I’m too busy now to find Humpty’s parts. So this will have to do.

Tags: , ,

Just ran across my first regular column for . It was published in in June, 1999, and written three months earlier, about when went up. Here’s a passage that stands out:

We’re still less than halfway through the shift from personal to social computing. Most households do not have PCs, and most that do are not connected to the Net. According to design critic and user advocate Don Norman, the two basic reasons for this are: computers are too complicated for many people, and the Net still lacks a plug-and-run infrastructure. He lays out a short-form prognosis in the title of his latest book, The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex, and Information Appliances Are the Solution.

People are social. Telephony is equally social, because it lets people converse over simple appliances (incomprehensible cell phones and PBXes notwithstanding). Computing is social too, but only for a minority. There is still no computing appliance that’s as social as the telephone. Will Linux deliver it?

I suggest that the first social computing appliance—let’s call it the first SC—will cost less than $400, look friendlier than an iMac, get on the Internet with the ease of a phone call, and produce Microsoft Office-compatible files for those who want to use simple productivity applications.

Not great prophesy, but … interesting, anyway.

Ten years ago this month, I gave the opening keynote for the International Retail Conference of the Gottlieb Duttweiler Instutut, in Lucerne, Switzerland. The venue was the amazing Culture and Congress Centre, which had opened just two years earlier. Designed by the architect Jean Nouvel and esteemed for its acoustics, it was the most flattering jewell box into which the stone of my rough self has ever been placed as a speaker. My warm up act was a symphony orchestra. While they played I whispered to my wife, “Not one of those musicians has played a wrong note in years. How many seconds will pass before I flub a line?”

Less than ten, it turned out. But somehow that relaxed me, and the rest of the talk went without a hitch, even though many in the audience were wearing headphones, so they could hear me translated to another language, and their reactions (some nodding, some laughing, some shaking their heads) came several seconds after I said whatever it was they were reacting to. It was weird.

I had mostly forgotten the talk, and wasn’t even sure I had put it up online anywhere. But in fact I had, right here.  Since that’s inside a site that’s not indexed by search engines (my choice, so far back that I’ve only recently re-discovered that fact, explaining why nothing there ever shows up), and I don’t plan on fixing it soon (I’ve got other stuff there I really would rather not get indexed), I’ve decided to post the whole thing here in the blog. As one might expect, it was right about some things, wrong about others, set in a context that has long since changed, addressed to an audience that has mostly moved on, and with arcana that may in some cases no longer make sense. Yet I think it still says some worthwhile things that invite probing and discussion. So here goes:

Why Markets Will Once Again Consist of People
(and why this is good news for Retailing)

This speech was given on the Gala Evening/50th Anniversary Celebration of the Gottlieb Dutteiler Institute, in the Kultur- und Kongresszentrum Luzern – Konzertsaal, Lucerne, Switzerland.

The subheads were put there mostly to make it easy for me to keep my extemporizing close to the text, and to make live translation a little bit easier.

25 September, 2000

By Doc Searls


Opening

People ask me why The Cluetrain Manifesto has 95 Theses. The reason is that Martin Luther did our market testing for us. It seemed to work for him, so we figured it would work for us.

But lately I’ve been wondering why he chose 95. I think the answer is that he was really a retailer at heart.

I figure he had 100 theses, but then decided more people would buy it if he knocked off 5 theses and offered 95 as a discount. It was kind of a sale price. Worked pretty well.

The priest

Speaking of priests, I have a friend, an Irish priest who for many years did missionary work in East Africa. After he read The Cluetrain Manifesto, he called me up and said “I love your book. Especially that first thesis: markets are conversations. It’s brilliant.”

I was the original author of that thesis, so this was fun to hear. But the brilliance he praised was his, not mine.

Village market story

This became clear when he told me the story of a visiting friend he once took to a traditional African village market. His friend wanted to buy a rug displayed in one of the merchant’s stalls. With the priest serving as an interpreter, the customer asked for the price. When merchant responded, the customer said, “That’s too much,” and began to walk away.

The priest then explained to his friend that he had insulted the merchant. So they turned around and went back. The customer then indicated that he wanted to go ahead and buy the rug for the stated price. Now the merchant became upset.

The priest now told to his friend that he had insulted the merchant twice – first by refusing to discuss the value of the rug, and second by offering to pay full price. The customer was completely confused. Clearly he didn’t know how to buy a rug in this town.

Then the priest said to his friend, “What do you think the rug is worth?” The friend responded with a number, and a conversation between the three parties followed.

After a while the customer arrived at both an education about the rug and a price everybody agreed was fair.

The point: markets really are conversations

Now this, the priest told me, is an example of how markets really are conversations. In traditional markets like this one, the only way for a seller and a buyer to discover the true value of the seller’s goods is together – by talking about them and coming to an agreement.

In other words, all value is discovered inside a conversation.

This is why the idea of a fixed price set by a merchant is as silly as talking to oneself. It makes no sense. In traditional markets like this one, conversation starts with the merchant’s asking price. It doesn’t end there.

Tech exec conversation

A few days later I shared this story with a group of government technology executives. After my talk, one guy came up to me and offered another insight. He said that here in the industrial world we do negotiate prices, but only for the most expensive goods and services, such as automobiles, houses and large service contracts.

Then he added another observation. We can only negotiate when there’s a balance of power between supply and demand – when neither side has enough advantage to name the price and end the conversation.

We don’t have that situation in mass markets, including the retail world that is familiar to all of us. In that environment, the supply side has been in control for a very long time.

Learning more about prices

So I began to wonder: when did the idea of fixed prices, set by the supply side, take root and became standard?

Sure enough, in another conversation, I learned that the price tag was invented in the late 1800s in Philadelphia. The inventor was John Wanamaker, the man who opened the first department store in the U.S.

History of retailing

This increased my interest in the history of retailing. Since then I have learned that department stores were pioneers in the use of all kinds of technologies, including –

  • telegraph
  • electric lights
  • telephones
  • radio

Retailing was also the first industry to provide employee benefits, such as health care and paid vacation time.

It was also the first industry to take orders by telephone and to offer customer refunds.

In fact, the whole concept of “customer service” comes from the retailing industry.

Adding value to the conversation idea

You see, what’s happening here – for me, and for all these people I talked to – is that we all added meaning to this one idea – that markets are conversations.

What is it about this idea that attracts so much interest? Why does it make people think about the deeper ways that markets really work?

Finding the answers is a discovery process – something that we do together, as I’ve just shown.

I want to continue that process here, tonight.

The four clues

To start, I will share four insights – let’s call them clues – that have come out of conversations we’ve had since The Cluetrain Manifesto came out in January. I choose these because I think each is especially relevant to retailing.

The first clue is that metaphors matter. If conversation is the best metaphor for markets, what’s wrong with the other ones, and why?

The second clue is that the companies we least expected to get our clues are the ones that seem to be doing the most with them. This is a very relevant surprise.

The third clue is that the Internet, like a real market, is a place, not just a medium.

The fourth clue is that there really is not a new economy. Instead there is a new dynamic in the investment economy, where a river of money flowing from venture capitalists into new companies. This is extremely distracting, and I’ll tell you why.

Finally I will talk about how all four of these clues bring us to the subject of this speech: that markets consist of people – and why this is good news for retailing.

Language warning

A brief warning. I am going to be talking about language here. Unfortunately, I am fluent only in English.

  • Ich habe drei Jahren auf Deutch im Shule lehrt, aber… I took two of them twice – and I gave them all back when I was done.
  • I have worked in France, but not long enough to learn any more French than it takes to apologize for mangling that beautiful language. Pardon moi pour vous derenger. Je nes comprend pas le Francais.
  • I also know a tiny bit of Spanish – though far less than my own three-year-old son.

So forgive my lack of multilingual skills.

I trust that what I tell you will still be relevant, not because technology is forcing far too much English into better languages, but because all expression arises from unconscious sources. And those sources are what I’m here to talk about.

Clue #1

My first clue is that metaphors matter.

In English we have an expression: “in terms of.” In fact, we are always speaking in terms of one metaphor or another. Metaphors supply the words we use when we talk about a subject. When we speak in terms of a metaphor, we bring in a box of words from that metaphor, and speak in terms we find in that box.

To demonstrate what I mean, I’ll start by asking a question about life. When we talk about life, what metaphor do we talk in terms of? In other words, what box of words do we use when we talk about life? Again, the answer is not obvious, because it’s almost totally unconscious.

In a word, the answer is travel. When we think and speak about life, we are inside a big box of travel words.

Birth is arrival. Death is departure. Choices are crossroads. Goals are horizons. Careers are paths. Ambitious people move ahead, or move into the fast lane. Lazy people fall behind. Confused people get lost in the woods. Drunkards fall off the wagon. Saintly people follow the straight and narrow path. Sinners stray.

The travel metaphor – this concept that life is a journey –is so deep, so common, so unconscious and so powerful that we almost never think about it. Yet it is nearly impossible to speak about life without using our handy box of travel words.

One more example. Let’s look at the main metaphor for time, which is money. We budget, spend, waste, lose, gain and invest time. We literally think of time in terms of money.

Metaphors for business

Now: let’s look at business. What’s our favorite metaphor for business? What do we think about business in terms of?

There’s war, of course. And sports. We speak of other companies in our business as competitors. We battle them for territory that we try to penetrate, defend, capture, dominate or control. But war and sports are obvious metaphors – we are conscious of them. What’s the biggest unconscious metaphor for business?

In a word, shipping. We often think and speak about business in shipping terms. We call our goods content that we package and move through a distribution system that we also call a channel.

We often talk about delivering products and services that we address to consumers or end users. Both those consumers and end users are positioned at the far ends of the shipping system we call business.

Marketing also uses shipping language when it talks about addressing, sending and delivering messages through media which are also conceived and described in transport terms.

How long have we been talking about business in shipping terms?

The age of industry

The answer is about 200 years – ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution.

Starting about two hundred years ago, when we began to build the great textile, mining, manufacturing and transportation industries, we also built an enormous distance between production on one hand and consumption on the other.

We spanned this distance with “value chains,” most of which fanned out from a small number of producers to a large number of consumers. And we began to use that label – consumers – for the first time.

Every business had a place somewhere along one of these chains, where it would “add value” to goods the way parts are added to a car on an assembly line.

This distance between production and consumption – and the power enjoyed by producers over consumers – made it easy to think of markets not as places full of real human beings, but as distant abstractions.

Abstractions for markets

Today, two hundred years after the Industrial Revolution, we use the term “market” to mean five completely different kinds of things, none of which derive from what markets were in the first place. Lets go over the list –

1) Markets are product categories. We speak of automobiles, cosmetics and home electronics as “markets.”

2) Markets are geographical areas such as Stuttgart, Philadelphia and China. It’s amazing to me that in the U.S. we can talk about “penetrating” the Chinese “market.” As if we were throwing spears at a map, rather than selling goods to a quarter of the world’s population.

3) Markets are demographic populations. Men, 25-44. Middle-class women. Volvo drivers. Wine conoisseurs. We call each of these “markets” too.

4) Market is a synonym for demand. This is what we mean when we say there is a “market” for Italian wines, parabolic skis, or impolite books like The Cluetrain Manifesto.

5) Market is also a verb we use to label the pushing of goods from supply to demand. This verb “market” is the root word for the noun marketing. Not surprisingly, marketing is concerned almost entirely with the first four abstractions I just talked about

Ancient markets

Now let’s go back and look at the original meaning of markets.

The first markets were places in the middle of town. People gathered in the marketplace to make culture and do business. These places were the hearts of their cultures. Civilization began in the marketplace. Philosophy, mathematics and democracy are all Greek words born in the agora – the Greek marketplace.

In markets like the agora, all the economic relationships we know so well – supply and demand, production and consumption, vendor and customer – were a handshake apart. In these market places, people who sold goods usually also made them.

Names

In fact, people were often named after what they made, or sold. Many of our surnames are fossil remnants of the roles our ancestors played in their marketplaces. Names like Smith, Hunter, Shoemaker, Farmer, Weaver, Tanner, Butcher…. Lehrer, Jäger, Weber, Schuhmacher, Drucker, Händler… Fermier, Marchand.

The noun “market” – which differs little in German, French, Italian and Spanish – derives from the Latin word mercere, which means to buy. In the Roman marketplace, there were no “consumers,” only customers, who came there to shop. Even today in America we call malls “shopping centers.” Not “selling centers.”

Restoring the handshake

In The Cluetrain Manifesto we said the Industrial Age was a long interruption in our understanding of markets as places where people gather to sell their goods, to shop, to talk, and to enjoy public culture.

The Internet ends that interruption by putting everybody within one handshake of everybody else. First sources and final customers are now one mouse click apart.

The Internet restores an even balance of power between supply and demand.

Consumers are customers again. They are people with names, faces, tastes and rich personal histories.

Retailers have known this since Day One, but many companies farther back in the old value chains are beginning to witness this for the first time.

Smart markets

What they witness is markets – conversations – that are becoming smarter and more powerful by informing themselves. And those markets consist of everybody who wants to contribute to the conversation..

Clue #2

This brings me to our second clue. What kinds of companies want to talk about the issues Cluetrain brought up?

Would it be the dot-com start-ups, which were supposed to be changing the world, and putting these big old industrial companies out of business?

No, it was the big old industrial companies. Those were the ones looking hardest for clues. Companies with names like Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Omnicom, Johnson & Johnson, Citicorp, Conoco, Rohm & Haas, Prudential, IBM and Migros.

The Coke example

Recently I’ve been talking with an executive with Coca-Cola who has the unlikely title of Chief Innovation Officer. In fact, the two of us were recently scheduled to serve on a panel where he would explain how Cluetrain is transforming his company.

Before this event was scheduled, I didn’t know Coca-Cola was subject to any kind of outside influence. They seemed to be more a force of nature than a company in the usual sense. The formula for Coke seemed to be on the periodic table of elements.

Why could the #1 brand in the entire world find guidance in a book that attacks the whole concept of branding?

I found that the answer is simple: Coca-Cola knows it can’t tell customers what they want any more.

However, Coca-Cola also knows it has a long-standing relationship with its customers – because it has led the conversation about soft drinks for more than one hundred years. That’s an advantage.

Procter & Gamble

Not long after the Cluetrain book came out, one of my co-authors, David Weinberger, got a call from Procter & Gamble. They wanted him to talk about Cluetrain with them at their headquarters in Cincinnati.

We were amazed. Procter & Gamble was the company that invented branding – a concept it borrowed from the cattle industry more than seventy years ago.

It quickly became clear that P&G was at least starting to get the clues. They knew branding wasn’t what it used to be. They knew this was no longer a world where one company could put one kind of soap in seven different boxes and sing about the difference.

Today, just four months later, P&G has a new CEO and – at least in some cases – an approach to rolling out new products that starts with the Internet.

We see this with a new hair styling product called Physique. In the past, Procter & Gamble might have spent 90% of its new product promotion budget on television advertising. For Physique they’re spending 30% on TV and the rest on the Web. The Web site says “Welcome to the Physique Stylezone: select your country. Underneath that it says, in French, choisessez votre pays. It’s an international campaign.

In the United States alone, more than half a million people (nearly all women) have signed up – on the Web – for free samples and membership in the Physique Club.

The campaign was developed by Saatchi & Saatchi, a global advertising agency headed by Kevin Roberts – a gentleman from New Zealand. Recently Mr. Roberts bragged about Physique’s results. He said, “The average time people spend on the Web site is 11 minutes… We’ve got the consumers. We’re talking to them, they’re talking to us.”

The retailing advantage

So here we have two of the top marketing companies in the world – Coke and Procter & Gamble – that are not only discovering that markets how conversations, but putting that idea to use, perhaps for the first time.

This is easier said than done. Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, has a Net-based internal campaign called “destroy your business.” It isn’t much of an exaggeration. These are fundamental changes.

But some businesses will have less to destroy than others, because they already know what it means to be in conversation with their customers.

This is why I believe that the industry with the biggest conversational advantage is retailing. For retailers, customers are real. There is a limit to how much a retailer can treat a customer as an abstraction. For a retailer, a customer is more than a consumer, a seat, an eyeball, or an end user. Customers are real people.

As retailers, we know customers by name. They shop in our stores, eat in our restaurants, trust us with their credit cards and return to shop again because they know who we are too. In fact, they probably know us better than we know them.

This is no small matter. This is a huge advantage. But what is the relevance of the Internet to that advantage.

This brings me to my third clue

Clue #3

The Internet, like a market, is a place, not just a medium. We go to it, not just through it.

When the Internet came along, it was easy to see it as yet another mass medium – as a vehicle (there’s another shipping term) for delivering messages to consumers.

Mulitple metaphpors

Like a newspaper, the Web has pages that we write or author or publish.

Like telephone directories, which are also publications, it gives us ways to look up stores, services, and each other.

Like radio and television we can “deliver content” in the form of audio and video files and streams.

Sometimes we also use theatrical metaphors at the same time. That’s what Web page designers do when they talk about delivering an experience to an audience.

Places

Now let’s look at this the other way around. To us – to people sitting at their computers – the Internet is more like the telephone than any other medium.

Like the telephone, the Internet is profoundly personal. When we are on the phone, we are in a personal, private space, which is why telephones are a lousy medium for commercial messages.

The messages we want on the Net aren’t the ones that “deliver an experience.” They are the ones that come by email, from people we know.

In other words, what matters most is what we hear from each other. What matters most is conversation.

Even our Web pages have a private, personal quality about them. That’s why we call our main pages “home.”

Home is a place.

By that same metaphor, we also speak about that place as a site that we put up on the Net and call a location. We also call that location an address.

The virtues

Now: who built this place? It’s interesting that the Net was not built by or for business. It was built by computer programmers, who did it not just for themselves, but for all of us. A perfect example is the World Wide Web, which was invented here in Switzerland by Tim Berners-Lee: an Englishman who had little interest in business at all.

What was it that made this place so appealing? What were the core virtues that these programmers built into the Net when they created it. There were three:

  1. Nobody owns it
  2. Everybody can use it
  3. Anybody can improve it

You won’t hear those virtues advertised by any of the big technology suppliers. If it were up to them, the Net would never have happened. All of them would have wanted to own it, to restrict access to it, and to improve it only by themselves.

But it didn’t happen that way. Because nobody owns it, everybody can use it, and anybody can improve it, the Net is much like a commons, a plaza, a town square, for the whole world.

This is our world. We have help from the technology suppliers, but they cannot command the way we build it out.

Back in 1955, Gottlieb Duttweiler said “What is happening is the higher valuation of the man in the street as a power in business life, and more, important, as a human being.

By more than forty years, he anticipated a remarkable development:

The most important market place in the history of civilization is designed to value the man on the street. The individual human being.

The new world

One of the greatest thinkers on the subject of the Internet is my friend Craig Burton, who was responsible for much of the success enjoyed by a networking company called Novell, in the 80s. Craig Burton’s thinking has always been many years ahead of his time.

Recently he described the Internet as a sphere, like a bubble, that constantly expands as more people are added to it.

In fact, he suggests we think of the Net as a bubble comprised entirely of people, all looking inward and all visible to each other across the empty space in the middle.

At the speed of light, the distance between any two points – any two people – is zero. And it’s true: in practical terms, it takes me no longer to send an email to Prague than to a co-worker in the next room. A Web page in Milan usually comes up just as fast in my browser as one from Miami, Singapore, or an office down the street.

Craig Burton says the Internet is the first world we have created entirely on our own, as a species. In fact, he believes that the Net is the biggest social, cultural and scientific transformation since the Renaissance, and that it is just beginning.

In this new world, our most fundamental resource is each other – and the conversations by which together we know more than we can know alone.

Clue #4

The fourth clue is that there is no “new” economy. There is only a well-funded distraction from the real economy, which is the economy of conversation we call the marketplace – an economy that has been with us for thousands of years.

To illustrate the problem, let me tell you one final story.

Not long ago I was at a party in San Francisco. There I talked with a young man who was already a veteran of several start-ups. When I asked him what his new company did, he said “we’re an arms merchant to the portals industry.” I had no idea what he meant.

But he answered every one of my questions with more buzzwords. They were “networking eyeball paradigms,” “portalizing B2B solutions,” “scaling strategic synergies” and so on. Finally I asked a rude question: how are sales?

He said, “They’re great. We just closed our second round of financing.”

Two kinds of markets

Suddenly it became clear to me that every company has two kinds of markets: one for its goods and services and one for itself. In other words, it is in two conversations: one with its community of customers, and the other with its community of investors.

In Silicon Valley, we have confused the second one with the first. We have made a “new” economy out of selling huge promises to investors, rather than goods and services to customers.

The best wisdom on this subject comes from Stewart Brand, who says form follows funding.

One reason nobody owns the Net is that it was originally funded by governments and universities. But this is not a well-funded story.

The best-funded story is the one being told by every company whose category begins with an E or whose name ends in a.com or .co.

Nearly every one of those companies was funded by venture capital.

Now, venture capital is not a bad thing. In fact, it is a very good thing. But it is also a very influential and distracting thing, which is why I want to talk about it.

Looking at size

Let’s look at the size of this distraction.

Last year venture capitalists invested around fourteen billion dollars in Silicon Valley alone. This year they are headed toward investing twice that much. The amount of money we’re talking about here is staggering. I have been told that more than half the countries in the world have a smaller gross domestic product.

This money continues to flow like a river. Even when demand for dot-com stocks began to falter early this year, this money river continued to flow through new dot-com start-ups – not only in Silicon Valley, but around the world. Last week Bertelsmann set up a billion-dollar venture capital fund.

Burning money

Where is this money going?

Much of it goes into building staffs, offices and developing technology. But a huge percentage of it goes into marketing, mostly through advertising in every media you can name.

This both attracts and funds enormous amounts of media attention. Magazine displays in the U.S. are being crushed under the weight of fat new business publications. Their very existence testifies to a “new” economy at work. It’s a lot of smoke, suggesting a very big fire.

But what’s burning is money. We don’t have a new economy here. We have a flood of combustible money – a kind of petrol – that is made to be burned.

Dot-com start-ups are very different kinds of businesses from the ones we’ve been building for thousands of years. They don’t have “overhead” or “expenses” in the usual sense. They have “burn rates.” And burn is exactly the term that they use. In this economy – if you can call it that – spending is a good thing. Burning is a good thing.

Perspective

But again, it’s a distracting thing, because most of the time it talks about itself. For a long time, it also disparaged traditional businesses.

So: how can we keep from being distracted by these huge fires and all their smoke?

With some perspective.

The new conversation – about burning money and huge payoffs when these companies go public – is only a few years old.

The old conversation – about vendors and customers selling and buying goods and services – is as old as civilization itself.

In fact, it is civilization.

And we are not in civilization just for the money.

This is what we are learning from companies like Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, Nortel Networks and. The surprise – and it shouldn’t be one – is that people don’t work at these companies just for the money.

I am amazed at how many people I meet at these companies are not interested in getting rich at dot-com start-ups. Instead they are looking deeply at why they want to work where they do.

I believe we are finding that these companies have souls. They have human purposes that transcend mere economics. These purposes have little to do with short-term opportunities, and nothing to do with cashing out or starting another business.

I believe retailing has more soul than of any other industry. I say this because retailing is deeply involved in culture itself: the culture of the marketplace. Retailing was here for thousands of years before the industrial age. And it will be here for thousands of years afterwards.

Retailers are not just here to sell. They are here to serve.

Gottlieb Duttweiler said, “The constant will to serve has something irresistible about it – conveying mysterious powers over one’s fellow human beings and making interrelationships visible which would otherwise remain hidden.”

He would have loved the Internet.

Conclusion

Clearly, he loved people. Because he also said, “Whoever forgets that people are the dominating factor in business and politics and thinks only in old-style dollars and francs has got his calculation wrong.”

Herr Duttweiler had it right. Retailing is about people. Markets are about people. The Internet is about people.

For Herr Duttweiler, it took extraordinary insight and courage to state this principle so simply when there was no Internet, deep in that long interruption we call the Industrial Age.

What he said was no less true then than it is today. But today a new age has begun: one that belongs to Herr Duttweiler’s dominating factor: people. Now customers and retailers together can finally agree that this is our world, these are our markets, and we are going to make them together – for ourselves, and for each other.

What can we do to improve this new world that nobody owns, everybody can use, and anybody can improve?’

I look forward to hearing the answer – from you.

Thank you very much.

From roughly 1996 to 1999, my always-on Net connection at home was a wireless one, through Ricochet. Throughput in both directions was faster than dial-up, and always-on. Customer support was good too. As it happened, both homes I lived in then were atop hills on the San Francisco Peninsula, with panoramic views of the whole Bay Area. I remember when I called once from our home in San Carlos, the tech support guy said, “We can see you on 99 nodes.” At the time it turned out that I was mostly getting on via a node in St. Helena, about 60 miles away.

In retrospect, Ricochet was way ahead of its time. It used mesh networking, spread spectrum, low-power license-free channels, and other forms of network coolness. It failed, like so much else, by being gassed up and deflated in the dot-com boom and bust. But what it negotiated with the cities and with private residents for node sites still impresses me. They had a good thing going, and now it’s long gone.

It was Spring of 1969, my last year at Guilford College, in North Carolina. My freind Gene Massey (later of the great Gene’s Books in King of Prussia, PA) and I went into a curb market nearby to get some beer. There we ran into Wayne, a huge former football player at the school, who apparently hung out there, and was drunk. As we walked up to the counter, Wayne approached both of us in a daze, said “Two hippies!” and planted one punch each, a right and a left, into our middles. We were more shocked than hurt. “Wayne,” I said. “Back off, man. We’re just a couple guys from Guilford!” Wayne blinked, squinted and seemed to wake up. “Aw shit! I didn’t know ya’ll boys were from Guilford! Damn. I’m sorry. I thought ya’ll was a couple of hippies.”

In fact Wayne was right. The label applied. Gene’s hair was long to his shoulders. Mine hadn’t seen a scissors in many months and was bushed out. But we were hippies in far more than looks alone. We really thought we were in the midst of a revolution.

Are we again? I hope so, which is why I shouldn’t be surprised to see a post called Hippie 2.0 that seems to be right up, or down, my current alleys.

From June 13 to July 21, I lived in France. This was the longest I had been out of the country, ever. And, while I loved just about everything about being there, what I’m liking best at the moment is what I failed to take back with me: about ten pounds of fat.

I still wiegh too much. My Withings scale, which produced the graph above, says I’m still carrying around about fifty pounds of fat, with a body mass index of 28.3.

I weighed about 140 when I got out of high school, and about 150 when I got out of college. I gained slowly after that. Except for a couple of diets (McDougal and Atkins), each of which knocked off about 25 pounds, my weight went steadily up. So, on the advice of tweets from @bobmetcalfe, I got the Withings, and started just paying attention. I began on March 26 at 196.2 pounds. I didn’t do much to change my eating habits, though, and I pretty much stayed even. Then, before heading to France, I started purposely eating a bit less. Going without. That’s where you see the decline to 192.1 before we left.

What was different about France? Here ya go:

  1. No breakfast. Usually one of us went to the corner bakery for a baguette, and I’d have a hunk of that, and not always with butter.
  2. Not much lunch either. We’d eat one sometimes, but we were usually too busy.
  3. Great dinners, late at night, by U.S. standards. Peak dinner time in France is 9pm. For the most part we were on what we called “Icelandic Time.” We’d dine late, catch up with the East and West Coasts on our computers after we got back, turn in about 1-2am, and sleep late. The dinners, of course, were full of fat and carbs, but on the whole were just good food. And without the default American obligation to engorge one’s self.
  4. Experimentation. The best tasting anything I had there was rongnon* d’agneau: lamb testicles. My wife talked me into them, at a restaurant that specialized in offal.
  5. Wine. My body doesn’t like alcohol much, though I do enjoy drinking it. But in France I had wine with most of my meals. Not sure what difference that made, but it was a difference in behavior.
  6. No crap food. We ate no chips, no soft drinks (except for the occasional Orangina), no dips. No burgers from McDonalds. No milk shakes. Not much that’s “processed,” as they say, far as I know.
  7. Lots of cheese. France is fromage as much as it is vin.
  8. Walking. Even though we took public transportation to most of the places we went, we also walked a lot — probably several miles per day.
  9. Sweating. Air conditioning isn’t valued or practiced much, at least in the older parts of Paris. And certainly not in the Metro or the RER, the two main underground trains there. Our apartment there also didn’t have it, though it stayed relatively cool with its thick stone walls (the structure dates from the 1600s) and shade. And it was quite hot most of the time I was there.

After we got back, we went shopping. On the list went lots of fruit and off of it went breakfast sausage and other former staples, mostly of the crap food variety. My appetite for them is gone, at least for now. Meanwhile, I like getting into pants I outgrew last year. Next steps: getting into the pants from two years ago, then five years ago…

* This is how I remember it, though I’m told that rognons are kidneys. Maybe somebody can correct me. I know the menu did not say testicules, which is the literal translation. By whatever name, they were lamb nuts.


While walking around Paris for the last month, I’ve been fascinated by the highly fossiliferous limestone that comprises so many of its iconic structures. At one point I thought, Hmm… The City of Light is built with materials of death. I had no idea how much farther that thought would take me.

Without abundant death we wouldn’t have asphalt, concrete, marble, travertine, chert, oil, coal or countless other graces of civilization. Still, there seemed to be an unusual abundance of limestone in use here, and I wondered where it came from. Naturally, from my 21st century perspective, I assumed that all the stone had been quarried in some other place: hills outside of town, perhaps. (Lutetian limestone, it’s called, and it’s a relatively new rock: only only a few dozen million years old. Younger than dinosaurs. It’s also known as “Paris stone”, and has become quite the fashion item lately.) What I hadn’t figured was that nearly all of this building stone, for many centuries, was extracted from beneath Paris itself.

I didn’t learn that fact until we visited the Catacombes a couple days ago.

The Catacombes are bone banks called ossuaries. They occupy abandoned quarries beneath Paris and contain the remains of more than six million people. Many of the deceased are surely the same men (and women? probably) who carved out the quarries, mostly in the first several centuries of the last millennium. It must have been quite a project, since they withdrew enough rock to assemble Notre Dame, thousands of other churches large and small, bridges, city walls and homes — and left beneath the streets of Paris more than 300 kilometers (100 miles) of tunnels, including rooms and vaults that together comprise a vast man-made cave system. Top to bottom, a vertical cross-section of Paris looks like this:

  • Surface — streets, buildings, parks
  • Metro tunnels
  • Sewers
  • Quarries

Fossils are bones of stone, I explained to my kid. And limestones are stones of bone. Here in the Catacombes, down hallways that go on and on and on and on, the bones of dead Parisians are stacked into walls, with an artistry that makes one wonder what was going on in the heads of the masons. The walls facing the halls and passing visitors are built mostly with femurs and skulls. The femurs are stacked and interlocked, with the knee knuckles outward, course after course forming a pattern like stitches in a cloth. These are interrupted by horizontal lines of skulls, and usually topped with a final row: a crowning course of human heads. Here and there some arm bones might be used, but femurs and skulls were clearly the preferable building material. Behind these walls behind lie the rest of the bones: remains of remains.

The masons were priests. The bones were gathered from the city’s cemeteries, which had become rotten with an abundance of corpses as the end of the 18th century approached. That’s when it was decided to move the bones down into deeper graves. The quarries were empty, so the bones came down. The whole project went in stages, running from the late 1700s to the middle 1800s. The priests, whose jobs already required exceptional respect for the dead, were conscripted for the work.

The pictures in my collection (such as the one above) aren’t the best I’ve taken. Most of the light was provided by dim illumination in the catacombes itself, or by cell phones. If you wish to know more (and I recommend it), here are a pile of fascinating links:

Since one walks through the tunnels in the company of others, it is less creepy than you might think. After a while, endless aisles of bones also tend to make the bones themselves ordinary. Yet one wonders: Is this skull Robespierre’s? Danton’s? Both lost their heads at the guillotine, but down here all heads are equally ordinary and anonymous, fully respected, but still just building material.

A lesson: different as we all are in life, we are remarkably identical in death. Skulls tend to all look the same. So do other bones. One can say, These were babies once. Then laughing children. They grew up, learned about life, and lived long enough to produce more babies and get work done. And what they’ve left is no different than what everybody else leaves.

What makes us animals is that we eat other living things. (We need their carbon.) We live on things that lived. And we build with them too. Death supplies us. In turn, we supply as well. And all our turns will come.

What makes us different is who and what we are, and what we do, when we’re alive. Life is for the living. And so, it turns out, is death.

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We are what we do.

We are more than that, of course, but it helps to have answers to the questions “What do you do?” and “What have you done?”

Among many other notable things l did was survive breast cancer. It was a subject that came up often during the year we shared as fellows at the Berkman Center. It may not have been a defining thing, but it helped build her already strong character. Persephone also said she knew that her personal war with the disease might not be over. The risks for survivors are always there.

So it was not just by awful chance that Persephone showed up at a Berkman event this Spring wearing a turban. She was on chemo, she said, but optimistic. Thin and frail, she was still pressing on with work, carrying the same good humor, toughness, intelligence and determination.

The next time I saw her, in early June, she looked worse. Then, on June 24, Ethan Zuckerman sent an email to Berkman friends, letting us know that Persephone’s health was diminishing quickly, and that she “probably will not live through July.” He also said that she had moved to a hospice, but was doing well enough to read email and accept a few visitors — and that he had hoped to visit her on July 6. Just five days later, Ethan wrote to say that Persephone had died the night before. I had been working in slow motion on an email to her — thinking, I guess, that Ethan’s July 6 date was an appointment she would keep. This post began as that email.

Persephone is gone, but her work isn’t, and that’s what I want to talk about. It’s a subject I wanted to bring up with her, and one I’m sure all her friends care about. We all should.

What I want to talk about is not “carrying on” the work of the deceased in the usual way that eulogizers do. What I’m talking about is keeping Persephone’s public archives in a published, accessible and easily found state. I fear that if we don’t make an effort to do that — for everybody — that we’ll lose them.

The Web went commercial in 1995, and has only become more so since. Today it is a boundless live public marketplace, searched mostly through one company’s engine, which continues to adapt accordingly. While Google’s original mission (“to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful”) persists, its commercial imperatives cannot help but subordinate its noncommercial ones.

In my own case I’m finding it harder and harder to use Google (or any search engine) to find my own archived work, even if there are links to it. The Live Web, which I first wrote about in 2005, has come to be known as the “real time” Web, which is associated with Twitter and Facebook as well as Google. What’s live, what’s real time, is now. Not then.

Today almost no time passes between the publishing of anything and its indexing by Google. This is good, but it is also aligned with commercial imperatives that emphasize the present and dismiss the past. No seller has an interest in publishing last week’s offerings, much less last year’s or last decade’s. What would be the point?

It would help if there were competition among search engines, or more specialized ones, but there’s not much hope for that. Bing’s business model is the same as Google’s. And the original Live Web search engines — Technorati, PubSub, Blogpulse, among others — are gone or moved on to other missions. Perhaps ironically, Technorati maintained an archive of all blogging for half a decade. But I’ve been told that’s gone. is still there, but re-cast as a news engine. Only persists as a straightforward Live Web engine, sustained, I suppose, by Mark Cuban‘s largesse. (For which I thank him. IceRocket is outstanding.)

For archives we have two things, it seems. One is search engines concerned mostly about the here and now, and the other is Archive.org. The latter does an amazing job, but finding stuff there is a chore if you don’t start with a domain name.

Meanwhile I have no idea how long tweets last, and no expectation that Twitter (or anybody other than a few individuals) will maintain them for the long term. Nor do I have a sense of how long anything will (or should) last inside Facebook, Linkedin or any other commercial walled garden.

To be fair, everything on the Web is rented, starting with domain names. I “own” , only for as long as I keep paying a domain registrar for the rights to use it. Will it stay around after I’m gone? For how long? All of us rent our servers, even if we own them, simply because they use electricity, take up space and need to be maintained. Who will do that after their paid-for purposes expire? Why? And again, for how long?

Persephone worked for years at Internews.org. I assume her work there will last as long as the organization does. Here’s the Google cache of her Key Staff bio. Her tweets as (her last was June 9th) will persist as long as Twitter doesn’t bother to get rid of them, I suppose. Here’s a Google search for her name. Here’s her Berkman alum page. Here’s her Linkedin. Here are her Delicious bookmarks. More to the point of this post, here’s her Media Re:public blog, with many links out to other sources, including her own. Here’s the Media Re:public report she led. And here’s an Internews search for Persephone, which has five pages of results.

All of this urges us toward a topic and cause that was close to Persephone’s mind and heart: journalism. If we’re serious about practicing journalism on the Web, we need to preserve it at least as well as we publish it.

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…in the mid-Atlantic and New England states between 1800 and 1830, turnpike companies accounted for 27 percent of all business incorporations.

That’s from Turnpikes and Toll Roads in Nineteenth-Century America, by Daniel B. Klein, Santa Clara University and John Majewski, University of California Santa Barbara. A long entry in EH.net, an encyclopedia of economic history, it unpacks a remarkable but mostly-forgotten stage of business growth in North America. In reading it I wonder what relevance it might have to the current problems regarding the financing, deployment and running of Internet infrastructure, especially for rural areas that are outside the geographic scope of telephone and cable company ambitions. Take this paragraph, for example:

For Americans looking for better connections to markets, the poor state of the road system was a major problem. In 1790, a viable steamboat had not yet been built, canal construction was hard to finance and limited in scope, and the first American railroad would not be completed for another forty years. Better transportation meant, above all, better highways. State and local governments, however, had small bureaucracies and limited budgets which prevented a substantial public sector response. Turnpikes, in essence, were organizational innovations borne out of necessity – “the states admitted that they were unequal to the task and enlisted the aid of private enterprise” (Durrenberger 1931, 37).

The operative phrase is in the first sentence: better connections to markets. These were markets of the literal sort: places where people gathered to carry out business and other social activities. Most of the civilized world was country then. The most common business was farming. As farming spread farther from cities, the largest of which were ports with harbors or astride navigable inland waters, means had to be found to finance the building and operating of roads. Another two paragraphs:

Throughout the nineteenth-century, the United States was notoriously “land-rich” and “capital poor.” The viability of turnpikes shows how Americans devised institutions – in this case, toll-collecting corporations – that allowed them to invest precious capital in important public projects. What’s more, turnpikes paid little in direct dividends and stock appreciation, yet still attracted investment. Investors, of course, cared for long-term economic development, but that does not account for how turnpike organizers overcame the important public goods problem of buying turnpike stock. Esteem, social pressure, and other non-economic motivations influenced local residents to make investments that they knew would be unprofitable (at least in a direct sense) but would nevertheless help the entire community. On the other hand, the turnpike companies enjoyed the organizational clarity of stock ownership and residual returns. All companies faced the possibility of pressure from investors, who might have wanted to salvage something of their investment. Residual claimancy may have enhanced the viability of many projects, including communitarian projects undertaken primarily for use and esteem.

The combining of these two ingredients – the appeal of use and esteem, and the incentives and proprietary clarity of residual returns – is today severely undermined by the modern legal bifurcation of private initiative into “not-for-profit” and “for-profit” concerns. Not-for-profit corporations can appeal to use and esteem but cannot organize themselves to earn residual returns. For-profit corporations organize themselves for residual returns but cannot very well appeal to use and esteem.

The Internet is to commerce today what the oceans were two centuries ago: essential means for connecting between distant places and moving goods. While physical goods must still move by physical means, digital goods and the digital communications surrounding them move via the Internet, which connects over a variety of wired (copper, fiber) and wireless paths. Every town and district with absent or small data transport capacities today faces the same kinds of choices that were met by the toll roads two hundred years ago.

In the long run toll roads proved a temporary solution to a permanent problem that could be solved other ways. But I wonder what we still might learn from them, at least for regions where the problems are similar, and the solutions likely to be just as temporary.

We’ve seen this movie: the one where a big company takes over a whole market ecosystem. There was IBM with mainframes, Microsoft with operating systems, Apple with pocket music players (and now apps for phones and tablets).

But there’s another movie too. That’s the one where the big company fails. IBM did that with PCs. (They started the ball rolling, but no longer even make the things.) Apple did it with PDAs, when the Newton flopped. And Microsoft, even in its glory days, failed at a lot of things.

One big one was directories. All but lost in the sands of time is Netscape’s lone victory over a Microsoft move to make everybody in the world use Active Directory. That story was told by Craig Burton in an Interview I did for the late Websmith (later merged into Linux Journal) fourteen years ago this month.

Another was identity, and single sign-on. Microsoft tried that with Hailstorm, and flopped.

And now comes Facebook with social graphs, which Barrett Sheridan calls a Play to Take Over the Entire Internet, and Mark Zuckerberg (two links back) says is the “next version of Facebook Platform,” which he says “puts people at the center of the web.”

Right. Sez Mark,

We think that the future of the web will be filled with personalized experiences. We’ve worked with three pre-selected partners—Microsoft Docs, Yelp and Pandora—to give you a glimpse of this future, which you can access without having to login again or click to connect. For example, now if you’re logged into Facebook and go to Pandora for the first time, it can immediately start playing songs from bands you’ve liked across the web. And as you’re playing music, it can show you friends who also like the same songs as you, and then you can click to see other music they like.

We look forward to a future where all experiences are this easy and personalized, and we’re happy today to take the next important step to get there.

Of course, then we no longer have the Web. We have the Union of Soviet Social Graph Vendors.

This will fail, of course. Commercial containers for the Web (social or otherwise) are limited. They have rules. They are the Great Indoors, which can neither control nor compete with the Great Outdoors which is the Web itself.

But discovering this plain fact will take some time. Or, more to the point, waste it. The hard way.

As usual, Dave Winer nails the diagnostics, with Will this loop ever end? Sez Dave,

Facebook is hot now, but history has shown that being a hotbed doesn’t scale. That eventually these companies have to tap into the general talent pool and they end up achieving the same level of mediocrity as the previous dominant one. It happened to IBM, the minicomputer companies, IBM again, Microsoft, now it’s Google’s turn, and soon it will be Facebook’s.

Let’s go back to Microsoft and Hailstorm. It’s important to remember the hysteria surrounding that move. Many thought that this was The End. Here is what I wrote at the time on my blog. I just copied and pasted the html below (from Google’s cache, while the archive was offline…  somehow the bold-faced search terms give it a little extra punch, so I’m leaving them in)…

Trojan Storm

The storm has arrived, and the peerage is weighing in with its reactions.

When I first read about Hailstorm, it scared the shit out of me. (As it also did to Joel Spolsky, who gives us a fine tech-level explanation of exactly why.)

But at a deeper level — the social level where the Net connects us — I have complete faith in forces more powerful than any monopoly’s wet dream. And that’s the Net.

The Net is ours. Not Microsoft’s. Hailstorm is heavy weather, but the Net is geology. Our geology. It’s us, not just me (pun intended).

Computing isn’t personal any more. It’s social. Microsoft understands that, but it’s not where they come from. Where they come from is the desktop. Always have, always will. It’s not for nothing they’re called Microsoft.

With Hailstorm, Microsoft is doing a beautiful job of being itself. As always, they’re draping users in bountiful benefits, whether those users want them or not). That’s just what Microsoft does. They can’t help it. They come from the desktop, just like Apple comes from art and Nordstrom comes from shoes.

And they sound very convincing, because they’re busy advocating the user. You can’t go wrong there, can you?

O yeah. You always go wrong when you characterize competent human beings as weak and helpless — and then tell them your stuff is their only hope. That’s exactly what Microsoft does in the very first line of Building the User-centric Experience:

    Users are definitely not in control of the technology that surrounds them.  Asked to adapt to the differences between the way they interact with local programs and sites on the web, asked to cope with doing things completely differently on their cell phone, their PC, and any other device they have, users are generally frustrated and confused.

Like moths in a lampshade. How sad. And whose fault is that?

    If you want to enter a friend’s new phone number into your PC, you use a keyboard and a piece of software like Microsoft Outlook to do it using a particular sequence of keystrokes and mouse clicks.  But to enter that same information into your Palm Pilot, you need to learn a completely new interface – right down to relearning how to draw the letters of the alphabet!

Oh! It’s Palm’s fault! That OS is so hard to use. Not easy like Outlook, which is so encrusted with options that few users ever figure the damn thing out. (To say the least of it.) The insults continue:

    This environment, in which users are forced to adapt to technology instead of technology adapting to users, creates significant restrictions on how effective any application or Web site can be, and ultimately hinders the acceptance and adoption of not only the technologies themselves, but also the real-world products and services that might be best offered to a user in the context of the things they do online.

The environment we’re talking about here is called a market. Yes, it’s messy. Yes, it’s full of choices that don’t agree with each other. But it’s the natural habitat for business. It’s also networked to the gills. That network is where users live. Not just Windows. Not just .Net, whatever it becomes.

The Trojan Storm here isn’t Windows or even .Net. It’s Internet Explorer.

The Net is ours, indeed. But most of us interact with it through a Microsoft browser. That browser is about to get a lot fatter. That’s the only way to interpret this:

    HailStorm services are oriented around people, instead of around a specific device, application, service, or network.  They put the user in control of their own data and information, protecting personal information and making user consent the basis for who can access it, what they can do with it, and for how long they have that permission.

It’s time for us to stop acting like an audience and start acting like a market. For that we need to do three things:

  1. Work with the hackers to make Mozilla the best possible alternative to Internet Explorer — and fast.
  2. Start paying more attention and respect to other developers who are working together to make the Net something that works better for all of us (and that includes interested developers inside Microsoft — it’s a big company).
  3. Expose Hailstorm for what it is: yet another attempt by Microsoft to collapse the Net into its own service framework. And to say this won’t work because the Net’s context is bigger than any vendor, no matter how privileged they are with “critical mass.”

It’s important to remember that this is not just about Microsoft’s napoleonic corporate personality, which is equally real and beside the point, making it the biggest red herring in business history.

It’s about building out the Net’s infrastructure. .Net doesn’t do it. Hailstorm doesn’t do it. Java doesn’t do it. No “solution” controlled by one vendor will do it.

You can’t privatize what only works because it’s public. Microsoft hasn’t learned that lesson yet. Let’s help them.

And we did. Mozilla succeeded, and so have other browsers. Identity still isn’t a solved problem and may never be — at least not in the simple way one gets when the Eye of Sauron rules the world. But the very fact that good people are working on identity and related problems out in the open is endlessly encouraging.

Speaking of which, the 10th Internet Identity Workshop is happening in Mountain View next month. Micrtosoft is a sponsor, as are many other companies and organizations, some of which (Information Card Foundation, Open ID Foundation) grew directly or indirectly out of IIW conversations. In fact, Microsoft’s good identity work (started by Kim Cameron and colleagues there) would not have happened without Hailstorm’s failure.

If Facebook and Twitter are smart (and listen to their elders), they’ll skip the loop. Burn the movie. Get Net- and Web-compliant. Because that’s where nature will takes us in the long run anyway. Let’s not keep making that run longer than it needs to be.

When  reported on the next-generation iPhone that had come into its hands, I was as curious as the next geek about what they’d found. But I didn’t think the ends justified the means.

The story begins,

You are looking at Apple’s next iPhone. It was found lost in a bar in Redwood City, camouflaged to look like an iPhone 3GS. We got it. We disassembled it. It’s the real thing, and here are all the details.

“We got it,” they said. How?

There was much speculation about that, but obviously — if the phone was a real prototype — it must have been lost by an Apple employee. That’s why I tweeted, “Some employee is in very deep shit for letting this happen: http://bit.ly/bVN5Ma” But others wondered. Was it planted by Apple? That’s what, for example, Howard Stern guessed on his show yesterday morning. He thought it was a brilliant marketing move by Apple.

But Gizmodo set their record straight, through a much-updated piece titled How Apple lost the next iPhone. After telling the story, at length, of how Gray Powell, an Apple employee, had left it at a restaurant (“The Gourmet Haus Staudt. A nice place to enjoy good German lagers”), Gizmodo unpacks the means by which the phone came into their possession:

There it was, a shiny thing, completely different from everything that came before.

He reached for a phone and called a lot of Apple numbers and tried to find someone who was at least willing to transfer his call to the right person, but no luck. No one took him seriously and all he got for his troubles was a ticket number.

He thought that eventually the ticket would move up high enough and that he would receive a call back, but his phone never rang. What should he be expected to do then? Walk into an Apple store and give the shiny, new device to a 20-year-old who might just end up selling it on eBay?
The Aftermath
Weeks later, Gizmodo got it for $5,000 in cash. At the time, we didn’t know if it was the real thing or not. It didn’t even get past the Apple logo screen. Once we saw it inside and out, however, there was no doubt about it. It was the real thing, so we started to work on documenting it before returning it to Apple. We had the phone, but we didn’t know the owner. Later, we learnt about this story, but we didn’t know for sure it was Powell’s phone until today, when we contacted him via his phone.

The apparent purpose of the story is to save Gary Powell’s ass, as well as to cover some of Gizmodo’s as well. It concludes,

He sounded tired and broken. But at least he’s alive, and apparently may still be working at Apple—as he should be. After all, it’s just a stupid iPhone and mistakes can happen to everyone—Gray Powell, Phil Schiller, you, me, and Steve Jobs.

The only real mistake would be to fire Gray in the name of Apple’s legendary impenetrable security, breached by the power of German beer and one single human error.

Additional reporting by John Herrman; extra thanks to Kyle VanHemert, Matt Buchanan, and Arianna Reiche

Update 2: I have added the bit on the $5,000 (in italics) and how we acquired the iPhone, as Gawker has disclosed to every media outlet that asked.

Yesterday the New York Times ran iPhonegate: Lost, Stolen Or A Conspiracy?, by Nick Bilton. The gist:

One big question is how much Gizmodo paid for the phone, and whether keeping it was legal. Nick Denton, chief executive of Gawker Media, which owns Gizmodo, told The Times the site paid $5,000 for the phone. But still bloggers wondered if it had really paid $10,000.

On Monday, Charles Arthur, Technology blogger for The Guardian, said paying for the phone could mean that Gizmodo was knowingly receiving stolen goods; on Tuesday, citing the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, Mr. Arthur expanded on his theory.

This helped the debate move on to more serious matters: whether the phone was “lost,” or “stolen.” John Gruber, blogger for Daring Fireball, pointed outthat in the eyes of  California law, there isn’t a difference. The law states:

One who finds lost property under circumstances which give him knowledge of or means of inquiry as to the true owner, and who appropriates such property to his own use, or to the use of another person not entitled thereto, without first making reasonable and just efforts to find the owner and to restore the property to him, is guilty of theft.

The next big question — whether Gizmodo would turn over the phone to Apple — was answered after a long day of speculation on Monday over itsauthenticity.  Gizmodo has reported that it received a letter from Apple’s legal counsel…

Gizmodo complied and returned the phone. Yesterday I tweeted, “Re: bit.ly/d0P4Vo If you found a next-gen iPhone, would you return it — or use it to pull the owner’s pants down?” Thus far, two responses:

Of course, what Gizmodo did was an example of investigative journalism at work. Mainstream journals and broadcasters sometimes pay for stories, leads, video and audio recordings, photographs. That’s not unusual. But, as Charles Arthur writes, “As a reporter – and make no doubt, Gizmodo is reporting here, actually doing journalism red in tooth and claw – you inevitably end up walking close to the edge of what’s legal every now and then. Whether it’s being in receipt of confidential information, publishing something that’s potentially defamatory, or standing closer to the front line of a protest than the police would like, you occasionally have to put yourself in some legally-risky positions.”

Many thousands of years ago on the time scale of both the Internet and journalistic practices, specifically in 1971, I wrote a story for a New Jersey newspaper about rural poverty, illustrated by a photo I took of somebody’s snow-covered yard filled with discarded appliances and half-disassembled old cars sitting on cinder blocks. I thought at the time that the photo was sufficiently generic to protect the anonymity of the home’s occupier. I was wrong. The owner called me up and let me have it. I was still a kid myself — just 22 years old — and it was a lesson that stuck with me.

A couple decades later that lesson was enlarged by “Notes Toward a Journalism of Consciousness,” by D. Patrick Miller, in The Sun, a magazine for which I had once been a regular contributor. (No links to the story, but its table of contents is here.) In it Miller recalled his work as an investigative reporter in the Bay Area, and how sometimes he had to cross a moral line. In his case it was gaining the confidence of sources he would later, in some ways, betray — for the Greater Good of the story’s own moral purposes.

Gizmodo poses the moral goodness of its own story against the backdrop of Apple’s fanatical secrecy:

And hidden in every corner, the Apple secret police, a team of people with a single mission: To make sure nobody speaks. And if there’s a leak, hunt down the traitor, and escort him out of the building. Using lockdowns and other fear tactics, these men in black are the last line of defense against any sneaky eyes. The Gran Jefe Steve trusts them to avoid Apple’s worst nightmare: The leak of a strategic product that could cost them millions of dollars in free marketing promotion. One that would make them losecontrol of the product news cycle.

But the fact is that there’s no perfect security. Not when humans are involved. Humans that can lose things. You know, like the next generation iPhone.

Thus the second wrong makes a write, but not a right.

Two years ago, in this post here, I wrote,

Still, I think distinctions matter. There is a difference in kind between writing to produce understanding and writing to produce money, even when they overlap. There are matters of purpose to consider, and how one drives (or even corrupts) the other.

Two additional points.

One is about chilling out. Blogging doesn’t need to be a race. Really.

The other is about scoops. They’re overrated. Winning in too many cases is a badge of self-satisfaction one pins on oneself. I submit that’s true even if Memeorandum or Digg pins it on you first. In the larger scheme of things, even if the larger scheme is making money, it doesn’t matter as much as it might seem at the time.

What really matters is … Well, you decide.

Gizmodo was acting in character here. That character is traditional journalism itself, which is no stranger to moral compromises.

I’m not saying that one must not sometimes make those compromises. We all often do, regardless of our professions. What makes journalism a special case is its own moral calling.

How high a calling is it to expose the innards of an iPhone prototype?

To help decide, I recommend the movie Absence of Malice.

Was malice absent in Gizmodo’s case? And, even if it was, is the story worth what it cost to everybody else involved — including whatever dollar amount Gizmodo paid to its source?

I submit that it wasn’t. But then, I’m not in Gizmodo’s business. I also don’t think that business is journalism of the sort we continue to idealize, even though journalism never has been as ideal as we veterans of the trade like to think it is.

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And “social media” is a crock. Or perhaps an oxymoron.

Brands are boring because they’re not human. They’re companies. And, despite the recent Supreme Court decision to the contrary, companies are not human. They are abstractions that make business possible. Businesses are necessary to thriving economies and working civilizations. They are comprised of human beings and therefore have human qualities. But they are not themselves human.

The term “brand” was borrowed by from the cattle industry, and came into popular use during the golden age of network radio, in the 1930s and ’40s, when large suppliers to grocery and department stores (especially detergent and tobacco companies) won space in “shelf wars” by putting one  product in eight different packages and singing about the difference. Singing was a form of branding. You burned a song into consumers’ heads, so they had no choice but to recall it. “If you’ve got nothing to say, sing it,” the saying went.

Okay, hit it (in 3/4 time, and a Munich beer house spirit, flasks raised, singing loudly)…

Schaefer
Is the
One beer to have
When you’re having more than one.
Schaefer
Pleasure
Doesn’t fade
Even when your thirst is done.
The most rewarding flavor
In this man’s world
Is for people who are having fun.
Schaefer
Is the
One beer to have
When you’re having more than one.

I can’t help knowing that song because Schaefer burned it into the brains of baseball fans listening to Brooklyn Dodgers games. I know this one…

My beer is Rheingold the dry beer.
Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer.
It’s not bitter, not sweet.
It’s the extra dry treat.
Won’t you buy extra dry Rheingold beer?

.. because Rheingold advertised during Giants games.

Piels and Ballantine had less memorable jingles, though I do remember “Bert and Harry Piels,” who were actually Bob & Ray, the most dry and ironic radio comedians who ever walked the earth.

In those days it made sense to brand, because there were so few media, and — actually — so few companies. If you wanted to make beer you needed a big industrial brewery.  The Industrial Age was one in which Industry was All.

This is no longer the case.

As for social media, all media now need to be social. Mediation is between humans, some of which are inside companies. Hence, “social media” as oxymoron. Sort of, anyway.

Meanwhile, lots of social media types are talking about brands and branding as if these were new and hip things. They’re not. They’re heavy and old. We need to move on, folks. Think of something human instead.

When a friend came back from SXSW recently, we talked about how, at the show, it was “social every fucking thing there is.” The term SEFTTI was thus coined.

We need to move past that too.

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I just learned by Eric Martindale’s comment to my Borg’s Woods post in February that the March 13 storm knocked down many of the trees in the old growth urban forest that was our neighborhood playground when I was a kid. For more here’s a post in the NJUrbanForest blog, and here are some pictures as well.

Storms are as much a part of nature as old growth forests, even when the former reduces the latter. Sad to read, however, that mosquito abatement has involved the draining of the woods’ pond, where generations of kids learned to skate in a beautiful setting.

For perspective perhaps it is helpful to note that the boggy parts of Borg’s Woods are among the few vernal remnants of glacial Lake Hackensack, which pooled over most of the Hackensack River watershed when the last ice age began to end around 15,000 years ago. The lake lasted several millennia, then drained around 11,500 years ago, when the terminal moraine near Perth Amboy broke. Back then the sea was still far outside the current borders of New York and New Jersey. Only when the rest of the ice cap melted did the oceans reach their current level — which, as we know, is still rising.

Four years and one day ago, we took a trip aboard a sailboat captained by our friend John Pfarr (who a few days later would later sail the same vessel to Hawaii, the South Seas and back — the dude is a serious sailor). Our modest destination was the string of oil platforms that rise above the coastal waters off Santa Barbara. These are now familiar landmarks, and are regarded with both loathing and affection, the latter especially by he sea (most obviously seal) life that abounds on the platforms’ pylons and girders, above and below the waterline.

As always, I took a lot of photos, one of which now also graces the poster for Oil + Water: The Case of Santa Barbara and Southern California, which will take place April 8 – 10, 2010 in the McCune Conference Room, 6020 HSSB, at UCSB. Specifically,

This conference will explore the ways in which oil and water have created and transformed the history and culture of Santa Barbara and Southern California. Topics will include the Santa Barbara oil spill; the impact of oil on Hollywood; agriculture and marine life; the Owens River Valley; the Salton Sea; cars and car culture; and environmental histories and their lessons.

Important stuff, and highly recommended.

Seems like all my favorite college hoops teams are playing in tournaments.

Harvard’s Crimson go up against Appalachian State tonight in the CIT.

UCSB’s Gauchos are the 15th seed in the NCAA Men’s Midwest bracket, a checkbox win for #2 seed Ohio State on Friday night.

The Quakers of my alma mater, , are back in the Final Four of the NCAA’s Division III, after polishing off . They take on Friday afternoon. Have a bunch of friends with Williams connections too.

My long-time fave Division I team, , is the top seed in the NCAA South bracket. They play a team whose jerseys say ARPB, before facing the winner of the game. My daughter and a bunch of neices and nephews are grads, so I’ll be rooting for them, should they survive.

I was Knicks fan growing up, but I didn’t follow basketball much until I went to Guilford in 1965. North Carolina is basketball country in any case, and somehow I got into playing it as well there. Nothing serious, just pick-up intramural ball. My whole game was shooting long-range bombers, and I lacked all the other skills (dribbling, passing) one expects to go with that one. But at least I wasn’t taken last when teams were chosen, which for me was exceptionally positive feedback.

As it happened Guilford also had damn fine basketball teams the whole time I was there. They were often ranked #1 in the NAIA, and in ’68 (a year they lost in the finals to Oshkosh State) they graduated three players into the NBA. The best of those was Bob Kauffman, the #3 pick in the draft that year. Bob went on to become a 3-time All-Star, and then the head coach and general manager of the Detroit Pistons. He completed that career by making the mistake of giving Dick Vitale the head coaching job. In 1975 Guilford won the NAIA tournament with a team that included World B. Free and M.L. Carr.

My Division I sympathies were originally with Wake Forest (also in the NCAAs) since my entire coterie of North Carolina relatives were affiliated in one way or another with the school. When I moved to Chapel Hill after college, however, I became a Carolina fan. I still am. (Wake too.) But my overriding affection for Duke was born at the first pre-season game of the 1977-78 season. That was when freshmen Kenny Dennard and Gene Banks joined Jim Spanarkel, Mike Gminski and Johny Harrell to turn a has-been team into what would become the powerhouse it has been ever since.

But I didn’t know that then. I was working on the Duke campus in the Fall of ’77 at the time, and was invited to that game (against ) by David Hodskins, who would become my business partner for most of the following two decades. David was a Duke grad with season tickets to games at the very intense Cameron Indoor Stadium. I was his date for many of those games over many years, and couldn’t help getting into the team.

While Duke had good years during ‘ tenure as coach back in the 1960s, it had been nowhere for most the decade that followed. In those days, as the UCLA dynasty (the biggest ever, never to be repeated), NC State, Maryland and Carolina were the cream of the ACC. Duke joined that elite with what John Feinstein (another Duke grad) called : the 1977-78 crew I saw play that pre-season game. Now people say, “How can you like an overdog like Duke?” Sorry, can’t help it. My experience as a Duke fan also prepped me for following Tommy Amaker, now the coach here at Harvard. (Tommy also played high school ball at Wilbert Tucker Woodson High School in Virginia, where one of his teammates was my cousin Andy Heck, a multi-sport athlete who went on to co-captain the Notre Dame football team that won the national championship in 1988, before going on to an eleven-year career as an NFL player. He’s now the offensive line coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars.)

Speaking of overdogs, I’m also a Boston Celtics fan these days too, for roughly the same reason: I’m local here. And I like the team. Celtics coach Doc Rivers and I have a common friend in , who is a hard-core Duke fan too — as well as a former college hoops player. Buzz got into Duke when he went to law school there. (I still like the Knicks, though. And the Golden State Warriors. David Hodskins and I had season tickets to the Warriors back in the days of Run TMC.)

Wish I could say I expect Duke to win it all. Hope they do, but I just picked Kansas. Or maybe it was Kentucky. (The Kid just went downstairs to check.) Okay, it’s Kentucky. Whatever, it’ll be fun to follow. I see that CBS has the games on-demand over the Net. Count me in for that. We got nothing but Net here. (Hey, it’s the future of what used to be television. I just hope that single purpose — pumping “content” — doesn’t turn the Net into TV 2.0.)

Earlier this year the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project and Elon University conducted research toward The Future of the Internet IV, the latest in their survey series, which began with Future of the Internet I – 2004. This latest report includes guided input from subjects such as myself (a “thoughtful analyst,” they kindly said) on subjects pertaining to the Net’s future. We were asked to choose between alternative outcomes — “tension pairs” — and to explain our views. Here’s the whole list:

  1. Will Google make us stupid?
  2. Will we live in the cloud or the desktop?
  3. Will social relations get better?
  4. Will the state of reading and writing be improved?
  5. Will those in GenY share as much information about themselves as they age?
  6. Will our relationship to key institutions change?
  7. Will online anonymity still be prevalent?
  8. Will the Semantic Web have an impact?
  9. Are the next takeoff technologies evident now?
  10. Will the Internet still be dominated by the end-to-end principle?

The results were published here at Pew and Elon’s Imagining the Internet site. Here’s the .pdf.

My own views are more than well represented in the 2010 report. One of my responses (to the last question) was even published in full. Still, I thought it would be worth sharing my full responses to all the questions. That’s why I’m posting them here.

Each question is followed by two statements — the “tension pair” — and in some cases by additional instruction. I’ve italicized those.

[Note... Much text here has been changed to .html from .pdf and .doc forms, and extracting all the old formatting jive has been kind of arduous. Bear with me while I finish that job, later today. (And some .html conventions don't work here in WordPress, so that's a hassle too.)]


1. Will Google make us smart or stupid?

1 By 2020, people’s use of the Internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information, they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid (http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google).

2 By 2020, people’s use of the Internet has not enhanced human intelligence and it could even be lowering the IQs of most people who use it a lot. Nicholas Carr was right: Google makes us stupid.

1a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence on the future of human intelligence in 2020 – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different in the way human intellect evolves?


Though I like and respect Nick Carr a great deal, my answer to the title question in his famous essay in The Atlantic — “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” — is no. Nothing that informs us makes us stupid.

Nick says, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.” Besides finding that a little hard to believe (I know Nick to be a deep diver, still), there is nothing about Google, or the Net, to keep anyone from diving — and to depths that were not reachable before the Net came along. Also, compare using the Net to TV viewing. There is clearly a massive move to the former from the latter. And this move, at the very least, requires being less of a potato.

But that’s all a separate matter from Google itself. There is no guarantee that Google will be around, or in the same form, in the year 2020.

First, there are natural limits to any form of bigness, and Google is no exception to those. Trees do not grow to the sky.

Second, nearly all of Google’s income is from advertising. There are two problems with this. One is that improving a pain in the ass does not make it a kiss — and advertising is, on the whole, still a pain in the user’s ass. The other is that advertising is a system of guesswork, which by nature makes it both speculative and inefficient. Google has greatly reduced both those variables, and made advertising accountable for the first time: advertisers pay only for click-throughs. Still, for every click-through there are hundreds or thousands of “impressions” that waste server cycles, bandwidth, pixels, rods and cones. The cure for this inefficiency can’t come from the sell side. It must come from the demand side. When customers have means for advertising their wants and needs (e.g. “I need a stroller for twins in downtown Boston in the next two hours. Who’s coming through and how”) — and to do this securely and out in the open marketplace (meaning not just in the walled gardens of Amazons and eBays) — much of advertising’s speculation and guesswork will be obsoleted. Look at it this way: we need means for demand to drive supply at least as well as supply drives demand. By 2020 we’ll have that. (Especially if we succeed at work we’re doing through ProjectVRM at Harvard’s Berkman Center.) Google is well positioned to help with that shift. But it’s an open question whether or not they’ll get behind it.

Third, search itself is at risk. For the last fifteen years we have needed search because Web grew has lacked a directory other than DNS (which only deals with what comes between the // and the /.) Google has succeeded because it has proven especially good at helping users find needles in the Web’s vast haystack. But what happens if the Web ceases to be a haystack? What if the Web gets a real directory, like LANs had back in the 80s — or something like one? The UNIX file paths we call URLs (e.g. http://domain.org/folder/folder/file.htm…) presume a directory structure. This alone suggests that a solution to the haystack problem will eventually be found. When it is, search then will be more of a database lookup than the colossally complex thing it is today (requiring vast data centers that suck huge amounts of power off the grid, as Google constantly memorizes every damn thing it can find in the entire Web). Google is in the best position to lead the transition from the haystack Web to the directory-enabled one. But Google may remain married to the haystack model, just as the phone companies of today are still married to charging for minutes and cable companies are married to charging for channels — even though both concepts are fossils in an all-digital world.


2. Will we live in the cloud or on the desktop?

1 By 2020, most people won’t do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Instead, they will work in Internet-based applications, like Google Docs, and in applications run from smartphones. Aspiring application developers will sign up to develop for smart-phone vendors and companies that provide Internet-based applications, because most innovative work will be done in that domain, instead of designing applications that run on a PC operating system.

2 By 2020, most people will still do their work with software running on a general-purpose PC. Internet-based applications like Google Docs and applications run from smartphones will have some functionality, but the most innovative and important applications will run on (and spring from) a PC operating system. Aspiring application designers will write mostly for PCs.

Please explain your choice and share your view about how major programs and applications will be designed, how they will function, and the role of cloud computing by 2020.

The answer is both.

Resources and functions will operate where they make the most sense. As bandwidth goes up, and barriers to usage (such as high “roaming” charges for data use outside a carrier’s home turf) go down, and Bob Frankston’s “ambient connectivity” establishes itself, our files and processing power will locate themselves where they work best — and where we, as individuals, have the most control over them.

Since we are mobile animals by nature, it makes sense for us to connect with the world primarily through hand-held devices, rather than the ones that sit on our desks and laps. But these larger devices will not go away. We need large screens for much of our work, and we need at least some local storage for when we go off-grid, or need fast connections to large numbers of big files, or wish to keep matters private through physical disconnection.

Clouds are to personal data what banks are to personal money. They provide secure storage, and are in the best positions to perform certain intermediary and back-end services, such as hosting applications and storing data. This latter use has an importance that will only become more critical as each of us accumulates personal data by the terabyte. If your home drives crash or get stolen, or your house burns down, your data can still be recovered if you’ve backed it up in the cloud.

But most home users (at least in the U.S. and other under-developed countries) are still stuck at the far ends of asymmetrical connections with low upstream data rates, designed at a time when carriers thought the Net would mostly be a new system for distributing TV and other forms of “content.” Thus backing up terabytes of data online ranges from difficult to impossible.

This is why any serious consideration of cloud computing — especially over the long term — needs to take connectivity into account. Clouds are only as useful as connections permit. And right now the big cloud utilities (notably Google and Amazon) are way ahead of the carriers at imagining how connected computing needs to grow. For most carriers the Internet is still just the third act in a “triple play,” a tertiary service behind telephony and television. Worse, the mobile carriers show little evidence that they understand the need to morph from phone companies to data companies — even with Apple’s iPhone success screaming “this is the future” at them.

A core ideal for all Internet devices is what Jonathan Zittrain (in his book The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It) calls generativity, which is maximized encouragement of innovation in both hardware and software. Today generativity in mobile devices varies a great deal. The iPhone, for example, is highly generative for software, but not for hardware (only Apple makes iPhones). And even the iPhone’s software market is sphinctered by Apple’s requirement that every app pass to market only through Apple’s “store,” which operates only through Apple’s iTunes, which runs only on Macs and PCs (no Linux or other OSes). On top of all that is Apple’s restrictive partnerships with AT&T (in the U.S.) and Rogers (in Canada). While AT&T allows unlimited data usage on the iPhone, Rogers still has a 6Gb limit.

Bottom line: Handhelds will no smarter than the systems built to contain them. The market will open widest — and devices will get smartest — when anybody can make a smartphone (or any other mobile device), and use it on any network they please, without worrying about data usage limits or getting hit with $1000+ bills because they forgot to turn off “push notifications” or “location services” when they roamed out of their primary carrier’s network footprint. In other words, the future will be brightest when mobile systems get Net-native.


3. Will social relations get better?

1 In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the Internet has mostly been a negative force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.

2 In 2020, when I look at the big picture and consider my personal friendships, marriage and other relationships, I see that the Internet has mostly been a positive force on my social world. And this will only grow more true in the future.

3a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence on the future of human relationships in 2020 — what is likely to stay the same and what will be different in human and community relations?

Craig Burton describes the Net as a hollow sphere — a three-dimensional zero — comprised entirely of ends separated by an absence of distance in the middle. With a hollow sphere, every point is visible to every other point. Your screen and my keyboard have no distance between them. This is a vivid way to illustrate the Net’s “end-to-end” architecture and how we perceive it, even as we also respect the complex electronics and natural latencies involved in the movement of bits from point to point anywhere on the planet. It also helps make sense of the Net’s distance-free social space.

As the “live” or “real-time” aspects of the net evolve, opportunities to engage personally and socially are highly magnified beyond all the systems that came before. This cannot help but increase our abilities not only to connect with each other, but to understand each other. I don’t see how this hurts the world, and I can imagine countless ways it can make the world better.

Right now my own family is scattered between Boston, California, Baltimore and other places. Yet through email, voice, IM, SMS and other means we are in frequent touch, and able to help each other in many ways. The same goes for my connections with friends and co-workers.

We should also hope that the Net makes us more connected, more social, more engaged and involved with each other. The human diaspora, from one tribe in Africa to thousands of scattered tribes — and now countries — throughout the world, was driven to a high degree by misunderstandings and disagreements between groups. Hatred and distrust between groups have caused countless wars and suffering beyond measure. Anything that helps us bridge our differences and increase understanding is a good thing.

Clearly the Internet already does that.


4. Will the state of reading and writing be improved?

1 By 2020, it will be clear that the Internet has enhanced and improved reading, writing, and the rendering of knowledge.

2 By 2020, it will be clear that the Internet has diminished and endangered reading, writing, and the intelligent rendering of knowledge.

4a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence on the future of knowledge-sharing in 2020, especially when it comes to reading and writing and other displays of information – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different? What do you think is the future of books?

It is already clear in 2010 that the Net has greatly enhanced reading, writing, and knowledge held — and shared — by human beings. More people are reading and writing, and in more ways, for more readers and other writers, than ever before. And the sum of all of it goes up every day.

I’m sixty-two years old, and have been a journalist since my teens. My byline has appeared in dozens of publications, and the sum of my writing runs — I can only guess — into millions of words. Today very little of what I wrote and published before 1995 is available outside of libraries, and a lot of it isn’t even there.

For example, in the Seventies and early Eighties I wrote regularly for an excellent little magazine called The Sun. (It’s still around, at http://thesunmagazine.org) But, not wanting to carry my huge collection of Suns from one house to another (I’ve lived in 9 places over the last ten years), I gave my entire collection (including rare early issues) to an otherwise excellent public library, and they lost or ditched it. Few items from those early issues are online. My own copies are buried in boxes in a garage, three thousand miles from where I live now. So are dozens of boxes of photos and photo albums. (I was also a newspaper photographer in the early days, and have never abandoned the practice.)

On the other hand, most of what I’ve written since the Web came along is still online. And most of that work — including 34,000 photographs on Flickr — is syndicated trough RSS (Really SimpleSyndication) or its derivatives. So is the work of millions of other people. If that work is interesting in some way, it tends to get inbound links, increasing its discoverability through search engines and its usefulness in general. The term syndication was once applied only to professional purposes. Now everybody can do it.

Look up RSS on Google. Today it brings in more than three billion results. Is it possible that this has decreased the quality and sum of reading, writing and human knowledge? No way.


5. Will the willingness of Generation Y / Millennials to share information change as they age?

1 By 2020, members of Generation Y (today’s “digital natives”) will continue to be ambient broadcasters who disclose a great deal of personal information in order to stay connected and take advantage of social, economic, and political opportunities. Even as they mature, have families, and take on more significant responsibilities, their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will carry forward.

2 By 2020, members of Generation Y (today’s “digital natives”) will have “grown out” of much of their use of social networks, multiplayer online games and other time-consuming, transparency-engendering online tools. As they age and find new interests and commitments, their enthusiasm for widespread information sharing will abate.

5a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence on the future of human lifestyles in 2020 – what is likely to stay the same and what will be different? Will the values and practices that characterize today’s
younger Internet users change over time?

Widespread information sharing is not a generational issue. It’s a technological one. Our means for controlling access to data, or its use — or even for asserting our “ownership” of it — are very primitive. (Logins and passwords alone are clunky as hell, extremely annoying, and will be seen a decade hence as a form of friction we were glad to eliminate.)

It’s still early. The Net and the Web as we know them have only been around for about fifteen years. Right now we’re still in the early stages of the Net’s Cambrian explosion. By that metaphor Google is a trilobyte. We have much left to work out.

For example, take “terms of use.” Sellers have them. Users do not — at least not ones that theycontrol. Wouldn’t it be good if you could tell Facebook or Twitter (or any other company using your data) that these are the terms on which they will do business with you, that these are the ways you will share data with them, that these are the ways this data can be used, and that this is what will happen if they break faith with you? Trust me: user-controlled terms of use are coming. (Work is going on right now on this very subject at Harvard’s Berkman Center, both at its Law Lab and ProjectVRM.)

Two current technical developments, “self-tracking” and “personal informatics,” are examples of ways that power is shifting from organizations to individuals — for the simple reason that individuals are the best points of integration for
their own data, and the best points of origination for what gets done with that data.

Digital natives will eventually become fully empowered by themselves, not by the organizations to which they belong, or the services they use. When that happens, they’ll probably be more careful and responsible than earlier generations, for the simpler reason that they will have the tools.


6. Will our relationship to institutions change?

1 By 2020, innovative forms of online cooperation will result in significantly more efficient and responsive governments, businesses, non-profits, and othe mainstream institutions.

2 By 2020, governments, businesses, non-profits and other mainstream institutions will primarily retain familiar 20th century models for conduct of relationships with citizens and consumers online and offline.

6a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the Internet’s influence upon the future of institutional relationships with their patrons and customers between now and 2020. We are eager to hear what you think of how social, political, and commercial endeavors will form and the way people will cooperate in the future.

Online cooperation will only increase. The means are already there, and will only become more numerous and functional. Institutions that adapt to the Net’s cooperation-encouraging technologies and functions will succeed. Those that don’t will have a hard time.

Having it hardest right now are media institutions, for the simple reason that the Internet subsumes their functions, while also giving to everybody the ability to communicate with everybody else, at little cost, and often with little or no intermediating system other than the Net itself.

Bob Garfield, a columnist for AdAge and a host of NPR’s “On The Media,” says the media have entered what he calls (in his book by the same title) The Chaos Scenario. In his introduction Garfield says he should have called the book “Listenomics,” because listening is the first requirement of survival for every industry that lives on digital bits — a sum that rounds to approximately every industry, period.

So, even where the shapes of institution persist, their internal functions must be ready to listen, and to participate in the market’s conversations, even when those take place outside the institution’s own frameworks.


7. Will online anonymity still be prevalent?

1 By 2020, the identification ID systems used online are tighter and more formal – fingerprints or DNA-scans or retina scans. The use of these systems is the gateway to most of the Internet-enabled activity that users are able to perform such as shopping, communicating, creating content, and browsing. Anonymous online activity is sharply curtailed.

2 By 2020, Internet users can do a lot of normal online activities anonymously even though the identification systems used on the Internet have been applied to a wider range of activities. It is still relatively easy for Internet users to
create content, communicate, and browse without publicly disclosing who they are.

7a. Please explain your choice and share your view about the future of anonymous activity
online by the year 2020

In the offline world, anonymity is the baseline. Unless burdened by celebrity, we are essentially anonymous when we wander through stores, drive down the road, or sit in the audience of a theater. We become less anonymous when we enter into conversation or transact business. Even there, however, social protocols do not require that we become any more identifiable than required for the level of interaction. Our “identity” might be “the woman in the plaid skirt,” “the tall guy who was in here this morning,? or “one of our students.”

We still lack means by which an individual can selectively and gracefully shift from fully to partially anonymous, and from unidentified to identified — yet in ways that can be controlled and minimized (or maximized) as much as the individual (and others with which he or she interacts) permit. In fact, we’re a long way off.

The main reason is that most of the “identity systems” we know put control on the side of sellers, governments, and other institutions, and not with the individual. In time systems that give users control will be developed. These will be native to users and not provided only by large organizations (such as Microsoft, Google or the government).

A number of development communities have been working on this challenge since early in the last decade, and eventually they will succeed. Hopefully this will be by 2020, but I figured we’d have it done by 2010, and it seems like we’ve barely started.


8. Will the Semantic Web have an impact?

By 2020, the Semantic Web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee and his allies will have been achieved to a significant degree and have clearly made a difference to the average Internet users.

2 By 2020, the Semantic Web envisioned by Tim Berners-Lee will not be as fully effective as its creators hoped and average users will not have noticed much of a difference.

8a. Please explain your choice and share your view of the likelihood that the Semantic Web will have been implemented by 2020 and be a force for good in Internet users?

Tim’s World Wide Web was a very simple and usable idea that relied on very simple and usable new standards (e.g. HTML and HTTP), which were big reason why the Web succeeded. The Semantic Web is a very complex idea, and one that requires a lot of things to go right before it works. Or so it seems.

Tim Berners-Lee introduced the Semantic Web Roadmap (http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/Semantic.html) in September 1998. Since then more than eleven years have passed. Some Semantic Web technologies have taken root: RDFa, for example, and microformats. But the concept itself has energized a relatively small number of people, and there is no “killer” tech or use yet.

That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. Invention is the mother of necessity. The Semantic Web will take off when somebody invents something we all find we need. Maybe that something will be built out of some combination of code and protocols already laying around — either within the existing Semantic Web portfolio, or from some parallel effort such as XDI. Or maybe it will come out of the blue.

By whatever means, the ideals of the Semantic Web — a web based on meaning (semantics) rather than syntax (the Web’s current model) — will still drive development. And we’ll be a decade farther along in 2020 than we are in 2010.


9. Are the next takeoff technologies evident now?

1 The hot gadgets and applications that will capture the imagination of users in 2020 are pretty evident today and will not take many of today’s savviest innovators by surprise.

2 The hot gadgets and applications that will capture the imagination of users in 2020 will often come “out of the blue” and not have been anticipated by many of today’s savviest innovators.

9a. Please explain your choice and share your view of its implications for the future. What do you think will be the hot gadgets, applications, technology tools in 2020?

“The blue” is the environment out of which most future innovation will come. And that blue is the Net.

Nearly every digital invention today was created by collaboration over the Net, between people working in different parts of the world. The ability to collaborate over distances, often in real time (or close to it), using devices that improve constantly, over connections that only get fatter and faster, guarantees that the number and variety of inventions will only go up. More imaginations will be captured more ways, more often. Products will be improved, and replaced, more often than ever, and in more ways than ever.

The hottest gadgets in 2020 will certainly involve extending one’s senses and one’s body. In fact, this has been the case for all inventions since humans first made stone tools and painted the walls of caves. That’s because humans are characterized not only by their intelligence and their ability to speak, but by their capacity to extend their senses, and their abilities, through their tools and technologies. Michael Polanyi, a scientist and philosopher, called this indwelling. It is through indwelling that the carpenter’s tool becomes an extension of his arm, and he has the power to pound nails through wood. It is also through indwelling that an instrument becomes an extension of the musician’s mouth and hands.

There is a reason why a pilot refers to “my wings” and “my tail,” or a driver to “my wheels” and “my engine.” By indwelling, the pilot’s senses extend outside herself to the whole plane, and the driver’s to his whole car.

The computers and smart phones of today are to some degree extensions of ourselves, but not to the extent that a hammer extends a carpenter, a car enlarges a driver or a plane enlarges a pilot. Something other than a computer or a smart phone will do that. Hopefully this will happen by 2020. If not, it will eventually.


10. Will the Internet still be dominated by the end-to-end principle?

1 In the years between now and 2020, the Internet will mostly remain a technology based on the end-to-end principle that was envisioned by the Internet’s founders. Most disagreements over the way information flows online will be resolved in favor of a minimum number of restrictions over the information available online and the methods by which people access it.

2 In the years between now and 2020, the Internet will mostly become a technology where intermediary institutions that control the architecture and significant amounts of content will be successful in gaining the right to manage information and the method by which people access and share it.

10a. Please explain your choice, note organizations you expect to be most likely to influence the future of the Internet and share your view of the effects of this between now and 2020.

There will always be a struggle to reconcile the Net’s end-to-end principle with the need for companies and technologies operating between those ends to innovate and make money. This tension will produce more progress than either the principle by itself or the narrow interests of network operators and other entities working between the Net’s countless ends.

Today these interests are seen as opposed — mostly because incumbent network operators want to protect businesses they see threatened by the Net’s end-to-end nature, which cares not a bit about who makes money or how. But in the future they will be seen as symbiotic, because both the principle and networks operating within it will be seen as essential infrastructure. So will what each of does to the help raise and renovate the Net’s vast barn.

The term infrastructure has traditionally been applied mostly to the public variety: roads, bridges, electrical systems, water systems, waste treatment and so on. But this tradition only goes back to the Seventies. Look up infrastructure in a dictionary from the 1960s or earlier and you won’t find it (except in the OED). Today are still no institutes or academic departments devoted to infrastructure. It’s a subject in many fields, yet not a field in itself.

But we do generally understand what infrastructure is. It’s something solid and common we can build on. It’s geology humans make for themselves.

Digital technology, and the Internet in particular, provide an interesting challenge for understanding infrastructure, because we rely on it, yet it is not solid in any physical sense. It is like physical structures, but not itself physical. We go on the Net, as if it were a road or a plane. We build on it too. Yet it is not a thing.

Inspired by Craig Burton’s description of the Net as a hollow sphere — a three-dimensional zero comprised entirely of ends
— David Weinberger and I wrote World of Ends in 2003 (http://worldofends.com). The purpose was to make the Net more understandable, especially to companies (such as phone and cable carriers) that had been misunderstanding it. Lots of people agreed with us, but none of those people ran the kinds of companies we addressed.

But, to be fair, most people still don’t understand the Net. Look up “The Internet is” on Google (with the quotes). After you get past the top entry (Wikipedia’s), here’s what they say:

  1. a Series of Tubes
  2. terrible
  3. really big
  4. for porn
  5. shit
  6. good
  7. wrong
  8. killing storytelling
  9. dead
  10. serious business
  11. for everyone
  12. underrated
  13. infected
  14. about to die
  15. broken
  16. Christmas all the time
  17. altering our brains
  18. changing health care
  19. laughing at NBC
  20. changing the way we watch TV
  21. changing the scientific method
  22. dead and boring
  23. not shit
  24. made of kittens
  25. alive and well
  26. blessed
  27. almost full
  28. distracting
  29. a brain
  30. cloudy

Do the same on Twitter, and you’ll get results just as confusing. At this moment (your search will vary; this is the Live Web here), the top results are:

  1. a weird, WEIRD place
  2. full of feel good lectures
  3. the Best Place to get best notebook computer deals
  4. Made of Cats
  5. Down
  6. For porn
  7. one of the best and worst things at the same time
  8. so small
  9. going slow
  10. not my friend at the moment
  11. blocked
  12. letting me down
  13. going off at 12
  14. not working
  15. magic
  16. still debatable
  17. like a jungle
  18. eleven years old
  19. worsening by the day
  20. extremely variable
  21. full of odd but exciting people
  22. becoming the Googlenet
  23. fixed
  24. forever
  25. a battlefield
  26. a great network for helping others around the world
  27. more than a global pornography network
  28. slow
  29. making you go nuts
  30. so much faster bc im like the only 1 on it

(I took out the duplicates. There were many involving cats and porn.)

Part of the problem is that we understand the Net in very different and conflicting ways. For example, when we say the Net consists of “sites,” with “domains” and “locations” that we “architect,” “design,” “build” and “visit,”we are saying the Internet is a place. It’s real estate. But if we say the Net is a “medium” for the “distribution” of “content” to “consumers” who “download” it, we’re saying the Net is a shipping system. These metaphors are very different. They yield different approaches to business and lawmaking, to
name just two areas of conflict.

Bob Frankston, co-inventor (with Dan Bricklin) of spreadsheet software (Visicalc) and one of the fathers of home networking, says the end-state of the Net’s current development is ambient connectivity, which “gives us access to the oceans of copper, fiber and radios that surround us.” Within those are what Frankston calls a “sea of bits” to which all of us contribute. To help clarify the anti-scarce nature of bits, he explains, “Bits aren’t really like kernels of corn. They are more like words. You may run out of red paint but you don’t run out of the color red.”

Much has been written about the “economics of abundance,” but we have barely begun to understand what that means or what can be done with it. The threats are much easier to perceive than the opportunities. Google is one notable exception to that. Asked at a Harvard meeting to explain the company’s strategy of moving into businesses where it expects to make no money directly for the services it offers, a Google executive explained that the company looked for “second and third order effects.”

JP Rangaswami, Chief Scientist for BT (disclosure: I consult BT) describes these as “because effects.” You make money because of something rather than with it. Google makes money because of search, and because of Gmail. Not with them. Not directly.

Yet money can still be made with goods and services — even totally commodified ones. Amazon makes money with back-end Web services such as EC2 (computing) and S3 (data storage). Phone, cable and other carriers can make money with “dumb pipes” too. They are also in perfect positions to offer low-latency services directly to their many customers at homes and in businesses. All the carriers need to do is realize that there are benefits to incumbency other than charging monopoly rents.

The biggest danger for the Net and its use comes not from carriers, but from copyright absolutists in what we have recently come to call the “content” industry. For example, in the U.S. the DMCA (Digital Millenium Copyright Act), passed in 1998, was built to protect the interests of copyright holders and served as a model for similar lawmaking in other countries. What it did was little to protect the industries that lobbied its passing, while at the same time hurting or preventing a variety of other industries. Most notable (at least for me) was the embryonic Internet radio industry, which was just starting to take off when the DMCA came along. The saga that followed is woefully complex, and the story is far from over, but the result in the meantime is a still-infant industry that suffers many more restrictions in respect to “content” than over-the-air radio stations. Usage fees for music are much higher than those faced by broadcasters — so high that making serious money by webcasting music is nearly impossible. There are also tight restrictions on what music can be played, when, and how often. Music on podcasts is also essentially prohibited, because podcasters need to “clear rights” for every piece of copyrighted music they play. That’s why, except for “podsafe” music, podcasting today is almost all talk.

I’ll give the last words here to Cory Doctorow, who publishes them freely in his new book Content:

… there is an information economy. You don’t even need a computer to participate. My barber, an avowed technophobe who rebuilds antique motorcycles and doesn’t own a PC, benefited from the information economy when I found him by googling for barbershops in my neighborhood.

Teachers benefit from the information economy when they share lesson plans with their colleagues around the world by email. Doctors benefit from the information economy when they move their patient files to efficient digital formats. Insurance companies benefit from the information economy through better access to fresh data used in the preparation of actuarial tables. Marinas benefit from the information economy when office-slaves look up the weekend’s weather online and decide to skip out on Friday for a weekend’s sailing. Families of migrant workers benefit from the information economy when their sons and daughters wire cash home from a convenience store Western Union terminal.

This stuff generates wealth for those who practice it. It enriches the country and improves our lives.

And it can peacefully co-exist with movies, music and microcode, but not if Hollywood gets to call the shots. Where IT managers are expected to police their networks and systems for unauthorized copying — no matter what that does to productivity — they cannot co-exist. Where our operating systems are rendered inoperable by “copy protection,” they cannot co-exist. Where our educational institutions are turned into conscript enforcers for the record industry, they cannot co-exist.

The information economy is all around us. The countries that embrace it will emerge as global economic superpowers. The countries that stubbornly hold to the simplistic idea that the information economy is about selling information will end up at the bottom of the pile.


But all that is just me (and my sources, such as Cory). There are 894 others compiled by the project, and I invite you to visit those there.

I’ll also put in a plug for FutureWeb in Raleigh, April 28-30, where I look forward to seeing many old friends and relatives as well. (I lived in North Carolina for most of the 20 years from 1965-1985, and miss it still.) Hope to see some of ya’ll there.

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Bubkes, Stephen Lewis explains, is “Yiddish for beans; early-20th-century Bronx-, Brooklyn-, and Lower-East-Side-ese for very inconsequential matters.” It’s also the name of his blog at Bubkes.org — which, perhaps miraculously, is back up again.

Though not for long.

Bubkes is hosted by Userland, a company that has been bobbing belly-up for the past few months. As Dave wrote in The (safe) future of Radio and Manila, “At some point the userland.com servers will shut down. I don’t know what will be done with the domain. What I care about are the items above. If anyone has an opinion about the other stuff, I don’t know who you would call. I expect to refer to this paragraph many times in the coming weeks and months.” Among the many “items above” is Skywave, an old blog of mine that I’m glad to see kept alive in archived form (and for which I thank Dave and friends for rescuing with other former radio.userland blogs).

Bubkes.org, however, is among the “other stuff” Dave mentioned. So I’m calling on anybody who wants to help convert it from Manila to WordPress, so it can persist as a WordPress blog at the same URL. There are scripts for doing this, but we’re having trouble getting the archive in a convertible form. If any of ya’ll have some ideas, let me know.

Worst case, we move the text and graphics by hand. Those have already been saved off as HTML. But I’d like to give a less labor-intensive alternative a shot before we do that.

Dats love

Sez Dave (now back in Metsland), “As the 1969 Mets undid the betrayal of NY fans by the Dodgers, the Saints give hope to a city that was betrayed in so many ways.” Exactly. And let’s not forget the betrayal of NY fans by the Giants too. Losing both was a double-whammy for me as a kid. For live major league baseball, Dodgers/Giants fans had to go to a Yankees game — and root against them. Did that a few times. It was way cool. And affordable back then too.

I believed the Saints would win. The whole run-up felt like the ’69 Mets AND the ’69 Jets in Superbowl III. Both were supposed to lose to overpowering Baltimore teams. In the case of the Jets it was the same Colts that also lost yesterday to the Saints.

The sports prophets all said that the Colts were too good. Peyton Manning was the greatest quarterback ever, yada yada. Nobody seemed to notice that the Saints had a pretty good season too. Also its own Hall of Fame quarterback. And, while everybody had some sympathy for the city of New Orleans, there was also this half-tragic, “Well, it’s too bad that the Colts will win this thing.” It was like the Colts could phone it in.

Truth is, it could have gone either way. If a Colts player was found with the ball at the bottom of that scrum after the Saints’ onside kick, the tide might have turned the Colts’ way right there. Same with that pass interception on Manning. But games have a psychological side too. The Saints had the edge there. They believed. And they performed. They were the better team and the more deserving city. And I wish I’d been in New Orleans last night.

But then, I’d been there, in that vindicated, affirming place. Twice, in ’69.

Heavy Whether

borgpond

Chris Daly posts a 1995 essay he wrote for the Atlantic, recalling almost exactly the experience I had as a kid growing up and skating on ponds in the winter. An excerpt:

When I was a boy skating on Brooks Pond, there were almost no grown-ups around. Once or twice a year, on a weekend day or a holiday, some parents might come by, with a thermos of hot cocoa. Maybe they would build a fire — which we were forbidden to do — and we would gather round.

But for the most part the pond was the domain of children. In the absence of adults, we made and enforced our own rules. We had hardly any gear – just some borrowed hockey gloves, some hand-me-down skates, maybe an elbow pad or two – so we played a clean form of hockey, with no high-sticking, no punching, and almost no checking. A single fight could ruin the whole afternoon. Indeed, as I remember it 30 years later, it was the purest form of hockey I ever saw – until I got to see the Russian national team play the game.

But before we could play, we had to check the ice. We became serious junior meteorologists, true connoisseurs of cold. We learned that the best weather for pond skating is plain, clear cold, with starry nights and no snow. (Snow not only mucks up the skating surface but also insulates the ice from the colder air above.) And we learned that moving water, even the gently flowing Mystic River, is a lot less likely to freeze than standing water. So we skated only on the pond. We learned all the weird whooping and cracking sounds that ice makes as it expands and contracts, and thus when to leave the ice.

Do kids learn these things today? I don’t know. How would they? We don’t even let them. Instead, we post signs. Ruled by lawyers, cities and towns everywhere try to eliminate their legal liability. But try as they might, they cannot eliminate the underlying risk. Liability is a social construct; risk is a natural fact. When it is cold enough, ponds freeze. No sign or fence or ordinance can change that.

In fact, by focusing on liability and not teaching our kids how to take risks, we are making their world more dangerous. When we were children, we had to learn to evaluate risks and handle them on our own. We had to learn, quite literally, to test the waters. As a result, we grew up to be more savvy about ice and ponds than any kid could be who has skated only under adult supervision on a rink.

While Chris lived in Medford, near Boston, I lived Maywood, New Jersey, which is near New York. Like Medford, Maywood was a mixed blue/white collar town. Still, it wasn’t dangerous.. Nobody worried about a kid being ‘napped. Or abused, except by bullies (which were normal hazards of life). Kids were taught early to be independent. I remember how I learned to walk to kindergarten. Mom came all the way with me on the first day. On the second, she let me walk the last block myself. Then one block less the next day. Then one block less the next day. Finally, I walked all the way myself — about half a mile. I had turned five years old only two months before.

We mostly skated at Borg’s pond, in Borg’s Woods, a private paradise under a canopy of old growth hardwood on the Maywood-Hackensack border, owned by the Borg family, which published the Bergen Record during its heyday as a truly great newspaper. The pond is still there, inside the green patch at the center of this map. Great to see from the Borg’s Woods Page (actually a site with much more) that the woods is now a preserve   Here’s a trail map that shows the pond. And here is a tour of the woods that shows the pond (I hope Eric Martindale, who maintains the site, doesn’t mind my borrowing the pond shot above), the “four oaks” that are still standing (and where we used to have club meetings), the sledding hill behind the Borg house and more. What a treat to find that it hardly looks any different now than it did fifty years ago.

We could skate on larger water bodies too. There were other lakes and reservoirs nearby. I also have fond memories of Greenwood Lake , where I lived a young adult, editing the late West Milford Argus. Ours was a former summer house (made mostly of cast-off parts) only a few feet from the shore. In the winter we skated there and in the summer we canoed up into New York (State), across the border of which the long lake lay on maps like a big stitch.

Anyway, Chris is right. On the whole we were more free. Not of restrictions. Heaven knows, parents then were much more stern and disciplinary back then. Spanking, for example, was the norm. Our freedom was from fear of what might happen as we became more independent and self-reliant.

Thinking more about it, I don’t want to idealize my childhood years. We lived in constant fear of nuclear annihilation, for example. Through much of my childhood I kept a list in my head of all the places I wanted to see before everybody was incinerated by some politician with an itchy finger. There were also racial, sexual and other forms of oppression, repression and worse.

But we were a bit closer to a natural state in some ways, I think. Or at least kids were. Outside of school, anyway.

By the way, I see that the Brooks Estate, home of Brooks Pond, is now also a nature preserve. As it happens I have also shot pictures of that place from the air. Here’s one. And here’s a shot of Spy Pond (subject of my last post).

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spypondhockey

For most of Winter in the Northeast, skating is possible only during the somewhat rare times when the ice is thick and not covered with snow or other unwelcome surface conditions. And bad skating has been the story, typically, for most of this Winter around Boston. After an earlier snow, there were some ad hoc skating rinks cleared by shoveling, but those were ruined by rains, more snow, more rains, and intermittent freezes that made a hash of the surface. But recent rains and hard freezes have formed wide paths between remaining islands of ruined snow. On most ponds there aren’t enough open spaces for real hockey games, but there’s plenty enough for skating, and for hockey practice, anyway. (A note to newbies and outsiders: nearly all lakes here are called ponds. Dunno why yet. Maybe one of ya’ll can tell me. Still a bit of a noob myself.)

Hockey practice is what I saw when I paused to take a sunset shot with my phone at Spy Pond, which I passed it late this afternoon on a long walk along the Minuteman Bikeway, which is one of my favorite walking paths (and thoroughfares — at least when it’s warm and clear enough to bike on). As it happens, Spy Pond ice has some history. There was a period, in the mid- to late-1800s, after railroads got big, but before refrigeration came along, when New England was a source for much of the world’s shipped ice. And Spy Pond itself was one of the most productive sources. This picture here…

spypond_history2

… shows ice being harvested for storage in ice houses beside the railroad which is now the Bikeway. I stood near the left edge of this scene when I took the picture at the top, and the boy and his dad playing hockey were about where at the center left, where a horse is shown pulling what looks like a man with a plow. (That last shot is from this historical display alongside the bikeway.)

The brainfather of Boston’s ice industry was Frederic Tudor, about whom I have learned a great deal from The Ice King: Frederic Tudor and His Circle. Highly recommended, if you’re into half-forgotten New England history. The book came as a bonus with membership in Mystic Seaport, a terrific maritime museum down the road on the Connecticut coast.

[Later...] The industry you see depicted above can also serve as a metaphor. For that a hat tip goes to Robin Lubbock (@RLma), New Media Director of WBUR, who pointed me to this piece by Michael Rosenblum. Nails it. (I also love Rosenblum’s Maybe monetizing is not the answer and Edward III, Crecy and Local TV Newsrooms, also via Robin.)

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Anybody who refuses to leave a mudslide evacuation area needs to watch this video:

It’s a live recording of the slide that killed ten people in LaConchita, California, on January 10, 2005. We know people who knew people who were killed in that slide. The story of the Wallet family is especially tragic. Jimmy Wallet was walking back from a corner store with some ice cream for his family when the mudslide in the video above destroyed his house before his eyes, burying his wife and three little daughters. Only he and his teenage daughter, who was out with friends, lived. Six others also died.

And this wasn’t  an especially big slide — or the first to strike that little community. Here’s one from five years earlier. That killed people too.

I’ve been listening to KNX, which has been reporting on the heavy weather in Southern California, and I’m amazed to hear that a large percentage (40%, I think the reporter said) of evacuees are waiting it out.

Here’s the deal, folks: mudslides are inevitable. If you live below a steep hill or mountain slope in a part of Southern California that’s getting heavy rain, and you’re under an evacuation order, get out. Right now (5:45pm Pacific), Acton. La Crescenta, La Cañada-Flintridge, Glendale, Tujunga Foothill and Sierra Madre all have a total of nearly 2000 homes under evacuation order. (So says the official speaking at a news conference on KNX right now.)

Yesterday I shared some of what John McPhee wrote in The Control of Nature about a mudslide (in Glendale — in the same area under evacuation orders now. Here is the whole passage, courtesy of  this page on Los Angeles provided by United States Geological Survey:

In Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains, it is not always clear which side is losing. For example, the Genofiles, Bob and Jackie, can claim to have lost and won. They live on an acre of ground so high that they look across their pool and past the trunks of big pines at an aerial view over Glendale and across Los Angeles to the Pacific bays. The setting, in cool dry air, is serene and Mediterranean. It has not been everlastingly serene.

On a February night some years ago, the Genofiles were awakened by a crash of thunder — lightning striking the mountain front. Ordinarily, in their quiet neighborhood, only the creek beside them was likely to make much sound, dropping steeply out of Shields Canyon on its way to the Los Angeles River. The creek, like every component of all the river systems across the city from mountains to ocean, had not been left to nature. Its banks were concrete. Its bed was concrete. When boulders were running there, they sounded like a rolling freight. On a night like this, the boulders should have been running. The creek should have been a torrent. its unnatural sound was unnaturally absent. There was, and had been, a lot of rain.

The Genofiles had two teen-age children, whose rooms were on the uphill side of the one-story house. The window in Scott’s room looked straight up Pine Cone Road, a cul-de-sac, which, with hundreds like it, defined the northern limit of the city, the confrontation of the urban and the wild. Los Angeles is overmatched on one side by the Pacific Ocean and on the other by very high mountains. With respect to these principal boundaries, Los Angeles is done sprawling. The San Gabriels, in their state of tectonic youth, are rising as rapidly as any range on Earth. Their loose inimical slopes flout the tolerance of the angle of repose. Rising straight up out of the megalopolis, they stand ten thousand feet above the nearby sea, and they are not kidding with this city. Shedding, spalling, self-destructing, they are disintegrating at a rate that is also among the fastest in the world. The phalanxed communities of Los Angeles have pushed themselves hard against these mountains, an aggression that requires a deep defense budget to contend with the results. Kimberlee Genofile called to her mother, who joined her in Scott’s room as they looked up the street. From its high turnaround, Pine Cone Road plunges downhill like a ski run, bending left and then right and then left and then right in steep christiania turns for half a mile above a three-hundred-foot straight-away that aims directly at the Genofiles’ house. Not far below the turnaround, Shields Creek passes under the street, and there a kink in its concrete profile had been plugged by a six-foot boulder. Hence the silence of the creek. The water was not spreading over the street. It descended in heavy sheets. As the young Genofiles and their mother glimpsed it in the all but total darkness, the scene was suddenly illuminated by a blue electrical flash. In the blue light they saw a massive blackness, moving. It was not a landslide, not a mudslide, not a rock avalanche; nor by any means was it the front of a conventional flood. In Jackie’s words, “It was just one big black thing coming at us, rolling, rolling with a lot of water in front of it, pushing the water, this big black thing. It was just one big black hill coming toward us.”

In geology, it would be known as a debris flow. Debris flows amass in stream valleys and more or less resemble fresh concrete. They consist of water mixed with a good deal of solid material, most of which is above sand size. Some of it is Chevrolet size. Boulders bigger than cars ride long distances in debris flows. Boulders grouped like fish eggs pour downhill in debris flows. The dark material coming toward the Genofiles was not only full of boulders; it was so full of automobiles it was like bread dough mixed with raisins. On its way down Pine Cone Road, it plucked up cars from driveways and the street. When it crashed into the Genofiles’ house, the shattering of safety glass made terrific explosive sounds. A door burst open. Mud and boulders poured into the hall. We’re going to go, Jackie thought. Oh, my God, what a hell of a way for the four of us to die together.

The parents’ bedroom was on the far side of the house. Bob Genofile was in there kicking through white satin draperies at the paneled glass, smashing it to provide an outlet for water, when the three others ran in to join him. The walls of the house neither moved nor shook. As a general contractor, Bob had built dams, department stores, hospitals, six schools, seven churches, and this house. It was made of concrete block with steel reinforcement, 16 inches on center. His wife had said it was stronger than any dam in California. His crew had called it “the fort.” In those days, 20 years before, the Genofiles’ acre was close by the edge of the mountain brush, but a developer had come along since then and knocked down thousands of trees and put Pine Cone Road up the slope. Now Bob Genofile was thinking, I hope the roof holds. I hope the roof is strong enough to hold. Debris was flowing over it. He told Scott to shut the bedroom door. No sooner was the door closed that it was battered down and fell into the room. Mud, rock, water poured in. It pushed everybody against the far wall. “Jump on the bed,” Bob said. The bed began to rise. Kneeling on it — on a gold velvet spread — they could soon press their palms against the ceiling. The bed also moved toward the glass wall. The two teen-agers got off, to try to control the motion, and were pinned between the bed’s brass railing and the wall. Boulders went up against the railing, pressed it into their legs, and held them fast. Bob dived into the muck to try to move the boulders, but he failed. The debris flow, entering through windows as well as doors, continued to rise. Escape was still possible for the parents but not for the children. The parents looked at each other and did not stir. Each reached for and held one of the children. Their mother felt suddenly resigned, sure that her son and daughter would die and she and her husband would quickly follow. The house became buried to the eaves. Boulders sat on the roof. Thirteen automobiles were packed around the building, including five in the pool. A din of rocks kept banging against them. The stuck horn of a buried car was blaring. The family in the darkness in their fixed tableau watched one another by the light of a directional signal, endlessly blinking. The house had filled up in six minutes, and the mud stopped rising near the children’s chins.”

Note that these flows don’t happen only when it’s still raining. Here’s one that happened along the Hayward Fault, in Fremont, that I remember watching from across the South Bay when we lived in Emerald Hills, California, in the late Nineties. It moved slowly and didn’t take out any houses; but it almost did, and was dramatic to watch. It wasn’t raining at the time. The mountainside was saturated with water from earlier rains, and chose its own time to give.

In terms of Geology, California is new. If you were to run a short video of the last few hundred thousand years in Southern California, you’d see a riot of mountains forming, sliding sideways and collapsing. If you were to do the same for the mountains of Arkansas or North Carolina, you’d see almost nothing happening.

Living anywhere is a game of russian roulette with nature: a bet that grand geologic or weather events will not occur within our brief lifespans. In communities like La Conchita, and others placed below dirt sure to move, there are many more bullets in the chambers.

But denial is a powerful force. When I first moved to Santa Barbara, and drove past La Conchita on Highway 1, I was astounded that anybody would chance to build there, because big landslides had obviously happened already, and more were sure to come. Since the mudslide of 2005, many people continue to live in La Conchita, and insist that the county “fix” the mountain above them — even though geologists have studied the region closely and said this:

The 1995 and 2005 landslides in the 200-m high sea cliff above the community of La Conchita, California, are known to be part of a reactivated Holocene prehistoric landslide. We propose that the prehistoric Holocene slide is part of a much larger, several hundred million cubic meter late Pleistocene slide complex composed of upper slumps and lower flows, informally termed as the Rincon Mountain megaslide.

On the positive side, rain on SoCal’s low elevations in winter means snow on the high peaks. If the air clears, Los Angeles will be flanked by white alps. I guarantee great skiing on Mt. Baldy when this thing is over. Provided there isn’t a debris flow blocking the road going up there.

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John McPhee is the best nonfiction writer alive. My opinion, of course. But I happen to be right. Nobody describes anything better. No writer does a better job of digging into subjects most would find dull (rocks, pine barrens, river levees, minor species of fish) and making them not only interesting but relevant. Sometimes extremely so.

Take what he wrote in The Control of Nature about the Mississippi river, describing, among much else, what would happen to New Orleans when a levee failed. Which, ineviably, one would. In a chapter titled Achafalaya, McPhee handicapped the Army Corps of Engineers against the Mississippi. That was in 1987. The New Yorker ran it again in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina gave McPhee’s words the ring of phophesy.

Another chapter in The Control of Nature is “Los Angeles vs. The San Gabriel Mountains.” That one has special relevance today, when torrential rain on mountains denuded by fires brings the threat of mud slides — a term that doesn’t describe what really happens. McPhee:

  In the blue light they saw a massive blackness, moving. It was not a landslide, not a mudslide, not a rock avalanche; nor by any means was it the front of a conventional flood. In Jackie’s words, “It was just one big black thing coming at us, rolling, rolling with a lot of water in front of it, pushing the water, this big black thing. It was just one big black hill coming toward us.”

  In geology, it would be known as a debris flow. Debris flows amass in stream valleys and more or less resemble fresh concrete. They consist of water mixed with a good deal of solid material, most of which is above sand size. Some of it is Chevrolet size. Boulders bigger than cars ride long distances in debris flows. Boulders grouped like fish eggs pour downhill in debris flows. The dark material coming toward the Genofiles was not only full of boulders; it was so full of automobiles it was like bread dough mixed with raisins. On its way down Pine Cone Road, it plucked up cars from driveways and the street.

Geologists call mountain-building “orogeny.” In his Pulitzer-winning book on geology, Annals of the Former World, McPhee explains, “in the fight between orogeny and erosion, erosion always wins.” Fires side with erosion. Rain does too, especially when teamed with fires.

It is important to understand, if you live on or under their slopes, that the mountains of Southern California are brand new and not all well built. There are volcanoes that grow slower than some of these mountains, and come down slower too. Many of the canyons and ravines in the San Gabriels — the Big Tujunga, the Pacoima — are flanked by dirt whose angles of repose nearly exceed the temporary frictions that hold the land in place. Water-soaked dirt can weigh more than rock, and will seek a level lower than its own. Burn off the desert chapparal that carpets the slopes, and debris flows become certain once the rain soaks in.

So that’s not just what to watch for in the current heavy weather. It’s what to expect.

I just posted this essay to IdeaScale at OpenInternet.gov, in advance of the Open Internet Workshop at MIT this afternoon. (You can vote it up or down there, along with other essays.)  I thought I’d put it here too. — Doc


The Internet is free and open infrastructure that provides almost unlimited support for free speech, free enterprise and free assembly. Nothing in human history, with the possible exception of movable type — has done more to encourage all those freedoms. We need to be very careful about how we regulate it, especially since it bears only superficial resemblances to the many well-regulated forms of infrastructure it alters or subsumes.

Take radio and TV, for example. Spectrum — the original “bandwidth” — is scarce. You need a license to broadcast, and can only do so over limited distances. There are also restrictions on what you can say. Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1464, prohibits “any obscene, indecent or profane language by means of radio communication.” Courts have upheld the prohibition.

Yet, as broadcasters and the “content industry” embrace the Net as a “medium,” there is a natural temptation by Congress and the FCC to regulate it as one. In fact, this has been going on since the dawn of the browser. The Digital Performance Right in Sound Recordings Act (DPRSA) came along in 1995. The No Electronic Theft Act followed in 1997. And — most importantly — there was (and still is) Digital Millenium Copyright Act of 1998.

Thanks to the DMCA, Internet radio got off to a long and very slow start, and is still severely restricted. Online stations face payment requirements to music copyright holders are much higher than those for broadcasters — so high that making serious money by webcasting music is nearly impossible. There are also tight restrictions on what music can be played, when, and how often. Music on podcasts is essentially prohibited, because podcasters need to “clear rights” for every piece of copyrighted music they play. That’s why, except for “podsafe” music, podcasting today is almost all talk.

There is also a risk that we will regulate the Net as a form of telephony or television, because most of us are sold Internet service as gravy on top of our telephone or cable TV service — as the third act in a “triple play.” Needless to say, phone and cable companies would like to press whatever advantages they have with Congress, the FCC and other regulatory bodies.

It doesn’t help that most of us barely know what the Internet actually is. Look up “The Internet is” on Google and see what happens: http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&q… There is little consensus to be found. Worse, there are huge conflicts between different ways of conceiving the Net, and talking about it.

For example, when we say the Net consists of “sites,” with “domains” and “locations” that we “architect,” “design,” “build” and “visit,” we are saying the Internet is a place. (Where, presumably, you can have free speech, enterprise and assembly.)

But if we say the Net is a “medium” for the “distribution” of “content” to “consumers,” we’re talking about something more like broadcasting or the shipping industry, where those kinds of freedoms are more restricted.

These two ways of seeing the Net are both true, both real, and both commonly used, to the degree that we mix their metaphors constantly. They also suggest two very different regulatory approaches.

Right now most of us think about regulation in terms of the latter. That is, we want to regulate the Net as a shipping system for content. This makes sense because most of us still go on the Net through connections supplied by phone or cable companies. We also do lots of “downloading” and “uploading” — and both are shipping terms.

Yet voice and video are just two among countless applications that can run on the Net — and there are no limits on the number and variety of those applications. Nor should there be.

So, what’s the right approach?

We need to start by recognizing that the Net is infrastructure, in the sense that it is a real thing that we can build on, and depend on. It is also public in the sense that nobody owns it and everybody can use it. We need to recognize that the Net is defined mostly by a collection of protocols for moving data — and most of those protocols are open to improvement by anybody. These protocols may be limited in some ways by the wired or wireless connections over which they run, but they are nor reducible to those connections. You can run Internet protocols over barbed wire if you like.

This is a very different kind of infrastructure than anything civilization has ever seen before, or attempted to regulate. It’s not “hard” infrastructure, like we have with roads, bridges, water and waste treatment plants. Yet it’s solid. We can build on it.

In thinking about regulation, we need to maximize ways that the Net can be improved and minimize ways it can be throttled or shut down. This means we need to respect the good stuff every player brings to the table, and to keep narrow but powerful interests from control our common agenda. That agenda is to keep the Net free, open and supportive of everybody.

Specifically, we need to thank the cable and phone companies for doing the good work they’ve already done, and to encourage them to keep increasing data speeds while also not favoring their own “content” subsidiaries and partners. We also need to encourage them to stop working to shut down alternatives to their duopolies (which they have a long history of doing at both the state and federal levels).

We also need to thank and support the small operators — the ISPs and Wireless ISPs (WISPs) — who should be able to keep building out connections and offering services without needing to hire lawyers so they can fight monopolists (or duopolists) as well as state and federal regulators.

And we need to be able to build out our own Internet connections, in our homes and neighborhoods — especially if our local Internet service providers don’t provide what we need.

We can only do all this if we start by recognizing the Net as a place rather than just another medium — a place that nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve.

Doc Searls
Fellow, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
Harvard University

[Later...] A bonus link from Tristan Louis, on how to file a comment with the FCC.

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It’s so odd to look at the list of radio station ratings for Raleigh-Durham. When I left in ’85 I was out of radio, but still deeply into it, and I could tell you something about every signal you could pick up there. Now I know squat. So many of the stations have changed owners, call letters, cities of license, transmitter locations and formats that the dial (another thing that no longer exists, really) there is all but unrecognizable to me.

Yet that change is nothing compared to the move of everything on radio and TV to the Net.

Most of my radio listening today is on computers and phones. Even in my car, driving around Boston, I’m listening to KCLU from Santa Barbara, WUNC from Chapel Hill, High Plains Public Radio, WWOZ from New Orleans, KGSR from Austin, Radio Paradise, Radio Deliro…

The “system” isn’t one. It’s all very ad hoc and not very reliable. Nobody yet has the right formula to reconcile their own costs and programming with the barely-known users and usages out there. How many streams should they support? Should they stream at 128kb and be audible only over ethernet and good “broadband” land connecitons? Should they stream in lo-fi at 24kb or 32kb so they stay audible on iPhones over 3G connections after those go away and the connection drops down to GPRS? (That’s my recommendation, generally.) Should they have multiple streams? (I also recommend that.) For radio on the Net (which also includes podcasting and on-demand), there isn’t enough common usage yet, much less common wisdom about how to serve it on the supply side. It’s like AM radio in 1924. The difference is that much more of it is outside regulatory control. The rules that matter are copyright more than engineering. Ever notice how little popular (or even known) music is on podcast? Thank the DMCA for that one.

In other words, it’s late for radio as we knew it, and early for radio as we’ll know it.

Heard cherry“Cherry Pie”, by Skip & Flip, this morning on the radio while taking The Kid to school. I remembered that Skip & Flip had another hit, “It was I”, and that one of the two singers also had a later hit as a member of another group. What was it? I wondered. The Kid wanted to know. So did I.

But we’re talking about old stuff here. Those two hits were from 1960 and 1959, when I was 13 (like my kid, the oldies lover, is now) and 12. Whatever else they did was moldly too. Still, I used to know. Or, I still knew, but didn’t remember, which is just as bad. Shit like this happens when your archives fill up and spill all over the brain pan.

Anyway, I went to the links above, and to Wikipedia, where I found that the two were Skip Batlin and Gary S. Paxton, the former of which has been dead since 2003 and the latter of which had quite the subsequent career, including the item I didn’t remember: that he was with the Hollywood Argyles, which had a hit with “Alley Oop” which reached #1 in the summer of 1961. (Though in New York, where most of my radio came from at the time, Top 40 stations — WABC, WINS and WMCA — played a version by Dante & the Evergreens. Hey, I remember that, anyway.)

Seems Paxton did a lot more, too. For example, producing “Monster Mash”, by Bobby “Boris” Pickett, and playing with The Byrds, New Riders of the Purple Sage and the Flying Burrito Brothers.

But the strongest stuff is at his website. His all-caps testimony page is packed with interesting stuff. Such as,

RIGHT AFTER I TURNED 18 – I HAD TO REGISTER FOR THE DRAFT. ONE DAY WHEN I WAS SITTING IN A RESTAURANT A WOMAN WALKED UP TO ME AND SAID, “MAY I TALK WITH YOU I’M YOUR MOTHER! … I WAS IN TOTAL SHOCK – I HAD NEVER BEEN TOLD I WAS ADOPTED … I WAS ‘VERY CONFUSED. IN THE SAME TIME FRAME MY FIRST RECORD “IT WAS I BY SKIP AND FLIP WAS OUT …. 1 WENT TO NEW YORK, DID TV SHOWS AND TOURS WITH THE GREAT ALAN FREED (WHO NAMED) ROCK & ROLL AND THE DICK CLARK TOURS … INSTANT STARDOM …
TOO MUCH TOO FAST AFTER BEING SO-O-O POOR FOR SO-O-O LONG.
WE THEN CUT “CHERRY PIE” IT WAS A MILLION SELLER … I WENT TO HOLLYWOOD IN 1959 AND THERE I CUT “ALLEY-OOP” IT WAS A MULTI-MILLION SELLER. .. I WAS PART OF THE SUNSET STRIP HIPPIE MOVEMENT – THE SEA WITCH – THE WHISKEY A-GO-GO ETC. A YEAR OR SO LATER I PRODUCED “MONSTER MASH” – A MILLION SELLER – 3 TIMES – 1962-1967-1974 … 1 CUT MANY MILLION SELLERS WITH TOMMY ROE AND THE ASSOCIATION, PAUL REVERE AND THE RAIDERS, MANY JAZZ ARTISTS INCL1JDING THE FOUR FRESHMAN AND VARIOUS JAZZ STARS.
MY MOTHER TOLD ME SHE WAS 1/2 NATIVE AMERICAN-KICKAPOO INDIAN AND 1/2 SCOTCH AND THAT MY FATHER WAS 1/2 JEWISH AND 1/2 RED-HEADED IRISHMAN – SO. THAT MAKES ME AN lNJU. I DID A LOT OF SOCIAL WORK WITH THE YAKKI INDIANS IN THE PlUTE MOUNTAINS … 1 MOVED TO BAKERSFIELD, CALIFORNIA – HAD A LAKE MARINA HOTEL & CABINS IN THE MOUNTAINS

Then he moved to Nashville and found Jesus. This came in handy:

IN 1980 TWO MEN WERE HIRED TO MURDER ME OVER A CONTRACT DISPUTE .. THEY BEAT MY HEAD IN WITH A PIPE – - BROKE BOTH OF MY SHOULDERS – SHOT ME THREE TIMES WITH A .38 WHILE I CONTINUED TO YELL” IN THE NAME OF J E S U S YOU CAN’T KILL ME!” WHILE I WAS DOWN SICK – MY STUDIO PARTNER EMBEZZLED ME OUT OF A 1/2 MILLION DOLLARS – THE FDIC FORCED ME THROUGH INVOLUNTARY BANKRUPTCY AND TOOK ALL OF MY ROYALTIES FOR 10 YEARS – THEN THE IRS BILLED ME FOR $432,000.00 FOR THE MONEY THE FDIC TOOK. I THEN GOT BLEEDING ULCERS, LOST 80% OF MY BLOOD – STARTED HAVING A STROKE – I WAS RUSHED TO BAPTIST HOSPITAL, I WAS GIVEN 8 BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS -THEY GAVE ME HEP C IN THE BLOOD TRANSFUSIONS FROM 1990 ON. MY WIFE, VICKI SUE HELPED ME MOVE TO BRANSON n~ 1999 – WE GOT MARRIED ON VALENTINES DAY – 2002 – I’VE WRITTEN WELL OVER 2,000 SONGS – OVER 600 RECORDED – ABOUT 150 OF THEM HITS IN ONE WAY OR THE OTHER.

As Neo put it in The Matrix, Whoa.

Back in the late ’70s I worked for awhile at the Psychical Research Foundation (whoa, it still exists), which lived in a couple of old houses — now long gone — on the campus of . The PRF was spun off of what was then called the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, or the Institute for Parapsychnology, and since re-branded as the Rhine Research Center. All of it began with Duke botanist J.B. Rhine’s work toward understanding what he called extrasensory perception, or ESP. This work eventually veered outside Duke’s comfort zone, so it spun out in such a way that it was at Duke but not of it.

The PRF’s work had to do with academic study of the possibility of life after death. Far as I know it never found much evidence, but it was fun helping them try, and even more fun writing about it, which was my job there.

In the midst of that work, I produced a fake research paper, as a joke, put a big pile of copies in the midst of other papers offered at a psychical research convention (yes, they had those, and they were quite serious), and waited for nature to take its course.

The paper was called “Psi Burn,” and claimed that psychical research itself caused fun forms of harm. (Psi is a catch-all term for paranormal powers) I wish I had one in front of me, but I don’t. Omni 1978_12 - DecemberI do remember that the sources included titles such as “Twenty cases suggestive of intoxication” (or maybe it was “Twenty copies suggestive of reproduction”), “A second report on Mrs. Veeble’s smart dog,” and “A wave theory of death.” Somehow (I think Martin Gardner of Scientific American was involved) the paper found its way into the hands of James Randi (aka “The Amazing Randi”), then a famous opponent of parapsychology in its many forms. Randi loved the piece, and caused it to come to the attention of the science fiction writer Ben Bova, who was then on his way to becoming an editor at a new magazine called OMNI. Bova wanted “Psi Burn” for an early issue, and offered to pay me good money ($800, which was 4x my rent at the time). I accepted, and my very brief career as a contributor to OMNI began.

A second humorous piece followed. It was about how NASA budget cuts forced the agency to confine its explorations to the third planet from the Sun, and to job out the rocketry to custom van builders. The only line I remember from it was, “The presence of yeast in the atmosphere suggested not only the presence of life, but of food and drink as well.” After that I got very ambitious about my writing career and hired an agent who managed to get me nothing (shot down by Saturday Night Live, National Lampoon and others) while also screwing my relationship with OMNI. The money that paid for my work at the PRF also ran out, and I decided to pursue a remunerative and relatively stable opportunity: co-founding a new advertising agency where I would be creative director. That agency (Hodskins Simone & Searls) took off and eventually moved to Silicon Valley where it did quite well. That agency work launched me into the tech world, where I still live.

Anyway, all this comes back after reading In 2010, We Will Live on the Moon: Remembering the giddy futurism of Omni magazine, by By Paul Collins, in . “…with equal parts sci-fi, feature reporting, and meaty interviews with Freeman Dyson and Edward O. Wilson, Omni‘s arrival every month was a sort of peak nerd experience,” he writes. Indeed, it was — on the supply as well as the demand side.

What’s weird, looking back on OMNI‘s ambitious fantasies (robots, space travel), is that the less flashy stuff is what really happened. Collins:

It was in a 1981 Omni piece that William Gibson coined the word “cyberspace,” while the provoking lede “For this I spent two thousand dollars? To kill imaginary Martians?” exhorted Omni-readers to go online in 1983–where, they predicted, everything from entire libraries to consumer product reviews would soon migrate. A year later, the magazine ran one of the earliest accounts of telecommuting with Doug Garr’s “Home Is Where the Work Is,” which might have also marked the first appearance of this deathless standby of modern reportage: “I went to work in my pajamas.”

I’m not in my PJs now, because I don’t have any. But it’s 2:30 in the afternoon in the attic warren where I write on the Net through a 20Mb symmetrical fiber optic cable, and where I’m finally about to take today’s morning shower. Close enough to utopia, if you ask me.

[Later...] Hey, does anybody know if any of the old OMNI stuff is up on the Web anywhere? I haven’t been able to find any. When I’m back at the house in California next month I’ll see if I can find those two issues, scan them and put my pieces up on the Web. If not, no loss. But it’ll be fun to try.

And thanks to Brian Benz’ comment below, I found omnimagonline.com, including the above copy of the cover of the December 1978 issue with my “Psi Burn” piece.

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First, read Dave‘s The Mother of all Business Models. The money grafs:

Want to get a message to Dave while he’s on the BART riding under SF? $5. Want to get a message to him while he’s walking the tradeshow at CES? That costs more.

If you’re important enough you shouldn’t even pay to use the mobile device. They’re going to make so much money from your attention. If you’re really important, thinking Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Mike Arrington, they should pay you — a LOT — to use their device. Wow.

That got me excited. That’s what they have to be thinking at Google. And why not Twitter. Trying to think of a title for this post, I came up with The Mother of All Business Models. This is as far as I can see. A new economy. Nobodies pay, but important people are paid to use your brand cell phone/mobile device. I’m sure that’s the future. Might be horrible but we’re already almost there.

This is great stuff: a whole new frame for the sell side.

Now let’s look at the buy side, and how to keep the sellers from being horrible moms. What do we want there? Or what should we want there, if we knew we had the power, independent of advertisers and their media? I mean native power here: power that each of us has — not by grace of some company or government agency, and not limited to a company’s “platform”, which is almost always the floor of a silo or the lawn of a walled garden (and worth less or nothing outside of it).

We already have some of that power, thanks to protocols, formats and code that (essentially) nobody owns, everybody can use and anybody can improve. One of the most widespread of those, thanks to Dave, is RSS — Really Simple Syndication. Look up RSS on Google. You get 3,210,000,000 results, as of today. Much of that huge number owes to RSS’s nature as essential builing material for the Web that anybody can use, easily.

RSS is easy to make yours, personally, as your tool. Thanks to RSS (atop the Web’s and the Net’s other supportive standards, formats and protocols) anybody can produce, edit, update and syndicate pretty much whatever they like. You don’t have to go to Google or Twitter or Facebook. That independence is key, and has been there from the start, as a founding premise.

Now, what else can we create, to help assert our sides of commercial interactions and relationships — which is the central concern of the VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) community? In the Markets Are Relationships chapter of the 10th Anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto, I wrote this about the purposes of VRM efforts:

  1. Provide tools for individuals to manage relationships with organizations. These tools are personal. That is, they belong to the individual in the sense that they are under the individual’s control. They can also be social, in the sense that they can connect with others and support group formation and action. But they need to be personal first.
  2. Make individuals the collection centers for their own data, so that transaction histories, health records, membership details, service contracts, and other forms of personal data are no longer scattered throughout a forest of silos.
  3. Give individuals the ability to share data selectively, without disclosing more personal information than the individual allows.
  4. Give individuals the ability to control how their data is used by others, and for how long. At the individual’s discretion, this may include agreements requiring others to delete the individual’s data when the relationship ends.
  5. Give individuals the ability to assert their own terms of service, reducing or eliminating the need for organization-written terms of service that nobody reads and everybody has to “accept” anyway.
  6. Give individuals means for expressing demand in the open market, outside any organizational silo, without disclosing any unnecessary personal information.
  7. Make individuals platforms for business by opening the market to many kinds of third party services that serve buyers as well as sellers.
  8. Base relationship-managing tools on open standards, open APIs (application program interfaces), and open code. This will support a rising tide of activity that will lift an infinite variety of business boats, plus other social goods.
  9. The Intention Economy.

All these will also give rise to:

The latter is the title of the following section of the chapter, where I  explain that advertising is a bubble, and “so is the rest of the ‘attention economy’ that includes promotion, public relations, direct marketing, and other ways of pushing messages through media.” I then explain,

The attention economy will crash for three reasons. First, it has always been detached from the larger economy where actual goods and services are sold to actual customers. Second, it has always been inefficient and wasteful, flaws that could be rationalized only by the absence of anything better. Third, a better system will come along in which demand drives supply at least as well as supply drives demand. In other words, when the “intention economy” outperforms the attention economy.

Some context:

The attention economy will not go away. There will still be a need for vendors to promote their offerings. But that promotion will have a new context: the ability of customers to communicate what they need and want—and to maintain or terminate relationships. Thus the R in CRM will cease to be a euphemism. This will happen when we have standard protocols for all three forms of market activity: transaction, conversation, and relationship.

Transaction we already have. Conversation we are only beginning to develop. (Email, text messaging, and other standard and open protocols help here, but they are still just early steps—even in in 2009, ten years after we said “markets are conversations” in The Cluetrain Manifesto.) Relationship is the wild frontier. Closed “social” environments like MySpace and Facebook are good places to experiment with some of what we’ll need, but as of today they’re still silos. Think of them as AOL 2.0.

Now, what do we need to create The Intention Economy? (That link goes to a piece by that name written almost four years ago.) What’s already there, like RSS and its relatives, that we can put to use? What new protocols, formats, tools and code do we need to create?

Improving selling is a good thing. Improving buying is a better thing. And improving how buyers and sellers relate is better than both. Those last two are what VRM is about. (And the last one is what CRM has always been about, though it hasn’t had any reciprocating system on the buy side, which is what VRM will provide.)

If you want to see some of what we’re up to, or to contribute to it, here’s the wiki. And here’s the list.

Meanwhile, I’m working on a book titled The Intention Economy: What Happens When Customers Get Real Power. If you’re interested in pointing me to helpful scholorship, research and stories for the book, feel free to weigh in with those too.

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matterhorn_by_moonlight

There are mountains, and there is the Matterhorn. It’s all a matter of sculpture and presentation. Great art, great framing.

The Matterhorn is ice sculpture. It was carved by ice out of rock pushed to the sky by a collision between Italy and Europe that’s still going on. The ice was as high as the mountain, or higher, and the carved off parts are scattered all over the Alps and its alluvial fans, discarded by water and wind when the ice cap melted, only a few millennia before the Pyramids showed up. Go back to when the ice was at high tide, and the Alps looked like the near-buried parts of Greenland do today. (See here, here and here.)

The shot above was what the Matterhorn looked like by moonlight on our way back to the hotel tonight. There’s hardly a thing on Earth more impressive than that.

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Progress

Back when I started coming over to Europe for work (mostly to France), in the mid-90s, I listened almost every night to U.S. armed forces radio (then called the Armed Forces Radio Service, or AFRS) on 873KHz on the AM (or, in Europe, MW) dial. I’m listening again now, almost surprised to find it still there (at the top of this handy list in Wikipedia). Big station: 150kw, or 3x the max allowed in the U.S.

It’s the Armed Forces Network now, or AFN. Playing country music.

Here’s a Wikipedia page for the transmitter itself, in Weißkirchen.

Meanwhile, I’m also listening to ‘s 96Kb AAC stream, from New York. Specifically, Strauss’s Elektra, Johannes Brahms, Rhapsody in B Minor, Op. 79/1, Ivo Pogorelich, piano, the station website tells me. Sounds terrific on my Sennheiser headphones.

Consider the fact that I’m listening at the far end of a weak wi-fi signal in one of the cheapest hotels in Zermatt, which is at the deep end of a long valley in Switzerland’s Alps. (Outside our window, the Matterhorn.) Puts some perspective on the comment thread, still lengthening here, that was set off by WQXR’s move to a weaker over-the-air signal (among other moves by when they took over the station from the New York Times).

Earlier today we visited some of the other hotels. The most impressive one in town is the Grand Hotel Zermatterhof. The Internet is not among its featured offerings. They do have a tiny “Internet corner,” occupying what appears to be old phone booth locations, and which we found occupied by two twelve-year-olds on the only terminals there. Makes me glad we’re at our good-enough hotel with its free wi-fi. Elsewhere service seems to be most commonly provided by Swisscom, at prices that make sense only to them. (I’d show a screen shot, but I lost it, alas.) Given the brutal prices already charged by the better hotels here, it would make far more sense just to bake the service into those price and let the guests use the Net for free, just like they use water, bedding and electricity.

But actually I care less about the right thing to do now than I care about the only thing to do in the future. That’s to build out the Net as a basic utility. Not as a secondary (or tertiary) service of phone and cable companies.

I know that’s not how it is now, and that’s not how it’s gong to be for awhile. Right now the Net is still seen as gravy rather than as meat. But this will change. Count on it. And count on more money being made on the transition than on maintaining today’s defaults. Also count on it all going faster if we can also handle our own end of it, in our own homes and neighborhoods.

Companies betting on the free and ubiquitous Internet of the future have the best chance of winning in the long run. They just won’t win by continuing to monetize the Net on the pay toilet model. (Or, for those who recall, the coin-operated television model. Yo, here’s the patent.)

@robpatrob (Robert Paterson) asks (responding to this tweet and this post) “Why would GBH line up against BUR? Why have a war between 2 Pub stations in same city?” (In this tweet and this one, Dan Kennedy asks pretty much the same thing.)

The short answer is, Because it wouldn’t be a war. Boston is the world’s largest college town. There are already a pile of home-grown radio-ready program-filling goods here, if one bothers to dig and develop. The standard NPR line-up could also use a challenge from other producers. WGBH is already doing that in the mornings by putting The Takeaway up against Morning Edition. That succeeds for me because now I have more choices. I can jump back and forth between those two (which I do, and Howard Stern as well).

The longer answer is that it gives GBH a start on the inevitable replacement of signal-based radio by multiple streams and podcast line-ups. WGBH has an exemplary record as a producer of televsion programming, but it’s not setting the pace in other media, including radio. The story is apparent in the first four paragraphs of its About page (which is sure to change):

WGBH is PBS’s single largest producer of content for television (prime-time and children’s programs) and the Web. Some of your favorite series and websites — Nova, Masterpiece, Frontline, Antiques Roadshow, Curious George, Arthur, and The Victory Garden, to name a few — are produced here in our Boston studios.

WGBH also is a major supplier of programs heard nationally on public radio, including The World. And we’re a pioneer in educational multimedia and in media access technologies for people with hearing or vision loss.

Our community ties run deep. We’re a local public broadcaster serving southern New England, with 11 public television services and three public radio services — and productions (from Greater Boston to Jazz with Eric in the Evening) that reflect the issues and cultural riches of our region. We’re a member station of PBS and an affiliate of both NPR and PRI.

In today’s fast-changing media landscape, we’re making sure you can find our content when and where you choose — on TV, radio, the Web, podcasts, vodcasts, streaming audio and video, iPhone applications, groundbreaking teaching tools, and more. Our reach and impact keep growing.

Note the order: TV first, radio second, the rest of it third. But where WGBH needs to lead in the future is with #3: that last paragraph. Look at WGBH’s annual report. It’s very TV-heavy. Compare its radio productions to those of Chicago Public Radio or WNYC. Very strong in classical music (now moving over to WCRB, at least on the air), and okay-but-not-great in other stuff.

Public TV has already become a ghetto of geezers and kids, while the audience between those extrmes is diffusing across cable TV and other media. An increasingly negligible sum of people watch over-the-air (OTA) TV. Here WGBH lost out too. It’s old signal on Channel 2 was huge, reaching more households than any other in New England. Now it’s just another UHF digital signal — like its own WGBX/44, with no special advantages. Public radio is in better shape, for now, because its band isn’t the ever-growing accordion file that cable TV has become; and because most of it still lives in a regulated protectorate at the bottom fifth of the FM band. It also helps public radio that the rest of both the FM and the AM bands suck so royally. (Only sports and political talk are holding their own. Music programming is losing to file sharing and iPods. All-news stations are yielding to iPhone programs that offer better news, weather and traffic reporting. In Boston WBZ is still a landmark news station, but it has to worry a bit with WGBH going in the same direction.)

So the timing is right. WGBH needs to start sinking new wells into the aquifer of smart, talented and original people and organizations here in the Boston area — and taking the lead in producing great new programming with what they find. I’ll put in another plug for Chris Lydon‘s Open Source, which is currently available only in podcast/Web form. And there is much more, including Cambridge-based PRX‘s enormous portfolio of goods.  (Disclosure: my work with the Berkman Center is partially funded through PRX — and those folks, like Chris, are good friends.)

In the long run what will matter are sources, listeners, and the finite amount of time the latter can devote to the former. Not old-fashioned signals.

P.S. to Dan Kennedy’s tweeted question, “Is there another city in the country where two big-time public radio stations go head-to-head on news? Can’t think of one.” Here are a few (though I’d broaden the answer beyond “news,” since WBUR isn’t just that):

All with qualifications, of course. In some cases you can add in Pacifica (which, even though my hero Larry Josephson once called it a “foghorn for political correctness,” qualifies as competition). Still, my point is that there is room for more than one mostly-talk (or news) public radio station in most well-populated regions. Even in Boston, where WBUR has been king of the hill for many years. Hey, other things being equal (and they never are), the biggest signal still tends to win. And in Boston, WGBH has a bigger signal than WBUR: almost 100,000 watts vs. 12,000 watts. WBUR radiates from a higher elevaiton, but its signal is directional. On AM that means it’s stronger than the listed power in some directions and weaker in others; but on FM it means no more than the listed power in some directions and weaker in others. See the FCC’s relative field polar plot to see how WBUR’s signal is dented in every direction other than a stretch from just west of North to Southeast. In other words, toward all but about a third of its coverage area. To sum up, WGBH has a much punchier signal. I’m sure the GBH people also have this in mind when they think about how they’ll compete with BUR.

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The older I get, the earlier it seems.

So many gone things once looked like final stages: AM radio, nuclear bombs, FM, stereo, FM stereo, TV, color TV, quadrophonic sound, answer machines, PCs, online services, bulletin boards, home PBXes, newsgroups, instant messaging, cell phones, HD, browsing, pirate radio, free wi-fi, friending, tweeting.

Yeah, some of those aren’t gone yet, but don’t count on their staying around. Not in their current forms.

Three conditions have been profoundly increased by technology during my brief (62.2 year) lifetime: connectivity, autonomy and abundance. Those have been provided respectively by the Net, personal computing, and data processing and storage. I can now connect with anybody or anything pretty much anywhere I go, as an autonomous actor rather than a captive dependent on some company’s silo or walled garden. I can also access, accumulate and put to use many kinds of information of relevance to myself and my world.

Some creepy dependencies are still involved, such as the ones I have with ISPs and phone companies. But I believe even those will become substitutable services in the long run, much as the best “cloud” services are also becoming substitutable utilities.

I haven’t said that all this is a Good Thing. In fact I’m not sure it is. Meaning I’m not sure it has been good for us, or our world, that we have drifted so far from the hunting and gathering animals we were when we diasporized out of Africa during the last Ice Age. Perhaps we have adapted well without evolving at all. Think about it.

We are, if nothing else (and yes, we are much else) a pestilence on the planet. Few creatures other than rats and microbes are more widespread, or have done more to eat and alter the Earth’s contents and its living dependents. Sure, I’m enjoying it too. But at some point the party ends. When it does, what do we go home to?

Anyway, this all comes to mind while reading Nick Carr‘s The eternal conference call. His bottom lines are killer:

  The flaw of synchronous communication has been repackaged as the boon of realtime communication. Asynchrony, once our friend, is now our enemy. The transaction costs of interpersonal communication have fallen below zero: It costs more to leave the stream than to stay in it. The approaching Wave promises us the best of both worlds: the realtime immediacy of the phone call with the easy broadcasting capacity of email. Which is also, as we’ll no doubt come to discover, the worst of both worlds. Welcome to the conference call that never ends. Welcome to Wave hell.

It’s the latest among Nick’s Realtime Chronicles. As always, strong stuff.

The original was born during a writing project David Sifry and I were doing for . Late at night David pinged me and said “Look at this,” and I was amazed. It was the first search engine for what we then called The Live Web (and now call Real Time). Basically, it was a search engine that just paid attention to RSS, which back then consisted mostly of blogs. (I welcome corrections from David, or anybody, on that. It’s been awhile.) When David made Technorati a company, he put me on its advisory board, and for awhile I had some influence on where it went and what it did. It was also, for many subjects, my primary search engine. If I wanted to follow conversation about a subject, Technorati was where I went first. I also liked the way it allowed me to look at a topic’s trending over the last few weeks or months. Technorati was also a technical pioneer, introducing tag search, along with new standards and practices around tagging in general. After Google Blogsearch came along, I used both, but Technorati was usually my first choice. I especially liked s.technorati.com, which gave the same results through a plain no-bullshit search UI.

Over the years, however, Technorati came to value popularity and buzz more than the kind of stuff I was looking for. Some of the same functionality was there, but it was buried deeper and deeper. For example, feeds of searches. If I wanted to subscribe to feeds of, say, a search for Nokia N900, I could click on something that said (or meant) “get a feed for this search.” Google Blogsearch had the same feature, and made it easy. Still does, giving me a choice of Blog Alerts, Atom and RSS, under a heading that says “Subscribe”. Twitter search, similarly, has “feed for this query”.

Without being able to find that feed easily, I lost interest in Technorati, only going there when I couldn’t find the results I wanted elsewhere. By that time David and most of the other people I knew at Technorati had moved on, so I didn’t have much interest in volunteering advice.

But I learned this morning (via Twitter, naturally) that Technorati had gone through an overhaul. It’s certainly faster and less cluttered. But I still can’t find feeds for searches. Trending seems to be gone, or hidden where I can’t find it. And I have no idea how to do tag searches with it. Maybe that’s because, as CEO Richard Jalichandra explains here, “We’re eliminating many of Technorati.com‘s annoyances and some features, especially ones people didn’t use enough to justify the cost. Instead, we’re focusing on delivering the value people really want from us: instead of boiling the ocean to make coffee, we’re aiming to deliver the non-fat soy latte you asked for.”

Well, that “you” isn’t me. Which is cool. Technorati has become less a search company and more a media company. They launched Technorati Media at the same time. It’s a way to buy and sell ads. I wish them well with it. (Hey, Techcruch likes it.)

Meanwhile I’ll stick with Google Blogsearch for my live Web searching.

Wonder what the rest of ya’ll think.

I’m on the East Coast for the rest of the current fire season in California. Which is cool, literally. I miss Santa Barbara, but not the fear of destruction (which I generally don’t have there, but I need my rationalizations). Speaking of which, here’s The Mania of Owning Things, my EOF column for August 2009 issue of Linux Journal. I wrote it during the Jesusita Fire, the second fire-bullet we dodged this year.

The column title refers to the last line of this bit of Whitman:

I think I could turn and live awhile with the animals.
They are so placid and self-contained.
I stand and look at them sometimes half the day long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition.
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins.
Not one is dissatisfied.
Not one is demented with the mania of owning things.

(For some reason most of those lines didn’t make it into the published piece. So, when you look at it, bear in mind that the top text is part of Whitman and none of me.) Some exerpts (from me, not Whitman):

Ambition and industry in the face of inevitable destruction is the job of life…

I believe in ownership—not for economic reasons, but because possession is 9/10ths of the three-year-old. We are all still toddlers in more ways than we’d like to admit—especially when it comes to possessions.

We are grabby animals. We like to own stuff—or at least control it. Where would a three-year-old be without the first-person possessive pronoun? No response is more human than “Mine!” And yet possessions are also burdens. I have a friend whose childhood home was burned twice by the same nutcase. He’s one of the sanest people I know. I can’t say it’s because he has been relieved of archives and other non-negotiables, but it makes a kind of sense to me. I have tons of that stuff, and I’ve thought lately about what it would mean if suddenly they were all cremated. Would that really be all bad? What I’d miss most are old photos that haven’t been scanned and writing that hasn’t been digitized in some way. But is my digital stuff all that safe either?…

I’ve just started backing (it) up “in the cloud”. But how safe is that? Or secure? Companies are temporary. Servers are temporary. Hell, everything is temporary.

When I was young, I acknowledged death as part of the cycle of life. Now I think it’s the other way around. Life is part of the cycle of death. Life generates fuel for death. It’s a carbon-based refinery for lots of interesting and helpful stuff.

Think about it. Marble. Limestone. Travertine. Oil. Gas. Coal. Wood. Linoleum. Cement. Paint. Plastics. Paper. Asphalt. Textiles. Medicines. Even the heat used to smelt iron and shape glass comes mostly from burning fossil fuel. The moon has abundant aluminum ores. But how would you produce the heat required for extraction, or do anything without the combustive assistance of oxygen? Ninety-eight percent of the oxygen in Earth’s atmosphere is produced by plants. Most of the sources are now dead, their energies devoted to post-living purposes.

The Internet grows by an odd noospheric process: duplication. In “Better Than Free”, Kevin Kelly makes an observation so profound and obvious that you can’t shake it once it sinks in: “The Internet is a copy machine.” As a result, the Net is turning into what Bob Frankston calls a “sea of bits”. This too is an ecosystem of sorts. Is it, like Earth’s ecosystem, a way that death makes use of life? I wonder about that too.

Anyway, the rest is here.

bypassbridge

The shot above, made on Sunday out the window of a plane on approach to Las Vegas, comes three and a half years after this shot, which I took from the ground at Hoover Dam. Here’s a whole set of the fly-by. Not much of the dam shows. The Colorado River gorge is easier to see.

Two things stand out for me in this scene. One is the remarkable engineering involved in building the Mike O’Callaghan-Pat Tillman Memorial Bridge, better known as the Hoover Dam Bypass. The other is that, from altitude — far more than from the ground — you can see the volcanic nature and origin of the rock supporting both the bridge and hte dam. I’ve been looking around for source docs online that detail the provenance of this rock, which needs to be of a competence sufficient to anchor one of the world’s biggest dams, while also supporting a bridge over a gorge. As I recall from the visit, it’s rhyolite. But, not sure. Looks like it. Maybe Arizona Geology can fill us in.

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Same date, new sphere

On 9/11/2001 I had already been blogging for nearly two years. It’s interesting to see what I wrote this day, back then. Since my blog then was not on local time, my first four posts were actually the last from the day before. My first 9/11 post was this one.

A declaration of peace was my second post. Longer and more thoughtful posts came on 9/12, 9/13, 9/14, 9/16 and so on.

Kinda sad to see how many links now go nowhere, or to blogs that have since been abandoned. My blogroll on the right side of those pages has a lot of rot in it too.

In August 2007 I moved my blog here. Thanks to Dave Winer, the old blog archives live.

The Net is different too, especially around the Web. Google is the new Microsoft. Facebook is the new AOL. Twitter is the new CB radio. Much of what used to be on TV and in print have moved to the Web in new forms. Much of education too.

One year ago we were in the midst of a financial collapse. That’s ending now, maybe, sort of.

The whole world is in a transitional state, between many old institutions that aren’t yet dead and many new ones that are not yet formed. That includes Facebook and Twitter, by the way.

The attack on the World Trade Center was followed by wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that have not ended. In Iraq, which has a working government and a degree of peace, an agreeable end can be imagined. Less so in Afghanistan, which George Will, America’s top conservative columnist, thinks we should now abandon.

Terrorists have not attacked the U.S. directly again. At least not that blatantly, or to the same great effect. Interpret that any way you like.

Bonus link.

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Why do mainstream broadcasters keep calling that big fire north of Los Angeles “the so-called Station Fire?” You never hear “so-called Hurricane Bill” or “so-called Hurricane Erika”. Why is that?

The main reason is that hurricanes have a much better naming convention. The surnames of hurricanes are first names of humans. The first names of wildfires often make no sense to ordinary folk. Gap, Day and Station don’t call meaning to mind. As I recall the Day Fire was the second to start on Labor Day, 2006. The other fire was called Labor.

With their human names, hurricanes are personified, making them easy to follow and remember. Katrina, Andrew, Hugo and Fran leap from memory a lot quicker than “The Great Hurricane of 1938” — which happened to be a Category 5 monster. It killed hundreds of people and blew out the wind guage at the Blue Hill Observatory when a gust hit 186 miles per hour. If it had been named Lucinda, it would have persisted as one of New England’s greatest weather legends. Instead it’s like, whoa, who knew?

According to this report, fires are named by the people who fight them. I suggest to those same folks that it will be easier to fight a fire with a personified name than a locational one. Why? Fear. Residents are much more likely to get their rears in gear when “Jack” or “Martha” are coming up the canyon than when “Station” is doing the same.

redwoods

Why do mature redwood trees have trunks that rise two hundred feet before branches commence, live for centuries and have bark that’s a foot thick? Because they are adapted to fire.

zaca

Why does the silver-green chaparral that covers California’s hills and mountains burn so easily? Because it’s supposed to.

calpoppies

Why, other than its color, is the California Poppy such an appropriate flower for the Golden State? Because it is adapted to both fire and earthquakes. Says Wikipedia, “It grows well in disturbed areas and often recolonizes after fires”.

Of course, so do we. That’s why it’s not weird to find humans colonizing hillsides and other “disturbed areas” of California. Case in point: I am writing this in a house sited on an former landslide, not far from the perimeters of two wildfires that claimed hundreds of other houses in the past few months.

Every spot on Earth is temporary, but California is a special example. As permanence goes, California is a house of cards.

For example, take a look at some of the animations here, prepared by geologists at UCSB. Watch as a sheet of crust the size of a continent gets shoved under the western edge of North America. Debris that piled up in the trench where that happened is what we now call the Bay Area. Submerged crust that melted, rose and hardened under North America — and was just recently exposed — we now call the Sierras. Take a look at the last 20 million years of Southern California history. It’s a wreck that’s still going on. One section of that wreck is a bend along the boundary between plates of crust. Mountains pile up along that bend, like snow in front of a plow. The biggest of these ranges we call the San Gabriels. Those are on fire right now. Add up all the Southern California wildfires over the last twenty years and you’ll get a territory exceeding that of several smaller states.

My point is perspective. The human one is so brief that it can hardly take in the full scope of What’s Going On, or what our lives contribute to it. In a geological context, what we contribute are carbon and fossils. We do that by dying. Other planets have geologies as well, but none have marble, limestone, coal or oil. Those are all produced by dead plants and animals. It would be hard to make heat on Mars because — as far as we know — there is no dead stuff to burn.

Humans love to make structures and produce heat, which means we have an unusually strong appetite for dead stuff. Even cement and steel require dead stuff in their making.

If you fly a lot, as I do, you start to notice black lines on the landscape. These are coal trains that move like ant trails from mines in the West to power plants all over the country. The largest of these mines are in Wyoming, more than 50% of which has coal to burn. This coal consists of dead stuff that has been buried for dozens of millions of years, and took at least as long to form. In Uncommon Carriers, John McPhee says the largest power plant in Georgia, Plant Sherer, “burns nearly thirteen hundred coal trains a year—two thousand miles of coal cars, twelve million tons of the bedrock of Wyoming.”

Nothing wrong with that, of course, unless you’re not human.

From any scope wider than our own, we are a pestilential species. Since the human diaspora began spreading out of Africa only a few thousand generations ago, we have chewed our way through land and species at a rate without equal in the history of the Earth, which began 4.567 billion years ago, or more than a third of the way back to the start of the Universe. We are distinguished by our intelligence, our powers of speech and expression, our ability to use tools and to build things, our ability to learn and teach, and our diversity (no two of us, even twins, are exactly alike). There are 6.781 billion of us now. Few of us will live more than a hundred years, and fewer still will have more than a few decades to contribute more than carbon to the world.

Among the many recent developments in civilization, two stand out. One is a widespread realization that the effects of human activity on the planet are non-trivial. The other is a growing ability to connect with each other and communicate over any distance at very little cost. What will we do with this knowledge, and the ability to share it? Will we follow the model of civilizations that waste the places where they live? Or will we prove to be creatures who can change their nature and stop doing that?

The former is the way to bet. The latter is the way to go.

Bonus read: John McPhee’s The Control of Nature. A third of it is called “Los Angeles vs. The San Gabriel Mountains.” While it is mostly about “debris flows” — slow motion landslides — that happen during winter rains, the important part for today’s discussion involves a primary condition for those flows: mountain slopes denuded of vegetation by fires. This means you can count on many mudslides this coming winter.

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A couple days ago I responded to a posting on an email list. What I wrote struck a few chords, so I thought I’d repeat it here, with just a few edits, and then add a few additional thoughts as well. Here goes.

Reading _____’s references to ancient electrical power science brings to mind my own technical background, most of which is now also antique. Yet that background still informs of my understanding of the world, and my curiosities about What’s Going On Now, and What We Can Do Next. In fact I suspect that it is because I know so much about old technology that I am bullish about framing What We Can Do Next on both solid modern science and maximal liberation from technically obsolete legal and technical frameworks — even though I struggle as hard as the next geek to escape those.

(Autobiographical digression begins here. If you’re not into geeky stuff, skip.)

As a kid growing up in the 1950s and early ’60s I was obsessed with electricity and radio. I studied electronics and RF transmission and reception, was a ham radio operator, and put an inordinate amount of time into studying how antennas worked and electromagnetic waves propagated. From my home in New Jersey’s blue collar suburbs, I would ride my bike down to visit the transmitters of New York AM stations in the stinky tidewaters flanking the Turnpike, Routes 46 and 17, Paterson Plank Road and the Belleville Pike. (Nobody called them “Meadowlands” until many acres of them were paved in the ’70s to support a sports complex by that name.) I loved hanging with the old guys who manned those transmitters, and who were glad to take me out on the gangways to show how readings were made, how phasing worked (sinusoidal synchronization again), how a night transmitter had to address a dummy load before somebody manually switched from day to night power levels and directional arrays. After I learned to drive, my idea of a fun trip was to visit FM and TV transmitters on the tops of buildings and mountains. (Hell, I still do that.) Thus I came to understand skywaves and groundwaves, soil and salt water conductivity, ground systems, directional arrays and the inverse square law, all in the context of practical applications that required no shortage of engineering vernacular and black art.

I also obsessed on the reception end. In spite of living within sight of nearly every New York AM transmitter (WABC’s tower was close that we could hear its audio in our kitchen toaster), I logged more than 800 AM stations on my 40s-vintage Hammarlund HQ-129x receiver, which is still in storage at my sister’s place. That’s about 8 stations per channel. I came to understand how two-hop skywave reflection off the E layer of the ionosphere favored flat land or open water midway between transmission and reception points . This, I figured, is why I got KSL from Salt Lake City so well, but WOAI from San Antonio hardly at all. (Both were “clear channel” stations in the literal sense — nothing else in North America was on their channels at night, when the ionosphere becomes reflective of signals on the AM band.) Midpoint for the latter lay within the topographical corrugations of the southern Apalachians. Many years later I found this theory supported by listening in Hawaii to AM stations from Western North America, on an ordinary car radio. I’m still not sure why I found those skywave signals fading and distorting (from multiple reflections in the very uneven ionosphere) far less than those over land. I am sure, however, that most of this hardly matters at all to current RF and digital communication science. After I moved to North Carolina, I used Sporadic E reflections to log more than 1200 FM stations, mostly from 800 to 1200 miles away, plus nearly every Channel 3 and 6 (locally, 2,4 and 5 were occupied) in that same range. All those TV signals are now off the air. (Low-band VHF TV — channels 2 to 6 — are not used for digital signals in the U.S.) My knowledge of this old stuff is now mostly of nostalgia value; but seeking it has left me with a continuing curiosity about the physical world and our infrastructural additions to it. This is why much of what looks like photography is actually research. For example, this and this. What you’re looking at there are pictures taken in service to geology and archaeology.

(End of autobiographical digression.)

Speaking of which, I am also busy lately studying the history of copyright, royalties and the music business — mostly so ProjectVRM can avoid banging into any of those. This research amounts to legal and regulatory archaeology. Three preliminary findings stand out, and I would like to share them.

First, regulatory capture is real, and nearly impossible to escape. The best you can do is keep it from spreading. Most regulations protect last week from yesterday, and are driven by the last century’s leading industries. Little if any regulatory lawmaking by established industries — especially if they feel their revenue bases threatened, clears room for future development. Rather, it prevents future development, even for the threatened parties who might need it most. Thus the bulk of conversation and debate, even among the most progressive and original participants, takes place within the bounds of still-captive markets. This is why it is nearly impossible to talk about Net-supportive infrastructure development without employing the conceptual scaffolding of telecom and cablecom. We can rationalize this, for example, by saying that demand for telephone and cable (or satellite TV) services is real and persists, but the deeper and more important fact is that it is very difficult for any of us to exit the framing of those businesses and still make sense.

Second, infrastructure is plastic. The term “infrastructure” suggests physicality of the sturdiest kind, but in fact all of it is doomed to alteration, obsolescence and replacement. Some of it (Roman roads, for example) may last for centuries, but most of it is obsolete in a matter of decades, if not sooner. Consider over-the-air (OTA) TV. It is already a fossil. Numbered channels persist as station brands; but today very few of those stations transmit on their branded analog channels, and most of them are viewed over cable or satellite connections anyway. There are no reasons other than legacy regulatory ones to maintain the fiction that TV station locality is a matter of transmitter siting and signal range. Viewing of OTA TV signals is headed fast toward zero. It doesn’t help that digital signals play hard-to-get, and that the gear required for getting it sucks rocks. Nor does it help that cable and satellite providers that have gone out of their way to exclude OTA receiving circuitry from their latest gear, mostly force subscribing to channels that used to be free. As a result ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox and PBS are now a premium pay TV package. (For an example of how screwed this is, see here.) Among the biggest fossils are thousands of TV towers, some more than 2000 feet high, maintained to continue reifying the concept of “coverage,” and to legitimize “must carry” rules for cable. After live audio stream playing on mobile devices becomes cheap and easy, watch AM and FM radio transmission fossilize in exactly the same ways. (By the way, if you want to do something green and good for the environment, lobby for taking down some of these towers, which are expensive to maintain and hazards to anything that flies. Start with this list here. Note the “UHF/VHF transmission” column. Nearly all these towers were built for analog transmission and many are already abandoned. This one, for example.)

Third, “infrastructure” is a relatively new term and vaguely understood outside arcane uses within various industries. It drifted from military to everyday use in the 1970s, and is still not a field in itself. Try looking for an authoritative reference book on the general subject of infrastructure. There isn’t one. Yet digital technology requires that we challenge the physical anchoring of infrastructure as a concept. Are bits infrastructural? How about the means for arranging and moving them? The Internet (the most widespread means for moving bits) is defined fundamentally by its suite of protocols, not by the physical media over which data travels, even though there are capacity and performance dependencies on the latter. Again, we are in captured territory here. Only in conceptual jails can we sensibly debate whether something is an “information service” or a “telecommunication service”. And yet most of us who care about the internet and infrasructure do exactly that.

That last one is big. Maybe too big. I’ve written often about how hard it is to frame our understanding of the Net. Now I’m beginning to think we should admit that the Internet itself, as concept, is too limiting, and not much less antique than telecom or “power grid”.

“The Internet” is not a thing. It’s a finger pointing in the direction of a thing that isn’t. It is the name we give to the sense of place we get when we go “on” a mesh of unseen connections to interact with other entitites. Even the term “cloud“, labeling a utility data service, betrays the vagueness of our regard toward The Net.

I’ve been on the phone a lot lately with Erik Cecil, a veteran telecom attorney who has been thinking out loud about how networks are something other than the physical paths we reduce them to. He regards network mostly in its verb form: as what we do with our freedom — to enhance our intelligence, our wealth, our productivity, and the rest of what we do as contributors to civilization. To network we need technologies that enable what we do in maximal ways.  This, he says, requires that we re-think all our public utilities — energy, water, communications, transportation, military/security and law, to name a few — within the context of networking as something we do rather than something we have. (Think also of Jonathan Zittrain’s elevation of generativity as a supportive quality of open technology and standards. As verbs here, network and generate might not be too far apart.)

The social production side of this is well covered in Yochai Benkler‘s The Wealth of Networks, but the full challenge of what Erik talks about is to re-think all infrastructure outside all old boxes, including the one we call The Internet.

As we do that, it is essential that we look to employ the innovative capacities of businesses old and new. This is a hat tip in the general direction of ISPs, and to the concerns often expressed by Richard Bennett and Brett Glass: that new Internet regulation may already be antique and unnecessary, and that small ISPs (a WISP in Brett’s case) should be the best connections of high-minded thinkers like yours truly (and others named above) to the real world where rubber meets road.

There is a bigger picture here. We can’t have only some of us painting it.

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Imagine a “News from Lake Wobegon” without the homespun prairie jive, lasting for more than an hour every weeknight, and packed with great stories, mostly of being a normal kid from greater blue-collar Chicago. That was Jean Shepherd, who was Required Listening in New York — and the whole Northeast — from the ’50s to the ’70s. “Shep” was also a writer of books and articles, a public performer, an artist and a screenwriter best known for A Christmas Story the 1983 hit movie that has since become required showing on holiday season television.

So I’m listening right now to “A Voice in the Night: A Tribute to Jean Shepherd”, on one of the Sirius public radio channels. I can’t tell which one because the display on the receiver is too dim, and the service’s own guide is nearly clue-free. (And I wont get rid of this receiver, because it’s one of the early ones with an illegally strong FM transmitter, which I like, and because it fits in three different cradles that will fit none of the newer units. I will, with regret for losing Howard Stern, dump Sirius when my subscription runs out later this year.)

Anyway, I’m busy and would love to hear this show later on a podcast. Alas, the only listen-link on the show page goes to a RealAudio stream that requires sitting at your computer (and having a Real player). If anybody knows how to get this on a podcast, let the rest of us know. Thanks.

For the form of life we call business, we are at a boundary between eras. For biological forms of life, the most recent of these is the K-T boundary between the  and the Eras. The Mezozoic Era ended when Earth was struck by an object that left a crater 110 miles wide and a world-wide layer of iridium-rich crud. Below that layer lies the Age of Dinosaurs, completed. Above that layer accumulate the fossils of life forms that survived the change, and took advantage of it. Notable among these is a branch of theropod dinosaurs we call birds.

In business we have the I-I boundary: the one between the Industrial and Information ages (which Alvin Toffler first observed in The Third Wave, published in 1980).  Below that boundary we find a communications environment dominated by telecom and cablecom. Above it we find a radically different communications environment that still supports voice and video, but as just two among an endless variety of other applications. We call that environment the Internet.

At this moment in history most of us know the Internet as a tertiary service of telephone and cable companies, which still make most of their money selling telephone service and cable TV. Since those are highly regulated businesses, the Internet is subject to degrees of regulatory capture. Some of that capture is legal, but much of it is conceptual, for example when we see the Internet as a grace of telecom and cablecom — rather than as something that subsumes and obsoletes both of those Industrial Age frames.

Such is the risk with “broadband” — a term inherited by the Internet from both telecom and cablecom, and which is a subject of interest for both Congress and the FCC. In April of this year the FCC announced the development of a national broadband plan, subtitled “Seeks Public Input on Plan to Ensure Every American has Access to Broadband Capability”. In July the commission announced that Harvard’s Berkman Center would conduct “an independent review of broadband studies” to assist the FCC. Then yesterday the center put up a notice that it “is looking for a smart, effective fellow to join our broadband research team”. (This is more than close to home for me, since I am a fellow at Berkman. So I need to say that the broadband studies review is not my project — mine is this one — and that I am not speaking for the Berkman Center here, or even in my capacity as a fellow.)

The challenge here for everybody is to frame our understanding of the Net, and of research concerning the Net, in terms that are as native to the Net as possible, and not just those inherited from the Industrial Age businesses to which it presents both threats and promise — the former more obvioius than the latter. This will be very hard, because the Internet conversation is still mostly a telecom and cablecom conversation. (It’s also an entertainment industry conversation, to the degree that streaming and sharing of audio and video files are captive to regulations driven by the recording and movie industries.)

This is the case especially for legislators and regulators, too few of which are technologists. Some years ago Michael Powell, addressing folks pushing for network neutrality legislation, said that he had met with nearly every member of Congress during his tour of duty as FCC chairman, and that he could report that nearly all of them knew very little about two subjects. “One is technology, and the other is economics,” he said. “Now proceed.”

Here is what I am hoping for, as we proceed both within this study and beyond it to a greater understanding of the Internet and the new Age it brings on:

  • That “broadband” comes to mean the full scope of the Internet’s capabilities, and not just data speeds.
  • That we develop a native understanding of what the Internet really is, including the realization that what we know of it today is just an early iteration.
  • That telecom and cablecom companies not only see the writing on the wall for their old business models, but embrace other advantages of incumbency, including countless new uses and businesses that can flourish in an environment of wide-open and minimally encumbered connectivity — which they have a privileged ability to facilitate.
  • That the Net’s capacities are not only those provided from the inside out by “backbone” and other big “carriers”, but from the outside in by individuals, small and mid-size businesses (including other Internet service providers, such as WISPs) and municipalities.

That last item is important because carriers are the theropods of our time. To survive, and thrive, they need to adapt. The hardest challenge for them is to recognize that the money they leave on the shrinking Industrial Age table is peanuts next to the money that will appear on the Information Age table they are in a privileged position to help build.

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Ry Cooder singing “I’m a fool for a cigarette”: 1401 views, 4 ratings.

WritingHanna singing “Coffee Ditty“: 704 views, 101 ratings.

Hannah sounds a lot like Maria Muldaur, no?

In the mid-1990s, when I couldn’t find anybody to publish my essays (I didn’t want to cover what I still call “vendor sports”, which eliminated most of the tech magazine market ), I followed Dave Winer‘s footsteps and published my own on the Web. One was The Web and the New Reality, written in raw HTML with formatting borrowed from Netscape’s white papers of the time, complete with all-caps H2 headlines and first letters enlarged with +3 font sizes. Funny how mannered that looks now. Like the skull-and-wings on 18th century headstones.

I stumbled over The Web and the New Reality when I went trudging through the nether pages of Google search results, hoping to find more about the disagreements between Jefferson and Franklin over patents and copyrights. I still haven’t found exactly what I was looking for (though Chapter 2 of James Boyle’s The Public Domain gets me off to an excellent start), but did pause to note in my now-ancient essay a list of prophesies that hold up pretty well, especially since the scope of some embraces futures that still aren’t here but also haven’t been disproven in the years that have already passed. It is certainly utopian, and in that mood outlines some of the ideas we expanded in The Cluetrain Manifesto four (and now fourteen) years later. Here is how it begins:

Reality 2.0

The import of the Internet is so obvious and extreme that it actually defies valuation: witness the stock market, which values Netscape so far above that company’s real assets and earnings that its P/E ratio verges on the infinite.

Whatever we’re driving toward, it is very different from anchoring certainties that have grounded us for generations, if not for the duration of our species. It seems we are on the cusp of a new and radically different reality. Let’s call it Reality 2.0.

The label has a millenial quality, and a technical one as well. If Reality 2.0 is Reality 2.000, this month we’re in Reality 1.995.12.

With only a few revisions left before Reality 2.0 arrives, we’re in a good position to start seeing what awaits. Here are just a few of the things this writer is starting to see…

  1. As more customers come into direct contact with suppliers, markets for suppliers will change from target populations to conversations.
  2. Travel, ticket, advertising and PR agencies will all find new ways to add value, or they will be subtracted from market relationships that no longer require them.
  3. Within companies, marketing communications will change from peripheral activities to core competencies.New media will flourish on the Web, and old media will learn to live with the Web and take advantage of it.
  4. Retail space will complement cyber space. Customer and technical service will change dramatically, as 800 numbers yield to URLs and hard copy documents yield to soft copy versions of the same thing… but in browsable, searchable forms.
  5. Shipping services of all kinds will bloom. So will fulfillment services. So will ticket and entertainment sales services.
  6. The web’s search engines will become the new yellow pages for the whole world. Your fingers will still do the walking, but they won’t get stained with ink. Same goes for the white pages. Also the blue ones.
  7. The scope of the first person plural will enlarge to include the whole world. “We” may mean everybody on the globe, or any coherent group that inhabits it, regardless of location. Each of us will swing from group to group like monkeys through trees.
  8. National borders will change from barricades and toll booths into speed bumps and welcome mats.
  9. The game will be over for what teacher John Taylor Gatto labels “the narcotic we call television.” Also for the industrial relic of compulsory education. Both will be as dead as the mainframe business. In other words: still trucking, but not as the anchoring norms they used to be.
  10. Big Business will become as anachronistic as Big Government, because institutional mass will lose leverage without losing inertia.Domination will fail where partnering succeeds, simply because partners with positive sums will combine to outproduce winners and losers with zero sums.
  11. Right will make might.
  12. And might will be mighty different.

The last two sections, titled How It All Adds Up and The Plus Paradigm, are the ones that see a future in which the economics of abundance plainly outperform those of scarcity.

If Paul Saffo is right when he says we overestimate in the short term and underestimate in the long, my out-there prophesies might still be safe. But in our current short run I remain impressed at how little some of our institutions — especially those of journalism — grok how abundance works.

Last week I sat on two panels at the huge 92nd Annual Convention of the Association for Education inJournalism and Mass Communication in Boston. While much of what was talked about there was clueful in the extreme, there was no shortage of top-down stuff like “corporate strategies and consumer responses” — and very little push-back against the apparent decision by many newspapers and magazines to turn like a flock of fish toward the “strategy” of locking their “content” behind paywalls. Again. They clearly aren’t following Chris Anderson’s advice or example.

On the whole Google used to ignore the paywalled stuff, because it couldn’t be indexed, but now the pubs are leaving teasers out there (or maybe Google now has ways of searching archives anyway), and the result for the reader is clunking into registration and subscription doors that are all different and all annoying — especially when one is already a subscriber to the publication in question and can’t remember the login/password required (as is the case for me with The New Yorker, among other pubs).

So the “plus paradigm” ain’t here yet. But that doesn’t stop me from trying to make it happen anyway. There are worse goals than taking care of Jefferson’s unfinished business.

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One of the reasons I liked Dish Network (to the extent anybody can like a purely commercial entertainment utility) was that their satellite receivers included an over-the-air tuner. It nicely folded your over-the-air (OTA) stations in with others in the system’s channel guide. Here’s how it looked:

dish_guide1

Well, the week before last I discovered that our Dish receiver was having trouble seeing and using its broadband connection — and, for that matter, the phone line as well. That receiver was this one here…

vip622-lrg

… a ViP 622. Vintage 2006. Top of Dish’s line at the time. Note the round jack on the far left of the back side. That’s where your outside (or inside) over-the-air antenna plugged in. We’ll be revisiting the subject shortly.

So Dish sent a guy out. He replaced the ViP 622 with Dish’s latest (or so he said): a ViP 722. I looked it up on the Web and ran across “DISH Network’s forthcoming DVRs get detailed: hints of Sling all over“, by Darren Murph, posted May 18th 2008. Among other things it said, “The forthcoming ViP 722 will be the first HD DVR from the outfit with loads of Sling technology built in — not too shocking considering the recent acquisition. Additionally, the box is said to feature an all new interface and the ability to browse to (select) websites, double as a SlingCatcher and even handle Clip & Sling duties.”

So here it was, July 2009, and I had a ViP 722 hooked up to my nice Sony flat screen, and … no hint of anything remotely suggestive of a Sling feature. When I asked the Dish guy about it, he didn’t have a clue. Sling? What’s that? Didn’t matter anyway, because the thing couldn’t use our broadband. The guy thought it might be my firewall, but I don’t have one of those.  Just a straight Net connection, through a router and a switch in a wiring closet that works fine for every other Net-aware device hooked up to it. We tested the receiver’s connection with a laptop: 18Mb down, 4Mb up. No problems. The receiver gets an IP address from the router (and can display it), and lights blink by the ethernet jack. But… it doesn’t communicate. The Dish guy said the broadband was only used for pay-per-view, and we don’t care about that, it doesn’t much matter. But we do care about customer support. Dish has buttons and menu choices for that, but—get this—has to dial out on a phone line to get the information you want. I had thought this was just a retro feature of the old ViP 622, but when I called Dish they said no, it’s still a feature of ALL Dish receivers.

It’s 2009, and these things are still dialing out. On a land line. Amazing.

So a couple days ago my wife called me from the house (I’m back in Boston) and said that the ViP 722 was dead. Tot. Mort. We tried re-setting it, unplugging and plugging it back in. Nothing. Then yesterday Dish came out to fix the thing, found was indeed croaked, and put in a new one: a ViP 722k, Dish’s “advanced, state-of-the-art” reciever of the moment.

Well, it may be advanced in lots of ways, but it’s retarded in one that royally pisses me off: no over-the-air receiver. That jack in the back I pointed out above? Not there.  So, no longer can I plug in my roof antenna to watch over-the-air TV. To do that I’ll have to bypass the receiver and plug the antenna cable straight into the TV. (That has never worked either, because Sony makes the channel-tuning impossible to understand, much less operate. On that TV, switching between satellite and anything else, such as the DVD, is a freaking ordeal.) Oh, and I won’t be able to record over-the-air programs, either. Unless I get a second DVR that’s not Dish’s.

Okay, so I just did some looking around, and found through this video that the ViP 722K has an optional “MT2 OTA module” that gets you over-the-air TV on the ViP 722k. Here’s some more confusing shit about it. Here’s more from Dishuser.org. Here’s the product brochure (pdf). Digging in, I see it’s two ATSC (digital TV) tuners in one, with two antenna inputs, and it goes in a drawer in the back of the set. It costs $30. I don’t think the Dish installer even knew about it. He told me that the feature had been eliminated on the 722K, and that I was SOL.

Bonus bummer: The VIP 722k also features a much more complicated remote control. This reduces another long-standing advantage of Dish: remote controls so simple to use that you could operate them in the dark. Bye to that too.

So. Why did Dish subtract value like that? I can think of only two reasons. One is that approximately nobody still watches over-the-air TV. (This is true. I’m one of the very few exceptions. Color me retro.) The other is that Dish charges $5.99/month for local channels. They did that before, but now they can force the purchase. “Yes, we blew off your antenna, but now you can get the same channels over satellite for six bucks a month.” Except for us it’s not the same channels. We live in Santa Barbara, but can’t get the local over-the-air channels. Instead we watch San Diego’s. Dish doesn’t offer us those, at any price.

The final irony is that the ViP 722k can’t use our broadband or our phone line either. Nobody ever figured out that problem. That means this whole adventure was for worse than naught. We’d have been better off if with our old ViP 622. There was nothing wrong with it that isn’t still wrong with its replacements.

Later my wife shared a conversation she had with a couple other people in town who had gone through similar craziness at their homes. “What happened to TV?” one of them said. “It’s gotten so freaking complicated. I just hate it.”

What’s happening is a dying industry milking its customers. That much is clear. The rest is all snow.

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Seems I with , , , , , and about 1/365th of the world’s population. I also , “the first general-purpose electronic computer“, and I were fired up the very same day in 1947 — ENIAC at Aberdeen Proving Grounds and I at in Jersey City. ENIAC worked until its plug was pulled in 1955. I still feel like I’ve just been plugged in. (Guess ENIAC was a pessimist.)

My birthday present to myself will be getting lots of work done.

Bonus link.

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090720-jupiter-spot-impact-picture_big

When I read that an impact had been spotted on Jupiter, I figured it was somewhere other than the equator, which would be a bulls-eye. Even Shoemaker-Levy, a huge comet broken into a string of pieces, slammed like a series of machine gun bullets into Jupiter near its south pole.

But this one was bigger. See above. And read the story. That black hole in the side of Jupiter is nearly as big as our whole planet. [Woops, not quite. DFR points out in a comment below that the black spot is certainly a moon shadow. Jupiter has four big ones, they do make shadows like that, they are all on the planet’s equator, they’re all a good deal smaller than the Earth (being moons), and I should have known better. Anyway…

And nobody saw it coming.

One good thing is that Jupiter is kind of a crap sweeper, gliding around the inside edge of the outer solar system with a nice big gravitational field, sucking up debris that might otherwise clobber one of your inner planets, such as ours.

By the way, that bright point of light in the eastern sky these evenings is Jupiter. The smaller points of light on either side of it and close by are its moons. The clear-eyed can make them out on a dark night. And they’re quite obvious through good telescopes.

Oh, by the way, there’s a total solar eclipse happening right now in Asia. The NASA server with cool info seems to be hosed. So do some other sites I’ve checked (not that my connection is good right now… we’re back to high latencies again). But Shadow & Substance is on the scene and covering it live. Lots of fun stuff there.

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wasn’t the biggest nonfiction book to come along in early 2000. That would be . I never read that, but I did read what was probably the second-biggest: ‘s . Like Cheese, Tipping is about change. Unpacking one chapter in the book, Malcolm writes, “I think that word of mouth is something created by three very rare and special psychological types, whom I call Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.” It was no accident that at least three of Cluetrain’s four authors combined all three of those types. I also think that those characteristics are not so rare among effective folks in the tech world. Many come to mind: Kevin Kelly, Stuart Brand, Dave Winer, Chris Anderson, Jerry Michalski, Esther Dyson, Tim O’Reilly, Steve Gillmor, Kevins Marks and Werbach, Craig Burton, Clay Shirky, Bruce Sterling… the list, as I think  about it, is quite long. You can drive word of mouth with fewer than all three of those natures, of course. And success in an industry depends on people who are good at many other things. It’s just interesting to me that there are so many in the tech world who are good at those three — and are so confident that they can get things moving.

All this comes to mind when I read ‘s post. It tells the story of how his own life tipped a series of times: when he connected (at some effort) with Chris Locke after Cluetrain came out, when he connected with and the Blogger folks (that’s the same Ev now behind Twitter), when I connected him with Andre Durand of Ping Identity (where Eric was the first employee), and when he helped start , which led to : Eric’s own conference (he does too).

In his post Eric thanks us. And here I’ll thank Eric too, for connecting me to more people, and good stuff, than I can begin to list.

cluetraincoverTen years ago The Cluetrain Manifesto was a website that had been up for a couple of months — long enough to create a stir and get its four authors a book deal. By early June we had begun work on the book, which would wrap in August and come out in January. So at the moment we’re past the website’s anniversary and shy of the book’s.

cover187-cluetrain-10th-0465018653That’s close enough for 10th Anniversary Edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto, which will hit the streets this month. The new book, which arrived at my house yesterday, is the same as the original (we didn’t change a word). but with the addition of a new introduction by David Weinberger, four new chapters by each of the four authors (Chris Locke and Rick Levine, in addition to Dr. Weinberger and myself), and one each by Dan Gillmor, Jake McKee and JP Rangaswami.

A lot has happened in the last decade. A lot hasn’t happened too. To reflect on both, the Berkman Center will host a conversation called Cluetrain at 10: So How’s Utopia Working Out for Ya? at Harvard Law School.

David Weinberger and I will be joined by Jonathan Zittrain, a Harvard Law professor and author of The Future of the Internet — and How to Stop It. “JZ” was a student at HLS when he co-founded the Berkman Center eleven years ago. David and I are both fellows at the center as well. The three of us will talk for a bit and then the rest of it will be open to the floor, both in the room and out on the IRC (and other backchannels), since the conversation will be webcast as well. It starts at 6:00 pm East Coast time.

Meet/meat space is the Austin East Classroom of Austin Hall at Harvard Law School. It’s free and open to everybody. Since it’s a classroom and expected to fill up, an RSVP is requested. To do that, go here.

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WebTV webtvwas way ahead of its time and exactly backwards. The idea was to put the Web on TV. In the prevailing media framework of the time, this made complete sense. TV had been around since the Forties, and nearly everybody devoted many hours of their daily lives to it. The Web was brand new then. And, since the Web used a tube like TV did, it only made sense to make the Web work on TV, rather than vice versa.

Microsoft bought WebTV for $.425 billion in April 1997. It was the most Microsoft had ever spent on an acquisition, and a stunning sum to spend on what was clearly a speculative play. But Microsoft clearly thought it was skating to where the puck was going.

Not long after that I heard from Dave Feinleib, an executive at Microsoft. Dave wanted to know if I would be interested in writing a chapter for a book he was putting together on the convergence of the Web and television. What brought him to my door was that I was the only writer he found who claimed the Web would eat TV, rather than vice versa. Everybody else was saying that history was going the other way — including Microsoft itself, with its enormous bet.

Dave was an outstanding editor, and did a great job pulling his book together. Originally he wanted it to be published by somebody other than Microsoft, but that didn’t work out. If I’m not mistaken (and Dave, if you’re out there somewhere, correct me), his choices of title also didn’t make it. The title finally chosen was a kiss of death: The Inside Story of Interactive TV and (in much larger type) WebTV for Windows. (Cool: You can still get it at Amazon, so death in this case is only slightly exaggerated.)

It was a good book, and an important historic document. At least for me. Much of what I later contributed to The Cluetrain Manifesto I prototyped in my chapter of Dave’s book. My title was “The Message Is Not the Medium.”

Amazingly, I just found a draft of the chapter, which I assumed had been long gone in an old disk crash or something. Begging the indulgence of Dave and Microsoft, I’ll quote from it wholesale. Remember that this was written in 1998, at the very height of the dot-com bubble.

About the conversational nature of markets:

So what we have here are two metaphors for a marketplace: 1) a battlefield; and 2) a conversation. Which is the better metaphor for the Web market? One is zero-sum and the other is positive-sum. One is physical and the other is virtual. One uses OR logic, and the other uses AND logic.

It’s no contest. The conversation metaphor describes a world exploding with positive new sums. The battlefield metaphor insults that world by denying those sums. It works fine when we’re talking about battles for shelf space in grocery stores; but when we’re talking about the Web, battlefield metaphors ignore the most important developments.

There are two other advantages to the conversation metaphor. First, it works as a synonym. Substitute the word “conversation” for  “market” and this fact becomes clear. The bookselling conversation and the bookselling market are the same. Second, conversations are the fundamental connections human beings make with each other. We may love or hate one another, but unless we’re in conversation, not much happens between us. Societies grow around conversations. That includes the business societies we call markets…

About the Web as a marketplace:

Today the Web remains an extraordinarily useful way to publish, archive, research and connect all kinds of information. No medium better serves curious or inventive minds.

While commerce may not have been the first priority of the Web’s prime movers, their medium has quickly proven to be the most commercial medium ever created. It invites every business in the Yellow Pages either to sell on the Web or to support their existing business by using the Web to publish useful information and invite dialog with customers and other involved parties. In fact, by serving as both an ultimate yellow page directory and an endless spread of real estate for stores and businesses, the Web demonstrates extreme synergy between the publishing and retailing metaphors, along with their underlying conceptual systems.

So, in simple terms, the Web efficiently serves two fundamental human needs:

1.    The need to know; and
2.    The need to buy.

While it also serves as a fine way to ship messages to eyeballs, we should pause to observe that the message market is a conversation that takes place entirely on the supply side of TV’s shipping system. In the advertising market, media sell space or time to companies that advertise. Not to consumers. The consumers get messages for free, whether they want them or not.

What happens when consumers can speak back — not just to the media, but to the companies who pay for the media? In the past we never faced that question. Now we do. And the Web will answer with a new division of labor between advertising and the rest of commerce. That division will further expose the limits of both the advertising and entertainment metaphors.

On Sales vs. Advertsing, and how the Web does more for the former than the latter:

“Advertising is what you do when you can’t go see somebody. That’s all  it is.” — Fairfax Cone

Fairfax “Fax” Cone founded one of the world’s top advertising agencies, Foote, Cone & Belding, and ran it for forty years. A no-nonsense guy from Chicago, Cone knew exactly what advertising was and wasn’t about. With this simple definition — what you do when you can’t go see somebody — he drew a clear line between advertising and sales. Today, thirty years after he retired, we can draw the same line between TV and the Web, and divide the labors accordingly.

On one side we have television, the best medium ever created for advertising. On the other side we have the Web, the best medium ever created for sales.

The Web, like the telephone, is a much better tool for sales than for promotion. It’s what you do when you can go see somebody: a way to inform customers and for them to inform you. The range of benefits is incalculable. You can learn from each other, confer in groups, have visually informed phone conversations, or sell directly with no sales people at all.

In other words, you can do business. All kinds of business. As with the phone, it’s hard to imagine any business you can’t do, or can’t help do, with the Web.

So we have a choice. See or be seen: see with the Web, or be seen on TV. Talk with people or talk at them. Converse with them, or send them messages.

Once we divide these labors, advertising on the Web will make no more sense than advertising on the phone does today. It will be just as unwelcome, just as intrusive, just as rude and just as useless.

The Web will call forth — from both vendors and customers — a new kind of marketing: one that seeks to enlarge the conversations we call business, not to assault potential customers with messages they don’t want. This will expose Web advertising — and most other advertising — as the spam it is, and invite the development of something that serves supply without insulting demand, and establishes market conversations equally needed by both.

This new marketing conversation will embrace what Rob McDaniel  calls a “divine awful truth”  — a truth whose veracity is exceeded only by its deniability. When that truth becomes clear, we will recognize most advertising as an ugly art form  that only dumb funding can justify, and damn it for the sin of unwelcome supply in the absence of demand.

That truth is this: There is no demand for messages. And there never was.

In fact, most advertising has negative demand, especially on TV. It actually subtracts value. To get an idea just how negative TV advertising is, imagine what would happen if the mute buttons on remote controls delivered we-don’t-want-to-hear-this messages back to advertisers. When that feedback finally gets through, the $180+ billion/year advertising market will fall like a bad soufflé.

It will fall because the Web will bring two developments advertising has never seen before, and has always feared:  1) direct feedback; and 2) accountability. These will expose another divine awful truth: most advertising doesn’t work.

In the safety of absent alternatives, advertising people have always admitted as much. There’s an old expression in the business that goes, “I know half my advertising is wasted. I just don’t know which half.” (And let’s face it, “half” is exceedingly generous.)

With the Web, you can know. Add the Web to TV, and you can measure waste on the tube too.

Use the Web wisely, and you don’t have to settle for any waste at all.

About advertising’s fatal flaw:

Television is two businesses: 1) an entertainment delivery service; and 2) an advertising delivery service. They involve two very different conversations. The first is huge and includes everybody. The second is narrow and only includes advertisers and broadcasters.

TV’s entertainment producers are program sources such as production companies, network entertainment divisions, and the programming sides of TV stations. These are also the vendors of the programs they produce. Their customers and distributors are the networks and TV stations, who give away the product for free to their consumers, the viewers.

In TV’s advertising business, the advertising is produced by the advertisers themselves, or by their agencies. But in this market conversation, advertisers paly the customer role. They buy time from the networks and the stations, which serve as both vendors and distributors. Again, viewers consume the product for free.

In the past, the difference between these conversations didn’t matter much, because consumers were not part of TV’s money-for-goods market conversation.  Instead, consumers were part of the conversation around the product TV gives away: programming.

In the economics of television, however, programming is just bait. It’s very attractive bait, of course; but it’s on the cost side of the balance sheet, not the revenue side. TV’s $45+ billion revenues come from advertising, not programming. And the sources of programming make most of their money from their customers: networks, syndicators and stations. Not from viewers.

Broadcasters, however, are accustomed to believing that their audience is deeply involved in their business, and often speak of demographics (e.g. men 25-54) as “markets.” But there is no market conversation here, because the relationship — such as it is — is restricted to terms set by what the supply side requires, which are ratings numbers and impersonal information such as demographic breakouts and lifestyle characterizations. This may be useful information, but it lacks the authenticity of real market demand, expressed in hard cash. In fact, very few viewers are engaged in conversations with the stations and networks they watch. It’s a one-way, one-to-many distribution system. TV’s consumers are important only in aggregate, not as individuals. They are many, not one. And, as Reese Jones told us earlier, there is no such thing as a many-to-one conversation. At best there is only a perception of one. Big difference.

So, without a cash voice, audience members can only consume. Their role is to take the bait. If the advertisements work, of course, they’ll take the hook as well. But the advertising business is still a conversation that does not include its consumers..

So we get supply without demand, which isn’t a bad definition of advertising.

Now let’s look at the Web.

Here, the customer and consumer are the same. He or she can buy the advertisers’ goods directly from the advertiser, and enjoy two-way one-to-one market conversations that don’t involve the intervention either of TV as a medium or of one-way messages intended as bait. He or she can also buy entertainment directly from program sources, which in this relationship vend as well as produce. The distribution role of TV stations and networks is unnecessary, or at least peripheral. In other words, the Web disintermediates TV, plus other media.

So the real threat to TV isn’t just that the Web makes advertising accountable. It’s that it makes business more efficient. In fact the Web serves as both a medium for business and as a necessary accessory to it, much like the telephone. No medium since the telephone does a better job of getting vendors and customers together, and of fostering the word-of-mouth that even advertisers admit is the best advertising.

The Web is an unprecedented clue-exchange system. And when companies get enough clues about how poorly their advertising actually works, they’ll drop it like a bad transmission, or change it so much we can’t call it advertising any more.

We may have a blood bath. Killing ad budgets is a snap. Advertising is protected by no government agencies, and encouraged by no tax incentives. It’s just an expense, a line item, overhead. You can waste it with a phone call and almost nobody will get fired, aside from a few marketing communications (“marcom”) types and their expensive ad agencies.

About TV’s fatal flaw:

Few would argue that TV is a good thing. Hand-wringing over TV’s awfulness is a huge nonbusiness. TV Free America counts four thousand studies of TV’s effects on children. The TVFA also says 49% of Americans think they watch too much TV, and 73% of American parents think they should limit their kid’s TV watching.

And, as the tobacco industry will tell you, smoking is an “adult custom” and “a simple matter of personal choice.”

Then let’s admit it: TV is a drug. So why do we take it when we clearly know it’s bad for our brains?

Six reasons: 1) because it’s free; 2) because it’s everywhere; 3) because it’s narcotic; 4) because we enjoy it; 5) because it’s the one thing we can all talk about without getting too personal; and 6) because it’s been with us for half a century.

Television isn’t just part of our culture; it is our culture. As Howard Beale tells his audience, “You dress like the tube, you eat like the tube, you raise your children like the tube.” And we do business like the tube, too. It’s standard.

Howard Beale had it right: television is a tube. Let’s look at it one more time, from our point of view.

What we see is a one-way freight forwarding system, from producers to consumers. Networks and stations “put out,” “send out” and “deliver” programs through “channels” on “signals” that an “audience” of “viewers” “receive,” or “get” through this “tube.” We “consume” those products by “watching” them, often intending to “vege out” in the process.

Note that this activity is bovine at best, vegetative at worst and narcotic in any case. To put it mildly, there is no room in this metaphor for interactivity. And let’s face it, when most people watch TV, the only thing they want to interact with is the refrigerator.

Metaphorically speaking, it doesn’t matter that TV contains plenty of engaging and stimulating content, any more than it matters that life in many ways isn’t a journey. TV is a tube. It goes from them to us. We just sit here and consume it like fish in a tank, staring at glass.

Of course we’re not really like that. We’re conscious when we watch TV.

Well, of course we are. So are lots of people. But that’s not how the concept works, and its not what the system values. TV’s delivery-system metaphors reduce viewing to an effect — a noise at the end of the trough. And they reduce programming to container cargo. “Content,” for example, is a tubular noun that comes straight out of the TV conversation. What retailers would demean their goods with such a value-subtracting label?   Does Macy’s sell “content?” With TV, the label is accurate. The product is value-free, since consumers don’t pay a damn thing for it.

There is a positive side to the entertainment conversation, of course. Writers, producers, directors and stars all put out “shows” to entertain an “audience.” Here the underlying metaphor is theater. By this conceptual metaphor, TV is a stage.  But the negotiable market value of this conversation is provided entirely by its customers: the TV stations and networks. The audience, however, pays nothing for the product. Its customers use it as advertising bait. This isolates the show-biz conversation and its value. You might say that TV actually subtracts value from its own product, by giving it away.

And, the story of TV’s death foretold:

In the long run (which may not be very long), the Web conversation will win for the simple reason that it supports and nurtures direct conversations, and therefore grows business at a much faster rate. It also has conceptual metaphors that do a better job of supporting commerce.

Drugs have their uses. But it’s better to bet on the nurtured market than on the drugged one.

Trees don’t grow to the sky. TV’s $45 billion business may be the biggest redwood in the advertising forest, but in a few more years we’ll be counting its rings. “Propaganda ends where dialog begins,” Jacques Ellul says.

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.

Looking back on all that, I wince at how hyperbolic some of it was (like, there really is some demand for some messages), but I’m still pleased with what I got right, which is that the Web eats TV. Which brings me to the precipitating post, YouTube is Huge and About to Get Even Bigger, by Jennifer Van Grove in Mashable. Sez Jennifer,

According to YouTube, the hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute has been growing astronomically since mid-2007, when it was just a measly six hours per minute. Then, in “January of this year, it became 15 hours of video uploaded every minute, the equivalent of Hollywood releasing over 86,000 new full-length movies into theaters each week.”

Now, just a few months later and we’ve hit the 20 hour per minute milestone, which means that for every second in time about 33 minutes of video make it to YouTube, and that for any given day 28,800 hours of video are uploaded in total…

Even though YouTube (YouTube reviews) is seeing such massive upload numbers, and we think that speaks to the strength of their community, they still have monetization challenges that are only exacerbated by the rising bandwidth costs required to support such an enormous load. Bandwidth costs are already proving to be the bane of YouTube’s existence, possibly resulting in $470 million in loses for this year alone.

So while YouTube’s outwardly celebrating that we’re dumping 20 hours of video on their servers every minute, we think they should count their blessings with a little more realism since, based on previous patterns, this number, along with bandwidth costs, will only continue to rise.

“Rise” is too weak a verb. What we have here is something of an artesian flood, a continent of blooming volcanoes.

In the old top-down world of broadcasting, all we had were a few thousand big transmitters, each with limited reach, stretched and widened by cable and satellite TV. (Remember that what we call “cable” began as CATV: Community Antenna TeleVision.) It is over these legacy systems, plus the upgraded phone system, that most of us are connected to the Internet today.

In the legacy TV world, transmitters are obsolete to the verge of pointlessness. So are “channels.” So are the “networks” that are now just distributors for TV shows. All that matters is “content,” as they say. And that’s moving online, huge-time.

Tomorrow’s shows  won’t be coming only from big-time program producers.  We’ll be getting them from each other as well. We already see that with YouTube, but in relatively low-def resolutions. Still, it’s a start. At the end of the next growth stage we’ll be producing out own damn shows, and at resolutions higher than cable can bear. So will the incumbent producers, of course, but they won’t be taking the lead in pushing for wider bandwidth. That’s an easy call because they’re not taking the lead right now, and they should be. Instead they’ve left it up to us: the “viewers” who are now becoming producers and reproducers.

Already you can get a camcorder that will shoot 1080p video for well under a $grand. That’s more resolution than you’ll get from cable or satellite, with a few pay-per-view exceptions. Combine the sphinctered nature of cable and satellite TV bandwidth with the carriers’ need to compete by carrying more and more channels, and what you get is stuff that’s “HD” in name only. While the resolution might be 720p or 1080i, the amount of actual data carried on each channel is minimal or worse, resulting in skies that look plaid and skin that looks damaged. All of whch means that the best thing you can see — today — on your new 1080p screen comes from your new 1080p camcorder. (Unless you pay bux deluxe for a Blu-Ray player, which not many of us are doing.) So: how long before ordinary folks are producing their own high-def movies, in large numbers? How long before that pounds out the walls of pipes all over the place?

Even if that takes awhile, we have to face facts. We’re going to need the bandwidth. Storage and processing we’ve got covered, because that’s at the edges, where there’s not much standing in the way of growth and enterprise. In the middle we’ve got a world wide bandwidth challenge.

The phone and cable companies can’t give it to us — at least not the way they’re currently set up. Even the best of the carrier breed — Verizon FiOS, which I’m using right now, and appreciating a great deal — is set up as a top-grade cable TV system that also delivers Internet. Not as a fat data pipe between any two points, which is what we’ll need.

Pause for a moment and recall this scene from the movie “Jaws”. “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” Roy Scheider says.

TV on the Net is the shark in this story. The Quinn role is being played by the carriers right now. They need to be smarter than what we’ve seen so far. So do the rest of us.

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jesusita_google_modis10

Where most of my earlier shots in this series were of fire detection and spread across time, the one above (and in the larger linked shot, on Flickr) is of “fire radiative power”. If you look at the whole set, you can get an idea of both intensity and spread across time. Again, these are from MODIS, which is an instrument system on satellites passing more than 700km overhead. Still, it finds stuff, and dates it. That’s why this next shot is very encouraging:

jesusita_google_modis11

It will sure spread some more, but we can see the end coming. Here’s the whole photo set.

And here’s the latest update on exactly what burned (addresses and all) from Matt Kettmann (Contact), Sam Kornell , Chris Meagher (Contact), Ben Preston (Contact), Ethan Stewart (Contact) of the Independent.

They also issue a caution:

The bad news is that the fire still threatens parts of Goleta to the west, the Painted Cave community to the north, and, to the east, parts of Santa Barbara and Montecito, where the evacuation order was just extended once again.

Those Indy folks did — and are still doing — an outstanding job, deserving of whatever rewards are coming their way. Great work by everybody else reporting on the fire as well. Kudos all around.

And great work, of course, by the firefighters. They saved the city. If you’ve ever seen a fire this big and threatening (for example, Oakland, which I did see, and which took out more than 3500 homes), you know how hard it is to stop. Around 80 homes were lost in this one. It could have been many more. If Cheltenham, or the Riviera, had gone up, and the sundowner winds kept blowing, it’s not hard to imagine losing the whole city, since the rain of flaming debris would have caused a true firestorm. From the same Indy report:

“The firefighters must have sat in every single backyard and held it off. The fire reached literally the backyards of every single one of them, but I didn’t see a single house burned up there.”

The mountains won’t be as pretty for a couple of years. But the city will also be safer. That’s the upside. 2:54pm Pacific

Here is a great map that shows all three fires in the last year, as well as good information about the ongoing Jesusita Fire.

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Thanks to Keith McArthur for clueing me in on Cluetrainplus10, in which folks comment on each of Cluetrain’s 95 theses, on roughly the 10th anniversary of the day Cluetrain went up on the Web. (It was around this time in 1999.)

The only thesis I clearly remember writing was the first, “Markets are conversations.” That one was unpacked in a book chapter, and Chris Locke has taken that assignment for this exercise. Most of the other theses are also taken, so I chose one of the later ones, copied and pasted here:

71. Your tired notions of “the market” make our eyes glaze over. We don’t recognize ourselves in your projections—perhaps because we know we’re already elsewhere. Doc Searls @dsearls

Ten years later, that disconect is still there. Back when we wrote Cluetrain, we dwelled on the distance between what David Weinberger called “Fort Business” and the human beings both inside and outside the company. Today there is much more conversation happening across those lines (in both literal and metaphorical senses of the word), and everybody seems to be getting “social” out the wazoo. But the same old Fort/Human split is there. Worse, it’s growing, as businesses get more silo’d than ever — even (and especially) on the Net.

For evidence, look no farther than two of the most annoying developments in the history of business: 1) loyalty cards; and 2) the outsourcing of customer service to customers themselves.

Never mind the inefficiencies and outright stupidities involved in loyalty programs (for example, giving you a coupon discounting the next purchase of the thing you just bought — now for too much). Just look at the conceits involved. Every one of these programs acts as if “belonging” to a vendor is a desirable state — that customers are actually okay with being “acquired”, “locked-in” and “owned” like slaves.

Meanwhile, “customer service” has been automated to a degree that is beyond moronic. If you ever reach a Tier One agent, you’ll engage in a conversation with a script in human form:

“Hello, my name is Scott. How are you today?”

“I’m fine. How are you?”

“Thank you for asking. I’m fine. How can I help you today?”

“My X is F’d.”

“I’m sorry you’re having that problem.”

Right. They always ask how you are, always thank you for asking how they are, and are always sorry you have a problem.

They even do that chant in chat sessions. Last week I had a four chat sessions in a row with four agents of Charter Communications, the cable company that provides internet service at my brother-in-law’s house. This took place on a laptop in the crawl space under his house. All the chats were 99% unhelpful and in some ways were comically absurd. The real message that ran through the whole exchange was, You figure it out.

Last week in the New York Times, Steve Lohr wrote Customer Service? Ask a Volunteer. It tells the story of how customers, working as voluntary symbiotes in large vendor ecosystems, take up much of the support burden. If any of the good work of the volunteers finds its way into product improvement, it will provide good examples of what Eric von Hippel calls Democratizing Innovation. But most companies remain Fort Clueless on the matter. Sez one commenter on a Slashdot thread,

There’s a Linksys cable modem I know of that has a recent firmware, and by recent I mean last year or so. Linksys wont release the firmware as they expect only the cable companies to do so. The cable companies only release it to people who bought their cable modems from them directly. So there are thousands of people putting up with bugs because they bought their modem retail and have no legitimate access to the updated firmware.

What if I pulled this firmware from a cable company owned modem and wrote these people a simple installer? Would the company sing my praises then?

The real issue here is that people frequent web boards for support because the paid phone support they get is beyond worthless. Level 1 people just read scripts and level 2 or 3 people cant release firmwares because of moronic policies. No wonder people are helping themselves. These companies should be ashamed of providing service on such a low level, not happy that someone has taken up the slack for them.

Both these annoyances — loyalty cards and customer support outsourced to customers — are exacerbated by the Net. Loyalty cards are modeled to some degree on one of the worst flaws of the Web: that you have to sign in to something before you make a purchase. This is a bug, not a feature. And the Web makes it almost too easy for companies to direct customers away from the front door. They can say  “Just go to our Website. Everything you need is there.” Could be, but where? Even in 2009, finding good information on most company websites is a discouraging prospect. And the last thing you’ll find is a phone number that gets you to a human being, even if you’re prepared to pay for the help.

So the “elsewhere” we talked about in Cluetrain’s 71st thesis is out-of-luck-ville. Because we’re still stuck in a threshold state: between a world where sellers make all the rules, and a world where customers are self-equipped to overcome or obsolete those rules — by providing new ones that work the same for many vendors, and provide benefits for both sides.

This whole issue is front-burner for me right now. One reason is that I’m finally getting down (after three years) to unpacking The Intention Economy into a whole book, subtitled “What happens when customers get real power” (or something close to that). The other is that this past week has been one in which my wife and I spent perhaps half of our waking lives on the phone or the Web, navigating labyrinthine call center mazes, yelling at useless websites, and talking with tech support personnel who were 99% useless.

A Tier 2 Verizon person actually gave my wife detailed instructions on how to circumvent certain call center problems in the future, including an unpublished number that is sure to change — and stressing the importance of knowing how to work the company’s insane “system”. And that’s just one system. Every vendor of anything that requires service has its own system. Or many of them.

These problems cannot be solved by the companies themselves. Companies make silos. It’s as simple as that. Left to their own devices, that’s what they do. Over and over and over again.

The Internet Protocol solved the multiple network problem. We’re all on one Net now. Email protocols solved the multiple email system problem. We don’t have to ask which company silo somebody belongs to before we send email to them. But we still have multiple IM systems. The IETF approved Jabber’s XMPP protocol years ago, but Jabber has been only partially adopted. If you want to IM with somebody, you need to know if they’re on Skype or AIM or Yahoo or MSN. Far as I know, only Google uses XMPP as its IM protocol.

Meanwhile text more every day than they IM. This is because texting’s SMS protocol is universally used, both by all phone systems and by Twitter.

The fact that Apple, Microsoft, Skype and Yahoo all retain proprietary IM systems says that they still prefer to silo network uses and users, even after all these decades. They are, in the immortal words of Walt Whitman, “demented with the mania of owning things.”

Sobriety can only come from the customer side. As first parties in their own relationships and transactions, they are in the best position to sort out the growing silo-ization problems of second and third parties (vendors and their assistants).

Once customers become equipped with ways of managing their interactions with multiple vendors, we’ll see business growing around buyers rather than sellers. These are what we’re starting to call fourth party services: ones that Joe Andrieu calls user driven services. Here are his series of posts so far on the topic:

  1. The Great Reconfiguration
  2. Introducing User Driven Services
  3. User Driven Services: Impulse from the User
  4. User Driven Services: 2. Control

(He has eight more on the way. Stay tuned.)

Once these are in place, marketers will face a reciprocal force rather than a subordinated one. Three reasons: 1) because customer choices will far exceed the silo’d few provided by vendors acting like slave-owners; 2) customers will have help from a new and growing business category and 3) because customers are where the money comes from. Customers also know far more about how they want to spend their money than marketers do.

What follows will be a collapse of the guesswork economy that has comprised most of marketing and advertising for the duration. This is an economy that we were trying to blow up with Cluetrain ten years ago. It’s what I hope the next Cluetrain edition will help do, once it comes out this summer.

Meanwhile, work continues.

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New England is full of ruins. Woods everywhere are veined with stone walls, relics of an agrarian age that ended when the industrial one began. Shipping canals, which were thick with horse-drawn cargo when the Thoreau brothers rowed past them up the Concord & Merrimack Rivers, were abandoned once railroads did the same job better. Mills along canals and rivers have long since been torn down or turned into museums, stores or condos. Bypassed by cars and trucks on highways, old railroad beds have lost their easements or turned into bike trails.

So now what happens to radio and TV — two more old industries with landmarks on landscapes? I visited the subject to some degree over in Linux Journal yesterday, with What if they gave a DTV transition and nobody came? Here I want to go farther, and look at an industry we know is going to die — and to start doing it well before the end arrives.

AM radio, which operates on such low frequencies that signals are radiated by entire broadcast towers, are built as single or multi-tower “arrays” sitting on buried conductors: “ground systems” that can take up more space in soil than their towers occupy in the air above. Most of these facilities were built between the 20s and 80s. Since then scarce land and environmental restrictions have slowed their spread. I would add that available frequencies are also scarce, but that hasn’t stopped the FCC from easing rules, over and over, turning the band at night (when signals bounce off the sky to reach hundreds of miles from their transmitters) into wall-to-wall hash.

FM radio has only been around in a serious way since the 1950s. Operating on a VHF band, where the antennas themselves don’t need to be large (as they do on AM), FM does best when radiated from altitude, meaning the tops of mountains, buildings and high towers. Some of the latter grow to the legal limit of 2000 feet.

With its VHF and UHF signals, television also requires transmission from altitude. When you see a very high tower standing on landscape, or a bristle of short towers atop mountains and skyscrapers, you’re looking at sources of TV, FM or both. A huge percentage of the world’s tallest masts (a category that includes buildings and towers) stand in the U.S., and many are the full 2000-foot height. Most were built for TV stations. (Wikipedia has a comprehensive list of these. Also of tower collapses — a remarkably long list.)

The first set of these to go the way of ship canals is low-band VHF TV. That is, channels 2-6. After June 12, no antenna broadcasting on those channels in the U.S. will continue to operate. Most high-band VHF TV channels — ones operating on channels 7-13 — will also be abandoned, though a few will continue to transmit digital signals. All stations that formerly occupied channels 2-6 will move to a UHF channel (14 to 50).

Old analog TV transmitters are mostly worthless and can’t be re-purposed. (Here’s an excellent piece on that subject, from The Current.)

What I’m wondering about are the towers. The Current’s story suggests that they’re too expensive to take down (not worth enough in scrap), and that most will be re-purposed in any case.

I don’t think so.

It might be easy enough to re-purpose a few former Channel 2 or Channel 4 towers. But what happens when AM and FM transmission is obsoleted by webcasting? This hasn’t happened yet. There are many architectural and UI challenges, plus the added legal burden of copyright restrictions, which are much tougher on music broadcast on the Web than on the air (at least in the U.S.) But the end will come. The brightest writing on the wall right now is the Public Radio Tuner, a project of CPB and several public radio organizations. Last I heard (disclosure: I’m involved in the project), downloads of the free tuner for iPhone were past 1.6 million. This and other tuners, on the iPhone and other portable devices, will account for more and more listening, especially as more cell phone data plans take the ceilings off data consumption — as AT&T has already done for the iPhone.

Some have suggested that TV and FM towers can be re-purposed for cellular use, and to some degree that’s true. But cellular coverage requires many sites at low elevations, rather than a few at high elevations. As one Cisco guy told me, “they might be able to lease out the bottom 200 feet” of a tower.

Still, ends always come, and The End is in sight for over-the-air radio as well as TV. Then what?

Bonus linkage: Scott Fybush‘s amazing series of visits to broadcast towers, over many years; and a few of my own photos of transmitting sites, many shot from altitude. Also the blog and tweets of George Clark, both of which led to this digression.

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Says Stowe Boyd (in a post that has been re-tweeted a bit),

We need to move past the Cluetrain Manifesto, and acknowledge that what people are doing on the web is much, much more than conversing. It’s not just a chat room: it’s an entire culture under development, and the conversation is just the tip of the iceberg.

All due respect to Stowe and the RTers, the Cluetrain Manifesto didn’t say the Web was about conversing. What it said was,

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

These markets are conversations.

If you read down through that original Web page, or the book chapter titled Markets Are Conversations, you’ll find that Cluetrain is not only a brief against marketing in general, but that it’s a book about markets.

Somewhere back there, Jakob Nielsen told me that Cluetrain’s authors had “defected” from marketing, and sided with markets against marketing. Now that the world is thick with “conversation marketing” and worse, I’d say that’s more true than ever.

So, to set the record straight, “Markets are conversations” is a statement about markets. It’s about getting real. Not about getting talkative.

Of course, countless marketers have jumped on what they think is the clue train, and with lots of BS about “conversational” marketing. In the old days, we called this “sales”.

For what it’s worth (a lot, I hope), a 10th anniversary edition of Cluetrain is due out this summer. It’s the original with some more chapters added, including a couple by other folks who found Cluetrain useful. I hope it helps correct other misunderstandings as well.

Stowe’s post is about “unmarketing”, about which he says,

I think companies need to take several steps back, and rethink their own motivations, before attempting to grapple with the new motivations of an open web citizenry.

First to be reconsidered — a la Cluetrain — is that markets are not what they used to be, where relatively passive consumers were messaged ‘to’. It has become an overused maxim that markets are conversations, which trivializes what is going on in the web, actually, and props up the notion of markets.

That stuff is right on. Bravo. But Stowe follows that with the first item I quoted. That’s where he — and everybody who thinks Cluetrain is just about “conversing” — goes off the rails.

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It all started here.

It all started here. With Platform A: the first of thirty-some oil platforms built in the 1960s off the coast of Southern California. To anybody looking seaward from Santa Barbara, the platforms are nearly as much a fixture of the horizon as the Channel Islands beyond. The three closest, Platforms A, B and C, are just several miles out.

On January 28, 1969, Platform A had a blow-out. As much as 100,000 barrels of oil rose to the surface and spread. Had the oil been carried away from shore, the event might have been small news. But instead it gunked up the coast, ruining Santa Barbara’s harbor for a time, and treating the world to the first of many iconic visuals: tar-covered sea birds.

Long story short, Earth Day followed.

Some pictures from the time.

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Good of Vanity Fair to interview some of the Net’s and the Web’s fathers and sons (alas, no mothers or daughters), in a piece titled How the Web was Won.

On vision:

Leonard Kleinrock: Licklider was a strong, driving visionary, and he set the stage. He foresaw two aspects of what we now have. His early work—he was a psychologist by training—was in what he called man-computer symbiosis. When you put a computer in the hands of a human, the interaction between them becomes much greater than the individual parts. And he also foresaw a great change in the way activity would take place: education, creativity, commerce, just general information access. He foresaw a connected world of information.

The culture was one of: You find a good scientist. Fund him. Leave him alone. Don’t over-manage. Don’t tell him how to do something. You may tell him what you’re interested in: I want artificial intelligence. I want a network. I want time-sharing. Don’t tell him how to do it.

On intellectual property sanity:

Larry Roberts: After we built the Arpanet, lots of people built networks. Everybody was competing. Everyone had their own thing that they wanted to do. So it became very important that the world have one protocol, so they could all talk to each other. And Bob Kahn really pushed that process. And Vint. And it wasn’t licensed. They proved to the world that making something free as a driver would make a huge difference in making it a standard.

Robert Cailliau: We looked for a name for several weeks and couldn’t come up with anything good, and I didn’t want yet another one of these stupid things that doesn’t tell you anything. In the end Tim said, Why don’t we temporarily call it the World Wide Web? It just says what it is.

At one point cern was toying with patenting the World Wide Web. I was talking about that with Tim one day, and he looked at me, and I could see that he wasn’t enthusiastic. He said, Robert, do you want to be rich? I thought, Well, it helps, no? He apparently didn’t care about that. What he cared about was to make sure that the thing would work, that it would just be there for everybody. He convinced me of that, and then I worked for about six months, very hard with the legal service, to make sure that cern put the whole thing in the public domain.

On how markets are conversations after all:

Steve Case: We always believed that people talking to each other was the killer app. And so whether it was instant messaging or chat rooms, which we launched in 1985, or message boards, it was always the community that was front and center. Everything else—commerce and entertainment and financial services—was secondary. We thought community trumped content.

On the dawn of a different democracy:

Wes Boyd: I think the biggest shock for us, and it was from the very beginning, was not: Oh, boy, these big people are paying attention to us. It was that there are no big people; it’s up to all of us. And that’s a very scary thing, you know, when you realize what a vacuum there is in many ways in politics.

On the end of media as usual:

Dave Winer: The press is very susceptible to conventional wisdom. The press buys into certain things being true that really aren’t true. The conventional wisdom was that Apple was dead and there was no new software for Macintosh. Yet I was a software developer making new software for the Macintosh. So I went to bat for Apple.

That was the reason why I got so heavy into blogging—I didn’t want the verdict of the press to be the last word. And I’d argue that the same thing is happening now in politics. Today it’s: Is Reverend Wright really a disaster for the Obama campaign? Well, the press seems to think so, but if we want to get a different story out there we’re going to have to do it ourselves.

It’s far from a Compleat History, but it’s a fun read. Makes me wish The Media (including bloggers) had reported more about What Happened after Gutenberg invented movable type. I don’t think the parallels would be few.

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We were driving somewhere the other day when the kid asked if he could play around with the iPhone for awhile. Among the podcasts I subscribe to is The Best of YouTube — although, as with most of the too-many podcasts I subscribe to, I hardly ever watch it.

I wasn’t paying much attention to what the kid was doing until I heard the unmistakable sound of a country farmer from piedmont North Carolina. My kid was mostly amazed that this farmer could do with a sling-shot what most people can’t do with a rifle: hit nearly anything, whether it was moving or holding still. I was just trying to guess where this guy was from. The announcer was from somewhere in the region, I figured. Probably Greensboro. But the farmer had to be from somewhere, maybe, south of there.

I had the kid re-play the piece, called “Sling Shot Man” (that’s on Best of YouTube; on YouTube itself the full title starts with “Carolina Camera:”). Turns out the farmer lives “past a one-lane bridge on a dirt road south of Asheboro”. In Greensboro — at least when I went to college there in the ’60s — that town was pronounced, (as by this feature’s announcer), “Ashburra”. Locally it was “Aishburra”. Announcers suppressing their local accents would say “Grainssburra”, with elongated s’s and r’s. Otherwise they’d just say “Grainsbura”.

Which leads me to Bob Oakes, the morning host on WBUR here in Boston. The way he pronounces his surname “aOkes” (with a tiny long a in front) and calls NPR’s early show “Mo-ar-ning Edition” sounds Southern to me. According to his bio at that last link, Bob has been around New England for quite a while. But I’m willing to bet he’s from pretty far south of here. I’ll write to him and ask. (Hi, Bob!)

By the way, NPR’s Karl Kassell is from Goldsboro, though you’d never know from hearing him talk.

Oh, and you can hear (and see) a much younger me talk in piedmont dialect on this YouTube video here.

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It’s fun to fact-check a futurist when plenty of future has already gone by. Here’s some of what Alvin Toffler wrote thirty years ago in The Third Wave:

Humanity faces a quantum leap forward. It faces the deepest social upheaval and creative restructuring of all time. Without clearly recognizing it, we are engaging in buiding a remarkable new civilization from the ground up. This is the Meaning of the Thrid Wave.

Until now the human race has undergone two great waves of change, each one largely obliterating the earlier cultures or civilizations and replacing gthem with ways of life inconceivable to those who came before. The First Wave of change — the agricultural revioution — took thouseands of years to play itself out. The Second Wave — the rise of industrial civilization — took a mere three hundred years. Thoday history is even more accelerative, and it is likely that the Third Wave will sweep across history and complete itself in a few decades. We who happen to share the planet at this explosive moment, will therefore feel the full impact of the Third Wave in our own lifetimes.

Tearing our families apart, rocking out economy, paralyzing our political systems, shattering our values, the Third Wave affects everyone. It challenges all the old power relatinships, and privilege and prerogatives of the endangered elites of today, and provides the backdrop against which the key power struggles of tomorrow will be fought.

Much in this emerging civilization contradicts the old traditoinal industrial civilization. It is, at one and the same time, highly technical and anti-industrial.

The third wave brings with it a genuinely new way of life based on diversified, renewable energy sources; on methods of production that make most factory assembly lines obsolete, on new, non-nuclear familes, on a novel institution that might be called the “electronic cottage”; and on radically changed schools and corporations of the future. The emergent civilization writes a new code of behavior for us and carries us beyond standardization, synchronization and centralization, behyond the concentration of energy, money and power.

This new civilization, as it challenges the old, will topple bureaucracies, reduce the role of the nation-state, and give rise to semiautonomous economies in a postimperialist world. It requires governments that are simpler, more effective, yet more democratic than any we know today. It is a civilization with its own distinctive world outlook, its own ways of dealing with time, space, logic and causality.

Above all… Third Wave civilization begins to heal the historic breach between producer and consumer, giving rise to the “prosumer” economics of tomorrrow. For this reason, amongh many, it could– with some intelligent help from us — turn out to be the first truly humane civiization in recorded history.

When I first re-read this (before I re-typed it from these Amazon scans), I thought some of what Toffler said was hooey. Factory assembly lines are hardly obsolete, except here in the U.S., perhaps. There are plenty left in the world — especially in China, which now thrives with a capitalist system run by what’s still called the Communist Party. (Shades of Animal Farm, written by Orwell in 1945.) Human nature and politics-as-usual will probably never change.

As for families, they were already well-torn in the Industrial Age. My late former father-in-law, the historian Hiram Hilty, once told me that “family values” could hardly be more ironic in the U.S., which was settled and populated by people who left home (many of them involuntarily), and now have the most transient population on Earth. Our families are so loosely knit that moving away to distant locations is more the norm than the exception. Accoring to Dr. Hilty, the most common record of young men in the post-Civil War South — in census surveys, family bibles and church enrollment lists — is two words: “Went west.”

Yet we all tend to overestimate historic changes in the short term and underestimate in the long. At this Toffler was no exception. Look at what the Internet has done, and many of his predictions seem spot-on or close enough.

But I know one area where the Third Wave is still waiting to crest. Toffler again:

The Second Wave, like some nuclear chain reaction, violently spit apart two aspects of our lives that had always, until then, been one. In so doing, it drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy, our psyches, and even our sexual seves.

At one level, the industrial revolution created a marvelously integrated social system with its own distinctive technologies, its own social institutions, and its own information channels — all plugged tightly into each other. Yet another level, it ripped apart the underlying unity of socieity, creating a way of life filled with economic tension, social conflict and psychological malaise. Only if we understand how this invisible wedge has shaped our lives thoughout the Second Wave era can we apreciate the full impact of the Third Wave that is beginning to reshape us today.

The two halves of human life that the Second Wave split apart were production and consumption. We are accustomed, for example, to think of ourselves as producers or consumers. This wasn’t always true. Until the industrial revolution, the vast bulk of all the food, goods, and services produced by the human race was consumed by the producers themselves. their families or a tiny elite who managed to scrape off the surplus for their own use….

The Second Wave viloently changed this situation. Instead of essentially self-suffieicnt people and communities, it created for the first time in history a situation in which the overwhelming bulk of all food, goods and services was destined for sale, barter or exchange. it virtually wiped out of existence good produced for one’s own consumption — for use by the actual producer and his or her family — and created a civilization in which almost no one, not even a farmer, ws self-sufficient any longer…

In short, industrialism broke the union of production and consumption, an split the producer from the consumer. the fused economy of the First Wave was transformed into the split economy of the Second Wave.

That economy is still split.

We noticed that in 1999, when we cited Toffler in Chapter Four of The Cluetrain Manifesto:

The advent of the Industrial Age did more than just enable industry to produce products much more efficiently. Management’s approach to production and its workers was quickly echoed in its approach to the market and its customers. The economies of scale they were gaining in the factory demanded economies of scale in the market. By the time it was over we had forgotten the one true meaning of the market, and replaced it with industrial substitutes.

In The Third Wave, Alvin Toffler wrote that the rise of industry drove an “invisible wedge” between production and consumption, a fact Friedrich Engels had noticed over one hundred years earlier. As production was ramped up to unheard-of rates, the clay pot of craftwork was broken into shards of repetitive tasks that maximized efficiency by minimizing difference: interchangeable workers creating interchangeable products.

In the market, consumption also needed to be ramped up — not just to absorb the increased production of goods, but also to promote people’s willingness to buy the one-size-fits-all products that rolled off mass-production lines. And management wasted little time noticing the parallels in efficiencies they could achieve all along the production-consumption chain. If products and workers were interchangeable, then interchangeable consumers began to look pretty good too.

The goal was simple. Customers had to be convinced to desire the same thing, the same Model-T in any color, so long as it’s black. And if workers could be better organized through the repetitive nature of their tasks, so customers were more easily defined by the collective nature of their tastes. Just as management developed a new organizational model to enhance economies of scale in production, it developed the techniques of mass marketing to do the same for consumption.

So the customers who once looked you in the eye while hefting your wares in the market were transformed into consumers. In the words of industry analyst Jerry Michalski, a consumer was no more than “a gullet whose only purpose in life is to gulp products and crap cash.” Power swung so decisively to the supply side that “market” became a verb: something you do to customers.

In the twentieth century, the rise of mass communications media enhanced industry’s ability to address even larger markets with no loss of shoe leather, and mass marketing truly came into its own. With larger markets came larger rewards, and larger rewards had to be protected. More bureaucracy, more hierarchy, and more command and control meant the customer who looked you in the eye was promptly escorted out of the building by security.

The product of mass marketing was the message, delivered in as many forms as there were media and in as many guises as there were marketers to invent them. Delivered locally, shipped globally, repeated inescapably, the business of marketing devoted itself to delivering the message. Unfortunately, the customer never wanted to take delivery.

Well, maybe 1% did — or whatever percentage actually responded to any given ad. Still, the points are valid. We still live in a world where mass production is the norm, and so is treating customers like cattle.

A couple days ago a friend pointed to Customer UNinterupted, which pitches “Next-generation strategies for owning the customer experience across all channels.” Raise your hand if you wish to have your experience “owned” by anybody. Even the people who wrote that pitch don’t want their experienced “owned”. But they could easily write it because they still have that wedge in their heads. There is no corpus calossum between their inner producer and consumer.

But I’m still optimistic. Mass media are falling apart. All all of us on the Net are in position to be producers as well as consumers. We can produce information — real intelligence — that improves markets. Many of us are already doing that. A few of us are engaged in development efforts that will equip individuals with tools both of independence and engagement.

In fact, I think we should soon be in a good position to turn the old system around, and to “own the seller experience.” That is, to tell sellers how we wish to be treated, and to have our demands respected.

The fact that we’ll arrive, money in hand, will help.

Bonus link.

Sums of differences

Here at SXSW there are two conferences happening on the same floors: Interactive and Film. Interactive is mostly computing geeks. Film is mostly film geeks.

The main visual difference: tatoos and laptops. In the film crowd there is a high tatoo/laptop ratio. In the interactive crowd, there is a high laptop/tatoo ratio — lthough many laptops have tatoos in the forms of decals, which are left on tables and handed out to attendees by companies or causes with something to promote.

I’m on the Interactive side, but have attended very few sessions here, mostly because we have a bunch of VRM developers here, and are taking advantage of sharing meet/meat space to get stuff done. It’s been very productive, actually.

Anyway, I decided yesterday to visit one of the film sessions: the enthusiastically titled Henry Selick and Robert Rodriguez talk 3D at SXSW! The room was packed. The only laptops I saw were my own and two others in the back row. It felt only a bit less strange than it did seven years ago when I attended my first Digital Hollywood in Los Angeles. Back then computer users and Hollywood were at “war.” Or so the Hollywood folks said. “Piracy” was the big topic. I didn’t raise my flag.

A little different now. Great session too, by the way.

Putting a bolder face on Google is a New York Times piece about which Reshma Kumar at WebGuild says Marissa Mayer’s Attempt To Put a Bolder Face on Google Falls Flat. One paragraph:

  Google is too busy being drunk on its own cool-aid and telling the same boring stories they’ve been pedaling for the last dozen years over and over again. Maybe some people outside the Valley still buy all this holier than thou start-up slop but it’s become tired. The company is no longer a start-up and these stories are no longer relevant. According to the article, in reviewing resumes she looks at GPAs and SATs and expresses concern over someone getting a C in a course “That’s troubling to me,” Ms. Mayer says. “Good students are good at all things.” However, despite the public facade of hiring only A students, Google has many C and D students in its midst.

I doubt I’d call a positive Times piece “falling flat”; but Reshma’s slam isn’t what caught my eye. It’s this stuff about grade point averages. I’d bet that some of Google’s best employees had bad grades in school. If I worked for Google, I’d be one of them. What I did in school has approximately zero relevance to everything I’ve done since. I’d guess that the same is true for lots of other people who have found the professional world a more productive one than the academic. (Or, in my case, have found the academic world far more friendly after 40 years away from it.)

But that’s not what made me want to write this post. Instead it was to give props to Cindy McCaffrey, Marissa Mayer’s predecessor at Google. Cindy ran corporate marketing at Google from the late 90s through the IPO in 2004. As it says here, Cindy’s approach was low-key. Long on substance and short on flash. More importantly, she was geek-friendly. In the early days, when Google was still getting its act together, I would occasionally send a note to Cindy suggesting that her inside geeks at Google needed to talk with outside geeks who were either having problems, or had some good ideas that Google could use. And good stuff would follow. This wasn’t “corporate communications” of the usual sort, but it was helpful all around. Reading these two stories reminded me of that.

Says here that sex came along at least 365 billion million years ago.

Remembering where

Napoleon, North Dakota. Mom‘s home town. By J.D. Speltz, for the town’s 125th anniversary. I remember when she when Mom went to the 75th. Not sure if she went to the 100th. But I do remember how she subscribed for many years to the Napoleon Homestead, which still exists.

Bye ‘Bai

I’ve been wondering, What happens to Dubai in a worldwide depresion? Smashing Telly says goodbye. Fun writing. A sample:

  Dubai is a place for the shallow and fickle. Tabloid celebrities and worn out sports stars are sponsored by swollen faced, botox injected, perma-tanned European property developers to encourage the type of people who are impressed by fame itself, rather than what originated it, to inhabit pastiche Mediterranean villas on fake islands. Its a grotesquely leveraged version of time-share where people are sold a life in the same way as being peddled a set of steak knives. Funny shaped towers smatter empty neighborhoods, based on designs with unsubtle, eye-catching envelopes but bland floor plans and churned out by the dozen by anonymous minions in brand name architects offices and signed by the boss, unseen, as they fly through the door. This architecture, a three dimensional solidified version of a synthesized musical jingle, consists of ever more preposterous gimmickry – an underwater, revolving, white leather fuck pad or a marina skyscraper with a product placement name that would normally only appeal to teenage boys, such as the preposterous Michael Schumacher World Champion Tower.

Oft-rode vehicles

Back in the summer of ’05, I put up a post that ran down a list of all the cars I’ve owned. Since then I’ve added one more car to that list. Since it’s giving me trouble lately I thought I’d copy over and update the original vehicular C.V. and add a few more words of woe. Here goes…

On my 58th birthday, I find myself thinking, for no reason other than sleeplessness (it’s 12:30am), about all the cars I’ve owned. In rough order, the are:

  1. Black 1963 Vol