Personal

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Inmoz her blog post explaining the Brendan Eich resignation, Mitchell Baker, Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, writes, “We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.” In Mozilla is HumanMark Surman, Executive Director of the Foundation, adds, “What we also need to do is start a process of rebirth and renewal. We need to find our soul and our spirit.”

That spirit is embodied in the Mozilla Manifesto. But it goes deeper than that: all the way back to Mosaic, the ur-browser from which Firefox is descended by way of Netscape Navigator.

Neither Mosaic nor Navigator were instruments of the advertising business. They were boards we rode to surf from site to site across oceans of data, and cars we drove down the information superhighway.

But now all major browsers, Firefox included, have become shopping carts that get re-skinned at every commercial site they visit, and infected at many of those sites by cookies and other tracking files that report our activities back to advertising mills, all the better to “personalize” our “experience” of advertising and other “content.”

Economically speaking, Firefox is an instrument of advertising, and not just a vehicle for users. Because, at least indirectly, advertising is Firefox’s business model. Chrome’s too. (Apple and Microsoft have much smaller stakes in advertising, and offer browsers mostly for other reasons.)

This has caused huge conflicts for Mozilla. On the one hand they come from the users’ side. On the other, they need to stay in business — and the only one around appears to be advertising. And the market there is beyond huge.

But so is abuse of users by the advertising industry. This is made plain by the popularity of Adblock Plus (Firefox and Chrome’s #1 add-on by a huge margin) and other instruments of prophylaxis against both advertising and tracking (e.g. Abine, Disconnect, Ghostery and Privowny, to name a few).

To align with this clear expression of market demand, Mozilla made moves in February 2013 to block third party cookies (which Apple’s Safari, which doesn’t depend on advertising, does by default). The IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) split a gut, and began playing hardball. Some links:

That last item — an extensive bill of particulars — featured this sidebar:

The link goes to An Open Letter to the Mozilla Corporation.

So Mozilla looked for common ground, and they found it on the advertising side, with personalization. Near as I can tell, this  began in May 2013 (I’m told since I wrote this that work began earlier), with Jay Sullivan‘s Personalization With Respect post. In July, Justin Scott, then a Product Manager at Mozilla Labs, vetted A User Personalization Proposal for Firefox. The post was full of language straight out of the ad industry songbook: “favorite brands,” “personalized experience,” “increased engagement,” “stronger loyalty.” Blowback in the comments was fierce:

JS:

I don’t care what publishers want, or that they really like this new scheme to increase their marketing revenue. Don’t add more tracking.

I’m beginning to realize that Mozilla is working to make Firefox as attractive to publishers as possible, while forgetting that those eyeballs looking at their ads could be attached to people who don’t want to be targeted. Stop it. Remember your roots as a “we’ll take Mozilla’s code, and make a great thing with it”, and not as “Google pays us to be on the default toolbar”.

Dragonic Overlord:

Absolutely terrible idea.

The last thing the internet needs is more “personalization” (read: “invasion of my privacy”). All your marketing jargon does nothing to hide the fact that this is just another tool to allow advertisers, website owners, the NSA, and others to track users online habits and, despite any good intentions you might have, it’s rife with the potential for abuse.

Tracy Licklider:

Bad idea. I do not want it. I think you misstate the benefits of the Internet. One of the most salient benefits of the Internet is for web sites, advertisers, and ISPs who are able to build dossiers about individuals’ private lives/data, generally without most users being aware of the possibility and generally without the users’ consent.

One of the main reasons Firefox has succeeded is that it, unlike all the other browsers, was dedicated to users unfettered, secure, and as private as possible use of the Internet.

User:

If this “feature” becomes part of FireFox you’ll loose many users, if we wanted Chrome like browser we wouldn’t have chosen FireFox. We chose FireFox because it was DIFFERENT FROM Chrome but lately all I see is changes that make it similar and now you want to put spyware inside? Thanks but no thanks.

A follow-up post in July, by Harvey Anderson, Senior VP Business and Legal Affairs at Mozilla, was titled Up With People, and laid on even more of the same jive, this time without comments. In December Justin posted User Personalization Update, again with no comments.

Then in February, Darren Herman, Mozilla’s VP Content Services, posted Publisher Transformation With Users at the Center, introducing two new programs.  One was User Personalization. (Darren’s link goes Justin’s July piece.) The other was something called “directory tiles” that will appear on Firefox’s start page. He wasn’t explicit about selling ads in the tiles, but the implication was clear, both from blowback in the comments and from coverage in other media.

Said Reuters, ”Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox Internet browser, will start selling ads as it tries to grab a larger slice of the fast-expanding online advertising market.”

Romain Dillet in TechCrunch wrote, ”For the last couple of years, Mozilla and the advertising industry have been at odds. The foundation created the do-not-track feature to prevent targeted advertising. When users opt in, the browser won’t accept third party cookies anymore, making it much harder to display targeted ads around the web. Last year, Mozilla even chose to automatically block third-party cookies from websites that you hadn’t visited. Now, Mozilla wants to play ball with advertisers.”

The faithful didn’t like it. In Daring Fireball, John Gruber wrote, ”What a pile of obtuse horseshit. If you want to sell ads, sell ads. Own it. Don’t try to coat it with a layer of frosting and tell me it’s a fucking cupcake.”

Then Mitchell issued a corrective blog post, titled Content, Ads, Caution. Here’s an excerpt:

When we have ideas about how content might be useful to people, we look at whether there is a revenue possibility, and if that would annoy people or bring something potentially useful.  Ads in search turn out to be useful.  The gist  of the Tiles idea is that we would include something like 9 Tiles on a page, and that 2 or 3 of them would be sponsored — aka “ads.”  So to explicitly address the question of whether sponsored tiles (aka “ads”) could be included as part of a content offering, the answer is yes.

These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features.

Why would we include any sponsored results?  If the Tiles are useful to people then we’ll generate value.  That generates revenue that supports the Mozilla project.   So to explicitly address the question of whether we care about generating revenue and sustaining Mozilla’s work, the answer is yes.  In fact, many of us feel responsible to do exactly this.

Clearly Mozilla wants to continue down the advertising path, which many of its most passionate users don’t like. This position makes sense, given Mozilla.com‘s need to make money — somehow — and stay alive.

By becoming an advertising company (in addition to everything else it is), Mozilla now experiences a problem that has plagued ad-supported media for the duration: its customers and consumers are different populations. I saw it in when I worked in commercial broadcasting, and I see it today in the online world with Google, Facebook, Twitter… and Mozilla. The customers (or at least the main ones) are either advertisers or proxies for them (Google in Mozilla’s case). The consumers are you and me.

The difference with Mozilla is that it didn’t start out as an advertising company. So becoming one involves a change of nature — a kind of Breaking Bad.

It hurts knowing that Mozilla is the only browser-maker that comes from our side, and wants to stay here, and treat us right. Apple clearly cares about customers (witness the success of their stores, and customer service that beats all the competition’s), but its browser, Safari, is essentially a checkbox item. Same goes for Microsoft, with Explorer. Both are theirs, not ours. Opera means well, but it’s deep in fifth place, with a low single-digit market share. Google’s Chrome is a good browser, but also built to support Google’s advertising-based business model. But only Mozilla has been with us from the start. And now here they are, trying their best not to talk like they’ve been body-snatched by the IAB.

And it’s worse than just that.

In addition to the Brendan Eich mess, Mozilla is coping with losing three of its six board members (who left before Brendan resigned). Firefox’s market share is also declining: from 20.63% in May 2013 to 17.68% in February 2014, according to NetMarketShare.com. (Other numbers here.)

Is it just a coincidence that May 2013 is also when Jay Sullivan made that first post, essentially announcing Mozilla’s new direction, toward helping the online advertising industry? Possibly. But that’s not what matters.

What matters is that Mozilla needs to come back  home: to Earth, where people live, and where the market is a helluva lot bigger than just advertising. I see several exciting paths for getting back. Here goes.

1) Offer a choice of browsers.

Keep Firefox free and evolving around an advertising-driven model.

And introduce a new one, built on the same open source code base, but fully private, meaning that it’s the person’s own, to be configured any way they please — including many new ways not even thinkable for a browser built to work for advertisers. Let’s call this new browser PrivateFox. (Amazingly, PrivateFox.org was an available domain name until I bought it last night. I’ll be glad to donate it to Mozilla.)

Information wants to be free, but value wants to be paid for. Since PrivateFox would have serious value for individuals, it would have a price tag. Paying for PrivateFox would make individuals actual customers rather than just “users,” “consumers,” “targets” and an “audience.” Mozilla could either make the payment voluntary, as with public radio and shareware, or it could make the browser a subscription purchase. That issue matters far less than the vast new market opportunities that open when the customer is truly in charge: something we haven’t experienced in the nineteen years that have passed since the first commercial websites went up.

PrivateFox would have privacy by design from the start: not just in the sense of protecting people from unwelcome surveillance; but in the same way we are private when we walk about the marketplace in the physical world. We would have the digital equivalent of clothing to hide the private parts of our virtual bodies. We would also be anonymous by default — yet equipped with wallets, purses, and other instruments for engagement with the sellers of the world.

With PrivateFox, we will be able to engage all friendly sites and sellers in ways that we choose, and on terms of our choosing as well. (Some of those terms might actually be more friendly than those one-sided non-agreements we submit to all the time without reading. For more on what can be done on the legal front, read this.)

(Yes, I know that Netscape failed at trying to charge for its browser way back in the early days. But  times were different. What was a mistake back then could be a smart move today.)

2) Crowdsource direct funding from individuals.

That’s a tall order — several hundred million dollars’ worth — but hey, maybe it can be done. I’d love to see an IndieGoGo (or equivalent) campaign for “PrivateFox: The World’s First Fully Private Browser. Goal: $300 million.”

3) Build intentcasting into Firefox as it stands.

Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls it “broadcast shopping”. He explains:

Shopping is broken. In the fifties, if you wanted to buy a toaster, you only had a few practical choices. Maybe you went to the nearest department store and selected from the three models available. Or maybe you found your toaster in the Sears catalog. In a way, you were the hunter, and the toaster was the prey. You knew approximately where it was located, and you tracked it down and bagged it. Toasters couldn’t hide from you.

Now you shop on the Internet, and you can buy from anywhere on the planet. The options for any particular purchase approach infinity, or so it seems. Google is nearly worthless when shopping for items that don’t involve technology. It is as if the Internet has become a dense forest where your desired purchases can easily hide.

Advertising is broken too, because there are too many products battling for too little consumer attention. So ads can’t hope to close the can’t-find-what-I-want gap.

The standard shopping model needs to be reversed. Instead of the shopper acting as hunter, and the product hiding as prey, you should be able to describe in your own words what sort of thing you are looking for, and the vendors should use those footprints to hunt you down and make their pitch.

There are many ways of doing this. More than a dozen appear under “Intentcasting” in this list of VRM developers. Some are under wraps, but have huge potential.

Intentcasting sets a population comprised of 100% qualified leads loose in the marketplace, all qualifying their lead-ness on their own terms. This will be hugely disruptive to the all-guesswork business that cherishes a 1% click-through rate in “impressions” that mostly aren’t — and ignores the huge negative externalities generated by a 99+% failure rate. It will also generate huge revenues, directly.

This would be a positive, wealth-creating move that should make everybody (other than advertising mill-keepers) happy. Even advertisers.  Trust me: I know. I co-founded and served as Creative Director for Hodskins Simone & Searls, one of Silicon Valley’s top ad agencies for the better part of two decades. Consider this fact: No company that advertises defines themselves as “an advertiser.” They have other businesses. Advertising might be valuable to them, but it’s still just a line item on the expense side of the balance sheet. They can cut or kill it any time they want.

“Buy on the sound of cannons, sell on the sound of trumpets,” Lord Nathan Rothschild said. For the last few years advertising has been one giant horn section, blasting away. If online advertising isn’t a bubble (which I believe it is), it at least qualifies as a mania. And it is the nature of manias to pass.

Business-wise, investing in an advertising strategy isn’t a bad bet for Mozilla right now. But the downsides are real and painful. Mozilla can reduce that pain by two ways:

  1. Join Don Marti, Bob Hoffman (the Ad Contrarian) and others (myself included) who are working to separate chaff from wheat within the advertising business — notably between the kind of advertising that’s surveillance-based and the kind that isn’t. Obviously Mozilla will be working on the latter. Think about what you would do to fix online advertising. Mozilla, I am sure, is thinking the same way.
  2. Place bets on the demand side of the marketplace, and not just — like everybody else — on the supply side.

Here on Earth we have a landing site for Mozilla, where the above and many other ideas can be vetted and hashed out with the core constituency: IIW, the Internet Identity Workshop. It’s an inexpensive three-day unconference that runs twice every year in the heart of Silicon Valley, at the Computer History Museum: an amazing venue.

Phil Windley, Kaliya Hamlin and I have been putting on IIW since 2005. We’ve done seventeen so far, and it’s impossible to calculate how far sessions there have moved forward the topics that come up, all vetted and led by participants.

Here’s one topic I promise to raise on Day One: How can we help Mozilla? Lots of Mozilla folk have been at IIWs in the past. This time participating will have more leverage than ever.

I want to see lots of lizards and lizard-helpers there.

[Later...] Darren has put up this insightful and kind post about #VRM and The Intention Economy (along with @garyvee‘s The Thank You Economy). I’ve also learned that lizards will indeed be coming to both VRM Day and IIW. Jazzed about that.

 

From Merriam-Webster:

cru·ci·ble

noun\ˈkrü-sə-bəl\

  1. : a pot in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature or melted
  2. : a difficult test or challenge
  3. : a place or situation that forces people to change or make difficult decisions

This is what cars will become.

The difficult decision is where to draw the line between what the owner/driver controls and what the maker/seller controls.

On one side is the owner/driver’s sovereignty over his or her own vehicle (more about this below). This includes the right to hack or customize that vehicle, to obtain and manage data that vehicle throws off, and to relate to other drivers with other vehicles (see Robin Chase), outside the control of the manufacturer or any other commercial “provider.” This is what we get, Cory Doctorow says, from general purpose computers.

On the other side is the manufacturer’s urge to provide that vehicle as a kind of IT service, like Tesla does, and to manage that vehicle much as, say, an iPhone is managed by Apple. This is also what we get from cable company set top boxes.

In the industrial Matrix we have built so far, the latter prevails increasingly, and that is limiting the ability of the former to flourish. For more on why this is a problem, visit the Lessig Library (notably Remix, Code, Code 2.0, The Future of Ideas and Free Culture), Cory Doctorow, Eben Moglen, the EFF and other fighters for personal freedom.

Cars will be crucibles because they have been, for more than a century, instruments of personal freedom and independence. (Not to mention the biggest-ticket retail item any of us will ever buy.) It is not for nothing that we speak of our car and its parts in the first person possessive: my tires, my dashboard, my fender, my seats. We even do this with rental cars, because, as drivers, our senses extend outward through the whole vehicle. In expert use our tools and machines become extensions — enlargements — of ourselves.

There is nothing wrong with having help in this from the Apples, Googles and Teslas of the world, provided our sense of where we end and where those companies begin is maintained, along with our full sense of autonomy and independence as individual human beings who can be social in our own ways, and not just in the controlling ways provided by commercial entities.

But today that line is very blurred, and may not be a line at all. As long as that blur persists, and superior power lies on the corporate side, we will have problems with compromised autonomy for individuals and their things. Those problems will only get worse as cars get “better” the (current) Tesla way. (Tesla can change, of course, and I hope they do.)  And the entire market greenfield that grows naturally on personal independence and autonomy will fail to materialize. We can drive all we want around walled gardens.

Cory calls this crucible a “civil war”. I don’t think he overstates the case.

An early shot fired in that war is Fuse, which plugs into the ODB2 port under your dashboard and gives you data your car throws off, and ways to use that data any way you please. Can’t wait to get mine.

By the way, I believe one reason Mozilla is in its current fix is that browsers and email — its founding apps — were born as instruments of personal autonomy. That’s what Mosaic and Netscape Navigator were: cars on the “information superhighway.” Now, too much of the time, they are just shopping carts. More about that in the next post.

(HT to Hugh McLeod for the car-toon.)

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.

Kiglapait Mountains

Yesterday I posted some shots of the crater-shaped Kiglapait Mountains on the frozen coast of Labrador, including the one above. Here’s how views of those shots, and many others, looked in Flickr’s stats:

Flickr stats

It got 90 views. Not a lot. But a lot of other shots got a bunch of views too, and they add up to, on average, a little over 5,000 per day, and over 5 million all time. For a blog that’s not bad — and I’m beginning to think that, in a way, a blog is what Flickr is for me. I’m not crazy about how Flickr works. (It’s gotten more slick and complicated over time.) But it’s where I’ve been posting photos since 2006, it does have a lot of upsides, and I’m reasonably confident (though I’ve had my doubts) that it will stay in business.

I don’t post my photos to sell, or to show off. If I were doing either, you’d only see the ones that look best. What I’m doing instead is a form of photojournalism: providing source photos of subjects to journalists, a class of people that now includes everybody. Journalism at its best is a form of documentation, and I provide fodder for that.

Including the three other Flickr sites I contribute to (Linux Journal, Berkman Center and Infrastructure), I’ve put about 50,000 photos up so far. All of them carry permissive Creative Commons licenses. As a result, 425 of my shots have showed up on Wikimedia Commons, which is Wikipedia’s source image library. I put none of them there. Other people went looking for photos of topics that came with Creative Commons licenses that are friendly to low-friction re-use, found some of mine, and brought them over. Some haven’t been used anywhere (that I know of), and others have seen lots of use. For example, this shot of the roofline at Denver International Airport is in 27 different Wikipedia articles. This one of San Gorgonio Mountain is in three. The one at that last link is a different shot of mine.

Hardly a week goes by that a shot of mine doesn’t find its way from Flickr or Wikimedia Commons into a newspaper, a magazine or a blog post somewhere. Here’s one that ran in the NYTimes Bits blog on the 19th. Sometimes they even turn up on TV. For example, NBC’s wallpaper for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver came from some shots of ice crystals on poorly insulated windows I took at my apartment in Massachusetts a few months earlier. (No, NBC didn’t pay for them, and I was glad to give them away. NBC would have been glad to give me tickets, it turned out, but I didn’t even ask until it was too late, which was dumb on my part. And they did give me credit.)

To me the world is a fascinating place, whether I’m down in a subway or gliding through the stratosphere. Often I don’t know what I’m looking at, but discover and dig into it later. Examples:

In every case, however, I see these shots, and what I add to them, as accessories to others’ fascinations, which in sum will range far more deeply and widely than mine. And for longer as well, I hope. So: enjoy.

 

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.)

Since I’ve been maturing while my blog header has not, I’ve been thinking that soon is a good time to change it. The old headshot, or art-from-a-headshot, dates from the last Millennium, when I still wore granny glasses and had hair. And it never looked much like me in the first place. This was it:

So bear with me while I go about remodeling the 180 x 720 rectangle this WordPress theme provides for my headspace. (I’ll be playing with a number of different images, by the way; so don’t assume that any one of them is the only one, or “done.” Yet.)

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:

 

A couple days ago I went to an Apple store with my iPhone 4, which was running down its battery for no apparent reason. I forget the diagnosis, which didn’t matter as much as the cure: wiping the phone and restoring its apps. I would lose settings, I was told, and whatever data wasn’t stored with the apps’ cloud services. There was really no choice. So I did it.

As a result, I seem to have lost at least all of the following:

  • Everything I’ve recorded with the Moves activity tracker since I got it early this year.
  • Every tune I’ve ever tagged with Shazam, going back to 2007. The screen shot on the left are two songs I tagged today. That’s all I’ve got
  • All data from all my games
  • All my settings, whatever they were
  • Other data I don’t even want to know at this point

Why can’t this data be restored? For example,

  • Why will Angry Birds Seasons welcome me back by name and not remember that I had already cleared nearly every game in every season? (Mostly riding in subways, by the way.)
  • What’s the point of having a login with Moves if it’s not to have a cloud that remembers my data? I can’t see data in Moves if I’m not online anyway, so I know the data is in a cloud somewhere.
  • Why should I lose every text and all records of recent phone calls?

I mean, if all this data is kept somewhere, why not in a place from which the data can be recoverad by users?

At this point, far as I know (which isn’t far enough), the only way to get my data back is to do this:

  1. Wipe the phone again
  2. Restore it from the last backup
  3. Take shots of screens with data in them, for every app I care about

Then I’ll have data in screen shots, rather than in a more useful form. But at least I’ll know what I lose when I “restore” the phone completely.

Obviously neither Apple nor the app makers care much about this. But users do. And where there is a will, there should be a way.

I believe the way is personal clouds for users, and APIs for the app makers.

Personal clouds are clouds that individuals have, for their own data. We should be able to make logical connections between our apps, the APIs of the app vendors, and our own clouds, facilitating automatic data backup to our own spaces, rather than just those of Apple, Google or the app makers.

Lots of companies and development projects doing that are listed here. If you know others that belong there, tell me.

[Later (24 December)]… Items:

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.

Obamacare matters. But the debate about it also misdirects attention away from massive collateral damage to patients. How massive? Dig To Make Hospitals Less Deadly, a Dose of Data, by Tina Rosenberg in The New York Times. She writes,

Until very recently, health care experts believed that preventable hospital error caused some 98,000 deaths a year in the United States — a figure based on 1984 data. But a new report from the Journal of Patient Safety using updated data holds such error responsible for many more deaths — probably around some 440,000 per year. That’s one-sixth of all deaths nationally, making preventable hospital error the third leading cause of death in the United States. And 10 to 20 times that many people suffer nonlethal but serious harm as a result of hospital mistakes.

The bold-facing is mine. In 2003, one of those statistics was my mother. I too came close in 2008, though the mistake in that case wasn’t a hospital’s, but rather a consequence of incompatibility between different silo’d systems for viewing MRIs, and an ill-informed rush into a diagnostic procedure that proved unnecessary and caused pancreatitis (which happens in 5% of those performed — I happened to be that one in twenty). That event, my doctors told me, increased my long-term risk of pancreatic cancer.

Risk is the game we’re playing here: the weighing of costs and benefits, based on available information. Thus health care is primarily the risk-weighing business we call insurance. For generations, the primary customers of health care — the ones who pay for the services — have been insurance companies. Their business is selling bets on outcomes to us, to our employers, or both. They play that game, to a large extent, by knowing more than we do. Asymmetrical knowledge R them.

Now think about the data involved. Insurance companies live in a world of data. That world is getting bigger and bigger. And yet, McKinsey tells us, it’s not big enough. In The big-data revolution in US health care: Accelerating value and innovation (subtitle: Big data could transform the health-care sector, but the industry must undergo fundamental changes before stakeholders can capture its full value), McKinsey writes,

Fiscal concerns, perhaps more than any other factor, are driving the demand for big-data applications. After more than 20 years of steady increases, health-care expenses now represent 17.6 percent of GDP—nearly $600 billion more than the expected benchmark for a nation of the United States’s size and wealth.1 To discourage overutilization, many payors have shifted from fee-for-service compensation, which rewards physicians for treatment volume, to risk-sharing arrangements that prioritize outcomes. Under the new schemes, when treatments deliver the desired results, provider compensation may be less than before. Payors are also entering similar agreements with pharmaceutical companies and basing reimbursement on a drug’s ability to improve patient health. In this new environment, health-care stakeholders have greater incentives to compile and exchange information.

While health-care costs may be paramount in big data’s rise, clinical trends also play a role. Physicians have traditionally used their judgment when making treatment decisions, but in the last few years there has been a move toward evidence-based medicine, which involves systematically reviewing clinical data and making treatment decisions based on the best available information. Aggregating individual data sets into big-data algorithms often provides the most robust evidence, since nuances in subpopulations (such as the presence of patients with gluten allergies) may be so rare that they are not readily apparent in small samples.

Although the health-care industry has lagged behind sectors like retail and banking in the use of big data—partly because of concerns about patient confidentiality—it could soon catch up. First movers in the data sphere are already achieving positive results, which is prompting other stakeholders to take action, lest they be left behind. These developments are encouraging, but they also raise an important question: is the health-care industry prepared to capture big data’s full potential, or are there roadblocks that will hamper its use

The word “patient” appears nowhere in that long passage. The word “stakeholder” appears twice, plus eight more times in the whole piece. Still, McKinsey brooks some respect for the patient, though more as a metric zone than as a holder of a stake in outcomes:

Health-care stakeholders are well versed in capturing value and have developed many levers to assist with this goal. But traditional tools do not always take complete advantage of the insights that big data can provide. Unit-price discounts, for instance, are based primarily on contracting and negotiating leverage. And like most other well-established health-care value levers, they focus solely on reducing costs rather than improving patient outcomes. Although these tools will continue to play an important role, stakeholders will only benefit from big data if they take a more holistic, patient-centered approach to value, one that focuses equally on health-care spending and treatment outcomes.

McKinsey’s customers are not you and me. They are business executives, many of which work in health care. As players in their game, we have zero influence. As voters in the democracy game, however, we have a bit more. That’s one reason we elected Barack Obama.

So, viewed from the level at which it plays out, the debate over health care, at least in the U.S., is between those who believe in addressing problems with business (especially the big kind) and those who believe in addressing problems with policy (especially the big kind, such as Obamacare).

Big business has been winning, mostly. This is why Obamacare turned out to be a set of policy tweaks on a business that was already highly regulated, mostly by captive lawmakers and regulators.

Meanwhile we have this irony to contemplate: while dying of bad data at a rate rivaling war and plague, our physical bodies are being doubled into digital ones. It is now possible to know one’s entire genome, including clear markers of risks such as cancer and dementia. That’s in addition to being able to know one’s quantified self (QS), plus one’s health care history.

Yet all of that data is scattered and silo’d. This is why it is hard to integrate all our available QS data, and nearly impossible to integrate all our health care history. After I left the Harvard University Health Services (HUHS) system in 2010, my doctor at the time (Richard Donohue, MD, whom I recommend highly) obtained and handed over to me the entirety of my records from HUHS. It’s not data, however. It’s a pile of paper, as thick as the Manhattan phone book. Its utility to other doctors verges on nil. Such is the nature of the bizarre information asymmetry (and burial) in the current system.

On top of that, our health care system incentivizes us to conceal our history, especially if any of that history puts us in a higher risk category, sure to pay more in health insurance premiums.

But what happens when we solve these problems, and our digital selves become fully knowable — by both our selves and our health care providers? What happens to the risk calculation business we have today, which rationalizes more than 400,000 snuffed souls per annum as collateral damage? Do we go to single-payer then, for the simple reason that the best risk calculations are based on the nation’s entire population?

I don’t know.

I do know the current system doesn’t want to go there, on either the business or the policy side. But it will. Inevitably.

At the end of whatever day this is, our physical selves will know our data selves better than any system built to hoard and manage our personal data for their interests more than for ours. When that happens the current system will break, and another one will take its place.

How many more of us will die needlessly in the meantime? And does knowing (or guessing at) that number make any difference? It hasn’t so far.

But that shouldn’t stop us. Hats off to leadership in the direction of actually solving these problems, starting with Adrian Gropper, ePatient Dave, Patient Privacy RightsBrian Behlendorf, Esther Dyson, John Wilbanks, Tom Munnecke and countless other good people and organizations who have been pushing this rock up a hill for a long time, and aren’t about to stop. (Send me more names or add them in the comments below.)

In Google sets out future for Maps — Lays down gauntlet to Nokia with plans for personalized, context-aware and ‘emotional’ maps in future, in Rethink Wireless, Caroline Gabriel begins this way:

Google may be feeling the heat from an unlikely source, Nokia, at least in its critical Maps business. The search giant has put location awareness at the heart of its business model, but Nokia has overtaken it in several respects with its cloud-based Here offering – based on the acquisition of Navteq in 2007 – and has also licensed its mapping platform to some powerful partners such as Microsoft, Amazon and a range of car makers.

Google is promising dramatic changes to its own maps to help fend off the Nokia/Microsoft alliance and also, in the Android segment at least, the challenge from Amazon to a Google-centric experience.

As usual with stories like this, the issue is framed in terms of vendor sports: big companies doing battle over some market category. Lost, also as usual, is what the individual user, or customer, might actually want.

That’s what I’m here for.

So let me start by saying I don’t want a “Google-centric experience,” whatever that is. Nor do I want Google’s (or anybody’s) Matrix-like approach to satisfying what its robotic systems think I might need. Here’s how Caroline explains that ambition:

Bernhard Seefeld, product management director for Google Maps, told the GigaOM Roadmap conference this week that future software will “build a whole new map for every context and every person”, incorporating all kinds of information about the individual and updating this constantly. He added: “It’s a specific map nobody has seen before, and it’s just there for that moment to visualize the data.”

Pushing a major theme at Google this year, Seefeld talks about applications creating emotional connections for users – “emotional maps that reflect our real life connections and peek into the future and possibly travel there”. This will involve context-aware maps that combine location and personal data, some of that taken from other Google apps, particularly its Google Now personal digital assistant – mainly seen as a response to Apple Siri, but in fact far broader in scope, and with a powerful artificial intelligence engine.

Context-aware is fine, provided I provide the context, and the context is as simple as, for example, “I am here” and “I want to go to this other place.” I don’t want guesswork about my emotions, or anything else that isn’t on the vector of what I alone know and want. Paper maps didn’t do that, and the best electronic ones shouldn’t either — not beyond what still feels as hard and useful as paper maps always did.

See, maps are fact-based descriptions of the world. Their first and most essential context is that world, and not the person seeking facts about that world. Yes, map makers have always made speculative assumptions about what a map reader might like to know. But those assumptions have always been about populations of readers: drivers, aviators, hikers, bike riders, sailors, geologists, etc. That they don’t get personal is a feature, not a bug.

A brief story that should tell you a bit about me and maps.

In October 1987, on the way back to Palo Alto after visiting my daughter at UC-Irvine, my son and I noticed it was an unusually clear day. So we decided to drive to the top of Mt. Wilson, overlooking Los Angeles. On the way we stopped at a fast food place and ate our burgers while I studied various AAA maps of Southern California and its cities. When we arrived at the top, and stood there overlooking a vista that stretched from the San Bernardino mountains to the Channel Islands, four guys from New Jersey in plaid pants, fresh from golfing somewhere, asked me to point out landmarks below, since I already was doing that for my son. The dialog went something like this:

“Where’s the Rose Bowl?”

“Over there on the right is Verdugo Mountain. See that green stretch below? In there is the Rose Bowl.”

“Oh yeah.”

“On the other side of Verdogo is the San Fernando Valley. South of that are the Hollywood Hills.”

“Is that where the Hollywood sign is?”

“Yes, on the south side, facing Hollywood. Mulholland Drive runs down the spine of the hills on the far side of the Sepulveda Pass, where the 405 passes through. The Malibu Hills are beyond that. You can see the buildings downtown to the left of that. Long Beach and San Pedro, Los Angeles’ port cities, are to the left of the Palos Verdes peninsula, which are the hills over there. You can see Santa Catalina Island off beyond that.”

“Where was the Whittier Earthquake?”

“Over there in the Puente Hills. See that low ridge?”

“Yeah. Wow. How long have you lived here?”

“I don’t. This is only my second trip through. I live up north.”

“Where are you from?”

“New Jersey, like you.”

“How do you know so much about all this around here?”

“I study maps.”

Of which I have many, now mostly mothballed in drawers. Maps collection on my iphoneI have topo maps from the U.S. Geological Survey, sectional charts from the FAA, maps atlases from the Ordnance Survey in the U.K., and many more. When I fly in planes, I follow the scene below on my laptop using Garmin Road Trip (an app that is sorely in need of an update, btw.) That’s how I can identify, literally on the fly, what I see out the window and later detail in my aerial photo collections on Flickr.

So, having presented those credentials, I rate Google’s Maps mobile app at the top of the current list. Google’s search is great, but substitutable. So are many other fine Google services. But I have become highly dependent on Google’s Maps app because nothing else comes close for providing fully useful facts-on-the-ground. Here are a few:

  • Transit options, and arrival times. Here in New York one quickly becomes dependent on them, and they are right a remarkable percentage of the time, given how uneven subway service tends to be. Hell, even in Santa Barbara, which is far from the center of the public transportation world, Google’s Maps app is able to tell me, to the minute, when the busses will arrive at a given stop. It’s freaking amazing at it.
  • Route options. Even while I’m on one route, two others are still available.
  • Re-routing around traffic. It doesn’t always work right, but when it does, it can be a huge time/hassle saver.
  • Timeliness. It couldn’t be more now, and a living embodiment of the Live Web at work.

I also like Here, from Nokia. (As you can see from my collection of maps apps, above. Note the second dot at the bottom, indicating that there’s a second page of them.) I also have enormous respect NAVTEQ, which Nokia bought a few years back. NAVTEQ has been at the map game a lot longer than Google, and is at the heart of Here. But so far Here hasn’t been as useful to me as Google Maps. For example, if I want to get from where I am now to the meeting at NYU I’ll be going to shortly, Google Maps gives me three options with clear walking and riding directions. Here gives me one route, and I can’t figure how to get the directions for taking it. (Both are on my iPhone, btw.)

So here is a message for both of them, and for everybody else in the mapping game: Don’t subordinate pure mapping functions to a lot of “emotional” and other guesswork-based variables that advertisers want more than map readers do.

This might also help: I’m willing to pay for the maps, and services around them. Not just to avoid advertising, but to make those services accountable to me, as a customer, and not as a mere “user.”

As advertising gets more and more personal, and more creepy in the process — without any direct accountability to the persons being “delivered” a “personalized experience” — a market for paid services is bound to emerge. I’ll enjoy being in the front of it.

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I orient by landmarks. When I was growing up in New Jersey, the skyline of New York raked the eastern sky. To the west were the Watchung “Mountains“: hills roughly half the height of Manhattan’s ranking skyscrapers. But they gave me practice for my favorite indulgence here in Los Angeles: multi-angulating my ass in respect to seriously huge mountains.

What stands out about these things aren’t just their elevations…

  1. San Gorgonio, 11,503′*
  2. San Jacinto, 10,834
  3. San Antonio (Old Baldy), 10,068*

It’s their relief. These mothers are almost two miles high: alps above low plains and hills that slope under city and suburbs to the sea. One day when I went skiing at Mt. Baldy (same mountain as I shot above, on approach to LAX), I met guys who had gone surfing that very morning, not far away.

That’s right: skiing. In Los Angeles County.

All these mountains are crumples along a seam in the earth called the San Andreas Fault. The 40-quadrillion-ton Pacific Plate is crunching up against the also-huge North American plate at a high rate of geologic speed and force. The core rock inside these mountains is about 1.7 billion years of age, but the mountains themselves are, geologically speaking, as new and temporary as waves of surf. Note the catch basins at the base of San Antonio Canyon in the shot above. Their purpose is to catch rocks rolling off the slopes, as well as rain-saturated “debris flows”: Southern California’s version  of lava.

Speaking of which, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of John McPhee’s The Control of Nature (here’s an LA Times review), which features a long chapter titled “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains.” That anybody would build a damn thing on or below the slopes of these virtual volcanoes speaks volumes about humanity’s capacity for denial.

Well, I was gonna drive up to the top of Mt. Wilson this morning to catch the sunrise over the layer of marine fog just over my head here in Pasadena, but I’ve got too much work to do. So I’ll just enjoy orienting toward it as I drive to Peet’s for coffee, and let ya’ll derive whatever vicarious pleasures might follow along. Cheers.

[Later...] Beautiful clouds atop the mountains all day today, with showers scattered here and there, and even a bit of snow. Tonight the snow level will be about 5000 feet, I heard. Should be pretty in the morning. Alas, I’ll be arriving at Newark then.


* The photos in Wikipedia for both are ones I shot from airplanes. They are among more than 400 now in Wikimedia Commons. I love feeding shots into the public domain, to find helpful uses such as these.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our iPad was new in the summer of 2010: first generation. It was top-of-the-line, with 64Gb of storage and 3G connectivity. And it still works well. But the number of apps it runs is going steadily down. Here’s the current list:

All those apps ran in the past. But both Apple and the app developers decided at some point that first-generation iPads would no longer be supported. There’s a name for this: planned obsolescence. In less fancy terms, it means made to break. Planned obsolescence became a design strategy in the 1950s with cars. (Here’s a story of my family’s encounter with it in 1963, when our purposefully-defective 1957 Ford blew up in Iowa.) But it’s as much a feature as a bug for many kinds of products, including (and perhaps especially) consumer electronics.

Here’s an idea for Apple and everybody else: just lease the stuff. Really. That’s the way it works anyway. Let’s say this iPad’s useful life is one more year. Given the original price ($800-something), it will end up having cost about $200 per year. Would I pay $250/year for an up-to-date iPad with a service agreement? I dunno. But it is clear we are headed toward a subscription economy. I’m sure planned obsolescence must be driving it, much as anything else.

So I just went looking, and it turns out Apple itself leases stuff to business. Prices aren’t there (far as I can tell). But it’s still a harbinger.

 

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.

[Trieste, Italy, 12:02am Friday 21 May 2013 — As I say in the comments here, Airbnb has responded to this post, explaining that a bug in the system was involved. While they're rebuilding the bridge with us, the bridge remains burned with other customers as long as their Verified ID system retains its current requirements. So I still think they need help and that good hackers and loyal customers should provide it. — Doc]

My wife and I are veteran Airbnb customers who have been happy with the company from the start. We like the prices, the experiences, the whole thing. As happy customers, we have also been spreading the love far and wide, pitching many new customers on Airbnb as a better way to stay when traveling. We want to continue spreading that love, even though we — and many other loyal customers — are now on the far side of a bridge Airbnb burned when it launched its new identity Verified ID system, which they explain (at that link) this way:

Verified ID provides a connection between the online and offline spaces. Airbnb users can earn a “Verified ID” badge on their profile by providing their online identity (via existing Airbnb reviews, LinkedIn, or Facebook) and matching it to offline ID documentation, such as confirming personal information or scanning a photo ID. The name provided by both channels must match for verification to succeed.

Starting today, Airbnb will require a random 25% of users in the USA to go through the Verified ID process. Soon, we’ll expand this requirement to users around the world. We hope that hosts and guests worldwide will see the benefits of interacting with users who complete Verified ID. Our goal is for all Airbnb members to have Verified ID eventually.

Any Airbnb host can now require their prospective guests to obtain Verified IDs before booking. Trust runs in both directions, so any host who requests this condition must also get verified.

Some of the comments under the post were positive, but many went the other way. Here are a few…

Jon:

I am an Airbnb host. Naturally, safety is always a concern. Despite that, I find this move objectionable, dishonest, misguided, and outright offensive.

  1. As a host, it is up to me to choose who I allow in my home. I like that I can decide how many requirements to place on my guests. Should I choose to place strict requirements, I get more protection and probably fewer bookings. I like having the choice. Airbnb just took the choice away from me and I’m not happy about it.
  2. You are making it substantially harder for guests to book on Airbnb. These standards will reduce the number of bookings we receive as hosts. You reduce our bookings and remove our ability to choose. Hosts should have the ability to choose.
  3. You want people to send you their photo ID / passport? Are you out of your *&#%& mind? Banks lose customer data all the time and they have some of the most stringent standards possible. Despite that, you pretend that you all are immune. You claim that having people send some of their most personal information over the internet will make them safer. You don’t make them safer; you make them MUCH LESS SAFE. When you have your data breached and you get sued, you will deserve every bit of the penalty.
  4. Why did you require a random 25% of users? Why not all users? Because you know you’d get too much negative feedback all at once and you could control the situation better if you phase it in. Either you are lying or you are putting hosts at risk. Shameful either way.
  5. “enhanced trust” I hate your Orwellian crock of sh&# phrasing. You should help the prison system rebrand their “full body cavity search”
  6. As a traveler myself, I was one of the 25% selected for “enhanced trust”. I have over 50 positive reviews from guests and hosts alike. You know where I live! There is no more trust that could possibly be had. Use a little common sense. This is the kind of nonsense I’d expect from the DMV, not from a blossoming enterprise.
  7. When the hell did facebook become an authority on people’s identities? I suspect that you have much more interesting motives for forcing people to connect their profiles to facebook. Quit trying to mine data under the guise of trust.
  • Deborah:

    my Facebook account did not work for Airbnb so they asked me to make a personal video talking about such things as why i like my neighborhood. I’m sorry, but I find this creepy. think of the inevitable steps up: photos of tattoos or birthmarks? proof of baptism? defense of fashion choices? that fragrant blend of californian cumbayah and capitalism. yechh….

  • Also from Deborah:

    I was just trying to book a short stay and the rigmarole and emails this verification process generated was ridiculous, but what caused me to cancel the reservation was this weird audition video request. Nor will I ever have anything further to do with Airbnb; not because of the hassle, but because this new verification process is invasive and puts my identity at risk. I have never encountered any comparable vetting for any purpose and it’s depressing to realize people will unthinkingly accept this kind of exploitation of information. I guess the thinking is if you value your privacy and identity above “trust” you don’t measure up to the Airbnb “community”. And is it a “community”? Really??

  • kim:

    well this is irritating. i have neither a facebook nor linkedin account, nor do i want either. i’ve been a positively-reviewed airbnb member for 2 years. although this article says it will look at positive reviews as online verification, it does not seem to be the case.
    and as for the 24/7 customer service? at this moment there is NO chat available, phone number is reserved for emergencies, and they are not responding to e-mail. so my booking is in limbo. if you’re going to implement this new feature, at least have the customer service to support it!<

  • Mle Davis

    Agree with others that the new verification process is insane and insulting. I have used your service for two years. My “reality” has been verified by my hosts and my guests: people in four countries have left feedback about their experiences with me. We have talked on the phone. You have my social security number from when you sent me tax documents. You have my credit card on file. I”m happy to send you my drivers license, but don’t see why you would need it, when you already have the rest. There is just no way I”m linking up my facebook account so you can datamine my friends, keep an eye on my day to day activity, or examine my relationships. There are enough safety checks on me through the relationship we’ve already developed. Please reconsider this stupidity.

  • E:

    Just had a reservation cancelled tonight because I did not complete the verification process. I inadvertently skipped the second step in the process which is give them access to my facebook account and contacts. I guess it doesn’t matter that I have been a member for almost three years and have rented through airbnb more than 15 times and have ALL positive reviews. I see this as an attempt to gather data for marketing purposes. Why else would they need access to facebook or linked in. Airbnb is going down hill. I have had more and more problems with them over the past 6 months. It was a great idea in the begining, but I think they are imploding!

  • Tony:

    I’m new to airbnb and I’m not crazy about the idea of scanning my driver’s license or passport and sending that to you. How do I know the faceless employees of whatever company which gets this information can be trusted with it?…
    … before you go to these extraordinary steps, why not fix the site so that friends can give me references. As I said, I’m new and (per your instructions) have asked friends through the site (both by email and facebook) to provide me with a reference. No one has done so yet and three have written back to say that they click the link and then don’t see any way to provide me with a reference. Two of these people are now concerned that this was just a way for someone to get their email addresses and add them to a spam list.

  • Lisa:

    I am so relieved to hear all these comments about the verification process. I am feeling DEEPLY resentful of this. I used Airbnb successfully this year, and am horrified to see what they’re asking. It is so invasive I can’t believe it. Like most people here, I’m sure, I’ve done vacation rentals, car rentals, bought tickets, booked everything and anything without this level of scrutiny. I finally capitulated to four levels of the scrutiny. This is ABSURD. If they want to offer this, then fine. But let the users decide how much they’re sharing and let hosts decide what they need.

Well, it was our bad luck to fall into that 25% when we booked an Airbnb place in Rome last weekend. My wife, an experienced and savvy traveler (with more than two million miles on one airline alone), always books our reservations, and expected the usual smooth and pleasant process when she was suddenly faced with this crazy new verification routine. Here’s how Airbnb explained her options after she declined to login with Facebook or Linkedin (neither of which she belongs to):

If you’re unable to verify your online ID using Facebook or LinkedIn, or if your account does not automatically satisfy the online ID requirements, you can create a video profile to serve as an alternative.

Your video will be visible on your profile as a live introduction of yourself to other Airbnb community members. To create your video profile, visit the “Photos and Video” section under Edit Profile. Consider using your first name, your current city, what you like about your neighborhood, and what you are looking for in a travel experience! Please do not include information about your government-issued ID, payment information, email address, last name, or any other personally identifiable information in your profile video.

After you’ve created a video profile, please email  trust at airbnb.com and we’ll help you complete the verification process.

I’ll pause to note here that my wife and and I have been around identity systems development for a very long time. In my case I’ve keynoted nearly ever Digital ID World, and have co-hosted all sixteen Internet Identity Workshops. Neither of us have ever seen an identity verification routine that required making a video to share with others.  We were, like… what?

So, after she declined to make the video and Airbnb cancelled our order, she sent an email to  trust at airbnb.com that included the following:

I’m perfectly happy to verify through a personal cloud provider ie: Personal.com, Virtrue, OwnYourInfo, Mydex, Gli.ph, or a trust network like Respect Network or Qiy. I suggest that you take a look at some of these services that work on the side of the customer, without exposing them to further surveillance and tracking of their personal data.

Airbnb replied,

Thank you for your email. Please accept our apologies if our verification process caused you any distress. As we are constantly working on improving our product and services, I’ll pass your feedback on accordingly. In the future, you can also submit your opinions or ideas on www.airbnb.com/feedback. Even when we are unable to accommodate all requests, we always value feedback from the community.

Airbnb is a platform for connecting individuals interested in having unique and personalized experiences. This is how Airbnb differs from the norm, as not everyone on Airbnb operates their business outside of Airbnb the way a normal bed and breakfast would. Please consider that you will be staying in the home or residence of another individual. At Airbnb we’re constantly striving to improve the level of trust between our users to instill confidence in the transactions between our users. Our verification process was designed to help improve that level of trust and allow users to fully enjoy their experience on Airbnb.

At Airbnb we’re constantly striving to improve the level of trust between our users to instill confidence in the transactions between our users. Our verification process was designed to help improve that level of trust and allow users to fully enjoy their experience on Airbnb.

Recent positive reviews do count towards verifying your Online identity but the reviews you received did not satisfy our system’s verification requirements. Unfortunately, if you don’t have a Facebook or LinkedIn account, the video profile is the only alternative available at this point. We offer several alternatives in hopes that one will work for you, but we understand that these situations do arise. That’s why we offer you the opportunity to verify your account by recording a 30 second video in which you can introduce yourself to the Airbnb community.

Please know that if you don’t want your video profile to be public, you can also record the clip using a digital camera or a smartphone and attach it to your response to this message. We’ll then verify your account without publishing the video.

This makes no sense to me. Are they saying Airbnb operates a social business, meaning one that places a premium on people exposing themselves to others, rather than on minimizing exposure? Are they saying that everybody in the Airbnb community is a potential “friend,” and thats’s why it makes sense to login with Facebook or Linkedin? And why the video? What’s to keep any community member from copying that video — or any personal information exposed through social media — and spreading it out on the open Web? Why would anybody trust Airbnb to keep that kind of thing from happening?

Given that Ghostery finds Airbnb using only six tracking systems (Facebook Connect, Google AdWords Conversion, Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, MixPanel and New Relic) — a relatively small number for a commercial site — I doubt that Airbnb just wants to play the same advertising game that B2B companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other “social” sites play. Why should they, when they operate one of those very rare things in the “social” age: a real B2C business, for customers who actually pay for goods and services. That’s an enviable and valuable thing. And they’re screwing it up.

The “Verified ID” program fails because it alienates both the supply and the demand sides of the marketplace. It turns away good, loyal, paying customers, and denies hosts those customers’ bookings. Worse, it filters through only those customers who are comfortable exposing themselves through social media and in video performances. Do they really want to do that?

At some point it will dawn on Airbnb that this new system is worse than broken. When that dawn comes I suggest they do three things:

  1. Look into the list of companies and projects my wife mentioned above
  2. Join the Personal Identity Ecosystem Consortium (PDE.cc)
  3. Follow what’s happening with VRM and personal clouds — and get involved with those too

I also invite readers to weigh in with their own positive suggestions. No complaints or put-downs, please. We’re here to help.

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Flickr has updated its service. I knew it was coming and I had a few hopes for it:

  1. Better multiple account management
  2. Personal service, by human beings using their real voices
  3. Ability to make changes (e.g. of permissions or licensing) for thousands of shots in one move
  4. Finer distinctions than friends/family/private

The updates, from what I can tell, offer none of that. What I got, as a Pro customer, appeared in the form of index page copy that began,

Dear Doc, as a Pro member continue to enjoy the benefits of unlimited space, an ad free experience and stats.

For non-paying users, there was this, from the index page as it appeared on a browser that didn’t know I’m a Pro member:

Smile.

Everyone gets a free terabyte.

Biggr. That’s right, a terabyte.

Spectaculr. Share in full resolution.

Wherevr. Available anywhere you go.

Then there was this, from an email from Flickr to one of my several selves who have a Flickr Pro account:

As a Pro Member, your subscription remains the same. You’ll enjoy unlimited space for your photos and videos, detailed stats and an ad-free experience. However, you can switch to a Free account before August 20, 2013.

Why offer an opportunity to switch? I wondered.

So I clicked on a “learn more” link that went to this:

Next question: Why a down-sell to Free rather than an up-sell to Pro?

I guess they’d rather have me looking at ads than paying for a service — to be a consumer rather than a customer.

Yet Flickr is still relatively free of the load-slowing spyware typical of most commercial websites. (There’s just ScoreCard Research Beacon and Yahoo Analytics. I have the former turned off, but I leave the latter on. Seems harmless enough.)

Anyway, I’m not sure what’s up with Pro accounts. Nothing, I guess.

But the problems remain. From The Intention Economy:

A similar problem comes up when you have multiple accounts with one site or service, and therefore multiple namespaces, each with its own login and password. For example, I use four different Flickr accounts, each with its own photo directory:

  1. Doc Searls
  2. Linux Journal
  3. Berkman Center
  4. Infrastructure/

The first is mine alone. The second I share with other people at Linux Journal. The third I share with other people at the Berkman Center. The fourth I share with other people who also write for the same blog.

Flickr in each case calls me by the second person singular “you,” and does not federate the four. To them I am four different individuals: one cow, four calves. (Never mind that three of those sites have many people uploading pictures, each pretending to be the same calf.) My only choice for dealing with this absurdity is deciding which kind of four-headed calf I wish to be. Either I use one browser with four different logins and passwords, or I use four different browsers, each with its own jar of cookies. Both choices are awful, but I have to choose one. So I take the second option, and use one browser per account—on just one laptop. When I use other laptops, or my iPhone, my Android, or the family Nokia N900, iPod Touch or iPad, I’m usually the first kind of calf, using one browser to login and logout every time I post pictures to a different account. Which I mostly don’t do at all, because it’s one big pain in my many asses.

As it happens I’m having a problem with the Infrastructure account: I’ve lost the login and password. At this point the account is mine alone:  I’m the only one paying for it, and the only one using it. But I haven’t been able to raise a human being, so far, at Flickr. I could share my email exchange with the automated process there, but there’s no point. I’d rather just have the problem fixed.

So here’s a request, if anybody from Flickr is reading this: please contact me, and let’s fix this thing. Thanks.

I first heard QR codes called “robot barf” yesterday, when JP said it. Got a good laugh out of it too, because: yeah, if a robot could barf, that’s what it would look like.

Digging back, it looks like the first source of the joke is Andy Roberts here, or Jon Mitchell here, both of whom posted on 27 October, 2011.

Kevin Marks followed in the same vein with QR Codes, bad idea or terrible idea? on 28 January 2012. There Kevin wrote, among other things, “QR Codes ignore years of research and culture on how to communicate meaning in symbolic form designed to be captured by image processing tools behind a lens. We have this technology. It is called writing.”

Both John and Kevin pointed to RobotBarf.com, an innocuous-looking Japanese site without a QR code anywhere to be seen. Its title, translated by Google in Chrome, is “Floor coatings proficient poisoning.” The subtitle is “Sister and sister floor coating proficient.” The body copy begins, “By the way, eh had fallen at the door my sister When you go home? What does this murder? The’m was about to close the door involuntarily thought such as.Voice of sister sank to the floor face willl “welcome back” I heard, I went to the front door or what ‘s also Ninen.” Thus speaks the technology we call writing.

Citing Kevin, JP asked me if there was a difference between a QR code and a link. I said yes, because the author can make a QR code mean anything, and a QR code can also have any number of authors, or documents, or you-name-it, associated with it. I didn’t have the time make more of a case than that, but now I do, so here goes.

Think of a QR code as a window to anything, rather than as a form of writing.

For example, a QR code can be window on a product to the relationship between the owner and the company that made the product — and, for that matter, with anybody else involved. That’s where Phil Windley goes in his post titled Using Products to Build Customer Relationships. Some background: Phil’s company, Kynetx, makes QR code tags and stickers called “SquareTags,” which you can attach to the things you own, and which can be programmed, by you, to say or mean anything. I wrote about this a bit in The Internet of Me and My Things. Phil unpacks his case with this:

…by and large, ecommerce sites, from the smallest to the biggest, are just glorified online catalogs not significantly different from their more mundane mail-order catalog cousins. I’ve always thought the Internet ought to allow us to do better — to really change how merchants, companies and service organizations interact and relate to people.

Our vision for SquareTag is just that: helping people and companies have better (i.e. less dysfunctional) relationships. We believe that products are natural connecting points between companies and their customers. Because SquareTag makes those products smart and gives them an online presence, SquareTag provides a powerful tool for building vendor-customer relationships.

When I speak in my blog or on stage about the Internet of My Things, I’m highlighting the natural and powerful feelings people have about their stuff. As Doc Searls says in Chapter 21 of The Intention Economy, “possession is 9/10ths of the three-year old”. Our connections with our things are primitive and deep. We spend much of our time and resources acquiring, using, managing, and disposing of things.

Because of the strong feelings people have about them, products are a natural connecting point between manufacturers, retailers, service companies, and the customer. SquareTag is designed to deepen the connection between people and things by making the interactions richer.

With SquareTag, any thing becomes a programming platform. Products become more useful, more helpful with the addition of SquareTag. As an example, SquareTag gives almost anything an online social profile

Many companies confuse “having information” about their customers with having a relationship. That might constitute customer intelligence, but it’s not a relationship. Relationships are built on common interests and an exchange of value. Both parties need to see that value or it’s not a relationship. People are more likely to resent the fact that you know things about them outside of a relationship…

Using SquareTag companies can engage in a new kind of customer relationship management that does more than store contact information and interaction history. SquareTag provides a way to establish genuine relationships that provide continuous interaction throughout the customer life-cycle. This changes “relationship management” into “relating.”

Between the elipses above, Phil goes into specific use cases and scenarios. It’s deep and fun stuff. Go read it.

Meanwhile, think of how lame it has been for QR codes, so far, to be limited mostly to (actual) robot barf on the corners of ads and on the windows of shops, leading the scanner back to something promotional put up by the company at a website. This is worse than uninteresting: it wastes everybody’s time. But let’s say my next Canon camera, maybe the forthcoming 5D Mark IV, comes with a QR code unique to that camera. If I scan it on Day 1 of owning it, I’ll get, perhaps, a greeting and a link to the owner’s manual. Then, after I put it in my personal cloud, I can add my own annotations, such as links to the photos I’ve taken with the camera, or to my own notes for Canon’s repair people, should I have to send it in for a fix. (Which I’ve done many times over the years with my various cameras.) The repair people can then scan the code and see the notes. Canon too can add updates to the code. (Remember, I can program viewing permissions in my pCloud.) And, if I ever sell the camera or give it away, my notes and Canon’s can go with it, and Canon’s CRM system can be updated with relationship information about the new owner.

Finally, in case you need one more thing to convince you that QR codes are only ugly when misused — and are sure to become beautiful once they are used in creative new ways — there is this item in Wikipedia:

The use of QR codes is free of any license. The QR code is clearly defined and published as an ISO standard.

Denso Wave owns the patent rights on QR codes, but has chosen not to exercise them.

Thank you, Denso Wave.

After six years on the VRM case, it seems obvious to me that individuals need to be the points of integration for their own data — and of data about them, held by companies. But it’s not yet obvious to the marketplace, since we still lack suppliers willing either to part with the personal data they already hold, or to provide easy-to-use tools that people can use to combine that data, analyze it and put it to use.

So, to help with that, here are a few starters:

  • Quantified self data. Right now all the data produced by your Withings scale, your Zeo sleep manager, your Nike+ sportwatch, your Omron blood pressure monitor, your Fitbit Flex wristband, your Moves smartphone app, your Sportline heart rate monitor, your MoodScope log, your Accu-Check blood glucose meter and your workout machine data from the gym are silo’d by the companies supplying those devices. Even when that data is open and exportable (as it is, say, with Zeo sleep data), you can’t easily pull that data into one place that is yours, where you can analyze them together, and make fully informed decisions based on that data. There are apps and services, such as Digifit, that can combine data from multiple devices made by multiple manufacturers, but those services are silos as well — and they don’t include data from companies not on a privileged list. If you had that data, you could correlate weight loss or maintenance to specific workout routines, moods or dietary practices. You could present that data to your insurance company or health care provider to get better rates and services from both. The list goes on, and can get very long — especially when you integrate it with the other stuff below.
  • Retail. Think of what you could do if you had all your spendings in electronic form, and not just on paper receipts and invoices, or buried ten clicks deep on Web pages  You could look for ways to spend less money, or spend it more wisely. You could share back some of that data to retailers whose loyalty programs wear blinders toward what you’ve bought elsewhere: intelligence that might get you more favorable treatment from those retailers, while also providing them with better market intelligence.
  • Home expenses management, including energy and utility usage. Today “smart” devices and metering are almost entirely silo’d by manufacturers and utility services, so it’s no wonder almost nobody does anything with the data. The green button initiative is a good start in this direction, but implementation by the energy industry is minimal, while consumer awareness and tools for examining the data are also nearly absent. The only thing suppliers want to make easy to read are the invoices they send out. There is no doubt that we could save a lot of money, and spend it far more wisely, if we could see and manage that data with our own tools. But until we get those tools, we’ll stay in the dark.
  • Media usage. Sometimes, when I talk to a group of people in the U.S., I’ll ask how many listen to public radio. Usually nearly all the hands go up. Then, when I ask how many pay to listen, only about 10% stay raised. But when I ask if people would pay if it were “really easy,” the percentage doubles. If I add, “How about if you didn’t have to endure those ‘pledge breaks’ when the station begs for money and promises you a cup or a CD if you call in,” even more hands go up. The problems to solve here are equating listening with value, and easing the ability to pay. That was the idea behind ListenLog, which was featured on the first edition of the Public Radio Player from PRX. It was a nice experiment, but it was buried too deep in the feature list, and the results weren’t easy to get out and put to use. But it would be cool if our usage of media devices and services would yield data we could gather and use. And, if we shared that data back, it would also help media with subscription systems to improve those as well. Most of those are informed by what can be learned only inside their own silos — or by the conventions that include enticements many of us don’t fall for. This is why, for example, I still don’t subscribe to the New York Times, even though I am a loyal buyer of the paper on news stands and often read it online as well. I would also love to pay for music on a per-listen basis, whether I already own that music or not. While that is totally anomalous today, it might not be if all of us had easy ways to weigh and measure the actual value media has for us.

Keeping this stuff from happening is something of a chicken-and-egg problem. Since we lack tools for examining data from various sources, those sources see no need to share that data. And, in the absence of that data’s availability, we lack tools to do stuff with that data.

In respect to personal data, we are where personal computing was before the spreadsheet and the word processor, and where worldwide communications was before the Internet. Once we had the spreadsheet and the word processor, creative and resourceful individuals could do much more with numbers and words than big companies ever could — and that was good for those companies as well. Likewise, once we had the Internet, each of us could do far more with global communications than phone companies and other big players could alone. And that was good for everybody concerned as well.

And, once we have the means to do our own hacking, on data of any size and provenance, we will do for data what we did for computing and communications: make it personal and productive beyond any imaginings that are possible in the absence of those means.

This is why today’s “Big Data” jive, coming entirely from big companies selling to other big companies, sounds very much like the mainframe business in 1980 and the networking business in 1990. It’s mainframe talk. Nothing wrong with it. Just something very inadequate: it ain’t personal. Worse, it’s highly impersonal, unless it’s about how companies can know you so much better than you know yourself.

But that will change. It has to, because we’ve seen this movie before, and we know how it ends. As soon as it’s clear how much more each of us can do with data than the corporate hoarders can, a $trillion market will open up. Count on it.

What will make that clear? My bet, for now at least, is on personal clouds. You’ll find more on those in today’s link pile. For a look at what companies need to do, see everything Craig Burton is writing about the API economy at KuppingerCole.

And, by the way, both this post and that link pile were written in Fargo: another space to watch.

Fashions come and go. Verities do not.

One verity respected by many old-fashioned writers and publishers is the simple fact that long-form pieces work better than short-form ones for the purpose of communicating in depth. If you want deep, and you’re writing prose, more of it will work better than less of it, given an equally strong work-over by a good copy-edit.

Such has also been my ample experience at this game. Long-form has always out-performed short, even during the long dark period during which the common non-wisdom in online publishing was that short beat long. Some examples from my own oeuvre:

Now comes Fast Company‘s FastCo Labs, with findings that support the obvious, delivered in a long-ish article by Chris Dannen titled This Is What Happens When Publishers Invest In Long Stories. Two pull-quote conclusions: “quality, not velocity, is the future of online news,”and “Long Form Is The Past And Future.”

There are also business advantages:

…In fact, we’re not the only organization betting on long form quality. Here’s the CEO of Vox Media Jim Bankoff talking at TechCrunch Disrupt on May 2, 2013 (emphasis mine):

We know somethings as a fact. Globally there is a $250 billion advertising market of which 70 percent is really built on brand building… the top of the funnel, to use the marketing jargon. If you look at the web, which is a $25 billion slice of that pie, 80 percent of it is direct response–it’s search… it’s bottom of the funnel stuff. So there’s a big market opportunity there that hasn’t been captured. Where is all the brand building going [...] that we had seen previously in magazines and newspapers and even in broadcast going to go, as consumers turn their attention to digital media? We believe there’s a big opportunity there, but someone has to actually go after it–someone has to bring the quality back.

This recalls everything Don Marti has been saying about brand advertising vs. adtech over the last two years. Follow that link. Read back through his stuff. And, if you’re in the adtech game, leave your defenses at the door. If you want more, visit what I wrote here and here about advertising vs. direct marketing, exploring the same territory.

Bear this in mind too: most writers would rather have their work accompanied by brand advertising than by adtech that’s busy giving personalized messages to the reader — both for the reasons Don and I give at the links above, and because personalized adtech competes more aggressively for the reader’s attention.

We writers have a similar dislike for turning a long piece into many small chunks, so the reader’s eyeballs get dragged across fresh advertising on every page. That’s an infuriating publishing practice that not only makes a long piece hard to read, but also hard to scan for ideas or to search through for a word or a string.

These desires inconvenience publishers, and — under the subhead “The Downside of Long Quality Articles” — Chris visits those. All of the ones he lists are on the production side: server and CMS limitations, composuer UI and so on. Long-form itself has no downsides other than not being short.

Bottom line: Long-form does what only long-form can do. The time has come for publishers to respect that fact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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.

I just looked up facebook advertising on Google News, and got these results:

More Facebook Ads Are Coming, Your Friends Will Finally Hit Delete
Forbes-8 hours ago
Now, Facebook is doing a pretty smart thing here rolling out the more prominent advertising along with an updated user experience, but will…

Facebook’s New News Feed Is a Binder Full of Advertising The Atlantic Wire-4 hours ago

Disruptions: As User Interaction on Facebook Drops, Sharing  New York Times (blog)-Mar 3, 2013

Facebook Isn’t Your Platform. You’re Facebook’s Platform -Businessweek-Mar 5, 2013

Facebook’s advertising strategy cannot win
USA TODAY-Mar 5, 2013 Facebook presumably did not purposefully create a freeadvertising vehicle (that is, the standard posting function) that’s more effective than its … 

all 84 news sources »

Facebook may charge users to remove ads, patent application reveals GigaOM-by Janko Roettgers-Mar 5, 2013 Facebook may offer users to get rid of ads, highlight custom messages or even select the friends displayed on their personal profile in 

Mostly negative stuff.

But there are some plusses, down below the fold. For example, Facebook advertising works, and couldn’t be more fair, by Rocco Pendola in TheStreet. His gist:

Roughly five months into my job as TheStreet’s director of social media, I can tell you — firsthand — that Facebook advertising works incredibly well for a brand/multimedia organization such as TheStreet. In fact, I argue that if Facebook’s platform doesn’t work for you, you’re simply not doing it right.

Well, good for them. Over here on the receiving end it isn’t so pretty. For example, here’s my latest ad pile at Facebook:

A few questions:

  1. Where does Facebook get the idea that I want to cheat on my wife, to whom it knows I’ve been married for almost 23 years?
  2. Why would Facebook sell an ad to an advertiser that would rudely suggest that there is a chance in hell that I’d ever cheat on my wife?
  3. And why would anybody want to be told, over and over again, as the AARP ads always do, that they’re old?

Maybe it’s because they’ll sell anything to anybody. Or maybe it’s that SeniorPeopleMeet and SeniorsMeet simply buy exposures across the entire “senior” demographic, regardless of what Facebook’s intelligence might say about individuals in that demographic. Clearly Facebook doesn’t mind, regardless of the reasons, which is worse than insulting: it’s stupid and wrong.

It’s hard to imagine a company that has more “big data” about its users than Facebook does, or better means for delivering truly relevant ads to individuals. And yet Facebook’s advertising is mostly ignored, unwelcome or worse. Yes, its advertising program has made Facebook financially successful. But that success masks other failures, such as the very high percentage of misses, many of which have negative results. I see no reason to believe that these failings won’t also be leveraged into the company’s new advertising ventures, covered in the news above.

I’ve been told by adtech professionals that a funny thing about their business is that Google and Facebook are terribly jealous of each other: Google is jealous of Facebook because Facebook can get especially personal with its users, while Facebook is jealous of Google because Google can advertise all over the Web. And yet both are missing real human relationships with their users, because the users are not customers. They are the products being sold to the companies’ real customers, which are advertisers.

What’s keeping Facebook from offering paid services to individuals — or Google from offering more than the few they do? Here’s one reason I got from a Google executive: it costs too much money to serve individual human customers. This isn’t verbatim, but it’s close: If our users were actually customers, we would have to support them with human beings, and we don’t want to make less than $1 million per employee (Yes, that was the number they gave.) And yet, all advertising-supported businesses could benefit a great deal by having at least some of their users become subscribers.

Start with the money. How much would Facebook make if the company offered a subscription service that came with both no advertising and better privacy protections? Depends on the subscription price, of course, multiplied by the number of people who go for the deal. Maybe one of ya’ll can give us some run-ups in the comments below.

Then look at to the signaling issue. Real customers can send much better signals to Facebook than mere “users” can. They can offer real feedback, and good ideas for improving services — the kind of stuff you get when you have a real relationship, rather than a vast data milking operation. For example, a company with human customers can hear, personally, how they’re screwing up, from people who care enough to pay for services.

I’ve dealt with a lot of highly successful companies, and they all risk the same problem: getting high from smoking their own exhaust, and thinking their shit doesn’t stink. Facebook is there right now. And they are making the same mistake that AOL, Compuserve, Prodigy, MySpace and countless other online services did when they were high and thought their shit didn’t stink. They assumed that occupants of their private habitats love being there, and wouldn’t leave. In fact many inhabitants of Facebook only tolerate it, or are there because it’s what works for now, or because lots of their friends and relatives are there. But they can leave, and so can their friends and relatives, as soon as attractive other choices appear. Which is inevitable.

Everybody has limits. Facebook is hell-bent on testing them, apparently.

Bonus link.

In 2013 – Beginning Of The End For PR Boomers, David Bray actually says this…

The media landscape is evolving rapidly, and baby boomers are about to be left behind because of their inability to keep up with technology and the changing times. The days of the self-proclaimed experts (those who profess to be “thought leaders” as a result of reading and hearing about new advancements that clients can take advantage of) are long gone.

Media today is all about authenticity — and largely dominated by participatory media and consumers, who see right through advertising and marketing hyperbole and shut it out. Participating in these media is the only way to gain a “true” understanding of how and which work, and which don’t. Clients are demanding that their PR counsel and support teams are in the conversation, and that they themselves use the media where their content is being created and distributed.

Take, for example, the use of social media for online business networking or lead generation. As the saying goes, “it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks.” The old dog in this instance — baby boomers — use traditional, in-person offline meetings as their primary source of building their business networks, while the younger generations are building their own brands and businesses more quickly, and reaching a much wider audience by leveraging new digital tools like LinkedIn and Twitter to run full-on campaigns.

… giving his profession some bad PR that gets worse as you read down through the comments. Here’s mine:

No person is just a demographic, just a race, or just a category. Nor does any person like to be dismissed as a stereotype, especially if that stereotype is wrong about them personally. I have 972 friends on Facebook, 19,061 followers on Twitter, 801 connections on LinkedIn, a Klout score of 81 and a PeerIndex of 81. That I’m also 65 is not ironic. If I weren’t this old, those stats wouldn’t be this high. I got the hell out of PR several demographics ago — and into the far more helpful work I do now — exactly because of shallow and dismissive stereotyping that has been a cancer in PR, and all of marketing, for the duration. It only makes the problem worse to drive out of the business people who have been young a lot longer than you have.

PR’s problems are old news and not getting any younger. Here is what I wrote for Upside in 1992. Alas, Upside erased itself when it died, the Wayback Machine only traces it back to 1996, and the text is stuck for now in a place where search engines don’t index it.  So I’ll repeat the whole thing here:

THE PROBLEM WITH PR
TOWARD A WORLD BEYOND PRESS RELEASES & BOGUS NEWS

There is no Pulitzer Prize for public relations. No Peabody. No Heismann. No Oscar, Emmy or Eddy. Not even a Most Valuable Flacker award. Sure, like many misunderstood professions, public relations has its official bodies, and even its degrees, awards and titles. Do you know what they are? Neither do most people who practice the profession.

The call of the flack is not a grateful one. Almost all casual references to public relations are negative. Between the last sentence and this one, I sought to confirm this by looking through a Time magazine. It took me about seven seconds to find an example: a Lance Morrow essay in which he says Serbia has “the biggest public relations problem since Pol Pot went into politics.” Since genocide is the problem in question, the public relations solution can only range from lying to cosmetics. Morrow’s remark suggests this is the full range of PR’s work. Few, I suspect, would disagree.

So PR has the biggest PR problem of all: people use it as a synonym for BS. It seems only fair to defend the profession, but there is no point to it. Common usage is impossible to correct. And frankly, there is a much smaller market for telling the truth than for shading it.

For proof, check your trash for a computer industry press release. Chances are you will read an “announcement” that was not made, for a product that was not available, with quotes by people who did not speak them, for distribution to a list of reporters who considered it junk mail. The dishonesty here is a matter of form more than content. Every press release is crafted as a news story, complete with headline, dateline, quotes and so forth. The idea is to make the story easy for editors to “insert” with little or no modification.

Yet most editors would rather insert a spider in their nose than a press release in their publication. First, no self-respecting editor would let anybody else — least of all a biased source — write a story. Second, press releases are not conceived as stories, but rather as “messages.”

It is amazing how much time, energy and money companies spend to come up with “the right message.” At this moment, thousands of staffers, consultants and agency people sit in meetings or bend over keyboards, straining to come up with perfect messages for their products and companies. All are oblivious to a fact that would be plain if they paid more attention to their market than their product.

There is no demand for messages.

There is, however, a demand for facts. To editors, messages are just clothing and make-up for emperors that are best seen naked. Editors like their subjects naked because facts are raw material for stories. Which brings up another clue that public relations tends to ignore.

Stories are about conflict.

What makes a story hot is the friction in its core. When that friction ceases, the story ends. Take the story of Apple vs. IBM. As enemies, they made great copy. As collaborators, they are boring as dirt.

The whole notion of “positive” stories is oxymoronic. Stories never begin with “happily ever after.” Happy endings may resolve problems, but they only work at the end, not the beginning. Good PR recognizes that problems are the hearts of stories, and takes advantage of that fact.

Unfortunately, bad PR not only ignores the properties of stories, but imagines that “positive” stories can be “created” by staging press conferences and other “announcement events” that are just as bogus as press releases — and just as hated by their audiences.

Columnist John Dvorak, a kind of fool killer to the PR profession, says, “So why would you want to sit in a large room full of reporters and publicly ask a question that can then be quoted by every guy in the place? It’s not the kind of material a columnist wants — something everybody is reporting. I’m always amazed when PR types are disappointed when I tell them I won’t be attending a press conference.”

So why does PR persist in practices its consumers hold in contempt?

Because PR’s consumers are not its customers. PR’s customers are companies who want to look good, and pay PR for the equivalent of clothing and cosmetics. If PR’s consumers — the press — were also its customers, you can bet the PR business would serve a much different purpose: to reveal rather than conceal, clarify rather than mystify, inform rather than mislead.

But it won’t happen. Even if PR were perfectly useful to the press, there is still the matter of “positioning” — one of PR’s favorite words. I have read just about every definition of this word since Trout & Ries coined it in 1969, and I am convinced that a “position” is nothing other than an identity. It is who you are, where you come from, and what you do for a living. Not a message about your ambitions.

That means PR does not have a very good position. It’s identity is a euphemism, or at least sounds like one. While it may “come from” good intentions, what it does for a living is not a noble thing. Just ask its consumers.

Maybe it is time to do with PR what we do with technology: make something new — something that works as an agent for understanding rather than illusion. Something that satisfies both the emperors and their subjects. God knows we’ve got the material. Our most important facts don’t need packaging, embellishment or artificial elevation. They only need to be made plain. This may not win prizes, but it will win respect.

That was 21 years ago. Now PR doesn’t just spin the press, but “influencers” of all kind. These days I sometimes find myself on the receiving end of that spin: a vantage from which I can see how much the fundamental disconnects in PR have remained the same, while the methods used, and the influencers targeted, have changed. (Mostly by adding new methods to old ones that haven’t changed at all.)

Even the “social media” David Bray finds so young and modern embody the same disconnect between consumers and customers that have afflicted old media, such as TV and radio, from the beginning. Only now the consumers are called users while the customers are still called advertisers. Thus PR maintains the age-old dysfunction of stereotyping populations, and of dealing with whole populations through categorical prejudices, rather than engaging real human beings in real ways, with a minimum of bullshit, even when one party is spinning and the other is just listening. That’s what being “in the conversation” actually means.

6:42am — Flights are starting to land at JFK, I see by Flightaware. Not yet at LGA, EWR or the New England airports. More links:

It’s getting light out, and the snow has stopped.

6:10am — Dig:

5:58am — Fittingly (given the local coverage concentration below), Maine appears to be hardest hit, though farthest from news outside the area. CNN and The Weather Channel are all about Boston, Providence, Hartford and New York.

5:30am — Looking for live local coverage from TV stations. Here’s what I’ve found so far:

That’s it. One in New York, one in Hartford, none in Boston and three in Portland. Maine wins! Corrections, of course, are welcome.

Also: the NYTimes and the Wall Street Journal have both dropped their paywalls for storm coverage. The Boston Globe‘s is still up.

03:30am — This is as quiet as New York gets. No traffic flowing. No horns blowing. No jets on approach to anywhere, or taking off. From our encampment in “upstate” Manhattan, there is just the sound of snowplows scraping Broadway clean.

The Weather Channel (aka Weather.com, aka TWC on my Dish Network channel list, aka @WeatherChannel), calls the storm #Nemo, as they said they would last Fall. The National Weather Service, aka Weather.govisn’t playing along. Neither is AccuWeather.

They should. I’m sure the success of the Nemo nickname has their sphincters in a knot, but they should loosen up. This isn’t just another nor’easter. For parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts, it might be the biggest storm since the last glaciation, named after Wisconsin. (Probably not, but still.) Earthquakes get named after epicenters. And hey, we live in networked times. These days the vernacular wins, fast. Best to get ahead of that curve.

Here’s a view of aviation, as of 3:00am this morning:

Normally thin anyway at this hour, it’s absent in the Northeast entirely. The nearest named flight is a United one inbound to Dulles (UAL981). An un-named plane is passing over Philadelphia, and another over Binghamton. That’s it. (The green color is not for rain, by the way. It’s precipitation density. That’s snow there.)

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”.

Tomorrow evening, Tuesday, will be a meetup I wish I could attend in San Francisco. The subject is personal clouds.

We’re not talking about storage here, though that’s part of it, just like storage is part of your PC or your phone. We’re talking about your own personal space, which you control, on the Net, and not just on your devices. We’re talking about your own personal operating system: the platform for your enterprise of one. We’re talking about the place where you stand as you manage not just your own data, but your relationships with other people, various services, the Internet of Things, and your contacts—meaning your real social network (the one you define, your own way). It might be self-hosted, or physically elsewhere on the Net; doesn’t matter, long as it’s yours alone, and secure. That is, not contained in somebody else’s service. (Though you can engage one for that, if you like. On your terms.)

Personal clouds are a new concept, but central to what I (and many others) have been working on for years with ProjectVRM and related efforts. (Some of those will be there too.) It’s where personal computing, personal networking, personal storage and personal autonomy and control all meet — or should, once the tech gets built out.

It’s early in the history of wherever this thing is going to go, which is why going to this thing is a good idea.

Register here.

Aaron Swartz died yesterday, a suicide at 26. I always felt a kinship with Aaron, in part because we were living demographic bookends. At many of the events we both attended, at least early on, he was the youngest person there, and I was the oldest. When I first met him, he was fourteen years old, and already a figure in the industry, in spite of his youth and diminutive stature at the time. Here he is with Dave Winer, I believe at an O’Reilly conference in San Jose:

It’s dated May 2002, when Aaron was fifteen. That was the same year I booked him for a panel at Comdex in Las Vegas. His mom dropped him off, and his computer was an old Mac laptop with a broken screen that was so dim that I couldn’t read it, but he could. He rationalized it as a security precaution. Here’s a photo, courtesy of Mary Wehmeier. Here’s another I love, from the same Berkman Center set that also contains the one above:

All those are permissively licensed for re-use via Creative Commons, which Aaron helped create before he could shave.

Aaron’s many other passions and accomplishments are well-described elsewhere, but the role he chose to play might be best described by Cory Doctorow in BoingBoing: “a full-time, uncompromising, reckless and delightful shit-disturber.” Cory also writes, “Aaron had an unbeatable combination of political insight, technical skill, and intelligence about people and issues. I think he could have revolutionized American (and worldwide) politics. His legacy may still yet do so.”

I hope that’s true. But it would have had a much better chance if he were still here doing what he did best. We haven’t just lost a good man, but the better world he was helping to make.

[Later...] Larry Lessig makes the case that Aaron was driven to end his life by the prospect of an expensive trial, due to start soon, and the prospect of prison and worse if he lost the case and its appeals. Writes Larry ,

[Aaron] is gone today, driven to the edge by what a decent society would only call bullying. I get wrong. But I also get proportionality. And if you don’t get both, you don’t deserve to have the power of the United States government behind you.

For remember, we live in a world where the architects of the financial crisis regularly dine at the White House — and where even those brought to “justice” never even have to admit any wrongdoing, let alone be labeled “felons.”

In that world, the question this government needs to answer is why it was so necessary that Aaron Swartz be labeled a “felon.” For in the 18 months of negotiations, that was what he was not willing to accept, and so that was the reason he was facing a million dollar trial in April — his wealth bled dry, yet unable to appeal openly to us for the financial help he needed to fund his defense, at least without risking the ire of a district court judge.  And so as wrong and misguided and fucking sad as this is, I get how the prospect of this fight, defenseless, made it make sense to this brilliant but troubled boy to end it.

Fifty years in jail, charges our government. Somehow, we need to get beyond the “I’m right so I’m right to nuke you” ethics that dominates our time. That begins with one word: Shame.

One word, and endless tears.

[Later again, 13 January, Sunday morning...] Official Statement from the family and partner of Aaron Swartz is up at http://RememberAaronSw.tumblr.com. Here it is, entire:

Our beloved brother, son, friend, and partner Aaron Swartz hanged himself on Friday in his Brooklyn apartment. We are in shock, and have not yet come to terms with his passing.

Aaron’s insatiable curiosity, creativity, and brilliance; his reflexive empathy and capacity for selfless, boundless love; his refusal to accept injustice as inevitable—these gifts made the world, and our lives, far brighter. We’re grateful for our time with him, to those who loved him and stood with him, and to all of those who continue his work for a better world.

Aaron’s commitment to social justice was profound, and defined his life. He was instrumental to the defeat of an Internet censorship bill; he fought for a more democratic, open, and accountable political system; and he helped to create, build, and preserve a dizzying range of scholarly projects that extended the scope and accessibility of human knowledge. He used his prodigious skills as a programmer and technologist not to enrich himself but to make the Internet and the world a fairer, better place. His deeply humane writing touched minds and hearts across generations and continents. He earned the friendship of thousands and the respect and support of millions more.

Aaron’s death is not simply a personal tragedy. It is the product of a criminal justice system rife with intimidation and prosecutorial overreach. Decisions made by officials in the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s office and at MIT contributed to his death. The US Attorney’s office pursued an exceptionally harsh array of charges, carrying potentially over 30 years in prison, to punish an alleged crime that had no victims. Meanwhile, unlike JSTOR, MIT refused to stand up for Aaron and its own community’s most cherished principles.

Today, we grieve for the extraordinary and irreplaceable man that we have lost.

Funeral and other details follow at the bottom of that post, which concludes, Remembrances of Aaron, as well as donations in his memory, can be submitted at http://rememberaaronsw.com.

Also, via @JPBarlow: “Academics, please put your PDFs online in tribute to @aaronsw. Use #pdftribute.” Here’s the backstory.

A memorial tweet from Tim Berners Lee (@TimBerners_Lee): Aaron dead. World wanderers, we have lost a wise elder. Hackers for right, we are one down. Parents all, we have lost a child. Let us weep.

Some links, which I’ll keep adding as I can:

Tags:

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:

On the way back from a concert in Brooklyn yesterday we shared the subway with a well-known filmmaker. He’s one of those people who look ordinary enough to blend in with the rest of us, which is lucky for him. Still, he’s not anonymous. We know his name. We’ve seen his movies. We also did our best not to pay him special attention. That is, to let him have the form of privacy we call anonymity. Even if he is hardly anonymous.

I thought it was cool that he took the subway rather than a taxi. There was a woman with him, obviously a friend. They had an energetic conversation. His voice also was familiar. She got off one stop before he did, a couple stops later.

Our home base since ’01 has been Santa Barbara. If you hang out on State Street in Santa Barbara, or on Coast Village or Valley Road in Montecito, you’re bound to run into celebrities fairly often, since lots of them live there. The correct and courteous thing to do is ignore them: to pretend, as best you can, that they have not made the Faustian trade of anonymity for fame. I’ve known a few celebs in my time and without exception they’ve found being known to everybody mostly a drag.

This stuff is close to my mind these days because privacy is a Big Issue. See, online we are all celebrities to the advertising personalizers. That’s why sites plant cookies and tracking beacons in our browsers to follow us around like invisible paparazzi. Fixing it won’t be easy; but we will fix it, sooner or later. Simple courtesy demands it. And it is on simple courtesies that civilization stands.

This is a hard one to write. Peter Sklar, the founder, editor and chief-everything of Edhat, Santa Barbara’s original onine daily, has died.

Peter was the Steve Jobs of placeblogging. Like Steve, he was an original genius and nobody’s fool. He could be prickly and sarcastic, and he did things his way. He was also a fun guy, great to hang out with and to talk to at any depth on any subject. Thus, in character, he had a clear and steady vision of local journalism that was equally serious and felicitous — a combination that served as a model for placeblogs across the country.

What made Edhat so wonderful, from the start, was Peter’s light touch. There was always gentleness, humor, and a strong aesthetic sense of what’s right for the town, its people, its businesses, its unique and quirky civic qualities. Peter wrote most of Edhat in the early days, and I assume until recently as well. Edhat’s voice has remained Peter’s, always been a delight to read.

As an original and highly principled genius, Peter could be less than sweet to others he thought were horning in on his turf, either with competing publications or with the larger concepts of placeblogging and journalism. (In fact, Peter liked neither the term “blogging” nor any of the blogging or content management systems in the market. As an alpha programmer, he home-brewed Edhat from the start. He also did it on old versions of Windows, which drove me nuts as an open source and Linux guy.*) But again, the main thing with Peter was fun. It says something that, among all the advice we gave him back in Edhat’s formative years, the one piece he took was holding a party. When I get a chance later I’ll dig up and share the pictures. Meanwhile, here’s how Craig Smith, another friend and local blogger, describes Peter and his work:

A mathematician by training and a dedicated runner, Peter always struck me as being quirky (kind of like Edhat) and he could at times be temperamental. He liked numbers (as in, “we counted the number of horses in the Fiesta parade”) and he liked rules. (Ever notice how many rules there are about posting comments on Edhat?) He could fairly have been described as a my-way-or-the-highway type guy. But you could also say that about Steve Jobs. But like Jobs, Peter was a genius at what he did. Never mind that guys like me didn’t like some of his rules about what kind of stories Edhat would link to (he would link to news stories but not “opinion pieces” or newspaper columns) or the fact that the comments section on Edhat often seemed to be in need of some serious adult supervision, Peter always knew what his community of readers wanted and he made sure that they got it.

With newspapers on the decline, Peter was a champion of “citizen journalism” and Edhat was a place where a lot of breaking news in this town first got (and still gets) reported. And many times that reporting is done by the Edhat community of readers. Skeptical of mainstream media, he once told me, “Remember, the word ‘professional’ only means that they are getting paid.”

It’s meaningful that Craig and I both compare Peter to Steve. (Note: I didn’t see Craig’s post until I started writing this one.)

I only got the news about Peter over breakfast a few minutes ago, from my wife, who knew him better than I did. It clobbered us both. Santa Barbara is home for us, but our work takes us elsewhere so much that we don’t get to see our friends there often enough. I was looking forward to catching up with Peter on our next return to town over the holidays. Even though I kept up with Santa Barbara through Edhat, I missed learning that Peter had been sick with inoperable brain cancer for over a year. Now he leaves a huge hole in our hearts, an in our town.

But Edhat lives, and not just in Santa Barbara. I can’t begin to tell you how much tenacity and grace it takes to do what Peter and his crew have done with Edhat.

Here’s a picture Peter and Molly, in a nice obituary by The Independent, the local weekly paper (and a competitor with whom Peter enjoyed a happy symbiosis). And another, by Leah Etling, who worked with Peter at Edhat. More at KEYT, Noozhawk and the Santa Barbara Review. Also this from David Powdrell.

Our hearts are with Sue, Nick, Zack, Molly and the larger Edhat family, including the great town Peter left better than he found it.

* Few know that “Edhat” as a name actually had a Linux connection. Maybe you can guess it.

NYC

I want to plug something I am very much looking forward to, and encourage you strongly to attend. It’s called The Overview Effect, and it’s the premiere of a film by that title. Here are the details:

Friday, December 7, 2012 - 5:30pm - 7:00pm
Askwith Lecture Hall
Longfellow Hall
13 Appian Way
Harvard University
Cambridge, MA

The world-premiere of the short documentary film Overview, directed by Guy Reid, edited by Steve Kennedy and photographed by Christoph Ferstad. The film details the cognitive shift in awareness reported by astronauts during spaceflight, when viewing the Earth from space.

Following the film screening, there will be a panel discussion with two NASA astronauts, Ronald J. Garan Jr. and Jeffrey A. Hoffman, discussing their experience with the filmmakers and with Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects producer on films such as 2001: A Space OdysseyClose Encounters of the Third Kind, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. The event will be moderated by Harvard Extension School instructor Frank White, author of the book The Overview Effect, which first looked at this phenomenon experienced by astronauts.

This event will take place on the 40th anniversary of the Blue Marble, one of the most famous pictures of Earth, which was taken by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft on December 7, 1972.

Seating is limited and will be assigned on a first-come first-serve basis. The event will also be streamed live at http://alumni.extension.harvard.edu/.

The Overview Effect is something I experience every time I fly, and why I take so many photos to share the experience (and license them permissively so they can be re-shared).

The effect is one of perspective that transcends humanity’s ground-based boundaries. When I look at the picture above, of the south end of Manhattan, flanked by the Hudson and East Rivers, with Brooklyn below and New Jersey above, I see more than buildings and streets and bridges. I see the varying competence of the geology below, of piers and ports active and abandoned. I see the palisades: a 200-million year old slab of rock that formed when North America and Africa were pulling apart, as Utah and California are doing now, stretching Nevada between them. I see what humans do to landscapes covering them with roads and buildings, and celebrating them with parks and greenways. I see the the glories of civilization, the race between construction and mortality, the certain risks of structures to tides and quakes. I see the Anthropocene — the geological age defined by human influence on the world — in full bloom, and the certainty that other ages will follow, as hundreds have in the past. I see in the work of a species that has been from its start the most creative in the 4.65 billion year history of the planet, and a pestilence determined to raid the planet’s cupboards of all the irreplaceable goods that took millions or billions of years to produce. And when I consider how for dozens of years this scene was at the crosshairs of Soviet and terrorist weapons (with the effects of one attack still evident at the southern tip of Manhattan), I begin to see what the great poet Robinson Jeffers describes in The Eye, which he saw from his home in Carmel during WWII.

But it is astronauts who see it best, and this film is theirs. Hope it can help make their view all of ours.

[4 December: I got a call from Verizon and an answer. For that, skip down to *here.]

We have a new apartment in Manhattan. Washington Heights. Verizon FiOS is here. FiOS trucks roam the streets. They set up little tables in front of apartments where FiOS is now available, to sign customers up. My wife talked to a guy at one of those recently, and he told us Verizon would bring FiOS to any apartment building where a majority of tenants welcomed it, provided the fiber is in the street. Our street has it, but we can’t get through to Verizon by the usual means (website, phone number). Checking with those is a dead end. They say it’s not available. But I want to know for sure, either way. Because I’ll bet I can sell a majority of tenants on going with FiOS. I know FiOS, because I’ve been a customer near Boston since 2007. So can somebody from Verizon please contact me? Either here or through @dsearls. Thanks.

* Had a good talk with a Verizon rep who called me today (4 December). Here’s what she said:

  1. FiOS is not ready on our street yet, but it will be.
  2. When it is, building owners will be notified, both by mail and in person if possible. So alert the building owner to this eventuality, if the owner is not you.
  3. Meanwhile also go on the website and navigate to where you can request service. Even if they say it’s not available now, the request will be remembered when the service actually rolls out.
  4. Right now Verizon has stopped pushing or building out any new services while existing ones are down or damaged due to Sandy. Since there was a lot of damage, and many customers affected, the company’s first priority is restoring that service. This will take awhile. No telling how long yet.
  5. When the Sandy restoration job is complete, the company will go back to expanding services to both new and existing customers.

So I’ll call Time Warner tomorrow. Meanwhile, maybe the information above will help you too.

Tags: , , , , ,

Strays Amid Rome Set Off a Culture Clash says The New York Times. On one side, archaeologists who wish to save ruins from occupation by cats. On the other side, the cats’ lovers, including tourists who marvel more at the abundance of serene kittehs, lounging atop walls and columns than at the historic site itself:  a place called Largo di Torre Argentina, or just “Argentina” to the locals.

It looks like Rome’s exposed basement, excavated down to one floor below street level. The broken-down walls and columns of Argentina contain no less than four Republican Roman temples and a corner of Pompey’s Theatre, beside which Julius Caesar was assassinated — perhaps within this very space. The whole thing lies within the Campus Martius, of which the main surviving structure is the nearby Pantheon.

I was there with the family two summers ago, and shot some kitteh pictures. To help anybody who wants pix for their own kitteh-vs-whomever stories, I’ve put those shots in a photo set here. All are Creative Commons licensed for attribution only (the least restrictive license available on Flickr).

Hurricane flag

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

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

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

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

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

9:54pm TV stations with live streams online:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funnel #3, Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Toronto

Thanks to my hosts with the Conference Board of Canada, I got some excellent quality time in Toronto this week, including drinks and dinner, respectively, at the Horizons bar and the rotating 360 restaurant at the 1500-foot level of the CN Tower.

Of course, being the aerial photography freak that I am, I took a lot of pictures there, looking down on interesting infrastructure, building construction, and a skyline at sunset and after dark, viewed from the city’s highest landmark.

Here’s a slideshow of the whole series.

Having both iPhone and Android devices in the household, I’ve been struck for some time by the absence of two Google Maps features on the iPhone that appear on the Android. One is adaptive turn-by-turn directions (the “recalculating” thing that good GPSes, like those of Garmin, Magellan and Tom-Tom, have always done) when you go off the original course. The other is vocalization of directions (which, again, single-purpose GPS devices do). Android devices have those. The iPhone doesn’t.

I had always thought that this difference was due to one of two things:

  1. Apple didn’t want those features
  2. Google didn’t want Apple devices to have those features, presumably to favor Android in user comparisons with iPhone

The second one makes more sense to me, especially since Apple dropped Google’s maps and added those missing features to its own maps.

But I don’t know. In fact, without an Android with me here in France I can’t compare the two. (Back in the U.S., where I’m headed today, I can.)

I’m not even sure I have the facts right on Android vs. Apple navigation.

What I am sure about is that coverage of the change so far is mostly missing the possibility of numbers one or two above. Anybody got the facts on that? Specifically, did Google intentionally cripple its maps on Apple devices to favor Androids? I haven’t seen that question asked yet. [Later... The answer, according to comments below, and also on Twitter, is no. Apparently #1 is the case.]

Meanwhile, Apple’s new maps are a fail for us here in Paris. I upgraded to iOS 6 and my wife didn’t, on our pair of iPhones. Her Google map shows Metro stops. My Apple map does not. Lacking those stops is a deal-killer for her, and she won’t be upgrading until it’s clear to me on my phone that the Apple maps have parity. I’ve got a feeling that will be awhile.

Huge bonus link.

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.

If posts seem a bit infrequent here (I went more than half a month between the last two posts), it’s because I’ve been busy elsewhere. One of those other places is The Well, the deep, durable and original (in several senses) online community. There Jon Lebkowsky has convened an Inkwell conversation between myself and all comers that you can read and join here. Most of what happens on The Well is a discussion among members. But Inkwell is open to everybody. Dive in.

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Nothing has creeped me out more lately than reading HTML5 – The Catalyst for Network as a Service? by Michael Crossey of Aepona, in Telco 2.0. His topic: NaaS, or Network as a Service. Makes me think, If the network is just a service, is it still the network? And, If the service can only come from phone and cable companies, what benefits does that prevent for everybody else? And, Is the cable modem already a body-snatching pod for the Net?

Background: telcos and cablecos — what we call “carriers,” and the industry calls “operators” — are hounded by what they call “over the top,” or OTT (of their old closed phone and cable TV systems). Everything that makes you, app developers and content producers independent of telcos and cablecos is OTT.  NaaS, as Crossey explains it, is a way for the telcos and cablecos to put the genie of OTT independence back inside the bottle of carrier control.

As I see it, the free and open Internet, a generative horizontal development that likely has produced more positive economic externalities than any other in the history of civilization, is at risk of being upstaged and then quietly strangled by “services” — including the Net itself — that can only come from centralized and silo’d carriers. Vertical integration, bottom to top.

Here is a compressed excerpt:

NaaS is a manifestation of the 2-sided business model described by Telco 2.0, in which the Telco’s network, contextual, informational and commercial assets are exposed as APIs to organizations such as enterprises, ISVs, content providers and application developers. These APIs are then used to create additional functionality within those organizations’ applications and services, which in turn enables them to differentiate their offerings, improve productivity and customer service, open new payment channels, and ultimately expand their addressable market…

Unlike native OS application development, HTML5 (like previous versions of HTML) is fundamentally based on a client-server programming paradigm. In its simplest manifestation, an HTML client (for example, a desktop web browser) acts only as the presentation layer for the application or service: the application/service itself runs on a web server, which services multiple clients…

This client-server paradigm of HTML5 lends itself extremely well to Network as a Service, since NaaS is itself based on the model of applications/services “calling” network API services on-demand, using the same types of HTTP requests and responses that are used between the client-side and server-side of HTML5-based apps…

This contrasts with the native app model: many native applications are designed to run locally on the device…

…another developing feature of HTML5 is its ability to access device capabilities, such as accelerometers, GPS functions, cameras and so on. This will eventually allow HTML5-based applications to be endowed with the same level of functionality as native applications…

However, the commercial potential for HTML5 applications will be maximized by combining device-side capabilities with network-side services provided by the Telco, rather than relying solely on the device side.

Take location-based services as an example. Network-derived location…can locate any device whether GPS-enabled or not, and can operate without user intervention or needing an app to be running. Moreover, the developer can “write once” on the server-side to call the network APIs, versus having to write towards different handset and OS implementations.

Of course there are many other network-side features and capabilities that can be built into HTML5 applications … examples include rich user context (data connection type, roaming status, zonal presence), customer profile information (identity, tariff/data plan, age/gender), advanced communications capabilities (multi-party/multi-media conferencing, instant messaging, network Quality of Service control) and of course Payments (for in-application billing and subscription services)…

Today, Telcos are rightly seeing the emergence of HTML5 as the pre-eminent platform for future mobile application development as an opportunity to regain some of the ground they have lost to the OTT players over the past 5 years… HTML5 can become a significant demand driver for Network as a Service, providing the catalyst for a huge variety of cross-platform business and consumer app developers to embed the Telco’s core network capabilities within their applications, and allowing the operators to finally realize the full potential of the “2-sided business model” vision put forward by Telco 2.0.

I don’t know if the telcos and cablecos are savvy enough to do what Crossey recommends. (Telco 2.0 has been lecturing them for years on the two sided business model, but I don’t know how well it’s taken.) I also don’t know if NaaS has to be as pernicious as I fear it might be. APIs on the whole are Good Things, and have huge potential, as Craig Burton explains here.

It’s at least clear that TV is the elephant in the snake of the Net’s time. It is moving off the air and over the top of cable and telephony. Still, the Internet is sold as a service already by cablecos and telcos that hate the thought of remaining a “dumb pipe.”

If things go the way Crossey expects, the Net’s carriers will likely expand Net service offerings in ways that fracture the Net into pieces, each with hard-wired dependencies on the carrier. The result will be the biggest body-snatch in the history of business. Standing where the Net used to be won’t be Telco 2.o, but TV 2.o, with lots of marketing gravy. (Think of all that jive the “big data” pushers are saying about “delivering personalized experiences.”)

So, rather than having the greatest marketplace ever created, we’ll have a set of entertainment and marketing services, available only from phone and cable companies, working only on devices they sell or sanction: basically the worst scenario imagined by Jonathan Zittrain in The Future of the Internet and How to Stop It. We’ll still have some of the Net’s huge open marketplace, but far less of it than would would have been possible if what ran on the pipes were structurally separated from the pipes themselves.

I see little reason for hope here. Big Business and Big Government, enemies in the theater of politics, are in fact completely aligned around the wishes of Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner, Verizon and Hollywood. People like me have been remarkably ineffective in advocating for the free and open Internet and its importance for the free and open marketplace, as well as a free and open society. On letting the Net slide into the clutches of its enemies there is no daylight between Obama and Romney, because it’s a non-issue for both of them. Just like it’s a non-issue for most of us.

Hope I’m wrong. And I’d be glad to hear arguments to the contrary. I’m a born optimist, and I try to keep an open mind. But I’m not feeling good about this thing right now.

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.

 

My son remembers what I say better than I do. One example is this:

I uttered it in some context while wheezing my way up a slope somewhere in the Reservation.

Except it wasn’t there. Also I didn’t say that. Exactly. Or alone. He tells me it came up while we were walking across after getting some hang time after Mass at the . He just told me the preceding while looking over my shoulder at what I’m writing. He also explains that the above is compressed from dialog between the two of us, at the end of which he said it should be a bumper sticker, which he later designed, sent to me and you see above.

What I recall about the exchange, incompletely (as all recall is, thanks to the graces and curses of short term memory), is that I was thinking about the imperatives of invention, and why my nature is native to Silicon Valley, which exists everywhere ideas and ambition combine and catch fire.

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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Started listening to Bill Clark’s amazing oldies show on WATD/95.9 on the way back from dinner this evening, and continued on the Web after getting back. Talk about deep cuts. Some of those songs I hadn’t heard in 50 years, if ever. All good stuff, familiar or not.

One tune, the name of which I missed, reminded me of two contemporary songs by young artists with roots in bed-Rock. One is Dynamo, by Si Cranstoun, who is the living incarnation of Jackie Wilson, even though he’s a young dude from the U.K. The other is North Side Gal, which you can download free at  J.D. MacPherson‘s site. Here’s J.D.’s backstory. And a review. He’s a punk veteran and former art teacher from Broken Arrow, Nebraska.  Not sure who he embodies, other than the whole of rock’s deepest geology.

Both are happy, super-upbeat songs that demand dancing. Great, great stuff.

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is one of the world’s truly great guys. Besides being smart, funny, caring, hard-working, a good husband and father — and pretty much all the other positive stuff you could pack into a bio, Michael was one of the first people to not only dig  , but to grok it thoroughly at every level, including the multiple ironies at all of them. And to continue doing so through all the years since.

Like three of Cluetrain’s authors, Michael was a marketing guy who was never fully comfortable with the label or the role, and broke every mold that failed to contain him. Unlike those three, however, he continued to labor inside the business, which still needs many more like him. Because, from the start, Michael has always stood up for the the user, the customer, the individual whose reach should rightly exceed others’ grasp.

His labors are suspended, however, while he takes on a personal battle with .

Friends of Michael’s have put up SupportMichaelOCC.ca, so all of us who care about him and his family can easily lend support. He’s a sole breadwinner with four kids, so this is a tall order. Whether you know Michael or not, please do what you can.

Bonus links:

My sister and I received a durable lesson in generosity in the summer of 1963, in the heart of Iowa. That was where our family’s 1957 Ford Country Sedan station wagon, towing our Nimrod pop-up camper trailer, broke down.

It was on a Sunday morning in late June, heading south from Des Moines on I-35 when the engine made a loud bang, and there was smoke and steam everywhere. We pulled over to shoulder and sat there for a long time while the engine cooled off and the day heated up. Then we topped off the radiator with some of the water from our cache, started the car back up and knew right away that the engine was in very bad shape. Pop figured that fewer than car’s straight-six engine’s cylinders were working, and that water was leaking through the head gasket  (since steam as well as smoke and unburned gas fumes were coming out the exhaust). There was no traffic to flag down on the highway, which was still new.  So all we could do was limp on, while limping was all the car could do.

At the top of the first exit was a sign that pointed west to St. Charles, and east to St. Mary’s. The former was closer, it said, so we turned right. We pulled up in front of a general store with some old guys on the porch out front, and asked if there was a service station nearby.

“Deane fixes cars,” one of them said, and told us which house was Deane’s. It was down the road on the left.

Turns out this was Deane Hoskins, a master mechanic with a complete garage in his garage. His day job was working for GM’s diesel division in Des Moines. His wife was Arlouine, a teacher like Mom. They also had a bunch of kids: Carolyn, Linda, Janet, Karen and Robert. All were friendly and eager to help. Deane told us to pull in. So Pop and I disconnected the camper, left it in the street, and went up the driveway to help Deane as best we could while he tore down the broken engine.

At the peak of the Hoskins garage’s roof, facing down the driveway, was a thermometer in the shape of a big clock. It said 112°. Sweat poured off Deane’s nose and chin. I remember that his eyes were blue, though one was a mix of blue and brown. The whole time he talked to us about engine design, how they worked, and what they were built do do. This Ford, he explained, was built to fail.

The policy was called “planned obsolescence,” and you could see it in the cooling tubes in the engine block, flanking the cylinders. Water cooled by the radiator flows through these tubes, keeping an engine from overheating. The pistons in the first and sixth cylinders looked fine. The ones in the second and fifth were pitted on the top. The pistons in the third and fourth cylinders had holes blown through their tops. That was because the cooling tubes flanking the third and fourth cylinders had metal plugs in them, causing the pistons to overheat and eventually fail. The plugs were the opposite of necessary, unless the necessity was a blown engine, eventually. In our case the eventuality was sixty thousand miles.

This was a huge blow to Pop, a committed Ford Man. This wagon was the first new car he had ever bought, and it had been nothing but trouble from Day One. Even before this last failure he figured the car cost $60 per month on average to fix, and this was in 1950s dollars. It was also clear and present evidence of customer-hating corporate venality. To this day it amazes me to see nothing written about Ford’s (or anybody’s) practice of plugging an engine block’s cooling tubes. Were all of Ford’s inline-6 blocks crippled like this? Or was this an experiment by Ford with just a few engines to see what happened? How could a worker in good conscience have put the plugs in there, when the result would obviously be a short life span for the engine?

Deane drilled out the plugged tubes, removed the bad pistons, honed out the two center cylinders, called up a friendly Ford dealer, and drove us over to pick up some new pistons and a fresh head gasket. The dealer was closed on Sunday, but opened up just for us. On the way over we went through a covered bridge, one of those later made famous by The Bridges of Madison County.

By evening Deane had the engine back together, and the car running fine. We spent the night as the Hoskins’ house guests, and in the morning went on our way. For years Mom kept up with the Hoskins family through Arlouine. It was what moms did in those days. Mom was from a small town two states away: Napoleon, North Dakota. St. Charles and its friendly ethic was familiar to her.

Pop’s partisan loyalties were simple and clear. Three of the biggest were to the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Ford Motor Company and the Republican Party. So this was the second time he felt betrayed. The first was when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles. The third was Watergate.

Leaving St. Charles on Monday morning, we drove west. In Griswold, barely bigger than St. Charles, we found a Chevy dealer. It wasn’t that Pop was suddenly a believer in Chevy, but that he had become a disbeliever in Ford. He also took Deane’s word that GM didn’t play the planned obsolescence game. There were just two new cars in the showroom: a minimal white Biscayne and a  blue Bel-Air. Pop and Mom wanted to get the Biscayne, but my sister and I talked them into getting the Bel-Air, which had a 283 v-8 rather than the Biscayne’s straight six. Better for pulling the trailer, we argued, successfully. Pop’s compromise was to make sure the car had no radio and no air conditioning. That car was almost trouble-free until the transmission went, at 125,000 miles — a lot in those days. That’s when we sold it, in 1969.

And that’s Griswold, above. I spotted it last week while looking out the window of the plane from Newark to Los Angeles. It doesn’t look much different from above than it did on the ground forty-nine years ago. The dealer was small, with just two cars in the showroom: our Bel-Air and the Biscayne. No Impalas. I don’t remember the name, but there are no Chevy dealers in Griswold today.

I see that Deane died in 1991 and Arlouine in 2005. And, at the second link, that Linda is also gone. But our encounter with the Hoskins family isn’t forgotten, half a century later. To me the “flyover” states are places where good people live and lucky people drive through. Turns out our bad luck in St. Charles with a bum Ford was the best thing that could have happened.

 

 

The hard drive is crapping out on my main laptop. I’m backed up, so that much is cool. Installing a Seagate Momentus XT 750 GB drive later today. We’ll see how it goes.

[Later...] Lot of dependencies and such to clean up, but performance-wise, it’s like a new computer.

[This post was read by Bitly folks, who reached out appreciatively. The thread continues with a follow-up post here.]

Last night huge thunderstorms moved across New Hampshire, and later across Boston. NOAA radarThere was even a tornado watch (the red outline north of Keene, in the radar image on the left, from the NOAA.) So I thought I’d tweet that.

It has been my practice for quite a while, when tweeting, to use the Bit.ly extension in my Chrome browser.

But then came a surprise. The little Bitly image had changed, and the pop-down word balloon, rather than giving me the shortlink I had expected, told me that Bit.ly was improving. I thought, “Oooh, shit.” Because there was nothing wrong with the old Bit.ly. It was simple and straightforward. You could either copy the shortlink from a window, or know it was on your clipboard after you clicked on the “copy” button, and it said “copied.”

The new and improved Bitly looks like this:

WTF? Ya gotta work to get this many things wrong. My personal list, from the top:

  1. I don’t know what a bitmark is and I don’t want to know. I want a shortlink.
  2. My Twitter handle is there, with my face. Why?
  3. Does the blue “x” close the whole thing or just my twitter handle?
  4. Why is it telling me the URL I want shortened? I see that one already. I want the short bit.ly URL.
  5. Why is it telling me the title of the page? I know that too.
  6. Why would I add a note? And to what? Is this a kind of Delicious move? I hardly ever used Delicious because it was too complicated. Now this is too.
  7. Why “Public?”
  8. What’s the “bundle” I would add this to?
  9. “CANCEL” what? Is something already in progress I don’t know about? (In this brief but intense Age of Facebook, when sites and services — e.g. Facebook Connect — silently provide means for advertisers and third parties to follow your scent like a cloud of flies, that’s a good bet.)
  10. What is Save+ for? To what? Why?
  11. What is “Save and share…” and what’s the difference between that and save? Why would I want a shortlink if not to share it on something that requires it, like Twitter?
  12. What are the symbols next to “Public” and “Save and share…”?
  13. And if, as I suspect, the only way I can get to the shortlink is to hit “Save and share…”, why make me go through that extra click — or, for that matter, ford the raging river of kruft above it to get there?

That was as far as I got before I had to go out to an event in the evening; and when I came back the storm (or something) had knocked my ISP’s Net connection off. So this morning, naturally (given all the above), there’s a tsunami of un-likes at https://twitter.com/#!/search/bitly, as well as out in the long-form blogosphere.

In URL Shortener Bitly Announces Big Update (Unfortunately, It Sucks, And Everybody Hates It), Shea Bennett of All Twitter at MediaBistro writes,

Yesterday, URL shortener of choice Bitly, which has generated more than 25 billion shortened links since inception, announced a change to their platform. A big change. New Bitly, they’re calling it.

Great. There’s only one small problem: everybody, and I mean everybody*, hates it.

Why? Because it’s taken what was a really useful and fast service into something that is bloated with unnecessary add-ons and buzzword crap, and made a one-click share into something that now takes at least three clicks, and is really, really confusing.

In the good old days, which we’ll refer to from now on as BNB (Before New Bitly), shortening links on Bitly was a breeze. A pleasure. It was fast, responsive and if you used an extension you could crunch down the URL of any webpage in a matter of seconds. If you had a Bitly account, you could then share that shortened link straight to Twitter via Bitly using the title of your choice.

So simple. So effective. So perfect.

And so gone.

The Bitly announcement is long: too long for a URL-shortening company. But this excerpt compresses the meat of it:

So what’s new? Now you can…

  • Easily save, share and discover links — they’re called bitmarks, like bookmarks.
  • Instantly search your saved bitmarks.
  • Curate groups of bitmarks into bundles and collaborate on bundles with friends.
  • Make any bitmark or bundle private or public.
  • See what friends are sharing across multiple social networks, all in one place.
  • Save and share links from anywhere with our new bitmarklet, Chrome extension and iPhone app.

It doesn’t stop here. We have big plans for bitly, and we want to build this neighborhood with our community. So get in there, start bitmarking and please tell us what you think!

So they want to be Delicious. And they want to play the social game. Or, as Samantha Murphy in Mashable puts it,

Bit.ly — which has more than 25 billion links saved since 2008 and gets about 300 million link-clicks each day — launched a redesign to not only expand its presence but give users more curation power. Among the most notable of the new tools is a profile page and what the company is calling “bitmarks,” which are similar to bookmarks.

I just checked Dave Winer, who, as I expected, weighs in with some words from the wise:

Based on what I see in their new product release it looks like they’re taking a step toward competing with Twitter. But they didn’t do it in an easy to use way. And the new product is not well user-tested. It looks like they barely used it themselves before turning it on for all the users. Oy. Not a good way to pivot.

Here’s some free advice, what I would do if I were them.

  1.  Immediately restore the old interface, exactly as it was before the transition.
  2. Concurrently, issue a roadmap that goes as follows, so everyone knows where this thing is going.
  3. Take a few weeks to incorporate the huge amount of feedback they’ve gotten and streamline the new UI.
  4. Instead of launching it at bitly.com, launch it at newbetaworksserver.com

The list goes on, and it’s exactly what they should do. At the very least, they should take Step #1. It’s the only way to restore faith with users.

Meanwhile, three additional points.

First is that URL shortening has always been a fail in respect to DNS — the Domain Name System, which was invented for ARPANET in 1982, and has matured as into hardened infrastructure over the decades since. (It’s essentially NEA: Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, and Anybody can improve it.) On the other hand, URL shortening, as we know it so far, puts resolving the shortened URL in private hands, and those hands can (and will) change. That’s exactly what we’re seeing here with Bitly, and what we tend to see with all private infrastructures that serves public purposes.

Second is that Bitly, like Facebook, Twitter, Google and other advertising-supported businesses with millions (or billions) of users that pay nothing to those companies for the services performed, has a problem that has been familiar to commercial broadcasting since it was born in the 1920s: its consumers and its customers are different populations, and they are financially accountable only to the customers. Not to the consumers. In Bitly’s case its customers, so far, are enterprises that pay to have customized, or branded, short URLs. Could they make their consumers into customers as well, with a freemium model? Possible. I’d recommend it, because it would make the company financially accountable to those users.

Third is that people want their own curation power. The Cloud is a good and necessary form of utility infrastructure. But it’s a vulnerable place to have one’s own digital goods. True, everything, even the physical world, is ephemeral in the long run. But digital ephemera can be wiped out in an instant. We should have at least some sense of control over “what’s mine.” Bitly shortlinks are not really “mine” to begin with. As Yahoo showed with Delicious, commercially curated links are especially vulnerable. And, after this last move, Bitly has given us no new reason to trust them. And many new reasons not to.

So, will I use the new Bitly? Let’s look at what comes up when I hit the “Save and share…” button for Dave’s piece:

This is no less f’d than the other one. Let’s run it down.

  1. Okay, I’ve done the Delicious thing, I guess, if this is saved somewhere. Curation achieved, maybe. Guess I have to go Bitly.com to see. I’ll do that later.
  2. At first I thought the saved link (or whatever) might be under my @ handle on the upper right, but that just brings up a “sign out” option.
  3. I have no intention of connecting to Facebook.
  4. When I click on the blue bar with the checkmark in it, changes happen in the window, but I’m not sure what they are, other than getting un-checked.
  5. I have no intention of emailing it to anybody in this case. And actually, when I email a link, I tend to avoid shortlinks, because they obscure the source. And I’m also not dealing with a 140-character space limit. (Hmm… while we’re on short spaces subject, why not offer texting through SMS?)
  6. Did something get tweeted when I hit the blue bar? I dunno. Checked with Twitter. Nothing there, so guess not.
  7. I see “Shortlink will be appended to tweet,” but does that mean I tweet something if I put it in the box? Guess so, but not sure.
  8. I see the “Copy” next to the almost-illegible shortlink in the blue button. Okay, guess that’s what I should use. But I don’t yet because I want to understand the whole thing first.
  9. What does “NEVERMIND. DON’T SHARE” mean, except as a rebuke? Translated from the passive-aggressive, it says, “You don’t want to play this game? Okay, then fuck off.”
  10. The symbol in the orange “Share to” is barely recognizable as Twitter’s. I think. Not sure. I just clicked on it, and something came up briefly then went away.

When I clicked on it again, I got this:

I don’t want to try again, because I’m not sure it failed. So I check Twitter, and see this:

Damn! I didn’t want that!

This tweet has no context other than me and Bitly. Worse, it looks like a spam. Or like I’d been phished or hijacked in some way. At no time in the history of my blogging or tweeting have I ever uttered a single URL, let alone a shortened one. Or, if I did, I’m sure the context was clear.

This isn’t even a “copy.” It should say “tweet,” if it were to have any meaning at all. I guess I should have written something in the box above. But would that have worked? I dunno.

So I just went through the routine again, this time hitting the blue button that says COPY in orange. I did that for Dave’s post, and this one after I published it, and the result is this normal-form tweet: https://twitter.com/dsearls/status/207856808012951553

It is also now clear to me that the box is for writing a tweet to which the shortlink will be appended. But usually I don’t like to append links, but to work them into the text of the tweet.

Bottom lines:

  1. As Rebecca Greenfield says in The Atlantic Wire, Bit.ly Isn’t Really a Link Shortener Any More. Too bad.
  2. It still works, but the new routine now takes three clicks rather than two, and is far more complicated. The curation does work,, for now. When I go to Bitly.com, below “Welcome to the new bitly,” I see “1–10 OF 900 BITMARKS.” I can also search them. That’s cool. But I’d rather have something in my own personal cloud. And I’d pay Bitly, or anybody who values my independence, for helping me build that.

Mark these words: The next trend is toward independence for individuals, whether they be users or customers. Yet another new dependency is not what anybody wants. Dependencies like Bitly’s new one are a problem, not a solution. Bitly, Facebook, Google and Twitter making their APIs work together does not solve the dependency problem, any more than federations among plantations makes slaves free.

The end-to-end nature of the Net promised independence in the first place. When client-server became calf-cow in 1995, we sold out that promise, and we’ve been selling it out, more and more, ever since.

Now we need to take it back. Hats off to Bitly for making that abundantly clear.

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.

Making the rounds is , a killer essay by in MIT Technology Review. The gist:

At the heart of the Internet business is one of the great business fallacies of our time: that the Web, with all its targeting abilities, can be a more efficient, and hence more profitable, advertising medium than traditional media. Facebook, with its 900 million users, valuation of around $100 billion, and the bulk of its business in traditional display advertising, is now at the heart of the heart of the fallacy.

The daily and stubborn reality for everybody building businesses on the strength of Web advertising is that the value of digital ads decreases every quarter, a consequence of their simultaneous ineffectiveness and efficiency. The nature of people’s behavior on the Web and of how they interact with advertising, as well as the character of those ads themselves and their inability to command real attention, has meant a marked decline in advertising’s impact.

This is the first time I have read anything from a major media writer (and Michael is very much that — in fact I believe he is the best in the biz) that is in full agreement with The Advertising Bubble, my chapter on this very subject in The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge. A sample:

One might think all this personalized advertising must be pretty good, or it wouldn’t be such a hot new business category. But that’s only if one ignores the bubbly nature of the craze, or the negative demand on the receiving end for most of advertising’s goods.  In fact, the results of personalized advertising, so far, have been lousy for actual persons…

Tracking and “personalizing”—the current frontier of online advertising—probe the limits of tolerance. While harvesting mountains of data about individuals and signaling nothing obvious about their methods, tracking and personalizing together ditch one of the few noble virtues to which advertising at its best aspires: respect for the prospect’s privacy and integrity, which has long included a default assumption of anonymity.

Ask any celebrity about the price of fame and they’ll tell you: it’s anonymity. This wouldn’t be a Faustian bargain (or a bargain at all) if anonymity did not have real worth. Tracking, filtering and personalizing advertising all compromise our anonymity, even if no PII (Personally Identifiable Information) is collected.  Even if these systems don’t know us by name, their hands are still in our pants…

The distance between what tracking does and what users want, expect and intend is so extreme that backlash is inevitable. The only question is how much it will damage a business that is vulnerable in the first place.

The first section of the book opens with a retrospective view of the present from a some point in the near future — say, five or ten years out. A relevant sample:

After the social network crash of 2013, when it became clear that neither friendship nor sociability were adequately defined or managed through proprietary and contained systems (no matter how large they might be), individuals began to assert their independence, and to zero-base their social networking using their own tools, and asserting their own policies regarding engagement.

Customers now manage relationships in their own ways, using standardized tools that embrace the complexities of relationship—including needs for privacy (and, in some cases, anonymity). Thus loyalty to vendors now has genuine meaning, and goes as deep as either party cares to go. In some (perhaps most) cases this isn’t very deep, while in others it can get quite involved.

When I first wrote that, I said 2012. But I decided that was too aggressive, and went with the following year. Maybe I was right in the first place. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, here’s what Michael says about the utopian exhaust Facebook and its “ecosystem” are smoking:

Well, it does have all this data. The company knows so much about so many people that its executives are sure that the knowledge must have value (see “You Are the Ad,” by Robert D. Hof, May/June 2011).

If you’re inside the Facebook galaxy (a constellation that includes an ever-expanding cloud of associated ventures) there is endless chatter about a near-utopian (but often quasi-legal or demi-ethical) new medium of marketing. “If we just … if only … when we will …” goes the conversation. If, for instance, frequent-flyer programs and travel destinations actually knew when you were thinking about planning a trip. Really we know what people are thinking about—sometimes before they know! If a marketer could identify the person who has the most influence on you … If a marketer could introduce you to someone who would relay the marketer’s message … get it? No ads, just friends! My God!

But so far, the sweeping, basic, transformative, and simple way to connect buyer to seller and then get out of the way eludes Facebook.

The buyer is a person. That person does not require either a social network or absolutely-informed guesswork to know who she is or what she wants to buy. Obviously advertising can help. It always has. But totally personalized advertising is icky and oxymoronic. And, after half a decade or more at the business of making maximally-personalized ads, the main result is what Michael calls “the desultory ticky-tacky kind that litters the right side of people’s Facebook profiles.”

That’s one of mine on the right. It couldn’t be more wasted and wrong. Let’s take it from the top.

First, Robert Scoble is an old friend and a good guy. But I couldn’t disagree with him more on the subject of Facebook and the alleged virtues of the fully followed life. (Go to this Gillmor Gang, starting about an hour in, to see Robert and I go at it about this.) Clearly Facebook doesn’t know about that. Nor does any advertiser, I would bet. In any case, Robert likes so many things that his up-thumb has no value to me.

I have no interest in Social Referrals, and if Facebook followed what I’ve written on the subject of “social” (as defined by Facebook and its marketing cohorts), it wouldn’t imagine I would be interested in extole.com.

I’m 64, but married. “Boyfriend wanted” is a low-rent fail as well as an insult.

I get the old yearbook pitch every time I go on Facebook, which is as infrequently as I possibly can. (There are people I can only reach that way, which is why I bother.) I don’t even need to click on the the ad to discover that, as I suspected, 60s.yearbookarchives.com is a front for the scammy Classmates.com.

I’ve never been fly flishing, and haven’t fished since I was a kid, many decades ago.

And I don’t want more credit cards, of any kind, regardless of Scoble’s position on Capital One.

In a subchapter of  titled “A Bad Theory of You,”  calls both Facebook’s and Google’s data-based assumptions about us “pretty poor representations of who we are, in part because there is no one set of data that describes who we are.” He also says that at best they put us into the  — a “place where something is lifelike but not convincingly alive, and it gives people the creeps.” But what you see on the right isn’t the best, and it’s not uncanny. It’s typical, and it sucks, even if it does bring Facebook a few $billion per year in click-through-based revenues.

The amazing thing here is that business keeps trying to improve advertising — and always by making it more personal — as if that’s the only way we can get to Michael’s “sweeping, basic, transformative, and simple way to connect buyer to seller and then get out of the way.” Three problems here:

  1. By its nature advertising — especially “brand” advertising — is not personal.
  2. Making advertising personal changes it into something else that is often less welcome.
  3. There are better ways to get to achieve Michael’s objective — ways that start on the buyer’s side, rather than the seller’s.

Don Marti, former Editor-in-Chief of Linux Journal and a collaborator on the advertising chapters in my book, nails the first two problems in a pair of posts. In the first, Ad targeting – better is worse? he says,

Now, as targeting for online advertising gets more and more accurate, the signal is getting lost. On the web, how do you tell a massive campaign from a well-targeted campaign? And if you can’t spot the “waste,” how do you pick out the signal?

I’m thinking about this problem especially from an IT point of view. Much of the value of an IT product is network value, and economics of scale mean that a product with massive adoption can have much higher ROI than a niche product…. So, better targeting means that online advertising carries less signal. You could be part of the niche on which your vendor is dumping its last batch of a “boat anchor” product. This is kind of a paradox: the better online advertising is, the less valuable it is. Companies that want to send a signal are going to have to find a less fake-out-able medium.

In the second, Perfectly targeted advertising would be perfectly worthless, which he wrote in response to Michael’s essay, he adds this:

The more targeted that advertising is, the less effective that it is. Internet technology can be more efficient at targeting, but the closer it gets to perfectly tracking users, the less profitable it has to become.

The profits are in advertising that informs, entertains, or creates a spectacle—because that’s what sends a signal. Targeting is a dead end. Maybe “Do Not Track” will save online advertising from itself.

John Battelle, who is both a first-rate journalist and a leader in the online advertising industry, says this in Facebook’s real question: What’s the native model?:

Facebook makes 82% of its money by selling targeted display advertising – boxes on the top and right side of the site (it’s recently added ads at logout, and in newsfeeds). Not a particularly unique model on its face, but certainly unique underneath: Because Facebook knows so much about each person on its service, it can target in ways Google and others can only dream about. Over the years, Facebook has added new advertising products based on the unique identity, interest, and relationship data it owns: Advertisers can incorporate the fact that a friend of a friend “likes” a product, for example. Or they can incorporate their own marketing content into their ads, a practice known as “conversational marketing” that I’ve been on about for seven or so years (for more on that, see my post Conversational Marketing Is Hot – Again. Thanks Facebook!).

But as many have pointed out, Facebook’s approach to advertising has a problem: People don’t (yet) come to Facebook with the intention of consuming quality content (as they do with media sites), or finding an answer to a question (as they do at Google search). Yet Facebook’s ad system combines both those models – it employs a display ad unit (the foundation of brand-driven media sites) as well as a sophisticated ad-buying platform that’d be familiar to anyone who’s ever used Google AdWords.

I’m not sure how many advertisers use Facebook, but it’s probably a fair guess to say the number approaches or crosses the hundreds of thousands. That’s about how many used Overture and Google a decade ago. The big question is simply this: Do those Facebook ads work as well or better than other approaches? If the answer is yes, the question of valuation is rather moot. If the answer is no…Facebook’s got some work to do.

But Facebook isn’t the real issue here. Working only the sell side of the marketplace is the issue. It’s now time to work the buy side.

The simple fact is that we need to start equipping buyers with their own tools for connecting with sellers, and for engaging in respectful and productive ways. That is, to improve the ability of demand to drive supply, and not to constantly goose up supply to drive demand, and failing 99.x% of the time.

This is an old imperative.

In , which Chris Locke, David Weinberger, Rick Levine and I wrote in 1999, we laid into business — and marketing in particular — for failing to grok the fact that in networked markets, which the Internet gave us, individuals should lead, rather than just follow. So, since business failed to get Cluetrain’s message, I started in mid-2006 at Harvard’s Berkman Center. The idea was to foster development of tools that make customers both independent of vendors, and better able to engage with vendors. That is, for demand to drive supply, personally. (VRM stands for .)

Imagine being able to:

  • name your own terms of service
  • define for yourself what loyalty is, what stores you are loyal to, and how
  • be able to gather and examine your own data
  • advertise (or “intentcast”) your own needs in an anonymous and secure way
  • manage your own relationships with all the vendors and other organizations you deal with
  • … and to do all that either on your own or with the help of that work for you rather than for sellers (as most third parties do)

Today there are dozens of VRM developers working at all that stuff and more — to open floodgates of economic possibility when demand drives supply personally, rather than “socially” as part of some ad-funded Web giant’s wet dream. (And socially in the genuine sense, in which each of us knows who our friends, relatives and other associates really are, and in what contexts our actual social connections apply.) I report on those, and the huge implications of their work, in The Intention Economy.

Here’s the thing, and why now is the time to point this out: most of those developers have a hell of a time getting laid by VCs, which on the whole have their heads stuck in a of the Web, and can’t imagine a way to improve the marketplace that does not require breeding yet another cow, or creating yet another ranch for dependent customers. Maybe now that the bloom is off Facebook’s rose, and the Filter Bubble is ready to burst, they can start looking at possibilities over here on the demand side.

So this post is an appeal to investors. Start thinking outside the cow, and outside the ranch. If you truly believe in free markets, then start believing in free customers, and in the development projects that make them not only free, but able to drive sales at a 100% rate, and to form relationships that are worthy of the word.

Bonus links:

HT to John Salvador, for pointing to Life in the Vast Lane, where I kinda predicted some of the above in 2008.

Okay, my foursquare experiment is over. I won, briefly…

4sq… and, about 24 hours later (the second screenshot) I was back in the pack somewhere.

So now I’m done playing the leaderboard game. I’d like to say it was fun, and maybe it was, in the same way a hamster in a cage has fun running in its wheel. (Hey, there’s a little hamster in all of us. Ever tried to “win” in traffic? Same game.)

The experiment was to see what it would take to reach #1 on the leaderboard, if only for a minute. The answer was a lot of work. For each check-in I needed to:

  1. Wake up the phone
  2. Find foursquare (for me it’s not on the front page of apps)
  3. Tap the app
  4. Dismiss the “Rate foursquare” pop-over window
  5. Tap on the green “Check In” button
  6. Wait (sometimes for many seconds) while it loads its list of best guesses and actual locations
  7. Click on the location on the list (or type it in, if it’s not there)
  8. Click on the green “Check In Here” button
  9. Take a picture and/or write something in the “What are you up to?” window
  10. Click on the green “Check In” button, again.

And to do that a lot. For example, at Harvard Square a few days ago, I checked in at the Harvard Coop, Radio Shack, Peets Coffee, the Cemetery, Cambridge Common and the Square itself. For just those six places we’re talking about 60 pokes on the phone. (Okay, some of the time I start at #5. But it’s still a lot of pokes.)

To make sure I had the poke count right, I just did it again, here at the Berkman Center. Now my phone says, “Okay. We’ve got you @ Berkman Center for Internet & Society. You’ve been here 45 times.”

Actually, I’ve been here hundreds of times. I only checked in forty-five of those times. The difference matters. What foursquare says in that statement is, If you haven’t checked in on foursquare, you haven’t really been there. Which is delusional. But then, delusion is part of the game. Being mayor of the 77 bus (which I have been, a number of times) confers no real-world advantages to me at all. I even showed a driver once that I was mayor of the bus. She looked at my phone, then at me, like I was a nut case. (And, from her perspective, I surely was.) Being the mayor of some food joint might win you a discount or a freebie if the establishment is so inclined. But in most cases the establishment knows squat about foursquare. Or, if it does know something, squat might be what it does.

That was my surreal experience after checking in at a Brookstone at Logan Airport last October. I coudn’t miss the large placard there…

… and asked the kid at the cash register what the “special” would be. He replied, ”Oh, that’s just a promotion.” At the other end of the flight, while transferring between concourses in Dallas-Fort Worth, I saw this ad on the tram:

On my way to the next plane I checked into as many places as I could, and found no “great deals.” (Here is my whole mini-saga of foursquare screenshots.)

But, credit where due. An American Express promo that I ran across a number of times at SXSW in Austin earlier this year provided $10 off purchases every place it ran, which was more than a few. (Screenshots start here.) We also recently got a free upgrade from Fox, the car rental company, by checking in with foursquare. And I agree with Jon Mitchell of RWW, in What Is the Point of… Foursquare?, that the service has one big plus:

Isn’t Foursquare just for spamming Twitter and Facebook with what Geoloqi’s Amber Case calls “geoloquacious” noise about your trip to the grocery store? It can be, and for too many users, it is.

But turn all that off. Forget the annoying badges and mayorships, too. There’s one useful thing at which Foursquare is very, very good: recommendations.

So I’ll keep it going for that, and for notifying friends on foursquare that I’m in town, and am interested in getting together. (This has worked exactly once, by the way, with the ever-alert Steve Gillmor.)

But still, you might ask, why have I bothered all this time?

Well, I started using foursquare because I like new stuff and I’ve always been fascinated by the Quantified Self (QS) thing, especially around self-tracking, which I thought might also have a VRM benefits, somewhere down the line. I’m also a born geographer with a near absolute sense of where I am. Even when I’m flying in the stratosphere, I like to know where I am and where I’ve been, especially if photography is also involved. Alas, you can’t get online in the air with most planes. But I’ve still kept up with foursquare on the ground, patiently waiting for it to evolve past the hamster-wheel stage.

But the strange thing is, foursquare hasn’t evolved much at all, given the 3+ years they’ve been around. The UI was no bargain to begin with, and still isn’t. For example, you shouldn’t need to check in always in real time. There should be a setup that keeps track of where you’ve been, without the special effort on your part. If there are specials or whatever, provide alerts for those, on an opt-in basis.

But evolution is planned, in a big way. Foursquare Joins the Coupon Craze, a story by Spencer E. Ante last week in The Wall Street Journal, begins with this:

Foursquare doesn’t want to be another popular—but unprofitable—social network. Its new plan to make money? Personalized coupons.

The company, which lets users alert their friends to their location by “checking in” via smartphone from coffee shops, bars and other locations, revealed for the first time that it plans to let merchants buy special placement for promotions of personalized local offers in July in a redesigned version of its app. All users will be able to see the specials, but must check into the venue to redeem them.

“We are building software that’s able to drive new customers and repeat visitors to local businesses,” said Foursquare co-founder and Chief Executive Dennis Crowley.

This tells me my job with foursquare is to be “driven” like a calf into a local business. Of course, this has been the assumption from the start. But I had hoped that somewhere along the way foursquare could also evolve into a true QS app, yielding lat-lon and other helpful information for those (like me) who care about that kind of thing. (And, to be fair, maybe that kind of thing actually is available, through the foursquare API. I saw a Singly app once that suggested as much.) Hey, I would pay for an app that kept track of where I’ve been and what I’ve done, and made  that data available to me in ways I can use.

Meanwhile, there is one big piece of learning that I don’t think anybody has their head fully wrapped around, and that’s the willingness of people to go to all this work, starting with installing the app in the first place.

Back in the early days of ProjectVRM, it was taken as fact amongst developers that anything requiring a user install was problematic. Now most of us have phones with dozens or hundreds of apps or browser extensions that we’ve installed ourselves. Of course Apple and the browser makers have made that kind of thing easier, but that’s not my point. My point is that the conventional wisdom of today could be old-hat a year from now. We can cite example after example of people doing things which, in the past, it was said they were unlikely to do.

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.

Newtown Creek

Thanks to Jeff Warren (also here) of GrassRootsMapping and  Public Laboratory, I now know — and am highly turned on by — the possibilities of mapping in the wild. That is, mapping by the 99.xxx+% of us who are not in the mapping business, and are in the best multiple positions to map the world(s) in four running dimensions.

Check Jeff’s latest post at MapKnitter for what extra good can come from the series of shots I took of New York from altitude recently, and blogged about here. Pretty damn cool.

The thought now of what can be done with my many thousands of aerial photos is both exhiliarating and daunting. Fortunately, the work won’t be just mine — or any one person’s. And that’s what’s most cool about it.

On my way back from SXSW a couple weeks ago, I got some terrific shots of many things, including portions of Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky (including mountaintop mining), Virginia, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, Trenton and Providence.

Most of those aren’t uploaded yet, but I just put up the best of the bunch: this series of New York, with adjacent parts of New Jersey. The day wasn’t quite as clear as the pictures suggest, so I enhanced them a bit. But I love the detailed view they provide of what the David Letterman Show calls “the greatest city in the world.” It will always be home for me. Even though I’m from the Jersey side of “the rivva,” I was born, and grew up, closer to midtown than parts of all the other boroughs.

Should you manage your personal data just so you can sell it to marketers? (And just because somebody’s already buying it anyway, why not?) Those are the barely-challenged assumptions in Start-Ups Seek to Help Users Put a Price on Their Personal Data, by Joshua Brustein in The New York Times. He writes,

People have been willing to give away their data while the companies make money. But there is some momentum for the idea that personal data could function as a kind of online currency, to be cashed in directly or exchanged for other items of value. A number of start-ups allow people to take control — and perhaps profit from — the digital trails that they leave on the Internet…

Many of the new ideas center on a concept known as the personal data locker. People keep a single account with information about themselves. Businesses would pay for this data because it allows them to offer personalized products and advertising. And because people retain control over the data in their lockers, they can demand something of value in return. Maybe a discounted vacation, or a cash payment.

Proponents of personal data lockers do not see them simply as a solution to privacy concerns. Rather, they hope that people will share even more data if there is a market for them to benefit from it.

At most that’s only partially true. I know for a fact that brokering personal data is far from the only business model for Personal (the main company sourced in the piece.) I also know it’s also not what Connect.me, Singly, MyDex, Azigo, Qiy, Glome, Kynetx, the Locker Project, or any of the other VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) companies and development projects listed here (Personal among them) exist to do. Check their websites. None of them align with this story. Mostly they exist to give individuals more control over their lives and their relationships with organizations, with each other, and with themselves.

But the personal-data-for-advertising deal is a Big Meme these days, especially given the Facebook IPO.

Recently I was approached by a writer for CNN who was working on a piece about personal data stores (aka lockers, vaults, etc.). His first question was this: Are people’s perceived value of their personal data in line with what marketers are willing to pay for it?

Here’s how I answered:

Well, exactly what are marketers willing to pay to individuals directly for personal data? Without that information, we can’t say what people’s perceived value for their personal data might be. In fact, there never has been a market where people sell their personal data.

What we do know for sure is that personal data has use value. That it might also have sale value — to the persons themselves — is a new idea, and still unproven. We’re only talking about it because marketers are paying other parties for personal data.

Let’s look at use value first. Think about all the personal data in your life that can be digitized and stored: photos, videos, letters, texts, emails, contact information for yourself and others, school and business records, bills received and paid, medical and fitness data, calendar entries… Today all of us use this data. But we don’t sell it. Yes, others do sell it and use it, but we’re not involved in that.

Now let’s look at sale value for the same data. That only looks like a good idea if the entire frame of reference is what marketers want, not what individual people want.

There may indeed be a market for selling personal data — for better offers, or whatever. But does that speculative sale value exceed the actual use value for the same data? Hard to say, because the metrics are different. Most use value is not transacted, and can’t be accounted for. But it is real. And that real value might be put at risk when the data is sold, especially if the terms of the sale don’t limit what the buyer can do with the data.

As for the actual amounts paid for personal data by marketers — on a person-by-person basis — I think you’ll find it’s pretty small. True, the sum paid to Google and Facebook by advertisers is large, but that’s not necessarily for the kind of personal data people might be willing to sell (such as, “I’m in the market for a Ford truck right now”), and the waste is enormous. Most click-through rates are way below one percent. Also, the belief that people actually want messages all the time — even highly personalized ones — is a mistake. They don’t. Advertising on the whole is tolerated far more than it is desired.

Sure, many are saying, “Hey, third party spyware in our browsers is snarfing up all kinds of personal data and selling it, so why not pay individuals directly for that data?” There are several additional problems with this assumption.

One is that people are okay with all this spying. When it’s made clear to them, they are not. But, on the whole, it is not made clear, so they operate in blind acquiescence to it.

Another is that the money involved would be large enough to make the deal worthwhile. As I understand it, personal data sold on the back-end trading floors of the Live Web goes for itty bitty amounts on a per-person-per-ad basis. But I haven’t seen anybody run solid numbers on this. Whatever those numbers turn out to be, the case is not proven so far.

All the VRM developers listed below are in the business of helping individuals understand and empower themselves, as independent and autonomous actors in the marketplace. Not just as better “targets” for marketing messages.

The movement of which they are a part — VRM, for Vendor Relationship Management — is toward giving individuals tools for both independence and engagement. Those tools include far more than data management (of which personal data stores are a part).

For example, we are working on terms of service that individual customers can assert: ones that say, for example, “don’t track me outside your website,” and “share back with me all the data you collect about me, in the form I specify.” That has nothing to do with what anything sells for. It’s about relationship, not transaction.

I could go on, but I’d rather point back to other stuff I’ve written about this already, such as this, from Data Bubble II:

Right now it’s hard to argue against all the money being spent (and therefore made) in the personalized advertising business—just like it was hard to argue against the bubble in tech stock prices in 1999 and in home prices in 2004. But we need to come to our senses here, and develop new and better systems by which demand and supply can meet and deal with each other as equally powerful parties in the open marketplace. Some of the tech we need for that is coming into being right now. That’s what we should be following. Not just whether Google, Facebook or Twitter will do the best job of putting crosshairs on our backs.

John [Battelle is] right that the split is between dependence and independence. But the split that matters most is between yesterday’s dependence and tomorrow’s independence—for ourselves. If we want a truly conversational economy, we’re going to need individuals who are independent and self-empowered. Once we have that, the level of economic activity that follows will be a lot higher, and a lot more productive, than we’re getting now just by improving the world’s biggest guesswork business.

And this, from A Sense of Bewronging:

My Web is not their Web. I’m tired of being shown. I’m tired of “experiences” that are “delivered” to me. I’m tired of bad guesswork — or any guesswork. I don’t want “scarily accurate” guesses about me and what I might want.

What I crave is independence, and better ways of engaging — ones that are mine and not just theirs. Ones that work across multiple services in consistent ways. Ones that let me change my data with all these services at once, if I want to.

I want liberation from the commercial Web’s two-decade old design flaws. I don’t care how much a company uses first person possessive pronouns on my behalf. They are not me, they do now know me, and I do not want them pretending to be me, or shoving their tentacles into my pockets, or what their robots think is my brain. Enough, already.

While they might not put it the same way, I believe the VRM companies Burstein sources believe the same thing.

Meanwhile, more links to the current zeitgiest, mostly from Zemanta:

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.

 

Hassle House poster panel

That’s what many thought when they first saw the poster for Hassle House, in Durham, North Carolina, back in ’76 or so. As soon as any of the posters went up, they disappeared, becoming instant collectors’ items. At the time, all I wanted was to hire the cartoonist who did it, so he could illustrate some of the ads I was creating for a local audio shop. That cartoonist was the polymath Ray Simone, who went on to become the creative leader of Hodskins Simone & Searls (HS&S), the advertising agency I co-founded with Ray and David Hodskins, in 1978, and which thrived in North Carolina and Silicon Valley for the next two decades.

When I put up Remembering Ray, which (among much else) expressed my wish to re-surface the Hassle House poster, Jay Cunningham said in a comment that he could scan his copy. Which he did, and the results are here. In another comment Rob Gringle gives more of the back-story than I had known at the time.

Before HS&S, David and Ray were both with a small “mutilple media studio” called Solar Plexus Enterprises, which grew out of the Duke Media Center. Also there was Helen Hudson Whiting, who was a first-rate epicure as well as the fastest and most capable typesetter I had ever known. I just looked Helen up and found this nice write-up from Duke Magazine Books:

In Helen’s Kitchen: A Philosophy of Food


By Helen Hudson Whiting. Regulator Bookshop, 2000. 241 pages. $17.95.

In the text below is this:

Helen Hudson Whiting ’75 was, among other things, a bookseller and co-owner of Durham’s Regulator Bookshop, a reader, a writer, and an amateur chef. For nineteen years, she wrote food commentaries for Triangle area publications: first for WDBS-FM’s The Guide, and then for The Independent.

In Helen’s Kitchen, organized posthumously and edited by her friends and colleagues, features an eclectic selection of these columns, as well as remembrances from people who knew Whiting and cherished her enterprising, adventurous culinary attitude and her zest for pleasure and her keen intellect.

I worked with Ray, Helen and David at Solar Plexus before we founded HS&S, and Helen continued to work alongside the new agency, doing most of our typesetting. So she became a good friend as well.

But that’s not my point here. My point is that ours was a special community, and at the beginning of many things, although we didn’t know it at the time.

At Ray’s memorial gathering in Pacifica last Sunday, Steve Tulsky made that point beautifully. He said our artsy-hippie community in Durham and Chapel Hill back then was a special group. Much was born there, in music, art, performance, writing, publishing, business, events, and other fields. The Independent, modeled by The Guide, is still going strong. So is the Regulator Bookshop. WDBS is long gone. So are WQDR and WRDU (as what they were then, anyway), which carried forward the radio torch WDBS lit when it went on in 1971. But their spirits survive in Good Radio everywhere. The Festival for the Eno, still going strong, began as the Folklife Festival, in 1976, on the country’s bicentennial. WDBS was highly involved, as the station broadcasting the many musical acts playing there. (Perhaps some old tapes still survive.)

While I was working with David, Ray and Helen at Solar Plexus in ’77, I also worked with the Psychical Research Foundation, which studied scientifically evidence for life after death, and was located at Duke University. The PRF spun off of the Foundation for Research on the Nature of Man, led by J. B. Rhine, who launched the whole parapsychology field out of research he conducted at Duke in the 1930. Among the many decendents of that work is the Institute of Noetic Sciences, headed by Marilyn Schlitz, another member of our community back in the decade.

Here’s another weird connection. One of the central institutions of that time in Durham was the Durham Bulls single-A baseball team, which played at an old athletic field surrounded by brick tobacco warehouses. It was a special team at a special time and place. You might remember the movie about it.

Anyway, I just wanted to bring back to the foreground some of what we’ve lost or forgotten from that wonderful formative period in so many lives, and in so many ways.

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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So our family of three is sharing a hotel room while doing some holiday stuff. The hotel charges about $20/day per device to use its wi-fi. We have seven devices that are Net-enabled, but so far have only one (my laptop) paying the fare — and the quality of the connection gets a D+ from Speedtest.net. Our two phones (my wife’s and mine) with cellular data plans are left to the mercies of AT&T, which barely provides phone service. (Among the few calls that came through yesterday were several in which the other person could hear nothing that we said.) Cellular data works only in the wee hours, when demands on AT&T’s system are at low ebb. Without a Net connection, my wife, whose new laptop is tethered to Apple’s iCloud, is SOL for email and calendar updates.

There are dozens of wi-fi hot spots showing up on our lists, but all of them are closed. If this were eight years ago, at least half of them would be open, but the popular default in the world is now for closed hot spots, so those are also not options.

I’m sure in the long run The Market will fix this, but meanwhile “The Cloud’s” promise and reality are way out of sync. Since most of The Market outside our homes is comprised of pay services over wi-fi and cellular data systems are sure to suffer traffic jams as more of our lives require tethering to data banks and services in clouds, I’m not holding my breath for ease in the short run.

Remember “the information superhighway”? Would be nice to have that now.

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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Among friends and relatives there is an unusual concentration of birthdays in November. For example, the 12th, 13th and 14th are birthdays of my wife, my daughter (plus Chris Locke and JP Rangaswami) and my grandmother, respectively.

That’s Grandma Searls, on the left. Born in 1882, she would have been 129 years old today. She died in 1990, just short of 108. Her daughter Grace Apgar, my aunt, will be 100 next June.

I like this picture of Grandma, because that’s how I remember her best. The shot was taken in Ju;y, 1953. Grandma was 70 at the time.

It’s a close-up from this group shot, at her little summer place back in the woods of South Jersey. Our little summer place was at the other end of a winding path through the blueberries. The third point of our summer home triangle was Aunt Florence and Uncle Jack Dwyer‘s place. Paths led from both of the other houses to that one. Aunt Florence was Grandma’s younger sister. Uncle Jack took the picture with one of those large-format bellows cameras. I’m the curly-headed kid in the front row with the beer. I turned six at the end of July, the month this was shot.

Grandma was the third of the four Englert Sisters, all of whom were also in fine health then (and lived many more years as well). Here they are as kids, with their dad, Henry Roman Englert, then head of the Steel & Copperplate Engravers Union in New York. Here they are again, that same summer of ’53, at the beach.

Grandma grew up at 732 E. 142nd Street in The Bronx, which looked like this in 1885 and is today a parking lot. The house where Grandma raised three kids in Fort Lee, New Jersey, at 2063 Hoyt Avenue, is also gone. In fact, the whole street is wiped out. Too close to the George Washington Bridge, which my father helped build, as a cable rigger. All three of our summer places are gone too, replaced by a bank and a shopping center.

But what lives is the love. Grandma was one of the most loving people I’ve ever known. Pop told me she was a tough mom when he was growing up, but for us grandkids she was a saint. She loved kids totally, always welcomed and fed us, loved to read us stories (in her warm Bronx accent) and tuck us into bed when we spent the night (which was always a treat). She never had a critical word to say, and was always full of encouragement and support.

This is all strong in my mind right now as my own two grandkids sleep upstairs in their house here in Baltimore, where I’ve been visiting.

Grandparenting is different than parenting. Even these many years later, Grandma is still teaching me that.

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 just learned from Dan Kelly that Bruce Elving passed away last month. Details are thin, but here’s a short list of links:

Bruce Elving, Ph.D.Bruce and I were frequent correspondents for many years, starting the early ’70s, when Bruce began publishing his FM Atlas, an authoritative compilation of technical details for every FM station in the U.S. — and an essential handbook for everyone who loved to listen to far-away FM radio stations. Those people are called DXers, and I was one of them.

From my homes in New Jersey and North Carolina, I logged many hundreds of FM and TV stations whose signals skipped off the ionosphere’s sporadic E layer. If you’ve ever been surprised to hear on your FM radio a station from halfway across the country, you were DXing.

For DXers, catching far-away stations is kind of like fishing. You don’t want to catch just the easy ones. That’s one reason FM and TV DXing was more fun than AM and shortwave DXing (at least for some of us). AM and shortwave depend on the ionosphere for distant coverage as a matter of course. Back before the AM band became a crowded mess, “clear channel” stations like WSM in Nashville and KSL in Salt Lake City could be heard all across the continent at night, because there was nothing else on their frequencies. WSM’s Grand Ole Opry, heard every night on radios in rural areas throughout The South, literally made country music. (I listened in New Jersey, carefully turning my radio to “null out” interference from New York’s WNBC, now WFAN, which was right next to WSM on the dial.)

In its heyday (or heydecade), DXing on FM was about hooking relatively rare and slightly exotic fish. The best months to fish were in late spring and summer, when warm calm summer mornings would bring tropospheric (or “tropo”) conditions, in which FM and VHF-TV signals would travel greater distances than their normal line-of-sight propagation provided. Thus my home in Chapel Hill, NC was often treated to signals from hundreds of miles away. I recall days when I’d pick up WDUQ from the Pittsburgh on 90.5 with the antenna pointed north, then spin the antenna west to get WETS from Johnson City, Tennessee on 89.5, then spin just north of east to get WTGM (now WHRV) from Hampton Roads, Virginia, on the same channel.

Tropo is cool, but the best FM fishing is in sporadic-E “skip.” This happens when the E-layer becomes slightly refractive of VHF frequencies, bending them down at an angle of just a few degrees, so that the signals “skip” to distances of 800-1200 miles. This also tended to happen most often in late spring and summer months, usually in the late afternoon and evening. Thanks to sporadic-E, we would watch Channel 3 TV stations from Louisiana, Texas, Nebraska, Minnesota, Cuba and various places in Canada. But, more often, I would also carefully log FM stations I identified in Bruce Elving’s FM Atlas. From 1974 to 1985 (after which I lived in California), I logged more than 800 FM stations, most of which came from more than 800 miles away. Bruce said he’d logged more than 2000 from his home in Duluth, Minnesota. I’m sure that’s a record that will stand for the duration. (Bear in mind that there were only about 10,000 FM signals in the U.S. at the time.)

We’re talking about obsession here.

For Bruce, FM was a cause, forever the underdog, even after it became an overdog with his help. See, up until the early ’60s, FM was the secondary radio band in the U.S. The sound was better, but most cars didn’t have FM bands, and most cheap radios didn’t either. Transistor radios, which were the iPods of the ’50s and ’60s, were mostly AM-only. Bruce championed FM, and his newsletter, FMedia, was a tireless advocate of FM, long after FM pretty much won the fight with AM, and then the Internet had begun to win the fight with both.

I remember telling Bruce that he needed to go digital with PCs, and then take advantage of the Net, and he eventually did, to some degree. But he was still pasting up FM Atlas the old-fashioned way (far as I know) well into the ’90s.

I pretty much quit DXing when I came to Silicon Valley in ’85, though I kept up with Bruce for another decade or so after that. Learning about his passing, I regret that we didn’t stay in closer touch. Though we never met in person, I considered him a good friend, and I enjoyed supporting his work.

With Bruce gone, an era passes. TV DXing was effectively killed when the U.S. digital transition moved nearly every signal off VHF and onto UHF (which skips off the sky too rarely to matter). The FM band is now as crowded as the AM band became, making DXing harder than ever. Programming is also dull and homogenous, compared to the Olde Days. And the Internet obsoletes a key motivation for DXing, which is being able to receive and learn interesting things from distant signals. A core virtue of the Internet is its virtual erasure of distance. Anybody can hear or watch streams from pretty much anywhere, any time, over any connection faster than dial-up. The stream also tends to stay where it is, and sound pretty good.

What remains, at least for me, is an understanding of geography and regional qualities that is deep and abiding. This began when I was a kid, sitting up late at night, listening to far-away stations on the headphones of my Hammarlund HQ-129X (hooked up to a 40-meter ham radio dipole in the back yard), with a map spread out on my desk, and encyclopedia volumes opened to whatever city or state a station happened to come from. It grew when I was a young adult, curious about what was happening in Newfoundland, Bermuda, Texas, Winnepeg, or other sources of FM and TV signals I happened to be getting on my KLH Model 18 tuner or whatever old black-and-white TV set I was using at the time.

When it was over, and other technical matters fascinated me more, I’d gained a great education. And no professor had more influence on that education than Bruce Elving, Ph.D.

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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.

“Social networks” are getting out of control. And I don’t mean their control. I mean your control and mine. Here’s an image to keep in mind while you read the rest of this post:

The calf is you or me. The cow is just one of our many social networks. Here’s how the situation looks from my browser…

  • I have 840 contacts . I won’t call them friends, though some of them are. A few are relatives, but most are neither. They’re people I’ve met or had contact with, somehow, somewhere. I also have 675 “friend requests.” If you’re on that list and want to contact me, find another way, since I avoid Facebook for all but the unavoidable (such as, say, a reunion that’s being organized by relatives).
  • I have 480 contacts , most of which I know about as well as my contacts on Facebook. I also belong to one Linkedin discussion group that I haven’t figured out how to deal with yet, mostly because I prefer my discussion groups in email, where I can sort them out into boxes of my own making. I see that Linkedin now also has updates on the Twitter model (and via Twitter). I see why they do it, but I don’t need it.
  • I have 212 contacts on Flickr (plus more through three other accounts). I don’t know and don’t follow most of those contacts, because to me Flickr is is for sharing photos with the world in organized ways. While I appreciate the groups there, I’ve organized none, and when my photos show up in some, it’s always because other people — most of which I don’t know — have put them there. I also know few if any of the people who have put more than 200 of my photos on Wikimedia Commons, a gallery of photos eligible for inclusion in Wikipedia articles. (And, in fact, most of my shots in the Commons are also in Wikipedia.) Again, this is not a social effect. Also note that in the Wikipedia case that there isn’t a business model anywhere in sight (aside from the $50/year I gladly pay for my two “pro” Flickr accounts).
  • I follow 1352 entities (most are people, some are companies or organizations) , and am followed by 13,096 others. I am sure most of us, whoever (and whatever) we are, don’t know each other. I use Twitter to find and share interesting stuff in short postings. This may be “social,” but only in a very loose sense.
  • I don’t know how many “friends” or contacts I have on Google, because I can’t find a number, or a list. My iGoogle page (which I view in just one of the four browsers I use) lists eight alphabetically before it runs out out of space at the letter N. I don’t know how to scroll down to see the rest, and I’m not much interested in trying. In any case the number is a tiny subset of lists elsewhere. For what it’s worth, I use Google’s services for many different things (docs, self-organized groups, mail de-spamming), but “social” stuff is not among them.
  • The address book on my computer lists 1162 cards, including a growing number of dead people, dead companies, and dead numbers from live companies. Yesterday I weeded the number of Verizon contact numbers down from six to one.
  • My main chat client, which spans four different contact lists and accounts (AIM-iChat, Google, Linux Journal and the Berkman Center), currently shows 35 available. I don’t know what the total number of contacts there is. Several hundred, I guess.
  • My other chat account, Skype, doesn’t integrate with those in the last paragraph and doesn’t give me a count of people online and off. I’m guessing I have about fifty contacts there.

The job of integrating all of these is mine, and I don’t bother, because the tools for doing that don’t yet exist — at least not in sufficient maturity for me to contemplate using them. Thus I am not yet what calls the point of integration for my own data. In fact I can’t be, because most of the data in these “social networks” is not mine. Functionally (if not also legally), it’s theirs. And I’m just a calf for each of them.

Of course, all these companies want to help me do everything, by leveraging the “social” data they have about me. Mostly they give me advertising that doesn’t help, but sometimes they just try to improve their meat and potatoes with “social” gravy. The latest example is Google, with “” recommendations. These augment Google’s third improvement to , through a button “to publicly give something your stamp of approval.” The idea: “Your +1′s can help friends, contacts, and others on the web find the best stuff when they search,” because “sometimes it’s easier to find exactly what you’re looking for when someone you know already found it.”

Why does Google think we want to “find the best stuff” all the time — as if all we do is shop, or something like it? Sure, they make their money with advertising, but I think the real reason is that they can’t resist the temptation to route “social” signals into everything else. Hey, it’s what the other kids are doing.

Since so much of what those kids do is invisible to us, they try to get away with all kinds of stuff. For more on what they’re doing, read The Wall Street Journal‘s What They Know series  http://wsj.com/wtk), and Joe Andrieu’s ISharedWhat Facebook login simulation site, which shows you how much personal data — yours and your friends’ — might get spilled every time you click on one of these:

They get away with it because the calf-cow system allows it. Also because the World Wide Ranch is getting really freaking huge. By some counts there are more than a billion commercial sites on the Web. Just by the sheer numbers involved, the default assumption is that most searches have commercial purposes. That’s what you’re likely to find in any case.

It’s interesting that non-advertising search results are now called “organic,” as if they were some kind of marginalized exception, of interest only to to a few obsessive purists.

Says Wikipedia, “Organic search results are listings on search engine results pages that appear because of their relevance to the search terms, as opposed to their being advertisements. In contrast, non-organic search results may include pay per click advertising.” How quaint and retro, to think that some search results should simply be relevant to search terms, without commercial prejudice by the search engine.

In respect to Google’s recent search improvements, I submit that organic searches are still what people want most, and that “social” help is marginal at best and distracting at worst.

Take yesterday morning, when I was wondering what accounts for ground conductivity. This was, admittedly, an idle distraction of the sort I wrote about later in the day, in World Wide Puddle. I mean, I didn’t really need to know what accounts for ground conductivity, especially since it’s a question I’ve had for about fifty years, and I haven’t suffered for lack of an answer. But search engines are here for a reason, so I looked again.

Google says it finds more than six million results in a search for “ground conductivity”. The top result is the FCC’s M3 maps page, which I’d expect. These maps explain why, for example, , a 5000-watt radio station on 570am in Yankton, South Dakota, has a signal that reaches from Canada to Oklahoma, while WWNC, a station on the same channel in Asheville, North Carolina, operating with the same power, covers an area only a fraction the size of WNAX’s. For a broadcast engineering junkie like me, this is catnip, but it doesn’t explain why ground conductivity varies from one region to another. I mean, why does flat ground in Long Island have almost no ground conductivity (0.5 mhos/meter) while equally flat ground around Dallas has very high ground conductivity (30 mhos/meter). Why do mountains in New England have low conductivity (2-4 mhos/meter) while mountains in coastal California have high conductivity (8-30 mhos/meter)? The M3 maps don’t say.

In the second result, Wikipedia saysGround conductivity refers to the electrical conductivity of the subsurface of the earth.” But that’s about it.

The third result, from Tom K1JJ, tells how to measure ground conductivity, but doesn’t explain the cause.

Next is a Facebook page on the subject, with a write-up lifted straight out of Wikipedia. It is recommended to me, with thumbs up, by two people I know: a nephew of mine and a fellow broadcast engineering obsessive. There is no discussion, and the page says “0 people like this”.

Two decades ago, when Compuserve hosted a large variety of excellent forums, I belonged to a broadcast engineering social network of sorts (though few of us met in real life). But today I don’t have one, even on Facebook — and the rest of my many “social networks” are no help with searches like this one.

Hmm… I just thought, “maybe Quora could provide some help. I just went there in the browser where Quora’s cookies for me are parked. It still wants me to log in, and a minute has passed while the progress thing on the bottom of the page says “Waiting for Facebook.” Okay, I’m there now, and I just put up the question, “What causes ground conductivity?”. According to Quora, I have “981 Followers, 485 Followingand “6 @Mentions” there. Will one or more of them get me an answer? Interesting experiment. We’ll see.

Whatever happens on Quora, I have no faith that my searches on Google will be improved by anybody’s “+1,” any more than my searches have been improved by “social” whatever. Here’s why: usually I’m looking for something very specific. And often what I’m looking for is not for sale.

In most cases I use Google and Bing the way I use a dictionary: to look something up. I don’t need a “recommendation” when I just want to know how to spell “mocassin”. Stand back, everybody. I think the dictionary should have it. Thank you.

I learned about Google’s “+1″ feature only this morning, on Sheila Lennon’s blog. There she quotes the same Google post about “+1″:

So how do we know which +1’s to show you? Like social search, we use many signals to identify the most useful recommendations, including things like the people you are already connected to through Google (your chat buddies and contacts, for example). Soon we may also incorporate other signals, such as your connections on sites like Twitter, to ensure your recommendations are as relevant as possible. If you want to know who you’re connected to, and how, visit the “Social Circle and Content” section of the Google Dashboard.

To get started +1’ing the stuff you like, you’ll need to create a Google profile—or if you already have one, upgrade it. You can use your profile to see all of your +1’s in one place, and delete those you no longer want to recommend. To see +1’s in your Google search results you’ll need to be logged into your Google Account.

I just clicked on the Google Dashboard link, and found I had to log in, even though I was already logged in on a different tab in the same browser. This got me into my Google Accounts page, which has a LOT of information in a lot of contexts — all provided by Google. At the top is Gmail. Slightly edited (for the privacy of others), and with links removed, it says,

Gmail
Inbox 5000 conversations
Most recent: [18] new discussions, [15] new comments… at 9:22 AM
All mail 5000 conversations
Most recent: [18] new discussions, [15] new comments… at 9:22 AM
Sent mail 70 conversations
Most recent: ____ on Mar 31, 2011
Saved drafts 46 conversations
Most recent: progress & title on Mar 9, 2011
Chat history 60 conversations
Most recent: Chat with __________ on Mar 11, 2011
Spam 17000 conversations
Most recent: Copy of a Gucci watch is what you need … at 9:40 AMTrash 60 conversationsMost recent: Re: Sharing my TEDx Talk: The Unclear Path at 11:01 PM

First, I almost never go to Gmail in a browser. In fact, few people know my actual Gmail address (which is silly and has nothing to do with my real name). All mail to me at Searls.com gets routed to my Gmail account, which I use to filter out spam. I then pick up mail there from my IMAP account, which keeps copies at the server, or “in the cloud” as we now like to say.

Second, what makes Spam or Trash “conversations”? I’ll go to my grave being known as the main guy responsible for the “markets are conversations” meme, but usage like this makes me regret it.

Following Gmail on my Accounts page are:

  • Google Video (nothing uploaded)
  • Groups (33 total, mostly inactive, and not including two I just killed off)
  • Health (1 profile, which I gave up filling out long ago)
  • iGoogle (14 gadgets, 1 tab)
  • Latitude (disabled, because I like not being tracked)
  • Product search (shopping list has two items: the most recent of which reads “Most recent: Canon EOS 30D on May 27, 2006″ — a camera I bought long ago)
  • Profile (16 “about me” items, most of which I have kept vague)
  • Reader (36 subscriptions, following 11)
  • Sidewiki (no entries)
  • Sites (1 “shared with me” that I don’t know)
  • Social Circle and Content (which says,
    Direct connections from Google chat and contacts 4 connections with content; Direct connections from links listed on your Google profile 200 connections with content; Secondary connections 1788 connections with content; and Social content 3 links — and I have no idea wtf that all means)
  • Talk (23 contacts, which settles a guess I made above)
  • Web history (most recent for Web, Images, News, Products, Video, Maps, Blogs and Books — but only with this one browser, on this one laptop)
  • YouTube (a profile, plus a paucity of stuff under uploads, history, favorites, subscription, contacts and personal messages)
  • Other products (“11 additional products are not yet available in this dashboard – Show all”)

So I just spent twenty minutes weeding through and cleaning up all that stuff. I could spend similar sums of time doing the same on Linkedin, Flickr and other services. But I would rather have my own way of keeping personal information straight with myself, and sharing it selectively and when I felt like it. That’s what VRM development going on in the Personal Data Ecosystem is about. I won’t go into all the projects, but the idea they share is that each of us, as sovereign individuals, are (as Joe says) the best points of integration for our own data. None of these social sites, no matter how well-intended they may be, can do the job, simply because nothing, and nobody, can be personal for me on my behalf. If puppets are involved, they need to be mine. Not the reverse.

At the Kynetx Impact conference two weeks ago (where much fun was had), gave an interesting talk that summarized what he said last November, in a post perfectly titled
The Third Wave of the Web Will Be Uniquely Personal. He writes about three waves. The first is “information and access” — roughly what I’ve called the “static Web.” The seond is “social.” That’s the stage we’re getting fed up with now. The third is personal:

Now that the world’s information is posted, linked, indexed and searchable, and friends are connecting, sharing, liking, and following, the quest is on to streamline the noise and give the Web another dimension – one not measured by the data, or who led you to the data, but you as an individual. The third wave of the Web, I believe, is going to be about personalization by individual based on that individual’s preferences – explicitly stated or otherwise.

The declaration of the next wave of the Web being personal is not shared universally, of course. Some say the next wave is all about mobile. Others may say the next wave is all about location. But the right approach to ‘personal’ absolutely encompasses each of these things. With our smartphones and tablets being increasingly powerful, they are practically an extension of us, and we are relying on them to discover relevant things, content, places and products for us as individuals. Similarly, our location is an ingredient of who we are – for where we are impacts our decisions, and what tips are relevant, be it for news, for restaurants, lodging, dating or anything else. So “personal” as an individual is both local and mobile.

Excellent. I especially like how smartphones and tablets are extensions of ourselves in the world. (A little more about that here.) Then he adds,

Personal As In Me.

A lot of services say they are “personal”, when in fact, most of what they do is actually social.

These services may leverage your social graph to provide personalized recommendations based on what friends or other people similar to you may like – much like television shows group people of similar demographics to guess what commercials are best suited for which episodes in which time slots. The hope may be that the more your friends like something, the more likely you are to click it or buy it. Peer pressure, you know. Meanwhile, other services say they are personal because you have specifically provided them with information about you and what you like, which goes partway to discovering your interests, but is incomplete, and possibly inaccurate, as you may want to indicate that you are something that you are not, or you may have overlooked some of your own interests in the name of rapid completion.

Beyond these initial attempts is a new wave of companies trying to crack the code of the real you. Of course, my6sense is one of those companies. Our goal is to deliver a personalized experience in all possible aspects of your life, finding the right information for you at the right time in the right context, based on you as an individual. But we are not alone. Take, for example, Hunch.com, which is talking about personalizing the Internet, and says they can build a taste profile for you, based on your own unique interests and tastes. Also, in October, Mike Arrington of TechCrunch previewed Gravity, founded by former MySpace executives. In that piece, which he headlined as “The Personalization War”, he said “I saw my own Interest Graph based only on my Facebook and Twitter streams over the last several months and it’s scary-accurate.”

Louis doesn’t go off the personal rails here. He just doesn’t quite get on, staying instead on the corporate ones:

Gravity says they will help “The right information find you. Hunch says it “Personalizes the Internet”. You’ve heard me talk about my6sense for some time – discovering your “Digital intuition”. Besides the crazy folks like us who are thinking about this constantly, there are other smart companies on the case. Start with personal recommendations from TiVo, Amazon and Netflix. Look at Google Reader Magic and Google’s Priority Inbox for Gmail. Look also at LinkedIn’s purchase of Mspoke for personal recommendations and Facebook’s splitting of the Most Recent feed and that of the News Feed.
Which makes sense: My6sense is his company. Then finally,
The continuing rapid growth of information creation and sharing, combined with pervasive connectivity, increased capability of smartphones and other mobile devices and the growth of location is all pointing us into a direction where the services on the other end have more potential to know you than those of years past, and you have the ability to be inspired by the right information in the right place more than ever before. This is a wave, one that benefits from all these mega-changes in the Web, that small companies and big ones alike are seeing. Maybe there’s another big winner in there, just like there was in the last two. Regardless, the direction is clear. Show me my Web for me.

Sorry, but no. My Web is not their Web. I’m tired of being shown. I’m tired of “experiences” that are “delivered” to me. I’m tired of bad guesswork — or any guesswork. I don’t want “scarily accurate” guesses about me and what I might want.

What I crave is independence, and better ways of engaging — ones that are mine and not just theirs. Ones that work across multiple services in consistent ways. Ones that let me change my data with all these services at once, if I want to.

I want liberation from the commercial Web’s two-decade old design flaws. I don’t care how much a company uses first person possessive pronouns on my behalf. They are not me, they do now know me, and I do not want them pretending to be me, or shoving their tentacles into my pockets, or what their robots think is my brain. Enough, already.

I spoke at Kynetx Impact the night before Louis’ talk. The visuals are on Slideshare. Here is slide 25, which illustrates the problem with the commercial Web’s long-defaulted client-server design:

Wikipedia says, “The client–server model of computing is a distributed application structure that partitions tasks or workloads between the providers of a resource or service, called servers, and service requesters, called clients.”

So, while the Net itself has an end-to-end design, in which all the ends are essentially peers, the Web (technically an application on the Net) has a submisive-dominant design in which clients submit to servers. It’s a calf-cow model. As calves, we request pages and other files from servers, usually getting cookie ingredients mixed in, so the cow can remember where we were the last time we suckled, and also give us better services. Especially advertising.

We have no choice but to agree with this system, if we want to be part of it. And, since the cows provide all the context for everything we do with them, we have onerous “agreements” in name only, such as what you see on your iPhone every time Apple makes a change to their store:

Legal folks call these “contracts of adhesion.” Sez the Free Dictionary,

A type of contract, a legally binding agreement between two parties to do a certain thing, in which one side has all the bargaining power and uses it to write the contract primarily to his or her advantage.

An example of an adhesion contract is a standardized contract form that offers goods or services to consumers on essentially a “take it or leave it” basis without giving consumers realistic opportunities to negotiate terms that would benefit their interests. When this occurs, the consumer cannot obtain the desired product or service unless he or she acquiesces to the form contract.

Here’s the thing: client-server’s calf-cow model requires this kind of thing, because the system is designed so the server-cows are in complete control. You are not free. You are captive, and dependent.

This system has substantiated a business belief that has been around ever since Industry won the industrial revolution: that a captive customer is more valuable than a free one. We’ve built systems that tendentiously affirm that belief, and the commercial Web is chief among those systems today. Correspondingly, on the customer side, we actually believe that a free market is your choice of captor. Even champions of the free market, such as The Wall Street Journal, seem to think this is okay. (Or they wouldn’t keep talking about how telecom giants — occupants of a regulatory zoo they all but own and control — comprise the “free market” at work.)

If the next wave is personal, then we have to bring our own contexts.

Think for a moment about the context of renting a wheelbarrow. If you sign an agreement for that, it’s only to put up a deposit, pay a certain amount, assume liability for whatever harms you might cause with it, and return the thing in good condition. That’s about it.

Or think about what happens when you walk into a shoe store. You don’t have to sign a damn thing. (If you’re lucky, the store won’t require that you belong to their “loyalty” program just to get a “discount” that’s nothing more than a normal price, rather than a higher price they charge to punish non-”members”.) Your context is shopping for shoes. Laws apply, of course. You aren’t allowed to steal things or act in a disturbing way. But nobody stands at the door telling you to stop and sign an agreement — least of all one with clauses (which nearly all adhesive contracts have) saying they have the right to change the terms, and they can do that whenever they please.

We won’t get rid of calf-cow systems, nor should we. They work, but they have their limits, and those become more apparent with every new calf-cow service we join. But we can work around these things, and supplement them with other systems that give us equal power on equal footings, including the ability to proffer our own terms, express our own preferences and policies, and make independent choices.

Louis Gray’s personal wave is for real, and it’s just starting. It’s also what we’ve been building through the last four years with . And it’s starting to catch on. The number and variety of VRM development projects has grown a lot lately, as has the activity level as well.

Naturally, VRM has attracted the interest of major players on the sell side of the marketplace. A month ago I spoke on stage with on stage at the Internet Advertising Bureau conference. (John’s insightful post about “digital plumage” ran in the same timeframe.) Next week I’ll speak at in San Francisco and to a meeting with and in Minneapolis. It’ll be fun.

The message I’m bringing is not about how these companies can improve the cow systems everybody has done so much to build and improve already. It’s about how buyers and sellers are no longer just cattle, and how we now need to prove something we’ve known all along: that free customers are more valuable than captive ones.