problems

You are currently browsing the archive for the problems category.

doc036dThe Internet is one thing. It is comprised of everything it connects. By nature it is as neutral as gravity. It favors nothing and is not partial to anything. Yes, there are exceptions to that rule, in the way Net access is provisioned, but the basic nature of the Net — as a free, open and neutral shared space in the world — is by now obvious to pretty much everybody who doesn’t have an interest in limiting it in some way.

This is why Facebook’s Internet.org is pure misdirection: a partial private fraction masked as a complete public whole. And also why it’s in trouble. The misdirection isn’t working.

The site calls itself “a Facebook-led initiative bringing together technology leaders, non-profits and local communities to connect the two thirds of the world that doesn’t have Internet access.” But India isn’t buying it. See here, here, here, here, here, here — and every other place you’ll find piles of stories about it. (Start with the Critique section of the Wikipedia article on Internet.org, and a search for India+Facebook+Internet.org.)

They’re rejecting Internet.org for one simple reason: it’s not Neutral. Naturally, Mark Zuckerberg disagrees, and explains how in this post on the matter, which went up yesterday, and I’ll respond to, piece by piece:

Over the past week in India, there has been a lot written about Internet.org and net neutrality. I’d like to share my position on these topics here for everyone to see.

First, I’ll share a quick story. Last year I visited Chandauli, a small village in northern India that had just been connected to the internet.

In a classroom in the village, I had the chance to talk to a group of students who were learning to use the internet. It was an incredible experience to think that right there in that room might be a student with a big idea that could change the world — and now they could actually make that happen through the internet.

Those students should know the whole Net. Not just a subset of it.

The internet is one of the most powerful tools for economic and social progress. It gives people access to jobs, knowledge and opportunities. It gives voice to the voiceless in our society, and it connects people with vital resources for health and education.

I believe everyone in the world deserves access to these opportunities.

Fine. Then either give them the whole thing, or call what you give them something else that’s clearly less: Facebook+, perhaps.

In many countries, however, there are big social and economic obstacles to connectivity. The internet isn’t affordable to everyone, and in many places awareness of its value remains low. Women and the poor are most likely to be excluded and further disempowered by lack of connectivity.

Don’t confuse access providers with the Internet itself. The Net itself has no cost. That’s one of the features of its inherent neutrality. As Steve Kamman explains, “Bandwidth is dirt cheap. And bog-standard… This isn’t like electricity. There’s no power plant on the other end burning fuel to deliver those bits. Bits are nearly weightless and cost accordingly.”

Steve is making a case there for where the Net ends up, everywhere. Think about how to make that happen. Trust me: that’ll be good for Facebook too.

This is why we created Internet.org, our effort to connect the whole world. By partnering with mobile operators and governments in different countries, Internet.org offers free access in local languages to basic internet services in areas like jobs, health, education and messaging. Internet.org lowers the cost of accessing the internet and raises the awareness of the internet’s value. It helps include everyone in the world’s opportunities.

But it’s not the whole Internet. It’s what you and your partners, in an exclusive and non-neutral way, have decided to provide.

We’ve made some great progress, and already more than 800 million people in 9 countries can now access free basic services through Internet.org. In India, we’ve already rolled out free basic services on the Reliance network to millions of people in Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Kerala and Telangana. And we just launched in Indonesia on the Indosat network today.

We’re proud of this progress. But some people have criticized the concept of zero-rating that allows Internet.org to deliver free basic internet services, saying that offering some services for free goes against the spirit of net neutrality. I strongly disagree with this.

Zero-rating, or “toll-free data,” means not charging for some stuff on the Net, while charging the same fees for the rest. Simply put, it’s a form of price discrimination. Here’s what Wikipedia says about its reception and impact :

Zero-rating certain services, fast lanes and sponsored data clearly have their benefits for users of the subsidized services, but have also been criticised as anti-competitive and limiting open markets.[4] As many new internet and content services are launched targeting primarily mobile usage, and further adoption of internet connectivity globally (including broadband in rural areas of developed countries) relies heavily on mobile, zero-rating has also been regarded as a threat to the open internet, which is typically available via fixed line networks with unlimited usage tariffs or flat rates.[9] The Wikimedia Foundation and Facebook have been specifically criticized for their zero-rating programs, to further strengthen incumbent mobile network operators and limit consumer rights to an open internet.[10] (That’s as of today.)

Whatever else it is, it’s not neutral.

We fully support net neutrality. We want to keep the internet open. Net neutrality ensures network operators don’t discriminate by limiting access to services you want to use. It’s an essential part of the open internet, and we are fully committed to it.

But net neutrality is not in conflict with working to get more people connected. These two principles — universal connectivity and net neutrality — can and must coexist.

To give more people access to the internet, it is useful to offer some service for free. If someone can’t afford to pay for connectivity, it is always better to have some access than none at all.

Useful, yes. Neutral, no.

Non-neutrality is like Potter Stewart’s definition of porn: “I know it when I see it.” Which India does.

Internet.org doesn’t block or throttle any other services or create fast lanes — and it never will.

It just doesn’t carry them. It says “My way or no highway.”

We’re open for all mobile operators and we’re not stopping anyone from joining.

The Internet is not what just mobile operators carry.

We want as many internet providers to join so as many people as possible can be connected.

That’s fine. But what they provide won’t be the Internet if they don’t carry the whole thing. It will be a sampler box of rocks rather than all of geology.

Arguments about net neutrality shouldn’t be used to prevent the most disadvantaged people in society from gaining access or to deprive people of opportunity. Eliminating programs that bring more people online won’t increase social inclusion or close the digital divide. It will only deprive all of us of the ideas and contributions of the two thirds of the world who are not connected.

There wouldn’t be an argument if you didn’t call this thing “Internet.org,” and if you didn’t represent a few Internet services as the whole thing. But you do, and that’s why you’re having trouble.

Every person in the world deserves access to the opportunities the internet provides. And we can all benefit from the perspectives, creativity and talent of the people not yet connected.

We have a historic opportunity to connect billions of more people worldwide for the first time. We should work together to make that happen now.

Fine. But make clear that what you’re offering isn’t the Internet, but a bunch of free services also found on the real thing.

Below that post are a zillion comments, some of which Mark answers. Here is the first Q&A:

Ritesh Pandya We really appreciate your initiative on making the internet accessible to most remote part of the world, but the only question is why access only to selective websites and not all on internet.org??

Mark Zuckerberg It’s too expensive to make the whole internet free. Mobile operators spend tens of billions of dollars to support all of internet traffic. If it was all free they’d go out of business. But by offering some basic services, it’s still affordable for them and it’s valuable and free for everyone to use.

The Internet is free. That’s its nature. Access providers are mostly not free, but they are also not the Net itself. They are just a way of accessing the Net. So stop confusing the two. They are not the same.

And yes, mobile operators and other kinds of Internet access providers are real businesses with real costs. But they shouldn’t confuse access with the Net itself, or a few services with the whole thing. That’s what you and they are both doing with Internet.org.

Bonus links: New Clues, SaveTheInternt.in.

I travel a lot, and buy newspapers wherever I happen to be. That would be true online as well, if I could do it. But I can’t, because that’s not an option.

For example, my butt is in California right now, but my nose is in Boston, where I’m reading the Globe. I don’t want a subscription to the Globe, but I would like to pay for today’s paper, or for at least the right to read a few stories from it.

Not easy. Or even possible, after the first one or two. Because, soon enough this paywall thingie comes up:

Screen Shot 2015-04-09 at 7.13.36 AM

It’ a subscription come-on, modeled after the one the New York Times has been using for years, and I wrote about back in 2012, here. (The switch after the above bait: “$.99*… *That’s less than $1 for 4 full weeks! Then pay the regular low rate of $3.99 per week.”)

I had some advice for the Times at that last link, and I’ve got some for all papers today: create an à la carte option. I know there are lots of reasons not to, all of which arise from system-based considerations on the sell side of the relationship with newspaper buyers.

What I’m saying is that the newsstand option has worked fine for more than a century in the physical world, and should be an option in the networked one as well.

At least think about it. Constructively, as in Let’s see… how can we do that? Not “It’s too hard.” Or “People only want free stuff.” Those are all echoes inside the old box. I want us to think and work outside of that box.

People are willing to pay value for value if it’s easy. So let’s make it easy. The ideas I vetted three years ago are still good, but don’t cover the à la carte option. Let’s just focus on that one, and consider what’s possible.

 

210px-Jail_Bars_Icon.svgIn one corner sit me, Don Marti, Phil Windley, Dave Winer, Eben Moglen, John Perry Barlow, Cory DoctorowAral Balkan, Adriana Lukas, Keith Hopper, Walt Whitman, William Ernest Henley, the Indie Web people, the VRM development community, authors of the Declaration of Independence, and the freedom-loving world in general. We hold as self-evident that personal agency and independence matter utterly, that free customers are more valuable than captive ones, that personal data belongs more to persons themselves than to those gathering it, that conscious signaling of intent by individuals is more valuable than the inferential kind that can only be guessed at, that spying on people when they don’t know about it or like it is wrong, and so on.*

In the other corner sits the rest of the world, or what seems like it. Contented with captivity.

The last two posts here — Because Freedom Matters and On taking personalized ads personally — are part of the dialog that mostly flows under this post of mine on Facebook.

Many points of view are expressed, but two sobering comments stand out for me: one by Frank Paynter and one by Karel Baloun. Frank writes,

I just don’t feel the need to see ads on Facebook. I have no personal or professional interest, and AdBlock/AdBlock+ has filtered out most for me. Oddly, since commenting on your post, I have seen 3 ads in the side bar. One was for “a small orange” and scored a direct hit! I recently read something by Chris Kovacs (Stavros the Wonder Chicken) praising the small orange hosting service so I was primed. Now, with this targeted ad coinciding with some expirations at BlueHost, GoDaddy and Dreamhost, I’m taking the plunge and consolidating accounts. Score one for Facebook targeted ads! The ads for a CreativeLive “Commercial Beauty Retouching” class and for Gartner Tableau didn’t cut it for me today, but — eh? who knows? On any given Thursday I might click through. But I really need to clean up that sidebar again. Three ads is too many.

In response to Don’s Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful, Karel writes,

I don’t understand views like the one in this semi-endorsed article. Targeted advertising is aiming at the commercial fulfillment of “intention”. These are the agents that will understand what people want.

I do understand the walled garden problem, and the monopoly risk of only one company having all of this intent information. Yet, they are required to protect privacy, and all their credibility rests on that trust.

And that’s not all.

Earlier today I heard back from an old friend who wanted me to comment on his company’s approach to programmatic marketing. I invited Don in to help, and we produced a long and thoughtful set of replies to my friend’s questions (or assumptions) about programmatic (as it’s called, the adjective serving as a noun). I’ll compress and paraphrase my friend’s reply:

  • Automated matching is here to stay. We need to work with it rather than against it.

  • Facebook cares about privacy. Mark Zuckerberg even mentioned privacy in his keynote at the F8 Developer’s Conference in San Francisco.

  • Facebook has always been cautious about intrusive advertising.

  • While many don’t like surveillance and personal targeting, most programmatic marketing is in fact non-personal — it doesn’t use without personally identifiable information (PII). This is actually good for privacy.

  • In Europe, at least, there are laws regarding personally identifiable information and all the ways it cannot be used.

So maybe we freedom-lovers have to take their points. At least for now.

The flywheels of programmatic are huge. While survey after survey says most people have some discomfort with it, those people aren’t leaving Facebook in droves. On the contrary, they continue to flock there, regardless of Facebook’s threat (or promise) to absorb more of everybody’s life online.

In Fast Company, Mark Wilson (@ctrlzee) unpacks Facebook’s 10-Year Plan to Become The Matrix. (His tweeted pointer says “Facebook’s 10-year plan to trap you in The Matrix.”) I think he’s right. After reading that, and doing his usual deep and future-oriented thinking, Dave recorded this 12-minute podcast on empathy, because we’re all going to need it. And yet I am sure Dave’s ‘cast, my posts, and others like it, will leave most people, especially those in the online advertising business, unpersuaded. Life is too cushy on the inside. Never mind that privacy is absent there.

“If the golden rule applied to online advertising, none of it would be based on surveillance,” somebody said. But the ad biz obeys the gelden rule, not the golden one. They believe robotic agents can “understand what people want” better than people can communicate it themselves. And they’re making great money at it. Hey, can’t argue with excess.

And hell, when even Frank Paynter (one of us freedom-loving types) kinda digs Facebook scoring an advertising bulls-eye on his ass, maybe the uncanny valley is just uncanny, period. Which is what Facebook wants. More surveillance, more shots, more scores. Rock on.

So let’s face it: captivity rules — until we can prove that freedom beats it.

If you want to work toward freedom, IIW is a good place to start (or, for veterans, to keep it up). Week after next. See you there.

If not, join the crowd.

[Later…] Frank has a helpful comment below, and Karel has responded with this long piece, which I’ll read ASAP after I get off the road, probably tomorrow (Monday) night, though it might be later. [Still later…] I’ve read it, and it’s very helpful. I’ll respond at more length when I get enough time later this week.

Meanwhile, thanks to both guys, and to everybody on the Facebook thread, for weighing in and taking this thing deeper. Much appreciated.

*[Later again…] Read what Don Marti writes here in response to my opening paragraph above. Excellent, as usual.

Inpersonalization the pile of comments under the post on Facebook I wrote about here yesterday, Christopher Brock writes a long and thoughtful response that pretty much represents the thinking of the adtech business today. Since it’s hard to respond point-by-point in Facebook’s commenting UI, I’ll do it here:

It is not really fair to say Facebook identifies you as x,y and z.

Yes it is, because Facebook is in the business of delivering personalized ads. True, they also deliver non-personalized ads (ones targeted, say, to a demographic). But since there is no flag on an ad that says it’s one or the other, and because Facebook can get more personal, with more people, than any other advertising platform in the world, it is legit to at least suspect that their ad-placing machine thinks you are x, y or z.

What the ads reflect are the audience demographics approved by businesses willing to purchase impressions against a profile to which you fit in hopes of turning a ROI.

Or because you’re being targeted personally. For example…

Retargeting ads are based on your browsing habits, which can be telling of your historical intent based searches.

Yes, that and a lot of other data, some gleaned by surveillance, some bought from Acxiom and other brokers, all crunched in a thing that IBM calls The Big Datastillery. Here’s the graphic:

Datastillery_1500x3002bSee those beakers at the bottom? (Click on the graphic to see it in detail.) That’s you and me.

How is it possible for a company as smart as IBM to insult human beings so obviously? The short and simple answer is, because consumers aren’t human. The term “consumer” presumes that’s all we do: consume. (Jerry Michalski calls consumers “gullets with wallets and eyeballs.”) In the same way that “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail,” “when all you have is plumbing, every consumer looks like a beaker.”

As for all the plumbing above the beakers, does anybody outside the adtech world know the difference between programmatic (including direct and forwards), predictive, real time bidding (RTB), AB and MV testing, supply side platforms, demand side platforms, marketing and interaction optimization, and all the other valves in the piping that blurps placements of ads through Facebook, other commercial websites and mobile apps? I suppose from the plumbing side it doesn’t matter. But it does to the humans being treated like empty vessels on a conveyor belt. We don’t know what the hell is going on, but we do know that it’s big, creepy and trying to be personal in a robotic way.

By contrast, the provenance of ads in the old advertising world was obvious to everybody. (And if they needed reminding, they got it with Mad Men.) Every ad you read in a newspaper or magazine, heard on the radio, saw on TV or a billboard was placed there either directly by the advertiser or through an agency. And here the key thing: it was never personal. It was aimed at a population. Everybody knew that.

Direct marketing, better known as junk mail, was a very different animal. It was addressed to you personally, and wanted a direct response. Adtech is what we got after direct marketing body-snatched advertising. An ad you see on Facebook might be addressed to populations the old fashioned way, or it might be personal. You can’t tell the difference — unless an ad is obviously personal, in which case it risks falling into the uncanny valley where might creeped out. (Or not.) At the extreme, perfectly personalized advertising (based on knowing everything about you) is perfectly creepy.

Eith a new market we are served non-relevant ad content, however over time more businesses will move to paid digital ad marketing and the ads we see will become more contextually and intentionally relevant.

And creepy.

I know the best adtech people go out of their way to avoid the uncanny valley. There are also special cases, which also happen to be the two biggest: Facebook and Google.

Facebook is in a position to know people to a high degree of detail. The company is careful not to show that fact (and fall into the uncanny valley), but knowing how personal Facebook can get does make a difference. That’s why I said “If I were actually the person Facebook advertised to…”

Google is less privileged in that respect, but the nature of the help it provides (in search results, in guessing at locations we search for in Maps, and so on) makes their search results and ad placements less of a valley when they get uncanny.

But in general the body-snatched nature of digital advertising leaves us in the dark, nearly all the time, about what’s personal and what’s not.

There is a lot of profit potential for marketers who can accurately design marketing funnels for products/services based on demographic profiling and intentional modeling using a demand side platform like Facebook.

Is that what it is? Man, that is so damn confusing to us beakers. I was in the advertising business (the old Mad Men kind) one way or another, for much of my adult life, and for me — as well as for the rest of the world — the demand side of the marketplace is the whole human population. The supply side is the one selling goods and services to that population.

A few weeks ago I spent an afternoon with an RTB company talking about all this stuff, and my spinal cord kinked as my brain spun around, trying to grok how demand in that business is on the side that produces the ads, rather than the side that consumes them. (Which we mostly don’t, by the way. We ignore 99.x% of them. But we’re still consumers to the ad producers.) As Wikipedia currently puts it,

A demand-side platform (DSP) is a system that allows buyers of digital advertising inventory to manage multiple ad exchange and data exchange accounts through one interface. Real-time bidding for displaying online ads takes place within the ad exchanges, and by utilizing a DSP, marketers can manage their bids for the banners and the pricing for the data that they are layering on to target their audiences. Much like Paid Search, using DSPs allows users to optimize based on set Key Performance Indicators such as effective Cost per Click (eCPC), and effective Cost per Action (eCPA).

Whatever. (And saying that I speak for all people not laboring in the adtech bubble.)

Since marketing data science is relatively new as is social, local and mobile tech, not all businesses buy digital ads.

True. In fact the Internet we know today is only about 20 years old. It showed up when commercial activity could operate there (technically, when NSFnet shut down), in 1995. The cookie was invented around that time as well. (But not for tracking. It was meant originally just to help websites recall and assist prior visitors.)

The Net we made then, and still have, is Eden. We arrived naked there, and we still are. The adtech business loves that, but the rest of us don’t. That’s why privacy is a huge issue online (sources: TRUSTe, Pew, Customer Commons) and a non-issue offline.

In the physical world we’ve had clothing, shelter and other privacy technologies for many thousands of years — and manners for how we treat each others’ private spaces. In the online world, rudeness rules. A merchant who would be appalled at the thought of placing a tracking beacon on a visiting customer, just so that customer can later be “delivered” a better “advertising experience,” doesn’t think twice about doing the same online.

This will change. It’s already happening through regulation, and through ad and tracking blocking rates that steadily increase. But those are stone tools. Eventually we’ll get real clothing and shelter. When that happens, the adtech business will be in trouble, unless it changes, which I’m sure it will.

@docsearle maybe you should be a web marketer

No thanks.

you obviously have identified an area of opportunity.

The area I’ve identified is the one where customers will signal their intentions far better than any marketer can guess at the same.

If you want more and better thinking about all this, I highly recommend what Don Marti has been writing. He, Bob Hoffman and I are voices in the wilderness today. But that will change. The wilderness is already burning.

Image from Personalizing with Purpose, by Paul Dunay in imedia connection.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

After one of myaxiom reluctant visits to Facebook yesterday, I posted this there:

If I were actually the person Facebook advertised to, I would be an impotent, elderly, diabetic, hairy (or hairless) philandering cancer patient, heart attack risk, snoring victim, wannabe business person, gambling and cruise boat addict, and possible IBM Cloud customer in need of business and credit cards I already have.

Sixty-eight likes and dozens of comments followed. Most were from people I know, most of whom were well-known bloggers a decade ago, when blogging was still hot shit. Some were funny (“You’re not?”). Some offered advice (“You should like more interesting stuff”). Some explained how to get along with it (“I’ve always figured the purpose of Internet ads was to remind me what I just bought from Amazon”). One stung: “So much for The Intention Economy.”

So I replied with this:

Great to see ya’ll here. Glad you took the bait. Now for something less fun.

I was told last week by an advertising dude about a company that has increased its revenues by 49% using surveillance-based personalized advertising.The ratio of respondents was 1 in a 1000. The number of times that 1 was exposed to the same personalized ad before clicking on it was 70.

He had read, appreciated and agreed with The Intention Economy, and he told me I would hate to hear that advertising success story. He was correct. I did.

I also hate that nearly all the readers all of us ever had on our own blogs are now here. Howdy.

Relatively speaking, writing on my own blog, which averages zero comments from dozens of readers (there used to be many thousands), seems a waste. Wanna write short? Do it in Facebook or Twitter. Wanna write long? Do it in Medium. Wanna write on your own DIY publication? Knock yourself out.

And, because the bloggers among us have already done that, we’re here.

So let’s face it: the leverage of DIY is going down. Want readers, listeners or viewers? Hey, it’s a free market. Choose your captor.

I’ve been working all my adult life toward making people independent, and proving that personal independence is good for business as well as for hacking and other sources of pleasure and productivity. But I wonder whether or not most people, including all of us here, would rather operate in captivity. Hey, it’s where everybody else is. Why not?

Here’s why. It’s the good ship Axiom: http://pixar.wikia.com/Axiom . Think about it.

Earth is the Net. It’s still ours: http://cluetrain.com/newclues. See you back home.

That’s where we are now.

 

 

TBasketballhe other day a friend shared this quote from Michael Choukas‘ Propaganda Comes of Age (Public Affairs Press, 1965):

This is not the propagandist’s aim. For him the validity of an image must be measured not by the degree of its fidelity, but by the response it may evoke. If it will induce the action he wishes, its fidelity is high; if not, low. … The standard that he uses in choosing the images to be disseminated — his “truths” — would be a scale based on the range of possible human responses to an image. His criterion thus is established on the basis of overt action.

At first this made me think about journalism, and how it might fit Choukas’ definition of propaganda. Then it made me think about how we might confine the study of propaganda to a harmless subset of human story-telling. That’s when sports jumped to mind.

Sports are almost entirely narrative. They also have, as social phenomena go, less importance outside themselves than such highly fraught concerns as politics, religion and business. To the cynic, sports are Kurt Vonnegut‘s foma: “harmless untruths, intended to comfort simple souls…Live by the foma that make you brave and kind and healthy and happy.”

Yes, sports are more than that, but my soul at its simplest is a fan of the Mets. (And, less simply, a fan of the Red Sox.) Likewise, some of my least productive time is spent listening to sports talk radio — unless I count as valuable the communing of my simplest self with the souls of others who share the same mostly-harmless affections. (Hi, @MichaelSHolley.)

But how much more productive is the time I spend listening to NPR, or reading The New York Times? Some, I would say. So, I am sure, would sports fans who favor getting their news from Fox and The Wall Street Journal.

To see where I’m going here, lets unpack “harmless untruths” into a 2×2:

harmless-untruth2x2

Foma are in the lower right corner. Whether the subject is sports or something else, that seems like a good corner in which to study propaganda.

Sports journalism, like all breeds of the discipline, escapes the foma classification by being about Truth, or at least about facts. But that’s beside my point, which is that interests, talk and reporting about sports all moves toward effects, which happen to be harmless but interesting.

Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people,” Eleanor Roosevelt is said to have said. But great minds discuss all three. So, even though events and people are the main subjects of sports (and of most) stories, many great sports journalists also traffic in ideas. Jim MurrayRoger Angell and Frank Deford some first to mind; but so do Howard Cosell and Heywood Hale Broun, whose personalities (or wordrobes, in Broun’s case) often upstaged the events and people they covered. Then I think about David Foster Wallace, Bill LittlefieldJohn McPhee, Andrea Kremer, Keith OlbermannMichael Lewis, Howard BryantTony Kornheiser, Charlie Pierce, John Updike, Norman MailerGeorge Plimpton, Gay Talese, David Halberstam and other greats who work at deeper levels than the the usual bait for eyeballs and clicks.

So, speaking of bait, consider the three words uttered constantly by assignment editors everywhere: What’s the story? 

Stories, I was taught, are the main format of human interest; and all of them have just three elements:

  1. A protagonist, or character. This might be a person, a team, a cause or some other entity the reader, listener or viewer cares about. This character need only be interesting. Likability is a secondary matter. (Example: I hate Christian Laettner, an ESPN film.)
  2. A problem or challenge, This needs to be a situation that keeps the reader interested: tuned in or turning pages. (Classic edtorial instruction: “No story starts with ‘happily ever after.'”) In fact, it helps if the situation gets worse, so long as we have…
  3. Movement toward a resolution. If the war is over, or the home team is up or down by forty points with three minutes left, the challenge vanishes. If you’re at the game, your problem is beating traffic out of the parking lot.

If you’re missing one of those elements, you don’t have a story.

Case in point: Cambodia’s killing fields. The first I heard about them was in a story read by Hughes Rudd on a CBS newscast in the mid-1970s. He said that perhaps half a million people were already dead. On hearing this, I was appalled, because it came, in an “Oh by the way” manner, after stories about the Super Bowl and Patty Hearst (whose developing story sucked huge amounts of oxygen out of nearly every newsroom at the time).

The slaughter happening in Cambodia mattered far more than either the Super Bowl or Patty Hearst; but it wasn’t a story, because it was missing all three of those elements. There was no protagonist, other than a population with a statistic. The problem, while immense, was not ours, and also not moving toward resolution. In fact years would pass before the killing stopped.

For us here in the U.S., the killing fields story didn’t get real until The New York Times ran “The Death and Life of Dith Pran,” by Sydney Shanberg, in the Sunday Magazine. That gave us a character, and made Cambodia’s plight real and compelling. (The story also grew, naturally, into a movie.)

Sports is always focused on those three elements. Is that because sports is always about propaganda? Or is it the case that all stories are, by their narrative nature, propaganda of a sort?

Stories are at least tendentious in the sense that the author needs a point of view — even if that point is what Jay Rosen calls the view from nowhere. (That’s pretty much where CBS stood when it first reported on Cambodia’s many dead.)

Look at the photos that accompany a sports story. If a team wins, the star player is shown making a great kick, throw, shot or whatever. Or maybe just smiling. If the same team loses, the picture shows the same player messing up or frowning. Never mind that the game was close, or that the photo is of one moment among zillions of others. The entire meaning of the photo is narrative. Its entire purpose is effect, which is both to serve and drive the interests of the reader, the viewer, the listener. What’s that say about journalism as a whole?

Has anybody studied sports or journalism as propaganda? At least one inquiring mind wants to know.

Bonus links:

 

 

 

 

Tags: , ,

Hi, Liveblog fans. This post continues (or plays jazz with) this liveblog post, following my podcast learnings, live.

As an old radio guy and an inveterate talker, I think I should be good at podcasting. Or at least that it’s worth trying. Which I have, many times.

The results, so far, appear at here, at the WordPress-based podcasts.searls.com. My first and only podcast, so far, is there. It’s one I did with Britt Blaser, more than two years ago. My second through Nth are sitting in a folder called “podcasts,” on my hard drive.

Today, with help from my son Jeffrey, who is smarter than me about many things, we put together a short second podcast. It combines two tries at podcasting that he and I did in June and July of 2005, when he was nine years old. We also recorded ourselves listening to those, putting them end-to-end using Audacity, and adding the intro and outro music, and other stuff.

The last steps were: 1) heating up podcast blog page, 2) updating WordPress and adding Akismet (to kill the 3,000 spam comments there), and 3) adding the .mp3 file of the podcast itself. I did that by putting it in the same directory at Searls.com as the last podcast already sat.

But I can’t figure out how to point to that directory in the blog post, or to replicate the process by which I made the podcast file appear in the first post. If anyone wants to help with that, lemme know. Otherwise I’m stuck for now, or at least as long as it takes to do some errands.

To be clear, what I need help with right now (or when I get back from the errands) is making the podcast file appear as a link in the latest post at http://podcast.searls.com.

Next is figuring how to get Apple and other re-publishers to list the podcast, so people can subscribe there.

It won’t happen instantly, but it will happen.

Thanks!

 

So I wanted to give GIMP a try on my MacBook Air. I’ve used it on Linux boxen, but not in awhile. These days I edit my photos with Photoshop and Lightroom on the Mac because there are so many things only those tools do well. But I’m tired of being in silos.

Alas, when I did a (defaulted) Yahoo search on my Firefox browser, I made the dumb mistake of clicking on the top result, which was an ad (I think for gimp.us.com, but I’m not sure). I then clicked on the download link, unpacked the .dmg file, did the install — which failed — and have regretted it since. Nearly every link I click goes somewhere Netcraft’s toolbar add-on tells me has a huge risk, or gives me a “Phishing Site Blocked” message.

Down some link paths I get a Firefox cross-site script warning (or something like that — can’t find it now), or this:

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 9.40.29 PM

It also talks.

What to do? No idea. Suggestions welcome.

This is about AM radio stations being worth less than the ground they stand on. Case in point: WMAL-AM in Washington, DC. You can see the problem with this Google Map:

wmal-from-space

The heart-shaped patch of green between the legs of I-495 and the I-270 spur is populated by four towers radiating the signal of WMAL, a landmark on Washington’s radio dial (at 630am) since 1925. The station’s 75-acre transmitter site is nearly as big as the nearby Bethesda Country Club golf course and the Westfield Montgomery Mall. It also sits deep in the suburbs, surrounded by trees and highways, most of which appeared long after WMAL erected the towers on cheap open land, far from the bustling Capitol, many decades ago. That land is worth a lot more now.

So it’s no surprise to read news (via The Sentinel) that Cumulus Media, which owns WMAL-AM & FM, has put the land up for sale. Says the report, “Local real estate experts estimate the property could be worth hundreds of millions.” I don’t know what WMAL-AM is worth, but I’m guessing it would be a few million, tops. So it makes financial sense to sell off the land. 

But what about the signal? Many AM stations have already “gone dark” (as they say in the business). Will WMAL do the same? In the first comment below, Jon Elbaz, who wrote the Sentinel piece, says Cumulus intends to keep WMAL-AM on the air somehow. But a question is raised: how long can any AM station on desirable land stay on the air? And by what means?

Back in radio’s golden age — when AM ruled the waves — the stations battling for the top of Washington, DC’s ratings heap were WTOP and WMAL. WTOP peaked when it went all-news in the 1960s, and has stayed at the top ever since. It did that by doing great work, and by wisely moving to FM a few years back, taking over the channel (103.5) long occupied by classical WGMS, which by then had unloaded its original signal AM signal. WMAL also has an FM signal, on 105.9. That one is #9 in Nielsen’s latest figures, while WTOP is #1. WMAL-AM doesn’t show at all.

So I have to wonder about Cumulus commitment to keeping the signal on the air. Finding a new transmitter site is not a cheap undertaking. To explain, I’ll need to get technical.

To transmit, AM radio stations require a substantial sum of real estate. AM waves are hundreds of feet long, and require long radiating antennas. These take the form of towers. If a station has a directional signal, more than one tower is required to create the signal’s pattern. WMAL has two different asymmetrical patterns for use in the day and night. Here is how the four towers are arranged, and the patterns they produce:

towerimage

Each tower is a quarter wavelength high, which at 630am makes them about 400 feet tall. Surrounding them is also a “ground system” of buried conductors running hundreds of feet in all directions from the towers. This is why WMAL needs those 75 acres. To stay on the air, WMAL will need to find another 75 acres, somewhere that allows the signals you see above to cross as much of the Metro area as possible, meaning northwest of town. For that Cumulus will need to either buy land out that way, or co-site with some other station already operating there.

The only two stations with transmitters out there are WTEM (“ESPN 980″) and WSPZ, both sports stations (on 980 and 570 respectively) and owned by Red Zebra Broadcasting (in which the main stakeholders are also those of the Washington Redskins). (Here are aerial views, via Bing, of the WTEM and WSPZ sites.)

Of those, WSPZ’s site looks like it has more room. It’s in Germantown, about 22 miles from downtown Washington, more than twice the distance from downtown Washington as WMAL’s current site. I suspect the signal patterns could be “tightened” to concentrate energy toward Washington, though, and that might help. But ground conductivity — which matters hugely for AM signals — is notably low in Maryland and Virginia, which is one reason AM stations suck in the ratings. (For evidence of how much ground conductivity matters, compare three AM stations, all 5,000 watts, all on the same channel (570am): WSPZ in Washington, WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota and KLIF in Dallas. The latter two cover enormous territories, while WSPZ basically covers the District and bits of adjacent Maryland and Virginia. Ground conductivity in the middle of the country is about 15x better than the area served by WSPZ.)

So again, why keep WMAL-AM on the air at all?

One argument is that the WMAL-FM signal isn’t a great one. While it’s licensed for 28000 watts, it only hits that max to the northwest and southwest of its transmitter in Merrifield, outside the Beltway on the southwest side of town. Toward the district (northeast of the site) its signal has a huge dent, down to around 1/4 of what it puts out in the other directions:

wmalfm

So getting a bit of help on the AM side might still be worth the trouble.

Still, one wonders… How much time will pass before the land under WSPZ becomes far more valuable than the station — or even WSPZ and WMAL put together?

This kind of question sits in front of many AM station owners’ minds right now. I expect what we’ll have in the long run are AM stations standing on land with little or no market value. The rest will disappear along with their real estate.

[Later…] I also wonder about Cumulus’ commitment to saving the signal. In 2011 it acquired (by merger) KAAY/1090am in Little Rock, Arkansas — a 50,000 watt giant with rich history and a night signal that stretches from Cuba to Canada. Or used to. Wikipedia:

Unfortunately, owners of KAAY in later years allowed the stations famed transmission facilities in Wrightsville, AR to fall into disrepair. Copper thieves stole a large amount of transmission line, degrading the stations signal significantly. Roof damage allowed water to enter the 50,000 watt transmitter – knocking it off the air. Currently, KAAY has reestablished 50000 watt service during the day, but has yet to rebuild the 3 tower directional array, so nighttime service remains under an STA at 1250 watts non directional.

KAAY is the biggest AM station in Arkansas. If Cumulus cared, it would restore it to full capacity. But the format is “brokered/Christian,” which is tends to be low-cost dial-filler. Only one AM station makes the published ratings for Little Rock, and it’s Cumulus’ KARN/920 “The Sports Animal.” Not KAAY. KARN is also at the bottom of the heap. Higher rated are four other Cumulus stations, all FMs.

So the Company isn’t suffering there. Its portfolio of stations does fine, and that’s what matters, right? If the market won’t miss WMAL-AM, why bother keeping it?

[Later…] This story features an offer sheet on the property, and says offers need to be in by March 12. I also found this older story, about Cumulus’ plan to sell the land under KABC’s transmitter. I can find no evidence that the land has been sold, or is still on the market. KABC also has no construction permits to move to a new location.

 

 

 

The blizzard hit coastal New England, not New York City. In fact, it’s still hitting. Wish I was there, because I love snow. Here in New York City we got pffft: about eight inches in Central Park: an average winter snowstorm. No big deal.

I was set up with my GoPro to time-lapse accumulations on the balcony outside our front window. I had two other cameras ready to go, and multiple devices tuned in to streams of news stories, tweets and posts. Instead the story I got was an old and familiar one of misplaced sensationalism. Nothing happening, non-stop. At least here.

The real news was happening in Boston, Providence, Worcester, Montauk, Scituate, the Cape and Islands. But I didn’t have anything useful to add to what thousands of others were showing, posting, tweeting and blogging. Back during Sandy, I had a lot to blog because important stuff wasn’t being said on media major and minor. For example I predicted, correctly, that many radio and TV stations would be knocked off the air by flooding. I also thought, correctly, that New York was under-prepared for the storm.
Not so this time, for any of the places the storm has hit.

With the snow still falling over New England…

Screen Shot 2015-01-27 at 8.17.02 PM… there’s a good chance that it will break old records (and probably already has in some places). But the cable news system is a still a broken record: endless pronouncements by undersecretaries of the overstate.

As more cords get cut, and more of us inform each other directly, new and better forms of aggregation and intermediation will emerge. To some extent the major media are already adapting, showing videos, tweets and posts from the Long Tail. But I suspect that the next major shift will be to something different than anything we have now.

I suspect the biggest innovations will be around discovery — of each other. Who has the information I want, now? Who or what is being fully useful, rather than just noisy or repetitive? Search from Google and Bing, while good in many ways, seems hidebound and stale to me. Its personalization is mostly about guesswork that’s hard to figure or control, and is jiggered for advertising as well.

For example, right now I’d like to know more about the breached sea wall in Scituate. Here’s a Yahoo (Bing) search. Most of the top results are at boston.com, which says to me — before I even look at any of them — “Oh, boston.com is the Boston Globe, and I’ve already run out the five views it gives me on this browser before it thows up the paywall.” In fact there is no paywall for some of the local stories, but I’ve seen it so many times that I don’t want to go there. The second thing I notice is that they’re all old: from 2014 and 2013. When I look for the same thing at Google News, the top results are the paywalled Globe ones. So I search for Scituate on Twitter, which is more helpful, but not fine-grained enough. What if I want to read only people who live there and are reporting from there?

Try to think outside of the search and social media boxes for a minute. Think all the way outside the Web.

Just think Internet, which is nothing more than a way for anybody or anything to connect to anybody or anything. Let’s find a way to do discovery there. We have some crude beginnings with stuff like this. But we need something much more natural, distributed and outside the control of any company or government — as is the Internet, by nature.

Once we have that, all kinds of amazing stuff will start to open up.

« Older entries