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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. They advocate freedom and argue against captivity and the surveillance state that comprises most of commercial life online.

Two sobering comments in the thread argue against all that — 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.

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

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.

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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:

 

 

 

 

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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.

Quit fracking our lives to extract data that’s none of your business and that your machines misinterpret. — New Clues, #58

That’s the blunt advice David Weinberger and I give to marketers who still make it hard to talk, sixteen years after many of them started failing to get what we meant by Markets are Conversations.

For a look at modern marketing at its wurst (pun intended), here’s one part of something called The Big Datastillery, by IBM and Aberdeen:

datastillery-conveyor

Those beakers on the conveyor belt are you and me. We’re at the bottom of machinery that’s gigantic (click on the image and see) and complex in the extreme. In this Linux Journal column I explain what the machine is and does:

Copy at the top describes it as “Best-in-Class Strategies to Accelerate the Return on Digital Data” and “a revolutionary new appliance to condense terabyte scale torrents of customer, transactional, campaign, clickstream and social media data down to meaningful and actionable insights that boost response rates, conversions and customer value”.

Below that is a maze of pipes pouring stuff into a hopper of “Best-in-Class companies” that are “2.8 times more likely than Laggards to incorporate unstructured data into analytical models”. The pipes are called:

  • Customer Sentiment
  • E-mail Metrics
  • CRM
  • Clickstream Data
  • PPC (Pay Per Click)
  • SEO Data
  • Social Media
  • Marketing History
  • Ad Impressions
  • Transactional Data

Coming out of the hopper are boxes and tanks, connected to more piping. These are accompanied by blocks of text explaining what’s going on in that part of the “datastillery”. One says “Ability to generate customer behavioral profile based on real-time analytics”. Another says “Ability to optimize marketing offers/Web experience based on buyer’s social profile”. Another says BIC (Best in Class) outfits “merge customer data from CRM with inline behavioral data to optimize digital experience”.

Customers are represented (I’m not kidding) as empty beakers moving down a conveyor belt at the bottom of this whole thing. Into the beakers pipes called “customer interaction optimization” and “marketing optimization” excrete orange and green flows of ones and zeroes. Gas farted upward by customers metabolizing goop fed by the first two pipes is collected by a third pipe called “campaign metrics” and carried to the top of the datastillery, where in liquid form it gets poured back into the hopper. Text over a departing beaker says “137% higher average marketing response rate for Best-in-Class (6.2%) vs. All Others (2.6%)”. (The 137% is expressed in type many times larger than the actual response rates.) The reciprocal numbers for those rates are 93.8% and 97.4%—meaning that nearly all the beakers are not responsive, even to Best-in-Class marketing.

New Clues again:

60 Ads that sound human but come from your marketing department’s irritable bowels, stain the fabric of the Web.
61 When personalizing something is creepy, it’s a pretty good indication that you don’t understand what it means to be a person.
62 Personal is human. Personalized isn’t.
63 The more machines sound human, the more they slide down into the uncanny valley where everything is a creep show.

I also visited this in The Intention Economy. Here’s an early draft of a subchapter that was whittled down to something much tighter for the final version. I want to share it because the Michael Ventura quote was lost in the whittling and is especially important for a point I’ll make shortly:

In The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding from You, Eli Pariser writes,

“You have one identity,” Facebook founder Mark Zuckerber told journalist David Kirkpatrick for his book The Facebook Effect. “the days of having a different image for your work friends or coworkers and for the other people you may know are probably coing to an end pretty quickly… Having two identities for yourself is an example of a lack of integrity.”

Later Zuckerberg discounted the remark as “just a sentence I said;” but to Facebook the only you that matters is the one they know. Not the one you are.

In Shadow Dancing in the USA (1985), Michael Ventura writes what he calls “a poetic description of subselves in a stepfamily.” He begins by asking, “… will we, or will we not, discover all that a man and a woman can be?” Here’s how he unpacks the challenge:

… living in this small apartment, there are, to begin with, three entirely different sets of twos: Michael and Jan, Jan and Brendan, Brendan and Michael. Each set, by itself, is very different from the other, and each is different from Jan-Brendan-Michael together. But go further:

Brendan-Jan-Michael having just gotten up ‘for breakfast is a very different body politic, with different varying tensions, depending on whether it’s a school day or not, from Brendan-Jan-Michael driving home from seeing, say, El Norte, which is different still from driving home from Ghostbusters, and all of them are different from Brendan-Jan-Michael going to examine a possible school for Brendan. The Brendan who gets up at midnight needing to talk to Michael is quite different from the Brendan who, on another night, needs suddenly to talk to Jan, and both are vastly different from the Brendan who often keeps his own counsel. The Michael writing at three in the afternoon or three in the morning, isolated in a room with three desks and two typewriters, is very different from the Michael, exasperated, figuring the bills with Jan, choosing whom not to pay; and he in turn is very different from the half-crazed, shy drunk wondering just who is this “raw-boned Okie girl” moving to Sam Taylor’s fast blues one sweltering night in the Venice of L.A. at the old Taurus Tavern. The Jan making the decision to face her own need to write, so determined and so tentative at once, is very different from the strength-in-tenderness of the Jan who is sensual, or the sure-footed abandon of Jan dancing, or the screeching of the Jan who’s had it up to here.

I can only be reasonably sure of several of these people – the several isolate Michaels, eight or fifteen of them, whom “I” pass from, day to day, night to night, dawn to almost dawn, and who at any moment in this much-too-small apartment might encounter a Jan or a Brendan whom I’ve never seen before, or whom I’ve conjectured about and can sometimes describe but am hard-pressed to know.

So in this apartment where some might see three people living a comparatively quiet life, I see a huge encampment on a firelit hillside, a tribal encampment of selves who must always be unknowable, a mystery to any brief Michael, Jan, or Brendan who happens to be trying to figure it out at any particular moment.

His narrative continues until he arrives at his main purpose behind all this:

…there may be no more important project of our time than displacing the … fiction of monopersonality. This fiction is the notion that each person has a central and unified “I” which determines his or her acts. “I” have been writing this to say that I don’t think people experience life that way. I do think they experience language that way, and hence are doomed to speak about life in structures contrary to their experience.

But what happens now, almost thirty years later, when our experience is one of Facebook chatter and Google searches, when online life and language (“poking,” “friending” and so on) soak up time formerly spent around tables, in bars or in cars, and our environment is  “personalized” through guesswork by companies whose robotic filtering systems constantly customize everything to satisfy a supposedly singular you?

In the closing sentences of The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, Nicholas Carr writes,

In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.[iii]

Even if our own intelligence is not yet artificialized, what’s feeding it surely is.

Eli sums up the absurdity of all this in a subchapter titled “A Bad Theory of You.” After explaining Google’s and Facebook’s very different approaches to personalized “experience” filtration, and the assumptions behind both, he concludes, “Both are pretty poor representations of who we are, in part because there is no one set of data that describes who we are.” He says both companies have dumped us into what animators and robotics engineers call the uncanny valley: “the place where something is lifelike but not convincingly alive, and it gives people the creeps.”

I don’t know about you (nor should I, being a mere writer and not a Google or a Facebook), but I find hope in that. How long can shit this crazy last?

How long it lasts matters less than what makes it crazy.

There are three assumptions by frackers that are certifiably nuts, because they are disconnected from reality, which is the marketplace, which is filled with human beings called customers. You know: us. Those assumptions are—

1) We are always in the market to buy something. We are not. (Are you shopping right now? And are you open to being distracted this very instant by an ad that thinks you are? — one placed by a machine guided by big data guesswork based on knowledge gained by following you around? Didn’t think so.)

2) We don’t mind being fracked. In fact we do, because it violates our privacy. That’s why one stain on the Web looks like this:

concern
Source: TRUSTe 2014 US. Consumer Confidence Survey.

3) Machines can know people well — sometimes better than they know themselves. They can’t, especially when the machines are interested only in selling something.

In fact humans are terribly complex. And they are also not, as Michael Ventura says, monopersonalities. Kim Cameron, an authority on digital identity, is only half-joking when he calls himself “the committee of the whole.”

Sanity requires that we line up many different personalities behind a single first person pronoun: I, me, mine. Also behind multiple identifiers. In my own case, I am Doc to most of those who know me, David to various government agencies (and most of the entities that bill me for stuff), Dave to many (but not all) family members, @dsearls to Twitter, and no name at all to the rest of the world, wherein I remain, like most of us, anonymous (literally, nameless), because that too is a civic grace. (And if you doubt that, ask any person who has lost their anonymity through the Faustian bargain called celebrity.)

So, where do we go with from here?

First we need to continue expanding individual agency through VRM and similar efforts. Here’s a list of developers.

Second, marketing needs to stop excusing the harms caused by personalization of advertising by frack-fed Big Data methods. For guidance from history, read Tim Walsh‘s Big Data: the New Big Tobacco.

Third, advertising needs to return to what it does best: straightforward brand messaging that is targeted at populations, and doesn’t get personal. For help with that, start reading Don Marti and don’t stop until his points sink in. Begin here and continue here.

 

door knocker, beacon hillIn the physical world we know what privacy is and how it works.

We know because we have worked out privacy technologies and norms over thousands of years. Without them we wouldn’t have civilization.

Doors and windows are privacy technologies. So are clothes. So are manners respecting the intentions behind our own and others’ use of those things. Those manners are personal, and social. They are how we clothe, shelter and conduct ourselves in the world, and how we expect others to do the same.

The Internet is a new virtual world we also inhabit. It was born in 1995 with the first graphical browsers, ISPs, email and websites. It arrived in our midst as a paradise. But, as with Eden, we walked into it naked — and we still are, except for the homes and clothing we get from companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. They clothe us in uniforms, one for every login/password combination. Who we are and what we can do is limited by what they alone provide us. Yes, it’s civilized: like the middle ages. We toil and prosper inside the walls of their castles, and on their company lands. In many ways the system isn’t bad. In many othr ways it’s good. But it isn’t ours.

To have true privacy in the networked world, we need to be in charge of our own lives, our own identities, our own data, our own things, in our own ways.

We should be able to control what we disclose, to whom, and on what terms.

We should be able to keep personal data as secret and secure as we like.

We should be able to share that data with others in faith that only those others can see and use it.

Our digital identities should be sovereign — ours alone — and disclosed to others at our discretion.

(True: administrative identifiers are requirements of civilization, but they are not who we are, and we all know that.

Think of how identity works in the physical world. It’s not a problem that my family members call me Dave, the government calls me David, other people call me Doc — and the rest of the world calls me nothing, because they don’t know me at all.

This is a Good Thing. It is enough to recognize each other as human beings, and to learn people’s names when they tell us. Up to that point we remain for each other literally anonymous: nameless. This is a civic and social grace we hardly cared about until it was stripped from us online.

In the physical world, companies don’t plant tracking beacons on people, or follow them around to see who people are are, where they go and what they do — unless they’ve been led by the hideous manners of marketers who believe it’s good to do that.

Those manners won’t change as long as we don’t control means of disclosing our selves and our data. Until we have true privacy, all we’ll have are:

  • Crude prophylaxis, such as tracking and advertising blockers
  • Talk about which companies screw us the least
  • Talk about how governments screw us too
  • Calls for laws and regulations that protect yesterday from last Thursday

We won’t get true privacy — the kind we’ve known and understood offline since forever — until we have the online equivalents of the clothing, doors and manners.

All we’ll get from most big companies are nicer uniforms.

I look forward to what we’ll get from the Barney Pressmans of the online world. Here’s a classic ad for Barney’s (his clothing store) that ran in the 1960s: http://youtu.be/KMIgu9-zd8M. (Just watch the first one, which ends :47 seconds in.) That’s where my headline came from.

 

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