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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JS:

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

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

Dragonic Overlord:

Absolutely terrible idea.

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

Tracy Licklider:

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

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

User:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features.

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s worse than just that.

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

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

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

1) Offer a choice of browsers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Crowdsource direct funding from individuals.

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

3) Build intentcasting into Firefox as it stands.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

From Merriam-Webster:

cru·ci·ble

noun\ˈkrü-sə-bəl\

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

This is what cars will become.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This stuff appears on my screen at odd times, and disappears after a few seconds:

Anybody know what it is? When I search for “Click on the current time to hear these songs” I find nothing.

Thanks.

Turkey shut down Twitter today. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced, “We now have a court order. We’ll eradicate Twitter. I don’t care what the international community says. Everyone will witness the power of the Turkish Republic.” (Hurriyet Daily News) He also said Turkey will “rip out the roots” of Twitter. (Washington Post)

Those roots are in the Internet. This is a good thing. Even if Turkey rips the roots out of the phone and cable systems that provide access to the Net, they can’t rip out the Net itself, because the Net is not centralized. It is distributed: a heterarchy rather than a hierarchy. At the most basic level, the Net’s existence relies on protocols rather than on how any .com, .org, .edu or .gov puts those protocols to use.

The Net’s protocols are not servers, clouds, wires, routers or code bases. They are agreements about how data flows to and from any one end point and any other. This makes the Internet a world of ends rather than a world of governments, companies and .whatevers. It cannot be reduced to any of those things, any more than time can be reduced to a clock. The Net is as oblivious to usage as are language and mathematics — and just as supportive of every use to which it is put. And, because of this oblivity, The Net supports all without favor to any.

Paul Baran contrasted centralized systems (such as governments), decentralized ones (such as Twitter+Facebook+Google, etc.) and distributed ones, using this drawing in 1964:

Design C became the Internet.

It appealed to military folks because it was the best design for surviving attack. Even in a decentralized system there are central points of vulnerability where a government can spy on traffic or knock out a whole service. The “attack surfaces” of a distributed system are no larger than a single node or a single connection, so it’s much harder to bring the whole thing down. This is why John Gillmore says ”The Internet interprets censorship as damage and routes around it.” No doubt this is happening right now in Turkey, just as it is in China and other countries  that block sites and services on the Net. It might not be easy, but it is do-able by design. That design is not about hard fixed administrated lines, but voluntary connections, or what Bob Frankston calls ‘DIY connectivity’.

Twitter’s centralized nature makes it a dot in the star-shaped designs of A and B. That dot becomes a black hole when powerful actors like the Turkish and Chinese governments “eradicate” it. We need to bear this in mind when we design and use centralized systems — and even decentralized ones.

It helps to recognize that some things — such as being social with each other — do not require centralized systems, or even decentralized ones. They can be truly distributed, heterarchical and voluntary. Just as we have freedom of speech and association in any free society, we should have the same on the Net. And, at the base level, we do.

But this isn’t easy to see, for five reasons:

  1. We do need centralized systems for doing what only they can do
  2. Existing building methods and materials make it easy
  3. The internet is also a “network of networks” which at the backbone and “provider” level (the one you access it through) is more like a combination of B and C — and, because you pay providers for access,  it’s easy to ignore C as the virtuous base of the whole thing
  4. After eighteen years of building centralized systems (such as Twitter) on the Net, it’s hard for most people — even geeks familiar with the Net’s base design — to think outside the box called client-server (and some of us call calf-cow)

A great way to avoid the black hole of centralization is to start from the fully distributed nodes that each of us are, designing and building first person technologies. And I have a specific one to recommend, from Customer Commons:

This is Omie:

She’s the brainlet of Customer Commons: She is, literally, a clean slate. And she is your clean slate. Not Apple’s. Not Google’s. Not some phone company’s.

She can be what you want her to be, do what you want her to do, run whatever apps you want her to run, and use data you alone collect and control.

Being a clean slate makes Omie very different.

On your iPhone and iPad you can run only what Apple lets you run, and you can get only from Apple’s own store. On an Android phone you have to run Google’s pre-loaded apps, which means somebody is already not only telling you what you must do, but is following you as well.

Omie uses Android, but bows to Google only in respect of its intention to create an open Linux-based OS for mobile devices.

So Omie is yours, alone. Fully private, by design, from the start.

Omie needs crowdfunding. More specifically, she needs somebody who is good at doing crowdfunding videos, to help us out. We have the script.  If you’re up for helping out, contact me. I can be DM’d via @dsearls, or emailed via my first  name @ my last name dot com. Thanks!

 

 

We decided this year to zero-base all our subscriptions to print publications. The reasoning: since most pubs give the best deals to new or slow-to-return readers, wait to see how far down they push the price, and in the meantime see if we actually miss them. So far we’ve re-subscribed to Consumer Reports. That’s it.  We’ll see how the rest go.

Meanwhile, the subject of newspaper business models has come up in a lot of conversations lately. (Hat tips in particular go to Dave WinerJeff JarvisMarc Andreessen, Jim Griffin, Dan GillmorJay Rosen and Clay Shirky.) Since most of the ideas being batted around don’t address the complicated pricing schemes the papers have today, I thought now might be a good time to re-suggest what I’ve recommended for many years: make online pricing the same kind as the print one. In other words, charge for the news and give away the olds.

Most papers already have paywalls, and most of those are annoying, confusing or worse. Just move them around so they align with the well-understood print world.

For example, I’d have the NYTimes pitch it like this:

We now charge for the same way for our digital and print editions. You can pay for today’s digital edition like you would at a newsstand, or you can subscribe. Everything older than a day is free. That includes unlimited access to all our archives. And, because it’s cheaper for us to produce our digital edition, it’s cheaper for you too: Our cover price for today’s paper is $1.50. Our subscription price is $4 per week for delivery to your phone, tablet or computer.

On phones and tablets, the paper’s app would require a one-time easy-pay setup enabling both á la carte and subscription purchases. For those who choose not to subscribe, the welcome page would have just two buttons: Buy today’s paper, and Subscribe. That’s it. If they subscribe, no welcome page. Once on the app (or on the paper’s page in a browser), non-subscribers will see a headline and maybe a little more. That’s it. But spare people the complicated pop-overs with the wordy pitches (like the Boston Globe‘s here — that “99¢  for four weeks” line demands a “wtf is the real price after that?” response from intelligent readers).

Of course, the circulation people at the paper will hate it, since they’ve been making subscribing complicated for the duration, and they love to rationalize gaming customers. (Same goes for all papers, by the way.) But it’s a matter of time before the rest of the world gets to the place where my wife and I are today: being much more selective about which pub’s confusing subscription games we’re willing to play, and saying no to the rest of the mess in the meantime.

A word to papers about the archives: they are fish-wrap with huge positive externalities, including accessibility to search engines and visiting scholars doing research. Quit charging for access to them. You’re making peanuts on them anyway.

A hat tip here also goes to Matter, a new startup accelerator in San Francisco. I went to a presentation of work by Matter-based media startups in New York a couple days ago and got excited about their approach, which is exactly in line with what I’m suggesting with this post: fail forward.

This post is a hat tip toward Rusty Foster’s Today In Tabs, which I learned about from Clay Shirky during a digressive conversation about the subscription economy (the paid one, not the one Rusty and other free spirits operate in), and how lately I’m tending not to renew mine after they run out, thanks to my wife’s rational approach to subscriptions:

  1. Don’t obey the first dozen or so renewal notices because the offers will get better if you neglect them.
  2. See if you miss them.
  3. If you don’t miss them, don’t renew.

While thinking about a headline for this post, I found that searches for theater and theatre are both going down, but the former seems to be holding a slight lead.

While at Google Trends, I also did a humbling vanity search. Trust me: it helps not to give a shit.

Other results::: tired is up… stupid still leads dumb, but dumb is catching up… Papua New Guinea leads in porn. And Sri Lanka takes the gold in searches for sex. They scored 100. India gets the silver with 88, and Ethiopia settles for the bronze with 87. Out of the running are Bangladesh (85), Pakistan (78), Nepal (74), Vietnam (72), Cambodia (69), Timor-Leste (67) and Papua New Guinea (66) — perhaps because porn is doing the job for them.

Michael Robertson continues to invent stuff. His latest is Clock Radio, a Chrome browser extension that lets you tune in, by genre or search, to what’s playing now on the world’s Internet radio stations. Links: bit.ly/ClockRadio & bit.ly/ClockRadioVideo. Here’s what mine looks like right now:

I’m not surprised (and I don’t know why) that most of the stations playing music I like are French.

David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer at Google, will talk about The Fight for Internet Freedom tomorrow at Stanford. Register by 5:30pm Pacific, today. @Liberationtech is hosting. Oh, and Google Fiber may be coming to your city.

George Packer says Amazon may be good for customers but bad for books, because Amazon is a monopoly in that category. Paul Krugman meanwhile says the same kinda thing about Comcast, and the whole cablecom biz. He’s not alone. Nobody likes the proposed Comcast acquisition of Time Warner Cable, other than Comcast, their captive regulators and their big-biz amen corner in what’s left of the press. (Watch: it’ll pass.) FWIW, Quartz has some nice charts explaining what’s going on.

What’s the word for a business nobody dominates because basically the whole thing, as we knew it, looks like Florida a week after Chicxulub? That’s what we have with journalism. The big reptiles are gone or terminal. The flying ones are gonna be birds one of these eras, but for now they’re just flying low and working on survival. For a good picture of what that looks like, re-dig A Day in the Life of a Digital Editor, 2013, which Alexis Madrigal posted in The Atlantic on March 13 of last year. In it he said,

…your total budget for the year is $12,000, a thousand bucks a month. (We could play this same game with $36,000, too. The lessons will remain the same.) What do you do?

Here are some options:

1. Write a lot of original pieces yourself. (Pro: Awesome. Con: Hard, slow.)
2. Take partner content. (Pro: Content! Con: It’s someone else’s content.)
3. Find people who are willing to write for a small amount of money. (Pro: Maybe good. Con: Often bad.)
4. Find people who are willing to write for no money. (Pro: Free. Con: Crapshoot.)
5. Aggregate like a mug. (Pro: Can put smartest stuff on blog. Con: No one will link to it.)
6. Rewrite press releases so they look like original content. (Pro: Content. Con: You suck.)

Don’t laugh. These are actual content strategies out there in the wilds of the Internet. I am sure you have encountered them.

Myself, I’m very partial to one and five. I hate two and six. For my own purposes here, let’s say you do, too, and throw them out.

That leaves three and four…

You’re reading #4. Flap flap flap…

Speaking of trash talk, Polygon says NBA 2K14 gives you a technical foul for swearing at the game.

I like the Fargo2 model:

Want to know where your Internet comes from? Look here. While it lasts. Because what that describes is infrastructure for the free and open world wide Internet we’ve known since the beginning. Thanks to the NSA spying, national leaders are now floating the idea of breaking the Internet into pieces, with national and regional borders. That seems to be where Angela Merkel is headed by suggesting a Europe-only network.

Progress: there’s an insurance business in protecting companies from data breaches. No, they’re not selling it to you, because you don’t matter. This is for big companies only.

Finally, because you’re not here — or you wisely don’t want to be here — dig what parking in New York looks like right now, after two weeks of snow, rain, freezing, melting and re-freezing:

parking in NYC

Let’s hope it thaws before alternate side parking goes back into effect.

So I wanted to add a comment under essay “Lena Dunham Is The New John Updike — But Not In A Good Way“, in WBUR‘s Cognoscenti ‘zine (which I just discovered, and I like). So I wrote a caution about throwing out both Dunham’s and Updike’s babies in the bathwaters of their narcissm (as defined originally, for Updike, in this David Foster Wallace review of Updike’s late-in-life work). When I finished, I was presented with this:

First I picked Disqus (the one on the left), but it didn’t work. Then I picked Twitter. That didn’t work. (It flashed a small page that said “Redirecting you back to the application,” plus some other stuff that disappeared before I could read it.) Then I started writing in a name, and new fields opened up:

These were also unproductive, even when I used my known Disqus name, email and password. (The question mark with a circle produces a summary of Disqus’ policies, terms and conditions.) Then I made the mistake of clicking on a link somewhere and lost what I had written.

While it’s great, I suppose, that Disqus, Facebook, Twitter and Google provide handy shortcuts — “social” logins through their APIs — the whole non-system also fails so often that at best it comprises (entrepreneur alert:::) an opportunity for some new approach.

That’s why I keep going back to the oldest and perhaps the least complicated way to post a comment, which is on a publication of one’s own. So that’s what I’m doing here. (With a bonus complaint. :-) )

Tags: , ,

The power is out and won’t be back for awhile. That’s what the guys in the hard hats tell me, down where they’re working, at the intersection where our dead-end street is born. Many trucks are gathered there, with bright night-work lights illuminating whatever went wrong with the day’s power pole replacement job. The notices they left on our doors said they’d be done by five, but now it’s eight and I’m sitting in a house lit by candles, working on the nth draft of a writing assignment, in the absence of a steady flow of electrons off the power grid. Also in the absence of connection except to the physical world alone. Connectivity = 0. My laptop is good for another four hours or so, but without a connection I lack the building materials I need for constructing the piece. So I’m writing this instead.

Some other utilities are unaffected by the power outage, of course. I have matches, and can fire up the gas stove. Water runs, cold and cold. It also drips out of the little motel-grade refrigerator upstairs, defrosting itself into towels I’ve fed under it. The freezer in the kitchen remains closed, to keep whatever is in there from thawing and requiring use in the next couple days. What I’m witnessing is a gradual breakdown that is easy to imagine accelerating fast, especially if I was coping instead with a wildfire or an earthquake.

Three interesting facts about California and the people who — like me — choose to live here:

  1. The state tree is the California redwood. What made these things evolve into groves of spires with thick bark, standing at heights beyond three hundred feet, with branches in mature specimens that commence a hundred or more feet above the ground. I say they are adapted to fire. A cross section of a mature redwood will feature black edges to rings spaced thirty, fifty, two hundred apart, all marking survival of wildfire at a single location.
  2. The state flower is the California poppy. Here is what makes poppies thrive in dry rocky soils that are poor for agriculture but rich with  freshly exposed minerals: they are adapted to earthquakes. More than any other state, except maybe Alaska, California is a product of recent earth movement. Imagine looking at the southern Appalachians in the U.S. or the Blue Mountains of Australia, two million years ago. It’s not hard: they would pretty much like they do now. If you looked at the site of the future California from anywhere two million years ago, you would recognize nothing, unless you were a geologist who knew what to look for. All of California has been raised up or ferried in by tectonic forces that have been working at full throttle for a couple hundred million years, and aren’t moving any slower today.
  3. Neither of those facts teaches caution to human beings who choose to live here. For example, the home where I write this, in Santa Barbara, has been approached, unsuccessfully, by two wildfires in recent years. The Tea Fire in November 2008 burned 210 homes and the Jesusita Fire in May 2009 burned other 80 more. The Tea Fire came straight at us, incinerating everything but rocks and soil for a mile in its path before stopping a quarter mile and ten houses short of where I’m sitting right now. (Here is my report on the aftermath.) The Coyote Fire in September 1964 burned the same area, and much more. The Sycamore Fire in 1979 came even closer, burning houses just up the street from here.

“We live in the age of full convenience,” John Updike wrote, at a time when it made sense to think copiers and fax machines marked some kind of end state.* But the lessons that matter at the moment arise from the absence of the two most essential utilities in my life, and probably yours too: the electric grid and the data network. (Yes, I can get on the Net by tethering my laptop to my mobile phone, but both use batteries that will run out, and the phone is down below 20% already anyway.) So here are three lessons that come to me, here in the dark, all of which we are sure to continue ignoring::::

  1. Civilization is thin. A veneer. Under it nature remains vast, violent and provisional. In the long run, which may end at any time for any of us, nature will prove no easier to tame than the tides. For three great perspectives on this, I highly recommend John McPhee‘s The Control of Nature. The title is taken from a plea to students, carved into sandstone over the door of a building at the University of Wyoming in Laramie: STRIVE ON — THE CONTROL OF NATVRE IS WON, NOT GIVEN. (I also recommend this blog post, by Themon The Bard, who went to UW and provides a photo.) Its chapters are “Iceland versus the volcanoes,” “Los Angeles versus the San Gabriel Mountains” and “The Army Corps of Engineers versus the Mississippi River.” The New Yorker re-ran a set piece from the third of those, right after Hurricane Katrina, which produced what New Orleans natives call “The Flood.” In it McPhee describes what would happen to New Orleans when a levee is breached. Here is the original, published years before reality certified true McPhee’s prophesy.
  2. Humanity is insane. A good working definition of psychosis is disconnection of the mind from reality. As a species we have proven ourselves nuts for the duration, as the examples above attest. Present company included. (Further proof: war, genocide.) It should be clear by now that humanity is not merely at the top of the food chain around the world, but a pestilence to everything God (or whatever) put in position to be exploited in the short term, regardless of the obvious fact that it took approximately forever to put those resources in place, and how much of it cannot be replaced. While it’s true that in the very long run (a billion years or few), the aging Sun will cook the planet anyway, we are doing our best to get the job done in the geologic present. This is why many geologists propose renaming our current epoch “Anthropocene.” Bonus question: Why do political conservatives care so little about the long-term conservation of resources that are, undeniably, in limited supply and are clearly bound for exhaustion at any consumption rate? Before categorizing me, please note that I am a registered independent, and in sympathy with economic conservatives in a number of ways (for example, I do like, appreciate and understand how the market works, and in general I favor smaller government). But on environmental issues I’m with those who give a shit. Most of them happen to be liberals (or, in the current vernacular, progressives). George Lakoff provides some answers here (and in several books). But, while I love George, and while he has probably influenced my thinking more than any other human being, it still baffles that opposing conservation of resources fails to seem oxymoronic to most avowed conservatives.
  3. The end is in sight. Somewhere I’ve kept a newspaper story that did a great job of listing all the resources our species is bound to use up, at current rates of exploitation, and how long that will take. On the list were not only the obvious “reserves,” such like oil, gas, coal and uranium, but other stuff as well: helium, lithium, platinum, thorium, tungsten, neodymium, dysprosium, niobium… stuff we use to make stuff that ranges from balloons to hard drives to hybrid car engines. Many of the heavier elements appear to have been deposited here during bombardments by asteroids several billion years ago, when the Earth has hard enough not to absorb them. Helium, one of the most abundant elements in the universe, is produced on Earth mostly by decay of radioactive elements in certain kinds of natural gas. Much of the world’s helium comes from the ground here in the U.S., where our enlightened congresspeople decided a few decades back to hand the reserves over to private industry, where “the market” would decide best how it would be used. So, naturally, we are due to run out of it within maybe a couple dozen years, and have not yet found a way to replace it. Read on.

[Later...] I wrote this three nights ago, but didn’t put it up until now because I was already way overdue on the  writing assignment I mentioned up top, and I had to deal with other pressing obligations as well. So I just went through the post, copy-edited it a bit and added some links.


* Special thanks goes to anybody who can find the original quote. I’ve used it so often on the Web that I’ve effectively spammed search results with unintended SEO. The closest thing I can find is this from Google Books, which fails to contain the searched-for nugget, but still demonstrates why Updike’s criticism earns the same high rank as his fiction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Later (24 December)]… Items:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The four sectors…

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

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

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

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

Talk to me, Fred. :-)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t know.

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

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

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

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

towerRadio used to be wireless audio on a broadcast band. That’s still the short version of every dictionary definition.

But now radio is streamed audio. That was already the case when webcasting* showed up in the ’90s, and even more so with the rise of Last.fm, SiriusXM, Pandora, rdio, Spotify and every other audio service delivered over the Net.

And now Apple delivers the crowning blow, with this:

This isn’t just the height of presumption on Apple’s part. It’s a body-snatch on all of radio, as well as a straight-up knock-off of Pandora.

But it’s actually worse for radio than it looks here.

What used to be called Radio (iTunes’ collection of webcasting radio stations), which had already been pushed down one directory level to “Music,” is now available only under a new button called “Internet.” (See the screenshot above.) Worse, it won’t appear unless you open preferences in iTunes and check a box to turn it on.

So Apple clearly hates radio as we’ve always known it, and could hardly be more passive-aggressive about subordinating it to their own closed, exclusive, silo’d and proprietary service. (Here’s some bonus evidence.)

So where does this leave plain old over-the-air radio — you know, the kind that fades away when you drive out of town?

Simply put, in a new context. That context is the Net. It’s the new broadcast band. Here on the Net (where you are right now), audio servers are the new transmitters and mobile devices are the new portable radios.

So, some advice.

For stations, networks and chains:

  1. Normalize to the Net. That doesn’t mean just “digital first.” It means recognizing that the Internet is your coverage area, and the new native land for all forms of radio, including Satellite. This is the lecture that @JeffJarvis has given for years, correctly, to his friend @HowardStern and to @SiriusXM, where Howard (also correctly) anchors the whole link-up.
  2. Recognize that the Net does not belong to the cable and phone companies but to nobody, which is why it covers the world. Think of it as a world of ends (where every audio source and every listener is a separate end), and NEA — nobody owns it, everybody can use it, and anybody can improve it. Including you.
  3. Choose a streaming URL (or a set of URLs) for your station(s) that will be as permanent as your over-the-air dial positions. Make sure you’re streaming in .mp3 or some other standard codec that all mobile apps can receive. (Right now the burden of finding a streaming URL in the first place is a pain in the ass.)
  4. Transmit over the air in HD. Yes, HD has problems, and the adoption rate is still low. But it’s an all-digital bridge between net-casting and over-the-air.
  5. Continue to use RDS (RDBS in the U.S.) with your analog signals. That way it will display your identity and content on radios equipped to do so, most of which, so far, are in cars.
  6. Support every possible app that moves toward re-creating the old dial-based radio experience. The closest I’ve seen so far is the BBC’s iPlayer app, which isn’t available in the U.S.
  7. Have truly unique programming. If you’re running what dozens or hundreds of other stations are running, you’re just a relay.
  8. Look toward making more money from subscriptions and voluntary donations than from advertising. More about that below.
  9. Think in terms of relationships, and not just listeners. This is essential because listeners have communication power now too. Don’t waste it by looking at them only as populations. This isn’t easy, because the grooves of one-way-one-to-many non-relating are nearly a century deep. But those who relate best will win biggest.
  10. Make podcasting a normal and easy part of your mix of offerings. More listeners will listen, more of the time (which they will make for themselves.) And, if you can’t easily podcast because you’re doing music, see the last section below.

For app developers:

  1. Keep up the pioneering work done by Tune InWunderradioPRX’s Public Radio PlayerStitcher and the rest. But note this…
  2.  No app yet (to my knowledge, at least) re-creates the simple experience we got from knobs, dials and uncomplicated read-outs on good old-fashioned radios. In effect we’re still stuck where mp3 players were before the iPad came along with its scroll wheel. Only now the shitty experience is on our mobile devices, including our Apple i-things.
  3. Ease the experience of listening, and recording (like with DAR.fm), across everything possible. I know this isn’t easy, because chains like Clear Channel (with its iHeartRadio) and the BBC like to limit listening within their app to their own stations. But this isn’t what most listeners want.
  4. Work toward a single easy non-proprietary way to support subscription services (such as SiriusXM) and volunteer-pay services, (such as public radio stations in the U.S). Everybody with that model will make more money, much more easily, if the process isn’t different for every station, every network, every service.
  5. Symbolize relationships (especially paid ones) with UI elements that are easy to read and universally used and accepted. I recommend the r-button, which the VRM development community came up with, and which is there for the taking. The ⊂ represents the person’s side of the relationship, while the ⊃ is the ‘caster’s. If you’re interested, talk to me about it.
  6. Think relationships, not just listeners.

For equipment makers:

  1. Quit making shitty radios. The receiving circuitry and antennas for most home and portable radios have been awful for awhile now, and I don’t expect them to get better. But I think there is room for some companies still making radios to put out a few actually good ones. And include HD.
  2. Ibiquity (developer and licensor of HD Radio technology): change your game. Adoption by equipment makers is clearly too slow and too hard. Hell, you’ve been around since 2001, and now you’re bragging on just the first car to feature it. This search on Amazon for “HD Radio” should bring up lots of results, rather than a few hens’ teeth.
  3. Make radios that hunt easily from over the air analog to HD Radio to streams on the Net.

For everybody:

  1. Lobby to get rid of the completely aversive royalty system for webcasting, and its inequities with over-the-air broadcasting. Replace it with something sane and respectful of the all-digital world in which we now live.
  2. In respect to the link above, note this language: Sections 112 and 114 require that rates for the statutory licenses for webcasting and for ephemeral recordings must be the rates that most clearly represent the rates that would have been negotiated in the marketplace between a willing buyer and a willing seller. That boldfaced language is a relic of the DMCA, which was passed in ’98 — just three years after the dawn of the graphical browser, before anybody could imagine that the Net could support willing buyers and sellers of streamed music. The effect of this has been to marginalize or kill music podcasting, to name just one victim. Nobody wants the rights-holders to get screwed, but everybody should recognize by now that its the music itself, and the relationships between artists, distributors (including radio service operators) and listeners that are getting screwed by the current system. And that we can do better. Hell, it’s almost 2014. Let’s get this done.

* “Webcasting” should have been called “netcasting” in the first place. As Wikipedia says at the moment (at that last link), “Essentially, webcasting is ‘broadcasting’ over the Internet.” The difference is important because the Web is something that runs on the Net, rather than a synonym for the Net.

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

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

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

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

That’s what I’m here for.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Where’s the Rose Bowl?”

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

“Oh yeah.”

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

“Is that where the Hollywood sign is?”

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

“Where was the Whittier Earthquake?”

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

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

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

“Where are you from?”

“New Jersey, like you.”

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

“I study maps.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Eye of SauronIn Big Cable’s Sauron-Like Plan for One Infrastructure to Rule Us All, Susan Crawford (@SCrawford) paints a bleak picture of what awaits us after television (aka cable) finishes eating the Internet. But that’s just in our homes. Out in the mobile sphere, telcos have been eating the Net as well — in collusion with cable. That’s one of the points Marvin Ammori makes in We’re About to Lose Net Neutrality — And the Internet as We Know It. Both pieces are in Wired, which is clearly on our side with this thing — especially since, if Marvin is right, Wired might someday need to pay the carriers for privileged carriage on what used to be the free and open (aka “neutral”) Internet. Specifically,

Net neutrality is a dead man walking. The execution date isn’t set, but it could be days, or months (at best). And since net neutrality is the principle forbidding huge telecommunications companies from treating users, websites, or apps differently — say, by letting some work better than others over their pipes — the dead man walking isn’t some abstract or far-removed principle just for wonks: It affects the internet as we all know it.

Once upon a time, companies like AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, and others declared a war on the internet’s foundational principle: that its networks should be “neutral” and users don’t need anyone’s permission to invent, create, communicate, broadcast, or share online. The neutral and level playing field provided by permissionless innovation has empowered all of us with the freedom to express ourselves and innovate online without having to seek the permission of a remote telecom executive.

But today, that freedom won’t survive much longer if a federal court — the second most powerful court in the nation behind the Supreme Court, the DC Circuit — is set to strike down the nation’s net neutrality law, a rule adopted by the Federal Communications Commission in 2010. Some will claim the new solution “splits the baby” in a way that somehow doesn’t kill net neutrality and so we should be grateful. But make no mistake: Despite eight years of public and political activism by multitudes fighting for freedom on the internet, a court decision may soon take it away.

He continues,

How did we get here?

The CEO of AT&T told an interviewer back in 2005 that he wanted to introduce a new business model to the internet: charging companies like Google and Yahoo! to reliably reach internet users on the AT&T network. Keep in mind that users already pay to access the internet and that Google and Yahoo! already pay other telecom companies — often called backbone providers — to connect to these internet users.

That was eight years ago. In response to the same AT&T salvo, I wrote Saving the Net: How to Keep the Carriers from Flushing the Net Down the Tubes in Linux Journal. It was submitted in November 2005 and ran in the February 2006 issue. In it I outlined three scenarios:

  1. The Carriers Win
  2. The Public Workaround
  3. Fight with Words and Not Just Deeds

Neither #2 nor #3 have come to pass, except in very limited ways. So, since #1 seems to be on the verge of happening, here’s what I wrote about it. There is a fair amount of link rot, but the points are still sharp — and depressing to contemplate:

Scenario I: The Carriers Win

Be afraid. Be very afraid. –Kevin Werbach.

Are you ready to see the Net privatized from the bottom to the top? Are you ready to see the Net’s free and open marketplace sucked into a pit of pipes built and fitted by the phone and cable companies and run according to rules lobbied by the carrier and content industries?

Do you believe a free and open market should be “Your choice of walled garden” or “Your choice of silo”? That’s what the big carrier and content companies believe. That’s why they’re getting ready to fence off the frontiers.

And we’re not stopping it.

With the purchase and re-animation of AT&T‘s remains, the collection of former Baby Bells called SBC will become the largest communications company in the US–the new Ma Bell. Verizon, comprised of the old GTE plus MCI and the Baby Bells SBC didn’t grab, is the new Pa Bell. That’s one side of the battlefield, called The Regulatory Environment. Across the battlefield from Ma and Pa Bell are the cable and entertainment giants: Comcast, Cox, TimeWarner and so on. Covering the battle are the business and tech media, which love a good fight.

The problem is that all of these battling companies–plus the regulators–hate the Net.

Maybe hate is too strong of a word. The thing is, they’re hostile to it, because they don’t get it. Worse, they only get it in one very literal way. See, to the carriers and their regulators, the Net isn’t a world, a frontier, a marketplace or a commons. To them, the Net is a collection of pipes. Their goal is to beat the other pipe-owners. To do that, they want to sell access and charge for traffic.

There’s nothing wrong with being in the bandwidth business, of course. But some of these big boys want to go farther with it. They don’t see themselves as a public utility selling a pure base-level service, such as water or electricity (which is what they are, by the way, in respect to the Net). They see themselves as a source of many additional value-adds, inside the pipes. They see opportunities to sell solutions to industries that rely on the Net–especially their natural partner, the content industry.

They see a problem with freeloaders. On the tall end of the power curve, those ‘loaders are AOL, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and other large sources of the container cargo we call “content”. Out on the long tail, the freeloaders are you and me. The big ‘loaders have been getting a free ride for too long and are going to need to pay. The Information Highway isn’t the freaking interstate. It’s a system of private roads that needs to start charging tolls. As for the small ‘loaders, it hardly matters that they’re a boundless source of invention, innovation, vitality and new business. To the carriers, we’re all still just “consumers”. And we always will be.

“Piracy” is a bigger issue to the cargo sources than to the carriers. To the carriers, “fighting piracy” is a service offering as well as a lever on regulators to give carriers more control of the pipes. “You want us to help you fight piracy?”, the transport companies say to the content companies. “Okay, let’s deal.” And everybody else’s freedoms–to invent, to innovate, to do business, to take advantage of free markets and to make free culture–get dealt away.

The carriers have been lobbying Congress for control of the Net since Bush the Elder was in office. Once they get what they want, they’ll put up the toll booths, the truck scales, the customs checkpoints–all in a fresh new regulatory environment that formalizes the container cargo business we call packet transport. This new environment will be built to benefit the carriers and nobody else. The “consumers”? Oh ya, sure: they’ll benefit too, by having “access” to all the good things that carriers ship them from content providers. Is there anything else? No.

Crocodile grins began to grow on the faces of carriers as soon as it became clear that everything we call “media” eventually would flow through their pipes. All that stuff we used to call TV, radio, newspapers and magazines will just be “content” moving through the transport layer of the pipe system they own and control. Think it’s a cool thing that TV channels are going away? So do the carriers. The future à lá carte business of media will depend on one medium alone: the Net. And the Net is going to be theirs.

The Net’s genie, which granted all those e-commerce wishes over the past ten years, won’t just get shoved back in the bottle. No, that genie will be piped and priced by the packet. The owners of those pipes have a duty to their stockholders to make the most of the privileged position they’ve been waiting to claim ever since they got blind-sided, back in the 80s and 90s. (For an excellent history of how the European PTTs got snookered by the Net and the Web, see Paul F. Kunz’ Bringing the World Wide Web to America.) They have assets to leverage, dammit, and now they can.

Does it matter that countless markets flourish in the wide spaces opened by agreements and protocols that thrive at the grace of carriage? Or that those markets are threatened by new limits, protections and costs imposed at the pipe level?

No.

Thus, the Era of Net Facilitation will end. The choke points are in the pipes, the permission is coming from the lawmakers and regulators, and the choking will be done. No more free rides, folks. Time to pay. It’s called creating scarcity and charging for it. The Information Age may be here, but the Industrial Age is hardly over. In fact, there is no sign it will ever end.

The carriers are going to lobby for the laws and regulations they need, and they’re going to do the deals they need to do. The new system will be theirs, not ours. The NEA principle–Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, Anybody can improve it–so familiar to the Free Software and Open Source communities will prove to be a temporary ideal, a geek conceit. Code is not Law. Culture is not Free. From the Big Boys’ perspective, code and culture are stuff nobody cares about.

That’s us: Nobody.

The new carrier-based Net will work in the same asymmetrical few-to-many, top-down pyramidal way made familiar by TV, radio, newspapers, books, magazines and other Industrial Age media now being sucked into Information Age pipes. Movement still will go from producers to consumers, just like it always did. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Literally.

The deals that matter will be done between tops of pyramids. Hey, it’s easier to do business with the concentrated few than the dispersed many. The Long Tail can whip itself into a frenzy, but all the tech magazines and blogs in the world are no match for the tails and teeth of these old sharks. (Hey, Long Tailer, when’s the last time you treated your erected representatives to private movie screenings, drafted their legislation, ghosted their committee reports, made a blockbuster movie or rolled fiber across oceans?)

Google and Yahoo and Amazon and eBay and e-commerce and free software and open source and blogging and podcasting and all the rest of that idealistic junk have had their decade in the sun. Hell, throw in Apple and Microsoft, too. Who cares? Them? Doesn’t matter how big they are. They don’t matter. They’re late to the game.

We all know the content business got clobbered by this peer-to-peer crap. But the carriers took a bath by building out the Net’s piped infrastructure. They sank $billions by the dozen into fiber and copper and routers and trunks, waiting for the day when they’d be in a position to control the new beast fleshed on the skeleton that they built.

That Day Has Come.

It came earlier this month, when the November 7, 2005, issue of BusinessWeek hit the Web’s streets. In that issue are “Rewired and Ready for Combat” and “At SBC, It’s All About ‘Scale and Scope’”, which features an interview with Edward Whiteacre, CEO of SBC. Here’s the gist of it:

How concerned are you about Internet upstarts like Google (GOOG), MSN, Vonage, and others?

How do you think they’re going to get to customers? Through a broadband pipe. Cable companies have them. We have them. Now what they would like to do is use my pipes free, but I ain’t going to let them do that because we have spent this capital and we have to have a return on it. So there’s going to have to be some mechanism for these people who use these pipes to pay for the portion they’re using. Why should they be allowed to use my pipes?

The Internet can’t be free in that sense, because we and the cable companies have made an investment and for a Google or Yahoo! (YHOO) or Vonage or anybody to expect to use these pipes [for] free is nuts!

What’s your approach to regulation? Explain, for example, the difference between you and Verizon in how you are approaching regulatory approval for Telco TV [digital-TV service offered by telecoms].

The cable companies have an agreement with the cities: They pay a percentage of their revenue for a franchise right to broadcast TV. We have a franchise in every city we operate in based on providing telephone service.

Now, all of a sudden, without any additional payment, the cable companies are putting telephone communication down their pipes and we’re putting TV signals. If you want us to get a franchise agreement for TV, then let’s make the cable companies get a franchise for telephony.

If cable can put telephone down their existing franchise I should be able to put TV down my franchise. It’s kind of a “what’s fair is fair” deal. I think it’s just common sense.

What if the regulators don’t agree?

Then there won’t be any competition–there will be a cable-TV monopoly.

I know you’re a competitive person. Who are your biggest competitors?

Our big competition in the future is with the cable companies. Verizon’s going to be a player, and certainly I want to compete. And I want our shareowners to do better than anyone else.

If I were BusinessWeek, I’d ask:

What about the free and open marketplace that has grown on the Net itself? Do you have any interest in continuing to support that? Or in lobbying forms of deregulation that foster it? Or are you just in a holy war with the cable companies inside the same old regulatory environment you’ve known since forever?

I’d ask:

If you were to buy, say, Level 3, would you start to filter and restrict content at the transport level, to extract the profits you want, without regard for other market consequences? Would Cisco, builder of the great Firewall of China, help out?

I’d ask:

Which do you prefer: The regulatory environment where your business has adapted itself for more than a century, or a completely free and open marketplace like the rest of us enjoy sitting on top of your pipes?

Whiteacre’s answers, of course, would be less relevant than the obvious vector of his company’s intentions. For a summary of that, let’s return to Lauren Weinstein of People for Internet Responsibility:

Of course, the truth of the matter is that the telcos have been moving rapidly through massive consolidation–and a range of other tactics–to create an environment where “competition” will only be a pale reflection of what we were originally promised, with only a few gigantic players in control of all telecom resources and policies. Like the robot cop in Terminator 2 that reformed from blown-apart mercurial blobs of metal, the “golden age” of telecom competition is already giving way to empire.

Don’t blame BusinessWeek for not asking the important questions or for missing the Carriers vs. Net story. Biz pubs love to cover vendor sports. And there’s certainly a big story here.

Great distraction, vendor sports. While we’re busy watching phone and cable giants fight over a closed battlefield that ought to be open, we miss Net-hostile moves by other parties that result in other lost freedoms.

Take ICANN, for instance, where a new .com Registry Agreement allows Verisign to raise the rates for .com names by 7% annually, and to operate .com in perpetuity, and to “mak[e] commercial use of, or collect, traffic data regarding domain names or non-existent domain names”, and to reap other rewards for what few other than Verisign would agree is a good job. Bret Faucett summarizes the darkest shadow across the noir scenario we’ve already described:

The theme running through all of these is that ICANN and Verisign are treating the .COM registry as a private resource. It’s not. The root servers and TLD servers are public resources. We should treat them like that.

Bret has one of the most eloquent voices in the wilderness of clues the Big Boys would rather avoid. So does Susan Crawford, who was just, perhaps miraculously, named to the ICANN board.

For Bret, Susan and the rest of the restless natives of this new world, what matters most is Saving the Net–keeping it a free and open marketplace for everybody–while also making sure that carriers of all kinds can compete and succeed while providing much of the infrastructure on which that marketplace resides. That means we need to understand the Net as more than a bunch of pipes and business on the Net as more than transporting and selling “content”.

This isn’t a trivial issue. It’s a matter of life and death for the Net itself. How are we going to fight?

Read on.

You can do that here. Also dig Marvin Ammori’s own follow-up.

Meanwhile the Net continues to cry out for a definition all can agree on. Toward that goal, I wrote this in The Intention Economy:

To simplify things a bit, look at the Net’s future as a battleground where any and only fight it out. On the side of any are the Net’s protocols. On the side of only are governments and businesses with interests in restricting and controlling access to the Net, and thwarting many purposes to which the Net might be put. This battle also happens inside our own heads, because we tend to view the Net both ways. Ironies abound.

For example, the Internet is often called a “network of networks,” yet the Net was designed to transcend the connections it employs, and is therefore not reducible to them. It is not comprised of wiring, and is not a “service,” even though it’s called one by ISPs.

So let’s look at the sides here. On the any side, “net-heads” (yes, they call themselves that) frame their understanding of the Net in terms of its protocols, and those protocols’ virtues. On the only side, “bell-heads” (yes, they call themselves that, too) frame their understanding of the Net in terms of wiring infrastructure and billing systems.

To net-heads, the Internet is a vast new virtual space with qualities such as neutrality and generativity. To maximize economic opportunity and vitality, those virtues need to be maximized—even if phone and cable TV businesses don’t wish to acknowledge or support those virtues.

To bell-heads, the Internet’s “network of networks” is a collection of mostly private properties, with which owners should be free to do what they please. So, if what pleases them is throttling certain kinds of data traffic to maximize QoS (Quality of Service), too bad. They are The Market, which will grow best if they act in their own economic self-interest. Hey, look at all the good they’ve done already. (Want dial-up again, anyone?) And look at the robust competition between cable and phone companies. Isn’t that producing enough economic benefits for everybody?

Since net-heads tend to make social arguments while bell-heads tend to make economic ones, net-heads get positioned on the left and bell-heads on the right. Between the two are boundless technical arguments that aren’t worth getting into here.

I’m a net-head, but one who wants both sides to recognize that the Net’s original design is encompassing and beneficial for economies and societies everywhere. That is, I believe the argument for the Net is the same as the one for gravity, sunlight, the periodic table and pine trees: that it is part of nature itself. What makes the Net different from all those other products of Nature is that humans made the Net for theselves.

The Net’s nature—its essential purpose—is to support everything that uses it, just as the essential purpose of a clock is to tell time. So, while the Net today relies on phone and cable connections, its support-everything purpose should not be subordinated to legacy phone and cable TV businesses. The Internet, in the neutral and generative form defined by its protocols, is a far larger and more interesting market environment than the one defined by the parochial and limited interests of phone and cable companies, both of which are desperately trying to hold on to their legacy businesses, and would be better served by embracing all the opportunities the Internet opens up, for everybody.

We’re going to evolve past those old businesses anyway. Phone and cable company engineers know that, and so do many of the business leaders in those companies, even as they fight to protect their legacy businesses at all costs.

As a pro-business guy, I sympathize with phone and cable companies, which are cursed by the need to maintain margins in existing business while building out infrastructures that obsolete those businesses (at least as we know them). These companies get little credit (especially from net-heads) for their genuine innovations, and for their ability to innovate more. We do need them, whether we like them or not…

So, then

The Net’s capacity to support limitless economic activity and growth will win in the long run because it will prove out in the very marketplaces it support. But there will be a great deal of resistance along the way, as the narrow interests of both Big Government and Big Business try to contain the Net’s potential within the scope of their own ambitions. Still the evolutionary direction of the Net is toward ambient connectivity. Whatever that looks and feels like, it won’t resemble either the phone system or cable TV. Rather it will look like everything, together.

That’s the long-term optimistic view. Meanwhile, there is much cause for pessimism in the short term.

John Havens has an excellent piece in Mashable titled “It’s Your Data — But Others Are Making Billions Off It.” In a Web overflowing with chaff, it’s a fine grain of wheat.

But it’s also camouflaged by chaff posing as wheat. I can tell, because I was interviewed for the piece, which  links back to this blog. Trackbacks appear in my comment queue, and I should see just one, if any: from the Mashable piece. But instead I see four, all from splogs—spam blogs—that took the Mashable piece and republished it as their own. I won’t link to them, but you can find them if you do a search on Google looking for the original. When I first tried that, the results yielded lots of false positives from splogs. Now the search correctly yields just this:

1 result (0.24 seconds)
Search Results

It’s Your Data — But Others Are Making Billions Off It – Mashable

mashable.com/2013/10/24/personal-data-monetization/

Oct 24, 2013 – “The entire advertising industry has been hugely corrupted by personalization and surveillance,” says Doc Searls, author of The Intention 

In order to show you the most relevant results, we have omitted some entries very similar to the 1 already displayed.
If you like, you can repeat the search with the omitted results included.

Do that and you’ll see those four splogs, plus many more.

To mix metaphors, splogs are worse than chaff. They are parasites. I also believe they are inevitable in the ad-driven monoculture that the commercial Web has become. Also somehow consistent with John’s original post.

Who are you?

What are you?

If the answers come from you, they speak of your sovereign identity: that which is yours and you control.

If the answers come from your employer, your doctor, the Department of Motor Vehicles, Apple, Facebook, Google or Twitter, they speak of your administrative identity: that which is theirs and they control.

For as long as we’ve had identifiers in computer and network system namespaces, we have been talking about administrative identities, not sovereign ones.

All administrative identities are silo’d: isolated inside systems and their namespaces. The Internet, which cyber-utopians (me included) cheer for its decentralized peer-to-peer and end-to-end architectural graces, has become a vast forest of centralized systems, each a silo. This Great Silo Forest is a hall of administrative mirrors. Your reflection in each is not you, but an administrative version of you.

Want a sense of how bad this is? Go into your browser prefs and hunt down the place where your logins and passwords are kept. Every one of those login/password combinations is for a different you, that each different system knows separately, owns separately and controls separately.

Multiple silos can “federate” identifiers for their convenience, and sometimes that’s cool. But the problem that falls on you — coping with countless different administrative silos — is not relieved by administrative federation, because it’s an administrative solution for an administrative problem. Not a solution for you.

See, the main problem with administrative identity is centralization. And every centralized approach to the problem of centralization causes more centralization and worsens the problem.

Even “user-centric” identity (with its “identity providers” and “relying parties”) are framed in administrative terms. They do not start with the sovereign individual, and are  not driven by that individual.

Even the term “user” implies something less than sovereign control.

What we need ares personal systems for managing our sovereign identities, and for doing our own federation to the administrative systems of the world.

Devon Loffreto has done the most thinking-out-loud about this issue. A compendium of posts:

All this is right up the alleys of IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop, which is coming up next week. And this is the first in what I hope will be a series of posts that will provoke conversation and forward movement at IIW.

 

In What the ad biz needs is writers, Michael Wolff bemoans the absence of good writers in advertising:

…even creatives want to avoid writing — because they can’t…

While technological disruption is most often blamed for the existential predicament of the media business, the more precise problem is that advertising doesn’t work as well as it used to work. This presents a crisis not only for newspapers, magazines and television — but also, according to the stock market, for Facebook. We just don’t look at advertising, respond to it, or believe it, as much as we once did, wherever it appears.

Maybe this is the reason: There are no writers in advertising anymore. Johnny who can’t write has gone into advertising.

In fact, “copywriter” is a job that now hardly exists. The historical partnership between graphic designer and copywriter has, more and more, become a partnership between project manager and programmer, or videographer and editor, or media buyer and researcher.

If you are the person who actually has to write an ad — rather than conceptualize, or produce, or program, or pitch, or research — your career in advertising is not going very well.

He is right. That he’s one of the best writers in journalism adds weight to his judgement. So does this, which closes his piece:

My suggestion to USA TODAY editors was to let the opportunity of the page encourage an agency and client to brilliantly use it. A contest — always beloved in the ad business — was suddenly born.

USA TODAY is offering a million dollars in free advertising pages if you can fill them smartly — with cleverness, wit, style, economy of words. Again, free. Now, that will make your client happy.

Just spell out your big idea and tell your arresting story.

It may be that all we have to do to reinvent traditional media, save Facebook, even make digital media a decent business, as well as move more merchandise, is bring back the copywriter.

I’m for that — and I’m eager to see how the ad business responds to the contest.

But I also think the problem is bigger than writing itself, or technological disruption.

The problem is that direct marketing has body-snatched advertising.

In the old days direct marketing was distinct from adverting. In even older days, direct marketing was called direct mail. Or, in the vernacular of its recipients, junk mail. Some key differences, from back in the pre-snatched era of advertising’s history:

  • While advertising was impersonal, direct marketing was personal. It called you by name. Or wanted to.
  • While advertising was about raising general awareness of a company, product or service, direct marketing was about selling you stuff. Hence the term direct response, which is what most of direct marketing on the Net is looking for today.
  • While advertising was creative-driven, direct marketing was data-driven.
  • While advertising favored qualitative results, direct marketing favored quantitative results.
  • While advertising respected personal privacy by default (it didn’t get personal), direct marketing never cared much about it — despite assurances to the contrary.

In the old analog world, advertising and direct marketing remained blessedly separate. No first-rank copywriter, art director or creative director wanted to tar his or her hands (or resumé) with direct marketing work. In fact, most of that work didn’t happen on Madison Avenue at all, but in specialty shops somewhere out in Florida or Indiana.

But once the analog and the digital world merged, direct marketing’s obsession with data gathering and analysis had nearly infinite room to grow. Like cancer, or worse.

It seemed innocent enough when it was just text ads off to the side of Google search results, or on the margins of blogs and other Web pubs. That stuff was called advertising because, well, it was. And that’s when the body-snatch began. Because that stuff was called advertising, so was everything that followed when direct marketing imperatives and methods moved to the fore.

In the online world, advertising messages are not much about increasing brand awareness, or other old-fashioned advertising purposes. (Though today’s ad folk love to throw the word “brand” around.) Instead the main purpose is getting direct responses: clicks and sales, aimed by personal data, gathered and analyzed every possible way. The idea is to  make the advertising as personal as possible, as far as possible, regardless of how creepy it gets. It’s all fully rationalized. (Hey, you can opt out if you don’t like it.)

In the analog world of old-fashioned Madison Avenue advertising, there were physical limits to saturation. Not so online. Today advertising comprises 99.x% of all email traffic. (Most of it is spam, but it’s hard to tell the difference.) It has also turned ad-supported Web pages into syringes for injecting countless unseen files into users’ browsers. Those files then follow users everywhere to collect data for the new ad industry’s analytic mills, so the body-snatched business can then deliver “a better advertising experience,” as if anybody actually wants it.

And now the snatched ad business want to dominate our mobile lives as well. For a taste of how this looks on the ad-mill side, check out MediaPost‘s MobileMarketing Daily. Lots of rah-rah for what most phone users can only dread. Examples:

They do, however, report on some push-back:

Yet there is one thing both traditional advertising folk and direct marketers have in common, and that’s blinders toward reality.  Terry Heaton puts it well:

Operating within the soul of every marketer is the ridiculous assumption that people want or need to be bombarded by advertising, and that any invasion of their time or experience to “pass along” an attempt to influence is justified. If this were true, there would be no looming fight over DVRs, which allow viewers to skip ads. You have no inherent right to my eyeballs, and it is precisely this axiom that makes today’s instruments and gadgets so powerfully disruptive to the culture.

How so? We’re weary of running a relentless gauntlet of jumping, screaming, frantic warnings, hands grabbing, voices shouting, noise-making, disjointed movements, and the almost demonic reaching for our wallets coming from advertising. This is Madison Avenue’s idea of perfection, and the only way you can get there is to completely ignore the effect of advertising on the very people you’re trying to influence. The Web is, at core, a pull mechanism, not one that pushes. It’s why all those big projections of advertising “potential” have turned into a commodified “pennies for dollars” reality.

In reality, advertising has become ineffective because it is no longer advertising, at least in the digital world. It is direct marketing, calling itself advertising.

To live again as a stand-alone discipline, advertising needs to exorcize the devil that direct marketing has made of advertising online. Simple as that.

For more on how real advertising actually works better than the direct marketing kind, read Don Marti‘s Targeted Marketing Considered Harmful. Then move on to the rest of Don’s growing medicine cabinet of direct marketing disinfectant for adverting.

Bonus link.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A decent provision for the poor is the true test of civilization. — Samuel Johnson

Hart Island

Visitors to New York’s Orchard Beach (at the top of the photo above) probably don’t know that the low wooded island offshore will, at the current rate, contain a million buried human bodies, if it doesn’t already.

The site is Hart Island (aka Hart’s Island), and it is New York’s Potter’s Field: where the city’s “unclaimed and indigent” dead are buried by inmates of the Department of Corrections, which also controls the island. Visitors are not welcome.

I knew nothing about Hart Island until I found myself looking at the picture I shot of the place, above, while seeking information about something else. Though bleak, the stories of the place are fascinating — and, it seemed to me, far too important to leave as far out on the margins of consciousness as they are of the City. So I compiled a list in a Fargo outline, which I’ve arranged below.

One item I’ll pull out of the list to start with is The Hart Island Project, by Melinda Hunt (@hartisland) and a team of collaborators. Melinda has been leading a steady effort to open up the island to visitors and to humanize and modernize the records kept of persons buried there. Her constituency includes all who reside in what we might call the Mass Grave of the Barely-Known Outcasts — and too few of the living, so far. So dig:

In fact Hart Island is New York’s ninth Potter’s Field. Writes Melinda Hunt,

A few of these early potters fields remain in the public domain as smaller parcels of land now known as Madison Square Park (1794), Washington Square Park (1797), Bryant Park and the Public Library (1823). Except for the last potter’s field in Manhattan, located at the current Waldorf Astoria Hotel (1836), no records exist of the bodies being moved elsewhere. At all other sites, parks were created after the cemeteries, parade grounds, and the reservoir closed. Once the city expanded beyond 50th Street, the East River became a more convenient route for transporting the bodies. Potter’s fields opened briefly on Randalls Island (1843) and Wards Island (1846) before moving much further out to Hart Island.

It’s a haunting history. Another excerpt:

  The burial records show an ever-changing pool of immigrants, diseases and disabilities administered to by a range of institutions. It remains too mixed and varied to become the darling of any special interest group. Genealogists that I have spoken with claim that most families with immigrant roots in New York City probably have lost relatives buried on Hart Island. As one recently told me: “People come to me hoping to discover ‘nobility’ in their ancestry, but the missing people usually turn out to have had alcohol problems or mental illness and were buried in Potter’s Field.”

In New York City, the combined nine potter’s fields have close to one million burials. An immense amount of history is associated with these places. Yet, there is almost no academic or institutional interest in the public cemeteries. Most of the writing about Hart Island takes the form of journalism documenting specific events. Distinctive in these accounts is the unanswered question of why such a place continues to exist. Most other American cities cremate the unclaimed and unwanted. If burials are provided they are in more accessible places. Chicago has a potter’s field with mass graves as part of a private cemetery. New York City offers burial assistance to families who organize an application. Nonetheless, the burials continue to number two to three thousand a year. Even with the twenty-five year time limit, the northern 45 acres of Hart Island named Cemetery Hill is full. Current burials have moved to the shallow grounds south of the workhouses.

New York City has a long-standing policy of respecting diverse religious practices. Many religions do not permit cremation. Until recently Catholics buried on Hart Island were placed in separate “consecrated ground.” In 1913, “baby trenches” were separated from “adult trenches.” Starting in 1935, “catholic babies” had separate trenches from “regular babies.”

Incredible care and expense goes into conducting the burials. In 1990 the cost of flowers, tools, heavy equipment, parts to repair equipment, general maintenance equipment, fuel and inmate labor, at thirty-five cents per hour, drove the cost of each burial to $346. In addition, the city provides for free exhumation if family members claim a body within seven years of burial.

During the first fifty years of Hart Island burials, “unclaimed” people were buried in single graves. Only the “unwanted” whose relatives assigned them to a public burial were in mass graves. Today, all bodies are carefully organized into a grid. The ends of trenches are marked by a number pressed into a concrete block. Re-excavations require locating the designated body within this numbered scheme.

Perhaps it is the abstraction of human lives into trench numbers and statistics that is most disturbing about the potter’s field. I was impressed by the fact that the burial records from the nineteenth century contain full names, causes of death and countries of origin. In this century the names of babies up until 1940 are strictly female; each child’s identity is linked exclusively to the mother. She is the person forever associated with the potter’s field. After 1940, only surnames are listed. By 1955, the causes of death for children are uniformly listed as “confidential.” By 1970, the category “cause of death” is left blank. That the island is prohibitively difficult to visit adds another level of removal.

Then there is this, from Thomas Badhe, in a Common Place essay,” The Common Dust of Potter’s Field: New York City and its bodies politic, 1800-1860″:

The first Potter’s Field burial ground in New York City was located at the site of what would become the militia parade ground and city park at Washington Square. On this nine-and-a-half-acre plot, at the city’s pastoral northern edge, lay the densely packed corpses of about 125,000 “strangers,” many of whom had died during two separate yellow-fever epidemics between 1795 and 1803. Not surprisingly, local residents who had fled crowded lower Manhattan for country estates in the region came to find in Potter’s Field an intense nuisance. Whatever sympathy anyone had for the anonymous dead did not supersede wealthy New Yorkers’ sense of entitlement when it came to their comfortable insulation from the city’s darker side. In a letter to the Common Council, they wrote, “From the rapid Increase of Building that is daily taking place both in the suburbs of the City and the Grounds surrounding the field alluded to, it is certain that in the course of a few years the aforementioned field will be drawn within a precinct of the City.” Within the first two decades of the nineteenth century, their prediction had been realized, and the Potter’s Field began a lengthy series of migrations in a vain effort to stay a step ahead of the city’s relentless growth.

In 1823, the city moved Potter’s Field to an empty lot at the corner of Forty-ninth Street and Fourth Avenue—what would then have been the far northern reaches of the metropolis. This place served as the Potter’s Field until the 1840s when, as the city grew northward, it was relocated once again to Randall’s Island in the East River. Cast off the Island of Manhattan like so many family farms, Potter’s Field would no longer clash with the New Yorkers’ Victorian sensibilities or inhibit the Manhattan real-estate boom.

Just south of Randall’s Island, separated by a treacherous, narrow channel known as Little Hell’s Gate, was Ward’s Island, the site of another Potter’s Field in the mid-1850s. Both Randall’s and Ward’s Islands already housed other city institutions for the indigent, including the Emigrant Refuge and Hospital, the State Inebriate Asylum, the juvenile branch of the Almshouse Department, and the headquarters for the Society for the Reformation of Juvenile Delinquents. As one guide to New York and its benevolent institutions observed, “multitudes of persons went from the dram-shop to the police-station, and from the police courts to the Workhouse from whence, after a short stay, they returned to the dram shop . . . until they at length died on their hands as paupers or criminals, and were laid in the Potter’s Field.” For most of New York’s institutionalized underclass, there was literally a direct path from the door of the asylum or workhouse to the Potter’s Field.

Relocating the city’s cemetery from Manhattan’s urban grid to an island in the East River did not put an end to the city’s problem with the indigent dead. In 1849, the Daily Tribune reported on the political and legal wrangling between the governors of the Almshouse and the Common Council (the nineteenth-century name for the City Council), the former seeking to wrest authority over Potter’s Field from the latter. The governors cited the poor management of the paupers’ burial ground, which the Tribune referred to as “that den of abominations,” as evidence that the Common Council was unable to manage the Potter’s Field. “We do sincerely trust somebody will shoulder the responsibility of the Potter’s Field,” the Tribune pleaded, “and rid the Island of the abomination before the advent of another warm and perhaps an epidemic season.”

The Common Council and the Governors of the Almshouse traded letters, pleas, and vitriol for the better part of a decade. In May of 1851, the Governors warned the Common Council that, “the land now appropriated [for the Potter’s Field] is now nearly full, and the small space left for further interment (which now average upwards of one hundred per week), renders prompt action necessary.” Four years later, it was still unclear who had control over the Potter’s Field, and conditions were worsening. By this time, there were two burial grounds for paupers: the primary site on Randall’s Island and a smaller one on Ward’s Island to the south. The Board of Governors proposed to expand the Ward’s Island site in 1854, and the Times supported the proposition, suggesting that “it is time that the remains of paupers were interred in some quarter better fitted for their last resting-place than the one now used on Randall’s Island.” In their reports to the Board of Health and the Common Council, the Governors of the Almshouse urged that, “humanity, a due regard for the living, and a sense of proper respect for the dead” be part of any effort “to remedy the existing and impending evils.”

In the meantime, the disinterment of bodies at the old site on Fourth Avenue aroused its own controversy. In 1851, a plan was adopted by the Common Council to expand Forty-ninth Street through the old Potter’s Field, which required the disinterment of thousands of bodies. This project stretched on for nearly the entire decade, accompanied by foot-dragging and corrupt contractors. Commenting on the enormity of the project, the Times reported in the spring of 1853 that “the City Authorities are cutting a street through the old Potter’s Field . . . where so many victims of the Cholera were hurriedly interred in 1832. The coffins were then, in many instances, stacked one upon another; and now, in digging through the hill, the remains of twenty coffins may be seen thus piled together.”

As with the active Potter’s Field, the old paupers’ burial ground aroused no small amount of controversy. In the summer of 1858, the Timesagain reported on the work, claiming that “within three weeks past about 3,000 skeletons have been exhumed from the old Potter’s Field . . . and removed to Ward’s Island.” The winter of 1858-59 passed without any further exhumation, and “meantime the thin layer of earth which covered some hundred half-decayed coffins has fallen away, and . . . crowds of urchins assemble there daily and play with the bones of the dead; troops of hungry dogs prowl about the grounds and carry off skulls and detached parts of human bodies.”

Many of the old potter’s fields became parks. Washington Square is said to have twenty thousand bodies beneath it. Yet today it seems no more haunted than is Paris by its Catacombes, which I visited and wrote about three years ago, and which contains a population of dead that outnumber the city’s live citizens. The real haunting, I believe, is within our culture and its institutions. On that I’ll give Thomas Badhe the last words:

Having strolled through the rural cemeteries, we can better appreciate why the piles of moldering coffins exposed to the public in the 1850s caused New Yorkers to question their city’s claims to “civilization.” But the Potter’s Field was not only the antithesis of the rural-cemetery ideal (as well as a failure of municipal administration); it was also a site of spiritual death, obliterated social identity, and the graveyard of vice. If, as one proponent of rural cemeteries claimed in 1831, “the grave hath a voice of eloquence,” the Potter’s Field spoke in a dark chorus about the failures of democracy and civilization, the stark and messy exigencies of urban inequality, and thousands of individual lives wrecked on the shores of the great metropolis.

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

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

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

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

 

My sister Jan — student of history, Navy vet and a Wise One — sent me an email a couple days ago that I thought would make a good guest post. She said yes to that suggestion and here it is…

Is the new born-in-connectivity generation going to re-define privacy?   They may try — from the comfort of their parents’ homes or the cocoon of youth — but first they have to understand what constitutes privacy.  They are going to learn, albeit the hard way, that what you make available is no longer private and therefore you cannot expect it to be protected by the norms of privacy.  The norms of privacy, however, aren’t universally understood.

America is one of the few — perhaps the only if we’re talking large scale — modern countries that was created though one people’s individual exploration and individual settlement into an ever-moving frontier.  After initial sputtering wealth-seeking attempts, the true settlement along the coast line of north America was primarily under private sponsorship rather than military incursion.   It was “relatively” benign colonization in that the goal was not to annihilate, enslave or ‘save’ the indigenous people through religious conversion or education.  The arriving colonists primarily sought freedom to work and worship and the opportunity to better their lives and raise their social standing.  The principal asset needed to obtain those goals was land, which was seen as limitless and free for the taking provided the native population withdrew beyond the frontier and one had the strength and determination to tame the land as needed.

The leading edge of this frontier movement started with those who built the original settlements in the early 17th century and continued to move out in the lower 48 until the mid-20th century and in very remote areas continues still.  The “frontier” society was composed of people who took the initiative and individually ventured into new areas where there was little law, oversight or judgement.  Although they brought morals and manners of every social strata, they also had to rely on each other and build some form of community where ever they settled in order to survive and thrive.  But in the frontier, in the place of established laws, there were protocols — unwritten codes of correct conduct — born of common consent and enforced by common acceptance  that enabled the community to function, grow and improve.  These protocols became the societal norm for most of the expansion into the US as it is today.

In the rest of the world connected by the major trade routes during this same period, societies grew and countries were formed primarily from the top down by gathering like together, or by force, and they were ruled through laws and protocols that came into being to enable financial investors, religions or conquerors to subjugate and /or extort populations.

But America came into existence and continued to expand as one contiguous country because the key unifying principle was individual liberty, and our legal and societal norms developed to support that principle.  This is what made America so singular as a nation in it’s early days. This is at the heart of what some call exceptionalism today.  Exceptional may be an egotistical term for it — as Putin just called it and as the push-backers deny — if one interprets exceptional as being “above average,” or “extraordinary” or any other superlative.  But America is exceptional if one uses the term in the context of “deviation from the norm.”

Now overlay this frontier concept onto the development of the Internet and our other networking systems.  How were they developed?  Was it by governments pushing out into or conquering a new frontier with laws and protocols in hand or was it by individuals determining the most effective protocols that would help them solidify what they had achieved and enable them to push the frontier borders out further, wider and deeper?

A unique concept of individual privacy was part of America’s frontier society;  it wasn’t a place of one’s past but rather a place of new starts, of re-creation, a place where a person made themselves anew, a place where it didn’t matter where or what you came from but rather where you were going and what you would do.  Therefore individual privacy became an expectation rather than an exception in the country that frontier society created.

However, that ingrained individualism is not the norm in the rest of the world, a world that technology has rapidly connected.  As of today, the concept of individual privacy is not universally understood, now that online, networked and connected  technology is at a confluence of cultures.  Because of the universality of the usage of connective technology, privacy is going to need a universally accepted definition.  And at the heart of privacy is the idea of identity:  is it vested in the individual or the collective?

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

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

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

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

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

Reason #1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reason #2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some examples:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now that Al Jazeera English‘s stream has been killed in the U.S., the only two streaming global news organizations available on computers and mobile devices are France24 and RT. They look like this:

In other words, like TV. Talking heads and reports from the field.

Also like PR.

I certainly get that from RT, the initials of Russia Today. Sez Wikipedia,

RT, previously known as Russia Today, is an international multilingual Russian-based television network. It is registered as an autonomous non-profit organization[2][3] funded by the federal budget of Russia through the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications of the Russian Federation.[4][5]

France24, sez Wikipedia,

… is an international newsand current affairs television channel based in Paris. Its stated mission is to “cover international current events from a French perspective and to convey French values throughout the world.”[1] It started broadcasting on 6 December 2006 under the presidency of Jacques Chirac and prime ministerial term of Dominique de Villepin.

Neither are as interesting to watch as Al Jazeera English was when we could still see it here in the U.S. Nor are they as large and substantive as Al Jazeera.

Yet @AlJazeera‘s apparent disinterest in talking about anything that might not promote its new Al Jazeera America (@AJAM) cable channel suggests the same kind of PR-based DNA. Far as I know (and feel free to correct me), @AlJazeera remains unwilling to talk out loud about why it chose to kill its live @AJEnglish stream in the U.S. — or to cover that move as the real news it was, and still is.

Whatever else it may be (and it’s a lot), Al Jazeera is also vanity project by the monarchy of Qatar. Ideally that would make it an example of what James Fallows calls a way for “this Gilded Age’s major beneficiaries (to) re-invest in the infrastructure of our public intelligence.”

Jim is talking there about Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post. In that same piece, he says, “Foreign reportage, serious investigative or government-accountability coverage — functions like these have always been, in economic terms, parasites that need to ride along on some profitable host body.” In the U.S. the profitable host body in cable news has been its presentation as entertainment, political axe-grinding, or both. One would hope Al Jazeera America takes the high road here, but the fact remains that going cable-only was a low-road move. Especially since the Al Jazeera abandoned the high road it was on — live presentation on computers and mobile devices — along with the infrastructure of public intelligence the company was helping to build there.

On Saturday’s Gillmor Gang, Robert Scoble said he thought Al Jazeera was playing a “long ball” game here. They certainly have the money. But they’re starting way behind. First, they fired — and pissed off — the loyal audience of early adopters they had on the Net. Second, they made the mistake of giving the Al Jazeera name to a wholly new operation in the U.S., where (sad to say) “Al (anything-Arabic)” is certain to be associated by many cable viewers with Al Qaeda, the only outright enemy of the U.S. with a name everybody knows. If they had called it “AJ” (in the manner of Russia Today’s RT) it might have had a better chance. Third, they either got dropped or not picked up by the largest cable companies, while those that do carry it (e.g. DirectTV and Dish Network) have exiled it to more expensive tiers than those CNN and Fox News enjoy. Those operators also run Al Jazeera America’s video in low-def SD instead of hi-def HD. So the new network could hardly be starting farther behind, or in a business with less chance of long-term success.

On that last topic, I have to wonder what the calculus of the “deal” to kill the live AJE stream was. That was not only an awful lot to pay for very little in return; but it isn’t even clear who it was paid to. Time Warner? AT&T? Neither carries @AJAM at all. And the others hardly seem to give a damn about the channel anyway. [Later: see my comment here.] I can imagine this dialog between Al Jazeera and the U.S. cable companies:

AJ: We killed our firstborn so it would not offend you. Will you carry our channel now?

SOME CABLE COMPANIES: No.

OTHER CABLE COMPANIES: Um, okay, maybe on one of our high-priced tiers, in lo-def.

AJ: Okay.

On top of all that, @AJAM and @AJEnglish are apparently different services, serving different audiences: cable viewers and computer/mobile device viewers. I suppose @AlJazeera thought its streaming audience would jump at the opportunity to go retro and watch something else from the company on cable. @AlJazeera might be right about that, but that looks to me like something between wishful thinking and outright delusion.

The cable industry’s disdain for Al Jazeera is one more example of why cable is a dead medium walking. As a big coercive silo that many viewers barely tolerate or actively hate — and stick with only because the shows they want to see are trapped inside the thing — its worst enemy is itself. Consistent with that, cable features some of the world’s worst exemplars of bad customer service.

Meanwhile other traditional sources of high-quality TV news have so adapted to life inside cable’s silo that their live streams are almost impossible to get. Dig this, for example:

What you see there is the futility of trying to watch ABC’s live stream online. Talk about a f’d “experience.” Either the app says it can’t determine one’s location (my experience in New York, the Bay Area and Southern California — wish I got a screen shot), or that it’s only available in those areas and three others where the viewer happens not to be. Then, for  those who want the Compleat Futility Experience, there’s that third page there, a non-responsive Web page squeezed to un-readability on a mobile screen.

Here’s the thing: TV hates the Net. Simple as that. It has hated the Net for as long as it’s known that the Net was a threat to its coercive system. That’s why the MSOs (a trade term for cable+satelite) call video distribution on the Net “over the top” or OTT. And also why it’s no surprise to find only one cable program source (Viacom) among Comscore’s top ten online video companies. The rest are Net-native, starting with Google. (See Tristan Louis Is Google Killing Cable? for more on where this goes.)

Most of what people watch on the Net isn’t news. Or, if it is news, it doesn’t look like what we see in those top images above. Nor should it — any more than cars in 1900 should have looked like railroad coaches.

Video on the Net is wild, crazy and exploding out of anybody’s control, including Google’s. Mostly it is coming from everybody. Not just from the usual suspects.

And it isn’t TV.

Let’s face it: TV is channels. (Never mind that what are now called “channels” and “networks” are neither, in the original senses of those words.) In the U.S. those channels are nothing more than a collection of branded program sources delivered by some of the least caring companies on Earth to an audience forced to watch through crappy gear with a horrible user interface. In the growing ocean of video from everywhere on the Net, TV has the buoyancy of a bowling ball.

It’s just a matter of time before it sinks.

It’s also a matter of cost. Cable is expensive, and not getting cheaper.

The biggest thing keeping it afloat is live sports. In the U.S., that’s ESPN. They’re the life jacket on cable’s bowling ball.

At some point ESPN goes direct OTT and the rest of TV will either die along with cable or moult out of cable’s dead husk. If Al Jazeera America is one of the casualties, we’ll be prepared, because we’re already getting practice at living without it. And it won’t be news at all.

[Later (29 August)...]

In response to a corrective comment by Fritz Mills below I’ve done a bit of research to see how cable and satellite companies are carrying Al Jazeera America. Finding out isn’t too easy, because most of these companies (at least on the cable side) only tell you what’s available at a given address. So I just checked with as many companies as I had the patience and time to visit, and got this:

  • AT&T U-Verse: Dropped, and sued by Al Jazeera for breach of contract
  • Cablevision: Dropped when Al Jazeera bought Current TV
  • Charter: Not there
  • Comcast: 254, in the top tier “Digital Preferred 160+” package, in low-def, and moved there (thanks, Dennis McDonald for that link) from the basic tier that @AJEnglish had been on
  • DirectTV: 215, in low-def, as part of  a higher tier
  • Dish Network: 358, in low-def, as part of the “America’s Top 200″ tier
  • Cox: Not there
  • RCN: 326. on its “signature” (second highest) tier, in low-def
  • Time Warner Cable: Dropped back in January, when Al Jazeera bought Current TV
  • Verizon FiOS: On PrimeHD, Extreme HD and Ultmiate HD — a total of six different channels, two apiece on each tier (one SD, one HD)

Meaning you can get it in HD on basic cable only on Verizon FiOS.

There are two fiber-based companies on the list: RCN and Verizon. Fiber is interesting because there is virtually unlimited bandwidth. Bandwidth is more scarce with cable and satellite, which is one reason they carry some channels only in higher tiers (to reduce demand) and in low-def SD instead of HD. They also compress the HD far more than fiber carriers need to, which is why HD channels on fiber tend to look better (provided they aren’t too compressed back upstream).

That’s why Verizon FiOS wins on that list above. RCN could also make AJAM HD, because they have the bandwidth. But instead they make it SD, and put a green $ in lieu of a √ in the checkbox, to make clear that it’s “available at a premium“. Which means it might as well not be there.

On the matter of Al Jazeera coming clean about the deal to kill the @AJEnglish stream in order to be carried by MSOs in the U.S., the closest thing I’ve found to an inside detail is an Email from Marwan Bishara to AJ executives, dated 10 July 2015, posted by Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian, and featured in his 14 July story, Inside look at the internal strife over Al Jazeera America, subtitled “As the new US network is finally set to launch, serious concerns arise about its brand and intent: especially from within the organization.” One excerpt from the email:

Have we signed a deal where AJAM program/content must be substantially different from AJE? Really!!!! What does substantially mean? Who have we made the agreement with and why? I asked several executives and not a single person can give me a categorical answer about the issue, which by itself is mind-boggling!!! (I have issues with AJE’s formats, and at times perspectives, but we have so much to hold onto).

Does the fear of contractual obligations with carriers etc. mean it’s necessary for some to do whatever they want with Aljazeera, including banning AJE altogether from America and web livestream, just when they themselves try to make the case for a 21st century type television news!!!! . . . .

We still don’t know exactly what the deal was, even the effects are obvious.

I still haven’t seen @AJAM. And, like so many other dismissed viewers in the U.S., I miss @AJEnglish. So, a suggestion to @AlJazeera: make one or both available on a subscription basis. A lot of us might pay for that. Per-stream subscriptions where TV is going anyway, once cable falls apart. Get ahead of that curve.

Read Dave’s Cable News is Ripe for Disruption. Then Jay Rosen’s Edward Snowden, Meet Jeff Bezos. Then everything Jeff Jarvis has been writing about lately.

Then listen to the August 9 edition of On The Media. Pay special attention to the history of New York’s newspapers, and the strike of 1962-3. Note how vitally important papers back then were to the culture back then, how the strike (by a union tragically committed to preserving a dying technology that employed >100k people) killed off three of the seven papers while wounding the rest, and how that event gave birth to TV news and launched many young journalists (Nora Ephron, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, et. al.). Listen to other interviews in the show about the history of media, from telegraph to telephony to radio and beyond.  Note also how structural separation assures that the past will have minimal drag on the future, and how laws (e.g. antitrust) learn from bad experiences in the marketplace and society. There’s a lot of other meat to chew on there.

Then, if you’re up for it again (I’ve improved it a bit), read what I wrote here about Al Jazeera giving up on the Net while it goes after CNN, et. al. on cable.

I have only one complete, though provisional, thought about all of it:  TV news is ripe for complete replacement and not just disruption. What will replace it is up to us. (Note: radio is different. I’ll explain why in a later post. On the road right now, so no time.)

Bonus link.

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

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

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

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

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

Or so I gather.

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

Here’s what I do know for sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to watch Al Jazeera English online

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well, at least we still have France24.

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

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

 

 

Cool

Personal data and independence

  • The Independent Purchase Decision Support Test, by Adrian Gropper, M.D. Pull quote: “ What I need is an Agent that’s independent of my ‘provider’ institution EHR and communicates with that EHR using the Stage 2 guidelines without any interference from the EHR vendor or the ‘provider’. It’s my choice who gets the Direct messages, it’s my choice if I want to ask my doctor about the alternatives and it’s my doctor’s choice to open up or ignore the Direct messages I send.” (EHR is Electronic Health Record.)
  • Your data is your interface. By Jarno Mikael Koponen in Pando Daily. Pull quote: “Before solving the ‘Big Data’ we should figure out the ‘small’ personal part. Algorithms alone can’t make me whole. Different services need my continuous contribution to understand who I really am and what I want. And I believe that apps and services that openly share their data to provide me a better user experience are not far off.”
  • Jarno is also the father of Futureful (@futureful) which Zak Stone of Co.Exist (in Fast Company) in says “hopes to bring serendipitous browsing back to the web experience by providing a design-heavy platform for content discovery.” Just downloaded it.

Media

  • The rebirth of OMNI — and its vibe. Subhead: Glenn Fleishman on the imminent reboot of the legendary science and science fiction magazine. In BoingBoing. Two bonus links on the OMNI topic:
  • Jeff Bezos buys the Washington Post. This is either wonderful for journalism or horrifying. By Sarah Lacy in Pando Daily. Pull quote: “John Doerr…described an entrepreneur with uncommon focus and discipline around what the customer wants. I guess the future of the Post will ride on who Bezos sees as ‘the customer’ and what’s in his best interest.”
  • Donald Graham’s Choice, by David Remmick in The New Yorker.
  • Here’s Why I Think Jeff Bezos Bought The Washington Post. By Henry Blodget in Business Insider. Pull-quote:
    • First, I’d guess that Jeff Bezos thinks that owning the Washington Post will be fun, interesting, and cool. And my guess is that, if that is all it ever turns out to be, Jeff Bezos will be fine with that. This is a man who invests in rockets and atomic clocks, after all. He doesn’t necessarily make these investments for the money. Or bragging rights. Or strategic synergies.
    • Second, I’d guess that Jeff Bezos thinks that there are some similarities between the digital news business and his business (ecommerce) that no one in the news business has really capitalized on yet.
  • The Natives Are Feckless: Part One Of Three. By Bob Garfield in MediaPost. Pull-quotage:
    • Well done, media institutions. You have whored yourselves to a hustler. Your good name, such that it remains, is diminished accordingly, along with your trustworthiness, integrity and any serious claim to be serving the public. Indeed, by bending over for commercially motivated third parties who masquerade as bona fide editorial contributors, you evince almost as little respect for the public as you do for yourself.
    • There’s your native advertising for you. There’s the revenue savior being embraced by Forbes, the Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Guardian, Business Insider and each week more and more of the publishing world.
    • According to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, sponsored content of various kinds was a $1.56 billion category in 2012 and growing fast.
  • Future of TV might not include TV. By Shalini Ramachandran and Martin Peers in The Wall Street Journal. It begins, “Predicting that transmission of TV will move to the Internet eventually, Cablevision Systems Corp Chief Executive James Dolan says ‘there could come a day’ when his company stops offering television service, making broadband its primary offering.” And wow:
    • In a 90-minute interview on Friday, the usually media-shy 58-year-old executive also talked about his marriage, his relationship with his father Chuck and his after-hours role as a singer and songwriter. He said his rock band, JD & the Straight Shot, toured with the Eagles last month.
    • Mr. Dolan said that on the rare occasions he watches TV, it is often with his young children, who prefer to watch online video service Netflix, using Cablevision broadband.
    • He added that the cable-TV industry is in a ‘bubble’ with its emphasis on packages of channels that people are required to pay for, predicting it will mature ‘badly’ as young people opt to watch online video rather than pay for traditional TV services.
  • Making TVs smart: why Google and Netflix want to reinvent the remote control. By Janko Roettgers in Gigaom.
  • Hulu, HBO, Pandora coming to Chromecast. By Steve Smith in MediaPost. Pull-quote: “A battle over content clearly is brewing between Google and Apple. Apple TV has recently expanded its offerings of content providers to include HBO Go, Sky TV, ESPN and others. The two companies are pursuing different delivery models as they try to edge their way onto the TV. Apple TV is a set-top box with apps, while Chromecast relies on apps that are present on mobile devices to which the dongle connects.”
  • Setting TV Free. By yours truly in Linux Journal.

Tech

Retail

Legal

Handbaskets to hell

So I get an email (yes, I subscribe to it)  from Ad Age pointing me to AT&T Ridding Some Retail Stores of Cash Register, Counters and Other Clutter ‘Warmer’ Shopping Experience Includes Orange Coloring, Wood Paneling, Demos, by John McDermott. I read it and decide to make a comment under it. I’ve done this before, so I don’t expect problems. I write it and go to log in. That gets me this:

Note that it says “Welcome back, Doc” under “Login with your Social Identity.” So I click on that, get to a page with a “Sign in with Twitter” button, click on the button and then find myself on this popover window:

Note that is says “we were unable to match the email address for your social network and AdAge.com accounts.” In fact I am logged in with Twitter, I receive emails from AdAge at the same address I have associated with Twitter, and I don’t feel like using a different “social identity.” So I fill the form out, and another little pink word balloon appears, truncated by the top of the window:

When I click on the “here,” it sends me back to the first login page. There I fill out what two different browsers (deep in the prefs, where they keep this info) tell me is my login/password for AdAge.com. Then I get this:

I think, wtf is that error doing over on the social side of this thing? Can’t think of an answer, so I click on “Forgot UserID/Password” enter my email address twice, as it requires, and get promised an email that will recall my login details.

Many minutes later I get an email confirming my email address. Alas the password is a different link. So go to I click on that. (Using the present tense because I am doing this in real time.) But the session is lost. So I click on another link, go to an unwanted place at AdAge, click on the back button, and get this:

Click on “less” and I get this:

Click on “more” and I get the less thing again. Anyway, a dead end.

So now I go back to https://adage.com/register, and start entering the fields again. This time I get a red pop-out balloon that says “This address is already taken. Forgot your password?” So I click on the link and get to a window where I have to enter my email address again. I do that and it tells me “Your password has been sent to your e-mail address”. It’s now 10:22. I first saved a draft of this post at 9:07. I’ve been doing other things (e.g. making breakfast and coffee), but you can see this is taking awhile.

Okay, so now I have the email, which tells me my password. It’s one I don’t recognize at all. I’m guessing it’s a new one. So I go back to a login page, enter my email address and the password they gave me and: voila! I’m logged in. It is now 10:29.

And now, at 10:36, I’ve finished putting up my comment, which I’ve expanded into this post at Customer Commons. Meanwhile, back to the title of this one. Why are we still in login hell?

The answer is simple: we’ve given all responsibility for relationship to the server and left the client as a purely dependent variable. While the formal name for this model is client-server, I prefer calf-cow:

The sites are the servers, and our browsers are the clients, suckling the servers’ teats for the milk of “content” and cookies to keep track of us.

This blows.

It has blown for eighteen years.

The server side can’t fix it, as long as relationship is entirely their responsibility. What we get from that are:

  1. Awful gauntlets such as the one I just went through — and kluges such as “social login“, by which we trade security for convenience. Especially with Facebook. (The only reason I attempted to use Twitter in this case was that AdAge appeared to remember me that way. Turns out it barely remembered me at all.)
  2. Different kluges with every single website and Web service, each a silo. All of those silos think they get “scale” with their thousands or millions of users and customers. But you get the opposite, and it only gets worse with every site you add to your roster of logins and passwords.
  3. Huge burdens on servers and personnel who need to create and manage easily-broken systems such as AdAge’s.

We can only fix this thing from the client side. It’s simple as that. We’re the ones that need scale. We’re the ones that need our own simple and singular ways of relating to others on the Web and the Net.

Hint: we won’t be able to do it through any silo’d service. We can prototype with those, but they are not the full answer. They just answer the silo problem with yet another silo.

Working one angle toward this simple goal-state (which, after all these years in the calf-cow corral, looks like nirvana) are Abine, Dashlane, MySocialCloud and Privowny, each of which provide ways not only to manage many passwords and logins, but (in some cases) to generate unique email addresses and passwords for different sites, if you like. Far as I know, all of them are also substitutable, meaning that you can pull all your data out and use it for yourself or with another service. (Many other companies offering related services are also listed here among VRM developers.)

But, hey: if we’re leaving the corral,why should we need logins and passwords at all? If you and a site or service truly know each other, why should you both go through the rigamarole of logging in all the time?

There are a zillion good security answers to that question, but  they are all coming from inside the same box (or corral) we’ve been in for the duration.

It’s time to think and work outside that box.

 

West Fork Fire

On my way back to New York from Sydney on Wednesday, while flying east over the San Juan National Forest and the Rio Grande National Forest in southern Colorado, I shot what at first I though was a controlled burn, but later realized was the West Fork Fire. I knew it was a big one when I watched the smoke fan out to the east, starting with the San Luis Valley, where some of it pooled over the Great Sand Dunes National Park, and against the Sagre de Cristo Mountains. (Here are pictures of those in clearer conditions.)

But it went far beyond there, coloring the skies over Kansas and beyond. (More when I put up the rest of the photos from the trip.) Here is a story on the fire’s visibility from space. And here’s a link to a search for “West Fork Fire”.

Several years ago, during a session at Harvard Law School led by a small group of Google executives, I asked one of those executives about his company’s strategy behind starting services in categories where there was no obvious direct business benefit. The answer that came back fascinated me. It was, “We look for second and third order effects.” (Earlier JP Rangaswami and I came up with another term for that: “because effects.” That is, you make money because of something rather than with it.) I hadn’t thought about it until now, but I believe Google’s ability to monitor online activities by individuals on a massive scale serves as a model for governments to do the same.

I bring this up not because I believe Google models government surveillance (even though, without intending to, it does), but because I believe surveillance by governments inevitably causes second and third order effects. The least of those is to chill personal expression. The greatest of those is terror.

The more I think about those effects, the more Hannah Arendt comes to mind. Arendt studied totalitarianism in depth, and its use of terror as a technique for state control of citizens.

I read and re-read Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism when I was in college, in the late 1960s. That was a time of revolt in the U.S. (most notably against institutionalized racism and the Vietnam war), and both of Arendt’s totalitarian state examples — Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union — operated in recent memory, and still served as models. While I don’t believe we are headed to a totalitarian end in the U.S., I do believe the current news suggests a vector of policy and action ratcheting gradually in that direction.

So I encourage revisiting what Arendt said about the paralyzing unease that state monitoring of personal communication induces in a population.

While the feds may be looking for the needles of bad actors and actions in the haystack of all people and their communications, knowing that all of us are subject to suspicion is bound to make us think more than twice, as for example I am right now, about using the terms “terror” and “terrorism” in something I publish online.

Here are some links I’m accumulating on the topic of PRISM and other forms of government surveillance here in the U.S.:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jon:

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

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

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

  • Also from Deborah:

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

  • kim:

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

  • Mle Davis

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

  • E:

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

  • Tony:

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

  • Lisa:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Airbnb replied,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you, Denso Wave.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fashions come and go. Verities do not.

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

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

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

There are also business advantages:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Los Angeles at nightFirst, time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, space.

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

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

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

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

Bonus link.

And more on the Anthropocene:

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Dave makes a profound distinction in his post this morning titled Outliners and Word Processors. For the first time I not only grok what I already knew about outlining, but why it’s so much better as a way to write than word processing ever was.

The distinction is a bit hard to see because Word — the word processor that approximately everybody uses — has a “view” called “Outline.” That view has made lots of writers hate outlining, for a good and ironic reason: it was never about outlining, so it botched the job. Dave explains,

What they called outlining was more like outline formatting. Putting Roman numerals on the top sections, capital letters on the first level. Numbers on the second and so on.

Word is a word processor. Its primary function is writing-for-printing. The choices the designers made make it a relatively strong formatter and a weak organizer.

Design choice is the key point. Dave again:

Word is a production tool – good for annual reports, formal papers, stories, books. Fargo is an organizing tool, good for lists, project plans, narrating your work, presentations, team communication. You could organize a conference with an outliner. The slides would naturally be composed wiht an outliner.

An outliner is designed for editing structure more than it is for editing text. The text is sort of “along for the ride.” Or you could see an outliner as text-on-rails. Outliner text is always ready to move, with a single mouse gesture or keystroke. You enter text into an outliner so you can move it around, like stick-up notes on a whiteboard.

…Word processors are good at selecting words, sentences and paragraphs. Outliners select headlines and all their subs.

This makes me think that Word should have been called a “format processor” from the start. We already had text editors. Word processing was actually about how things looked. Still is. See, when you write in Word, you are in a land called “styles,” no matter what. All styles format text, in countless ways. The default, called “Normal,” comes pre-set with font, size, justification, line spacing, paragraph spacing and so on. If you make changes to it, those get added as well, until you concatenate a long list of formatting variables, which get carried forward by copy and pasting, often in bizarre ways, conditioned on whatever other style choices may or may not have already been made in another part of the text.

For a long time I wrote entirely in an outliner called MORE, which was created by Dave and friends back the 1980s. As a writer I found MORE a far better tool than Word, especially for long pieces, because its structure-first design made it easy for me to move around whole sections, and to jump from one section to another. Fargo works the same way. Take this outline, for example:

Earth

  • Geology
  • Astronomy

Air

  • Chemistry
  • Weather

Water

  • chemistry
  • bodies

Fire

  • Material
  • Temperature

Writing that in WordPress (which I’m doing now) is a chore, because all the choices are formatting ones, not outlining ones. Let’s say I want to move Water above Fire. I need to copy and paste it, and then hit the HTML tab so I can un-screw whatever happens under WordPress’ very thin covers, and the formatting elements of HTML reside.

In Fargo, I just hit hit Command-U (or Control-U on Linux or Windows computers). Everything under Fire moves up. I can do the same with the subheads, or with the paragraphs under the subheads. (I would illustrate that here if the HTML hack weren’t so arduous.)

When I was writing The Intention Economy, I wished every day that I could have written it in MORE, because it would have been so much easier than it was in Word. MORE really was text-on-rails.

At its peak, The Intention Economy was 120,000 words long. The finished book was about 80,000 words. The outline view: four main parts and twenty-seven chapters. If I had been writing it in MORE, I could have collapsed the whole book to just the top-level (the four parts), expanded just to the chapter level, and then edited text within any of those, while seeing the whole outline in collapsed form above and below. I could have moved whole chapters or subchapters forward or back, and I could have promoted or demoted parts, chapters and subchapters, again with keyboard commands. I could easily have managed writing the whole book with an ease that Word simply would not allow, except to the degree that I could master working in its awful outline view.

(To be fair, there have been improvements in Word that make something like real outlining possible. I bring this up in case you’re writing a book and need easy navigation in Word. What you want is Document Map Pane under Sidebars in the View menu. That makes an outline pane appear to the left of the text. If you are using Word’s default outline and text formatting, you can expand and collapse subheads and text, and move about your document by clicking on the heading or subheading you like. It’s a huge help, though nothing as useful as what we lost when MORE went away a few years ago.)

By the way, on the production side, MORE actually did some things that Word still doesn’t do, such as giving you the choice of putting the saved date and time in the header or footer, rather than the current date and time. This is extremely handy for matching printed drafts with saved drafts on the computer. I believe MORE did that because it came from outline designers rather than format designers. It showed respect for the need to organize, and not just to format and produce.

The assumption with Word, even today, is that you will be printing the finished thing out, rather than publishing it on the Web. While Word does have a Web Layout view, and will produce HTML, it’s the gawd-awful-worst HTML the world has ever known. (Look up Word + HTML in a search engine and you’ll find lots of links to fixes for Word’s hideous HTML.) Again, this is a design legacy from a time before the Web, and we are still forced to live with it today.

Outlining is a much better fit for writing on, and for, the Web.

Consider this old writing aphorism: What you say matters more than how you say it. Outlining respects this by giving you a way to shape and re-shape what you say. As it was originally conceived, so did HTML. Although it did markup, which was formatting, HTML was as simple as possible, leaving particulars such as fonts and sizes up to the reader’s browser, rather than up to the writer’s word processor. This has changed over the years, as HTML has become far more complex, and design along with it. Right now, for example, I’m coping with designing a couple of new WordPress blogs, and the choices I face are all between different piles of complexity. If you want to color outside the lines of whatever themes you choose — or hell, just to choose a theme you can work with — you’re going to need professional help, or to spend a lot of time learning and re-learning how to write on the Web. That’s because the choices of how you say it have totally overrun those of what you say.

By coming from what you say rather than how you say it, Fargo is both an antidote to the complexities of writing for the Web today, and a throwback to the original design graces of HTML, and of the Web itself.

So I highly recommend to serious writers that they get on board and learn outlining, as Dave and his team at SmallPicture iterate Fargo toward whatever it will end up being. Hey, it’s still new. And what better time to get on board than when you’re new to the whole thing as well.

Bonus link: Outlining solves syncing and sharing, by Chris Wolverton.

We’re not watching any less TV. In fact, we’re watching more of it, on more different kinds of screens. Does this mean that TV absorbs the Net, or vice versa? Or neither? That’s what I’m exploring here. By “explore” I mean I’m not close to finished, and never will be. I’m just vetting some ideas and perspectives, and looking for help improving them.

TV 1.0: The Antenna Age

In the beginning, 100% of  TV went out over the air, radiated by contraptions atop towers or buildings, and picked up by rabbit ears on the backs of TV sets or by bird roosts on roofs. “Cable” was the wire that ran from the roof to the TV set. It helps to understand how this now-ancient system worked, because its main conceptual frame — the channel, or a collection of them —  is still with us, even though the technologies used are almost entirely different. So here goes.

tv antenna

Empire State Building antennas

On the left is a typical urban rooftop TV antenna. The different lengths of the antenna elements correspond roughly to the wavelengths of the signals. For reception, this mattered a lot.

In New York  City, for example, TV signals all came from the Empire State Building — and still do, at least until they move to the sleek new spire atop One World Trade Center, aka the Freedom Tower. (Many stations were on the North Tower of the old World Trade center, and perished with the rest of the building on 9/11/2001. After that, they moved back to their original homes on the Empire State Building.)

“Old” in the right photo refers to analog, and “new” to digital. (An aside: FM is still analog. Old and New here are just different generations of transmitting antennas. The old FM master antenna is two rings of sixteen T-shaped things protruding above and below the observation deck on the 102nd floor. It’s still in use as an auxiliary antenna. Here’s a similar photo from several decades back, showing the contraptual arrangement at the height of the Antenna Age.)

Channels 2-6 were created by the FCC in the 1940s (along with FM radio, which is in a band just above TV channel 6). Those weren’t enough channels, so 7-13 came along next, on higher frequencies — and therefore shorter wavelengths. Since the shorter waves don’t bend as well around buildings and terrain, stations on channels 7-13 needed higher power. So, while the maximum power for channels 2-6 was 100,000 watts, the “equivalent” on channels 7-13 was 316,000 watts. All those channels were in VHF bands, for Very High Frequency. Channels 14-83 — the UHF, or Ultra High Frequency band, was added in the 1950s, to make room for more stations in more places. Here the waves were much shorter, and the maximum transmitted power for “equivalent” coverage  to VHF was 5,000,000 watts. (All were ERP, or effective radiated power, toward the horizon.)

This was, and remains, a brute-force approach to what we now call “delivering content.” Equally brute approaches were required for reception as well. To watch TV, homes in outer suburban or rural areas needed rooftop antennas that looked like giant centipedes.

What they got — analog TV — didn’t have the resolution of today’s digital TV, but it was far more forgiving of bad reception conditions. You might get “ghosting” from reflected signals, or “snow” from a weak signal, but people put up with those problems just so they could see what was on.

More importantly, they got hooked.

TV 2.0: the Cable Age.

It began with CATV, or Community Antenna Television. For TV junkies who couldn’t get a good signal, CATV was a godsend. In the earliest ’70s I lived in McAfee, New Jersey, deep in a valley, where a rabbit-ears antenna got nothing, and even the biggest rooftop antenna couldn’t do much better. (We got a snowy signal on Channel 2 and nothing else.) So when CATV came through, giving us twelve clear channels of TV from New York and Philadelphia, we were happy to pay for it. A bit later, when we moved down Highway 94 to a high spot south of Newton, my rooftop antenna got all those channels and more, so there was  no need for CATV there. Then, after ’74, when we moved to North Carolina, we did without cable for a few years, because our rooftop antennas, which we could spin about with a rotator, could get everything from Roanoke, Virginia to Florence, South Carolina.

But then, in the early ’80s, we picked up on cable because it had Atlanta “superstation” WTCG (later WTBS and then just TBS) and HBO, which was great for watching old movies. WTCG, then still called Channel 17, also featured the great Bill Tush. (Sample here.) The transformation of WTCG into a satellite-distributed “superstation” meant that a TV station no longer needed to be local, or regional. For “super” stations on cable, “coverage” and “range” became bugs, not features.

Cable could also present viewers with more channels than they could ever get over the air. Technical improvements gradually raised the number of possible channels from dozens to hundreds. Satellite systems, which replicated cable in look and feel, could carry even more channels.

Today cable is post-peak. See here:

catv and cable tv

That’s because, in the ’90s, cable also turned out to be ideal for connecting homes to the Internet. We were still addicted to what cable gave us as “TV,” but we also had the option to watch a boundless variety of other stuff — and to produce our own. Today people are no less hooked on video than they were in 1955, but a declining percentage of their glowing-rectangle viewing is on cable-fed TV screens. The main thing still tying people to cable is the exclusive availability of high-quality and in-demand shows (including, especially, live sports) over cable and satellite alone.

This is why apps for CNN, ESPN, HBO and other cable channels require proof of a cable or satellite TV subscription. If cable content was á la carte, the industry would collapse. The industry knows this, of course, which makes it defensive.

That’s why Aereo freaks them out. Aereo is the new company that Fox and other broadcasters are now suing for giving people who can’t receive TV signals a way to do that over the Net. The potential served population is large, since the transition of U.S. television from analog to digital transmission (DTV) was, and remains, a great big fail.

Where the FCC estimated a 2% loss of analog viewers after the transition in June 2009, in fact 100% of the system changed, and post-transition digital coverage was not only a fraction of pre-transition analog coverage, but required an entirely new way to receive signals, as well as to view them. Here in New York, for example, I’m writing this in an apartment that could receive analog TV over rabbit ears in the old analog days. It looked bad, but at least it was there. With DTV there is nothing. For apartment dwellers without line-of-sight to the Empire State Building, the FCC’s reception maps are a fiction. Same goes for anybody out in the suburbs or in rural areas. If there isn’t a clear-enough path between the station’s transmitter and your TV’s antenna, you’re getting squat.

TV stations actually don’t give much of a damn about over-the-air any more, because 90+% of viewers are watching cable. But TV stations still make money from cable systems, thanks to re-transmission fees and “must carry” rules. These rules require cable systems to carry all the signals receivable in the area they serve. And the coverage areas are mostly defined by the old analog signal footprints, rather than the new smaller digital footprints, which are also much larger on the FCC’s maps than in the realities where people actually live.

Aereo gets around all that by giving each customer an antenna of their own, somewhere out where the signals can be received, and delivering each received station’s video to customers over the Net. In other words, it avoids being defined as cable, or even CATV. It’s just giving you, the customer, your own little antenna.

This is a clever technical and legal hack, and strong enough for Aereo towin in court. After that victory, Fox threatened to take its stations off the air entirely, becoming cable- and satellite-only. This exposed the low regard that broadcasters hold for their over-the-air signals, and for broadcasting’s legacy “public service” purpose.

The rest of the Aereo story is inside baseball, and far from over. (If you want a good rundown of the story so far, dig Aereo: Reinventing the cable TV model, by Tristan Louis.)

Complicating this even more is the matter of “white spaces.” Those are parts of the TV bands where there are no broadcast signals, or where broadcast signals are going away. These spaces are valuable because there are countless other purposes to which signals in those spaces could be put, including wireless Internet connections. Naturally, TV station owners want to hold on to those spaces, whether they broadcast in them or not. And, just as naturally, the U.S. government would like to auction the spaces off. (To see where the spaces are, check out Google’s “spectrum browser“. And note how few of them there are in urban areas, where there are the most remaining TV signals.)

Still, TV 2.0 through 2.9 is all about cable, and what cable can do. What’s happening with over-the-air is mostly about what the wonks call policy. From Aereo to white spaces, it’s all a lot of jockeying for position — and making hay where the regulatory sun shines.

Meanwhile, broadcasters and cable operators still hate the Net, even though cable operators are in the business of providing access to it. Both also remain in denial about the Net’s benefits beyond serving as Cable 2.x. They call distribution of content over the Net (e.g. through Hulu and Netflix) “over the top” or OTT, even though it’s beyond obvious that OTT is the new bottom.

FCC regulations regarding TV today are in desperate need of normalizing to the plain fact that the Net is the new bottom — and incumbent broadcasters aren’t the only ones operating there. But then, the feds don’t understand the Net either. The FCC’s world is radio, TV and telephony. To them, the Net is just a “service” provided by phone and cable companies.

TV 3.0: The IPTV age

IPTV is TV over the Internet Protocol — in other words, through the open Internet, rather than through cable’s own line-up of channels. One example is Netflix. By streaming movies over the Net, Netflix put a big dent in cable viewing. Adding insult to that injury, the vast majority of Netflix streamed movies are delivered over cable connections, and cable doesn’t get a piece of the action, because delivery is over OTT, via IPTV. And now, by producing its own high-quality shows, such as House of Cards, Netflix is competing with cable on the program front as well. To make the viewing experience as smooth as possible for its customers, Netflix also has its own equivalent of a TV transmitter. It’s called OpenConnect, and it’s one among a number of competing CDNs, or Content Delivery Networks. Basically they put up big server farms as close as possible to large volumes of demand, such as in cities.

So think of Netflix as a premium cable channel without the cable, or the channel, optimized for delivery over the Internet. It carries forward some of TV’s norms (such as showing old movies and new TV shows for a monthly subscription charge) while breaking new ground where cable and its sources either can’t or won’t go.

Bigger than Netflix, at least in terms of its catalog and global popularity, is Google’s YouTube. If you want your video to be seen by the world, YouTube is where you put it today, if you want maximum leverage. YouTube isn’t a monopoly for Google (the list of competitors is long), but it’s close. (According to Alexa, YouTube is accessed by a third of all Internet users worldwide. Its closest competitor (in the U.S., at least), is Vimeo, with a global reach of under 1%.) So, while Netflix looks a lot like cable, YouTube looks like the Web. It’s Net-native.

Bassem Youssef, “the Jon Stewart of Egypt,” got his start on YouTube, and then expanded into regular TV. He’s still on YouTube, even though his show on TV got canceled when he was hauled off to jail for offending the regime. Here he tells NBC’s Today show, “there’s always YouTube.” [Later... Dig this bonus link.]

But is there? YouTube is a grace of Google, not the Web. And Google is a big advertising business that has lately been putting more and more ads, TV-like, in front of videos. Nothing wrong with that, it’s a proven system. The question, as we move from TV 3.0 to 3.9, is whether the Net and the Web will survive the inclusion of TV’s legacy methods and values in its midst. In The TV in the Snake of Time, written in July 2010, I examined that question at some length:

Television is deeply embedded in pretty much all developed cultures by now. We — and I mean this in the worldwide sense — are not going to cease being couch potatoes. Nor will our suppliers cease couch potato farming, even as TV moves from airwaves to cable, satellite, and finally the Internet.

In the process we should expect the spirit (if not also the letter) of the Net’s protocols to be violated.

Follow the money. It’s not for nothing that Comcast wishes to be in the content business. In the old cable model there’s a cap on what Comcast can charge, and make, distributing content from others. That cap is its top cable subscription deals. Worse, they’re all delivered over old-fashioned set top boxes, all of which are — as Steve Jobs correctly puts it — lame. If you’re Comcast, here’s what ya do:

  1. Liberate the TV content distro system from the set top sphincter.
  2. Modify or re-build the plumbing to deliver content to Net-native (if not entirely -friendly) devices such as home flat screens, smartphones and iPads.
  3. Make it easy for users to pay for any or all of it on an à la carte (or at least an easy-to-pay) basis, and/or add a pile of new subscription deals.

Now you’ve got a much bigger marketplace, enlarged by many more devices and much less friction on the payment side. (Put all “content” and subscriptions on the shelves of “stores” like iTunes’ and there ya go.) Oh, and the Internet? … that World of Ends that techno-utopians (such as yours truly) liked to blab about? Oh, it’s there. You can download whatever you want on it, at higher speeds every day, overall. But it won’t be symmetrical. It will be biased for consumption. Our job as customers will be to consume — to persist, in the perfect words of Jerry Michalski, as “gullets with wallets and eyeballs.”

Future of the Internet

So, for current and future build-out, the Internet we techno-utopians know and love goes off the cliff while better rails get built for the next generations of TV — on the very same “system.” (For the bigger picture, Jonathan Zittrain’s latest is required reading.)

In other words, it will get worse before it gets better. A lot worse, in fact.

But it will get better, and I’m not saying that just because I’m still a utopian. I’m saying that because the new world really is the Net, and there’s a limit to how much of it you can pave with one-way streets. And how long the couch potato farming business will last.

More and more of us are bound to produce as well as consume, and we’ll need two things that a biased-for-TV Net can’t provide. One is speed in both directions: out as well as in. (“Upstream” calls Sisyphus to mind, so let’s drop that one.) The other is what Bob Frankston calls “ambient connectivity.” That is, connectivity we just assume.

When you go to a hotel, you don’t have to pay extra to get water from the “hydro service provider,” or electricity from the “power service provider.” It’s just there. It has a cost, but it’s just overhead.

That’s the end state. We’re still headed there. But in the meantime the Net’s going through a stage that will be The Last Days of TV. The optimistic view here is that they’ll also be the First Days of the Net.

Think of the original Net as the New World, circa 1491. Then think of TV as the Spanish invasion. Conquistators! Then read this essay by Richard Rodriguez. My point is similar. TV won’t eat the Net. It can’t. It’s not big enough. Instead, the Net will swallow TV. Ten iPad generations from now, TV as we know it will be diffused into countless genres and sub-genres, with millions of non-Hollywood production centers. And the Net will be bigger than ever.

In the meantime, however, don’t hold your breath.

That meantime has  now lasted nearly three years — or much longer if you go back to 1998, when I wrote a chapter of a book by Microsoft, right after they bought WebTV. An excerpt:

The Web is about dialog. The fact that it supports entertainment, and does a great job of it, does nothing to change that fact. What the Web brings to the entertainment business (and every business), for the first time, is dialog like nobody has ever seen before. Now everybody can get into the entertainment conversation. Or the conversations that comprise any other market you can name. Embracing that is the safest bet in the world. Betting on the old illusion machine, however popular it may be at the moment, is risky to say the least…

TV is just chewing gum for the eyes. — Fred Allen

This may look like a long shot, but I’m going to bet that the first fifty years of TV will be the only fifty years. We’ll look back on it the way we now look back on radio’s golden age. It was something communal and friendly that brought the family together. It was a way we could be silent together. Something of complete unimportance we could all talk about.

And, to be fair, TV has always had a very high quantity of Good Stuff. But it also had a much higher quantity of drugs. Fred Allen was being kind when he called it “chewing gum for the eyes.” It was much worse. It made us stupid. It started us on real drugs like cannabis and cocaine. It taught us that guns solve problems and that violence is ordinary. It disconnected us from our families and communities and plugged us into a system that treated us as a product to be fattened and led around blind, like cattle.

Convergence between the Web and TV is inevitable. But it will happen on the terms of the metaphors that make sense of it, such as publishing and retailing. There is plenty of room in these metaphors — especially retailing — for ordering and shipping entertainment freight. The Web is a perfect way to enable the direct-demand market for video goods that the television industry was never equipped to provide, because it could never embrace the concept. They were in the eyeballs-for-advertisers business. Their job was to give away entertainment, not to charge for it.

So what will we get? Gum on the computer screen, or choice on the tube?

It’ll be no contest, especially when the form starts funding itself.

Bet on Web/TV, not TV/Web.

I was recruited to write that chapter because I was the only guy Microsoft could find who thought the Web would eat TV rather than vice versa. And it does look like that’s finally happening, but only if you think Google is the Web. Or if you think Web sites are the new channels. In tech-speak, channels are silos.

When I wrote those pieces, I did not foresee the degree to which our use of the Net would be contained in silos that Bruce Schneier compares to feudal-age castles. Too much of the Web we know today is inside the walls governed by Lord Zuck, King Tim, Duke Jeff and the emperors Larry and Sergey. In some ways those rulers are kind and generous, but we are not free so long as we are native to their dominions rather than the boundless Networked world on which they sit.

The downside of depending on giants is that you can, and will, get screwed. Exhibit A (among too many for one alphabet) is Si Dawson’s goodbye post on Twitcleaner, a service to which he devoted his life, and countless people loved, that ”was an engineering marvel built, as it were, atop a fail-whaling ship.”  When Twitter “upgraded” its API, it sank Twitcleaner and many other services built on Twitter. Writes Si, “Through all this I’ve learned so, so much.Perhaps the key thing? Never playfootball when someone else owns the field. So obvious in hindsight.”

Now I’m having the same misgivings about Dropbox, which works as what Anil Dash calls a POPS: Privately Owned Public Space. It’s a great service, but it’s also a private one. And therefore risky like Twitter is risky.

What has happened with all those companies was a morphing of mission from a way to the way:

  • Google was way to search, and became the way to search
  • Facebook was way to be social on the Web, and became the way to be social on the Web
  • Twitter was way to microblog, and became the way to microblog

I could go on, but you get the idea.

What makes the Net and the Web open and free are not its physical systems, or any legal system. What makes them free are their protocols, which are nothing more than agreements: the machine equivalents of handshakes. Protocols do not by their nature presume a centralized system, like TV — or like giant Web sites and services. Protocols are also also not corruptible, because they are each NEA: Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it and Anybody can improve it.

Back in 2003, David Weinberger and I wrote about protocols and NEA in a site called World of Ends: What the Internet Is and How to Stop Mistaking It For Something Else. In it we said the Net was defined by its protocols, not by the companies providing the wiring and the airwaves over which we access the Net.

Yet, a decade later, we are still mistaking the Net for TV. Why? One reason is that there is so much more TV on the Net than ever before. Another is that we get billed for the Net by cable and phone companies. For cable and phone companies providing home service, it’s “broadband” or “high speed Internet.” For mobile phone companies, it’s a “data plan.” By whatever name, it’s one great big channel: a silo open at both ends, through which “content” gets piped to “consumers.” To its distributors — the ones we pay for access — it’s just another kind of cable TV.

The biggest player in cable is not Comcast or Time Warner. It’s ESPN. That’s because the most popular kind of live TV is sports, and ESPN runs that show. Today, ESPN is moving aggressively to mobile. In other words, from cable to the Net. Says Bloomberg Businessweek,

ESPN has been unique among traditional media businesses in that it has flourished on the Web and in the mobile space, where the number of users per minute, which is ESPN’s internal metric, reached 102,000 in June, an increase of 48 percent so far this year. Mobile is now ESPN’s fastest-growing platform.

Now, in ESPN Eyes Subsidizing Wireless-Data Plans, the Wall Street Journal reports, “Under one potential scenario, the company would pay a carrier to guarantee that people viewing ESPN mobile content wouldn’t have that usage counted toward their monthly data caps.” If this happens, it would clearly violate the principle of network neutrality: that the network itself should not favor one kind of data, or data producer, over another.Such a deal would instantly turn every competing data producer into a net neutrality activist, so it’s not likely to happen.

Meanwhile John McCain, no friend of net neutrality, has introduced the TV Consumer Freedom Act, which is even less friendly to cable. As Business Insider puts it, McCain wants to blow the sucker upSays McCain,

This legislation has three principal objectives: (1) encourage the wholesale and retail ‘unbundling’ of programming by distributors and programmers; (2) establish consequences if broadcasters choose to ‘downgrade’ their over-the-air service; and (3) eliminate the sports blackout rule for events held in publicly-financed stadiums.

For over 15 years I have supported giving consumers the ability to buy cable channels individually, also known as ‘a la carte’ – to provide consumers more control over viewing options in their home and, as a result, their monthly cable bill.

The video industry, principally cable companies and satellite companies and the programmers that sell channels, like NBC and Disney-ABC, continue to give consumers two options when buying TV programming: First, to purchase a package of channels whether you watch them all or not; or, second, not purchase any cable programming at all.

This is unfair and wrong – especially when you consider how the regulatory deck is stacked in favor of industry and against the American consumer.

Unbundle TV, make it á la carte, and you have nothing more than subscription video on the Net. And that is what TV will become. If McCain’s bill passes, we will still pay Time Warner and Comcast for connections to the Net; and they will continue to present a portfolio of á la carte and bundled subscription options. Many video sources will continue to be called “networks” and “channels.” But it won’t be TV 4.0 because TV 3.0 — TV over IP — will be the end of TV’s line.

Shows will live on. So will producers and artists and distributors. The old TV business to be as creative as ever, and will produce more good stuff than ever. Couch potatoes will live too, but there will be many more farmers, and the fertilizer will abound in variety.

What we’ll have won’t be TV because TV is channels, and channels are scarce. The Net has no channels, and isn’t about scarcity. It just has an endless number of ends, and no limit on the variety of sources pumping out “content” from those ends. Those sources include you, me, and everybody else who wants to produce and share video, whether for free or for pay.

The Net is an environment built for abundance. You can put all the scarcities you want on it, because an abundance-supporting environment allows that. An abundance system such as the Net gives business many more ways to bet than a scarcity system such as TV has been from the antenna age on through cable. As Jerry Michalski says (and tweets), “#abundance is pretty scary, isn’t it? Yet it’s the way forward.”

Abundance also frees all of us personally. How we organize what we watch should be up to us, not up to cable systems compiling their own guides that look like spreadsheets, with rows of channels and columns of times. We can, and should, do better than that. We should also do better than what YouTube gives us, based on what its machines think we might want.

The new box to think outside of is Google’s. So let’s re-start there. TV is what it’s always been: dumb and terminal.

 

Yesterday, when Anil Dash (@AnilDash) spoke about The Web We Lost at Harvard, I took notes in my little outliner, in a browser. They follow. The top outline level is slide titles, or main points. The next level down are points made under the top level. Some of the outline is what Anil said, and some of it is what I thought he said, or thought on my own based on what he said, and then blathered out through my fingers. Apologies to Anil for what I might have heard wrong. Corrections invited.

David Weinberger also blogged the event This wasn’t easy, because David also introduced Anil and moderated the Q&A. His notes are, as always, excellent. So go read those first.

You can also follow along with this photo set.

Here goes:

POPS — Privately Owned Public Spaces

A secretive, private Ivy League club.

  • Facebook was conceived as that.

Wholesale destruction of your wedding photos

  • We hear stories about this, over and over, when a proprietary silo — even a POPS — dies, gets acquired or otherwise goes poof
  • Think of what matters. (e.g. wedding photos) Everything else you own is just: stuff
  • The silo makers are allowed to do this, because they have one-sided and onerous terms of service. For example:

Apple’s terms for iOS developers

  • Amazing: “We view apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical app. It can get complicated, but we have decided to not allow certain kinds of content in the App Store.”

There is a war raging against the Web we once had.

  • “Being introduced as a blogger is like being introduced as an emailer”

They are bending the law to make controlling our data illegal

  • Watch what’s happening. We won SOPA/PIPA, but that was just one thing. Are we going to do that twice? The same way?

Metadata is dying. And we didn’t even notice.

  • Compare Flickr (old Web) and Instragram (new Web), which has no metadata
  • Props to Berkman for doing the right thing by RSS

Links were corrupted. Likes are next.

  • Economics are getting divorced from original contexts.
  • Remember Suck.com? It was all about linking outward. (See David Weinberger on hyperlinks subverting hierarchy)
  • Now links (at pubs and ad-supported sites) go to internal aggregation pages. SOA.
  • Google converted the meaning of links from the expressive to the economic. (Or, to an economic statement.) Link-spam went viral in less than six months.
  • Facebook has what they call Edgerank. “Likes” at first were an expression of intent. Now they are fuel for advertising. We’re seeing “like fraud.”
  • On Flickr, favorites are still favorites because they aren’t monetizable. Thus Flickr has remained, relatively speaking, blessedly uncorrupted

They are gaslighting the Web.

  • Note how unevenly Facebook places warnings. “Please be careful…” they say, about clicking on a non-Facebook facebook link. You see this on many non-BigCo sites that use Facebook logins. But…>
  • With big Facebook partners you don’t get the message. Coincidence
  • >Also, sites that register with them get the warning, while those that don’t register don’t have the message, even though they are less trustworthy. (Do I have that right? Not sure.)
  • This is not malicious. It’s well-intended in its own pavement-to-hell way.>

In the best case, we’re stuck fixing their bugs on our budgets

  • In the worst case, they’re behaving badly
  • This is true for all the things that compete with the Web

Ideas get locked into apps that will not survive acquisition

  • Content tied to devices dies when those devices become obsolete

We’ve given up on formats. We lost.

  • Watch out for proprietary and under-documented formats
  • Exceptions are .jpg and .html.

Undocumented and non-interoperable are now too common.

  • There is an intentional pulling away from that which lowers switching costs, and creates public spaces.
  • “Town halls” in POPS are not happening in public spaces. Example: the White House “town halls” on Facebook

TOS + IP trumps the constitution

  • Everything you say can be changed on FB and they would be within their rights to do that

It’s never the Pharoah’s words that are lost to history

  • POPS and walled gardens are not level playing fields
  • Ordinary people’s interactions are being lost.
  • Can’t we just opt out? What does that cost?
  • There are opportuity and career costs
  • Can I meaningfully expand my sphere of opportunities in a silo’d world run by pharoahs?
  • “If I hadn’t participated in the blogosphere I wouldn’t be here today”

Our hubris helped them do this.

  • We, the geeks of the world, the builders of public spaces, created non-appealing stuff. It didn’t compete. (e.g. OpenID)
  • Thus we (i.e. everybody) are privileging prisons over the Web itself.
  • We (geeks) did sincerely care
  • We were so arrogant around the goodness of our own open creations that Zuck’s closed vision seemed more appealing
  • That Z’s private club was more appealing says something.
  • How we told the story, how we went about it, also mattered. We didn’t appeal. We talked to ourselves.
  • It’s not just about UI, though we did suck at that too. It was about being in tune with ordinary non-geeks
  • If we had been listening more… and had been a little more open in self-criticism…

Too much triumphalism in having won SOPA and PIPA.

  • Can we do that again? Our willingness to pat ourselves on the back isn’t helpful.
  • The people we count on to rally behind our efforts may not show up again

The open web faded away was not for lack of a compelling vision.

  • We were less inclusive than Facebook and Apple.

But it’s only some of the Web, right?

  • We built the Web for pages
  • Then we changed from pages to streams… narrow single column streams
  • Yahoo is now a stream too. See recent changes there. The Web is now more like radio. Snow on the water.
  • These streams feel like apps. But users are chosing something different.
  • (Shows a graph.)
  • Half the time we spent in 2010 was already in a streaming experience. The percentage is much higher now.
  • These streams are controlled-access. They are limited-access highways. This is part of the mechanism for constraining the conversation. A mismatch between the open web advocacy community and what people do. These others have a much more

Geeks always want to fight the last battle.

  • What they need is a new kind of stream compelling enough for normal people to use.
  • Mozilla is an exception, thanks to Microsoft being evil and IE bad.

So, what do we do?

  • Are FB, LI and TW the new NBC, ABC and CBS?
  • The web follows patterns.
  • The pendulum swings
  • Google is trying to be the evil empire now (whether they know it or not), overreaching, making us feel itchy the way Microsoft did in ’97.

Policy works. Fighting Microsoft helped.

  • Reality is: public policy can be an effective
  • Policy is coming around social networking. Count on it. Facebook’s overreach has that effect
  • There are apps that want to do the right thing. (Anil, for example, is doing ThinkUp)
  • The open web community mostly makes science projects and tool kits. Not enough.
  • Are you being more sensitive to what users want than Zuck is?
  • Item: it’s very hard to learn the history of the software industry, even here. How did software impact culture? How did desktop office suites affect business? The principal actors are still here. They have phones and email addresses. Yet we can’t seem to learn from them.

There are insights to be gleaned from owning our data.

  • Can’t imagine a less attractive name for something than Quantified Self; but the movement matters
  • This stuff that is already digital we pay no attention to. Instead we (companies) rely on marketing reports.
  • Odd: it’s much easier to track my heart rate than how often I visit Twitter.
  • These are the vectors for displacement, e.g. Google on meaning, emotion, expression… We have to be able to do better than them.
  • Think about it: if you allow one more color than blue you’re ahead of Facebook

There are institutions that still care about a a healthy web.

  • The White House has a podcast
  • The Library of Congress? (not clear about the reference here)
  • Facebook terms of service had a conflict with federal law
  • Would hve been fun to see them shut down the White House Facebook account.
  • Terms of service aren’t laws. Break them sometimes.

PR trumps ToS 10 times out of 10

  • Look at our culture as being negatively affected by ToSes
  • Look at Facebook’s ToS the same way we look at public laws. They even eliminated the token effort.
  • Look at YouTube. “No infringement intended.”
  • The people have already chosen a path of civil disobedience
  • A Million Mixer march happens every day

Bonus links: Bruce Schneier in the Q&A brought up his Feudal model, which he talked about on Thursday in conversation with Jonathan Zittrain. And this very thoughtful piece by

artifacty HD[Later (7 April)... The issue has been resolved, at least for now. We never did figure out what caused the poor video resolution in this case, but it looks better now. Still, it seems that compression artifacts are a mix of feature and bug for both cable and satellite television. One of these weeks or months I'll study it in more depth. My plan now is just to enjoy watching the national championship game tomorrow night, between Louisville and Michigan.]

What teams are playing here? Can you read the school names? Recognize any faces?  Is that a crowd in the stands or a vegetable garden? Is the floor made of wood or ice?

You should be able to tell at least some of those things on an HD picture from a broadcast network. But it ain’t easy. Not any more. At least not for me.

Used to be I could tell, at least on Dish Network, which is one reason I got it for our house in Santa Barbara. I compared Dish’s picture on HD channels with those of Cox, our cable company, and it was no contest. DirectTV was about the equal, but had a more complicated remote control and cost a bit more. So we went with Dish. Now I can’t imagine Cox — or anybody — delivering a worse HD picture.

The picture isn’t bad just on CBS, or just during games like this one. It sucks on pretty much all the HD channels. The quality varies, but generally speaking it has gone down hill since we first got our Sony Bravia 1080p “Full HD” screen in 2006. It was the top of the line model then and I suppose still looks good, even though it’s hard to tell, since Dish is our only TV source.

Over-the-air (OTA) TV looks better when we can get it; but hardly perfect. Here’s what the Rose Bowl looked like from KGTV in San Diego when I shot photos of it on New Years Day of 2007. Same screen. You can see some compression artifacts in this close-up here and this one here; but neither is as bad as what we see now. (Since I shot those, KGTV and the CBS affiliate in San Diego, KFMB, moved down from the UHF to the VHF band, so my UHF antenna no longer gets them. Other San Diego stations with UHF signals still come in sometimes and look much better than anything from Dish.)

So why does the picture look so bad? My assumption is that Dish, to compete with cable and DirectTV, maximizes the number of channels it carries by compressing away the image quality of each. But I could be wrong, so I invite readers (and Dish as well) to give me the real skinny on what’s up with this.

And, because I’m guessing some of you will ask: No, this isn’t standard-def that I’m mistaking for high-def. This really is the HD stream from the station.

[Later...] I heard right away from @Dish_Answers. That was quick. We’ll see how it goes.

It’s been more than six months since Apple introduced iOS 6, and nearly as long since Tim Cook issued a public apology for the company’s Maps app, which arrived with iOS 6 and replaced the far better version powered mostly by Google. Said Tim,

…The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

Everything we do at Apple is aimed at making our products the best in the world. We know that you expect that from us, and we will keep working non-stop until Maps lives up to the same incredibly high standard.

In spite of slow and steady improvements, and a few PR scores, Apple’s Maps app still fails miserably at giving useful directions here in New York — while Google’s new Maps app (introduced in December) does a better job, every day. For example, yesterday I needed to go to a restaurant called Pranna, at 79 Madison Avenue. On my iOS Calendar app, “79 Madison Avenue” was lit up in blue, meaning if I clicked on it, Apple’s Maps, by default (which can’t be changed by me) would come up. Which it did. When I clicked on “Directions to here,” it said “Did you mean…” and gave two places: one in Minster, Ohio and another in Bryson City, North Carolina. It didn’t know there was a 79 Madison Avenue in New York. So I went to Google Maps and punched in “79 Madison Avenue.” In seconds I had four different route options (similar to the screen shot here), each taking into account the arrival times of subways at stations, plus walking times between my apartment, the different stations, and the destination. For me as a user here in New York, there is no contest between these two app choices, and I doubt there ever will be.

Credit where due: Apple’s Maps app finally includes subway stations. But it only has one entrance for each: a 9-digit zip code address. In reality many stations have a number of entrances. At the north end of Manhattan, the A train has entrances running from 181st to 184th, including an elevator above 184th with an entrance on Fort Washington. Google’s app knows these things, and factors them in. Apple’s app doesn’t yet.

On the road, Apple’s app still only shows slow traffic as a dotted red line. Google’s and Nokia’s (called Here) show green, yellow and red, as they have from the start. Google’s also re-routes you, based on upcoming traffic jams as they develop. I don’t know if Apple’s app does that; but I doubt it.

But here’s the main question: Do we still need an Apple maps app on the iPhone? Between Google, Here, Waze and others, the category is covered.

In fact Apple did have a good reason for rolling their own Maps app: there were no all-purpose map apps for iOS that did vocalized instructions and re-routing of turn-by-turn directions. Google refused to make those graces available on the Apple Maps app, which was clearly galling to Apple. Eventually Apple’s patience wore out. So they said to themselves, “The hell with it. We’re not getting anywhere with these guys. Let’s do it ourselves.” But then they failed hard, and Google eventually relented and made its own iOS app with those formerly missing features, plus much more.

Bottom line: we no longer need Apple to play an expensive catch-up game. (At least on iPhone. Google still doesn’t have a Maps app for iPad. Not sure if that’s because Google doesn’t want it, or because Apple won’t let them distribute it.)

Unless, of course, Apple really can do a better job than Google and Here (which has NAVTEQ, the granddaddy of all mapping systems, behind it). Given what we’ve seen so far, there is no reason to believe this will happen.

So here’s a simple recommendation to Apple: give up. Fold the project, suck up your pride, and point customers toward Google’s Maps app. Or at least give users a choice on set-up between Google Maps, Here, Waze or whatever, for real-world navigation. Concentrate instead on what you do best. For example, flyover and Siri. Both are cool, but neither requires that you roll your own maps to go with them. At least, I hope not.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

all 84 news sources »

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

Mostly negative stuff.

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

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

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

A few questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus link.

When you see an ad for Budweiser on TV, you know who paid for it and why it’s there. You also know it isn’t personal, because it’s brand advertising.

But when you see an ad on a website, do you know what it’s doing there? Do you know if its there just for you, or if it’s for anybody? Hard to tell.

However, if it’s an ad for a camera showingng up right after you visited some photography sites, it’s a pretty good guess you’re being tracked. It’s also likely you are among millions who are creeped out by the knowledge that they’re being tracked.

On the whole, the tracking-driven online advertising business (aka “adtech”) assumes that you have given permission to be followed, at least implicitly. This is one reason tracking users and targeting them with personalized ads is more normative than ever online today. But there is also a growing concern that personal privacy lines are not only being crossed, but trampled.

Ad industry veterans are getting creeped out too, because they know lawmakers and regulators will be called on for protection. That’s the case George Simpson — an ad industry insider — makes in  Suicide by Cookies, where he starts with the evidence:

Evidon measured sites across the Internet and found the number of web-tracking tags from ad servers, analytics companies, audience-segmenting firms, social networks and sharing tools up 53% in the past year. (The ones in Mandarin were probably set by the Chinese army.) But only 45% of the tracking tools were added to sites directly by publishers. The rest were added by publishers’ partners, or THEIR partners’ partners.

Then he makes a correct forecast government intervention, and concludes with this:

I have spent the better part of the last 15 years defending cookie-setting and tracking to help improve advertising. But it is really hard when the prosecution presents the evidence, and it has ad industry fingerprints all over it — every time. There was a time when “no PII” was an acceptable defense, but now that data is being compiled and cross-referenced from dozens, if not hundreds, of sources, you can no longer say this with a straight face. And we are way past the insanity plea.

I know there are lots of user privacy initiatives out there to discourage the bad apples and get all of the good ones on the same page. But clearly self-regulation is not working the way we promised Washington it would.

I appreciate the economics of this industry, and know that it is imperative to wring every last CPM out of every impression — but after a while, folks not in our business simply don’t care anymore, and will move to kill any kind of tracking that users don’t explicitly opt in to.

And when that happens, you can’t say, “Who knew?”

To get ahead of the regulatory steamroller, the ad business needs two things. One is transparency. There isn’t much today. (See Bringing Manners to Marketing at Customer Commons.) The other is permission. It can’t only be presumed. It has to be explicit.

We — the targets of adtech — need to know the provenance of an ad, at a glance. It should be as clear as possible when an ad is personal or not, when it is tracking-based or not, and whether it’s permitted. That is, welcomed. (More about that below.)

This can be done symbolically. How about these:

 means personalized.

↳ means tracking-based.

☌ means permitted.

I picked those out of a character viewer. There are hundreds of these kinds of things. It really doesn’t matter what they are, so long as people can easily, after awhile, grok what they mean.

People are already doing their own policy development anyway, by identifying and blocking both ads and tracking, through browser add-ons and extensions. Here are mine for Firefox, on just one of my computers:

All of these, in various ways, give me control over what gets into my browser. (In fact the Evidon research cited above was gained by Ghostery, which is an Evidon product installed in millions of browsers. So I guess I helped, in some very small way.)

Speaking of permission, now would be a good time to revisit Permission Marketing, which Seth Godin published in May 1999,  about the same time The Cluetrain Manifesto also went up. Here’s how Seth compressed the book’s case nine years later.

Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

Pay attention is a key phrase here, because permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they are actually paying you with something precious. And there’s no way they can get their attention back if they change their mind. Attention becomes an important asset, something to be valued, not wasted.

Real permission is different from presumed or legalistic permission. Just because you somehow get my email address doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because I don’t complain doesn’t mean you have permission. Just because it’s in the fine print of your privacy policy doesn’t mean it’s permission either.

Real permission works like this: if you stop showing up, people complain, they ask where you went.

Real permission is what’s needed here. It’s what permission marketing has always been about. And it’s what VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) is about as well.

Brand advertising is permitted in part because it’s not personal. Sometimes it is even liked.. The most common example of that is Super Bowl TV ads. But a better example is magazines made thick with brand ads that are as appealing to readers as the editorial content. Fashion magazines are a good example of that.

Adtech right now is not in a demand market on the individual’s side. In fact, judging from the popularity of ad-blocking browser extensions, there is a lot of negative demand. According to ClarityRay, 9.23% of all ads were blocked by users surveyed a year ago. That number is surely much higher today.

At issue here is what economists call signaling — a subject about which Don Marti has written a great deal over the last couple of years. I visit the subject (with Don’s help) in this post at Wharton’s Future of Advertising site, where contributors are invited to say where they think advertising will be in the year 2020. My summary paragraph:

Here is where this will lead by 2020: The ability of individuals to signal their intentions in the marketplace will far exceed the ability of corporations to guess at those intentions, or to shape them through advertising. Actual relationships between people and processes on both sides of the demand-supply relationship will out-perform today’s machine-based guesswork by advertisers, based on “big data” gained by surveillance. Advertising will continue to do what it has always done best, which is to send clear signals of the advertiser’s substance. And it won’t be confused with its distant relatives in the direct response marketing business.

I invite everybody reading this to go there and jump in.

Meanwhile, consider this one among many olive branches that need to be extended between targets — you and me — and the advertisers targeting us.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is no demand for messages.

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

Stories are about conflict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One word, and endless tears.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonus links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SANDY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do we get outlines? Here are some ways:

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

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

Addendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

— Doc


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

Walt Whitman


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

Source Coders

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

He showed us the Web.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Utopia

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

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

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

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

The medium is the metaphor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Markets are markets

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

I suggest we start with these three:

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

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

Let’s start there.

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

On FlightAware I see three spaces filled with the same message. That’s a screenshot of one, on the right.

The guilty extension, I am sure, is Adblock Plus for Chrome. What that extension blocks is an ad, not a page. I can tell it’s an ad by looking on other browsers without that extension.

The block is also not an error. It is intentional, on my part. I’d rather not see the ads, or wait for them to load before I do.

On other sites in Chrome, such as the New York Times, blocked ads are just blank or closed spaces. On Firefox, where I also run AdBlock Plus, the same spaces are blank. So, what causes that image to appear? Is it Google (maker of Chrome) saying a blocked ad is a blocked page? Is it FlightAware? Does it appear only for Google-placed display ads? Or is there some other mechanism involved that has nothing to do with the Chrome brand? (Which is diminished by this practice, regardless of who’s doing it.)

[Later... It's a bug. Thanks to Hanan Cohen in the comments below for digging up that fact.]

The unclarity of all this testifies to the opacity of the whole advertising system to users, and even to the media through which ads are placed.

For example, an ad for laundry detergent that appears next to a story about little league baseball on the YourTown Journal site may not be placed by the detergent maker, its ad agency or the YourTown Journal. Its provenance might be any combination of ad networks, ad exchanges, dynamic auctions with real time bidding (RTB), demand side platforms (DSPs), supply side platforms (SSPs), or or some other arcane mechanism inside the millworks of online advertising placement.

In many — perhaps most — cases, no one person has the whole picture of how a given ad gets placed at any given time. That’s why you don’t know whether the detergent ad is meant for all the readers of the YourTown Journal, or if the ad was targeted to you personally. Or, in the latter case, if it was targeted because you have kid who plays baseball or because the system at the moment “thinks” it knows some other personal facts about you.

In the case of Flightaware, on another browser (without ad blocking) I see three ads in the three spaces occupied by “error” messages such as the one above in Chrome. Those ads are for Fisher Investments, Verizon FiOS and Target Stores‘ weekly savings. All three are wasted on me, except as brand messages. I already have FiOS, I’ll probably never use Fisher Investments (though now I’ve heard of them) and sometimes I shop at Target (but would never want to get into their promotional mill, which clicking on the ad would likely do).

For what it’s worth, which is more than zero, I love FlightAware, and would gladly pay them for the services they provide.

And, for what it’s also worth, which is $billions more than zero, it is important to understand the distinction between brand and direct response advertising:

  1. Brand advertising is not personal. It is broadcast to whole populations, and conveys what economists call a signal of sufficiency. That signal says “we are substantial enough to afford advertising.”
  2. Direct response advertising, which began decades ago as direct mail, and then grew to become direct response marketing in general, is personal. That’s an economic signal that says “this is for you.”

On broadcast and print media, which are not personal, the distinction is clear. Here on the Web, which for each of us is personal, the line between brand and direct response advertising is fully blurred. It is very hard — or impossible — to tell if an ad is just for you or for lots of people that some system thinks resemble you — or for everybody, because the advertiser and its agency happen to like the site where the ad is displayed.

I want to make clear here that I don’t dislike advertising or marketing. I was in that business for most of my adult life, made a good living at it, and am proud of the work we did. Our agency was Hodskins Simone & Searls. It was born in 1978 in North Carolina and headquartered in Silicon Valley from 1985 to 1998, when it was acquired by Publicis. One of our core principles was to “respect the media environment.”

Lack of respect for the Web is a big reason I have a problem with the blurred distinction between brand and direct response advertising there, and with the extreme liberties that are taken by sites and services with our personal spaces and our personal data. They take those liberties because they enjoy a lopsided power advantage over users — an advantage that has turned an ordinary distributed computing model called client-server into a complex but hardened system of obfuscation and entrapment we call calf-cow. We users are the calves and the sites are the cows. We go to the cows for the milk of HTML, plus cookies and other tracking files we neither want nor ask for.

The market is pushing back on bad practices by the cows of the world. For evidence look at the Mozilla stats for AdBlock Plus:

  • 176,853,243 Downloads
  • 3,442,720 in last 30 days
  • 14,781,239 Average Daily Users
  • 14,645,444 average in last 30 days

Look also at ClarityRay’s report on ad blocking. While the company has an interest in the subject, the figures seem close enough to real for me, because advertising on the Web is clearly out of control — namely, ours.

The original browser was like a car: a private vehicle that was operated by the individual for his or her own purposes. Like a car its spaces and operations were ours. We drove it around, “browsing” and “surfing” up and down the “information superhighway,” seeing and collecting only what we wanted to see and collect.

Today the Web has gone almost fully commercial, becoming a vast strip mall. In it the browser has morphed from a car into a shopping cart that gets skinned afresh at each commercial site we visit. As a shopping cart, the browser is no longer private. Its spaces are those of the sites we visit, and so are the liberties taken with those spaces when we are there. That’s why sites feel free to infest our browsers with tracking files that we carry around the way a deer carries fleas and ticks. Those files report our travels, choices and behaviors back to the sites and their third parties, most of which are advertising mills. Operators of today’s online marketing mills are now urged by vendors of big data analytics to imagine that constructing a “portrait” of us is a worthy substitute from knowing us directly, and that this portrait — rather our real and human selves — is the “chief executive customer.” (More about that.)

Here is what I said about all this in The Wall Street Journal, back in July:

…the Internet is young, and most development work has been done to improve the supply side of the marketplace. Individual customers have benefited, but improving their own native technical capacities has attracted relatively little interest from developers or investors.

As a result, big business continues to believe that a free market is one in which customers get to choose their captors. Choosing among AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon for your new smartphone is like choosing where you’d like to live under house arrest. It’s why marketers still talk about customers as “targets” they can “acquire,” “control,” “manage” and “lock in,” as if they were cattle. And it’s why big business thinks that the best way to get personal with customers on the Internet is with “big data,” gathered by placing tracking files in people’s browsers and smartphone apps without their knowledge—so they can be stalked wherever they go, with their “experiences” on commercial websites “personalized” for them.

It is not yet clear to the perpetrators of this practice that it is actually insane. Think about it. Nobody from a store on Main Street would follow you around with a hand in your pocket and tell you “I’m only doing this so I can give you a better shopping experience.” But that is exactly what happens online (as The Wall Street Journal has shown at length in its investigative series “What They Know”).

It’s easy to forget that a founding and persistent grace of Google is the relative lack of promotional cruft on its index page. For a brief sweet moment before we search there, we don’t see ads for anything. Its brand value at that moment is maximally “thick” (as Umair Haque explains here).

We need to get back into that headspace and zero-base our thinking about advertising. Leave business-as-usual outside the door and look again at what a site or a service was born to do. In most cases it’s not advertising.. Peter Drucker says a company doesn’t go into business to make a profit, but “to make shoes.”

Most businesses don’t call themselves “advertisers.” If they do advertise, they see that as one activity among many, and as a form of overhead. It’s mostly people in the advertising business who call companies advertisers.

What makes FlightAware valuable is not its ads. Same goes for Google, Facebook and Twitter. None of them went into business just so they could run ads. They created their services to do other things, and only later came to rely on advertising as a business model.

The Web as we know it is only seventeen years old. That’s old enough to develop some bad habits and young enough to change them.

Do we want the Web to be a strip mall when it grows up? Or what it was born to be in the first place?

Bonus linkage: Don Marti’s business posts.

Hurricane flag

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

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

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

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

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

9:54pm TV stations with live streams online:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Funnel #3, Massachusetts Bay and Boston Harbor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

wallet Nothing you carry is more personal than your wallet, or more essential for interacting with the marketplace. You can change your pants or your purse, but your wallet is a constant. And, while your wallet contains cards and currencies that are issued by companies and governments, your wallet is yours, not theirs. That’s why none of those entities brand your wallet as theirs, nor do you operate your wallet at their grace.

This distinction matters because wallets are becoming a Real Big Topic — partly because a lot of Real Big Companies like having their hands in our pockets, and partly because we really do need digital versions of the wallets we carry in the analog world.

This is why individuals and individual-driven developers need to take over the mobile wallet conversation, before the Big Brands do, with their Big Plans to fill their Big Data coffers with personal information about you, so they (not you) can do the analytics and the routing between your butt and the rest of the marketplace.

IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — is the perfect place to talk about that. It’s an unconference in Mountain View that takes place tomorrow through Thursday at the Computer History Museum. It’s cheap and informal, and ideal for vetting and discussing developments and moving them forward.

IIW also comes  in advance of the Under The Radar conference in San Francisco next month, where mobile wallets will be discussed. The companies working on mobile wallets and listed in this blog post by Beth Burgee are mostly new to me. That’s way cool, and I invite them to show up at IIW too.

Here’s the key, and my challenge to them: they need to be driven by individuals like you and me, and not by Business as Usual, especially what Google, Facebook, Apple, Twitter and the rest would like to do with their hands in our pockets. (And I invite them to come as well, and show us how that’s not what they’re trying to do.)

Here’s the thing: if your wallet has a brand, it’s not yours. If it’s for putting companies hands, and not just their instruments of convenience (such as cards, the boundaries of which are mostly clear), in your pockets, it’s not yours.

Let’s give the individual a way to drive here. Just like we did with the PC, the Net, email, web servers, blogging, podcasting, syndication and other instruments created with freedom rather than capture in mind.

Think of Dave Winer‘s “Ask not what the Internet can do for you, ask what you can do for the Internet,” and substitute “individual,” “customer” or “user” for Internet. (They are all the same thing, when you think about it. And Dave was the prime mover between the last three developments listed in the prior paragraph.)

A couple of bonus links, not fresh but perhaps more relevant than ever:

Google’s Wallet and VRM

Circling around your wallet

Mobile maps matter, and Apple now has the worst mapping you can get on a phone. The best, one would think (given the Apple vs. Google coverage) is Google’s. But maybe not, because Nokia has NAVTEQ, which rocks. Or so says Alexis Madrigal in the Atlantic, in a fascinating piece that visits just some of what NAVTEQ has been doing since 1985. For example, providing most of the maps you see on Garmin, Magellan and other legacy GPS companies.

This should be tempting for Apple. Here’s Alexis:

…if a certain tech giant with a massive interest in mobile content (Microsoft, Apple, Yahoo) were looking to catch up or stay even with Google, the company’s Location & Commerce unit might look like a nice acquisition they could get on the cheap (especially given that the segment lost 1.5 billion euros last year). Microsoft and Yahoo are already thick as thieves with Nokia’s mapping crew, but Apple is the company that needs the most help.

Tristan Louis makes the case as well:

So maps are now essen­tial to one’s mobile strat­egy and Apple is behind. When you’re as far behind as they are, there are two ways you can get back to the table: you can either run like crazy and try to iter­ate your prod­uct at light speed or you can buy your way back at the table.

And what bet­ter com­pany than the mar­ket leader if you are to make the invest­ment? On top of it, Apple would get some inter­est­ing sup­port for its AppleTV product.

Apple would get Nokia’s huge mobile tech patent portfolio, which includes a license to Qualcomm’s impressive collection. Tristan suggests that Nokia’s idle patents on mobile TV tech would also help Apple. No doubt it would. Let’s also remember that Google bought Motorola Mobility a short while back pretty much for the same reason: to get an edge in the “nuclear showdown” that patent-based tech wars tend to be. And mobile, alas, is a patent-based game.

The downside would be owning a struggling giant with lots of baggage Apple surely does not want. But Apple has to do something.

Nokia and Microsoft are deeply in bed, however, and both are unlikely to consider selling out to Apple, an enemy in the marketplace. (One can easily imagine Steve Ballmer going nuclear at the very thought of it.)

Eric Bleeker at Motley Fool responds to Tristan while laying out a number of possibilities. His conclusion: “The simple reality is that Apple will probably continue taking smaller bets on emerging technologies.”

Such as? In Yandex to Power Apple Maps, Alexander Vostrov of Russia Beyond the Headlines writes,

Russian software fans are glowing with pride, while analysts make the most improbable assumptions: the Russian IT giant Yandex has entered into a partnership with Apple and will have its Yandex Maps location service integrated with Apple’s new iOS 6 operating system.

This piece from June in The Verge also points to an attribution list at Apple. The page is copy-proof, so just go look at it. The list of data sources is long.

So how about OpenStreetmap? I don’t see them in the above list, but this OpenStreeMap Foundation blog post by Harry Wood on 2 October offers confirming evidence. Says Harry,

Apple’s new maps for iOS6 make use of OpenStreetMap in some parts of the world. We’re not sure how extensive this use is, but it’s fair to say they are mostly using other sources. Apple have used TomTom as a key supplier of data for example. This means that inaccuracies in apple maps are probably not the fault of OpenStreetMap (contrary to some commentary!) However OpenStreetMap is mentioned in apple’s credits, and we have spotted some areas where we think we can see our data in use.

This means your contributions to OpenStreetMap at least have a chance of helping Apple, along with everybody else. But, if you want to go direct to Apple, here’s the trick:

  1. Open Maps on your iOS device
  2. Go to a map view with a problem in it
  3. Lift the lower right (turned up) corner of the map
  4. Look for the very small gray-on-gray text above the Print button that says “Report a problem.” Click on that.
  5. Fill out the short form

I just reported one of Apple’s absent subway stations, just to see how it works. (In fact, they’re all missing, and not just here in New York. I also saw none in London or Paris.)

Meanwhile, I continue to believe selling their own map apps on iOS would be good for Google, and Nokia as well.

[Later...] eWeek has what may be the best suggestion yet: get out of the maps business entirely. Let the Maps companies give away or sell a maps app on the phone. If Nokia and Google decided not to, that would hurt Apple, but it would make them (especially Google) look like silo-building schmucks playing passive-agressive games against a competitor.

Probably too late now. But maybe the open game is the only one for Apple to play now. Dunno though. Food for re-thought.

Charge for them.

Let users be customers and not just consumers. Let demand engage supply the old fashioned way: by paying for goods and services, and making the sellers directly accountable to buyers in a truly competitive marketplace.

Here’s the thing. We, the customers of Apple and the consumers of both Apple’s and Google’s free map services, are getting screwed by value-subtracting games played by both companies.

Millions of us are highly dependent on our phones’ primary maps app. From the beginning on the iPhone that app has been Google’s — or at least seemed to be. By replacing it with a shamefully lame app by the same name, Apple screwed its customers, hard. Why? Because it wanted to screw Google. And why screw Google? Because Google had been screwing both Apple and iPhone/iPad customers for the duration.

Or so I assume. I really don’t know.

A few days ago I asked A question about Apple vs. Google maps. Noting that Google’s Maps app on iPhone lacked at least two features found on Android versions of the app — adaptive turn-by-turn directions and vocalization — I wondered out loud if Google was playing a passive-aggressive game with Apple by crippling the iOS version of the app. One commenter said it was Apple’s choice not to include those features; but in a New York Times column a few days ago, David Pogue confirmed my original suspicion:

After poking around, here’s what I’ve learned.

First, why Apple dropped the old version: Google, it says, was saving all the best features for phones that run its Android software. For example, the iPhone app never got spoken directions or vector maps (smooth lines, not tiles of pixels), long after those features had come to rival phones.

Hey, if that’s the case, and if I were Apple, I’d be pissed too — and I’d want to offer a better maps app than Google’s. As an iPhone and iPad user, I’ve been annoyed for years at Google for obviously crippling its iOS Maps app. (Datum: I’m also an Android user.) But now it bothers me a lot more that Google hardly seems to mind that Apple killed the Google-sourced Maps app for the entire iOS 6 user base. Why would Google be so blasé? One big reason is that Apple’s users pay nothing for the app. And, because users pay nothing, Google can ignore those users’ suffering while relishing the sight of Apple embarrassing itself.

To fully understand what’s going on here, it is essentiall to respect the difference between customers and users (aka consumers). Customers pay. By not paying, and functioning only as a user, you have little if any economic leverage. Worse, you’re the product being sold to the actual customers, which are advertisers.

This Google vs. Apple thing reminds me of my days in commercial broadcasting. There too consumers and customers were different populations. Consumers were listeners and viewers whose ears and eyeballs were sold to advertisers, who were the real customers. Listeners and viewers had no leverage when a station or a network got in the mood to kill a format, or a show. We’re in the same spot here, at least in respect to Google.

With Apple it’s different, because iPhone and iPad users are actual customers of Apple. Now chagrined, Apple is pressing that advantage, starting with Tim Cook’s open letter to customers. An excerpt:

We are extremely sorry for the frustration this has caused our customers and we are doing everything we can to make Maps better.

We launched Maps initially with the first version of iOS. As time progressed, we wanted to provide our customers with even better Maps including features such as turn-by-turn directions, voice integration, Flyover and vector-based maps. In order to do this, we had to create a new version of Maps from the ground up.

There are already more than 100 million iOS devices using the new Apple Maps, with more and more joining us every day. In just over a week, iOS users with the new Maps have already searched for nearly half a billion locations. The more our customers use our Maps the better it will get and we greatly appreciate all of the feedback we have received from you.

While we’re improving Maps, you can try alternatives by downloading map apps from the App Store like Bing, MapQuest and Waze, or use Google or Nokia maps by going to their websites and creating an icon on your home screen to their web app.

If you buy an iPhone you’re already paying for the Maps app. So this post is mostly for Google. While I think an apology is owed to iPhone and iPad users, for withholding features just to disadvantage those devices against Android (if in fact that’s what happened… I still don’t know for sure), I’d rather see Google offer Google Maps for sale, at a fair price, in the Apple Apps store. And I’d like to see Apple approve that product for sale, pronto.

Trust me: plenty of customers will pay. Google will not only drive home the real value of its Maps app (and all the good work behind it), but get some long-overdue practice at doing real customer service. Google’s high dependence on a single source of revenue — advertising — is a vulnerability that can only be reduced by broadening the company’s businesses. The future of selling direct has been looming at Google for a long time. There is a great opportunity, right now, to do that in a big way with Google Maps.

Data wants to be free, but value wants to be paid for. Let us pay. We’re the damed market. Let us help you work out the kinks in your products. Develop real relationships with us, and provide real customer support that’s worth what we pay for it.

[Later...] Some tweets, sort of threaded:

@Owen Barder@carlkalapesi @dsearls seems to be wrong to say that Google has until now had it’s app in IOS. It was an Apple app. [Link.]

@Kevin Marks: No, @dsearls, the old Maps app on iPhone was written by Apple, using Google APIs. Apple vetoed Google’s own app in ’09. [Link]

@Jamie Starke@kevinmarks @dsearls citation needed [Link]

@Kevin Marks: @jamiestarke @dsearls http://wireless.fcc.gov/releases/9182009_Google_Filing_iPhone.pdf … Google Latitude was rejected because Apple believed it could replace the preloaded maps app (p3) [Link]

So are you (Owen and Kevin) saying David Pogue got bad info from Apple in the piece quoted above?

Either way, the question then is, Who crippled the old Maps app? Was it Google, Apple, or both? Also, Why?

I still stand by my recommendation that Google offer the map for sale on iOS. And on Android too, for the reasons I give above.

Meanwhile, somebody ought to put up a post, or a site, explaining the particulars of this case. Such as whose app Maps was, and is now. Most stories (seems to me) about the fracas say the old app was Google’s. If it wasn’t, and was instead an Apple map fed by the Google API, that needs to be made clear. I’m still fuzzed around the details here.

[Later (1 October)...] Christina Bonnington in Wired says it was Apple’s decision not to include turn-by-turn directions in the Maps app. She writes,

When iOS first launched in the iPhone in 2007, Apple embraced Google Maps as its mapping back-end. But over the years, rivalry between the tech giants increased to a fever pitch. So it’s likely that Apple decided some years ago to eventually abandon Google Maps, and create its own platform. And because Apple knew it was eventually going to drop Google as its back-end, there was no point in pushing further innovation or integration with the system doomed to a limited lifespan.

But do I believe her, just because she’s writing for Wired? Do I believe David Pogue, just because he’s writing for the NY Times? Obviously, they don’t agree. At least one is wrong about whether the Maps app was crippled by Google (says David) or Apple (says Christina). At this point I can’t believe either of them. For that I’ll need. at the very least, a quote from a source who knows. I mean, really knows.

Mother Jones‘ original slogan was, “You trust your mother. But you cut the cards.” So here’s my card-cutting: I want hard facts on exactly what happened here. Who made the decision not to include turn-by-turn and voice directions in the Maps app on iOS? It had to have been Apple, Google or some combination of both. Which was it? How? And why?

[Later (2 October)...] In Voice navigation killed Apple-Google maps talks, John Paczkowski of Fox News does the best job I’ve seen yet of pulling the covers back on what actually happened:

Google Chairman Eric Schmidt said Apple should have continued to use Google’s mapping application in iOS 6 instead of swapping it out for its poorly received home-brewed replacement, and given the sour reception Apple’s Maps app has been given, he may have been right.

But multiple sources familiar with Apple’s thinking say the company felt it had no choice but to replace Google Maps with its own, because of a disagreement over a key feature: Voice-guided turn-by-turn driving directions.

Spoken turn-by-turn navigation has been a free service offered through Google’s Android mobile OS for a few years now. But it was never part of the deal that brought Google’s Maps to iOS. And sources say Apple very much wanted it to be. Requiring iPhone users to look directly at handsets for directions and manually move through each step — while Android users enjoyed native voice-guided instructions — put Apple at a clear disadvantage in the mobile space…

Apple pushed Google hard to provide the data it needed to bring voice-guided navigation to iOS. But according to people familiar with Google’s thinking, the search giant, which had invested massive sums in creating that data and views it as a key feature of Android, wasn’t willing to simply hand it over to a competing platform.

And if there were terms under which it might have agreed to do so, Apple wasn’t offering them. Sources tell AllThingsD that Google, for example, wanted more say in the iOS maps feature set. It wasn’t happy simply providing back-end data. It asked for in-app branding. Apple declined. It suggested adding Google Latitude. Again, Apple declined. And these became major points of contention between the two companies, whose relationship was already deteriorating for a variety of other reasons, including Apple’s concern that Google was gathering too much user data from the app.

“There were a number of issues inflaming negotiations, but voice navigation was the biggest,” one source familiar with Apple and Google’s negotiations told AllThingsD. “Ultimately, it was a deal-breaker.”

There’s more from John Paczkowski in All Things D.

So maybe we’ll never know. “Sources” will, but the rest of us won’t.

 

 

Over dinner in Amsterdam recently, George Dyson — who knows a thing or two about the history of computing — told me that a crossover of sorts has happened, or is happening now.

The crossover is between a time when we erased storage media to make room for fresh data and a time when we save nearly all of it. This is one reason there’s all this talk about Big Data. We need big ways (storage, analytics, software, services) to deal with the accumulations.

At the personal level we don’t yet have more than a few primitive means, relative to whatever it is that Google, Amazon, Facebook, the NSA and other big entities are doing. At their level, who knows? Lets say Google wants to save all your deleted Gmails. The mails might be deleted for you, but are they deleted for Google? I have no idea. All I know is that storing and analyzing them is more and more do-able for them.

I don’t have an axe to grind here (not yet, anyway). I’m just noting that this change is freighted with many possibilities and many meanings. And so, to make it easier to talk about, I suggest we name it, if it isn’t named already.

Hmm… since the sum of all stored data is Too Big to Know, maybe we should call it the Weinberger Threshold. One reason I like that (at least provisionally, besides liking David) is that there is what I consider a fallacious assumption, or presumption, behind much Big Data talk: that an analytical system can know us better than we know ourselves.

But that’s a whole ‘nuther topic, and maybe we should avoid conflating one with the other. (Though I do think the two — Big Data and Too Big to Know — are related, and I am sure David has thought about this stuff far more than I.)

Anyway, just blogging out loud here.

Discuss.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huge bonus link.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is a compressed excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At home in Santa Barbara we get our TV from Dish Network. We’ve been customers of Dish since it was Echostar, back in the mid-90s. We’ve had dishes on five different houses over those years. Since we tend to do a lot of our living elsewhere, much of our watching (what little we do, actually) is on our iPad over a Slingbox attached to the set top box, which is in a cabinet rather than on a set. (An advantage of Dish over Cox, our local cable company, is that we can hide that box, and control it without pointing a remote directly at it. Cox doesn’t have that option.)

Here in Boston (where we are currently), we can watch the Olympics on the local NBC station, or on the iPad over the Slingbox; but I wanted to try watching live on NBC’s own Live Extra app on the iPad. Says the app page, “204 Nations. 302 Medal Events. 3,500 Live Hours. ONE SOURCE. Get to ready to watch every moment of the 2012 London Olympic Summer Games LIVE for FREE with the NBC Olympics.”

So I downloaded the app, got it rolling, clicked on “Live,” got forwarded to a page where I had to choose my provider, clicked on the Dish logo, entered my login and password, and then got this fail, over and over:

I checked the NBC FAQ. I checked to make sure with Dish that my login and password were good. They were. Then, starting yesterday, the new fail was “We’re sorry. You do not have a subscription to view the requested content. To upgrade your programming go to mydish.com and then log back in to view content.”

So I went to http://mydish.com/programming and got re-directed to my login page at https://my.dish.com/customercare/usermanagement/prepLogon.do?overlayuri=-myprogramming-showMyProgramming.do When I logged in there I get to my programming page, which says I have:

  • America’s Top 120
  • HBO & Sho
  • HD 120
  • DVR Service

America’s Top 120 is the fifth among nine American Core Packages. It’s $44.99/mo. Bottom is Smart Pack at $24.99/mo. Top is America’s Everything Pack at $104.99/mo. The HD 120 costs us $10. Showtime is $1/mo. HBO is $16/mo. DVR Service is $6/mo. The total is $86.99/mo.

Nothing there about the Olympics or NBC. So I called Dish.

The first customer service person told me I would need something called “Blockbuster@Home.” Here’s the link. Nothing there about the Olympics or NBC. When I told her we had a Slingbox, however, she said, “Oh! That’s very helpful information. I’m going to send you over to Broadband Support. They can help you.”

The guy at Broadband Support at first told me he knew nothing about the Olympics app, and that there was no way Dish could pay attention to the zillions of apps that can be downloaded on iPads. I told him there was no way that Dish itself would not be aware of the problem I’m having right now, given the interest in the Olympics at this time. He put me on hold. After coming off hold a couple more times to say he was looking into the situation, he came back and told me that I would need to upgrade to America’s Top 200, which is #7 out of the nine Core Packages. It’s $59.99, or $15 more per month than we’re paying now. So I looked to see if there are better deals available from Dish, and found this page here. It says,

AMERICA’S TOP 200™.

Love sports? Get in the game with channels like NFL Network, CBS Sports Network, MLB Network, NHL Network, NBA TV and your Regional Sports Network(s) (based on ZIP code). All of this on top of all the great programming in America’s Top 120™. Plus, get the local channels available in your area included at no extra charge.

That didn’t look too bad, since — as I recall — we do pay extra for the local channels. But, when I look at our billing details, I see that’s not the case. I’m guessing that’s because they come bundled with America’s Top 12o™. But I see nothing about that when I look at details about the package from within my logged-in state. There’s just a grid or a list of channels (many of which are audio and not video) in a link-proof pop-over window. When I look up Dish America’s Top 120 in a search engine, I get http://www.dish.com/entertainment/packages/americas-top-120/, it says, “Entertainment the family will love at a price that’s right. Get over 120 of America’s most-watched channels including CNN, ESPN, Disney Channel and Discovery Channel at an exceptional price. Plus, get the local channels available in your area included at no extra charge.” I suppose that answers the local channel question, meaning that I’m still paying $15 more per month for the Top 200.

But… for how long? On both the America’s Top 120 and the America’s Top 200 pages they say, in tiny print that can’t be copied and pasted, “…requires 24-month agreement.” In other words, I would need to pay $360 more just to watch the Olympics for the next week on my iPad. Or so it appears. Ergo: no way. Ain’t happening.

Far as I can tell (or am willing to put the labor into telling) I have no way of knowing which of these two Dish people is right, at least not by checking on the Web. And at this point I don’t care. I’ve put way more time into solving the problem than any customer should have to, and my only hedge against diminishing returns at this point is provisional satisfaction in hope that this post might help Dish and NBC debug what’s not working between them.

I would also like them both to probe a deeper problem for the whole cable/satellite TV industry (which now includes NBC, since Comcast owns it). In the perfect word of  Scott Adams, they together operate a confusopoly. He explains it this way:

A confusopoly is any group of companies in a particular industry that intentionally confuses customers about their pricing plans and products. Confusopolies do this so customers don’t know which one of them is offering the best value… The classic examples of confusopolies are phone companies, insurance companies, and banks.

He should have put TV networks and cable companies in there too.

The market — meaning you and I — do not demand a confusopoly. Nor do we demand getting this stuff for free. I’m already paying, and am willing to pay more. So are millions of other people. We just don’t want to lose the confusopoly game to get it. Seems like a fair request.

Oh, one last fail to report. At the beginning of my call to Dish, a robot asked if I’d like to take a survey after the call. I said yes, but they didn’t come on when the call ended, and then never called back, even though they have my number.

[Later...] Wanting to make a positive change here, we just posted Let’s help NBC prep for the 2014 Winter Olympics at Customer Commons. If you have some positive ideas in that direction, head over there.

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

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

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

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

Bonus links:

In When bubbles burst…, Dave writes,

When any hamster-based startup can raise $50 million on a $1 billion market cap, there’s not much market for new ideas. Why bother, when the same-old-stuff can make you rich. But when the bubble fades, it’s time to get creative. Because techwill reboot. The question is, what’s the next wave.

I followed the link to FACEBOOK FALLOUT: Y Combinator’s Paul Graham Just Emailed Portfolio Companies Warning Of ‘Bad Times’ In Silicon Valley, in which Nicholas Carlson begins,

Facebook has flopped on the public markets, and now we have vivid evidence of how badly Silicon Valley is reeling in the fallout.
Paul Graham, cofounder of Silicon Valley’s most important startup incubator, Y Combinator, has sent an email to portfolio companies warning them “bad times” may be ahead.

He warns: “The bad performance of the Facebook IPO will hurt the funding market for earlier stage startups.

“No one knows yet how much. Possibly only a little. Possibly a lot, if it becomes a vicious circle.”

Among the comments is this one:

Adam Lavine:

One dinner with a dour VC does not a Silicon Valley liquidity crisis make.

With that said: would be nice for all of these startups to find CUSTOMERS willing to PAY for their services. The fact that startups that have “easy money built into their models” is an obvious bubble sign in itself.

To which I replied,

@Adam Lavine:

Exactly.The tightening of VC sphincters is an issue, but it’s a lesser one than the paucity of VC-funded business models that make companies accountable to users as customers.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have consumers and customers that are different populations. Users are the consumers, and advertisers are the customers. This does work as a business: for commercial broadcasting it has worked for the duration. But it works at the cost of having minimized accountability to the millions of individuals who use the service but pay nothing for it. Ever tried to get personal service from Google or Facebook? Good luck with that.

Our dependency on Google alone today verges on the absolute. Facebook envies operating Google-grade user containment systems (e.g. Gmail, Google docs, etc.) on the same scale. But neither company is financially accountable to their users (only to their advertisers and stockholders), and neither have worthy competitors, and that’s not good for the markets they contain either.

The whole ad-supported commercial Web we have today is a collection of monocultural silos, each of which is a bubble in itself. (Think of every giant silo as a single point of failure and therefore a giant bubble.)

Another angle: every company deals with two markets — one for its goods and services, and one for itself. In Silicon Valley the latter has overrun the former, time and again. Now is no exception.

Bonus link: http://www.linuxjournal.com/magazine/eof-google-exposure

Just wanted to share that here, and not just there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The new and improved Bitly looks like this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So simple. So effective. So perfect.

And so gone.

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

So what’s new? Now you can…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile, three additional points.

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

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

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

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

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

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

When I clicked on it again, I got this:

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

Damn! I didn’t want that!

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

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

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

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

Bottom lines:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is an old imperative.

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

Imagine being able to:

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

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

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

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

Bonus links:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Out in the marketplace — that place where we do business as buyers and sellers — what and who are we, as individuals? Here’s a graphic that might help frame the what question:

Consumer vs. Customer ngram

It’s a Google Ngram that plots the prevalence of two terms — consumer and customer — in books between 1770 and 2004.

I suspect that the first little bump followed publication of Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, in 1776. The words consumer and consumers in sum appear forty-nine times in his text. The word customer appears four times. (Thanks to the Library of Economics and Liberty for making those searches possible.) Yet the two terms were used in about equal amounts through subsequent books, until the early 1930s, which was when mass marketing (with the help of broadcasting) began to prevail — and with it the sense that the masses, now generally called “consumers” were the populations that mattered. The term “customer” began to fall off for awhile there.

Things turned positive for customer in the mid-1990s, I suspect because the Internet and e-commerce showed up and got huge.

But both words are still with us, and are still usually used interchangeably.

Yet they do mean different things, and we should pull them apart.

Take Google, Facebook and Twitter, for example. Those companys’ consumers and customers are different populations. The consumers are the users. The customers are the advertisers. In fact, our consumption is what’s sold to advertisers. “If it’s free, then you’re the product,” the saying goes. It’s not exactly right, but it’s close enough to make some points, one of which is that your influence on those companies is far less than it would be if you were paying for services rather than merely using (or consuming) them.

On the who side, it helps to start with this fact: out in the brick-and-mortar marketplace, we are by default anonymous most of the time. That is, nameless. As it says in the Free Dictionary,

a·non·y·mous  (-nn-ms)

adj.

1. Having an unknown or unacknowledged name: an anonymous author.
2. Having an unknown or withheld authorship or agency: an anonymous letter; an anonymous phone call.
3. Having no distinctive character or recognition factor: ”a very great, almost anonymous center of people who just want peace” (Alan Paton).

[From Late Latin annymus, from Greek annumosnameless : an-without; see a-1 + onumaname (influenced by earlier nnumnos,nameless); see n-men- in Indo-European roots.]

When we go into a store to buy a shirt or a screwdriver, or when we buy a meal at a restaurant, we usually don’t say “Hi, I’m Jill, I’ll be buying here today,” and the person serving us usually doesn’t call us by name, even after we’ve handed them a credit card.

In fact, the default protocol for merchants is to not to give special attention to the name on a credit card, because that card is for use in a payment protocol, not a social one.

Thus we tend to use names only when we need them, for example when the person behind the cash register at Starbucks needs to write a name on the paper coffee cup handed to the barista after you give your order. Or when we get into serious dealings, such as when we’re buying a car, and a personal relationship is required.

Note that when we do name ourselves, we’re the ones doing the naming. We don’t say, “Hi, the DMV calls me Paul,” or “The IRS calls me Cheryl.” We say, “I’m (whatever I choose to call myself).” The vector of identification goes outward from the self. The sovereign that matters, the one with sole volition, is the human self. Not an administrative entity. And not society, either. (Not unless we are a celebrity — meaning a person whose name and face are known to countless strangers, and who is therefore nonymous by default. Whether by intent or circumstance, the fact remains that celebrity is by nature a Faustian trade: anonymity is the price paid for fame. And it’s a high one. Even in polite places like Santa Barbara, where celebrities can wander about with a low risk of being bothered by strangers, people still notice. One is not anonymous.)

There is a distinction here too, and it is between what Moxy Tongue describes as one’s sovereign source and one’s administrative identities. One is ours, and the other isn’t. Put another way, one is human, and the other is calf-cow. In the latter we are the calves, and we are what the cows call us. I’ve written about this before; but the difference this time is that we’ll be gathering to talk about it, along with many other related subjects, at IIW, the Internet Identity Workshop, which runs Tuesday-Thursday of this week. Let’s pick up the discussion then. Moxy himself will be there to help lead the way.

Is there a connection between the customer/consumer distinction and the sovereign source/administrative one? That is, between what we are and who we are? Put them together and there’s a lot more to talk about. I believe there is much more autonomy and power to claim for ourselves — for the good of the whole marketplace — if we come to a broad understanding here.

 

 

Airport wi-fi isn’t the biggest business, or the smallest. I’m not even sure it’s a discrete category. Some of it is a phone company side business (T-mobile, AT&T). Some of it is a business in itself (Boingo). Some of it is just a supply of overhead to airports or lounges that want to provide free wi-fi or to charge for access under their own brand.

Here in Boston, Logan Airport has a complicated thing where you have a choice of many for-pay access options, or free access if you jump over a small hurdle. For my phone it was watching a video that the phone wouldn’t play. But at least the Web page said “If the video doesn’t run, click here to connect.” I did and it worked. But it was not so easy on my computer, where it provided a choice of watching the video or answering a survey. The video, an ad for BMW that has been running for months (I fly a lot out of here), was followed by a page with an error code. I closed the window, re-started the browser and did the survey. Same result. So I changed browsers. This time there was just a video, provided by HP, and “powered by AWG” it said. I muted the sound and watched the video, which promoted an HP netbook. Without the sound the ad was fairly worthless. More interesting was the countdown to the connection, which ran above the ad. After running from 30 seconds to zero, I got a page with a big spinning wheel that ran and ran. Another fail.

Then I saw there’s an access point called AWGwifi and tried that. It failed too.

Meanwhile here at the United Club, the T-Mobile access they’ve provided for many years also failed as soon as I clicked on the link for club members. Of course the people behind the desk are not in charge of that. All they can do is report the problem, which I guess is one of the many that have come up through the long slow merger between United and Continental.

So I’m getting on through my phone’s 3G data plan. But I won’t be uploading the photos I had wanted to, because I don’t want to hit a cost jump if I go over my monthly allotment of bits.

The best airport wifi system I’ve seen so far is the one at the Continental club, and a few scattered airports I don’t recall: the wi-fi just works. It’s open, free and requires no logging in or going through a promotional gauntlet. Maybe that’s not “secure,” but are any of these paid systems secure either? One can be a bad actor over any of them.

I would think there is a market opportunity here for a creative approach — one that might be paid but doesn’t require becoming a member of something. Making it possible to just get on the Net with no hassle and no promotional BS would make a lot of travelers happy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WNAX Daytime coverage

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

WBAP coverage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I own a lot of books and music CDs — enough to fill many shelves. Here’s just one:

They are relatively uncomplicated possessions. There are no limits (other than mine) on who can read my books, or what else  I can do with them, shy of abusing fairly obvious copyright laws. (For example, I can’t plagiarize somebody’s writing, or reproduce whole chapters of a book I’m quoting.) Music is a bit more complicated, but not to the degree that I stop assuming that I own and control the CDs on my shelves (even when they’re copied onto a hard drive, or stored in a cloud). The same even goes for the videocassettes and DVD of movies I’ve purchased. They are mine. I own them.

But books, music and movies from Amazon, Apple and other BigCos aren’t really sold. They are licensed. Take Amazon’s terms of use for e-books. They say this:

… the Content Provider grants you a non-exclusive right to view, use, and display such Digital Content an unlimited number of times, solely on the Kindle or a Reading Application or as otherwise permitted as part of the Service, solely on the number of Kindles or Other Devices specified in the Kindle Store, and solely for your personal, non-commercial use. Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

Pretty clear. That stuff ain’t yours. All you get is some downloaded data and a highly restricted set of permissions for where and how you use that data, mostly within within the walled gardens provided by Amazon and the Content Providers. So it’s really more like renting than buying. (And not from friendly competitors, either.)

What’s more, the seller can also change the licensing terms at will. For example, in Apple’s terms for iTunes, it says “Apple reserves the right to modify the Usage Rules at any time.” Somewhere deep in the 55-page terms of use for the iPhone it says the same kind of thing. This is why your ownership of a smartphone is far more diminished than your ownership of a laptop or a camera. That’s because our phones are members of proprietary systems that we don’t operate. This is why the major operators (e.g. Verizon, AT&T) and OEMs (e.g. Apple and Google) are at liberty to reach into your phone and turn stuff on and off. (MVNOs such as Ting distinguish themselves by not doing that.)

Same with TV. Nothing you watch on your cable or satellite systems is yours. In most cases the gear isn’t yours either. It’s a subscription service you rent and pay for monthly. Companies in the cable and telephone business would very much like the Internet to work the same way. Everything becomes billable, regularly, continuously. All digital pipes turn into metered spigots for “content” and services on the telephony model, where you pay for easily billable data forms such as minutes and texts. (If AT&T or Verizon ran email you’d pay by the message, or agree to a “deal” for X number of emails per month.)

Free public wi-fi is getting crowded out by cellular companies looking to move some of the data carrying load over to their own billable wi-fi systems. Some operators are looking to bill the sources of content for bandwidth while others experiment with usage-based pricing, helping turn the Net into a multi-tier commercial system. (Never mind that “data hogs” mostly aren’t.) And mobile carriers are starting to slice up the Web itself. In All Mobile Traffic Isn’t Equal — As ‘Net Neutrality’ Debate Swirls, Wireless Carriers Start Cutting Special Deals , Anton Troianovski writes this in the Wall Street Journal:

One of Europe’s biggest wireless companies recently started offering a new plan in France: For less than $14 a month, customers could get unlimited Web browsing on their phones.

The catch—the Internet was limited to Twitter and Facebook. Every 20 minutes spent on any other website cost nearly 70 cents.

France Telecom SA’s Orange Group is one of several wireless carriers around the world experimenting with slicing up the Web into limited offerings and exclusive deals they hope will bring marketing advantages or higher profits.

In Turkey, mobile operator Turkcell lets users pay a flat fee to access Facebook, but not competing Turkish social networks. Polish carrier Play has offered free access to a handful of sites including Facebook but charged for the rest of the Web. And AT&T Inc. now says it’s planning to let app developers subsidize U.S. subscribers’ use of services.

Such tests remain the exception not the rule. Still, they show that the “open Web” ideal that has long governed Internet use is starting to break down as more and more surfing takes place on mobile devices.

Telecom executives, tired of being the “dumb pipes” through which valuable Internet traffic flows, say they need to cut such deals to make investing in expensive mobile-data networks worthwhile. But entrepreneurs seeking to devise new mobile offerings worry the shifting rules of the game will favor well-heeled companies that can afford carriers’ new terms.

Thus turning the mobile Web into something more like TV.

Meanwhile, back on the book and music front, publishers already have the Amazon and Apple content sphincters in place, on the iPads, iPhones and Kindles that are gradually marginalizing our dull old all-purpose desktop and laptop computers.What used to be radio is gradually turning into a rights-clearing mess. You like Spotify? Read Michael Robertson on how hard it is for Spotify and other radio-like music services to make money, or for the artists to make much either. You like to hear music on the radio, either over the air or over streams? Read David Oxenford’s report on how complicated that’s getting. Stopping SOPA was indeed an achievement by advocates of a free and open Internet.  But that was like stopping one goal in a football game after the other side already built up a 100-to-0 lead.

So, while BigCo walled gardeners such as Apple and Amazon continue to convert things that could be owned in the physical world (starting with music and books) into what can only be licensed in the virtual one, the regulatory framework around the Internet is ratcheting in an ever more restrictive direction, partly at the behest of regulatory captors such as the phone, cable and content companies (all getting more and more vertically integrated), and partly at the behest of countries that want the UN and the ITU to help them restrict Net usage inside their borders.  The latter is less about licensing than about pure politics, but it’s still at variance with the free and open marketplace the Net opened up in the first place.

John Battelle has long been observing this trend, and contextualizes it in a post titled It’s not whether Google’s threatened. It’s asking ourselves: What commons do we wish for?, The gist:

What kind of a world do we want to live in? As we increasingly leverage our lives through the world of digital platforms, what are the values we wish to hold in common? I wrote about this issue a month or so ago:  On This Whole “Web Is Dead” Meme. In that piece I outlined a number of core values that I believe are held in common when it comes to what I call the “open” or “independent” web. They also bear repeating (I go into more detail in the post, should you care to read it):

No gatekeepers. The web is decentralized. Anyone can start a web site. No one has the authority (in a democracy, anyway) to stop you from putting up a shingle.

An ethos of the commons. The web developed over time under an ethos of community development, and most of its core software and protocols are royalty free or open source (or both). There wasn’t early lockdown on what was and wasn’t allowed. This created chaos, shady operators, and plenty of dirt and dark alleys. But it also allowed extraordinary value to blossom in that roiling ecosystem.

- No preset rules about how data is used. If one site collects information from or about a user of its site, that site has the right to do other things with that data, assuming, again, that it’s doing things that benefit all parties concerned.

- Neutrality. No one site on the web is any more or less accessible than any other site. If it’s on the web, you can find it and visit it.

- Interoperability. Sites on the web share common protocols and principles, and determine independently how to work with each other. There is no centralized authority which decides who can work with who, in what way.

I find it hard to argue with any of the points above as core values of how the Internet should work. And it is these values that created Google and allowed the company to become the world beater is has been these past ten or so years. But if you look at this list of values, and ask if Apple, Facebook, Amazon, and the thousands of app makers align with them, I am afraid the answer is mostly no. And that’s the bigger issue I’m pointing to: We’re slowly but surely creating an Internet that is abandoning its original values for…well, for something else that as yet is not well defined.

This is why I wrote Put Your Taproot Into the Independent Web. I’m not out to “save Google,” I’m focused on trying to understand what the Internet would look like if we don’t pay attention to our core shared values.

What’s hard for walled gardeners to grok — and for the rest of us as well  — is that  the free and open worlds created by generative systems such as PCs and the Internet have boundaries sufficiently wide to allow creation of what Umair Haque calls “thick value” in abundance. To Apple, Amazon, AT&T and Verizon, building private worlds for captive customers might look like thick value, but in the long run captive customer husbandry closes more opportunities across the marketplace than they open. Companies do compete (as do governments), but the market and civilization are both games that support positive sum outcomes for multiple players. The free and open Internet is the game board on which the Boston Consulting Group says a $2.1 trillion economy grew in 2010, on a trajectory to reach $4.2 trillion by 2016. That game board is also a commons, and it’s being enclosed. (Lewis Hyde, author of Common as Air, calls it the “third enclosure.”)

By losing the free and open Internet, and free and open devices to interact with it — and even such ordinary things as physical books and music media — we reduce the full scope of both markets and civilization.

But that’s hard to see when the walled gardens are so rich with short-term benefits.

[Later...] I should make clear that I’m not against silos as a business breed, or vertical integration as a business strategy. In fact, I think we owe a great deal of progress to both. I think Apple actually opened up the smartphone market with the iPhone, and its vertical private marketplace. The concern I’m expressing in this post is with the fractioning of the commercial Web, as we experience it, and of much else that happens on the Net, into private vertical silos, using proprietary gear that limits what can be done to what the company owning the whole market allows. The book business, for example, largely happens inside Amazon, as of today. I think this is good in some ways, and worse in others. I’m visiting the worse here.

 

(Cross-posted from the ProjectVRM blog.)

left r-buttonright r-buttonFor as long as we’ve had economies, demand and supply have been attracted to each other like a pair of magnets. Ideally, they should match up evenly and produce good outcomes. But sometimes one side comes to dominate the other, with bad effects along with good ones.

Such has been the case on the Web ever since it went commercial with the invention of the cookie in 1995, resulting in a  in which the demand side — that’s you and me — plays the submissive role of mere “users,” who pretty much have to put up with whatever rules websites set on the supply side.

Consistent with  (“Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely”) the near absolute power of website cows over user calves has resulted in near-absolute corruption of website ethics in respect to personal privacy.

This has been a subject of productive obsession by  and her team of reporters at The Wall Street Journal, which have been producing the  series (shortcut: http://wsj.com/wtk) since July 30, 2010, when Julia by-lined . The next day I called that piece a turning point. And I still believe that.

Today came another one, again in the Journal, in Julia’s latest, titled Web Firms to Adopt ‘No Track’ Button. She begins,

A coalition of Internet giants including Google Inc. has agreed to support a do-not-track button to be embedded in most Web browsers—a move that the industry had been resisting for more than a year.

The reversal is being announced as part of the White House’s call for Congress to pass a “privacy bill of rights,” that will give people greater control over the personal data collected about them.

The long White House press release headline reads,

We Can’t Wait: Obama Administration Unveils Blueprint for a “Privacy Bill of Rights” to Protect Consumers Online

Internet Advertising Networks Announces Commitment to “Do-Not-Track” Technology to Allow Consumers to Control Online Tracking

Obviously, government and industry have been working together on this one. Which is good, as far as it goes. Toward that point, Julia adds,

The new do-not-track button isn’t going to stop all Web tracking. The companies have agreed to stop using the data about people’s Web browsing habits to customize ads, and have agreed not to use the data for employment, credit, health-care or insurance purposes. But the data can still be used for some purposes such as “market research” and “product development” and can still be obtained by law enforcement officers.

The do-not-track button also wouldn’t block companies such as Facebook Inc. from tracking their members through “Like” buttons and other functions.

“It’s a good start,” said Christopher Calabrese, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union. “But we want you to be able to not be tracked at all if you so choose.”

In the New York Times’ White House, Consumers in Mind, Offers Online Privacy Guidelines Edward Wyatt writes,

The framework for a new privacy code moves electronic commerce closer to a one-click, one-touch process by which users can tell Internet companies whether they want their online activity tracked.

Much remains to be done before consumers can click on a button in their Web browser to set their privacy standards. Congress will probably have to write legislation governing the collection and use of personal data, officials said, something that is unlikely to occur this year. And the companies that make browsers — Google, Microsoft, Apple and others — will have to agree to the new standards.

No they won’t. Buttons can be plug-ins to existing browsers. And work has already been done. VRM developers are on the case, and their ranks are growing. We have dozens of developers (at that last link) working on equipping both the demand and the supply side with tools for engaging as independent and respectful parties. In fact we already have a button that can say “Don’t track me,” plus much more — for both sides. Its calle the R-button, and it looks like this: ⊂ ⊃. (And yes, those symbols are real characters. Took a long time to find them, but they do exist.)

Yours — the user’s — is on the left. The website’s is on the right. On a browser it might look like this:

r-button in a browser

Underneath both those buttons can go many things, including preferences, policies, terms, offers, or anything else — on both sides. One of those terms can be “do not track me.” It might point to a fourth party (see explanations here and here) which, on behalf of the user or customer, maintains settings that control sharing of personal data, including the conditions that must be met. A number of development projects and companies are already on this case. Some have personal data stores (PDSes), also called “lockers” or “vaults.” These include:

Three of those are in the U.S., one in Austria, one in France, one in South Africa, and three in the U.K. (All helping drive the Midata project by the U.K. government, by the way.) And those are just companies with PDSes. There are many others working on allied technologies, standards, protocols and much more. They’re all just flying below media radar because media like to look at what big suppliers and governments are doing. Speaking of which… :-)

Here’s Julia again:

Google is expected to enable do-not-track in its Chrome Web browser by the end of this year.

Susan Wojcicki, senior vice president of advertising at Google, said the company is pleased to join “a broad industry agreement to respect the ‘Do Not Track’ header in a consistent and meaningful way that offers users choice and clearly explained browser controls.”

White House Deputy Chief Technology Officer Daniel Weitzner said the do-not-track option should clear up confusion among consumers who “think they are expressing a preference and it ends up, for a set of technical reasons, that they are not.”

Some critics said the industry’s move could throw a wrench in a separate year-long effort by the World Wide Web consortium to set an international standard for do-not-track. But Mr. Ingis said he hopes the consortium could “build off of” the industry’s approach.

So here’s an invitation to the White House, Google, the 3wC, interested BigCos (including CRM companies), developers of all sizes and journalists who are interested in building out genuine and cooperative relationships between demand and supply::::

Join us at IIW — the Internet Identity Workshop — in Mountain View, May 1-3. This is the unconference where developers and other helpful parties gather to talk things over and move development forward. No speakers, no panels, no BS. Just good conversation and productive work. It’s our fourteenth one, and they’ve all been highly productive.

As for the r-button, take it and run with it. It’s there for the development. It’s meaningful. We’re past square one. We’d love to have all the participation we can get, from the big guys as well as the little ones listed above and here.

To help get your thinking started, visit this presentation of one r-button scenario, by Adam Marcus of MIT. Here’s another view of the same work, which came of of a Google Summer of Code project through ProjectVRM and the Berkman Center:

(Props to Oshani Seneviratne and David Karger, also both of MIT, and Ahmad Bakhiet, of Kings College London, for work on that project.)

If we leave fixing the calf-cow problem entirely up to the BigCos and BigGov, it won’t get fixed. We have to work from the demand side as well. In economies, customers are the 100%.

Here are some other stories, mostly gathered by Zemanta:

All look at the symptoms, and supply-side cures. Time for the demand side to demand answers from itself. Fortunately, we’ve been listening, and the answers are coming.

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So I’m at Micah Sifry’s Politics of the Internet class at the Kennedy School, and risk live-blogging it (taxing my multitasking abilities…)

Some questions in the midst of dialog between Micah (@Mlsif) and the class (#pol-int)…

  • Was there a $trillion “internet dividend” over the old phone system, and was it a cost to the old system?
  • Did the Internet have to happen?
  • Is the IETF‘s “rough consensus and running code” still a prevailing ethos, or methodology?
  • Is it an accident that the rough consensus above is so similar to the #Occupy methods?
  • When you add value, do you also subtract value? (And did I — or David Weinberger and I) actually say that in World of Ends?)
  • Does this new un-owned decentralized medium cause or host culture?
  • How is the Internet used differently in different societies? (Assertion: it’s not monolithic.)
  • What is possible in a world where we assume connectivity?
  • What are the major disruptive effects?
  • What is the essence of the starting point in the early connection of computers? (What is the case for the Net, and how would you make it to, say, a legislator? Or you’re in an elevator with your boss, and you want to make the case against legislating how the internet is structured?)

Topics brought up:

  • Net-heads vs. bell-heads (the Net as its transcendant protocols vs. the Net as a collection of owned and controlled networks)
  • Commercialization
  • Authentic voice
  • Before and after (what if Compuserve and AOL had won?)
  • How can we speak of a giant zero when companies and governments are being “smart” (either through government censorship or carrier limitations, including the urge to bill everything, to pick a couple of examples)

My Linux Journal collection on the topic (from a lookup of “giant zero”):

Well, I wrote down nothing from my own talk, or the Q & A following. But there are clues in the tweet stream (there’s some funky html in the following… no time to fix it, though):

dskok David Skok
 An excellent read re: the battle @dsearls was referring to. I recommend @scrawford‘s @nytimes op-Ed: nytimes.com/2011/12/04/opi… #pol-int
NoreenBowden Noreen Bowden

 @dsearls! #pol-int Death From Above – 1995 essay by John Barlow on future of internet. w2.eff.org/Misc/Publicati…
dskok David Skok

 .@dcsearls reading list: Death from above by John Perry Barlow: w2.eff.org/Misc/Publicati… #pol-int
NoreenBowdenNoreen Bowden
Stanford prof leaves to start online university. allthingsd.com/20120125/watch… #pol-int
dsearls Doc Searls
My live blog from @mlsif‘s #pol-int class: hvrd.me/xd3Iki #politics #internet
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 Tweet “+1″ if you think @MlSif should slide over 3 feet to his left or right so the classroom projector isn’t shining on his face. #pol-int
dskokDavid Skok

 Listening to @docsearls referring to the Internet Protocol Suite: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_… #pol-int
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 ”Anyone can join it and work to improve it.” @Mlsif: Is it a coincidence that #OWS and the Internet are structured so similarly? #pol-int
NaparstekAaron Naparstek

 Testing live classroom Twitter feed @Mlsif‘s new @Kennedy_School course, “The Politics of the Internet.” #pol-int
dsearlsDoc Searls

 Fun to be sitting in on @Mlsif‘s #pol-int class, described here: hvrd.me/w3hCbI
 MlsifMicah Sifry
I hadn’t realized up til now just how much the IETF and its working groups resemble Occupy Wall St and its working groups. #pol-int

Enjoyed it. The class will be blogging. Look forward to reading those too.

Marcel Bullinga is a Dutch futurist and author of Welcome to the Future Cloud. Today I got pointed on Twitter to a Q&A with Bullinga by Aaron Saenz at SingularityHub. Interesting stuff. An excerpt:

SH: Welcome to the Future Cloud seems to be very supportive of intellectual property (IP) rights and digital rights managements (DRM). Are IP and DRM necessary to the development of a healthy future?

MB: Yes and no. The trend is twofold. We will have ironclad ways to protect our data, our virtual sources and our identities. We will wrap our virtual belongings with what I call a Cloud Seal. A seal that contains the ownership and the Terms of Use of your data. This goes way beyond something as simple and as easy-to-cheat thing as DRM.

On the other hand, more and more, we do not need control over our creations and we do not need IP protection, because we let go — voluntarily. We find other ways to earn money. Think of the startup musician who gives away his music for free in order to get his fans to visit a live concert.

The point is, in the future cloud, we need to have the choice. The choice to trade privacy for services, the choice to sell privacy for money, the choice to buy your privacy. The choice to control or to let go. For that , we need this personal dashboard. Without it, the Cloud is a new disaster.

Control over our virtual life wasn’t that important in the past. Until now, virtual life was more of a toy thing. In the next few years, virtual identity is becoming a life vest. Therefore, it is getting more and more important that we actually own our identities and our data. Right now, we do not own them. Google and Facebook do, plus all the company sites we are subscribed to. We must change this, or the future will turn into a privacy nightmare.

The dashboard turns the world upside down. It creates a bridge between any organization and you. You grant companies access to your dashboard and you control what they do with your data. Not the other way around, as is now. From the hundreds of “myvodafone” and “mygovernment” and so on into the single “mydashboard”.

This is right up many VRM alleys. One’s virtual cloud sounds a lot to me like what Phil Windley has been talking and writing about lately, calling it both a personal cloud and a personal event network (though more of the latter). In his latest blog post, Phil dives into the real-world example of “delivering flowers in a distributed event system” in which all parties are both autonomous yet interconnected in ways that the autonomous parties control. In other words, it happens inside nobody’s silo, and between each party’s cloud. A sample:


flowershop pen

In the preceding diagram, there isn’t one event system that manages the interactions between the shops and the drivers. Rather, each driver has their own personal event network, each shop has their own personal event network, and the guild has one too. The interactions aren’t simply events raised within a single event network, but rather events raised between the networks of each participant. I’ve shown some of the apps that drivers, shops, and the guilds have installed on their personal event networks, but they would each be individually managed and configured. In fact, it’s reasonable to assume that different drivers or shops might use different apps for the same purpose as long as they understood the events.

Phil concludes,

Overall, this example isn’t terribly different from the fourth-party ecommerce example I wrote about last June except that example featured hardwired connections between the shopper and the merchant rulesets. In contrast, this example uses the idea of event subscription to link merchants and customers. Event subscription takes the fourth-party example from a nice little demonstration to a conception of how VRM could work in the real-world. The diagram shown above can be partitioned to illustrate this:

flowershop partiesTogether with our ideas about how notification occurs and how personal data can be managed in personal event networks, event subscription creates a powerful system for enabling a completely new kind of interaction between vendors and customers (note that in this example, the flowershop is the customer who is negotiating for and buying delivery services from the drivers).

Now back to the Marcel Bullinga Q&A:

SH: Which technology (or branch of science) do you feel will have the biggest impact in the next fifteen years? Who do you see as the leader in the development of that technology?

MB: My pick: a small startup called Qyi.com. It is the closest thing to my vision of a personal dashboard that I have discovered so far. I met the owner, Marcel van Galen, and he convinced me that in his business model the individual owner will stay in control. This will sweep aside the Google and Facebook attitude of “company owning”. It is vital, by the way, that neither Google nor Facebook will ever buy Qyi. That is a major threat to innovation in general: big companies buying startups. It is the surest way to kill them. It makes the startup owner a millionaire and humanity a beggar.

I am sure “Qyi” is a typo, and that Marcel means Qiy, which is indeed cool. Check ‘em out.
I wanted to point out all this stuff (including the Qiy typo) in a comment on SingularityHub, but it appeared (to me at least) that one could only do that being a member (and I couldn’t see where one signed up) or by logging in through Facebook. I hate doing anything through Facebook, but I tried — and ended up being sent to the top of the page, centered on this:

I can parse some of that, but mostly I don’t want to deal with any of it. In any case, my trying to make a comment with the help of a Facebook ID was a fail.

This kind of minor ordeal (the comment gauntlet, even if one succeeds with it) is just one bit of evidence for how lame the commercial Web still is (on the whole — not blaming SingularityHub alone here), how much we remain stuck in the calf-cow world of client-server, and why we will remain stuck until making comments is as simple as creating an event that we control and other autonomous peers respect in a useful way.

In any case, that future is not far off. We’re making it today.

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

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

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

I also said this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few years back, a former government official confidentially issued a warning to a small group I was part of, which favored some kind of lawmaking around technology. While this isn’t a verbatim quote, it’s pretty close, because it has been burned in my mind ever since: “In the course of my work I have met with nearly every member of Congress. And I can tell you that, with only a handful of exceptions, there are two things none of them understand. One is economics and the other is technology. Now proceed.”

Know-nothing lawmakers are doing exactly that with SOPA. As Joshua Kopstein says, Dear Congress, It’s No Longer OK To Not Know How The Internet Works.

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

Rivers of ink and oceans of pixels have been spilled by others on this subject, so I’ll confine my case to a single section of the bill:

SEC. 103. MARKET-BASED SYSTEM TO PROTECT U.S. CUS- TOMERS AND PREVENT U.S. FUNDING OF SITES DEDICATED TO THEFT OF U.S. PROPERTY.

(I tried copying and pasting the whole section here, but it’s a @#$%^& .pdf, a proprietary format that has been Web-hostile from the start, but beloved of the “content” folks, as well as Congress and lawyers in general. If somebody can find us a .html or a .txt version, please let me know.)

There is nothing “market-based” about this section of the bill. “Market-based” is a paint job on more regulation, more restriction, more bureaucracy, more federal meddling, more litigation. Weighing in at nearly 17,000 words, is not only clueless about the nature of the Net and the Web, mischaracterizing both from front to back, but features the word “plaintiff” 100 or more times (I lost count). Oh, and lots of new work for this bureaucrat:

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY ENFORCEMENT COORDINATOR.—The term ‘‘Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator’’ means the Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator appointed under section 301 of the Prioritizing Resources and Organization for Intellectual Property Act of 2008 (154 U.S.C. 8111)

Yes, it exists.

We don’t need SOPA. What we do need is for Congress — along with lawmakers and regulators everywhere, right down to public utilities commissions and town councils — to at least begin to understand what the Internet is, and what it does for everybody, before it starts making laws protecting one business at the expense of all the rest.

If you want to see who is behind SOPA, just follow the money.

A couple days ago, David Weinberger told me Jimmy Wales was mulling the wisdom of shutting off Wikipedia for a day.  David blogged about it. So did Cory Doctorow. Later Torrent Freak spilled the beans as well. For some perspective on this, consider these two facts: 1) Jimbo is an economic Libertarian—about as pro-business and pro-”market-based” as you can get; and 2) Wikipedia remains the only search result for anything that consistently rises above the tide of gimmickry that has corrupted the commercial Web and buried more and more “organic” (non-commercial) results under an avalanche of promotional jive.

Julian Sanchez of the Cato Institute presents a solid Libertarian case against SOPA on YouTube. If it passes, he says, “the only difference between the U.S. and China is what’s on the blacklist.”

Sure, “piracy” is a problem. So are a zillion other afflictions you can name. New laws — especially ones that are written by regulatory captives and feared by real businesses in the marketplace — are not a solution. They compound the problem they purport to solve and cause untold new problems as unintended but certain consequences. Any conservative worthy of the label should be dead-set against SOPA.

Futhter reading, compiled mostly by Zemanta:

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By design, the Internet supports everything you can do with it. As deployed, it is no more capable than the infrastructures that carry it. Here in the U.S. most of the infrastructures that carry the Internet are owned by telephone and cable companies. Those companies are not only in a position to limit use of the Internet for purposes other than those they favor, but to reduce the Net itself to something less, called “broadband.” In fact, they’ve been working hard on both.

We’ll talk about broadband shortly. But first let’s look at the clobbering the Internet took last week when Verizon, the only large provider of fiber optic Internet connections to homes in the U.S., put an end to expansion of FiOS, their fiber-to-the-home telephone, Internet and cable TV system.

This matters hugely, because the connections with the greatest data-carrying capacities are fiber optic ones. In terms of raw capacity, cable TV and copper telephone lines can’t compete. But then, they don’t need to compete if fiber is off the table as a competitor. That’s what Verizon just did.

In speedtestVerizon ends satellite deal, FiOS expansion as it partners with cable, Cecelia Kang reports in the Washington Post that the telco giant “will stop its buildout of FiOS television and Internet services in the next couple years.”

When a company says they plan to stop growing a business, they mean they have given up on it. (Hey, what business, especially a big one, doesn’t want to grow?) It’s also often a sign that the business is for sale, in this case probably to competitors in the cable business. Clues in that direction come from Cecelia’s following sentence: “The moves come as Verizon Wireless forges a new partnership with cable giants to cross-market phone, video, Internet and cellular services.” In that piece, she says “Verizon will pay $3.6 billion to Comcast, Time Warner and Bright House Networks to use a swath of cellphone airwaves that the cable giants own but do not use.”

At the business +/vs. business level, here’s how it sorts out (to me, at least):

  1. Verizon was never a cable TV company, and didn’t do a good-enough job at that with FiOS. Straight-up, it should have beaten the crap out of all its cable competitors, just based on superior video and a much higher channel count, thanks to fiber’s much higher data capacity. But Comcast and the others — even Dish Network and DirectTV — were better at the cable game. But Verizon is king of the hill in cellular wireless, with the best coverage and service in most cities. (See the latest Consumer Reports for details.) A lot of what used to be TV is moving to wireless, both over cellular connections and wi-fi. In cellular, Verizon holds aces.
  2. Cable has no cellular wireless business, and its auction winnings for spectrum haven’t yet yet paid off. But the spectrum is worth money to rent out, in ways that get cable into the cellular wireless business, so they can now sell “quadruple play” — cable TV, landline phone, Internet (increasingly called “broadband”… more about that below) and cellular.
  3. Verizon (along with cable, satellite, Apple, Google, Microsoft, Amazon and everybody else) wants to be in the “content distribution” game, which is the future of television, publishing and every other business the Internet has both threatened and transformed.
  4. For the most popular technically demanding “content” — video — 100Mbps downstream is enough. You don’t need fiber for that. Cable can do the job well enough. For DVD-quality video (such as Netflix and TV from Google and Apple) it already is.
  5. TV is body-snatching personal computing, and it’s good to get in on progress there. Take a look at all the cheap screens you can buy now at Cosco and Staples. Their default dimensions are 1920 x 1080: the native resolution of HDTV.
  6. As an informal quid pro quo with the cable companies, Verizon agreed to halt FiOS expansion. Don’t be surprised to see Verizon’s whole FiOS business leased or sold off to a cable competitor in the next few months or years. We’ll all be better off if it gets sold to Google or Apple, but that’s unlikely to happen.

The deal sucks for everything and everybody outside the content distro business, including the rest of the Internet. The sum of the lost or prevented business (and social benefits as well) is incalculable. But nobody seems to be counting. We’re just boiling frogs here.

As of today, your chance of getting fiber to your home is zero, unless you are lucky enough to live in LafayetteChatanoogaPulaski, or one of too-few other places where public and private interests align long enough for fiber service to get built out before brutal opposition by phone and cable companies prevents it — mostly by lobbying up state regulations making build-out difficult or impossible for entities other than phone and cable companies that aren’t going to bother building what they’ve already prevented anyway.

The appetite for fiber is there. We chose to rent our part-time apartment here near Boston because the street is served by FiOS. (Also RCN, a weaker fiber competitor.) Many businesses see places like the towns listed above as port cities on the Internet’s sea of bits.  The speedtest above is typical of what we get from FiOS, which offers speeds up to 150Mbps down and 50Mbps up. Fiber’s native capacity is actually much higher, which is why Chatanooga offers up to 1Gbps, as will Google’s new project in Kansas City. If you live in one of fourteen Utah cities fibered up by Utopia, you have a choice of providers of 100Mbps symmetrical service that will cost you less than what I pay ($70/mo) for my 25Mbps from Verizon.

Last I heard, the fastest cable offering in the upstream direction was 12Mbps. Cox, our cable provider in Santa Barbara, gives us about 25Mbps down, but only 4Mbps up. Last time I talked to them (in June 2009), their plan was to deliver up to 100Mbps down eventually, but still only about 5Mbps up. That’s competitive as long as all you want is “content delivery.” But what about when you want to live “in the cloud,” and all your data is elsewhere? In the long run you’ll need a lot more upstream as well as downstream capacity for that. Internet service optimized for media delivery (where TV especially wants to go) won’t cut it. But then, most people aren’t looking at that. They’re looking at TV on their iPads over broadband, and thinking that’s way cool enough.

So here we are, smack up against what John Perry Barlow warned us about in Death From Above, way back in early 1995. There he wrote, “The cable companies and Baby Bells have a model for developing the next phase of telecom infrastructure which, were it applied to the design of physical superhighways, would have us building them with about five thousand lanes in one direction and one lane in the other.”

Internet speeds over cable aren’t that lopsided, but they are that biased. And the name for that bias is broadband. So let’s look at the difference between the Internet and broadband, because that difference matters.

While the Internet is often called a “network of networks,” what defines the “network of” is a suite of protocols and standards that transcend individual networks and give the whole a single and coherent way of working. Broadband is an old telecommunications term which, as Wikipedia puts it, “became popularized through the 1990s as a vague marketing term for Internet access.”

The Internet’s protocols are NEA:

  • Nobody owns them.*
  • Everybody can use them, and
  • Anybody can improve them.

Like the periodic table, the Net’s protocols occur in nature — in this case a human one — which is why the Net’s founding capacities can be limitless in size and scope.

For business this means the Net and the Web (which is an application on the Net) are building materials with leverage as boundless as those of hydrogen, copper, oxygen, iron and other real-world elements, but without the scarcity. This is why the Net’s open protocols and standards support $trillions in business without making a dime for themselves, and without promoting the wealth-inducing facts of the matter.

We call these kinds of leverage “because effects“: you make money because of them, rather than with them.

But, since the Internet is not out to make money for itself, it is easily dismissed either as passé, or as having little or no business value. This is what George Colony of Forrester Research did in his recent speech at LeWeb, where he spoke about “the death of the Web,” and why I followed up with Be careful what you call dead. Although I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way, George’s speech was a win for the forces out to subordinate the Internet and the Web to their own parochial businesses and business models.

Right now most of us are unaware that this is going on, and fail to see the risk it presents for everybody who depends on a capacious Internet for future growth and prosperity.

The phone and cable operators are not working alone to limit the Net’s because effects. At this point their allies include lawmakers, regulators, and professional organizations like the International Telecommunications Union (ITU).

A subtle and pernicious part of that campaign has been an effort to shift the nobody-owns-it Internet conversation to one about “broadband,” which is something the operators own and rent out. Governments are enlisted in this campaign, and now so are the rest of us. (I’ve used the term “broadband” plenty myself, for example, here.) I began to get hip to this trick in the Summer of 2010, at a conference where a spokesman for the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) gave a talk about the goodness of broadband without once uttering the word “Internet.” Recently the ITU has been further sanitizing this rhetorical body-snatch by talking up broadband as a “basic human right”.

Bob Frankston (co-father of spreadsheet software and much more) has been on this case at least since 2009, when he wrote The Broadband Internet? One sample: “Today we are used to the ‘broadband’ Internet in which we achieve connectivity despite the services and twisting passages our connections travel.” Bob’s preference is that we look to maximize connectivity, rather than to increase our dependency on carriers with more interest in maintaining telephony and cable TV service and billing models than in maximizing all the other businesses and business models the Net’s founding protocols were built to support.

The division is between what communications wonks crudely characterize as “net-heads” and “bell-heads.” Think of conflict as one betwee any and only. Net-heads want the Net to support anything. Bell-heads want communications systems optimized only for the businesses they prefer — namely, their own — and to avoid even talking about the Internet. (Bell-heads have never been comfortable with the Net, because it was not made to bill. TV and telephony are easy to bill, and so is “content” in general. Thanks to Apple’s and Google’s pioneering work —mostly in league with the operators — so now are apps.)

To see how sharp this distinction is, read The New Digital Divide, by Susan Crawford, an alpha net-head, in The New York Times. Nowhere in the piece does she use the word “broadband.” She does, however, use the word “Internet” twenty-six times. In his letter to the editor responding to Susan’s piece, Verizon CEO and alpha bell-head Ivan B. Seidenberg uses the term “broadband” six times and  ”Internet” just once, and only because he can’t say “The 2011 World Economic Forum global survey ranks the United States first in Internet competition” without it. (One wonders if the U.S. will continue to rank first, now that Verizon has given up on FiOS build-out.)

At this point the only entities still trying to bring fiber to your home are Google in Kansas City, brave small operators such as Vermont’s ECFiber.net and some scattered municipalities. Helping where fiber can’t make it (and, in many cases, where broadband can’t either) are Wireless Internet Service Providers, or WISPs. Here’s hoping that these net-headed entities can prove that a wide open and supportive infrastructure for the Internet will do more for business and society than “broadband” alone can provide.

Here are Zemanta‘s related links:


* Technically, nobody restricts use based on ownership. The Ethernet protocol, for example, succeeded where IBM’s Token Ring and other purely proprietary alternaties failed, because Intel, Digital and Xerox, which owned Ethernet’s patents, chose to to make Ethernet open. There were no restrictions on how hardware manufacturers (who deployed Ethernet) could implement it.

In The Web is on life support: Forrester Research, Marketwatch reports on a speech titled “Three Social Thunderstorms,” by Forrester CEO George Colony at LeWeb. Sourcing both the Marketwatch report and George’s slides, this appears to be what he said*…

Thunderstorm One is “The Death of the Web.” Marketwatch:

Colony said that several models of thinking about the Web/Internet space are dead or outmoded.

Colony distinguished between the Web, which he said is a software architecture, and the Internet, which is a larger organizing framework.

He said technology is migrating away from the PC/Desktop model, as well as what he called the Web cloud.

Thunderstorm Two is “Social Saturation.” George’s slide:

  • Yes, we are in a bubble…for social startups
  • We are moving to a post social (POSO) world
  • POSO startups will dominate

Marketwatch again:

Colony asked LeWeb attendees to consider “what we will hold in our hands 5 years from now.”

Forrester Research thinks the answer to that question is the so-called App Internet, which offers a “faster, simpler and better Internet experience.”

The App Internet market is worth $2.2 billion, according to Forrester Research.

And decision makers at 41% of companies are now moving away from Web-based software toward the App Internet, Colony said…

He also said that adoption of social media in urban areas was now extremely high and “running out of hours and people.”

Declaring, in effect, that we are socially saturated.

That means “we are in a bubble,” he said, adding that a post-social world was on its way that would “sweep away some of the nonsense like Foursquare.

Thunderstorm Three is “Enterprise.” George’s summary slides:

What enterprise means

  • Beyond Sharepoint…lies the next wave of social opportunity
  • A rich and growing professional service market emerges
  • A major test of marketing and BT collaboration

When the skies clear…

  • A new social platform – App Internet
  • New social players – POSO
  • New social opportunities – Enterprise
  • Social will thrive, but in an evolved form

Declaring things dead is always an attention-grabber, and George grabbed a lot with this one, as you can see from the links below. Forrester’s market (and George’s primary audience), however, is the enterprise. For that audience George is right to call for thinking beyond today’s Web and social strategies, and to develop app-based ones. But calling the Web dead along the way has the effect of a red herring, diverting attention away from real risks both to the Net and to the Web — risks that extend to enterprises as well, and that all of us (including Forrester) should also be caring about. More about those in my next post.

Meanwhile, here are Zemanta‘s related articles:


Fred Wilson has since put up Sunday Debate: Is Social Peaking?, which includes George’s full speech. Watch it and compare with what I was able to glean above from the Marketwatch report and George’s slides, which were all I had to go by at the time. That alone is a lesson in the insufficiencies of all sources other than one’s own direct witness.

Now let’s look at what George says abut the “death of the Web,” and about the larger topic of “the network.”

Starting at 3:10 George says “Yes, the network is improving in power, but not at the same speed as processing and storage.” And, “If you had to build an architecture based only around the network — move all your bits to the network — you would be wasting over time all this extraordinary processing power and storage.” As an example of how the network is moving slowly, he cites the slow uptake of 4G mobile data in Europe. Other nuggets:

  • The periphery of the network is becoming ever more intelligent.” (that is, “what we hold in our hands” e.g. the iPad.)
  • (I’ll add more when I have time. Other stuff has jumped in the way.)

What matters here is the reason why the network is growing slower than either processing or storage: because it’s trapped inside what Bob Frankston calls The Regulatorium, which is the collusive space co-occupied by the phone and cable operators and their regulatory captives. While we might be impressed that our downstream speeds from Comcast have gone from 3Mbps to 50Mbps, that progress masks the limits that all the carriers put on forward Internet growth, and connectivity in general. For more on that, go to my next post, Broadband vs. Internet.

Tossed TVsI’m sitting in a medical office (routine stuff) where a number of people, myself included, are doing our best to ignore the flat TV screen on the wall. Most of us are reading magazines, using our phones or tablets, or (in one case — mine) working on a laptop.

When I arrived around 8am, I found the flat screen interesting, because it was showing a radio show I like: Dennis & Callahan, of WEEI. While most sports talk shows sound like human beer cans yelling at each other, D&C is always thoughtful and informative, even (or especially) when it veers off the sports groove, as it often does. I’d never seen John Dennis or Gerry Callahan before, so it was interesting to see them at work. I also like their long 8am conversation with Boomer Esiason every Monday during the NFL season. So digging all that was cool. Then, at 9am, when the show ended, the first of a series of half-hour-long ads began to run. Says here on the NESN schedule page that “paid programming” will continue until noon. Nobody in the room is watching. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that most of them find the non-stop pitches annoying.

NESN is the New England Sports Network. I’d never seen it before, except maybe in a bar or another place like this one. Nothing I’ve seen so far this morning would make me want to see it again. (I’m still in the Waiting Room, waiting.) While it was nice seeing D&C, I don’t need a TV for that. And, while “paid programming” fills the time between D&C and sports news later in the day, it’s otherwise one big value-subtract for everybody but the station and the advertiser (and, I suppose the people who buy the crap being advertised — currently some kind of electronic “Amish fireplace.”). But then, so might be pretty much everything else on TV that isn’t news or sports you can’t get anywhere else.

That’s being unfair, of course. There is plenty of worthwhile stuff on TV. Talent shows. Sit-coms. Dramas and comedies. Even some reality shows. (I know people who love “Dancing With the Stars.”) My point is that none of it needs to be on TV, because today TV = Cable, and only Cable needs Cable. What we call “channels” and “networks” are just sources of programs, most of which are just files or streams that can be stored as files. We have the Net for that now.

Programs should be made available to pay for and watch on an a la carte basis, or as part of subscription packages that make sense to viewers. Apple does some of that, but most of the programs are too expensive at this point.

Sure, NBC, ABC, TNT, AMC and the rest of them have “brands” as sources of programs. But why should they be stuffed inside so much packing material, like D&C gets stuffed between “paid programming” nobody watches? Why not buy what’s worth more than $zero at prices that also exceed $zero, without also buying all the pure crap that serves as filler?

Mostly because the flywheels of Business As Usual in TV are enormous, and are sustained by FCC regulations for over-the-air, Cable and Satellite (a variety of Cable) that remain anchored in the nearly-vanished Antenna Age. (Speaking of which, there is an excellent exhibition called TV in the Antenna Age, in Terminal 3 at SFO. Check it out if you’re flying United in or out of there.)

Conveniently, all Cable companies offer Internet service as well. TV on the Net they call “over the top.” But in the long run, “over the top” will be the whole thing. The writing is already on the wall. Progress toward the inevitable is slow, but we can see how it ends. What used to be TV will just be files and streams, some of which we’ll pay for, and some of which will be free. Meanwhile, more of the usual crap will just be ignored.

[Later...] Brett (below) makes a good point about the high efficiency of broadcast (cable) for streaming. I should add that cable broadcast as a way of delivering video will make sense for a long time. But the business and technical model as it stands is obsolete and out of alignment with the marketplace. “TV” will become as obsolete as telegraphy. Video will never be.

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When we say “social” these days, we mostly mean the sites and services of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare and other commercial entities. Not talking on the phone or in person. Not meeting at a café. Not blogging, or emailing or even texting. Those things are all retro and passé. Worse, they’re not what marketers get high off of these days. Meaning they’re outside the Big Data ecosystem, most of which is devoted to improving the vast business of guesswork we call advertising, flowing outward increasingly through digital media.

The marketplace where all the Big Bux are being spent these day is not the public one where culture is made and goods are bought and sold. It’s the marketing marketplace.

Go to SelectOut.org. See who and what is tracking you right now. Chances are it’s more than a few of the hundreds of companies listed here. The market they’re in is putting better crosshairs on your back and your wallet. Not the one where you live and you shop.

Their market is in selling your ass to advertisers. So is Twitter’s, for that matter. It’s not serving you as a customer. You are a consumer. Your job is to consume “content,” and hopefully every once in awhile also click on stuff you might buy. That’s it. Yes, it’s a trade-off, but it’s not a very conscious one, and it’s not very “social,” either. Not when you don’t really know the company, or have a relationship with human beings there. Ever tried to call customer service at Facebook? Or hell, at Google? They don’t do that. They don’t want to get personal with you, even if they give you free personal services. Again, you’re not the customer. You’re inventory.

What’s missing here is real innovation in the real marketplace. (Besides what’s going on in VRM, of course.)

This became clear to me yesterday when John Wilbanks mentioned an amazing idea he had posted recently, titled Consumption Offsets and Sustainable Loyalty Cards. Here are the key paragraphs:

I had two ideas today. One is that if we can trade emissions at a corporate level, we should be able to trade consumption. So if we can track consumption of goods, and the sustainability of those goods, we have the rudiments of a market for consumption. So why not offer (wealthy, western, northern) people the chance to pay extra for an offset for their iPad like they do with their plane ticket?

My other idea was based on the ever present loyalty cards for grocery stores, pharmacies, and even cupcake shops in the US. You give away your personal data in return for lower prices (although I often use the algorithm of [local area code of store] + 867-5309). Why not something similar for sustainable goods? Either you pay the full price, or you pony up your data to save the world. Also you get a sticker to put on your computer to show how much better you are than other people – and that’s big, because being proud of being a sustainable consumer is currently, and unfortunately, densely tied to being one.

Both here and in conversation, John posed an interesting question: If personal data really is an “asset class,” as the World Economic Forum says it is, shouldn’t we be able to sell it? Or to make it fungible in some other way?

John’s second idea raises two interesting questions:

  • Who would buy your personal data?
  • What would they use it for?

Especially when, right now, lots of companies you don’t know (and a few you do) are getting that data for free. Would they pay more than nothing for it? If not, is it possible that it really is worth nothing?

When I ask questions like the two above, the answer I usually get is marketers and marketing. Some of the data you shed in the course of surfing and shopping helps sellers remember and serve you. Amazon always comes up as a canonical example. But even there Amazon is often suggesting books I’ve already bought or would hardly be interested in. Grocery stores, meanwhile, mostly use my shopping data to push coupons for stuff I bought once and might never buy again. The whole loyalty card game is one reason we do most of our grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s, which doesn’t bother with any gimmicks, and gives great service as well.

Here’s where I’m going with this: The marketplace that matters is the primary one where we live and work and shop. Not the secondary one where people we don’t know are sniffing our digital butts to see what we’ve consumed and might want to consume instead (or again).

I’m about to lead a session at the Social Business Jam, on Seamless Integration of Social. In the spirit of Dave Winer’s bailing from Facebook today, I’d like to suggest that we look at how social works in real markets, and why we keep mistaking closed private markets on the Web for real ones.

For evidence of how far off base we are, here’s Zemanta‘s list of articles related to what I’ve been writing about here:

Related articles

And, as a small counterweight to that dollarfall of investment and buzz, A Sense of Bewronging.

See ya at the jam.

I need help debugging this.

word bugThe image on the left is a screenshot of Word 2011 bug effects that are standing in the path of a book am finishing. If you click on it you’ll go to a larger image with mouse-over notes explaining the problem, which I’ll detail here in slightly greater length.

While the Print view looks fine, and clicking on any text shows the correct style in the Styles toolbox, the Outline view has big problems. Lines of normal text, regardless of formatting, show up in the Outline view as Level 1. They also show up as Level 1 or 2 in the Document Map Pane sidebar, which is the pane on the left.

“The Comity of the Commons” is Heading 2. So is “Agency,” though it shows up as something between Level 2 and 3. The other items flush-left are all normal text that Word has elevated to Heading 1, even though they are not.

I use this pane to navigate around the book, which is close to 300 pages and over 80,000 words. Having so many illegitimate Heading 1′s and Heading 2′s makes navigating nearly impossible using the Document Map Pane sidebar.

I can very temporarily fix the problem by clicking on the line of text incorrectly seen by word as Heading 1 or 2, clearing the formatting, and re-formatting it if necessary. But that takes me about an hour each time this happens, and it’s a huge PITA. And then it goes back to this state anyway.

Word’s AutoRecovery works rarely, and when it does, the AutoRecovered file has the same problem. FWIW, I don’t use any fancy formatting, instead relying on Word’s own default Headings and other styles.

Bonus problem: If I view and save in Outline view, ALL TEXT gets turned into Level 1, and the document is hosed. I just have to go back to the last good copy.

I have wasted my time on the phone already with Microsoft support, which was useless.

I have invested some time with Craig Burton on the phone. He opened one of my screwed-up book drafts in his Windows version of Word 2011, and the doc was screwed up in exactly the same way.

So the docs (.docx) are being screwed up, somehow. It’s not a display issue. It’s embedded in the file itself. And unscrewing the problem doesn’t help, because the file screws up again anyway. The document doesn’t appear to be screwed in Print view; but in Outline view, and in the Document View Pane sidebar, it is screwed. So, as it’s going now, I’ll be turning in a document that can only be used in Print view.

Any clues or help you can provide would be greatly appreciated. And please don’t tell me not to use Word. I wish I didn’t have to; but it’s a requirement if I want to get this book finished and in.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give.

[Later...] Autoflowering, below, gave me an answer I tried before — saving the file as a .doc instead of a .docx — and seeing if that worked. It didn’t the first time, but it did this time, and has been working for more than a day now. I’m not convinced that the file isn’t still corrupted in some way, but it seems to work fine. So, thanks to everybody for your help.

Rochester, Vermont

My favorite town in Vermont is Rochester. I like to stop there going both ways while driving my kid to summer camp, which means I do that up to four times per summer. It’s one of those postcard-perfect places, rich in history, gracing a lush valley along the White River, deep in the Green Mountains, with a park and a bandstand, pretty white churches and charm to the brim.

My last stop there was on August 20, when I shot the picture above in the front yard of Sandy’s Books & Bakery, after having lunch in the Rochester Cafe across the street. Not shown are the 200+ cyclists (motor and pedal) who had just come through town on the Last Mile Ride to raise funds for the Gifford Medical Center‘s end-of-life care.

After Hurricane Irene came through, one might have wondered if Rochester itself might need the Center’s services. Rochester was one of more than a dozen Vermont towns that were isolated when all its main roads were washed out. This series of photos from The Republican tells just part of the story. The town’s website is devoted entirely to The Situation. Here’s a copy-and-paste of its main text:

Relief For Rochester

Among the town’s losses was a large section of Woodlawn Cemetery, much of which was carved away when a gentle brook turned into a hydraulic mine. Reports Mark Davis of Valley News,

Rochester also suffered a different kind of nightmare. A gentle downtown brook swelled into a torrent and ripped through Woodlawn Cemetery, unearthing about 25 caskets and strewing their remains throughout downtown.

Many of the graves were about 30 years old, and none of the burials was recent.Yesterday, those remains were still outside, covered by blue tarps.

Scattered bones on both sides of Route 100 were marked by small red flags.

“We can’t do anything for these poor people except pick it up,” said Randolph resident Tom Harty, a former state trooper and funeral home director who is leading the effort to recover the remains.

It was more than 48 hours before officials in Rochester — which was cut off from surrounding towns until Tuesday — could turn their attention to the problem: For a time, an open casket lay in the middle of Route 100, the town’s main thoroughfare, the remains plainly visible.

I found that article, like so much else about Vermont, on VPR News, one of Vermont Public Radio‘s many services. When the going gets tough, the tough use radio. During and after natural disasters, radio is the go-to medium. And no radio service covers or serves Vermont better than VPR. The station has five full-size stations covering most of the state, with gaps filled in by five more low-power translators. (VPR also has six classical stations, with their own six translators.) When I drive around the state it’s the single radio source I can get pretty much everywhere. I doubt any other station or network comes close. Ground conductivity in Vermont is extremely low, so AM waves don’t go far, and there aren’t any big stations in Vermont on AM anyway. And no FM station is bigger, or has as many signals, as VPR.

One big reason VPR does so much, so well, is that it serves its customers, which are its listeners. That’s Marketing 101, but it’s also unique to noncommercial radio in the U.S. Commercial radio’s customers are its advertisers.

VPR’s services only begin with what it does on the air. Reporting is boffo too. Here’s VPR’s report on Rochester last Thursday, in several audio forms, as well as by transcription on that Web page. They use the Web exceptionally well, including a thick stream of tweets at @vprnet.

I don’t doubt there are many other media doing great jobs in Vermont. And at the local level I’m sure some stations, papers and online media do as good a job as VPR does state-wide.

But VPR is the one I follow elsewhere as well as in Vermont, and I want to do is make sure it gets the high five it deserves. If you have others (or corrections to the above), tell me in the comments below.

Some additional links:

The Rock face of the Music Radio island is eroding away, as station after station falls into the vast digital sea. Here’s a story in Radio Ink about how two FM rockers have been replaced by news and sports broadcasts that were formerly only on the AM band. (The illo for the story is a hideously discolored mug shot of the aged Mick Jagger.) But Rock isn’t the only music format that’s in trouble. All of them are.

For most of the last century, music and music radio were Xtreme symbiotes. To be popular, or just to be known to more than your local club or coffee house, you had to get your music on the radio. (For some great cinematic history on this, rent Coal Miner’s Daughter, just to see how Loretta Lynn established herself as a singer.) That’s because you also needed to sell what the radio played, which were recordings. All of those were on plastic discs.

Most music we hear is no longer on discs, or even on the radio.

Radio’s biggest advantage since the beginning was being live. This is why it’s still essential for talk, and especially for news and sports — the three formats that are winning on FM and keeping AM alive. Radio will remain strong as long as Internet streaming stays complicated (which it is, even on smartphones), and radios remain standard equipment in new cars. But music radio is still dying slowly. Three reasons:

  1. Music on radio is rarely presented by connoisseurs who know more than you do, and you’re glad to learn from. This in fact has been the case for a long time. There remain a few exceptions, but none (to my knowledge) make much money. By contrast, the Net is full of music connoisseurs and connoisseur-like offerings (e.g. Pandora, LastFM, Spotify).
  2. You don’t choose what music you want to hear. You can do that with Spotify or Rhapsody, and to a lesser extent with Pandora and LastFM.
  3. Advertising. We used to have no choice about enduring it. Now we do.

But music dying on the radio doesn’t mean it lives on the Net. At least not in the form of radio stations as we’ve known them. That’s because of copyright laws.

Radio has huge legacy legal advantages over all-digital alternatives on the copyright front. I won’t go into the details, because they’re complicated beyond endurance, but suffice it to say there is a reason why there are no podcasts of popular music. (Briefly, it’s that the podcaster would have to “clear rights” with the copyright holder of every song.) All we get is “podsafe” music, and music from outfits like the ones mentioned above, which have worked their own broad licensing deals with copyright holders — and from radio stations that enjoy similar deals and happen to stream as well.

Note that radio stations pay more, per recording, to copyright holders for streaming than they do for broadcasting on the air. But they get a break on the streaming side if they’re already broadcasting music over the air, because they don’t have to clear rights with all the artists they play.

The key here is the term “performance.” The way the law (in the U.S. at least) is set up, every play of every recording on the radio or over the Net is considered a performance, and the assumption by the copyright absolutists (the RIAA, primarily) is that copyright holders need to be paid for those performances. And they’ve been putting the squeeze in recent years on music radio to pay as much for performance rights as streamers on the Internet have been forced to pay. (They put those shackles on the Internet radio baby, right in the cradle.) This will also have a chilling effect on music radio.

So an irony of considering recorded music a “performance,” for the purpose of extracting royalties from radio stations on the Net and over the air, is that music on both is either going away or turning toward new systems, such as Spotify, LastFM, Pandora and the rest. But no new radio stations, on either the airwaves or the Net. Not if they’re going to play music of the RIAA-protected kind, which is most of what we know.

If the record industry were not immune to clues, it would find ways to open up opportunities for new music radio stations on the Net. But I doubt they will, until FM music is on its deathbed, just like it’s been on AM since FM wounded it.

Bonus links: Michael Robertson’s latest improvement to radio, DAR.fm.

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So I signed up for . I added some friends from the roster already there (my Gmail contacts, I guess). Created a small circle to discuss VRM. Nothing happened there that I know of right now, but I haven’t checked yet. I’m about to (see below), but first I’ll go through my other impressions.

First, the noise level in my email already rivals that of Facebook‘s and LinkedIn’s, both of which are thick with notices of interest in friending (or whatever) from people I don’t know or barely know. On Facebook, which I hardly visit, I see that I have 145 messages from (I guess) among my 857 friends. I also have 709 friend requests. Just said okay to a couple, ignored the rest.

Second, when I look at https://plus.google.com, the look is mighty similar to Facebook’s. Expected, I guess.

Third, I see now that “circles” means streams. Kind of like lists in Twitter. I had thought that cirlces would be a discussion thing, and I guess it is. But I prefer the threading in a good email client. Or just in email. I’m so tired of doing this kind of thing in silos. Email is mine. Google+ is Google’s. In terms of location, I feel like I’m in a corporate setting in Google+, and I feel like I’m at home when I’m in email. The reason, aside from design differences, is that email is free-as-in-freedom. Its protocols are NEA: Nobody owns them, Everybody can use them, and Anybody can improve them. Not the case with these commercial Web dairy farms.

I don’t mean ‘dairy farms’ as an insult, but as a working metaphor. We are not free there. We are the equivalent of cattle on a ranch.

The problem remains client-server, which is cow-calf, and was a euphemism in the first place (I’ve been told) for slave-master.

We’ve gone about as far as we can go with that. We need freedom now, and none of these dairies can give it to us. Yet another site/service can’t work, by the nature of its server-based design. Asking Google, or Yahoo, or Microsoft, or Apple, or a typical new start-up, with yet another site-based service, to make us free, is like asking a railroad to make us a car.

Email is one kind of primitive car. Or maybe just a primitive way of getting along on the road. (It is, after all, a collection of protocols, like the Net and the Web themselves.) We need more vehicles. More tools. Instruments of independence and sovereignty, as Moxy Tongue suggests here and I riff on here.

I’m thinking more about infrastructure these days. Facebook, LInkedIn, Google+ and Twitter are all good at what they do, but they are neither necessary nor sufficient as infrastructural elements supporting personal independence and real social interaction, like the kind we’ve always had offline, and in marketplaces since the days of Ur. Right now nearly all the sites and services we call “social” are platforms for advertising. That’s their business model. Follow the money and that’s where you end up. Then start there to see where they’ll all go. (LinkedIn, to its credit is an exception here. They have a serious set of professional personal services.) Yes, a lot of good in the world gets done with ad-supported social sites and services. But they are still built on the dairy model. And everything new we do on that model will have the same problem.

There are alternatives.

Kynetx’ execution model, for example, transcends the calf-cow model, even as it works alongside it. RSS always has supported personal independence, because it’s something that gives me (or anybody) the power to syndicate — without locking anybody into some company’s dairy. There are other tools, protocols and technologies as well, but I’ll stop naming my own votes here. Add your own in the comments below.

Saw Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold yesterday*. Brilliant work. I like the way Morgan Spurlock is both respectful and gently mocking of all points of view toward the movie’s subject: product placement in movies. That approach is why I prefer his movies to Michael Moores. Spurlock explores moral conflicts by living through them and sharing the process with his audience. Moore has a moral agenda, and grinds his axes right down to the handle. Moore also has a cruel streak, while Spurlock does not — except, perhaps, toward himself (for example with Super Size Me). Moore’s treatment of the senescent Charton Heston in Bowling for Columbine. still makes me wince.

* I started this post with the paragraph above on April 24, but didn’t finish it until now. In the meantime it just scrolled down out of sight in my outliner, below a pile of other old unposted items. I just found it, so now I’ll finish it.

The remarkable thing for me now is that The Greatest Movie Ever Sold kinda went nowhere. Walking out of the movie, I said to my wife, “This is the turning point on product placement.” But now, three months (to the day) into the future, I’m sure it’s not.

I see here that the movie grossed $629,499, as of July 17. Super Size Me, Spurlock’s hit from 2004, made almost that much on its opening day in May of that year, and passed $11.5 million in the U.S. alone by late September.

Why did Pom Wonderful Presents The Greatest Movie Ever Sold tank? Mixed reviews didn’t help. Nor did ruining a great title by selling it to Pom Wonderful.  (Even though the story behind that was a big part of the movie.) But I think the biggest reason is the topic itself. Nobody gives much of a shit about product placement. First, it’s beyond obvious, and has been ever since Blade Runner pioneered the practice, decades ago (for TDK, Atari, Pan Am, The Bell System and other future fatalities). Second, advertising itself is now beyond ubiquitous. Today, for example, I opened an urgent notice from the U.S. Post Office that contained (in addition to actual information) a home improvement promotion from Lowe’s. The United States Postal Service, brought to you by Lowe’s.

So yeah: we are saturated in advertising. Why would boiling frogs want to see a movie about how they’re being cooked?

Last week we spent a lot of time here, in Venice:

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

The triangular marble plaza on the edge of the Grand Canal of Venice is known informally as Bancogiro, once one of Italy’s landmark banks, and now the name of an osteria there. The plaza is part of Rialto Mercado, the marketplace where Marco Polo was based and prospered when he wasn’t out opening trade routes to the east. It’s also where Shakespeare set The Merchant of Venice, and where Luca Pacioli studied double entry bookkeeping, which he described in Summa de arithmetica, geometria, proportioni et proportionalità (Venice 1494), one of the first textbooks written in the vernacular (rather than Latin), and an early success story of the printing press.

Here’s a photo set of the place.

Here’s a 360° view. (While it’s called “Fondamenta de la Preson,” that’s just the cockeyed white building in the map above — a former womens prison — in the corner of the plaza.)

Note that Google Maps tells us little about the location, but plenty about the commercial establishments there. When I go for a less fancy view, the problem gets worse:

Bancogiro, Rialto Mercado, Venice

In that pull-down menu (where it says “Traffic”) I can turn on webcams, photos and other stuff from the Long Tail; but there’s no way to turn on labels for the Grand Canal, the Bancogiro plaza, the Rialto Mercado vaporetto (water bus) stop, the Rialto Mercado itself, the Fondamenta de la Preson (women’s prison, labeled, sort of, in the upper view but not the lower), or even the @#$% street names. The only non-commercial item on the map is the Arciconfraternita Di San Cristoforo E Della Misericordia, which is an organization more than a place.

(My wife just said “You know those hotel maps they give away, that only show hotels? It’s like that, only worse. The hotel maps at least give you some street names.”)

For example, try to find information about the Bancogiro: that is, about the original historic bank, rather than the osteria or the other commercial places with that name. (Here’s one lookup.) For awhile I thought the best information I could find on the Web was text from the restaurant menu, which I posted here. That says the bank was founded in 1157. But this scholarly document says 1617. Another seems to agree. But both are buried under commercial links.

The problem here is that the Web has become commercialized at the cost of other needs of use. And Google itself is leading the way — to the point where it is beginning to fail in its mission to “organize the world‘s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”

This is understandable, and easily rationalized. Google is a commercial enterprise. It makes money by selling advertising, and placing commercial information in settings like the ones above. This has been good in many ways, and funds many free services. But it has subordinated purely useful purposes, such as finding the name of a street, a canal, or a bus stop.

There are (at least) two central problems here for Google and other giants like it. One is that we’re not always buying something, or looking only for commercial information. The other is that advertising should not be the only business model for the likes of Google, and all who depend on it are at risk while it remains so.

One missing piece is a direct market for useful information. Toward that end I’ll put this out there: I am willing to pay for at least some of the information I want. I don’t expect all information to be free. I don’t think the fact that information is easily copied and re-used means information “wants” to be free. In other words, I think there is a market here. And I don’t think the lack of one is proof that one can’t be built.

What we need first isn’t better offerings from Google, but better signaling from the demand side of the marketplace. That’s what I’m try to do right now, by signaling my willingness to pay something for information that nobody is currently selling at any price. We need to work on systems that make both signaling and paying possible — on the buyer’s terms, and not just the seller’s.

This is a big part of what VRM, or Vendor Relationship Management is about. Development is going on here. EmanciPay, for example, should be of interest to anybody who would like to see less money left on the market’s table.

Bonus link.

 

Since writing What if Flickr fails? six months ago, my photography has dropped way off. I still shoot, but not as much. And I don’t upload as much to Flickr as I used to.

It’s not one thing, but in a way it comes down to that.

First, I’ve been writing a book, which I’ve never done before, and which takes a lot