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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.

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.

 

 

The Santa Barbara Arts Collective is looking for worthy photographs to hang in the Mayor’s office. And my friend Joe just called to suggest I submit some candidates.

In my Flickr collection I have 3,928 shots tagged “santabarbara”, and 1,017 with “Santa Barbara” in title or caption text. Tops on both lists is this one:

Gap Fire, behind the Mission

But it’s not my favorite, and it looks like the mission itself is on fire (which it wasn’t). I’m kinda partial to…

I could go on, but I’d rather leaving the chosing up to you. (If you think any of them are worthy.) Votes?

By the way, most of those shots were taken with a 5-megapixel Nikon CoolPix 5700. Not my newer (but now also old) Canon 30D or 5D cameras. None of my cameras or lenses are especially desirable, by Real Photographer standards. Someday I’ll get the gear I’d like, starting with lenses. Meanwhile, like they say, the best camera is the one you’ve got. And what you see in those collections is from what I had at the time.

Oh, and all are Creative Commons licensed just to require attribution. Feel free, because they pretty much are exactly that.

That’s my Idea For a Better Internet. Here’s what I entered in the form at http://bit.ly/i4bicfp:

Define the Internet.

There is not yet an agreed-upon definition. Bell-heads think it’s a “network of networks,” all owned by private or public entities that each need to protect their investments and interests. Net-heads (that’s us) think it’s a collection of protocols and general characteristics that transcend physical infrastructure and parochial interests. If you disagree with either of the last two sentences, you demonstrate the problem, and why so many arguments about, say, “net neutrality,” go nowhere.

The idea is to assign defining the Internet to students in different disciplines: linguistics, urban planning, computer science, law, business, engineering, etc. Then bring them together to discuss and reconcile their results, with the purpose of informing arguments about policy, business, and infrastructure development. The result will be better policy, better business and better deployments. Or, as per instructions, “a better place for everyone.”

There should be fun research possibilities in the midst of that as well.

It’s a Berkman project, but I applied in my capacity as a CITS fellow at UCSB. I’ll be back in Santa Barbara for the next week, and the focus of my work there for the duration has been Internet and Infrastructure. (And, if all goes as planned, the subject the book after the one I’m writing now.)

So we’ll see where it goes. Even if it’s nowhere, it’s still a good idea, because there are huge disagreements about what the Internet is, and that’s holding us back.

I gave Why Internet & Infrastructure Need to be Fields of Study as my background link. It’s in sore need of copy editing, but it gets the points across.

Today’s the deadline. Midnight Pacific. If you’ve got a good idea, submit it soon.

After your taxes, of course. (Richard, below, points out that Monday is the actual Tax Day.)

Here’s a great idea for local TV news departments: start streaming, 24/7/365, on the Net. You don’t need to have first-rate stuff, and it doesn’t all have to be live. Loop fifteen minutes of news, weather and sports to start. Bring in local placeblog and social media volunteers. Whatever it takes: you figure it out.  Just make it constant, because that’s what TV was in the first place, and that’s what it will remain after the Internet finishes absorbing it, which will happen eventually. Now’s the time to get ahead of the curve.

Here’s why I thought of this idea:

. Far as I know it’s the only serious TV that’s live, streaming 24/7/365 on the Net. I watch it on the iPad wherever we have it… in the car, on a cabinet in the bedroom, or — in this case — on the kitchen counter, next to the stove, where I was watching it while making breakfast yesterday morning. That’s when I shot the photo.

At our place we don’t have a TV any more. Nor do a growing number of other people. Young people especially are migrating their video viewing to the Net. Meanwhile, all the national “content” producers and distributors are tied up by obligations and regulations. Try to watch NBC, CBS, ABC, TNT, BBC or any other three- or four-letter network source on a mobile device. The best you can get are short clips on apps designed not to compete with their cable channels. Most are so hamstrung by the need to stay inside paid cable distribution systems (or their own national borders) that they can’t sit at the table where Al Jazeera alone is playing the game.

That table is a whole new marketplace — one free of all the old obligations to networks and government agencies. No worries about blackouts, must-carries and crazy copyright mazes, as long as it’s all the station’s own stuff, or easily permitted from available sources (which are many).

Savor the irony here. Al Jazeera English is the only real, old-fashioned TV channel you can get on a pad or a smartphone here in the U.S. It’s also the best window on the most important stuff happening in the world today. And it’s not on cable, which is an increasingly sclerotic and soon-to-be marginalized entertainment wasteland. A smart local TV station can widen the opportunities that Al Jazeeera is breaking open here.

Speaking as one viewer, I would love it if , , , , or had a live round-the-clock stream of news, sports, weather and other matters of local interest. We happen to live at a moment in history — and it won’t last long — when ordinary folks like me still look to TV stations for that kind of stuff, and want to see it on a glowing rectangle. Now is the time to satisfy that interest, on rectangles other than those hooked up to antennas or set-top boxes.

And if the TV stations don’t wake up, newspapers and radio stations have the same opportunity. Hey, already puts Dennis and Calahan on . Why not put them on the Net? And if NESN doesn’t like that (because they’re onwed by Comcast), WBZ can put  on a stream. The could play here.  So could and . ‘BUR already has an iPhone app. Adding video would be way cool too.

The key is to make the stations’ video streams a go-to source for info, even if the content isn’t always live. What matters is that it leverages expectations we still have of TV, while we still have them.

And hey, TV stations, think of this: you don’t have to interrupt programming for ads. Run them in the margins. Localize them. Partner with Foursquare, Groupon, Google or the local paper. Whatever. Have fun experimenting.

Yesterday , the king of local TV consultants (and a good friend) put up a post titled The Tactical Use of Beachheads. Here are his central points and recommendations:

There is, I believe, a way to drive the car and fix it at the same time, but it requires managers to step outside their comfort zone and behave more like leaders. The mission is to establish beachheads ahead of everybody else, so that when the vision materializes, they’ll be prepared to monetize it. This is a risk, of course. There’s no spreadsheet, no revenue projections to manage, no best practices, no charts and graphs, because it’s not about seeing who can outsmart, outthink or outspend the next guy; it’s all about anticipating new value and going for it. The risk, however, can be mitigated if the beachheads are based on broad trends.

This can be very tough for certain groups, because we’re so used to being able to hedge bets with facts and processes. Here, we’re leapfrogging processes to intercept a moving target. It’s Wayne Gretzky’s brilliant tactic of “skating to where the puck is going to be,” instead of following its current position.

In our war for future relevance, here are five beachheads we need to establish in order to drive our car and fix it at the same time. Four of them relate to content that, we hope, will be somehow monetized. The fifth deals specifically with enabling commerce via a form of advertising.

  1. Real Time Beach — It is absolutely essential that media companies understand that news and information is moving to real time, and that real time streams are what will really matter tomorrow. It’s already happening today, but until somebody makes big money with it, we’ll continue to emphasize that which we CAN make money with, the front-end design of our websites. These streams take place throughout the back end of the Web, and they will make their way to the front end, and soon. There are early signs of advertising in the stream, and we should be experimenting with this, too. This is an unmistakable trend, and if we don’t move and move fast, it’s one I’m afraid we’ll lose.
  2. Curation Beach — Examples like Topix above show that curation beach is really already here, although I’d call those types of applications “aggregators.” They’re dumb in that they’re simply mechanical aggregators of that which is — for the most part — being published by others. Curation is more the concept of helping customers make sense out of all the real time streams that are in place. We’re all using the streams of social media, for example, to “broadcast,” but the real value is to pay attention and curate. This is a beachhead ready for the taking.
  3. Events Beach — One of the key local niches still left for the taking is the organizing of all events into an application that helps people find and participate. The ultimate user application here will be portable, for it must meet the needs of people already on-the-go. I refer to this beachhead as “event-driven news,” and it is largely created and maintained by the community itself. Since many events dovetail with retail seasons, this is easily low-hanging beachhead fruit.
  4. Personal Branding Beach — If everybody is a media company then media is everybody. This is a fundamental reality within which we’re doing business today, and it presents a unique opportunity for us and our employees. The aggregation of personal brands is a winning formula for online media, and we should be exploiting it before somebody else does. Our people are our strongest asset for competing in the everybody’s-a-media-company world, and we have the advantage of a bully pulpit from which to advance their personal brands. This is more important than most people think, because the dynamic local news brands of tomorrow will be associated with the individual brands of the community. The time to begin establishing this beachhead is now.
  5. Proximity Advertising Beach — The mobile beachhead is both obvious but obscured, because we’re all waiting for somebody to show us how to do it. This could be a real problem, for we know what happened when we allowed the ad industry itself to commodify banner advertising. Outsiders set the value for our products. The same thing is likely to happen here, unless we stake out territory for ourselves downstream first. There are predictions that mobile CPMs will hold at between $15-$25, and that’s enough to make any mobile content creator smile, but I would argue that the real money hasn’t even been discovered yet, because these CPMs are merely targeted display. Remember that the Mobile Web is the same Web as the one that’s wired, and it behaves the same way. The new value for mobile is proximity, and that’s where we need to be focusing. Let’s do what we can to make money with mobile content, but let’s also establish a beachhead in the proximity marketing arena, too, because that’s where this particular puck is headed.

If we approach these beachheads entirely with the question “where’s the money,” we’re likely to miss the boat. This strategy is to get us ahead of that and let the revenue grow into it. None of these will break the bank, and they’ll position us to move quickly regardless of which direction things move or how fast.

Live local streaming on the Net is a huge beachhead. I see it on that kitchen iPad, which only gives me Al Jazeera when I want to know what’s going on in the world. The next best thing, in terms of moving images, is looking out the window while listening to the radio. Local TV can storm the beach here, and build a nice new business on the shore. And navigating the copyright mess is likely to be lot easier locally over the Net than it is nationally over the air or cable. (Thank you, regulators and their captors.)

And hey, maybe this can give Al Jazeera some real competition. Or at least some company on TV’s new dial.

[Later...] Harl‘s comment below made me dig a little, so I’m adding some of my learnings here.

First, if you’re getting TV over the Net, you’re in a zone that phone and cable companies call “over the top,” or OTT.  ITV Dictionary defines it this way:

Over-the-top - (OTT, Over-the-top Video, Over-the-Internet Video) – Over-the-top is a general term for service that you utilize over a network that is not offered by that network operator. It’s often referred to as “over-the-top” because these services ride on top of the service you already get and don’t require any business or technology affiliations with your network operator. Sprint is an “over-the-top long distance service as they primarily offer long distance over other phone company’s phone lines. Often there are similarities to the service your network operator offers and the over-the-top provider offers.

Over-the-top services could play a significant role in the proliferation of Internet television and Internet-connected TVs.

This term has been used to (perhaps incorrectly) describe IPTV video also. See Internet (Broadband) TV.

But all the attention within the broadcast industry so far has been on something else with a similar name: over-the-top TV (not just video) which is what you get, say, with Netflix, Hulu, plus Apple’s and Google TV set top boxes. Here’s ITV Dictionary’s definition:

Over-the-top-TV - (OTT) – Over-The-Top Home Entertainment Media – Electronic device manufacturers are providing DVD players, video game consoles and TVs with built-in wireless connectivity. These devices piggy back on an existing wireless network, pull content from the Internet and deliver it to the TV set. Typically these devices need no additional wires, hardware or advanced knowledge on how to operate. Content suited for TV can be delivered via the Internet. These OTT applications include Facebook and YouTube. Also see Internet-connected TVs.

No wonder TVNewsCheck reports Over-The-Top TV at Bottom of Station Plans. Stations are still thinking inside the box, even after the box has morphed into a flat screen. That is, they still think TV is about couch potato farming. The iPhone and the iPad changed that. Android-based devices will change it a lot more. Count on it.

Since Al Jazeera English is distributed over the top by , I checked to see what else LiveStation has. They say they have apps for CNBC, BBC World News and two other Al Jazeera channels, but on iTunes (at least here in the U.S.) only the three Al Jazeera channels are listed as LiveStation offerings. LiveStation does have its own app for computers (Linux, Mac and Windows), though; and it has a number of channels (not including CNBC) at . I just tried NASA TV there on my iPhone, and it looks good.

Still, apps are the new dial, at least for now, so iPhone and Android apps remain the better beachhead for local stations looking for a new top, after their towers and cable TV get drowned by the Net.

In a more perfect world, where my many passions and obligations would be jobbed out to team of scattered clones, one of me would be in Santa Barbara, at the Super Santa Barbara exhibition on Net Neutrality at 653 Paseo Nuevo where a reception will take place 6:30pm-9pm on Thursday (that’s today) January 6th.

In my stead will be friends, most notably Joe Andrieu — who will give a talk on Net Neutrality with a Q&A — and Warren Schultheis of City2.0, who organized the event and the exhibition, which will run Jan 7th – Jan 23rd. Tues-Sun 12pm -5pm.

In their page on Net Neutrality, there’s a link to this piece I wrote for Linux Journal in 2006. It holds up pretty well, actually.

Again, wish I could be there. But if you are, please come by. There are many arguments to be had on the topic — art to appreciate as well (such as the Julia Ford item above). But the fact that matters most for Santa Barbara is that the city is still under-served by its sources of Internet connectivity. That alone should give everybody plenty to talk about.

Bonus link.