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Archive for June, 2009

Though the argument between Gladwell and Anderson is fun to read and stimulating it completely misses the point of why Anderson is wrong about Free and why the newspaper industry is having trouble.

“Information wants to be free” doesn’t mean free as in beer… it is free as in freedom.  Even putting it in that context that line has nothing to do with what’s going on in media.

The ad model has crumbled for broadcast TV and newspapers and magazines.  It doesn’t mean that advertising globally is over or that charging for content or supporting content via advertising has crumbled.  It is the failure of the cost structures of the troubled media.  Ads simply don’t make the money they used to for these organizations.  Why?  Well, as we’ve discussed many times on this blog and elsewhere, because advertisers really know how to count eyeballs and transactions now.  That puts pricing pressure on campaigns (especially long term deals and premium upfronts).

Why can’t Youtube make money?  Plenty of advertisers put ads on youtube.  No users click or respond to them.  Not enough to cover the $360 million a year bandwidth bill.   It would be pretty easy to actually turn a profit with Youtube.  It would just have to stop being so Youtube-ish – i.e. get rid of the fluff content, make more ambitious ads, etc. etc.  I’m sure that will happen once Google feels like Youtube can’t be significantly touched from easy competition.  I’m sure this will happen soon.

This whole thing about making everything free or whatever.  It’s hogwash.  People pay for stuff they value.  They click on ads that don’t suck and are relevant.  The newspaper industry, as its old model stands, needs to change.  Big deal.  It will.  yes there will be micro publishing and competition from bloggers and all that.  Big deal.

I never really believed in the long tail either.  Every company I’ve seen financials for that bet on the long tail hasn’t made a dime.  If you look on itunes and amazon and shopping sites and news sites it’s still the hits that make the money.  And hits cost money to make. and people value them, so they buy them.  This applies to music, movies, articles, books, celebrities, products…. i’m not saying you can’t make money from the long tail… you can… but that’s like comparing making money from hotdog carts (the long tail of lunch) to running a multi-national chain like mcdonald’s (hits!).  or maybe not. but hopefully you get my point.

I do agree with Gladwell on one point – there are no iron clad laws… except maybe one.. there are no iron clad laws.

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TechCrunch opines on the open government efforts and the pros and cons of being more open.  I’m troubled by this statement:

Except there is one big problem: indifference. Most people will not do anything with that data.

If we approached all policies and strategies to increase citizen involvement with an assumption of indifference why would we try anything at all?

This is incredibly self-defeating and has almost no prior evidence to support the claim.  Yes there are those currently motivate to abuse this openness.  And that abuse may  be the motivation to get currently inactive citizens active – they can now compete with the politically powerful using the same data.

Of course there are citizens that are indifferent.  However, I think more often than not ignorance or competiting objectives are the issue not blatant indifference.  People care deeply about our government.  No not everyone is going to showcase that care by mashing up government data.  We’re better off with the chance that we all can do that if we want.

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In the last couple of months we’ve had several high profile events (reporter escape, #iranelection, swine flu)  on the planet that demonstrate the direct influence the media has on events.  As much as journalists and media personnel attempt to be impartial reporters they never are and never can be.  It’s simply impossible to report on an event without impacting it especially in this ever more everything digitally connected to everything else.  This is not necessarily bad or misguided.  What is problematic though is operating media properties without careful navigation of the fine line between influence and observation and consuming media without judging it’s impact.

I’ve recently read the Dave Cullen book, COLUMBINE.  On top of  its literary positives this book does an excellent job of picking apart the media coverage’s direct influence on the events as they unfolded and our analysis (and current thinking!) on the events, the people, the causes.  People died as a result of the fundamental misunderstanding about media’s impact on events.  People’s lives continue to be out of sync with what really happened and why it all happened because of the media’s impact on the events and investigations.

I suspect we’ll look back on the Iran election in a similar light.  Perhaps, in this case, media will be a more positive influence.

The recent NYTimes+Wikipedia strategy is another example of potential grave misunderstanding.  In this case the potential influence of media was recognized before hand but…… now that it is public how we can manipulate media and the Internet population there’s another problem looming.   Are we opening a can of worms by allowing the media to be used strategically in political and military efforts?

I recently had a mini-debate on facebook about whether it was a such a good idea to encourage folks to confuse and hide identies behind false settings and proxy servers on Twitter during the Iran Election.  Though the intentions behind these activities seem worthwhile – helping citizens fight for political freedom – this is a slippery precendent to be setting.  Where do we draw the line on using the shifty nature of online media as a strategy?  How can we legally hold criminals accountable for these same actions?  How can we identify suspicious behaviors when we’ve encourage this use of media by everyone?  Is it OK for journalists to use this tactic when pursuing a story?

Trying to understand the world is difficult enough.  The Internet and new approach media is great for its openness, DIY approach and general “we’ll figure it out as we go” utility.  However, unchecked by the very people creating and consuming it as the situation is now we’re only creating more confusion and muting the considerable utility of this platform.  What I am directly saying is that all of us in media (reporting and tool building) need to spend a little more time reflecting and strategizing and a little less time trying to be the first on the scene, the one with the most pageviews, the one with the exclusive.  This approach won’t come about without some direct actions on our part and lives depend on figuring this out.

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Methinks the best experience will end up combining real time search with regular web search.  Yes, it’s nice to have unfiltered immediate information in certain situations like breaking news or emergencies.  Outside of that synthesis is essential to keep the noise to signal ratio down.

I don’t so much mind the metaphor used on TechCrunch today of consciousness and memory.

Imagine having just memory or just real time consciousness – it somehow wouldn’t be very efficient for the processing of information into action.  TC brings this up.  Yesterday’s Michael Jackson and celebrity death coverage and the malware issues showcases that without some non-real time synthesis things get pretty messed up.

Thinking through this is not that hard.  Though you can’t use citation analysis to filter results like in PageRank, you can do similar things to get some confidence interval in the real time results.  However, the more accurate you make that the more processing time it will take and, thus, it will be less real time.   I think some hybrid of rapid filtering with a real time pressentation of streams with a big note that says UNFILTERED or UNVERIFIED should do just fine at the top of regular web results.

I’d use that kind of experience, for what it’s worth…

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So it’s not that will doesn’t exist; it’s that the free part is problematic — a lot of people see free will and say, “Well, you’re showing there’s no free will; therefore, people have no intentions or will.” No. There is will, and will can be shaped by a host of factors: your genetic background, your early experience with your home and your family, your caretakers, you playmates, cultural influences bombarding us through the media and through socializing with your peers (and, thus what they like and what they think and what they believe from their parents). All this is being soaked up like a sponge by little kids.

John Bargh, Conversation on EDGE.org

and more zingers…

we’re much more accurate about predicting other people than we are at predicting ourselves. All these things going on inside of us get in the way, and especially the positive illusions about ourselves.

It’s a great read.  if I put a link right here, I bet you’d read it (you’re expecting the link but it’s here instead!)

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A nice example of how the 24/7 “news” cycle forces the media to generate news to fill in the blog posts and airwaves.

Media personnel far outnumber the David Letterman protestors.

Pretty hilarious picture.  Not so hilarious when this stuff is taking coverage away from actual issues… like health care reform, Iran, North Korea, a couple trillion in government spending….

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BBC reports on simulations run by astronomers suggesting we could see some planets collide in a billion years or so.

What’s fun is that you can actually ATTEMPT to run these computations in Wolfram|Alpha.  Here’s mercury in 1 billion years. Unfortunately the one thing I want to be able to show is the orbits of the planets and that is pushing W|A to the heuristic timing limit.

I can put this into Mathematica and work it out using more local CPU power.  Then again, I like just playing with numbers to see where I can take this.  Here’s Mercury at 199,999 years.  Things get gnarly.

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Investigating causal factors instantly is not only possible it’s GREAT!

Check this graph out… think there’s a relationship?

GM revenue vs US Carbon Emissions

cool. very cool.

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Whether it’s “valid” or not humans (and probably most animals) make associations of new, unknown things with similar-seeming known things.  In fact, this is the basis of communication.

In the case of discussing new websites/services/devices like Wolfram|Alpha, Bing, Kindle, iPhone, Twitter and so on it’s perfectly reasonable to associate them to their forebears.  Until users/society gets comfortable with the new thing and have a way of usefully talking about it making comparisons to known things is effective in forming shared knowledge.

My favorite example of this is Wikipedia and Wikis.  What the heck is a wiki?  and what the heck is wikipedia based on this wiki?  Don’t get me wrong – I know what a wiki is. But to someone who doesn’t, hasn’t used one, and hasn’t contributed to one it’s pretty hard to describe without giving them anchors based on stuff they do know.  “Online Encyclopedia”, “Like a Blog but more open”…  (for fun read how media used to talk about wikipedia, more here)

More recently is Twitter.  What is it like?  A chat room? a social network?  a simpler blog? IM?  right… it’s all that and yet something different, it’s Twitter.  You know it when you use it.

Just like in nature new forms are always evolving with technology.  Often new tech greatly resembles its ancestories.  Other times it doesn’t.

In the specific case of Wolfram|Alpha and Bing/google… they share a common interface in the form of the browser and an HTML text field.  They share a similar foundation in trying to make information easy to access.  The twist is that Wolfram|Alpha computes over retrieved information and can actually synthesize (combine, plot, correlate) it into new information.  Search engines retreive information and synthesize ways to navigate it.  Very different end uses, often very complimentary.  Wikipedia uses humans to synthesize information into new information, so it shares some concepts with Wolfram|Alpha.  Answers.com and other answer sites typically are a mash up of databases and share the concept of web search engines of synthesizing ways to navigate data.

All of these are USEFUL tools and they ARE INTERCONNECTED.  None of them will replace each other.  Likely they will all co-evolve. And we will evolve our ways of talking about them.

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