September 2007

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Fee speech

From the AT&T Legal Policy:

  AT&T may immediately terminate or suspend all or a portion of your Service, any Member ID, electronic mail address, IP address, Universal Resource Locator or domain name used by you, without notice, for conduct that AT&T believes (a) violates the Acceptable Use Policy; (b) constitutes a violation of any law, regulation or tariff (including, without limitation, copyright and intellectual property laws) or a violation of these TOS, or any applicable policies or guidelines, or (c) tends to damage the name or reputation of AT&T, or its parents, affiliates and subsidiaries. Termination or suspension by AT&T of Service also constitutes termination or suspension (as applicable) of your license to use any Software. AT&T may also terminate or suspend your Service if you provide false or inaccurate information that is required for the provision of Service or is necessary to allow AT&T to bill you for Service.
  [The boldface is mine. — DS]

Verizon doesn’t even require cause:

  Without prejudice to any other rights that Verizon may have, Verizon reserves the right and sole discretion to change, limit, terminate, modify at any time, temporarily or permanently cease to provide the Service or any part thereof to any user or group of users, without prior notice and for any reason or no reason. In the event you or Verizon terminate this Agreement, you must immediately stop using the Service.

Word count: AT&T, 10,890 ; Verizon 10,147.

That’s the question over at Linux Journal.

My favorite recent Edhat is Gate B, posted August 31st. It begins,

  Those of you who are planning to attend Oprah’s Obama Bash might have heard that there won’t be valet parking in front of Oprah’s vacation home in Montecito. Instead, you will need to go eight miles away to Gate B of the Earl Warren Showgrounds and catch a shuttle bus to the big event. One might conclude from it’s second letter status that Gate B — like Plan B — is some sort of secret side entrance to The Showgrounds. But that simply is not true. Gate B is actually the main entrance. You get to it from Calle Real, the frontage road for THE 101 freeway.
  Note: Here in Santa Barbara as in the rest of Southern California, we refer to freeways with the definite participle “the” – it’s how we talk and if you are visiting our community for the first time and want to fit in, you should try it too.

Today’s is good too, though I can’t find the link to it. Here’s an excerpt:

  If you have a question about Santa Barbara, the person to ask is Brown Squared. On Wednesday he was the only Edhat subscriber who knew that the WWII picture was taken at the west end of the East Beach parking lot near the intersection of Cabrillo and Milpas. And, not only did he know where it was, he also knew what it was. Furthermore, when we asked him for more information — stuff he didn’t know about it or wasn’t 100% sure of — he found out and emailed us the answers faster than a Chocolate Lab eats cheese.
  He was certainly a lot more useful than the Gas Company. The same people who, one day long ago, put us on hold and left us there to die, were unable to tell us anything – even after 3 hours and 3 phone calls. Why you ask, should the Gas Company have been able to help? Well, after all it is their phallic-symbol shaped air vent that’s shown in the picture. And yes, for those of you who are paying attention, this is the second time in three weeks that the WWII was a phallic symbol. Maybe Ed has some issues.
  But, as we said, we don’t need no stinking gas company to give us the scoop. We have Brown Squared. Yesterday he told the dedicated staff of that the vent is a breather for the utility “vault” underneath the sidewalk there. Apparently there is a very large gas pipe hiding underground, underneath the palm trees, along the waterfront.

So I had coffee on Thursday with Peter Sklar, the chief hat-wearer of Edhat. We talked about what news is, and about whether what we still call newspaper journalism should be strictly built around our old notions of news as “content” that gets authored by authorities and distributed by media. Peter’s an authority on a lot of stuff (he’s a technologist with an advanced math degree, for example); but that’s not what makes Edhat work. It’s something much more personal and engaging than that. There is nothing else quite like Edhat. It is not the product of pro formalities. It’s a labor of love to some degree, but the love flows back in asymmetrical abundance. And that’s the important part.

I was at a cocktail party last night, at the opening of the Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival, talking with Peter and his wife, when mayor Marty Blum came up and joined the conversation. It was clear she loves Edhat, as do many other people in town, most of whom don’t know who Peter is because he’s a shy guy and prefers to let the invisible Ed take the lead. I thought to myself, Why does Marty love Edhat? Is that just because the News-Press pounds Marty like tough meat every chance they get? Is it because Edhat provides a reliably positive (as well as delightfully ironic) source of interesting items about Santa Barbara? Both those might be true, but there’s a special relationship there, and not just for Marty.

The word “loyalty” doesn’t cover what goes on between readers and Edhat. It’s something more. I’d say the same goes for columnists with the Independent, the Daily Sound and various blogs, including (perhaps especially) Craig Smith’s. In a way this is no different than what Herb Caen had going at the San Francisco Chronicle for a thousand years, and that Barney Brantingham had for forty-six years at the News-Press and now enjoys at the Independent. (As does Starshine Roshell and other relocated members of the News-Press diaspora.) These are not just columnists, but writers who depend utterly on their readers.

So, one more question for Peter, the other panelists, and readers at the panel: Is this kind of highly personal engagement with readers the foundation we need for the future of newspapers (or whatever succeeds them)? To unpack that a bit, columnists have always been an essential but secondary ingredient in the newspaper recipe. Is it possible that they are now the primary ingredient?

Back in the 1960s, Tom Wolfe coined the term “New Journalism”, and applied it to engaged writers like himself, who waded deeply into a subject and in some cases became primary figures in the stories they wrote about. (The most extreme example was Hunter S. Thompson, who branded his new form gonzo.)

Could it be that New Journalism is finally arriving?


[I just posted an answer to questions raised by Al and Max in the comment thread under the Go from hell post. But when I hit “submit”, nothing happened. When I went back and hit “submit” again, WordPress told me I’d posted the comment already. I tried another browser. Still not there. So I copied it, expanded it, and posted it below.]

Al said,

  Also thinking about VRM as coming from the reciprocal of CRM, maybe thats the wrong approach. Maybe we should be looking for the reciprocal of advertising ? i.e. something more aggressive and direct in the same way that advertising rudely interrupts our attention, maybe we can rudely interrupt the producers attention.

That’s appealing at an emotional level, but I don’t think VRM can work if it’s a reciprocal either of advertising or of CRM as we know it today. But at least with CRM we have something that respects the ideal of relationships.We need to be able to relate to vendors. Being rude or aggressive isn’t a good place to start.

Max said,

  I agree with your spirit, but I’m struggling with the notion of “creating the tools to serve me versus them and on my terms.” I think I would like some of those tools! But I wonder if there’s a paradox. When those tools are created, and then achieve success with real scale and impact, don’t they assume high propensity to become what you’re arguing against in the first place — big companies trying to serve many, with a desire to grow bigger? Every big, evil company started as an ambition, an idea, then became a small business, then a mid-size business, then a big business. Regarding tools, what about the all-important individualist tool of voting with your wallet, or voting with your attention? Is there not an ongoing erosion of the monopolies that big companies once had on information, essentially empowering individuals to vote with their wallets and attention more effectively — at least for the subset of society which chooses to?

The tools I’m talking about here are not ones big companies can control. I’m talking about tools like the open source suite that started with Linux and Apache and now includes several hundred thousand hunks of code that approach (even if they do not technically achieve) the NEA ideal: Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, Anybody can improve it.

There is no giant Apache company. Nor even a giant Linux company. There are large companies that take advantage of both Linux and Apache, however. IBM, Google and Amazon, for example. But they do not control those code bases.

Also, I am not arguing against “big companies trying to serve many, with a desire to grow bigger”. If they do that by serving customers respectfully and well, I don’t care. Instead I’m arguing against companies of any size continuing to relate to customers as “consumers” that can be herded into CRM-maintained silos like cattle, or assaulted with endless “messages” the vast majority of which are irrelevant, no matter how well “targeted” they are.

And yes, we do vote with our wallets, but we need to give companies more than a wallet to relate to. And we can’t depend just on sellers to give us that “more”. That’s what we have with loyalty programs, for example. They provide fancy and sometimes fun ways of relating to them (and to each other) inside their silos. Airlines are good at the former, and Amazon and Facebook are good at the latter. But we’re still just talking about silos here. The data we accumulate in those silos is too often theirs, not ours. My Netflix movie reviews cannot be shared with Yahoo’s. My shopping choices, presumably recorded by the grocery store in some database somewhere, are theirs, not mine. And, in the absence of a true relationship, the data we provide too often gets used in ways that are annoying for everybody. Loyalty cards, for example, inconvenience the buyers (one more card to carry in the wallet, one more fob for the keychain), slow down the check-out line, force the seller to provide dual pricing for countless SKUs — and then give the buyer a receipt with a discount on the back for stuff the buyer just bought.

Buyer-side tools would be independent of sellers, and would provide sellers with better clues for serving buyers than would ever come from any locked-down CRM system.

The Santa Barbara Book & Author Festival started last night with an award presentation to local author T. Coraghessan Boyle, and continues tomorrow with, among other things, a panel titled What’s Next for Newspapers. On the panel will be: Jeramy Gordon, editor and publisher of of the Santa Barbara Daily Sound; Matt Kettman, senior editor of The Independent; Jerry Roberts, author of Never Let Them See You Cry and former managing and executive editor of the San Francisco Chronicle and the Santa Barbara News Press, respectively; Peter Sklar, publisher of Edhat; and Craig Smith, columnist, law professor and author of Craig Smith’s Blog. I’m the moderator.

A few questions running through my mind…

  Will all newspapers eventually be free?
  How can papers, which have a daily or weekly heartbeat, keep up with the hummingbird-heart pulse rate of Web-based journalism?
  Do you see the newspaper becoming Web publications with print versions, or (as they mostly are now) vice versa?
  Is there enough advertising for all of you?
  Will advertising survive as a business model? What will be the mix of advertising and other sources of revenue?
  How do you see the emerging ecosystem that includes bloggers and expert locals who are in good positions to participate in the larger journalistic process?
  What will be the complementary or competitive roles of radio and TV stations in the future local journalistic ecosystem? Bear in mind that analog TV will be a dead chicken in early 2009.
  Is it possible, really, to replace a once-great institution such as the News-Press?
  How do you see each of your roles playing out in the event of an emergency such as an earthquake, a wildfire, a tsunami?
  What do you see as Santa Barbara’s role in the journalistic world? Are we leaders? Followers? Both? Neither?

Be interesting to see how it goes. Hope to see some of ya’ll there.

Somehow I made the Go from hell post below disappear tonight. Just got it back. My bad. Apologies.

Just discovered I made a whole ‘nuther post disappear, though. Completely. Damn.

Stamp acting

A friend of mine in Santa Barbara is looking for somebody to evaluate the worth of a stamp collection. Not my field, but I promised to blog the request. If you know somebody, contact me here.

Vote, um, often

This is amazing.

Go from hell

Why do we continue, in 2007, to believe that markets are all about What Big Companies Do? Worse, why do we continue to take advertising for granted as the primary source of the the Bux DeLuxe required to fund technical, social and personal progress?

For example, take this BusinessWeek story, which begins,

  Imagine your cellphone as a mini marketing machine. As you head into your car after dinner, a text alert pops onto the screen of your handset announcing the 9 p.m. lineup at a nearby cineplex. You choose the Jodi Foster flick The Brave One and a promo video for the next Warner Bros. (TWX ) release, a George Clooney movie, starts running. Afterward, more text appears, prompting you to launch the phone’s Web browser so that you can click through to buy the movie’s ringtones and wallpaper.
  That kind of 24/7 advertising engagement–on a phone, no less–may sound like a nightmare. But what if you could determine the kinds of products you get pitched? Or, when your flight gets canceled in a faraway airport, text messages pop up for the best hotel deals in town? No random insurance ads or airline deals for trips to places you never visit. Best of all: Watch or read the custom ads, and your phone minutes are free.

It’s about a potential Google phone. Google isn’t talking, but others are. Later in the story we read,

  …once you combine Google’s financial heft with its ultra-sophisticated ability to target ads to specific customers. “The day is coming when wireless users will experience nirvana scenarios–mobile ads tied to your individual behavior, what you are doing, and where you are,” says Linda Barrabee, wireless analyst at researcher Yankee Group.

Here’s my nirvana scenario, Linda:

  1. No damn advertising at all. I don’t care how warm and fuzzy Google is, I don’t want to be tracked like an animal and “targeted” with anything, least of all guesswork about what I want, no matter how educated that guesswork is.
  2. Tools on my phone that let me tell sellers what I want, and on my terms — and not just on theirs. Whether that’s a latte two exits up the highway, next restaurant that serves seared ahi, or where I can buy an original metal slinky.
  3. I want to be able to notify the market of my shopping or buying intentions without revealing who I am, unless it’s on mutually agreed-upon terms.

Quick: Who wants their cell phone to be a “mini marketing machine”? And why would a BusinessWeek reporter even begin to think anybody would want that?

One huge reason we get these endless rah-rah stories framed by Advertising Goodness is that advertising pays the salaries of the writers. There is no “Chinese wall” between advertising and editorial. It may seem like there is, but there isn’t. Follow the money. (I know this is a controversial thing to say, but bear with me.)

Stories about money fighting money are also much more interesting than stories about ordinary programmers building whole new worlds for little or no money at all — so the rest of us (including the programmers) can all make more money in that world. Without the free tools and building materials provided by those programmers, we would have no Google, no Facebook, no Amazon, no eBay. Because there would be no Apache, no RSS, no memecached, no Lucene. No Internet.

It’s unfair to pick on journalists, because we’re all in the same boat. More to the point, we’re all in the same Matrix. All of us live a business world framed by the controlling ambitions of companies, rather than by the actual wants and needs of customers. Even when we study customer wants and needs, our perspective is anchored on the sell side. We ask “Which company (or product, or service) will serve them best?”, rather than “How can we as customers best express our wants and needs so that any seller can fill them?” The ironic distance between these two perspectives is deep and immense.

Alvin Toffler explored this irony in The Third Wave, published in 1980, where he said:

  (The Industrial Age) violently split apart two aspects of our lives that had always been one… production and consumption… In so doing, it drove a giant invisible wedge into our economy, our psyches … it ripped apart the underlying unity of society, creating a way of life filled with economic tension.

I wrote about that split, that tension, in Listen up, back in 1998 — eighteen years after The Third Wave and nine years before now.

David Weinberger and I also wrote about it a year later, in this chapter of Cluetrain. We called it “The Axe in Our Heads”:

  Ironically, many of us spend our days wielding axes ourselves. In our private lives we defend ourselves from the marketing messages out to get us, our defenses made stronger for having spent the day at work trying to drive axes into our customers’ heads. We do both because the axe is already there, the metaphorical embodiment of that wedge Toffler wrote about — the one that divides our jobs from our lives. On the supply side is the producer; on the demand side is the consumer. In the caste system of industry, it is bad form for the two to exchange more than pleasantries.
  Thus the system is quietly maintained, and our silence goes unnoticed beneath the noise of marketing-as-usual. No exchange between seller and buyer, no banter, no conversation. And hold the handshakes.
  When you have the combined weight of two hundred years of history and a trillion-dollar tide of marketing pressing down on the axe in your head, you can bet it’s wedged in there pretty good. What’s remarkable is that now there’s a force potent enough to actually start loosening it.
  Here’s the voice of a spokesperson from the world of TV itself, Howard Beale, the anchorman in Paddy Chayefsky’s Network who announced that he would commit suicide because “I just ran out of bullshit.” Of course, he had to go insane before he could at last utter this truth and pull the axe from his own head.

We’re all still Howard Beales today. We haven’t run out of bullshit, and there’s no less cause for anger than there was when Network, The Third Wave and Cluetrain each came out. The Information Age is here, but its future is not just (as William Gibson put it) unevenly distributed. Large parts of it aren’t here at all. The largest of those is actual empowerment of customers — in ways that are native to customers, rather than privileges granted by vendors. The difference is huge.

That’s why yelling doesn’t work. What we need instead is to make tools that work for us, and not just for them. We need to invent tools that give each of us independence from vendor control, and better ways of telling vendors what we want, when we want it, and how we want to relate — on our terms and not just on theirs. As Neo said to the Architect, “The problem is choice”. That problem will be with us as long as that axe is in our heads.

The axe is marketing. Marketing is what The Matrix does.

As a verb market is not merely about selling. It is about convincing. Its ideal is control. This may not be what enlightened marketers want the verb to mean, but marketing comes from the sell side, not the buy side. Thus in practice has become a tool of control by the industrial machine. Yes, some good people in marketing actually do talk to customers, actually do advocate them. But this is still the exception, not the rule. Marketing still comes from the side of the axe that’s buried in all of our heads — no less deeply than the electric spikes on which the heads of the human batteries that power The Matrix are impaled.

It’s a waste of time to revolt against the marketing machine. The job at hand is to build the Real World again, from the humans out to the companies that serve them. Real markets — the noun, not the verb — are what we need to strike a Neo’s bargain with the machinery of marketing. Unless we build tools for ourselves, we’ll just be talking the talk.

By the way, when I want to talk to somebody about what a real market is, my first source is Stephen Lewis. Like me, he has in his life labored far too long in the mines of marketing. Unlike me, he has lived in, and studied deeply, real markets in the real world. We need more of that.

Tag: .

Eat at Joe’s

Joe Andrieu is on a roll. Or in a role. Four links before I hit the road:

  Leaving the Information Age
  Marc Andreessen hits three nails on the head (also talks about nails Marc misses)
  Change of ages
  Why Search Needs VRM

Consider those bonus links to lots of other stuff.

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