October 2009

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On Thursday, right after failing to get a root canal for the Xth time (saga here), I participated in a square-table discussion (I say that because we sat around a table with four corners) titled “How to Make Money in News: New Business Models for the 21st Century — An Executive Session sponsored by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy”, hosted by Harvard’s JFK School of Government. My panel was this:

Panel 2: Disruptive Technologies and their Impact on Business Models in Other Industries
  • Sherry Turkle, Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor of the Social Studies of Science and Technology, MIT
  • Tom Eisenman, William J. Abernathy Professor of Business Administration in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit, Harvard Business School
  • Persephone Miel, Senior Advisor, Internews Network
  • Virginia Postrel, author, The Future and Its Enemies; contributing editor, The Atlantic
  • Doc Searls, Berkman Center for Internet & Society
  • Moderator — Nicco Mele, Harvard University; founder and president, EchoDitto

It was a good one, and it was fun sharing the side (since there was no stage) with such bright and interesting folks. Nicco kindly let me speak last, since I was fighting major tooth pain at the time, and wanted a few minutes for the Tylenol to kick in. Other folks said I made sense. But I didn’t pull my various threads together since I kinda ran ahead of myself. So I thought this morning it would be good to share what I wanted to say, drawing from the outline I wrote on the pad kindly provided by the organizers there, and which I kept. Here goes…

Let’s take the long view here. Later I’ll bring in the paleozoic, but for now I’d like to start just a quarter-millennium ago, with The Enlightenment, the ideas of which were applied by the framers of our republic. The Enlightenment’s value system elevated the principles of liberty, freedom, self-reliance, personal rights, and reason, among other things. It was also a movement that was in some ways suspended when Industry won the Industrial Revolution, which, among other things, created the modern corporation. By “modern” I mean since they got big. (Although the East India Company was big enough deserve the Boston Tea Party in 1773.) Think railroads, oil companies, car companies, phone companies… and media companies, starting with the oldest of the biggies: newspapers.

The industrial system was this pyramid-shaped top-down thing that changed us from individual craftspeople to workers in a system that subordinated our originality to the positions we occupied in an org chart. Check your surname for evidence of some ancestor’s individual craft. Baker, for example. Or Merchant or Miller or Weaver or Tanner or Cooper. Nobody names themselves, or their kids, “Joe Middlemanager” or “Mary Drillpressoperator”. Collective power was all. This was believed by both the capitalist system and the communist and socialist thinkings that opposed it.

In the industrial system, nearly all industry, including orginal thinking — invention and innovation — took place within, and belonged to, some company. Governments, colleges and universities did some origination too, but The System still encompassed everything, and it subordinated the individual to its larger self. This was not a Bad Thing, but rather just how things worked. And it did lots of good. In the area of communications — our concern here today — this gave us magazines, newspapers, radio, TV, and a phone system that was smart in the middle and dumb at the ends. Innovation by the phone system, Bell Labs and all, included touch-tone dialing, the Princess Phone, the RJ-11 jack, call waiting and message recording. And that all happened over the span of about forty years.

Near the beginning of that stretch, in 1959, Peter Drucker coined the term “knowledge worker”. By then Drucker had already forecast the end of the modern corporation, and had compared management (his specialty) to conducting a band or an orchestra of self-empowered individuals, each good at what they did, and eager to learn more and improve. He said companies existed at the suffrance of the individuals who comprised them, even as it organized their work and put it to use.

As it turned out the knowledge workers who mattered most were geeks. Engineers. Programmers. These were the people who gave us the Internet, the PC and now hand-held Internet devices that still do old-fashioned telephony — but within the context of a zillion other things.

Consider the differences between the International Telecommunications Union, which started as the International Telegraph Union, and the Internet Engineering Task Force, or IETF. While the former governs its member companies through a complex and slow bureaucratic procedure, the latter uses a “request for comment” system that results in operative good-enough standards based on “rough consensus and running code”. The differences here are what account for the fact that the phone system never could have created the Net, and geeks did exactly that, and then some.

Anybody know when we first started talking about open source? The answer is February, 1998. That’s when Eric S. Raymond posted a short instructional missive titled “Goodbye, ‘free software’; hello, ‘open source“. In it he explained why Free Software, long in use as a term and accounting for much success in the computing realm, was not going to make good enough sense to businessfolk, and why a crew of fellow geeks were going to make the world talk about open source instead.  Look up open source, and you’ll now get 73 million results, give or take.  (In no small way this was the direct result of Eric’s charisma — I’ve watched him hold crowds of fellow geeks in thrall while pacing the stage and holding forth for more than three hours at a time — and his and skills at evangelism and polemics. In the midst of this work he also put out some of the strongest and most durable writing, including The Cathedral and the Bazaar, which now amounts to canon.)

The Net employs a principle called end-to-end. Among other things, it assumes that the bulk of intelligence is at the ends of the network — with people and the devices serving them — rather than in the middle, where the phone companies used to be, back when they thought, as old-fashioned formerly modern industrial companies, that most of the network’s intelligence should reside, and make decisions for us.

This principle provides an environment for creation and contribution that is radical, profound, and beyond huge. It’s as big as the invention of movable type, or maybe bigger. Or maybe an exposive expansion of it. In any case, it’s the new environment. It helps us pick up where The Enlightenment left off, and gives us endless ways to start carrying those old principles forward again. It supports dynamism out the wazoo, both for individuals and for whatever collections they form.

Which brings us to journalism.

Big newspapers, big magazines, big radio and TV… these are industrial age creatures. Some will persist in the new age that is coming upon us. But they will need to adapt to the new networked environment, where everybody can contribute.

That environment is very new. Think of today as a moment in the early paleozoic, say in Cambrian time. In that context Facebook is a trilobite. Twitter is a bryzoan. The Huffington Post is a primitive sponge. For small-j journalism, this is not the End of Time, but the beginning of it. Will big-J journalism survive? Only if it adapts. While some of that adaptation will be corporate, the leadership won’t be in the corporate system. It will be among the journalists themselves. Just as it was, and still is, with technology companies and the geeks they employ.

Bonus link: Dan Gillmor’s The Only Journalism Subsidy We Need is Bandwidth.

In response to my essay Framing the Net, on , Rikke Frank Jørgensen has posted Metaphors We Regulate By. Her summary lines: “I have found four categories to be dominant in both Internet-related literature, and in current regulatory battles at the international level. The metaphors suggested are Internet as infrastructure, Internet as public sphere, Internet as media, and Internet as culture.”

I’m thrilled to have Rikke join me as a fellow voice in the wilderness of the Internet’s lack of clear definition. She outlines a huge greenfield for necessary discussion.

About a month ago I offered myself to my kid as an example of good dental hygeine practices. While I have a mouthful of gold (owing mostly to molars that came with deep gooves that no brush could reach), all my teeth are alive. Wisdom teeth and all. I brush and floss every day, I told him. And I’ve used a Sonicare toothbrush for many years. The kid has one too. (Mostly it enforced a 2-minute discipline, though I usually go longer.) No cavities since I started with it.

So about an hour after I bragged on my teeth, number 17, my left mandibular third molar — the back wisdom tooth on the bottom — started to hurt like hell. I took Tylenol for it, but it only got worse, to the point where I couldn’t do anything but sit or lie there in fire-red pain that trobbed with every pulse.

After it failed to go away, I went to a dentist at Harvard Health Services. She couldn’t see anything in the x-ray and sent me to an endodontist — or a practice with six endodontists.

On the first visit, Dr. #1 saw nothing on his x-ray, and gave me some antibiotics, hoping that this would kill any infection that might be there but not visible. I took that for a week, during which the pain was the same or worse. In the course of that week I also discovered that Tylenol (acetaminophen) was the only over-the-counter pain-killer that mixed with other drugs I already take, and could cause liver damage in some cases. I checked with a pharmacist, who said not to go over 4,000 mg/day. But I found that only doses of 1,000 mg worked, and for only about three hours at a stretch. So I would dose when I needed to work, and otherwise was pretty useless.

When I went back and saw Dr. #2, he took a look with a microscope and saw a crack in the tooth, and also did some tests that confirmed it. His recommendation: get a root canal. So we scheduled one. On the way, however, I screwed up what trains I was taking, arrived a bit late, and then the anesthesia didn’t fully deaden the tooth. The doctor said we’d have to reschedule. So we did. By this time the pain was still strong, but 500 mg doses of Tylenol were working, so that gave me 8 pills a day to take.

Dr. #3 was late this time, and we had to re-schedule again.

This morning Dr. #3 did the job. The nerve is now gone, replaced with grout (or whatever they use). Turns out the crack was not front-to-back, and the tooth is strong, if also dead. My jaw hurts like hell, but that’s mostly from the multiple needle stabs required to fully anesthetize the tooth. (The nerve bundles serving the jaw are in odd places.)

Total time from toothache to toothfix: almost a month.

So the good news is that the tooth won’t hurt again. The bad news is the cost, but that’s the American Way. Also all the work I couldn’t get done because I was moving at reduced speed. Lots coming up, so it’s good to be fixed again.

Had a great time mixing it up with the BlogTalkRadio folks a couple nights ago, talking Cluetrain after 10 years. Here’s the show. Big thanks to Allan Hoving for lining up and co-hosting it with Janet Fouts and Jim Love. Janet tweeted it live. Afterwards Jim put up a very interesting follow-up post, in the midst of which is this:

The message in Cluetrain is as fresh today as it was 10 years ago. ” We are not clicks or eyeballs, we are people ….deal with it.”

For those of you who missed it, the book started as a website, with 95 Theses splashed on a web page, in tribute, homage or just a scandalous rip off of Martin Luther’s famous set of 95 Theses.  If you don’t know about the original, shame on you.  Martin Luther was the renegade priest who started the Protestant Reformation by nailing 95 Theses to the door of a church.  Equally important but often ignored, he translated the bible from latin to the language of the people (in his case, German) and opened it up for all to read.  He also got married — remember he was a priest.  To some he was a heretic.  To others, he was a reformer who democratized an autocratic organization.

Whatever you think of him, he changed history.  Not on his own.  He didn’t invent the movable type that made it possible to print those bibles and distribute them widely.  He wasn’t the only figure questioning the institution — there was, at the time, a growing movement that were dissatisfied with what they felt was corruption and a lack of integrity in the church at the time.  It related to practices like the selling of indulgences — the ability to buy your way out of sin.  A number of people saw the church as a decaying, archaic and for some, even a corrupt institution.  They’d lost faith in it — literally.

Luther had the courage to say what he did.  In a world where the Catholic church was all powerful, this took a lot of guts.  But that doesn’t explain the power of what he accomplished.  No, he hit the zeitgeist of his era, he was a man of courage at the right place in history.  His ideas took off like a brush fire and the world was never the same.

It’s important to note, however, that this is the view from 500 years later.  It’s all compressed now and we can look back and see Luther’s document as a turning point.

The older I get, the earlier it seems. It’s funny that we chose 95 theses because that worked for Luther, but basically that’s why. (We also called it a manifesto because that worked for Marx. Karl, not Groucho, though the latter was much funnier. I also went to a Lutheran high school. Coincidence?) I don’t think any of us was taking the long-term perspective, though. We just wanted to say what we thought was true and nobody else seemed to be talking about.

But I’m thinking now that it will take many more years. Perhaps decades, before some of what we said will sink in the rest of the way.

Some marketers got it. Jim is clearly one of them. The Cluetrain Manifesto is required reading in the course he teaches. But the future is unevenly distributed. As David Weinberger likes to say, it’s lumpy. Cluetrain’s subtitle is “The End of Business as Usual.” I think that end will take a long time. We’re trying to hasten it with VRM, but that will take awhile too.

The short of it is that Business as Usual is insulting to customers. Take for example the form of Business as Usual that Bob Frankston (more about him here) calls the regulatorium. You get one of those when a big business category and its regulators become captive of each other.  For example, it was in revolt against a tea market regulatorium that citizens of the Massachusetts colony threw the East India Tea Company’s tea in the harbor. The colonists succesfully revolted against England, but customers still haven’t had a proper revolt against the belief by many companies that captive customers are more valuable than free ones. If Mona Shaw and her hammer are the best we can do, we’ve hardly begun.

The liberating impulse is independence, just as it was in 1773. Thanks to the Net, free customers are more valuable than captive ones. To themselves, to sellers, to the economy. We won’t learn that until we become fully equipped, as customers, to act on our independence.

At the end of the show Jim said he thought liberation would be a group thing. Customers getting power in aggregate. While I don’t disagree, I believe it is essential to equip individual customers with tools of both independence and engagememt. By that I mean tools that are as personal as wallets and purses, and just as handy and easy to use. We don’t have those yet.

But we will. And once we do, things will change radically. Count on it.

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Wow: Regis McKenna‘s Wikipedia entry is one short paragraph. Geoffrey Moore‘s is barely more than a stub. We’re talking here about two of the greatest marketing minds in human history. I’m not joking. Amazing.

Neither has a picture, either. I just checked my own 31,000-shot gallery, and didn’t find either one. I did find the great Phil Moore, however. Like I said at that link, one of my heroes.

The dark and gathering sameness of the world. An excerpt:

  The consequence of this is a “plague of sameness” and the loss of a distinct species every ten minutes. Some types of fruits and vegetables have lost 90% of their variants. An entire language disappears every two weeks. “We are not gaining knowledge with every human generation”, Glavin says, “we are losing it”. “All these extinctions are related…and the language of environmentalism is wholly inadequate to the task of describing what is happening…It doesn’t have the words for it”. Wherever he travels, he says, he finds the overwhelming majority of people are troubled by this loss of diversity, but at a loss to know what to do about it.

Nobody knows anything. Excerpts:

  Because of our horrific overpopulation and exhaustion of our planet and its resources, we have entered into a period of chronic, massive, global stress, and it’s made us all crazy, like rats in a lab fighting over the last few scraps of food. We’ve stopped listening to ourselves and started looking for saviours — ‘leaders’ and ‘experts’ to show us and tell us what to do.
  The so-called ‘leaders’ and ‘experts’ I’ve met are mostly very intelligent people, but they haven’t a clue. They’re buoyed by their own press and by sycophants fighting their way up from the bottom or desperate to believe that someone is in charge, in control, and knows what needs to be done. These ‘leaders’ hang out with other people just like themselves, and their groupthink persuades them that they’re right, they’re important, that what they say and do and decide really matters...
  We have destroyed this planet for future generations and for all-life-on-Earth, and the worst culprits are still doing it, while we sit around stupidly watching them, wondering what to do, waiting for someone, anyone, to save us from us.
  We need to stop listening to these know-nothing, cowardly ‘leaders’. We need to stop paying them. We need to stop working for them. We need to stop investing in them. We need to stop trusting them, and stop believing the nonsense they are telling us. We need to stop voting for them, and paying taxes to finance their backroom deals. We need to stop buying overpriced crap from their fat, mismanaged organizations. We need to send some of them to jail for criminal fraud and the rest out to pasture, and take back our society, our economy, our Earth from these thieves, these self-deluded con men. No more leaders.

Just something to cheer you up on a Sunday.

Looks like legislation opening up the FM band to more LPFM (low power FM) stations is moving through Congress. While Prometheus Radio celebrates, I gotta wonder if Calvary Chapel of Everywhere isn’t going to gobble a lot of those new licenses up. Since I can’t link directly to results (they’re from a database search, and are linkproof), go to FCCinfo.com, go to Search By / Licensee, and write Calvary Chapel in the Search Parameters box. Then click on Licensee_Search and see what happens.

Most of the results are for translators: low-power repeater stations. The ones with real call letters that end in -LP are for LPFM stations. These are legitimate stations, which, as the FCC describes here, “are available to noncommercial educational entities and public safety and transportation organizations, but are not available to individuals or for commercial operations”. That includes religious broadcasters, of which there are many.

Here’s Wikipedia’s list. (Man, there are so many good wikipedian obsessives on radio. I thought I could help with lot of this stuff, but these other folks are way past me at getting the details out there.)

There are some great LPFM stations. WCOM in Carrboro and KRUU in Fairfield, for example. But a lot of LPFMs are evangelical Christian stations, run by very resourceful outfits, which in the past have run rings around public and other community broadcasters.

We’ll see how it goes.

Blog search is mighty thin in Wikipedia. Technorati’s entry is stale. IceRocket and BlogPulse are stubs. BlogScope is minimal.

It’s really wierd. While “real time” is heating up as a topic, real time search seems to have fallen off the radar of everybody other than itself.

Take this piece by Marshall Kirkpatrick in ReadWriteWeb. It begins, Web search, real-time search and social search. That’s a pretty compelling combination and it’s what both Google and Facebook put on the table today in a head-to-head competiton. Then it compares Google, Facebook and Bing at all three, in a chart.

Hey, why not the search engines that have been looking at real time for the duration? Here’s IceRocket on real time search as a string. You get blogs, Twitter, video, news and images. Fast, simple, uncomplicated, straightforward. Like a search engine ought to be.

Here’s the IceRocket trend line for “real time search”. And here’s the BlogScope trend line for “blogging”.

Earth to buzz: You’re obsessing on the wrong thing. “Real time search” isn’t just Twitter and Facebook. It’s blog search too. Always was.

Syndication and real time will matter long after “social” goes passé. (And “social” will matter long after the next buzzthing goes passé.)

For whatever reasons, Google and Bing don’t get it. There are better tools out there for Live Web search. Check ’em out.

Bonus graph.

In The new Technorati: advertiser-friendly, foreigner-free? Ethan Zuckerman unpacks a bit of what remains (“highly-targeted, advertiser friendly content”) and what’s gone (everything but English) at Technorati. (This blog is still there, at #2659 and falling, with an authority of 549. I was informally advising Technorati when they came up with the authority thing, but I don’t remember what it means, exactly.) I know Ethan also used Technorati’s API to do some very interesting research, but with the API gone, that’s out the window too. And all that’s on top of what I reported on the other day.

While better by far now — relatively — Google Blogsearch (re-branded “Google blogs”) isn’t great. Or not as great as it could be. Or was. The index page, which used to be a Google-esque sea of white space, is now awash in with noise and news. It’s fast, and it’s easy to get an RSS or an Atom feed of any search, which is cool. But it seems to suggest, along with Technorati, that the blogosphere is about current news and trivia.

Blogpulse is still there. I always liked its UI, although the results tended to be old. “Today’s Highlights” are downright stale. It reports “Phillies beat Dodgers in Game 1.” Which was days ago. (MLB.com is up to the second. Phillies ahead at the bottom of the 4th in Game 3.)

BlogScope is one I hadn’t paid much attention to before. Need to dig down a bit. The popularity charting is interesting. Little slow. Owned by the University of Toronto. Interesting.

IceRocket still exists. It also has search for Twitter, Web, MySpace, News, Images and Big Buzz search. All of them are fast. And you can subscribe to RSS feeds of results. Easily. No looking around.

Soooo far… Hey, I’m liking IceRocket. Speedy. Nice UI. Nice slices of times. Trends. Feeds. Nothing fancy, nothing bad, lots good. Go check ’em out.

Three days ago Jonathan MacDonald witnessed an altercation in the London Underground at the Holborn Station, between — as Jonathan reports it — a uniformed Underground staffer an elderly man whose arm had just been released from doors that had closed on it while he was leaving.  The staffer was loud and rude, while the passenger was calm and gentlemanly. Jonathan also recorded the last of the event on video — and blogged the event, video and all.

Next blog post:

Fast forward 24 hours and the story has run as the leader on Sky, BBC, LBC, ITN (see sample news coverage here) and on the front page of the Evening Standard. This followed thousands of Tweets and Re-Tweets (including the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, getting involved), 65,000 video views yesterday alone on YouTube and hundreds of comments on this and many other blogs. Plus, the guard has been suspended and is under investigation.

All I did was see something that shouldn’t be tolerated and used the ammunition we have in our hands – video/blogs/network.

I blog almost every day so this wasn’t any different. The content of this one seemed to grab attention though, and it was this attention that made things spiral. Hence, the main reason this story has flown is due to what happened on camera. We must remember that. It’s not me. I didn’t ‘invent the story’. I just blogged, like I do, and the Twitterverse powered the rest. Although charming to be the focus of the viral activity – I actually had the smallest part.

In that post Jonathan shows, with photos, how the story was played by the mainstream media. His summary:

The Twitterers, Bloggers and commentators were the only people who played this right. The stories were shared and eventually the press picked it up.

What we need is for Industry to learn the key techniques of Involvism that the Twitterers, Bloggers and commentators already implement.

So far there are seventy comments, including pros and cons about what Jonathan (jMac there) did, and his replies.

Most interesting to me about this are the stories being told, because those have always been the stock-in-trade of journalism, especially in newspapers. As I put it here,

The basic job of newspaper reporters is to write stories. In simplest terms, stories are interesting arrangements of facts. What makes stories interesting are: 1) protagonists (persons, groups, teams, “issues” or causes); 2) a struggle, problem or conflict of some sort; and 3) movement forward (hopefully, by not necessarily, toward a conclusion). Whether or not you agree with that formulation, what cannot be denied is the imperative.

Jonathan did his best as a witness. He also had a story to show and tell: the abuse of a passenger. That’s what he reported. As it happened, Jonathan caught the name (Ian) and the face of the Underground staffer, but only the back of the passenger (a man with gray hair in a business jacket carrying a leather bag). There are other stories to be told, of course. Read them in Jonathan’s comment thread

In the old media world, freedom of speech belonged to companies that bought ink by the barrel. In the new media world, it belongs to everybody with a cell phone or a keyboard. Get used to it. Or, as Jonathan did, put it to use.

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