Of Waste and Value

One morning a couple months ago, while I was staying at a friend’s house near Los Angeles, I was surprised to find the Los Angeles Times still being delivered there. The paper was smaller and thinner than it used to be, with minimized news, remarkably little sports, and only two ads in the whole paper. One was for Laemmle Theaters. The other was for a law firm. No inserts from grocery stores. No pitches for tires in the sports section, for clothing in the culture section, for insurance in the business section, or for events in the local section. I don’t even recall if those sections still existed, because the paper itself had been so drastically minimized

Economically speaking, a newspaper has just two markets: advertisers and readers. The photo above says what one advertiser thinks: that ads in print are a waste—and so is what they’re printed on, including the LA Times. The reader whose house I stayed in has since canceled her subscription. She also isn’t subscribing to the online edition. She also subscribes to no forms of advertising, although she can hardly avoid ads online, or anywhere outside her home.

Many years ago, Esther Dyson said the challenge for business isn’t to add value but to subtract waste. So I’m wondering how much time, money, and effort Pavillions is wasting by sending ads to people—even to those who scan that QR code.

Peter Drucker said “the purpose of a business is to create a customer.” So, consider the difference between a customer created by good products and services and one created by coupons and “our weekly ad in your web browser.”

A good example of the former is Trader Joe’s., which has no loyalty program, no stuff “on sale,” no human-free checkout, almost no advertising—and none of the personal kind. Instead, Trader Joe’s creates customers with good products, good service, good prices, and helpful human beings. It never games customers with what Doug Rauch, retired president of Trader Joe’s, calls “gimmicks.”*

I actually like Pavillions. But only two things make me a Pavillioins customer. One is their location (slightly closer than Trader Joe’s), and the other is that they carry bread from LaBrea Bakery.

While I would never sign up for a weekly ad from Pavillions, I do acknowledge that lots of people love coupons and hunting for discounts.

But how much of that work is actually waste as well, with high cognitive and operational overhead for both sellers and buyers? How many CVS customers like scanning their loyalty card or punching in their phone number when they check out of the store—or actually using any of the many discounts printed on the store’s famous four-foot-long receipts? (Especially since many of those discounts are for stuff the customer just bought? Does CVS, which is a good chain with locations everywhere, actually need those gimmicks?)

Marketers selling services to companies like Pavillions and CVS will tell you, with lots of supporting stats, that coupons and personalized (aka “relevant” and “interest-based”) ads and promos do much to improve business. But what if a business is better to begin with, so customers come there for that reason, rather than because they’re being gamed with gimmicks?

Will the difference ever become fully obvious? I hope so, but I don’t know.

One thing I do know is that there is less and less left of old-fashioned brand advertising: the kind that supported newspapers in the first place. That kind of advertising was never personal (that was the job of “direct response marketing”). It was meant instead for populations of possible customers and carried messages about the worth of a brand.

This is the kind of advertising we still see on old-school TV, radio and billboards. Sometimes also in vertical magazines. (Fashion, for example.) But not much anymore in newspapers.

Why this change? Well, as I put it in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff, “Madison Avenue fell asleep, direct response marketing ate its brain, and it woke up as an alien replica of itself.”

That was seven years ago. A difference now is that it’s clearer than ever that digital tech and the Internet are radically changing every business, every institution, and every person who depends on it. Everywhere you drive in Los Angeles today, there are For Lease signs on office buildings. The same is true everywhere now graced with what Bob Frankston calls “ambient connectivity.” It’s a bit much to say nobody is going back to the office, but it’s obvious that you need damn good reasons for going there.

Meanwhile, I’m haunted by knowing a lot of real value is being subtracted as waste. (I did a TEDx talk on this topic, four years ago.) And that we’re not going back.

*I tell more of the Trader Joe’s story, with help from Doug, in The Intention Economy.

Twelve years ago, I posted The Data Bubble. It began,

The tide turned today. Mark it: 31 July 2010.

That’s when The Wall Street Journal published The Web’s Gold Mine: Your Secrets, subtitled A Journal investigation finds that one of the fastest-growing businesses on the Internet is the business of spying on consumers. First in a series. It has ten links to other sections of today’s report. It’s pretty freaking amazing — and amazingly freaky when you dig down to the business assumptions behind it. Here is the rest of the list (sans one that goes to a link-proof Flash thing):

Here’s the gist:

The Journal conducted a comprehensive study that assesses and analyzes the broad array of cookies and other surveillance technology that companies are deploying on Internet users. It reveals that the tracking of consumers has grown both far more pervasive and far more intrusive than is realized by all but a handful of people in the vanguard of the industry.

It gets worse:

In between the Internet user and the advertiser, the Journal identified more than 100 middlemen—tracking companies, data brokers and advertising networks—competing to meet the growing demand for data on individual behavior and interests.The data on Ms. Hayes-Beaty’s film-watching habits, for instance, is being offered to advertisers on BlueKai Inc., one of the new data exchanges. “It is a sea change in the way the industry works,” says Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai. “Advertisers want to buy access to people, not Web pages.” The Journal examined the 50 most popular U.S. websites, which account for about 40% of the Web pages viewed by Americans. (The Journal also tested its own site, WSJ.com.) It then analyzed the tracking files and programs these sites downloaded onto a test computer. As a group, the top 50 sites placed 3,180 tracking files in total on the Journal’s test computer. Nearly a third of these were innocuous, deployed to remember the password to a favorite site or tally most-popular articles. But over two-thirds—2,224—were installed by 131 companies, many of which are in the business of tracking Web users to create rich databases of consumer profiles that can be sold.

Here’s what’s delusional about all this: There is no demand for tracking by individual customers. All the demand comes from advertisers — or from companies selling to advertisers. For now.

Here is the difference between an advertiser and an ordinary company just trying to sell stuff to customers: nothing. If a better way to sell stuff comes along — especially if customers like it better than this crap the Journal is reporting on — advertising is in trouble.

In fact, I had been calling the tracking-based advertising business (now branded adtech or ad-tech) a bubble for some time. For example, in Why online advertising sucks, and is a bubble (31 October 2008) and After the advertising bubble bursts (23 March 2009). But I didn’t expect my own small voice to have much effect. But this was different. What They Know was written by a crack team of writers, researchers, and data visualizers. It was led by Julia Angwin and truly Pulitzer-grade stuff. It  was so well done, so deep, and so sharp, that I posted a follow-up report three months later, called The Data Bubble II. In that one, I wrote,

That same series is now nine stories long, not counting the introduction and a long list of related pieces. Here’s the current list:

  1. The Web’s Gold Mine: What They Know About You
  2. Microsoft Quashed Bid to Boost Web Privacy
  3. On the Web’s Cutting Edge: Anonymity in Name Only
  4. Stalking by Cell Phone
  5. Google Agonizes Over Privacy
  6. Kids Face Intensive Tracking on Web
  7. ‘Scrapers’ Dig Deep for Data on the Web
  8. Facebook in Privacy Breach
  9. A Web Pioneer Profiles Users By Name

Related pieces—

Two things I especially like about all this. First, Julia Angwin and her team are doing a terrific job of old-fashioned investigative journalism here. Kudos for that. Second, the whole series stands on the side of readers. The second person voice (youyour) is directed to individual persons—the same persons who do not sit at the tables of decision-makers in this crazy new hyper-personalized advertising business.

To measure the delta of change in that business, start with John Battelle‘s Conversational Marketing series (post 1post 2post 3) from early 2007, and then his post Identity and the Independent Web, from last week. In the former he writes about how the need for companies to converse directly with customers and prospects is both inevitable and transformative. He even kindly links to The Cluetrain Manifesto (behind the phrase “brands are conversations”).

It was obvious to me that this fine work would blow the adtech bubble to a fine mist. It was just a matter of when.

Over the years since, I’ve retained hope, if not faith. Examples: The Data Bubble Redux (9 April 2016), and Is the advertising bubble finally starting to pop? (9 May 2016, and in Medium).

Alas, the answer to that last one was no. By 2016, Julia and her team had long since disbanded, and the original links to the What They Know series began to fail. I don’t have exact dates for which failed when, but I do know that the trusty master link, wjs.com/wtk, began to 404 at some point. Fortunately, Julia has kept much of it alive at https://juliaangwin.com/category/portfolio/wall-street-journal/what-they-know/. Still, by the late Teens it was clear that even the best journalism wasn’t going to be enough—especially since the major publications had become adtech junkies. Worse, covering their own publications’ involvement in surveillance capitalism had become an untouchable topic for journalists. (One notable exception is Farhad Manjoo of The New York Times, whose coverage of the paper’s own tracking was followed by a cutback in the practice.)

While I believe that most new laws for tech mostly protect yesterday from last Thursday, I share with many a hope for regulatory relief. I was especially jazzed about Europe’s GDPR, as you can read in GDPR will pop the adtech bubble (12 May 2018) and Our time has come (16 May 2018 in ProjectVRM).

But I was wrong then too. Because adtech isn’t a bubble. It’s a death star in service of an evil empire that destroys privacy through every function it funds in the digital world.

That’s why I expect the American Data Privacy and Protection Act (H.R. 8152), even if it passes through both houses of Congress at full strength, to do jack shit. Or worse, to make our experience of life in the digital world even more complicated, by requiring us to opt-out, rather than opt-in (yep, it’s in the law—as a right, no less), to tracking-based advertising everywhere. And we know how well that’s been going. (Read this whole post by Tom Fishburne, the Marketoonist, for a picture of how less than zero progress has been made, and how venial and absurd “consent” gauntlets on websites have become.) Do a search for https://www.google.com/search?q=gdpr+compliance to see how large the GDPR “compliance” business has become. Nearly all your 200+ million results will be for services selling obedience to the letter of the GDPR while death-star laser beams blow its spirit into spinning shards. Then expect that business to grow once the ADPPA is in place.

There is only thing that will save us from adtech’s death star.

That’s tech of our own. Our tech. Personal tech.

We did it in the physical world with the personal privacy tech we call clothing, shelter, locks, doors, shades, and shutters. We’ve barely started to make the equivalents for the digital world. But the digital world is only a few decades old. It will be around for dozens, hundreds, or thousands of decades to come. And adtech is still just a teenager. We can, must, and will do better.

All we need is the tech. Big Tech won’t do it for us. Nor will Big Gov.

The economics will actually help, because there are many business problems in the digital world that can only be solved from the customers’ side, with better signaling from demand to supply than adtech-based guesswork can ever provide. Customer Commons lists fourteen of those solutions, here. Privacy is just one of them.

Use the Force, folks.

That Force is us.

A visitor to aerial photos on my Flickr site asked me where one should sit on a passenger plane to shoot pictures like mine. This post expands on what I wrote back to him.

Here’s the main thing: you want a window seat on the side of the plane shaded from the Sun, and away from the wing. Sun on plane windows highlights all the flaws, scratches, and dirt that are typical features of airplane windows. It’s also best to have a clear view of the ground. In front of the wing is also better than behind, because jet engine exhaust at low altitudes distorts the air, causing blur in a photo. (At high altitudes this problem tends to go away.) So, if you are traveling north in the morning, you want a seat on the left side of the plane (where the seat is usually called A). And the reverse if you’re flying south.

Here in North America, when flying west I like to be on the right side, and when flying east I like to be on the left, because the whole continent is far enough north of the Equator for the Sun, at least in the middle hours of the day, to be in the south. (There are exceptions, however, such as early and late in the day in times of year close to the Summer Solstice, when the Sun rises and sets far north of straight east and west.) This photo, of massive snows atop mountains in Canada’s arctic Baffin Island, was shot on a flight from London to Denver, with the sun on the left side of the plane. I was on the right:

As for choosing seats, the variety of variables is extreme. That’s because almost every airline flies different kinds of planes, and even those that fly only one kind of plane may fly many different seat layouts. For example, there are thirteen different variants of the 737 model, across four generations. And, even within one model of plane, there may be three or four different seat layouts, even within one airline. For example, United flies fifteen different widebody jets: four 767s, six 777s, and four 787s, each with a different seat layout. It also flies nineteen narrowbody jets, five regional jets, and seven turboprops, all with different seat layouts as well.

So I always go to SeatGuru.com for a better look at the seat layout for a plane than what United (or any airline) will tell me on their seat selection page when I book a flight online. On the website, you enter the flight number and the date, and SeatGuru will give you the seat layout, with a rating or review for every seat.

This is critical because some planes’ window seats are missing a window, or have a window that is “misaligned,” meaning it faces the side of a seat back, a bulkhead, or some other obstruction. See here:

Some planes have other challenges, such as the electrically dimmable windows on Boeing 787 “Dreamliners.” I wrote about the challenges of those here.

Now, if you find yourself with a seat that’s over the wing and facing the Sun, good photography is still possible, as you see in this shot of this sunset at altitude:

One big advantage of life in our Digital Age is that none of the airlines, far as I know, will hassle you for shooting photos out windows with your phone. That’s because, while in the old days some airlines forbid photography on planes, shooting photos with phones, constantly, is now normative in the extreme, everywhere. (It’s still bad form to shoot airline personnel in planes, though, and you will get hassled for that.)

So, if you’re photographically inclined, have fun.

Craig Burton

I used to tell Craig Burton there was no proof that he could be killed, because he came so close, so many times. But now we have it. Cancer got him, a week ago today. He was sixty-seven.

So here’s a bit of back-story on how Craig and I became great friends.

In late 1987, my ad agency, Hodskins Simone & Searls, pulled together a collection of client companies for the purpose of creating what we called a “connectivity consortium.” The idea was to evangelize universal networking—something the world did not yet have—and to do it together.

The time seemed right. Enterprises everywhere were filling up with personal computers, each doing far more than mainframe terminals ever did. This explosion of personal productivity created a massive demand for local area networks, aka LANs, on which workers could share files, print documents, and start to put their companies on a digital footing. IBM, Microsoft, and a raft of other companies were big in the LAN space, but one upstart company—Novell—was creaming all of them. It did that by embracing PCs, Macs, makers of hardware accessories such as Ethernet cards, plus many different kinds of network wiring and communications protocols.

Our agency was still new in Silicon Valley, and our clients were relatively small. To give our consortium some heft, we needed a leader in the LAN space. So I did the audacious thing, and called on Novell at Comdex, which was then the biggest trade show in tech. My target was Judith Clarke, whose marketing smarts were already legendary. For example, while all the biggest companies competed to out-spend each other with giant booths on the show floor, Judith had Novell rent space on the ground floor of the Las Vegas Hilton, turning that space into a sales office for the company, a storefront on the thickest path for foot traffic at the show.

So I cold-called on Judith at that office. Though she was protected from all but potential Novell customers, I cajoled a meeting, and Judith said yes. Novell was in.

The first meeting of our connectivity consortium was in a classroom space at Novell’s Silicon Valley office. One by one, each of my agency’s client companies spoke about what they were bringing to our collective table, while a large unidentified dude sat in the back of the room, leaning forward, looking like a walrus watching fish. After listening patiently to what everyone said, the big dude walked up to the blackboard in front and chalked out diagrams and descriptions of how everything everyone was talking about could actually work together. He also added a piece nobody had brought up yet: TCP/IP, the base protocol for the Internet. That one wasn’t represented by a company, mostly because it wasn’t invented for commercial purposes. But, the big guy said, TCP/IP was the protocol that would, in the long run, make everything work together.

I was of the same mind, so quickly the dude and I got into a deep conversation during which it was clear to me that I was being both well-schooled about networking, yet respected for what little new information I brought to the conversation. After a while, Judith leaned in to tell us that this dude was Craig Burton, and that it was Craig’s strategic vision that was busy guiding Novell to its roaring success.

Right after that meeting, Craig called me just to talk, because he liked how the two of us could play “mind jazz” together, co-thinking about the future of a digital world that was still being born. Which we didn’t stop doing for the next thirty-four years.

So much happened in that time. Craig and Judith† had an affair, got exiled from Novell, married each other and built The Burton Group with another Novell alum, Jamie Lewis. It was through The Burton Group that I met and became good friends with Kim Cameron, who also passed too early, in November of last year. Both were also instrumental in helping start the Internet Identity Workshop, along with too many other things to mention. (Here are photos from the first meeting of what was then the “Identity Gang.”)

If you search for Craig’s name and mine together, you’ll find more than a thousand results. I’ll list a few of them later, and unpack their significance. But instead for now, I’ll share what I sent for somebody to use at the service for Craig today in Salt Lake City:

In a more just and sensible world, news of Craig Burton’s death would have made the front page of the Deseret News, plus the obituary pages of major papers elsewhere—and a trending topic for days in social media.*

If technology had a Hall of Fame, Craig would belong in it. And maybe some day, that will happen.

Because Craig was one of the most important figures in the history of the networked world where nearly all of us live today. Without Craig’s original ideas, and guiding strategic hand, Novell would not have grown from a small hardware company into the most significant networking company prior to the rise of the Internet itself. Nor would The Burton Group have helped shape the networking business as well, through the dawn of the Internet Age.

In those times and since, Craig’s thinking has often been so deep and far-reaching that I am sure it will be blowing minds for decades to come. Take, for example, what Craig said to me in  a 2000 interview for Linux Journal. (Remember that this was when the Internet was still new, and most homes were connected by dial-up modems.)

I see the Net as a world we might see as a bubble. A sphere. It’s growing larger and larger, and yet inside, every point in that sphere is visible to every other one. That’s the architecture of a sphere. Nothing stands between any two points. That’s its virtue: it’s empty in the middle. The distance between any two points is functionally zero, and not just because they can see each other, but because nothing interferes with operation between any two points. There’s a word I like for what’s going on here: terraform. It’s the verb for creating a world. That’s what we’re making here: a new world.

Today, every one of us with a phone in our pocket or purse lives on that giant virtual world, with zero functional distance between everyone and everything—a world we have barely started to terraform.

I could say so much more about Craig’s original thinking and his substantial contributions to developments in our world. But I also need to give credit where due to the biggest reason Craig’s heroism remains mostly unsung, and that’s Craig himself. The man was his own worst enemy: a fact he admitted often, and with abiding regret for how his mistakes hurt others, and not just himself.

But I also consider it a matter of answered prayer that, after decades of struggling with alcohol addiction, Craig not only sobered up, but stayed that way, married his high school sweetheart and returned to the faith into which he was born.

Now it is up to people like me—Craig’s good friends still in the business—to make sure Craig’s insights and ideas live on.

Here is a photo album of Craig. I’ll be adding to it over the coming days.

†Judith died a few years ago, at just 66. Her heroism as a marketing genius is also mostly unsung today.

*Here’s a good one, in Silicon Slopes.


via Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Pix4free.org

Let’s start with what happened to TV.

For decades, all TV signals were “over the air,” and free to be watched by anyone with a TV and an antenna. Then these things happened:

  1.  Community Antenna TeleVision, aka CATV, gave us most or all of our free over-the-air channels, plus many more—for a monthly subscription fee. They delivered this service, literally, through a cable connection—one that looked like the old one that went to an outside antenna, but instead went back to the cable company’s local headquarters.
  2. Then premium TV (aka “pay,” “prestige” and “subscription” TV), along with one’s cable channel selection. This started with HBO and Showtime. It cost additional subscription fees but was inside your cable channel selection and your monthly cable bill.
  3. Then came streaming services, (aka Video on Demand, or VoD) showed up over the Internet, and then through media players you could hook up to your tv through an input (usually HDMI) aside from the one from your cable box, and your cable service—even if your Internet service was provided by the cable company. This is why the cable industry called all of these services “over the top,” or OTT. The main brands here were Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Roku. Being delivered over the Internet rather than lumped in with all those cable channels, higher resolutions were possible. At best most cable services are “HD,” which was fine a decade ago, but is now quite retro. Want to watch TV in 4K, HDR, and all that? Subscribe through your smart OTT media intermediary.
  4. And now media players are baked into TVs. Go to Best Buy, Costco, Sam’s Club, Amazon, or Walmart, and you’ll see promos for “smart” Google, Fire (Amazon), Roku, webOS, and Tizen TVs—rather than just Sony, LG, Samsung, and other brands. Relatively cheap brands, such as Vizio, TCL, and Hisense, are essentially branded media players with secondary brand names on the bezel.

Economically speaking, all that built-in smartness is about two things. One is facilitating subscriptions, and the other is spying on you for the advertising business. But let’s table the latter and focus just on subscriptions, because that’s the way the service world is going.

More and more formerly free stuff on the Net is available only behind paywalls. Newspapers and magazines have been playing this game for some time. But, now that Substack is the new blogging, many writers there are paywalling their stuff as well. Remember SlideShare? Now it’s “Read free for 60 days.”

Podcasting is drifting in that direction too. SiriusXM and Spotify together paid over a half $billion to put a large mess of popular podcasts into subscription-based complete (SiriusXM) or partial (Spotify) paywall systems, pushing podcasting toward the place where premium TV has already sat for years—even though lots of popular podcasts are still paid for by advertising.

I could add a lot of data here, but I’m about to leave on a road trip. So I’ll leave it up to you. Look at what you’re spending now on subscriptions, and how that collection of expenses is going up. Also, take a look at how much of what was free on the Net and the Web is moving to a paid subscription model. The trend is not small, and I don’t see it stopping soon.


Spotted HawkI’ve been blogging since 1999, first at weblog.searls.com, and since 2007 here. I also plan to continue blogging here* for the rest of my life. But it’s clear now that newsletters are where it’s at, so I’m going to start one of those.

The first question is, What do I call it?

The easy thing, and perhaps the most sensible, is Doc Searls Newsletter, or Doc Searls’ Newsletter, in keeping with the name of this blog. In branding circles, they call this line extension.

Another possibility is Spotted Hawk. This is inspired by Walt Whitman, who wrote,

The spotted hawk swoops by and accuses me,
he complains of my gab and my loitering.
I too am not a bit tamed.
I too am untranslatable.
I sound my barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world.

In the same spirit I might call the newsletter Barbaric Yawp. But ya kinda gotta know the reference, which even English majors mostly don’t. Meanwhile, Spotted Hawk reads well, even if the meaning is a bit obscure. Hell, the Redskins or the Indians could have renamed themselves the Spotted Hawks.

Yet barbaric yawping isn’t my style, even if I am untamed and sometimes untranslatable.

Any other suggestions?

As a relevant but unrelated matter, I also have to decide how to produce it. The easy choice is to use Substack, which all but owns the newsletter platform space right now. But Substack newsletters default to tracking readers, and I don’t want that. I also hate paragraph-long substitutes for linked URLs, and tracking cruft appended to the ends of legible URLs. (When sharing links from newsletters, always strip that stuff off. Pro tip: the cruft usually starts with a question mark.) I’m tempted by Revue, entirely because Julia Angwin and her team at The Markup went through a similar exercise in 2019 and chose Revue for their newsletter. I’m already playing with that one. Other recommendations are welcome. Same goes for managing the mailing list if I don’t use a platform. Mailman perhaps?

*One reason I keep this blog up is that Harvard hosts it, and Harvard has been around since 1636. I also appreciate deeply its steady support of what I do here and at ProjectVRM, which also manifests as a blog, at the Berkman Klein Center.

Marcus Smart. Photo by Eric Drost, via Wikimedia Commons.

Back in 2016, I correctly predicted that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the NBA finals, beating the heavily favored Golden State Warriors, which had won a record 73 games in the regular season. In 2021, I incorrectly predicted that the Kansas City Chiefs would beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I based both predictions on a theory: the best story would win. And maybe Tom Brady proved that anyway: a relative geezer who was by all measures the GOAT, proved that label.

So now I’m predicting that the Boston Celtics will win the championship because they will win because they have the better story.

Unless Steph Curry proves that he’s the GSOAT: Greatest Shooter Of All Time. Which he might. He sure looked like it in Game Four. That’s a great story too.

But I like the Celtics’ story better. Here we have a team of relative kids who were average at best by the middle of the season, but then, under their rookie coach, became a defensive juggernaut, racking up the best record through the remainder of the season, then blowing through three playoffs to get to the Finals. In Round One, they swept Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets, who were pre-season favorites to win the Eastern Conference. In Round Two, they beat Giannis Antentokuompo and the Milwaukee Bucks, who were defending champs, in six games. In Round Three, they won the conference championship by beating the Miami Heat, another great defensive team, and the one with the best record in the conference, in seven games. Now the Celtics are tied, 2-2, with the Western Conference champs, the Golden State Warriors, with Steph Curry playing his best, looking all but unbeatable, on a team playing defense that’s pretty much the equal of Boston’s.

Three games left, two at Golden State.

But I like the Celtics in this. They seem to have no problem winning on the road, and I think they want it more. And maybe even better.

May the best story win.

[Later…] Well, c’est le jeu. The Celtics lost the next two games, and the Warriors took the series.

After it was over, lots of great stories were told about the Warriors: the team peaked at the right time, they were brilliantly coached (especially on how to solve the Celtics), Steph moved up in all-time player rankings (maybe even into the top ten), Wiggins finally looked like the #1 draft choice he was years ago, the Dynasty is back. Long list, and it goes on. But the Celtics still had some fine stories of their own, especially around how they transformed from a mediocre team at mid-season to a proven title contender that came just two games away from winning it all. Not bad.


Chemistry is a good metaphor for how teams work—especially when times get tough, such as in the playoffs happening in the NBA right now.

Think about it. Every element has a melting point: a temperature above which solid turns liquid. Basketball teams do too, only that temperature changes from game to game, opponent to opponent, and situation to situation. Every team is a collection of its own human compounds of many elements: physical skills and talents, conditioning, experience, communication skills, emotional and mental states, beliefs, and much else.

Sometimes one team comes in pre-melted, with no chance of winning. Bad teams start with a low melting point, arriving in liquid form and spilling all over the floor under heat and pressure from better teams.

Sometimes both teams might as well be throwing water balloons at the hoop.

Sometimes both teams are great, neither melts, and you get an overtime outcome that’s whatever the score said when the time finally ran out. Still, one loser and one winner. After all, every game has a loser, and half the league loses every round. Whole conferences and leagues average .500. That’s their melting point: half solid, half liquid.

Yesterday we saw two meltdowns, neither of which was expected and one of which was a complete surprise.

First, the Milwaukee Bucks melted under the defensive and scoring pressures of the Boston Celtics. There was nothing shameful about it, though. The Celtics just ran away with the game. It happens. Still, you could see the moment the melting started. It was near the end of the first half. The Celtics’ offense sucked, yet they were still close. Then they made a drive to lead going into halftime. After that, it became increasingly and obviously futile to expect the Bucks to rally, especially when it was clear that Giannis Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world, was clearly less solid than usual. The team melted around him while the Celtics rained down threes.

To be fair, the Celtics also melted three times in the series, most dramatically at the end of game five, on their home floor. But Marcus Smart, who was humiliated by a block and a steal in the closing seconds of a game the Celtics had led almost all the way, didn’t melt. In the next two games, he was more solid than ever. So was the team. And they won—this round, at least. Against the Miami Heat? We’ll see.

Right after that game, the Phoenix Suns, by far the best team in the league through the regular season, didn’t so much play the Dallas Mavericks as submit to them. Utterly.

In chemical terms, the Suns showed up in liquid form and turned straight into gas. As Arizona Sports put it, “We just witnessed one of the greatest collapses in the history of the NBA.” No shit. Epic. Nobody on the team will ever live this one down. It’s on their permanent record. Straight A’s through the season, then a big red F.

Talk about losses: a mountain of bets on the Suns also turned to vapor yesterday.

So, what happened? I say chemistry.

Maybe it was nothing more than Luka Dončić catching fire and vaporizing the whole Suns team. Whatever, it was awful to watch, especially for Suns fans. Hell, they melted too. Booing your team when it needs your support couldn’t have helped, understandable though it was.

Applying the basketball-as-chemistry theory, I expect the Celtics to go all the way. They may melt a bit in a game or few, but they’re more hardened than the Heat, which comes from having defeated two teams—the Atlanta Hawks and the Philadelphia 76ers—with relatively low melting points. And I think both the Mavs and the Warriors have lower melting points than either the Celtics or the Heat.

But we’ll see.

Through the final two rounds, look at each game as a chemistry experiment. See how well the theory works.



Tags: ,

I did a lot of shooting recently with a rented Sony FE 70-200mm F2.8 GM OSS II lens, mounted on my 2013-vintage Sony a7r camera. One result was the hummingbird above, which you’ll find among the collections here and here. Also, here’s a toddler…

…and a grandma (right after she starred as the oldest alumnus at a high school reunion I where I took hundreds of other shots):

This lens is new, sharp, versatile, earns good reviews (e.g. here) and is so loved already that it’s hard to get, despite the price: more than $3k after taxes. And, though it’s very compact and light (2.3 lbs) for what it is and does, the thing is big:

So I ordered one, which Amazon won’t charge me for before it ships, on May 23, for delivery on the 24th.

But I’m having second, third, and fourth thoughts, which I just decided to share here.

First, I’m not a fine art photographer. I’m an amateur who mostly shoots people and subjects that interest me, such as what I can see out airplane windows, or choose to document for my own odd purposes—such as archiving photos of broadcast towers and antennas, most of which will fall out of use over the next two decades, after being obsolesced by the Internet, wi-fi and 5G.

All the photos I publish are Creative Commons licensed to encourage use by others, which is why more than 1600 of them have found their way into Wikimedia Commons. Some multiple of those accompany entries in Wikipedia. This one, for example, is in 9 different Wikipedia entries in various languages:

Here is the original, shot with a tiny Canon pocket camera I pulled from the pocket of my ski jacket.

In other words, maybe I’ll be better off with a versatile all-in-one camera that will do much of what this giant zoom does, plus much more.

After much online research, I’ve kind of settled on considering the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-RX10 IV. It has a smaller sensor than I’d like, but it is exceptionally versatile and gets great reviews. While my Sony a7r with its outstanding 24-105mm f/4 FE G OSS lens is versatile as well, and light for a full-frame DSLR, I really need a long lens for a lot of the stuff I shoot. And I suspect this “bridge” camera will do the job.

So here is the choice:

  1. Leave the order stand, and pay $3k for a fully fabulous 70-200 zoom that I’m sure to love but will be too big to haul around in many of the settings where I’ll be shooting.
  2. Cancel that order, and instead pay half that for the DSC-RX10 IV—and get it in time for my trip to Hawaii next week.

[Later…] I decided to let the order stand. Two reasons. First, I’ve shot a couple thousand photos so far with the 70-200 zoom, and find it a near-flawless instrument that I enjoy playing. One reason I do is that it’s as close to uncompromising as a lens can be—especially a zoom, which by design involves many compromises. Second, I’ve never played with the DSC-RX10 IV, and that’s kind of a prerequisite. I also know that one of its compromises I won’t be able to overcome is the size of its sensor. I know megapixels are a bit of a head trip, but they do matter, and 36.4 Mpx vs 20.1 “effective” Mpx is non-trivial.

Additionally, I may choose in the long run to also get an a7iv camera, so my two lenses will have two bodies. We’ll see.



When digital identity ceases to be a pain in the ass, we can thank Kim Cameron and his Seven Laws of Identity, which he wrote in 2004, formally published in early 2005, and gently explained and put to use until he died late last year. Today, seven of us will take turns explaining each of Kim’s laws at KuppingerCole‘s EIC conference in Berlin. We’ll only have a few minutes each, however, so I’d like to visit the subject in a bit more depth here.

To understand why these laws are so important and effective, it will help to know where Kim was coming from in the first place. It wasn’t just his work as the top architect for identity at Microsoft (to which he arrived when his company was acquired). Specifically, Kim was coming from two places. One was the physical world where we live and breathe, and identity is inherently personal. The other was the digital world where what we call identity is how we are known to databases. Kim believed the former should guide the latter, and that nothing like that had happened yet, but that we could and should work for it.

Kim’s The Laws of Identity paper alone is close to seven thousand words, and his IdentityBlog adds many thousands more. But his laws by themselves are short and sweet. Here they are, with additional commentary by me, in italics.

1. User Control and Consent

Technical identity systems must only reveal information identifying a user with the user’s consent.

Note that consent goes in the opposite direction from all the consent “agreements” websites and services want us to click on. This matches the way identity works in the natural world, where each of us not only chooses how we wish to be known, but usually with an understanding about how that information might be used.

2. Minimun Disclosure for a Constrained Use

The solution which discloses the least amount of identifying information and best limits its use is the most stable long term solution.

There is a reason we don’t walk down the street wearing name badges: because the world doesn’t need to know any more about us than we wish to disclose. Even when we pay with a credit card, the other party really doesn’t need (or want) to know the name on the card. It’s just not something they need to know.

3. Justifiable Parties

Digital identity systems must be designed so the disclosure of identifying information is limited to parties having a necessary and justifiable place in a given identity relationship.

If this law applied way back when Kim wrote it, we wouldn’t have the massive privacy losses that have become the norm, with unwanted tracking pretty much everywhere online—and increasingly offline as well. 

4. Directed Identity

A universal identity system must support both “omni-directional” identifiers for use by public entities and “unidirectional” identifiers for use by private entities, thus facilitating discovery while preventing unnecessary release of correlation handles.

All brands, meaning all names of public entities, are “omni-directional.” They are also what Kim calls “beacons” that have the opposite of something to hide about who they are. Individuals, however, are private first, and public only to the degrees they wish to be in different circumstances. Each of the first three laws are “unidirectional.”

5. Pluralism of Operators and Technologies

A universal identity system must channel and enable the inter-working of multiple identity technologies run by multiple identity providers.

This law expresses learnings from Microsoft’s failed experiment with Passport and a project called “Hailstorm.” The idea with both was for Microsoft to become the primary or sole online identity provider for everyone. Kim’s work at Microsoft was all about making the company one among many working in the same broad industry.

6. Human Integration

The universal identity metasystem must define the human user to be a component of the distributed system integrated through unambiguous human-machine communication mechanisms offering protection against identity attacks.

As Kim put it in his 2019 (and final) talk at EIC, we need to turn the Web “right side up,” meaning putting the individual at the top rather than the bottom, with each of us in charge of our lives online, in distributed homes of our own. That’s what will integrate all the systems we deal with. (Joe Andrieu first explained this in 2007, here.)

7. Consistent Experience Across Contexts

The unifying identity metasystem must guarantee its users a simple, consistent experience while enabling separation of contexts through multiple operators and technologies.

So identity isn’t just about corporate systems getting along with each other. It’s about giving each of us scale across all the entities we deal with. Because it’s our experience that will make identity work right, finally, online. 

I expect to add more as the conference goes on; but I want to get this much out there to start with.

By the way, the photo above is from the first and only meeting of the Identity Gang, at Esther Dyson’s PC Forum in 2005. The next meeting of the Gang was the first Internet Identity Workshop, aka IIW, later that year. We’ve had 34 more since then, all with hundreds of participants, all with great influence on the development of code, standards, and businesses in digital identity and adjacent fields. And all guided by Kim’s Laws.


« Older entries § Newer entries »