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It’s been a long travel day, and we’ve got an hour to go before getting unstuck here in the Denver airport, which is in Nebraska, I think. Got an early flight out of Boston, then failed to get on by standby with two flights so far. But we’re reserved on the third, and due to arrive in Santa Barbara an hour and a quarter before tomorrow.

Anyway, my normally sunny mood, even in the midst of travel woes (one should appreciate the fact that commercial aviation involves sitting in a chair moving 500 miles an hour, seven miles up), was compromised earlier this evening by an unhappy exchange with Enterprise, the rental car company. I wrote about it in Unf*cking car rental, over in the ProjectVRM blog. It concludes constructively:

So I want to take this opportunity to appeal to anybody in a responsible position anywhere in the car rental business to work together with us at on a customer-based solution to this kind of automated lameness. It can’t be done from the inside alone. That’s been tried and proven inadequate for way too long. Leave a message below or write me at dsearls at cyber dot law dot harvard dot edu.

Let’s build The Intention Economy — based on real, existing, money-in-hand intentions of real customers, rather than the broken attention-seeking and customer-screwing system we have now.

There’s the bait. We’ll see if anybody takes it.

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If Twitter does everything Dave says they should do, they’d make a helpful move toward bingo on Joe Andrieu’s checklist of user-driven services. Here’s the list:

  1. Impulse from the User
  2. Control
  3. Transparency
  4. Data Portability
  5. Service Endpoint Portability
  6. Self Hosting
  7. User Generativity
  8. Improvability
  9. Self-managed Identity
  10. Duty of Care

See how you’d score ’em.

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Over at the ProjectVRM blog: Dawn of the Living Infrastructure.

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It helps to recognize that the is exactly what its name denotes: an association of presses. Specifically, newspapers. Fifteen hundred of them. Needless to say, newspapers are having a hard time. (Hell, I gave them some, myself, yesterday.) So we might cut them a little slack for getting kinda testy and paranoid.

Reading the AP’s paranoid jive brings to mind Jim Clark on stage at the first (only?) Netscape conference. Asked by an audience member why he said stuff about Microsoft that might have a “polarizing effect”, Jim rose out of his chair and yelled at the questioner, “THEY’RE TRYING TO KILL US. THAT HAS A POLARIZING EFFECT!” I sometimes think that’s the way the AP feels toward bloggers. Hey, when you’re being eaten alive, everything looks like a pirhana.

But last week the AP, probably without intending it, did something cool. You can read about it in “Associated Press to build news registry to protect content“, a press release that manages to half-conceal some constructive open source possibilities within a pile of prose that seems mostly to be about locking down content and tracking down violators of AP usage policies. Ars Technica unpacks some of the possibilities. Good piece.

Over in Linux Journal I just posted AP Launches Open Source Ascribenation Project, in which I look at how the AP’s “tracking and tagging” technology, which is open source, can help lay the foundations for a journalistic world where everybody gets credit for what they contribute to the greater sphere of news and comment — and can get paid for it too, easily — if readers feel like doing that.

The process of giving credit where due we call , and the system by which readers (or listeners, or viewers) choose to pay for it we call .

Regardless of what we call it, that’s where we’re going to end up. The system that began when the AP was formed in 1846 isn’t going to go away, but it will have to adapt. And adopt. It’s good to see it doing the latter. The former will be harder. But it has to be done.

I’d say more here, but I already said it over there.

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In his comment to my last post about the sale of WQXR to WNYC (and in his own blog post here), Sean Reiser makes an important point:

One of the unique things about the QXR was it’s relationship with the Times. The Times owned QXR before the FCC regulations prohibiting newspapers ownership of a radio station were enacted. Because of this relationship, QXR’s newsroom was located in the NY Times building and news gathering resources were shared. In a precursor to newspaper reporters doing podcasts, Times columnists and arts reporters would often appear on the air doing segments.

It’s true. The Times selling WQXR seems a bit like the New Yorker dropping poetry, or GE (née RCA) closing the Rainbow Room. (Which has already happened… how many times?) To cultured veteran New Yorkers, the Times selling WQXR seems more like a partial lobotomy than a heavy heirloom being thrown off a sinking ship.

For much of the history of both, great newspapers owned great radio stations. The Times had WQXR. The Chicago Tribune had (and still has) WGN (yes, “World’s Greatest Newspaper”). The Washington Post had WTOP. (In fact, the Post got back into the radio game with Washington Post Radio, on WTOP’s legacy 50,000-watt signal at 1500 AM. That lasted from 2006-2008.). Trust me, the list is long.

The problem is, both newspapers and radio stations are suffering. Most newspapers are partially (or, in a few cases — such as this one — totally) lobotomized versions of their former selves. Commercial radio’s golden age passed decades ago. WQXR, its beloved classical format, and its staff, have been on life support for years. Most other cities have lost their legacy commercial classical stations (e.g. WFMR in Milwaukee), or lucked out to various degrees when the call letters and formats were saved by moving to lesser signals, sometimes on the market’s outskirts (e.g. WCRB in Boston). In most of the best cases classical formats were saved by moving to noncommercial channels and becomimg public radio stations. In Los Angeles, KUSC took over for KFAC (grabbing the latter’s record library) and KOGO/K-Mozart. In Raleigh, WCPE took over for WUNC and WDBS. In Washington, WETA took over for WGMS. Not all of these moves were pretty, but all of them kept classical music alive on their cities’ FM bands.

In some cases, however, “saved’ is an understatement. KUSC, for example, has a bigger signal footprint and far more to offer, than KFAC and its commercial successors did. In addition to a first-rate signal in Los Angeles, KUSC is carried on full-size stations in Palm Springs, Thousand Oaks, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo — giving it stong coverage of more population than any other station in Los Angeles, including the city’s substantial AM stations. KUSC also runs HD programs on the same channels, has an excellent live stream on the Web, and is highly involved in Southern California’s cultural life.

I bring that up because the substantial advantages of public radio over commercial radio — especially for classical music — are largely ignored amidst all the hand-wringing (thick with completely wrong assumptions) by those who lament the loss  — or threatened loss — of a cultural landmark such as WQXR. So I thought I’d list some of the advantages of public radio in the classical music game.

  1. No commercials. Sure, public radio has its pitches for funding, but those tend to be during fund drives rather than between every music set.
  2. More room for coverage growth. The rules for signals in the noncommercial end of the band (from 88 to 92) are far more flexible than those in the commercial band. And noncommercial signals in the commercial band (such as WQXR’s new one at 105.9) can much more easily be augmented by translators at the fringes of their coverage areas — and beyond. Commercial stations can only use translators within their coverage areas. Noncommercial stations can stick them anywhere in the whole country. If WNYC wants to be aggressive about it, you might end up hearing WQXR in Maine and Montana. (And you can bet it’ll be on the Public Radio Player, meaning you can get it wherever there’s a cell signal.)
  3. Life in a buyer’s market. Noncommercial radio stations are taking advantage of bargain prices for commercial stations. That’s what KUSC did when it bought what’s now KESC on 99.7FM in San Luis Obispo. It’s what KCLU did when it bought 1340AM in Santa Barbara.
  4. Creative and resourceful engineering. While commercial radio continues to cheap out while advertising revenues slump away, noncommercial radio is pioneering all over the place. They’re doing it with HD Radio, with webcasting (including multiple streams for many stations), with boosters and translators, with RDS — to name just a few. This is why I have no doubt that WNYC will expand WQXR’s reach even if they can’t crank up the power on the Empire State Building transmitter.
  5. Direct Listener Involvement. Commercial radio has had a huge disadvantage for the duration: its customers and its consumers are different populations. As businesses, commercial radio stations are primarily accountable to advertisers, not to listeners. Public radio is directly accoutable to its listeners, because those are also its customers. As public stations make greater use of the Web, and of the growing roster of tools available for listener engagement (including tools on the listeners’ side, such as those we are developing at ProjectVRM), this advantage over commercial radio will only grow. This means WQXR’s listeners have more more opportunity to contribute positively to the station’s growth than they ever had when it was a commercial station. (Or if, like WCRB, it lived on as a lesser commercial station.) So, if you’re a loyal WQXR listener, send a few bucks to WNYC. Tell them thanks for saving the station, and tell them what you’d like them to do with the station as well.

I could add more points (and maybe I will later), but that should suffice for now. I need to crash and then get up early for a quick round trip to northern Vermont this morning. Meanwhile, hope that helps.

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I understand Zappos selling out to Amazon (even the Amazon logo, which leads from A to Z, makes sense of it) but the news still depresses me. Zappos is a cause as well as a brand. That cause is relationship. As Wikipedia (currently) puts it,

Zappos uses a loyalty business model and relationship marketing. The primary sources of the company’s rapid growth have been repeat customers and numerous word of mouth recommendations.[4][5] In 2005, the chairman reported that 60% of customers were repeat buyers.[5]

Think about the word “company.” At Dictionary.com, the noun is said to mean these things:

  1. a number of individuals assembled or associated together; group of people.
  2. a guest or guests: We’re having company for dinner.
  3. an assemblage of persons for social purposes.
  4. companionship; fellowship; association: I always enjoy her company.
  5. one’s usual companions: I don’t like the company he keeps.
  6. society collectively.
  7. a number of persons united or incorporated for joint action, esp. for business: a publishing company; a dance company.
  8. (initial capital letter) the members of a firm not specifically named in the firm’s title: George Higgins and Company.

And that’s before we get down to military, governmental and other meanings.

Note that the business meanings start at #7. Note the convivial qualities of all the numbered meanings. Zappos has that convivial nature, more than any other big company retailing clothing online. You get the sense that you can relate to these people, because they seem to have a reason for being that goes beyond being the cheapest and most convenient means for choosing goods, paying for them, and having them shipped to you. That’s Amazon’s business. It’s different.

So I’m sure there is synergy there. But synergy alone does not a great acquisition make.

I wonder, now that (as the press release says) “Amazon will provide Zappos employees with $40 million in cash and restricted stock units” — in addition to whatever stockholding Zappos employees get in the form of Amazon stock (the sum of all shareholders and options is 10 million Amazon shares) — if Zappos’ soul and mission will survive the acquisition.

I also wonder what kind of hit the whole subject of relationship, which is so highly potentiated (read: absent, though it shouldn’t be), will take.

Tony Hsieh’s letter to employees (about 100 of them, it says) is reassuring, as is the Jeff Bezos video.

Hope it works out.

[Later…] Alexander Haislip has a financial angle on the deal.

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nick_givotovsky

I remember talking to Nick Givotovsky the first time at an early Internet Identity Workshop, when he pulled me aside to share some ideas, and immediately stripped my gears. The guy was as smart as they come, and articulate to an extreme equaled by few. I had to stop him every few sentences to get him to dumb it down a bit, or at least to let me catch up. Many conversations followed, in many settings. Every encounter with Nick was engaging and mind-sharpening.

We became friends — or as close as people get when they’re mutually engaged in a number of projects, and enjoy each other’s company, as well as each other’s minds and hearts. I called him “Nicky G.”

Best I can recall, Nick came to nearly every IIW, plus workshops on VRM, networking and much more. He always contributed, always brought a warm smile and good sense of humor. He was serious, but didn’t take himself too seriously. A rare combination. Also notable was Nick’s mode of engagement. He was always original, often challenging, but never hostile or obstructive. And his mind was always open, always curious, always ready to step up and participate.

As I recall, the last I saw Nick was at the IIW this past May. He left a bit early to get back to his farm in Cornwall, Connecticut. I remember him talking about this old tractor he had, and how much he enjoyed operating it. He died this last Friday after falling off (what I assume is) that tractor. More of the story is here and here. (I share those links there for the record, but they are not pleasant reading.)

Nick’s last post on one of the many lists in which he participated told the story of his older brother’s death. “I think he did it astonishingly ‘right’, if such a thing can be said of dying,” Nick wrote.

Alas, Nick died wrong. And way too young. He was just 44. He leaves his wife and two kids. Plus many shocked and saddened friends.

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Yesterday I reported hearing that the New York Times was thinking about putting its editorial behind a paywall again. Today James Warren gives substance to the rumors:

Here’s a story the newspaper industry’s upper echelon apparently kept from its anxious newsrooms: A discreet Thursday meeting in Chicago about their future.

“Models to Monetize Content” is the subject of a gathering at a hotel which is actually located in drab and sterile suburban Rosemont, Illinois; slabs of concrete, exhibition halls and mostly chain restaurants, whose prime reason for being is O’Hare International Airport. It’s perfect for quickie, in-and-out conclaves.

There’s no mention on its website but the Newspaper Association of America, the industry trade group, has assembled top executives of the New York Times, Gannett, E. W. Scripps, Advance Publications, McClatchy, Hearst Newspapers, MediaNews Group, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Media Holdings, Lee Enterprises and Freedom Communication Inc., among more than two dozen in all. A longtime industry chum, consultant Barbara Cohen, “will facilitate the meeting.”

I can see the headline already:  Newspaper Bigs Form Trust To Set Content Prices.

Just kidding.

We do need to be serious here. The Situation is dire. Humpty Dumpty is reaching terminal velocity.

But don’t bother wishing the king’s horses and men luck with the fix. They can’t do it. No newspaper trade group, no collection of top newspaper executives, will come up with a creative solution to problems that have already earned Top Rank status in the innovators dilemma casebook. The best these execs can do is make Humpty’s fall a drop into cyberspace. They have to make Humpty Net-native. They can’t do that just with better-and-better websites, or with “monetization” schemes such as “micropayments” or other scarcity plays with a net-ish gloss.

As disruptive technologies go, it’s hard to beat the Interent. The Net didn’t just push  Humpty off the wall. It blew up that wall and the whole world on which both sat. In that wall’s place is a wide-open space where abundance is not only the prevailing condition, but a severly reproductive one that’s especially suited to interesting “content.” As Kevin Kelly aptly puts it, The internet is a copy machine. One measure of content’s worth is how much it gets copied and quoted. How the hell do you monetize that?

In a New Yorker piece this week, Bill Keller, the Times‘ Executive Editor, said, “There’s a crying demand for what we do and, sadly, a diminishing supply of it. How we get the demand to pay for the supply is the existential question of newspapers in general and the Times in particular.” He’s right in all but one respect: that first person plural we. Unless he’s referring to a population of sufficient generality to include readers. Or, more importantly, hackers. Geeks bearing gifts.

As it happens, we (the geeks) have one. It’s called EmanciPay. It hands the pricing gun over to the customers (readers in this case) and then makes it easy for them to pay as much as they like, however they like, on their terms. Or at least to start with that full set of options. Whatever readers decide to pay, the sum of it won’t be $0, which is what readers are paying now. (Online, at least, in nearly all cases.)

Evidence:::

Peter Kafka reports this from the D7 conference today (over a Wall Street Journal AllThingsDigital blog):

Time for some polls! No surprise: People like to read newspapers online. Also no surprise: But people don’t pay for it. Somewhat of a surprise: People say that they are willing to pay for some kind of news.

My boldface.

I conduct similar audience polls often, though my subject is usually public radio. “How many people here listen to public radio?” Nearly all hands go up. “How many of you pay for it?” About 10% stay up. “How many would pay for it if it were real easy?” More hands go up. “How many would pay if stations would stopped begging for money with fund drives?”  Many more hands go up, enthusiastically.

So the market is there. The question is how to tap it.

At ProjectVRM we propose tapping it from the customers’ side: for newspapers, from the readers side. We also propose doing it one way for all readers and all newspapers, rather than X different ways for X different papers, each designed by each paper for their own readers. In that direction lies a field of silos, all with their own scarcities, their own frictions, their own lock-ins. We need one way to do this for the same reason we need one way to do email.

Remember back when AOL, Prodigy, Lotus Notes, MCIMail and the rest all had their own ways of making you correspond? That’s what we’ll get if we leave content monetization up to the papers alone. They’ll all have their own ways of locking you in, just like retailers all have their own “loyalty” programs, each with their own cards, their own barcodes for you, their own reward systems, their own special ways of inconveniencing you for their own exclusive benefit.

EmanciPay will be simple and straightforward. It will make it easy for you to pay what you want (which may be what the papers what you to pay … or more … or less), and to do it on your terms and not just theirs. This doesn’t mean that the papers can’t have terms of their own. Maybe they have a suggested price, or a minimum they’re willing to accept. Whatever they come up with, however, will be informed by interaction out in the open marketplace, rather than their own private ones, where they make all the rules.

Think of EmanciPay as a way to unburden sellers of the need to keep trying to control markets that are beyond their control anyway. Think of it as a way that “free market”  can mean more than “your choice of captor.” Think of it as a way that “customer relationships” can be worthy of the label because both sides are carrying their ends of the relationship burden — rather than the sellers’ side carrying the whole thing (as CRM systems do today).

EmanciPay is an open source project. When it rolls out, it will be free and open to anybody.

Want to help? Let me know. (firstname at lastname dot com) I’m serious.

The only problem is that development work on EmanciPay is just getting started. (I haven’t wanted to publicize it, because I wanted it to be ready to go — or at least to vet — first.)  But that’s also an opportunity.

What matters for the papers is that there’s at least one answer to their challenge out there. And it’s free for the making.

Cross-posted here.

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On the ProjectVRM blog: A Declaration of Customer Independence.

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Heading to the first VRM West Coast Workshop. Runs the next two days in Palo Alto. Should be fun. Free too. If you’re up for putting your shoulder to some of the wheels we’ve got rolling, come on down. Instructions for signing up are there at that link.

Getting into the plane. (Man, the connectivity is slow today at Logan. Grr.)

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