No policy …no strategy, either

April 27, 2010 at 11:57 pm | In advertising, black_press, facebook, free_press, local_not_global, media, newspapers, social_critique, times_colonist, victoria, web | 13 Comments

Tonight I attended the 14th meeting of Victoria’s Social Media Club to listen to five panelists from Victoria’s mainstream media (MSM) talk about how new media (including social media) is affecting their business.

Panelists included Bryan Capistrano (promotion director for radio station The Zone); Amanda Farrell-Low (arts editor for weekly paper Monday Magazine); Dana Hutchings (producer/ host for “Island 30” on TV station CHEK News); Sarah Petrescu (reporter and webmaster at daily paper Times-Colonist); and Deborah Wilson (journalist for CBC Radio-Victoria “On The Island”). The panel was moderated by Janis La Couvée.

blog might render photo cropped – click on picture to see original


The setting was the gymnasium of a former elementary school (now used as the University Canada West campus), hence the …well, gym-like setting.

But the setting wasn’t really the disappointing bit: it was the panelists. They all came across as very sweet people, but I left wondering just what the hell they’re doing.

The panelists (representing local heavy-hitters CBC Radio, Monday Magazine, CHEK News, The Zone Radio, and the Times-Colonist) all stated that their organizations have no specific social media policies in place.

Maybe that’s fine – but what was striking was the absence of clear thinking around social media strategy. The one glimmer of an exception was Dana Hutchings of CHEK. In the summer of 2009, while on vacation in Sweden, she received an email from her boss, letting her know that the owners were about to shut down the station.

CHEK had orders from its owners that forbade the station to report on its own troubles. In his email, Dana’s boss wrote (and I’m paraphrasing): “You’re on Facebook! What can we do?”

First, a brief digression on the history of CHEK News, which is worth knowing: see this wikipedia page for details. In brief: CHEK launched on December 1, 1956, which makes it a venerable local institution. Over the decades, CHEK underwent various changes in ownership, and by 2000 it was owned by Canwest, which happens to be the media conglomerate that owns so much of Canada’s media – including most newspapers, the Times-Colonist among them. Canwest, however, was in deep financial trouble by the middle of the decade, and by late 2009 it had to file for creditor bankruptcy protection. Leading up to this, Canwest tried various downsizing moves to save itself, including pulling the plug on CHEK in August of 2009. But by September 2009, the employees had managed to put together a scheme to buy the station and keep it in operation as an independent in Victoria.

Social media played a huge role in CHEK’s turnaround. Dana Hutchings answered her boss’s question (“You’re on Facebook – what can we do?”) by starting a Save CHEK News fan page, which in turn galvanized the local community who learned about the true goings-on at the station through the Facebook page. Before long, the page had thousands of fans.

The employees at CHEK, spurred by the support they saw pouring in through social media, worked feverishly around the clock for over 46 days, and in the end the station was saved – bought by the employees and contributors.

The point, however, is that without the resonant support from CHEK’s fans – support that would not have found a gathering spot without social media because of Canwest’s gag order on what was happening at CHEK – the employees wouldn’t have been able to muster the energy and enthusiasm to save the station.

But when asked how social media was affecting their business models, the other panelists relied on the old separation between “editorial” and “management” to absolve themselves of any strategic thinking around how the new media might save their old media bacon.

“I don’t know, I’m editorial, that doesn’t concern me,” was the gist of it. The panelists also seemed to think that the new media folks in the audience were trying to find ways to “pitch” to them, the arbiters of media truth. It was laughable.

First, people in the audience weren’t trying to figure out how to “pitch” to the MSM – they were trying to sound out the MSM to find out how they could get it to listen to them, the community.

Second, the panelists repeatedly told the audience that what would work – what they would be willing to retweet or run a story on – would be semi-sensationalist crap, like “there’s a house on fire on X Road,” or “the ferries are running late,” or “it’s snowing on the Malahat.”

Aside from sensational “news” like this, the MSM wants “human interest” stories: “how I found my true love on Twitter,” or, “my child survived bullying on Facebook,” or similar stuff.

This is truly sad. There must be more to MSM than burning buildings and true romance, no?

There were other annoying contradictions, and then also outright delusions. For the latter: the belief that bloggers are just the rumor mill, while the MSM are the arbiters of truth. Hahahaha. If anyone still believes that what is written in the daily paper is the truth, I feel sorry for them – I know for a fact that it isn’t. I know plenty of bloggers who are more assiduous about fact-checking than so-called professional journalists – and bloggers don’t mind correcting themselves. Try getting a newspaper to do that.

At the same time, every single one of the panelists belly-ached about being underfunded and understaffed, which was their main excuse for no longer doing investigative journalism.

Ok, so which is it? You can’t do investigative journalism because you’re understaffed and underfunded? Or you’re the arbiters of truth because only you are the professionals who can get at the truth?

You can’t have it both ways, kids.

While thumping their chests to claim truth-telling status, the panelists also begged “social media” to “spoonfeed” them potential news items (because, remember, they’re underfunded and understaffed and can’t get their own stories – the news are “thin” these days, as one of them put it). In other words, please spoonfeed us, but don’t think you can pitch us.

Are they nuts?

Which is it?

I could go on, but this entry is already costing me dearly in a town where everyone has to play nice and not step on anyone’s toes – and besides, it’s almost midnight and I’m on a deadline here.

Update, April 29: a follow-up post here (also noted in comments).

Trust Agents, one

March 22, 2010 at 9:22 pm | In ideas, social_critique, web | Comments Off on Trust Agents, one

Nearly two months ago (on January 20), Julien Smith came to speak at Victoria’s Social Media Club. It was a funny, informative talk, which is saying something, given the setting (a cold school gymnasium, a couple of technical mishaps, …the usual). I took Julien up on his offer to let me have a copy of the book he co-authored with Chris Brogan, Trust Agents …and sure enough, it arrived at my door within a couple of weeks. Thanks, Julien!

My plan was to read it (promptly), but a couple of other books muscled their way into the queue (they had library due dates, so they managed to plead priority, too).

Now at last I’m well into chapter 3, and it occurred to me that it makes sense to report out as I read.

Upfront, I admit that I’m not the likeliest candidate to benefit from the book, although I’m enjoying it a lot. It’s a good, well-thought-out and well-written read, which keeps you turning the pages. Smith and Brogan clearly have an excellent synergy between them, and that comes through in their arguments, case-studies, and anecdotes. The authors also provide “break-out boxes” in each chapter, which either explain specific concepts (eg., “How Building Trust Is Like Pac-Man,” pp.55-56) or assign the reader a specific ACTION item (effectively a tool-kit for implementing the ideas – eg., “ACTION: First Steps to Leverage Your Position within an Organization,” p.127). I really like this feature – and anyone who has an actual job or a business can learn so much here.

My problem is that I don’t have a business model – whether I’m in a semi-permanent transition or just a useless academic is something I haven’t quite figured out, but suffice it to say that my position at the longest end of the very long tail didn’t come about by accident. I’m just not very popular, and there’s not much in me to make working toward popularity make sense. I have no product, I’m not topical, I’m often obtuse, and the people who are actually interested in what I have to say can quite possibly fit into one room. A very small room. Ok, a closet.

But I am good at some things – like thinking, synthesizing, making connections, and seeing patterns.

So, as I was floundering around, thinking about how I’ve once again missed the boat on being socially relevant or building a tribe or belonging or being “one of us,” I was however suddenly struck by something:

In Chapter 2, “Make Your Own Game,” Brogan and Smith delve into games, into the idea that it’s natural for people to want to hack the rules of a game. They start by talking about Monopoly and other traditional, “analog” games, but soon go on to cover early computer games – all of which can be “hacked” in some way to modify the rules. The lessons gleaned from the game mentality apply, obviously, also to “real life.”

For example, p.34 starts off a section within Chapter 2 called “Set Your Own Rules,” which begins:

No matter what industry you are in, there are very specific protocols in place. If you are an aspiring young journalist, there is a ladder you must climb to get published in a respectable newspaper or to get airtime in a decently rated TV market. If you are a rock band, you spend years shopping your demo discs around to various people, play for years in small clubs trying to catch some attention, and eventually get a record deal where most of the money is made by the record company. Maybe.

Or, by using a site like MySpace, you make your own game.

That’s what the Arctic Monkeys, from Sheffield, England, did.

Further examples of independents hacking the gatekeepers and creating their own game include Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), Radiohead’s Rainbow album/experiment, and others.

Right around reading that section, I thought, “This relates to the baby boomers bitching about how Millennials think they can march in off the street and start at the management level instead of working their way up from grunts.” How many articles have tried to analyze the Millennial attitude of not wanting to work one’s way up through the hierarchy, through the organization?

I read a few of them recently when I wrote my own blog post about Millennials and public engagement, but I don’t recall that they specifically mentioned gaming and hacking as shaping attitudes to “authority” (i.e., rules).

Smith and Brogan don’t broach the whole Gen-Y/ Millennial issue, but think about it: isn’t “make your own game,” inspired by hacking and what the authors call “gate-jumping” (by-passing an industry’s traditional gate-keepers), a defining Millennial outlook that’s irked many traditional employers?

Or, as Trust Agents puts it:

Because the web is a media platform, a communications platform, a vast sea of loosely joined resources, it’s the perfect place to gatejump. Trust agents know this. They live in this space. They look for the games inside the game, and they find ways to win. Why wait for permission? Just do it. (p.35)

Suddenly, what looked like a contradiction before (one, not wanting to play by traditional expectations or working one’s way up through the hierarchy, but, two, simultaneously being ambitious, a puzzle presented by the How Millennial are you? quiz) isn’t a contradiction at all. It’s just another variant of life-hacking.

So, thanks Julien Smith and Chris Brogan for making my brain, which loves making connections, happy by Chapter 3 already. I’m looking forward to seeing what else your book shakes loose in my head.

Another wave …of mirror neurons

February 10, 2010 at 11:44 pm | In comments, futurismo, social_critique, social_networking, ubiquity, web | Comments Off on Another wave …of mirror neurons

Well, it’s not called Wave, it’s called Buzz now.

I opted for it, used it a few times, and then doused it with indifference. Actually, more than indifference: an article pointed to by Dave Winer (via this tweet), WARNING: Google Buzz Has A Huge Privacy Flaw, prompted me to go to my Google settings to make sure that buzzy news wasn’t going to be publicly available. Call me old-fashioned, but I think email (and who I email with) is my business, not the world’s. Yeah, sure, the world isn’t interested in me and my email, but on principle, what Google did with default public settings is wrong.

Mat Wright blogged about Buzz earlier, and I left several persnickety (even curmudgeonly) comments. (Mat is used to this – we are co-conspirators on and co-creators of JohnsonStreetBridge.ORG and he has heard me rant often. It makes for a refreshing change that this time around it’s not about City of Victoria politics, I guess.)


Sunday Afternoon at the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (Louvre)

Sunday Afternoon at the Grande Jatte by Georges Seurat (Louvre)


What really intrigued me a lot more today than Buzz, however, was chatroulette (which I hadn’t heard of before, but read about on Fred Wilson‘s blog post here).

Just go read Fred’s post and then especially read through the many comments. I decided to leave a comment about chatroulette (also viewable on my Disqus profile), even if my thoughts on this app are half-formed – full disclosure: I haven’t used chatroulette and probably never will (just the mention of 4chan is enough to keep me off), but I was intrigued by the “don’t next me!” pleas from a user. The technology brings us “together” (in a weird way), but it then also gives us the power to delete people wholesale.  …Don’t taze me, bro! Don’t delete me! Don’t next me! I find this fascinating. It’s a dialectic of violence that’s built into the very thing we’re using to touch one another. The threat of harm in the promise of contact is part of the package.

If you’re really curious, you might even want to spend 8 minutes watching the …er, unusual video, 1 man 2 fish censored, posted on the blog comments board. Mirror neurons firing like it’s the Fourth of July – but what are they hitting?

Another hat: curator

July 16, 2009 at 9:15 pm | In housekeeping, victoria, web | Comments Off on Another hat: curator

As some of my readers know, I’m a co-founder of a Victoria-based venture called MetroCascade, which aims to evolve into a go-to site for news, events, and information about Victoria BC. We’re doing this by first of all providing a platform for blogs and news sources (and events). That’s only the start, but it’s already proving quite interesting.

Why? Well, the blogs and news sources have grown quite rapidly. We have over 200 sources (see the Authors page) and for now several bucket Categories (which aren’t fine-tuned enough and therefore not really satisfactory).

It seems clear to me that, if we want to add value to all this stuff we’re aggregating (and we do), there has to be some level of curation. Hence, my new hat.

I’m still testing this out – right now via our blog (which isn’t currently hosted on MetroCascade, but I hope soon will be). To date, I’ve posted five “curations”: the first one (called A First Curation!) was really long, the second (Highlights from the firehose) shorter, and the third (The Uncategory…), fourth (Lifestyle is a many-splendored thing), and fifth (The Parenting Environment) I wrote tonight, one after the other, with a kind of resignation in the face of content onslaught: there were 15 pages of archives to mull through since the last curation 2 days ago.

I’ll let readers know how this continues to work out. Right now it seems a bit daunting, but maybe I’ll develop a system.

Toward a new medievalism?

June 28, 2009 at 3:45 pm | In business, comments, futurismo, ideas, media, social_critique, web | Comments Off on Toward a new medievalism?

I just left this comment on It’s me going off on a typical theory bender, but the idea of Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL) sparked another “here come the Middle Ages” image/moment for me. (As I note in the comment, they’ve been popping up for me since the late 1970s: my first one happened in the south of France, in a literally medieval town on a street with lots of commerce: pop!, a vision of what we could go back to – and I didn’t like the distinctly anti-modernist feel of it.)

That’s an interesting exchange between you and John Battelle, Fred. Now I’m going to go totally off-topic here and get all abstract, but I have to say that to my mind there’s something Medieval in some of the emerging business models and how they’re changing the nature of markets.

In the feudal Middle Ages, powerful patrons – either the Church or the Feudal lords – determined the markets. Markets weren’t free, they weren’t determined by market forces (as we think we understand them since the various emancipations) or really shaped by the “little people” (who in the modern period developed into powerful consumers).

When I read (as per transcript): “…if you think about what businesses and celebrities and brands need on Twitter and what they’re not getting today, there’s a whole set of premium services that are there,” I’m *understanding* something that reminds me of feudal medievalism where markets are determined by the needs of powerful patrons (church and/or lords). (John Battelle repeats the point further down when he says, “You said something about brands on Twitter, sort of like celebrities having the ability to sort of build an official presence.”)

I didn’t understand recent controversies about Twitter’s Suggested User List (SUL). I saw Dave Winer’s tweets about the SUL, but didn’t understand why he questioned the concept. Maybe I do now – albeit in my own weird way (Dave probably would roll his eyes at my interpretation…).

The SUL concept nudges markets back into a feudal framework where forces other than actual market forces determine the market landscape.

Maybe I’m crazy – I’ve had occasional bad dreams for nearly 30 years now about how feudal Medievalism is clawing back bits of Modernity. (Blame Umberto Eco, whose writings encompass Modernity and the Middle Ages.) The idea comes to me in pictures, which is maybe why I struggle so much to get the words right (the anti-icons, the iconoclastics). Me no likey what I see with SUL-type aspects of the business model and how it has the potential to alter markets.

I love the internet and all the great stuff out there, I plunge right in, sound off, play along. I love pictures and emblems and icons, but at heart I’m a daughter of the Enlightenment (words, words, words). Pictures, specifically icons, are Medieval. Yet in the new world that we’re making, even words – such as passed links – are turned into image, into something that’s consumed like an image (in a glance, or uncritically). Exegesis – trying to understand and interpret words – is still important it seems, as per the comment that reading the transcript of the video is better than watching the moving image…! But you could chalk that up to Medievalism, too. They did a lot of exegesis back then. 😉

Ok, I’m generalizing (wildly?), and I’m going off into my own little theory-land here. But as you said yourself, “Social media together is going to be bigger than Google.” Google and the internet certainly changed our thinking about everything, including thinking about thinking itself. Tell me it’s not rewiring our brains – of course it is. Now social media are poised to rewire the market. I just happen to think that bits of it are kind of medieval, and every time the notion of the tribe (certainly an important idea in the new market place) is celebrated without critical reflection, something in me dies a little bit.

If my favorite enlightened Marxist, Groucho, were still alive, I wonder how he would position himself, market-wise, in the social media landscape, and if he would want to be on the SUL? 😉

Originally posted as a comment by Yule Heibel on A VC using Disqus.

Reblogged to here as mnemonic / string around the finger.

Continuing a conversation on avc

June 18, 2009 at 8:54 am | In media, web, writing | 3 Comments

Replying to a couple of comments on Fred Wilson, reblogging here:

Good points. In your blog you do, however, focus in on a specific area (as per your blog’s title, a VC). That makes it all hang together, and focuses your insights. Others might think out loud, but it’s unfocused (although in the aggregate, it can all cohere into a pattern).

Are you familiar with the term “bricolage” (in Levi-Strauss’ academic-structuralist sense)? The Bookman (blog) describes it as a “willingness to make do with whatever is at hand… The ostensible purpose of this activity is to make sense of the world in a non-scientific, non-abstract mode of knowledge by designing analogies between the social formation and the order of nature. As such, the term embraces any number of things, from what was once called anti-art to the punk movement’s reinvention of utlitarian objects as fashion vocabulary…”…

I’m way too scientifically-minded to appreciate bricolage as any kind of ideal, and I’m definitely not saying that either one of us is a bricoleur, or that I want to be one and do bricolage (although it sometimes feels like that’s what I’m doing). But even when you’re just “thinking out loud,” I do think that your expertise lets you record your “rarely … completely baked thoughts” like ingredients in a recipe. And your readers know that they often enough add up to a movable feast: they cook your stuff in the comments board – to use a typically bricolage-y analogy.

On the other side of the coin, there’s the rock star blogger, someone so star-like s/he can blog about underwear and people read it. (In fact, people would probably read it *because* it’s about underwear…) I’d rather chew off my own leg than fill those boots, though. The pressure would kill me. 😉

Originally posted as a comment by Yule Heibel on A VC using Disqus.

(See also my June 15 post, Fred Wilson Is:.)

Fred Wilson is:

June 15, 2009 at 10:20 pm | In authenticity, ideas, innovation, media, web | 3 Comments

Holy cow, yet another great learning-and-thinking experience, courtesy of  Fred Wilson‘s recent post, What Drives Consumer Adoption of New Technologies?, and the many amazing people who comment there! Reading regularly is like participating in an interdisciplinary college seminar – and even though  you never know in advance what’s coming up on the syllabus, the conversation is bound to get really interesting several times a week.

Last week (on June 9) Fred asked What drives consumer adoption of new technologies? He had been invited by a major media company to participate in a panel discussion set to start at 10 a.m. that day. Without further ado he gave his readers a couple of hours to talk about the topic. And, boy, did he get a lot of great feedback. The online conversation continued well past the real life meeting, too.

In his post he observed that:

…consumers are driven to new experiences that are simple and useful and/or entertaining. It is not enough to be the first to market with a new technology. You have to be the first to market with a version of the technology that is simple and easy to use.

I was struck by some of the themes that commenters developed in response to this observation, especially when I thought about them in relation to one another. It seems late in the day to add to the original post’s comments thread, so I’ll spin this out here, instead.

One commenter, Jennifer Johnson of  Hashtag Media alluded to Kathy Sierra when she mentioned that great consumer products create passionate users (a reference that was picked up by another commenter, John Lewis).

Cue Twitter.

Kathy Sierra became a Twitter user with some initial reluctance, for she recognized that Twitter is “a near-perfect example of the psychological principle of intermittent variable reward, the key addictive element of slot machines.” Intermittent variable reward works to keep users coming back again and again:

…behavior reinforced intermittently (as opposed to consistently) is the most difficult to extinguish. In other words, intermittent rewards beat predictable rewards. It’s the basis of most animal training, but applies to humans as well… which is why slot machines are so appealing, and one needn’t be addicted to feel it. (more…)

With applications like Twitter, your brain also gets extremely rapid hits – and they are variable: not every visit or scan of the tweets is rewarding every time. But you know the tweets keep coming, and you know that often enough they’re studded with “hits” that provide pleasure. Addictiveness – including relatively easy access to getting those hits and rewards – is probably an ingredient in making successful consumer technology, particularly if it’s social media. (Fred Wilson himself refers to his Twitter habit as snacking… like those potato chips no one can eat just one of? Busted!)

So what about widgets and gadgets and things, and how they’re designed? Consider addictive qualities or “brain-state qualities” in relation to a comment made by Jules Pieri, the founder and CEO of Daily Grommet. She commented from the perspective of an industrial designer:

Here is the core truth about simplicity. When a product is pleasing to approach (which is created by a lot of qualities, foremost of which is simplicity) people get a psychological response to “engage”. It’s simple but unconscious stuff. “Hmm. I think I can do this. This is friendly.” The interesting part is that if you can elicit that response through UI, form factor and sheer disciplined editing of functionality down to its core essence, people will actually dig deeper, spend more time, and uncover MORE functionality from a simple product than from a more fully featured one. So they get more feature usage from a product with, objectively, less functionality. Designers understand this. Engineers usually struggle with it. (But not the best ones.) (link)

Now think about those insights in relation to Kathy Sierra’s observation on addictiveness (the quality that keeps you coming back). If you can design a product or UI with Jules Pieri’s insights in mind, and simultaneously channel Kathy Sierra in order to bake in the qualities of addiction/ gratification/ rapid pleasure, your product has a head start for sure.

The design has to be friction-free and unobtrusive to the point of disappearing. But if the item delivers (provides pleasure) once the user starts working with it – as the iPhone’s interface and shape does, for example – then the user-experience that speaks directly to brain-state can take over. It’s all about the brain – we’re in the age of neuroscience after all.

But where is all this taking us, and do we really care? To the Lotus Eaters all leaves gleam like brand new Apples, and when we ingest them they release their magic right into the brain. We seem to get “more” – but “more what”? More self-expression? Self-revelation? More information, and still more information?

Here’s where it could get heavy, dear reader. It’s hardly possible to let 20th century theory constrain something as disruptive as the web-based and neuroscience-based revolution we’re living through now …but that’s not to say older theory doesn’t have some intriguing insights worth thinking about!

Sure enough, another commenter, Shana (no profile info available yet), responded to a comment by John Dodds (also no profile available – yet) by referencing Michel Foucault. Dodds had written that “simplicity and purpose” drive consumers to adopt new technologies. Later he added that he had written purpose rather than utility

because that Benthamite concept [utility] seems to have been corrupted into relating to commercial productivity. Originally it was much more to do with being worthwhile by whatever criteria one chose to expend one’s credit – be that cash or time. Something entirely frivolous and trivial can have utility if you value those traits.” (link)

It was the introduction of Jeremy Bentham (the reference to Benthamite concept) that prompted Shana to bring up Foucault, whose book Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison was inspired by Bentham’s Panopticon. Wikipedia’s definition of the Panopticon is nicely succinct: “The concept of the design is to allow an observer to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) prisoners without the prisoners being able to tell whether they are being watched, thereby conveying what one architect has called the ‘sentiment of an invisible omniscience.'” (source)

So Shana asked the following questions:

All of these products [consumer technologies] so far bring together community. A good number of them actually track behavior- should we be concerned? One thought that I have been having is that the power of searching leaves us vulnerable to the fact that we are currently in a system where we

a) are trying to attract the guard of the Panopticon’s attention
b) which leaves us vulnerable to the guy who isn’t. he can look on behalf on the guard, underneath, at our vulnerabilities.

Is the loudness of all the information of the internet getting in the way that someone with enough power can use it for harm?

Should we develop products that also encourage segmentation to amplify as well take away certain powers of the “Guard in the tower?”

Or in other words- should we develop products and systems on the internet that afford privacy as well as community at the same time? (link)

Great questions. As for answers – that’s a trickier proposition.

In an April 2004 post called C’mon, Confess about Foucault, art historians, and sex (not necessarily in that order), I wrote:

Understand this: whatever is translated into discourse is instrumentalized as social control. It is not the case that chatter about your sexuality or your neuroses or your deepest darkest secrets makes society a freer place. It instead makes it a more fully explored, more discursive place, which in turn contributes to mechanisms of control. People and their exposures are turning into social maps, we’re less multi-dimensional and increasingly flattened into a one-dimensional discursive space. At the same time, however, I would add an idealistic qualifier that probably wouldn’t sit too well with Foucault: while your confessions strengthen societal mapping (and hence control), there is the one-off/ one-in-a-million possibility that they just might liberate you, individually. It probably happens very rarely, but therein lies the dialectical rub. People might yet be capable of surprising others. (link)

That’s the Panopticon argument: everyone is watching everyone, which internalizes control even as individuals are free to reveal more about themselves than ever before.

I gave warning that this gets heavy, didn’t I? And I did wonder whether Foucault’s 20th century theory can be brought to bear (uncritically) on disruptive technologies such as the ones we’re seeing in the 21st century. And I’m much more critical these days of 20th century totalizing theories than I am of 21st century technology. Those theories still work insofar as we still worry about authenticity and about who we “really” are. So, if that’s a question you didn’t give up on when you turned 30 (or whatever), you’re in luck: there’s a massive body of theory to slake – but also feed – your anxieties. Measure your doses…

On the edge of “iffyness” we now have reality mining – which means there’s hardly anything that can’t become discursive, and if it’s discursive, it can become subject to Foucault’s critique. Reality mining is actually an interesting way to put it. In Pomo goes to market (December 2006) I wrote (again, apropos of Foucault):

The individual becomes the artist of his (her) own life, but the price is that we’re in charge of just a (relatively special) niche. Extinguishing the tutelage of authority in favor of a mastery of domain (the niche), we seem to have flattened the mountains and valleys of the past, exchanging them for a rupture-free landscape that somehow seems curiously the same, wherever we go. (link)

So is reality mining the strip mining of those mountains and valleys?

But all this “heaviness” aside, am I pessimistic? Not really. Either we are truly fucked or we’re living through an incredibly interesting revolution – and I’m hedging my bets that it’s the latter.

We’re learning so much about brain states and neurobiology – we might actually get a handle on addiction. If social media and new consumer technologies help us understand how that works, who’s to say that what they offer isn’t of great value? And is it any different than when people started using earlier (new) technologies to learn? People used to think books could be “harmful” because book-learnin’ was “unnatural” and a conduit for strange and dangerous ideas.

…Meanwhile, back once more to Fred Wilson’s post, to his blog and its amazing comments board. I’m going to suggest, cheekily, another analogy – one I hope Fred Wilson doesn’t mind, and which I make because of his ability to attract such an amazing community of users (that is, people who comment).

I’d suggest that his comments board itself becomes addictive, and that it actually shows the benefits of “addiction.” Users feel the need to check in frequently, to see who is adding to the conversation. The Disqus commenting system that uses has built-in features that enable tracking, as well as finding out more information about users, and that allows dissemination into other media like Twitter, Facebook, and so on. If you make a comment that someone else replies to, Disqus sends you a notification, so you feel compelled to go back, check again, read, think, perhaps respond. In this situation, you’re addicted to a conversation that enables the acquisition of more information, and also of learning.

And as to the title of this post, Fred Wilson Is:?  Listen again to Jules Pieri’s description of great industrial design:

When a product is pleasing to approach (which is created by a lot of qualities, foremost of which is simplicity) people get a psychological response to “engage”. It’s simple but unconscious stuff. “Hmm. I think I can do this. This is friendly.” The interesting part is that if you can elicit that response through UI, form factor and sheer disciplined editing of functionality down to its core essence, people will actually dig deeper…

What manages to achieve could be described as Fred Wilson Is: the friendly interface: deceptively “simple” (I mean that in the best sense) and usually laconic (which means cool, not hot). The coolness (vs a hotter, flame-ish environment) ensures that users/ readers aren’t intimidated, that they can participate freely. So Fred Wilson Is: cool, maybe even a cool brand, and, as Kathy Sierra might say, helps the user kick ass.

Fake makes Hunch real

July 31, 2008 at 11:06 am | In business, media, web | Comments Off on Fake makes Hunch real

Over on Twitter, Jemima Kiss pointed to her Guardian post about Caterina Fake’s blog announcement that she’ll be joining New York-based Hunch as Chief Product Officer.  Cool — and good on her!

What’s interesting, for everyone who has been wondering whether a move away from the Bay Area is in the cards for Caterina and husband Stewart Butterfield, is that although Fake expects to spend a lot of time in NYC, she won’t be moving there.   She — therefore presumably they — will be staying put in San Francisco.

Alas, this will put the lid on the hope that the dynamic duo (Fake and Butterfield, co-founders of formerly Vancouver-based Flickr) would opt to live north of the 49th parallel once again.

I bet more than a few people are now waiting to find out what Stewart Butterfield will do next.

Perhaps something with moving images?  He’s a speaker at XMediaLab upcoming (Aug.1) “DIY TV” conference in Melbourne, Australia.  There’s probably plenty of tin still to be worked in the movies…

edit: for some reason I wrote Aug.9 instead of Aug.1 for that DIY TV conference.  Just corrected the date.  It is Aug.1, tomorrow.

Friday colloquium at UVic, Computer Science Dept.

July 22, 2008 at 2:17 pm | In victoria, web | Comments Off on Friday colloquium at UVic, Computer Science Dept.

I’m definitely going to this.  Brick & mortar metropolises aren’t the only kind that interest me…!

D E P A R T M E N T   O F   C O M P U T E R    S C I E N C E    C O L L O Q U I U M

Topic: The Metropolis Model: A New Logic for Software Development

Presented By: Dr. Rick Kazman, Professor
From: Department of Information Technology Management , University of Hawaii
Biography: Rick Kazman is a Professor at the University of Hawaii and a visiting Scientist (and former Senior Member of the Technical Staff) at the Software Engineering Institute of Carnegie Mellon University. His primary research interests are software architecture, design and analysis tools, software visualization, and software engineering economics. He also has interests in human-computer interaction and information retrieval. Kazman has created several highly influential methods and tools for architecture analysis, including the SAAM (Software Architecture Analysis Method), the ATAM (Architecture Tradeoff Analysis Method) and the Dali architecture reverse engineering tool. He is the author of over 100 papers, and co-author of several books, including “Software Architecture in Practice, and Evaluating Software Architectures: Methods and Case Studies”.

Kazman received a B.A. (English/Music) and M.Math (Computer Science) from the University of Waterloo, an M.A. (English) from York University, and a Ph.D. (Computational Linguistics) from Carnegie Mellon University. How he ever became a software engineering researcher is anybody guess. When not working in architecture or writing about architecture, Kazman may be found cycling, playing the piano, gardening, or (more often) flying back and forth between Hawaii and Pittsburgh.

Sponsored By: Dr. Hausi Muller, Professor
From: Department of Computer Science

Date: Friday, July 25, 2008
Time: 11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Location: Engineering and Computer Science Building (ECS ) Room # 660

We are in the midst of a radical transformation in how we create our information environment. This change, the rise of large-scale cooperative efforts, peer production of information is at the heart of the open-source movement but open source is only one example of how society is restructuring around new models of production and consumption. This change is affecting not only our core software platforms, but every domain of information and cultural production. The networked information environment has dramatically transformed the marketplace, creating new modes and opportunities for how we make and exchange information. “Crowdsourcing” is now used for creation in the arts, in basic research, and in retail business. These changes have been society-transforming. So how can we prepare for, analyze, and manage projects in a crowdsourcing world? Existing software development models are of little help here. These older models all contain a “closed world” assumption: projects have dedicated finite resources, management can “manage” these resources, requirements can be known, software is developed, tested, and released in planned increments. However, these assumptions break in a crowdsourced world. In this talk, I will present principles on which a new system development model must be based. I call these principles the Metropolis Model.

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