Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack, 1938

Hollywood Park Racetrack is gone. In its place is SoFi Stadium, the 77,000-seat home of Los Angeles’ two pro football teams and much else, including the 6,000-seat YouTube Theater. There’s also more to come in the surrounding vastness of Hollywood Park, named after the racetrack. Wikipedia says the park—

consists of over 8.5 million square feet (790,000 m2) that will be used for office space and condominiums, a 12-screen Cinepolis movie theaterballrooms, outdoor spaces for community programming, retail, a fitness center, a luxury hotel, a brewery, up-scale restaurants and an open-air shopping and entertainment complex.

The picture above (via this Martin Turnbull story) is an aerial view of the racetrack in 1938, shortly after it opened. Note the parking lot: immense and almost completely filled with cars. Perhaps this was the day Seabiscuit won his inaugural Gold Cup. Whether or not, few alive today remember when only baseball was more popular than horse racing in the U.S.

What interests me about this change is that I’ve enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of it, while approaching Los Angeles International Airport on commercial passenger planes. I’ve also photographed that change over the course of seventeen years, through those same windows. Between 2005 and 2022, I shot many dozens of photos of the racetrack site (along with the adjacent Hollywood Park Casino) from its last working days as a racetrack to the completion of SoFi Stadium (with the casino’s relocation to a corner of what had been the Racetrack’s parking lot).

In this album on Flickr are 91 photos of that change. Here I tell the story on one page. We’ll start in January 2005:

At this time the racetrack was long past its prime but still functioning along with the casino. (Look closely and you’ll see the word CASINO in red on the roof of the nearest grandstand. The casino itself is the gray building to its left.) In the distance, you can see the skyline of the West Wilshire region and the Hollywood Hills, topped by the HOLLYWOOD sign. (Hollywood Park is actually in Inglewood.)

This same year, Churchill Downs Incorporated sold the track to the Bay Meadows Land Company, owned by Stockbridge Capital Group, for $260 million in cash. This was good for the private capital business, but doom for the track. Bay Meadows, an equally famous racetrack just south of San Francisco, was also doomed.

This shot was taken seven months later, this time looking south:

Note the fountains in the ponds and the pavilion for members and special guests. Also, notice the separate grandstand for the Casino. The cars in the lots are almost certainly extras for LAX’s car rental companies, leasing unused parking spaces. But you can still see in the racetrack what (it says here) was “once described as too beautiful for words.”

The next photo is from April 2007:

Everything still appears operative. You can even see horses practicing on the dirt track. Also note The Forum across the street on the north side. Now the Kia Forum, its roof at various times also bore Great Western and Chase brand images. It was built in 1966 and is still going strong. During its prime, the Lakers in their Showtime era played there. (The team moved downtown to Staples Center in 1999.)

Next is this view, three months later in July 2007, looking south from the north side:

Note the stables between the racetrack and the practice track on the left. Also, note how the inner track, which had turned from dark brown to blue in prior photos, is now a light brown. It will later be green as well.

(Studying this a bit, I’ve learned that good horse race tracks are very deep flat-topped trenches filled with layers of special dirt that require constant grooming, much of which is devoted to making sure the surface is to some degree wet. In arid Los Angeles, this is a steep requirement. For more on how this works, this Wired story will help.)

Two months later, in September 2007, this view looking north takes in most of the Hollywood Park property, plus The Forum, Inglewood Cemetery, Baldwin Hills (beyond the cemetery and to the left or west):

The Hollywood Hills, with its white sign, is below the clouds, in the top middle, and the downtown Los Angeles skyline is in the top right.

Here on the Hollywood Park property, the casino will be rebuilt on the near edge of the property, along South Stadium Drive.

Here, a few months later, in February 2008, the inner track is once again blue:

This time take note of the empty areas of the parking lot, and how some regions are partitioned off. Ahead we’ll see these spaces variously occupied.

A few seconds after the shot above, I took this shot of the casino and club grounds:

The next shot comes a year and a half later, in September 2009:

Here the inner track has returned to green grass. In the far corner of the parking lot, across from The Forum, a partitioned section has activity involving at least six tents, plus other structures.

Almost three years passed before I got another view, in May 2102, this time looking south from the north side:

Here we get a nice view of the stables and the practice track. On the far side of both is a shopping center anchored by Home Depot and Target. (The white roofs are left and right.) Look in the coming shots at how those will change. Also, note the keystone-shaped fencing inside the practice track.

Here is the same scene one month later, in June 2012:

The keystone shape in the practice track is oddly green now, watered while the rest of the ground inside the track is not. A few seconds later I shot this:

Here the main change is the black-on-orange Belfair logo on the roof of the main grandstand. The paint job is new, but in fact, the racetrack became the Betfair Hollywood Park back in March, of this year.

In December begins California’s short rainy season, which we see here in my last view of the racetrack in 2012:

It’s a bit hard to see that the main track is the outer one in dark brown. We also see that the inner track, which had been blue and then green, is now brown: dirt instead of grass. This is my last view before the racetrack got its death sentence. Wikipedia:

On May 9, 2013 in a letter to employees, Hollywood Park president F. Jack Liebau announced that the track would be closing at the end of their fall racing season in 2013. In the letter, Liebau stated that the 260 acres on which the track sits “now simply has a higher and better use”, and that “in the absence of a favorable change in racing’s business model, the ultimate development of the Hollywood property was inevitable”. It was expected that the track would be demolished and replaced by housing units, park land and an entertainment complex, while the casino would be renovated.

My next pass over the property was on June 16, 2013:

The racetrack here is still verdant and irrigated, as you can see from the sprays onto the inner track, which is grass again. The last race here would come six months later, and demolition would begin shortly after that.

One year later, in June 2014, we can see the practice track and the stables absent of any use or care, condemned:

Farther west we see the casino is still operative, with cars in the parking lot:

Racing is done, but some of the ponds are still filled.

Three months later, in September 2014, demolition has begun:

Half the stables are gone, and the whole racetrack area has been bulldozed flat. Two things to note here. First is the row of red trees on the slope at the near end of the track. I believe these are red maples, which turn color in Fall even this far away from their native range. They were a nice touch. Second is the pond at the far end of the track. This is where they will start to dig a vast bowl—a crater—that will become the playing field inside the new SoFi Stadium.

Two months later, in November 2014, all the stables are completely gone, and there is a road across a dirt pile that bridges the old outer track:

This shot looks northeast toward the downtown Los Angeles skyline, and you can see the Hollywood sign on the dark ridge at the left edge of the frame, below a bit of the plane’s wing. The blur at the bottom, across the parking lot, is from the plane’s engine exhaust. (One reason I prefer my windows forward of the wing.)

This next shot is another two months later, in January 2015:

The casino is still happening, but the grandstand is ready for demolition and the racetrack area is getting prepared for SoFi.

One month after that, in February 2015, we see how winter rains have turned some untouched areas green:

Only two of the red trees remain (or so it appears), and the grandstands are still there, along with an operative casino.

This next shot is eight months later, in October, 2015:

Now the grandstand is gone. It was demolished in May. Here is a KNBC/4 report on that, with a video. And here is a longer hand-held amateur video that also gets the whole thing with stereo sound. New construction is also happening on the left, next to the old casino. This is for the new casino and its parking garage.

The next shot is almost a year later, in September, 2016:

It was a gloomy and overcast day, but you can see the biggest changes starting to take shape. The new casino and its parking garage are all but done, digging of the crater that will become the SoFi stadium has started, and landscaping is also starting to take shape, with hills of dirt in the middle of what had been the racetrack.

Ten months later, in July 2017, the SoFi crater is dug, structural pieces are starting to stand up, the new casino is operating and the old casino is gone:

Here is a close-up of work in and around the SoFi crater, shot a few seconds earlier:

The cranes in the pale gray area stand where a pond will go in. It will be called Rivers Lake.

This shot a few seconds later shows the whole west end of what will become the Hollywood Park complex:

The area in the foreground will become a retail center. The buildings on the left (west) side of the site are temporary ones for the construction project. On the right is the one completed permanent structure: the casino and its parking garage. Buildings on the left or west edge are temporary ones for the construction project.

Three months later, in January 2018, I flew over the site at night and got this one good shot (at 1/40th of a second moving at 200+mph):

Now they’re working day and night raising the SoFi structure in the crater. I share this to show how fast this work is going. You can see progress in this photo taken one month later, in February 2018, again at night:

More than a year went by before I passed over again. That was in August 2019. Here is my first shot on that pass:

Here you SoFi’s superstructure is mostly framed up, and some of the seating is put in place. Here is a wider view shot two seconds later, after I zoomed out a bit:

In both photos you see the word FORUM on The Forum’s roof. (It had previously said “Great Western” and “Chase.” It is now the Kia Forum.) You can also see the two ponds in full shape. The left one will be called Rivers Lake. The right one will pour into it over a waterfall. Cranes on the left stand in the outline of what will become an eight-story office building.

Three months later, in November 2019, the outside surfaces of the stadium are about halfway up:

We also see Rivers Lake lined, with its gray slopes and white bottom.

After this the Covid pandemic hit. I didn’t travel by air (or much at all) for almost two years, and most sporting events were canceled or delayed. So the next time I passed over the site in a position to shoot it was April 2022, when SoFi Stadium was fully operational, and the area around it mostly complete:

Here we see the shopping center in the foreground, now with the Target store showing its logo to the sky. The old practice track and stables have been replaced by parking. A few seconds later I zoomed in on the completed stadium:

We see Rivers Lake, the office building, and its parking structure are also done, as are the parking lots around the stadium. You can also see “SoFi Stadium” in raised lettering on the roof.

And that completes the series, for now.

There are a total of thirty-one photos above. All the links in the photos above will take you to a larger collection. Those in turn are a fraction among the hundreds I shot of the site. And those hundreds are among many thousands I’ve shot of ground and sky from passenger planes. So far I’ve posted over 42,000 photos tagged aerial or windowseat in my two Flickr accounts:

Hundreds of those photos have also found their ways into Wikipedia, because I license nearly all my photos online to encourage cost-free re-use. So, when people with an interest in a topic search for usable pictures they’d like to see in Wikipedia, they often find some of mine and park them at Wikimedia Commons, which is Wikipedia’s library of available images. Of the hundreds you’ll find there in a search for “aerial” plus my name, one is the top photo in the Wikipedia article on Hollywood Park Racetrack. I didn’t put it there or in Wikimedia Commons. Randos did.

My purpose in putting up this post is to encourage documentation of many things: infrastructure changes, geological formations, and any other subject that tends to get overlooked. In other words, to be useful.

A friend yesterday said, “as soon as something becomes infrastructure, it becomes uninteresting.” But not unimportant. That’s one reason I hope readers will amplify or correct what I’ve written here. Blogging is good for that.

For the curious, the cameras I used (which Flickr will tell you if you go there), were:

  1. Nikon Coolpix E5700 with a built-in zoom (2005)
  2. Canon 30D with an 18-200 Tamron zoom (2005-2009)
  3. Canon 5D with Canon 24-70mm, 24-85mm, and EF24-105mm f/4L zooms (2012-2015)
  4. Canon 5D Mark III with the same EF24-105mm f/4L zoom (2016-2019)
  5. Sony a7R with a Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS zoom (2022)

I’m not a big spender, and photography is a sideline for me, so I tend to buy used gear and rent the good stuff. On that list, the only items I bought new were the Nikon Coolpix and the two 24-105 zooms. The Canon 5D cameras were workhorses, and so was the 24-105 f4L Canon zoom. The Sony a7R was an outgrown but loved gift from a friend, a fine art photographer who had moved on to newer (and also loved) Sony gear. Experience with that camera (which has since died) led me this June to buy a new Sony a7iv, which is a marvel. Though it has a few fewer pixels than the a7R, it still has 33 million of them, which is enough for most purposes. Like the a7R, it’s mirrorless, so what you see in the viewfinder or the display on the back is what you get. It also has a fully articulated rear display, which is great for shooting out the plane windows I can’t put my face in (and there are many of those). It’s like a periscope. So expect to see more and better shots from planes soon.

And, again, give me corrections and improvements on anything I’ve posted here.

 

In one of his typically trenchant posts, titled Attentive, Scott Galloway (@profgalloway) compares human attention to oil, meaning an extractive commodity:

We used to refer to an information economy. But economies are defined by scarcity, not abundance (scarcity = value), and in an age of information abundance, what’s scarce? A: Attention. The scale of the world’s largest companies, the wealth of its richest people, and the power of governments are all rooted in the extraction, monetization, and custody of attention.

I have no argument with where Scott goes in the post. He’s right about all of it. My problem is with framing it inside the ad-supported platform and services industry. Outside of that industry is actual human attention, which is not a commodity at all.

There is nothing extractive in what I’m writing now, nor in your reading of it. Even the ads you see and hear in the world are not extractive. They are many things for sure: informative, distracting, annoying, interrupting, and more. But you do not experience some kind of fungible good being withdrawn from your life, even if that’s how the ad business thinks about it.

My point here is that reducing humans to beings who are only attentive—and passively so—is radically dehumanizing, and it is important to call that out. It’s the same reductionism we get with the word “consumers,” which Jerry Michalski calls “gullets with wallets and eyeballs”: creatures with infinite appetites for everything, constantly swimming upstream through a sea of “content.” (That’s another word that insults the infinite variety of goods it represents.)

None of us want our attention extracted, processed, monetized, captured, managed, controlled, held in custody, locked in, or subjected to any of the other verb forms that the advertising world uses without cringing. That the “attention economy” produces $trillions does not mean we want to be part of it, that we like it, or that we wish for it to persist, even though we participate in it.

Like the economies of slavery, farming, and ranching, the advertising economy relies on mute, passive, and choice-less participation by the sources of the commodities it sells. Scott is right when he says “You’d never say (much of) this shit to people in person.” Because shit it is.

Scott’s focus, however, is on what the big companies do, not on what people can do on their own, as free and independent participants in networked whatever—or as human beings who don’t need platforms to be social.

At this point in history it is almost impossible to think outside of platformed living. But the Internet is still as free and open as gravity, and does not require platforms to operate. And it’s still young: at most only decades old. In how we experience it today, with ubiquitous connectivity everywhere there’s a cellular data connection, it’s a few years old, tops.

The biggest part of that economy extracts personal data as a first step toward grabbing personal attention. That is the actual extractive part of the business. Tracking follows it. Extracting data and tracking people for ad purposes is the work of what we call adtech. (And it is very different from old-fashioned brand advertising, which does want attention, but doesn’t track or target you personally. I explain the difference in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff.)

In How the Personal Data Extraction Industry Ends, which I wrote in August 2017, I documented how adtech had grown in just a few years, and how I expected it would end when Europe’s GDPR became enforceable starting the next May.

As we now know, GDPR enforcement has done nothing to stop what has become a far more massive, and still growing, economy. At most, the GDPR and California’s CCPA have merely inconvenienced that economy, while also creating a second economy in compliance, one feature of which is the value-subtract of websites worsened by insincere and misleading consent notices.

So, what can we do?

The simple and difficult answer is to start making tools for individuals, and services leveraging those tools. These are tools empowering individuals with better ways to engage the world’s organizations, especially businesses. You’ll find a list of fourteen different kinds of such tools and services here. Build some of those and we’ll have an intention economy that will do far more for business than what it’s getting now from the attention economy, regardless of how much money that economy is making today.


That’s the flyer for the first salon in our Beyond the Web Series at the Ostrom Workshop, here at Indiana University. You can attend in person or on Zoom. Register here for that. It’s at 2 PM Eastern on Monday, September 19.

And yes, all those links are on the Web. What’s not on the Web—yet—are all the things listed here. These are things the Internet can support, because, as a World of Ends (defined and maintained by TCP/IP), it is far deeper and broader than the Web alone, no matter what version number we append to the Web.

The salon will open with an interview of yours truly by Dr. Angie Raymond, Program Director of Data Management and Information Governance at the Ostrom Workshop, and Associate Professor of Business Law and Ethics in the Kelley School of Business (among too much else to list here), and quickly move forward into a discussion. Our purpose is to introduce and talk about these ideas:

  1. That free customers are more valuable—to themselves, to businesses, and to the marketplace—than captive ones.
  2. That the Internet’s original promises of personal empowerment, peer-to-peer communication, free and open markets, and other utopian ideals, can actually happen without surveillance, algorithmic nudging, and capture by giants, all of which have all become norms in these early years of our digital world.
  3. That, since the admittedly utopian ambitions behind 1 and 2 require boiling oceans, it’s a good idea to try first proving them locally, in one community, guided by Ostrom’s principles for governing a commons. Which we are doing with a new project called the Byway.

This is our second Beyond the Web Salon series. The first featured David P. Reed, Ethan Zuckerman, Robin Chase, and Shoshana Zuboff. Upcoming in this series are:

Mark your calendars for those.

And, if you’d like homework to do before Monday, here you go:

See you there!

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.

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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.

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