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With Comet Ison on the horizon (but out of sight until it finishes looping around the Sun), I thought it might be fun to re-run what I wrote here in 1997 (in my blog-before-there-were-blogs), about the last great comet to grace Earth’s skies. — Doc


 

Ordinary Miracles:
Start Your Day With Comet Hale-Bopp

Hale-Bopp

Graphic by Dr. Dale Ireland, whose excellent comet page is here.


By Doc Searls
March 6, 1997

It’s 5:15AM as I write this. A few minutes ago, after the kid woke us for his breakfast, I walked to the kitchen to fetch a glass of water. When I arrived at the sink, I looked up and saw the most amazing thing: Hale-Bopp, the comet, brighter than any star, hanging from the Northeast sky over San Francisco Bay.

I’ve seen five comets in my life. None have been more spectacular than this one is, right now. It’s astonishing. Trust me: this one is a Star of Bethlehem-grade mother of a comet.

Considering the comet’s quality, publicity has been kind of weak. Which makes sense, since I have noticed an inverse relationship between comet quality and notoriety.

KahoutekThe most promoted comet in recent history was Kahoutek, in 1971. Kahoutek was supposed to be the biggest comet since Halley last appeared in 1910. But after all the hype, Kahoutek was nearly invisible. I can’t even say I saw it. At least I can say Ilooked and that maybe I saw something. (But hey, I lived in Jersey at the time. Whaddaya ‘spect?)

Comet WEstIn fact, Kahoutek was such a big no-show that when Comet West appeared in 1975, it received almost no publicity at all. But it was a wonderful comet. First it appeared as a morning star with a bright little tail about one moon long, above the Eastern horizon. Then, after it whipped around the Sun and flew back out toward its own tail, the comet spread into a wide V that graced the evening sky like God’s own logo. At the time I lived in a rural enclave outside Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and every night for several weeks a few of us would wander out and marvel at the show.

HalleyThe next comet was Halley, in 1986. Astronomers had rightly mixed feelings about Halley. On the one hand, they knew this would be one of Halley’s least visible visits. On the other hand, they knew it would raise interest in astronomy. Well, Halley was nearly as big a bust as Kahoutek. At best the “Great Comet” was a tiny smudge in the sky. Can you see it in this picture? Right. My friend Jerry Solfvin and I had about the same luck when we joined a 3AM traffic jam of about 10,000 people who went to the far side of Mt. Diablo to look at this. By the way, this picture is from the Hyuktuke Gallery at the NEFAS (Northeast Florida Astronomical Society) site.

Comet Hyuktake showed up about a year ago, and enough time had passed since the Halley disappointment to allow the new comet a fair measure of publicity. And Hyuktake was a beauty. When it skirted the North Star, the comet’s tail stretched across a sixth of the sky. The best image I’ve found is this cool 3-D number by Dave Crum. Click on it to visit a larger version at the NEFAS site.

And now we have Hale-Bopp. Although Hale-Bopp won’t come nearly as close to Earth as Hyuktake did, it’s putting on a bigger show, mostly because it’s a bigger comet. lot bigger. This thing is more than 200 times larger than Halley: about 40km across. You can actually see some shape to it, even with the naked eye. To spot it, look to the Northeast in the early morning, when it’s still dark. You’ll see it below and to the left of Cygnus (the Northern Cross), pointing straignt down toward the horizon. It’ll be brighter than any other star in the sky, and with a tail that stretches across the Milky Way. On the 6th you’ll also see the last sliver of moon down to the East, and on succeeding days the moon will move out of the way long enough for a great view.

Finally, let’s not forget the kid, who was born between Hyuktake and Hale-Bopp. In this context the miracle of his arrival (to parents our age) seems almost ordinary.

Anyway, it might be fun to find the publicity coefficient of modern comets that at least get a little press. If the relationship is inverse, as I suspect, consider this modest page a bit of publicity prosthesis.

And don’t miss it. This may be the last comet you ever see.


Bonus links from the present:

Fuse is more than a device and a smartphone app to go with it. The world is full of those already.

Fuse is the first product in the digital age that can blow up every one of the silos built to trap personal data and limit personal independence.

Fuse does that by putting you — literally — in the driver’s seat of your life.

Fuse is also the first product to show how your own “Internet of things” can be fully yours — and truly integrated in ways that work for you — without requiring that you become a serf in some company’s castle.

Fuse is an invention of Phil Windley and his team at Kynetx, who are committed to the freedom,  independence and self-empowerment of individuals: to making you a driver of your own life and your own stuff, and not just a “user” of others’ products and services. And to letting you be “social” in your own ways, as you are in your everyday life outside the Web.

This is why Fuse is Net-native, not Web-native (though it uses the Web too). This matters because the Net was created as a decentralized World of Ends, where every node can be sovereign and independent, as well as zero functional distance from every other node. The Web could have been the same, but instead it grew on top of the Net, along lines defined by client-server architecture (aka calf-cow), which makes everything there centralized: you’re always a client, and always at the mercy of servers. This is why the browser, which started out as a vehicle on the Information Superhighway, turned into a shopping cart that gets re-skinned at every commercial site you visit, and carries tracking beacons so you can be a better target for advertising.

Fuse drives under and away from that model, which has become terribly corrupted, and toward what Bob Frankston (sitting next to me as I write this) calls the “boundary less” and “permissionless” world.

If Fuse succeeds, it will be a critical first step toward building the fully independent vehicle for the fully independent human being on that same old Information Superhighway. And it will do that that by starting with your own car.

There are only a few hours left for the Fuse Kickstarter campaign. The sum required is only $60,000, and contributions have passed $50,ooo already. So help put it over the top. It could be the most leveraged investment you’ll ever make in the future of personal independence in the networked world.

More background in my first post on Fuse.

[Later, same day…] Goal reached:

294 backers
$63,202 pledged of $60,000 goal
Looking forward to seeing Fuse’s pudding prove the headline above. 🙂

car radio

Radio’s 1.x era is coming to an end. Signs and portents abound. The rise and decline of AM radio just ran in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, hometown paper for KDKA, the granddaddy of AM radio in the U.S. In AM/FM Radio Is Already Over, And No One Will Miss ItAdam Singer writes,

Radio advertisements are an awful, intrusive experience and universally despised

Most passionate music fans have held disdain for radio since the advent of portable music. It’s not just a dated medium, it tries to prop up a legacy generation “winner take all” of the most banal / manufactured “hits” as opposed to the meatier middle and tail of music where the quality content is (and where artists take chances and push the envelope creatively).

AM / FM radio djs and personalities are really the only thing left, and they should abandon radio now because they would benefit greatly by setting up shop online. Whether their own blog / podcast, app, or even experimenting with video (which is still a chance to be a pioneer). Even if they aren’t totally ready to abandon it yet, they should start to funnel their audiences to a digital community of some sort where they can grow over time in a platform agnostic way. This way they’re prepared for a digital future.

The notion of terrestrial analog content via AM/FM is quaint in a digital society and has reached an inevitable end. The technology itself is done. The good news is the personalities and content can not just survive, but thrive in a much higher quality environment. Further, digital provides a better experience for  audiences and sheds legacy baggage / a model that pushes aside quality and creativity for profit. Advertisers and technology providers will benefit here too: the modern device landscape provides a much better experience from a measurement, content serving, customization, and brand perspective (and so much more).

No doubt in our lifetime AM/FM will completely go away, perhaps only existing as emergency frequency. But everyone: consumers, advertisers, artists and personalities win by embracing digital. You’re fighting the future to ignore this and that’s never a way to succeed.

Yet people still listen to streams of audio, which is all radio ever was. Most of that audio is now digital, and comes to us over the Internet, even if some of it also still streams out over analog airwaves. Naturally, it’s all merging together, with predictable combinations of hand-wringing and huzzahs.

In How Tesla Changes Radio, B. Eric Rhoads reports on both:

Most in our industry are responding like any industry that’s challenged: defending the status quo and finding all the reasons consumers won’t change. And it might even be true, in radio’s case. But how likely is that? The questions all radio broadcasters need to be asking themselves now is how they can develop listener loyalty and cement their brands so deeply that listeners will seek out their favorite stations even when they have a choice of 75,000 stations from all around the world. Though you’ll still be available on the local AM FM dial, you need to assume people embracing online radio may only seek out stations in an online environment.

And, speaking of the status quo, dig “Fixing” AM Radio Broadcasting, Parts I, II and III, by Old Curmudgeon of LBA Group. There you will find perhaps the only useful way to bring a 1920’s-vintage transmission system into the next millennium. And it may well work, even though the result will still suffer from a bug what was once a feature. I explain what I mean by that in a comment under Part III:

Last year, after failing to find a useful radio at Radio Shack, my teenage son asked me a question that spoke straight to the obsolescence of radio as we know it: “What is the point of ‘range’?” In other words, why is losing a signal while driving away from town a feature and not a bug? When I explained some of the legacy technical and regulatory issues behind ‘range’, he asked, “What will it take to save radio?”

I like your answers.

In this series you frame the problems well and pose a good solution that I think will work by providing a technical and regulatory bridge from analog to digital and from 1925 to 2015. I hope regulators and broadcasters both take your proposals seriously.

Meanwhile, both the radio industry and the FCC are in denial of what’s actually happening with the “millenial” generation to which my son belongs. These people are Net-based. They assume connectivity, and zero functional distance between themselves and everyone and everything else in the networked world. They are also remarkably unconcerned with threats to the Net and therefore that model, from phone and cable companies, and captive regulators.

Hollywood in particular has known since 1995 that all of broadcasting and content distribution is being absorbed by the Net. With phone and cable companies — with which Hollywood is increasingly integrated vertically — they are desperate to find ways to continue controlling that distribution — preferably on models just as old as AM radio. Billing especially is a key issue. Phone and cable companies are billing systems as well as communications ones. Terrestrial TV and radio are not, which is one reason they care little about saving them.

So, to me at least, the parallel challenge to saving AM (and FM) radio, is keeping incumbent giants and their captive regulators from from stuffing the Internet’s genie back in the bottles of Business as Usual.”

In You Must Be HD to Compete in the Dash, RadioINK interviews Bob Struble (@rjstruble), CEO of iBiquity, the company behind HD Radio, which I love because it cleans beat-up FM and AM signals, more than for its other virtues. An excerpt:

…take my new Sequoia as an example. It has one screen layout that is the same for all audio services — Sirius, Pandora, iHeart, iPod, and analog or digital AM/FM. The screen has all my presets, from any source, on one side, and the content screen on the other side. Like all the digital services, HD Radio technology allows a station to fill that screen. There is an album cover or station logo in the middle of the screen, there are indicators that there is an HD2, HD3, or HD4 station available, there is song and artist info, there is an iTunes Tagging button to store song info for later purchase. Overall, it looks and feels like an audio service should in the digital age.

Hmm: “audio service.” I think that’s Radio 2.0, which here I call the “holy grail.”

All this will be front & center at the Dash Conference next week in Detroit. I’ll be there in spirit while my butt is at IIW in Silicon Valley (which I co-organize). This means I’ll be watching Twitter and blogs for reports on progress. In other words, I’ll stay tuned.

My sister Jan — student of history, Navy vet and a Wise One — sent me an email a couple days ago that I thought would make a good guest post. She said yes to that suggestion and here it is…

Is the new born-in-connectivity generation going to re-define privacy?   They may try — from the comfort of their parents’ homes or the cocoon of youth — but first they have to understand what constitutes privacy.  They are going to learn, albeit the hard way, that what you make available is no longer private and therefore you cannot expect it to be protected by the norms of privacy.  The norms of privacy, however, aren’t universally understood.

America is one of the few — perhaps the only if we’re talking large scale — modern countries that was created though one people’s individual exploration and individual settlement into an ever-moving frontier.  After initial sputtering wealth-seeking attempts, the true settlement along the coast line of north America was primarily under private sponsorship rather than military incursion.   It was “relatively” benign colonization in that the goal was not to annihilate, enslave or ‘save’ the indigenous people through religious conversion or education.  The arriving colonists primarily sought freedom to work and worship and the opportunity to better their lives and raise their social standing.  The principal asset needed to obtain those goals was land, which was seen as limitless and free for the taking provided the native population withdrew beyond the frontier and one had the strength and determination to tame the land as needed.

The leading edge of this frontier movement started with those who built the original settlements in the early 17th century and continued to move out in the lower 48 until the mid-20th century and in very remote areas continues still.  The “frontier” society was composed of people who took the initiative and individually ventured into new areas where there was little law, oversight or judgement.  Although they brought morals and manners of every social strata, they also had to rely on each other and build some form of community where ever they settled in order to survive and thrive.  But in the frontier, in the place of established laws, there were protocols — unwritten codes of correct conduct — born of common consent and enforced by common acceptance  that enabled the community to function, grow and improve.  These protocols became the societal norm for most of the expansion into the US as it is today.

In the rest of the world connected by the major trade routes during this same period, societies grew and countries were formed primarily from the top down by gathering like together, or by force, and they were ruled through laws and protocols that came into being to enable financial investors, religions or conquerors to subjugate and /or extort populations.

But America came into existence and continued to expand as one contiguous country because the key unifying principle was individual liberty, and our legal and societal norms developed to support that principle.  This is what made America so singular as a nation in it’s early days. This is at the heart of what some call exceptionalism today.  Exceptional may be an egotistical term for it — as Putin just called it and as the push-backers deny — if one interprets exceptional as being “above average,” or “extraordinary” or any other superlative.  But America is exceptional if one uses the term in the context of “deviation from the norm.”

Now overlay this frontier concept onto the development of the Internet and our other networking systems.  How were they developed?  Was it by governments pushing out into or conquering a new frontier with laws and protocols in hand or was it by individuals determining the most effective protocols that would help them solidify what they had achieved and enable them to push the frontier borders out further, wider and deeper?

A unique concept of individual privacy was part of America’s frontier society;  it wasn’t a place of one’s past but rather a place of new starts, of re-creation, a place where a person made themselves anew, a place where it didn’t matter where or what you came from but rather where you were going and what you would do.  Therefore individual privacy became an expectation rather than an exception in the country that frontier society created.

However, that ingrained individualism is not the norm in the rest of the world, a world that technology has rapidly connected.  As of today, the concept of individual privacy is not universally understood, now that online, networked and connected  technology is at a confluence of cultures.  Because of the universality of the usage of connective technology, privacy is going to need a universally accepted definition.  And at the heart of privacy is the idea of identity:  is it vested in the individual or the collective?

In , opens with this sentence: “On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.” Sixty-four years have passed since White wrote that, and it still makes perfect sense to me, hunched behind a desk in a back room of a Manhattan apartment.

That’s because privacy is mostly a settled issue in the physical world, and a grace of civilized life. Clothing, for example, is a privacy technology. So are walls, doors, windows and shades.

Private spaces in public settings are well understood in every healthy and mature culture. This is why no store on Main Street would plant a tracking beacon in the pants of a visiting customer, to report back on that customer’s activities — just so the store or some third party can “deliver” a better “experience” through advertising. Yet this kind of thing is beyond normative on the Web: it is a huge business.

Worse, the institution we look toward for protection from this kind of unwelcome surveillance — our government — spies on us too, and relies on private companies for help with activities that would be a crime if the  still meant what it says. ( more than two years ago.)

I see two reasons why privacy is now under extreme threat in the digital world — and the physical one too, as surveillance cameras bloom like flowers in public spaces, and as marketers and spooks together look toward the “Internet of Things” for ways to harvest an infinitude of personal data.

Reason #1

The was back-burnered when  (aka ) got baked into e-commerce in the late ’90s. In a single slide  summarizes what happened after that. It looks like this:

The History of E-commerce
1995: Invention of the cookie.
The end.

For a measure of how far we have drifted away from the early promise of networked life, re-read ‘s “Death From Above,” published in January 1995, and his “Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace,” published one year later. The first argued against asymmetrical provisioning of the Net and the second expressed faith in the triumph of nerds over wannabe overlords.

Three years later  was no less utopian. While it is best known for its 95 Theses (which include “” and ““) its most encompassing clue came before of all those. Chris Locke wrote it, and here’s what it says, boldface, color and all:

if you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get…
we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. we are human beings and our reach exceeds your grasp. deal with it.

Note the first and second person voices, and the possessive case. Our reach was everybody’s. Your grasp was companies’.

Fourteen years later, companies have won. Our reach has not exceeded their grasp. In fact, their grasp is stronger than ever.

Another irony: the overlords are nerds too. And  they lord over what Bruce Schneier calls a feudal system:

Some of us have pledged our allegiance to Google: We have Gmail accounts, we use Google Calendar and Google Docs, and we have Android phones. Others have pledged allegiance to Apple: We have Macintosh laptops, iPhones, and iPads; and we let iCloud automatically synchronize and back up everything. Still others of us let Microsoft do it all. Or we buy our music and e-books from Amazon, which keeps records of what we own and allows downloading to a Kindle, computer, or phone. Some of us have pretty much abandoned e-mail altogether … for Facebook.

These vendors are becoming our feudal lords, and we are becoming their vassals. We might refuse to pledge allegiance to all of them – or to a particular one we don’t like. Or we can spread our allegiance around. But either way, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to not pledge allegiance to at least one of them.

Reason #2

We have loosed three things into the digital world that we (by which I mean everybody) do not yet fully comprehend, much less deal with (through policy, tech or whatever). Those are:

  1. Ubiquitous computing power. In the old days only the big guys had it. Now we all do.
  2. Ubiquitous Internet access. This puts us all at zero virtual distance from each other, at costs that also veer toward zero as well.
  3. Unlimited ability to observe, copy and store data, which is the blood and flesh of the entire networked world.

In tech, what can be done will be done, sooner or later, especially if it’s possible to do it in secret — and if it helps make money, fight a war or both. This is why we have bad acting on a massive scale: from click farms gaming the digital advertising business, to the NSA doing what we now know it does.

Last month I gave a keynote at an  event in New York. One of my topics was personal privacy, and how it might actually be good for the advertising business to respect it. Another speaker was , a “gentleman hacker” and CEO of WhiteOps, “an internet security company focused on the eradication of ad fraud.” He told of countless computers and browsers infected with bots committing click-fraud on a massive scale, mostly for Russian hackers shunting $billions from the flow of money down the online advertising river. The audience responded with polite applause. Privacy? Fraud? Why care? The money’s rolling in. Make hay while the power asymmetry shines.

Just today an executive with a giant company whose name we all know told me about visiting “click farms” in India, which he calls “just one example of fraud on a massive scale that nobody in the industry wants to talk about.” (Credit where due: the IAB wouldn’t have had us speaking there if its leaders didn’t care about the issues. But a .org by itself does not an industry make.)

Yet I’m not discouraged. In fact, I’m optimistic.

These last few months I’ve been visiting dozens of developers and policy folk from Europe to Australia, all grappling productively with privacy issues, working on the side of individuals, and doing their best to develop enlightened policy, products and services.

I can report that respect for privacy — the right to be left alone and to conceal what one wishes about one’s self and one’s data — is far more evolved elsewhere than it is in the U.S. So is recognition that individuals can do far more with their own data than can any big company (or organization) that has snarfed that data up. In some cases this respect takes the form of policy (e.g. the EU Data Protection Directive). In other cases it takes the form of advocacy, or of new businesses. In others it’s a combination of all of those and more.

Some examples:

 is a policy and code development movement led by Ann Cavoukian, the Information & Privacy Commissioner of Ontario. Many developers, enterprises and governments are now following her guidelines. (Which in turn leverage the work of Helen Nissenbaum.)

, the Fondation Internet Nouvelle Génération, is a think tank of leading French developers, scientists, academics and business folk, convened to guide digital transformation across many disciplines, anchored in respect for the individual and his or her full empowerment (including protection of privacy), and for collective action based on that respect.

 is a Fing project in which six large French companies — Orange, La Poste, Cap-Digital, Monoprix, Alcatel-Lucent and Societe Generale — are releasing to 300 customers personal data gathered about those customers, and inviting developers to help those customers do cool things on their own with that data.

The  in the UK is doing a similar thing, with twenty UK companies and thousands of customers.

Both Midata and Etalab in France are also working the government side, sharing with citizens data collected about them by government agencies. For more on the latter read Interview with Henri Verdier: Director of Etalab, Services of the French Prime Minister. Also see Open Data Institute and PublicData.eu.

In Australia,    and  are working on re-building markets from the customer side, starting with personal control and required respect for one’s privacy as a base principle.

In the U.S. and Europe, companies and open source development groups have been working on personal data “stores,” “lockers,” “vaults” and “clouds,” where individuals can harbor and use their own data in their own private ways. There is already an  and a language for “” and “pclouds” for everything you can name in the Internet of Things. I posted something recently at HBR about one implication for this. (Alas, it’s behind an annoying registration wall.)

On the legal front, Customer Commons is working with the  at the Berkman Center on terms and privacy requirements that individuals can assert in dealing with other entities in the world. This work dovetails with , the  and others.

I am also encouraged to see that the most popular browser add-ons and extensions are ones that block tracking, ads or both. AdblockPlus, Firefox’s Privowny and  are all in this game, and they are having real effects. In May 2012,  a 9.26% ad blocking rate in North America and Europe. Above that were Austria (22.5%), Hungary, Germany, Finland, Poland, Gibraltar, Estonia and France. The U.S. was just below that at 8.72%. The top blocking browser was Firefox (17.81%) and the bottom one was Explorer (3.86%). So it was no surprise to see Microsoft jump on the Do Not Track bandwagon with its latest browser version. In sum what we see here is the marketplace talking back to marketing, through developers whose first loyalties are to people.

(The above and many other companies are listed among developers here.)

More context: it’s still early. The Internet most of us know today is just eighteen years old. The PC is thirty-something. Pendulums swing. Tides come and go. Bubbles burst.

I can’t prove it, but I do believe we have passed Peak Surveillance. When Edward Snowden’s NSA revelations hit the fan in May, lots of people said the controversy would blow over. It hasn’t, and it won’t. Our frogs are not fully boiled, and we’re jumping out of the pot. New personal powers will be decentralized. And in cases where those powers are centralized, it will be in ways that are better aligned with individual and social power than the feudal systems of today. End-to-end principles are still there, and still apply.

Another reason for my optimism is metaphor, the main subject in the thread below. In , George Lakoff and Mark Johnson open with this assertion: The mind is inherently embodied. We think metaphorically, and our metaphorical frames arise from our bodily experience. Ideas, for example, may not be things in the physical sense, but we still talk of “forming,” “getting,” “catching” and “throwing out” ideas. Metaphorically, privacy is a possession. We speak of it in possessive terms, and as something valuable and important to protect — because this has been our experience with it for as long as we’ve had civilization.

Possession is “nine-tenths of the law” because it is nine-tenths of the three-year-old. She says “It’s mine!” because she has hands with thumbs that give her the power to grab. Possession begins with what we can hold.

There is also in our embodied nature a uniquely human capacity called indwelling. Through indwelling our senses extend outward through our clothes, our tools, our vehicles, enlarging the boundaries of what we do and experience in the physical world. When drivers speak of “my wheels” and pilots of “my wings,” it is because their senses dwell in those things as extensions of their bodies.

This relates to privacy through exclusion: my privacy is what only I have.

The clothes we wear are exclusively ours. We may wear them to express ourselves, but their first purpose is to protect and conceal what is only ours. This sense of exclusivity also expands outward, even though our data.

 “the Internet is a copy machine.” And it is. We send an email in a less literal sense than we copy it. Yet the most essential human experience is ambulation: movement. This is why we conceive life, and talk about it, in terms of travel, rather than in terms of biology. Birth is arrival, we say. Death is departure. Careers are paths. This is why, when we move data around, we expect its ownership to remain a private matter even if we’re not really moving any of it in the postal sense of a sending a letter.

The problem here is not that our bodily senses fail to respect the easily-copied nature of data on networks, but that we haven’t yet created social, technical and policy protocols for the digital world to match the ones we’ve long understood in the physical world. We still need to do that. As embodied beings, the physical world is not just our first home. It is the set of reference frames we will never shake off, because we can’t. And because we’ve had them for ten thousand years or more.

The evolutionary adaptation that needs to happen is within the digital world and how we govern it, not the physical one.

Our experience as healthy and mature human beings in the physical world is one of full agency over personal privacy. In building out our digital world — something we are still just beginning to do — we need to respect that agency. The biggest entities in the digital world don’t yet do that. But that doesn’t mean they can’t. Especially after we start leaving their castles in droves.

Tags: , , , ,

Read Dave’s Cable News is Ripe for Disruption. Then Jay Rosen’s Edward Snowden, Meet Jeff Bezos. Then everything Jeff Jarvis has been writing about lately.

Then listen to the August 9 edition of On The Media. Pay special attention to the history of New York’s newspapers, and the strike of 1962-3. Note how vitally important papers back then were to the culture back then, how the strike (by a union tragically committed to preserving a dying technology that employed >100k people) killed off three of the seven papers while wounding the rest, and how that event gave birth to TV news and launched many young journalists (Nora Ephron, Tom Wolfe, Gay Talese, et. al.). Listen to other interviews in the show about the history of media, from telegraph to telephony to radio and beyond.  Note also how structural separation assures that the past will have minimal drag on the future, and how laws (e.g. antitrust) learn from bad experiences in the marketplace and society. There’s a lot of other meat to chew on there.

Then, if you’re up for it again (I’ve improved it a bit), read what I wrote here about Al Jazeera giving up on the Net while it goes after CNN, et. al. on cable.

I have only one complete, though provisional, thought about all of it:  TV news is ripe for complete replacement and not just disruption. What will replace it is up to us. (Note: radio is different. I’ll explain why in a later post. On the road right now, so no time.)

Bonus link.

Right now if you want live streaming of TV news, 24/7, on the Net, here in the U.S., from a major global news organization, you have just two choices: Al Jazeera and France24.

Soon you’ll have just one, because Al Jazeera’s stream is going away. That’s because the company will turn its stream off when it fires up its new cable channel, Al Jazeera America, on August 20.

Which means this will go away from the Al Jazeera website…

… along with this option when you open up your mobile app:

… and you’ll get no more live video like this:

Or so I gather.

Everything I just wrote is a provisional understanding: the best I can do so far. Some or all of it might be wrong.

Here’s what I do know for sure.

First, Al Jazeera bought Current TV from Al Gore and is re-branding it Al Jazeera America. In Al Jazeera America: A Unicorn Is Born, Joe Pompeo of New York Magazine calls this move “arguably the biggest American TV-news launch since Fox News and MSNBC more than a decade ago.”

Second, if you go to http://america.aljazeera.com/get-aljazeera-america, you’ll see this:

In case you can’t make out the small print, it says “When Al Jazeera America launches on August 20th, Al Jazeera English will no longer be available on TV or as an online stream in the U.S.” That means gone completely, right?

Maybe not. Al Jazeera English isn’t all of Al Jazeera. If you click on the “Watch Live” button here…

… you’ll get a page with the URL http://www.aljazeera.com/watch_now/, where there is this set of choices:

Click on “Al Jazeera Mobile Services” and it lists apps for a variety of mobile devices. All talk up “free access to the live stream” (or equivalent copy) as a main feature. Are they just late to removing or qualifying that copy? Or will the live stream be gone only from the website?

Click on “How to watch Al Jazeera English online” and you get this copy:

How to watch Al Jazeera English online

View our network through the internet via websites, online TV providers and mobile apps.

Last Modified: 12 Jul 2013 14:50
Watching Al Jazeera English via the internet is now easier than ever. The network is broadcast around the world to over 220 million households, but don’t worry if you can’t find us on your television.A range of websitesonline TV providers, and mobile apps now offer a live stream of our channel. Browse the list below to discover the best way for you to watch and click the links on the left for specifics.

Websites
Al Jazeera English Watch the broadcast on our website.
Livestation Our UK-based partner streams AJE live.
YouTube See our live stream, programmes and news clips.
Facebook On the social networking site, stay tuned with AJE.
Dailymotion Watch programmes and news clips on AJE’s channel.
Connected TV 
Samsung Smart TV Watch the live stream and video-on-demand from the app.
LG Smart TV Watch the live stream and video-on-demand from the app.
Roku In the channel store, access the Newscaster.
Google TV See the AJE feed through the Google play app.
Boxee Watch AJE on your box through the Livestation app.
PlayStation 3 Open up the Livestation AJE feed through your console’s browser.
Mobile
iPhone/iPad/iPod View live news from AJE on Apple devices through the iTunes app.
Blackberry Open your internet browswer and watch Al Jazeera live.
Android Use our new app to watch AJE on your smart phone.
Symbian/Windows Live stream Al Jazeera English on your mobile through Mobiclip.

Due to copyright and distribution restrictions, not all viewers will be able to access all of our streaming video services.

Are they killing off all of that stuff in the U.S. or just some of it? What exactly are those copyright and distribution restrictions, and how are they involved in this new move? They surely aren’t killing off the live Net streams for no reason, so obviously they were forced to make trade-offs. What were they?

Hey, they’re a news organization. What they’re doing by going all-cable with no-Net, is sacrificing the future for the past, seems to me. At the very least they should be transparent about what they’re doing and why .

I’ve been trying to get answers out of @ajam (Al Jazeera America), @aljazeera (Al Jazeera PR), @ajenglish and facebook.com/aljazeera. Here’s one Twitter conversation that began with an @ajam tweet:

  1. Attention Al Jazeera fans in the US: Al Jazeera America launches on August 20. Find out how to get it here: http://aljazeera.com/getajam 

@ajam It says “Al Jazeera English will no longer be available on TV or as an online stream in the U.S.” That mean no phone or tablet too?

  1. @dsearls @ajam imho, AJAM will lose credibility if AJE no longer available in US after AJAM launch.

  2. @dsearls @ajam The streets will run with the blood of the infidel.

  3. Credibility a must for terrorists. RT@mwiik: imho, AJAM will lose credibility if AJE no longer available in US after AJAM launch.

  4. @dsearls @ajam have you received an answer yet? I don’t see a reply and I’m wondering same thing

  5. @ajam Let me put the Q another way: does AJAM’s debut on cable turn off all AJ streams in the U.S? Or just some? Please be clear.

  6. @dsearls Al Jazeera English online videos will not be available in the U.S. You will still be able to read articles on their site.

  7. @dsearls Al Jazeera America follows in the same tradition of hard-hitting unbiased journalism so be sure to check us out when we launch.

  8. @ajam Please don’t succumb to corporate/gov pressure and fade into MSM inanity. We need a real adversarial truth2power option. @dsearls

  9. @ajam Does this mean no Al Jazeera streams of any kind in the U.S. except via cable or satellite?

  10. @ajam @dsearls Does this similarly apply to their YouTube channel? iOS apps?

  11. @ajam Am looking forward to the AJAM launch, but was hoping to still have access to both services.

  12. @ceebeth @ajam Asked the same question at http://facebook.com/aljazeera  and it got erased. Guess AJ killing live streams isn’t news. #journalism

  13. @ajam Will Al Jazeera apps for US users on iOS and Android still have the “LIVE” button after 20 August? #VRM

  14. @dsearls One might get the idea @ajam‘s lack of transparency on this first blow on its credibility, even before it launches.

(I have no idea why WordPress puts a strike through the @ sign. I just copied the list out of Twitter and pasted it into the composing window here.)

I also went to Al Jazeera’s Facebook page and politely asked what was going on. I’d quote what I wrote, but it’s gone. I don’t know why. Maybe they erased it somehow. Or maybe, not being as adept at Facebook as I should be, I just can’t find it.

Whatever the story, Al Jazeera isn’t covering it — and, I am guessing, they don’t want it covered.

But it is a story. The world’s most ambitious news organization is making a big move on the U.S. news marketplace by subtracting value from what it’s already doing — and none of its competition are doing.

There is no bathwater in the live news streams Al Jazeera is tossing on the 20th. It’s all babies. Here are four of them:

  1. Leading edge early adopters. Cord-cutters. That’s the audience Al Jazeera already has online.
  2. Advocates. Friends. I was one. See here.
  3. Companions. Meaning everything else on the Net that isn’t on cable, such as YouTube.
  4. A platform for networked journalism. Cable ain’t it. The Internet is.

Cable is still big, but it’s the past. The Net is the future. Hey, just ask James Dolan, the CEO of Cablevision. In The Future of TV Might Not Include TV, the Wall Street Journal begins,

Predicting that transmission of TV will move to the Internet eventually,Cablevision Systems Corp. Chief Executive James Dolan says “there could come a day” when his company stops offering television service, making broadband its primary offering.

But I guess Al Jazeera is a cable channel at heart. And less of a news organization than it aspires to be — or they’d come a lot cleaner about what they’re doing here. And why they’re stiffing their entire online audience in the U.S.

Well, at least we still have France24.

[Later…] According to Janko Roettgers in Gigaom, Al Jazeera is not only getting ready to block its English streams in the U.S., but is killing off access to news clips on YouTube as well.

[19 Aug, 11:23pm Pacific time…] The deed is done:

 

 

In Bubkes, Stephen Lewis has lately been blogging with depth and insight on many topics — music, architecture, culture, infrastructure and events historic and current — in two cities with which he is intimately familiar: Istanbul and Sofia.

In Taksim Underpass: Ask Gertrude Stein, Dorothy Parker, Jane Jacobs, and Robert Moses, he writes,

By itself, the Turkish government’s plan to shunt traffic under and past Taksim Square might indeed lessen vehicular congestion, thus freeing this iconic location from dominance by motor vehicle traffic. In conjunction with the plan to replace all of Taksim Square and Gezi Park with a massive complex of shopping mall, mosque, and fantasy reconstruction of a 19th-century military barracks, however, the underpass will instead deliver more automobile traffic into the urban core, a further step toward transforming a vital, unplanned, dense, “legacy” urban agglomeration into just another suburb.

In Istanbul Conflicts From Afar: Issues and Aspersions, Headscarves and Rambo, he visits specious tales by the Turkish Prime Minister and his sympathizers, of protestors “harassing pious Muslim women and tearing off their headscarves” (among other offenses for which there is no confirming hard evidence), and compares them to equally wrong tales from the Vietnam War era. That was when “US antiwar activists were stigmatized — and crocodile tears poured forth — over reports that US soldiers returning from tours duty in Vietnam were being spit upon by opponents of the war.  Not a single person, however — neither spitter, spat upon, nor witness thereto — ever stepped forward to confirm any such attack.” In support of this he recalls an On the Media program confirming the purely propogandized nature of the claim. I just did some digging and found the program transcript. Here it is.

In Sofia, Bulgaria: From Protest to Protest to Protest, Steve visits “the Balkan blurring of what is said and what is, and what is and what could or should be” and how in Bulgaria “nothing is what is seems to be at first glance, and words, no matter how clear, often refer to alternate realities (click here for my long-ago online discourse on the wisdom and convenience of the oft-heard Bulgarian-language phrase po printsip, tr. ‘in principle‘).” His next post, Plovdiv, Bulgaria, 1997: Musicians Marching in Protest, recalls an earlier protest, again accompanied by an excellent photo.

In Istanbul: Water, Fountains, Taksim, and Infrastructural Tourism, Steve reports on joining a colleague in visiting “the layers of infrastructure — including Ottoman-era fountains — that have served Istanbul over centuries past and during its ten-fold growth in population during the twentieth.” I share with Steve a passion for what he and his colleague call “infrastructural tourism” — a practice which, he adds, “appears already to be underway, albeit searching for its own content and method, as per this report at Design Observer.” Wonderful link, that one. Go read that too.

In From the Archives: Fading Fragments of Legacy Infrastructure, he begins,

Two decades ago, I began to photograph the historic water fountains (çeșme) and water kiosks (sebil) of Istanbul.  I began, not with the grand and monumental, but with obscure and abandoned — those in backstreets, alleyways, and courtyards, functioning and non-functioning fragments of legacy urban infrastructure, overlooked by scholars,  their features surrendered to the elements, decay, and neglect. The forgotten origins and gradual disappearance of many of these structures seemed symbolic of larger urban processes of decline and abandonment — processes that are as central to the functioning and continuity of cities as are restoration and (re)development.

I’ve been doing something similar in New York and New Jersey, where I grew up. A few days ago, driving back to Manhattan from a meeting in Edgewater, New Jersey, I found myself following Google Maps’ navigation to the George Washington Bridge, turning onto Bruce Reynolds Boulevard before bearing right onto a ramp leading into the toll lanes. Paused at a light,  I saw on the right an old street sign marking the late Hoyt Avenue, and realized I was exactly where my parents lived when I was born: at 2063 Hoyt. Ninety-three years earlier, this was the view from that very same spot. (And here’s the larger photo set, with shots old and new. Credit for the old ones goes to my late father and to his little sister Grace, now 101 years old and doing fine.) I hope, when Steve next returns to New York (his home town), we can do some infrastructural touring together, cameras in hand.

Bonus link: Steve’s latest, Further to “Istanbul Conflicts From Afar:” Kudos, Mentions, and “Great Expectorations”, which cites this post as well.

The title of this post, Rebuilding the Future, is one I came up with back when I read Steve’s Taksim Underpass piece, and I wanted to post thoughts about the ironies that always surround the civic graces — especially infrastructure — that we choose to keep using (often for new purposes), or just to preserve, for generations to come. I didn’t go there, because I’ve already said enough and I’d rather that readers get into what Steve is writing and sharing. But I still kinda like the headline, so I’m letting it stand.

Los Angeles at nightFirst, time.

Earth became habitable for primitive life forms some 3.X billion years ago. It will cease to be habitable in another 1 billion years or less, given the rate at which the Sun continues to get hotter, which it has been doing for the duration.

Species last, on average, a couple million years. Depending on where you mark our own species start, we are either early or late in that time span.

If you mark our start from the dawn of the Anthropocene — now being vetted as a name for the geological epoch in which human agency is as obvious as that of other natural agents in Earth’s story, such as asteroid collisions, volcanic outpourings and radical weather changes — we’re about ten thousand years into this thing. We’ve done a lot in not very long.

From a pained perspective, the Anthropocene is a time of pestilence by a single species — one with an insatiable hunger for what that species calls “natural resources.” To test that pain, give a listen to “When the music’s over,” on the Strange Days album by The Doors. In it Jim Morrison sings,

What have they done to the Earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and
Ripped her and bit her.
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn and
Tied her with fences and
Dragged
Her
Down.

From a disinterested perspective, dig Robinson JeffersThe Eye, written during World War II from Tor House, his home in Carmel overlooking the Pacific:

The Atlantic is a stormy moat; and the Mediterranean,
The blue pool in the old garden,
More than five thousand years has drunk sacrifice
Of ships and blood, and shines in the sun; but here the Pacific–
Our ships, planes, wars are perfectly irrelevant.
Neither our present blood-feud with the brave dwarfs
Nor any future world-quarrel of westering
And eastering man, the bloody migrations, greed of power, clash of
faiths–
Is a speck of dust on the great scale-pan.
Here from this mountain shore, headland beyond stormy headland
plunging like dolphins through the blue sea-smoke
Into pale sea–look west at the hill of water: it is half the
planet:
this dome, this half-globe, this bulging
Eyeball of water, arched over to Asia,
Australia and white Antartica: those are the eyelids that never
close;
this is the staring unsleeping
Eye of the earth; and what it watches is not our wars.

There is also this, from Jeffers’ “The Bloody Sire” :

Stark violence is still the sire of all the world’s values.

What but the wolf’s tooth whittled so fine
The fleet limbs of the antelope?
What but fear winged the birds, and hunger
Jewelled with such eyes the great goshawk’s head?

Our teeth, right now, wing limbs and jewell eyes we will never see.

And the life here will end, perhaps in less time than has passed since the planet made half the rocks in the Grand Canyon‘s layer cake.

Now, space.

Astronauts speak of the “Overview_effect” that leaves them changed by seeing Earth from space.

I’ve made do with what I can see from the stratosphere while flying in commercial aircraft. It was from that perspective, for example, that I’ve documented effects of strip mining in the Anthropocene.

Ironies abound. My photo series on coal mining in the Powder River basin has been used both for pro-environmental causes and to promote business in Wyoming.

I’ve got more on this, but neither time nor space for it now.

Bonus link.

And more on the Anthropocene:

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The history of computing over the last 30 years is one of lurches forward every time individuals got the power to do what only big enterprises could do previously — and to do a much better job of it.

It happened when computing got personal in the ’80s.

It happened when networking got personal in the ’90s.

It happened when both together got mobile and personal in the ’00s.

And it will happen with personal data as well in the ’10s.

We as individuals will be able to do more with our own data than big enterprises can. Meanwhile, nearly all the “big data” jive today is about what only big companies can do. Yet we’ve seen this movie before, and we know how it ends: with individuals winning, because they were better equipped. And we know the big companies will win too, because they are comprised of individuals. Both will end up doing what only they can do best.

This is why Big Data needs the modern equivalent of the PC, the Internet and the mobile phone: an invention that mothers necessity.

I think that invention is the personal cloud. All we — today’s developers — need to do now is build a good and compelling personal cloud. Or a choice of them. Once that happens, and people start using them, the big companies (and government agencies) of the world will cave in and release personal data that they clutch like a treasure, thinking that only Big Solutions to their Big Data problems, from Big Vendors, will do the job. They caved in on computing when they embraced PCs, on networking when they embraced the Internet, and on mobility when they embraced smartphones and tablets.

I could be wrong, but I’ve made the same prediction three times already. This is the fourth. To me, the only question that matters is: How?

Some pretty cool startups and open source dev groups will vet their answers at IIW. See ya there.

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