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This morning, while freezing my way down 8th Avenue to Piccolo on 40th to pick up a couple of cappuccinos, I paused outside the to admire its stark modern lobby as delivered the latest storm news from Los Angeles through my phone’s earbuds. In the midst of reports of fallen rocks, traffic accidents and fears of mudslides, KNX said an actor had been seriously injured during last night’s latest preview performance of Spider-Man, on Broadway, three short blocks from my very ass.

This wasn’t the show’s first injury. In fact, the show had already earned “Troubled” as its adjectival first name.

So, after I got back to our hotel room, we brought up the Times’ website on our iPad (the paper’s own application crashes) and read Actor Injured in Fall During ‘Spider-Man’ Performance, by reporters Dave Itzkoff and Hamilton Boardman. Also contributing to the story were —

  • actress Natalie Mendoza, “who plays the spider-goddess Arachne” and “wrote on her Twitter feed: ‘Please pray with me for my friend Chris, my superhero who quietly inspires me everyday with his spirit. A light in my heart went dim tonight.'” The story adds, “She appeared to be referring to her fellow cast member Christopher Tierney, who is an aerialist and ensemble member in the musical. Bellevue Hospital Center confirmed that on Monday night it had received a patient by that name.”
  • Steven Tartick, an audience member. “‘You heard screams,’ Mr. Tartick said. ‘You heard a woman screaming and sobbing.’
  • An unnamed “New York Times reader” who shot a video of the accident, which ran along with the story. (That’s my own screenshot on the right.)
  • Audience members Scott Smith and Matthew Smith
  • Brian Lynch, an audience member who “described the scene at the Foxwoods Theater on his Twitter feed, writing: ‘Stopped short near end. Someone took nasty fall. Screaming. 911 called. No idea what happened, kicked audience out.’ He added: ‘No joke. No explanation. MJ and Spidey took what seemed to be a planned fall into the stage pit. Then we heard MJ screaming.'”
  • Eyewitness Christine Bord, who “described events outside the theater in a blog post on her Web site, onlocationvacations.com, and “In a telephone interview,” said “two ambulances and a fire truck were already waiting outside the theater when most audience members exited. The actor was quickly brought out on a stretcher, wrapped in protective gear and wearing a neck brace. He acknowledged the crowd which clapped for him before an ambulance took him away.”
  • A New York Times reader who supplied a photo “showing a ‘Spider-Man’ actor being transported to an ambulance outside the Foxwoods Theater.”

The story concludes,

The “Spider-Man” musical has faced several setbacks during its preview period, with one of its actresses suffering a concussion and two actors who were injured by a sling-shot technique meant to propel them across the stage. On Friday it was announced that “Spider-Man” was delaying its official opening by four weeks to Feb. 7 so that creative changes could be made to the show.

A press representative for “Spider-Man” said in an email message: “An actor sustained an injury at tonight’s performance of ‘Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark.’ He fell several feet from a platform approximately seven minutes before the end of the performance, and the show was stopped. All signs were good as he was taken to the hospital for observation. We will have more news shortly.”

The comments are a snarky icing on the story’s cake, some calling to mind the late and very great Mystery Science Theory 3000:

“Will a vending machine be selling insurance if the audience cares to purchase any?””There is a reason why this stuff is done with CGI.”

“Didn’t I just read this story?”

“Not so amazing now, are you, Spidey?”

“Dude, this show is getting better all the time! I gotta get me a ticket before it gets shut down.”

“Whoever gave the video to the Times should be commended. That is one brutal fall. If the actor’s neck isn’t broken he’s lucky. We all understand that in today’s world the investments of a group of millionaires in a Broadway show are more important than actors lives but it’s time for the grownups to step in and shut this nonsense down. Look, of course it is sad when someone is injured, but this is the price you have to pay if you want to create great theater. Everyone knows that great theater is about launching people across stages using slingshots. It is what Ibsen did, it is what Shakespeare did, it is what made Sondheim famous. To all the haters posting here, how do you expect to be enlightened at the theater if you can’t see shows that launch actors into the air using slingshots? Mark my words, in one hundred years High School’s will require their students to read Hamlet and to construct slingshots with which to launch each other. That obviously justifies these injuries.”

We live in liminal times, on the blurred boundary between What Was and What Will Be. The formalities of Reporting as Usual, which the Times has epitomized for more than a century, are What Was. What Will Be is Version 2.o of The Press, which will mash up stories (among other news provisioning units) from many sources, which will be credited, linked, and kept current in as close to Real Time as humanly and technically possible.

On Rebooting the News yesterday, @Jay Rosen revisited his excellent distinction between The Press and The Media. Here’s my compression of it: The Press is where we get capital-J Journalism at its best—that is, through goods that truly inform us. The Media is an advertising business.

Nice to see the former keeping up with the Times. And vice versa.

And I do hope that Chris Tierney and the show both recover.

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Lately, thanks to the inexcusably inept firing of Juan Williams by NPR brass, and the acceptance of a $1.8 million grant from George Soros, NPR has tarred its credentials as a genuinely fair and balanced news organization. Which it mostly still is, by the way, no matter how much the right tries to trash it. (And mostly succeeds, since trying to stay in the middle has itself become a lefty thing to do.)

Columnists all over the place are calling for the feds “pull the plug on funding for Natonal Public Radio”. (That’s from No subsidy for NPR, by Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby. An aside: NPR’s name is now just NPR. Just like BP is no longer British Petroleum.) In fact NPR gets no money from the feds directly. What NPR does is produce programs that it wholesales to stations, which retail to listeners and sponsors. According to NPR’s finances page, about 10% of that sponsorship comes from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Another 6% comes from “federal, state and local government”.

Jeff points to a NY Times piece, Move to Cut NPR Funding is Defeated in the House, which says “Republicans in the House tried to advance the defunding measure as part of their ‘YouCut‘ initiative, which allows the public to vote on which spending cuts the G.O.P. should pursue.’ The You Cut page doesn’t mention public radio. It does have this:

Terminate Broadcasting Facility Grant Programs that Have Completed their Mission.

Potential Savings of $25 million in the first year, $250 million over ten years.

In his most recent budget, President Obama proposed terminating the Public Broadcasting Grants at the Department of Agriculture and Public Telecommunications Facilities Grants at the Department of Commerce. The President’s Budget justified terminating these programs, noting that: “Since 2004, the USDA Public Broadcasting Grants program has provided grants to support rural public television stations’ conversion to digital broadcasting. Digital conversion efforts mandated by the Federal Communications Commission are now largely complete, and there is no further need for this program.” and “Since 2000, most PTFP awards have supported public television stations’ conversion to digital broadcasting. The digital television transition was completed in 2009, and there is no further need for DOC’s program.”

CPB isn’t in there. And they’re right: the digital conversion is done. So maybe one of ya’ll can help us find exactly what the congressional Republicans are proposing here.

Here’s a back-and-forth between Anna Christopher of NPR and Michael Goldfarb of the Weekly Standard. Says Anna,

NPR receives less than 2% of its funding from competitive grants sought by NPR from federally funded organizations (such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts).

Replies Michael,

I appreciate the smug, condescending tone of this letter, but I’m unconvinced. As one former CPB official I spoke to explained, “they love to claim they’re insulated, but they’re very much dependent on the public tit.” The other 98 percent of NPR’s funding comes from a mix of donations, corporate support, and dues from member stations. The fees and dues paid by member stations comprise more than half of NPR’s budget. Where does that money come from? In large part, from the federal government.

Take the local NPR affiliate in Washington, WAMU 88.5. That station paid NPR in excess of $1.5 million in dues, the station’s largest single expense outside of fundraising and personnel. The station also took in $840,000 in public funding and grants from the CPB. The station spent nearly $4 million on “fund-raising and membership development,” with a return of just $6 million. Fundraising is expensive — public money isn’t.

I looked at the .pdf at that link and don’t see the same numbers, but it’s clear enough that NPR affiliates pay a lot for NPR programming, and a non-trivial hunk of that money comes from CPB. According to this CPB document, its regular approriation for fiscal year 2010 is $420 million, and it’s looking for $430 million in 2011, $445 million for 2012 and $604 million for 2013. Bad timing.

Still, here’s the really interesting thing that almost nobody is talking about. Public radio kicks ass in the ratings. It’s quite popular. In fact, I would bet that it’s far more popular, overall, than right wing talk radio.

In Raleigh-Durham, WUNC is #2, with an 8.2 share. That’s up from 7.5 in the prior survey. Radio people can tell ya, that number is huge.

In San Francisco, KQED is #4 with a 5.2 share.

In New York, WNYC-FM is down in the teens with a 2.2 share, but nobody has more than a 6.5. Add WNYC-AM’s .8 share and classical sister WQXR’s 1.8 share, and you get a 4.8, which is #3 overall.

Here is Boston, WBUR has a 3.3 share. WGBH has a 1.1. Its classical sister station, WCRB (which now avoids using call letters) has a 2.7. Together those are 6.1, or #3 overall.

In Washington, WAMU gets a 4.8, , and stands at #5. Classical WETA has a 4.4, for #6. Add in Pacifica’s jazz station, WPFW, with .8, and you get 10, which would be #1 if they were counted together.

There are places where public radio, relatively speaking, sucks wind. Los Angeles is one. The public stations there are good but small. (The Pacifica station is technically the biggest in the country, but its appeal is very narrow.) Dallas is another. But on the whole, NPR stations do very well.

But do they do well enough to stand on their own? I think so. In fact, I think they should. That’s one reason we created ListenLog, which I visited at length here last July. ListenLog is an app that currently works with the Public Radio Player from PRX.  The idea is to show you what you listen to, and how much you value it. Armed with informative self-knowledge, you should be more inclined to pay than just to cruise for free.

We’re entering an era when more and more of our choices are both a la carte and our own. Meaning we’re more responsible, on the whole. And so are our suppliers. There will be more connections between those two facts, and we’ll be in a position to make those connections — as active customers, and not just as passive consumers.

So, if you want public radio to do a better job, to be more accountable to its listeners and not just to the government (even if indirectly), pony up. Make it yours. And let’s keep building better tools to help with that.

[Later…] Here’s a bonus link from Bob Garfield’s AdAge column. (He’s also a host of NPR’s On the Media.) And a quote:

The only quality journalism available, at least in this country, is from a few dozen newspapers and magazines, NPR, some alt weeklies, a few websites  Slate.com, for instance) and a few magazine/website hybrids such as Atlantic. On TV, there is “The News Hour” and “Frontline” on PBS and that is it. Cable “news” is a wasteland (watch for a while and let me know when you see a reporter, you know, reporting). Network news, having taught cable how to cut costs and whore itself to ratings, isn’t much better. Local TV news is live remotes from crime scenes and “Is Your Microwave Killing Your Hamster?”

Good stuff. Read the whole thing.

Smart people SLEEP LATE yells the headline of this opinion piece in the Winnipeg Free Press. It begins,

Sleep is a fundamental component of animal biology. New evidence confirms that, in humans, its timing reflects intelligence. People with higher IQs (intelligence quotients) tend to be more active nocturnally, going to bed later, whereas those with lower IQs usually retire to bed sooner after nightfall.

Let’s stop right there and ask a few questions:

  • Does each of us actually have a “quotient” — a sum — of intelligence?
  • Is intelligence actually measurable as a sum?
  • Do you believe you have an IQ? Do you know what it is?
  • Would you be willing to share your IQ scores? Why? Or why not?

I took many IQ tests during my years in school. And since my mother taught in the public school I attended through the 9th grade, she had access to all my records. Between those and others I’ve seen, my known IQ scores have an eighty point range: from quite smart to quite dumb. Those scores are among the many facts that convinced me long ago that IQ testing is meant mostly for one thing: ranking people. It’s made to privilege some, to keep privileges from others, and to move the rest as a herd through school or some other system. It legitimizes the arbitrary sorting of human beings into castes based on poor measures of one quality that makes each of us very human, and therefore also very different from every other human being. In a cruel way, it seeks to measure the immeasurable, and to sort us out accordingly.

IQ testing became popular in an age when eugenics was still taken seriously: when it was assumed by privileged populations that races and ethnic groups differed by intelligence and other measures. Today we go out of our way to avoid that kind of thinking, at the official level. But the proclivity persists. Assuming that people have an IQ — intelligence measured as if by a thermometer — is still more than common, despite abundant evidence to the contrary. That’s what we see in reports like the quoted one above.

So here’s my advice to anybody writing about the topic: recognize that IQ is a one-time score on a test, not a true measure of the very human and highly arcane personal quality we call intelligence. Don’t say “Those with higher IQs.” Say “Those with higher IQ scores.” The difference is between humanity and that which seeks to replace it with a number. It should help to think about the harms caused by the latter.

Back in the 1920s my grandparents, Erick and Caroline Oman, took their four kids on the family’s one and only trip west from their home in Napoleon, North Dakota, which is about as far out in the prairrie as you can get. When the Rockies came in sight, Grandpa turned to Grandma and said, “See, Mama: It’s just like home, only different and more of it.”

That’s the only quote I know that survives from a grandfather who was gone before I was born. Right now I’m in Baltimore with my grandkids, telling old family stories. Fun stuff.

Several pieces worth noting.

From back in February, The Smarter You Are, the Less You Click, in ReadWriteWeb. It begins,

If the latest numbers from online ad network Chitika are anything to go by, then we may well be on our way to the world of Idiocracy. According to the study, which compared click through rates to college education, the less educated your audience, the more likely they are to click through on an advertisement.

While this may be good news for some, it certainly seems to spell doom for supporting intelligent content through advertising.

From almost ten years back, Andrew Odlyzko’s Content is not king. Way ahead of its time, even if current winds continue to blow against his vectors. Andrew concludes,

General connectivity is likely to lead to demands for symmetrical links on the Internet. Hence fiber to the home may be needed sooner than is generally expected.

Whether content is king or not has direct relevance for the question of whether the Internet will continue to be an open network, or whether it will be balkanized. If content were to dominate, then the Internet would be primarily a broadcast network. With value proportional to the number of users, there would be few inherent advantages to an open network. The sum of the values of several completely or partially separate networks would be the same as of a unified network. On the other hand, if point-to-point communications were to dominate, and if Metcalfe’s Law were to hold, there would be strong economic incentives to a unified network without barriers. This is considered more fully in Section 4 of [Odlyzko3]. The general conclusion there is that even though Metcalfe’s Law is not fully valid, the incentives to maintain an open network are likely to be very strong. This will be largely because content is not king, and effective point-to-point communication will demand easy interconnection.

An extreme form of the “content is king” position, but one that is shared by many people, and not just in the content industry, was expressed recently by the head of a major music producer and distributor:

“What would the Internet be without “content?” It would be a valueless collection of silent machines with gray screens. It would be the electronic equivalent of a marine desert – lovely elements, nice colors, no life. It would be nothing.” [Bronfman]The author of this claim is facing the possible collapse of his business model. Therefore it is natural for him to believe this claim, and to demand (in the rest of the speech [Bronfman]) that the Internet be designed to allow content producers to continue their current mode of operation. However, while one can admire the poetic language of this claim, all the evidence of this paper shows the claim itself is wrong. Content has never been king, it is not king now, and is unlikely to ever be king. The Internet has done quite well without content, and can continue to flourish without it. Content will have a place on the Internet, possibly a substantial place. However, its place will likely be subordinate to that of business and personal communication.

From GBN: The Evolving Internet: Driving Forces, Uncertainties and Scenarios to 2025. Specifically,

One scenario describes a familiar roadmap in which the Internet continues on its trajectory of unbridled expansion and product and service innovation. The other three challenge that future, and in the process illuminate various risks and opportunities that lie ahead for both business leaders and policy makers. These scenarios are:

Fluid Frontiers: The Internet is pervasive and technology makes connectivity and devices more and more affordable.

Insecure Growth: Users—individuals and business alike—are scared away from intensive reliance on the Internet as cyber-attacks and security lapses proliferate.

Short of the Promise: Prolonged economic stagnation and protectionism slow the Internet’s spread and potential.

Bursting at the Seams: The ubiquitous Internet is a true success story…until capacity bottlenecks create a gap between big expectations and a more modest reality of Internet use.

I had more on this list, but somehow the post got truncated, and I’m too busy now to find Humpty’s parts. So this will have to do.

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The meaning of the term “Chinese wall” is clear. It’s a virtual partition meant to keep potentially conflicted interests apart. What’s not clear, at least to me, is where the term came from. This post at WhatIs.com quotes Wikipedia, this way:

Chinese wall is usually said to be a reference to the Great Wall of China, erected over 2000 years ago to protect inhabitants from invaders. However, other theories exist. In a Wikipedia entry, for example, the author argues that the term probably derives from a diplomatic contrivance of the Late Imperial period in China: “…if a junior mandarin saw a senior mandarin on the road he was expected to bow and present his compliments. In Beijing this tended to happen quite a lot and so traffic was frequently blocked. Instead mandarins came up with a method of pretending they did not see each other on the road by the clever placing of a retainer with an umbrella. Because they did not “see” each other, they were not obliged to stop.”

Meanwhile Wikipedia’s Chinese wall article now lacks that passage, so that’s a dead end. I recall “Chinese wall” meaning a thin one: You can hear what’s happening on the other side, but can pretend not to notice. Still, not good enough. So I’m hoping one of you can point me to a source I can cite in the book I’m writing.

And if you’re wondering why I’m posting less these days, it’s because my nose is on the book’s grindstone.

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Just ran across my first regular column for . It was published in in June, 1999, and written three months earlier, about when went up. Here’s a passage that stands out:

We’re still less than halfway through the shift from personal to social computing. Most households do not have PCs, and most that do are not connected to the Net. According to design critic and user advocate Don Norman, the two basic reasons for this are: computers are too complicated for many people, and the Net still lacks a plug-and-run infrastructure. He lays out a short-form prognosis in the title of his latest book, The Invisible Computer: Why Good Products Can Fail, the Personal Computer Is So Complex, and Information Appliances Are the Solution.

People are social. Telephony is equally social, because it lets people converse over simple appliances (incomprehensible cell phones and PBXes notwithstanding). Computing is social too, but only for a minority. There is still no computing appliance that’s as social as the telephone. Will Linux deliver it?

I suggest that the first social computing appliance—let’s call it the first SC—will cost less than $400, look friendlier than an iMac, get on the Internet with the ease of a phone call, and produce Microsoft Office-compatible files for those who want to use simple productivity applications.

Not great prophesy, but … interesting, anyway.

First, three posts by:

His bottom line in the last of those: “… people are saying the web dumbs us down. This is wrong. The web can dumb us down, but only if we choose to let it.” Much substance leads up to that, including many comments to the first two posts.

In the first post, JP says, “For information to have power, it needs to be held asymmetrically. Preferably very very asymmetrically. Someone who knows something that others do not know can do something potentially useful and profitable with that information.” He adds,

So when people create walled-garden paid apps, others will create unpaid apps that get to the same material. It’s only a matter of time. Because every attempt at building dams and filters on the internet is seen as pollution by the volunteers. It’s not about the money, it’s about the principle. No pollutants.

Which brings me to the reason for this post. There’s been a lot of talk about the web and the internet making us dumber.

I think it’s more serious than that. What the web does is reduce the capacity for asymmetry in education. Which in turn undermines the exalted status of the expert.

The web makes experts “dumb”. By reducing the privileged nature of their expertise.

Every artificial scarcity will be met by an equal and opposite artificial abundance. And, over time, the abundance will win. There will always be more people choosing to find ways to undo DRM than people employed in the DRM-implementing sector. Always.

Joe Andrieu responds with Asmmetry by choice.  After giving some examples, Joe adds,

These types of voluntary acceptance of asymmetry in information are the fabric of relationships. We trust people with sensitive information when we believe they will respect our privacy.

I don’t see abundance undoing that. Either the untrustworthy recipient develops a reputation for indescretion and is cut off, or the entire system would have to preclude any privacy at all. In that latter scenario, it would became impossible to share our thoughts and ideas, our dreams and passions, without divulging it to the world. We would stop sharing and shut down those thoughts altogether rather than allow ourselves to become vulnerable to passing strangers and the powers that be. Such a world would of totalitarian omniscience would be unbearable and unsustainable. Human beings need to be able to trust one another.  Friends need to be able to talk to friends without broadcasting to the world. Otherwise, we are just cogs in a vast social order over which we have almost no control.

Asymmetry-by-choice, whether formalized in an NDA, regulated by law, or just understood between close friends, is part of the weft and weave of modern society.

The power of asymmetry-by-choice is the power of relationships. When we can trust someone else with our secrets, we gain. When we can’t, we are limited to just whatever we can do with that information in isolation.

This is a core part of what we are doing with and the . Vendor Relationship Management (VRM) is about helping users get the most out of their relationships with vendors. And those relationships depend on Vendors respecting the directives of their customers, especially around asymmetric information. The Information Sharing Work Group (ISWG) is developing scenarios and legal agreements that enable individuals to share information with service providers on their own terms. The notion of a is predicated on providing privileged information to service providers, dynamically, with full assurance and the backing of the law. The receiving service providers can then provide enhanced, customized services based on the content of that data store… and individuals can rest assured that law abiding service providers will respect the terms they’ve requested.

I think the value of this asymmetry-by-choice is about artificial scarcity, in that it is constructed through voluntary agreement rather than the mechanics/electronics of the situation, but it is also about voluntary relationships, and that is why it is so powerful and essential.

I’ll let both arguments stand for now (and I think if the two of them were talking here right now they’d come to some kind of agreement… maybe they will in comments here or on their own blogs), while I lever both their points toward the issue of privacy, which will continue to heat up as more people become aware of liberties taken with personal information by Web companies, especially those in the advertising business. I hadn’t thought about this in terms of asymmetry before, but maybe it helps.

The Web has always embodied the design asymmetry of . Sites have servers. Visitors have clients (your computing device and its browser). To help keep track of visitors’ relationships, the server gives them . These are small text files that help the server recall logins, passwords, contact history and other helpful information. Cookies have been normative in the extreme since they were first used in the mid-nineties.

Today advertising on the Web is also normative to an extreme that is beginning to feel . In efforts to improve advertising, “beacons” and flash cookies have been added to the HTTP variety, and all are now also used to track users on the Web. The Wall Street Journal has been following this in its series, and you can find out more there. Improvement, in the new advertising business, is now about personalization. “It is a sea change in the way the industry works,” Omar Tawakol, CEO of BlueKai, told the Wall Street Journal. “Advertisers want to buy access to people, not Web pages.”

Talk about asymmetry. You are no longer just a client to a server. You are a target with crosshairs on your wallet.

Trying to make advertising more helpful is a good thing. Within a trusted relationship, it can be a better thing. The problem with all this tracking is that it does not involve trusted relationships. Advertisers and site owners may assume or infer some degree of conscious assent by users. But, as the Journal series makes clear, most of us have no idea how much unwelcome tracking is really going on. (Hell, they didn’t know until they started digging.)

So let’s say we can construct trusted relationships with sellers. By we I mean you and me, as individuals. How about if we have our own terms of engagement with sellers—ones that express our intentions, and not just theirs? What might we say? How about,

  • You will put nothing on my computer or browser other than what we need for our  relationship.
  • Any data you collect in the course of our relationship can be shared with me.
  • You can combine my data with other data and share it outside our relatinship, provided it is not PII (Personally Identifiable Information).
  • If we cease our relationship, you can keep my data but not associate any PII with that data.
  • You will also not follow my behavior or accumulate data about me for the purposes of promotion or advertising unless I opt into that. Nor will your affiliates or partners.

I’m not a lawyer, and I’m not saying any of the points above are either legal or in legal language. But they are the kinds of things we might like to say within a relationship that is symmetrical in nature yet includes the kind of asymmetry-by-choice that Joe talks about: the kind based on real trust and real agreement and not just passive assent.

The idea here isn’t to make buyers more powerful than sellers. It’s to frame up standard mechanisms by which understandings can be established by both parties. Joe mentioned some of the work going on there. I also mention some in Cooperation vs. Coercion, on the . Here’s a long excerpt:

What we need now is for vendors to discover that free customers are more valuable than captive ones. For that we need to equip customers with better ways to enjoy and express their freedom, including ways of engaging that work consistently for many vendors, rather than in as many different ways ways as there are vendors — which is the “system” (that isn’t) we have now.

There are lots of VRM development efforts working on both the customer and vendor sides of this challenge. In this post I want to draw attention to the symbols that represent those two sides, which we call r-buttons, two of which appear above. Yours is the left one. The vendor’s is the right one. They face each other like magnets, and are open on the facing ends.

These are designed to support what calls , which he started talking about back in 2005 or so. I paid some respect to gestures (though I didn’t yet understand what he meant) in The Intention Economy, a piece I wrote for in 2006. (That same title is also the one for book I’m writing for . The subtitle is What happens when customers get real power.) On the sell side, in a browser environment, the vendor puts some RDFa in its HTML that says “We welcome free customers.” That can mean many things, but the most important is this: Free customers bring their own means of engagement. It also means they bring their own terms of engagement.

Being open to free customers doesn’t mean that a vendor has to accept the customer’s terms. It does mean that the vendor doesn’t believe it has to provide all those terms itself, through the currently defaulted contracts of adhesion that most of us click “accept” for, almost daily. We have those because from the dawn of e-commerce sellers have assumed that they alone have full responsibility for relationships with customers. Maybe now that dawn has passed, we can get some daylight on other ways of getting along in a free and open marketplace.

The gesture shown here —

— is the vendor (in this case the public radio station , which I’m just using as an example here) expressing openness to the user, through that RDFa code in its HTML. Without that code, the right-side r-button would be gray. The red color on the left side shows that the user has his or her own code for engagement, ready to go. (I unpack some of this stuff here.)

Putting in that RDFa would be trivial for a CRM system. Or even for a CMS (content management system). Next step: (I have Craig Burton leading me on this… he’s on the phone with me right now…) RESTful APIs for customer data. Check slide 69 here. Also slides 98 and 99. And 122, 124, 133 and 153.

If I’m not mistaken, a little bit of RDFa can populate a pop-down menu on the site’s side that might look like this:

All the lower stuff is typical “here are our social links” jive. The important new one is that item at the top. It’s the new place for “legal” (the symbol is one side of a “scale of justice”) but it doesn’t say “these are our non-negotiable terms of service (or privacy policies, or other contracts of adhesion). Just by appearing there it says “We’re open to what you bring to the table. Click here to see how.” This in turn opens the door to a whole new way for buyers and sellers to relate: one that doesn’t need to start with the buyer (or the user) just “accepting” terms he or she doesn’t bother to read because they give all advantages to the seller and are not negotiable. Instead it is an open door like one in a store. Much can be implicit, casual and free of obligation. No new law is required here. Just new practice. This worked for (which neither offered nor required new copyright law), and it can work for r-commerce (a term I just made up). As with Creative Commons, what happens behind that symbol can be machine, lawyer or human-readable. You don’t have to click on it. If your policy as a buyer is that you don’t want to to be tracked by advertisers, you can specify that, and the site can hear and respond to it. The system is, as Renee Lloyd puts it, the difference between a handcuff and a handshake.

Renee is a lawyer and self-described “shark trainer” who has done much in the community to help us think about agreements in ways that are legal without being complicated. For example, when you walk into a store, you are surrounded by laws of many kinds, yet you have an understanding with that store that you will behave as a proper guest. (And many stores, such as Target, refer by policy to their customers as “guests.”) You don’t have accept “terms of service” that look like this:

You agree we are not liable for annoying interruptions caused by you; or a third party, buildings, hills, network congestion, rye whiskey falling sickness or unexpected acts of God or man, and will save harmless rotary lyrfmstrdl detections of bargas overload prevention, or if Elvis leaves the building, living or dead. Unattended overseas submissions in saved mail hazard functions will be subject to bad weather or sneeze funneling through contractor felch reform blister pack truncation, or for the duration of the remaining unintended contractual subsequent lost or expired obligations, except in the state of Arizona at night. We also save ourselves and close relatives harmless from anything we don’t control; including clear weather and oddball acts of random gods. You also agree we are not liable for missed garments, body parts, electronic communications or musical instruments, even if you have saved them. Nothing we say or mumble here is trustworthy or true, or meant for any purpose other than to sphincter the fears of our legal department, which has no other reason to live. Everything here does not hold if we become lost, damaged or sold to some other company. Whether for reasons of drugs, hormones, gas or mood, we may also terminate or change this agreement with cheerful impunity.

[   ]  Accept.

And for that you get a cookie. Yum.

gives a great talk in which he reduces History of E-Commerce to one slide. It looks like this:

1995: Invention of the Cookie.

The End.

Not content with that, Phil has moved history forward a step by writing KRL, the , which he describes in this post here. The bottom line for our purpose in this post is that you can write your own rules. Terms of engagement are not among them yet, but why not? It’s early. At last Friday, showed how easy it is to program a relationship—or just your side of one—with KRL. What blew my mind was that the show was over and it was past time to leave, on a Friday, and people hung out to see how this was done. (Here’s a gallery of photos from the workshop.)

And those are just some of the efforts going on in the VRM (and soon, we trust, the CRM) community. What we’re trusting (we’re beyond just hoping at this point) is that tools for users wishing to manage relationships with organizations of all kinds (and not just vendors) will continue to find their way into the marketplace. And the result will be voluntary relationships that employ asymmetry by choice—in which the choice is made freely by all the parties involved.

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And “social media” is a crock. Or perhaps an oxymoron.

Brands are boring because they’re not human. They’re companies. And, despite the recent Supreme Court decision to the contrary, companies are not human. They are abstractions that make business possible. Businesses are necessary to thriving economies and working civilizations. They are comprised of human beings and therefore have human qualities. But they are not themselves human.

The term “brand” was borrowed by from the cattle industry, and came into popular use during the golden age of network radio, in the 1930s and ’40s, when large suppliers to grocery and department stores (especially detergent and tobacco companies) won space in “shelf wars” by putting one  product in eight different packages and singing about the difference. Singing was a form of branding. You burned a song into consumers’ heads, so they had no choice but to recall it. “If you’ve got nothing to say, sing it,” the saying went.

Okay, hit it (in 3/4 time, and a Munich beer house spirit, flasks raised, singing loudly)…

Schaefer
Is the
One beer to have
When you’re having more than one.
Schaefer
Pleasure
Doesn’t fade
Even when your thirst is done.
The most rewarding flavor
In this man’s world
Is for people who are having fun.
Schaefer
Is the
One beer to have
When you’re having more than one.

I can’t help knowing that song because Schaefer burned it into the brains of baseball fans listening to Brooklyn Dodgers games. I know this one…

My beer is Rheingold the dry beer.
Think of Rheingold whenever you buy beer.
It’s not bitter, not sweet.
It’s the extra dry treat.
Won’t you buy extra dry Rheingold beer?

.. because Rheingold advertised during Giants games.

Piels and Ballantine had less memorable jingles, though I do remember “Bert and Harry Piels,” who were actually Bob & Ray, the most dry and ironic radio comedians who ever walked the earth.

In those days it made sense to brand, because there were so few media, and — actually — so few companies. If you wanted to make beer you needed a big industrial brewery.  The Industrial Age was one in which Industry was All.

This is no longer the case.

As for social media, all media now need to be social. Mediation is between humans, some of which are inside companies. Hence, “social media” as oxymoron. Sort of, anyway.

Meanwhile, lots of social media types are talking about brands and branding as if these were new and hip things. They’re not. They’re heavy and old. We need to move on, folks. Think of something human instead.

When a friend came back from SXSW recently, we talked about how, at the show, it was “social every fucking thing there is.” The term SEFTTI was thus coined.

We need to move past that too.

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In response to Dave‘s Reading tea leaves in advance of Apple’s announcements, I added this comment:

Steve loves to uncork constipated categories with the world’s slickest laxative. So I’m guessing this new box will expand Apple’s retail shelf space to include newspapers, journals and books as well as sound recordings, movies and TV shows. It will be the best showcase “content” ever had, and will be a wholly owned proprietary channel. A year from now, half the people on planes will be watching these things.

It would be cool if it also helped any of us to become movie producers, and to share and mash up our own HD creations. But I think Steve is more interested in hacking Hollywood (entertainment) and New York (publishing).

I’ve thought for years that Apple’s real enemy is Sony. Or vice versa. But Sony got lame, becoming a Hollywood company with an equipment maker on the side. So think instead of the old Sony — the inventive one that owned the high-gloss/high-margin end of the entertainment gear business, the Sony of Walkmen and Trinitrons. That’s the vacuum Apple’s filling. Only, unlike Sony, Apple won’t have 50,000 SKUs to throw like spaghetti at the market’s wall. They’ll have the fewest number of SKUs possible. And will continue to invent or expand whole new categories with each.

And there will be something missing to piss people off too. Maybe it’ll be absent ports (like you said). Maybe it’s no multi-tasking, or skimpy memory, or bad battery life, or an unholy deal with some “partner.”

Whatever it is, the verities persist. Meaning items 1 through 6 from this 1997 document still apply:

http://www.scripting.com/davenet/stories/DocSea…

At that last link I wrote,

These things I can guarantee about whatever Apple makes from this point forward:

  1. It will be original.
  2. It will be innovative.
  3. It will be exclusive.
  4. It will be expensive.
  5. It’s aesthetics will be impeccable.
  6. The influence of developers, even influential developers like you, will be minimal. The influence of customers and users will be held in even higher contempt.

So now the iPad has been announced, Steve has left the building, and the commentariat is weighing in.

The absence of multi-tasking might be the biggest bummer. (Makes me wonder if mono-tasking is a Jobsian “feature”, kinda like the one-button mouse.) Adam Frucci of Gizmodo lists mono-tasking among eight things that suck” about the iPad, including no cameras, no HDMI out, no Flash, 3×4 (rather than wide) screen and a “Big, Ugly Bezel”. (That last one is off base, methinks. You need the wide bezel so you can hold the device without your hot fingertips doing wrong things with the touchscreen.)

Elswehere at Gizmodo, Joel Johnson says “PCs will be around as expert devices for the long haul, but it’s clear that Apple, coasting on the deserved success of the iPhone, sees simple, closed internet devices as the future of computing. (Or at the very least, portable computing.) And for the average consumer, it could be.”

The Engadgeteers mostly panned it. Unimaginative… underwhelming… one of Apple’s biggest misses.

MG Sigler at Techcrunch says, “The thing is beautiful and fast. Really fast. If you’ll excuse my hyperbole, it felt like I was holding the future. But is it a must-have?” Then answers,

Most people won’t yet, but as long as Apple has its base that will buy and use the iPad, they have plenty of time for either themselves or third-party developers to create the killer uses that make the iPad a must-have product for a broader range of people. We already saw that happen with the App Store and the iPhone/iPod touch. And at $499 (for the low-end version), there will be no shortage of people willing to splurge on the device just to see what all the fuss is about. They’ll get hooked too.

That’s getting close, but it’s not quite there.

First, the base Apple wants is consumers. Literally. We’re talking newspaper and magazine readers, buyers and users of cameras and camcorders, and (especially) TV and movie watchers. To some degree these people produce (mostly home video and photos), but to a greater degree they are still potatoes that metablolize “content”. This thing is priced like a television, with many improvements on the original. Call it Apple’s Trinitron. They are, like I said, after Sony’s abandoned position here, without the burden of a zillion SKUs.

Second, there will be a mountain of apps for this thing, and more than a few killer ones.

What depressed me, though I expected it, was the big pile of what are clearly verticalized Apple apps, which I am sure enjoy privileged positions in the iPad’s app portfolio, no matter how big that gets. It’s full of customer lock-in. I’m a photographer, and the only use for iPhoto I have is getting shots off the iPhone. Apple’s calendar on the iPhone and computer (iCal) is, while useful, still lame. Maybe it’ll be better on the iPad, but I doubt it. And the hugely sphinctered iTunes/Store system also remains irritating, though I understand why Apple does it.

What you have to appreciate, even admire, is how well Apple plays the vertical game. It’s really amazing.

What you also have to appreciate is how much we also need the horizontal one. The iPad needs an open alternative, soon. There should be for the iPad what Google’s Nexus One is for the iPhone.

I got a ride home tonight from Bob Frankston, who was guided by a Nexus One, serving as a better GPS than my dashboard’s Garmin. Earlier in the evening Bob used the Nexus One to do a bunch of other stuff the iPhone doesn’t do as well, if at all. More importantly, he didn’t need to get his apps only from Google’s (or anybody’s) “store”. And if somebody else wants to make a better Android phone than this one, they can. And Google, I’m sure, hopes they do. That’s because Google is playing a horizontal game here, broadening the new market that Apple pioneered with its highly vertical iPhone.

So a big lesson here is that the market’s ecosystem includes both the vertical silos and the horizontal landscapes on which those silos stand, and where all kinds of other things can grow. Joel may be right that “the average consumer” will have no trouble being locked inside Apple’s silo of “simple, closed Internet devices”. But there are plenty of other people who are neither average nor content with that prospect. There are also plenty of developers who prefer independence to dependence, and a free market to a captive one.

Captivity has its charms, and an argument can be made that tech categories are best pioneered by companies like Apple and Sony, which succeed both by inventing new stuff that primes the pump of demand, and by locking both developers and customers inside their silos. But truly free markets are not restricted to choices among silos, no matter how cushy the accomodations may be. Nor are they restricted to the non-choice of just one silo, as is currently the case with the iPad. Free markets are wide open spaces where anybody can make — and buy — anything.

There’s more to fear from heights than widths.

Bonus link: Dave weighs in. This is just a jumbo Oreo cookie.

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