Archive for the 'Living' Category


Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

First post here.  Hopefully I will not end up a one post wonder (1post1der).

Multicast is a good name for a blog about media and technology and society because it is (1) a technical term in computer networking and (2) a metaphor for the interesting things that are happening to media and communication these days thanks to computer networking.

Discarded names for this blog:

  • Bloggy (taken)
  • I have a blog (really taken)
  • Boomzilla (taken, unbelievably)
  • Punchdown Block (sounds like it is about fighting.  it isn’t.)

As I said, multicast is a good name.  In comparison, broadcasting is an old word from farming. The word “broadcast” used to refer to scattering or throwing (casting) seeds — if you broadcast something, everybody gets it.  Here’s a nice image of broadcasting from the wikipedia template for pages about computer routing:


Unlike broadcasting (above), when people write about the Internet they usually conceptualize it as a point-to-point network as that is what it was mostly designed to do (in networking they might say unicast, below picture).  As in: I send an email to my friend.  I request a web page from the server.  That sounds more like this picture:


But (metaphorically) what is happening in the media these days is confusingly multicast. We just don’t understand the pattern yet.  The technical definition of multicast emphasizes that a multicast is a message sent to an arbitrary set of recipients who elect to receive the information.  The arbitrary set could be large, it could be small.  Everybody doesn’t get everything — instead we communicate something to the people who want it.  (Or at least to an arbitrary set of people.)  That could be just like broadcasting if the set is large, it could be more like what media industries used to call narrowcasting if the set is small, it could be unicast if the set is one.  Perhaps if no one gets the message we could call it a nullcast (my own coinage) — I don’t have a diagram for that one.  Imagine a dot.

Here’s a picture of a multicast, but technically all of the other pictures could be a multicast too.  The Internet doesn’t really use multicast routing very often — keep in mind I’m speaking metaphorically.


The big question if you are interested in communication is what exactly that pattern turns out to look like after the Internet.  That is, which picture will describe which kinds of content, and the important question: Who gets to be the red dot?

You can describe that last picture in all kinds of ways.  To some it looks like freedom and the long tail, or we could label the same thing pejoratively and call it fragmentation or niche culture (Joe Turow); maybe the caption should be “the twilight of common dreams” (Todd Gitlin) or the The End of Television (why not add The Death of Newspapers?).

You’d think all of this would be settled by now.  Here it is about 18 years after the birth of the Web browser.  It’s been 15 years since Rob Kling was throwing around the ungainly word disintermediation in the mid 1990s (he coined social informatics too).  James Beniger noticed that writing about this kind of media transformation claimed it was imminent way back in the 1950s.

So who exactly gets to control what everyone pays attention to?  And how does that work exactly?  We know some people will be listeners, some will be listened to, and some will be left out.  But we’ve got no answer yet on the details.  We’re still working on it.  So here’s a new blog that will be working on it.

As a closing note, I’m stunned to find that this is actually my 1,929th blog entry and somehow I’ve written 216 unpublished drafts.  I started blogging in 2003 but all of my past blogging has been pseudonymous.  (Or maybe I’m lying.  You’ll never know.)

My motto:  “I’ve been Web 2.0 since Web 1.0.”

Okay, everybody.  Let’s get started.

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