The Doha Debates – Democracy vs money – new media?

At the latest round of the doha debates, there was interesting discussion of what is wanted more by people, democracy or economic comfort.  The link for it can be found here

The host was aggressive to say the least, but the egyptian blogger was actually the most successful out of the whole group in getting his point across.  He was extremely measured in his belief that blogs werent going to bring democracy to egypt, however,  it was holding parties more responsible which was a huge improvement in and of itself.  His point was that even in an autocracy, holding government accountable is much better than having no say at all.

And this is coming from a guy who is doing this in a place where there is very limited internet freedom, mostly due to self-censorship, however, he himself was subject to real life problems due to his internet actions.  Egypt it itself a great example of government being called to task by new media, even with all the censorship there, both real and perceived.

Anyways, check out the entire thing, pretty interesting…

Tim Wu’s new book “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires” – part 2

So that turns us to the next part of his thesis, that the internet is no different and it will succumb to the same “Cycle” as all other information evolutions.

This is something that is commonly discussed in media classes, will the hegemon co-opt the new upstart (the other) ?  Does the fact that one hit wonders on the Internet end up signing with NBC or MTV mean this new medium is dead?  And how can we compare it to other revolutions such as the telegraph or printing press?

I cannot stress this enough, when people are enabled it does not mean they MUST succeed.  If you have a car and it enables you to drive to the hospital, it does not mean you will be a doctor.  If you live in NYC and can take the subway to wall street, it does not mean you will be a trader or businessman.  it means you are enabled too, however slight that is, you do have an advantage over others.

The Internet is doing small things like this every day, so lets say the Internet becomes much more controlled and works more along boundaries defined by the traditional nation-state or larger treaty organization such as NATO.  It is still a pretty darn amazing change, even at that.

When Clay Shirky talked about new media, peer production and “love” he spoke of it in a paradigm changing way.  However, he kept his expectation in check.  This was not going to blow away the nation-state or traditional media, but it was going to offer a real challenge and change the way people work and most importantly, perceive things.

Changes are already happening but we adjust so quickly that we take them for granted.  Wu is making his money by being the pessimist in a world full of Internet educationalists and for that, I thank him.

Tim Wu’s new book “The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires” – part 1

I really, really like this book and not because it has earth shattering theories or anything of that sort.  Rather, it is a collection of interesting facts that backup Wu’s main thesis.  Every information revolution seems the same and then it gets sucked into the mainstream and never fulfills its lofty expectations.

Wu does a good job of making his case, as he has done in other writings of his.  However, Wu is a bit of a pessimist and seems to discredit a lot of the fundamental shifts that occur due to these information revolutions.  In today’s world, the revolution is the Internet and all its offspring inlcuding new and social media.

If you were to read Wu’s book, then you would know that in a few years all this information will come under the control of a public/private entity (or a few of them) and the magic is gone.  This happened with the telegraph, radio, phone and television.  Granted, that is true, but if each of these technologies fundamentally changes the way we do things by 10-20% percent, then that is a gigantic shift in a period of 100-150 years.  The issue is, the affects of these technologies are not given enough credit by Wu.  He makes them seem almost static in time and does not mention the mountains of innovation that occur on top of them.

Networked systems have externalities that go far beyond the traditional affects of non-networked systems.  I cannot remember even reading the word externalities anywhere in the book.  So lets assume Wu is correct and that radio was basically co-opted by big industry – were not some people enabled?

The telephone was a monopoly for 60 years, was this not a revolution, single control or not?  Wu dismisses anything less than turning lead into gold as a failure and that is unfortunate.  It would seem that every mathematical revolution of all human history would follow under his theories as well – co-opted by the state to build their war machines – of what benefit to the common man is algebra and geometry?

Facebook Messages – and the future of Internet communications

I’m fairly certain you heard about Facebook’s announcement today that they will be creating a new Facebook Messages, that looks a whole lot like what Google Wave was supposed to be when it was unveiled.  Essentially, it is a unified messaging experience.  SMS, Chat, E-mail, voice (Skype partnership?) and things we have yet discovered will show up in one place.  Zuckerburg stressed that this is not a new flashy version of email, but they will start offering accounts.

So is this really anything new, or just Facebook creating a more streamlined experience?  Its not just news because they are Facebook, its news because Facebook has a dimension that Google does not and therefore this attempt at “message” consolidation may actually work.  Further, could this spell the turning point for Google?

First, Google was wildly successful in 2004 when they debuted GMail, but Gmail was and still is a gateway drug for many people.  They get started on GMail and then end up using many other Google services like chat, etc.  GMail got many people to sign up with Google accounts to streamline the experience.  It didn’t hurt that they had a superior e-mail system at the time either, but it was not the only reason people switched.

Second and perhaps more important is the changing usage pattern of younger Internet users who view e-mail as “old” and only use it when conducting business or with “adults”.  if e-mail is secondary to you, then why bother having address?  Just get an account and now you can deal with all those “adults” much more easily.

Third, this could be the beginning of a fundamental switch in social activity on the Internet.  E-mail will not go away as it is well entrenched in the Internet infrastructure, but perhaps we are moving towards a more trust oriented online communications system since this email is also inherently social.

So if all social activity you do is in one place, and you can’t “tell” whether the other person is talking to you via email or SMS that brings with it some challenges.  Facebook is still a baby, while Google is a ten year old, Google has a personality and we generally know what they believe and how they will act.

As Tim Wu from Columbia put it very well in an interview today with the New York Times

“I think Facebook is looking for a mentor, they are looking for a role model. Right now it is choosing between Apple and Google in this great war between open and closed. It is possible that whatever side Facebook takes will have a lot to do with the future of how we communicate.”

If Facebook goes open or closed could be the quintessential question of this Internet generation (5-7 years).  I’m interested to use this thing and find out where it goes…



I constantly hear that Wikipedia is not a reliable or reputable source… is it not?  I had one professor tell me that Wikipedia could not be cited, he went on further, denoting in his tone of voice and demeanor that he thought the whole thing to be worthless and some kind of illegitimate child of wanna-be academia authors. Alas, Wikipedia was an academic bastard.

What were his reasons?  Maybe he thought the information could not be verified… sure.  Perhaps he thought that the amatuer nature of the authors rendered there opinion worthless.  In the end it doesn’t really matter, I didn’t cite Wikipedia, I just used the sources that it had outlined in the article.

I guess the gist of the argument is that only reputable sources can be cited because well, they have been filtered for stupidity.  In a nutshell, thats what it means.  I’m not too sure though, perhaps we should be filtering the “authoritative sources”, no?  I am pretty confident that history repeats itself, and last time I checked all the major innovations and thoughts worth remembering that were earth shattering were not invented by “authoritative sources”.  It was made by what could be called amateurs.

It’s called Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind – I don’t want to talk to the reputable sources.  I want to talk to the outcasts, see what they think.  I want to know what these “academic bastards” read, I want to know who they think is not an authoritative source.  That is where the gold is, and that is where innovation comes from.  Am I saying all traditional sources are bad?  Of course not.  What I am saying is that neither are all new/social media sources either.

So why don’t we all this this for an exercise… right a paper without citing reputable sources.  One thing is for sure, it will be more interesting than many conferences where “real” academics regurgitate the paper they read in a print journal 6 months before, who did the same thing… ad infinitum.

So, lets not be negative, but lets be fair and call a spade a spade.  There is definitely room for both traditional and new outlets of thought and science.  Let me be more blunt.  People who do not adjust will be seen as antiquated and antiques in a few years, so… they either need to move toward s the middle, or get a new argument to replace their refuted and tired claims.

Is social capital an alternative to profits/money

{First and foremost, the musical score made the movie.  I wonder, if there was your average background music if it would have had the same affect.}

The Social Network is an interesting history (well, the last 7 years) of one of the still-coming Internet giants.  What stood out to me was not a certain piece of the story, rather the emphasis on social capital vs monetary gain as measurement of success.  This was perhaps the main struggle in the film, seen as a contest between Eduardo (the initial CFO) and Zuckerberg.  It makes business sense to want to monetize something as soon as it seems possible, Eduardo was in fact correct in a traditional sense.  However, with the new social nature of technology, mostly enabled by things like Facebook, the members of a group and the social capital they create are the true measures of wealth.  Perhaps this was Sean Parkers best insight during the entire movie – “cool” was more important than money.

The reason I thought this was interesting is because of the nature of change, from even a few years earlier when Google was growing.  At Google they did want to monetize, and tried in many different ways.  However, the same social capital was not being built across users, with Google it was plain momentum.  Now, lets compare that with other “social” based start-ups, Foursquare and Groupon.  These companies are not being asked to monetize, they are being told to “grow” and worry about funds later.  The social capital they build through their media infrastructure is their money in the bank.

Xmarks is an example of a company that built a widely used product but without the social capital of other start-ups.  With xMarks you can sync bookmarks across browsers and operating systems, however, that was it, no real sharing etc.  Xmarks decided it was time to close their doors, and sent a notice out to all users.  Within a week Xmarks received some funding, but how long will that keep them around for?  Xmarks is trying to use the new Internet model without the new Internet capital, they need traditional income as a measurement for their success – there is currently no alternative for them.

So my question is, how far can you go with just social capital as it may be, before you have to get traditional profits?  Is social capital through new media an alternative or is it another bubble waiting to burst?  That is what really bothers me, what if every new company thinks they can get away with social capital alone, being cool, etc, will it lead to another bubble?

Here is my initial theory – no it will not lead to a bubble and here is why.  Social capital if we consider it an alternative for money, is in fact somewhat tangible.  Just as a persons “coolness ratio” might be definable by number of friends, parties, etc.  Perhaps new startups can be defined by similiar traits…

In a recent article, Gowalla was compared to Foursquare on membership.  At first, they were practically tied, but foursquare has pulled away, to a somewhat large lead.  Therefore Foursquare should be less worried about profits right now, so does that mean Gowalla is no longer cool?  Is it okay to be #2?  Well, if applying the theory of the Long Tail, it sure is.

However, oddly enough, Gowalla may need more real money to keep going, than a larger operation such as Foursquare.

The tim of cool is upon us… so it begs the question…

Who is worth more – Facebook or Google?


Clay Shirky and the end of the “professional”

Recently, I was in a discussion of Clay Shirky’s book Here Comes Everybody, and one of the main points brought up was the amateurization of things like journalism and other professions.  In the discussion, many members appeared to believe in the fact that some decision maker or hierarchy would need to decide who was a “professional” and who wasn’t.

In Shirky’s book he mentions that hierchy’s are largely coming to an end, but that some form of governance will remain.  I do not think we are seeing the death of professionalism, rather, we are seeing a new definition of who is professional and who is not.  As with many things on the web, trust and ranking is built over time.

It becomes obvious that a certain blogger is liked  (for better or worse) based on their readership and a major network may pick them up for work or regular contributions.  So does that make the blogger a professional?

What if the blog is the drudge report?  Is it objective?  Well, at least as objective as Fox News, so they can be “professionals” together.  The problem we are having is redefining what a professional is, in the case of journalism, do we really think that institutions and definitions that are over 200 years old (and lets be safe and say 100 for the sake of objective journalism) still hold weight today?

Perhaps we need to turn to amateurs to see what in fact makes a professional, instead of trying the same top down approach.  We may like what we find, and further, this does not mean that the traditional journalist is gone.  It means they have been augmented by this collection of people, out of which 1% will rise above the masses and be identified by their peers as journalists.

Professionalism and the wave of amateurization are not at odds, they help eachother.  It is failing to see how to grasp the power of the other party that causes the disruptions.  Let us try an example…

I need to change the battery in my car… should I ask a professional?  Yeah, I should, I mean, I don’t want to get hurt or mess up my car.  So I go to Google and type in “how to replace a car battery”.  The first five entries are from amateurs and link six is from Castrol, a professional, you know.

So what does this tell us?  It tells us that more people link to the first article than Castrol.  A quick look at the article might tell you why, Castrols article is vague and well, not even close to the amateur one.  So lets get this right, who knows cars better, Castrol (professional) or WikiHow.  Obviously, its the pro, or thats what today’s heirchy tells us.  However, the dynamic hierchy of the collective conscious the mind of the public sphere tells us it is WikiHow and I agree with them.

The more specific you go, the more amateurs become the professionals and fill in the cracks that the “pros” cannot.  Why?  Cost.  Thanks, Clay.

What makes a movie a movie?

There was an interesting post on Slashdot regarding an amateur movie that is distributed via BitTorrent that IMDB is refusing to list on its website.  The producers believe it is due to the fact that they are not using “traditional” media distributions methods and I believe they are correct.

So what IMDB is, is really an index of professional movies.  IMDB is not the Wikipedia of movies, etc.  You have to be “professionally” made with an actor who gets paid in something other than housing or food.  This is a bit disconcerting.  BitTorrent is as much a part of the new media wave as open source, blogs etc.  It is the transport infrastructure of this new wave.  In fact, it is many times more efficient than using traditional methods of delivery.  It is truly crowd-sourcing the sharing of files.

However, it seems that the medium is indeed the message in this case.  What if the movie being delivered via BitTorrent was in fact an amazing film?  A new Gone With the Wind or Amalie?  I don’t think it would have mattered, the decision is already made and anyone who uses that medium is not a “professional”.

Clay Shirky pointed out in his recent book “Here Comes Everybody” he notes that professions that are tied to and defined by access to distribution channels or a hierarchy of distribution should be worried.  Only by erecting fake barriers like the IMDB decision can they keep their “profession” in place.  The wave is coming and at one point it will destroy the walls they have erected.  Anyone down for creating an IMDB-like thing for anyone to update and use?  Sounds good to me.

Skybook? What if they mated meets Facebook + Skype

Last week, news erupted that Facebook was working on a phone, but the news was so bizarre that many held back, even the people reporting the information.  This should have been an Internet goldmine of discussion, but something was amiss and now we know why.

This past week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Skype and Facebook will be joining forces and that the Skype service would be seemlessly integrated with the worlds largest social network.  Anti-trust anyone?  Not right now, we don’t even know what Facebook is really worth, its still just too cool to value for any less than 40,50, or 80 billion.

The combination makes sense but what are the implications for new media? Is this really as simple as Skype in Facebook?  Below, I will argue that it is not, this is fundamentally different, both services are good at hyperpersonal communication but via different mediums – the medium is the message in this case.

Facebook excels at connecting people in a group-individual way.  In other words, individuals can interact and are augmented by different groups (networks, friends, etc).  The media is hyperpersonal in that it includes the thoughts of the user, their friends, and their friends.  It can be very intimate and detailed look into a persons life and thoughts.  However, that communication suffers from the medium it is using.  To truly “communicate” somebody has to move to a an application like Skype to hear and see the other person.  Further, Facebook’s chat isn’t really that integrated into their service, it feels kind of foreign and 1990’s in style and form.

Skype excels at giving already connected people hyperpersonal contact over large distances.  It is the global telephone network, and currently hosts a 13% of all international calls.  For all the press Facebook gets, Skype is becoming international telecommunications infrastructure.  So the real magic is making Facebook’s connecting prowess more hyperpersonal when that connection is made.

What if people could post live videos to their Facebook page via Skype, have people follow and call them if desired?  Create a conference call with your friends, transcript the voice via automated algorithms, and simultaneously all upload videos of yourself or where you are.  This seems a pretty powerful tool for individuals to have on a global level.

You can now get connected, congregate, discuss, record and disseminate all in one place.  Granted, sites like Justin.TV have been around for a while but the social capital generated by close relationships and their increasingly hyperintensive interactions will create much more of it.

What if people no longer had a profile pic but a live profile video?  Their life could be seen and heard in real time.  The ramifications are huge, and I’m willing to bet organizations around the world will leverage the new medium to interact like they never have before.

What have I missed here?  (A lot I am sure!)  What do you think this change means?

Why is the “Long Tail” a bad thing?

One of the affects of the Internet is its enabling of millions to challenge the status quo, the establish, the man, in a number of fields.  The term Long Tail was coined by Chris Anderson in his article for Wired magazine.  (I’ll spare you the description of the Long Tail, I suggest you read the Wired article and the Wikipedia entry before proceeding.)

I do not believe that new media will overthrow the beast, nor do I believe that traditional media will completely co-opt the nascent medium and either create the illusion that people have control or remove that possibility outright.  Both viewpoints to me are completely defeatist and really pushes people to give up on life as any form of control is an illusion.  My stance is that new media can in fact make a change, not overnight, and not in a Super Bowl advertisement kind of way.  The change will be organic and slow to grow, but the momentum it gains will be true and not easily lost.

In a world of enablement thanks to Internet does the media landscape actually change?  The part of the theory of the Tail that is hard to swallow is the concept of “hits”.  So if all these millions of people are enabled then they will discard the shackles of “old boys” in large numbers, let the revolutions begin!  Not quite.  The theory says that out of those millions there will be lots of failures and a ton of rubbish, however, a few stars will emerge that will challenge traditional players and that is the key.  The fact that some “hits” occur is all the tail is saying, the majority of the enabled people will sit unknown in different parts of their Internet world.

So the real question is more like an old one “if a tree falls in a forest with nobody around, does it make a sound?”  Well of course it does, but nobody was there to hear it, so maybe the better question is, does the sound matter?  Some may say no, it doesn’t matter or exist if someone is not there to witness it.  So let us ask an Internet version of that question.  If somebody writes a blog that is never read, does it matter, is there any value?

Indeed there is, in today’s world the fact that the blog was even created has intrinsic value, and in essence a butterfly affect of sorts.  That blog is indexed, search engines know that this blog is at the absolute bottom of the pile, and isn’t that worth something?  A ranking?  Statistics?

Let’s put it another way, the NFL is the premier American football league in the world, and college football counts as well, maybe even some developmental leage teams.  Hell, lets even throw in the CFL just for fun.  What about all those amateur leagues? Do they count?  Well, if you don’t believe in the Long Tail, then the answer is no, they don’t.  Doug Flutie was co-opted by the NFL and is only an illusion of the ability for upwards mobility.

Now what if these amateur leagues put up videos on the Internet?  What if you didn’t have to be a Doug Flutie in the first place and you were just some “dude”? You think that guy that dunked on Lebron James didn’t get a few phone calls?  I am gonna guess he did, and lets be clear, he was not NBA material before the infamous “amateur” game.  He has been enabled by new media, to the detriment of King James.

Another example would be the Flotilla incident of Summer 2010 and Twitter.  There is a real possibility that had the people on board not been tweeting their GPS location and uploading live videos that we in American would never have heard of it.  Granted Al-Jazeera had a reporter on one of the boats, but do you get Al-Jazeera at home in the States?  No, you don’t.  Twitter and the backlash from the masses forced traditional media to cover the story, in one way or another.

These are small examples, the unknown artist on iTunes, the flotilla survivors, the completely cloud computing based business like HotSpotVPN could not have existed just 5-7  years ago.  I totally understand pessimism, and usually lean that way, but to totally discredit the Internet powered new media is a dark path with way to turn back.