Google enters its chrysalis

In The Adpocalypse: What it Means, the great Vlogbrother Hank Green issues a humorous lament on the impending demise of online advertising. So invest the next 3:54 of your life in watching that video, so you catch all his points and I don’t need to repeat them here.

Got them? Good.

Every one of Hank’s points are well-argued and make complete sense. They are also valid mostly inside the bowels of the Google beast where his video work has thrived for the duration, as well as inside the broadcast model that Google sort-of emulates. (That’s the one where “content creators” and “brands” live in some kind of partly-real and partly-imagined symbiosis.)

While I like and respect what the brothers are trying to do commercially inside the belly of the Google Beast; but I also expect them, and countless other “content creators” to get expelled after Google finishes digesting that market, and Continue reading "Google enters its chrysalis"

The Internet deserves its proper noun

doc036cThe NYTimes says the Mandarins of language are demoting the Internet to a common noun. It is to be just “internet” from now on. Reasons:

Thomas Kent, The A.P.’s standards editor, said the change mirrored the way the word was used in dictionaries, newspapers, tech publications and everyday life.

In our view, it’s become wholly generic, like ‘electricity or the ‘telephone,’ ” he said. “It was never trademarked. It’s not based on any proper noun. The best reason for capitalizing it in the past may have been that the word was new. But at one point, I’ve heard, ‘phonograph’ was capitalized.”

But we never called electricity “the Electricity.” And “the telephone” referred to a single thing of which there billions of individual examples.

What was it about “the Internet” that made us want to capitalize it in the first place? Is usage alone reason enough Continue reading "The Internet deserves its proper noun"

Dear Adobe, Please buy Flickr

A photo readers find among the most interesting among the 13,000+ aerial photos I've put on Flickr

This photo of Utah is among dozens of thousands I’ve put on Flickr. it might be collateral damage if Yahoo dies or fails to sell the service to a worthy buyer.

This photo of the San Juan River Utah is among dozens of thousands I’ve put up on Flickr. it might be collateral damage if Yahoo dies or fails to sell the service to a worthy buyer. Flickr is far from perfect, but it is also by far the best online service for serious photographers. At a time when the center of photographic gravity is drifting form arts & archives to selfies & social, Flickr remains both retro and contemporary in the best possible ways: a museum-grade treasure it would hurt terribly to lose. Alas, it is owned by Yahoo, which is, despite Marissa Mayer’s best efforts, circling the drain. Flickr was created and lovingly nurtured by Stewart Continue reading "Dear Adobe, Please buy Flickr"

The slow sidelining of over-the-air radio

chevyradio You won’t find an AM radio in a Tesla Model X or in other electric cars, such as the BMW i3. One reason is that AM reception is wrecked by electrical noise — especially the kind computing things radiate. Another is that the best AM reception requires a whip antenna outside the car, which no car maker offers any more. Another is that car makers have been cheaping out on the chips used in their AM radios for years, and the ones in home radios are even worse. But demand for AM has been on the wane for decades anyway. It doesn’t sound as good as FM or digital streams on laptops and mobile things. (Well, it can sound good with HD Radio, but almost nobody broadcasts or listens with that.) About the only things left on AM that get ratings in the U.S. are sports and Continue reading "The slow sidelining of over-the-air radio"

The Giant Zero

The Giant ZeroMany years ago, Craig Burton shared the best metaphor for the Internet that I have ever heard, or seen in my head. He called it hollow sphere: a giant three-dimensional zero. He called it that because a sphere’s geometry best illustrates a system in which every end, regardless of its physical location, is functionally zero distance away from every other end. Across the nothing in the Net’s hollow sphere, every point can “see” every other point, and connect to it, as if distance were not there. And at no cost. It doesn’t matter that the Net’s base protocol, TCP/IP, is not perfect, that there are costs and latencies involved in the operation of connections and routers between end points — and that many people in the world still do not enjoy the Net’s graces. What matters is that our species’ experience of the Net, and of the world Continue reading "The Giant Zero"

We can all make TV. Now what?

meerkatLook where Meerkat andperiscopeapp Periscope point. I mean, historically. They vector toward a future where anybody anywhere can send live video out to the glowing rectangles of the world. If you’ve looked at the output of either, several things become clear about their inevitable evolutionary path:
  1. Mobile phone/data systems will get their gears stripped, in both directions. And it will get worse before it gets better.
  2. Stereo sound recording is coming. Binaural recording too. Next…
  3. 3D. Mobile devices in a generation or two will include two microphones and two cameras pointed toward the subject being broadcast. Next…
  4. VR, or virtual reality.
Since walking around like a dork holding a mobile in front of you shouldn’t be the only way to produce these videos, glasses like these are inevitable:


(That’s a placeholder design in the public domain, so it has no IP drag, other than whatever submarine patents already exist, and I am Continue reading "We can all make TV. Now what?"

The most important event, ever

IIW XX, IIW_XX_logothe 20th Internet Identity Workshop, comes at a critical inflection point in the history of VRM: Vendor Relationship Management, the only business movement working toward giving you both
  1. independence from the silos and walled gardens of the world; and
  2. better means for engaging with every business in the world.
If you’re looking for a point of leverage on the future of customer liberation, independence and empowerment, IIW is it. Wall Street-sized companies around the world are beginning to grok what Main Street ones have always known: customers aren’t just “targets” to be “acquired,” “managed,” “controlled” and “locked in.” In other words, Cluetrain was right when it said this, in 1999:

if you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get…

Now it is finally becoming clear that free customers are more valuable than captive ones: to themselves, to the companies they deal with, and to the marketplace.

But how, exactly? That’s what we’ll be working on at IIW, which runs from April 7 to 9 at the Computer History Museum, in the heart of Silicon Valley: the best venue ever created for a get-stuff-done unconference. Focusing our work is a VRM maturity framework that gives every company, analyst and journalist a list of VRM competencies, and every VRM developer a context in which to show which of those competencies they provide, and how far along they are along the maturity path. This will start paving the paths along which individuals, tool and service providers and corporate systems (e.g. CRM) can finally begin to fit their pieces together. It will also help legitimize VRM as a category. If you have a VRM or related company, now is the time to jump in and participate in the conversation. Literally. Here are some of the VRM topics and technology categories that we’ll be talking about, and placing in context in the VRM maturity framework: Note: Another version of this post appeared first on the ProjectVRM blog. I’m doing a rare cross-posting here because it that important.

We’re all going to need clothes

door knocker, beacon hillIn the physical world we know what privacy is and how it works. We know because we have worked out privacy technologies and norms over thousands of years. Without them we wouldn’t have civilization. Doors and windows are privacy technologies. So are clothes. So are manners respecting the intentions behind our own and others’ use of those things. Those manners are personal, and social. They are how we clothe, shelter and conduct ourselves in the world, and how we expect others to do the same. The Internet is a new virtual world we also inhabit. It was born in 1995 with the first graphical browsers, ISPs, email and websites. It arrived in our midst as a paradise. But, as with Eden, we walked into it naked — and we still are, except for the homes and clothing we get from companies like Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple. They clothe us in uniforms, one for every login/password combination. Who we are and what we can do is limited by what they alone provide us. Yes, it’s civilized: like the middle ages. We toil and prosper inside the walls of their castles, and on their company lands. In many ways the system isn’t bad. Continue reading "We’re all going to need clothes"

How Radio Can Defend the Dashboard

hugh-carDash — “the connected car audiotainment™ conference” — is happening next week in Detroit. It’s a big deal, because cars are morphing into digital things as well as automotive ones. This means lots of new stuff is crowding onto dashboard spaces where radios alone used to live. This is a big deal for radio, since most listening happens in cars. In The Battle of My Life, Eric Rhoads challenges attendees to join him in a cause: keeping radio in cars. It’s an uphill battle. Radio is already gone from this BMW, and it’s looking woefully retro against an onslaught of audiotainment™ alternatives for “connected cars” — ones with Internet access over the cellular system. Eric wants to “build a dialogue between radio and the world of automotive,” recruiting “foot soldiers in every market who understand what is happening and who work collectively to make change, market by market.” I want to help. I’ll start with this post, which will do three things. First is unpack what’s right and wrong about the Internet and advertising on it. Second is give some advice that radio needs desperately and nobody else seems to be offering. Third is giving specific responses to some of the Dash conference agenda items. First, the Net:
  1. Radio is moving to the Net, which is eating every other medium as well. TV, magazines, newspapers… they’re all going online, and re-basing themselves there rather than in their original media forms. For radio, the transmitters with the most reach are servers, not antennas.
  2. Proprietary radio-like services, e.g. Apple’s iTunes, Pandora, Spotify, and SiriusXM, are also on the Net, and easy to add to cars. Some have been there for years. New ones, like iHeartRadio, are trying to grab a slice of this new already-slided pie for the old radio business. (Note how Clear Channel abandoned its radio legacy by changing its name to iHeartMedia. NPR did the same thing by ceasing to be National Public Radio.)
  3. The direct response side of the advertising business (born as junk mail) has been body-snatching advertising as a whole. It thrives as a parasite off data generated by individual human beings, mostly without their knowledge or express consent. It “personalizes” user “experiences” with messages targeted by surveillance. It’s powerful, well-funded, and wants to do this in cars now too.
Radio needs to fight on the side of the history by siding with the Net. It can do this because, like the Net, radio is an open system. You don’t need permission to use it, just like you don’t need permission to use old-fashioned radio. Or to make one. This aspect of the Internet is a huge advantage for radio, because stations and networks can now transmit on-Net as well as on-air, and expand coverage through time (e.g. with podcasts) and space (throughout the world). The problems come with numbers 2 and 3. While the things listed in #2 are on the Net (and in SiriusXM’s case, also via radio from satellites and terrestrial translators), they are not open. They are closed. Nothing wrong with being able to get them in cars, of course. Just recognize that they are captive and closed forms of what we now, in the internet marketing fashion, call “content delivery.” They are different in kind from radio itself. They are closed, while radio is open. The temptation with #3 is to corrupt cars with the same pernicious privacy-invading advertising system that has turned browsers (our cars on the Web) into shopping carts infected with tracking beacons — and turned the Web into a giant strip mall beside streets lined with billboards pumping “personalized” messages alongside “content” that’s just click-bait. Radio needs to take up the fight for individual privacy and independence by standing with the people who own and drive cars. In a word, customers. Not with the car makers and third parties who want to sell people’s souls to the surveillance-based advertising business. There is already one car company on the customer’s side in this fight: Volkswagen. This past March, Volkswagen CEO Martin Winkerhorn gave a keynote at the Cebit show that drew this headline: “Das Auto darf nicht zur Datenkrake warden.” Translation: The car should not be a data octopus. For drivers (and Dash) that means Keep your tentacles and data suction cups out of my car. In is essential to recognize the radical difference between brand advertising and direct response (usually surveillance-based) advertising:
  • Brand advertising is what we’ve been running on radio from the beginning. It can be annoying at times, but it isn’t personal and isn’t based on surveillance. It delivers messages to whole populations. It builds advertiser reputations and delivers what economists call a signal of substance. (Read Don Marti on this. He produces the wisest, deepest and best writing in the world on this subject.)
  • Direct response advertising wants to get personal, and is based increasingly on privacy-violating surveillance of individuals.
The blowback against unwelcome surveillance of individuals is getting stronger every day. Ad and tracking blocking have been going up steadily. In some countries one quarter of all ads are blocked. For 18-29 year olds, the figure is 41%. Yet, according to the same source (PageFair), “a majority of adblockers expressed some willingness to receive less intrusive ad formats.” Like we’ve had from radio for almost a century. It would be wise for radio’s foot soldiers to surf this wave of sentiment, by taking the individual’s side in the fight. Now to the rest of my general advice, before we get down to specifics for the Dash conference:
  1. Get real about fully integrating with the Net. For example, stations need URLs that are as fixed as their channels on the air. And those URL need to be as easy to find on the Net as they are on the dial. Nobody has fixed this yet, but it does need to be fixed. Maybe Detroit can take the lead here. (Datum: I just spent hours updating the data streams stations in my home Sonos system. A huge percentage of them had changed their URLs: their “channels” on the Net.)
  2. Get personal. Meaning side with listeners. This has always been hard for commercial radio, because listeners’ ears are the products sold to advertisers. But with radio moving to the Net, and integrating with the Net, there is an infinitude of opportunity to interact directly with listeners, and get the benefit of their positive input and involvement.
  3. Fight for better radios. On the whole these have become worse over the years, especially on AM. One reason is that antennas have moved from whips (which work best) outside the car to little stubby things on the outside or wires embedded in windows.
  4. Lean on the equipment-making industry to harmonize American RDBS with the RDS being used by the rest of the world. RDS and RDBS are what put station names and song titles on a radio’s display. With RDS (but not RDBS), the radio listens to the best signal from a programming service, such as ESPN, that uses multiple stations and transmitters. It can also set clocks and interrupt one program source for traffic notifications from another. (Radio was self-defeating when it forked RDBS off RDS two decades ago. And I’ll admit that may be way too late for this one)
Now to my suggestions in response to Dash agenda topics:
It’s All About The Experience
How do we need to partner to build tomorrow’s user experiences? How will consumers interact with content and services as they drive? Put customers in charge. Let them do the driving. For example, give them ways to collect their own data and put it to use. Fuse is one example. Turning Data Into Dollars
We’ve got access to vehicle data, driving data, listener data and traveler data. What can we do with it all? How do we make it actionable? What is now possible with cross-platform marketing and services? Don’t spy on people. Give drivers that data first. Give them ways to say what they want done with the data. Make those ways open, rather than trapped inside some company’s closed and proprietary system. Listen to pull in the marketplace, rather than looking for more ways to push crap at people. The Class Of 2015 — Millennials, Cars & Radio
First look at Nielsen’s long-term study looking at how college students have woven digital into their lives, with a special emphasis on the role of cars, the “connected car,” and what personal transportation means in their lives today and their plans for the future. Consider the source (a company that lives off the advertising business) — and the fact that nobody wants to be marketed to all the time. And side with personal independence, which has been a primary selling point for cars since the beginning. Don’t compromise it by making cars less personal. The Future Of Mobility
The ways consumers are transporting themselves in major metropolitan areas is dramatically changing. Car and bike sharing, mass transportation options, and other approaches are enabling consumers to transport themselves. How will this affect the way we interact with consumers? Cars are now one option among many, but that doesn’t make them less personal. Companies of all kinds are going to have to get truly personal with their users and customers, and that means being fully respectful of them. The Game Changers? Apple & Google &….
Everyone from Apple and Google to Intel and Amazon is suddenly paying attention to the connected car. DASH will provide an update on their efforts and the implications of these major players on this competitive space. Fight for drivers and passengers against companies that want to capture and control them. Drivers are the people who move the industry, not these Johnny-come-latelys, all of which want to hold customers captive. This means insisting that personal data belongs to persons first, and that competing services need to be compatible and interoperable. One can’t freeze out another. Being fully Net-native will take care of this problem. Free customers are more valuable than captive ones. The car business has always known this, which is why they’ve run ads for decades promoting personal independence. For all the good they do (and it’s plenty) Apple and Amazon believe captive customers are more valuable than free ones. Meanwhile Google and Facebook are busy snarfing up personal data and using that to sell personalized advertising. This is done more with acquiescence than consent (an important difference). The game that needs to change here is called Who’s In Charge? Is it the customer or companies that want to capture and milk the customer? While car companies have played the customer-capture game all along (example: “chip keys” that can only be replaced at dealerships and cost $hundreds), at least they’ve also reveled in how much independence cars give to their owners and drivers. This is a unique and durable advantage. Radio needs to get on board with it. Collaboration:  Dealers, Radio, And The Connected Car
It’s time to take a look at the entire car-buying and ownership life cycle from the connected consumer perspective. How will drivers buy and service their vehicles going forward? What new services could we be offering to them? How will their connected car experience interact with their connected lives? Take a look at this graphic, from Esteban Kolsky: oracle-twist   Now think about where you spend your life. It’s mostly owning, not buying. In reality, the loop on the right is much bigger in reality than the one on the left. This fact is going to dawn on marketing in the next several years. It has already dawned on winning car companies, and on exactly one computer company. While I have problems with Apple’s control-freakishness, they have done an amazing job off making the experience of owning a computer or a phone one of pleasure rather than pain. In a huge way, radio is part of the car-owning and -driving experience, not the buying one. The problem comes at the dealership, where (I’ll bet) there are incentives to up-sell alternatives to radio, such as SiriusXM. Can regular old radio create similar incentives? Hope so. The Future Of Traffic Information
Will real-time, customized traffic reports delivered through online connectivity and apps usurp radio’s role? It already has. The victors in this space are Google Maps and Waze, which Google now owns. Since Waze depends on user input, I suggest that radio folks figure out a way to help Waze and Google improve what they already do. Traffic reports also need to adapt. Report on what’s turned red on Google Maps, for example. “Sepulveda Pass northbound from Mulholland to the 101 has turned red. Same goes for the Harbor Freeway both ways trough downtown.” Better to hear what Google Maps or Waze says than to look down at a phone and risk an accident. And why stop at traffic. Take on all of journalism. Make every smart and engaged listener a first source of news. See JayRosen‘s Designs for a Networked Beat. He doesn’t mention radio, but it totally applies.

Wish I could make it to Dash. Sounds like fun. But I’ll be in London, working for a paying client and listening to U.S. (as well as U.K.) radio on the Net. I’m curious to see how it goes, and if anybody going going to the show takes the above to heart. This might help: The greatest authorities on connected cars are not the people speaking on stage. They’re the ones who buy and drive cars: you and me. At Dash, think and speak for yourself. Don’t listen to, or put up with, anything that threatens your independence. Which is the same thing as having radio hold its place as the alpha medium on the dashboard. Bonus links: everything Phil Windley says about the InternetIoT (the Internet of Things) Fuse, picos, decentralization and connected cars.

A visit to the old ‘hood

themodernA couple weeks ago I took a walk around the historic neighborhood in Fort Lee where my extended family had a home from the turn of the last century into the 1950s. It’s where my parents lived when I was born, and where my aunt and grandmother sat for my sister and me (taking us often for walks across the George Washington Bridge, which my father helped build) and holding big warm Thanksgiving dinners. It was all erased years ago, and the parts that aren’t paved over are now turning into high-rises, starting with The Modern, a 47-floor mirror-glass monolith that towers over the George Washington Bridge. Another just like it will go up nearby, as part of the Hudson Lights project. It’s huge. It’s also the site of “Bridgegate” a couple years ago, for what that’s worth. Anyway, I shot a bunch of pictures. More in the captions.

Snow on the Water

floesI’ve been intrigued by Fotopedia  since it showed up in ’09, especially since I do a shitload of travel photography. But I never posted anything there, because I was afraid it would die. And now, says here, it will. In seven days. The reason:
As of August 10, 2014, will close and our iOS applications will cease to function. Our community of passionate photographers, curators and storytellers has made this a wonderful journey, and we’d like to thank you for your hard work and your contributions. We truly believe in the concept of storytelling but don’t think there is a suitable business in it yet.

I’m also afraid Flickr will die, and wrote about that in What if Flickr fails? back in 2011. I believe Flickr is more durable now that it was then, and I like what they’ve been doing under new leadership there. But, with more than 50,000 photos up there now, on five different accounts (four are others to which I contribute), I’ve got a lot of exposure to the inevitable, which is that Flickr will die. As will everything, of course, but stuff on the Web has an especially low threshold of death. In the early days it didn’t look that way. Making the Web was an exercise in long-term property development then, or so it seemed. There were sites we put up, built or constructed at locations in domains, so others could visit them, and search and browse through them, as if they were libraries. Which they were in a way, since we used publishing lingo to talk about what we put there: writing, authoring, editing, postingsyndicating and so on. But that was what we might call the Static Web, a term I picked up from my son Allen in 2003, when he shared an amazing prophesy that has since proven correct: a new Live Web was starting to branch off the static one. I’ve written about that a number of times since then. (Here, here and here, for example.) Back then, live was what we had with blogs, and RSS. You wrote something, posted it, and a Live Web search engine, such as Technorati or PubSub would have it indexed within a few minutes. (Amazing: Google Blog Search, which kinda killed the others, still exists.) Today the Live Web is Twitter and Facebook. Here are two important differences between the Live Web of 2003 and the Twitter/Facebook one today:
  1. Even if blogs were with services such as Radio Userland, Live Journal, Blogger or TypePad, they expressed, as Dave Winer puts it, the unedited voice of a person. With Twitter and Facebook, your voice echoes inside a big commercial castle.
  2. Blogs were journals. By that I mean they were self-archiving. Their URLs were always yourblog/year/month/day/permalink, or the equivalent. On Twitter and Facebook, they tend to sink away. Same with Tumblr, Pinterest and other services that employ the modern endless-scroll website style. The old stuff seems to sink down out of sight, with little sense that any one thing has its own location on the Web, or that the location belongs fully to the author.
That sinking-away thing is, almost literally, burial. Once it’s gone off the screen, it gets hard to find. Or it’s gone completely. In its early days, tweeting was called “micro-blogging.” But it was really more like texting, or passing notes in class. While blogging was self-archived, with “permalinks,” every tweet — in spite of having a unique URL ‚ became hard to find, or gone, once it scrolled off the bottom of the screen. Many times I’ve tried searching for old tweets, on Twitter or Google, and found nothing. The best I could do was download an archive. (Or, excuse me, request an archive. I just did that. I’ve heard nothing so far.) Sorry, but this is not the Web. This is something else: live performance. Kinda like radio. Many years ago I started writing a book about radio, which had been an obsession of mine ever since I was a little kid. The title was to be Snow on the Water, a line from “Big Ted,” by The Incredible String Band:
Big Ted’s dead, he was a great old pig
He’d eat most anything, never wore a wig
Now he’s gone like snow on the water, good-bye-eeeedocdave
Radio’s goods decay at the speed of short-term memory. The best of it persists in long-term memory, but the rest is gone like snow on the water. That, to me, is part of radio’s charm. At its best, it’s pure performance, something you have to be there for, in a mode they call “live.” Sure, you can record it, but then it’s not the same. It’s like canned fruit. Performance is like that: a thing that happens in real time, in real place, between the performer(s) and the audience. Theater. Show biz. No second chances. I was in radio for awhile, long ago. My nickname, Doc, is a fossil remnant of Doctor Dave, a humorous persona on WDBS in Durham, North Carolina. I also wrote for the station’s “alternative” paper, called The Guide. That graphic on the right is how I looked to readers. It was drawn by the late, great Ray Simone. I look like that in reality today, only with less hair. Far as I know, the only remnants of Doctor Dave, on tape or in print, are buried in my garage in Santa Barbara. Some day, if I live long enough, and run out of more interesting things to, I’ll dig them up and put them online. Or maybe I’ll leave that up to other people who give more of a shit than I do. As of today, that’s nobody. After I’m dead as Ted, maybe some will show up. Who knows. According to iTunes, I’ve also accumulated 1300 podcasts — time-shifted radio — that I also haven’t listened to. I do like podcasts, and some day will get around to doing my own on a regular basis instead of the one time I’ve done it, so far. (Find it at If I did it on radio first, it would be easier. But what’s radio any more? Here’s what I said about it last November:
…now radio is streamed audio. That was already the case when webcasting showed up in the ’90s, and even more so with the rise of, SiriusXM, Pandora, rdio, Spotify and every other audio service delivered over the Net.
All of these services can do what they do because they’ve cleared “performance rights” to play the music they play, and to pay the royalty rates required by copyright law. Never mind the rates for now. Instead, focus on the word performance. The Copyright Act of 1909 was the first to characterize a musical composition or recording as a performance. So, if you acquire a piece of music, you only acquire the right to perform it for yourself. So what I’m saying is that the Web is becoming more of a live performance venue, and less of a digital library where published works are shared and stored in easily found ways. Look at the advertising on websites today. None of it is constant in the least. Hit the refresh button and new ads will appear. Go away and come back and there will be new content, with new ads. This is nothing like the newspapers and magazines — the journals — of old. This is live performance, often just for you (at least on the advertising side). In How Facebook Sold You Krill Oil, in today’s New York Times, we learn that you, the Facebook user, are in an “audience” for the advertising there. Enough of the performance works to make the spending worthwhile for the advertiser. There’s an accounting of it somewhere, for business purposes. But nothing lasting, much less permanent, for the rest of us. It’s all just snow on the water. Watching that advertising — and even most “content” — scroll to oblivion is hardly tragic. But losing Fotopedia is tragic to this extreme: art matters. What you see and read today on Fotopedia are works of art. Some are better than others, but all qualify for the noun. Fortunately, the Internet Archive has indexed Fotopedia. But navigating it isn’t the same. Some internal links go somewhere, but most don’t. There are many regrets (and one persistent offer to help) in the comments under Fotopedia’s final blog post. Here’s hoping something can be done to save Fotopedia’s art the old Static Web way. And that, eight days from now, all that fine art won’t be gone like Big Ted.        

The long run

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more.
It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

— Macbeth (Act 5, Scene 5, lines 19-28)

Back in ’99, I went to a mini-retreat with a small group of people in Santa Cruz. Y2K possibilities were much feared then, and over lunch outdoors at a Moroccan restaurant one of us laid out levels of concern along two axes: social disruption on one and technical disruption on the other —
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low and high in both directions. We were asked to place our bets in four quadrants. As I recall, I was the only one who expected close to zero, both ways. (Mostly I thought Y2K would poop the biggest New Years party in a thousand years. And, to the absent degree it mattered, I was right.)

Now I have been asked, on one of the lists I inhabit, to contemplate similar scenarios for the fate of humankind in a time of global warming. This time I’m going the other way and betting on a high degrees of badness. But my angle on the future is not one biased toward preservation of our species — or even a high degree of concern for it. Species tend to last a couple million years, give or take. (Horseshoe crabs and other relics from the Paleozoic are rare exceptions.) On the geological scale of the Earth’s own maturation, two million years isn’t much. The genus homo has been around longer, but our current human model has only been around for a couple hundred thousand years, give or take. So who knows. Still, humans have long been a threat many life forms, including their own, plus a number of elements in the periodic table. (Helium, for example.) It’s not for nothing that geologists are seriously considering renaming the Holocene epoch (the latest slice of the Quarternary period) the Antropocene — for the simple reason that human agency is all over it. Any species risks ruining its ecosystem without other forces to keep it in check. Our species, however, has mostly eliminated those forces, especially disease. Thus our natural rapacity toward other species, and toward the Earth and all its exhaustible resources, goes unchecked, while our numbers steadily increase. Our only natural enemy, it seems, is ourselves, and not just because we grow in number toward a statistical cliff. We also have a boundless capacity to rationalize killing countless numbers of our own. Our intelligence and ingenuity, in service to our own needs, in oblivity to negative outcomes, have made us the ecological equivalent of Agent Smith: a rogue program proliferating itself on the Earth’s operating system like a self-replicating virus. The more I study geology, especially from altitude, the more I see the history of the Earth in four dimensions, and the evanescence of our present geologic time.
  • Here’s Kettle Point in Ontario, on the south shore of Lake Huron. From above you can see old shorelines written in rows of trees in forests that first grew beside retreating beaches. These rows march away from the shoreline as the land below rebounds from the relieved weight of a glacier that melted, leaving Huron as a puddle, not long before humans began building pyramids. You see the same rebound along the shores of Hudson Bay.
  • Here are the San Gabriel Mountains, Los Angeles’ own alps, raised in the last few million years by the crumpling of the Pacific Plate against the North American one along the San Andreas Fault. Note the empty reservoirs at the bases of ravines in the mountain front. The reservoirs are are there to catch “debris flows” and boulders that frequently break loose, like ice calving off a glacier, and roll toward the suburbs below. Few geologies short of volcanoes are more active than these mountains, which are wasting down almost as fast as they are rising up, one catastrophic lurch after another.
  • Here is the Long Valley Caldera, which I shot while skiing on Mammoth Mountain (an active lava dome with hot and toxic vents that occasionally claim a wayward snowboarder). The Caldera was produced by a “super-volcanic” eruption many times the size of Krakatoa, in the late Pleistocene. It is still active, and stars as one of the US Geological Survey’s roster of volcanic hazards.
  • Here is the seaside community of La Conchita, between Santa Barbara and Ventura, on the South Coast of California, a few days after a mudslide killed ten people there. (You can see the slide clearly in the photo.) The whole town sits on a beach below an unstable mass of land that has clearly slid before and will surely slide again — soon.
While human agency contributes to global warming in the Anthropocene, what makes the Quarternary special is its rhythmic series of glaciations. Our current warm period is an interglacial one. Ice caps will likely grow again, whether we’re here or not. The Quarternary ice age (which we are still in) is the the Sun is heating up. A billion years from now, the Sun will have boiled off Earth’s water. But the planet will already be too hot for life in less than half that time. A half-billion years is about age of the Manhattan schist I see out my window here in New York. At 4.568 billion years old, our solar system is about a third the age of the Universe, which has been producing and reproducing galaxies and stars at a rapid rate and with unimaginable degrees of violence. That we’re in such a relatively quiet corner of the cosmos owes to the Sun’s rank as an ordinary star. All the named stars in the night sky are bigger than the Sun, and most are much younger as well. We should consider ourselves fortunate to enjoy a few moments late in the life of a remarkably durable set of little spheres out in a rural arm of the Milky Way. Just being here, now, is an amazing grace. But it’s going to get harder, whether we fight the inevitable or not. My main hope toward humanity waking up and doing what it can to stop shitting up the planet is the Internet: a grace designed (at the protocol level where its means are organized) to put each of us at zero functional distance from everybody and everything else, and at zero cost. The Net is a new platform for living, thinking, talking and inventing — without having to raid the world of irreplaceable goods in the process. And I hope we make the most of it. “In the long run we are all dead,” Keynes said. And, if “we” includes every living thing that ever walked, swam or oozed around on Earth, death has already proven to be hugely productive, as well as abundant. It is the job of the living, in their brief hours upon the stage, to do more than strut, fret, and be heard from no more. In the long run every thing will be nothing. But we don’t need to signify that in the meantime. Bonus linkage on Mother’s Day: Jean Russell‘s Thrivable (@Thrivable). Here’s the philosophy, the book, the blog, and herself aka @NurtureGirl. She and her colleagues are doing the Leading Work here.

It’s Indie Time

Aral Balkan is doing a bang-up job getting Indie rolling as an adjectival meme. He’s doing it with his Indie PhoneIndie Tech Manifesto and a talk titled Free is a Lie. To put the Indie movement in context, it helps to realize that it’s been on the tech road at least since 1964, when Paul Baranone of the Internet’s architects, gave us this design for a network: Meaning the one on the right. The one on the left was common in those days and the one in the middle was considered inevitable. But the one on the right was radical. First, it reduced to one the “attack surface” of the network. Take out one node or one link and the rest stayed up. Second, it also served as the handy design spec for the protocols that now define the Internet. Aral, the Indie Phone and the IndieManifesto are all about the one on the right: Distributed. So, for that matter, is The Cluetrain Manifesto. For example: That was Chris Locke’s line. “Markets are conversations” (one of my lines) and “Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy” (one of David Weinberger’s) also come from the same spot. Marketing comes from A and B. Never C. Thus, as Jakob Nielsen told me after Cluetrain came out, “You guys defected from marketing. You sided with markets, against marketing.” Meaning we sided with individual human beings, as well as society in general. But certainly not with marketing — even though all three of us made a living in marketing. Perhaps not surprisingly, Cluetrain became, and remains, a favorite of marketers, many of which continue to defect. (Bonus link.) Independent, sovereign, autonomous, personal and heterarchical are all adjectives for what one gets from a distributed network. (This may call forth an acronym, or at least an initialism.) By whatever name it is an essential camp, because each of us is all six of those things (including distributed). We need tech that enables those things and gives us full agency. We won’t get them from the centralizers of the world. Or decentralizers that don’t go all the way from B to C. We need new stuff that comes from the truly personal side: from C. It helps that C — distributed — is also central to the mentality, ethos and methodologies of hacking (in the positive senses of the word). Ever since the Net went viral in the mid-’90s, we’ve built out “solutions” mostly on the models of A and B: of centralized and decentralized. But too rarely all the way to C: the fully personal. This is understandable, given the flywheels of industry, which have the heft of Jupiter and have been spinning ever since Industry won the Industrial Revolution. But one fully personal exception stands out: the browser. It was born to be the best instrument of individuality we could have, even though it has lately become more of a shopping cart than a car. (That was one point of Earth to Mozilla: Come back home.) If we want the browser to be fully personal (e.g. private) again — as it was in the first place, before commercial imperatives were laid upon it, and the Web looked like a library (which one would browse) rather than a shopping mall — Mozilla is our best hope for making that happen. There are no other candidates. And it’s clear to me that they do want to work toward that goal. We won’t get rid of centralization and hierarchy. Nor should we, because there are many things centralization and hierarchy do best, and we need them to operate civilization. Our personal tools also need to engage with many of them. But we also can’t expect either centralization or decentralization to give us distributed solutions, any more than we can get government or business to give us individuality, or for hierarchy to give us heterarchy. The best we’ll get from them is respect: for us, and for the new tools we bring to the market’s table. Aral is right when he tweets that Mozilla’s dependence on Google is an elephant in the room. It’s an obvious issue. But the distributed mentality and ethos is alive and well inside Mozilla — and, for that matter, Google. I suspect it even resides in some corner of Mark Zuckerberg’s cerebrum. (He’s too much of a hacker for it not to be there.) Dismissing Mozilla as a tool of Google throws out babies with bathwater — important and essential ones, I believe. Meanwhile we need a name for the movement that’s happening here, and I think Aral’s right that “Indie” might be it. “Distributed” sounds like what happens at the end of a supply chain. “Heterarchical” is good, but has five syllables and sounds too academic. “Sovereign” is only three syllables (or two, depending) and is gaining some currency, but it more commonly applies to countries than to people. “Personal” is good, but maybe too common. And the Indie Web is already catching on in tech circles. And indie itself is already established as a nickname for “independent.”  So I like it. I would also like to see the whole topic come up at VRM Day and IIW, which run from 5 to 8 May in Mountain View. The links for those: (register at

Earth to Mozilla: Come back home

Inmoz her blog post explaining the Brendan Eich resignation, Mitchell Baker, Chair of the Mozilla Foundation, writes, “We know why people are hurt and angry, and they are right: it’s because we haven’t stayed true to ourselves.” In Mozilla is Human, Mark Surman, Executive Director of the Foundation, adds, “What we also need to do is start a process of rebirth and renewal. We need to find our soul and our spirit.”

That spirit is embodied in the Mozilla Manifesto. But it goes deeper than that: all the way back to Mosaic, the ur-browser from which Firefox is descended by way of Netscape Navigator. Neither Mosaic nor Navigator were instruments of the advertising business. They were boards we rode to surf from site to site across oceans of data, and cars we drove down the information superhighway. But now all major browsers, Firefox included, have become shopping carts that get re-skinned at every commercial site they visit, and infected at many of those sites by cookies and
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other tracking files that report our activities back to advertising mills, all the better to “personalize” our “experience” of advertising and other “content.” Economically speaking, Firefox is an instrument of advertising, and not just a vehicle for users. Because, at least indirectly, advertising is Firefox’s business model. Chrome’s too. (Apple and Microsoft have much smaller stakes in advertising, and offer browsers mostly for other reasons.) This has caused huge conflicts for Mozilla. On the one hand they come from the users’ side. On the other, they need to stay in business — and the only one around appears to be advertising. And the market there is beyond huge. But so is abuse of users by the advertising industry. This is made plain by the popularity of Adblock Plus (Firefox and Chrome’s #1 add-on by a huge margin) and other instruments of prophylaxis against both advertising and tracking (e.g. Abine, Disconnect, Ghostery and Privowny, to name a few). To align with this clear expression of market demand, Mozilla made moves in February 2013 to block third party cookies (which Apple’s Safari, which doesn’t depend on advertising, does by default). The IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) split a gut, and began playing hardball. Some links: That last item — an extensive bill of particulars — featured this sidebar: The link goes to An Open Letter to the Mozilla Corporation. So Mozilla looked for common ground, and they found it on the advertising side, with personalization. Near as I can tell, this began in May 2013 (I’m told since I wrote this that work began earlier), with Jay Sullivan‘s Personalization With Respect post. In July, Justin Scott, then a Product Manager at Mozilla Labs, vetted A User Personalization Proposal for Firefox. The post was full of language straight out of the ad industry songbook: “favorite brands,” “personalized experience,” “increased engagement,” “stronger loyalty.” Blowback in the comments was fierce:

I don’t care what publishers want, or that they really like this new scheme to increase their marketing revenue. Don’t add more tracking.

I’m beginning to realize that Mozilla is working to make Firefox as attractive to publishers as possible, while forgetting that those eyeballs looking at their ads could be attached to people who don’t want to be targeted. Stop it. Remember your roots as a “we’ll take Mozilla’s code, and make a great thing with it”, and not as “Google pays us to be on the default toolbar”.

Dragonic Overlord:

Absolutely terrible idea.

The last thing the internet needs is more “personalization” (read: “invasion of my privacy”). All your marketing jargon does nothing to hide the fact that this is just another tool to allow advertisers, website owners, the NSA, and others to track users online habits and, despite any good intentions you might have, it’s rife with the potential for abuse.

Tracy Licklider:

Bad idea. I do not want it. I think you misstate the benefits of the Internet. One of the most salient benefits of the Internet is for web sites, advertisers, and ISPs who are able to build dossiers about individuals’ private lives/data, generally without most users being aware of the possibility and generally without the users’ consent.

One of the main reasons Firefox has succeeded is that it, unlike all the other browsers, was dedicated to users unfettered, secure, and as private as possible use of the Internet.


If this “feature” becomes part of FireFox you’ll loose many users, if we wanted Chrome like browser we wouldn’t have chosen FireFox. We chose FireFox because it was DIFFERENT FROM Chrome but lately all I see is changes that make it similar and now you want to put spyware inside? Thanks but no thanks.

A follow-up post in July, by Harvey Anderson, Senior VP Business and Legal Affairs at Mozilla, was titled Up With People, and laid on even more of the same jive, this time without comments. In December Justin posted User Personalization Update, again with no comments. Then in February, Darren Herman, Mozilla’s VP Content Services, posted Publisher Transformation With Users at the Center, introducing two new programs. One was User Personalization. (Darren’s link goes Justin’s July piece.) The other was something called “directory tiles” that will appear on Firefox’s start page. He wasn’t explicit about selling ads in the tiles, but the implication was clear, both from blowback in the comments and from coverage in other media. Said Reuters, “Mozilla, the company behind the Firefox Internet browser, will start selling ads as it tries to grab a larger slice of the fast-expanding online advertising market.” Romain Dillet in TechCrunch wrote, “For the last couple of years, Mozilla and the advertising industry have been at odds. The foundation created the do-not-track feature to prevent targeted advertising. When users opt in, the browser won’t accept third party cookies anymore, making it much harder to display targeted ads around the web. Last year, Mozilla even chose to automatically block third-party cookies from websites that you hadn’t visited. Now, Mozilla wants to play ball with advertisers.” The faithful didn’t like it. In Daring Fireball, John Gruber wrote, “What a pile of obtuse horseshit. If you want to sell ads, sell ads. Own it. Don’t try to coat it with a layer of frosting and tell me it’s a fucking cupcake.” Then Mitchell issued a corrective blog post, titled Content, Ads, Caution. Here’s an excerpt:

When we have ideas about how content might be useful to people, we look at whether there is a revenue possibility, and if that would annoy people or bring something potentially useful. Ads in search turn out to be useful. The gist of the Tiles idea is that we would include something like 9 Tiles on a page, and that 2 or 3 of them would be sponsored — aka “ads.” So to explicitly address the question of whether sponsored tiles (aka “ads”) could be included as part of a content offering, the answer is yes.

These sponsored results/ ads would not have tracking features.

Why would we include any sponsored results? If the Tiles are useful to people then we’ll generate value. That generates revenue that supports the Mozilla project. So to explicitly address the question of whether we care about generating revenue and sustaining Mozilla’s work, the answer is yes. In fact, many of us feel responsible to do exactly this.

Clearly Mozilla wants to continue down the advertising path, which many of its most passionate users don’t like. This position makes sense, given‘s need to make money — somehow — and stay alive. By becoming an advertising company (in addition to everything else it is), Mozilla now experiences a problem that has plagued ad-supported media for the duration: its customers and consumers are different populations. I saw it in when I worked in commercial broadcasting, and I see it today in the online world with Google, Facebook, Twitter… and Mozilla. The customers (or at least the main ones) are either advertisers or proxies for them (Google in Mozilla’s case). The consumers are you and me. The difference with Mozilla is that it didn’t start out as an advertising company. So becoming one involves a change of nature — a kind of Breaking Bad. It hurts knowing that Mozilla is the only browser-maker that comes from our side, and wants to stay here, and treat us right. Apple clearly cares about customers (witness the success of their stores, and customer service that beats all the competition’s), but its browser, Safari, is essentially a checkbox item. Same goes for Microsoft, with Explorer. Both are theirs, not ours. Opera means well, but it’s deep in fifth place, with a low single-digit market share. Google’s Chrome is a good browser, but also built to support Google’s advertising-based business model. But only Mozilla has been with us from the start. And now here they are, trying their best not to talk like they’ve been body-snatched by the IAB. And it’s worse than just that. In addition to the Brendan Eich mess, Mozilla is coping with losing three of its six board members (who left before Brendan resigned). Firefox’s market share is also declining: from 20.63% in May 2013 to 17.68% in February 2014, according to (Other numbers here.) Is it just a coincidence that May 2013 is also when Jay Sullivan made that first post, essentially announcing Mozilla’s new direction, toward helping the online advertising industry? Possibly. But that’s not what matters. What matters is that Mozilla needs to come back home: to Earth, where people live, and where the market is a helluva lot bigger than just advertising. I see several exciting paths for getting back. Here goes. 1) Offer a choice of browsers. Keep Firefox free and evolving around an advertising-driven model. And introduce a new one, built on the same open source code base, but fully private, meaning that it’s the person’s own, to be configured any way they please — including many new ways not even thinkable for a browser built to work for advertisers. Let’s call this new browser PrivateFox. (Amazingly, was an available domain name until I bought it last night. I’ll be glad to donate it to Mozilla.) Information wants to be free, but value wants to be paid for. Since PrivateFox would have serious value for individuals, it would have a price tag. Paying for PrivateFox would make individuals actual customers rather than just “users,” “consumers,” “targets” and an “audience.” Mozilla could either make the payment voluntary, as with public radio and shareware, or it could make the browser a subscription purchase. That issue matters far less than the vast new market opportunities that open when the customer is truly in charge: something we haven’t experienced in the nineteen years that have passed since the first commercial websites went up. PrivateFox would have privacy by design from the start: not just in the sense of protecting people from unwelcome surveillance; but in the same way we are private when we walk about the marketplace in the physical world. We would have the digital equivalent of clothing to hide the private parts of our virtual bodies. We would also be anonymous by default — yet equipped with wallets, purses, and other instruments for engagement with the sellers of the world. With PrivateFox, we will be able to engage all friendly sites and sellers in ways that we choose, and on terms of our choosing as well. (Some of those terms might actually be more friendly than those one-sided non-agreements we submit to all the time without reading. For more on what can be done on the legal front, read this.) (Yes, I know that Netscape failed at trying to charge for its browser way back in the early days. But times were different. What was a mistake back then could be a smart move today.) 2) Crowdsource direct funding from individuals. That’s a tall order — several hundred million dollars’ worth — but hey, maybe it can be done. I’d love to see an IndieGoGo (or equivalent) campaign for “PrivateFox: The World’s First Fully Private Browser. Goal: $300 million.” 3) Build intentcasting into Firefox as it stands. Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) calls it “broadcast shopping”. He explains:

Shopping is broken. In the fifties, if you wanted to buy a toaster, you only had a few practical choices. Maybe you went to the nearest department store and selected from the three models available. Or maybe you found your toaster in the Sears catalog. In a way, you were the hunter, and the toaster was the prey. You knew approximately where it was located, and you tracked it down and bagged it. Toasters couldn’t hide from you.

Now you shop on the Internet, and you can buy from anywhere on the planet. The options for any particular purchase approach infinity, or so it seems. Google is nearly worthless when shopping for items that don’t involve technology. It is as if the Internet has become a dense forest where your desired purchases can easily hide.

Advertising is broken too, because there are too many products battling for too little consumer attention. So ads can’t hope to close the can’t-find-what-I-want gap.

The standard shopping model needs to be reversed. Instead of the shopper acting as hunter, and the product hiding as prey, you should be able to describe in your own words what sort of thing you are looking for, and the vendors should use those footprints to hunt you down and make their pitch.

There are many ways of doing this. More than a dozen appear under “Intentcasting” in this list of VRM developers. Some are under wraps, but have huge potential. Intentcasting sets a population comprised of 100% qualified leads loose in the marketplace, all qualifying their lead-ness on their own terms. This will be hugely disruptive to the all-guesswork business that cherishes a 1% click-through rate in “impressions” that mostly aren’t — and ignores the huge negative externalities generated by a 99+% failure rate. It will also generate huge revenues, directly. This would be a positive, wealth-creating move that should make everybody (other than advertising mill-keepers) happy. Even advertisers. Trust me: I know. I co-founded and served as Creative Director for Hodskins Simone & Searls, one of Silicon Valley’s top ad agencies for the better part of two decades. Consider this fact: No company that advertises defines themselves as “an advertiser.” They have other businesses. Advertising might be valuable to them, but it’s still just a line item on the expense side of the balance sheet. They can cut or kill it any time they want. “Buy on the sound of cannons, sell on the sound of trumpets,” Lord Nathan Rothschild said. For the last few years advertising has been one giant horn section, blasting away. If online advertising isn’t a bubble (which I believe it is), it at least qualifies as a mania. And it is the nature of manias to pass. Business-wise, investing in an advertising strategy isn’t a bad bet for Mozilla right now. But the downsides are real and painful. Mozilla can reduce that pain by two ways:

  1. Join Don Marti, Bob Hoffman (the Ad Contrarian) and others (myself included) who are working to separate chaff from wheat within the advertising business — notably between the kind of advertising that’s surveillance-based and the kind that isn’t. Obviously Mozilla will be working on the latter. Think about what you would do to fix online advertising. Mozilla, I am sure, is thinking the same way.
  2. Place bets on the demand side of the marketplace, and not just — like everybody else — on the supply side.
Here on Earth we have a landing site for Mozilla, where the above and many other ideas can be vetted and hashed out with the core constituency: IIW, the Internet Identity Workshop. It’s an inexpensive three-day unconference that runs twice every year in the heart of Silicon Valley, at the Computer History Museum: an amazing venue. Phil Windley, Kaliya Hamlin and I have been putting on IIW since 2005. We’ve done seventeen so far, and it’s impossible to calculate how far sessions there have moved forward the topics that come up, all vetted and led by participants. Here’s one topic I promise to raise on Day One: How can we help Mozilla? Lots of Mozilla folk have been at IIWs in the past. This time participating will have more leverage than ever. I want to see lots of lizards and lizard-helpers there. [Later...] Darren has put up this insightful and kind post about #VRM and The Intention Economy (along with @garyvee‘s The Thank You Economy). I’ve also learned that lizards will indeed be coming to both VRM Day and IIW. Jazzed about that.  

Cars as crucibles for personal autonomy

From Merriam-Webster:
cru·ci·ble noun\ˈkrü-sə-bəl\
  1. : a pot in which metals or other substances are heated to a very high temperature or melted
  2. : a difficult test or challenge
  3. : a place or situation that forces people to change or make difficult decisions
This is what cars will become. The difficult decision is where to draw the line between what the owner/driver controls and what the maker/seller controls. On one side is the owner/driver’s sovereignty over his or her own vehicle (more about this below). This includes the right to hack or customize that vehicle, to obtain and manage data that vehicle throws off, and to relate to other drivers with other vehicles (see Robin Chase), outside the control of the manufacturer or any other commercial “provider.” This is what we get, Cory Doctorow says, from general purpose computers. On the other side is the manufacturer’s urge to provide that vehicle as a kind of IT service, like Tesla does, and to manage that vehicle much as, say, an iPhone is managed by Apple. This is also what we get from cable company set top boxes. In the industrial Matrix we have built so far, the latter prevails increasingly, and that is limiting the ability of the former to flourish. For more on why this is a problem, visit the Lessig Library (notably Remix, Code, Code 2.0, The Future of Ideas and Free Culture), Cory Doctorow, Eben Moglen, the EFF and other fighters for personal freedom. Cars will be crucibles because they have been, for more than a century, instruments of personal freedom and independence. (Not to mention the biggest-ticket retail item any of us will ever buy.) It is not for nothing that we speak of our car and its parts in the first person possessive: my tires, my dashboard, my fender, my seats. We even do this with rental cars, because, as drivers, our senses extend outward through the whole vehicle. In expert use our tools and machines become extensions — enlargements — of ourselves. There is nothing wrong with having help in this from the Apples, Googles and Teslas of the world, provided our sense of where we end and where those companies begin is maintained, along with our full sense of autonomy and independence as individual human beings who can be social in our own ways, and not just in the controlling ways provided by commercial entities. But today that line is very blurred, and may not be a line at all. As long as that blur persists, and superior power lies on the corporate side, we will have problems with compromised autonomy for individuals and their things. Those problems will only get worse as cars get “better” the (current) Tesla way. (Tesla can change, of course, and I hope they do.)  And the entire market greenfield that grows naturally on personal independence and autonomy will fail to materialize. We can drive all we want around walled gardens. Cory calls this crucible a “civil war”. I don’t think he overstates the case. An early shot fired in that war is Fuse, which plugs into the ODB2 port under your dashboard and gives you data your car throws off, and ways to use that data any way you please. Can’t wait to get mine. By the way, I believe one reason Mozilla is in its current fix is that browsers and email — its founding apps — were born as instruments of personal autonomy. That’s what Mosaic and Netscape Navigator were: cars on the “information superhighway.” Now, too much of the time, they are just shopping carts. More about that in the next post. (HT to Hugh McLeod for the car-toon.)

The Coming Century of War Against Your Computer

Read this short post on Intel Processors to Become OS Locked, then listen to Cory Doctorow's The Coming Century of War Against Your Computer. Cory's actual talk is about 45 minutes followed by another 45 minutes of question and answer.

As Cory points out, computers exercise a particular intersection of property and human rights that makes for some interesting societal questions. Sometimes, the questions are ones for which we've already got a meatspace precedent that we choose to ignore when computers are involved. For example, can your employer spy on what you put in email because they own the network and computer? Many find nothing wrong with that. After all, they own the computer and the network. But we'd come to different conclusions about a plan to spy on all the conversations in the lunchroom even though they own the building.

In other cases we are faced with entirely new situations. Can I decide what software runs on my cochlear implants or does the manufacturer control that? What if a competitor comes out a much better algorithm that is compatible with my implants? Who controls the code? The owner? The user (who many not be the same person)? The manufacturer? Who has what property rights and when do human rights trump them?

I'm a big fan of Cory's. I like his books and I think he's eminently well-spoken. His novels raise these issues and tell great stories at the same time. In a similar vein, I just had my class of Computer Science seniors read Rainbows End (by Venor Vinge), a book that's full of technology that raises these kinds of questions inside the vehicle of a fun story.


Bitcoin isn’t Money—It’s the Internet of Money

Bitcoin Art

If you've ever wondered why everyone's making such a fuss about Bitcoin, this is worth reading: Bitcoin isn't Money--It's the Internet of Money. Here's the money quote (no pun intended):

Bitcoin is a new transport layer for finance that allows decentralized, disruptive, permissionless development of applications on a separate layer. It has the capability to do for finance what the Internet did for communication.

People have a hard time understanding decentralized systems and they don't always get the power of a platform. Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies are both.


Automated Assumption Fail (#AAF)

So I just got this email from Pandora:

This is an #AAF: an Automated Assumption Fail. I love music, and Pandora; but what Pandora’s telling me here doesn’t square with my experience of using it. I mean, what is “that Lorde song”? Who are are the Royals? Maybe I do like them, but I don’t recognize them at the moment. The reason these are mysteries to me is that I’m not the only person using my Pandora account. Listening to my Pandora songs happens on many devices in many
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places. And, while I’m the one doing most (but not all) of the listening on my many browsers, computers and hand-held devices, in our house I’m just one listener among many indulging our Sonos system. Those others include house guests at our parties and other gatherings, plus our teenage son. I would love to show you the wackily eclectic list of “my” Pandora channels, but I can’t, because I’m in Spain, where Pandora is blocked. When I go to, I get redirected to, where (for me, at the moment) it says this:

Dear Pandora Visitor,

We are deeply, deeply sorry to say that due to licensing constraints, we can no longer allow access to Pandora for listeners located outside of the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. We will continue to work diligently to realize the vision of a truly global Pandora, but for the time being we are required to restrict its use. We are very sad to have to do this, but there is no other alternative.

We believe that you are in Spain [snip]. If you believe we have made a mistake, we apologize and ask that you please email us.

If you have been using Pandora, we will keep a record of your existing stations and bookmarked artists and songs, so that when we are able to launch in your country, they will be waiting for you.

We will be notifying listeners as licensing agreements are established in individual countries. If you would like to be notified by email when Pandora is available in your country, please enter your email address below. The pace of global licensing is hard to predict, but we have the ultimate goal of being able to offer our service everywhere.

We share your disappointment and greatly appreciate your understanding.


Tim Westergen

Tim Westergren

Enter your email address and we will let you know when Pandora is available in your country:

I should pause here to say that I love what Tim has done with Pandora. I’ve been a fan and a follower of Pandora since its beginning, and I enjoyed the privilege of introducing Tim when he spoke at a Berkman Center gathering a few years back. I also believe there are a great many things Pandora is doing right, or it wouldn’t be so successful. (And it is a huge success.) But one thing it’s doing wrong here, or at least poorly, is assuming two things here that are not the case. One is that I’m at home in Spain, when in fact I’m a traveling American. The other is that those 130 thumbs were all mine.In fact I don’t do the thumbs-up/down thing very much, usually because Pandora assumes that I don’t like the tune in question — when in fact I usually don’t want to hear that very tune at that very time. Also, I don’t like being told that I won’t hear that tune again for another month, or whatever it is that Pandora says… I’m not in a position to check right now.) I also assume that there is a lot of #AAF in the absurd and counterproductive licensing restraints Tim talks about in his letter to blocked visitors. Really, it’s crazy that I can listen to all the music on SiriusXM, Apple’s iTunes, websites and countless mobile apps — including TuneIn, AOL, Public Radio Player, Stitcher, rdio, iheartradio, and Wunderadio — while Pandora is blocked. Why would Spain pick on Pandora and not the rest of them? Just because it’s popular? I dunno. And, speaking of #AAF, when I go to Google to do research, its robot brain assumes I’m Spanish, even when I’m logged in to Google as my 100% American self. When I check less fancy and presumptuous search engines, such as DuckDuckGo and StartPage, I still have to do too much digging, because the engines assume I’m searching for something other than the question of why Spain blocks Pandora. So I’ll leave it up to the rest of you (or the fullness of time) to complete that work. Let’s be clear: #AAF is not the fault of Pandora, Google or any other outfit needing to scale its dealings with many different people. It’s the fault of the industrial model that has been defaulted ever since industry won the Industrial Revolution and mass manufacture and marketing was required for scale. It is also unavoidable in an all-silo marketplace, which is what the Web, with its calf-cow architecture, has become. In this architecture, every outfit maintains its own relationship silo, each of which bears the full burden of dealing with thousands or millions of different human beings in scalable templated ways. This problem cannot be solved by #YAS — Yet Another Silo — of any kind. The only cure for #AAF is independent personal control of relationships. This is what #VRMVendor Relationship Management — is about. Maybe somebody here (or some combination there) is working on it. Whether they are or not, it’s inevitable, for three reasons:

  1. We are all different, even if we are easily templated by others. This absolute individuation is a base-level human condition.
  2. We live in a fully networked world, in which each of us is our own node.
  3. The only way we can truly relate, as complete and independent human beings, with full agency, is from our own silos, within which reside the means to relate directly with every other entity we engage. Think about it: our bodies are silos.
That #3 point is the development challenge for the 21st century. The tech sector has been working since 1995 on empowering the vendor side of the marketplace, helping companies, sites and services get their own scale, every one of them with its own silo — together compounding inconvenience won the personal side. Thus every “solution” on the vendor side complicates the problem. This is a problem that can only be addressed on the individual side. Personal computing and networking create the base conditions for solving the problem, but we need more. We need universal engagement tools for individuals. That category is a $0 trillion greenfield that’s wide open and ready for exploiting, right now. Look at it this way. We got personal computing in the 80s, personal networking in the 90s, and both together in hand-held form in the ’00s. Now it’s time for personal clouds. (And if not that, something like it.) Remember: personal computing was an oxymoron before it took off in the ’80s. Networking was entirely an organizational grace before the Internet came along. Likewise with clouds. Right now almost the entire cloud conversation is corporate: B2B. So is the “big data” conversation. Today’s prevailing jive about both are sure signs that they’ll become just as personal as computing and networking. When clouds do become personal, they will also be private. By that I mean we will control our own private places, spaces, relationships and interactivity in the networked world. (Those will also be programmable, e.g. with KRL.) Once we have personal clouds, based on standards that work for all of us, we will be able to relate in our own ways with everybody and everything else. Imagine, for example, being able to actually know a company, and have them know you. That way, when you show up as yourself (and there can be no doubt it’s you), you won’t need logins and passwords. (Remember, those are record-keeping namespace burdens on the organizational side today, and huge pains in the ass for those organizations — as well as for you and me.) Think about being able to change your address or surname for every entity you relate with, in one move. This is only possible if you are a free and autonomous actor in the world, operating with full agency, and not just as a separate administrated entity in hundreds of different organizations’ databases. Your identity (and your ability to identify yourselves and to interact with others) will be sovereign in the sense of having independent authority. (Yes, you will always also be social. But not just as an administrated identity within corporate silos such as Facebook’s and Twitter’s.) I believe it’s exactly in this direction that Fred Wilson was headed in his talk at Le Web (which I visited a few days ago), and where Bruce Schneier, Eben Moglen (separately and together) and other freedom-lovers are also headed as well. It is toward that long vector that I bring up #AAF as a problem. Meanwhile, let’s not burden the Pandoras and Googles of the world with solving it. They can’t. We can only solve it for ourselves — and then, as a consequence, for them. Finally, thanks to @TimWestergren and @Pandora for providing modest evidence of a problem for all of us — and a path toward solving it.  

Fred Wilson’s talk at LeWeb

Fred WilsonI’m bummed that I missed LeWeb, but I’m glad I got to see and hear Fred Wilson’s talk there, given on Tuesday. I can’t recommend it more highly. Go listen. It might be the most leveraged prophesy you’re ever going to hear.

I’m biased in that judgement, because the trends Fred visits are ones I’ve devoted my life to urging forward. You can read about them in Linux Journal (starting in 1996), The Cluetrain Manifesto (1999, 2000, 2011), this blog (starting in 1999), ProjectVRM (starting in 2006) and The Intention Economy (2012). (Bonus links: What I said at Le Web in 2007 on stage and in an interview.)

He unpacks three megatrends, with an additional focus on four sectors. Here are my notes from the talk. Some of it is quotage, but little of it is verbatim. If you want to quote Fred, go to the source and listen.

1) We are making a transition from bureaucratic hierarchies to technology-driven networks. The former is the way the world has been organized for the last two hundred years. Markets, government, businesses are all pyramids. Transaction and communication costs were so high in the industrial era that these pyramids were the best way to organize work and run systems. But now technology-driven networks are replacing bureaucracies. Examples…

Twitter. Replaces the newspaper. The old army of reporters that reported to divisional editors who chose what would appear in limited spaces and distribute through printing mills and trucked to your doorstep was slow moving and bureaucratic. Now all of us are reporters. The crowd determines what’s important. This is an example of a tech-driven network.

YouTube. TV was hierarchical. Now all of us are video creators.

SoundCloud. Anybody can create audio or music. No labels. No radio or music industry required.

We first saw this trend in media and entertainment. Now we’re seeing it in AirBnB, One Fine Stay. Creative industries like Kickstarter and VHX. Learning with Codecademy and DuoLingo for languages.

We are very early with all of these and more to come.

2) Unbundling. This has to do with the way services are packaged and taken to market. In the traditional world, you only got to buy the thing that had everything in it. Now tech is changing that. More focused, best of breed, delivered a la carte. Now on mobile and internet you get better everything. Best of sports, fashion, classified advertising.

Banking is being unbundled. Banks used to do everything. Now entrepreneurs are picking off services. Lending Club. Funding Circle. auxsmoney in Germany. Taking profitable lending franchises away. Working capital. c2fo. Management services. All new, all based on networks.

Education. It’s expensive to put a lot of students in a building with a professor up front of every class. You needed a library. Administration. Very inefficient, costly, pyramidal and centralized. Now you can get books instantly. Research is no longer as highly centralized and capital dependent. See Science Exchange: collaboration on an open public network.  All this too is also early.

Entertainment. Used to be that you’d get it all on cable. Now we get Netflix and YouTube on our phones. Hulu. A la carte. Airplay, Chromecast.

3) We are all now personally a node on the network. We are all now nodes on the network, connected all the time. Mobiles are key. If forced to make a choice between phone and desktop, we go with the phone. (About 80% of the LeWeb audience did, along with Fred.) In the larger world, Android is being adopted massively on cheap phones. Uber, Halo.

This change is profoundly impacting the world of transportation. Rental cars. Delivery. Payments. Venmo, Dwolla, Square. Peer to peer. You can send money to anybody. For dating there’s Tinder. Again, this is new. It’s early.

The four sectors…

a) Money. Not just Bitcoin. At its core Bitcoin is a protocol: the financial and transactoinal protocol for the Net. We haven’t had one until now. As of today it is becoming a layer of internet infrastructure, through a ledger called the blockchain that is global. All transactions are cleared publicly in the blockchain. Entrepreneurs will build tech and services on this. Payments and money will flow the way content now flows. No company will control it. Others’ lock on our money will be gone.

b) Health and wellness. Health care is regulated and expensive. Health and wellness is the opposite. It’s what keeps you out of the hospitals. (QS is here.) The biologies of our bodies will be visible to us and connected. Some communications will be personal and private, some networked, some with your doctor and so on. Small example: many people today gamify their weight loss.

c) Data leakage. When the industrial revolution came along, we had polluting. It took a century to even start dealing with it. In the information revolution, the pollution is data. It’s what allows Google, Facebook and the government spy on us when we don’t want them to. We have no control over that. Yet.

d) Trust and identity. We have allowed Google, Facebook, Amazon and Twitter to be our identity services. It’s very convenient, but we are giving them access to all we do. This isn’t good. Prediction: a bitcoin-like service, a protocol, that is distributed and global, not controlled by anybody, architected like the Internet, that will emerge, that will give us control over identity, trust and data. When that emerges I’ll let you know. I haven’t seen it yet.

Talk to me, Fred. :-)

Revisiting the last great comet

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


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: