- Mobile phone/data systems will get their gears stripped, in both directions. And it will get worse before it gets better.
- Stereo sound recording is coming. Binaural recording too. Next…
- 3D. Mobile devices in a generation or two will include two microphones and two cameras pointed toward the subject being broadcast. Next…
- VR, or virtual reality.
Not so this time, for any of the places the storm has hit. With the snow still falling over New England…
Here’s an OPML file with all the NYT feeds I could find, in Oct 2012.# Your task: Build a website using the flow of these feeds. A new way to sample the flow of news from the NYT.# Here’s what I’m using now, designed years ago. Surely you can do better!# Share a pointer to your work with this hashtag: #nytfeedfun.# There’s a lot of data flowing through there. # PS: Deadline? We’re having an RSS meetup in NYC in mid-June.#Guidance from my (non-programming) corner::: Think about turning the Times from a static thing to a live one* — literally, from a paper to a river. Think about how a river forms. Its sources are tributaries: branches that flow in, not out. The biggest rivers sustain life in their waters and alongside their banks. They are at the very core of culture and civilization. And they pour out through a delta to the ocean. The ocean is the Web. The delta is whatever we make it. I’ll be writing more about this topic in the coming days and weeks, both in service to journalism’s cause (whatever it is — and I mean that seriously) and to wrap my tour of duty as a visiting scholar at NYU’s Arthur L. Carter,Journalism Institute. (In that I’m following the large footsteps of Dave, who served in the same post under our friend and mentor Jay Rosen.) So hack away. I’m very eager to see the results — but not as eager as I hope the Times itself will be — for everybody’s sake. (I’m serious about that too. The Times is the anchor institution for civilization as well as journalism. Helping it adapt may be the highest calling we have.)
- Some background on the static/live distinction, written almost a decade ago, and now more relevant than ever.
I’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 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.
[4:45pm EDST 2 October 2013 — Late breaking news: RadioINK reports that Darryl Parks' blog post — the first item below — has been pulled off the 700wlw site. — Doc]
In A SERIOUS Message To The Broadcast Industry About Revitalizing AM Radio, Darryl Parks of 700WLW made waves (e.g. here, here, here) by correctly dismissing six FCC ideas intended to make life easier for owners of AM radio stations. Those ideas are detailed at that last link (by David Oxenford of the excellent Broadcast Law Blog).
All six, Darryl says, would increase interference. Instead, he suggests, “The answer is not MORE interference. The answer is LESS interference. And you do that by turning off non-viable stations. And before station owners start crying poverty, many of these non-viable AM stations have one thing that is worth a ton of money. The land their towers sit on.”
Well, not all stations own the land their towers sit on. KCBS/740 leases their land from a farmer up in the North Bay. Other stations’ towers, such nearly all of those serving New York, sit in tidal swampland or on islands that would revert to nature if the towers came down. (For example, WMCA and WNYC, which share the towers next to the New Jersey Turnpike, shown here. Likewise KGO, KNBR and WBZ.)
But Daryyl’s right: there are too many stations, and too much interference — not only between them, but also from electronic thingies that didn’t exist when AM’s base technology and regulatory system were framed out in the 1920s. Computers, mobile phones and energy-saving light bulbs all play havoc with AM reception.
I see three other solutions, only one of which is likely to happen.
The first is better AM receivers. The old tube and transistor types were much better, on the whole, than the newer chip-based ones. But even the chip-based receivers were better in the early days than they are now. The faults are not just in the electronics, but in the methods used for gathering signals. In cars, for example, the fashion in recent years has been to shorten antennas or to embed them in windows, mixed in with defrosting wires. Radios in cars I drove in the 1960s and 1970s would get New York’s biggest AM signals (on 660, 770 and 880) past Richmond, Virginia, in the middle of the day. The radios were not only better, but served by whip antennas on their fenders. Even portable radios were better. When I was a kid riding in the back seat of our new Chevy, on a family trip in the summer of 1963, I listened to WNAX in Yankton, South Dakota, from the Black Hills to Minneapolis, again in the daytime (when AM signals don’t bounce off the sky, as they do at night — on a Zenith Royal 400 seven-transistor radio. Alas, modern receivers and antennas are studies in cheap-out-y-ness, and don’t do the same job. In the absence of regulatory or market urgings, the chance of improvement here is zero.
The second is moving to an all-digital AM band. In this Broadcast Law Blog post David Oxenford says all-digtial “has shown promise for an interference-free operation in recent tests,” but “would require that there be a digital transition for AM radio just as there was to digital TV. That might be problematic, as it would require new AM receivers for almost everyone (except for those few people who already have Ibiquity IBOC receivers which should work in an all-digital environment).” I have one of those receivers in my kitchen. (That’s a shot of its display, there on the left.) HD on AM sounds like FM. Combine that with better receivers and antennas, and it’s a double-win. Here there is a small amount of regulatory urging, but try to find find a portable HD radio at Amazon or Radio Shack. Not happening.
The third is to develop better ways of getting radio streams on mobile devices. I have a mess of apps for getting radio streams on my iPhone and iPad, and none of them provide the simplicity of radio’s original dial & buttons system. If one app provided that simplicity, radio would move smoothly to mobile along with every other medium already re-locating there. Stations would continue to operate on the AM and FM bands until doing so no longer made technical or economic sense. But the path would be clear.
The one company that might have made this easy is Apple; but Apple has never been interested in improving radio as we know it. For years it buried radio station streams in an iTunes directory most people didn’t know was there â€” and then created a Pandora competitor with iTunes Radio. Like Pandora, Apple calls its streams “stations,” which also fuzzes things. The old stream directory still exists, for what it’s worth, under “Music.”
So it’s up to app developers. TuneIn, WunderRadio and Stitcher are currently the big three (at least on my devices), but all of them bury local radio deep in directories that are annoying to navigate and often incomplete. For example, let’s say I want to navigate the “dial” for Boston while I’m here in New York. On TuneIn, I hit “Browse,” then “Local Radio,” then find myself in New York. Not Boston. Then I hit “By Location.” That gives me a map I can pinch toward a red pin on Boston, where I find a virtual dial in the form of a list. That’s less work than it used to be, back when TuneIn wanted me to drill down through a directory that started (as I recall) with “Continent.” But it’s also missing all the great discoveries I used to make in local radio elsewhere in the world, such as the UK. (There are red pins only for major cities there.) Over on Stitcher one hits “Live Radio,” then “Massachusetts,” then “Boston” to do the same kind of thing, but the directory is has just three minor AM stations, then a bunch of FMs, but not WEEI/93.7, my favorite sports talker there. Between WBOS/92.9 and WTKK/96.9 there is nothing. All three do offer search, but that’s not easy to do when you’re driving or walking. (Nor is any of the above.)
All of them also assume, correctly (as do Apple, Pandora, Spotify, LastFM and many others), that individuals would rather put together their own “stations” in the form of music types, program collections, or whatever.
Individuals doing what they want is both the threat and the promise of radio online. Bring back dial-like simplicity, marry it to “roll your own,” and you’ll have the holy grail of radio.
Soon you’ll have just one, because Al Jazeera’s stream is going away. That’s because the company will turn its stream off when it fires up its new cable channel, Al Jazeera America, on August 20.
Which means this will go away from the Al Jazeera website…
… and you’ll get no more live video like this:
Or so I gather.
Everything I just wrote is a provisional understanding: the best I can do so far. Some or all of it might be wrong.
Here’s what I do know for sure.
First, Al Jazeera bought Current TV from Al Gore and is re-branding it Al Jazeera America. In Al Jazeera America: A Unicorn Is Born, Joe Pompeo of New York Magazine calls this move “arguably the biggest American TV-news launch since Fox News and MSNBC more than a decade ago.”
Second, if you go to http://america.aljazeera.com/get-aljazeera-america, you’ll see this:
In case you can’t make out the small print, it says “When Al Jazeera America launches on August 20th, Al Jazeera English will no longer be available on TV or as an online stream in the U.S.” That means gone completely, right?
Maybe not. Al Jazeera English isn’t all of Al Jazeera. If you click on the “Watch Live” button here…
… you’ll get a page with the URL http://www.aljazeera.com/watch_now/, where there is this set of choices:
Click on “Al Jazeera Mobile Services” and it lists apps for a variety of mobile devices. All talk up “free access to the live stream” (or equivalent copy) as a main feature. Are they just late to removing or qualifying that copy? Or will the live stream be gone only from the website?
Click on “How to watch Al Jazeera English online” and you get this copy:
How to watch Al Jazeera English online
View our network through the internet via websites, online TV providers and mobile apps.Last Modified: 12 Jul 2013 14:50
Watching Al Jazeera English via the internet is now easier than ever. The network is broadcast around the world to over 220 million households, but don’t worry if you can’t find us on your television.A range of websites, online TV providers, and mobile apps now offer a live stream of our channel. Browse the list below to discover the best way for you to watch and click the links on the left for specifics.
Websites Al Jazeera English Watch the broadcast on our website. Livestation Our UK-based partner streams AJE live. YouTube See our live stream, programmes and news clips. On the social networking site, stay tuned with AJE. Dailymotion Watch programmes and news clips on AJE’s channel. Connected TV Samsung Smart TV Watch the live stream and video-on-demand from the app. LG Smart TV Watch the live stream and video-on-demand from the app. Roku In the channel store, access the Newscaster. Google TV See the AJE feed through the Google play app. Boxee Watch AJE on your box through the Livestation app. PlayStation 3 Open up the Livestation AJE feed through your console’s browser. Mobile iPhone/iPad/iPod View live news from AJE on Apple devices through the iTunes app. Blackberry Open your internet browswer and watch Al Jazeera live. Android Use our new app to watch AJE on your smart phone. Symbian/Windows Live stream Al Jazeera English on your mobile through Mobiclip.
Due to copyright and distribution restrictions, not all viewers will be able to access all of our streaming video services.
Are they killing off all of that stuff in the U.S. or just some of it? What exactly are those copyright and distribution restrictions, and how are they involved in this new move? They surely aren’t killing off the live Net streams for no reason, so obviously they were forced to make trade-offs. What were they?
Hey, they’re a news organization. What they’re doing by going all-cable with no-Net, is sacrificing the future for the past, seems to me. At the very least they should be transparent about what they’re doing and why .
(I have no idea why WordPress puts a strike through the @ sign. I just copied the list out of Twitter and pasted it into the composing window here.)
I also went to Al Jazeera’s Facebook page and politely asked what was going on. I’d quote what I wrote, but it’s gone. I don’t know why. Maybe they erased it somehow. Or maybe, not being as adept at Facebook as I should be, I just can’t find it.
Whatever the story, Al Jazeera isn’t covering it — and, I am guessing, they don’t want it covered.
But it is a story. The world’s most ambitious news organization is making a big move on the U.S. news marketplace by subtracting value from what it’s already doing — and none of its competition are doing.
There is no bathwater in the live news streams Al Jazeera is tossing on the 20th. It’s all babies. Here are four of them:
- Leading edge early adopters. Cord-cutters. That’s the audience Al Jazeera already has online.
- Advocates. Friends. I was one. See here.
- Companions. Meaning everything else on the Net that isn’t on cable, such as YouTube.
- A platform for networked journalism. Cable ain’t it. The Internet is.
Cable is still big, but it’s the past. The Net is the future. Hey, just ask James Dolan, the CEO of Cablevision. In The Future of TV Might Not Include TV, the Wall Street Journal begins,
Predicting that transmission of TV will move to the Internet eventually,Cablevision Systems Corp. Chief Executive James Dolan says “there could come a day” when his company stops offering television service, making broadband its primary offering.
But I guess Al Jazeera is a cable channel at heart. And less of a news organization than it aspires to be — or they’d come a lot cleaner about what they’re doing here. And why they’re stiffing their entire online audience in the U.S.
Well, at least we still have France24.
[19 Aug, 11:23pm Pacific time...] The deed is done:
The history of computing over the last 30 years is one of lurches forward every time individuals got the power to do what only big enterprises could do previously — and to do a much better job of it.
It happened when computing got personal in the ’80s.
It happened when networking got personal in the ’90s.
It happened when both together got mobile and personal in the ’00s.
And it will happen with personal data as well in the ’10s.
We as individuals will be able to do more with our own data than big enterprises can. Meanwhile, nearly all the “big data” jive today is about what only big companies can do. Yet we’ve seen this movie before, and we know how it ends: with individuals winning, because they were better equipped. And we know the big companies will win too, because they are comprised of individuals. Both will end up doing what only they can do best.
This is why Big Data needs the modern equivalent of the PC, the Internet and the mobile phone: an invention that mothers necessity.
I think that invention is the personal cloud. All we — today’s developers — need to do now is build a good and compelling personal cloud. Or a choice of them. Once that happens, and people start using them, the big companies (and government agencies) of the world will cave in and release personal data that they clutch like a treasure, thinking that only Big Solutions to their Big Data problems, from Big Vendors, will do the job. They caved in on computing when they embraced PCs, on networking when they embraced the Internet, and on mobility when they embraced smartphones and tablets.
I could be wrong, but I’ve made the same prediction three times already. This is the fourth. To me, the only question that matters is: How?
Some pretty cool startups and open source dev groups will vet their answers at IIW. See ya there.
That last link goes to the Wikipedia page, because pretty much any other link I put in there has a greater risk of breaking. And that’s what’s at issue here.
Dave was able to date usage in part because others, including yours truly, knew that history was being made, live, at the time. My contribution was DIY Radio with PODcasting, on a Linux Journal blog called IT Garage, on 28 September 2004. In it I wrote this linky passage:
But now most of my radio listening is to what Adam Curry and others are starting to call podcasts. That last link currently brings up 24 results on Google. A year from now, it will pull up hundreds of thousands, or perhaps even millions.
Which it did, and still does.
But what matters here is that Linux Journal has kept IT Garage up on the Web, even though it has long since run its course.
In The Web We Lost and How We Lost the Web, Anil Dash describes the slope down which we have collectively slid over the last decade or so, as more and more of our documents and activities online have become streams instead of pages, and locked up in what Bruce Schneier calls a feudal world of walled POPS: Privately Owned Public Spaces.
I saw the streamed world emerging when my son Allen predicted the “Live Web” in 2003. I thought that was an amazing insight, especially since the Web of pages we had known since 1995 was fundamentally a static one. My first substantive piece about the Live Web was probably this one in 2005. My last was this one in 2011. More recently Phil Windley has run with it, which I like because he’s a real developer and not just a writer/instigator like me.
We can find these historic details because links have at least a provisional permanence to them. They are, literally, paths to locations. Thanks to those, we can document the history we make, and learn from it as well.
Links also, as David Weinberger has always put it so well, subvert hierarchy. There is something about the loose joining of our small pieces that keeps the big centralizers from turning everything we do into snow on the water.
Two years ago I called Al Jazeera’s live coverage of the revolution in Egypt a “Sputnik moment” for cable in the U.S. Turns out it wasn’t. Not since Al Jazeera agreed to pay half a $billion, plus their live internet stream, to sit at U.S. cable’s table. Losing Al Jazeera English reduces to a single source — France24 — the number of live streams available on the Net from major video news channels. It also terminates years Al Jazeera English’s history on the Net at 5.25 years.
It’s a huge victory for cable and an equally huge loss for the open Net. I dearly hope Al Jazeera feels that loss too. Because what Al Jazeera screws here is a very loyal audience. Just, apparently, not a lucrative one.
In Al Jazeera Embraces Cable TV, Loses Web, The Wall Street Journal explains,
…to keep cable operators happy, Al Jazeera may have to make a difficult bargain: Giving up on the Web.
The Qatar government-backed television news operation, which acquired Current TV for a few hundred million dollars from investors including Al Gore, said Thursday that it will at least temporarily stop streaming online Al Jazeera English, its global English-language news service, in about 90 days. That’s when it plans to replace Current TV’s programming with Al Jazeera English.
Al Jazeera plans later to launch an entirely new channel, Al Jazeera America, that will combine programming from the existing English-language service with new material. The new channel likely won’t be streamed online either, a spokesman said.
And it is unclear whether the original English service will reappear online: the spokesman said Thursday a decision about that was dependent on negotiations with cable operators.
The network’s decision to pull its service off the Web is at the behest of cable and satellite operators. It reflects a broader conflict between pay television and online streaming that other TV channels face. Because cable and satellite operators pay networks to carry their programming, the operators don’t want the programming appearing for free online. Aside from older series available through services like Netflix, most cable programming is available online only to people who subscribe to cable TV.
You won’t find better proof that television is a captive marketplace. You can only watch it in ways The Industry allows, and on devices it provides or approves. (While it’s possible watch TV on computers, smartphones and tablets, you can only do that if you’re already a cable or satellite subscriber. You can’t get it direct. You can’t buy it à la carte, as would be the case if the marketplace were fully open.)
For what it’s worth, I would gladly pay for Al Jazeera English. So would a lot of other people, I’m sure. But the means for that are not in place, except through cable bundles, which everybody other than the cable industry hates.
In the cable industry they call the Net “OTT,” for “over the top.” That’s where Al Jazeera English thrived. But now, for non-cable subscribers, Al Jazeera English is dead and buried UTB — under the bottom.
Adverto in pacem, AJE. For loyal online viewers you were the future. Soon you’ll be the past.
- Al Jazeera Purchases Current TV; Will Create New Channel Called “Al Jazeera America” (minx.cc)
- Al Jazeera buying Current TV susiemadrak.com)
- Al Jazeera In Search of an Audience dave-lucas.blogspot.com)
- Al Jazeera buys US channel Current TV aljazeera.com)
- Al-Jazeera buys Gore’s current TV timesofmalta.com)
- Cable Provider Pulls Plug on Current TV After Al Jazeera Purchase boiseweekly.com)
- Al Jazeera Comes To America andrewsullivan.com)
- Current TV Reportedly To Be Purchased By Al Jazeera, Programming To Be ‘Dissolved’ mediaite.com)
- Al Jazeera buys Current TV in bid for US airtime EndtheLie.com)
Nearly all smartphones today are optimized to do three things for you:
- Run apps
- Speak to other people
- Make you dependent on a phone company
The first two are features. The third is a bug. In time that bug will be exterminated. Meanwhile it helps to look forward to what will happen with #1 and #2 once they’re liberated from #3.
Both features are personal. That’s key. Our smartphones (or whatever we end up calling them) should be as personal as our clothing, wallets and purses. In other words, they should work as extensions of ourselves.
- Self-tracking, self-hacking, QS (Quantified Self) and personal health management in general… including relationships with fitness and health care providers
- Managing one’s many identifiers, and Interacting with APIs everywhere
- Running one’s personal cloud (and its roles in the personal data ecosystem)
- VRM (Vendor Relationship Management), so each of us can take control of how we interact with all second and third parties in the open marketplace
— in addition to the stuff already made possible by the zillion apps already out there.
What kinds of smartphones are in the best position to evolve into Life Management Platforms? The short answer is: open ones. The longer answer is: open ones that are already evolving and have high levels of adoption.
Historically, device manufacturers and mobile carriers have typically been unsupportive of third-party firmware development. Manufacturers express concern about improper functioning of devices running unofficial software and the support costs resulting from this. Moreover, modified firmwares such as CyanogenMod sometimes offer features, such as tethering, for which carriers would otherwise charge a premium. As a result, technical obstacles including locked bootloaders and restricted access to root permissions are common in many devices. However, as community-developed software has grown more popular, and following a statement by the Librarian of Congress in the United States that permits the “jailbreaking” of mobile devices, manufacturers and carriers have softened their position regarding third party development, with some, including HTC, Motorola, Samsungand Sony Ericsson, providing support and encouraging development. As a result of this, over time the need to circumventhardware restrictions to install unofficial firmware has lessened as an increasing number of devices are shipped with unlocked or unlockable bootloaders, similar to the Nexus series of phones, although usually requiring that users waive their devices’ warranties to do so. However, despite manufacturer acceptance, some carriers in the US still require that phones are locked down.
The unlocking and “hackability” of smartphones and tablets remains a source of tension between the community and industry, with the community arguing that unofficial development is increasingly important given the failure of industry to provide timely updates and/or continued support to their devices.
The reason there is an aftermarket for Nexus hardware is that Google intended for Android to be open and generative from the start, pointedly saying that Nexus is “unlocked and contract free.” This is why, even though Google does lots of business with mobile phone company operators, it is those operators’ friend only to the degree it helps lead those operators past current customer-entrapment business models and into a future thick with positive economic externalities. Amidst those externalities, phone companies will still enjoy huge built-out infrastructure and other first-mover advantages. They will wake up and smell the infinity.
While Apple deserves huge credit for modeling what a smartphone should do, and how it should work (Steve Jobs was right to see Android as something of a knock-off) the company’s walled-garden remains a monument of feudality. For a window on how that fails, read Barbara Lippert’s Samsung vs. Apple: Losing My Religion in MediaPost. Barbara is an admitted member of the “cult of Cupertino,” and is — along with droves of other Apple serfs — exiting the castle.
Samsung, however, just happens to be (deservedly) the maker of today’s most popular Androids. The Androids that win in the long run will be true life management platforms. Count on it.
It’s a Saturday morning in 2022, and you’re trying to decide what to wear to the dinner party you’re throwing that evening. All the clothes hanging in your closet are “smart”—that is, they can tell you when you last wore them, what else you wore them with, and where and when they were last cleaned. Some do this with microchips. Others have tiny printed tags that you can scan on your hand-held device.As you prepare for your guests, you discover that your espresso machine isn’t working and you need another one. So you pull the same hand-held device from your pocket, scan the little square code on the back of the machine, and tell your hand-held, by voice, that this one is broken and you need another one, to rent or buy. An “intentcast” goes out to the marketplace, revealing only what’s required to attract offers. No personal information is revealed, except to vendors with whom you already have a trusted relationship.
Within a minute offers come in, displayed on your device. You compare the offers and pick an espresso machine to rent from a reputable vendor who also can fix your old one. When the replacement arrives, the delivery service scans and picks up the broken machine and transports it to the vendor, who has agreed to your service conditions by committing not to share any of your data with other parties and not to put you on a list for promotional messages. The agreement happened automatically when your intentcast went out and your terms matched up with the vendor’s.
Your hand-held is descended from what they used to call smartphones, and it connects to the rest of the world by whatever ambient connection happens to be available. Providers of commercial Internet connections still make money but not by locking customers into “plans,” which proved, years ago, to be more trouble than they were worth.
The hand-held itself is also uncomplicated. New technologies and devices are still designed by creative inventors, and there are still trade secrets. But prototyping products and refining them now usually involves actual users at every stage, especially in new versions. Manufacturers welcome good feedback and put it to use. New technology not only evolves rapidly, but appropriately. Ease of use is now the rule, not the exception.
OK, now back to the present.
Everything that I just described can be made possible only by the full empowerment of individuals—that is, by making them both independent of controlling organizations and better able to engage with them. Work toward these goals is going on today, inside a new field called VRM, for vendor relationship management. VRM works on the demand side of the marketplace: for you, the customer, rather than for sellers and third parties on the supply side.
It helps that Android is already huge. It will help more when makers of Android devices and apps squash the phone company dependency bug. It will also help that the “little square code” mentioned above already exists. For a pioneering example, see SquareTag.com. For examples of how individuals can program logical connections between other entities in the world, see Kynetx and Iffft. (Kynetx is for developers. Ifttt is for users.)
As for investors, startups and incumbent big companies, it will help to start looking at the world from the perspective of the individual that each of us happens to be. The future is about liberating us, and equipping us with means for managing our lives and our relationships with other entities in the open marketplace. Personal independence and empowerment is what the PC, the Internet and the smartphone have all provided from the start. Trying to rein in that independence and empowerment comes naturally to big companies, and even some startups. But vector of progress to the future has always been along the line of personal freedom and empowerment. Free customers will be more valuable than captive ones. Android’s success is already starting to prove that.
In Journalism as service: Lessons from Sandy, Jeff Jarvis says, “After Sandy, what journalists provided was mostly articles when what I wanted was specifics that those articles only summarized. Don’t give me stories. Give me lists.”
Journals aren’t going to stop giving us stories, because stories are the main attraction. But lists are the service. They are also the frontier, because journals on the whole suck at lists. That’s what we’ve been learning over and over and over again, every time something Too Big happens. (Sandy, Katrina, the Arab Spring, the financial meltdown, yada yada.) We get plenty of stories, but not enough lists. Or, not the lists we need if we’re affected by the event.
Back when Sandy was going on, I stayed in Boston and blogged it live. One of my main sources was The Weather Channel, aka TWC — on TV, more than the Net. (My “TV” was an iPad channeling our Dish Network set top box in Santa Barbara.) As I recall, TWC had two main reporters on two scenes: one in Point Pleasant, New Jersey and one at Battery Park in Manhattan. Both had lots of stories to tell and show, but as a service TWC missed approximately everything other than what happened in those two places. I say approximately because the damage being done at the time was widespread, huge, and impossible for any one news organization to cover. (And TWC actually did a pretty good job, as TV channels go.) Seen as an outline, TWC looked like this:
- General coverage from studios
- National Hurricane Center
- Field coverage
- Battery Park
- Point Pleasant
That’s far simpler than what TWC actually did at the time, of course. But I’m trying to illustrate something here: that coverage itself is an outline. Also that cover, as both noun and verb, is something no single news organization can create, or do. They all do a partial job. The whole job, especially for a massive phenomenon such as Sandy, requires many journals of many kinds.
In a way we have that with the Web. That is, if you add up all the stuff reported about Sandy — in newspapers, on radio and TV, in blogs, in tweets, on social media — you’ve got enough info-splatter to call “coverage,” but splatter isn’t what Jeff needs. Here are his specifics:
I wanted lists of what streets were closed. I wanted lists of what streets the power company was finally working on. Oh, the utility, JCP&L, gave my town, Bernards Township, lists of streets, but they were bald-faced lies (I know because my street was on that list but their crews weren’t on my street). The town and our local media outlets only passed on these lists as fact without verifying. I wanted journalists to add value to those lists, going out to verify whether there were crews working on those streets. In a word: report.
I wanted media organizations or technology platforms to enable the people who knew the facts — my fellow townspeople — to share what they knew. Someone should have created a wiki that would let anyone in town annotate those lists of streets without power and streets — if any — where power crews were working. Someone should have created a map (Google Maps would do; Ushahidi would be deluxe) that we could have annotated not only with our notes and reports of what we knew but also with pictures. I’d have loved to have seen images of every street blocked by trees, not just for the sake of empathy but also so I could figure out how to get around town … and how likely it was that we’d be getting power back and how likely it would be that buses would be able to get through the streets so schools could re-open.
But instead, we got mostly articles. For that’s what journalists do, isn’t it? We write articles. We are storytellers! But not everything should be a story. Stories aren’t always the best vehicle for conveying information, for informing the public. Sometimes lists, data bases, photos, maps, wikis, and other new tools can do a better job.
What Jeff wanted was a painting, or set of puzzle pieces that fit together into a coherent and complete painting. A good outline does that, because it has structure, coherency, and whatever level of detail you need. Instead Jeff got something out of Jackson Pollock (like the image above).
We need outlines, we get splatter. Even the stories, high-level as they often are, tend to work as just more splatter.
How do we get outlines? Here are some ways:
- If you’re a journal, a journalist, a reporter, a blogger… start responding to the demand Jeff lays out there, especially when a Big Story like Sandy happens. Provide lists, or at least point to them. It’s a huge hole. Think about what others are bringing to the market’s table, and how you can work with them. You can’t do it all yourself. Nor should anybody.
- Listen to Dave Winer, who has been working this frontier since the early ’80s, and has given the world lots of great stuff already. (Here’s his latest in outline form.)
- Start looking at the world itself as a collection of outlines, and at your work as headings and subheadings within that world — even as you don’t wish to be confined to those, and won’t be, because the world is still messy.
- Go deeper than wikis. Wonderful as they are, wikis are very flat as outlines go. They are only one level deep. So is search, which is worse because every search is temporary and arcane to whatevever it is you search for at the moment, and whatever it is the engine is doing to personalize your search.
It’s not easy to think of the world as outlines. But seeing the plain need for lists is a good place to start.
After reading the comments, I should make a few things clearer than I did above.
First, Jeff’s line, “Don’t give me stories, give me lists,” does not mean stories are wrong or bad or without appeal. Just that there are times when people need something else. Badly. Giving somebody a story when they need a list is a bit like giving somebody who’s fallen overboard a meal rather than a life preserver. It’s best to give both, at the right time and place. One of my points above is that no one journal, or journalist, should have to do it all. A related point I didn’t make is that pulling together lists, and linking lists together, is less thankful work than writing stories. True, writing stories isn’t always easy. But story-writing is rewarding in ways that compiling lists are not. Yet lists may save lives — or at least hassles — in ways that stories may not.
Second, seeing “the world as outlines” does not require that any one person, site or journal produce lists or outlines for anything. The totally flat and horizontal nature of hyperlinks (and, not coincidentally, wikis) makes it at least possible for everything to be within a link or few from everything else. While this linky flatness can excuse what I call “splatter” above, it also suggests a need for mindfulness toward coherency, and the absent need for anybody to do everything. As structure goes, the Web is more like scaffolding than like a building. If we see journalism as outlining, and lists as an essential part of any outline, and hyperlinks as a way of connecting multiple lists (and stories) together, we can make multiple scaffolds function together as a coherent whole, and ease the labor required, say, for piecing one’s life back together after a storm.
Third, we are dealing with a paradox here. Outlines are hierarchical, and — as David Weinberger put it so well in Cluetrain — hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. Thus one of the things that makes the Web a web also makes it a poor place for persistent structure. Yes, we can create buildings of sorts. (For example, anything with a domain name.) But all are temporary and vulnerable to future failings or repurposings. Big as Facebook is, there is nothing about the nature of its mission or corporate structure, much less of the Web beneath it, to assure the site’s permanence. (I have exactly this concern about Flickr, for example.) Built into the Web’s DNA, however, is a simple call to be useful. That too is a call of journalism. It is a more essential calling than the one to be interesting, or provocative, or award-worthy, or any of the other qualities we like to see in stories. A dictionary is poor literature, but a highly useful document. It is also a list. A bookshelf with several dictionaries on it is an outline. So is a library.
Fourth, there are many reasons that outlining hasn’t taken off as a category. Some are accidents of history. Some have to do with the way we are taught outlining in school. (Poorly, that is.) But the biggest, I’m convinced (at least for now) is that we fail in general, as a species, to see larger pictures. We fail to see them in the present moment, or in the present situation (whatever it is), and we fail to see them across time. This is why even people called “conservatives” see little reason to conserve finite resources for which there are no substitutes after they run out.
Fifth, we need new development here. My point about wikis is that they don’t cover all the ground required for outlining the world. Nothing does, or ever will. But we can do other things, and do them better. It’s still early. The Web as we know it is only seventeen years old. The future, hopefully, is a lot longer than that.
Meanwhile, a grace of a storm like Sandy is that it can make a serious journalist call out for something serious that isn’t journalism-as-usual. And that the result might be better scaffolding to hold together the temporary undertakings we call our lives.
Looking forward to seeing local friends old and new there.
(Or, if you like, tune in live on Ustream. If I have the chance I’ll post a link here.)
The crossover is between a time when we erased storage media to make room for fresh data and a time when we save nearly all of it. This is one reason there’s all this talk about Big Data. We need big ways (storage, analytics, software, services) to deal with the accumulations.
At the personal level we don’t yet have more than a few primitive means, relative to whatever it is that Google, Amazon, Facebook, the NSA and other big entities are doing. At their level, who knows? Lets say Google wants to save all your deleted Gmails. The mails might be deleted for you, but are they deleted for Google? I have no idea. All I know is that storing and analyzing them is more and more do-able for them.
I don’t have an axe to grind here (not yet, anyway). I’m just noting that this change is freighted with many possibilities and many meanings. And so, to make it easier to talk about, I suggest we name it, if it isn’t named already.
Hmm… since the sum of all stored data is Too Big to Know, maybe we should call it the Weinberger Threshold. One reason I like that (at least provisionally, besides liking David) is that there is what I consider a fallacious assumption, or presumption, behind much Big Data talk: that an analytical system can know us better than we know ourselves.
But that’s a whole ‘nuther topic, and maybe we should avoid conflating one with the other. (Though I do think the two — Big Data and Too Big to Know — are related, and I am sure David has thought about this stuff far more than I.)
Anyway, just blogging out loud here.
I want to drive on the Web, but instead I’m being driven. All of us are. And that’s a problem.
It’s not for lack of trying on the part of websites and services such as search engines. But they don’t make cars. They make stores and utilities that try to be personal, but aren’t, and never can be.
Take, for example, the matter of location. The Internet has no location, and that’s one of its graces. But sites and services want to serve, so many notice what IP address you appear to be arriving from. Then they customize their page for you, based on that location. While that might sound innocent enough, and well-intended, it also fails to know one’s true intentions, which matter far more to each of us than whatever a website guesses about us, especially if the guessing is wrong.
Last week I happened to be in New York when a friend in Toronto and I were both looking up the same thing on Google while we talked over Skype. We were unable to see the same thing, or anything close, on Google, because the engine insisted on giving us both localized results, which neither of us wanted. We could change our locations, but not to no location at all. In other words, it wouldn’t let us drive. We could only be driven.
Right now I’m in Paris, and cannot get Google to let me look at Google.com (presumably google.us), Google.uk or Google.anywhere other than France. At least not on its Web page. (If I use the location bar as a place to search, it gives me google.com results, for some non-obvious reason.)
After reading Larry Magid’s latest in Huffpo, about the iPhone 5, which says this…
Gazelle.com is paying $240 for an iPhone 4s in good condition, which is $41 more than the cost of a subsidized iPhone 5. If you buy a new iPhone from Sprint they’ll buy back your iPhone 4s for $235. Trouble is, if you bought a 4s it’s probably still under contract. Sprint is paying $125 for an 8 GB iPhone 4 and Gazelle is paying $145 for a 16 GB iPhone 4 which means that it you can get the $199 upgrade price, your out of pocket could be as little as $54.
… I wondered what BestBuy might give me for my 16GB iPhone 4. But when I go to http://bestbuy.com, the company gives me a page in French. I guess that’s okay, but it’s still annoying. (So is seeing that I can’t get a trade-in price without visiting a store.)
Back in the search world, I’ve been looking for a prepaid wireless internet access strategy to get data at sane prices in the next few countries I visit. A search for “prepaid wireless internet access” on google.fr gets me lots of ads in French, some of which might be more interesting if I knew French as well as I know English, but I doubt it. The “I’m feeling lucky” result is a faux-useful SEO-elevated page with the same title as the search query. The rest of the first page results are useless as well. (I did eventually find a useful site for my UK visit the week after next, but I’ll save that for another post.)
To describe what the Web has become, two metaphors come to mind.
The first is a train system that mostly runs between commercial destinations. In a surreal way, you are transported from one destination to another near-instantly (or at the speed of a page loading ads and cookies along with whatever it was you went there for), and are trapped at every destination in a cabin with a view only of what the destination wants you to see. The cabin is co-occupied by dozens or hundreds of conductors at any given time, all competing for your attention and telling you something they hope will make you buy something or visit other sites. In the parlance of professionals on the supply side of this system, what you get here is an “experience” that they “deliver.” To an increasing degree this experience is personalized, and for every person it’s different. If you looked at pants a few sites back, you might see ads for pants, or whatever it is that the system thinks you might want to buy, whether you’re in a buying mood or not at the time. (And most of the time you’re not, but they don’t care about that.)
Google once aspired to give us access to “all the world’s information”, which suggests a library. But the library-building job is now up to Archive.org. Instead, Google now personalizes the living shit out of its search results. One reason, of course, is to give us better search results. But the other is to maximize the likelihood that we’ll click on an ad. But neither is served well by whatever it is that Google thinks it knows about us. Nor will it ever be, so long as we are driven, rather than driving.
I think what’s happened in recent years is that users searching for stuff have been stampeded by sellers searching for users. I know Googlers will bristle at that characterization, but that’s what it appears to have become, way too much of the time.
But that’s not the main problem. The main problem is that browsers are antique vehicles.
See, we need to drive, and browsers aren’t cars. They’re shopping carts that shape-shift with every site we visit. They are optimized for being inside websites, not for driving outside them, or between them. In fact, we can hardly imagine the Net or the Web as a space that’s larger than the sites in it. But we need to do that if we’re going to start designing means of self-transport that transcend the limitations of browsing and browsers.
Think about what it means to drive. The cabin, steering wheel, pedals, controls, engine, tires and chassis of a car are all controlled by you. The world through which you move is outside, not inside. Even in malls, you park outside the stores. The stores do not intrude inside your personal space. Driving is no less personal and no less masterfully yours when you ride a bike or a motorcycle, or pilot a plane. Those are all personal vehicles too. A browser should have been like one of those, and that was kind of the idea back in the early days when we talked about “surfing” and the “information highway.” But it didn’t turn out that way. Instead browsers became shopping carts that get fresh skins at every website.
We need a new vehicle. One that’s ours.
The smartphone would be ideal if it wasn’t also a phone. But that’s what it is. With few exceptions, we rent smartphones from phone companies and equipment makers, which collude to sentence us to “plans” that last for two years at a run.
I had some hope for Android., but that hope is fading now. Although supporting general purpose hardware and software was one of Google’s basic ideas behind Android, that’s not how it’s turning out. Android in most cases is an embedded operating system on a special purpose device. In the most familiar U.S. cases (AT&T’s, Sprint’s, T-Mobile’s and Verizon’s) the most special purpose of that device is locking you to a plan and soaking you for some quantity of minutes, texts and GB of data, whether you use the full amounts or not, and then punishing you for going over. They play an asymmetrical knowledge game with you, where they can monitor your every move, and all your usage, while you can barely do the same, if at all.
So we have a long way to go before mobile phones become the equivalent of a car, a bicycle, a motorcycle or a small plane. I don’t think there is an evolutionary path to the Net’s equivalent of a car that starts with a smartphone. Unless it’s not a phone first and a computing/communication device second.
The personal computing and communications revolution is thirty years old now, if we date it from the first IBM PC. And right now we’re stuck, mostly because we think having the Web “personalized” is the same thing as having a personal vehicle. And because we think having a smartphone makes us independent. Neither is true. That’s why we won’t make progress past those problems until we start thinking and inventing outside their old boxes.
Looks like IBM and I are in agreement. Last week the first image you saw at IBM’s site (at least here in the U.S.) was a larger version of the one on the left, with the headline “Meet the new Chief Executive Customer. That’s who’s driving the new science of marketing.”
At the “learn more” link, the headline reads, “The new CMO and the science of giving people what they want.” In the copy there’s this:
In this highly connected world of commerce and communication, you can no longer market broadly to a demographic. A consumer doesn’t want to be a “segment.” She’s an individual. To capture and keep her business, she must be treated as one.
The onus of this evolution has landed on the doorstep of the Chief Marketing Officer. And that means that the mind-set, as well as the skill set, of a CMO has to evolve right along with it. IBM has identified the three mandates for the new CMO.
The first of those is “Harness data to paint a predictive picture of each customer as an individual—on a massive scale.” The second is “Create ‘systems of engagement’ so you do more than shape desire—you predict it. The third is “Design your culture and brand so they are authentically one.”
Above that last one it says this:
Your brand is tested in every interaction. Today, the same transparency that allows you to understand each customer as an individual; conversely allows each customer to understand everything about your company. And gaps between what the brand promises and what it delivers are known―not just by those who experience them, but by others in their social network. Thus how authentically a culture lives its brand becomes the measure of success. This is the heart of becoming a social business. Marketing’s role is to close the gaps by building a system so that in every interaction brand and culture are one.
Two problems with that. Also two opportunities:
- Transparency isn’t what allows a company to understand each customer as an individual. Direct interaction is. Better yet, direct interaction that the customer drives, in her own way.
- “Becoming a social business” is very 2011. Business was personal in the first place, and it will be personal again. What the hell is a Chief Executive Customer if she doesn’t have direct personal influence with the company?
IBM is familiar with CRM: Customer Relationship Management. Now it needs to get familiar with VRM: Vendor Relationship Management. Because it’s with VRM tools and services that customers will have the means to tell companies exactly what IBM’s headline welcomes: what they want.
Meanwhile, here’s the bad news for Big Data: what customers don’t want, most of the time, is to be told constantly what they want. Or to be told that their Chief Executive status with a company derives from a “predictive picture” derived from “harnessed data” about one’s individual self — least of all “on a massive scale” in which desire is not only “shaped” but “predicted.” IBM continues,
Today’s abundance of data helps companies understand each customer in multiple dimensions. This leads to insights which, when combined, help build a clearer understanding of each customer as an individual. With that, marketers can make better decisions about the mix that will serve customers more completely—based on needs, desire, likely next action, opinions. Today’s marketing practice requires building this capability of understanding customers as individuals across millions of interactions.
There is no clearer sign that a relationship has gone bad than this statement: “We don’t need to talk. I already know what you’re going to say.” Or worse, “I can also shape your desire.” Hell, that’s a relationship headed for divorce, and it’s hardly begun.
But that’s what Big Data marketing is about — so far — and why it will fail if the customer is not truly involved as an independent and autonomous human being, and not just as a “million points of data:+” (IBM’s term), and then as a target for messages and offers, based on the crunching of that data.
On that same page IBM posts this short pile of Big Data stats:
Earth to IBM and CMOs: The next era isn’t social. It’s personal. No amount of marketing analytics will out-perform knowing exactly what the customer wants, intends, or wishes to contribute to the company’s intelligence about the marketplace —in her own ways, and on her own terms.
If a brand wants to be fully understood and respected — and if it deserves both — it needs to be ready for customers to truly engage, and not just be told what they’re like, and then guessed at.
The means for that will be provided by both sides, not just by one. Until IBM and CMOs welcome independent customers, operating at full agency, outside any company’s silo or walled garden, all this mandating will be the sound of one hand shaking.
Apple TV (whatever it ends up being called) will kill cable. It will also give TV new life in a new form.
It won’t kill the cable companies, which will still carry data to your house, and which will still get a cut of the content action, somehow. But the division between cable content and other forms you pay for will be exposed for the arbitrary thing it is, in an interactive world defined by the protocols of the Internet, rather than by the protocols of television. It will also contain whatever deals Apple does for content distribution.
These deals will be motivated by a shared sense that Something Must Be Done, and by knowing that Apple will make TV look and work better than anybody else ever could. The carriers have seen this movie before, and they’d rather have a part in it than outside of it. For a view of the latter, witness the fallen giants called Sony and Nokia.
- Apple likes to blow up categories that are stuck. They did it with PCs, laptops, printers, mp3 players, smartphones, music distribution and retailing. To name a few.
- TV display today is stuck in 1993. That’s when the ATSC (which defined HDTV standards) settled on the 16:9 format, with 1080 pixels (then called “lines”) of vertical resolution, and with picture clarity and sound quality contained within the data carrying capacity of a TV channel 6MHz wide. This is why all “Full HD” screens remain stuck at 1080 pixels high, no matter how physically large those screens might be. It’s also why more and more stand-alone computer screens are now 1920 x 1080. They’re made for TV. Would Steve Jobs settle for that? No way.
- Want a window into the future where Apple makes a TV screen that’s prettier than all others sold? Look no farther than what Apple says about the new iPad‘s resolution:
- Cable, satellite and over-the-air channels are still stuck at 6MHz of bandwidth (in the original spectrum-based meaning of that word). They’re also stuck with a need to maximize the number of channels within a finite overall bandwidth. This has resulted in lowered image quality on most channels, even though the images are still, technically, “HD”. That’s another limitation that surely vexed Steve.
- The TV set makers (Sony, Visio, Samsung, Panasonic, all of them) have made operating a simple thing woefully complicated, with controls (especially remotes) that defy comprehension. The set-top-box makers have all been nearly as bad for the duration. Same goes for the makers of VCR, DVD, PVR and other media players. Home audio-video system makers too. It’s a freaking mess, and has been since the ’80s.
- Steve at AllThingsD on 2 June 2010: “The only way that’s ever going to change is if you can really go back to square one and tear up the set-top-box and redesign it from scratch with a consistent UI, withall these different functions, and get it to the consumer in a way they are willing to pay for. We decided, what product do you want most? A better tv or a better phone? A better TV or a tablet? … The TV will lose until there is a viable go-to-market strategy. That’s the fundamental problem.” He also called Apple TV (as it then stood) a “hobby”, for that reason. But Apple is bigger now, and has far more market reach and clout. In some categories it’s nearly a monopoly already, with at least as much leverage as Microsoft ever had. And you know that Apple hasn’t been idle here.
- Steve Jobs was the largest stockholder in Disney. He’s gone, but the leverage isn’t. Disney owns ABC and ESPN.
- The main thing that keeps cable in charge of TV content is not the carriers, but ESPN, which represents up to 40% of your cable bill, whether you like sports or not. ESPN isn’t going to bypass cable — they’ve got that distribution system locked in, and vice versa. The whole pro sports system, right down to those overpaid athletes in baseball and the NBA, depend on TV revenues, which in turn rest on advertising to eyeballs over a system made to hold those eyeballs still in real time. “There are a lot of entrenched interests,” says Peter Kafka in this On the Media segment. The only thing that will de-entrench them is serious leverage from somebody who can make go-to-market, UI, quality, and money-flow work. Can Apple do that without Steve? Maybe not. But it’s still the way to bet.
Cable folks have a term for video distribution on the net Net. They call it “over the top“. Of them, that is, and their old piped content system.
That’s actually what many — perhaps most — viewers would prefer: an à la carte choice of “content” (as we have now all come to say). Clearly the end state is one in which you’ll pay for some stuff while other stuff is free. Some of it will be live, and some of it recorded. That much won’t be different. The cable companies will also still make money for keeping you plugged in. That is, you’ll pay for data in any case. You’ll just pay more for some content. Much of that content will be what we now pay for on cable: HBO, ESPN and the rest. We’ll just do away with the whole bottom/top thing because there will be no need for a bottom other than a pipe to carry the content. We might still call some sources “channels”; and surfing through those might still have a TV-like UI. But only if Apple decides to stick with the convention. Which they won’t, if they come up with a better way to organize things, and make selections easy to make and pay for.
We’ll still call it TV, because we’ll still have big screens by that name in our living rooms. But what we watch and listen to won’t be contained by standards set in 1993, or by carriers and other “stakeholders” who never could think outside the box.
Of course, I could be wrong. But no more wrong than the system we have now.
[This post was read by Bitly folks, who reached out appreciatively. The thread continues with a follow-up post here.]
Last night huge thunderstorms moved across New Hampshire, and later across Boston. There was even a tornado watch (the red outline north of Keene, in the radar image on the left, from the NOAA.) So I thought I’d tweet that.
It has been my practice for quite a while, when tweeting, to use the Bit.ly extension in my Chrome browser.
But then came a surprise. The little Bitly image had changed, and the pop-down word balloon, rather than giving me the shortlink I had expected, told me that Bit.ly was improving. I thought, “Oooh, shit.” Because there was nothing wrong with the old Bit.ly. It was simple and straightforward. You could either copy the shortlink from a window, or know it was on your clipboard after you clicked on the “copy” button, and it said “copied.”
The new and improved Bitly looks like this:
WTF? Ya gotta work to get this many things wrong. My personal list, from the top:
- I don’t know what a bitmark is and I don’t want to know. I want a shortlink.
- My Twitter handle is there, with my face. Why?
- Does the blue “x” close the whole thing or just my twitter handle?
- Why is it telling me the URL I want shortened? I see that one already. I want the short bit.ly URL.
- Why is it telling me the title of the page? I know that too.
- Why would I add a note? And to what? Is this a kind of Delicious move? I hardly ever used Delicious because it was too complicated. Now this is too.
- Why “Public?”
- What’s the “bundle” I would add this to?
- “CANCEL” what? Is something already in progress I don’t know about? (In this brief but intense Age of Facebook, when sites and services — e.g. Facebook Connect — silently provide means for advertisers and third parties to follow your scent like a cloud of flies, that’s a good bet.)
- What is Save+ for? To what? Why?
- What is “Save and share…” and what’s the difference between that and save? Why would I want a shortlink if not to share it on something that requires it, like Twitter?
- What are the symbols next to “Public” and “Save and share…”?
- And if, as I suspect, the only way I can get to the shortlink is to hit “Save and share…”, why make me go through that extra click — or, for that matter, ford the raging river of kruft above it to get there?
That was as far as I got before I had to go out to an event in the evening; and when I came back the storm (or something) had knocked my ISP’s Net connection off. So this morning, naturally (given all the above), there’s a tsunami of un-likes at https://twitter.com/#!/search/bitly, as well as out in the long-form blogosphere.
In URL Shortener Bitly Announces Big Update (Unfortunately, It Sucks, And Everybody Hates It), Shea Bennett of All Twitter at MediaBistro writes,
Yesterday, URL shortener of choice Bitly, which has generated more than 25 billion shortened links since inception, announced a change to their platform. A big change. New Bitly, they’re calling it.
Great. There’s only one small problem: everybody, and I mean everybody*, hates it.
Why? Because it’s taken what was a really useful and fast service into something that is bloated with unnecessary add-ons and buzzword crap, and made a one-click share into something that now takes at least three clicks, and is really, really confusing.
In the good old days, which we’ll refer to from now on as BNB (Before New Bitly), shortening links on Bitly was a breeze. A pleasure. It was fast, responsive and if you used an extension you could crunch down the URL of any webpage in a matter of seconds. If you had a Bitly account, you could then share that shortened link straight to Twitter via Bitly using the title of your choice.
So simple. So effective. So perfect.
And so gone.
The Bitly announcement is long: too long for a URL-shortening company. But this excerpt compresses the meat of it:
So what’s new? Now you can…
- Easily save, share and discover links — they’re called bitmarks, like bookmarks.
- Instantly search your saved bitmarks.
- Curate groups of bitmarks into bundles and collaborate on bundles with friends.
- Make any bitmark or bundle private or public.
- See what friends are sharing across multiple social networks, all in one place.
- Save and share links from anywhere with our new bitmarklet, Chrome extension and iPhone app.
It doesn’t stop here. We have big plans for bitly, and we want to build this neighborhood with our community. So get in there, start bitmarking and please tell us what you think!
So they want to be Delicious. And they want to play the social game. Or, as Samantha Murphy in Mashable puts it,
Bit.ly — which has more than 25 billion links saved since 2008 and gets about 300 million link-clicks each day — launched a redesign to not only expand its presence but give users more curation power. Among the most notable of the new tools is a profile page and what the company is calling “bitmarks,” which are similar to bookmarks.
Based on what I see in their new product release it looks like they’re taking a step toward competing with Twitter. But they didn’t do it in an easy to use way. And the new product is not well user-tested. It looks like they barely used it themselves before turning it on for all the users. Oy. Not a good way to pivot.
Here’s some free advice, what I would do if I were them.
- Immediately restore the old interface, exactly as it was before the transition.
- Concurrently, issue a roadmap that goes as follows, so everyone knows where this thing is going.
- Take a few weeks to incorporate the huge amount of feedback they’ve gotten and streamline the new UI.
- Instead of launching it at bitly.com, launch it at newbetaworksserver.com…
The list goes on, and it’s exactly what they should do. At the very least, they should take Step #1. It’s the only way to restore faith with users.
Meanwhile, three additional points.
First is that URL shortening has always been a fail in respect to DNS — the Domain Name System, which was invented for ARPANET in 1982, and has matured as into hardened infrastructure over the decades since. (It’s essentially NEA: Nobody owns it, Everybody can use it, and Anybody can improve it.) On the other hand, URL shortening, as we know it so far, puts resolving the shortened URL in private hands, and those hands can (and will) change. That’s exactly what we’re seeing here with Bitly, and what we tend to see with all private infrastructures that serves public purposes.
Second is that Bitly, like Facebook, Twitter, Google and other advertising-supported businesses with millions (or billions) of users that pay nothing to those companies for the services performed, has a problem that has been familiar to commercial broadcasting since it was born in the 1920s: its consumers and its customers are different populations, and they are financially accountable only to the customers. Not to the consumers. In Bitly’s case its customers, so far, are enterprises that pay to have customized, or branded, short URLs. Could they make their consumers into customers as well, with a freemium model? Possible. I’d recommend it, because it would make the company financially accountable to those users.
Third is that people want their own curation power. The Cloud is a good and necessary form of utility infrastructure. But it’s a vulnerable place to have one’s own digital goods. True, everything, even the physical world, is ephemeral in the long run. But digital ephemera can be wiped out in an instant. We should have at least some sense of control over “what’s mine.” Bitly shortlinks are not really “mine” to begin with. As Yahoo showed with Delicious, commercially curated links are especially vulnerable. And, after this last move, Bitly has given us no new reason to trust them. And many new reasons not to.
So, will I use the new Bitly? Let’s look at what comes up when I hit the “Save and share…” button for Dave’s piece:
This is no less f’d than the other one. Let’s run it down.
- Okay, I’ve done the Delicious thing, I guess, if this is saved somewhere. Curation achieved, maybe. Guess I have to go Bitly.com to see. I’ll do that later.
- At first I thought the saved link (or whatever) might be under my @ handle on the upper right, but that just brings up a “sign out” option.
- I have no intention of connecting to Facebook.
- When I click on the blue bar with the checkmark in it, changes happen in the window, but I’m not sure what they are, other than getting un-checked.
- I have no intention of emailing it to anybody in this case. And actually, when I email a link, I tend to avoid shortlinks, because they obscure the source. And I’m also not dealing with a 140-character space limit. (Hmm… while we’re on short spaces subject, why not offer texting through SMS?)
- Did something get tweeted when I hit the blue bar? I dunno. Checked with Twitter. Nothing there, so guess not.
- I see “Shortlink will be appended to tweet,” but does that mean I tweet something if I put it in the box? Guess so, but not sure.
- I see the “Copy” next to the almost-illegible shortlink in the blue button. Okay, guess that’s what I should use. But I don’t yet because I want to understand the whole thing first.
- What does “NEVERMIND. DON’T SHARE” mean, except as a rebuke? Translated from the passive-aggressive, it says, “You don’t want to play this game? Okay, then fuck off.”
- The symbol in the orange “Share to” is barely recognizable as Twitter’s. I think. Not sure. I just clicked on it, and something came up briefly then went away.
When I clicked on it again, I got this:
I don’t want to try again, because I’m not sure it failed. So I check Twitter, and see this:
Damn! I didn’t want that!
This tweet has no context other than me and Bitly. Worse, it looks like a spam. Or like I’d been phished or hijacked in some way. At no time in the history of my blogging or tweeting have I ever uttered a single URL, let alone a shortened one. Or, if I did, I’m sure the context was clear.
This isn’t even a “copy.” It should say “tweet,” if it were to have any meaning at all. I guess I should have written something in the box above. But would that have worked? I dunno.
So I just went through the routine again, this time hitting the blue button that says COPY in orange. I did that for Dave’s post, and this one after I published it, and the result is this normal-form tweet: https://twitter.com/dsearls/status/207856808012951553
It is also now clear to me that the box is for writing a tweet to which the shortlink will be appended. But usually I don’t like to append links, but to work them into the text of the tweet.
- As Rebecca Greenfield says in The Atlantic Wire, Bit.ly Isn’t Really a Link Shortener Any More. Too bad.
- It still works, but the new routine now takes three clicks rather than two, and is far more complicated. The curation does work,, for now. When I go to Bitly.com, below “Welcome to the new bitly,” I see “1–10 OF 900 BITMARKS.” I can also search them. That’s cool. But I’d rather have something in my own personal cloud. And I’d pay Bitly, or anybody who values my independence, for helping me build that.
Mark these words: The next trend is toward independence for individuals, whether they be users or customers. Yet another new dependency is not what anybody wants. Dependencies like Bitly’s new one are a problem, not a solution. Bitly, Facebook, Google and Twitter making their APIs work together does not solve the dependency problem, any more than federations among plantations makes slaves free.
The end-to-end nature of the Net promised independence in the first place. When client-server became calf-cow in 1995, we sold out that promise, and we’ve been selling it out, more and more, ever since.
Now we need to take it back. Hats off to Bitly for making that abundantly clear.
At the heart of the Internet business is one of the great business fallacies of our time: that the Web, with all its targeting abilities, can be a more efficient, and hence more profitable, advertising medium than traditional media. Facebook, with its 900 million users, valuation of around $100 billion, and the bulk of its business in traditional display advertising, is now at the heart of the heart of the fallacy.
The daily and stubborn reality for everybody building businesses on the strength of Web advertising is that the value of digital ads decreases every quarter, a consequence of their simultaneous ineffectiveness and efficiency. The nature of people’s behavior on the Web and of how they interact with advertising, as well as the character of those ads themselves and their inability to command real attention, has meant a marked decline in advertising’s impact.
This is the first time I have read anything from a major media writer (and Michael is very much that — in fact I believe he is the best in the biz) that is in full agreement with The Advertising Bubble, my chapter on this very subject in The Intention Economy: When Customers Take Charge. A sample:
One might think all this personalized advertising must be pretty good, or it wouldn’t be such a hot new business category. But that’s only if one ignores the bubbly nature of the craze, or the negative demand on the receiving end for most of advertising’s goods. In fact, the results of personalized advertising, so far, have been lousy for actual persons…
Tracking and “personalizing”—the current frontier of online advertising—probe the limits of tolerance. While harvesting mountains of data about individuals and signaling nothing obvious about their methods, tracking and personalizing together ditch one of the few noble virtues to which advertising at its best aspires: respect for the prospect’s privacy and integrity, which has long included a default assumption of anonymity.
Ask any celebrity about the price of fame and they’ll tell you: it’s anonymity. This wouldn’t be a Faustian bargain (or a bargain at all) if anonymity did not have real worth. Tracking, filtering and personalizing advertising all compromise our anonymity, even if no PII (Personally Identifiable Information) is collected. Even if these systems don’t know us by name, their hands are still in our pants…
The distance between what tracking does and what users want, expect and intend is so extreme that backlash is inevitable. The only question is how much it will damage a business that is vulnerable in the first place.
The first section of the book opens with a retrospective view of the present from a some point in the near future — say, five or ten years out. A relevant sample:
After the social network crash of 2013, when it became clear that neither friendship nor sociability were adequately defined or managed through proprietary and contained systems (no matter how large they might be), individuals began to assert their independence, and to zero-base their social networking using their own tools, and asserting their own policies regarding engagement.
Customers now manage relationships in their own ways, using standardized tools that embrace the complexities of relationship—including needs for privacy (and, in some cases, anonymity). Thus loyalty to vendors now has genuine meaning, and goes as deep as either party cares to go. In some (perhaps most) cases this isn’t very deep, while in others it can get quite involved.
When I first wrote that, I said 2012. But I decided that was too aggressive, and went with the following year. Maybe I was right in the first place. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, here’s what Michael says about the utopian exhaust Facebook and its “ecosystem” are smoking:
Well, it does have all this data. The company knows so much about so many people that its executives are sure that the knowledge must have value (see “You Are the Ad,” by Robert D. Hof, May/June 2011).
If you’re inside the Facebook galaxy (a constellation that includes an ever-expanding cloud of associated ventures) there is endless chatter about a near-utopian (but often quasi-legal or demi-ethical) new medium of marketing. “If we just … if only … when we will …” goes the conversation. If, for instance, frequent-flyer programs and travel destinations actually knew when you were thinking about planning a trip. Really we know what people are thinking about—sometimes before they know! If a marketer could identify the person who has the most influence on you … If a marketer could introduce you to someone who would relay the marketer’s message … get it? No ads, just friends! My God!
But so far, the sweeping, basic, transformative, and simple way to connect buyer to seller and then get out of the way eludes Facebook.
The buyer is a person. That person does not require either a social network or absolutely-informed guesswork to know who he or she is or what they want to buy. Obviously advertising can help. It always has. But totally personalized advertising is icky and oxymoronic. And, after half a decade or more at the business of making maximally-personalized ads, the main result is what Michael calls “the desultory ticky-tacky kind that litters the right side of people’s Facebook profiles.”
That’s one of mine on the right. It couldn’t be more wasted and wrong. Let’s take it from the top.
First, Robert Scoble is an old friend and a good guy. But I couldn’t disagree with him more on the subject of Facebook and the alleged virtues of the fully followed life. (Go to this Gillmor Gang, starting about an hour in, to see Robert and I go at it about this.) Clearly Facebook doesn’t know about that. Nor does any advertiser, I would bet. In any case, Robert likes so many things that his up-thumb has no value to me.
I have no interest in Social Referrals, and if Facebook followed what I’ve written on the subject of “social” (as defined by Facebook and its marketing cohorts), it wouldn’t imagine I would be interested in extole.com.
I’m 64, but married. “Boyfriend wanted” is a low-rent fail as well as an insult.
I get the old yearbook pitch every time I go on Facebook, which is as infrequently as I possibly can. (There are people I can only reach that way, which is why I bother.) I don’t even need to click on the the ad to discover that, as I suspected, 60s.yearbookarchives.com is a front for the scammy Classmates.com.
I’ve never been fly flishing, and haven’t fished since I was a kid, many decades ago.
And I don’t want more credit cards, of any kind, regardless of Scoble’s position on Capital One.
In a subchapter of The Filter Bubble titled “A Bad Theory of You,” Eli Pariser calls both Facebook’s and Google’s data-based assumptions about us “pretty poor representations of who we are, in part because there is no one set of data that describes who we are.” He also says that at best they put us into the uncanny valley — a “place where something is lifelike but not convincingly alive, and it gives people the creeps.” But what you see on the right isn’t the best, and it’s not uncanny. It’s typical, and it sucks, even if it does bring Facebook a few $billion per year in click-through-based revenues.
The amazing thing here is that business keeps trying to improve advertising — and always by making it more personal — as if that’s the only way we can get to Michael’s “sweeping, basic, transformative, and simple way to connect buyer to seller and then get out of the way.” Three problems here:
- By its nature advertising — especially “brand” advertising — is not personal.
- Making advertising personal changes it into something else that is often less welcome.
- There are better ways to get to achieve Michael’s objective — ways that start on the buyer’s side, rather than the seller’s.
Don Marti, former Editor-in-Chief of Linux Journal and a collaborator on the advertising chapters in my book, nails the first two problems in a pair of posts. In the first, Ad targeting – better is worse? he says,
Now, as targeting for online advertising gets more and more accurate, the signal is getting lost. On the web, how do you tell a massive campaign from a well-targeted campaign? And if you can’t spot the “waste,” how do you pick out the signal?
I’m thinking about this problem especially from an IT point of view. Much of the value of an IT product is network value, and economics of scale mean that a product with massive adoption can have much higher ROI than a niche product…. So, better targeting means that online advertising carries less signal. You could be part of the niche on which your vendor is dumping its last batch of a “boat anchor” product. This is kind of a paradox: the better online advertising is, the less valuable it is. Companies that want to send a signal are going to have to find a less fake-out-able medium.
In the second, Perfectly targeted advertising would be perfectly worthless, which he wrote in response to Michael’s essay, he adds this:
The more targeted that advertising is, the less effective that it is. Internet technology can be more efficient at targeting, but the closer it gets to perfectly tracking users, the less profitable it has to become.
The profits are in advertising that informs, entertains, or creates a spectacle—because that’s what sends a signal. Targeting is a dead end. Maybe “Do Not Track” will save online advertising from itself.
John Battelle, who is both a first-rate journalist and a leader in the online advertising industry, says this in Facebook’s real question: What’s the native model?:
Facebook makes 82% of its money by selling targeted display advertising – boxes on the top and right side of the site (it’s recently added ads at logout, and in newsfeeds). Not a particularly unique model on its face, but certainly unique underneath: Because Facebook knows so much about each person on its service, it can target in ways Google and others can only dream about. Over the years, Facebook has added new advertising products based on the unique identity, interest, and relationship data it owns: Advertisers can incorporate the fact that a friend of a friend “likes” a product, for example. Or they can incorporate their own marketing content into their ads, a practice known as “conversational marketing” that I’ve been on about for seven or so years (for more on that, see my post Conversational Marketing Is Hot – Again. Thanks Facebook!).
But as many have pointed out, Facebook’s approach to advertising has a problem: People don’t (yet) come to Facebook with the intention of consuming quality content (as they do with media sites), or finding an answer to a question (as they do at Google search). Yet Facebook’s ad system combines both those models – it employs a display ad unit (the foundation of brand-driven media sites) as well as a sophisticated ad-buying platform that’d be familiar to anyone who’s ever used Google AdWords.
I’m not sure how many advertisers use Facebook, but it’s probably a fair guess to say the number approaches or crosses the hundreds of thousands. That’s about how many used Overture and Google a decade ago. The big question is simply this: Do those Facebook ads work as well or better than other approaches? If the answer is yes, the question of valuation is rather moot. If the answer is no…Facebook’s got some work to do.
But Facebook isn’t the real issue here. Working only the sell side of the marketplace is the issue. It’s now time to work the buy side.
The simple fact is that we need to start equipping buyers with their own tools for connecting with sellers, and for engaging in respectful and productive ways. That is, to improve the ability of demand to drive supply, and not to constantly goose up supply to drive demand, and failing 99.x% of the time.
This is an old imperative.
In The Cluetrain Manifesto, which Chris Locke, David Weinberger, Rick Levine and I wrote in 1999, we laid into business — and marketing in particular — for failing to grok the fact that in networked markets, which the Internet gave us, individuals should lead, rather than just follow. So, since business failed to get Cluetrain’s message, I started ProjectVRM in mid-2006 at Harvard’s Berkman Center. The idea was to foster development of tools that make customers both independent of vendors, and better able to engage with vendors. That is, for demand to drive supply, personally. (VRM stands for Vendor Relationship Management.)
Imagine being able to:
- name your own terms of service
- define for yourself what loyalty is, what stores you are loyal to, and how
- be able to gather and examine your own data
- advertise (or “intentcast”) your own needs in an anonymous and secure way
- manage your own relationships with all the vendors and other organizations you deal with
- … and to do all that either on your own or with the help of fourth parties that work for you rather than for sellers (as most third parties do)
Today there are dozens of VRM developers working at all that stuff and more — to open floodgates of economic possibility when demand drives supply personally, rather than “socially” as part of some ad-funded Web giant’s wet dream. (And socially in the genuine sense, in which each of us knows who our friends, relatives and other associates really are, and in what contexts our actual social connections apply.) I report on those, and the huge implications of their work, in The Intention Economy.
Here’s the thing, and why now is the time to point this out: most of those developers have a hell of a time getting laid by VCs, which on the whole have their heads stuck in a calf-cow model of the Web, and can’t imagine a way to improve the marketplace that does not require breeding yet another cow, or creating yet another ranch for dependent customers. Maybe now that the bloom is off Facebook’s rose, and the Filter Bubble is ready to burst, they can start looking at possibilities over here on the demand side.
So this post is an appeal to investors. Start thinking outside the cow, and outside the ranch. If you truly believe in free markets, then start believing in free customers, and in the development projects that make them not only free, but able to drive sales at a 100% rate, and to form relationships that are worthy of the word.
- Facebook’s fail? No, Madison Avenues!, by Terry Heaton.
- Facebook IPO Post Mortem – Killer – but not for the reasons you think!, by Mark Cuban
- EXCLUSIVE: Here’s The Inside Story Of What Happened On The Facebook IPO, by Henry Blodgett
- Bit.ly tweet roster.
Okay, my foursquare experiment is over. I won, briefly…
… and, about 24 hours later (the second screenshot) I was back in the pack somewhere.
So now I’m done playing the leaderboard game. I’d like to say it was fun, and maybe it was, in the same way a hamster in a cage has fun running in its wheel. (Hey, there’s a little hamster in all of us. Ever tried to “win” in traffic? Same game.)
The experiment was to see what it would take to reach #1 on the leaderboard, if only for a minute. The answer was a lot of work. For each check-in I needed to:
- Wake up the phone
- Find foursquare (for me it’s not on the front page of apps)
- Tap the app
- Dismiss the “Rate foursquare” pop-over window
- Tap on the green “Check In” button
- Wait (sometimes for many seconds) while it loads its list of best guesses and actual locations
- Click on the location on the list (or type it in, if it’s not there)
- Click on the green “Check In Here” button
- Take a picture and/or write something in the “What are you up to?” window
- Click on the green “Check In” button, again.
And to do that a lot. For example, at Harvard Square a few days ago, I checked in at the Harvard Coop, Radio Shack, Peets Coffee, the Cemetery, Cambridge Common and the Square itself. For just those six places we’re talking about 60 pokes on the phone. (Okay, some of the time I start at #5. But it’s still a lot of pokes.)
To make sure I had the poke count right, I just did it again, here at the Berkman Center. Now my phone says, “Okay. We’ve got you @ Berkman Center for Internet & Society. You’ve been here 45 times.”
Actually, I’ve been here hundreds of times. I only checked in forty-five of those times. The difference matters. What foursquare says in that statement is, If you haven’t checked in on foursquare, you haven’t really been there. Which is delusional. But then, delusion is part of the game. Being mayor of the 77 bus (which I have been, a number of times) confers no real-world advantages to me at all. I even showed a driver once that I was mayor of the bus. She looked at my phone, then at me, like I was a nut case. (And, from her perspective, I surely was.) Being the mayor of some food joint might win you a discount or a freebie if the establishment is so inclined. But in most cases the establishment knows squat about foursquare. Or, if it does know something, squat might be what it does.
That was my surreal experience after checking in at a Brookstone at Logan Airport last October. I coudn’t miss the large placard there…
… and asked the kid at the cash register what the “special” would be. He replied, ”Oh, that’s just a promotion.” At the other end of the flight, while transferring between concourses in Dallas-Fort Worth, I saw this ad on the tram:
On my way to the next plane I checked into as many places as I could, and found no “great deals.” (Here is my whole mini-saga of foursquare screenshots.)
But, credit where due. An American Express promo that I ran across a number of times at SXSW in Austin earlier this year provided $10 off purchases every place it ran, which was more than a few. (Screenshots start here.) We also recently got a free upgrade from Fox, the car rental company, by checking in with foursquare. And I agree with Jon Mitchell of RWW, in What Is the Point of… Foursquare?, that the service has one big plus:
Isn’t Foursquare just for spamming Twitter and Facebook with what Geoloqi’s Amber Case calls “geoloquacious” noise about your trip to the grocery store? It can be, and for too many users, it is.
But turn all that off. Forget the annoying badges and mayorships, too. There’s one useful thing at which Foursquare is very, very good: recommendations.
So I’ll keep it going for that, and for notifying friends on foursquare that I’m in town, and am interested in getting together. (This has worked exactly once, by the way, with the ever-alert Steve Gillmor.)
But still, you might ask, why have I bothered all this time?
Well, I started using foursquare because I like new stuff and I’ve always been fascinated by the Quantified Self (QS) thing, especially around self-tracking, which I thought might also have a VRM benefits, somewhere down the line. I’m also a born geographer with a near absolute sense of where I am. Even when I’m flying in the stratosphere, I like to know where I am and where I’ve been, especially if photography is also involved. Alas, you can’t get online in the air with most planes. But I’ve still kept up with foursquare on the ground, patiently waiting for it to evolve past the hamster-wheel stage.
But the strange thing is, foursquare hasn’t evolved much at all, given the 3+ years they’ve been around. The UI was no bargain to begin with, and still isn’t. For example, you shouldn’t need to check in always in real time. There should be a setup that keeps track of where you’ve been, without the special effort on your part. If there are specials or whatever, provide alerts for those, on an opt-in basis.
But evolution is planned, in a big way. Foursquare Joins the Coupon Craze, a story by Spencer E. Ante last week in The Wall Street Journal, begins with this:
Foursquare doesn’t want to be another popular—but unprofitable—social network. Its new plan to make money? Personalized coupons.
The company, which lets users alert their friends to their location by “checking in” via smartphone from coffee shops, bars and other locations, revealed for the first time that it plans to let merchants buy special placement for promotions of personalized local offers in July in a redesigned version of its app. All users will be able to see the specials, but must check into the venue to redeem them.
“We are building software that’s able to drive new customers and repeat visitors to local businesses,” said Foursquare co-founder and Chief Executive Dennis Crowley.
This tells me my job with foursquare is to be “driven” like a calf into a local business. Of course, this has been the assumption from the start. But I had hoped that somewhere along the way foursquare could also evolve into a true QS app, yielding lat-lon and other helpful information for those (like me) who care about that kind of thing. (And, to be fair, maybe that kind of thing actually is available, through the foursquare API. I saw a Singly app once that suggested as much.) Hey, I would pay for an app that kept track of where I’ve been and what I’ve done, and made that data available to me in ways I can use.
Meanwhile, there is one big piece of learning that I don’t think anybody has their head fully wrapped around, and that’s the willingness of people to go to all this work, starting with installing the app in the first place.
Back in the early days of ProjectVRM, it was taken as fact amongst developers that anything requiring a user install was problematic. Now most of us have phones with dozens or hundreds of apps or browser extensions that we’ve installed ourselves. Of course Apple and the browser makers have made that kind of thing easier, but that’s not my point. My point is that the conventional wisdom of today could be old-hat a year from now. We can cite example after example of people doing things which, in the past, it was said they were unlikely to do.