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Google: Making Nick Carr Stupid, But It's Made This Guy Smarter

By - June 10, 2008


I will admit, I was entirely biased upon reading this story from Nick Carr, who has a knack for writing pieces that get a lot of attention by baiting his hook with contrarian link chum. Heck, he’s really good at it, and I have a lot of respect for Nick. So I’ll take the bait.

His piece starts by conjuring HAL, the famous AI which manipulates humans, then makes his case by citing his own “feeling” that Google has changed his attention span to somehow prove that search and web browsing in general is making us stupid.

Balderdash. What Carr is really saying is this: People are not reading long narrative anymore, and that makes me and my pals sad. So let’s blame the Internet!

Sounds an awful lot like the complaints we heard about TV making us stupid. Did TV make us stupid? I dunno, ask Steven Johnson. I bet he has an opinion on this piece as well.

Carr writes: “Yet, for all that’s been written about the Net, there’s been little consideration of how, exactly, it’s reprogramming us. The Net’s intellectual ethic remains obscure.”

So because Nick hasn’t come up with a singular thesis as to what the “Net’s intellectual ethic” is, we must declare it’s making us stupid, eh?

Huh. He goes on to claim that Google is, in essence, an industrial style factory driven by a philosophy that is mechanizing our collective intellect much like factory automation mechanized our collective workforce – in short, Google is turn our minds into nothing more than collective cogs in some borg like hive mind. We’re fucked, and it’s all Google’s fault.


Here’s another quote: “The last thing these companies want is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. It’s in their economic interest to drive us to distraction.”

Right. And that’s why Google encourages its workers to spend 20% of their time on passion projects. OK.

His conclusion: “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

Good lord. Somehow Carr seems to presume that there’s simply nothing valuable occurring in our minds when we engage with the extraordinary new medium of the web. Because we’re starting to think in different ways, it must be bad. Right? Carr may believe that search and the Internet make us stupid, but I will counter his personal, anecdote-driven conclusions with one of my own: when I am deep in search for knowledge on the web, jumping from link to link, reading deeply in one moment, skimming hundreds of links the next, when I am pulling back to formulate and reformulate queries and devouring new connections as quickly as Google and the Web can serve them up, when I am performing bricolage in real time over the course of hours, I am “feeling” my brain light up, I and “feeling” like I’m getting smarter. A lot smarter, and in a way that only a human can be smarter.

And I have a feeling I’m not alone. What do you guys think?

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Speaking of the CM Summit…

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Cms Nyc

My director of events, Stacey Foreman, tells me we have exactly 25 tickets left for the CM Summit in NYC. Now, we are only letting 350 folks in, and we’ve been selling about 20 tickets a day over the past week. So…while I am inclined to push the fire marshal’s tolerance, Stacey is not. If you want a ticket, I’d suggest you go for it asap. I’m really excited not only by the lineup, but by the chance to gather in an intimate environment and really contemplate some of the bigger issues facing the marketing world in the age of conversational media. It’s going to be really, really fun.

Initial Web 2 Summit Lineup Up, Registration Is Open

By - May 28, 2008


My partners at Web 2 told me today that the new website is live, the initial theme is up and posted (I am very excited about this year’s theme) and if you haven’t gone before, you can request an invitation to come here. Last year we had nearly 10,000 requests for an invitation, so if you want to come (Nov. 5-7 in SF) please fill out the form asap. I review each request personally.

The first line of speakers is also up, and there is a lot more cooking. Initial speakers include Jack Ma, Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg, Marc Andreessen, Ken Auletta,

Richard Rosenblatt, Lance Armstrong, Ralph De la Vega, Paul Otellini, Mary Meeker, Padmasree Warrior, Kevin Johnson, Joel Hyatt, Mathis Wackernagel, Marc Benioff and Vinod Khosla.

From the theme:

The Opportunity of Limits:

Sustaining, Applying and Expanding the Web’s Lessons

The commercial web is now a teenager—it’s been fifteen short years since Marc Andreessen released the Mosaic browser. To put this in perspective, television as a commercial medium reached its fifteenth birthday in 1956—the year Elvis Presley made his first appearance on national TV. National news broadcasts were still in their infancy, “As The World Turns” debuted as America’s first half-hour soap opera, and “The Price Is Right” began its dominance of the game show genre. Commercial grade videotape recorders emerged, portable black and white television sets were introduced, and the first local color broadcast aired in Chicago.

Fifteen years after television’s birth, the contours of the new medium were just emerging. The idea that this revolutionary new phenomenon—one busily reshaping the very fabric of society—might one day become just another application on a vast web of computers, well that idea wasn’t exactly in vogue.

In the first four years of the Web 2.0 Summit, we’ve focused on our industry’s challenges and opportunities, highlighting in particular the business models and leaders driving the Internet economy. But as we pondered the theme for this year, one clear signal has emerged: our conversation is no longer just about the Web. Now is the time to ask how the Web—its technologies, its values, and its culture—might be tapped to address the world’s most pressing limits. Or put another way—and in the true spirit of the Internet entrepreneur—its most pressing opportunities.

As we convene the fifth annual Web 2.0 Summit, our world is fraught with problems that engineers might charitably classify as NP hard—from roiling financial markets to global warming, failing healthcare systems to intractable religious wars. In short, it seems as if many of our most complex systems are reaching their limits.

It strikes us that the Web might teach us new ways to address these limits. From harnessing collective intelligence to a bias toward open systems, the Web’s greatest inventions are, at their core, social movements. To that end, we’re expanding our program this year to include leaders in the fields of healthcare, genetics, finance, global business, and yes, even politics.

Increasingly, the leaders of the Internet economy are turning their attention to the world outside our industry. And conversely, the best minds of our generation are turning to the Web for solutions. At the fifth annual Web 2.0 Summit, we’ll endeavor to bring these groups together.

I can’t wait for this year, it’s going to be great! And there is a lot of room for speakers still, in particular with an eye toward this theme. Please make your suggestions in comments here. Help me make this as good as it can be! Thanks.

Help Me Make the CM Summit Amazing….Tickets Going Fast

By - May 20, 2008

As many of you know, next month is our second Conversational Marketing Summit, this time in NYC. The line up of speakers is really fantastic. I’ll be interviewing:

– Beth Comstock, CMO of GE

– Rich Silverstein, co-fonder of Goodby Silverstein

– Sarah Fay, CEO North America, Aegis Media Americas

– Wenda Millard Harris, Chair, IAB and President, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia

Speaker Bianchini Gina Bianchini

Speaker Comstock Sm Beth Comstock

Speaker Rich Sm Rich Silverstein

Speaker Fay Sarah Fay

And also coming, either running discussions or presenting, will be:

– Clark Kochich, CEO, Ave A/Razorfish

– Jonah Bloom, Editor, Advertising Age

– Jeff Berman, President, MySpace

– Joanna Shields, CEO, Beb0

– Jon Raj, Chief Digital Officer, OMD

– Jason Kilar, CEO, Hulu

– Gina Bianchini, CEO, Ning

…and a ton of others, including brand managers from Kraft, GM, Samsung, Adobe, EA (a first ever look at Spore!) and many many more. It’s going to be so cool.

We’re close to sold out (we’re limiting it to around 300 again, as we did last year), but there are still tickets available as of this writing. I think the hotel room block (at the Ritz Carlton Battery Park) is already sold out, but I am sure there are other places nearby to stay. This is all part of Internet Week, so a lot of folks will be around for that in any case.

So, what are the issues you want me to ask these folks? It’s a very interesting time in the world of online marketing, that much is certain….

The Green Web

By - May 16, 2008

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FM has partnered with Chevy to create a site that pulls together the best of sites on the web covering all things green. I’ve found it a nice way to stay in touch with a subject I’m increasingly interested in. I use the feed to monitor stuff, and then click through when there’s a story I want to engage in. Sure, it’s an FM project, so all the regular caveats apply. But judge for yourself. And if you don’t like it, well, tell me what we can do to make it better.

This is part of an ongoing trend I’m seeing, both at FM and certainly across the web, where marketers are providing a service to their potential customers in the form of supporting authentic media, as opposed to creating their own content and hoping it takes off. I like the trend.

PowerSet To Go

By - May 13, 2008

I’m late on Powerset (I just don’t have time to do the briefings anymore), but Mike has coverage here and Danny’s is here.

What I find interesting about Powerset is the refinement, which Danny covers well. The interface (in particular the response to query) is much more grammatical and conversational. That’s where the entire web is going, and it’s cool to see an example of it.

The CM Summit in New York: What A Lineup

By - April 22, 2008


FM’s Conversational Marketing Summit is just six weeks away, and I am getting more and more excited about the lineup of speakers, and the issues and topics we are going to cover. Check out the lineup of speakers:

# Jeff Berman, President, Sales and Marketing, MySpace

# Henry Blodget Co-Founder, CEO, Editor in Chief, Silicon Alley Insider

# Jonah Bloom, Editor, Advertising Age

# Beth Comstock, Chief Marketing Officer, General Electric

# Matt Freeman, CEO, Tribal DDB Worldwide

# Louis Giagrande, Online Marketing Manager, Samsung Electronics

# Darren Herman, Group Director of Digital Media, Media Kitchen

# Michael Hoefflinger, GM – Partner Marketing, Intel

# Mark Kantor, Co-founder, Graffiti

# Jason Kilar, CEO, Hulu

# Clark Kokich, CEO, Avenue A | Razorfish

# Andy Lark, VP–Global Marketing & Communications, Dell

# Andrew Markowitz, Director, Digital Marketing & Media, Kraft Foods Inc.

# Daina Middleton, SVP, Director Sunao Customer Insight, Marketing Analytics, Emerging Trends, Moxie Interactive

# Wenda Harris Millard, President, Media, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia & IAB

# Eileen Naughton, Director of Media Platforms, Google

# Martin A. Nisenholtz, SVP – Digital Operations, The New York Times Company

# Michael Osborne, Vice President of Sales, Bazaarvoice

# Jon Raj, Chief Digital Officer, OMD

# Randall Rothenberg, President & CEO, IAB

# Ian Schafer, CEO, Deep Focus

# Rich Silverstein, Co-Chairman, Goodby Silverstein & Partners

# Rudy Wilson, Director of Marketing, Doritos, Frito-Lay

A great lineup, and we’ve still got plenty more to add. I’ll be the host and emcee of this event, and I’m really looking forward to digging into the theme.

If you’re interested in attending, sign up now. The early bird discount expires in a week or so. See you in New York!

Language Is the Transit of Conversation

By - April 18, 2008

Some musings, fundamental stuff for most of you I imagine, but still, background on the noodling I continue to do around my shadow next book, over at the Amex site where I’m contributing some thoughts from time to time as part of an FM brokered marketing program. From it:

At its core, the Web is a network of computers. As businesspeople, we’ve been in dialog with computers for some time now. But back in the 1960s and 1970s, computers were hulking machines meant for the back offices of Very Large Companies, not small businesses. These machines had a very particular interface – a command line into which you were required to type an arcane “computer language” to get anything done. The number of people who spoke this language were understandably low, and therefore, the number of people in the world who were having “conversations with machines” was also quite low.

In the 1980s, we all got “personal computers,” and thanks to the graphical user interface – “GUI” – millions of us starting talking with computers. But the conversation was hardly fluent. I call this the “hunt and poke” era of computing – we used a mouse to navigate a representational desktop; when we found something we wanted, we poked at it until it came alive for us. This gesticulative interface – not unlike what the wordless signals we employ while in a foreign land in need of the bathroom – is a step forward, but it sure doesn’t scale.

And then the Internet came along. And everything changed. Now we were not just navigating our desktops, or the back office computer files. We were navigating mankind’s possible knowledge base. The whole shootin’ match. Clearly, not a place we could hunt and poke our way through. We needed a new interface. And we found one, in search.