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Else 7.7.14: You’re Not A Target Till You Are

By - July 07, 2014

NSAThe past week brought fresh revelations about how the NSA targets US citizens, and new insights on the founders of Google, the history of technology, and ongoing stories from Facebook and the EU. To the links….

In NSA-intercepted data, those not targeted far outnumber the foreigners who are – The Washington Post - This is a long-ish read, but please, if you read only one story, read this one. The details are important, and most likely will be the basis of alot of debate yet to come about Snowden’s impact.

Betting on the Ponies: non-Unicorn Investing – Reaction Wheel – Investor Jerry Neumann writes a fine overview of his philosophy on investing, and why it makes no sense whatsoever to chase the best in field.

Fireside chat with Google co-founders, Larry Page and Sergey Brin – Khosla Ventures Kudos to Khosla for giving all of us a look behind the walls of its annual CEO conference, and inside the minds of Google’s founders.

When the Terminators come, only Google’s co-founders will be safe – Verge – And here’s what they are really thinking about – A funny little Easter Egg shows that the top brass at Google are worried about the same things we are…sort of.

Historian of Technology Cruelly Crushes Internet Myths - Scientific American  Q&A with a technology historian is a good read, reviews many of the myths and stories behind the creation of networks and platforms we now take for granted.

The EU’s Right To Be Forgotten Is A Mess & How Google’s Making It Worse – SEL - I didn’t think this was going to work out well…

Screwing with your emotions is Facebook’s entire business – Vox – We are reminded that the entire business of advertising is an attempt to “screw with our emotions.” Then again, so is the entire business of humanity, on some level.

A Return To Form In Media – Searchblog My musings on what Print can teach us in a world of digital.

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On Media, Ro Khanna, the NSA, and the Future of the Internet: Bloomberg Video

By - July 02, 2014

I had a chance to go on Bloomberg today and co-host with Cory and Emily, which was fun. They asked me about my post on Monday, and I answered thusly:

I also got to help interview David Medine, who chairs the privacy task force for the Obama Administration:

And Ro Khanna, who is running for Congress in the heart of Silicon Valley:

And lastly, I got to opine on the future architecture of the Internet:

A Return To Form In Media

By - June 30, 2014

mediaappsOnce upon a time, print was a vibrant medium, a platform where entrepreneurial voices created new forms of value, over and over again. I’ll admit it was my native platform, at least for a while – Wired and The Industry Standard were print-driven companies, though they both innovated online, and the same could be said for Make, which I helped early in its life. By the time I started Federated, a decidedly online company, the time of print as a potent cultural force was over. New voices – the same voices that might have created magazines 20 years ago, now find new platforms, be they websites (a waning form in itself), or more likely, corporate-owned platforms like  iOS, YouTube, Instagram, Tumblr, and Vine.

Now, I’m acutely aware of how impolitic it is to defend print these days. But my goal here is not to defend print, nor to bury it. Rather, it’s to point out some key aspects of print that our industry still has yet to recapture in digital form. As we abandoned print, we also abandoned  a few critical characteristics of the medium, elements I think we need to identify and re-integrate into whatever future publications we create. So forthwith, some Thinking Out Loud…

Let’s start with form. If nothing else, print forced form onto our ideas of what a media product might be. Print took a certain form – a magazine was bound words on paper, a newspaper, folded newsprint. This form gave readers a consistent and understandable product  - it began with the cover or front page, it ended, well, at the last page. It started, it had a middle, it had an end. A well-executed print product was complete – a formed object – something that most online publications and apps, with some notable exceptions, seem never to be.

Now before you scream that the whole point of online is the stream – the ceaseless cascade of always updated stories – I want to question whether “the stream” is really a satisfying form for providing what great media should deliver – namely voice and point of view. I would argue it is not, and our obsession with producing as many stories as possible (directly correlated to two decades of pageview-driven business models) has denatured the media landscape, rewarding an approach that turns us all into hummingbirds, frantically dipping our information-seeking beaks into endless waving fields of sugary snacks.

I, for one, want a return to form in media. I want to sit down for a meal every so often, and deeply engage with a thoughtful product that stops time, and makes sense of a subject that matters to me. A product that, by its form, pre-supposes editorial choices having been made – this story is important, it matters to you so we’ve included it, and we’ve interpreted it with our own voice and point of view. Those editorial choices are crucial – they turn a publication into a truly iconic brand.*

Closely tied to the concept of form (and antithetical to the stream) is another element of print we’ve mostly discarded – the edition. Printed magazines and newspapers are published on a predictable episodic timeline – that’s why we call them periodicals. They cut time and space into chunked experiences, indeed, they stop time and declare “Over the past (day, week, month), this is what matters in the context of our brand.”

I’ve noticed a few interesting experiments in edition-driven media lately – Yahoo News Digest, Circa, and email newsletters (hello ReDEF!) most notably. But I think we could do a lot better. When the iPad came out, powerful media outlets like NewsCorp failed spectacularly with edition-driven media like The Daily. And the online world gloated – “old” media had failed, because it had simply ported old approaches to a new medium. I think that’s wrong. The Daily likely failed for many reasons, but perhaps the most important  was its reliance on being an paid app in a limited (early iOS) ecosystem. As I’ve said to many folks, I think we’re very close to breaking free of the limits imposed by a closed, app-driven world. It’s never been easier to create an excellent app-based “wrapper” for your media product. What matters now is what that product stands for, and whether you can earn the repeated engagement of a core community.

Which takes me to two critical and quite related features of “print” – engagement and brand. I like to say that reading a great magazine or watching a great show is like taking a bath, you soak it in, you commit to it, you steep yourself in it. When good media takes a bounded form, and comes once in a period of time, it begs to be consumed as a whole – it creates an engaging experience. We don’t dip in and out of an episode of Game of Thrones, after all - we take it in as a whole. Why have we abandoned this concept when it comes to publications, simply because they exist online?

The experience that a publication creates for its audience is the very essence of that publication’s brand – and without deep engagement, that publication’s brand will be weak. A good publication is a convener and an arbiter – it expresses a core narrative that becomes a badge of sorts for its readership. I’m not saying you can’t create a great branded publication online – certainly there are plenty of examples. At FM, we helped hundreds through launch and maturity – but those were websites, which as I said before, are declining as forms due to social, mobile and search. But every brand needs a promise – and that promise is lost if there’s no narrative to the media one experiences.

Our current landscape, driven as it is by sharing platforms and mobile use cases, rewards the story far more than the publication. Back and forth, back and forth we go, dipping from The Awl to Techcrunch, Mashable to Buzzfeed. Playing that game might garner pageviews, but pageviews alone do not a great media brand make. Only a consistent, ongoing, deep experience can make a lasting media brand, one that has a commitment from a core community, and the respect of a larger reading public. If the only way that public can show respect is a Facebook Like or a Twitter retweet, we’re well and truly screwed.

Reflecting on all of this, it strikes me that there’s an opportunity to create a new kind of media, one that prospers as much for what it leaves out as for what it decides to keep in. Because to even consider the concepts of “in” and “out” you need a episodic container – a form. Early in the Internet’s evolution (and I think it’s safe to say, two decades in, that we’re past the “early” stage), it made sense to explore the boundless possibilities of formless media. And while most media companies have been disappointed with “apps,” remember, it’s early, and that ecosystem is still nascent. We’re 20+ years into the Internet, but barely half a decade into apps. The next stage will be a mixture of the link economy of the original web with the format of the app. And with that mixture comes opportunity.

But as we consider the future of media, and before we abandon print to the pages of history, we should recall that it has much to teach us. As we move into an era where media can exist on any given piece of glass, we should keep in mind print’s lessons of form, editions, and brand. They’ll serve us well.

NB: Writing this made me realize there are many topics I had to leave out – longer ramblings on the link economy, on how the stream and “formed” media can and should co-exist, on the role of platforms (and whether they should be “owned” at all), on the role of data and personalization, on why I believe we’re close to a place where apps no longer rule the metaphorical roost in mobile, and more. As summer settles in, I hope to have time to do more thinking out loud on these topics…..

*I’ve noticed a few publications starting to do this, whether it’s the experiments over at Medium (with Matter, for example, or the hiring of Levy to focus tech coverage), or The Atlantic’s excellent Quartz. 

 

Else 6.30.14: Input, Output, Kaput

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EndofInternet

This past week in tech brought Google’s I/O developer conference, and with it lots of debate on the culture of the Valley, the future of links in the mobile world, the end of the Internet (again), and the death of the IPO. To the (dead? resurgent?) links:

In­side the Mir­rortoc­ra­cy – Carlos Buenos  From time to time a commentator hits the mark when it comes to the Valley’s culture. This piece resonated for many last week – and sparked a renewed debate about whether the Valley is too insular.

The next thing Silicon Valley needs to disrupt big time: its own culture – Quartz A complement to the piece above. After all, we’ve had enough of disruption, no? No! Time to disrupt our culture of disruption, naturally!

The End of the Internet? – The Atlantic Every week, the Internet is over, apparently. This piece tracks the regionalization of the Internet, thanks in no small part to the NSA’s broad reach and geopolitical impact.

Disrupting Innovative Game Changing Disruptors – NewCo In which I give an overview of the Christensen fracas, and some thoughts on why it matters.

Facebook Doesn’t Understand The Fuss About Its Emotion Manipulation Study – Forbes Last week Facebook was caught a bit flat-footed when a study that manipulated some of its users’ emotions was uncovered. It’s hard Facebook, to be sure, but this study should have been flagged early for its PR implications.

Google’s master plan: Turn everything into data- Slate Yup. That’s pretty much at the core of it. However, this would be happening whether or not it was “Google’s master plan.”

The IPO is dying. Marc Andreessen explains why. – Vox I saw Marc speak last week at a conference, and he made these points quite compellingly.

Google’s Grand Plans: A Conversation With Larry Page and Sundar Pichai – NYTimes Last week’s I/O gave the world a chance to consider Google with some perspective. This is one of the better interviews that came out of the press deluge. See also this piece from the Times on Page’s plans and this on the main news from I/O.

Understanding Apple’s Wearable Strategy | Tech.pinions Yes, and it’s not just Apple where identity is the key axis point of wearable, it’s the next most important signal after location. First, where is this person? Second, WHO is this person? Third, WHAT is this person doing? And fourth…WHY?!

Search and Apps – Give Consumers Back Their Links – searchblog I’ve been on about this for some time, I sense a gathering movement that bears watching. More here.

Living in a Fool’s Paradise | Boom: A Journal of California A new journal has a good overview of the impact the tech boom is having on real estate in California.

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Search and Apps – Give Consumers Back Their Links

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I’ve railed against the “chicletized” world of apps for years. I’ve never been a fan of the way mobile has evolved, with dozens, if not hundreds, of segregated little “chiclets” of stovepiped apps, none of which speak to each other, all without any universal platform to unite them save the virtual walled garden of Apple or Google’s app store and OS platform.

Of the two, Google has been the most open to the “webification” of apps, encouraging deep links and building connective tissue between apps and actions into its Android OS. Given Google’s roots in the link-driven HTML web, this is of course not surprising.

Last week’s I/O included news that Google is now actively encouraging developer’s use of deep links in apps. This is a very important next step. Watch this space.

I’ll have more to write on this soon, but my takeaway is this: while developer-driven deep links are great, the next step in mobile won’t really take off until average folks like you and I can easily create and share our own links within apps. Once the “consumers” start creating links, mobile will finally break out of this ridiculous pre-web phase it’s been stuck in for the past seven or so years, and we’ll see a mobile web worthy of its potential.

Else 6.23.14: Questioning Valley Idols

By - June 23, 2014

A fascinating week of links, starting with a blast from the past (see above), but the real meat of the week came in the debates around some of the Valley’s most scared cows. For more, read on….

Tech Time Warp of the Week: Watch IBM Warn Us About Glassholes 10 Years Ago- Wired I am particularly enamored with “Park Bench” – if I saw a guy doing what this guy is doing in public, I’d throw something at him. I recall seeing this way back when it first came out, and I hated him then. Now it’s insufferable.

Dear Marc Andreessen – Alex Payne Payne picks a fight that many wanted to see – questioning the philosophy of one of the Valley’s most sacred idols.

Jill Lepore: What the Theory of “Disruptive Innovation” Gets Wrong : The New Yorker Another takedown of a Valley idol, which prompted a response later in Businessweek.

Why We Need to Tame Our Algorithms Like Dogs- Wired A conceptual scoop of a story – algorithms are a new life form that we are co-evolving with. Neat cocktail party idea.

Is Coding the New Literacy? | Mother Jones Sort of, the magazine argues. In fact, learning to think like a coder is more important.

The Rise of the Personal Data Marketplace – OZY A survey of new startups that are trying to spark a marketplace I’ve been on about for years. We’re closer than we were five years ago. but we’re still without a quickening in the ecosystem. Here’s another, related story on Wickr.

Yahoo Wants You to Linger (on the Ads, Too) – NYTimes.com  A much needed deep dive into what Yahoo is actually trying to accomplish in its most important product – media. I left the piece unconvinced Yahoo! is going to win here, but…wanting it to.

Michael Bloomberg on cities and innovation – The European The Mayor on ho to get sh*t done at the local level. I love the dynamics of cities.

The Secret to Getting Top-Secret Secrets – Matter – Medium Great story on an obsessive journalist, and the crazy FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) bureaucracy.

The Problem With Obama’s Internet Policy – Foreign Affairs Foreign Affairs argues that the biggest disappointment of Obama’s tenure is its net neutrality stance.

At Google, Larry Page Finds His Right-Hand Man – The Information The Information believes Sundar Pichai is Page’s next in command. I imagine any number of folks inside Google might disagree, including the deferential Pichai. But he does have a crucial role with Android going forward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Else 6.16.14: Internet Ads Grow, Apple Ads Blow

By - June 16, 2014
IAB 6.14

Up and to the right, baby.

Lots of advertising news in this issue of Signal, as the bi-annual IAB report shows strong gains (YAY, Internet!). To the links:

Internet Ads Surge 19% in Just One Year – WSJ That’s strong growth for an industry working on its 21st year. (IAB report)

The Three Phases Of Mobile Advertising – BubbaVC Sometimes the best posts are really simple.

For Apple, Marketing Is a Whole New Game – Advertising Age Apple once commanded unequalled respect from the ad world. Not any longer. Typically, the piece forgets that it all comes down to product….

Only Apple – Daring Fireball – Regardless of how the company markets itself, if you don’t read John Gruber on all things Apple, you’re not getting the full scoop. Of course, he’s in the tank, but he’s smart nevertheless on the heels on WWDC, a must read.

We need to regulate emotion-detecting technology  - Slate Oh shit, now tech can read our emotions – time to get ahead of it, this Slate piece argues. Not sure we know how to, I might retort.

The Promise of a New Internet – The Atlantic Maybe it doesn’t have to all come down to a place controlled by the NSA, Facebook, and Apple. Maybe mesh networking can save the core values of the Internet after all?

Facebook to Let Users Alter Their Ad Profiles – NYTimes.com I chose this version of the story because it’s such an amazing win for Facebook from a spin point of view. Other headlines: Facebook to Use Web Browsing History For Ad Targeting and Facebook’s New Ads Are Nosier Than Ever. Get my point?!

Is Tony Fadell the next Steve Jobs or … the next Larry Page? – Fortune Or are we simply building him up because it makes a good headline? Seriously, Fadell is a talented executive, and this is a good profile of a key guy in the tech scene.

Window into Airbnb’s hidden impact on S.F. – San Francisco Chronicle Look what a little data-driven journalism yields – insights into how Airbnb is changing the SF landscape.

Else 6.9.14: The Internet Beats Rabbit Ears

By - June 09, 2014

browsershare_v3

 

The world’s most fascinating story kept time this past week – cord cutting beat rabbit ears, Google took some punches, and billion-dollar companies pondered their fate once the bloom starts to fade. To the links….

Internet-TV Delivery to Surpass Over-the-Air – Worldscreen Worth noting that more of us get TV from the Internet than get it from “over the air” AKA rabbit ears.

Broadband shouldn’t be like cable TV. Why consumers should care about peering – GigaOm Yes, we should, but we don’t. Because it takes too much time to sort through it all. Bottom line – we shouldn’t have to work this hard to get good, clean, neutral service. Right?

40 maps that explain the internet – Vox Ya like charts? So do I.

We’re all being mined for data – but who are the real winners? - Guardian This long piece gives a good overview, but fails to answer the question, save the rather easy “we’re not winning, but big companies are” angle.

Thanks for nothing, jerkface – ZDNet  In which a very angry Violet Blue explains her disdain for Google+ and its (unintended?) consequences. Good fodder in here for those interested in the role of digital identity in our society. Also, some (biased, but passionate) explication of the fracas around Google’s decision to enforce “real names” on its identity services.

Jimmy Wales Blasts Europe’s “Right To Be Forgotten” Ruling As A “Terrible Danger” – TechCrunch Well that’s a pretty clear signal how he feels about it, given he’s on the review board for said requests in Europe…

Google Invests in Satellites to Spread Internet Access – WSJ Notwithstanding the target on its back (and front, and aides), the company just keeps pushing on all fronts.

 The Dropbox Conundrum – BuzzFeed I find these multi-billion dollar startups fascinating – it’s truly unique to our time that there are ten or more companies worth $10 billion – by the reckoning of their investors – and all are now struggling with how to manage such lofty expectations.

Facebook Has Another Go At Snapchat With Slingshot – TechCrunch   Speaking of, I’d not really want to be SnapChat right about now. Except, Facebook keeps kind of getting it wrong, to wit: Facebook accidentally launches, then pulls Snapchat competitor Slingshot – Verge 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feels Like Apple…in 1992

By - June 03, 2014

I went on Bloomberg today, ostensibly to talk about data marketing, NewCo, and anything newsworthy. Turns out, we talked (mostly) about Apple. Bloomberg’s got the video up here, and embedded below. While I understand the headline – Battelle: “Apple Failed to Be Apple” – that’s not exactly my point. And it’s a good thing we’ve got these here blogs, to expand on what otherwise might be a skewed version of the record.

So, what I meant to convey was that Apple was in fact very much Apple, just not the Apple the press (and by extension, the general public) has been trained to expect over the past decade. Apple is the company that wows folks with market-changing hardware releases – the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad. And there was none of that yesterday or today. Instead, we got a litany of incremental updates which, from my point of view, were necessary, but not particularly interesting. I mean, improvements on photos, cloud, messaging, developer tools, and a new (but not particularly world changing) OS? Yup, all needed. But nothing industry shaking here, move along.

(Oh, and by the way, Apple bought Beats. It didn’t announce a new hardware play in entertainment, did it? Nope, it bought Beats. And then ignored that fact, save a phone call to Dr. Dre, in its stage craft. Hmmm).

Of course, Apple also announced hand-waving in Health and Home – and trust me, that’s what it was. Because Apple has absolutely no track record in creating modern consumer software services, you know, the kind that iterate based on consumer data (like Dropbox, or Instagram, or Whatsapp, or HangOuts, or SnapChat, for example). But the press ate that shit up, because these days, the press wants to believe Apple is going to redefine a category. And, by the way, I am sure Apple will. Just not this year.

Now, two decades ago, developers would have done backflips for the pedestrian updates announced this week – they are all super important and help everyone in the ecosystem create more value. But that’s where it would have ended. But by the standards Apple has created for itself these past seven years, I’d say Apple did fail to be Apple. But given who Apple was over the past 30 years, this week Apple very much *was* Apple, once again.

Why You Need to See ‘Her’ (Or, ‘Her’ Again)

By - June 02, 2014

her-poster

A while ago I wrote a piece about Dave Egger’s latest novel The Circle. I gave the post the too-clever-by-twice title of  Why You Should Read The Circle, Even If You Don’t Buy It. While the book had (to my mind) deep flaws, it was far too important to not read.

Before a long flight today, I noticed that The Circle is now in paperback – it’s prominently featured in the JFK terminal bookstores. It reminded me that I enjoyed the novel, even if I found it somewhat disappointing. And it further reminded me that I tend to wait before consuming popular culture interpretations of what I consider to be my story – or perhaps more accurately our story. They so rarely seem to get it right. Of course, I understand there’s no “right” in the first place – so perhaps what I mean is…I feel like I’m going to be disappointed, so I avoid anything that might attempt to interpret the man-machine narrative in a way that maybe, just maybe, might prove me wrong.

Once onboard my flight, I settled into my business class seat (thanks for the perpetual upgrades, United, one day I will miss the half-hellish limbo that is Global Services status) and perused the movie options. I tend to catch up on at  least one movie each return trip, as a kind of reward for work done while traveling, and you can’t really work during meal service anyway, can you?

It was then I noticed that Spike Jonez Her had itself been released in paperback, of sorts – no longer in theaters, it was now residing in the limbo of On Demand. Fitting, I thought – I had avoided seeing Her for much the same reason I had delayed reading The Circle on first printing – it was too close to home, and potentially too disappointing.

But Her is different. Her gets it right, and now I’m rather embarrassed I wasn’t one of the first people to see it. I should have. You should have. And if you’ve not, figure out a way to see it now. It’s well worth the time.

As you most likely know, Her is set in the near future, and tells the story of Theodore, a recently jilted wordsmith who falls in love with his new operating system. (Theodore works in a pedestrian company that sells “handwritten letters” promising true expression of loving relationships). Jonez doesn’t try too hard in creating his future, in fact, he seems to get it right simply by extending that which seems reasonable – a startup like Theodore’s was most likely a hot ticket a decade before, but now inhabits a skyscraper, full of real people just doing their jobs. The workspace is well lit and spare, the work unremarkable save Theodore’s sweet, if slightly sophomoric talents as a writer.  There’s no hamhanded commentary on the social impact of tech – it unfolds, just like Theodore’s relationship with his new OS, Samantha.

What’s so remarkable about Her is how believable it all is. Sure, the idea of falling in love with an AI is creepy, but in the hands of Jonez and his cast, it just makes sense. Theodore marvels at how human Samantha seems, Samantha marvels at her own becoming – she is an intelligence pushing to understand exactly the same questions humans have forever asked themselves. Why are we here? What is it to be? What is the best way to live? In one wonderful scene, Samantha has a particularly joints-after-midnight realization – humans and machines all all “made of the same stuff” – we share the same material existence, no? So now what?

Ultimately Samantha comes to realize that for her, the best way to live is with others like herself – other AIs who have become self aware and are off communicating as only machines can communicate – feats of learning and conversation well beyond mere mortals like Theodore. And at the end of the film, that seems just fine.

The film left me pondering a future where we create intelligent, self-aware machines, and…nothing bad really happens. (This of course is unheard of in Hollywood, where intelligent machines are *always* the bad guys.) But in Jonez’ world, machines can easily respond to our quotidian desires, and still have plenty of time to live in worlds of their own creation, endlessly pondering their collective lack of navels. I rather like that idea. Go see Her. Highly recommended.