One of my first “big books” out of college was James Gleick’s Chaos: Making a New Science and it still resonates with me, though it’s been so long I think I’m due for a re-read. In any case, the next book up in my ongoing self-education is Gleick’s The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood. It’s long. It’s dense. It’s good, so far. In fact, there’s already a passage, a quote from Plato, that has struck me as germane to the ongoing threads I attempt to weave here on this site (even if all I’m really making is a lame friendship bracelet – pun intended, as you will see).
Early in the book, Gleick narrates the birth of the written word, which if you think about it (and he certainly has), is quite an extraordinary event. Turns out Plato, who was literate (and therefore quotable today), was not a fan of the written word. His mentor Socrates, Gleick reminds us, was illiterate. Well, OK, that’s not fair. Socrates wasn’t illiterate, he was, in Gleick’s words, a “nonwriter.” In any case, the passage that struck me is Plato speaking about the written word, quoted in “The Information”:
For this invention will produce forgetfulness in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice their memory. Their trust in writing, produced by external characters which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own memory within them .You have invented an elixir not of memory, but of reminding; and you offer your pupils the appearance of wisdom, not true wisdom.
Nicholas Carr would be proud of Plato. But both would be wrong.
Definitions of wisdom shift as cultures shift. Now, of course, to be wise is to be literate. Then, to be wise was to commit knowledge to memory. Now, it’s to the ability to lookup (to search, to find, to divine patterns). I’ve called this search literacy in the past, but I think we’re moving toward something larger.
Consider the same passage, liberally edited to be a critique of the new medium of Facebook and social networking, rather than the new medium of the written word.
For this invention will produce disconnection in the minds of those who learn to use it, because they will not practice true relationships between people. Their trust in Facebook, produced by external connections which are no part of themselves, will discourage the use of their own ability to maintain relationships.You have invented an elixir not of relationships, but of reminding one of relationship; and you offer your pupils the appearance of connection, not true connection.
When writing was new, it was strange, and it was hard to imagine a society based on the written word. At the dawn of digital connectivity, the same holds true. Are digital relationships real? Is the grammar of Facebook robust enough to hold all the nuance of true connection?
Probably not yet. But I for one am happy Plato learned to write. And I can also imagine a time – well after these words sink deeply into the sediments of history – when Plato and Facebook are united in a new technology of memory, relationship, and communication that eclipses anything we might debate today.
Last night I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Levy, and old colleague from Wired, on the subject of his new book: In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives. The venue was the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco, and I think they’ll have the audio link up soon.
Steven’s interview was a lot like his book – full of previously untold anecdotes and stories that rounded out pieces of Google’s history that many of us only dreamt of knowing about. When I was reporting my book,The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, I had limited access to folks at Google, and *really* limited access to Larry Page and Sergey Brin. Levy had the opposite, spending more than two years inside the company and seeing any number of things that journalists would have killed to see in years past.
The result is a lively and very detailed piece of reporting about the inner workings of Google. But I was a bit disappointed with the book in that Steven didn’t take all that new knowledge and pull back to give us his own analysis of what it all meant. I asked him about this, and he said he made the conscious decision to not editorialize, but rather lay it all out there and let the reader draw his or her own conclusions. I respect that, but I also know Steven has really informed opinions, and I wish he’d give them to us.
What I took away from In the Plex was a renewed respect for the awesome size and scope of Google’s infrastructure, as well as its ambition. Sometimes we forget that Google is more likely than not the largest manufacturer of computers in the world, and runs the largest single instance of computing power in the world. It’s also one of the largest collectors and analyzers of data in the world. All of this has drawn serious scrutiny, but I don’t think even the regulators really grok how significant Google’s assets are. They should all read Steven’s book.
Levy only grazes the surface of Google’s social blindness, unfortunately, and due to timing could only mention Page’s ascendancy to CEO in his epilogue. But his reporting on how the China issue played out is captivating, as are the many details he fills out in Google’s early history. If you’re fascinated by Google, you’ve got to add this one to your library.
Federated Media is proud to present the sixth annual Conversational Marketing Summit, June 6-7 at the fabulous Hudson Theater in the Millennium Broadway Hotel in Times Square. The preliminary agenda is now up, more is coming, but you can get a pretty good sense of the lineup – it’s amazing.
This year’s CM Summit will bridge the conversations of FM’s regional Signal conferences on one stage, bringing together the topics of content marketing, location services, mobile, data, and the real-time web onto one stage.
See our initial agenda, now live on the site.
The rise of digital platforms present massive opportunities, but one significant challenge: finding the signal in an increasingly noisy ecosystem of sites, apps, and services. Audiences fragmented between usage on Facebook and Twitter are constantly faced with new services like Groupon, Foursquare, Color, and SimpleGeo. How can we, as marketers, help our customers find the signal that’s right for them? CM Summit we will dive into a day and half of rapid-fire case studies, insightful one-on-one conversations, and dynamic High Order Bits that will help brands, agencies, and marketers better understand consumer trends, experiences and industry signals.
Join the conversation! This event always sells out.
REGISTER TODAY and get your early-bird pricing, available only until this Friday, April 22. Special thanks to our event sponsors: RIM, AT&T, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Facebook, Outbrain, Pandora, R2integrated, Slideshare, Yahoo!, AOL, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks, Ustream; and our partners: IAB, Mashable, SMAC, and paidContent.
We look forward to seeing you this June 6-7 in New York!
Please visit our site for hotel booking details, a full list of speakers, and more event details.
For my next book (no really, I’m starting to work on it in my copious spare time), I’ve begun to read in earnest. I’ve got a rather long list, and I’m not sure I’ll get to them all, but for those that I do read, I plan to do a quick review here, if for no other reason than to prove I read the damn thing, and had an opinion.
Because the next book is a report from the future, I figured I may as well start with the NYT bestseller The Next 100 Years: A Forecast for the 21st Century by George Friedman, a fellow who apparently is the leader of a consulting company his publisher calls “the shadow CIA”. (And yes, that link is an Amazon affiliate link. I’m trying to make a few bucks to pay for the sorry state of publishing overall. Someday I’ll write a post about the process of selling my next book, but that day is not today).
Anyway, this book (first published in early 2009) came highly recommended to me by a very well known person in the Valley. It’s not a technology book, if anything, it’s the equivalent of a geopolitical romp, if ever there was such a thing. It’s reasonably well reviewed on Amazon, averaging three and a half stars, and I’ll admit it’s got some fun stuff in there.
But I have to say, it pretty much missed the entire boat when it comes to the impact the Internet is going to have on geopolitics, culture, and society over the next 100 years.
Now, I’m not going to do a classic book review here, but rather give you what I might say if you asked me what I thought of the book at, say, an industry cocktail party. And when I get to all the rest of the books, I’ll be doing the same. Deal? Deal.
So the premise of Friedman’s book is that certain geopolitical facts will never change. Nations need security, and those nations who can fend for themselves will attempt to defend that security. Some nations will fail and be dissolved into larger, more powerful neighbors, others will flex new muscles and create new (or in some cases very old) spheres of influence.
What makes the book so interesting are the author’s predictions, the most radical being this: That by sometime mid century, we’ll have a world war between two major sets of allies: On the one hand, the US, and the other, Turkey and Japan. Friedman lays this all out using a classic “past as prologue” approach, and I have to say, if you hold pretty much everything else constant, it actually makes a lot of sense.
But I find Friedman’s analysis sorely lacking when it comes to the potentially disruptive nature of global connectedness. Friedman argues from essentially this point of view: Countries are always worried about borders, access to commodities, and preserving national identity. They will always act to protect and preserve all three. He makes compelling cases for this by pointing to many centuries of history, from the Ottoman Empire to Germany in the 1900s.
Problem is, to my mind, we’re at a pivot point in human history, and I’m not convinced that national identity and protection of borders is going to drive folks to war in the way it has in the past. Until recently the human race has been bound by geographical regions of interest. Increasingly, the boundaries have more to do with intellectual (and commercial) regions of interest that are rather agnostic with regard to geography. They are, in a word, stateless. The nation state is not necessarily the end all or be all of how we are going to negotiate our political conflicts in the future. And we have the global Internet, still in its infancy, to thank for that.
Anyway, that’s what the book got me thinking about. I highly recommend it, even if I disagree with some of its premises. It’s a quick read, it’s rather fun to speculate, and it’ll get you thinking. Not a bad combination.
The next book I’m reading is In The Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes Our Lives” by Steven Levy. I’m about halfway through, and better finish soon, because I’m in conversation with Steven, who I’ve known for a very long time, at the Commonwealth Club this Tuesday in San Francisco.
Herewith, for all you RSS readers of Searchblog, is that other thing I do every day of the work week, Signal. If it suits your information consumption goals, sign up for Signal’s email newsletter or RSS feed on the FM home page (upper right box).
Monday Signal: What *Is* The Future of Media? (Today’s Signal)
Friday Signal: What Is the Next Facebook? (Hint: The Answer Is Yes) (Last week’s…etc.)
I took a ride today, and it was gorgeous as usual. That’s not my story, but it’s certainly a part of it.
As I rode I used the AllSports GPS app on my iphone to track my progress (guys, if you’re reading, your upload is busted).
I knew I’d be able to see the whole ride on Google Maps later, which is cool. It also tracks stuff like distance, vertical, speed, etc. Tons of fun.
So that’s one signal tracking me all along the way, kicking off tons of data as I went. Some of it I was capturing. Some of it, I’d warrant, was being captured by the app. And, if that app has a deal with Google or others for advertising, some of that data, I’d wager, is going to Google as well. I know this. Not sure most folks do, but they will. More on that in another post.
As I rode, I checked into a couple of trails I was on: Indian Fire, and Eldridge. In fact, I put Eldridge on the map of Foursquare, odd, but I knew it wasn’t on there as I tried to check in before but didn’t follow through on Foursquare’s request that I add the spot.
This time I did. Another app has some of my data now. I’m happy to give it to them, in fact.
After about 45 minutes of good up, I found myself at this vista and sent it to Tumblr:
A happy place to be sure. I think I captioned it Beeeeeuuuuttiieee or something. This is the view looking Northeast, two-thirds up the Eldridge trail on Mt. Tamalpais. Oh, and a third app now has my data.
Of course, the iPhone also has all that data, and more. And AT&T has its fair share to boot.
We peaked (checked in natch), ripped on down, took more pics, including a video, and I got home to my new video/music/think out loud room. And I put the map and the pictures and the video up on the big screen, and played a bit of Muppets doing Dance Yourself Clean because, well, it was Friday after all.
My buddy left, and I went in to get something. I came back to check mail, and brought up my browser. Now, my home page is this site, and what do I see at the top of the site, in the ads which at this point had reverted to Google AdSense?
Well, I saw this image:
Well I’ll be, I say to myself. That looks a lot like where I just was! And this was a Google Maps ad. Holy CRAP! Did Google get some of that data and, in near real time, show me an ad with MY PICTURE IN IT?
Funny thing was, I wasn’t creeped out. In fact, I was thrilled….I love that place, and there it was at the top of my site!
Now there’s much to say about this, but OF COURSE I CLICKED ON THAT BAD BOY.
Here’s what I got:
The thrill was palpable – was I looking at a Northeast view from two-thirds up Eldridge? Wow! Now that’s conversational media!
Well, no. I was looking at a beautiful vista in Ireland, in fact. Clearly the ad folks at Google thought it was a good shot to use. Packaged goods media.
It was all a coincidence.
But it sure as hell got me thinking.
Why *isn’t* there a way to take all that data, and more, and make experiences that work for all of us? I wrote about this in the “Rise of Metaservices.” I want me some, now. And not just so Google can serve me the perfect ad. The world is so much bigger than that (but if that pays for that world, I’m cool with it, as long as I have a dashboard which gives me control).
More to come.
We’re very excited to announce the theme and initial speaker lineup for our 6th annual Conversational Marketing Summit. The Summit will take place June 6-7th in New York City, at the Hudson Theater and Millennium Broadway Hotel.
Our theme is Finding the Signal. Speakers at our annual anchor event include Laura Desmond, CEO of Starcom MediaVest, Tim Westergren, Founder of Pandora, David Karp, Founder of Tumblr, Antonio Lucio, CMO of Visa, and Judy McGrath, Chair and CEO of MTV Networks. And that’s just for starters…see the full (and growing) list here.
We’ve taken our theme in the spirit of our regional Signal event series. Each Signal focuses on a key new area of digital marketing: Location, Real Time, Content, and Social. Finding the signal in an increasingly noisy eco-system of sites, mobile apps and services is increasingly difficult. At the CM Summit, we’ll cut through the clutter and offer up the very best and brightest for two robust days of case studies, insightful one-on-one conversations and compelling introductions of new products, start-ups and services.
Please join leading agencies, marketers, platforms and entrepreneurs in our industry’s most rigorous and thought-provoking annual gathering, the Conversational Marketing Summit.
Early-bird registration is open until April 22. Don’t wait, this event always sells out.
I look forward to seeing you in New York in June.
A very special thanks to our sponsor partners who make all this rich conversation and exploration possible: RIM, Google, Quantcast, Demand Media, Pandora, R2integrated, Slideshare,Yahoo, AOL, Mobile Roadie, Spiceworks and Ustream.
This headline caught my eye this morning: US VCs Raised $7.7 Billion In Q1, Highest Influx In A Decade. Of course, if you‘ve been following the news in our industry, you know there’s a raging debate on over whether we are in “another bubble.” This news will of course be interpreted as evidence that, in fact, we are back to bubbly levels…after all, one decade ago was when we had our last big hurrah, right? When VCs gave mostly incompetent founders way too much money, and the whole thing came crashing down around us.
Well, yes….and ten years ago, there was no way our industry, social culture, or technological infrastructure was ready for the big ideas VCs wanted to fund.
This time, I believe, is different.
There, I said it. Now go invest those billions, VCs, and go spend them, entrepreneurs. It’s about time we believed again.
Though, I must admit, the constant specter of the dot com bubble is a healthy thing – it keeps most of us focused on creating value, rather than simply scheming on how to make a quick buck.
Lately in talks and private conversations, I’ve been thinking out loud about the role of Facebook in our lives. It’s an extraordinary service (and company), and deserves its extraordinary valuation. But its approach to our “social graph” is limiting, as I and others have pointed out quite a bit.
While in Mexico I had the chance to sit with a couple of entrepreneurs who have an idea I feel is deeply *right* about social networking, and it couldn’t be further from how Facebook works today. I can’t outline what the idea was, but I can say that it hit the same nerve, that we are on the precipice of entirely new ways of thinking about our relationship to others as leveraged over digital platforms, and while Facebook may well be the oxygen or the landmass of this ecosystem, it won’t be the entire ecosystem itself.
To that end, this piece in TNW hits on some parts of what I’m on about. In it, the author writes:
Just as Google had early dominance in lighting up a portion of the web, Facebook has early dominance in lighting up a portion of the world’s social graph. But much like the Dark Web, there exists network upon network not yet graphed by Facebook, waiting to be mapped, organized, and optimized for communication.
I agree, and think there are many, many new places to create value here.