Can The Future Be Perfect? It Can Certainly Be Better

As my 2011 review of his Where Good Ideas Come From: A Natural History of Innovation proves, I am a Steven Johnson fan. So it was with relish that I settled in to read his latest release: Future Perfect: The Case For Progress In A Networked Age.

Steven had already told me the premise of his book – the first he’s written since moving to my neck of the woods in Marin, California (I hope we can keep him from going back to Brooklyn, but we’ll see…).

In short it’s this: the evidence has become overwhelming that a new form of political expression is developing, an expression deeply informed by the gravitational pull of the Internet (for more on that, see Steven’s piece in the Times: The Internet? We Built That).

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Must All Grasshoppers Die?

I’ve been reading a lot lately – and the topics have been pretty diverse. Popular science fiction from ten years ago (Outerland), political commentary from last month (Future Perfect), seminal computing tracts from the 1990s (Mirror Worlds), and just published manifestos on synthetic biology (Regenesis).

It is a luxury to read this much, even if it’s also not exactly pleasurable (memo to Dr. Church: Most of your readers do not have college degrees in organic chemistry…). But it does change how you think.

Last night I came home early from my writing retreat. I wasn’t happy about doing so, but life sometimes conspires to force you off plan. Yesterday was not a good day – any number of projects in which I’m involved unexpectedly demanded attention, and I failed to say no to their requests. I also contracted a swell case of poison oak. As I completed my tenth conference call – at a writing retreat in which I was supposedly to focus only on writing – I looked up and saw this:

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Dave Pell on Facebook’s Gift to Itself

I enjoy NextDraft, an email newsletter penned by Dave Pell each day. I value point of view and voice in any medium, and Dave’s got it. I think Searchblog readers would appreciate this item, so I’ve reposted it here. Dave, I hope you don’t mind…

The Gift of Data

Facebook knows a lot about you. But there are a couple things that would make its collection of personal data a whole lot more valuable: Your home address and your credit card number. In addition to having a big revenue potential, Facebook’s new birthday gift store could lead to a data treasure trove (and herald a new era when just typing “Happy Birthday” when prompted is no longer enough).

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Craig Mod on Subcompact Publishing.

The Verge pointed me to Craig Mod’s manifesto on “Subcompact Publishing.” It’s a must read if you care about where digital publishing might go.

It’s a wonderful, thoughtful piece. It’s why we have this web thing. Go read it.

Oh, and my favorite quote:

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On Open Platforms, Wifi, Home Automation, and Kitty Litter

At least this platform is open….

(image Shutterstock)

The world needs more open platforms. The term is  loaded, but it’s worth unpacking. To me, an open platform is a consistent opportunity space where anyone – without prior permission – can attempt to create value, and the market gets to vote on that attempt.

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A Week of Contemplation and Thanks

I’m not writing as much as I’d like, either for the book, or here, on Searchblog or its “Four Letter Words” cousin. I hope to change that this coming week, as I settle back into my writing shack. I had family in town this past week, and I couldn’t very well isolate myself, much as I may have wanted to (at times, I’ll be honest, I did).

But the past week or so have had many fine moments of friends, family, and other wonderful things. Here are a few images of them.

Today we took a strenuous hike up the hill behind our house (it’s called Bald Hill, and it’s about 1100 feet up). We went mainly off trail, and found a buddah sitting on a rocky outcropping, facing West, into the setting sun. This statue was at 800 feet above sea level, and weighed at least forty pounds. Someone worked very hard to get it into position, and it really made our day. Thanks to whoever did that, this is our way of paying it forward….

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In a Nutshell, The Android Problem: Totally Forked

(image) I’m a fan of “open.” Anyone who knows me, knows this about me.

But I’m also a fan of “easy.” And of “good design.” So, for the past couple of years, I’ve been an iPhone user, mainly because it was easy, and had better design than any alternative. Also, my company supported the iPhone, even though it was terrible for calendar, contacts, email, you know, pretty much everything that mattered to me.

But because I’m no longer day to day at my company, I’ve been eager to move away from the iPhone, for many reasons, including the extraordinarily awful experience I recently had, chronicled here.  And I really like the philosophy of Android. It’s open, it’s hackable, it’s generative in all the right ways.

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A Moment To Appreciate The Place Between

Less than an hour North of  San Francisco lies a network of small towns that exist utterly detached from the hamster wheel of our nation’s obsession with technology. They have names like Dogtown, Bolinas, Forrest Knolls, and Olema. Somehow, they’ve managed to escape most trappings of gentrification. They feel authentic, real, and fragile – rather like hummingbirds feeding on flowers despite a gathering storm (or perhaps in spite of it). And I get to drive through them almost daily, because I’ve made Stinson Beach my new office (for more on that, see Time To Begin, Again).

Northern California has always meant the world to me, but moving my base of work close to these places has cemented my love for this special patch of the world. Today I left my hut on the coast and rode my bike up and over the 2,000 foot barrier between the surreal – where fairies dance – and the very real – where most of us live and labor to produce the information economy (also known, in this case, as Mill Valley – fast becoming the Brooklyn of San Francisco).

Here’s a picture of the view from the divide between the two. Looking, as always, to the west.

PS – I posted this picture earlier on Instagram, but that just wasn’t good enough.

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Facebook Is Now Making Its Own Weather

(image) The past month or so has seen the rise and fall of an interesting Internet tempest – the kind of story that gets widely picked up, then quickly amplified into storms of anger, then eventually dies down as the folks who care enough to dig into the facts figure out that the truth is somewhere outside the lines of the original headline-grabbing story.

The topic this time around centers on Facebook’s native ad unit called “Sponsored Stories,” and allegations that the company is gaming its “Edgerank” algorithm such that folks once accustomed to free promotion of their work on Facebook must now pay for that distribution.

Edgerank determines the posts you see in your Facebook newsfeed, and many sites noticed that sometime early this Fall, their traffic from Facebook shrank dramatically. Others claimed traffic had been declining since the Spring, but it wasn’t until this Fall that the story gained significant traction.

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On Native and Programmatic

Earlier this week I was asked an interesting question by Digiday. “What’s More Important: Native Ads or Programmatic Buying?” I thought the question was a bit conflated – it’s not either or. It very much depends on how you define the terms.

My response is below. Check the story for the opinions of many others in the industry as well.

If I had to wager a guess, I’d have to say that programmatic will be a larger force, but only if you take “native” to mean the native units at domain-specific platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and the like. But it’s very important to define your terms here because in five years time, I think you will be able to buy all of these “native” units across a unified “programmatic” platform — and that platform has not yet been built. We are, as an industry, heading in that direction, and it’s a very exciting one. When programmatic merges with native and is fueled by data and a transparent, objective framework, everyone wins.

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