If-Then and Antiquities of the Future

Over the past few months I’ve been developing a framework for the book I’ve been working on, and while I’ve been pretty quiet about the work, it’s time to lay it out and get some responses from you, the folks I most trust with keeping me on track.

I’ll admit the idea of putting all this out here makes me nervous – I’ve only discussed this with a few dozen folks, and now I’m going public with what I’ll admit is an unbaked cake. Anyone can criticize it now, (or, I suppose, steal it), but then again, I did the very same thing with the core idea in my last book (The Database of Intentions, back in 2003), and that worked out just fine.

So here we go. The original promise of my next book is pretty simple: I’m trying to paint a picture of the kind of digital world we’ll likely live in one generation from now, based on a survey of where we are presently as a digital society. In a way, it’s a continuation and expansion of The Search – the database of intentions has expanded from search to nearly every corner of our world – we now live our lives leveraged over digital platforms and data. So what might that look like thirty years hence?

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Architectures of Control: Harvard, Facebook, and the Chicago School

Early in Lessig’s “Code v2,” which at some point this week I hope to review in full, Lessig compares the early campus networks of two famous educational institutions. Lessig knew them well – in the mid 1990s, he taught at both Harvard and the University of Chicago. Like most universities, Harvard and Chicago provided Internet access to their students. But they took quite different approaches to doing so. True to its philosophy of free and anonymous speech, Chicago simply offered an open connection to its students – plug in anywhere on campus, and start using the net.

Harvard’s approach was the polar opposite, as Lessig explains:

At Harvard, the rules are different….You cannot plug your machine to the Net at Harvard unless the machine is registered – licensed, approved, verified. Only members of the university community can register their machines. Once registered, all interactions with the network are monitored and identified to a particular machine. To join the network, users have to “sign” a user agreement. The agreement acknowledges this pervasive practice of monitoring. Anonymous speech on this network is not permitted – it is against the rules. Acceess can be controlled based on who you are, and interactions can be traced based on what you did.

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China To Bloggers: Stop Talking Now. K Thanks Bye.

(image) Yesterday I finished reading Larry Lessig’s updated 1999 classic, Code v2. I’m five years late to the game, as the book was updated in 2006 by Lessig and a group of fans and readers (I tried to read the original in 1999, but I found myself unable to finish it. Something to do with my hair being on fire for four years running…). In any event, no sooner had I read the final page yesterday when this story breaks:

Sina, Tencent Shut Down Commenting on Microblogs (WSJ)

In an odd coincidence, late last night I happened to share a glass of wine with a correspondent for the Economist who is soon to be reporting from Shanghai. Of course this story came up, and an interesting discussion ensued about the balance one must strike to cover business in a country like China. Essentially, it’s the same balance any Internet company must strike as it attempts to do business there: Try to enable conversation, while at the same time regulating that conversation to comply with the wishes of a mercurial regime.

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Will Transparency Trump Secrecy In The Digital Age?

Next week I travel to Washington DC.  While I am meeting with a wide swath of policymakers, thinkers, and lobbyists, I don’t have a well-defined goal – I’m not trying to convince anyone of my opinion on any particular issue (though certainly I’m sure I’ll have some robust debates), nor am I trying to pull pungent quotes from political figures for my book. Rather I am hoping to steep in the culture of the place, make a number of new connections, and perhaps discover a bit more about how this unique institution called “the Federal Government” really works.

To prepare, I’ve been reading a fair number of books, including Larry Lessig’s Republic Lost, which I reviewed last month, and The Future of the Internet–And How to Stop It by Jonathan Zittrain, which I reviewed last year.

Wikileaks And the Age of Transparency by Micah Sifry is the latest policy-related book to light up my Kindle. I finished it four weeks ago, but travel and conferences have gotten in the way of my writing it up here. But given I’ve already moved on to Lessig’s updated Code: And Other Laws of Cyberspace, Version 2.0 (highly recommended), and am about to dive into McKinnon’s new book Consent of the Networked: The Worldwide Struggle For Internet Freedom, I figured I better get something up, and quick. I’m way behind on my writing about my reading, so to speak.

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The Yin and Yang of Audience

(image) The Signal San Francisco conference is less than a week away, so I thought I’d take the time to explain my reasoning for the theme, and offer a curtain raiser of sorts on the day-long program. (PS, I have ten, and only ten, half price tickets available. Hit this link, and use the code “luckyday.”)

The theme, a portion of which is the title of this post, is “The Yin and Yang of Audience, Platforms and the Independent Web.” I do get a few eyes a-rollin’ when I frame conference themes, but hey, I can only do what I know how to do. I actually think pretty hard about this stuff, and like to take the time to outline the ideas behind the program.

So here goes. As readers know, I’ve been thinking out loud a lot about the future of the Internet, and whether the rise of “walled gardens” like Facebook and Apple’s iOS (what I call AppWorld) are ultimately the future the web. My short answer is yes….and. By that I mean that the Internet, which began as an open, gatekeeper-free platform where anyone could hang a shingle, will ultimately interconnect with these walled gardens – there’s just too much value in what I call the “ecosystem approach” for the opposite to occur. I framed two major forces driving the Internet today: The independent web (sites unaffiliated with major platforms like Google or Facebook), and the dependent web (major platforms which create a valuable “logged in” experience that changes “depending” on who you are.).

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CM Summit White Paper from 2007

I am in the midst of writing a post on the history of FM (update – here it is), and I thought it’d be fun to post the PDF linked to below. It’s a summary of musings from Searchblog circa 2006-7 on the topic of conversational media, which is much in the news again, thanks to Facebook. We created the document as an addendum to our first ever CM Summit conference, as a way of describing why we were launching the conference. (BTW, the Summit returns to San Francisco next week as Signal SF, check it out.)

It’s interesting to see the topics in the white paper come to life, including chestnuts like “Conversation Over Dictation,” “Platform Over Distribution,” “Engagement Over Consumption,” and “Iteration and Speed Over Perfection and Deliberation.”

Enjoy.

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Rob Reid + Copyright Math = Hilarious

A highlight of TED this year was watching my pal Rob Reid do a short talk on the math of those who claim piracy is killing the content business. It’s short, it’s really funny, and it’s a prequel of sorts for Rob’s wonderful new comic novel, which comes out in May. Very worth watching:

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

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LinkedIn, The Media Company?

Quick, what’s LinkedIn? If you’re like me, the first thing that comes to mind is “a professional social network.” Perhaps “a place to get a job, or find someone to fill a job.” Or maybe “the place my professional resume lives.” And certainly “a very successful Internet IPO.”

But over the two years or so, LinkedIn has quietly built itself into a significant media business. It’s added a newsfeed, status updates, and “top stories today” features. Late last month, it added “following”  as well. And I’ve begun to notice the LinkedIn share button popping up all over the web – it isn’t quite the attention engine that Twitter has become, but its power is rising. (Yep, I’ve got one on this site too).

All those media bells and whistles combine to create a robust advertising business, complete with a Facebook-like self service platform driven by your social graph. That business has been scaling right along with its core recruitment and jobs posting revenue, accounting for about a third of the company’s topline.  Given that LinkedIn added more members last year than in the prior 6 – about 60 million, for a global total of 150 million, I predict it won’t be long before LinkedIn becomes a “must buy” for any marketer who targets professionals. And that’s a lot of marketers.

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Who Controls Our Data? A Puzzle.

(image) Facebook claims the data we create inside Facebook is ours – that we own it. In fact, I confirmed this last week in an interview with Facebook VP David Fischer on stage at FM’s Signal P&G conference in Cincinnati. In the conversation, I asked Fischer if we owned our own data. He said yes.

Perhaps unfairly  (I’m pretty sure Fischer is not in charge of data policy), I followed up my question with another: If we own our own data, can we therefore take it out of Facebook and give it to, say, Google, so Google can use it to personalize our search results?

Fischer pondered that question, realized its implications, and backtracked. He wasn’t sure about that, and it turns out, it’s more complicated to answer that question – as recent stories about European data requests have revealed.*

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On the State of Twitter Advertising: Adam Bain

Last week I wrote a post about Neal Mohan, who will be joining us for this month’s Signal conference in San Francisco. Today I’m focusing on Adam Bain and his role as President, Global Revenue at Twitter.

I’ve known Adam for some time, since his days at Fox Interactive Media, where he built Fox’s advertising platform (initially as a product out of MySpace). He joined Twitter a year and a half ago, and since then, has overseen the development of its “promoted” suite of products. Just recently, Twitter has expanded its roll out of what CEO Dick Costolo calls its “atomic unit” of advertising, the Promoted Tweet, to its mobile base, a significant move mirrored by Facebook at nearly the same time. It’s also opened up a self-service portal to its ad machine, a crucial move that drove early adoption of search and Facebook advertising.

When you are in charge of revenue for a company valued at $8 billion, the heat is on – the estimated $140 million or so Twitter pulled in last year ain’t gonna cut it. The company needs to scale its advertising platform to Google and Facebook levels, in terms of efficiency, response, and return on marketing investment. That’s no easy feat. In fact, it’s only been done a few times – by Facebook, Google, and arguably Overture (before Yahoo’s purchase and subsequent deal with Microsoft).

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