Kevin Kelly’s “What Technology Wants”

It took me a while, but I’ve finally finished Kevin Kelly’sWhat Technology Wants,” first published last year and now out in paperback. Befitting a tome that took five or so years to write, Kevin’s book is not the kind of work that is easily digested – at least for me.

But that’s not to say it’s not worthy. It most certainly is. I worked with Kevin for five wonderful years as a co-founding editor of Wired, and throughout that tumultuous period (1992-1997) Kevin never ceased to surprise me – both with stories of his extraordinary life (after converting to Christianity whilst wandering in the Middle East, for example, he bicycled across the US under the self imposed belief that he would die at the end of his trip), as well as with his boundless curiosity. I was very young when we worked together, to say he had a profound impact on how I understood the practice of writing is an understatement. Together we edited every single word in more than fifty issues of Wired, after all.

With those caveats declared, then, let me get to the book at hand. Some non-fiction books present themselves as lectures or arguments. And still others are very clearly the manifestation of the author’s own unscratchable itch. What Technology Wants is both of these, and more. In the introduction, Kevin pretty much sums it up: “What was (technology’s) essence? If I didn’t understand the basic nature of technology, then as each new piece of it came along, I would have no frame of reference to decide how weakly or strongly to embrace it.”

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You Are The Platform

A funny thing happens to me after each Web 2 Summit – I tend to curl up for a week or two and shut down my idea receptors. It takes a ton of output to curate the show, and then running it for three straight days is rather like running an intellectual and social marathon. You’re “on” the whole time, scrambling backstage, pretending to have it together onstage, greeting amazing minds, cheering them on, delivering what I hope will be thought provoking interlocution, and, of course, remembering to thank everyone for giving so generously of their time and treasure.

So when people ask me what I thought of the show, or what the key themes were, I usually have something of a blind spot. I can remember everything up to the start of the event – all the preparation, preproduction interviews, the endless research, etc. But once we kickoff (in this case, with an interview with Sean Parker), it goes kind of black. My next memory is usually the final cocktail party on day three. I know my Dad and my wife are usually there, and I know I have a fine bourbon in my hand. And I’m happy. And I want to sleep.

Which I’ve done a lot of these past two weeks. But this last show was too rich to not review a bit, in particular for themes that should inform our collective decisions as we move our industry forward. In this post and I hope in others this Fall, I hope to outline some of those themes.

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Brands as Publishers

This week Ad Age published All Brands Are Publishers, Learn How to Be a Good One, by yours truly. In it I summarize six or so years of work I’ve done outlining terms like “conversational media,” which I first outlined on this site, “brands as publishers,” also written about first in these pages and at FM’s home, and of course the Independent Web (again, here).

But I hadn’t really pulled all of it together in short form, till now. So give the piece a read, if you’re so inclined. It’s written for the print version, so there are no links. (Old school!). From it:

It’s illuminating to remember that five years ago, Twitter was three months old, and Facebook had just opened to non-students. Neither company had a business model. Oh, and Digg was considered the pre-eminent social news service.

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Video as Grammar: The Supercut

As early as 2003, which was the first year I began writing this site, I wrote about the idea of “video as grammar.” By this I meant (and mean) that I foresaw a day when our culture communicated with itself using video much as we currently use text.

In order for this to happen, a number of things had to fall in place. First, we needed tools that allow for quick and easy “video processing” – we need the Microsoft Word for video.

Second, we need access to a large “vocabulary” of video that we could annotate, cite, cut, paste, and repurpose.

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What Role Government?

(image) As I begin to dig into the work of my next book, I’ve found myself thinking about politics and government far more than I anticipated. (For initial thoughts and stats, see Government By Numbers: Some Interesting Insights).  While the body politic was always going to be one of the main pillars of the book, I didn’t expect it to push itself to the foreground so quickly. Certainly the Occupy Wall St. movement is partially responsible, but there’s more going on than that.

Well before #ows became shorthand for class disparity in the United States, I began to formulate a hypothesis on the role of government in our lives. (I focus on the US for this exercise, as I am writing from my own experience. I’d be very interested in responses from those living in other countries).

The headline: Over the past five or six decades, we’ve slowly but surely transitioned several core responsibilities of our common lives from government to the private sector. Some shifts are still in early stages, others are nearly complete. But I’m not sure that we have truly considered, as a society, the implications of this movement, which seem significant to me. I’m no political scientist, but the net net of all this seems to be that we’re trusting private corporations to do what, for a long, long time, we considered was work entrusted to the common good. In short, we’ve put a great deal of our public trust into a system that, for all the good it’s done (and it’s done quite a lot), is driven by one core motivation: the pursuit of profit.

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Government By Numbers: Some Interesting Insights

As part of the work I’m doing for my book, I’ve been working with my research manager, LeeAnn Prescott, staring at various charts and graphs related to how we’ve funded our “Commons” over the past half century or so. I’ve got a working hypothesis that we are in the process of transitioning very important portions of our “public lives” to private corporations, and that this transfer is related to our adoption of digital technologies and platforms. Examples include identity (from driver’s licenses and SSNs to Visa, MasterCard, Amex, and Facebook), delivery of important information and items (from the Post Office to Telcos, Internet, and FedEx and UPS), and protection (outsourcing both prisons and military jobs to private companies). Not to mention retirement (from Social Security to 401ks, etc.).

Of course, were such a hypothesis true, one might imagine that the over percentage of GDP represented by government workers would have gone *down* over the past few decades. However, as this chart shows, that’s not the case:

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Only Connect: Facebook, From The Eyes of an Old Newbie

I recently joined Facebook. Have you heard of it?

I know, I know, that sounds crazy, given that I’m “an Internet guy.”  If you search for me on Google, say “John Battelle Facebook,” you see that I am already there, and that I have nearly 5000 “friends.” (The interplay between Google search and Facebook is worthy of an entire treatise, I’ll leave that for later). You’ll see I also have a fan page, which has about 5400 “fans” – I think that’s the terminology, though now I think Facebook has turned those fans to “Likes.”

But as many of you know from reading my past posts on the subject, I’ve been essentially “Facebook bankrupt” for years. The service has never been of much value to me, in the main because I made an early and fatal decision to accept any and all folks who asked to be my friend. (For details on that, see this post: I Blew It On Facebook.)

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Slice – A Step Toward Metaservices That Matter

Readers will recall my multiple calls for “metaservices” that begin to unify our disparate online worlds of data. Today’s announcement of Slice, which does just that for online purchases, albeit through an email hack, is a step in that direction. Readers will also recall that “Purchases” are one of the key fields in my “Database of Intentions” graph. I wish Slice worked because Amazon and others provided us our data easily through an API, but hey, that will come, I think. For now, the email approach is an elegant workaround.

More at TNW. Interesting to note that Eric Schmidt, Exec. Chair of Google, is an investor.

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The Web 2 Summit Playlist

Tons of folks have asked me for the “official” playlist this year. Each year I choose music to sample while folks are coming on or off stage, or as the audience comes in or out of the main room. This year I was hit with a wave of nostalgia – for reasons that I’ll explain later – and I made a list that spanned nearly all eight years I’ve been programming the event.

I have to say, I’m really, really proud of how the event came off, of all the folks who made it happen (including our speakers, staff, advisory board, and my partners at TechWeb and O’Reilly).

The playlist is 109 songs, and I’m way too lazy (or tired) to figure out how to put them into an actual live app. So here’s a picture of them. If any of you have suggestions for how I might create a playlist, I’m all ears. I’ve been looking for a good app for that for some time, and I keep not finding the right one….

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The Official Web 2 Summit Livestream

I’m late getting this up on my site, but in case you have not seen it yet, you can watch the livestream right here:

 
http://cdn.livestream.com/embed/web20tv?layout=4&height=340&width=560&autoplay=false

web20tv on livestream.com. Broadcast Live Free
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