Elsewhere

Doc Searls on Apple’s TV Plans

Doc Searls zooms in on ESPN as the biggest impediment to New TV:

Doc Searls - How Apple will turn the Net’s top into TV’s bottom

The main thing that keeps cable in charge of TV content is not the carriers, but ESPN, which represents up to 40% of your cable bill, whether you like sports or not. ESPN isn’t going to bypass cable — they’ve got that distribution system locked in, and vice versa. The whole pro sports system, right down to those overpaid athletes in baseball and the NBA, depend on TV revenues, which in turn rest on advertising to eyeballs over a system made to hold those eyeballs still in real time. “There are a lot of entrenched interests,” says Peter Kafka in this On the Media segment. The only thing that will de-entrench them is serious leverage from somebody who can make go-to-market, UI, quality, and money-flow work. Can Apple do that without Steve? Maybe not. But it’s still the way to bet.

Doc doesn’t make the analogy to the old music system, where the labels owned the talent, the distribution systems, and were in tight with Tower Records and all the rest of it, but it’s very similar.

Sports programming is one of the few areas where TV is growing. So making a deal with ESPN and others (like the World Cup and other soccer leagues, as was rumored earlier in the year) could be turn out to the Gordian Knot. And who more likely than Apple?

(via underpaidgenius)

Interview With Maarten Lens-FitzGerald of Layar

Augmented reality leads many people to poetic hyperbole, as this interview shows, but Layar is building its momentum very quickly:

rouli, Short Interview – Celebrating Layar’s First Year
Maarten Lens-FitzGerald, one of Layar’s founders and current general manager was kind enough to answer some of my questions in the following short interview.
[…]
For the rest of the year we had four principles that worked for us: sense, scale, open and pull.
Sense means that we don’t always understand everything but trust that on a deeper level we know what direction to take. The mobile industry moves swiftly and is very complex. We trust our instincts most of the time and are not the types for elaborate business planning. It’s no coincidence we are in the sensing business.
Scale means that we create systems that can grow. Augmented Reality is an economy of abundance. There is no limit. We host in the cloud, limitless scalability as the Lakers – Celtics effect showed us. We also don’t know what is relevant in Argentina or Tokyo. That’s why we don’t do content. Others make it, and make a good business when they sell their layer work and AR. We can’t talk to everyone to make a business. But together with the developers and publishers we can. And another one is that we knew the Layer catalog wouldn’t scale for the many, many layers and their content. You need a discovery mechanism to open up the augmented world. Like the EPG for TV, Google for the web etc. That’s why we launched Stream.
Open means that we share and give away as much as we can. The internet has great examples of openness like the protocols, websites like Wikipedia and software like Apache. This helps us see that to scale we need to be open. To last we need to be open, to give away and share the opportunity. We love the idea of infrastructure and its ideals. AR needs infrastructure and hopefully Layar can help by being open as much as we can.
Pull means that we don’t push. We don’t call people and try to sell our product. We don’t do anything that costs too much time and energy. We’d rather put the energy in a great product that attracts, that pulls everyone to us. Instead of spending money and a big marketing campaign we’d rather create a great feature that everyone will talk about and can be introduced with one blog post. John Hagel was a good inspiration for us for this.
For us this works, they are principles we work by and that are closely linked together.

I guess we’ll have to see if Layar becomes another Tivo:  emblematic of a fundamental transition in communications and media, but unable to capitalize on it in a large way.  Remains to be seen if they can compete with folks like Google.

Attention Convention

Over at Groundhog Day, David Rogers demonstrates that he is pretty bitter. He lumps me together with Clay Shirky and Doc Searls (which I am ok with) as fringe lunatic types who seem to think that the Internet can do good things. Yes, I think so.

[from Competing Messages: What Matters?]

[editorial: Apparently Doc called David up and asked if he wanted to work on Vendor Relationship Management, which sparked his screed.]

I pretty much can’t stand the internet anymore. At least, the things it seems to be doing to people, or the way it causes people to think.

The beret-wearing, continuous partial attention blowhard, Stowe Boyd, embraces Marshall McLuhan’s view that we make our tools and then our tools shape us. And I think that’s true. But like all visionaries and advocates who try to sell their expertise and insight to those discerning enough to recognize the clarity of their vision and the keenness of their insight, they never think past the end of their nose.

[It’s a cap on backwards, not a beret.]

We created the automobile, and the automobile changed our culture and civilization far more than one might have anticipated from such a simple artifact. Where were the advocates who foretold the rise of suburbs, the traffic jam, carbon emissions, forty to fifty thousand deaths every year? Where were the visionaries who offered the insight into the changes in our architecture, or the stress of a daily two-hour commute?

And all those things are, of course, merely peripheral changes. Changes to how we do things, not what we do. But, of course, many people seem to believe that how we do things is “everything.” As in, “This changes everything.” (Pant, pant.) Or “the world.” Did the automobile “change the world?” I’m not so sure.

[Um… David… I am not advocating an automobile-based society. Oh, I guess it’s some kind of analogy. But could you please thread it together for me? I am suggesting that exactly the sort of thing you talk about happens. For example, the rise of cell phones has changed social relations. There is good and bad involved, depending on your viewpoint.]

Then there’s that internet sage, Clay Shirky, with his pithy analysis of the criticism of the whole “Web 2.0” phenomenon - “Old Revolutions, Good; New Revolutions, Bad” with his illuminating insight that, “This improved ability to find both content and people is one of the core virtues of our age.” One wonders how much of a “virtuous” age ours may be, when “finding content and people” is considered a virtue. Shirky also illuminated the “virtues” of youth in another piece, because “old” people have “cemented past experience into knowledge.” Thus, old people have cement in their heads. Must be why we “nod off” so often.

[Um… David… what’s wrong with finding content and people? You lost me. And, the fact that youth has virtues does not mean that being old is bad.]

The thing about Boyd and Shirky is that they’re competitors in an economic environment. The new and the novel is their raw material, and they produce “analysis” that “explains” the new and the novel to “the rest of us.” Naturally, to make the new and the novel more appealing, better able to seize and hold your attention, it has to be “good,” maybe even “virtuous.” So competition distorts how some choose to perceive change.

Of course, change is inevitable, and maybe it’s neither good nor bad, or perhaps it’s almost certainly both. But if someone speaks up and criticizes the visionaries and their products, well then they’re labeled trolls, and thus, not to be taken seriously. They’re harshing our buzz, man.

[I missed the slight of hand where Clay and I become competitors. I have always thought of Clay as a collaborator in a very loose sense: we are often talking about the same things in a similar way. He made ‘social software’ a well understood concept; and in 1999 I introduced the term ‘social tools’ — we have been pushing at similar ideas. But I don’t view it as a competition, and I doubt he does either.

Nor do I think that I am explaining to the ‘rest of us’ — I am involved in a line of public inquiry, and the interaction I have with the community involved in that discussion is the single most important source of insight and inspiraiton I have encountered.

But I agree with you about trolls. There are people out there who are the enemies of the future (as Virginia Postrel styled it in her book of the same name), and they need to be outed whenever possible.]

Competition. We live in a competitive environment. I think it’s a consequence of the law of natural selection. Various groups of our species compete in different ways. Most seem to be competing economically, in the commercial sphere. Others are competing in the political sphere. Although violence plays a role in both spheres. We can’t seem to escape from competition. It’s in our genes.

Doc wondered if I might be willing to help or contribute somehow to the conversation about vendor relationship management. I told him I was skeptical. I think anything that facilitates commercial interactions, does so at the expense of social ones. It’s not that I regard all companies as “evil,” though most of them are far from “virtuous.” As I explained to him, even if all companies were “good,” they still must compete with one another for our time and attention. And the universe of competing commercial entities seems to grow without limit; and they are all learning organisms, so they adapt to changes in their environment, and exploit anything that can give them a commercial advantage.

I’ve explained here many times, and did so again to Doc in conversation, that the notion of “authority” is an important one, one that requires a clear understanding. But because we live in a competitive, increasingly commercial society, important ideas are exploited and distorted to try and achieve a competitive advantage. I again pointed to Technorati as an example, and their claim to being “the recognized authority” on something, while simultaneously - and on a totally different page - disclaiming any responsibility for relying on that “authority.” It totally guts the notion of authority, all for the sake of Technorati looking a little more competitive.

We should all be offended, but we aren’t. We say, “It’s just marketing.”

And then we market ourselves into unnecessary wars, and we wonder how we got here.

None of this VRM, or Web 2.0 bullshit is important. It’s all crap. You and I have a certain amount of time here in this life. “Changing the world,” isn’t why we’re here. That’s just a line of shit they feed you, so that your time and attention and energy are devoted to serving the needs of the competing entities. We aren’t consumers, we are the consumed.

I don’t believe that wanting to change the world means capitulating to commercial interests. I don’t believe that its a line of shit we are being fed, or that I am creating a line of shit when I advocate social applications or other Web 2.0 advances.

Everyone has to decide what is important for themselves, David. Of course, authoritative voices like Doc, Clay, and, yes, me might point the way to certain technologies or tools that we believe are positive, that enlarge life or make it more rich. And I believe your mean-spirited attack on the revolution we are involved in puts you into the category of troll for me.

tags: david+rogers, web+2.0, clay+shirky, doc+searls, never+feed+the+trolls, virginia+postrel, the+future+and+its+enemies, social+tools, its+not+a+beret+its+a+cap+on+backwards

Continual partial reflection

A number of things popping up about attention.

I wrote an interview with Linda Stone the other day (see A Chat With Linda Stone) where the central theme was continuous partial attention, a term she coined some years ago. Here’s what I wrote this week:

Linda wanted both to make clear what she really believes and to see if we really were in agreement.

She started by trying to clarify her thoughts on continuous partial attention (CPA) stating that CPA is not the disorder that is besetting us. The disorder is ADD, she says, while CPA is — in small doses, anyway — a sensible adaptive behavior to the always-on, crazybusy world we live in. But if we surrender to CPA, we lose something significant, she maintains, and an excess of CPA means we start to live life in a crisis management mode, and any manner of dangers appear when we don’t pay attention to what is in front of us, and instead remain connected to the outside world.

In particular, Linda focused on the importance of paying attention to people as an aspect of building relationships. She talked about relationship building as one of the key benefits of staff meetings. When people turn off their phones, shut the screens of their PCs, and pay attention, she asserts that there is a different quality to the meeting, because people are incredibly responsive to the attention of others.

Still, maybe my sense of disagreement with Linda is some fundamental psychological issue. When I was chatting with her, I recalled my freshman physics class, where the professor simply talked too slow for me. This was in the early 70s so there were no laptops or sidekicks to help me while away the seemingly endless gaps between his words. So I listened to music on a pre-walkman cassette player, and read the text from my chemistry class. The professor actually came up to me after the third or fourth class, to ask me what I was up to, and I told him he spoke so slowly I was going to sleep, so I used this technique to remain — paradoxically — focused on the class. After I started to turn in A’s he stopped worrying about it.

And perhaps Linda is right, on some level, about the relationship issue: if somehow I had been able to remain laser focused on the instructor, instead of having my mind wander, we might have had some life-changing relationship emerge. Instead I opted for a relationship-reducing path, but one that led to me meeting the near-term goal of getting an A in physics, as well as in chemistry. In fact I got straight A’s that year, and made the Dean’s list, and one of the tricks I used was time-slicing at every opportunity: reading my notes over for physics whever my calculus instructor was reviewing something I had down cold already.

Maybe this is what Linda considers a sensible application of CPA, not an excessive one. But my hunch is that a lot of the stuff that I think is sensible — like IMing with colleagues about project A while on a telcon with other colleagues talking about project B — would be over the line with Linda. However, I have surrendered to the crazybusy cycle, and instead of trying to turn back the clock, I am looking for a better clock: one with more hands, running on a rate faster than seconds. I am looking for better technology to save me before I fall off the edge I am dancing on. In a post yesterday (What’s Missing: A Web 2.0 Critique), I called out for a better sort of personal/social information management tool. I know I need it, and if I do, there are millions of others out there looking for it.

Some of what Linda says seems like a request for better ettiquette surrounding social interaction in the always on world. Fine. But maybe the reason it sounds oldtimey to me is that I don’t spend my time in large corporations, in staff meetings, or the like. I am a soloist, spending most of my time connected to people remotely, and that sense of connection, however tenuous, is all that I have. I have to remain in touch with my posse, or I have nothing but myself. There is no organization backing me up.

That post got one lonely comment, from Daniel Belanger, who wrote:

There is a phenomenon I have only seen in the States. Here is what Stowe wrote in one paragraph:

“Perhaps because I am more ADD than her….”

I have heard countless times, this almost pride in people putting ADD on their nametag. And it always sound like the ultimate excuse for I don’t know what. ADD is mainly a fabrication of the drug market in America. Not such a concern abroad, maybe because it doesn’t quite exist as it is pretended here. And for some, it is cool. “Oh yeah, I have ADD, I know now how to live with it. That is why I can’t stay focus. Well I guess you will have to deal with it then.” Another way to deflect responsibility. “Sorry I can’t manage my attention, I can’t stay focus, not my fault, I have attention deficit disorder. Did you know it was a disease? Well at least according to the drug industry.”

Proclaiming you have ADD does what? Unless you find some kind of satisfaction for a problem of insecurity. In fact what is the point to bring forth the so-called disorder? What good does someone see in the need to tell another that he has ADD?

No I do not have such a thing called ADD. Which I quite don’t get. This country has this annoying habit to declare itself full of disorders, only to satisfy the hungry drug companies. Anyone has Restless Leg Syndrome? (this one makes me laugh) Acid Reflex Disorder? Please, give me a break.

To which I responded:

It’s not pride, per se, that leads me to dub myself as ADD, but a kind of ju jitsu. All those years reading the teacher’s comments on my report card — “poor impulse control” is one of the best — leads to a kind of reverse pride in my accomplishments, despite my inability to sit still in math class.

I don’t drug myself for it, because for what I have there are no drugs.

I wrote a piece not too long ago about US entrepreneurialism being closely linked to the hypomanic psychological profile, those restless, curious, inveterately optimistic types who fearlessly thrown themselves off the cliffs to start-up new companies (see here)

I opined that the genetic predisposition toward hypomania is likely associated with immigration: the same psychological orientation as entrepreneurs. So maybe the reason we talk so much about ADD in the States, rather than Europe, is the immigration patterns work that way. All the hypomanics lit out for the territories, and left the calm, collected, and passive types back in the villages of Europe.

Today, I picked up a link from Doc Searls about Health Problems Related to the Geek Lifestyle. Doc was groaning about poor sleep hygeine, but one of the other points in the list was this:

The typical geek trains their brain to be heavily focused while multitasking day after day. Is it surprising that this same brain does not do well when forced to isolate down to one task? Listening in a meeting is a very isolated, very passive event. Coding, developing, debugging — these are not passive at all. The geek brain is just not trained to sit quietly and listen.

The answer is to do what we have done: put oursleves in roles where multitasking — continuous partial attention — is a strength, not an illness. However, the math and physcis teachers of the world are not amused: even if we get A’s and a Phi Beta Kappa key (yes, I did). Hypomanics are charismatic, but drive authoritarian types like Belanger crazy (yes, he is: check his PersonalDNA. The purple = very high authoritarianism.).

It comes as no surprise that the media that we are exposed to in our youth influences the wiring of the brain. A recent study supports the idea that TV watching leads to ADHD (hypomania) in later life:

[from it’s official: tv linked to attention deficit]

A study from the American Academy of Pediatrics shows that watching videos as a toddler may lead to Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD, also called ADD in UK) in later life.

TV watching “rewires” an infant’s brain, says Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis lead researcher and director of the Child Health Institute at Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center, Seattle, Wash. The damage shows up at age 7 when children have difficulty paying attention in school.

"In contrast to the way real life unfolds and is experienced by young children, the pace of TV is greatly sped up." says Christakis. His research appears in the April 2004 issue of Pediatrics. Quick scene shifts of video images become "normal," to a baby "when in fact, it’s decidedly not normal or natural." Christakis says. Exposing a baby’s developing brain to videos may overstimulate it, causing permanent changes in developing neural pathways.

"Also in question is whether the insistent noise of television in the home may interfere with the development of ‘inner speech’ by which a child learns to think through problems and plans and restrain impulsive responding," wrote Jane Healy, psychologist and child brain expert in the magazine’s commentary.

And we are entering a world where children that could use computers and video games BEFORE THEY COULD TALK are in high school, and soon moving into the work force. These media also rewire the brain in unforeseen ways.

But don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating TV for infants. I dislike TV. I am suggesting that all media rewire us as we learn to accomodate it. And the use of computers — for whatever purpose, games, blogging, IM, whatever — is rewiring us, collectively, inevitably.

I am not driving a tractor on the lower forty, or rowing out to fish for a living. I am a computer geek, and spend hours every day fooling around with computers, typing, reading, email, IM. Of course I am wired differently after years of that. How could it be otherwise?

The results? Changes in how we perceive the world and our place in it. And this is not just small, subtle changes. They are big, and active. We are actively opting to do things differently. The manner of our adaptations are socially intrusive and disruptive: we IM in meetings, read books while others are lecturing, or look out the windows when we are supposed to be focused on the One Big Thing For Today, Or Else. Or light out for the territories. Or start a company.

Is You Is, Or Is You Ain’t: Strumpette, or Puppette?

I was alerted by Tara Hunt and others that Strumpette might be a puppette (which is my new term for phony character blogs). It’s kind of leftovers by this point, but the fisking of Strumpette by Mike Krempasky (see this, this, and this) with support from Doc Searls and Robert French, suggests that the blog may not be merely anonymous, but a total fabrication. Doc has a good summary of the fisking.

Give that the blog is up again, clawing her way into our thoughts, we’ll have to wait and see.

[Update: Good insight from Dennis Howlett: “Need less to say, there’s a debate about whether Amanda is real or imagined. Doh - who cares? It’s fun.”]

xposted.com - The Intention Economy Incarnate

Doc Searls, inspired (or goaded?) by the Attention Economy meme of the Etech conference, has offered up a completely different, but alliterative term for the world we are now entering: The Intention Economy.

In the hallway yesterday I was talking with r0ml Lefkowitz, who now works with Seth Goldstein at Root.net. r0ml was talking about how his brother, not a techie, didn’t understand what r0ml meant by working with “attention”. After r0ml explained, his brother said, “Oh, isn’t that what they used to call ‘eyeballs’?”

Bull’s Eye.

Now, I’m sure eyeballs aren’t what Steve Gillmor means by Attention. Or what Seth and r0ml mean, either. In fact, r0ml explained to me that Root.net is actually concerned with something much simpler and less creepy than eyeballs; namely, leads. In other words, people who are ready to buy.

Though I’m not much more comfortable being a “lead” than being an “eyeball”, at least “lead” regards me as a potential buyer, rather than as yet another “consumer” who might become a buyer if I find a “message” persuasive. The chance of that happening in any individual case is so close to zero that advertising only yields useful numbers in the calculus of mass marketing. Which, even in 2006, at eTech, we still use.

So I’m thinking, Can’t we get past that now? Please?

Hence my idea: The Intention Economy.

The Intention Economy grows around buyers, not sellers. It leverages the simple fact that buyers are the first source of money, and that they come ready-made. You don’t need advertising to make them.

The Intention Economy is about markets, not marketing. You don’t need marketing to make Intention Markets.

The Intention Economy is built around truly open markets, not a collection of silos. In The Intention Economy, customers don’t have to fly from silo to silo, like a bees from flower to flower, collecting deal info (and unavoidable hype) like so much pollen. In The Intention Economy, the buyer notifies the market of the intent to buy, and sellers compete for the buyer’s purchase. Simple as that.

The Intention Economy is built around more than transactions. Conversations matter. So do relationships. So do reputation, authority and respect. Those virtues, however, are earned by sellers (as well as buyers) and not just “branded” by sellers on the minds of buyers like the symbols of ranchers burned on the hides of cattle.

The Intention Economy is about buyers finding sellers, not sellers finding (or “capturing”) buyers.

Doc’s model is smart: individuals define or describe what it is they intend to buy, or what they are intent upon, and this information — made available in perhaps even an anonymized fashion — allows sellers to connect with the appropriate buyers or users. It’s not where we have been spending our attention, its not even buried in our clickstreams, its what we have in our hearts and minds that matters. Perhaps part of that can be discerned from the conversations we are having online, in blogs and chat, but maybe not. Perhaps just a simple statement of intent might go a long way.

[Update: Greg Narain points out that the x:posted service is a perfect example of the dynamics that Doc is talking about. I am using this as the link to set up my own x:posted account, so I can begin to sell my writing, as described here.]

Unconferences: But Aren’t There More Dimensions?

Doc Searls recently posted that he was headed out for several ‘non-unconferences’ — naming Etech (where I am right now), and SXSW as examples. Marc Canter launched into a tirade, where he stated — accurately, I think — that those two events are not unconferences at all, based on misreading Doc’s post. He subsequently updated the post, when people pointed out that he missed the ‘non’.

Perhaps coincidentally, Dave Winer wrote a post called What is an unconference?, that outlines the core features of unconferences:

This observation may turn out to be the Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences.

The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage.

It’s probably much worse than that. My guess is that if you swapped the people on stage with an equal number chosen at random from the audience, the new panelists would effectively be smarter, because they didn’t have the time to get nervous, to prepare PowerPoint slides, to make lists of things they must remember to say, or have overly grandiose ideas about how much recognition they are getting. In other words, putting someone on stage and telling them they’re boss probably makes them dumber. In any case it surely makes them more boring.

Turning things around

So then, how do you turn things around so that we can harness the expertise we just discovered and get a discussion moving efficiently and spontaneously without forcing the interesting conversations into the hallway. I wanted to see if there was a way to get the hallway ideas to come back into the meeting room. It turns out there was.

First, you take the people who used to be the audience and give them a promotion. They’re now participants. Their job is to participate, not just to listen and at the end to ask questions. Then you ask everyone who was on stage to take a seat in what used to be the audience. Okay, now you have a room full of people, what exactly are they supposed to do? Choose a reporter, someone who knows something about the topic of discussion (yes, there is a topic, it’s not free-form) and knows how to ask questions and knit a story together.

And, despite the fact that I seldom agree 100% with Dave, I buy in on this unconference definition.

But I don’t agree with the implicit notion that there are two kinds of conferences in the world. I think there is a short list of dimensions, not just one. And here they are.

Continue reading this post at Conferenza.

Yet Another Witch Hunt

The blogosphere is buzzing about buzz in the blogosphere.

A WSJ article by Rebecca Buckman raised some questions about the buzz caused by FON getting a bunch of buzz because of prominent bloggers on the company’s advisory board blogging about a fund raising event:

>

[from WSJ.com - Blog Buzz on High-Tech Start-Ups Causes Some Static]

[…]

Some lawyers and academics with expertise in the Internet said the disclosures by the FON advisers were adequate and appropriate. But Bob Steele, an ethics specialist with the Poynter Institute, a journalism organization in St. Petersburg, Fla., says bloggers with financial ties to companies — disclosed or not — have “competing loyalties” that could taint their independence as writers. “It’s still a problem,” he says. While many bloggers don’t consider themselves journalists, anyone putting information into the public domain about people or companies has certain ethical responsibilities, Mr. Steele says.

That can be a murky issue in today’s clubby blogosphere, where many people including venture capitalists, lawyers and journalists write about Web issues and companies — and often, each other — with little editing. The rebound in Silicon Valley’s economy, coupled with the popularity of cheap, easy-to-use blogging tools, means there are more aspiring commentators than ever opining about start-ups and tech trends on the Web. And increasingly, it is difficult to discern their allegiances.

My perspective is strongly structutred by the individuals involved. I know and trust David Weinberger, and so if he has taken an advisory role with the company, I believe that the company management is likely to be intelligent, as would anyone else who would read David writings. The web, and the world of blogging, is about personalities. But as usual this story, and those suggesting all sorts of nefarious inside dealing, are trying to make sense of it with the wrong lens, as if these are organizations granted their charter to fill the airwaves from the government.

Bloggers are individuals, in general. And as such, what we write on the web is personal, biased, unfiltered, unregulated, and, yes, free. Free as in free speech, Free as in uncensored. Free as in personal, idiosyncratic, and even unpopular. I make no avowal of independence, and anyone who says I should is confusing me with the Washington Post. This is writing, and it is published, but that does not make me Jimmy Olsen, the cub reporter for the Daily Planet. It’s a kind of media, yes, but not old school media.

But I also agree that its a good idea — if you want to retain credibilty — to be transparent. Doc Searls comments on this are dead on:

[from The Doc Searls Weblog : Thursday, February 9, 2006]

[…] when I talked with David Weinberger and David Isenberg at Berkman on Tuesday, both told me their primary interest in Fon was not financial, but rather in getting Internet service to the less developed world. They also said this was the primary purpose of their advisory board involvement as well.

I don’t know if they told that to Rebecca Buckman, but I think it’s significant.

Peter Drucker used to talk about how most businesses aren’t started, or even run, just for profit. Or just because some future CEO woke up one day and said “I have a deep urge to return value to some shareholders.” Most companies are started for the purpose of pursuing a passion, and no small number are driven by a passion for doing good in the world.



Everybody I’ve spoken to about Fon, and founder Martin Varsavsky, says he’s doing the company more for love than money.



Yet that’s not where we look for interest conflicts. It’s always around money.



A little more:

Mr. Varsavsky, FON’s founder and chief executive, says none of the board members who publicized FON did so “because they’re going to get paid. … These are people who love what FON is about.” He says the advisers weren’t even sure FON would be a for-profit company when some signed up.

But University of Minnesota journalism professor Jane Kirtley says that “even if it’s prospective money, it seems to me the prudent thing” for advisers would be to disclose that relationship on their blogs. Ms. Kirtley directs the Minneapolis school’s Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law


Point taken.

Here’s another: We’re still learning here. Up until a couple years ago, some of my own disclosures were of the “I’m on the advisory board of _____” variety. Now I point to a bio page where all my advisory board memberships are listed, along with the fact that they involve equity. Now I’m wondering if even that is enough. In fact, I think it isn’t.

Looking around, I think best model may be the Disclosures page of John Palfrey, Executive Director of the Berkman Center. It’s right below links to Berkman and his bio.

So I just changed my own Bio page to Bio & Disclosures. I already had an anchor I could point to at the disclosures section.

I’m going to do the same, as soon as possible.

But I am still concerned with the subtext.

  • It should be ok for bloggers, even prominent ones, to make money, through advising clients and being paid for that in cash, stock, or whatever.
  • The great majority of bloggers, even prominent ones, do not make much money directly from blogging.
  • The reason that they become prominent, influential bloggers is because of the depth of their experience, insight, and understanding of the world they write about. In the case of tech bloggers, in the world of tech.
  • Companies have a right to ask for advice, and if they can afford it, to get the best advice they can.
  • Ipso Facto: Tech companies looking for the best advice are likely to include leading bloggers in the mix. These folks might want or at least accept remuneration for their time and trouble.
  • And it is alright for a blogger to tell the world why she thinks company X is cool, even if she is a paid advisor. Note that they are prominent because they are trusted, not gasbags. If they start flogging all sorts of junk, they will loose their prominence, very quickly.
  • It is sufficient for a blogger to state his affiliation with the company in every post mentioning it, and perhaps on a bio/disclosures page as Doc is recommending.

Bloggers are playing an important role in this new world, where the traditional gatekeepers have less sway. But the aren’t the old gatekeepers, and looking at me and /Message like I am the New York Times or ABC News is laughable. There is no organization, no corporate policies, nothing. Just me. Stowe. The person.

I have my ethics, such as they are, and goals, and biases. If you read what I write, it’s fairly obvious. The best bloggers are pretty transparent.

So more than Doc’s disclosure is too much. We don’t need some sort of regulation, we don’t need bloggers to take either vows of silence or vows of poverty, and we don’t need a witch hunt every time some A-lister stumbles across a jewel of a tool, joins the advisory board, and tells the world about it.

Blogs its all about the conversation

Wow. What I thought was a modest post with a neat and helpful small idea — The Conversational Index — took off in a big way yesterday, getting picked up, and picked on, by a long list of smart people. I thought I would aggregate various comments and try to address them in one place.

The basic idea?

[from The Social Scale of Social Media: The Conversational Index by Stowe Boyd]

While working at Corante, I had the opportunity to peer at the stats for all sorts of blogs that we had going. And one thing that became really obvious is that sucessful blogs — ones that were currently viable and vibrant, and those that were on a growth trajectory from their start — shared a common characteristic: The ratio between posts and comments+trackbacks (posts/comments+trackbacks) was less than one. Meaning that there was more conversation — as indicated by the number of comments and track backs offered by readers — than posting articles. I will call this the Converation Index, just to put a handle on it.

Go Flock Yourself was the first to trackback on the topic, and giving me the best laugh I’ve had recently:

I’m very happy to pronounce to the world that GFY sports a Conversational Index of 0.135 (233 posts/1724 comments), a number that should make Stowe’s beret flip up off of his head and fly around the room like a frisbee, and reduce Richard MacManus to tears on the floor of his mother’s basement.

Doc Searls comments:

Oh shit. My ratio sucks. I think I run less than a comment a day, vs. half a dozen posts or so.

Of course, my blogging environtment doesn’t encourage comments.

And, I look for comments back on other blogs. I think I’d rather have them there anyway.

So… I dunno.

Don Dodge suggests that the CI is useful, but should be inverted, which I agree with, so from this point forward I will use Don’s variant, where CI = (Comments+Trackbacks)/Posts. This means the CI gets larger as the conversation gets richer:

[from The Conversational Index for blogs]

Note, I have calculated the number differently than Stowe, but the meaning and measurement is the same. Using my formula and Stowe’s blog stats his blog has a CI of (71+31)/80=1.27. Stowe Boyd has several blogs, and is a very well known writer, so my guess is that these numbers are from one of his newer, and lesser known, blogs.

Don is right: I was using the figures from /Message, which is less than 30 days old. My bet is that my CI is small because /Message is new, and the index will go up over time, as more people find /Message.

Peter Caputa has a CI (Dodge variant) of 1.53, and thinks this is because…

I ask a lot of questions and people humor me with answers. And because I say a lot of stupid things, and people yell back at me. And because I ask people for their feedback sometimes on specific posts.

Zoli Erdos builds on the discussion and points out that we are losing track of the other half of the conversation: the dark comments out there.

Tracking The COMPLETE CONVERSATION - Part 3]

we really are losing track of half the conversation in the Blogosphere.

As Stowe points out, for truly vibrant blogs the CI will be <1, which means there are far more comments than blog posts (I am cheating a little, ignoring trackbacks). This will likely be the case for all the Technorati top 100 or even 500 bloggers – from their viewpoint most of the conversation happens on / around their own blog. However, for the the rest of us, the other 26 million (?) bloggers chances are the conversation really takes place outside our own blog, and I for one certainly can’t keep track of all comments I left on other blogs.

The current crop of tracking / linking services all have a top-down publisher-centric view, where everything revolves around a blog and its related posts, totally missing this other, “bottom-up” half of the conversation. So please, somebody give Stowe his badge, but we also badly need a way to show by subject matter an integrated view of all conversations where we are participating whether we started the thread or someone else.

Zoli’s right in a way. After all, if I leave a comment on his blog, I am enhancing his CI and not influencing mine at all. However, if I write a post at my blog and trackback to his blog, I am influencing both CIs: his goes up (Dodge variant), and mine goes down. Of course, I am likely to get a trackback or a comment back from Zoli, or others involved in the conversation, so I personally bellieve that it is best to make that post and trackback. (And of course, there is cocomment, which I am profiling today, that intends to bring those dark comments out there back into the light. See the widget in the right margin?)

Michael Parekh says

[from ON STOWE BOYD’S CONVERSATIONAL INDEX]

Where do I come out on this? Well, I’ve been long-convinced of the value of comments in blogs as the next logical step of blog mining evolution.  (see Comments Search: the next big mother lode of user-generated content (UGC) and this post last June)

But Stowe’s idea of creating a mathematical formula has a Google like simplicity at it’s core. He even visualizes it as a living, breathing thing:

I hope someone out there — some bored toolsmith, or a computer science student looking for an interesting project — will build a tool that will scan a blog, determine the CI, and provide the result as a chicklet that we can embed on our blogs. Even better would be a 30 day
graph, like Tufte’s sparklines, that shows the social interaction ebbing and flowing.”

It all sounds mesmerizing.

Until you realize that if the Conversational Index (CI) did in fact take off, both as yet another way to rank blogs on the Internet, and then actually as a tool to commercialize said rankings into real dollars for the bloggers, then might not this lead to the next logical step?

The overnight reversal of seeing Trackback and Comment Spam as BAD things, to actually GOOD, welcome things?

That is to say, we may need a mechanism to independently verify that

the Trackbacks and Comments reported as a component in the CI calculation are Good and Pure of the Spammy Stuff.

Not to mention the inevitable emergence of “Comment-fraud” and “Trackback-fraud” to take their place along-side of Click-fraud

Despite these possible negatives, thinking about the Conversational Index at least gets folks to start thinking about the value in comments and trackbacks.

A number of other folks commented that comment spam and trackback spam would artificially enlarge the CI, and I agree. But on the other hand, I was operating under the assumption that all sensible people would delete that junk. Still, it’s a relevant observation.

Easton Ellis deconstructs the CI pointing out that

  1. comment quality varies [yes, I agree]

  2. many blogs start out conversation-poor and gradually pick up speed as they gain a consistent following [true, but as I said in the first post, I saw at Corante that the successful blogs started out on the good foot: a good CI from the beginning]

  3. what about the authors comments at her own blog, or trackbacks she sends to her own entries? [comments responding to comments is a good conversation, isn’t it? And tracking back to earlier posts is good ettiquette too, helping readers find subsequent posts that elaborate on earlier thoughts.]

  4. Could this statistic be meshed with a particular individual’s CI? [Sure, you can average your CI from multiple blogs. Why not? We can do whatever we want here in the matrix.]

  5. Is a comment always equal to a trackback? [I don’t know. But for simplicity they are in the formula.]

  6. What about the number of commenters on or trackbackers to a blog? [I don’t know if a conversation is better when there are a smaller number of people involved, making serial comments/trackbacks, or if there is a larger group, where each individual comments/tracksback less. So for now, we don’t care. Also might be hard to get that number.]

  7. My head hurts. I feel like a geek. [Me too.]

Mathew Ingram calls me a geek, too, but in a nice way:

[from Blogs — it’s all about the conversation]

what makes most blogs interesting isn’t so much the great things that the writer puts on there (as much as I like to hear the sound of my own voice), but what kind of response it gets, and how that develops, and who carries it on elsewhere on their own blog. And I agree that it would be nice if someone like technorati.com or memeorandum.com could track that kind of thing and make it part of what brings blogs to the top.

I like to see what people are talking about — not just what a blogger has to say, but what others have to say about what they say. That’s why I also agree with Steve Rubel that it would be nice to have a way of tracking comments, other than by subscribing to a feed of comments, or bookmarking posts you’ve commented on with del.icio.us or some other tool.

The latter problem is perhaps solved by cocomment (about which more later), and the former, by the blogpulse conversation tracker, which does a memeorandum-ish snapshot of the cascade of posts emanating from an initial “converation seed”. Here’s the picture that they draw from the initial Conversational Index post:

Note that they don’t track comments at the blog, though. Ultimately, I would like to have all that wrapped up into one representation.

Sadly, though, no one has yet stepped forward to build a tool that would yeild the number: we still have to do it manually.

As of this morning, my CI (Dodge variant — (C+T)/P) is (88+42)/89 = 1.46.

Metaphors Matter: Collaborative Technology Versus Social Tools

My friend, Doc Searls, one of the visionaries behind the Cluetrain Manifesto, and an all around great mind, is fond of pointing out how important metaphors are. How we frame a discussion, or structure our terminology about something, can have much more profound impacts than we might at first imagine. For example, he recently argued (at the Les Blogs conference in Paris), that the First Amendment guarantees for freedom of the press might not be protected for bloggers, unless the bloggers wisely start to describe what they are up to as “journalism.” If we call ourselves something other than “journalists,” he points out, the Federal government may try to abridge our freedom of speech, since only the press is protected from government contols.

A similar although not so politically charged battle of words is going on in the world of collaborative and social technologies. And, like Doc’s advice regarding freedom of the press, the choice of words involves high stakes, since behind the words there are the various constituencies using them, with potentially divergent agendas.

I hope that the danger inherent in metaphors doesn’t blow up in this discipline, like we saw in the ill-fated knowledge management experiment, where the industrial and financial concept of managing and controlling assets led to a wholesale dehumanizing of knowledge and disastrous results in hundreds of knowledge strip-mining projects.

On one hand, it may seem obvious and sensible that we are talking about people collaborating: sharing information, coordinating activities, and posting messages. Working toward shared goals, in project teams, trying to get things done. All very straight forward, and, perhaps not so obviously, very corporate, very industrial.

Superficially, there is nothing wrong with a focus on collaborative technology. But I believe that this perspective, this metaphor, is flawed. It focuses on the wrong side of the coin.

The collaborative technology metaphor highlights the machinery, the technology platform that underlies people collaborating, and underemphasizes what people are doing: socializing. And I don’t mean socializing, like gossiping, per se. But I do mean the creation, care, and feeding of social ties, the use of trust and reputation, and the application of digital identity.

Technologists — and I am a recovering technologist, so I know — focus on the tools, the plumbing, and information flow. Collaborative technologies are viewed as pipes that bits float through; people are sources and sinks for messages, or documents, or other artifacts through these pipes. A collaborative assemply line, where people are like Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times, struggling to keep up with the information flow.

But people focus on other people, not the infrastructure they tread upon. They don’t — in general — think about information in some disembodied way. They instead focus on their goals, their partners and clients, and when they think about getting things done, they approach it from a social perspective. “What will Jane think about working closely with Rich on this project?” or “Carlos doesn’t have great presentation skills, so who can we get to do the sales pitch for Company X?” or “What is the best group of people to pull together for this project?”

And while non-technologists are happy to adopt better communication, coordination, and collaboration tools, they seldom fall into “info-speak” about them. They don’t adopt instant messaging because it can lead to generalized performance benefits for the extended network of users (a technological/analytic viewpoint), but because it is a very natural, conversational, and effective form of communication.

And more importantly, perhaps, social tools quickly transcend their IT roots. They go beyond moving bits and bytes around the ‘net, and instead change the way in which we interact. As I wrote in 1999:

The big story of the transformation of business culture isn’t the props — the servers, networks, ten million websites, and all the information lying around in databases and in HTML — but what people are saying to each other and how they coordinate their actions, behavior and goals. The big story is that the global computer network is an enormous chat room, enabling us to collaborate in unexpected, complex and novel ways. We are experimenting with new social systems, systems that to an unprecedented degree involve software and hardware.

In the ’60s, it had become unthinkable to run a business without a telephone on every desk. By the late ’80s, everyone had to have e-mail. The need for cost justification of these new expenses, at first demanded by management, fell by the wayside as the second-order effects — the social impacts — became felt.

The rise of PCs has not led to increase in productivity relative to things that people formerly did without PCs, like writing letters and memos or selling widgets. PCs have decreased productivity in these areas. Why? Because people are spending their time in new activities, activities that were not possible before, and adding new value to the business. And all that comes for a price — the time spent in the care and feeding of computers, networks and software.

And at the same time, a new category of software is emerging, software intended to augment social systems. Not to change the company inadvertently, like e-mail did, when the electronic analog of interoffice mail became something else, grew into something else by changing the way people communicated and led a change in the structure of the company. No, this generation of software is intentional, designed from the start to guide human behavior into new paths and patterns, to counter prevailing ways of interaction. I call these social tools: software intended to shape culture.

I don’t believe we can cede control of these essential tools to the technologists. It’s not about information flow, or other industrial themes of efficiency. Its about human interaction and the benefits of new ways to interact. The tools are only a means to that end.

So, headed into the upcoming Collaboration Technology Conference, I maintain that we are really exploring the design, application, and benefits of the social side of these tools. We must never lose sight of that end, even when we slip into technospeak about the pipes, wiring, or plumbing below our feet.

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