Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

dr? dc!

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Right up front: I’ve been guilty of this before and probably will be again.

As I was working on a Zeitgeist piece, I looked at a nicely-done 1,300-word essay. On a national newspaper website. About one aspect of social networking. With some interesting and slightly controversial things to say, some of them certainly open to argument.

The very first comment detailed the length of the essay–how many words, how many characters, how many sentences, average number of letters per word, length of longest sentence–and ended with a note suggesting that there was no content, or at least that the commenter hadn’t read it.

Understand: The commenter didn’t disagree with what was being said–the commenter was trashing the essay based on its length (apparently). Several other commenters offered variants of the old “tl; dr” brushoff–that is, “too long; didn’t read.” (I rarely see that on liblogs–maybe library folks actually have more than ten-second attention spans, or at least believe that “tl; dr” leaves one open to accusations of subliteracy.)

I’m not going to argue that people damn well should read longer essays. After all, 1,300 words is just a bit less than two pages of C&I, or three or four pages of a typical trade paperback, or one-third of a typical In the library post, or nine Friendfeed posts. If that’s so much text it makes your brain explode or your eyes hurt, who am I to argue.

dr? dc

But, well…

If you didn’t read the article or post, why are you commenting on it?

Equally, if you read the article or post and have nothing to say about the topic or the substance of the post or article… why comment on it?

Because you know the writer hangs on your every word so much that she will at least appreciate knowing you dropped by? Because you’re so damned important that you must respond? Because you’re a frustrated graffitist? Because you have no life?

I think all of usmany of us do this sort of thing–or equally vapid responses–once in a while. (Yes, that’s a preventive strikeout: I was about to commit a universalism, and I damn well should know better.)

It works both ways. I waste time on FriendFeed. (I also use FriendFeed, and maintain friendships on FriendFeed, and gain valuable insights on FriendFeed. And sometimes I waste time on FriendFeed–the activities aren’t mutually exclusive.) As many categories as I’ve hidden, as rarely as I Follow anybody new, I still see dozens of posts (mostly from Twitter, but not all) of the “what’ll I have for breakfast / I just had X for dinner / I just posted from Y” flavor, stuff that for me is almost exclusively in the “who cares?” category–just as some of my posts here fall into the “who cares?” category for some, maybe most, occasionally all readers.

I don’t believe I’ve ever found any reason to comment on a “what I had for breakfast” FF item by asking who cares or saying “don’t clutter up the feed with that crap” or anything of the sort. If I don’t care, why would I take the time to comment? (And, for that matter, if I don’t care, how does that imply that nobody else could possibly care?) I’m dead certain I’ve left equivalent responses on some posts and FF messages, however, and I’m sure I will in the future.

And I’ll be (trivially) wrong to do so.

As of that last period, this post contains 570 words. That’s probably too long for some of you–but I suspect that people who can’t handle 600, 800, or 6,000 words aren’t among my audience anyway.

By the way: I’m tagging this “Net Media”–but I no longer believe that term has much of any meaning, and I’m also doubtful about “Social Media.” That’s an essay I’ll be writing one of these days, probably in C&I. 636 words. My work here is done (645).

Industry Standard, RIP–again

Friday, May 21st, 2010

The Spring 2010 C&I essay “The Zeitgeist: hypePad and buzzkill” includes several notes taken from The Industry Standard–a site that I still had bookmarked, even if it was a pale shadow of the wonderful trade magazine The Industry Standard, which was great reading, fat, interesting…and overextended itself during the dotcom boom, going under as that boom went bust.

That pale shadow is now itself dead, as of a couple months ago (I don’t remember exactly when). It was absorbed into InfoWorld…sort of.

Sort of?

Yep. I had a number of items from The Industry Standard tagged in delicious, for use in future C&I essays. I probably still do. Today I wanted to use a couple of them for part of an Interesting & Peculiar Products essay.

The delicious link leads to InfoWorld. Not to the article.

Searching for the articles, by any keywords I could think of (e.g., those in the title), comes up empty.

I can’t swear the articles aren’t there…but they’re not findable. Which means they might as well not be there.

This is a shame. There was still some good coverage there. And, as far as I can tell, it’s just gone.

MP3 Doesn’t Have DRM–Or Does It?

Monday, April 19th, 2010

One of the great steps forward for fair use and first-sale rights came last year, when iTunes finally stopped selling DRM-encased tracks and started selling DRM-free MP3 (or its direct, DRM-free, AAC equivalent).

“DRM-free MP3” is redundant, right? The MP3 format doesn’t allow for DRM, right?

Right…at least not now, at least not directly.

A Digression

DRM gets a bad rap. Actual Digital Rights Management can–or could–be valuable, in situations (which pretty much every library is familiar with) where access to digital resources is based on the user’s rights. Most of the time, in practice, those rights are understood indirectly: If you have access to a campus network for an appropriate definition of “access,” for example, you’re assumed to have rights to the databases the library licenses–and similarly for public libraries, if you’re either standing at a library computer or you can demonstrate (over the internet) that you’re a library patron. But the rights management could be more complex; you could have a digital signature that identified all the ways you might have rights to use various digital resources.

But most of the time, when we talk about DRM–especially as it relates to copyright–we’re talking about what I call Digital Restrictions Management: Basically, reducing or eliminating your fair use and first sale rights in digital resources that you think you’ve purchased.

The funny thing about that kind of DRM is that it has never done much to stop The Bad Guys, those who are out to pirate copyright material. They either have other methods to get access to non-DRM resources or they break the DRM. DRM mostly damages the innocent, people who want to device-shift or maybe use legitimate excerpts from something. So it’s hard not to cheer the move away from DRM in music…noting that audio CDs never had DRM. (Yes, there were silver discs with DRM; no, they weren’t legitimate Audio CDs. The Red Book, the key license for all audio CDs, does not allow for DRM.)

End of digression.

“At least not directly?”

Yep. Read this story in TechCrunch.

Seems that the tracks you buy from iTunes–or from LaLa or Walmart–have personal information embedded in the MP3. The post shows an example.

Who cares? Well, read the quoted section.

If you’re really paranoid, consider the possibilities: Could iTunes scan your library and delete any files that don’t have the right username?

Seems unlikely, but…

Maybe no more unlikely than, say, Amazon deleting an ebook from your Kindle…

Updated 4/23/10, to remove idiot error in post title. Odd that nobody called me on that!

Auditory Memory

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

Now that the flood of responses on my quick quiz has slowed down…

Which is to say: Now that it’s become pretty clear that nobody gives a damn…

It’s time for the answers, and for the post that I was holding off on–but that post may have less to it than I originally thought.

The Answers

The song’s penultimate line was, as noted:

And everybody knows that the very last line

  • The last line is: “Is the doctor said, give him jug band music, it seems to make him feel just fine.” (Presumably, everybody knows that because–with changes in the first word–that’s the last line of each verse.)
  • The name of the song: “Jug Band Music.” (There’s more than one song with that title. This is one that doesn’t happen to be jug band music.)
  • The name of the writer: John Sebastian.
  • The name of the lead singer: John Sebastian.
  • The name of the group: The Lovin’ Spoonful
  • Bonus answer: The song was on Daydream, released in 1966. That was apparently the Spoonful’s best-selling album: It reached #10 on the charts.

The song is a hoot, as are the lyrics–it’s very much a wacky story-song. It’s also, in some ways, a classic earworm–as are several other Spoonful songs. I finally picked up a good copy of a decent selection of Spoonful songs from SecondSpin, a 2000 “Greatest Hits” CD that was remastered from the masters–the earlier CDs I had were made during an extended period in which the master tapes were apparently lost or unavailable.

Auditory memory

Anyway…while I was listening to this, I found that I was hearing a John Sebastian song that was not a Lovin’ Spoonful song–and a song that I probably hadn’t heard in at least 25 years, namely She’s a Lady.

The song appeared on Sebastian’s first solo album (John B. Sebastian) in 1970. (Now that I check it on Wikipedia, I see that there weren’t all that many other memorable tracks on it–and that Sebastian had to make it with a bunch of nobody session players: Some unknowns named Stephen Stills, David Crosby, Graham Nash, Dallas Taylor, Buddy Emmons…life is tough when you don’t have connections in the music industry.)

It’s a beautiful little ballad (“little” is right–the original is under two minutes). I could hear it plain as day, including the low-key orchestration…

I suspect everybody’s a little different when it comes to auditory memory. Sometimes, I can hear pieces, fully arranged, that I haven’t heard in years (or in this case in decades). Sometimes, I can even manipulate the arrangements.

Are earworms like that? When a song gets stuck in your head, do you just hear a melody, or do you hear the whole arrangement?

There’s another question: Is my auditory memory accurate? There’s no good way of knowing, I suppose.

Nothing momentous here. I will say that having a good if flakey auditory memory is helpful when someone mentions one of the really annoying earworms: I can usually drive it out with something I like.

A pre-post post

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

Some time this holiday weekend (it is a holiday weekend, isn’t it?) soon (giving the legions of readers both a chance to weigh in on this!), I’ll probably do a post about one particular kind of memory.

Before that post, here’s a quick quiz–one where I suspect old fogies have an advantage.

There’s a song in which the penultimate lyric is:

And everybody knows that the very last line

What are:

  • The last line
  • The name of the song (if you know the first, you’ll know the second)
  • The name of the writer or lead singer, your choice
  • The name of the group for the original recording
  • Bonus answer: The year in which it was released.

Using a search engine to find the answer is just plain tacky. So is using a lyrics site.

Updated February 17, 2010: The answers are in this post.

FriendFeed, trainwrecks and accelerated discussions

Thursday, October 22nd, 2009

Despite the ambitious title, this is purely some early thoughts (that might eventually lead to a Cites & Insights piece–or a column elsewhere–but “eventually” probably means “next year sometime”). (Read on: I have a question at the end.)

Just this week, I’ve seen three very long FriendFeed threads (participating in one of them) that struck me as particularly interesting in terms of implications for issues, reputations and connections. In two of the cases, my own feelings about specific people changed significantly over the course of the discussions; in one, my existing feelings about a category of people strengthened. In all three, the sheer acceleration of FriendFeed threads (and hashtagged Twitter posts, I guess–but I don’t currently use Twitter) strikes me as both refreshing and a little disorienting. I’d use the word “dangerous,” but I think the only real danger is to complacency and artificial reputation, and that’s OK by me.

(Yes, it’s going to be Another Rambling Crawford Post. I don’t have time to hone it down to 450 or 800 well-chosen words; I want to get back to working on But Still They Blog, now that I’ve finished the draft for one humongous Making it Work essay for the December C&I.)

On one hand: OMG! FF’s Dead!

Let’s take the silliest one first–or at least silly to me. Facebook purchased FriendFeed. That’s probably resulted in tens of thousands of messages on FF and elsewhere, including some panicky threads from people and groups who’ve come to rely on FF for their community of interest and fear that FB will shut it down and they’ll have to move elsewhere. I’m not really addressing that particular kerfuffle. (I’ll suggest that if you really depend on a sustained and sustainable community of interest, “you get what you pay for” continues to be a relevant saying, but I’ll let it go at that.)

Nope, I’m addressing the secondary kerfuffle, mostly among Hot Tech Types and Hot Social Marketing Types, after some of the FF people now employed by FB made it clear that FB has no intention of shutting down FF–but, at least implicitly, that new-feature development for FF may not be speedy.

Some people found this reassuring. OK, I found it reassuring: I’m finding FF to be worthwhile as a set of overlapping communities of interest and, with Pause always firmly in place, a social medium that I can handle via occasional visits. I really don’t much care whether any new features are added to FF (I don’t use some of the existing ones); I want it to be fast, stable, and not so popular that I spend all my time finding new categories to Hide.

Personal case: On FF, I currently have 100 subscriptions–geez, how did it get so high, when I thought it was still 77–and 131 subscribers, including 62 that I don’t subscribe to. I can keep up with that, probably spending half an hour to 45 minutes a day on two split across two or three sessions. On FaceBook, where I’m much less active, I have 199 “friends,” a necessarily reciprocal arrangement–and there’s no way I can keep up with the wall in the 10-15 minutes a day I’m willing to devote to it, so I really only look at my family list of 8-10 and a “libclose” list of a couple dozen. I don’t use FB for professional issues at all; I do use FF for that.

Then there were the others–for whom not having rapid development of new features is equivalent to being dead. One social marketing hotshot said he couldn’t be bothered to “develop his network” (which I read as “getting followers for My Brand,” perhaps inappropriately) on a system that wasn’t busy adding new glitzfeatures, and would probably go elsewhere. To which I can only say: Good. For some of us, the point of social networking is social networking and communities of interest–not personal marketing and branding.

In this case, the effect of the accelerated discussion–“accelerated” over what you’d find on a blog (unless it’s something like John Scalzi’s Whatever) or a list–was to verify impressions I already had about many A-listers. Would you turn away from a Craftsman hammer because Sears hasn’t added rhinestones to it or, in fact, changed the design in years? Probably not–but some people don’t see online tools that way.

On the other hand: The trainwreck

There’s this special organization that includes a bunch of librarians and a bunch of other people. And there’s a move afoot to change the name of the organization. It’s a change that, to some librarians, seems to devalue librarian, to other folks seems high-handed and to still others as a great move…away from that dusty old “L” word to a series of buzz words that people supposedly respect more. I won’t say more about the specific organization or change, since it’s not my battle. What I have seen, though:

  • On one of the association’s apparently-official blogs, the word “hater” was used to refer to those who opposed the name change.
  • Apparently, one of the Great Organizational Gurus and frequent speakers sent out email that basically labeled name-change opponents as unprofessional.
  • Twitter and FriendFeed had (and, I suspect, continue to have) lots of comments–mostly opposed. A number of people were really unhappy about the tone of some of the pro-change stuff (see the first two bullets).
  • Some pro-name-change folks seemed to feel that it’s OK for a pro-change bigshot to dismiss opponents as unprofessional, but not OK for opponents to say bad things about the bigshot.

Again, this isn’t my battle. I already left one association around the time a president said that one of its problems was having too many librarians (a different association, one that never did use the L-word), so I’m used to seeing librarians derided by people who should know better. Doesn’t mean I have to like it, even as a non-librarian.

In this case, the acceleration and ease of threading has exposed some issues that were probably bubbling beneath the surface; this is all to the good (I believe) but certainly makes some people uncomfortable. (Could LITA actually pass a dues increase without a member ballot in 2009? I suspect–and hope–not, but back when the Board of Directors took what I felt was high-handed action, there was no good way to get fast, broad responses. Things have indeed changed.)

I believe this particular controversy has damaged the reputations of a few folks. I know it’s clarified my feelings in one case (but not fundamentally changed them) and slightly lowered my estimation in a couple of other cases (where I admired people but without much specific knowledge). And I believe that wouldn’t have happened without the relatively transparent acceleration of the medium.

On the gripping hand: Rockstars!

[Credit to Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle for this particular version of a third hand.]

Leaving out some details here because I’m too lazy to go look it up, someone posted a (Twitter?) comment to FF having to do with librarians being, or not being, rockstars in their community…and being a little snarky about the comment. A fast and varied discussion ensued, bringing in the author of the comment and many others–and included a bunch of stuff about whether “rockstar status” is either desirable, is something that every librarian should aspire to, and the like.

But this discussion was far from a trainwreck. David Lee King, who I believe made the Twitter comment, engaged in the discussion in an open manner, even recognizing that the term might not be appropriate in general. Within a day or so, and more than 150 comments, things moved from a terminological dispute to a serious discussion of whether and to what extent all librarians need to be public figures–and, in fact, the difference between doing your job (but avoiding attention) and being complacent and in a rut.

Yes, the conversation got edgy at times–and I don’t believe everybody arrived at a common understanding or agreement. Nor do I think that’s a necessary or always desirable outcome of a conversation. I do believe most of us understood more about what others were trying to say, and why.

In this case, I think a trainwreck may have been avoided–and I do remember a vaguely similar situation, on a blog, that did turn into somewhat of a trainwreck over time. I’m not sure whether the shorter messages required by FriendFeed made the difference, or whether it was simple acceleration, or whether people were simply more off-the-cuff and open in this environment. Maybe a combination; maybe something else.

In this case, I’ll be specific: While I suspect my attitudes about David Lee King and Joshua Neff will always be complicated, this particular thread makes me regard both of them considerably more positively. Doesn’t mean I won’t shoot the sheriff (metaphorically–don’t call the FBI!) if the need arises; doesn’t mean I won’t make fun of DLK. But all in all, I found it an encouraging conversation. (I just read through it again. I still do.) (And, just as a note, Steve L. didn’t gain in my estimation from this discussion mostly because he already ranks pretty high. Ditto John D., who managed to connect the two threads. Ditto Jenica. And others I won’t mention.)

Geez, Walt, 1500 words and still no point?

Well, I said it was a ramble–one that might, eventually, become a thinkpiece, but not on this blog and not this month. I think something is happening here, something interesting, and while I may not know exactly what it is, I’m getting little points of light around the edges. I’m not giving up blogs or ejournals (or lists or email…), and I’m still not sure Twitter would work for me (tried it, didn’t like it, might someday try it again, might not) but the nature of FF as a high-speed conversational tool for communities of interest is intriguing.

But let’s get to a sort-of point, one that raises a question:

  • It’s possible that FF (and Twitter and maybe even FB) yield more honest conversations because we perceive them as being more ephemeral than blog comments and email posts and…
  • If so–if you’re more open and honest there because you don’t think it’s as much a part of Your Permanent Record (down there a few pages past the time you snickered at your first-grade teacher)–then it may be inappropriate for people like me to snatch up whole chunks of FF threads (or Twitter hashtag search results) and use them within commentary articles, the way we (I) use blog posts and the comments on those posts.

The question:

Do you think it’s inappropriate or undesirable for your FriendFeed comments to be used in secondary discussions in the same way your blog posts and comments might be?

Comments–here or on FriendFeed? (I’ll post that question as a separate FF comment as well.)

Maybe I’m…

Monday, August 24th, 2009

I would add “…doing it wrong,” pace Randy Newman, but I wrote that post a few months ago.
And I was just pointed to a blog post (by someone I wouldn’t normally follow, but there’s a family relationship) about this person’s use of Twitter and someone else suggesting what tweets should and shouldn’t do. The blogger had an appropriate response, stated much more politely than I might state it–in essence, (a) there’s more than one way to use Twitter, (b) if you don’t like my tweets, feel free not to follow me.
In other words, someone proposed their version of The Rules for Twitter, and this blogger wasn’t buying them. To which I can only say, Hooray.

(There are seemingly endless sets of The Rules for blogging and other social media, and lately The Rules almost always seem to posit that we use these media to Build Our Brands–that the only legitimate motivation for a blog is gaining lots of readers and mindshare. “Pfft” is way too polite a response and my two-word response violates my own standards for this blog, so…)

But maybe I’m doing it wrong…

A few months ago–10 days after that earlier post, apparently (that is, on March 21, 2009)–I started using delicious. (I hadn’t seen the point of it, since I don’t really build an online bibliography–but after some other people were talking about it, I realized that I do have a use for it: to flag pages that could be source material either for the Library Leadership Network or for Cites & Insights.)
It’s working well in that regard. Instead of printing out a leadsheet (the first page, assuming the source plays nicely with Firefox) for later reference, I tag the page–and then, when I think I’m likely to be working on a topic, I’ll go through that tag, delete a few pages that I’m not going to use, and print leadsheets for others, then use delicious as a home for finding those items as I’m writing about them. Right now, there are 549 tagged items.
So far, so good–but if there’s a set of norms for delicious as a social medium, I suspect I’ve been violating it all along, and it’s getting worse.
To wit:

  • Some of my tags are meaningless to almost everybody else–e.g., miw, cifeedback, ir, mbp, lln, tqt. (Long-time C&I readers can probably guess what miw and mbp and tqt stand for.) Others are obscure but may make sense to a few other people, e.g. oa, oca, gbs–that is, open access, the Open Content Alliance, and Google Book Search/Google Book Settlement.
  • I delete items once I’ve written about them.
  • The newest violation of The Rules: When I do print off leadsheets, I modify the tag so that I know I’ve printed off leadsheets and won’t try to do it again. So, for example, 21 items tagged “deathprint” (which most people could probably figure out as “death of print”) became “deathprintx”–and then disappeared as I worked them into an essay.
  • I have yet to pay any attention to “popular” or “recent” tags–and I rarely pay much attention to the set of proposed tags for an item that come from everybody else.

In other words, I’m not a very “social” user of delicious. Such is life.
(If there’s one change in delicious I’d love to see but regard as unreasonable, it’s this: It would be lovely if delicious recognized that a URL was part of Bloglines or an equivalent service and pointed out that you’re not really tagging a page you can get back to. OK, so I’m an idiot sometimes…it’s just so easy to click on the square of squares up on the toolbar and tag away, not realizing that I haven’t clicked through to an actual post.)

Maybe they’re doing it wrong…

I encountered something today that, while minor, suggests that I’m not the only one with “norm” problems.
To wit: I wanted to unsubscribe from someone else’s Friendfeed account; they’re not really a friend or even acquaintance, and I found that 90% of their updates, while perfectly charming, were simply noise for me.
And I couldn’t find any way to do it. The mouseover menu doesn’t include Unsubscribe. I clicked on the person’s name, which brought up their profile–and there was no Unsubscribe option there either. Wha?
I temporarily dealt with it by removing them from all lists, including Home. Later, Iris Jastram noted (on FriendFeed, of course) that some FriendFeed styles actually hide the options from the profile–the Unsubscribe option still works, but you have to guess at where to click since there’s no text or box.
Went back, clicked on the place where I thought the Unsubscribe option should be, and got confirmation that I was unsubscribed.
This, to me, really does violate the spirit of FriendFeed–which, in this case, I’d summarize as “easy come, easy go.” It’s easy to subscribe to someone (unless they have a private feed), it’s easy to hide (most) aspects of overactive feeds without actually getting rid of the users…and it’s easy to unsubscribe from someone if situations change. Only not so much, if they’re allowed to hide that option.
This is really a FriendFeed issue, though. My subscription to Person X is part of my settings. It’s only secondarily part of Person X’s profile.
Minor stuff, to be sure. And I still don’t buy into The Rules…any more than I’m ready to add some badge to my blog. (Ah, but that’s another topic, one I might not get to for a while, maybe never.)

Channels are easy, content is hard

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

What we have here is a contemporary item that reminds me of a several-year-old backstory. I’ll give you the item first; then, I’ll quote the backstory.

The item

Consumerist, that sometimes-good, sometimes-absurd compilation of consumer complaints and snarky comments (does Consumer Reports really understand what it purchased when it purchased this?), has a followup item yesterday: “Dave Carroll launches second ‘United breaks guitars’ song and video.” It links to a YouTube video of the song.
Go watch. I’ll wait.
Oh, and if you hadn’t already done so, go to the earlier post from July 2009 and click through to the YouTube video of that song.
The Consumerist issue here–that United baggage handlers (apparently) wrecked Carroll’s $3,500 Taylor guitar during a change of planes at O’Hare, and that in a year of discussing the situation with United he could never get them to take responsibility for fixing the guitar–is interesting, but perhaps secondary.

Given that Carroll has now said he doesn’t want United’s money, but would be happy if they’d donate the amount to a charity, it’s pretty clear that the original problem is a little secondary to him as well. There may also be aspects of this story, on one side or another, that haven’t appeared on Consumerist

What I get out of it is a little different, and for once the post title is also the legitimate lead sentence for the post, when prefaced with “With the rise of social media or the read/write web…”
”’Channels are easy, content is hard.”’
Which is to say:

  • Any idiot can put a “song” or a “video” on YouTube.
  • Don’t like YouTube? There are lots of other choices–channels are easy.
  • For little or no money, your homemade media has as good a shot at worldwide success as any professional effort. It’s a revolution!

OK, so I don’t believe that third one any more than most of you do (or maybe you do?). It’s pretty unusual for homemade media to achieve “worldwide success” at the level of, say, Ron Howard or Queen Latifah or Don Brown or any of those…
Part of that is distribution and promotion–but another part of it is talent.
I rarely listen to full “user-generated” songs or watch full “user-generated” videos on YouTube or elsewhere, even ones related to my field, because most of them aren’t very good. Maybe I’m choosing the wrong ones, and it’s true that I prefer singing to yelling, but most of what I’ve seen is “amateur hour”–not just amateur (done for love, and can be extremely high quality) but lacking in talent.
To me, maybe because I’ve been writing for a long time, it’s harder to write a good song than it is to write a good article; it’s harder to sing a song well than it is to…well, write a good article; and it’s much harder to bring together all the skills required to prepare a competent video.
That made these two songs breaths of fresh air: To my ear, at least, Carroll is a talented writer, singer and musician–and the videography is generally good in the first song, much better in the sequel. I enjoyed the songs as songs, all the way through. (OK, they’re not whatever the newest wave is. Maybe I should move to Nova Scotia? )

The backstory

Turns out I’ve written about this before. The following column appeared, possibly in slightly different form (this version is what was submitted; I haven’t corrected for editorial work), as “Rich Media is Hard” in the May 2006 EContent Magazine, in my ongoing “discontent” column:

Heard about the Read/Write Web? It’s an instant cliché most econtent professionals need to be aware of: The growing importance of user-generated content–and the preference of many users for content coming from other users.
I’ve discussed this before (October 2001 and February 2003), back when it was an interesting new trend. Now it’s a phenomenon. I spend more web time reading “nonprofessional” material than I do reading pro content and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s a considerable change from traditional media, where the sheer cost of publication and distribution limit most of the field to the pros. I’m not sure it’s the kind of change people expected.
Rich media is one of this issue’s themes, and rich media may be where you as professionals still have an edge over “amateur” users. I could be wrong, but I’m inclined to believe this principle is likely to hold true for a while: The richer the medium, the more people will prefer professional content.
The reason is simple: This stuff is hard.
That’s true for traditional media. One person with an idea, literacy, and time can write a book. Fewer people have the skills to write music or produce paintings that will please listeners and viewers. But those are nothing compared to truly rich media, the net equivalent of television or the movies. That’s just plain hard. I believe the principle holds equally true in net media, if the goal is to produce something that will satisfy the reader or viewer.
Any idiot with moderate literacy can write a blog (and quite a few of them do, along with many sophisticated, knowledgeable writers). Recent web developments eliminate tool complexity as a barrier. If you can write, you can create a blog or a wiki or add to a collaborative review space. Most people can write well enough to submit posts or reviews that a few other people will want to read.
Podcasts are almost as easy to generate as blogs–but you have to be comfortable speaking to an unknown audience in a coherent, organized manner. That’s harder for many of us than informal writing. I don’t doubt that there are tens of thousands of amateur podcasts–but I’ll bet the continuing audience for amateur podcasts is at most one-tenth as large as for blogs.
Podcasts aren’t particularly rich media. Even vlogs (videoblogs) aren’t really rich media, not if they’re basically talking into a webcam and mike and recording the results for playback. But they’re enough richer to discourage many people–quite apart from the facts that many of us would find videoblogging uncomfortably close to public speaking, don’t necessarily want our speaking mugs on the web for all to watch, and may not even own webcams.
Sites such as OurMedia have made it easier to get vlogs and other amateur rich media out there for people to see. A search on “vlog” in Yahoo Video yields a few thousand entries. But are people willing to watching amateur talking faces for very long? I suspect not. I’ll guess the continuing audience for amateur vlogs (excluding amateur porn) is another order of magnitude smaller than for podcasts, partly because it’s just plain harder to do a satisfactory video.
Even for true rich media, epitomized by TV programs and movies, the financial and distribution barriers to entry have come down. You can buy a digital videocam for a few hundred dollars, a high-definition videocam for $2,000, and pretty good nonlinear video editing software for $100–and either OurMedia or the Internet Archive will host appropriately-licensed video for free.
When Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle covered the Sundance Festival four years ago, he called high-definition video the best trend of that year. His final sentence: “In the future, anyone with talent will be able to make films.”
Consider those three key words: Anyone with talent–or, realistically, anyone with talent and the resources to gather people with the other talents you need to make a movie or truly engrossing video work. Creating a believable story in moving visual media is much harder than writing a book or posting a listenable podcast or producing a readable blog.
Point a webcam out a window: Easy but usually uninteresting. Write a screenplay, find a cast, scout locations (and build the ones you can’t find), assemble the crew, film it all, edit the results (and add music), and revise it after test screenings–oh, and pay for the whole thing. That’s moviemaking, and it’s a complex way to tell a story.
For now, pros have the edge when it comes to truly rich media. I think that edge will hold for a while just because rich media is hard–and there’s too much of it out there to tolerate badly-done amateur stuff for very long. It’s an edge; can you make the most of it?

What’s changed since 2006? There are lots more free and cheap ways to distribute rich media. There’s a lot more of it. Equipment costs continue to drop–I think you can get flipcams with HD capabilities for under $200.
Unfortunately (in my opinion), some lacks of talent can be masked: With “correcting” microphones, we may not even know whether some “professional” singers are capable of singing in tune, or whether some of them know what “in tune” even means.
The need for talent? Still there. And still relatively rare. Which made these songs such a pleasure. Glad Carroll got his guitar fixed.

Followup: Still insufficiently paranoid

Saturday, August 15th, 2009

A few days ago, on this increasingly infrequently-updated blog, I posted a little musing about FaceBook’s acquisition of FriendFeed (FF).
Since then, I’ve seen one or two other FF users offer similar comments on FF itself–and a whole bunch of milling around looking for alternatives after the apparently inevitable and soon-to-come shutdown of FF. Christina even wrote a response of sorts. (Hmm. Her response never showed up as a trackback on my post–is there some special rule for inter-SB trackbacks? No problem, really: The previous incarnation of this blog didn’t allow trackbacks at all.)

Expanding on my peculiar calmness

Lots of people, most of them presumably more web-savvy and, as researchers, possibly more intelligent than I am, are dead-on convinced that FB will kill off FF at the first opportunity. I’ve tried to follow the reasoning. Here’s the logic, as far as I can figure it out:
Given that: Google buys lots of services and always shuts them down.

Well, that’s certainly true. That’s why Blogger disappeared in 2004, Picasa disappeared in 2005 and, most important, YouTube was shut down in early 2007.
What’s that you say? You thought Blogger, Picasa and YouTube were still available? And, for that matter, that Postini is still operating? Or that any number of other acquisitions have been renamed or merged into other Google services in a reasonably respectful manner?
You must be mistaken. Or, just maybe, the rule for Google isn’t universally true…

And given that: What’s true for Google is true for every acquiring company.

Use Flicker lately? Of course not; Yahoo! bought it–and must have shut it down, right?

Therefore, FaceBook will shut down FriendFeed.

Based on the absolute truth of the two premises, this conclusion must be sound.

Never mind that one of FF’s founders has said it’s not likely to happen. Never mind that FB might do better on a revenue basis by adding ads to FF and leaving it as a separate service than by attempting a clumsy merger or simply shutting FF down.

Missing the point

Indeed, maybe I am missing the point. I think of FriendFeed as a tool–a good tool, for the most part, but a tool.
But I’m a “library person”–and as others have noted, library people are all over new social media like ants over honey. I’m far less social than most of the library people on FF, I believe; otherwise, I’d be back with one bunch of them on Meebo, another bunch of them on Ning, another bunch of them in (sigh) Second Life, and more…and, to be sure, big overlaps among all those bunches.

There are a lot of library folks on FaceBook as well. My brother, who’s an active FaceBook user, remarked on my 185 “friends”–far more than his count. The difference, I told him, is that I’ll generally accept any “friend” invite from a library person, and that probably accounts for three-quarters of that count. He has a lot fewer people, mostly family and actual friends, possibly a sounder approach to actually using FaceBook rather than dabbling in it as I do.

FriendFeed is, in a number of ways, a fine tool. In some other ways, it’s aggravating, but that’s true of every social medium of which I’m aware. (Yes, I use Stylish to control some of the aggravation and broadly-applied hiding to control most of the rest.) Of course, social media aren’t ideally suited to relative asocial/shy people like me anyway.
But for a fair number of people, apparently, FriendFeed is more than a tool. And if FriendFeed (or the rooms set up within FriendFeed) has become something significantly more powerful than a tool, you get a lot more upset when you think it might go away. (Or, given the number of people with no apparent insider knowledge I’m aware of who have said this flat-out, “when it absolutely is going away.”)
I can’t tell those people Don’t Panic. I certainly can’t, and wouldn’t, suggest that they’re wasting time by looking for alternatives.
I can suggest this: If you’re looking for an alternative, look for the business model.
Having a business model doesn’t assure that you won’t be purchased or otherwise go out of business.
Not having a business model substantially increase the chances that you will go out of business, one way or another.
In other words: If you love the fact that FriendFeed doesn’t have ads and doesn’t charge fees…well, think about who or what was paying the bills. (And if you come up with one pundit’s approach to digital repositories, “just plop a server down and connect it to the internet, there’s no real expense,” you deserve the results you’ll get.)


As already noted, I’m a shy guy (the first letter of my Myers-Briggs never varies from “I”), and not terribly social.
My hierarchy of writing/communicating preferences is also a little odd, actually nearly unique within the library field. Setting aside the writing I do as a part-time job, here’s the hierarchy:

  1. Cites & Insights, my odd not-so-little ejournal, now in its ninth year (120th more-or-less monthly issue, 2.225 million words, 2,788 pages).
  2. The bimonthly columns I write for EContent and ONLINE print magazines.
  3. Blog posts–here and, once in a while, on what’s left of Walt, Even Randomer
  4. Notes and comments on FriendFeed, and occasional status updates on FaceBook.

If FF was closer to the top of that hierarchy, would I be more concerned? Possibly.
If I was part of a close-knit community that only communicates on FriendFeed, would I be more concerned? Possibly.
So, just to be clear, I’m not telling you (my readers, apparently still only 5% of what they used to be on the other platform) not to be concerned or take action. I’m just expanding on why I’m still calm. As always, YMMV.

Oh, and if you are outraged that I’m not outraged, here’s something to soothe your soul:

I’m old. I’m nearly 64–less than a month to go. I’m part of the Silent Generation–you know, the ones who brought you the Free Speech Movement and other non-protests (yes, I was at UC Berkeley throughout those times). I’m obviously too much of an old fart, luddite and general nincompoop to understand any of this shiny stuff.

There. Better now?

Monday, old, and insufficiently paranoid

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Which is to say:

  • It’s Monday as I write this, with all that implies.
  • I’m not that old, but possibly calmer–or just slower–than when I was a mere child of, say, 55.
  • And, responding to the Oh Noo! FaceBook Acquired FriendFeed! We’re Dooooomed! comments (and the news itself), I find that I’m insufficiently paranoid.

In other words, I’m not looking to flee FriendFeed just yet. (Yes, I have a FaceBook account–and yes, I have a lot more “friends” on FaceBook than I have followers on FriendFeed: that’s the way things go. Also, yes, I treat FaceBook with considerable caution, ignoring every cause/gift/thingie invitation…and probably spend more than ten times as much time on FF as on FB.)

Why so calm?

Because I don’t see the point of panic at this stage of the game, and I’m too tired to panic anyway.
After all, I haven’t spent a dime on FF. Sure, there’s “original content” there–probably hundreds of comments and posts that don’t appear anywhere else. None of which amounts to much in the grand scheme of things, or even in my odd little web universe.
The “maybe the sky’s just a little overcast, not falling” story–that is, that FB’s mostly buying FF for its talent and can readily afford to just leave FF alone–makes sense. And, you know, FF serves as a nice escape hatch for FB users who become overwhelmed with the glitz and sheer mass of FB. It probably doesn’t cost a lot to keep going, and I suspect a few modest little ads wouldn’t disturb users that much.
FB says they have no plans to shut FF down. Do I take them at their word?
Not necessarily–but if not, then what? Do I rush out to join another social medium (there are plenty to choose from)? Been there, done that, generally wasn’t pleased with the results–but times and social media change. Do I rush away from FF because I think it’s going away anyway? Why? How would my leaving somehow benefit me or avoid damage if FF does go away? It’s not like being a passenger in a car crash, after all…
Of course, that’s just me. Maybe for you, this is terrible, horrible news that requires major action right now. (Or maybe you’ve never heard of FF anyway–I think one reason it may work better is because it only has a million or so users.) In which case, if you’re one of the six dozen or so who I directly follow, well, I might miss you…but then, maybe you’ll start blogging again, and that might not be a bad thing.
And if you’re about to write a post saying “FriendFeed is dead…” ah, but that’s another post–or, rather, a magazine column, and it’s one I’m working on. (No, FriendFeed doesn’t appear in the title. The column should appear in December.)