Joho the Blog » digital culture

August 20, 2009

New issue of JOHO the Newsletter

I’ve just sent out the August 18, 2009 issue of JOHO, my newsletter. (It’s completely free, so feel free to subscribe.) It’s all new material (well, new-ish) except for one piece.

Cluetrain@10: Recently, the tenth anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto came out, a book I co-authored. Here’s some of what we got wrong in the original version.

In the new edition’s introduction, I list a bunch of ways the world has become cluetrain-y, many of which we take for granted. The fact is that I think Cluetrain was pretty much right. Of course, at the time we thought we were simply articulating things about the Web that were obvious to users but that many media and business folks needed to hear.

But Cluetrain also got some important things wrong…and I don’t mean just Thesis #74: “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it.”

Our kids’ Internet: 

Part 1: Will our kids appreciate the Internet?: Will the Net become just another medium that we take for granted? 

I love the Internet because even now, fifteen years into the Web, I remember what life used to be like. In fact, give me half a beer and I’ll regale you with tales of typing my dissertation on an IBM Model B electric, complete with carbon paper and Wite-Out. Let me finish my beer and I’ll explain microfiche to you, you young whippersnappers.

The coming generation, the one that’s been brought up on the Internet, aren’t going to love it the way that we do…

Part 2: The shared lessons of the Net: The Net teaches all its users (within a particular culture) some common lessons. And if that makes me a technodeterminist, then so be it.

In my network of friends and colleagues, there’s a schism. Some of us like to make generalizations about the Net. Others then mention that actual data shows that the Net is different to different people. Even within the US population, people’s experience of it varies widely. So, when middle class, educated, white men of a certain age talk as if what they’re excited about on the Net is what everyone is excited about, those white men are falling prey to the oldest fallacy in the book. 

Of course that’s right. My experience of the Web is not that of, say, a 14 year old Latina girl who’s on MySpace, doesn’t ever update Wikipedia articles, isn’t on Twitter, considers email to be a tool her parents use, and — gasp — hasn’t ever tagged a single page. The difference is real and really important. And yet …

Part 3: How to tell you’re in a culture gap: You’ll love or hate this link, which illustrates our non-uniform response to the Net.

The news’ old value:  

Part 1: Transparency is the new objectivity: Objectivity and credibility through authority were useful ways to come to reliable belief back when paper constrained ideas. In a linked world, though, transparency carries a lot of that burden.

Part 2: Driving Tom Friedman to the F Bomb: Traditional news media are being challenged at the most basic level by the fact that news has been a rectangular object, not a network.

Bogus Contest: Net PC-ness: What should we be politically correct about in the Age of the Web?

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August 12, 2009

Apple: Totalitarian art

Jason Calacanis has an excellent post making the case against Apple, from an Apple fan’s point of view. I’m basically with him.

Doc Searls has long said that the key to understanding Steve Jobs — and thus to understanding Apple — is that Job’s an artist. We understand when an artist wants to maintain complete, obsessive control over his creations, especially when they are as beautiful as some Apple products are. But it’s not just artistry at work at Apple. Apple tends towards totalitarianism.

You can see why in its computer architectures: Its products work because they’re relatively closed systems that run tightly controlled hardware, unlike Microsoft’s operating system that has to be able to work on just about every piece of hardware that comes along. And Apple’s stuff generally works beautifully. (I switched from Windows to the Mac about three years ago.) But the hardwired connection between the iPod and iTunes — only recently loosened — is there not to benefit users, but to meet the DRM needs of recording companies and to tether users to Apple. The hardwired connection between the iPhone and the App Store represents a disturbing direction for the industry, in which Apple acts in loco parentis to protect users from their own software decisions, and (apparently) to exclude products they believe hurt the business interests of their partners. The App Store’s success makes it particularly threatening; it’s easy to imagine Apple’s rumored tablet adopting the same strategy, then other companies following suit.

It’s not an unmixed picture, of course. The removal of the egregious DRM from iTunes is a step forward, and seems to have been a step Apple eagerly took, and the movement of the Mac’s OS onto Unix added admirable transparency. Plus, Apple makes some beautiful stuff that works beautifully.

I just wish that going forward, I felt more confident that Apple is on our side, not just as customers but as digital citizens.

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August 4, 2009

Don’t Ask and Don’t Tell Facebook

The military is trying to devise policies to govern how our service people use social networking sites, according to a story by Julian Barnes in the LA Times. The article implies the Pentagon accepts that military folks are going to use these sites, and there may even be some good that will come from it, but the military is concerned about security. At the moment, the Marines have banned accessing Facebook, MySpace and Twitter from government computers, to make sure there’s bandwidth for more pressing military needs.

Not that anyone asked, but it seems to me that the military would do best by treating social networking sites simply as another place service people will be gathering, just like in coffee shops, living rooms, and bars, and should therefore be training them in the use of social networking sites, with clear penalties for violating security guidelines. Which may be exactly what the military policy is heading toward.

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July 31, 2009

Tenenbaum trial bloggage

Marc Bourgeois is doing some excellent blogging of the RIAA v. Tenenbaum trial. Fascinating.

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July 29, 2009

Office hours for non-academics

Academics hold office hours — set periods when they can be found in their on-campus offices, available to talk — because they are not required to be on campus except for when they teach. Since more of the workforce is adopting that work-wherever-you-want approach, I really like Whitney Hess’ idea of establishing of office hours for herself. She’s a user experience designer, and if you want to talk with her, you can count on her being in her office, with a chat client open, on Sunday mornings, 9-10 EDT.

More of us ought to be doing that. I think it’s a keeper of an idea.

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July 25, 2009

Dan Gillmor’s early blogs found

Scott Rosenberg posts the happy news that Rudolf Ammann has found Dan Gillmor’s missing early bloggage for the San Jose Mercury News.

Scott includes a link to Dan’s first post, in 1999. Here are some snippets:

I’ve been thinking about the new ways of journalism, namely the ways the Internet is imposing on all of us. Internet Time has compressed the lives of all kinds of people in all kinds of businesses, and journalism is no exception. In fact, it may be one of the businesses most affected in the long run, both in the opportunities the Net creates and the threat it represents.

So I’m trying one of those new forms. It’s called a “weblog” — and it’s a combination of styles that could exist only on the Web. Text, pictures, hyperlinks and, soon, audio and video are all part of this new form, and I can’t wait to start experimenting with it.

Why do I like weblogs? Because the best ones are windows into the Web, various topics and people’s minds. Rather than trying to describe the form, let me show you several of the weblogs I look at daily (or even more frequently):

There’s nobody I admire more than Dan, for his integrity and his prescience.

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July 20, 2009

Facebook at 250M huddled masses

Brian Solis reports on Facebook’s claim of 250M souls, as well as on the social networking sites popular in various parts of the world.

Simply the map of the global distribution of Facebook users makes clear the danger of building our social nets in proprietary systems that don’t start from the premise that first they must interoperate.

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July 19, 2009

Transparency is the new objectivity

A friend asked me to post an explanation of what I meant when I said at PDF09 that “transparency is the new objectivity.” First, I apologize for the cliché of “x is the new y.” Second, what I meant is that transparency is now fulfilling some of objectivity’s old role in the ecology of knowledge.

Outside of the realm of science, objectivity is discredited these days as anything but an aspiration, and even that aspiration is looking pretty sketchy. The problem with objectivity is that it tries to show what the world looks like from no particular point of view, which is like wondering what something looks like in the dark. Nevertheless, objectivity — even as an unattainable goal — served an important role in how we came to trust information, and in the economics of newspapers in the modern age.

You can see this in newspapers’ early push-back against blogging. We were told that bloggers have agendas, whereas journalists give us objective information. Of course, if you don’t think objectivity is possible, then you think that the claim of objectivity is actually hiding the biases that inevitably are there. That’s what I meant when, during a bloggers press conference at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, I asked Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Walter Mears whom he was supporting for president. He replied (paraphrasing!), “If I tell you, how can you trust what I write?,” to which I replied that if he doesn’t tell us, how can we trust what he blogs?

So, that’s one sense in which transparency is the new objectivity. What we used to believe because we thought the author was objective we now believe because we can see through the author’s writings to the sources and values that brought her to that position. Transparency gives the reader information by which she can undo some of the unintended effects of the ever-present biases. Transparency brings us to reliability the way objectivity used to.

This change is, well, epochal.

Objectivity used be presented as a stopping point for belief: If the source is objective and well-informed, you have sufficient reason to believe. The objectivity of the reporter is a stopping point for reader’s inquiry. That was part of high-end newspapers’ claimed value: You can’t believe what you read in a slanted tabloid, but our news is objective, so your inquiry can come to rest here. Credentialing systems had the same basic rhythm: You can stop your quest once you come to a credentialed authority who says, “I got this. You can believe it.” End of story.

We thought that that was how knowledge works, but it turns out that it’s really just how paper works. Transparency prospers in a linked medium, for you can literally see the connections between the final draft’s claims and the ideas that informed it. Paper, on the other hand, sucks at links. You can look up the footnote, but that’s an expensive, time-consuming activity more likely to result in failure than success. So, during the Age of Paper, we got used to the idea that authority comes in the form of a stop sign: You’ve reached a source whose reliability requires no further inquiry.

In the Age of Links, we still use credentials and rely on authorities. Those are indispensible ways of scaling knowledge, that is, letting us know more than any one of us could authenticate on our own. But, increasingly, credentials and authority work best for vouchsafing commoditized knowledge, the stuff that’s settled and not worth arguing about. At the edges of knowledge — in the analysis and contextualization that journalists nowadays tell us is their real value — we want, need, can have, and expect transparency. Transparency puts within the report itself a way for us to see what assumptions and values may have shaped it, and lets us see the arguments that the report resolved one way and not another. Transparency — the embedded ability to see through the published draft — often gives us more reason to believe a report than the claim of objectivity did.

In fact, transparency subsumes objectivity. Anyone who claims objectivity should be willing to back that assertion up by letting us look at sources, disagreements, and the personal assumptions and values supposedly bracketed out of the report.

Objectivity without transparency increasingly will look like arrogance. And then foolishness. Why should we trust what one person — with the best of intentions — insists is true when we instead could have a web of evidence, ideas, and argument?

In short: Objectivity is a trust mechanism you rely on when your medium can’t do links. Now our medium can. [Tags: ]

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July 16, 2009

Techcrunch’s RT of @Ev email

Sam Bayard of the Berkman Center’s Citizen Media Law Center has posted an explanation of the legal issues around TechCrunch posting some of the content of the email stolen from Twitter’s founders background.

It seems different to me than when people posted internal messages from Diebold, because there was a clear public interest in the reliability of voting machines. I’m trying to bracket out the sense that Twitter is one of us, but I’m failing. The whole thing makes me feel icky.

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July 12, 2009

Transparent justice

The Sunlight Foundation’s Daniel Schuman writes about the transparency of the Sotomayor hearings and about the extent to which the future member of the Supreme Court would support greater transparency in the courts.

There’s also a Twitter stream for news about the hearings. It’s under the name Sonia Sotomayor, but I doubt that she’s actually there twiddling her thumbs….

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