Posts about Book

The attention surplus and relevance deficit

So much is being written these days about the attention economy, and the common view is that we are as a culture suffering attention deficit — that is, that we have so many opportunities for attention, we don’t know where to put it all; we’re overloaded, overdosed. This is an extension of the very old argument that life became too complicated when there is too much information available — which implies that nirvana was sometime between the Garden of Eden and the Library at Alexandria.

I disagree. I don’t have an attention deficit. I have an attention surplus. I have way too much attention devoted to stuff I don’t care about: billboards intruding on every view, ads I don’t care about, crappy content, emails I never asked for, boring conversations. Oh, from my perspective, I have plenty of attention to share. From a marketer’s perspective, they are the ones suffering from an attention deficit — a shortage of my attention. But that’s their issue, not mine.

What I’m really suffering from is a relevance deficit. I want the means to discover and use the content I find interesting and good, the conversations I find worthwhile, the ads that help me get what I want to get, the emails that are worth answering.

When you look at the attention/relevance economy from that perspective, it informs much of the functionality we are trying to create online: We want recommendations from people we trust — but first we have to find those people and know that we trust them. So we pay attention to links: degrees of separation and degrees of trust and authority. We subscribe to the words and links of people we like (or whose judgments we like) and thanks to this world we don’t rely just on the people we already know; we find new people. We join social networks (failing to see that the internet itself, properly parsed, is the real social network). We try to capture the wisdom of the crowd to help with recommendations (see Google, Del.icio.us, Flickr). None of it is perfect. But we’re getting there.

We still squander attention on irrelevance. But I think it is improving.

The Reuters speech

A version of the speech by Reuters head Tom Glocer that I lauded is now online at the FT.

While media companies are catching up with this demand for “personalisation”, our audiences have moved on dramatically. Now they are consuming, creating, sharing and publishing their own content online.

There were indications last year that a significant shift in the balance of power between professional content companies and home-based creators lay ahead….

But it is not just bloggers – it is citizen journalists armed with their 1.3 megapixel camera phones, people “mashing” together music and images to create new music videos, kids making their own movies and posting them on sites such as Stupidvideos.com or MySpace.com….

It is important to understand what has changed. Bloggers, after all, have always been a part of history – read Daniel Defoe, Samuel Pepys or James Boswell. The same is true for citizen journalists: just check out first-hand accounts of any big historical event. The difference now is the scale of distribution and the ability to search….

In the news industry, professional and “amateur” content combined creates a better product. It tells the story at a deeper level….

We are now at our crossroads. Old media – and I now would include the first wave of online publishing – have a choice: integrate the new world or risk becoming less relevant. Our industry must not fall into the old protectionist strategies that defined the first phase of the internet. The internet was not invented just to show a replica of yesterday’s newspaper with a few banner advertisements. We cannot be the choke-hold, blocking the new creators in a bid to protect our legacy businesses…

[via Lance Knobel]

Reuters gets it

Tom Glocer, CEO of Reuters, is giving a keynote at the Online Publishers Association. It’s good enough to live-blog.

Glocer said a year ago, the focus of Reuters was on “the consumer as editor,” with tools such as RSS to allow consumers to consume differently. Now, it has gone far beyond that:

They’re consuming, they’re creating, they’re sharing, and they’re publishing themselves. So the consumer wants to not only run the printing preess, the consumer wants to set the Linotype as well….

Our industry is facing a profound challenge from home-created content…. If we create the right crossroads, provide the consumers with the appropriate tools… we can harnass what otherwise from the outside would look like a punk revolution….

He says that media historians will see the acquisition of MySpace by News Corp as a “turning point…. Sites like Myspace are rebuilding our world” because they provide a means for anyone who has anything to share to do so. “What we are seeing today is an almost continuing talent show.”

“Technology is creating a kind of weird, hybrid world” of mashups, he says. He recognizes a “demand for this new kind of creativity” and there is also an advertising demand for it.

: What’s great about Glocer’s talk is not only that he gets it but he gives us respect. Standing in London, he compares bloggers to the great diarists. He says that people will turn to the Rafats of the world to interpret news. He says that bloggers were important in coverage of the last U.S. election. He says that citizen journalism has a long tradition, comparing citizens’ reports of 7/7 with a survivor’s account of the Titantic crash.

What has really changed is the nature of publishing, a “Gutenbergian transformation” that involves both tools and distribution.

“If the user wants to be both author and editor, and technology is increasingly enabling this, what will be the role of the media company…?” He has three answers: Media companies will be a “seeder of clouds.” Nice analogy. I call it a magnet and would recommend that to him for he says that just creating content is not enough; they must attract the people. The second role is to be a “provider of tools… We need to produce open standards and interoperability to allow” disparate people to create content of disparate types. “Let’s not make the same mistakes newspapers did with the protectionist online strategies that characterized Internet 1.” By that he means not recreating the old content in the new medium. The third role, he says, is that media companies will be “filter and editor.” He says that “the good stuff will rise to the top” online.

: Glocer uses the Tsunami and the Concorde crash to show how citizen journalists and professional journalists together tell the story more quickly and completely. “There’s no monopoly on being in the right place at the right time.”

“We can’t be a chokehold in a desparate effort to close the digital pipe,” Glocer says, arguing that media companies must not try to protect what they have by restricting those who come next.

: Speaking to fellow media companies, he concludes: “We are the go-between providing the structure and support… between the information provider and the consumer, even if today they are the very same person.” He tells them that trust is critical and so he argues that in a world with so much information, “the consumer gravitates to trustworthy brands.”

He asks what this means for Google and China and answers the question by not answering it: “Reputation is hard-won and easily lost.”

And he urges these media companies to understand and encourage citizen media.

: I get up to ask a question about copyright and remixing: He understands the value of being part of the converstation, part of the remix and so where does he think the line is in use of his material? He says that in the U.S. there is a fairly clear line in fair use but there is a question about objectionable use. He says content creators should have the right to set appropriate use; he’s endorsing Creative Commons (-like) licenses. He says that Reuters puts its RSS feeds out in the hope that bloggers will use them and include them in the conversation and if we quote a story they’re happy.

Rich Karlgaard, the publisher of Forbes, who’s on the stage with Glocer, says he now reads Real Clear Politics and thus reads the sources of the opinions there less and he asks, “Are these guys friends or foes?” Glocer says they could be a foe to newspapers but they are a friend to readers.

In a related question, Karlgaard — looking for the dark side of the cloud still — asks whether bloggers et al are “a threat more in the loss of readers or the loss of revenue.” Glocer answers revenue and he says that bloggers are helping media find a new and younger audience. I think that’s also the right answer to the question about aggregators.

: LATER: Karlgaard leaves a comment emphasizing that he’s not a gloomy protectionist; he was just being a moderator.

Blink and you’ll miss it

Malcolm Gladwell has a blog.

In the past year I have often been asked why I don’t have a blog. My answer was always that I write so much, already, that I don’t have time to write anything else. But, as should be obvious, I’ve now changed my mind. I have come (belatedly) to the conclusion that a blog can be a very valuable supplement to my books and the writing I do for the New Yorker. What I think I’d like to do is to use this forum to elaborate and comment on and correct and amend things that I have already written. If you look on my website, on the “Blink” page, you’ll see an expanded notes and bibliography, which mostly consists of copies of emails sent to me by readers. Well, I think I’d like to start posting reader comments for everything I write, and this is a perfect place for that.
There are also times when I think I’ve made mistakes, or oversights, and I’d like to use this space to explain myself and set things right.

It’s the book that never ends.

Vast wasteland, my ass

Well so much for those turn-off-the-tv festivals of media snobbery. The New York Times reports that two University of Chicago economists find that TV is not bad for kids.

Most studies that find negative effects from television compare groups of children who watch television to those who do not, even though the economic situations of the two groups are in all likelihood very different, Mr. Gentzkow said. The new study, however, was based on what the authors call a “natural experiment” that resulted from the way television was introduced in the United States in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, when some cities got TV service five years ahead of others.

Data from cities where preschoolers were exposed to the new technology, and data from cities where they were not, was correlated with test scores from about 300,000 students nationwide in 1965, as collected in the Coleman Report, a survey done under the Civil Rights Act. The study also looked at test scores from pre- and post-TV age groups within cities.

The result showed “very little difference and if anything, a slight positive advantage” in test scores for children who grew up watching TV early on, compared to those who did not, said Mr. Shapiro.

Media are good.

Advice capital

Stowe Boyd has a smashing post today suggesting a shift form venture capital to advice capital. As VCs find themselves unable to throw big buckets o’ money at ever-smaller, nimbler, quicker startups, it becomes impossible for them to manage their real assets: time, distraction, and knowledge. I think that this provides opportunties for strategic investors who have more than money to offer and also for smart, independent people (such as bloggers, Boyd suggests) who can offer advice, connections, and questions. The challenge is to make this more than a show advisory board but a real relationship and a longer-term commitment for both than old-style consulting (thanks to payoffs in long-term equity). I’ve started down that path with a few companies myself.

Snobs.com

Call me a populist and a utopian and I’ll say thanks.

There has been much linking and buzzing about Andrew Keen’s militantly snobbish piece in The Weekly Standard in which he bemoans the internet and web 2.0 as a geeky rendition of communism. He reveals a sort of neoneoconservatism that wraps back around to the days before liberals became cultural snots and conservatives tried to act populist and class-blind, the days when conservatives where elistist power hoarders in small, closed societies of privilege.

This is just the sort of ridiculous piece that gets links and I don’t know why I’m falling into the trap except that it’s just so laughably insulting to the entire human race that it makes me feel as if I am Mr. Matter meeting Mr. Antimatter here.

My view of cultural weltanschauung was transformed in the mid-80s, when the remote control took over half of American couches and the cable box and VCR gave us choice — and, lo and behold, when given the chance to watch good shows, we did. It turns out that we do, indeed, have taste and TV, of all things, proved it. I came to see that if you are not a populist, then you cannot believe in democracy or free markets or education or reform religion or education: Why bother with the people if the people are fools? Those technologies gave us control over the consumption of media and the internet gives us the means to create media and that’s what Keen dreads but I celebrate.

In web 2.0, Keen sees the means of flattening culture. I see the means of the people speaking. That’s not communism. That’s democracy. That’s freedom.

Rather than Paris, Moscow, or Berkeley, the grand utopian movement of our contemporary age is headquartered in Silicon Valley, whose great seduction is actually a fusion of two historical movements: the counter-cultural utopianism of the ’60s and the techno-economic utopianism of the ’90s. Here in Silicon Valley, this seduction has announced itself to the world as the “Web 2.0″ movement…. This Web 2.0 dream is Socrates’s nightmare: technology that arms every citizen with the means to be an opinionated artist or writer.

The means to speak.

So what, exactly, is the Web 2.0 movement? As an ideology, it is based upon a series of ethical assumptions about media, culture, and technology. It worships the creative amateur: the self-taught filmmaker, the dorm-room musician, the unpublished writer. It suggests that everyone — even the most poorly educated and inarticulate amongst us — can and should use digital media to express and realize themselves. Web 2.0 “empowers” our creativity, it “democratizes” media, it “levels the playing field” between experts and amateurs. The enemy of Web 2.0 is “elitist” traditional media.

Amen. But, again, do not assume that everyone who uses these tools wants to be published in The Weekly Standard. What you see is not a mass of minimedia. What you hear is the people, talking. And if you refuse to listen, you will make a rotten capitalist, journalist, politician, statesman, cleric, teacher, or neighbor. Keen hears the voice of Marx in Kevin Kelly fretting about “Mozart before the technology of the piano… Hitchcock before the technology of film. We have a moral obligation to develop technology.” Keen says:

But where Kelly sees a moral obligation to develop technology, we should actually have — if we really care about Mozart, Van Gogh and Hitchcock — a moral obligation to question the development of technology.

The consequences of Web 2.0 are inherently dangerous for the vitality of culture and the arts.

No, it is inherently dangerous for the business of those who used to control the means of creation and distribution. And that is Keen’s real fear:

Traditional “elitist” media is being destroyed by digital technologies. Newspapers are in freefall. Network television, the modern equivalent of the dinosaur, is being shaken by TiVo’s overnight annihilation of the 30-second commercial. The iPod is undermining the multibillion dollar music industry. Meanwhile, digital piracy, enabled by Silicon Valley hardware and justified by Silicon Valley intellectual property communists such as Larry Lessig, is draining revenue from established artists, movie studios, newspapers, record labels, and song writers.

Is this a bad thing? The purpose of our media and culture industries — beyond the obvious need to make money and entertain people — is to discover, nurture, and reward elite talent. Our traditional mainstream media has done this with great success over the last century.

Traditional, controlled, centralized, elitist media that gave us The Beverly Hillbillies and Oliver Stone movies and Oprah and monopoly newspapers and Mary Higgins Clark books on the successful end… and unread literature on the unsuccessful end.

In the Web 2.0 world, however, the nightmare is not the scarcity, but the over-abundance of authors. Since everyone will use digital media to express themselves, the only decisive act will be to not mark the paper. Not writing as rebellion sounds bizarre — like a piece of fiction authored by Franz Kafka. But one of the unintended consequences of the Web 2.0 future may well be that everyone is an author, while there is no longer any audience.

Aha. And there is Keen’s other essential fear: that is voice will not rise above that of the masses. But he does not have the courage not to speak. He blogs and podcasts. Heh.

: It’s no surprise that fellow digital snot Nicholas Carr agrees with Keen but Matthew Ingram does not.

: And a sort of moral opposite to Keen’s argument is the wail we hear from some quarters that now the people, empowered, are turning into gatekeepers, to which Doc applies proper perspective.

The internet is just people speaking.

The exploding book

Harper Collins is touting the fact that it put up Bruce Judson’s new biz book for free online with ad support (not tons of ad support, though: Yahoo text ads). Says the Harper press release:

Each page of the book’s text will be indexed for search engines and accompanied by contextual ads served by major search companies. Additionally, the site will include a link to an online bookseller where consumers can buy a copy of the book.

The permalinks within the book are the more important part of this, as far as I’m concerned. More on that later.