Posts about wwgd

TEDxNYed: This is bullshit

Here are my notes for my talk to the TEDxNYed gathering this past weekend. I used the opportunity of a TED event to question the TED format, especially in relation to education, where — as in media — we must move past the one-way lecture to collaboration. I feared I’d get tomatoes — organic — thrown at me at the first line, but I got laugh and so everything we OK from there. The video won’t be up for a week or two so I’ll share my notes. It’s not word-for-word what I delivered, but it’s close….

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This is bullshit.

Why should you be sitting there listening to me? To paraphrase Dan Gillmor, you know more than I do. Will Richardson should be up here instead of me. And to paraphrase Jay Rosen, you should be the people formerly known as the audience.

But right now, you’re the audience and I’m lecturing.

That’s bullshit.

What does this remind of us of? The classroom, of course, and the entire structure of an educational system built for the industrial age, turning out students all the same, convincing them that there is one right answer — and that answer springs from the lecturn. If they veer from it they’re wrong; they fail.

What else does this remind us of? Media, old media: one-way, one-size-fits-all. The public doesn’t decide what’s news and what’s right. The journalist-as-speaker does.

But we must question this very form. We must enable students to question the form.

I, too, like lots of TED talks. But having said that….

During the latest meeting of Mothership TED, I tweeted that I didn’t think I had ever seen any TEDster tweet anything negative about a talk given there, so enthralled are they all for being there, I suppose. I asked whether they were given soma in their shwag bags.

But then, blessed irony, a disparaging tweet came from none other than TED’s curator, dean, editor, boss, Chris Anderson. Sarah Silverman had said something that caused such a kerfuffle Anderson apologized and then apologized for the apology, so flummoxed was he by someone coming into the ivory tower of TED to shake things up with words.

When I tweeted about this, trying to find out what Silverman had said, and daring to question the adoration TEDsters have for TED, one of its acolytes complained about my questioning the wonders of TED. She explained that TED gave her “validation.”


Good God, that’s the last thing we should want. We should want questions, challenges, discussion, debate, collaboration, quests for understanding and solutions. Has the internet taught us any less?

But that is what education and media do: they validate.

They also repeat. In news, I have argued that we can no longer afford to repeat the commodified news the public already knows because we want to tell the story under our byline, exuding our ego; we must, instead, add unique value.

The same can be said of the academic lecture. Does it still make sense for countless teachers to rewrite the same essential lecture about, say, capillary action? Used to be, they had to. But not now, not since open curricula and YouTube. Just as journalists must become more curator than creator, so must educators.

A few years ago, I had this conversation with Bob Kerrey at the New School. He asked what he could do to compete with brilliant lectures now online at MIT. I said don’t complete, complement. I imagined a virtual Oxford based on a system of lecturers and tutors. Maybe the New School should curate the best lectures on capillary action from MIT and Stanford or a brilliant teacher who explains it well even if not from a big-school brand; that could be anyone in YouTube U. And then the New School adds value by tutoring: explaining, answering, probing, enabling.

The lecture does have its place to impart knowledge and get us to a shared starting point. But it’s not the be-all-and-end-all of education – or journalism. Now the shared lecture is a way to find efficiency in ending repetition, to make the best use of the precious teaching resource we have, to highlight and support the best. I’ll give the same advice to the academy that I give to news media: Do what you do best and link to the rest.

I still haven’t moved past the lecture and teacher as starting point. I also think we must make the students the starting point.

At a Carnegie event at the Paley Center a few weeks ago, I moderated a panel on teaching entrepreneurial journalism and it was only at the end of the session that I realized what I should have done: start with the room, not the stage. I asked the students in the room what they wished their schools were teaching them. It was a great list: practical yet visionary.

I tell media that they must become collaborative, because the public knows much, because people want to create, not just consume, because collaboration is a way to expand news, because it is a way to save expenses. I argue that news is a process, not a product. Indeed, I say that communities can now share information freely – the marginal cost of their news is zero. We in journalism should ask where we can add value. But note that that in this new ecosystem, the news doesn’t start with us. It starts with the community.

I’ve been telling companies that they need to move customers up the design chain. On a plane this week, I sat next to a manufacturer of briefcases last week and asked whether, say, TechCrunch could get road warriors to design the ultimate laptop bag for them, would he build it? Of course, he would.

So we need to move students up the education chain. They don’t always know what they need to know, but why don’t we start by finding out? Instead of giving tests to find out what they’ve learned, we should test to find out what they don’t know. Their wrong answers aren’t failures, they are needs and opportunities.

But the problem is that we start at the end, at what we think students should learn, prescribing and preordaining the outcome: We have the list of right answers. We tell them our answers before they’ve asked the questions. We drill them and test them and tell them they’ve failed if they don’t regurgitate back our lectures as lessons learned. That is a system built for the industrial age, for the assembly line, stamping out everything the same: students as widgets, all the same.

But we are no longer in the industrial age. We are in the Google age. Hear Jonathan Rosenberg, Google’s head of product management, who advised students in a blog post. Google, he said, is looking for “non-routine problem-solving skills.” The routine way to solve the problem of misspelling is, of course, the dictionary. The non-routine way is to listen to all the mistake and corrections we make and feed that back to us in the miraculous, “Did you mean?”

“In the real world,” he said, “the tests are all open book, and your success is inexorably determined by the lessons you glean from the free market.”

One more from him: “It’s easy to educate for the routine, and hard to educate for the novel.” Google sprung from seeing the novel. Is our educational system preparing students to work for or create Googles? Googles don’t come from lectures.

So if not the lecture hall, what’s the model? I mentioned one: the distributed Oxford: lectures here, teaching there.

Once you’re distributed, then one has to ask, why have a university? Why have a school? Why have a newspaper? Why have a place or a thing? Perhaps, like a new news organization, the tasks shift from creating and controlling content and managing scarcity to curating people and content and enabling an abundance of students and teachers and of knowledge: a world whether anyone can teach and everyone will learn. We must stop selling scarce chairs in lecture halls and thinking that is our value.

We must stop our culture of standardized testing and standardized teaching. Fuck the SATs.* In the Google age, what is the point of teaching memorization?

We must stop looking at education as a product – in which we turn out every student giving the same answer – to a process, in which every student looks for new answers. Life is a beta.

Why shouldn’t every university – every school – copy Google’s 20% rule, encouraging and enabling creation and experimentation, every student expected to make a book or an opera or an algorithm or a company. Rather than showing our diplomas, shouldn’t we show our portfolios of work as a far better expression of our thinking and capability? The school becomes not a factory but an incubator.

There’s another model for an alternative to the lecture and it’s Dave Winer’s view of the unconference. At the first Bloggercon, Dave had me running a panel on politics and when I said something about “my panel,” he jumped down my throat, as only Dave can. “There is no panel,” he decreed. “The room is the panel.” Ding. It was in the moment that I learned to moderate events, including those in my classroom, by drawing out the conversation and knowledge of the wise crowd in the room.

So you might ask why I didn’t do that here today. I could blame the form; didn’t want to break the form. But we all know there’s another reason:


* That was an ad-lib

Helping news be news

Google News has just open-sourced its code to create what it calls Living Stories. What this really is, I think, is Google’s attempt to take editors to school on content presentation in our new world.

The article, I’ve argued, is outmoded as the building block of news. The new atomic unit(s) of journalism needs to reflect the transition of news from a product to a process. It needs to gather updates and corrections on a story. It needs to put that story in context and history. It needs to link to other versions of the story from other sources. Going past what Google’s Living Stories format does, it needs to open the door to collaboration. It can do so much more: showing the provenance of the news and linking to original sources, gathering comment and perspective, soliciting questions….

Daylife (where, disclosure, I’m a partner) its own vision of the future of the story, called Smart Stories, that will do more neat things; I’ll let them tell you about it. Daylife also sees that news needn’t exist in isolated, short-lived, repetitive units of presentation invented for the age of print. News should reside in a nest of relevance, which not only improves the presentation, it gives you more options on how you want to delve into the story and follow it and eventually contribute to it. It makes news more personal.

Both companies are doing something important for the benefit of journalists: making them look at what they create in a new way. This is just one possibility, just one step. We also need to think about making news embeddable and distributed. We need to insinuate news into your stream (“if the news is that important, it will find me“) and make it collaborative and enable you to triangulate from different viewpoints and footnote our work and….

The way for Google to serve the interests of news is not to make deals to mollify the mewling Associated Press or cater to pipe dreams of charging. The way that Google and other technology visionaries can help is by reshaping the form of news to show the people who do it how they can do it now. The open-sourcing of Living Stories is a welcome start.

Buzz: A beta too soon

As soon as Buzz was announced — before I could try it — I tried to intuit its goals and I found profound opportunities.

Now that I’ve tried it, reality and opportunity a fer piece apart. It’s awkward. I’d thought that I had wanted Twitter to be threaded but I was wrong; the simplest point quickly passes into an overdose of add-ons. Worse, Google didn’t think through critical issues of privacy — and it only gets worse (via danah boyd). I won’t go as far as Steve Rubel and some others, who instantly declared Buzz DOA; there is the essence of something important here (which I think will come out in mobile more than the web). But there’s no question: Buzz has kinks.

I was going to use that line in the headline — that Buzz is a beta too soon — but the irony is that Buzz is the one product Google did not release as a beta. Big mistake, I think.

In fact, even if Buzz had been released as a beta to a small audience, I’m not sure all the problems would have surfaced because it takes a lot of people using it to surface those problems: unwanted connections and too much noise.

So I wonder whether Google should have moved the users up the design chain — something I’ve been advising retailers and manufacturers to do. The sooner one can learn from one’s customers/users/public (not turning design into democracy but enabling the target to help make you smarter and make what you’re creating better), the better. What if Google had released screenshots and wireframes of Buzz? It’s not as if someone else was going to steal it; Buzz was Google catching up to Twitter, Facebook, and Foursquare anyway. Very few people would have bothered to dig into the design of the product but enough might have — the 1% rule — to warn Google off the worse of Buzz’s bloopers.

Then again, isn’t that what Google did with Wave? Some — many of the same insta-critics — declared it too difficult and DOA while I reminded people that Google specifically said it released a version very early in the process so people could use it and, more importantly, develop new products atop it and through that, Google would learn what Wave really was.

So where’s the happy medium? Or as I ask in the presentation I’ve been making on Beta (likely next book): When’s the beta baked? How done is done?

I’ll be contemplating the answer to those questions and I ask your help and opinions and stories and examples.

Were I to give Google advice on Buzz — what the heck, everyone else is — I think I’d release a product plan for comment and then put out a clearly labeled beta and then invite only volunteers to try it and then make sure that at every step there’s a clear opportunity for me to opt out of a choice and tell Google why I was doing it so Google could learn. I’d listen better.

: MORE: This is a video I did for the release of What Would Google Do? summarizing the beta section in the book, which in turn inspired the thinking above:

Google’s Buzz(machine)

I still need more time to get my head around Google Buzz, which will enable users to post and share updates, links, photos, videos with the world or with friends tied to geography via the web, mobile apps, and voice. Buzz also promises to prioritize the “buzzes” we get. I think this could be the beginning of some big things:

* The hyperpersonal news stream, which Marissa Mayer has been talking about. The key value here is not just aggregating our streams but prioritizing them by listening to signals that unlock relevance. Those are the buzzwords Bradley Horowitz et al used in the Google presentation of Buzz. This is an attempt to attack with Clay Shirky variously calls filter failure and algorithmic authority. It also has big business implications: the more relevant Google can get with advertising (or some new version of it).

* The annotated world will attach data to locations, data that Google will, in turn, help organize. Buzz will intuit and confirm our location (even guessing what business we might be buzzing from in a given building) so we can post about places; it will display posts about those places; this will make Google’s Place Pages and, of course, maps richer; it will yield more local advertising opportunities.

* Local is clearly a big Google priority. Newspapers, Yellow Pages, local media, and perhaps even craigslist better watch out. Google is gunning to organize our areas and with that comes an incredible flood of advertising opportunity.

* Personalization is key to this: relevance in your feed; publishing to your friends (even understanding who your friends are). I think this portends the end of the universal search and thus of search-engine optimization (there’ll be no way to calculate how high a result rises when everyone’s results are different).

* Voice is rising in importance: You an post a buzz using only voice from your mobile device (read: while driving). This is one reason why Google has been working (through Goog411) to get better and better at voice recognition. Will the keyboard become less important? Will we post more when all we have to do is talk? Will Google then have more to organize for us?

* Social. Google has tried to attack social before and failed. Microsoftlike, it’s trying again. I am disappointed that its interface with Twitter, for example, is only one-way: I can bring Twitter into Buzz but not use Buzz to publish to Twitter. Silly. I’ve long said that the winner in social is not a site; the internet is our social network. The winner will be the company that helps us organize that. To do that, it must be open to all input and output. That’s where we should be looking with Google and Facebook. In that sense, Twitter is ahead of both of them.

* Live. When I first published this post, I left out live. Silly me. Twitter snuck up on Google as on all of us. Google has not been good at live. It needs content to ferment like wine and cheese with our clicks and links telling Google about relevance and authority. Now Google is trying to get live with our updates.

I’ve said since my book came out that there are three wars Google has not yet won: local, live, and social. Well, we see Buzz on those battlefields.

This could be big. Or Buzz could be the next Orkut or SideWiki (read: fizzle). Who knows? But in Buzz, I see Google trying to do attack profound opportunities. Now if I can just use the damned thing.

What Toyota should do

Including my parents, we own four Toyotas in my family; over time, we’ve probably owned eight or 10. Will we ever buy another? Depends. Depends on whether we can trust the company given its performance lately.

There’s a reason we bought our Toyotas. They are incredibly reliable. I abuse mine, skipping service calls. But — knock wood — I’ve not had any major problems. So even though I don’t much like Toyota design and — as a professor, can no longer afford to pay for that styling with the Lexus brand — I thought I was pretty much stuck buying them forever. Why fix what’s not broken, eh?

But now we find out our Toyotas are broken. We find out that Toyota has known this for too long and done nothing. We call our dealer and get stonewalled about the problem with brakes in the Prius our son drives. Dealers in California drop ABC because it dared to report on the problems.

Didn’t these people read Cluetrain? (Should I send them a copy of What Would Google Do?)

Their behavior is all the more unforgivable because there are so many new tools to use to learn about and fix problems and keep customers informed — and because there have been so many lessons from other companies (start with Dell).

If Toyota were the trustworthy company, brand, and product I thought it was — if it is to regain my trust — I suggest:

The company should gather and publish openly a complete record of all repairs and reported problems for all its models. I hope to hell they’re doing this internally as a way to see when problems emerge. But if they don’t, we should. I’d love it if we had a carwiki where we could all do this with cars (and other products) to show trends and alert companies and — if they don’t respond — warn customers. Think of it as a SeeClickFix for our stuff.

When Hyundai entered the U.S. and had plenty of reliability problems, it extended its warranty to 10 years and that, today, is a selling point. In the age of open and social data, Toyota could regain its perch as a reliable brand by becoming the open brand, by making reliability a collaborative effort.

I think the company should also reengineer its cars for regular updates, like phones. Mind you, in my book — and when I discuss my likely next book, Beta — I am always quick to caution that I don’t want to drive the beta car or fly in the beta jet. When safety is an issue, perfection has to be the goal.

But we know that there can always be improvements. Nothing’s perfect. My Nexus One worked but after getting its update — automatically — on Friday, it works better and does more. In many of their systems, cars could operate similarly.

The problem with the Prius brakes is in its software. An update will allegedly fix it. Priuses sold last month had the update. Why the hell wasn’t the update pushed out to every Prius? Why did we have to argue with our dealer about this? Because it’s treated as a problem, a recall, a liability in both legal and PR terms. But if the culture of cars were like those of computers and phones — if they could get updates automatically — then it would be less of a big deal: Problem found, problem solved, asap. Improvement suggested, improvement implemented, anytime.

I wish we could drive our cars up to our home wi-fi or the nearest Starbucks (or dealer … or even my mobile phone) and connect to get updates and improvements. If that were possible — if that’s how many problems were solved — then cars would be engineered differently, operating as much as possible under drive-by-wire and nodes of a network.

When we talked about this yesterday, my colleague Peter Hauck blanched at the idea that cars could be hacked. Yes, I can see new plotlines for TV detective shows or even 24: at the stroke of midnight, the hacker’s worm has every car in America turn right, stop, and go into reverse (not-so-subtle metaphor there).

Yet by opening up, car companies can not only discover problems but fix them — and improve their cars. Look at what is happening at Local Motors as members of the community collaborate to design cars and even make economic decisions about them. Now just as I always give my caveat about the beta car, I also always have to issue my caveat about the democratic car: I don’t want design by vote — I don’t want the Homer Simpsonmobile — but I do think the smart car company would be open to the smarts of its drivers. I’ll bet that the community of Toyota drivers could find problems faster than the company and suggest fixes and suggest improvements.

So, Toyota, you can issue overdue recalls and then apologize until you’re blue in the face but that won’t regain my trust. You have to do something bold and become the first car company that enables its community of drivers. If you don’t do it, I’ll bet Ford will.