Buzzmachine - Do, 05/16/2013 - 02:28
I just saw some mind-bending work Chartbeat is about to release about measuring the time users spend exposed to an ad online.
As background, to quote Chartbeat CEO Tony Haile: “Chartbeat monitors activity by checking in with users every second and looking for signals (mouse movement, key strokes, etc) that show they are actively consuming the content in front of them. This means they can measure how long readers spend actively engaged on a page and what parts they’re reading. Because of this Chartbeat knows how long are actively reading while an ad is in view — both for an average user and the cumulative time of all users.” Chartbeat then did some internal research that found high correlation between engaged time exposed and a user’s ability to recall the advertiser’s brand and message. This has many implications:
* Measured this way, ads that appear down alongside the middle of a story turn out to be more valuable than the supposedly premium banners at the top of the page. That’s because people quickly scroll past those banners and all the big hair on the top of the page — logos, promos, and all that — to get to the substance of an article, where they spend time. So inventory that was undervalued becomes more valuable.
* Chartbeat suggests this means that quality content that engages people longer yields better ad performance. That, they say, would be a good thing for better content makers everywhere.
* Now web publishers can sell time like broadcasters — only this is assured exposure time. Advertisers like buying time. Will this make them more comfortable with buying on the web?
* I think this enables publishers to take on some risk for advertisers — guaranteeing them assured exposure time — thus increasing the value of what they sell.
* I wonder whether this spells trouble for the big-ass ads and takeovers we users try to escape as quickly as possible.
* I also wonder whether this spells trouble for the slideshows and other gimmicks that pump page views without increasing time spent exposed to an ad.
* I’d like to think this opens opportunities to find new value in ads next to videos and games and also — this could be important — mobile pages (though don’t think that mobile’s value will come from exposure to messaging; it will still come from knowing people and serving them relevance and value). The longer we spend on a page, the longer we see the ad, the more valuable the ad should be, right?
* I can only hope that this is another nail in the coffin of the dangerous, old-media-like metrics of unique users and pageviews. Engagement will matter more.
A sample report on an ad location:
Those who declare advertising dead are Mark-Twaining-it, I think. There are still many things to learn to find more effectiveness and value in advertising online. This is just one lesson. I say the real value of the net and mobile is in relationships: in learning more about people by delivering them more value so we can be trusted to deliver them greater relevance and value and, in turn, extract greater value from the interaction. More on that later….
Buzzmachine - So, 05/05/2013 - 18:52
Howard Kurtz screwed up, yes, but he also just showed an admirable example of accountability in apologizing on his CNN show Reliable Sources — saying that as a media critic he should be held to a higher standard of media trust — and then submitting to grilling by David Folkenflik of NPR and Dylan Byers of Politico. The video is here.
Our first mistake in journalism is to pretend that we don’t make mistakes. That hubris has gone before many a fall. Now, of course, our imperfection is no excuse, no cover to make mistakes. But knowing they will be made, the real question is what we do about them. That is when credibility is truly tested. Kurtz and CNN just set a new example for what to do.
Imagine if Dan Rather of CBS or Judith Miller of The New York Times had submitted to being interviewed by outside journalists not after some stupid remark but after reporting that was called into serious question.
The grilling of Kurtz started to verge on S&M. He admitted that he screwed up with his remarks about the NBA’s Jason Collins and apologized and then was made to admit it again and to admit prior screw-ups. I’m not looking for the hairshirt to become the new uniform of the journalist. Just getting beaten up won’t get us anywhere.
Such sessions could accomplish a few things. They can teach lessons; Kurtz said he wanted to learn from this episode and I don’t doubt he will be more careful before he makes another offhand remark. These sessions can also examine facts and try to get the fuller story.
The part of this story that’s still a bit baffling is Kurtz’ involvement in The Daily Download, mainly because — as Jay Rosen has been saying on Twitter — the site itself is baffling. I’m not sure what it wants to be. I’m not sure what the Knight Foundation expected it to accomplish with the substantial funding it was given. I’m not sure why Kurtz was involved in it on top of what for anyone else would be two full-time jobs and whether this played a role in his departure from the Daily Beast. If Kurtz was just helping a friend in Daily Download founder Lauren Ashburn, he was using his good offices at CNN — by having her on the air often and by calling on others for help — to do that. None of that might matter much. But if I were an editor reviewing reporting on the Kurtz story, these are questions I’d say are still unanswered. That’s not to say there is anything suspicious. Just unanswered.
In the post below, I disclose my relationship — or really my lack of one — with the Daily Download. I am no longer listed as a member of its board of advisers simply because that reflects reality. (I am still listed as such on the About page, but I’m sure that will be updated soon.)
My bottom line at this moment: I like and respect Kurtz and his work, and today I have another reason to respect him. I hope he continues on Reliable Sources because I think media need coverage on a mass media outlet.
Much more coverage of this Kurtz episode would be navel-gazing — or perhaps navel-piercing — for a very small corner of the media wonk world. What I hope this story becomes is not more whither-Howie wondering but instead an examination of how to handle the mistakes we will make.
Buzzmachine - Fr, 05/03/2013 - 14:09
I didn’t know until this week’s Howard Kurtz kerfuffles that I was even listed as a member of the advisory board to his Daily Download. I did indeed give some advice to Kurtz and Lauren Ashburn a few years ago, before the site’s launch, in a half-hour phone call as I headed to JFK one day. I can’t even remember the topic. Since then, I think I was asked one question and emailed an answer. I know nothing more about the site.
The same thing happened to me at Patch. Before it launched, I was asked to come in and give some advice. I was offered remuneration to join the advisory board but refused because I help many hyperlocal ventures — being a believer in the cause — and did not want to be beholden to one. They asked whether they could say I advised them and I said sure, because I had. I found myself prominently displayed as a member of a board of advisers. I constantly had to make clear to other hyperlocal folks — and people who had complaints with Patch — that I had no formal relationship with Patch. I asked often to be taken off the list for clarity and that has happened.
Were either entity to call and ask for advice on a particular question, I’d be happy to give it to them, for what it’d be worth. I do this often. It’s what startups do — and what I advise my entrepreneurial students to do with their startups: answer questions and solve problems through reporting.
Formal advisory boards are odd. The only one I’m on that involves actual advice is Digital First Media’s and that’s because the company’s CEO, John Paton, keeps and encourages a constant discussion about issues and opportunities. Other advisory boards are mostly window dressing that add no value unless they are used. So my advice to startups is: Don’t create advisory boards. Go to people who can give you advice whenever you need it. If some are particularly helpful, create a formal relationship (which may involve an NDA or options). But nevermind the drapes.
I try to keep my disclosure page here on Buzzmachine current with my business relationships.
Now as to Kurtz: I like Howie and have long followed and liked his work because he at least tries to report while most of us in mediaville — I include me in this — tend mainly to blather. I’ve appeared often on his CNN show and he quoted me now and then when he wrote for the Washington Post. I believe coverage of his departure from Daily Beast has focused too much on his now-retracted post this week. There’s more to the story and I hope he tells that story in the spirit of openness and disclosure.
I also hope someone can explain the business models of both Daily Download and Daily Beast to me.
LATER: Just to be clear given some of the comments I’ve seen on Twitter and on Politico, Daily Download didn’t do anything sneaky or trick me. That’s not my point. They, like Patch, wanted to be able to say that I’d given them advice and since I had and I’m open, I said ok. The fact that I ended up on an “advisory board” was pretty much meaningless because no advice followed. My larger point is about advisory boards. Michael Oreskes of the AP put it better than I did:
— Michael Oreskes (@MichaelOreskes) May 3, 2013
Buzzmachine - Mo, 04/22/2013 - 14:48
I often tell my students that where they see a problem, they should find the opportunity. Well, we’ve been told over and over this weekend that we had a big problem with misinformation after the Boston Marathon bombing. Breaking news, haven’t you heard, is broken.
So I see an opportunity, a big journalistic opportunity. I also tell my students this:
* Journalism should add value to a flow of information that can now occur without media’s mediation — verifying facts, vetting witnesses, debunking rumors, adding context, adding explanation, and most of all asking and answering the questions that aren’t in the flow, that aren’t being asked, i.e., reporting. Let’s acknowledge reality: There’s no stopping or fixing that flow. What witnesses see will be shared for all to see, which is good, along with rumors, rank speculation, and the work of the New York Fucking Post, which is bad.
* The key skill of journalism today is saying what we *don’t* know, issuing caveats and also inviting the public to tell us what they know. Note I didn’t say I want the public to tell us what they *think* or *guess.* I said *know*.
So the opportunity: If I ran a news organization, I would start a regular feature called, Here’s what you should know about what you’re hearing elsewhere.
Last week, that would have included nuggets such as these:
* You may have heard on CNN that an arrest was made. But you should know that no official confirmation has been made so you should doubt that, even if the report is repeated by the likes of the Associated Press.
* You may have heard reports repeated from police scanners about, for example, the remaining suspect vowing not to be taken alive. But you should know that police scanners are just people with microphones; they do not constitute official or confirmed police reports. Indeed, it may be important for those using police radio to repeat rumor or speculation — even from fake Twitter accounts created an hour ago — for they are the ones who need to verify whether these reports are true. Better safe than sorry is their motto.
* You may see on Reddit that people are speculating about who perpetrated these crimes, including speculation that it *could* be a missing college student. But you should know that these people are merely speculating and that is about as useful as a rumor, which is worthless. That’s not to say that the amateur sleuthing could not turn up a connection to the crime. But so far, it has not.
* You may have heard reports that there were more bombs. But you should know that we cannot track where these reports started and we have no official confirmation so you should not take those reports as credible. We are calling the police to find out whether they are true and we will let you know as soon as we know.
* You may have seen the New York Post report that there were 12 victims and you may have seen it publish a picture of men with backpacks, implicating them in this crime with no justification. But you should know that this is the New York Post. Need we say more?
That is journalism. That is what every news organization and site should be doing. That they don’t is only evidence of a major journalistic opportunity, perhaps even a business unto itself: The What We *Don’t* Know News, the only news show you can really trust. It doesn’t ignore breaking news or what you’re hearing. It adds value to that flow of both information and misinformation.
On Howie Kurtz’ CNN show this weekend, Erik Wemple said that news organizations should report nothing until it is confirmed. Lauren Ashburn countered that police did not confirm even the Marathon bombings until nearly an hour after they occurred, so clearly that’s untenable. She’s right. But this is easily solved if journalists say *how* they *know* what they *know*. We know a bomb went off because we saw it and we’re showing it to you over and over and over and over again. We don’t know whether a suspect has been arrested because we didn’t see it ourselves and police haven’t told us yet and hearing it on CNN isn’t good enough.
That is journalism.
Buzzmachine - Di, 04/16/2013 - 03:35
The attack on the Boston Marathon was designed to maximize media coverage: a popular event with cameras everywhere and a narrative that will be sure to follow about innocent enjoyment henceforth ruined by danger.
For years, we’ve been told to fear this: an attack on a football game or at Disneyland or in a mall, someplace without fear before. Instead, it happened at the marathon. No matter who committed this crime, a precedent is now set for those that unfortunately will follow. Now every time there is a popular event with many cameras that is open — not easily contained like a stadium — we will be taught to worry.
A few weeks ago in New Delhi, I stayed in a hotel that happened to be owned by the same company that suffered the terrorist attack in Mumbai. Every car coming in was searched; every guest went through a metal detector; every guest’s bag went through an X-ray. We’re accustomed to such circumstantial security in America: If a shoe is used to make a bomb, all shoes are dangerous. In India, hotels are dangerous. In America, not just office buildings and airports but now public events are threatened.
But the new factor this time — versus 9/11 or London’s bombings or Mumbai’s attacks or even the Atlanta Olympics’ — is the assured presence of media cameras at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. This was the media-centered attack.
But here’s a touch of irony: On prime-time TV, the three major networks didn’t alter their programming to continue covering this event.* That tells us that terrorism is worth wall-to-wall coverage somewhere between two and 3,000 deaths. Boston, apparently, wasn’t big enough.
But at least on cable news, there is plenty of video of the blast and its immediate aftermath to loop over and over and over again.
* Correction: I should have complained that the broadcast networks did not preempt primetime. When I wrote this, I turned to all three networks and each had entertainment programming. As fans of an NBC show pointed out to me, their show was indeed preempted later in the night.
Buzzmachine - Sa, 04/13/2013 - 02:25
Disconnect thinks it is a film about technology’s impact on our lives. But it is really just a mawkish melodrama about a random bunch of creeps, jerks, assholes, and loners. It is not a warning about our future. In the future, it will be seen as the cyber Reefer Madness: in short, a laughingstock.
Disconnect begins by throwing us every uh-oh signal it can: online porn; people listening to their headphones instead of the world around them; people paying attention to their phones (and the people on the other end) instead of the boring world in front of them; skateboards; people ruining office productivity watching silly videos; kids wearing Hooters T-shirts; sad people chatting with strangers online; people gambling online; people getting phished into bankruptcy; and worst of all, kids using Facebook. Oh, no!
A series of parallel stories unfold: the loner kid who’ll be drawn to humiliate himself and attempt suicide by asshole teens, one of them the son of a cybercop (irony.com!); the young couple — let’s kill their kid to up the sympathy — who chat with strangers and gamble with machines and find their identities thieved (where’s the product placement for Identity Guard and Reputation.com!); the vulture reporter who exploits — and rather hankers for the loins of (and smokes reefers with) — the teen online hustler exploited by the cyberFagin.
Along the way, the movie delivers quite retrograde messages not only about technology but also about sexuality: It’s the men who are found to be at fault for not protecting their nests. Thus: technology castrates!
I hate to deliver any spoilers but it pretty much ends with everybody fucked up and miserable because they got anywhere near the internet.
Disconnect is merely an extension of a trend (we call it a meme these days) in challenging the value of technology against those of us — and I include myself in the “us” — who try to identify the opportunities technology provides. Instead, why don’t we look for everything that could go wrong and crawl back into our caves?
Buzzmachine - Fr, 03/29/2013 - 17:00
I had the great pleasure last night to watch one of my favorite interviewers on one of my favorite shows, live in New York. Jian Ghomeshi [except for an excess H it sounds like it's spelled] is the host of the CBC’s Q, which I’ve listened to for years. You can — no, should — listen to him online, on Sirius (channel 159), or on some smart public-radio stations like WNYC, which have started carrying him.
Ghomeshi runs a radio variety show, but not like one of the late-night TV shows in America. It’s a smart variety show. It doesn’t try to be funny or hip but is both. Ghomeshi’s opening monologue is a written essay/soliloquy/riff that sets the pace for the show; it says, “keep up now.” He gets great musical bookings and gives them time. He knows how to speak with them because he was a rock musician himself. But the heart of the show is his long-form interviews with musicians, authors, actors, and divas; he’s comfortable with them all.
Last night I was thinking about my favorite interviewers: Howard Stern, Jian Ghomeshi, and WNYC’s Brian Lehrer, each live and uncut. And I started to understand, I think, what makes them great. They treat interviews like music.
That’s not my thought. At the after-party — an understated Canadian affair — I was talking with an American public-radio executive who was also a musician and a jazz producer and he said he saw Ghomeshi’s experience as a musician play out in his interviews: playing over the occasional wrong note, going with the flow of someone else’s solo. When Jian arrived later he, too, talked about getting into the right rhythm with a guest. It is musical, he said.
Right. In the car on the way home, I listened to a replay of Stern’s hour-and-a-half interview with James Franco this week. When I first heard the start of it, live, I thought Stern was being slightly ADD. He’d get Franco to go down a path; Franco would get ready to launch into a story; Stern would get distracted by a squirrel or perhaps he’d worry that Franco would spend too long and he’d deflect him to another subject; there was a bit of Mexican jumping bean to it. But last night I heard the rest of the interview and it was amazing. They got into sync. They were comfortable and out of that comfort came the surprising candor Stern can get even from jaded, over-interviewed stars. He truly is a genius at it. The real advantage of Sirius is not that he can say “fuck” but that he has the time, uninterrupted, to find that rhythm.
Ghomeshi has the similar advantage of being on public radio in Canada with two hours to devote to his guests. I’ve had the privilege of being on the show a few times. It’s shocking to my American media biorhythms to find myself in an interview or debate that doesn’t end in 2:30 — a race to the finish of the sound bite — but instead can turn into a real discussion. That contrast was apparent last night in Q’s media panel — one of my favorite parts of his week, but this time with American guests: The New York Times’ David Carr, Democracy Now’s Amy Goodman, and right-wing CNNer Will Cain. Though Goodman decried the sound bite, the truth is that they were all trained to recite theirs in sparse minutes while Ghomeshi was trying to get them to actually arrive at least at a clear statement of disagreement about gun control. Good luck with that. Cain wouldn’t play. Still, it made for fascinating radio/video/theater.
His other interviews each had their own cadences. Cyndi Lauper, who is approaching diva status, talked about her Broadway show with Harvey Fierstein, Kinky Boots, and about her childhood and, God help us, the Dalai Lama. Ghomeshi let her go. At his usual pace, with fewer guests than he had on stage last night, the interview would have gone on longer but the clock got in the way. Still, leaving us wanting more is not a bad thing.
Alan Alda tried to show Ghomeshi who was boss (“You grew up in the Bronx,” said Ghomeshi. “No I didn’t but I can tell you’re a Wikipedia reader,” said Alda) but that turned into a pleasant chat about the impact of M*A*S*H and about science (Alda is challenging scientists to define a flame and time so 11-year-olds could understand).
Vampire Weekend played three songs, a luxury the crowd enjoyed. Actually, they played four, asking to come back after the taping was done to rerecord their first. That provided a post facto punch line; now I understood the sly grins they shared when Ghomeshi — obviously aware of the redo that was coming up — asked Ezra Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij whether they were perfectionists.
The highlight of the night for me was David Cross talking about the return of Arrested Development. At the party, Ghomeshi said the two of them had hit that certain rhythm; watch how they did it at the start of the second hour, below. Cross began, like Alda, testing the line. He asked Jian whether he was that guy who had that interview — famously strange — with Billy Bob Thornton. “He was just such an insufferable prick,” Cross said. “We’re not going to replay that now, are we?” Ghomeshi asked. That could have gone either way. But then Ghomeshi exhibited real knowledge of Cross; he’d seen his stand-up act and knew his shows and had insightful questions and Cross responded with both candor and great comic timing. In only a moment, they became an act together.
After the show, I talked with a bunch of public-radio people and asked whether there was anyone in the U.S. market like Ghomeshi. They couldn’t think of anyone. Neither can I. We’re lucky we get to listen here. I asked his producers what the Canadian reaction was to Ghomeshi’s growing American fan base — did they wonder why he needed us. No, they said, but Canadians did worry that the show would become — like surely too much else from their perspective — too American. I don’t think that can happen. The acts and the subjects are shared. The attitude isn’t.
Ghomeshi is quite Canadian. He embodies what I like about the place — and why I indeed almost moved there three times (I am the rare Canadophile, but that’s another story). The Venn diagram of his and Canadian’s characteristics has many overlaps: calm, charming, self-deprecating, witty, easy, smart, never too hip, quite comfortable…. Hear for yourself.
I have just one wish: that Sirius and public-radio stations here would give his Q’s full two hours. We’re almost as smart and patient and interested as Canadians. Really.
Buzzmachine - Mo, 03/25/2013 - 17:51
I have just one problem with David Carr’s good column decrying government opacity in the prosecution and trial of Bradley Manning: He lets us in the press (as well as in the chattering blog class) off easy.
Carr doesn’t mention the wrist-slap given The Times by its own public editor, Margaret Sullivan, for not sending a reporter to the Manning hearings.
He also gives newspapers as a group a too-easy excuse for not covering Manning: “Yet coverage has been limited, partly by the court’s restrictions and partly because an increasingly stretched news media business often does not have the time, or the resources, to cover lengthy trials.”
We aren’t going to use that excuse all the time now, are we? “Oh, we couldn’t cover that story vital to the nation and the fate of a free press because not enough of you are paying or because retail advertisers are dying or because Google took our customers.” Yes, our resources are scarce — always have been — and getting scarcer. But this is still a matter of news judgment. What was covered while Manning wasn’t? I’ll bet we can find stories to have sacrificed.
If we’re going to argue that the public still needs editors and their news judgment, then it’s a tad disingenuous to say that this is a story of vital national interest that the government has been trying to hide from us but we don’t have the time to cover it. Isn’t that precisely the story we should be covering? Isn’t coverage just what is needed to keep a watch on government and its efforts at secrecy?
The Guardian’s Ed Pilkington, whom Carr quotes, has maintained coverage of the Manning story long after the splash of the Wikileaks revelations that both papers carried — thus he helps to secure the Guardian’s role as a truly international news organization. Greg Mitchell has also been diligent in pursuing the story. Beyond that, there has been too little coverage from The Times and other U.S. news organizations.
And there has been too little discussion from bloggers like me, I’ll confess. I care about openness, about journalism, and about over-aggressive prosecutions and legislation that demonize technology. So I should have been talking about Manning more and also about the case of Aaron Swartz. These are stories central to the fate of free speech. In both cases, I fear the attention came too little, too late, which makes it all the more vital that we concentrate on them now, for every reason Carr gives.
Buzzmachine - Do, 03/14/2013 - 22:47
I was about to sit down and write an aria of praise to living the Google life, now that I have transitioned fully from my iPhone, iPad, and Mac and functioned fully for a few months with Android, Chrome, and services from Gmail to Google Calendar to Google Now to Google Reader on my Nexus 4, Nexus 7, Chromebook and now Chromebook Pixel.
But this turns into a cautionary tale as well with the news last night that Google is killing Reader. Godogle giveth, Godogle taketh away. This is the problem of handing over one’s digital life to one company, which can fail or unilaterally kill a service users depend on. Google has the right to kill a shrinking service. But it also has a responsibility to those who depended on it and in this case to the principle of RSS and how it has opened up the web and media. I agree with Tim O’Reilly that at the minimum, Google should open-source Reader.
The killing of Reader sends an unfortunate signal about whether we can count on Google to continue other services we come to need. Note well that what drove me to Google hardware was Google’s services — and now I depend on them even more. I have relied on Gmail and especially its Priority Inbox for ages. Once I finally shifted to Google Calendar et al, I found them awkward on the iPhone and so I moved to Android to try it out; there, I stayed. When the $249 Samsung Chromebook came out, I realized that I was doing most of my work only on the web, and so I decided to try to move entirely to Google Drive and Chrome. I found both transitions surprisingly easy, including working in Drive and Gmail offline. With one small and one large exception, I haven’t touched a Microsoft application for months.
The large exception is Skype, which Microsoft happens to own now. There is no Chrome app for it. I still need Skype to be on This Week in Google. So when I last went to Europe, I had to lug both my Chromebook and my Macbook with me.
But that problem was solved last night. Thanks to a helpful Google+ user, Michael Westbay, and through Kevin Tofel and Liliputing I managed to install Ubuntu Linux on the Google Chromebook so with one button I can switch from one to the other. Insert Tarzan yell here. Skype never looked better on TWiG. See for yourself:
Now to the details. Let’s start with the Chromebook Pixel. I have a review unit from Google. I so fell in love with it that after 24 hours I ordered my own — the high-end with LTE built in, for there’s nothing better than being away from wifi and suddenly finding oneself connected to the world. The screen is magnificent, which is soothing wonder to my old and hobbled eyes. The keyboard is pure butter; I only wish I could write as smoothly as I can type now. It’s fast. The machine is solid — physically and in its operation. The battery life could be better but I’m finding it does last the full five hours.
I had been managing fine on the Samsung Chromebook. But it was tinny. The screen wasn’t gorgeous. There was too little memory, which caused web pages to refresh too often. Still, for $249, I had little basis for complaint. This is a wonderful machine for students and travelers; I’d recommend it. I took it on trips as my only machine and did fine. As long as I remembered to open and refresh Drive and offline Gmail app while I was still connected, before getting on the plane, I could work when offline. The experience certainly showed me how I could live in the browser. But I wanted a slightly better machine. Then came the Pixel; it is a vastly better machine. For me, the Samsung was the gateway drug to the Pixel.
Both machines give me more Drive storage than I could possibly use. Except for one hiccup this week, Drive works well. The only other time I’ve had to use a Microsoft product was when I had to format a work document in Word. I am not sure about writing something book-length in Drive; it’s not easy to move around a large manuscript. But those things aside, it works for most anything I need to do, even presentations.
The Pixel also runs Netflix beautifully. I need to play with more Chrome apps to edit photos and video. But I tell you truthfully that I’m now not even taking my office Mac out of the drawer. I’m living in Chrome.
I’m similarly satisfied with Android, though I wish the two would integrate more and now that both are under the same leader, I hope that will happen. That Google Now will reportedly be available in both Android and Chrome is the first substantial bridge between the two. Gmail, Calendar, Maps, Voice, Google+, and Currents all operate wonderfully on my Nexus 4 and Nexus 7.
I kept playing with the idea of trying a Note II to replace both Nexus devices. I bought an unlocked AT&T model on eBay but still haven’t actually used it, as I will probably resell it. I like the size of the Nexus 4 for everyday use. I also like reading the paper and watching Breaking Bad on the Nexus 7 when I’m riding trains and airplanes.
Getting a new machine is pretty wonderful. When I turn on a new Chromebook and sign in, all my apps, bookmarks, and preferences are loaded in a minute or two. When I switch phones, I can transfer any app (though I wish I could just replicate my last phone). I am living in an ecosystem that makes sense.
So with the not inconsiderable caveat above, I’m living in Googland and happy there. Yes, at $1,500 the Pixel is expensive, but keep in mind — justification coming — that I don’t need to buy software for it. My Nexus 7 is cheaper than an iPad. My Nexus is only $300 and it’s unlocked. So I figure I also save money. I have fewer computer hassles. I can get to my data from anywhere. Come on in. The water’s fine.
Meanwhile, I bid a fond farewell to my iLife. Like an ex-girlfriend, I loved these machines in their time. I still admire them. But I don’t miss them.
Buzzmachine - Mi, 03/13/2013 - 20:34
From the headline to the lede to the chosen sources to the writing to the page-one placement, today’s New York Times coverage of Google’s $7 million settlement for the drive-by capture of wifi data is one-sided, shallow, and technopanicky.
First, let’s remind ourselves of the facts. Google’s Street View cars captured wifi addresses as they drove by as a way to provide better geolocation on our phones (this is why your phone suggests you turn on wi-fi when using maps — so you can take advantage of the directory of wifi addresses and physical addresses that Google and other companies keep). Stupidly and for no good reason, the cars also recorded other data passing on *open* wifi networks. But that data was incredibly limited: just what was transmitted in the random few seconds in which the Google car happened to pass once by an address. There is no possible commercial use, no rationally imagined nefarious motive, no goldmine of Big Data to be had. Nonetheless, privacy’s industrial-regulator complex jumped into action to try to exploit the incident. But even Germany — the rabid dog of privacy protectors — dropped the case. And the U.S. case got pocket lint from Google.
But that didn’t stop The Times from overplaying the story. Neither did it stop a CNN producer from calling me to try to whip up another technopanic story about privacy; I refused. I won’t pay into the panic.
Let’s dissect the Times story from the headline down:
* The Times calls what Google did “prying.” That implies an “improper curiosity” and an intentionality, as if Google were trying to open our drawers and find something there. It’s a loaded word.
* The lede by David Streitfeld says Google “casually scooped up passwords, e-mail and other personal information from unsuspecting computer users.” Later in the story, he says: “For several years, the company also secretly collected personal information — e-mail, medical and financial records, passwords — as it cruised by. It was data-scooping from millions of unencrypted wireless networks.”
The cars recorded whatever data was passing on these — again — *open* and *public* networks, which can be easily closed. Google was obviously not trying to vacuum up passwords. To say “unsuspecting computer users” is again loaded, as if these were victims. And to list particularly medical and financial records and not mention bits employed in playing Farmville is loaded as well.
* Here’s the worst of it: Streitfeld says unnamed “privacy advocates and Google critics characterized the overall agreement as a breakthrough for a company they say has become a serial violator of privacy.” A “serial violate or privacy”? Really? Where’s the link to this long and damning rap sheet? Facebook, maybe. But I doubt even Google’s vocal and reasonable critics would characterize the company this way. If Streitfeld found someone who said that, it should be in quotes and attributed to someone, or else he and the paper are the ones issuing this judgment.
* If anyone would say such a thing, it would certainly be the people Streitfeld did quote in the story, for he sought out only the worst of the company’s critics, including Scott Cleland, “a consultant for Google’s competitors” [cough] and Marc Rotenberg, self-styled protector of privacy at the so-called Electronic Privacy Information Center. Streitfeld also went to the attorneys general and a former FTC bureaucrat who went after Google. Nowhere in this story is there any sense of another side, let alone of context and perspective. That’s just not good reporting.
I have made it clear that I’m generally a fan of Google; I wrote a book about that. Nonetheless, I have frequently called Google’s recording of this data as its cars passed by — and this is my technical term — a fuckup. It was stupid. It was damaging to Google’s reputation. It played into the hands of the critics. That’s what I can’t stand.
I’m tired of media’s and governments’ attempts to raise undue panic about technology. Look at the silly, preemptive, and panicky coverage of Google Glass before the product is even out. A Seattle dive bar said it would ban Glass and media picked it up all over (8,000+ references at last check on Google News) — though the bar admitted, as any fool could see, that it was just a publicity stunt.
There are plenty of serious issues to discuss about protecting privacy and there is certainly a need to educate people about how to protect their privacy. But this simplistic, biased, anti-technology, panicked coverage does neither. I might expect this other outlets. But I’m sad to see The Times join in.
Note that as part of its settlement, Google will educate people to close their open wifi networks. The Times found someone to ridicule even that when its ink would have been better put to telling people how to close their networks.
: See also Phillip Dampier on the topic.
Buzzmachine - Di, 03/12/2013 - 17:49
Brands (read: advertisers) are following media down the wrong path, deciding that they, too, are media now and that they, too, should make content to draw customers to their messages (thereby, by the way, getting rid of that middleman, media).
I’ve been arguing that media should build their futures around relationships, using content as a tool to that end. I’d say that is even more true of brands.
Yesterday, Samir Arora, CEO of Glam (where — full disclosure — I’ve been an adviser), tweeted a link to Marc Andreessen arguing that Ning, the company he cofounded and sold to Glam, is about to come into its own as it is remade for brands. That got me thinking about brands’ direction.
Whatever platform they use — Ning, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, blogs or all of the above — is less the issue than the culture that enables its brands and its employees — every one — to talk with and build relationships of value and trust with customers.
We’ve all seen this happen on Twitter when we get pissed off at some unfair or unrighteous action by a company; we appeal to sanity; an employee — sometimes the official tweeter, sometimes just a decent soul — rescues us; our relationship with the company is redeemed.
That is the model for brands online. I thought we’d learned that years go. Apparently not quite. Today not only are brands making content in their own domains but they now want to make content in media’s space; we used to call that an advertorial but now that is apparently called — in jargon that appeared from nowhere — “native advertising.” WTF does that mean?
Mind you, brands should indeed create content and make it available — about their products so we can find every question we have answered. But that’s utility. That’s not what brands talk about when they become media. They make this:
Huh? How is that really any different from slapping a banner onto content? Oh, yes, it’s supposed to make us associate the Droid Razr Maxx HD with exotic locales and long battery life. But Motorola would do better to finally produce a decent phone, in which case, we the users would advertise it. I do hope that’s a lesson Google teaches them. Google understands the value of building relationships with individuals and using knowledge about them to deliver relevance and value. Isn’t that the wise future of media … and marketing?
Buzzmachine - Fr, 03/08/2013 - 18:36
Another hyperlocal venture is struggling, and each time this happens, I fear hyperlocal gets more cooties. But I refuse to give up hope because there’s a reason for each fall, there’s much still to do, and it’s still early.
The latest: Carll Tucker’s Daily Voice (née Main Street Connect) closed 11 of its sites, lost its CEO and other executives, shut some offices, and fired a bunch of people to cut its burn from $500k to $150k per month, according to Street Fight.
In hyperlocaland, Tucker was known to be particularly cocksure, saying he had the secret and — in the surest sign of hubris — raising large amounts from investors. Some smirk at his fall. But if he can now survive, then I’ll celebrate.
Tucker’s mistake, like Patch’s, I believe, was in thinking too big too fast. Before they nailed the business and knew what worked, they multiplied the model and thus the mistakes, which only threw accelerant on their burns. Perhaps they also thought too big. I’m not sure hyperlocal can be big — that it can scale, in the argot and desire of investors. More on that in a minute.
But first, in other cootie news: Patch recently cut staff and I’ll argue as I long have that they are creating closed sites when they should be building open (and more efficient) networks. NBC* closed Everyblock, though I was never sure why it fit there. Village Soup died, and I would still like to know more about its specifics. TBD was murdered before it ever had a chance to live thanks to parental politics. Add these to earlier cootied corpses: The Chicago News Cooperative had neither a business model nor cash from donors. Bayosphere failed sometime ago and I think its founder Dan Gillmor would acknowledge a lack of a business model. It was sold to Backfence, and its founder, Mark Potts, has very generously shared his lessons learned. There’s a reason behind each one of these.
At the same time, there are hyperlocal sites that are proving to be sustainable. Unfortunately, it’s pretty much the same list we’ve had for sometime: Baristanet, West Seattle Blog, NJ’s TheAlternativePress, Red Bank Green…. We analyzed these blogs a few years ago at the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at CUNY, and found local blogs that then were able to bring in upwards of $250k in ad and other revenue.
There’s something that ties the survivors together:
1. They are small.
2. They are the products of a great deal of hard work by very dedicated journalists/publishers.
3. They are very much a part of their communities (which makes it difficult to parachute in any kid just out of J-school, I’m afraid).
Hyperlocal is going to be built this way, a town or city neighborhood at a time, I think. Are there enough dedicated journalists willing to do this hard work and to risk and sacrifice better paying alternatives (read: PR or flipping burgers, for that matter) and to learn how to do culturally distasteful things for journalists like sell ads and do business? In New Jersey alone, we have 565 towns and given this state, each is an opportunity ripe for corruption that needs to be covered. Even if we say that one hyperlocal site could cover three towns (some are small), that’s still more than 150 bloggers needed. I’d say we have a bit more than a dozen in the state now. Is it reasonable to think we could get 10+ times more? No. But I’d be ecstatic three three or four or fives times more.
I think we see a model for what’s possible in blog-rich Brooklyn, where there are scores of local blogs. CUNY runs The Local there, now solo, after The New York Times pulled out of its hyperlocal endeavors (another cootie). One of my entrepreneurial students is on the way to starting what I think will be a great service there (more bragging about him when he’s ready). It is possible. But they all need help.
This is why I worked with Montclair State and the Dodge Foundation (where — disclosure — I’m an advisor) to help start the NJ News Commons in New Jersey. My hope — OK, call it a dream — is that it and others (like NJ.com, which — disclosure — I helped start and where I’m now an advisor) can help make it feasible for an unemployed journalist — and we have lots of them — or a caring community member to start a site to serve a community bound by geography or interest. Among the things the Commons will do to help:
1. Aggregate, curate, promote, and distribute the best of the content created by independent members of the New Jersey news ecosystem. Debbie Galant has started a content sharing network enabled by Repost.US.
2. Train local publishers in the skills they need: new media, journalism, and especially business. That’s just beginning.
3. Coordinate collaborative projects so the independent members of the ecosystem can do together more than any one can do apart. That is beginning and I think it will grow with coverage of Hurricane Sandy recovery, which will be helped along with grants coordinated by Dodge and the NJ Community Foundation.
4. Provide services, which we hope may include everything from health and libel insurance to technology platforms to make it easier for sites to start with less effort and risk.
All that is well and good but it doesn’t address the key question, the only question of hyperlocal: revenue. This is where commercial endeavors must enter. In our modeling at CUNY, we saw the need for this work in revenue:
1. Better ad sales by hyperlocal sites serving merchants with more than just banners but also helping them with their digital presences. At CUNY, we looked at the digital lives of 1,000 merchants in a city neighborhood and a suburban town and saw great opportunity to help them. I don’t expect every hyperlocal publisher to innovate this. They need help. But I see big business opportunity here for entrepreneurs (or Patch).
2. Ad networks that aggregate audience from independent sites so they can for the first time get a piece of revenue from larger advertisers. This is likely something that needs to be done by a larger local media company (e.g., a newspaper or broadcast outlet).
3. Explore new revenue opportunities, such as events and newsletters. We are sharing lessons from sites that have found these to be surprisingly successful.
Still, this is hard work. It’s guerrilla warfare, a hill at a time. And that gets us back to the question of scale and one more need: funding. Hyperlocal ventures are caught in a terrible chicken-egg omelette. Funders will back ventures only if they scale, if they’re bigger than one town. Promising scale is how Daily Voice, Patch, Backfence, Everyblock, and other local ventures got funding. Striving for scale is what made them each perhaps grow too far too fast. Maybe the truth is that hyperlocal won’t scale. One entity won’t own thousands of towns and their sites because the successful site is very much a part of the community. OK, but each of those small ventures still needs funding to at least cover loses until an audience and a set of advertisers can be served. Where will that money come from? Journalists aren’t rich — especially now — and don’t have rich friends and family.
The more we can create the hyperlocal-site-in-a-box for would-be local entrepreneurs, the better — giving them membership in larger revenue networks, methodology, technology, and services like insurance. That will lessen the start-up cost and the risk. But they’ll still likely need some money to get them started.
This is where I believe that local patrons, local media companies, and especially foundations should be putting their resources: not into supporting journalistic charities or into building yet more gee-whiz cool tools but into helping to start sustainable journalistic enterprises with grants or convertible loans. Some will be gifts. Some will be investments — not big, scalable, exit-strategy, Silicon-Valley, technology platform investments but investments the size of a bakery. We need more bakeries for news.
When it comes to the information needs of communities, I’m less concerned about national coverage — Washington will always be overpopulated by scribes and cable will overcover disasters — and more concerned about local, especially the very local. That is where I hope we turn our attention. I also hope we do not get discouraged by the occasional cooties.
* Note: I changed the reference to Everyblock from MSNBC to NBC at the suggestion of Everyblock founder Adrian Holovaty.
Buzzmachine - Do, 03/07/2013 - 21:35
Google Glass isn’t available yet. Even so, the technopanic it’s inspiring is rising to full swivet. But I say there’s no need to panic. We’ll figure it out, just as we have with many technologies—from camera to cameraphone—that came before.
The greatest compilation of worries to date comes from Mark Hurst, who frets: “The most important Google Glass experience is not the user experience— it’s the experience of everyone else. The experience of being a citizen, in public, is about to change.” [His typography]
This is the fear we hear most: That someone wearing Glass will record you—because they can now—and you won’t know it. But isn’t that what we heard when cell phones added cameras? See The New York Times from a decade ago about Chicago Alderman Edward Burke:
But what Mr. Burke saw was the peril.
“If I’m in a locker room changing clothes,” he said, “there shouldn’t be some pervert taking photos of me that could wind up on the Internet.”
Accordingly, as early as Dec. 17, the Chicago City Council is to vote on a proposal by Mr. Burke to ban the use of camera phones in public bathrooms, locker rooms and showers.
His fear didn’t materialize. Why? Because we’re civilized. We’re not as rude and stupid—as perverted—as our representative, Mr. Burke, presumed us to be.
How will we deal with the Glass problem? I’ll bet that people wearing Glass will learn not to shoot those around them without asking or they’ll get in trouble; they’ll be scolded or shunned or sued, which is how we negotiate norms. I’d also bet that Google will end up adding a red light—the universal symbol for “You’re on!”—to Glass. And folks around Glass users will hear them shout instructions to their machines, like dorks, saying: “OK, Glass: Record video.”
That concern raised, Hurst escalates to the next: that pictures and video of you could be uploaded to Google’s servers, where it could be combined with facial recognition and the vastness of data about you. Facebook can’t wait to exploit this, he warns. But this is happening already. Every photo on my phone is automatically uploaded to Google; others do likewise to Facebook, each of which has facial recognition and information about us. Hurst acknowledges that we’re all recorded all day in public—remember: it is public—by security cameras. But the difference here, he argues, is that this data is held by a companies. Big companies + Big Data = Big problems, right? That’s the alarm Siva Vaidhyanathan raises:
I think it’s important that FTC and EU privacy regulators investigate Google Glasses right away. creativegood.com/blog/the-googl…
— Siva Vaidhyanathan (@sivavaid) March 6, 2013
But what’s to investigate? Should governments have investigated Kodak cameras when they came out? Well, Teddy Roosevelt did briefly ban cameras in Washington parks. In 2010, Germany’s minister of consumer protection, Ilse Aigner, decreed that tying facial recognition to geolocation would be “taboo”—though one could certainly imagine such a combination being useful in, for example, finding missing children. To ban or limit a technology before it is even implemented and understood is the definition of short-sighted.
Hurst also fears that the fuzz and the Feds could get all this data about us, these days even without warrants. I fear that, too—greatly. But the solution isn’t to limit the power of technology but to limit the power of government. That we can’t is an indication of a much bigger problem than cameras at our eyelids.
I agree with Hurst that this is worth discussing and anticipating problems to solve them. But let us also discuss the benefits alongside the perils, change to welcome balancing change we fear—the ability to get relevant information and alerts constantly, the chance to capture an otherwise-lost moment with a baby, another way to augment our own memories, and other opportunities not yet imagined. Otherwise, if we manage only to our fears, only to the worst case, then we won’t get the best case. And let’s please start here: We are not uncivilized perverts.
Yes, I’m dying to get a Google Glass and get my head around it and vice versa. But rest assured, I will ask you whether it’s OK to take a picture of you in private—just as I ask whether it’s OK to take or share your picture now or to tweet or blog something you say to me. We figured all that out. We will figure this out. We have before. No need to technopanic.
Clippings from The New York Times
Cross-posted from Medium.
LATER: A good post from Jürgen Geuter that raises the point I also wrote about in Public Parts: let’s concentrate on the use over the gathering of data; if we do the latter, we regulate what we’re allowed to know.
Buzzmachine - So, 03/03/2013 - 21:37
Two important but too-unsung women in media — performer Amanda Palmer and Google ad exec Susan Wojcicki — met at an idea this week: that media and advertising are becoming voluntary.
They also touch on ideas I’ve been trying to write about: that media should be in the relationship business, not just the content business. In other words, media’s value isn’t necessarily intrinsic in content — as in, “you should pay for this product because the work to create it has value” — but can be realized in the relationships that form around content.
First, the amazing Amanda: She gave a rousingly received TED talk that has been seen almost half a million times already in which she argues that artists should not be afraid to ask for support, a lesson she learned as a street and stage performer and on Kickstarter. The nut of it via BoingBoing: “By asking people, you connect with them, and by connecting with them, they want to help you. ‘When we really see each other, we want to help each other. People have been obsessed with the wrong question, which is, How do we make people pay for music? What if we started asking, How do we let people pay for music?’”
Value comes to Amanda through relationships. Given the opportunity, people want to support her. In a very good post today, Reuters’ Felix Salmon contrasts her model with Andrew Sullivan’s. His purposefully mimics big media’s — from The New York Times to The Times of London: building a pay wall around content because content is valuable, damnit.
I’ve been arguing to media that relationships are more valuable. Knowing people because you have their trust and give them value builds a rich and deep relationship — builds data about that relationship — that can be far more valuable for far longer than a mere transaction.
The problem in media is that we are not built for that. We are built to serve the masses. Hell, we made the masses. Our manufacturing and investment and technology and business models have all been aimed at serving people in bulk, never as individuals because that wouldn’t scale, not in the age of presses and broadcast towers.
But now relationships do scale. See: Google. Now serving individuals scales even better and is even more valuable than mass media. Enter Susan Wojcicki, senior VP of advertising at Google, who wrote an important post on Google+ about the future of advertising. The nut of it: “In years to come, most ad views will effectively become voluntary.” Or as she also put it, choice shifts to the user in both content and advertising.
Just as it becomes difficult — in an abundance-based media world — to force people to pay for content, which is no longer scarce, it also becomes impossible to force them to see advertising, which may become more scarce (and perhaps more valuable). That means it won’t be advertising. It will be something no one — including Google — has invented yet. But Wojcicki’s thinking about what that can be. I’d bet on her finding it over a legacy media company just as I’d bet on Palmer finding a new model faster than a record company can.
The argument about paywalls — and copyright and the value of content — is the wrong argument. It’s an argument about trying to preserve old, industrial media model in a very different technological reality. I get accused of trying to kill paywalls or free content. I’m not. I’m just arguing that we need to recognize new opportunities because if we don’t, someone else will. Read: Google. Read: a street performer.
The discussion we should be having is how better to build valuable relationships of trust with people as people, not masses, and then how to exploit that value to support the work they want us to do. We can’t force them to do what we want anymore. For now, media are voluntary.
Buzzmachine - Sa, 03/02/2013 - 14:02
Germany, I fear, is not the land of innovation. It is a land of institutions.
This week the German Bundestag passed a law created by publishers — primarily Axel Springer and Burda — to force internet companies — read: Google — to pay for quoting — and thus promoting and linking to — their content. The legislation, the Leistungsschutzrecht, was known as the Google tax.
In the end, compromise legislation exempts precisely what the publishers had been going after: snippets of text of the sort that search engines quote. The bill now generously says that single words or very few words — it is not precise in its definition — remain free. But of course that exception only proves the absurdity of the effort: Who could ever own a word or a phrase? Or a thought?
So now, if the bill passes the next house of the legislature, lawyers will make a fortune debating how short is too long. No matter the length, speech suffers. Don’t the publishers see that they live by the quote? Their content is made up of what other people say. Their content gains influence when other people quote it.
But that is beside their point. They want to tax Google. They say it is not fair — imagine a kindergartener stomping his little feet — that Google makes money as they lose money. They think they deserve a share, though the truth is that their content makes up very little of what people search for. And, besides, every time Google links to them it is up to the publishers to establish a relationship with that user and find value in it. That publishers have failed to do this almost two decades into the web era is not Google’s fault; it is their fault. Rather than innovating and finding the necessary opportunity in their disruption, these publishers — conservatives who otherwise would diminish government — go running to the Chancellor and her party to pass their Leistungsschutzrecht.
To be fair, this is not purely a German disease. It is a European ailment as well. In France publishers hide behind government’s skirt to blackmail Google into paying into a fund to support innovation by publishers who’ve not innovated. The French government is also looking at taxing the gathering of big data — a tax, then, on knowledge. Belgian publishers rejected Google’s links and then thought better of it and finally extorted Google into advertising in their publications to avoid that nation’s version of a Leistungsschutzrecht. The internet causes a certain insanity the world around. In the U.S., we had SOPA and PIPA, laws like the Leistungsschutzrecht meant to protect ailing industries — though they were defeated. Then there is ACTA, an international attempt to protect the copyright industry.
But there are more issues in Germany. It is leading the privacy technopanic in Europe. Government leaders have urged citizens to have pictures taken from public places of public views of the facades of buildings blurred in Google Street View; they label this their Verpixelungsrecht. A privacy extremist in one state in Germany has tried to outlaw Facebook’s “like” button. That same state tried to overrule Facebook’s requirement to use real names.
And another: In entrepreneurial circles, Germany is known as the land of internet copycats. Again and again, German entrepreneurs have copied American services and business models, though their real business model is to get bought by the American originals.
Mind you, I love Germany (though to many Americans, that seems like an odd statement). There’s nowhere I’d rather visit. I have many friends there. I have met many talented technologists there. I marvel at its book culture and at its lively — if also suffering — market for serious journalism.
But today I worry about Germany. It is an industrial wonder in a postindustrial age. Government and media are embracing each other to defend their old institutions against disruption and the opportunity that can come with it. As I wrote in my book Public Parts, I’m concerned that Germans’ will to be private, not to fail, and especially not to fail publicly put them at a disadvantage in an entrepreneurial age when failure is a necessary product of experimentation. I fear that entrepreneurs, investors, and internet companies will shy away from Germany’s borders given the hostility that is shown especially to American internet companies.
I am disappointed that the land of Gutenberg, the land that invented the ability to share knowledge and ideas at a mass scale and to empower speech is now haggling over the control and ownership of a few words. As they say in German, schade. What a shame.
[This post has been translated into German and adapted as an op-ed at Zeit Online here.]
Related: I respond to Albert Wenger, a wise and German VC, regarding the #LSR here: http://disq.us/8cfp8h
Buzzmachine - Mi, 02/27/2013 - 04:05
Here is a post I wrote for Medium.com, reposted here.
In his book Assholes: A Theory, Aaron James proposes a definition and a taxonomy for the species, but he omits a key and particularly toxic genus, a breed with which we are all too familiar online: the troll.
Before I attempt to define the troll, let me use as a guide James’ definition of the asshole. “The asshole,” he writes,
(1) allows himself to enjoy special advantages and does so systematically; (2) does this out of an entrenched sense of entitlement; and (3) is immunized by his sense of entitlement against the complaints of other people. So, for example, the asshole is the person who habitually cuts in line. Or who frequently interrupts in a conversation. Or who weaves in and out of lanes in traffic…. An insensitive person—a mere “jerk”—might allow himself to so enjoy “special advantages” in such interpersonal relations. What distinguishes the asshole is the way he acts, the reasons that motivate him to act in an abusive and arrogant way.
That last criterion—the reasons that motivate—is what leads me to believe that the troll is a subset of the asshole rather than the product of a separate line of DNA: the jerk, the boor, the cad, the schmuck, the douche bag, or the ass, to borrow James’ hierarchy of the hard-to-take .
What distinguishes the troll from the mere asshole is, I believe, that he* (1) has a target; (2) seeks to get a response—a rise—out of that target; and (3) believes he is acting out of some ordained moral purpose to destroy, to bring down his target. By contrast, the asshole seeks only to enjoy privilege. He demands personal convenience—and may cause collateral damage in the form of inconvenience to others in getting it—while the troll seeks destruction. He hunts for the kill. The troll believes he has a right and even a responsibility to waste his nemeses.
James gives specific examples of public figures as assholes—and may their lawyers and flacks complain to him, not me: Douglas MacArthur, Silvio Berlusconi, Hugo Chavez, Simon Cowell, Mel Gibson, Donald Trump. Though I could name trolls, as I’m sure you could, I won’t, for that would give them precisely what they want: recognition and the confirmation that they got a rise out of me. We all know the cardinal rule in troll management: Don’t feed them. Ever. Give them a morsel, they’ll take a leg.
Trolls also feed on irony as a side dish. If I were to label someone a troll, he no doubt would complain that I was just trying to dismiss him through name-calling when, of course, ridiculing and thus dismissing his victim through personal insult is the primary weapon of the troll. Trolls don’t argue ideas. They attack people.
I recently heard of a troll who went after a respected writer for being gay though married. The barrage of baiting was so relentless the writer revealed himself publicly simply to end it. At least he succeeded in silencing his unnamed assailant. I have seen other trolls who will pop up like a recurring infection to harangue their victims on the same complaint in comments or tweets, over and over and over again. They can be monomaniacal. I have seen trolls issue lengthy broadsides against a foe: the bomb vs. the gatling-gun approach.
Let me be clear that trolls are not an invention of the net. One can do a fine job of trolling in a magazine article or a cable TV show or, for that matter, from the floor of Congress. But in the net, trolls have found their dark, dank, underbridge paradise.
Let us also note that trolls, like assholes, need not be anonymous. Whenever I hear editors, legislators, and other wishful thinkers argue that we could eliminate animus from online if only sites required verified identity to speak, I point out that we can all identify assholes by name. Yes, anonymity is not only a vital tool for the speech of the vulnerable and oppressed as well as whistleblowers, it is also the cloak of cowards. But identity is no cure for the common asshole or troll.
So what are we to do about trolls? Though they existed before the net, they do flourish here, attacking victims from under rocks on Twitter, in blogs, and especially in comments and too often setting the tone of online discourse. As I said, the worst thing a troll’s victim can do is to respond in defense, explanation, attempted discussion, or counterattack. That only feeds the beast. I have had to relearn that lesson all too often.
So are we to concede the net to the trolls, to accept their rule over this new domain? No. We cannot. I will argue that it is the responsibility—the moral duty—of bystanders to call trolls on their trolling. This is a corollary to a plea I made here:
The next time you see someone on Twitter point to an argument and gleefully announce, “Fight! Fight!” and you retweet that, think about the net you are encouraging and creating. You’re breeding only more of the same.
The next time you see a troll rubbing claws and cackling at his attack on someone you know and respect and you do not call him on it, then you must ask yourself what kind of net you are fostering. I’ve tried to come to the defense of the trolled a few times recently. When I’ve seen cries of “fight! fight!” I’ve sent the criers links to that paragraph above. When I saw someone I know attack someone else I know over daring to criticize Apple—red meat wrapped in a red cape for many a troll—I asked: “Did you have to launch off with an insult? Is that really the kind of conversation we want to have?”
OK, one risks coming off like the schoolmarm at the rave. But I ask: What choice do we have? Do we let the trolls destroy every sprout of optimism with their curmudgeonly naysaying and ad hominem spite? Do we really want to encourage their mean-spirited destruction? Do we want to give them the last word?
* * *
* Note that I, like James, use the male pronoun on the assumptions that most assholes and trolls happen to be—or are born to be—male and that few women would object to being excluded.
Buzzmachine - Mo, 02/11/2013 - 20:56
Hey Jersey journalists: There’s a big opportunity in New Jersey to cover the Hurricane Sandy recovery and get support from a group of foundations to get started and build a media business.
My personal wish for this money is that some smart journalist sees the chance to cover a huge story, bringing accountability to this effort (in a state that always needs accountability!) and starting a new service that can live and serve the shore community for many years after it is rebuilt.
The New Jersey Recovery fund has an RFP up now (full PDF here, HTML here). The money comes from the Community Foundation of New Jersey, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Knight Foundation, and others.
When I first discussed this funding opportunity with Knight’s Eric Newton, he told me a great story of a newspaper that sprouted up in the Oakland Hills (Newton was managing editor of the Oakland Tribune) to serve just 5,000 families disrupted by a huge fire in the 1990s. He said it lasted a year and a half and was even profitable.
I think that’s a great model for what could happen in New Jersey but now online. Imagine starting a site to cover the recovery at the shore … and then imagine having a brand and audience to carry on to build into a robust and ongoing hyperlocal business. Hell, if I weren’t busy, I’d do it.
Whether you like my idea or not, there is a great opportunity to bring journalism to the Sandy recovery — to start a local site, to watch how money is spent, to help communities and governments do a better job of communicating in the next (God help us) disaster, and so on. Have at it. The deadlines are nigh.
I also argue that New Jersey is a spectacular laboratory for building new futures for news. There’s an opportunity to work collaboratively with entities from NJ.com to NJ Spotlight to Pro Publica to the New Jersey News Commons, which has started out of Montclair State to help grow and improve the state’s news ecosystem with training, promotion, collaboration, and other services. New Jersey needs more journalism. The journalists who take up the opportunity will get more help. Have at it!
Disclosures: I work with NJ.com and helped start it. I helped start the NJ News Commons working with MSU. I also advise Dodge. And I live in New Jersey. I care.