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Posts Tagged ‘M.G. Siegler’

Paris Lemon and the No Good, Very Bad Day

February 13th, 2012 02:00 admin View Comments

path150.jpgSometimes we have bad days. It’s a part of being human, part of working in a stressful time and place. Among the problems of being a blogger are that it exposes one’s weaknesses, magnifies the limits of one’s personal perspective, and often amplifies our feelings beyond what we might have intended. I have avoided being a blogger in the traditional sense partly because I’m fairly certain that you don’t care – nor should you – about these things as they pertain to me.

Andy Rooney was among the greatest news writers of his generation. But during the latter stages of his life, he complained about how awful life had become, about how things had ceased to be familiar any more, about how disruption had left his world a blur. Rooney’s complaints had become emblematic of what has been perceived as the decline of the role of television as an information medium. So when M.G. Siegler spends a few minutes with us in the same vein, complaining about how the object of his career up until recently has been “bulls—,” one wonders whether this should be emblematic of the end of something else.

The Path to Bulls—

Siegler, by any measure, is one of the more noteworthy bloggers of his generation, still contributing to TechCrunch while working now as an investor in the CrunchFund partnership. Yesterday, Siegler posted a critique of an online article by New York Times reporter Nick Bilton. His subject was a rundown of the unauthorized sharing of iPhone users’ address books by Path, and the subsequent apology from Path CEO Dave Morin, which RWW’s Jon Mitchell praised as “full of refreshing self-consciousness.”

NYT’s Bilton was disturbed by the sudden reversal of apparent public sentiment toward Morin, from indignation to outright support, which he credited to savvy public relations, especially toward the “technorati.” But along the way, his original story had some inaccuracies which NYT corrected, with its usual addendum.

Writing in his personal Paris Lemon blog, Siegler chastised Bilton for not doing the requisite legwork. Had Bilton taken the time to do more research, Siegler pointed out, he would have discovered that Path is not the only app uploading address books to Apple’s servers. “Apps that have been doing it for a long time. That actually would have made his point much stronger,” Siegler wrote. “But that would have been more work. And work is hard. Path was served up on a platter, the homework already done.”

Had Siegler stopped there, we might have considered this a valuable and important lesson. It has become commonplace for Web journalists and bloggers to acquire a story in its mostly, if not entirely, completed state, add one layer of informativeness or newsiness to it, and pass it along the pike. From there, someone may copy it in part or whole, perhaps adding another layer of commentary. Yes, that’s not a particularly ethical way to run a news business.

But Siegler was having a bad day. He had come to the deep, personal revelation that the world of investing into which he had entered, and the world of writing about investors which he has not entirely exited, were – in his words – “not aligned. At all.”

“More Bulls— Than Information”

(Do forgive me for not repeating Siegler’s words here verbatim, including several of the Seven Words You Can’t Say as compiled by the late genius George Carlin. I know writing in street language is oh-so-Hunter S. Thompson these days, but as both my longtime readers will know, as an editor, I tend to lean more towards Fulton J. Sheen.)

“Most of what is written about the tech world – both in blog form and old school media form – is bulls—,” remarks Siegler. “I won’t try to put some arbitrary label on it like 80%, but it’s a lot. There’s more bulls— than there is 100% pure, legitimate information.”

The reason, he reports (in exhaustive detail), is the relentless drive by advertisers for publishers to produce greater page views, which in turn means bloggers devote less time per story, thus reducing the amount of research they’re allowed to do to near- or absolute zero. It gets worse. Most tech bloggers don’t think, Siegler goes on. He himself pleads guilty as charged, adding that it was impossible to know the full extent of what tech bloggers do not know, until he could step outside the shell and observe them from the outside.

Now he realizes just how many different topics a blogger is expected to be an expert in, simultaneously. “You cannot be an authority on 20 different topics. You just can’t,” Siegler writes, in what should have been a concluding paragraph but wasn’t. “But people are trying to convey that they are. And there’s often a perception that they are. And this horribly broken system works from the perspective of the pageview machine.”

So here’s the problem: Some of us appear to have spent a great deal of our careers disrupting the monster that is mainstream media. In Andy Rooney’s day, these were the oracles from which all information flowed in regularly scheduled intervals and in properly proportioned nuggets. Why do people attribute that much authority to a single institution, folks asked?

But now that we have the floor and the spotlight is shining on us – all the myriad individuals who tore down the walls separating the people from open and transparent access to the information they need to live and work – all of a sudden, no one person can be an authority on twenty different things. Now the burden is too hard to bear. We redefined the news business from something about institutions into something about ourselves. We’ve deconstructed the three or four big silos and built a thousand smaller ones. And we’ve come to the realization not only of how under-informed we are, but how uninteresting we are to boot.

We Interrupt This Diatribe…

A news service can be an authority on twenty different things, or a hundred, or five hundred. It’s already happened, just deep in our past. An institution of reporters working together under established, trusted editorial leadership, sharing their knowledge and collaborating with one another, can and has earned a rightful place of authority in millions of people’s lives. Great news broadcasts, newspapers, and newsmagazines about the world and about technology were typically produced by a few dozen people.

Byte February 1983.jpgIt is perhaps the narcissistic nature of this generation that has led people to believe they work better in closets, collaborating to the extent that one can by way of the occasional tweet or IM. Fewer people indeed do generate more content per publication than ever before in history. But as Siegler himself correctly points out, the truth – if and when it ever does become known – is produced through a complex and often random exchange of data from one blogger to the next to the next. When you connect all the various blogs together into one steel-wool-shaped mass, and perceive the product rather than its individual threads as the modern engine of journalism, you realize that far more people are involved today in the production of a complete story than ever before. Each blog publication may act as a subatomic component in the creation of facts, and whatever else accompanies them; the greater molecule of news production is bigger, bulkier, and less efficient than ever before in history. Tens of thousands of people, all ping-ponging hyperlinks in M.G. Siegler’s pageview machine.

“I offer no solutions because my honest opinion is that nothing will change where we’re headed,” the TechCrunch writer closes. Well, okay then. We’ve had our tantrum, and now we’re exhausted and a little embarrassed. Thank you for your input.

My turn now. Journalism is not about being an expert about twenty different things. It’s about being interested in all of them, knowing how to ask questions, and how to elicit information from the answers. You do not have to be an expert in anything at all to be a journalist. In fact, your need to know must be more potent than your need to profess what you know. Your methodologies will improve, your insight will be sharpened, your ability to separate fact from filth will be well-honed.

But you can’t ask questions and expect answers in a vacuum. First, you have to open the f—tarded closet door and step outside. Breathe some clean air. Then start finding the right people to ask questions of. I strongly suspect it’s something M.G. Siegler is yearning to do anyway.

Scott M. Fulton, III is the author of this document, and is fully responsible for his content.

Byte Magazine cover, February 1983, from VintageComputers.net

Source: Paris Lemon and the No Good, Very Bad Day

Paris Lemon and the No Good, Very Bad Day

February 13th, 2012 02:00 admin View Comments

path150.jpgSometimes we have bad days. It’s a part of being human, part of working in a stressful time and place. Among the problems of being a blogger are that it exposes one’s weaknesses, magnifies the limits of one’s personal perspective, and often amplifies our feelings beyond what we might have intended. I have avoided being a blogger in the traditional sense partly because I’m fairly certain that you don’t care – nor should you – about these things as they pertain to me.

Andy Rooney was among the greatest news writers of his generation. But during the latter stages of his life, he complained about how awful life had become, about how things had ceased to be familiar any more, about how disruption had left his world a blur. Rooney’s complaints had become emblematic of what has been perceived as the decline of the role of television as an information medium. So when M.G. Siegler spends a few minutes with us in the same vein, complaining about how the object of his career up until recently has been “bulls—,” one wonders whether this should be emblematic of the end of something else.

The Path to Bulls—

Siegler, by any measure, is one of the more noteworthy bloggers of his generation, still contributing to TechCrunch while working now as an investor in the CrunchFund partnership. Yesterday, Siegler posted a critique of an online article by New York Times reporter Nick Bilton. His subject was a rundown of the unauthorized sharing of iPhone users’ address books by Path, and the subsequent apology from Path CEO Dave Morin, which RWW’s Jon Mitchell praised as “full of refreshing self-consciousness.”

NYT’s Bilton was disturbed by the sudden reversal of apparent public sentiment toward Morin, from indignation to outright support, which he credited to savvy public relations, especially toward the “technorati.” But along the way, his original story had some inaccuracies which NYT corrected, with its usual addendum.

Writing in his personal Paris Lemon blog, Siegler chastised Bilton for not doing the requisite legwork. Had Bilton taken the time to do more research, Siegler pointed out, he would have discovered that Path is not the only app uploading address books to Apple’s servers. “Apps that have been doing it for a long time. That actually would have made his point much stronger,” Siegler wrote. “But that would have been more work. And work is hard. Path was served up on a platter, the homework already done.”

Had Siegler stopped there, we might have considered this a valuable and important lesson. It has become commonplace for Web journalists and bloggers to acquire a story in its mostly, if not entirely, completed state, add one layer of informativeness or newsiness to it, and pass it along the pike. From there, someone may copy it in part or whole, perhaps adding another layer of commentary. Yes, that’s not a particularly ethical way to run a news business.

But Siegler was having a bad day. He had come to the deep, personal revelation that the world of investing into which he had entered, and the world of writing about investors which he has not entirely exited, were – in his words – “not aligned. At all.”

“More Bulls— Than Information”

(Do forgive me for not repeating Siegler’s words here verbatim, including several of the Seven Words You Can’t Say as compiled by the late genius George Carlin. I know writing in street language is oh-so-Hunter S. Thompson these days, but as both my longtime readers will know, as an editor, I tend to lean more towards Fulton J. Sheen.)

“Most of what is written about the tech world – both in blog form and old school media form – is bulls—,” remarks Siegler. “I won’t try to put some arbitrary label on it like 80%, but it’s a lot. There’s more bulls— than there is 100% pure, legitimate information.”

The reason, he reports (in exhaustive detail), is the relentless drive by advertisers for publishers to produce greater page views, which in turn means bloggers devote less time per story, thus reducing the amount of research they’re allowed to do to near- or absolute zero. It gets worse. Most tech bloggers don’t think, Siegler goes on. He himself pleads guilty as charged, adding that it was impossible to know the full extent of what tech bloggers do not know, until he could step outside the shell and observe them from the outside.

Now he realizes just how many different topics a blogger is expected to be an expert in, simultaneously. “You cannot be an authority on 20 different topics. You just can’t,” Siegler writes, in what should have been a concluding paragraph but wasn’t. “But people are trying to convey that they are. And there’s often a perception that they are. And this horribly broken system works from the perspective of the pageview machine.”

So here’s the problem: Some of us appear to have spent a great deal of our careers disrupting the monster that is mainstream media. In Andy Rooney’s day, these were the oracles from which all information flowed in regularly scheduled intervals and in properly proportioned nuggets. Why do people attribute that much authority to a single institution, folks asked?

But now that we have the floor and the spotlight is shining on us – all the myriad individuals who tore down the walls separating the people from open and transparent access to the information they need to live and work – all of a sudden, no one person can be an authority on twenty different things. Now the burden is too hard to bear. We redefined the news business from something about institutions into something about ourselves. We’ve deconstructed the three or four big silos and built a thousand smaller ones. And we’ve come to the realization not only of how under-informed we are, but how uninteresting we are to boot.

We Interrupt This Diatribe…

A news service can be an authority on twenty different things, or a hundred, or five hundred. It’s already happened, just deep in our past. An institution of reporters working together under established, trusted editorial leadership, sharing their knowledge and collaborating with one another, can and has earned a rightful place of authority in millions of people’s lives. Great news broadcasts, newspapers, and newsmagazines about the world and about technology were typically produced by a few dozen people.

Byte February 1983.jpgIt is perhaps the narcissistic nature of this generation that has led people to believe they work better in closets, collaborating to the extent that one can by way of the occasional tweet or IM. Fewer people indeed do generate more content per publication than ever before in history. But as Siegler himself correctly points out, the truth – if and when it ever does become known – is produced through a complex and often random exchange of data from one blogger to the next to the next. When you connect all the various blogs together into one steel-wool-shaped mass, and perceive the product rather than its individual threads as the modern engine of journalism, you realize that far more people are involved today in the production of a complete story than ever before. Each blog publication may act as a subatomic component in the creation of facts, and whatever else accompanies them; the greater molecule of news production is bigger, bulkier, and less efficient than ever before in history. Tens of thousands of people, all ping-ponging hyperlinks in M.G. Siegler’s pageview machine.

“I offer no solutions because my honest opinion is that nothing will change where we’re headed,” the TechCrunch writer closes. Well, okay then. We’ve had our tantrum, and now we’re exhausted and a little embarrassed. Thank you for your input.

My turn now. Journalism is not about being an expert about twenty different things. It’s about being interested in all of them, knowing how to ask questions, and how to elicit information from the answers. You do not have to be an expert in anything at all to be a journalist. In fact, your need to know must be more potent than your need to profess what you know. Your methodologies will improve, your insight will be sharpened, your ability to separate fact from filth will be well-honed.

But you can’t ask questions and expect answers in a vacuum. First, you have to open the f—tarded closet door and step outside. Breathe some clean air. Then start finding the right people to ask questions of. I strongly suspect it’s something M.G. Siegler is yearning to do anyway.

Scott M. Fulton, III is the author of this document, and is fully responsible for his content.

Byte Magazine cover, February 1983, from VintageComputers.net

Source: Paris Lemon and the No Good, Very Bad Day

Paris Lemon and the No Good, Very Bad Day

February 13th, 2012 02:00 admin View Comments

path150.jpgSometimes we have bad days. It’s a part of being human, part of working in a stressful time and place. Among the problems of being a blogger are that it exposes one’s weaknesses, magnifies the limits of one’s personal perspective, and often amplifies our feelings beyond what we might have intended. I have avoided being a blogger in the traditional sense partly because I’m fairly certain that you don’t care – nor should you – about these things as they pertain to me.

Andy Rooney was among the greatest news writers of his generation. But during the latter stages of his life, he complained about how awful life had become, about how things had ceased to be familiar any more, about how disruption had left his world a blur. Rooney’s complaints had become emblematic of what has been perceived as the decline of the role of television as an information medium. So when M.G. Siegler spends a few minutes with us in the same vein, complaining about how the object of his career up until recently has been “bulls—,” one wonders whether this should be emblematic of the end of something else.

The Path to Bulls—

Siegler, by any measure, is one of the more noteworthy bloggers of his generation, still contributing to TechCrunch while working now as an investor in the CrunchFund partnership. Yesterday, Siegler posted a critique of an online article by New York Times reporter Nick Bilton. His subject was a rundown of the unauthorized sharing of iPhone users’ address books by Path, and the subsequent apology from Path CEO Dave Morin, which RWW’s Jon Mitchell praised as “full of refreshing self-consciousness.”

NYT’s Bilton was disturbed by the sudden reversal of apparent public sentiment toward Morin, from indignation to outright support, which he credited to savvy public relations, especially toward the “technorati.” But along the way, his original story had some inaccuracies which NYT corrected, with its usual addendum.

Writing in his personal Paris Lemon blog, Siegler chastised Bilton for not doing the requisite legwork. Had Bilton taken the time to do more research, Siegler pointed out, he would have discovered that Path is not the only app uploading address books to Apple’s servers. “Apps that have been doing it for a long time. That actually would have made his point much stronger,” Siegler wrote. “But that would have been more work. And work is hard. Path was served up on a platter, the homework already done.”

Had Siegler stopped there, we might have considered this a valuable and important lesson. It has become commonplace for Web journalists and bloggers to acquire a story in its mostly, if not entirely, completed state, add one layer of informativeness or newsiness to it, and pass it along the pike. From there, someone may copy it in part or whole, perhaps adding another layer of commentary. Yes, that’s not a particularly ethical way to run a news business.

But Siegler was having a bad day. He had come to the deep, personal revelation that the world of investing into which he had entered, and the world of writing about investors which he has not entirely exited, were – in his words – “not aligned. At all.”

“More Bulls— Than Information”

(Do forgive me for not repeating Siegler’s words here verbatim, including several of the Seven Words You Can’t Say as compiled by the late genius George Carlin. I know writing in street language is oh-so-Hunter S. Thompson these days, but as both my longtime readers will know, as an editor, I tend to lean more towards Fulton J. Sheen.)

“Most of what is written about the tech world – both in blog form and old school media form – is bulls—,” remarks Siegler. “I won’t try to put some arbitrary label on it like 80%, but it’s a lot. There’s more bulls— than there is 100% pure, legitimate information.”

The reason, he reports (in exhaustive detail), is the relentless drive by advertisers for publishers to produce greater page views, which in turn means bloggers devote less time per story, thus reducing the amount of research they’re allowed to do to near- or absolute zero. It gets worse. Most tech bloggers don’t think, Siegler goes on. He himself pleads guilty as charged, adding that it was impossible to know the full extent of what tech bloggers do not know, until he could step outside the shell and observe them from the outside.

Now he realizes just how many different topics a blogger is expected to be an expert in, simultaneously. “You cannot be an authority on 20 different topics. You just can’t,” Siegler writes, in what should have been a concluding paragraph but wasn’t. “But people are trying to convey that they are. And there’s often a perception that they are. And this horribly broken system works from the perspective of the pageview machine.”

So here’s the problem: Some of us appear to have spent a great deal of our careers disrupting the monster that is mainstream media. In Andy Rooney’s day, these were the oracles from which all information flowed in regularly scheduled intervals and in properly proportioned nuggets. Why do people attribute that much authority to a single institution, folks asked?

But now that we have the floor and the spotlight is shining on us – all the myriad individuals who tore down the walls separating the people from open and transparent access to the information they need to live and work – all of a sudden, no one person can be an authority on twenty different things. Now the burden is too hard to bear. We redefined the news business from something about institutions into something about ourselves. We’ve deconstructed the three or four big silos and built a thousand smaller ones. And we’ve come to the realization not only of how under-informed we are, but how uninteresting we are to boot.

We Interrupt This Diatribe…

A news service can be an authority on twenty different things, or a hundred, or five hundred. It’s already happened, just deep in our past. An institution of reporters working together under established, trusted editorial leadership, sharing their knowledge and collaborating with one another, can and has earned a rightful place of authority in millions of people’s lives. Great news broadcasts, newspapers, and newsmagazines about the world and about technology were typically produced by a few dozen people.

Byte February 1983.jpgIt is perhaps the narcissistic nature of this generation that has led people to believe they work better in closets, collaborating to the extent that one can by way of the occasional tweet or IM. Fewer people indeed do generate more content per publication than ever before in history. But as Siegler himself correctly points out, the truth – if and when it ever does become known – is produced through a complex and often random exchange of data from one blogger to the next to the next. When you connect all the various blogs together into one steel-wool-shaped mass, and perceive the product rather than its individual threads as the modern engine of journalism, you realize that far more people are involved today in the production of a complete story than ever before. Each blog publication may act as a subatomic component in the creation of facts, and whatever else accompanies them; the greater molecule of news production is bigger, bulkier, and less efficient than ever before in history. Tens of thousands of people, all ping-ponging hyperlinks in M.G. Siegler’s pageview machine.

“I offer no solutions because my honest opinion is that nothing will change where we’re headed,” the TechCrunch writer closes. Well, okay then. We’ve had our tantrum, and now we’re exhausted and a little embarrassed. Thank you for your input.

My turn now. Journalism is not about being an expert about twenty different things. It’s about being interested in all of them, knowing how to ask questions, and how to elicit information from the answers. You do not have to be an expert in anything at all to be a journalist. In fact, your need to know must be more potent than your need to profess what you know. Your methodologies will improve, your insight will be sharpened, your ability to separate fact from filth will be well-honed.

But you can’t ask questions and expect answers in a vacuum. First, you have to open the f—tarded closet door and step outside. Breathe some clean air. Then start finding the right people to ask questions of. I strongly suspect it’s something M.G. Siegler is yearning to do anyway.

Scott M. Fulton, III is the author of this document, and is fully responsible for his content.

Byte Magazine cover, February 1983, from VintageComputers.net

Source: Paris Lemon and the No Good, Very Bad Day

Issues for 2012 #5: How Will Online News Be Organized?

January 3rd, 2012 01:00 admin View Comments

18th century press.jpgJust ask the man who signs my paychecks… or at least, go back to October 2007 and ask Richard MacManus, the founder and EIC of this publication. He would tell you directly and succinctly that ReadWriteWeb is not a blog. That is, by the definition of that time, it’s not a one-man show. “ReadWriteWeb has evolved,” Richard wrote at the time, “into something different than a blog, which is traditionally thought of as the voice of a single person.”

Over the years, the complaints I’ve received from readers (we all receive some) center around the notion of bias – a tendency to interpret a story with the appearance of a certain slant or, perhaps more accurately, from an angle somewhat askew from the angle most others use in their interpretations. If a blog were truly by and about one person, then the appearance of bias would be impossible to avoid. Typically with publications, it is plurality that enables the reader to see the complete picture of subject matter. Plurality, for any organization, requires organization. And at a time when the Web publishing industry’s definition of what we do evolves faster than our ability to do it, organization has been difficult to achieve.

A sea of one-man bands

What Richard was saying back in 2007 was something I believe we can still appreciate today: A great publication evolves beyond the voice of any one person. Specifically, his comment came in response to his own surprise at finding RWW placed #6 on the Techmeme Leaderboard. He cited RSS pioneer Dave Winer, who in May 2003 – in an effort for his readers to distinguish a blog from a wiki – defined a blog as something that is unedited.

“Assuming a Wiki is a weblog-like system that allows anyone to edit anything (I know some don’t) then a Wiki represents an interesting amalgam of many voices, not the unedited voice of a single person,” wrote Winer. “On my weblog no one can change what I wrote. In contrast, having written for professional publications, pros have to prepare for their writing being interfered with… Weblogs are unique in that only a weblog gives you a publication where your ideas can stand alone without interference. It gives the public writer a kind of relaxation not available in other forms. That might mean that in some sense the ‘quality’ of the writing is different, but I would not say lower, assuming the purpose of writing is to inform, not to impress.”

Thus the notion of freedom as “exemption from ever being edited” may have been born. Readers are developing a notion of blogs as self-service operations, minimally administered content management systems from which unaltered streams of observations are broadcast in their raw and unencumbered form.

Or as one reader put it to me in an e-mail last week, “No one wants to consume a ‘package’ of content any more. The Web and blogs in particular have freed us from all that… [You] reminded me of the old magazine editors I know who don’t like the Web because it has taken away their power to pretend they know what is best for the reader.”

In his October 2007 post, Richard also cited an October 2007 claim from prominent blogger Robert Scoble that the infusion of journalism was, in a way, poisoning the art of blogging, as evidenced by his estimate that only 12 of the 100 blogs on Techmeme’s leaderboard were single-person operations. “Most of the things on the list are now done by teams of journalists – that isn’t blogging anymore in my book,” Scoble had written. “TechCrunch just hired a professional journalist which is sort of funny cause when I started blogging I never expected blogging to become a business, just a way to share what was going on in my life.”

So perhaps in retrospect, one of the reasons why blogging has had such difficulty transitioning itself to a business model is because its leading practitioners had not expected it to be a business in the first place.

Last September, when the inevitable structural breakdown began between TechCrunch and its corporate parent, AOL, contributor M. G. Siegler defended the publication as a blog under the classic Winer definition, and in so doing, distinguished TechCrunch contributors from the body of practitioners called “journalists.”

“Journalists seem to think they can write about TechCrunch as if they’re looking in a mirror,” Siegler wrote. “That is to say, they think our operation runs in a similar manner to theirs and they use that as a jumping off point for misguided (but predictable) outrage… First and foremost, the concept of an ‘editor’ at TechCrunch is essentially just a title and nothing more. Generally speaking, neither Mike [Arrington] nor Erick [Schonfeld] (TC’s two ‘co-editors’) are overlords that dictate what everyone else covers. With a few exceptions (mainly for newer writers), no one person even reads posts by any other author before they are posted. Traditional journalists may be appalled to learn this. But this is a big key of why TechCrunch kicks their ass in tech coverage.”

Are we, or are we not, bloggers?

For those of you keeping score at home, ReadWriteWeb has slipped down the Techmeme Leaderboard to #41 in the four-plus years since MacManus rendered his initial assessment. The simple reason, I’ve tended to believe, was the same one I maintained in defending a different publication I used to manage: It’s not really a blog. “One thing hasn’t changed and hopefully never will – the best bloggers are passionate about the topics they write about, and they are informed and opinionated,” Richard wrote. “All the writers on ReadWriteWeb have those attributes. So even though we’re not a blog, we’re still bloggers.”

Fast-forward to last December, and ReadWriteWeb’s acquisition by SAY Media. At the time, SAY’s corporate blog trumpeted RWW as “one of the most popular and influential tech blogs in the world;” and Richard MacManus followed up by calling the publication he founded “one of the biggest blogs in the world.” He later added, “ReadWriteWeb is and always will be a team effort.”

The distinction matters because of that very phrase. Unlike a diary, a poem, a high school term paper, or any other one-person dissertation, a publication resulting from a team effort carries with it specific responsibilities. It must inform the public accurately, to the best of its ability. It should present a balanced and clear representation of the topics it covers. It should improve the lives and work of the people who read it.

Just as importantly, the law treats a publication differently because it is produced by a plurality.

Last November, a U.S. District Court judge in Oregon ruled that a blogger named Crystal Cox could not invoke the state’s Shield Laws for journalist protection in her defense in an anti-defamation case, stating specifically that one cannot proclaim herself a journalist the same way one can proclaim herself a blogger. In his opinion, Judge Marco Hernandez wrote:

Defendant cites no cases indicating that a self-proclaimed “investigative blogger” is considered “media” for the purposes of applying a negligence standard in a defamation claim. Without any controlling or persuasive authority on the issue, I decline to conclude that defendant in this case is “media,” triggering the negligence standard.

Defendant fails to bring forth any evidence suggestive of her status as a journalist. For example, there is no evidence of (1) any education in journalism; (2) any credentials or proof of any affiliation with any recognized news entity; (3) proof of adherence to journalistic standards such as editing, fact-checking, or disclosures of conflicts of interest; (4) keeping notes of conversations and interviews conducted; (5) mutual understanding or agreement of confidentiality between the defendant and his/her sources; (6) creation of an independent product rather than assembling writings and postings of others; or (7) contacting “the other side” to get both sides of a story. Without evidence of this nature, defendant is not “media.”

Judge Hernandez’ ruling triggered a measure of outrage, particularly at the notion that in this era of the 24-second news cycle, for someone to be recognized as a journalist, he or she must be associated with an established “media” organization. The EFF’s Matt Zimmerman and Trevor Timm wrote last month that laws should be changed to reflect an era where journalism is practiced by individuals with their own motivation and their own means.

“The proper approach to this question is to focus on what amounts to journalism, not who is a journalist,” Timm and Zimmerman wrote. “Journalism is not limited to a particular medium; instead, it focuses on whether someone is engaged in gathering information and disseminating it to the public. To the extent that laws are unclear or out of date – such as Oregon’s retraction statute which does not clearly include (or exclude) Internet journalism – legislatures should be encouraged to expansively update them to ensure the protection of individuals seeking to communicate information to the public.”

Of balance and choice

At one level, freedom from the burden of organization may be considered enablement, especially for practicing journalists who (like so many of us) have found themselves without a regular paycheck. But the moment we all become privateers, we journalists lose our capability to provide the one characteristic that readers continuously, adamantly, passionately, and rightly demand: balance.

A one-man show cannot be without bias; it is impossible. True, Web publishing has freed journalism from the stifling encumberments of bureaucracy. But it has not relieved journalists of the burden to contribute to a cohesive, complete, accurate picture of the world they cover; and no matter how many hyperlinks it can throw at the subject, the Web cannot substitute for coordination and organization. The editorial system provides journalism with the checks and balances it requires to fulfill its responsibility to the public for fairness and accuracy.

You can have freedom from bias or you can have freedom from oversight. You cannot have both.

Source: Issues for 2012 #5: How Will Online News Be Organized?

Issues for 2012 #3: Who Gets to Define Your Online Identity?

December 28th, 2011 12:30 admin View Comments

Facebook login.pngIf I were truly mischief and wanted to game the system, I would have named this article, “Facebook Wants to Be Your One True Login, Part 2.” If you’re not familiar with the incident to which I’m referring: One of the most illustrative cases of the incomplete state of the Internet as an information system was in February 2010, when ReadWriteWeb itself happened to publish an article with “Facebook” and “login” in its headline. It soon found itself at or near the top of Google search results for the phrase “facebook login,” with the result being that hundreds of Web users to this day happen upon this page when they’re trying to reach Facebook itself.

The Web was not designed to require identity or authentication for data to be accessed. Up to now, most consumers have not considered this a problem – at least, not the ones who found themselves staring at ReadWriteWeb when they were expecting Farmville. This will change.

Too many protocols, too few sources

The one emerging fundamental truth from the Web as a technology is a strange, sideways corollary to Murphy’s Law: If a system can be gamed, it will. As the Web evolves, and as HTML5 is implemented by more organizations for delivering applications, the Web will come to rely more and more upon the very component it was designed from the beginning to intentionally dis-include: identity, the need for which is said by its earliest engineers to be contrary to the notion of openness.

The way the first Web services distinguished between individual users was by storing session data on client systems in the form of cookies. This system was largely distrusted and, like all such systems online, became the subject of considerable gaming and malicious abuse. Its eventual unreliability, coupled with the fact that a cookie was only meaningful to the service that created it, led to the need for a new standard for establishing trust between server and client – one that would be less ridiculous than SSL.

The rush to fulfill this need led to an over-abundance of competing protocols, and an even greater number of so-called federation mechanisms for enabling these protocols to cooperate with one another. Amid all the confusion, developers of the first wave of genuine cloud-based SaaS applications find themselves relying on the most abundant, readily available solution at the present time: a combination of OAuth 2.0 for enabling a channel for one authority to grant permissions to another, and an identity protocol such as OpenID for exchanging identity tokens over that authorized channel.

Taking advantage of this new reliance are the networks which have the most to gain from absorbing as much data as possible on users’ activities: Facebook, Google, and Yahoo. And in its forthcoming Windows 8, Microsoft will place its Windows Live ID front-and-center, making it the preferred password-based logon system for Windows-based PCs and tablets. This leads to a kind of tangled conundrum that only our modern society could have bumbled into: The problem of safeguarding access is effectively being outsourced to the very centralized sources that are the crux of the existing problems with privacy and user security.

Pairing identities with profiles

111228 James Refell preso screenshot.jpg

In a March 2011 session for the SXSW conference, Webroot security engineer James Reffell borrowed ReadWriteWeb’s own “facebook login” incident to illustrate the effects of identity centralization. When unknowing users stumbled onto RWW, many of them actually ended up logging onto the Facebook Connect service anyway, since FC is one of RWW’s identity providers. As a result, folks ended up associating themselves with Facebook as comment contributors to RWW, even though the comments they were contributing consisted mainly of cries for help.

What makes this data valuable for centralized ID providers is its ability to be aggregated and analyzed. This is why Facebook and other services are calling for a one-to-one relationship between users and activities, and for users’ online identities to be unique and, shall we say, unvarnished. Last November, the extent of Facebook’s efforts was revealed when Facebook changed novelist Salman Rushdie’s profile to use a different first name – the one that appears before “Salman” on his passport. Rushdie objected because folks wouldn’t recognize “Ahmed Rushdie” as the famous novelist – and accessibility by his readers was one of the whole points of adopting a Facebook identity in the first place.

What wasn’t determined was whether Facebook chose to look into Rushdie’s passport profile simply because he was Rushdie, or whether there’s a larger, ongoing process of checking everyone’s online handles against their passport names.

Whether he intended to game the system or not, TechCrunch contributor M.G. Siegler discovered yesterday that his Google + profile picture had been removed for having displayed the middle finger in a solo setting. The original, unaltered arrangement may be found on Siegler’s Twitter feed, which incidentally uses a nom de plume. Although the Google + terms of service do explicitly forbid the use of potentially offensive material, Siegler found it odd that Google would be actively policing the relative stances of its users’ hands. “In certain cultures, various hand gestures mean different things,” he wrote. “Is Google also going to delete my profile picture if I have my fingers up to my chin, for example?”

The odd coupling

The problem at hand is that Web apps developers are now entrusting the job of validating identities to services that have an interest in cleansing them. There are perfectly valid reasons why a social network provider would want to maintain both order and equanimity in its users’ profiles. There are equally valid reasons why whatever information is conveyed to a service trusted with validating individual accounts, should only include data that is directly accessible to the parties in the transactions to which those accounts pertain. These two sets of reasons are incompatible with one another at multiple points.

Yet de-coupling transaction accounting from identity provision disables the entire value proposition for social networks. In other words, if Facebook and others could not potentially monetize the data they were collecting from folks logging onto apps and blogs and stumbling onto strangely fortunate headline choices, they would have to find revenue elsewhere – perhaps from subscription fees, which at this point users are unwilling to consider.

In the meantime, there may be no immediate incentive for developers to build a more viable solution: a kind of personal portfolio service where Salman Rushdie’s name and M.G. Siegler’s middle finger remain untouched, but whose personal data is only used by them and the services and retailers of their choice for their own purposes. Need alone does not generate solutions, otherwise Web users (which include online bankers) would not have had to suffer with the dangers of SSL encryption for well over a decade now.

However, the longer we wait for a solution to materialize, the more opportunity we give for someone – intentionally or not – to exploit the problem.

Source: Issues for 2012 #3: Who Gets to Define Your Online Identity?

The Death, Rebirth, Re-death, and Re-rebirth of Specs

November 15th, 2011 11:30 admin View Comments

kindlefire150x150.jpgThere’s an interesting discussion brewing in the wake of some of the comparison articles recently published about the latest Android tablet devices, including Amazon’s Kindle Fire. I’m on record here as liking what I saw from the initial publication of Joshua Topolsky’s “revenge” upon Engadget, The Verge, and I’d be blind if I didn’t point out that competitor publications may feel they have something to gain by casting The Verge in a negative light. That’s by way of disclaimer.

That said, I think the discussion about what’s important in a product review is an important one to have, and we need to have it periodically. The current debate stems from whether device specifications – particularly with respect to this positive recommendation of the iPhone 4S by Consumer Reports and this comparison of Kindle, Nook, and iPad tablets by The Verge – truly matter nowadays with respect to buyers’ decisions.

Dead

Blogger Drew Breunig weighed in with this discussion by commenting that customers’ perception of performance is a more important metric with respect to a device’s salability than the speed of the processor or the capacity of the memory. “The Verge’s feature chart covers price, availability, and hardware specs,” Breunig wrote. “Nowhere is there content selection (all devices listed lockdown their content, so this is rather important), cloud services, or perceived speed, which despite being objective is a better indicator of performance for all of these devices.”

That helped start a little fire over at TechCrunch. There, editor M.G. Siegler argued that the appearance of the Nook Tablet’s superiority to the Kindle Fire by way of device specifications, will not matter with respect to the inevitable popularity of Kindle Fire by way of its connection with and to Amazon. “Clearly, [Nook Tablet] is the better value for your money,” Siegler wrote. “And yet, the Nook Tablet will not outsell the Kindle Fire. That’s the thing: ‘On paper’ doesn’t matter anymore. What matters is that the Kindle Fire comes with Amazon’s content ecosystem attached to it. Perhaps more importantly, it will be peddled like no other on the all-important Amazon.com homepage. The specs are secondary in this race at best. The reality is that they will be an afterthought. Or again, the Nook would win.”

Blogger John Gruber typically makes very poignant observations, and yesterday’s was no exception. “Spec-based reviews of computers and gadgets are inherently flawed, a relic of an era that’s already gone,” wrote Gruber, before making a valid point that most readers would find a movie review that went into the details about the cinematography, materials used on the set, and the grade of the camera lenses dull and boring – and more importantly, unrelated to the final quality of the motion picture as an art form.

Alive

I’m a believer in specs. And no, I don’t think they’re dead; what matters is their place and their relevance.

In my own other lives as an editor through the last few decades, I’ve instructed many new journalists as to what makes a good product review. My basic principle is this: Start by placing yourself in the role of the engineer/developer/creator. Imagine yourself using the tools and resources your company affords you to design and build this product. Is the engineering as resourceful as it should be? Then place yourself in the role of manufacturer. Are the components as well constructed as they should be? Then move to the marketer’s chair. Is the distribution channel as effective in delivering the product, and the marketing and advertising as effective in driving awareness and crafting a value proposition, as they can be? Then become a user once again. Do you have in your hands something worth using for the tasks you had in mind for it?

Everything is equally important. You can’t say otherwise and yet, with the same breath, associate yourself with the mastery of the product lifecycle currently exhibited by Apple. No other company at present is as skilled or adept in marshaling every one of these critical aspects.

If you believe that Apple succeeds by virtue of its engineering, then by default, you’ve conceded the importance of specs. Every element of iPad engineering is important in the Apple lifecycle, including the choice of components.

Dead

The question then becomes, should a publication make a recommendation based on a parts list alone? Well, if you take a look at The Verge story once again, you’ll notice it didn’t actually do that. It simply put the specs of four devices in (very well laid out) columns. In that limited respect, this article does perform a service. And it put a clear indicator at the end that a product review was forthcoming.

As for Consumer Reports, it made an open recommendation against the iPhone 4 – which some sources now believe to be the best-selling smartphone premiere in history – and for the iPhone 4S, in both cases citing product specs and comparative features in its decision. Picking up on the general tone of condemnation for CR’s “wrong call,” TechCrunch’s Siegler believes both incidents demonstrate the uselessness of specs in rendering product recommendations; in both cases, he says, customers will follow their instincts and their hearts.

Now, let’s think about this for a moment. Should a product review be an assessment of its engineering excellence and performance superiority, or rather a prediction of which one will prevail in the market? Imagine if CR took the blogger route: “Consumers’ Union recommends you purchase the iPhone 4S,” its review would read. “Although we subjected all devices to rigorous scrutiny, let’s face it, you don’t really care. You’re going to buy the product with the Apple logo on it because it’s not really about technology anyway, it’s about fashion. I mean, imagine reading a software review where instead of us telling you you’re going to buy it anyway, we sat there with a stopwatch and timed every transaction it performed. Who would want to read a bunch of boring nonsense about programming and memory latency and antenna attenuation, when what you really want to know is, does it play Angry Birds or not?”

Alive

This just in: Specs have never determined the outcome of a device’s popularity, sales figures, or overall usage. If they did, the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the IBM PC XT, the Motorola RAZR, and Microsoft Internet Explorer would never have been milestones in our history.

But the Web has room to inform and educate, and there’s absolutely no excuse for omitting some element that may not be pertinent to most readers’ criteria – or may not yet be pertinent due to lack of proper explanation. If The Verge did anything wrong, it was just to blurt its comparison chart out there in a random fashion. It would have been more pertinent in the context of a greater comparison that measured not only end user experiences and perceived performance levels, but included a parts teardown as well.

If the Web is supposed to be so open, then why can’t Web publishers produce all the information they can about a subject, and let the reader decide what’s important?

Source: The Death, Rebirth, Re-death, and Re-rebirth of Specs

On Second Thought

May 22nd, 2011 05:21 admin View Comments

Here’s why I’m glad I was wrong about RSS being dead. The latest evidence of that comes from Jesse Stay who reported a week or so ago that both Facebook and Twitter had discontinued RSS streams or something like that. I really didn’t bother to read up on the details since it’s now years since I gave up on the stuff. These days I obsess about Lady GaGa and whether Brian Wilson’s version of Good Vibrations is better than the one with Mike Love and when Ustream is finally going to stream live to the iPad and why some apps only stream audio over AirPlay and turn the AirPlay icon blue instead of white.

And then Jesse Stay apparently convinced his friends at Facebook to reconsider and reinstate RSS. In so doing, Facebook instantly removed any further conversation about RSS. This includes no further references to the famous Monty Python dead parrot sketch, the Franco is still dead SNL running gag, various tech dead memes (Office, Notes, Windows, links, FriendFeed, Sun, FlipCam, PointCast, the ASP model, laptops, podcasting, TV, email), and all synonyms, most importantly Toast.

Also, cough, dead are the arguments about whether things are dead: how can something that isn’t or wasn’t ever alive be dead, how can ______ be dead when there are 35 billion copies out there, you’re a moron, and the time honored [Blocked]. That last one as in, I haven’t been following that since Dave blocked me a few years ago. You see, Dave not only invented RSS — he invented all the arguments about it. Shutting down comments — Dave. Opening up comments and then blocking those who disagree — Dave.

But luckily Dave also created a fantastic way of identifying viral social media startups. It’s a variation on the rationale for following someone you disagree vehemently with as a good indicator of how to do the opposite. With Dave, that signal is the classification of a company as proprietary. I’d argue with the impossibility of finding a company that by definition wasn’t proprietary; if not, then what is it, an idea, a random assemblage, a line for the bathroom at a sporting event?

But arguing that is no longer possible given the Death of Dead memes and their corollary arguments. Nonetheless, if Dave argues that Twitter or Facebook or Google or Apple or (used to be) Microsoft is locking us in the trunk of corporate control and forcing us to rent our data back, there is a remarkable correlation with stock price, acquisition likelihood, Hollywood movie interest, and general hockey stick velocity up and to the right. Another powerful indicator is failed attempts by Dave to build on said platform followed by disillusionment.

But why have I suddenly several paragraphs ago declared I was wrong about RSS being dead? Am I just looking for a cheap laugh at Dave’s expense? Certainly not, because having noticed the decline has caused me no end of grief, not the least of which is incurring the permanent wrath of someone I’ve admired and appreciated for all of the incredible things he’s contributed to making our lives better. These things, once broken are pretty much impossible to repair.

But since I have no hope of changing Dave’s mind, or the minds of the 50 percent who disagree with the notion that Twitter and URL shortening have pushed RSS back in the stack, why quit now? Simple. I’ve come to the conclusion that saying RSS is dead is dead. If saying something so obvious can be so divisive, then it’s time to move on. Besides it means M.G. Siegler has one less instant post to pull out of his hat on a monthly basis.

What will a world look like without RSS being dead? No more innovation crushing. We’ll see RSS Track in short order, river of news auto-filtering harvesting the RSS social graph, RSS open location services, RSSflix, the RSStore. RSSmail. The RSS Push Notification Open Server. RSSmic and RSSDeck will merge and acquire UbeRSS. bit.ly will be renamed simp.ly.

Other benefits are less obvious. With no Facebook/Google war for social, PR agencies will have no clients asking them to do sleazy Nixonian dirty tricks. No Suggested Friends Lists means no conflicts of interest. Media content will immediately glisten in the glow of transparency and lack of ethical conflicts. Lawyers will bid for work on Groupon. President Sheen will win on a platform of Let’s Just See What Happens. Lady Gaga will headline RSSrupt with her latest hit Reborn This Way.

I know you’re sick of this RSS is dead thing too, but at the time I first wrote about it, the world was in need of a disruptive meme. Now, with FaceTime erasing the miles between family, friends, and getting work done, with media churning into a new reality we don’t quite understand, with being social not just an adventure but a job, it’s time to let the old go and the new in. So I won’t be talking about RSS being dead anymore. I was wrong. It has never been more alive, if it were possible for ideas to be alive and bits to be viral. As Paul Simon sings, So Beautiful and So What.

Source: On Second Thought

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