Category Archives: technology

Is Net Neutrality on the line?

All bloggers, writers, media professionals or anyone else using their online presence to do business should keep a close eye on what The New York Times reported yesterday: That Google and Verizon may be close to making a deal whose effects could dash the whole idea of Net Neutrality:

“At issue for consumers is how the companies that provide the pipeline to the Internet will ultimately direct traffic on their system, and how quickly consumers are able to gain access to certain Web content. Consumers could also see continually rising bills for Internet service, much as they have for cable television.”

The concern for content creators, as well as consumers, is that corporate media that already uses branding and professional search engine optimization advantages could push independent sources further on the fringes, marginalizing if not outright silencing a variety of voices on the Web that haven’t existed in old media. Northeastern University communications professor Dan Kennedy, hardly a Chicken Little commentator, calls this “The closing of the Internet:”

“Net neutrality is the baseline requirement for diverse, independent media. Those of us who spent years railing against corporate media consolidation have been pleasantly surprised, as numerous little guys — including significant players at the international, national and local levels — have been able to make their voices heard.

“Along with the advent of closed systems such as Apple’s iPad and iPhone, the demise of net neutrality could mark the beginning of the end of this media explosion, and a return to business as usual.”

Google, which has been an advocate for Net Neutrality, says the Times report is wrong; CEO Eric Schmidt, by the way, has been a technology advisor to the Obama Administration, which supports Net Neutrality. The Federal Communications Commission has called off what had been private discussions with Google and Verizon in wake of the revelation of the meetings. Self-described “Google fan boy” Jeff Jarvis has some conflicted thoughts.

Some critics, like tech writer Henry Blodget, claim this isn’t about Net Neutrality but rather the ability of Internet Service Providers to charge what they can for premium traffic:

“Net-neutrality zealots don’t own pipe companies. They haven’t spent billions of dollars building the networks that carry all those bits around.  They HAVE spent (collectively) billions of dollars building the bits that get carried around–so of course they’d like to keep that bit-carrying as cheap as possible.

“In other words, it’s obvious why most of the net neutrality folks are humping for net neutrality: Because it’s in their economic self-interest to do so.  And there’s nothing wrong with humping for your economic self-interest: Everyone in this country does it all day long.”

Ditto for Jeff Eisenach on the conservative Daily Caller, pointing out that private investment has fueled much of the growth of broadband. Much of this issue, in fact, hinges on whether the FCC has the authority to regulate broadband services.

On complicated matters like these I generally defer to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has its own concerns about how the FCC has gone about this piece of business.

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Thoughts on redefining journalism, Part 2

A recent commenter on a post I wrote here some time ago clarified some thoughts I was trying to make on “redefining journalism” by reminding me it wasn’t necessary to go that far:

“In my opinion it isn’t a matter of ‘redefining’ journalism. The definition hasn’t changed.

“It is, as has been somewhat indicated, a matter of changing how we pursue and execute the craft.”

Last week Salon co-founder and “Say Everything” author Scott Rosenberg laid out one of the most succinct definitions of who’s a journalist, and what it means to be doing journalism today. It might make traditionalists squirm, but it’s not a redefinition at all. Rather, it’s an understanding that what journalists have always done isn’t limited just to those of us who’ve done it for a living.

It’s one of several compelling media and journalism pieces I’ve been reading in recent days and excerpt below:

No more bouncers at the journalism club door:

“The law should stop trying to protect journalists, and instead protect acts of journalism. Any time someone is pursuing an accurate and timely account of some event to present to some public, he or she should be protected by the law in whatever ways we now protect professional journalists.”

How to Save the News:

“A decade ago, Jon Stewart was not known for political commentary. The news business has continually been reinvented by people in their 20s and early 30s—Henry Luce when he and Briton Hadden founded Timemagazine soon after they left college, John Hersey when he wrote Hiroshima at age 32. Bloggers and videographers are their counterparts now. If the prospect is continued transition rather than mass extinction of news organizations, that is better than many had assumed. It requires an openness to the constant experimentation that Google preaches and that is journalism’s real heritage.”

The Atlantic’s James Fallows demystifies — without coming across as too much of a fanboy — Google’s experiments to bolster journalism online. Fallows goes beyond interviewing the usual Holy Trinity of Google executives — Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergey Brin — and talks to the engineers, former journalists and others in the Google trenches. A very long piece, but worth taking some time to read and absorb.

Do journalists need to learn to be programmers? Yes and no:

“I think the ability to mark-up some HTML and understand why <span>, <div>, classes and IDs are important for CSS and Javascript is essential for anyone publishing on the web.

“But my answer is that no, journalists don’t all need to be able to write programs, but the ability to think like a programmer is an invaluable skill.

London-based information architect Martin Belam, who’s been a developer for The Guardian’s lauded website, offers a relieving thought to former print hacks like me who are overwhelmed merely by dabbling in this stuff. Still, there’s a big jump in conceptual thinking involved here that goes far beyond mastering basic HTML and CSS.

What Web Media Can Learn From Print:

“When you hear someone say they like ‘holding” a paper in their hands what they really mean is that reading online sucks. It doesn’t have to be that way. The most popular news sites on the Web look horrible and do little to promote actual reading. It amazes me that when pundits talk about the fact that people skim instead of read online that they assume that that can’t change.”

Web designer Bud Parr says Web publishers who can create a better online reading experience will thrive. But we’re not there yet. Not by a long shot.

Discerning views about the digiterati

One of the biggest developments in the five-plus years since I first began my digital media education in a serious manner is learning how to better evaluate the claims of those I like to call the “digiterati” — especially when they sound absolutist.

I’m generally bullish on the Web, particularly as it applies to the journalism profession. Being among the tens of thousands of those having joined the print diaspora, I know the transformation will take years and decades, and may not save many of us who are mid-career journalists.

On other topics related to the Web, such as the evolution of open societies, for example, I cannot offer a more informed opinion. But that hasn’t stopped some in the digiterati from claiming that democracy is on the march. This is not the case everywhere, as Evgeny Morozov explained recently in “The Digital Dictatorship,” revealing a rather big hole in the ideology of those he has labeled the “techno-utopians:”

“. . . while the American public is actively engaged in a rich and provocative debate about the Internet’s impact on our own society — asking how new technologies affect our privacy or how they change the way we read and think — we gloss over such subtleties when talking about the Internet’s role in authoritarian countries. . . . While we fret about the Internet’s contribution to degrading the civic engagement of American kids, all teenagers in China or Iran are presumed to be committed and engaged global citizens who use the Web to acquaint themselves with human rights violations committed by their governments.”

I recalled Morozov’s argument this week when I was catching up on news about the release of iPad. There’s unhappiness within the techno-utopian set about what some have heatedly labeled a not-so-shiny new toy. All of which made Nick Carr, my favorite critic of the digiterati, rather gleeful:

“Progress may, for a time, intersect with one’s own personal ideology, and during that period one will become a gung-ho technological progressivist. But that’s just coincidence. In the end, progress doesn’t care about ideology. Those who think of themselves as great fans of progress, of technology’s inexorable march forward, will change their tune as soon as progress destroys something they care deeply about.”

Some like to accuse “old media” of getting too comfortable with their own value systems that blind them to what’s happening to the public they serve. Carr calls out the digiterati for the same offense.

Some of the “geek gods” — his term — have gotten so carried away with their own technological worldviews that they don’t consider that many outside of their realm may not want what they do from a new device.

Not everybody wants to be a content creator. Not all are constantly flushed with the compulsion to be all multimedia, all the time, and always, always, to be connected.

Sometimes we just want to sit back and be the audience for a while.

I don’t know what to make of the iPad because I haven’t held one in my hands and played with it. But this might be the invention that gets my 74-year-old mother to ditch her badly outdated WebTV (yes, she still has WebTV!) to surf and check e-mail more easily and conveniently.

Not everything that comes on the market is designed for the “thought leaders,” those so offended by what the iPad represents that in one instance shipping the “Bizarro Trojan Horse” back to Apple was the only appropriate thing to do.

Their certitude and bluster is no different than that of tough-minded literary and restaurant critics. Maybe they’ll be right about the iPad.

But I do find it ironic that those who like to snort at middle-brow technology users have given up on something before it’s been widely sold, or has undergone upgrades and improvements.

Perhaps I’ve been following the digiterati long enough to be better able to discern when they’re dispensing something of value and when they’re just full of hot air.

But when far too many of them sound like overgrown, impulsive, perpetually disappointed teenage boys — not many females here — I tend to think what what they’re serving up is more of the latter.

Happy happy gobble gobble

Just wishing everyone observing the American Thanksgiving a very good, peaceful, restful and enjoyable holiday.

I’m still burrowed in the work of launching a sports site I’ve mentioned here before, and hope to finish that in the coming days.

My posting here has been more sporadic than I intended as I work on that project, but I want to return to more active blogging as soon as possible. There’s been a lot going on in the journalism and media realms, as usual, and there’s so much I want to explore when I get the time.

So my thanks to you for your patience.

In the meantime, help yourself to some links on journalism, media and work, plus some miscellany, that have caught my eye on the fly . . .

Walt Disney vs. the news industry: How bad management is killing newspapers and their websites (Online Journalism Review)

Journalism, Technology Starting to Add Up (MediaShift Idea Lab)

How Demand Media’s Business Model Can be Applied to Niche Sites (Poynter)

Reinvention: Now the job requirement for Boomer women (Vibrant Woman)

It’s Not the Recession, You Just Suck (Outspoken Media via Mike Wells)

Local Bookstores, Social Hubs, and Mutualization (Clay Shirky)

Coffeehouses: Bringing the buzz back (Wall Street Journal via Evgeny Morozov)

 

 

Twitter goes down, the world Tweets anyway

While waiting for my social media crack supply to be replenished today, I found out I’m hardly alone in my Twitter cravings. The problem, in a nutshell: It was possible to post and the search function worked, but timelines weren’t available. And quite a few people, myself included, were down to 0 followers and were following nobody.

A random sampling of the reaction taken during my lunch break (otherwise I did get a lot done during the outage!):

Twitter Is Frozen, which is many signs of the apocalypse

TWITTER IS FROZEN ON MY BDAY. how cruel.

Wtf wat is dit met Twitter?

じわじわ表示されてくる<Twitterフォロー中のつぶやきみれない

Trying to figure out twitter! Wondering if its better than facebook

Hello!!!!!!!! hello helloo helloo helloo! wow there is nobody but my own Twitter-Eco

I’m reasonably sure I just broke Twitter

Quelle horreur! Twitter is frozen!

Is it me or is twitter having a wobbly?

Meu twitter não está atualizando nada!!!

Is Twitter twatted or did everyone go very quiet?

O Twitter tá bizarro hoje.

Why is Twitter quiet? COULDN’T BE: people have lives, internet slow, lazy day. MUST BE: end of the world (except Utah) Welcome to my brain.

ทวิตเมื่อสองชั่วโมงที่แล้วเพิ่งโผล่มา Twitter ท้องผูก?

Irgendwie bekomme ich keine Updates mehr von den Menschen den ich folge. Ist Twitter mal wieder kaputt?

hey twitter, stop being douchey.

Twitter is hier stuk.

twitter ta bugado ?

what have i missed? why has miley deleted her twitter?

twitter is goin bi polar on us maaaan!!

@twitter, @twitter, @twitter, @twitter can ya hear me?

fuckk twitter. im going back to bed.

Twitter needs that thumbs up thing.

just said to a friend, I might actually have to talk to hubby tonight if twitter is down

Twitter “What were you doing 2 hours ago?”

is anybody out there or is twitter being an arse?

Has just discovered twitter, help?!!

pourquoi je ne reçois rien sur twitter ????

i feel me sooo damned alohoooone without my following peeps, dear mister @twitter

Twitter? Why are you dead today? I need amusement.

eating blueberry yogurt and emo’ing over a frozen twitter.

Twitter is frozen. Does this mean we have to go outside and actually socialize with, like, people?

Is Twitter still ackin’ all janky!?

Twitter Is Frozen – just like the rams offensive line for the past two years!!

is there a twitter strike??

Tired and a headache, but it doesn’t look like I’m leaving the office any time soon. Not that you care twitter, you’re not even listening!

Uhhhh Twitter Is Frozen because of stupid Miley!!! I really hate her so much!

Twitter is frozen because Kanye interrupted it.

Readings: The Web at 40, and how we’re still kids

I’ll admit it: I’m looking forward to a good long Labor Day respite, and so are you. So I’ll post some really good links here on a Thursday that I usually save for weekend reading. Will return on Tuesday after I get off the griddle for a few days (and I really mean it this time).

The first connection between two computers in September 1969 was a quiet event, eclipsed by such events as Woodstock. Now, some of my fellow aging Baby Boomers are trying to come to grips with the Web and all that it has wrought before we head for the rocking chairs.

What has become a major life-changing event for many of us in the media fields took place right after Richie Havens played his bongos on an upstate New York farm, Richard Nixon summoned the silent majority to speak up, a car careened off a bridge on Chappaquiddick and two men walked on the moon. There was a lot going on.

Various overview thoughts on the Web at early middle age here, here, and here, plus some goodies about the Web and digital life below that have many of us feeling like rebellious teenagers in the face of it all:

The Web Does Not Equal More Civic Engagement: “The impact of these new tools on the future of online political involvement depends in large part upon what happens as this younger cohort of ‘digital natives’ gets older. Are we witnessing a generational change or a life-cycle phenomenon that will change as these younger users age? Will the civic divide close, or will rapidly evolving technologies continue to leave behind those with lower levels of education and income?”

Bill would give President emergency control of Internet: “Rockefeller’s revised legislation seeks to reshuffle the way the federal government addresses the topic. It requires a ‘cybersecurity workforce plan’ from every federal agency, a ‘dashboard’ pilot project, measurements of hiring effectiveness, and the implementation of a ‘comprehensive national cybersecurity strategy’ in six months–even though its mandatory legal review will take a year to complete.”

The erosion of privacy in the Internet era: “Do we want to live in a society where the government can—regardless of whether they use the power or not—have access to all of our communications? So that they can, if they feel the need, drill down and find us?”

Multitaskers beware: your divided attention comes at a price: “Heavy multitaskers tended to be more readily distracted by extraneous information than their more focused peers. That doesn’t mean that multitasking is a total loss, as there may be benefits that weren’t tested in this study, but it does make the case that heavy multitaskers might want to consider the limits of their habits.”

Why Studies About Multitasking Are Missing The Point: “I reject the notion that media is a stream of soulless ‘content’ that I am ‘consuming’. As a result, I read differently than than someone who simply wants to scan the headlines. An article may cause me to look something up, and I read that, and I need to let some inchoate idea at the back of my mind bubble for a day before taking any measurable action.”

Sentiment Analysis Takes the Pulse of the Internet: “Social media used to be this cute project for 25-year-old consultants. Now, top executives are recognizing it as an incredibly rich vein of market intelligence.”

‘Social Networking’; Give me a break: “Granted, there are people spending too much time on social media, just as others 10 years ago spent too much time surfing the Web, or using AIM. I’m old enough to remember people who spent the entire morning pouring over every word in a newspaper sports section, or checking their stocks. Those who are non-productive in the workplace are obvious, whether they are addicted to Twitter or online puzzles. Why should companies spoil it for everyone else?”

How Twitter saved my career . . . and my life: “Over the course of my unemployment, my Twitter account grew from roughly 2,000 followers to more than 5,000, and it was undoubtedly these impressive numbers and a demonstrated knowledge of the power of social media that played a role in my hiring and differentiated me from others with similar skills.”

A history of blogging, and why it matters: “I am now one of them, although, like half of registered bloggers, I rarely update. As such, I can attest it’s possible to accept blogging with neither cynicism nor Rosenberg’s unequivocal enthusiasm. Blogging is time-consuming no matter what your profession, and if you happen to be in the business of selling your intellectual and creative capital, giving it away free can be a mystifying and maddening expectation.”

Race to Be an Early Adopter Goes Mainstream: “There’s really no group out of the tech loop. America is becoming a digital nation. Technology adoption continues to roll along, picking up more and more mainstream consumers every year.”

Readings: Garrulous Luddites, hyperlocal hyperventilating, going viral and the joys of vinyl

Arts journalist Bill Wyman’s tough-minded series on Splice Today this week about “Why Newspapers Are Failing” leads off a weekend long-form reading list on topics related to journalism, the media and the Web.

In his first installment, Wyman takes his own profession to task for being too sentimental and naïve about the newspaper industry while ignoring the habits, assumptions and practices that have led to its steep decline:

“If the media doesn’t understand the issues that have actually put it into the precarious position it’s in, how can it survive?”

In the series finale Wyman — who for a while worked at my former newspaper as well as Salon and NPR — says newspaper journalists need to ditch their institutional timidity as well as the “garrulous Ludditism” that too many still hold dear:

“The attitude ate journalism away from the inside in two ways: It put journalists physically and psychologically out of touch with society and hampered its coverage; and it devolved into a head-in-the-sand response to the challenges facing the industry. . . . The truth is, newsroom staffs are permeated with fear of change and a discomfort with new technology.”

Wyman eviscerates newspaper Web sites, which he says serve their companies at the expense of readers, and offers up some suggestions for improvement that I really wonder will ever be followed:

“Serve the community. Don’t publish crap. Tell folks stuff they might not want to hear. Grow a pair.”

• Wyman isn’t the first to suggest that news organizations go “hyperlocal” as they reinvent themselves. Online journalism gurus have long been hailing this approach as a surefire way to replace what’s draining out of daily newspapers. But Fast Company’s Michael Gluckstadt casts a gimlet eye, because of previously failed advertising models as well as the constant evangelizing:

“The future of hyperlocal — according to the people who have studied, lived, and championed it — seems to be in convincing others that hyperlocal is the future.”

• But hyperlocal creators are carrying on in a myriad of ways, and in some cases are spreading their wings. The brand new San Diego News Network appreciates its citizen bloggers providing gratis contributions. But it’s wagering its success on paid professional journalists to provide substantive community reporting:

“Blogging is interesting, but it’s like whipped cream on apple pie. If you only had whipped cream, you’d get clogged arteries and drop dead.”

• Bill Wasik, author of a forthcoming book about “viral culture,” is at once excited about the frantic nature of Web opportunities for young creatives and wary of the fleeting drawbacks that can accompany them:

“Online, the audience can be yours right away, direct and unmediated — if you can figure out how to find it and, what’s harder, to keep it. . . . ‘Microcelebrity’ is now the rule, with respect not only to the size of one’s fan base but also to the duration of its love. Believe it or not, the Internet is a tougher town than New York; fewer people make it here, but no one there seems to make it for long.”

• Nick Carr has been discussing Wasik’s book, and particularly in the context of these music-on-demand times:

“The problem with the Web, as I see it, is that it imposes, with its imperialistic iron fist, the ‘ecstatic surfing’ behavior on everything and to the exclusion of other modes of experience (not just for how we listen to music, but for how we interact with all media once they’ve been digitized). . . .

“It’s the deep, attentive engagement that the Web is draining away, as we fill our iTunes library with tens of thousands of ‘tracks’ at little or no cost. What the Web tells us, over and over again, is that breadth destroys depth. Just hit Shuffle.”

• Alex Ross, the classical music critic of The New York Times, like Carr, is no Luddite. But he felt the same way after scarfing up some of the best digital offerings he could find on the Web:

“But these meandering journeys across the Internet soundscape can be taxing. The medium too easily generates anxiety in place of fulfillment, an addictive cycle of craving and malaise. No sooner has one experience begun than the thought of what else is out there intrudes. Putting on an old-fashioned disk and letting it play to the end restores a measure of sanity. This may explain why the archaic LP is enjoying an odd surge of popularity among younger listeners: it’s a modest rebellion against the tyranny of instant access.”