Category Archives: iSIGHTINGS

… scouting media and the connected culture …

The future is, um, sigh, devoured by the present

Start the week off right and consider the big issues and ideas that will define your future and our shared future. Start with a good laugh, or a good cry. In either case, start here with Charlie Rose. Charlie is a well-known interviewer on US public television. Charlie once said, according to the CharlieRose.com “beta” web site, “I believe there is a place in the spectrum of television for really good conversation, if it is informed, spirited, soulful.”
Here is “Charlie Rose by Samuel Beckett.”

Thanks for the link from Scott Heiferman, who got it from ZeFrank, and thanks most of all to the editor, filmmaker Andrew Filippone Jr.

New leadership for Creative Commons and new anti-corruption project for Lessig

Tech entrepreneur Joi Ito is the new CEO of Creative Commons, the alternative copyright licensing organization that has spawned widespread sharing and reuse of digital content and educational materials – like course lecture notes available for free from MIT. The founder of Creative Commons, Stanford Law School professor Lawrence Lessig, has moved on to a new project, Change Congress, which describes itself as a movement to increase transparency in the US government’s legislative branch. So far it appears to be an online pledge campaign around a set of commitments, like “Don’t take money from lobbyists and political action commiteees.” The approach is different, but the mission sounds to me awfully similar to the Sunlight Foundation, which “serves as a catalyst to create greater political transparency and to foster more openness and accountability in government.” More about the Creative Commons changes and $4 million in new funding from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation via Joi Ito’s blog.

The We Media News Gap: Help dream up better journalism for Silicon Valley

What would you do to provide a better news service for your community? Or for any community? David Cohn, one of our We Media Fellows at this year’s We Media Miami conference, is trying to ferret out good ideas for one community, San Jose, California, from an obvious source: people who live there.

On April 19 he’s ripping a page from the tech world and organizing an “unconference” to help the San Jose Mercury News talk with and learn from, well, anyone. He’s calling the effort CopyCamp, an homage to BarCamp and FooCamp, events for software developers and techies without a fixed agenda. They set an agenda, then try to come up with brilliant ideas, new code or at least new friends.

What brilliant ideas, new code or new friends might CopyCampers come up with?
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Can we all get along (via YouTube)?

Jordan’s Queen Rania is answering questions about stereotypes of the Arab World on YouTube. She says “I want people to know the real Arab world, to see it unedited, unscripted and unfiltered, to see the personal side of my region, to know the places and faces and rituals and cultures that shape the part of the world that I call home.”

Here’s one response: A pleasant photo-video montage, set to a Natalie Merchant song, Carnival.

Analysis: If she’s going to be taken seriously, and have any impact, the beautiful queen, sans burka, is going to need to respond directly, rather than dismiss, the more challenging questions she fields about violence and rage in the Arab world – directed against women, the West, Jews and anyone who insults Islam, as seen here:
(WARNING: This has some disturbing images that are inappropriate for children)

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Conference Bay auctions from Singapore

From Singapore: Conference Bay, an eBay-style auction marketplace for buying seats at conferences worldwide.

Nothing new here, right? We all know about online auctions. The only innovation is applying a well-tested online transaction model to a different niche -  in this case a potentially high-value niche that may provide real utility – and new buying power – for a global audience. It’s worth comparing this service to another crowd-sourced approach to aggregating event information: Yahoo’s Upcoming, which is full of Yahoo’s social media goodness – and lots of free events, too. You can add comments, people, maps, etc.. But at the end of the day (and more than two years after Yahoo! purchased Upcoming), it’s a big list to promote events – but not to directly sell or determine pricing for seats.

Insight: Innovation happens everywhere.

I should also note: the We Media/connected/story-telling culture helped me find Conference Bay. Global Voices co-founder Ethan Zuckerman’s blog mentioned Solana Larson and the Global Voices crew that came to We Media Miami, and this popped up in our Technorati tracker for the wemedia tag. Someone named Anne from the Phillipines who knew or knew of Ethan commented in his blog – and I followed the link to Anne’s blog, then read down not only to see some familiar names and interests, but, reading down to the next post, a link to Conference Bay.

How We Media can save us from Britney Spears

jordinsparks.jpgLast night while watching the NAACP’s Image Awards, I began thinking about the connections between my personal guilty pleasure, American Idol, and my professional passion, We Media. When the preternaturally talented Jordin Sparks took the stage for an Aretha Franklin tribute, I felt some strange sense of connection with Sparks, the way you feel about someone you went to high school with who is now famous.

Maybe that’s because I did know-her-when: Watching all of American Idol Season Six, I saw Sparks rise from her first audition to her win over beat-box-boy Blake Lewis in Hollywood last spring. In other words, I felt involved in her stardom. And even though I never pick up the phone to vote for Idol contestants (it’s not a civic duty, is it?), I liked Sparks and felt she earned her stardom: America literally did vote her into “office.”

This morning, Britney Spears crossed my mind (I was contemplating working mothers who have breakdowns,) and my first thought was: “Who elected her to be a star?” Then I laughed, remembering that, in fact, entertainment superstars are not elected. All of a sudden that seemed wrong: If you put “unelected” in front of anything — judges, superdelegates — they start to sound a little nefarious.

britney.jpgWhen I think of Britney Spears prancing around in her sexy school-girl outfit in Baby One More Time I do think she’s somewhat nefarious — especially when compared to the restrained teen-aged beauty of Jordin Sparks.

That’s when I started thinking about We Media: Could it be that when Americans get to vote on their pop stars guided by expert advice,(read: pro-am collaboration,) they choose talented, often-beautiful people but avoid super-sexed icons? Of course there are have various minor scandals about Idol contestants with their breasts bared (poor Antonella Barba discovered the dark side of the connected society,) but when I think about the American Idol winners and runners-up as a group, they are a notably wholesome bunch.

So is there a moral here? That the way to clean up entertainment is to make it participatory? All I know is, when it comes to teen-aged stars, I’d vote for Sparks over Spears any day.

iFOCOS Media Intelligence Report Launched

We’re please to announce a new service for members of the We Media Community. The iFOCOS Media Intelligence Report is a periodic review of key trends, ideas and issues in media, along with analysis of what these findings mean for the connected society.

In the new Intelligence Report we’ll consider trends in media and their implications from a variety of perspectives (enterprise, social, creative, investment, culture, technology). As usual, the analysis reflects our broad definition of We Media – the world in which everyone and every institution is media.

The report will be made available first to members of the We Media Community – so if you still haven’t joined, now there’s additional reason to make the modest investment as an individual or corporate member. You can learn more about membership here.

The report joins our iSIGHTINGS blog, which includes faster “realtime” analysis and findings. The Intelligence Report is a longer-form PDF, with more reflective synthesis of what we see and what it means – and it’s also more visual than our blog. We hope you’ll find value in both and appreciate the difference between the two.

The first edition of the Intelligence Report includes a recap of the Media Matrix Dale and I have have developed for our consulting and strategy projects, and thoughts on the Amazon Kindle, cell phone novels, the design dividend at CES, endowed social journalism – and more.

You can access and download the January 2008 issue here.

Wanted: Free labor

The social web depends on content, tagging and utility created or improved by the good will of the people formerly known as the audience.

Where does good will end and greed take over? That depends on whether you’re a giver or taker. Dan Gillmor at the Center for Citizen Media is bothered by the free labor scheme he sees in a corporate blog post about new features just announced at Reddit, a commercial recommendation service and competitor to Digg owned by the Newhouse family’s Conde Nast magazine group, which, along with Vogue, Glamour and Bon Appetite magazines, publishes Wired (which publishes various blogs, among which we find a recent report on a crowdsourced Shins video shot by fans).

Reddit is looking for programmers to hire – and volunteer translators. Dan is bothered by that explicit distinction of value – cash for coders, air kisses for translators.

The finger-wagging at Reddit raises this question: Is there a qualitative, ethical or rational distinction between Reddit’s overt and explicit request for help with its product, the result of which could be a more valuable service for whoever uses it, and the implied request for help from the multitude of platforms and conversation-fueled media – like Facebook, MySpace, Kos, PerezHilton – or from the non-profit competitor to Digg and Reddit – NewsTrust? (Disclosure – I advise NewsTrust). They all depend on user-supplied content, comments, tags and filtering to create any semblance of a business model. Is asking for free translations going too far? But asking for recommendations, evaluations, comments, photos or trackbacks is ok?

Comment: A backlash against uncompensated contributions to commercial media would be fun sport to watch. Imagine if millions of people decided to dump Facebook next week, just for spite.

Analysis: The hype around crowdsourcing leads, at times, to visions of an open-source digital utopia in which everything online is produced for free by righteous individuals who donate their writing, editing, video, photo, coding, translation or whatever skills to virtuous, free, universally accessible, multi-lingual projects that are made better through the collective intelligence and will of said crowd. Professionals, meaning pay is involved, not necessarily skill, fade to black in this world. Though fantastical, the vision draws on the ancient sense of human connectedness. When people put their minds to it, anything is possible. Even Wikipedia. Indeed, the principle of shared, linked intelligence – through hyperlinks – is the bedrock of the web itself.

The ideal of digital collaboration – all for one and one for all – degrades to a more distopian tragedy when for-profit companies try to persuade unpaid contributors to expand, enhance and add value to their services. AOL built its chat-driven empire on the backs of volunteer chat moderators. But recruiting volunteers to work hard and well for your benefit isn’t easy. Commercial failures in volunteer-dependent hyper-local journalism come to mind – Dan Gillmor’s Bayosphere, for one, followed by Backfence. But so do commercial survivors, like delicious, MySpace and YouTube.

Forecast: The crowd will continue to create AND contribute – on its own terms, when and where it feels like it makes sense. Asking for help may at times appear selfish. The willingness to offer it reflects our yearning to link with and help each other.

We are all big brother (aka – The Scarlet Letter Revisited)

Facebook and other social networks are a new tool for citizen-powered justice. See, for instance, Witness Hub, which focuses the tools of media – video cameras and web video -  to document, draw attention to and underscore campaigns against human rights abuses worldwide.  But social justice is in the eye of the beholder. Recently a U.S. college student accused of sexual assault was "outed" by an angry online mob, via Facebook. The story of online mob justice foreshadows an impending wave of conflicts between individuals – some expecting privacy based on old notions of legal process and personal space, others dispensing with those traditions in favor of new power expressed through digital networks and zeal. Media ethics suddenly applies to everyone, which means everyone can think about media practices in the most personal of terms: When do I name names, when do I use anonymous sources, when do I strip away your normal expectations of privacy? In the age of the digital everything, we are all big brother.

See: Sex Charges and a Facebook Frenzy in Newsweek.com

Noted: NYTimes invests in WordPress

It’s a widely used open-source blog platform with enormous potential for future growth and evolution – and some think it’s a viable alternative to Facebook-style social networking. (It’s running this site).

Analysis: News companies remain painfully focused on their internal woes and remarkably disengaged from investments in innovative new opportunities. The New York Times Co., which purchased About.com several years ago, can’t compete against News Corp. or other giants for high profile mega-deals. It may wind up being acquired in such a deal. But like other newspaper companies it can use its cashflow and capital for shrewd strategic investments focused on the distributed, networked information and creation culture (as opposed to the closed one-way monopoly markets of old).

Source: NYTimes.

Culture Watch: Gore and Google at Davos, and How To Be a Soulja Boy

You could and probably should dive into Jeff Jarvis’s reports from this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, where the theme is Innovation. I  found his report on an exchange between Al Gore and Google Foundation head Larry Brilliant extraordinary in revealing the amoral flaw of Google’s famous "do no evil" mantra. Moderator Thomas Friedman of The New York Times asks Brilliant what Google is doing to help influence the response to global warming. Brilliant says that Google’s role is to get information to people, as much information as they can.

Gore replies from the audience: “That’s the way the world used to work. The world doesn’t work that way anymore." Gore implies a theme he outlined in much greater detail at our very first We Media conference – that the nature of public discourse is strangely disconnected from the challenges society should be confronting. At the time the context was the bizarre disconnect between what news reports told the world about weapons of mass destruction and the rationale for the invasion of Iraq – and the truth (oops, no WMDs, sorry). The provocative question Gore is obviously still thinking about: What should media companies with enormous influence on public opinion and policy – including Google – do to make sure we have access not simply to lots of information, but to the most important information – and that we don’t simple access it but do something about it?

Meanwhile, back on earth … you could and probably should also check out what’s really been on people’s minds (more than 25 million views on YouTube): Soulja Boy Tellem – How to Crank That – INSTRUCTIONAL VIDEO!

Amid the chaos, the Digital Everything arrives

Five years ago we boldly forecast the “Digital Everything,” a future where information, communications, entertainment, business, home life, transportation and the interconnected pieces of personal, daily living are conducted in an always-on mediascape.

That future arrived in Las Vegas this week at the Consumer Electronics Show. It comes to your homes, offices, vehicles, and life spaces in weeks and months ahead.

While the show lacked a must-have, wow product – no Apple iPhone or Nintendo Wii – it packed a more powerful punch this year. Most of the thousands of products introduced or displayed in nearly two million feet of exhibition space represented incremental improvements or significant technical advances that enhance what is known as the consumer experience. The aggregate impact is mind-boggling.

Put all the high-tech enhancements together and you’ve got climate change. The products introduced at CES represent billions of dollars in annual sales. More significantly they are a response to, and an indicator of, consumer behaviors in transition. This year’s show is a tipping point for all things digital.

Coming at you: richer information, sharper images, bigger sound and elaborate functionality all designed around individual preferences. Your stuff becomes a signature for who you are. You control an array of capabilities streaming from communications devices, music players, high-def screens, sound systems, cameras, kitchen appliances, game consoles, electronic toys, clothing, jewelry, automobiles, massage chairs and Internet services. All from your personal comfort zone.

And everything looks so cool. The new models seem to have been inspired by the iPhone and Design Within Reach. Black and thin remain the vogue, but stark white environments with bold red or orange highlights are 2008 chic. The marriage of sophisticated form and function in an era that owes to the pocket-protector crowd marks a turning point for digital electronics. Product designers and marketers have applied the Design Dividend – the ten-fold financial advantage that well designed, leading-edge products have over dowdy competitors.

Over-stimulation denies a more temperate perspective. CES is over-the-top noise, hoopla and confusion – a lot like life in 2008. Press releases and briefings come by the hour. Deal-making is round-the-clock. About 150,000 of your closest friends, all afflicted with A.D.D., bounce through the cavernous exhibition halls like balls in a pachinko machine. Amid dazzling electronics and endless arrays of monitors flashing color-saturated images, the shilling is hypnotic. Everyone seems on the verge of a seizure from information overload. By comparison the scene in Vegas’ casinos is positively soothing.

We were all eyes, ears and senses. Through our filter, additional matters of consequence at CES:

Content. Organizers billed this year’s event as a content show and touted partnerships between hardware developers and content providers such as media, cable and phone companies. But the sizzle exceeded the steak. Few products showcased meaningful content or innovative information interfaces. The promise of immersive, quality content that truly enhances knowledge and understanding remains unfulfilled. Opportunity looms for content providers to fill a void in the vast space across digital platforms and devices.

Digital rights. During a largely overlooked discussion on digital piracy at NBC’s booth, ISPs and aggregators conceded the time was right to start protecting copyrighted content at the network level. Digital filtering and fingerprinting techniques are in the works, largely aimed to protect the motion picture and recording industries.

Surface media. The new HDTV screens are ridiculous. You can lose yourself in Panasonic’s 150-inch screen, three times the size of the one that dominates my small, media room. Take back the wall. Light-sensitive panels will project broadcasts, art, photos, video and programmed information, all in high-definition, on walls. They’ll also sense and control environments in homes and offices. Touch-screen tabletop computers will replace coffee tables and those granite countertops in your kitchen.

The wife factor. Women are in charge. Mary Peskin, who has known that for years, immediately saw the influence of women in the consumer electronics on display. CES stats show that women make 40 percent of the buying decisions and influence another 21 percent. The new crop of flat panels from LG and Samsung feature rounded edges, clear plastic frames and red accents burned into the bezel – TVs that actually coordinate with the décor in the living room. The new computers are bright cases, not those putty-colored industrial designs of the past. Phillips’ new line of designer jewelry embeds personal data devices and music players.

A final forecast: I’ll be in trouble come Valentine’s Day if I can’t find the Swarovski-designed crystal pendant containing a USB flash drive.

Looking the wrong way

The U.S. agency that regulates broadcasting, the Federal Communications Commission , has finally decided to allow publishers to own both newspapers and broadcast stations in the biggest U.S. markets. No one is happy. Publishers don’t think the ruling goes far enough. Cable TV companies say it is anti-competitive. Public-interest groups forecast a new round of media consolidation that limits choice, erodes accountability and restricts public access. And Congress will investigate. All this over declining mediums whose owners are squeezing blood from rolling stones.

But the profound impact of the FCC decision is that it catches a world looking the wrong way. We ought to cast our scrutiny instead on a ruling by the agency that regulates trade. Last week the FTC — that’s the Federal Trade Commission — allowed Google’s $3.1 billion acquisition of Double Click. The ruling, which also requires approval by he European Union, will make it harder for media owners, and perhaps anyone, to compete in the place where the real money is flowing.

The Google acquisition will affect the future of American media by dominating, if not controlling, the way advertising is served on the Internet. By acquiring DoubleClick, Google takes an insurmountable leap by applying technology and knowledge to advertising and marketing. It has the potential to become the only place marketers will go to reach just about anybody.

Google deserves credit, and it has been handsomely rewarded, for a prescient vision about how media and marketing are changing. Its algorithms changed the way people search for information. Now it is changing the way advertising works. It’s secret weapon: the knowledge of us.

Google is currently amassing an enormous capacity for knowing who we are and what we do. It understands that consumers use all forms of media all the time, everywhere. With its unrivaled database, it intends to serve marketers by targeting consumers based on demographics, lifestyle and consumer behavior. With its leading-edge database technology, its lucrative search-ad business, and the possible acquisition of a company that serves 40 percent of the banner advertising on the Internet, Google can dominate the advertising marketplace in the U.S. in ways most media and marketers can’t even fathom.

Moreover, Google assumes a power to enter the private spaces of our lives – our homes, our offices, our vehicles, our shops, and our devices – with news, entertainment and commercial messages aimed specifically at us. What may be good for advertising sounds troubling for the rest of society.

The FTC concluded that Google’s acquisition of DoubleClick will not substantially lessen competition. Few competitors would agree, including media managers from around the world who converged on the Harvard Business School to learn how Google intends to sell targeted advertising in every medium everywhere. “The biggest enemy of everyone in this room is Google,” said Koos Bekker, managing director of Naspers Ltd., a multimedia conglomerate based in South Africa.

Google’s stated mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” Which is to say that Google sees a business model in all information and intends to monetize it, even at the expense of privacy.

Google’s founders started with message that was somewhat less imperial: “Do no evil.”
The FTC apparently believes them. The question is: do the rest of us?

It’s looking a lot like Christmas, especially if you’ve just come home with a $38 million severance package

Tribune Company is a U.S. media conglomerate that owns newspapers and television stations coast to coast, including the Chicago Tribune and the Los Angeles Times. Tribune acquired the LA Times in 2000 when it purchased Times Mirror Co. for $8 billion. All of Tribune, including the Times Mirror assets, is now worth $3.8 billion, according to newspaper analyst Ken Doctor.

Today, a Chicago businessman named Sam Zell took over leadership of Tribune through a complicated transaction involving massive debt and employee ownership. Zell sent this note to investors:

We’ve got a long way to go to shed all the things that tied us down in the past, and to realize the enormous potential we can create. You’ll see a lot of changes in the coming months.

* We will take intelligent risks and reward innovation.

* We will tear down bureaucracy and reward entrepreneurial spirit.

* We will compete fiercely but with integrity.

* We will work hard and have fun.

First thing shed: Dennis FitzSimons, the CEO who led the company to and through the deal with Zell. But shed no tears: FitzSimons took home a severance package said to be worth as much as $40 million, accord to Tribune’s Los Angeles Times.

See: Content Bridges and Editor & Pubisher and LA Times