Demand Led Growth in Social Media

One part of this intriguing interview with the creator of the Medieval Reactions Twitter account really caught my eye:

I saw a couple and I googled medieval pictures and there were already pictures flying around on the internet, but the real hard part was writing the captions. That took about a week because there were no captions there, and that changed in a short while as I was running the account. I noticed that the most engagement came from tweets dedicated to nights out, so I changed my angle halfway through and made them related to drinking. And then it sort of took off.

Demand led content growth is a scary new world for content creators, one that really makes the old guard feel uneasy.

The Genesis of the Career Entrepreneur

I have begun in earnest to read through Annalee Saxenian’s “Regional Advantage,” charting the computer industry’s genesis in both Silicon Valley and along Boston’s Route 128. As she explains, the culture of work and the resulting firm structures in Silicon Valley differed significantly from those in Boston, giving it critical advantages to become the preeminent region of technology development.

Even in the early days of the 1950s and 1960s, the West Coast had a far more open and decentralized network of employees, which contributed to intense knowledge sharing. Employees moved between competitors and would even help arch rivals solve problems. By way of contrast, Boston’s regional structure was based on hierarchical and independent firms. Knowledge in this region was located vertically within the company, which severely limited its ability to spillover and create new opportunities.

According to one executive:

“Here in Silicon Valley there’s a far greater loyalty to one’s craft than to one’s company. A company is just a vehicle which allows you to work. If you’re a circuit designer it’s more important for you to do excellent work.” [emphasis added]

From the beginning, the culture of work in the Valley was ad hoc and fluid. Engineers, programmers and other technical manufacturers became their own career entrepreneurs. Silicon Valley thus presaged by decades the labor market that we increasingly find ourselves in that has become a cause of concern. As a side comment, Saxenian mentions that many Silicon Valley workers far more rooted in the region than others. While the company man of the 1950s might move among the various arms of the firm to gain experience, which could be in different states, in the Valley, you would just move down the street. To me, that speaks volumes to the importance of regional knowledge hubs.

What Economic Environment Will TV Unbundling Create?

The Technology Policy Institute just went live with a video of their OTT event, exploring TV unbundling. There is a lot of solid material, but Laura Martin, a Senior Analyst at Needham & Company, explained what would happen if we went to an unbundled world:

  • As soon as you unbundle, you lose advertising revenue. Immediately, you have to double the cost because of lost ad dollars.
  • 1/2 of the revenues come from ads and the other 1/2 comes from subscription.
  • Currently, the market is $150 billion a year for TV revenue with a $400 billion in market cap.
  • Remember, in order for Nielson to measure for ads and thus calculate ad dollars, you have to reach 20 million homes.
  • By her projections, only 30 channels of 500 would reach this number. So, the other 400 or so would have to double their costs to consumers.
  • Currently, everyone one of those channels reaches the homes out of the 150 million, and there is an easy way to change channels.
  • Subscriptions are 5 year terms and tend to step up over time.
  • So, advertising moves away from TV the fastest in a la carte world.
  • Currently, the cost of content is $40 per household and what we would see is about 15 channels, which is generally the average around the world.
  • Everyone does consume the major 15 channels, but households tend to have passion channels that will lose out in this world.

Bruce Owen also noted that if we force suppliers to provide services a la carte, then how do we know if they are pricing the various channels correctly? We will have to look at costs because supplying the bundle costs less than supplying the a la carte channels. So, we are in a world of rate regulation.

Notes & Quotes from Eli Pariser’s “The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You”

“To my preteen self, it seemed clear that the Internet was going to democratize the world, connecting us with better information and the power to act on it. The California futurists and techno-optimists in those pages spoke with a clear-eyed certainty; an inevitable, irresistible revolution was just around the corner, one that would flatten society, unseat the elites, and usher in a kind of freewheeling global utopia.” pg 3

The Filter Bubble introduces three dynamics we’ve never dealt with before: first, you are alone in it, as it is you own personal bubble. Second, it is invisible in its actions. Finally, you don’t choose to enter into the bubble. pp 9-10

“As the cost of communication over large distances and to large groups of people has plummeted, we’re increasingly unable to attend to it all,” leading to what blogger and media analyst Steve Rubel calls the attention crash. p 11

The world of personalization is appealing as a “return to a Ptolemaic universe in which the sun and everything else revolves around us.” p 12

“In the filter bubble, there’s less room for the chance encounters that bring insight and learning” p 15 My reaction: What does Kirzner have to say about this?

“To be the author of your life, professor Yochai Benkler argues, you have to be aware of a diverse array of options and lifestyles. When you enter a filter bubble, you’re letting companies that construct it choose which options you’re aware of. You may think that you’re the captain of your own destiny, but personalization can lead you down a road to a kind of informational determinism in which what you’ve clicked on in the past determines what you see next—a Web history you’re doomed to repeat.” p 16

Robert Putnam defined two kinds of social capital: in-group oriented bonding capital represents those events when you meet an old friend, while bridging capital occurs when lots of people from different backgrounds come together to meet each other, like in a townhall. p 17 Continue reading

Saying “If You’re Not Paying, You Are The Product” Is Wrong

This week I heard the phrase that haunts tech policy. You know it. If you’re not paying for the product, you are the product. 

Concise? Yes. But wrong.

The product is actually an ad, positioned on the site and tailored for you. Countless weeklies across the US run under a free model and have done so for decades. The New York Times has defrayed the expense of printing by ad supplement since its beginning. And the first newspapers, which popped up in the trading ports of Venice and Amsterdam, helped merchants sell excess to offset expensive parchment.

But it makes sense why the pithy phrase has staying power.

Mull it over again.

If you’re not paying for the product, then you are the product.

Naturally, we wonder next, wait, am I being violated? It is a tradeoff dripping with ethical accusations. Steven Pinker gives us one way to understand it in “Better Angels of Our Nature,” when he reviews the work of political psychologist Phillip Tetlock:

Tetlock distinguishes three kinds of tradeoffs. Routine tradeoffs are those that fall within a single relational model, such as choosing to be with one friend rather than another, or to purchase one car rather than another. Taboo tradeoffs pit a sacred value in one model against a secular value in another, such as selling out a friend, a loved one, an organ, or oneself for barter or cash. Tragic tradeoffs pit sacred values against each other, as in deciding which of two needy transplant patients should receive an organ, or the ultimate tragic tradeoff, Sophie’s choice between the lives of her two children.

Are we selling a kidney? No, we are giving a small part of our attention for an ad that won’t be remembered 60 percent of the time. Advertising ethically can be done, as Derek Powazek, who helped to build Technorati, points out:

There are ways to do [ad supported media] while still maintaining respect for the consumers. We’ve been doing it for years.

Saying that you are the product if you aren’t paying for it, disintegrates under just a minimum of scrutiny. It’s time to get rid of that phrase.

The Problem with Technological / Cultural Determinism

Alex Parrish begins “Adaptive Rhetoric: Evolution, Culture, and the Art of Persuasion” by recalling a story about one reaction to his book, and in doing so, helps to explain the problem of the technological/cultural determinism debate:

When I first began outlining this book, I explained to one of my colleagues what I wanted to do. I told him that I would be exploring the ways we can examine the influence of both biology and culture on the art of persuasion. After running through most of my stock examples demonstrating biology and culture cooperating or competing to guide human action, telling him about some of the intriguing work being done in the fields of ethology and evolutionary cognitive psychology, and referring some of the more popular ‘big idea’ books on the interplay between genes and culture, my fellow student thought for a moments and then, with a look of concerned semirevulsion on his face, replied, “Wow. Biological reductionism. That’s gonna be a hard sell!”

Whether it is fundamental part of the human nature to divide issues in half and only allow for one of those halves to be valid, good , or moral, this seems to be one of the tricks our brains use to navigate the world of idea. We also use this method of bifurcating topics to bring other around to our ways of thinking. The rhetorical term for this is dialysis: the presentation of an either/or figure to lead an audience to a certain conclusion (and in the case of biology and culture, it is also a false dilemma)

Parrish is right. The either/or presentation of culture and biology leads us to believe that one must take precedent in guiding behavior. The same kind of criticism can be heaped on the technological/cultural determinist deabate. Instead, a more robust conceptual way to approach technology is provided by Ian Hutchby’s “Technologies, Texts and Affordances”:

This involves seeing technologies neither in terms of their “interpretive textual” properties nor of their essential technical properties, but in terms of their affordances. I will argue that affordances are functional and relations aspects which frame, while not determining, the possibilities for agentic action in relation to an object. (Page 444)

I have a number of work projects that will be finished in the coming weeks, so I hope to explore the topic of affordances soon.

Social Networks and the Proliferating Performances of Identity

Tom Chatfield’s essay on technology and language groks Walter Ong and under-appreciated Medium theory. He begins at the genesis of the written word and makes a huge arc to today’s moral themes. First the problem of information scarcity:

The vast bulk of that story is silence. Indeed, darkness and silence are the defining norms of human history. The earliest known writing probably emerged in southern Mesopotamia around 5,000 years ago but, for most of recorded history, reading and writing remained among the most elite human activities: the province of monarchs, priests and nobles who reserved for themselves the privilege of lasting words.

Yet the world is now one of information abundance and mediums of exchange:

This sheer quantity is in itself something new. All future histories of modern language will be written from a position of explicit and overwhelming information — a story not of darkness and silence but of data, and of the verbal outpourings of billions of lives. Where once words were written by the literate few on behalf of the many, now every phone and computer user is an author of some kind.

Leading to, among other things, new expressions of identity on the Internet:

All interactions, be they spoken or written, are to some degree performative: a negotiation of roles and references. Onscreen words are a special species of self-presentation — a form of storytelling in which the very idea of ‘us’ is a fiction crafted letter by letter. Such are our linguistic gifts that a few sentences can conjure the story of a life: a status update, an email, a few text messages. Almost without our noticing, we weave worlds from these snapshots, until an illusion of unbroken narrative emerges from a handful of paragraphs.

Chatfield is right. The biggest gulf between digital natives and digital immigrants lies in the negotiation of an authentic social performance. Just some food for thought, what again is wrong with the Auschwitz selfie? You should go read Chatfield’s essay.

Research Undermines Prevailing Theory that Technology is Isolating

An ever-present theme in the commentary of modern technology is its isolating effect. Yet the truth is far more complex. This Boston Review article on technology points to a paper supported by the Annenberg School of Communication that seems to suggest we are becoming more social. By conducting a content analysis of films from four public spaces over a thirty-year period, the behavior and characteristics of 143,593 people were coded. A couple of key findings:

  • Importantly, people are spending less time alone and increasingly more time in groups.
  • Women are now far more prevalent in public spaces, while men and women tend to spend more time together in public.
  • Despite the ubiquity of mobile phones, their rate of use in public is relatively small.
  • Mobile phones users appear less often in spaces where there are more groups, and most often in spaces where people might otherwise be walking alone.
  • Mobile phone use is associated with reduced public isolation, although it is associated with an increased likelihood to linger and with time spent lingering in public.
  • The increased tendency to spend time in groups while in public contrasts with evidence from other research that suggests a decline in American public life, and that mobile phones have increased social isolation in public spaces.
  • The increase in group behavior, women, and lingering in public may have positive implications for engagement within the public sphere.

Don’t Believe Everything you Hear

It seems intuitive that the rise of the Internet and social networking sites has made us all more lonely. Because we are all constrained with our time and because online connections seem shallow, it logically follows that the more time we spend online in lieu of face-to-face interactions, the more lonely we are. Though, the empirical evidence is not as clear on this as we have been lead to believe.

Fortunate or not, I remember the days when a phone call across the country to family was expensive and short. Now, I regularly have free conversations with friends a couple of continents away.  Advances in cameras and expanding bandwidth speeds have made those experiences more immersive and intimate. Simultaneously, social networking sites now allow us to more easily stay in touch with acquaintances, helping us to build and maintain much larger social networks.

Sociologists and psychologists tend to agree,

His new book, Still Connecteddefinitively refutes the Marche thesis that Americans have grown more detached. Drawing on 40 years of social surveys, Fischer shows that the quality and quantity of Americans’ relationships are about the same today as they were before the Internet.

I am not worried…

For all our talk of self-reliance and rugged individualism, Americans are actually far less likely to live alone and enjoy key forms of personal autonomy than people in other countries, including France, Germany, Sweden, Denmark, Britain, and Japan. What distinguishes Americans is not that we are more isolated, but that we spend more time and energy worrying about whether we are.

Notes & Quotes to Ithiel de Sola Pool’s “Technologies of Freedom”

  • A public network interconnecting computers must be license and, according to present interpretations of the 1934 Communications Act, may be denied a license if the government does not believe that it serves “the public convenience, interest, or necessity” p. 3
  • The Constitution, in Article 1, Section 8, gives the federal government the right to regulate interstate commerce, but in the First Amendment, equally explicitly, it excludes one kind of commerce, namely communication, from government authority. Yet here is the FCC trying to figure out how it can avoid regulating the commerce of the computer industry (an authority Congress could have given, but never did) while continuing to regulate communications whenever it considers this necessary. The Constitution has been turned on its head. p 3
  • The phrase “communications policy” rings oddly in a discussion of freedom from goverment. But freedom is also a policy. The question it poses is how to reduce the public control of communications in an electronic era. A policy of freedom aims at pluralism of expression rather than at dissemination of preferred ideas. p 8
  • Communications policy can be mapped on a few central questions
    • Definition of the domain in which the policy operates
    • Availability of resources
    • Organizations of access to resources
    • Establishment and enforcement of norms and controls
    • Problems at the system boundaries p 9
  • The physical printing plant was potentially hostage to state action and so the physical