Tuesday, 28 April 2009

ProIssues

Tom Miller announces ProIssues here. A call to all budding and existing bloggers, in fact, looking to widen their reach.

The souped-up blog aggregators begin to get their acts together.

A book about Twitter?

You spend half your leisure time working out how to say things in 140 characters? Then you've caught the tweeting bug and Twitter is for you. You wonder if there's anything else you can do with the blessed creature? Looking for one of those quick-start manuals you get with DVDs and cameras maybe? A spreadsheet with a list of the most common features?

Surely not anything more verbose than that?

Well. You may have thought it entirely impossible, but how about an entire book on the subject of Twitter?

More below.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Our hamlets of thought in an evermore globalising world

Repackaging, regurgitating, rewriting press releases ... ghostwriting thought in reality. So why report anything? Whenever you get to it, it's already been reported a thousandfold. This, on the link economy, leads me to wonder further whether those on the progressive side of politics shouldn't also be more ruthless about who they link to. (But then to do so might lead to us losing the broad and encompassing field of view that characterises creative thought and which should form the essence of the progressive mindset.) This, as follows:
Every minute of a journalist’s time will need to go to adding unique value to the news ecosystem: reporting, curating, organizing. This efficiency is necessitated by the reduction of resources. But it is also a product of the link and search economy: The only way to stand out is to add unique value and quality. My advice in the past has been: If you can’t imagine why someone would link to what you’re doing, you probably shouldn’t be doing it. And: Do what you do best and link to the rest. The link economy is ruthless in judging value.
More here.

It's a sombre thought. But it is predicated from the point of view that mass audience is the only interesting goal. Surely, on the progressive side of politics, we need our mass-market leaders; but in order to remain healthy and productive, renewable and renewing, we also need our hamlets of thought.

From those hamlets, interesting people will arise and grow into the mass-market leaders not all of us can become.

Which is why we probably do need community bells and whistles when we set up our blog aggregators and multi-author sites.

Meanwhile, another interesting, though perhaps not directly relevant, website - from an organisation called paidContent.org - can be found here. Curiously, and intriguingly, while based in the US, it would appear to belong to the British Guardian media group. More from the post I've already linked to above on what paidContent.org tries to do differently:
Look at a service such as PaidContent. They have a small (though growing) staff and they choose carefully what they do, whether it’s worth it to send someone to a conference, whether they can add reporting to a story that’s already known, how they can curate links to the best of coverage that already exists. They fire their bullets carefully, economically, to contribute maximum unique value. PaidContent doesn’t - and can’t afford to - record stand-ups or rewrite others’ reporting for the sake of rewriting it or waste money on production and design niceties.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

The Fair Syndication Consortium (II)

YouTube will eventually be how real cinema is delivered worldwide. The model where the distributor or service provider pays the content provider a percentage of the income earned and where the end-user pays the distributor for access to all the available content is, thus, well established.

A fifty percent split seems about right - not so very far off what is par for the course in the old-fashioned publishing world. Now YouTube is currently free for the end-user because it's not really cinema. One day, however, the platform that is all behind it will be ramped up and will deliver high definition digital streaming video via super-fast broadband connections.

And then we will pay for it - gladly I might add. But we will pay a global charge to YouTube itself for premium services rather than a pay-per-view service on a piecemeal basis to the many and varied content providers.

These providers may be the film studios themselves or they may be the cottage industries that currently inhabit most of the website. But either way, the end-user will buy access to a wide range of content rather than content itself.

The BBC is already doing it, in fact, and most effectively, with its iPlayer. Those of us who live in the UK pay our annual licence fee to the BBC itself and in exchange we get high quality TV online we can see whenever we want.

Delivering newspapers and books will be an easy job by comparison.

The Fair Syndication Consortium

An interesting article on ads and theft, again from YourMagz's Twitter feed. I'd quote from it, but ...

That awfully thorny subject of managing an online identity

The way they talk about online identities and their dangers makes you feel you should really be aiming to fabricate them rather than be authentic. This via YourMagz's Twitter feed today.

But surely the best guarantee is authenticity. If you do put a foot wrong, at least it's your foot.

How awful must it be to spill milk which belongs to the neighbour.

"The sticker is not the solution to the problem"

Like analysing why processes break? Seven kinds of broken here. I especially like the sign to Whitchurch. Must track it down.

Distribution is where the money lies

I touched on this subject here, where the thesis was pragmatism.

The Guardian now trashes all options which involve paid content models in a gloomy picture of the future of online newspaper publishing, and, perhaps in a rather excluding way, by extension the whole issue of journalism itself. There are other options, however; and it seems to me that the Guardian's article misses the point.

Distribution was always the key to making money in publishing - always will be. In a world where the content is neither printed nor physically moved from one place to another but replicates itself as if by magic through downloads that allow access from virtually anywhere to virtually anywhere, there will always be money to be made somewhere along the process. It just so happens that this place will shift from time to time, as technology evolves, as consumer habits change, as the hierarchy between consumers and producers modulates. Amazon's Kindle shows us that the wonder of sitting in a neighbourhood coffee bar and downloading - on impulse - a book you'd really love to get your hands on actually works. Translate this opportunistic way of purchasing content to the field of newspapers and I'm sure we'd see an about-face in the world of journalism.

I'm paying not for the content itself but for the communication channel that allows me to access it. That's the mad thing about this. We perceive an added value we are prepared to pay for in a multi-product provider like Sky or the phone operators; an added value we no longer perceive in the content itself that they piggyback off. I'm happily paying £20 a month for 600 minutes and free Internet on my mobile. I know plenty of people who pay £40 or more for their cable and satellite television.

These days we're absolutely used to paying for the access; we're not looking any more to pay for the films or articles themselves.

So it all depends on how you bill it. Bill your online subscription to all the major newspapers as part of your Internet deal and no one will notice the difference. The papers will then have a business to business relationship with their distributors. Direct customers will be kept at an arm's length.

It has to be in the interest of the service providers to keep the content providers on their feet - without decent content, people will simply move on to other, greener, pastures.

If people get greedy, if the distributors insist on taking a greater percentage of the (now available) cake than is their due, which is what is happening at the moment (all that money flooding into the coffers of the ISPs, all that money flooding out of the war chests of the big newspaper and magazine publishers), the authors and editors will simply disappear.

This relationship, often hard-nosed and bordering on the pig-headed, has been true of publishing throughout its history.

It's not going to change now, not even in a digital world.

Digital worlds, for all their differences, are still analogous worlds - even where they are not analogical.
____________________

Further reading: more on the subject of going digital

Where now for corporate open source initiatives?

As Oracle buys Sun, we can all laugh a little at this corporate strategy gone wildly wrong.

The original article here. Thanks to Alexandro via Facebook for that.

The Dark Matter of the Information Universe

Fascinating stuff from Steven Johnson via Tim O'Reilly's Twitter feed on the - momentarily - dark matter that is the humble, beautiful and honourable book:
In our always-connected, everything-linked world, we sometimes forget that books are the dark matter of the information universe. While we now possess terabytes of data at our fingertips, we have nonetheless drifted further and further away from mankind's most valuable archive of knowledge: the tens of millions of books that have been published since Gutenberg's day.

That's because the modern infosphere is both organized and navigated through hyperlinked pages of digital text, with the most-linked pages rising to the top of Google Inc.'s all-powerful search-results page. This has led us toward some traditional forms of information, such as newspapers and magazines, as well as toward new forms, such as blogs and Wikipedia. But because books have largely been excluded from Google's index -- distant planets of unlinked analog text -- that vast trove of knowledge can't compete with its hyperlinked rivals.
Until now:
But there is good reason to believe that this strange imbalance will prove to be a momentary blip, and that the blip's moment may be just about over. Credit goes to two key developments: the breakthrough success of Amazon's Kindle e-book reader, and the maturation of the Google Book Search service, which now offers close to 10 million titles, including many obscure and out-of-print works that Google has scanned. As a result, 2009 may well prove to be the most significant year in the evolution of the book since Gutenberg hammered out his original Bible.
I've always felt that reading has had a viable future ever since the Internet sprang its many and virtuous surprises on us. Our children probably read more than we ever did - they just don't read traditional books. What is your definition of a book? A coherent and cogent accumulation of thought on a theme or series of themes of major interest? There are many websites which do just that.

We've been reading more books than ever over the past decade - it's just that their nature has changed radically, as have our strategies for absorbing the information they contain.

You could even argue that the most important art form of the 20th century, the motion picture film, is a latterday example of the Dead Sea scrolls. DVDs no longer maintain the physical link but the old VHS videos clearly mimicked the size and weight of the traditional paperback.

Coherent and cogent information.

It's in good hands.

The dot com universe is finally going to come up trumps. Even as physical newspapers and printed paper lose their hold over us, the instantaneous ability of the Internet to distribute our content from anywhere to anywhere will renew our intellectual spaces. Publishing, if it is anything, is that curious marriage of hard-headed business nous and pure emotional pleasure. If you don't get your distribution channels sorted, you'll never get to enjoy anything.

Really not long to wait now.

Stage fright overcome as a writer takes off

A nice piece of news as a writer worthy of wider attention takes off. Dave's comments on linking are particularly pertinent to our project.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

The importance of authenticity

Authenticity is the key. But how can we be authentic in a world which aims so forcefully to distort authenticity as soon as it rears its often troubling - if not troubled - head?

"What will work in the new ecosystem"

John Naughton argues we should ban the word "should" from our vocabulary as we discuss the options available in the new ecosystem of online journalism:
[...] I couldn’t agree more about the need to ban the ’should’ word from these conversations. Too many print journalists — and even some journalism professors — are locked into normative dead-ends. We need to move on. The question is: what will work in the new ecosystem?
More here. The original essay Naughton refers to here.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Crying out for a vision which is not a garish yellow cylinder

We know what binds us together. The problem is how we should articulate these common themes.

How can we start from scratch without reinventing the wheel? Do we need to reinvent the wheel? Is the wheel we find ourselves on the kind of garish yellow cylinder rodents in captivity are condemned to tread?

Can we have a vision worth sharing without having to resort to the traditional structures which define - and ultimately limit - all visions? Can we draw on volunteers, train them and empower them - much as Obama is said to have done in his campaign?

Can we do this without concentrations of money that only serve to hobble freedom of thought?

Can we have freedom without capital?

"I"

Our daughter tells the following joke:

Teacher: Give me a phrase starting with I.
Pupil: I is -
Teacher: No. No. I am ...
Pupil: I am the ninth letter of the alphabet.

So we come to my first typo. If you check the web address of my previous post, you'll see that the word collectivism has an extra I. Kind of appropriate, don't you think?

Collectivism versus community (or giving your volunteers the keys to the kingdom)

It's tricky, publishing. About as tricky as learning a language (more background here) - and just as emotional. I'm convinced there's a place for a true community of like-minded souls in progressive publishing. Future thought - its power, its longevity, its trueness - lies in harnessing the sum of so many disparate parts. But I'm having a helluva job convincing good and even brilliant souls that this is the right way forward.

Yesterday, I attended a meeting at which Emily Richards from Progress gave an overview of what the Obama election campaign did differently from so many election campaigns that came before it. The key message that came out of her presentation seemed to be that of trusting your volunteers - giving them the keys to the kingdom if you like. So many people were so prepared to do so much for Obama because his team soon realised you can only properly engage supporters through empowerment.

Yes. I know. Awful word, that. At least, awful the way it sounds. But it shouldn't. We should reclaim it on behalf of progressive politics.

We should not feel ashamed of using it.

Collectivism versus community.

What - really - is the difference?

Why - really - is the idea of community so acceptable to societies like the US, where anything that smacks of socialism almost denotes a kind of political terrorism? Where is the essential difference between collectivism and community - except inasmuch as the former has such an awful emotional baggage?

High taxes on 90 percent of the population is not what a community-minded politics should be about. Surely democratic socialism is about just that. We end up agreeing with the far right in ways which might - perhaps, in truth, really should - make us shudder.

If volunteers were truly empowered in our societies, truly trained up to do what they wanted to do and when, truly given responsibility for the real things that truly matter, then perhaps the left and right would come together and the burden of the concentrated state - what people traditionally call big government - could indeed be reduced to the satisfaction of everyone.

Tricky one this one because both politically and intellectually it's such a moveable feast.

In the meantime, I'm aiming to get a community-based progressive publishing project off the ground because I believe in the power of the masses.

Not as an awfully predictable lumpen proletariat which can be taken advantage of but rather as a continually evolving, surprising and fascinating group of individuals which - left to its own devices and unencumbered by the distorting forces of traditional marketing - would always choose to work together to a common purpose instead of spinning wildly apart on savagely independent paths.

We are social beings.

If the word socialism is a barrier to understanding, let us explain what we mean in terms which people can accept.

And let us ensure that whatever we do, the keys of the kingdom belong to those who deserve them.

Yes. I know. Core support and all.

No answers here for the moment. Just musings.

Just wondering if there's any point in not starting from scratch.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

On aggregating, harvesting and republishing existing blogs

What's this post all about then? Well, I suppose the title is about as self-explanatory as it can get. I'm looking for a technology which can be used to bring together the output of a specific profile of existing blogs which wish to contribute to a common purpose and then use that same network of existing blogs to republish the harvested content - now repackaged in a coherent whole or magazine - back out to their readership in one shared embeddable product.

As I said yesterday, YourMagz is beginning to look like a good place to start.

Currently, there seems to exist only one approach to creating a common place for debate - and that involves creating a common place for debate from scratch, where everyone has to move their baggage, set up new stalls and get familiar with the technology. Examples I'm familiar with include Labourhome and Labour List. Here, the interested parties in question have decided to set up uniform blogging platforms with differing aims in each case - but similar problems. Blogging, at its best, involves highly individual voices speaking out on a range of issues. Blogging on these kinds of platforms is, from the start, an exercise in corporate unanimity - at least from the visual point of view, if nothing else.

My proposed approach is, however, a little different.

What I'm really looking to create is a kind of souped-up blog aggregator of blogs which voluntarily submit themselves to such aggregation (an existing aggregator, Bloggers4Labour - the one that gave me the original idea in fact and with rather more limited facilities than I am now proposing - can be found here); in my ideal world this turbocharged and editorially focussed search engine would be used to build the content for a multi-author site using both real-life and automated editor functionality. Why both real-life and automated? Well, we can - and perhaps should, democratically speaking - still gather everything in order to republish in one place ... and this we can do automatically; but in reality, as readers, voters, citizens and consumers, we will never have either the time or the inclination to read everything that's out there, nor will absolutely everything that even the best writers publish always make for the best reading experience. Prioritisation of content, to support both the editorial line as well as maintain the interest of the target audience, will therefore be essential.

The virtues of such a system, from an editorial point of view, are that it would allow for the harnessing and training up of new talent alongside the existing as well as making easy its gradual incorporation into a project with solvency; it would help create agenda on a flexible, responsive, rolling and grassroots-focussed way; and it would ensure that individuality and quirkiness - the necessary sparks needed to provoke persistent imagination and the future development of ideas - would always have their place.

YourMagz? Who knows? The idea is now on the table.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

On the fascinating subject of assorted software constitutions

I'm currently investigating what's fast becoming a rather fascinating variety of software code and constitutions as I try and define the best way of launching a progressive magazine which - if at all possible - works off the back of existing blogs and uses the same network to republish back out through them.

Each of the constitutions I am looking at has its strengths but none has all the features you end up wanting to add to your wishlist. That, I suppose, is the nature of the software industry.

Ning, for example, is a beautiful piece of software, with many quite advanced publishing features. It does have, however, limited capacity on its servers and - when I last looked - is a little miserly in its upgrades. Very good at Facebook-type social networking. A lovely example from the New Zealand Labour Party here.

YourMagz is a Canadian start-up which is in the process of starting up. Some pretty impressive features promised here which make for a potentially neat fit with my initial requirements. However, the product is still at a closed beta stage, so there's little I can show you right now - unless, of course, you want to sign up yourself. Their blog can be found here and their sign-up page here.

Meanwhile, ProsePoint needs a bit more investigation, as it requires installation on one's own servers if I have understood at all correctly. Links to ProsePoint as follows: homepage, demo and download. Further background information here. This latter product has no social networking bells and whistles as far as I can see and is perhaps the most traditional in its focus.

How does all this help reduce suffering and help guarantee the future for as many people as possible? Communication between the like-minded, between those who would like to act in good faith to improve the lot of the majority of mankind, is key to resolving long-term issues such as poverty, climate change and international terrorism.

All the issues which are currently being used to define the legal framework within which free people should operate need to be dealt with if we are not to lose our most cherished freedoms.

As our electronic worlds interface more closely with our real worlds, so software and what it allows us and doesn't allow us to do will become more important.

Software code and constitutions are already taking over from ordinary lawmakers and laws.

Everything is there for a reason, even as nothing is ever perfect.

A theory of everything

Inequality is at the root of everything that goes wrong in society. That's what this article argues.

Zebra Red

Zebra Red. Black + white + red all over.

That's what it says at the bottom of the page.

This blog arises out of my experiences last year when the bottom fell out of the economy. People who should've known better have got away with it. People who deserve much better are going to suffer.

What is the aim of this blog? Simply find out ways of reducing the suffering and publicise them, so we've got half a chance of getting out of this mess alive and in one piece.