Tag Archives: Google search

Research in motion: from my “real-time” Web notebook

I confess to feeling a certain pressure, since beginning to make an argument about the illusory, ideology-driven character of the “real-time” Web, to write quickly, to skip over the tangle of challenges required and just put something out there.  But, I’m adhering instead to at least some of the intellectual imperatives that are, in part, a legacy of scholarly training, and trying to do some homework before presenting myself as any kind of authority.  Along the way I will be sharing some of my findings.

Last fall, Mashable’s founder and CEO Pete Cashmore began a stint as a weekly columnist for CNN.com.  In that capacity, he was one of several pundits who predicted that “real-time” would be “a top 10 Web trend for 2010.”  In December, he presented his case to CNN.com‘s readership under the admonitory headline “Brace yourself for the real-time Web.”  http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/12/10/cashmore.realtime.web/index.html

For Cashmore, a significant indicator of the ascendancy of  the “real-time” Web was Google’s December 2009 launch of “real-time” search, which brought “live” updates from Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites into its search results.  Taking this epochal event as his point of departure, Cashmore asked and answered a series of questions, which are worth reproducing at some length, in part because his language serves as a model for many others who write about these matters.

Why real-time?  What’s driving this real-time trend anyway?  In large part, lowered barriers to content creation:  Posting a 140-character update to Twitter is so effortless that Web users are becoming conditioned to create….

But the real answer may be in our heads.  These technologies are literally addictive, says psychologist Susan Weinschenk, fueling a “dopamine-induced loop” of seeking behavior and instantaneous reward.”  [Cashmore is quoting a post on Weinshenk’s blog, “What Makes Them Click.”]

Real-time search  If this new paradigm stimulates our seeking behavior, it follows that search is central to the real-time Web.  Before Google entered the fray, OneRiot and Collecta stood out among real-time search engines.

The reigning champion of real-time search, however, is Twitter Search, which provides instant updates whenever new tweets are posted.  “108 more results since you started searching.  Refresh to see them,” implores a message below the search box.  Enter the topic du jour here and you’ll no doubt find yourself in one of Weinschenk’s dopamine-induced loops.

This thirst for the new and novel is by no means limited to search, however:  It looks set to pervade the entire Web in 2010.  Let’s look at a few more examples.

1.  Real-time location   Foursquare…combines real-time updates with location-based features.  Every time a friend “checks in” nearby, you’ll experience the same buzz as when your BlackBerry chirps for a new email.  [Once again I give thanks for my vintage BB, which never, ever buzzes or chirps. – Ed.]

2.  Real-time news   News reading is going real-time, too.  An increasing number of early adopters use the Twitter apps TweetDeck and Seesmic to manage their consumption of updates from both friends and handpicked news sources, while newcomer Brizzly is becoming a hit with info-junkies thanks to its superior Web-based interface.

Even Google Reader, the de facto service for those following scores of blogs and news sites, now provides updates in real-time for those feeds that support it.

Will our news addiction ever be sated?  Oh, and don’t forget that news curation is going real-time, too.  See my real-time journalism article for a refresher.  [Isn’t real-time curation very plainly a contradiction in terms? – Ed.] 

3.  Real-time comments    If the stories are real-time, how about the comments, too?  Real-time services make blog comments work more like instant messaging….

4.  Real-time reviews   Why wait till you get home to review that cafe or restaurant when you’ve got Yelp and Urbanspoon on your iPhone?  Movie was awful, you say?  Try Flixster.

5.  Real-time auctions  ….

6.  Real-time collaboration   A trend within a trend:  We’ll be real-timing together in 2010.  Google Wave, the much-hyped collaborative tool, is wiki-meets-instant-messaging-meets-email and much more….

Real-time…everything!    The trend is too nebulous to capture its every facet.  Suffice to say, a vast array of Web sites and applications will try to capitalize on the real-time Web in 2010, serving our need to be engaged in the moment.  Serving, perhaps, but never quite satisfying. 

 [Yes, it’s the “never quite” that remains to be thought here, to say nothing of the “perhaps.” – Ed.]

Slow down, Pete (“easy,” as we say to horses who are moving too fast for their own good, and possibly ours).  You’ve signalled much that is of value, and perhaps more than you know.

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Filed under "Real-time" Web, Current events, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, News, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

fledgling’s archive, october 2009, part 1

October 2009  

10/21/2009  Grist for the (Twitter) mill  


The following notes, intended for elaboration in the near future, pertain to the language used to describe, characterize or gloss “Twitter,” for example in a Google search result, on the revised Twitter homepage (over against the earlier one) and on the Twitter search homepage.  I’m interested too in what the results of a Twitter search for “twitter” might look like at any given time.  

1.  Google search for “Twitter”:  “Twitter is without a doubt the best way to share and discover what is happening right now.”  

2.  Twitter homepage:  “Share and discover what is happening right now, anywhere in the world.”  (Remember the relative brevity and simplicity of “What are you doing?”?)  

3.  Twitter search homepage:  “See what’s happening – right now.”  

4.  “Real-time” results for “twitter” on Twitter search:  In the 60 seconds since the search results initially appeared on the screen, “381 more results since you started searching.  Refresh to see them.”  

Here is a good deal of grist for my mill.  My work has just begun.  

10/20/2009   Kant weighs in on Twitter, part 1 


Caveat lector.  This post reproduces a few pages from my notebook which may or man not be of interest (or even legible) to anyone but myself.  But I am working on the assumption that pretty much everyone who uses Twitter has at least some interest in how it produces meaning and other effects of language.   

What follow are some paragraphs from Paul de Man’s essay “Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant,” which resulted from a series of graduate seminars he taught at Yale in the early ’80’s.  The essay appears in the volume Aesthetic Ideology, ed. Andrzej Warminski (U Minnesota Press, 1996), which you can find on the press website:  http://www.upress.umn.edu/Books/D/de-man-aesthetic.html .  Taking as its focus Kant’s much-misunderstood Critique of Judgment (also known as the Third Critique), de Man’s essay zeroes in on the notoriously difficult sections devoted to the analytic of the sublime.  

In order to make the sublime appear in space we need, says Kant, two acts of the imagination:  apprehension (apprehensio) and comprehension or summation (comprehensio aesthetica), Auffassung and Zusammenfassung.  Apprehension proceeds successively, as a syntagmatic, consecutive motion along an axis, and it can proceed ad infinitum without difficulty.  Comprehension, however, which is a paradigmatic totalization of the apprehended trajectory, grows increasingly difficult as the space covered by apprehension grows larger.  The model reminds one of a simple phenomenology of reading, in which one has to make constant syntheses to comprehend the successive unfolding of the text:  the eye moves horizontally in succession whereas the mind has to combine vertically the cumulative understanding of what has been apprehended.  The comprehension will soon reach a point at which it is saturated and will no longer be able to take in additional apprehensions:  it cannot progress beyond a certain magnitude which marks the limit of the imagination.  

[Anyone see where I’m going with this?]  

The ability of the imagination to achieve synthesis is a boon to the understanding, which is hardly conceivable without it, but this gain  is countered by a corresponding loss.  The comprehension discovers its own limitation, beyond which it cannot reach.  “[The imagination] loses as much on the one side as it gains on the other.”  As the paradigmatic simultaneity substitutes for the syntagmatic succession, an economy of loss and gain is put in place which functions with predictable efficiency, though only within certain well-defined limits.  The exchange from part to whole generates wholes that turn out to be only parts.  Kant gives the example of the Egyptian Savary, who observed that, in order to perceive the magnitude of the pyramids, one could be neither too far away nor too close.  One is reminded of Pascal:  “Bornes en tout genre, cet etat qui tient le milieu entre deux extremes, se trouve en toutes nos puissances.  Nos sens n’apercoivent rien d’extreme, trop de bruit nous assourdit, trop de lumiere eblouit, trop de distance et trop de proximite empeche la vue.  Trop de longeur et trop de brievete de discours l’obscurcit, trop de verite nous etonne….”  [Pensees, Ed. du Seuil, Pensee 199, p. 527]  

[My kindest regards if you’re still with me at this point.  I can only hope that your patience will find its reward.]  


It is not surprising that, from considerations on vision and, in general, on perception, Pascal moves to the order of discourse.  For the model that is being suggested is no longer, properly speaking, philosophical, but linguistic.  It describes not a faculty of the mind, be it as consciousness or as cognition, but a potentiality inherent in language.  For such a system of substitution, set up along a paradigmatic and a syntagmatic axis, generating partial totalizations within an economy of profit and loss, is a very familiar model indeed – which also explains why the passage seems so easy to grasp in comparison with what precedes and follows.  

[Did you find the passage easy to grasp?  Aren’t you grateful that I’m not asking you to read the hard parts that precede and follow?]  

It is the model of discourse as a tropological system.  The desired articulation of the sublime takes place, with suitable reservations and restrictions, within such a purely formal system.  It follows, however, that it is conceivable only within the limits of such a system, that is, as pure discourse rather than as a faculty of the mind.  When the sublime is translated back, so to speak, from language into cognition, from formal description into philosophical argument, it loses all inherent coherence and dissolves in the aporias of intellectual and sensory appearance.  It is also established that, even within the confines of language, the sublime can occur only as a single and particular point of view, a privileged place that avoids both excessive comprehension and excessive apprehension, and that this place is only formally, and not transcendentally, determined.  The sublime cannot be grounded as a philosophical (transcendental or metaphysical) principle, but only as a linguistic principle.  Consequently, the section on the mathematical sublime cannot be closed off in a satisfactory manner and another chapter on the dynamics of the sublime is needed.  (77-78)  

We can pause here, for now.  There is more to come on what Kant – of all people – can teach us about Twitter.  The utility and perhaps the necessity of the concepts of apprehension and comprehension (which may go by other names) for the project or reading Twitter can serve as a point of departure.  

10/19/2009    A flock of tweets (like a murder of crows, or a parliament of rooks)  

On October 19, in the aftermath of the Stephen Gately / Daily Mail fracas on Twitter, Ian Dunt took it as his point of departure in a column posted on politics.co.uk:  

It seems inevitable that within a decade we will see a revolution coordinated by Twitter somewhere in the world.  

Here is the historic thing about the utility:  It brings a sense of community – real community rather than what someone in marketing might call community – to the internet.  It is beyond the power of political institutions to control.  So far, the courts cannot tame it.  Now the juggernaut of popular opinion which has it the potential of mobilizing is becoming a major player in [the] political and media landscape – a major player in its own right.  

Dunt’s claims for Twitter (which he rightly terms a “utility”) also refer to the groundbreaking events surrounding the issuing of an unprecedented gag order on the Guardian, preventing the paper from reporting on questions raised in Parliament in an effort to protect he interests of the oil production company Trafigura (see my earlier post, “#Trafigura v Twitter,” for a more detailed analysis).  In this instance, not only were #Trafigura and their law firm #CarterRuck trending topics on Twitter over the course of several days, but flashmobs organized via Twitter appeared outside the London office of Carter Ruck in flesh-and-blood protest.  

Dunt’s thoughtful column gestures toward further thinking that it does not undertake, and that I will simply stake out here for future elaboration.  For example:  what sorts of relations link the phenomenon of the trending topic and the occurrence of something like a flashmob – that is, real people turning up at a specified time and place for a common purpose?  If Twitter’s trending topics bespeak a community of people flocking fleetingly around a shared interest, what difference might this make to “what’s happening right now, anywhere in the world” (to cite Twitter’s latest homepage)?  When and how do shared interests gather to constitute a community whose life span is longer than a few hours, or a few days?  

The lifting of the gag order against the Guardian after social media (as well as print and broadcast journalism) exposed the shameful secrets that Trafigura sought vainly to protect hints at the possibility that a “trending topic” may in some instances translate as intervention, changing, however incrementally, the course of history.  On this basis, Dunt is perhaps right to suggest that it “seems inevitable that, within a decade, we will see a revolution coordinated by Twitter somewhere [“anywhere”] in the world.”  At the rate at which Twitter and other social media are evolving, a decade is, to say the least, a long time.  

10/18/2009  “Can’t we all just get along?”  


Even as thoughts, intuitions and questions regarding Twitter and its multiple impacts continue to amass like unread tweets on a trending topic waiting to be released by the ‘refresh’ button, today’s blog-prompt came unbidden as I rustled through the A-section of this morning’s Globe and Mail, which styles itself “Canada’s national Newspaper” but is also my local daily of choice (most days).  Under the category heading “Policing,” and the title “Schools, lies and videotape:  Footage tells only part of the story,” reporters Joe Friesen and Anna Mahler Paperny follow up on two recent arrests in Ontario and the problematic role played by amateur video recording at the respective scenes.  http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/do-arrest-videos-really-tell-the-whole-truth/article1328807/  

Raising concerns that date back at least to the explosive video footage of LA police beating Rodney King in 1991, Friesen and Paperny note that “in the jumpy cellphone video of a man being arrested by campus security at the University of Western Ontario last week, several bystanders can be seen aiming their own cellphone cameras in the direction of the action.”  Strikingly similar is the footage of another recent and controversial arrest in Toronto, that of a young man at Northern Secondary School.  In this instance, “As the student demands to know why he’s being arrested, at least three people wave their cameras to let the police officer know that everything is being recorded.”  

In Canada, at least, there is another inevitable reference point for such events and their recording, which postdates the Rodney King case by more than 15 years:  the footage of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski being tasered by RCMP officers in Vancouver International Airport.  The video, shot by Victoria resident Paul Pritchard, “contradicted police statements at the time that Mr. Dziekanski was combative and had confronted police.”  


While the events that led to Robert Dziekanski’s death at the hands of the RCMP officers took place in a no-go zone separated from public areas of the airport by a (thankfully transparent) wall of glass, the recent cases in Ontario lead the reporters to observe:  “It’s symbolic of an age of instant, constant scrutiny, where the community instinct to intervene against perceived wrongdoing has been replaced by the urge to stand back and film it” [emphasis added].  

These examples, each with its own specificity as to time, place and circumstances, raise fundamental questions about the relationship between history and historiography – between the materiality of events and their transcription or registration through a variety of media (the cellphone with video camera – and SMS, which also enables Twitter – being for now the most ubiquitous).  Friesen and Paperny’s language casts the tendency toward bystander videography of spectacular or overdetermined events in ethical and ultimately political terms, questioning a perceived shift in the “community instinct” from active engagement in the present to passive witnessing for posterity.  

The article goes on to cite John Fiske, a communications theorist who has studied the Rodney King instance, and who observes that “the trouble is that the video is seen as the whole truth, when at best it is an incomplete representation of what occurred.  Only about 14 people witnessed the Rodney King incident, but millions saw the video and drew their own conclusions.  The video clip is always one person’s representation of what was going on, which is not the same thing as what was actually going on…. What ‘s going on outside of the camera may be very significant in terms of the meaning of what’s going on, what the camera is actually seeing.  But people don’t think of that.  They also often don’t think that the video clip is subject to interpretation.  They think it’s raw reality itself.”  

To the extent that this is the case, one wonders how far our understanding of media has come since the Zapruder film of the Kennedy assassination, which an astonishing number of Americans came to confuse with the event itself.  In these terms, the image (whatever its medium) is substituted for the event, with which, however, it can never coincide.  And because the image (or, in the case of Twitter, the “characters” or the link) is mediated, transmitted, it is never, ever, “live.”  I’ll have more to say about the need, in appeals to the “real-time” Web, to bear this in mind.  

10/17/2009  Save time:  tweet.  Save more time:  retweet.  


Scrolling down my Twitter homepage a few minutes ago, I clicked on Mashable’s “Top 5 Twitter Trends to Watch Right Now” (“now” being sometime on October 17, 2009), as reported by Jennifer Van Grove (http://bit.ly/25ufvg ).  In attendance at the Blog World Expo in Las Vegas, Jennifer took the opportunity to survey a handful of authorities for their responses.  Among them was Chris Pirillo, “Lifecaster, blogger and uber web geek,” who argued among other things that more bloggers are tweeting instead of blogging, that Twitter gives some bloggers the chance to save the “time and energy poured into long-form blog posts, and instead find a way to say the same thing in 140 characters.”  Increasingly, Pirillo observes, Twitter is “augmenting blogging” in this fashion.  

For the moment, I’m less interested in the truth value of Pirillo’s assertion, than in what is apparently one of his favourite formulations, as cited by Van Grove:  “Twitter is a great place to tell the world what you’ve been thinking before you’ve had a chance to think about it.”  

Conjoining matters of thought and temporality, this pithy….  You know, maybe Pirillo is on to something.  Screw it.  I’ll just retweet.  

10/16/2009  Fledgling Initiative?  You talkin’ to me?  

I must confess to feeling a little unsettled at the moment.  Having just logged on to the Twitter blog’s most recent update (October 15, 2009), scanned its first paragraphs, and idly clicked on a link, I was startled to see the word that gives this blog its title (and some of its character) popping up everywhere on the page announcing Twitter’s new Fledgling Initiative, which “aims to make awesome wine for the benefit of Room to Read, a non-profit organization extending literacy and educational opportunities to children worldwide.”  The idea is that “every case sold will provide approximately 60 local language children’s books and promote education in the world’s poorest regions.”  And it seems that Fledgling Wine will be drinkable at the least:  “These wines are being made using some of the best vineyards in California by the acclaimed winemaking team at Crushpad [wait…is there a tie-in to TypePad here?]  In addition, 2009 appears to be an excellent vintage in California, potentially one of the best of the decade.  Buy wine for $20.00.”  (A brief detour to http://www.crushpad.com yields the fact that “we’re a combination of wine industry veterans and technology industry refugees….”)  

There is a “quick video” explaining how this initiative will help promote literacy, featuring John Wood, an ex-corporate-tech-guy who founded the Room to Read project.  Just beneath the video is “An introduction from Biz and Ev,” which I will record in full here to help myself process what it says:  

As a company that’s only one percent into its journey, we’re always thinking about our long term impact on the world.  The Fledgling Initiative embodies two things that are at the core of Twitter’s mission:  providing access to information and highlighting the power of open communication to bring about positive change.  This initiative is just one piece of that approach.  Take part in this mission and pre-buy our limited bottles of the wine. You can follow along with our wine-making activities on Twitter and at some points even participate in its creation.  For each bottle you buy, $5 will be donated to Room to Read, a transformational non-profit that brings books, libraries and ultimately literacy to people in the poorest areas around the world.  The efforts of Room to Read will benefit literacy, and in doing so they’ll allow Twitter to grow.  Because if you can’t read you can’t Tweet!  

Okay, so I’m getting over my initial reaction (Wtf?!? They stole my name!), and now my generous side is at war with my cynical side in an effort to make sense of this (and decide whether or not to pre-order a bottle of pinot, if only to have the label as a souvenir).  Earlier this week, I retweeted Mashable’s bulletin that “‘Twitter Adds 110 Million Potential New Users With SMS Deal in India” (http://retw.me/VSLn ).  And now, scrolling down the Twitter blog, I see that @BIZ had something to say about that on October 14, under the title “Hello, Bharti Airtel”:  

Twitter is committed to fostering the open exchange of information because we passionately believe it can have a positive global impact.  When people can exchange information freely and publicly they are able to accomplish great things.  As powerful as the Internet has become for the democratization of information, its range is limited when compared to mobile texting – a format uniquely native to Twitter [emphasis added].  There are over one billion people with Internet access on the planet but there are more than four billion people with mobile phones and Twitter can work on all of them because even the simplest of these devices feature SMS.  

We have seen people use Twitter to help each other during fuel shortages, track the spread of wildfires, check in during earthquakes, organize major charitable events, spread urgent news efficiently around the world, and much more.  In many of these scenarios, texting has been the key.  People exchanging information quickly and efficiently with the device that has become essential to everyday life, their mobile phone.  In many parts of the world people do not have Internet access but they can text – and that means they can access Twitter.  

As we grow, we seek to partner with organizations that share our vision for positive global impact.  Our partnership with Bharti Airtel, the largest mobile operator in India, means a huge population of people [? – ed.] can now send tweets at standard rates and receive tweets for free.  Bharti Airtel is offering people in every city, every village, every remote taluk and even the smallest panchayat the opportunity to connect to Twitter and enjoy the open exchange of information with no added fees.  We are proud to have Bharti Airtel as our partner.  Give Twitter a try with your Airtel phone by sending START to 53000.  And spread the word!  

Twitter is not about technology, it’s about people….  

Sorry, Biz, but that last assertion doesn’t hold up.  Of course Twitter is first and foremost about technology, and your denial of something so obvious in this context makes me wonder if you are being straight up in the rest of the post.  I’m left with dwindling time, several questions and a wish that someone would help me figure them out:  

1.  Why did they have to nick my name?  (This, dear reader, is a rhetorical question and does not require an answer.)  I’m so glad I claimed my URL on Technorati back in September.  

2.  How much does it cost to make a bottle of that wine?  If it’s less than $15, where does the rest of the money go?  (This is, after all, “the largest social wine-making process in history,” according to the promo video.)  

3.  How does Twitter calculate that it is “only one percent into its journey”?  Are the mixed metaphors symptomatic in some way that matters?  

4.  What “percentage” – or what niche – of Twitter users do they reckon will pony up $20 USD for an untried bottle?  

5.  How transparent is the Twitter blog?  

10/15/2009  #Trafigura v Twitter  


In an attempt to provide readers of this blog with a red thread that identifies its component parts and ties them loosely together (cf. the allusion to Goethe’s Elective Affinities – literary source of the figure of the red thread – in a prior post), I dutifully re-read my last entry, on Steven Johnson’s analysis of Twitter.  I was reminded just how  right he is to highlight the importance of user innovations since Twitter’s inception, and especially how, “thanks to these innovations, following a live feed of tweets about an event…has become a central part of the Twitter experience.  But just 12 months ago [he was writing in June, 2009], that mode of interaction would have been technically impossible using Twitter.”  

In fact I had, moments earlier, been doing just that:  following a “live” or “real-time” feed of tweets turned up by my Twitter search under the hashtag #Trafigura.  As I tweeted yesterday, Trafigura – a moniker new to me – sounded  like the name of the horse that finished third.  A cursory survey of etymological sources yielded little of interest, though it pointed to other terms, including prefigure and disfigure, that are not without relevance to the high-stakes unfolding over the last few days.  

It is at times like these (though no two times, no two historical moments, are the same) that I become aware that Twitter’s sheer speed, evident in the hectic reverse chronology via which one tracks events as they unfold, is at once its great strength and its potential limitation.  Certainly during the Iranian election and its aftermath, as I strained to follow the rapid-fire timelines under #IranElection and other hashtags, it seemed that the requisite thinking through was racing to keep up with the reporting and other interventions frantically accumulating before each frequent hit of the “refresh” button.  Scott Rosenberg’s pithy formulation – “We publish, then filter.  Say everything first, ask questions later” – does not assuage a certain anxiety that something of potential value will be lost in filtration.  

In this case, I spent yesterday assembling a brief archive of reporting and opinion on the gag order (or “super-injunction”) against the Guardian on matters relating to the London-based oil trading company Trafigura and its attempt to cover up the publication of findings into its dumping of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast’s largest city, Abidijan.  Rather than sythesize and paraphrase the accounts in this space, I will simply furnish links to some of them, for those to whom this may still be news, or those who want to read further.  









What will land this episode in the history (of Twitter) books is the fact that the gag order against the Guardian, links to Wikileaks and a variety of other relevant information were reported, tweeted and retweeted on Twitter, with great agility and acumen.  Among others, Mike Butcher of TechCrunch pointed out that “the entire issue trended on Twitter with hashtags including #guardiangag, #guardian, #carterruck (the name of the law firm representing Trafigura) and of course #Trafigura.”  In short, social media, with Twitter leading the pack, helped circumvent the heavy hand of censorship.  As Butcher phrased it in his story title for TechCrunch, “There’s nowhere to hide if your name trends on Twitter.  Is there, Trafigura?”  While savouring this important victory, and the frisson of watching a corporate villain attain the heights of trending topics, I would simply caution that virtually nobody stays on trending topics for more than a day or two.  Historical memory must be there to supplement Twitter, in every instance.  

10/13/2009  Twitterfied  

One wonders:  is somebody out there at work, right now, on a history of Twitter?  Will there be, one day soon, a chronicling of its origins and development that can hold its own next to Scott Rosenberg’s comprehensive history of blogging?  Certainly, in the case of Twitter, that history has unfolded in unpredictable fashion, and in ways no doubt unforeseen by its creators.  A handy journalistic account of some of the innovations and interventions that have forged Twitter’s path is to be found in “How Twitter Will Change the Way We Live,” written by Steven Johnson (author of Where Good Ideas Come From) for time.com in June 2009.  http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1902818,00.html  

Johnson’s claim is that “the most fascinating thing about Twitter is not what it’s doing to us.  It’s what we’re doing to it.”  What we’re doing to and with Twitter, he suggests,  falls into three basic categories:  social networks, live searching, and link-sharing.  Below are a handful of excerpts from his brief but suggestive piece.  

The basic mechanics of Twitter are remarkably simple.  Users publish tweets – those 140-character messages – from a computer or mobile device (The character limit allows tweets to be created and circulated via the SMS platform used by most mobile phones).  As a social network, Twitter revolves around the principle of followers.  When you choose to follow another Twitter user, that user’s tweets appear in reverse chronological order on your main Twitter page….  

…Twitter users have begun to find a route around that [140 character] limitation by employing Twitter as a pointing device instead of a communications channel:  sharing links to longer articles, discussions, posts, videos – anything that lives behind a URL.  Websites that saw their traffic dominated by Google search queries are seeing a growing number of new visitors coming from “passed links” at social networks like Twitter and Facebook.  

…Put these three elements together – social networks, live searching and link-sharing – and you have a cocktail that poses what may amount to the most interesting alternative to Google’s near-monopoly in searching.  At its heart, Google’s system is built around the slow, anonymous accumulation of authority:  pages rise to the top of Google’s search results according to, in part, how many links point to them, which tends to favor older pages that have had time to build an audience.  That’s a fantastic solution for finding high-quality needles in the immense, spam-plagued haystack that is the contemporary Web.  But it’s not a particularly useful solution for finding out what people are saying right now, the in-the-moment conversation that industry pioneer John Battelle calls the “super fresh” Web.  Even in its toddlerhood, Twitter is a more efficient supplier of the super-fresh Web than Google.  

This is not just a matter of people finding a new use for a tool designed to do something else.  In Twitter’s case, the users have been redesigning the tool itself.  The convention of grouping a topic or event by the “hashtag”…was spontaneously invented by the Twitter-userbase (as was the convention of replying to another user with the @ symbol).  The ability to search a live stream of tweets was developed by another startup…. Thanks to these innovations, following a live feed of tweets about an event…has become a central part of the Twitter experience.  But just 12 months ago, that mode of interaction would have been technically impossible using Twitter.  

Moving into prophetic mode, Johnson foresees a future that is permanently “Twitterfied”:  

…it’s entirely possible that 3 or 4 years from now, we’ll have moved on to some Twitter successor.  But the key elements of the Twitter platform – the follower structure, link-sharing, real-time searching – will persevere regardless of Twitter’s fortunes, just as Web conventions like links, posts and feeds have endured over the past decade.  In fact, every major channel of information will be Twitterfied in one way or another in the coming years.  

Perhaps.  Probably.  But then again, as Twitter has so lately instructed us, history lies in the unforeseen.  

10/09/2009  “Permanence is out of reach”  


Having alluded in my last post to the argument(s) to be made for blogging, as well as tweeting, as artful pursuits, I subsequently located  a few paragraphs from Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything that make a fairly persuasive case.  They also raise crucial questions about the survival, over time, of these virtual texts.  

For all the novelty surrounding it, the act of blogging is fundamentally literary.  A blogger selects some information or experience, shapes it into words and sentences, and hoists it into public view.  Linking may change some aspects of reading, and comment threads and permalinks and RSS feeds may dot the screen, but at heart blogging is a species of writing, in the direct line of descent from the Rosetta Stone through Shakespeare to The New Yorker (and the Weekly World News).  Although a blog lives for today, in the moment, more than most other literary forms, its record is intended for the future as well.  That is why so many bloggers obsessively maintain their archives, painstakingly reformatting older entries to survive each transition from one publishing system to the next. 

Will today’s blogs survive long enough to matter to future generations?  Most of us are intensely aware of the fragility of digital data:  a life savings of information can vanish with the theft of a laptop or the crash of an unbacked-up hard disk.  Many early blogs have disappeared from the Web, leaving little or no trace…. Words on the Web, we rightly fear, are ephemeral. 

On the other hand, data on the Internet has a remarkably enduring half-life.  Copying bits is what computers do – they are, as Cory Doctorow says, “copying machines.”  Copies of most material that has been posted online since the late 1990’s exist in some form somewhere…. Once a document has been widely dispersed on the Internet, it is difficult to suppress, even when you try, and have the legal right to do so. 

Paper fades; bits get deleted.  Libraries burn; disks crash.  Whatever the medium, permanence is out of reach.  No matter:  bloggers might hope to be read by children or even grandchildren, but few dream of immortality for their words.  The Web has made it possible for us to write more, to distill more and consume more…. But blogging’s critics have been so incensed over the ways in which blogging differs from the literary past that they have missed the ways in which it carries literary values into the future.  (345) 

More in due course on writing and reading blogs – and on the matter of the archive.


10/09/09  Cards on the table

   Benjamin writing
A quick check of my Typepad stats just now yielded the following:  22 posts, 8 comments, 7 followers, 760 “lifetime” page views, 38 average page views per day.  So I won’t be featured on Technorati anytime soon (though I have been, inexplicably, on Tweetmeme).  At this stage, I might feel more than a little discouraged at the time and energy it takes to gain a foothold in a medium that claims to allow for the lightning-quick, for transmission and exchange in what is termed “real-time,” were it not for two figures that I hold out, each in his way, as exemplars.  I think first of Walter Benjamin, whose work I have been reading for most of my adult life; in this context, I return to his essay “The Task of the Translator, written in 1923 as an introduction to his own translations of Baudelaire.  Here is its notorious first paragraph, as translated by Harry Zohn: In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful.  Not only is any reference to a certain public or its representatives misleading, but even the concept of an “ideal” receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art, since all it posits is the existence and nature of man as such.  Art, in the same way, posits man’s physical and spiritual existence, but in none of its works is it concerned with his response.  No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.  [emphasis added] 
Certainly this blog lays no claim to be a work of art – though there is an argument to be made for blogging, and tweeting, as artful pursuits.  But I did not embark on this project for the sake of my potential readers, nor with the purpose of building a readership – that will either happen, or it won’t.  What prompted me to begin blogging (cards on the table) was the prospect of a regular, disciplined practice of writing, to dislodge my habitual modes of research and more research, voluminous note-taking leading to drafts and more drafts, revisions galore and eventually, should all the stars align, publication within two years of manuscript delivery.  What I’m doing instead (or at least on a parallel track) in this still-experimental space, is essentially posting pages from my notebooks.  Which brings me to my second exemplar, the blogger who writes under the name Salam Pax.  As I indicated a few posts back, Salam blogged earlier this year about finding a notebook that had served as a diary during the months after the invasion of Baghdad, and that had gone missing in the ensuing chaos.  Five years on, he told his readers the story of the lost notebook, and added “I thought it would be good to look over these notes and share what I have from that time with you… I hope I’ll be posting things from the notebook and the papers I have, there are new links I can add and photos which have not been put on the blog at the time.  I will upload it all online and throw the pieces of paper I have away.  Hanging on to all of this for six years is enough.”  http://salampax.wordpress.com
While my notebooks, some of which date back more than five years and have likewise been retrieved from a chaotic period, can’t hold a candle to Salam’s – they have survived neither siege nor bombs, and chronicle no such historical events – I humbly follow his example in posting pages from them anyway.  But I’ll hang on to the originals, at least for a while.

 10/08/2009  Give me permalinks or give me oblivion

Scott Rosenberg’s Say Everything is a valuable account of the history of Web-based journalism and the origins and rise of blogging.  In particular, his insight into “the simple utility of a reverse-chronological list” as a way to help readers understand where to look for new material is grounded in a meticulous chronicling of the early days of Web publishing.  At this stage, when many have come to take for granted the instant fix afforded by reverse chronology, when websites (in Rosenberg’s terms) are “less about subscription than about addiction,” it is worthwhile to retrace his steps, to connect what we experience now with the origins and genesis of Web publishing.




Say Everything also makes a persuasive case for the watershed character of the advent of “permalinks,”

 a code for each blog post that enabled other websites and bloggers to link back to a specific post. (Previously it had been difficult to do anything other than point to a blog’s home page, which would change all the time, foiling any attempt to link to a particular item.) Later the Movable Type platform would expand this concept by giving each individual blog post its own separate Web page as a permanent home with a unique address to which links could point.  Most other blogging tools followed suit.  This software wrinkle, lttle noticed at the time, made a huge difference:  it meant that the basic unit of writing online would change from the page to the post.  Blog posts became the atoms of the Web.

In our own moment, we are bound to pay attention to the little-noticed software wrinkles that are changing the medium right now.

 10/07/2009  ‘Say Everything.’ Really?

As a relative latecomer to blogging, and as someone whose writing has generally been destined for articles, essays and books, I am still coming to terms with the novelty of one-click self-publication.  While it continues to feel a bit strange to make public what is merely presentable prose – written in one sitting, lacking the presumptive polish of a ‘finished’ piece – I have set aside my qualms for the time being in the resolve simply to take part.

 Like others, I have learned a good deal about the genesis of blogging from Scott Rosenberg’s recent volume Say Everything, whose subtitle is How Blogging Began, What it’s Becoming, and Why it Matters.  The following paragraph seems to have generated the book’s title:

Most writers today grew up in a world where the ability to publish was a hard-won privilege, and, once won, guaranteed at least some attention on its basis alone.  That world is rapidly fading.  On the Web, publishing has become an abundant, effectively limitless resource.  Clay Shirky has laid out the consequences for us:  When publishing was scarce, we filtered first, making choices based on relevance or quality before committing words to our limited stock of paper, our costly fleet of trucks, our scarce radio and TV frequencies.  The Web inverts this sequence.  We publish, then filter.  Say everything first, ask questions later. (319)

 I take Rosenberg’s point, and recognize the paradigm shift he is indicating.  But surely any blogger worth reading asks questions before and while writing posts, comments and responses.  Interrogating one’s topic cannot be postponed till after publication, even if blogging allows for the rapid transmission of unfinished work.  And what blogger would presume to ‘say everything’ about anything in a single post?

 In my next post (or some post hereafter) I will return to Rosenberg’s valuable volume, which offers plenty of grist for a blogger’s mill.

10/06/2009  Viva Salam Pax

Salam Pax notebook 

I predicted in my first post that I would be citing the words and work of others as this blog unspools.  In the spirit of reproducing posts that are better than any I can hope to write – well, I can always hope, I suppose – I offer a sampling from Salam Pax:  The Baghdad Blogger.  I chose this entry from among other possibilities in part because it extends a poignant promise of more to come.

 “Looking back, one last time.”  March 22, 2009

 In three weeks time it’s the 6th anniversary for the fall/liberation of Baghdad.

 Baghdad falls/Baghdad is liberated…all semantics.  What is fact is our life in Iraq as we knew it ended at that day.

 Since the start of the war in 2003 we had to move house three times for various reasons.  A lot was given away or lost in those moves including a notebook I used as a diary during the days when we had no electricity or internet access, it also contained flyers and other things from those days.

When the bombing stopped a couple of weeks later and the first place with internet access opened I sent all the notes to my blog friend Diana Moon and she posted them for me on my blog.  The blog posts from that time are still online, you can go check them out. 

While looking through the boxes of belongings I found the notebook, with newspapers, photos and the flyers I had kept.  As five years have passed and we’re entering the seventh year of our post-war/post-Saddam lives I thought it would be good to look over these notes and share what I have from that time with you. 

Until the 9th I hope I’ll be posting things from the notebook and the papers I have, there are new links I can add and photos which have not been put on the blog at the time.  I will upload it all online and throw the pieces of paper I have away.  Hanging on to all of this for six years is enough.”* 

Read more at http://salampax.wordpress.com/ 

Viva Salam Pax. 

*Readers of fledgling:  cf. my previous post on Fisk’s Beirut bookbinder, who apparently throws very little paper away no matter how old it is. 

 10/05/2009  The Bookbinder of Beirut

Bookbinding koran

Never mind the fact that there is no journalist that I admire more than Robert Fisk – this is merely anecdotal.  But I find something characteristically instructive, and perhaps salutary, in his recent column for The Independent on the oldest and most honoured bookbinder in Beirut, known for that reason as “Sheik Tijlid” – Sheik Binder.  Here is a sample:

There are only five left in Lebanon, repairing old newspapers, handwritten 17th-century Korans, ministry archives, cutting and pasting and then modelling fine leather covers and impressing on that wonderful soft leather the title of each volume in gold leaf.  Riyad Shaker al-Khabbaz lives for his bunker of an office with its ancient iron presses, its century-old steel Arabic typeface from Germany, France and England. Some of his presses come from the homes of priests – who were the bookbinders of Beirut in centuries past. 

He hands me a Koran, written in black and red ink, the margins adorned with yet more handwriting, interpretations of the sura – 300, 400 years old? – and he tells me about his client.  ‘He is a man who greatly loves a Lebanese woman and he wants to give this to her as a gift.  It is worth $100,000.’ 


For those who dwell in large part in the virtual world, who spend their days staring at flickering screens of one sort or another, such an account may jar them back to a reckoning with the materiality of the written word, and the materiality of the history to which, in one of its multiple functions, it refers.

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Filed under Books, Culture, Current events, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

fledgling’s archive, november 2009

November 2009

11/30/2009  Parenthesis (more confessions of a novice blogger)

When, a little over two months ago, I chose a name for this startup blog, I wanted it to convey (among other things) the humility with which I was crossing – and perhaps trespassing – into a domain and  a practice that were new to me.  After a couple of decades working at or near the forefront of my discipline (with remuneration), I find myself on much less certain terrain, even as I’m spending a good part of my work day labouring for free, and perhaps in vain.  And while learning daily can only be good for one in the long term, a felt lack of mastery and a sense of constantly playing catch-up are novel, and not entirely reassuring, experiences.

Let one example serve to illustrate the unsettling admixture:  the excitement of discovering new media and new modes of interaction with the slight disappointment that comes with realizing that others have already encountered, processed and either put their stamp on the medium in question or in some cases moved on.  It was only last week that I became aware of the concrete options for writing and publishing something between a full-fledged weblog a tweet.  My blogging platform, TypePad, began offering a quick-compose option.  And then I found, through reading other blogs and clicking through myriad links, that Tumblr and Posterous have for some time offered mini-blogging services, which are sufficiently distinct from one another to prompt “tumblr v posterous” debates and evaluations around the Web.  I promptly signed on with Posterous (mostly because I’d read a post on the site that I’d liked) and started emailing short posts, before I even knew about all the options and “extras” that were available.

And this is where, again, I find myself outside my comfort zone – by design.  I’m leaping before I look, putting the cart before the horse, messing with the order of things as I’ve known it for most of my life.  Unsettling, yes.  But also very cool.

Posted at 02:03 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: blogging, posterous, Tumblr, Twitter, Typepad, Web


11/30/2009  If you want a swarm, you gotta inform

I think that this post, drawn from http://www.steverubel.com and dated November 23, 2009, can stand pretty much on its own for the moment.  Under the title “Study:  Twitter is 80% ‘Meformers’ and 20% ‘Informers,’ Rubel cites a report in the Miami Herald on a new study about “Twitter psychology” (a formulation that is perhaps too abbrieviated to be very useful).

The communication and information professors, Mor Naaman and Jeffrey Boase, found that there tend to be two types of Twitter folks.  The majority, or 80%, were what they call “meformers” – Twitter users who sent out messages that revolved around themselves, updating others about their activities or sharing thoughts and feelings.

The other 20% are “informers” – people who were actually sharing information.  Not surprisingly, the informers tended to have larger social networks and be more interactive.

Rubel’s gloss:  “If you’re going to attract a swarm, you gotta inform.”

For the moment I will just flag a couple of points for further consideration.  First, this simple opposition ignores the fact that many users operate in both modes.  Some of the most generous suppliers of information on a wide range of topics (many examples come to mind) also tweet about their activities and certainly about their opinions.

Secondly, I think it would be fruitful to connect these numbers to the transition marked (belatedly) by the recent shift in Twitter’s framing question, or prompt:  from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?”  If more users take the prompt to heart, might we expect the percentages to shift accordingly over time?  If they don’t, what might that portend for Twitter’s future?

Posted at 12:04 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


11/27/2009  Modalities of blogging

Below are the passages from yesterday’s notebook pages (cribbed from http://www.theplayethic.com/2009/08/macro-meso-blogging.html) that I have highlighted for future reference:

If I want to be aphoristic, or be immediately useful with a one link-reference (which can, of course, be to my macro-blog entry), I go to the land of the Fat Wee Bird. The Moses of the Net, John Perry Barlow, recently described Twitter as a place where “genius last ten minutes… Twitter is casting pearls before mayflies“.  Funny, but only half-true: tweet a link from a macro-level blog, and it can operate as a gear changer, moving people down a few speeds from their skittery cybernetic loop.

But if we posit the poles of micro- and macro-blogging, there must perforce be many gradations in between – what we could call “meso-blogging”. 140 characters is indeed valuable for the concision it imposes, and the haiku-like or newspaper-headline-like editing it compels. It’s also a kind of input that, with the right device, can easily happen in the tiniest interstices of a busy day. But what happens when what you have to say spills over that long-lost telco engineer’s arbitrary text limit? When you have a small story to tell, or a sequence of sound or movement to bear witness to? How do we gently ease out from the limits of 140, yet still retain our spontaneity, our responsiveness to our environment, our thrill of instant publishing? 

One can easily imagine another modality of blogging coming through this kind of platform – one that’s more experience-and-affect based. Capturing epiphanies at arts, sporting events or family gatherings; enabling a richer record of holiday, tourism, expeditions; presenting rich, personal and multimedia records of practice or craft.

I’m also wondering whether meso-blogging might also interleave with the long, tottering fall of mainstream journalism. Is the hyper-local, super-specialised media that Jeff Jarvis keeps imagining actually awaiting richer blog platforms and smarter devices – where localities narrate themselves across a range of media streams, and journalists modularise and editorialise these flows (seeking, as ever, the elusive ad dollar…difficult to do with socialist infrastructure, I know…)

Here, in a modest curatorial exercise of my own, are some excerpts from recent posts on Dave Winer’s blog scripting.com:

“Posterous and Tumblr are next” (November 23, 2009) http://www.scripting.com/stories/2009/11/23/posterousAndTumblrAreNext.html

There is a position between the lightweight Twitter and the heavyweight WordPress. And Tumblr, Posterous and now TypePad are positioning themselves right there. I expect this sweet spot to become more important over time. Twitter is, no doubt, introducing a great number of people to the joys of blogging. When they want more, some of them will certainly move to these “lite” blogging tools.

“Tumblr and Posterous” (November 25, 2009) http://www.scripting.com/stories/2009/11/25/tumblrAndPosterous.html

Meanwhile, TechCrunch has caught onto the idea I borrowed from Steve Rubel, almost. They noted that WordPress was growing while Twitter’s growth has (perhaps temporarily) stalled.

The phenomenon is not, as some have said, the “death” of blogging (I hate that word!) — rather huge growth in blogging at the low-end as NBBs discover its joys through Twitter and Facebook. Perhaps very few of them will want more, but even a few is a lot! Expect a huge surge in medium-range and high-end blogging in the coming years, with products like Tumblr and Posterous and WordPress perfectly poised to capture the growth.

Two things the Twitter guys should, imho, be thinking about: 

1. How can they capture this growth as people move up-scale? Should they have a blogging network of their own? Or…

2. As people branch out they’re not going to want to give up their networks on Twitter. An alternate to #1 is to fully open the Twitter architecture before the flow around it builds. The Internet routes around a funnel, which is largely what Twitter is, because it’s too limiting for what users want to do. Maybe not today, but it’s easy to see the day coming. 

Historically it always seems to work this way. A company boots up a new activity, then people get familiar with it and want all the power and don’t need the training wheels. An industry appears where there used to be a company.

More news.. The TypePad guys have also gotten in touch with news that they have a new simplified REST-style API coming for their new “micro” service. I was actually looking for it.

I totally get the sense that there’s a critical mass developing. All these companies are competing fiercely, and they’re sharp and focused and hungry. And attaining some success.

I got a note from David Karp at Tumblr saying that for the first time his site is in the top 100 of all sites on the Internet. That’s pretty amazing and something to be proud of. Congrats!

One step at a time. This has been a pretty good week for getting things to work together.

I’ll keep you posted as things progress.

And a third contribution from Winer’s blog:  “How (slowly) we add metadata to tweets” (November 25, 2009)  http://www.scripting.com/stories/2009/11/25/howSlowlyWeAddMetadataToTw.html

Why make an exception for geographic data or which app created the tweet or which tweet it’s in response to, or that it was retweeted by 7 people and who they are? Or who wrote it? And when

These bits of data all live outside the 140 character “limit.”  

Every good idea people come up with for Twitter involves latching a new piece of metadata to a tweet. And in the middle you have a conflicted, slow and arbitrary (and opaque) decision-making process, controlled by one company.  

Shouldn’t the architecture of tweets be open to any kind of data that anyone thinks of?  

If you make a Twitter client please, start pushing your users’ updates to a RSS feed on a server outside of twitter.com. It’s just a backup. That’s the first easy small step down the path of free evolution. Once someone does that, there are more steps.  

To get an idea of what’s possible, I recommend reading A better design for Twitter retweets. Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to wait for Twitter Corp to try this out?  

The link Dave provides is to a post by Alex Bowyer for bitcurrent.com, entitled “A better design for Twitter Retweets”  http://www.bitcurrent.com/a-better-design-for-twitter-retweets/, which brings this cut-and-paste montage-fest of the last couple of days back to my posts from last week on the crisis in Retweeting.

Right, that’s just about enough curation and montage for one week.  As you are aware, these passages comprise my most recent notebook pages, offered here for your consideration (some will be available on my new meso-blog site, makurrah’s posterous, which I hope can serve as a gloss on fledgling).

Posted at 02:09 PM in Books, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: Alex Bowyer, bitcurrent.com, blogging, curation, Dave Karp, Dave Winer, Facebook, Internet, Jeff Jarvis, John Perry Barlow, macroblogging, mesoblogging, microblogging, montage, posterous, retweets, scripting.com, Steve Rubel, TechCrunch, theplayethic.com, tumblr, Twitter, TypePad, WordPress


11/26/2009  I have seen the future, and it includes meso-blogging

Of the many posts on blogging – past, present and future – that I’ve dutifully studied, paraphrased, quoted, filed and/or trashed in the space of about a week, this one merits the full copy/paste treatment.  I found it at http://www.theplayethic.com/2009/08/macro-meso-blogging.html.  This more than qualifies as today’s notebook page (and I’m going to sign on with posterous shortly).

Meso-blogging: or, posting between the poles of micro- and macro-blogging

[….]  We know about blogging; we know about micro-blogging. But is it time to start thinking about macro-blogging, and after that, meso-blogging?

Macro-blogging for me is a grand(iose) term for how my own blogging, done through a standard publishing platform (Typepad), has evolved. It’s become a place where my research, journalism and presentations are “publicly” stored – all the better to enhance my intellectual brand. But it’s also become a place where I can “essay”, travel forth, into subjects, in a way that satisfies my own editorial sensibility (like now), rather than that of a client, publication or broadcaster. As JP said, micro-blogging – which for both of us meaning sending the same message to Twitter, Facebook, Friendfeed, etc – “takes the static out of one’s blog writing”. 

For us both, our blog – or macro-blog – has now become a very Enlightenment-style space, a place for extended publication (and for me, sometimes, textual restitution – saving newspaper pieces from the tender mercies of subeditors). I’m planning my entry into the world of ideas podcasting at the moment: and I would certainly put my 50-minute audio or video discussions in the “macro” category, in more senses than just byte-size. I want people to dwell with this material, to have it operate as the stimulating background to their commute, or housecleaning, or Sunday glass of wine, in the way that traditional media does. 

So like slow food, you could call the content of macro-blogging slow media: the long-read, the long-listen or the long-watch, dwelling with a voice or approach over some duration. I note from JP’s blog that Cory Doctorow is putting his new book Makers on his blog, chapter by chapter – which adds “Dickensian” to “Enlightenment” as descriptors for the macro-blogging space. Many authors are using their blogs in this way – as a kind of open rumination and development of their books (Kevin Kelly’s The Technium is the most magnificent example of this I know). 

If I want to be aphoristic, or be immediately useful with a one link-reference (which can, of course, be to my macro-blog entry), I go to the land of the Fat Wee Bird. The Moses of the Net, John Perry Barlow, recently described Twitter as a place where “genius last ten minutes… Twitter is casting pearls before mayflies“.  Funny, but only half-true: tweet a link from a macro-level blog, and it can operate as a gear changer, moving people down a few speeds from their skittery cybernetic loop. (I attempted a map of some of these subtleties at my keynote at the Media 140 conference in London a few months ago, relating real-time media to old-time media). 

But if we posit the poles of micro- and macro-blogging, there must perforce be many gradations in between – what we could call “meso-blogging”. 140 characters is indeed valuable for the concision it imposes, and the haiku-like or newspaper-headling-like editing it compels. It’s also a kind of input that, with the right device, can easily happen in the tiniest interstices of a busy day. But what happens when what you have to say spills over that long-lost telco engineer’s arbitrary text limit? When you have a small story to tell, or a sequence of sound or movement to bear witness to? How do we gently ease out from the limits of 140, yet still retain our spontaneity, our responsiveness to our environment, our thrill of instant publishing? 

Meso-blogging already has its obvious phenomena – eg, rich media clips generated from a mobile device by the man or woman on their feet (Qik, Audioboo). I’ve used Audioboo on the iPhone reasonably successfully in the past – but one or two deeply frustrating failed uploads, as the content squeezes and sputters its way through a toiling 3G connection, make me think that the bandwidth isn’t really ubiquitous enough for that, nor are the devices (or their apps) properly configured. 

Posterous is clearly intended to fill the meso-blogging gap. It simplifies its input mechanism to the basics (an e-mail – manageable by almost every device these days, static or mobile), but it receives every form and size of file, from photos to MP3’s to documents to video. (I’ve never used Tumblr, though JP made a strong recommendation). Posterous also narrows the gap between creation, utility and publicity by giving all audio its immediate iTunes link – a very seductive integration (though I’ll be using Typepad-via-Feedburner). 

One can easily imagine another modality of blogging coming through this kind of platform – one that’s more experience-and-affect based. Capturing epiphanies at arts, sporting events or family gatherings; enabling a richer record of holiday, tourism, expeditions; presenting rich, personal and multimedia records of practice or craft. All of this is scattered across various services at the moment, from YouTube to Flickr to SlideShare – which of course the diligent macro-blogger harvests and embeds to garnish her deep-dives into topics and interests (see my Micheal Jackson essay with the opening You Tube clip, and for a supreme master at macro-blogging, Momus’s Click Opera). But the idea of creating a service which presents all modes of capturing experience and thought, easily and tidily, seems right on the button to me. As I say: not quite macro, not quite micro, but meso-blogging. 

Yet I still think we’re pretty far from a web interface that could adequately express this ‘dream-catcher’ element of meso-blogging. I’ve had a great experience over the last 18 months with the Ning social network platform, and particularly with its ability to let you quickly shift blocks of rich media around its front page. In terms of interaction design, mainstream blog platforms need to think more expansively – breaking out of the essentially “one-column-with-fringes” format, and re-conceiving the norm as three, maybe four contiguous columns of rich multimedia content. (I know that there are open-source content-management systems like Joomla and Drupal that could do this for me – but as the King of Pop didn’t exactly once sing, “I’m a user, not a coder”).

The diverse input that’s coming from our smartphones, netbooks and (probably) tablets needs a more polyphonic (or perhaps better, polymorphic) kind of display mechanism on the web. Facebook’s endless tinkerings with its interface – still far from right for me – are evidence of how much pressure is building up from the tsunami of user-generated content that’s coming from the populace now.

As our devices become smarter and more mobile, and bathe in an ever-richer soup of Hertzian frequencies, we will each have the chance to become ‘mini media-moguls’ – writers, dialogists, broadcasters, retailers, folksonomists, community and friendship network managers. I’m also wondering whether meso-blogging might also interleave with the long, tottering fall of mainstream journalism. Is the hyper-local, super-specialised media that Jeff Jarvis keeps imagining actually awaiting richer blog platforms and smarter devices – where localities narrate themselves across a range of media streams, and journalists modularise and editorialise these flows (seeking, as ever, the elusive ad dollar…difficult to do with socialist infrastructure, I know…)

Meso-blogging might sound like setting up your laptop over the starters at a Japanese noodle bar…But there’s certainly (ahem) a soup of possibilities between where we are with Twitter, and what dignified middle-aged men like me and JP are starting to do textually with their WordPresses and Typepads. These might not be exactly the polarities you want to measure this field by. But please, choose your own. And when you do, meso-blog me about it.

Posted on Sunday, August 23, 2009 at 09:44 PM

Posted at 01:49 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Technorati Tags: Audioboo, blog post, blogging, Cory Doctorow, Dickensian, Drupal, Enlightenment, Facebook, Flickr, iPhone, J.P. Rangaswami, Jeff Jarvis, John Perry Barlow, Joomla, Kevin Kelly, macro-blogging, Makers, meso-blogging, Michael Jackson, micro-blogging, Ning, Posterous, Qik, SledeShare, The Technium, theplayethic.com, Tumblr, Twitter, Typepad, YouTube


11/25/2009  Conceptions of blogging: a juxtaposition

A simple, fairly stark juxtaposition of two conceptions of blogging culled from a couple of days’ reading.

First, Dave Winer, writing on Rebooting the News # 34 (with Jay Rosen)  http://jr.ly/whnr

The natural born blogger

Dave wrote, “A blogger is someone who takes matters into his or her hands.” This was a reaction to the film, Julie and Julia, which is about a blogger. But the real blogger was the elder one, Julia Child. She stuck her neck out, and disrupted the old system. “This may not be easy, but you can do it…” is the blogger’s true battlecry.

The natural born blogger (Dave says) is “someone whose nature is to do stuff without waiting for permission. To explain things, knowing they could easily be wrong. To go first. To err on the side of saying too much.”

And here is a post by Chris Brogan that appeared in my inbox this a.m.  http://www.chrisbrogan.com/how-to-use-your-blog-for-stock-answers/

There are lots of things you have to answer more than once as a business (or even as an individual). In the book Trust Agents, Julien and I write about “putting it on paper,” which means using the web to leverage the “answer once, share often” kinds of advice and information that people might need from you. I do this more and more often.Here are a few examples of “stock” answers I share with people often:

Are these two conceptions of blogging compatible? 

 Posted at 04:08 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) Technorati Tags: blog post, blogging, Chris Brogan, Dave Winer, Jay Rosen, Julia Child, Julie and Julia, Rebooting the News, Trust Agents 


11/24/2009   Of Dave Winer, Julia Child, and the “natural born blogger”

In this post I will retrace the steps of what is becoming a typical trajectory for me:  one in which the point of departure is a tweet or a blog post, usually from someone I follow, that directs me to another source that itself points elsewhere.  Though I monitored Twitter at a distance for a time  before I signed on and began taking part, I would not have guessed that a tweet could unfold in multiple directions worth pursuing, like a map of a place that you love folded origami-style into a tiny, enigmatic shape, and unfolded again.

This morning’s example was a tweet from @jayrosen_nyu that is characteristically straightforward in its framing of the link:

“Rebooting The News #34 with me and Dave Winer.  Show notes and mp3  http://jr.ly/whnr (Google Wave, natural born bloggers, spot.us and more.)

Jay Rosen has more than once provided the link that set a blog post in motion, so I was prepared to follow his direction here, particularly because I am also inclined to want to hear what Dave Winer has to say, especially about “natural born bloggers” (cf. yesterday’s post and my set-to with a “pro”).  And I’ve been postponing an investigation of “Rebooting the News” for too long, mostly because I generally don’t like watching video on my laptop screen. When I clicked through, I found #34 in the form of a post by Winer, some of which I’ll reproduce here, with a brief gloss of my own.

For starters, Dave had something to say about Twitter’s belated move from “What are you doing?” to “What’s happening?” as the service’s framing question, or prompt – a move announced on the Twitter blog last week.  I addressed this at some length in “‘What’s happening?’ Indeed,” posted on fledgling several days ago.  Here is Dave Winer on the matter:

Twitter’s new prompt 

The official prompt Twitter offers users changed this week. From “what are you doing?” to “what’s happening?” is a shift toward… news! Or, from first person to third person.

Why did they make this shift? Dave: “They have a problem,” a wall, as they call it– converting all the people who sign-up into regular, active users.

I would only underscore that the change in formulation does signal a shift, and potentially a shift toward news, if by that we understand the chronicling of history as it unfolds – journalism in its most crucial function as contemporary historiography.  After this virtual meeting of minds, I was delighted to read what these two mindcasters had to say about the concept of the “natural born blogger.”

The natural born blogger

Dave wrote, “A blogger is someone who takes matters into his or her hands.” This was a reaction to the film, Julie and Julia, which is about a blogger. But the real blogger was the elder one, Julia Child. She stuck her neck out, and disrupted the old system. “This may not be easy, but you can do it…” is the blogger’s true battlecry.

The natural born blogger (Dave says) is “someone whose nature is to do stuff without waiting for permission. To explain things, knowing they could easily be wrong. To go first. To err on the side of saying too much.”

Jay: An example of that in journalism was I.F. Stone. Bloggers aren’t intimidated by expertise or certification. “In rebooting the news we need people who can just look at what needs to be done, look at the tools they have for doing it, and just start in.” As with the political blog, Firedoglake, which sprung up when an ex-movie producer and a lawyer felt the Valerie Plame case simply wasn’t getting the attention it deserved. “They just started this blog because it needed to exist.”

Dave: “That seems like it’s a very American thing.”Jay:

“Jefferson’s idea was that talent was very broadly distributed.”

Dave: “Which is one of the reasons why you want to distribute the publishing tools… That’s what inspires me.”

As a Yank long ago transplanted to Canada, I can’t fully endorse the “very American” part, even if Jefferson was right about the distribution of talent.  But I’m inspired by Dave’s being inspired by the distribution of the publishing tools (remembering the moment when I opened an email from Typepad granting me membership in their program for journos, which however oddly felt like a meaningful certification, and in that moment left the PhD and assorted acronyms of academe languishing in one of memory’s less accessible drawers).  So without hesitation I clicked through the link to Dave’s blog in my quest to discover more about “natural born bloggers.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009 by Dave Winer.

I’ve now seen two movies that had bloggers in leading roles. 

1. State of Play. A remake of a brilliant BBC series that was so bad, that portrayed the blogger in such a superficial and humiliating fashion, that I actually walked out in disgust. (A movie has to be very bad for me to walk out on it.) 

2. Julie and Julia. I saw it last night, and stayed to the end. I was just as angry at the way they portrayed the blogger, but it turns out for an opposite reason. In this case the dishonesty was reversed, the blogger wasn’t at all heroic, and they misrepresented the hero, Julia Child, who was, in many ways more of a true blogger than the blogger! Kind of funny how that works. 

A blogger isn’t just someone who uses blogging software, at least not to me. A blogger is someone who takes matters into his or her own hands. Someone who sees a problem that no one is trying to solve, one that desperately needs solving, that begs to be solved, and because the tools are so inexpensive that they no longer present a barrier, they are available to the heroic individual. As far as I can tell, Julia Child was just such a person. Blogging software didn’t exist when she was pioneering, but it seems that if it did she would have used it.  

Julie used blogging, but Julia was a natural-born blogger. 

The dishonesty in the story was how they portrayed Julia Child’s reaction to Julie Powell’s writing. They didn’t explain why she disapproved. If you just went by what the movie said you could easily think she was bitter or closed-minded or jealous of young Julie. Luckily the archive is still on the web, and a simple Google search turned up the answer. Julia Child considered The Julie/Julia Project a stunt. She said of Powell: “She would never really describe the end results, how delicious it was, and what she learned.” There’s a lot more in a Publisher Weekly interview with Judith Jones, Child’s editor at Knopf. Now, that makes sense!

I’d love to see a movie that captures the heroic spirit of blogging. Like all inspiration, it’s rare, but that’s why it’s worth making a movie about. The story of the nobility of blogging largely remains, imho, untold.  @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

I’m somehow skeptical that “the story of the nobility of blogging” could or should be told through a visual medium.  But I’m still inspired, most days, by what I know of Dave Winer.  And at some point I’ll click through to the Google search for the Julia Child archive, and the interview with Judith Jones.  (I saw the film, too.  Hated the Julie character.  Will never forget the final few frames, with Meryl/Julia opening the box that contains the first copy of her masterwork.)

If there is a persuasive image of Julia as blogger, natural born or otherwise, it looks something like this.

And I’ve no idea whether Meryl blogs, but I’m partial to photos of classy women with great skin having a smoke.

Posted at 12:15 PM in Books, Food and Drink, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) Technorati Tags: blog post, blogging, Canada, Dave Winer, Firedoglake, Google Wave, I.F. Stone, Jay Rosen, Judith Jones, Julia Child, Julie and Julia, Julie Powell, Knopf, Meryl Streep, Rebooting the News, State of Play, The Julie/Julia Project, Thomas Jerrerson, tweet, Twitter  


11/23/2009  Blogging 101 (or is that 1.0?). Can I get advanced credit?

Once in a while I am overwhelmed by a sense of just how new I am to blogging – this even though I’ve been writing for a living for my entire adult life.  When I check my dashboard (as I just did) and note that I’ve fired off 62 posts in 2 months, my first inclination is to tell myself (for who else would care?) that a post a day, on average, is not bad for starters.  Still in view, however, are the other stats flickering on the dashboard screen:  lifetime pageviews, average pageviews daily, and comments.  And I admit that the last of these, the modest figure reflecting the elusive comments, sometimes gives me pause.  Are these just so many virtual messages in virtual bottles, destined only rarely to wash up on a distant virtual shore?

At times like this I occasionally turn to experts in the field (self-styled or peer-designated), for example the folks behind the ProBlogger forum. Through my (reluctantly) paid subscription, their new posts arrive in my inbox periodically, and yesterday’s missive, entitled “Why Nobody Cares About your Blog,” interrupted my train of thought on what I was planning to write about (a consideration of Carlin Romano’s piece for the Chronicle of Higher Education on why “We Need ‘Philosophy of Journalism,'” which we’ll set aside for another day).  This guest post was written by David Risley, who, according to the note appended, is “a 6-figure professional blogger who got his start as a tech blogger.  His blog David Risley dot com is a pull-no-punches account of the business of pro blogging and what it takes to earn a living as a blogger.”Within the limits defined by the blogosphere, who am I to quarrel with someone of that stature and accomplishement?  Particularly when the prose in his post is so good-humoured, so accessible.  Here is a sampling:

Are You Talking AT or Talking TO Your Readers?

If I walked into a crowded mall, went into the food court, stood there in the middle of it and just started talking, what do you think would happen?Most people wouldn’t see me.  then, a few would and they would probably think I was crazy.  At the end of the day, I’ll just be that crazy guy they saw at the mall.

Now, imagine if 90% of the people in the food court did that.  They just got up and started talking into space.  It would be one big din of noise.  Now, all of those people want to feel as if they are famous, so they start competing and trying to out-talk the other people.  The volume increases, but few are being listened to.  The ones who are listened to are the ones at least saying something useful.

And that is the blogosphere.

Most new bloggers go out there and start talking, then hope somebody notices and listens.  Chances are, it won’t happen that way.

According to Risley, the solution to this predicament (in which I obviously share) is what he terms “true communication,” which entails talking to rather than at your potential readers (here he draws on personal experience involving his wife, who, in trying to convey something to him, makes the mistake that so many bloggers do, talking at rather than to him, and presumably pays the price by taking out the garbage herself).  And it isn’t successful communication “unless the idea being said fully ARRIVES on the other end and is understood.  To complete this process, an acknowledgement of some kind would need to take place to show that the information was indeed received and understood.”

Underlying all of this is, of course, the importance of saying something that people want and doing it in a likable way.  When you combine being likable, speaking within a reality that your audience will click with, along with actual communication where your thought actually gets to your reader, that’s when people will most definitely care about your blog.

Even before Risley “applies” this sage wisdom to blogging, I’m asking myself (and not for the first time) whether I really care whether people really care about my blog, if this is what I have to do to win “readers, fans and more traffic than you’ll know what to do with” (to say nothing of making money with my blog….).

When Risley finally get around to “Applying This To Blogging,” we read:

Blogging is a communications platform.  Personal human relations still apply.  If you just talk to yourself on your blog and hope people listen, it won’t work very well.  That’s not communication.

In other words, talk TO your audience.  Your job is to have something worth saying, then communicate that in a fashion which works for THEM.  Do it in a reality which works for them.  Make sure the idea arrives in their head by getting them to talk back to you.  Without some acknowledgement from the audience, you don’t have true communication taking place.  The cycle will be incomplete.

Your job with your blog is to create a relationship with your audience.  You want them to know, like and trust you.  That is done by forming true understanding between yourself and each of your readers.  You want them to see you as an authority in your market, but also a trusted friend.  The key to do that will be what I said above.

Blogging isn’t all about yourself.  It isn’t about just blurting words into WordPress and hoping people listen.  It is about talking TO them and having them talk back.

If you are new to blogging and hardly have any audience yet, the same principles apply.  You want to have these interactions with other people.  So, you go out onto social media and you do exactly the same thing.  In other words, go where the people are and strike up a conversation.  Then, with some form of understanding formed, you direct them to your blog.

Build a tribe of people who know, like and trust you…who you routinely talk to (in both directions), then you’ve made it.  The rest of your goals as a blogger become a piece of cake.

Enough already.  Let me just say that this post is to the effective use of language as the film Dead Poets Society is to teaching literature.  If the terms of that analogy suggest that I am talking at you rather than to you, perhaps you should take time to read them again, and think twice.  Or you could come up with your own analogy. Or you could go ahead and read (again) an earlier post from this blog that can stand as my response to David Risley, professional blogger, and his ilk (I’m sure they’re nice people, some with nice beach houses).


From “Cards on the Table,” first published October 9, 2009

At this stage, I might feel more than a little discouraged at the time and energy it takes to gain a foothold in a medium that claims to allow for the lightning-quick, for transmission and exchange in what is termed “real-time,” were it not for two figures that I hold out, each in his way, as exemplars.  I think first of Walter Benjamin, whose work I have been reading for most of my adult life; in this context, I return to his essay “The Task of the Translator, written in 1923 as an introduction to his own translations of Baudelaire.  Here is its notorious first paragraph, as translated by Harry Zohn:

In the appreciation of a work of art or an art form, consideration of the receiver never proves fruitful.  Not only is any reference to a certain public or its representatives misleading, but even the concept of an “ideal” receiver is detrimental in the theoretical consideration of art, since all it posits is the existence and nature of man as such.  Art, in the same way, posits man’s physical and spiritual existence, but in none of its works is it concerned with his response.  No poem is intended for the reader, no picture for the beholder, no symphony for the listener.  [emphasis added]


Certainly this weblog lays no claim to the status of artwork – though there is an argument to be made for blogging, and tweeting, as artful pursuits.  But I did not embark on this project for the sake of my potential readers, or with the purpose of building a readership – that will either happen, or it won’t.  What prompted me to begin blogging (cards on the table) was the prospect of a regular, disciplined practice of writing, to dislodge my habitual modes of research and more research, voluminous note-taking leading to drafts and more drafts, revisions galore and eventually, should all the stars align, publication within two years of manuscript delivery.  What I’m doing instead (or at least on a parallel track) in this still-experimental space, is essentially posting pages from my notebooks.  Which brings me to my second exemplar, the blogger who writes under the name Salam Pax.  As I indicated a few posts back, Salam blogged earlier this year about finding a notebook that had served as a diary during the months after the invasion of Baghdad, and that had gone missing in the ensuing chaos.  Five years on, he told his readers the story of the lost notebook, and added “I thought it would be good to look over these notes and share what I have from that time with you… I hope I’ll be posting things from the notebook and the papers I have, there are new links I can add and photos which have not been put on the blog at the time.  I will upload it all online and throw the pieces of paper I have away.  Hanging on to all of this for six years is enough.”  http://salampax.wordpress.com

While my notebooks, some of which date back more than five years and have likewise been retrieved from a chaotic period, can’t hold a candle to Salam’s – they have survived neither siege nor bombs, and chronicle no such experience, bear witness to no full-fledged historical events – I humbly follow his example in posting pages from them anyway.  But I’ll hang on to the originals, at least for a while.


Hey, this is the first time I’ve copied and pasted stuff from my own past post onto a new one.  Either I’m picking up the threads of a semi-coherent narrative, or I’ve degenerated into a virtual stutter.  Either way, I won’t be seeking David Risley’s input.

Posted at 01:23 PM in Books, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: “The Task of the Translator”, Baudelaire, blog post, blogging, blogosphere, Carlin Romano, chronicle of Higher Education, dashboard, David Risley, Dead Poets Society, Harry Zohn, ProBlogger, Salam Pax, Walter Benjamin, WordPress

11/20/2009  Clay Shirky on “How social media can make history” (via TED)

In the spirit of my last post, which sought to align Twitter’s revised question – “What’s happening?” – with the materiality of historical events, here is a link to video footage of a talk that Clay Shirky presented in June 2009 (contemporaneously with the aftermath of the Iran election), under the title “How social media can make history.”


What follows is the transcript of that talk, copied and pasted from http://www.ted.com/talks/clay_shirky_how_cellphones_twitter_facebook_can_make_history.html , where it is available in an interactive format.


Clay Shirky on “How social media can make history,” June 2009

I want to talk about the transformed media landscape, and what it means for anybody who has a message they want to get out to anywhere in the world. And I want to illustrate that by telling a couple of stories about that transformation.

I’ll start here. Last November there was a presidential election. You probably read something about it in the papers. And there was some concern that in some parts of the country there might be voter suppression. And so a plan came up to video the vote. And the idea was that individual citizens with phones capable of taking photos or making video would document their polling places, on the lookout for any kind of voter suppression techniques. And would upload this to a central place. And that this would operate as a kind of citizen observation. That citizens would not be there just to cast individual votes. But also to help insure the sanctity of the vote overall.

So this is a pattern that assumes we’re all in this together. What matters here isn’t technical capital. It’s social capital. These tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It isn’t when the shiny new tools show up that their uses start permeating society. It’s when everybody is able to take them for granted. Because now that media is increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we’re all in this together.

And so we’re starting to see a media landscape in which innovation is happening everywhere. And moving from one spot to another. That is a huge transformation. Not to put too fine a point on it, the moment we’re living through, the moment our historical generation is living through is the largest increase in expressive capability in human history. Now that’s a big claim. I’m going to try to back it up.

There are only four periods in the last 500 years where media has changed enough to qualify for the label Revolution. The first one is the famous one, the printing press. Movable type, oil-based inks, that whole complex of innovations that made printing possible and turned Europe upside-down, starting in the middle of the 1400s. Then a couple of hundred years ago there was innovation in two way communication. Conversational media, first the telegraph, then the telephone. Slow, text based conversations, then real-time voice based conversations. Then, about 150 years ago, there was a revolution in recorded media other than print. First photos, then recorded sound, then movies, all encoded onto physical objects. And finally about 100 years ago, the harnessing of electromagnetic spectrum to send sound and images through the air, radio and television. This is the media landscape as we knew it in the 20th century. This is what those of us of a certain age grew up with, and are used to.

But there is a curious asymmetry here. The media that is good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups. And that’s good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations. If you want to have a conversation in this world, you have it with one other person. If you want to address a group, you get the same message and you give it to everybody in the group. Whether you’re doing that with a broadcasting tower or a printing press. That was the media landscape as we had it in the twentieth century.

And this is what changed. This thing that looks like a peacock hit a windscreen is Bill Cheswick’s map of the Internet. He traces the edges of the individual networks and then color codes them. The Internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time. Where as the phone gave us the one to one pattern. And television, radio, magazines, books, gave us the one to many pattern. The Internet gives us the many to many pattern. For the first time media is natively good at supporting these kinds of conversations. That’s one of the big changes.

The second big change is that as all media gets digitized the Internet also becomes the mode of carriage for all other media. Meaning that phone calls migrate to the Internet. Magazines migrate to the Internet. Movies migrate to the Internet. And that means that every medium is right next door to every other medium. Put another way, media is increasingly less just a source of information. And it is increasingly more a site of coordination. Because groups that see or hear or watch or listen to something can now gather around and talk to each other as well.

And the third big change is that members of the former audience, as Dan Gilmore calls them, can now also be producers and not consumers. Every time a new consumer joins this media landscape a new producer joins as well. Because the same equipment, phones, computers, let you consume and produce. It’s as if, when you bought a book, they threw in the printing press for free. It’s like you had a phone that could turn into a radio if you pressed the right buttons. That is a huge change in the media landscape we’re used to. And it’s not just Internet or no Internet. We’ve had the Internet in its public form for almost 20 years now. And it’s still changing as the media becomes more social. It’s still changing patterns even among groups who know how to deal with the Internet well.

Second story, last May, China in the Sichuan province had a terrible earthquake, 7.9 magnitude, massive destruction in a wide area, as the Richter Scale has it. And the earthquake was reported as it was happening. People were texting from their phones. They were taking photos of buildings. They were taking videos of buildings shaking. They were uploading it to QQ, China’s largest Internet service. They were Twittering it. And so as the quake was happening the news was reported. And because of the social connections, Chinese students coming elsewhere, and going to school. Or businesses in the rest of the world opening offices in China. There were people listening all over the world, hearing this news. The BBC got their first wind of the Chinese quake from Twitter. Twitter announced the existence of the quake several minutes before the US Geological Survey had anything up online for anybody to read. The last time China had a quake of that magnitude it took them three months to admit that it had happened.


Now they might have liked to have done that here, rather than seeing these pictures go up online. But they weren’t given that choice. Because their own citizens beat them to the punch. Even the government learned of the earthquake from their own citizens, rather than from the Xinhua News Agency. And this stuff rippled like wildfire. For a while there the top 10 most clicked links on Twitter, the global short messaging service, nine of the top 10 links were about the quake. People collating information, pointing people to news sources, pointing people to the US geological survey. The 10th one was kittens on a treadmill, but that’s the Internet for you.


But nine of the 10 in those first hours. And within half a day donation sites were up. And donations were pouring in from all around the world. This was an incredible, coordinated global response. And the Chinese then, in one of their periods of media openness decided that they were going to let it go. That they were going to let this citizen reporting fly. And then this happened. People began to figure out, in the Sichuan Provence, that the reason so many school buildings had collapsed, because tragically the earthquake happened during a school day, the reason so many school buildings collapsed is that corrupt officials had taken bribes to allow those building to be built to less than code. And so they started, the citizen journalists started reporting that as well. And there was an incredible picture. You may have seen in on the front page of the New York Times. A local official literally prostrated himself in the street, in front of these protesters. In order to get them to go away. Essentially to say, “We will do anything to placate you. just please stop protesting in public.”

But these are people who have been radicalized. Because thanks to the one child policy they have lost everyone in their next generation. Someone who has seen the death of a single child now has nothing to lose. And so the protest kept going. And finally the Chinese cracked down. That was enough of citizen media. And so they began to arrest the protesters. They began to shut down the media that the protests were happening on.

China is probably the most successful manager of Internet censorship, in the world, using something that is widely described as the Great Firewall of China. And the Great Firewall of China is a set of observation points that assume that media is produced by professionals, it mostly comes in from the outside world, it comes in in relatively sparse chunks, and it comes in relatively slowly. And because of those four characteristics they are able to filter it as it comes into the country. But like the Maginot Line, the great firewall of China was facing in the wrong direction for this challenge. Because not one of those four things was true in this environment. The media was produced locally. It was produced by amateurs. It was produced quickly. And it was produced at such an incredible abundance that there was no way to filter it as it appeared. And so now the Chinese government, who for a dozen years, has quite successfully filtered the web, is now in the position of having to decide whether to allow or shut down entire services. Because the transformation to amateur media is so enormous that they can’t deal with it any other way.

And in fact that is happening this week. On the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen they just two days ago announced that they were simply shutting down access to Twitter. Because there was no way to filter it other than that. They had to turn the spigot entirely off. Now these changes don’t just affect people who want to censor messages. They also affect people who want to send messages.

Because this is really a transformation of the ecosystem as a whole. Not just a particular strategy. The classic media problem, from the twentieth century is how does an organization have a message that they want to get out to a group of people distributed at the edges of a network. And here is the twentieth century answer. Bundle up the message. Send the same message to everybody. National message. Targeted individuals. Relatively sparse number of producers. Very expensive to do. So there is not a lot of competition. This is how you reach people. All of that is over.

We are increasingly in a landscape where media is global. social, ubiquitous and cheap. Now most organizations that are trying to send messages to the outside world, to the distributed collection of the audience, are now used to this change. The audience can talk back. And that’s a little freaky. But you can get used to it after a while, as people do.

But that’s not the really crazy change that we’re living in the middle of. The really crazy change is here. It’s the fact that they are no longer disconnected from each other. The fact that former consumers are now producers. The fact that the audience can talk directly to one another. Because there is a lot more amateurs than professionals. And because the size of the network, the complexity of the network is actually the square of the number of participants. Meaning that the network, when it grows large, grows very very large.

As recently at last decade, Most of the media that was available for public consumption was produced by professionals. Those days are over, never to return. It is the green lines now, that are the source of the free content. Which brings me to my last story. We saw some of the most imaginative use of social media during the Obama campaign.

And I don’t mean most imaginative use in politics. I mean most imaginative use ever. And one of the things Obama did, was they famously, the Obama campaign did, was they famously put up My Barak Obama dot com, myBO.com And millions of citizens rushed in to participate, and to try and figure out how to help. An incredible conversation sprung up there. And then, this time last year, Obama announced that he was going to change his vote on FISA, The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He had said, in January, that he would not sign a bill that granted telecom immunity for possibly warrantless spying on American persons. By the summer, in the middle of the general campaign, He said, “I’ve thought about the issue more. I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to vote for this bill.” And many of his own supporters on his own site went very publicly berserk.

It was Senator Obama when they created it. They changed the name later. Please get FISA right. Within days of this group being created it was the fastest growing group on myBO.com. Within weeks of its being created it was the largest group. Obama had to issue a press release. He had to issue a reply. And he said essentially, “I have considered the issue. I understand where you are coming from. But having considered it all, I’m still going to vote the way I’m going to vote. But I wanted to reach out to you and say, I understand that you disagree with me, and I’m going to take my lumps on this one.”

This didn’t please anybody. But then a funny thing happened in the conversation. People in that group realized that Obama had never shut them down. Nobody in the Obama campaign had ever tried to hide the group or make it harder to join, to deny its existence, to delete it, to take to off the site. They had understood that their role with myBO.com was to convene their supporters but not to control their supporters.

And that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media. Media, the media landscape that we knew, as familiar as it was, as easy conceptually as it was to deal with the idea that professionals broadcast messages to amateurs, is increasingly slipping away. In a world where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap, in a world of media where the former audience are now increasingly full participants, in that world, media is less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals. It is more and more often a way of creating an environment for convening and supporting groups.

And the choice we face, I mean anybody who has a message they want to have heard anywhere in the world, isn’t whether or not that is the media environment we want to operate in. That’s the media environment we’ve got. The question we all face now is, “How can we make best use of this media? Even though it means changing the way we’ve always done it.” Thank you very much.


Thank you, Clay.

Posted at 01:43 PM in Books, Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: Bill Cheswick, books, Chine, Clay Shirky, Dan Gilmore, Europe, FISA, Great Firewall of China, history, Internet, magazines, media landscape, movable type, myBO.com, New York Times, Obama, printing press, radio, Revolution, Sichuan earthquake, social media, TED, telegraph, telephone, television, Tiananmen, Twitter, US Geological Society, Xinhua News Agency 

11/20/2009   “What’s happening?” Indeed.

Something momentous appears to be happening, or to have happened.  Fleeting signs of this occurrence have emerged over the course of the past several months, but yesterday an unmistakable signal was sent, loudly and clearly, in a post by @Biz on the Twitter blog.  With a conscious nod to ReTweet 1.0, I have copied and pasted the post below.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

What’s Happening?

Twitter was originally conceived as a mobile status update service—an easy way to keep in touch with people in your life by sending and receiving short, frequent answers to one question, “What are you doing?” However, when we implemented the service, we chose to leave something out. To stay simple, Twitter did not require individuals to confirm relationships. Instead, we left things open.

People, organizations, and businesses quickly began leveraging the open nature of the network to share anything they wanted, completely ignoring the original question, seemingly on a quest to both ask and answer a different, more immediate question, “What’s happening?” A simple text input field limited to 140 characters of text was all it took for creativity and ingenuity to thrive.

Sure, someone in San Francisco may be answering “What are you doing?” with “Enjoying an excellent cup of coffee,” at this very moment. However, a birds-eye view of Twitter reveals that it’s not exclusively about these personal musings. Between those cups of coffee, people are witnessing accidents, organizing events, sharing links, breaking news, reporting stuff their dad says, and so much more.

The fundamentally open model of Twitter created a new kind of information network and it has long outgrown the concept of personal status updates. Twitter helps you share and discover what’s happening now among all the things, people, and events you care about. “What are you doing?” isn’t the right question anymore—starting today, we’ve shortened it by two characters. Twitter now asks, “What’s happening?”

We don’t expect this to change how anyone uses Twitter, but maybe it’ll make it easier to explain to your dad.

posted by @Bizat 10:47 AM 

Trust me, Biz, it won’t make it easier to explain anything to my dad, and that is really beside the point.  Here (on the Twitter blog, which has time and again proven to be a productive point of departure for fledgling) we have Twitter catching up to what has already happened, to and through Twitter – and more specifically, one could argue, roughly five months after the fact.  The fact, that is, of the Iranian election and its convulsive aftermath, when Twitter confronted history, and helped make it.  A handful of folks have begun to take account of this pivotal moment, what it means and portends for social media, and for Twitter in particular.  In a Q&A on Twitter and Iran conducted on June 16, 2009, Clay Shirky remarked on the stakes of this historic juncture.  You can read it here  http://blog.ted.com/2009/06/qa_with_cl_sh.php ; I have copied the text below. 

 16 June 2009   Q and A with Clay Shirky on Twitter and Iran

 NYU professor Clay Shirky gave a fantastic talk on new media during our TED@State event earlier this month. He revealed how cellphones, the web, Facebook and Twitter had changed the rules of the game, allowing ordinary citizens extraordinary new powers to impact real-world events. As protests in Iran exploded over the weekend, we decided to rush out his talk, because it could hardly be more relevant. I caught up with Clay this afternoon to get his take on the significance of what is happening. HIs excitement was palpable.

What do you make of what’s going on in Iran right now.
I’m always a little reticent to draw lessons from things still unfolding, but it seems pretty clear that … this is it. The big one. This is the first revolution that has been catapulted onto a global stage and transformed by social media. I’ve been thinking a lot about the Chicago demonstrations of 1968 where they chanted “the whole world is watching.” Really, that wasn’t true then. But this time it’s true … and people throughout the world are not only listening but responding. They’re engaging with individual participants, they’re passing on their messages to their friends, and they’re even providing detailed instructions to enable web proxies allowing Internet access that the authorities can’t immediately censor. That kind of participation is really extraordinary.

Which services have caused the greatest impact? Blogs? Facebook? Twitter?
It’s Twitter. One thing that Evan (Williams)and Biz (Stone) did absolutely right is that they made Twitter so simple and so open that it’s easier to integrate and harder to control than any other tool. At the time, I’m sure it wasn’t conceived as anything other than a smart engineering choice. But it’s had global consequences. Twitter is shareable and open and participatory in a way that Facebook’s model prevents. So far, despite a massive effort, the authorities have found no way to shut it down, and now there are literally thousands of people around the world who’ve made it their business to help keep it open.

Do you get a sense that it’s almost as if the world is figuring out live how to use Twitter in these circumstances? Some dissidents were using named accounts for a while, and there’s been a raging debate in the community about how best to help them.
Yes, there’s an enormous reckoning to be had about what works and what doesn’t. There have been disagreements over whether it was dangerous to use hashtags like #Iranelection, and there was a period in which people were openly tweeting the IP addresses of web proxies for people to switch to, not realizing that the authorities would soon shut these down. It’s incredibly messy, and the definitive rules of the game have yet to be written. So yes, we’re seeing the medium invent itself in real time.

Talk some more about the sense of participation on Twitter. It seems to me that that has spurred an entirely deeper level of emotional connection with these events.
Absolutely.  I’ve been saying this for a while — as a medium gets faster, it gets more emotional. We feel faster than we think. But Twitter is also just a much more personal medium. Reading personal messages from individuals on the ground prompts a whole other sense of involvement. We’re seeing everyone desperate to do something to show solidarity like wear green — and suddenly the community figures out that it can actually offer secure web proxies, or persuade Twitter to delay an engineering upgrade — we can help keep the medium open.

When I see John Perry Barlow setting himself up as a router, he’s not performing these services as a journalist. He’s engaged. Traditional media operates as source of information not as a means of coordination. It can’t do more than make us sympathize. Twitter makes us empathize. It makes us part of it. Even if it’s just retweeting, you’re aiding the goal that dissidents have always sought: the awareness that the outside world is paying attention is really valuable.

Of course the downside of this emotional engagement is that while this is happening, I feel like I can’t in good conscience tweet about anything else!

There was fury on Twitter against CNN for not adequately covering the situation. Was that justified?
In a way it wasn’t. I’m sure that for the majority of the country, events in Iran are not of grave interest, even if those desperate for CNN’s Iran info couldn’t get access to it. That push model of one message for all is an incredibly crappy way of linking supply and demand.

CNN has the same problem this decade that Time magazine had last decade. They simultaneously want to appeal to middle America and leading influencers. Reaching multiple audiences is increasingly difficult. The people who are hungry for info on events of global significance are used to instinctively switching on CNN. But they are realizing that that reflex doesn’t serve them very well anymore, and that can’t be good for CNN.

Do you get the sense that these new media tools are helping build a global community, forged more by technology and a desire for connection, than by traditional political or religious divides?
You can see it clearly in what’s happening right now. And it cuts both ways. The guy we’re rallying around, Mousavi, is no liberal reformer. But the principle of freedom of speech and fair elections and the desire for reform trump that.

So how does this play out?
It’s complex. The Ahmadinejad supporters are going to use the fact of English-speaking and American participation to try to damn the dissidents. But whatever happens from here, the dissidents have seen that large numbers of American people, supposedly part of “the great Satan,” are actually supporters. Someone tweeted from Tehran today that “the American media may not care, but the American people do.” That’s a sea-change.

Posted by Chris Anderson | Permalink| | Comments (32)| TrackBack (0)

For now I will simply note that Clay’s palpable excitement comes through most, uh, palpably in his iteration of phrases like “this is happening” and “what’s happening right now,”  language that registers the event-character of history.  He alludes to the messiness of Twitter, aligning it in effect with the messiness of events as they unfold – a messiness only partially, provisionally organized under the user-adopted hashtag #IranElection.  It’s not too late to search it, and see what comes up.

Posted at 01:29 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: @Biz, Ahmadinejad, Biz Stone, Chris Anderson, Clay Shirky, CNN, Evan Williams, Facebook, hashtag, Iran election, John Perry Barlow, retweet, Time Magazine, Twitter, Twitter blog 


11/20/2009   P.S. #SaveReTweets (ReTweets 1.0, that is)

Since I posted yesterday on Twitter’s effort to impose a new regime for retweeting, there has been a good deal of related activity on Twitter and in the blogosphere generally.  Here are a few notes on how things are unfolding.

Last night I found myself in something of a frenzy of retweeting (in the user-generated way, of course).  Many on my Twitter feed were complaining about the new RT function.  Here are some of my RT’s from yesterday: 

RT @joshtpm Twitter RT function:  ingenious new way to have a bunch of randoms I don’t follow show up in my feed.  AWESOME! 

RT @kootenayrev:  thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature.  A wretched feature #saveretweets  http://act.ly/er [the link is to a petition to save the user-generated RT format] 

Lessons of Faust:  RT @joshtpm  thinking that Twitter’s embedded RT function may be part of partnership deal with Satan 

There are many more such tweets and retweets, searchable through the #SaveReTweets hashtag.  And a number of bloggers are likewise aggrieved.  One example is the Dennis Van Staalduinen, who weighed in at http://www.begtodiffer.com/2009/11/twitterloo/.  I’ve reproduced his post of November 12 below (I’m all about cut and paste since Twitter’s effort to circumvent it further endeared it to me). 

Twitterloo! How to send Twitter on a hasty RT.

Dennis Van Staalduinen, November 12th, 2009

Soldiers at attention: awright Twitter conscript, you’ve probably heard that Twitter has finally enabled a feature it calls “Retweet”. Well, after years of hacking together manual ReTweets – cutting and pasting, editing, shortening, and workarounds by Twitter partner applications like TweetDeck, you’d think this would be cause for great rejoicing among the weary soldiers of Twitterland…

We Beg to Differ.

The invention of the ReTweet: Napoleon at Waterloo 

What’s an RT?

For those new to Twitter (or with no patience for it), basically “RT” is a convention that arose among Twitter users as a way of sharing and amplifying content from other people that they agree with, find interesting or funny, or that adds to a discussion they’re having in some way. Here’s an extreme example of one message from last night:

“zchamu Me three! RT @DenVan RT @brianlj: I disagree with just about every point of  @ev”s on http://is.gd/4SyqZ #SaveRetweet  >Me: Ditto!”

Here’s a translation of the post:

  • @brianlj read a blog post by Twitter CEO Evan Williams @eV, and wanted to share the link and to let others  know  he disagreed with it.
  • He added the hashtag #Save ReTweet which made it part of a public discussion.
  • I wanted to share his thought with my followers (I’m @DenVan). So, I copied it and pasted it, and added “RT ” at the beginning, then added a comment at the end “Ditto”.
  • Then, my friend @zchamu did the same, crediting me and adding her comment “Me three!”

Think about how incredible that is. Four people’s thoughts are contained in the tiny, tiny space of just 140 Characters. That’s the power of the RT.

The revolution is ugly, but it works

Now granted, to the untrained eye, it looks a bit messy – okay really messy – so we’ve been hoping for some clean-up from the good people at Twitter for a long time. You know, a few simple tools that would respect the power and intent of the RT but would make it easier to use and scan.

But what happened instead? RT activist Dan Zarella puts it well when he says:

In a stunningly disappointing move, Twitter has threatened to completely eviscerate most of the value out of ReTweets by “formalizing” a feeble version of a format that was already well understood and functional for all users involved.

The leader on a high horse

On Tuesday, Twitter head Evan Williams wrote his first blog post since March, “Why Retweet works the way it does”, with these ominous words:

I’m making this post because I know the design of this feature will be somewhat controversial. People understandably have expectations of how the retweet function should work. And I want to show some of the thinking that’s gone into it…

Uh-oh. Bad sign. When a CEO runs to the battlements so early in a communications piece, you can just smell the restlessness in the troops – and not just in the Twitterati, but among the people working at Twitter as well.

He goes on to describe RT as cool, before listing off a number of “problems” that currently exist with the RT convention that, as he puts it, “emerged organically from Twitter users as a way of passing on interesting bits of information”.

The problems Evan Williams lists (in brief):

  1. Attribution confusion – hard to tell who the “owner” of the originally tweeted content was.
  2. Mangled and Messy – formatting makes message hard to read and author’s intent may be lost.
  3. Redundancy – lots of “RePeets”.
  4. Noisiness – RT @sycophant RT @wanker Blah blah blah
  5. Untrackable – hard to collect RTs of a person or post in one place.

The solution from Twitter :

  From book, Kittens:  “As has already been mentioned, cats, and particularly kittens, are tremendouly appealing to look at”

Let’s say that in the new Twitter RT universe, I wanted to share the incredible insight that Evan Williams actually posted last night (at right), with my followers.

  • A single “Retweet” button would appear under his tweet.
  • By clicking this, I would instantly create an exact verbatim copy of the original. My followers would see this exactly as @ev had written it, and what’s more, his name and avatar would appear beside them – even if my follower wasn’t following him.
  • As the Retweeter, my name would appear in a small footnote on the bottom of Ev’s tweet, but not in the actual Tweet.
  • Without any opportunity for editing or commentary, I couldn’t add context for my followers like “Can you believe this?” or “Me too!” or “What is this dude smoking?”.
  • No “RT” or other prefix will indicate that the is a ReTweet. Only that small footnote will make it appear different from any other tweet….

Our take: the new ReTweet “feature” needs Re-bwanding

Sorry Evan.

You’re a genius, and we all owe you a tremendous debt for creating this Twitter thing, but this new feature you’ve created is not ReTweet. I’ve called it “RePeet”. Or maybe it’s “Copy” or “Clone”, or as one wag called it “Exact Tweet” (ET – and it phones home to Twitter).

Whatever it is, it’s broken.

And we’re not alone in saying so.
(this list is growing, so please send us more!)

To the battlements! What you can do soldier:

  1. Don’t use the new button! Just keep doing what you’ve always done.
  2. Use the hashtag #SaveReTweets to register your displeasure.
  3. Inundate @ev and @twitter with negative traffic.
  4. Sign the petition Dan Zarella has put together.

And from the ranks of mainstream media, the WSJ was prompt to weigh in, with a brief article entitled “Twitter’s Retweet Feature:  Love or Hate?,” which characterizes this juncture in Twitter’s evolution by citing users as well as one of Twitter’s co-creators.

Until recently, retweeting was decidedly low-tech:  Twitterers copied and pasted the original post, adding “RT” and its author’s name.  As with many aspects of the microblogging service, it evolved from Twitter’s users and wasn’t an official feature, but it quickly became a way of noting someone’s influence online, and die-hard users encouraged their followers to RT their updates.

Now, Twitter is offering an automatic retweet option that, when selected, asks “Retweet to your followers?”  When a user confirms, the tweet is reposted to the user’s account.  A link on Twitter.com’s right column lets users see a record of their retweets as well as retweets of their posts.

One of the problems, writes Outspoken Media’s Lisa Barone, is that retweeted messages now appear under the original Twitterer’s name, so your followers may not recognize that it’s coming from you. 

“When I see someone else’s avatar, I’m thrown off and confused.  Will I get used to it?  No, I’ll simply learn to ignore things from people I don’t know.  They’re now ads that I’ll tune out.”

The new retweeting feature also removes the ability for Twitterers to add their comments to a reposted update, something many users did to editorialize, mock or otherwise riff on someone else’s posts.  That why people retweet, Ms. Barone adds — “to share the link but to also add their own sauce and flavor.”

“I suspect some of the most diehard Twitter users would revolt if they were confined to the new Retweet feature, wherein edits are not possible, writes Andrew Mueller.  “The new Retweet feature is not what Retweet, as a cultural convention, has evolved to be.”

Twitter, for its part, has acknowledged that the redisign is a controversial one.  In a blog post, Twitter Chief Executive Evan William writes that the way 1.0 retweets were formatted made it confusing to figure out who wrote them, and that their potential redundancy and inaccuracy weakened their appeal….

The new version “offers something new and powerful,” he adds, and the original way of retweeting is still available for those who want it.”


Yes, thankfully, it is.  But the fact that users can decide to swim against the current, to stick with the “cultural convention” they created, will not prevent the intrusion of unfamiliar and unwanted avatars into my Twitter feed.  And as to the ways in which @EV has characterized “1.0 retweets”:  Newsflash.  We’ve been intelligent enough thus far “to figure out who wrote them,” to forgive “their potential redundancy and inaccuracy” and get over their lack of “appeal.”  We’ve been RTing all this time because hey, we thought of it, and we like sending them out, with or without commentary, and receiving them, from people with whom we’ve decided to interact.

I’m with @joshtpm:  “ingenious new way to have a bunch of randoms I don’t follow show up in my feed.  AWESOME!”  And with @kootenayrev:  “thinking of un-following anyone who uses the new RT feature.”

Posted at 11:11 AM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0) 

Technorati Tags: @EV, @joshtpm, @kootenayrev, Andrew Mueller, Dan Zarrella, Dennis Van Staalduinen, Evan Williams, Faust, Lisa Barone, retweet, TechCrunch, Twitter, Wall Street Journal, WSJ

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