Tag Archives: Jay Rosen

Wikileaks: The Afghanistan War Logs

Worth reading:  Jay Rosen’s reflections on the Afghanistan war logs just released by Wikileaks.

PressThink: The Afghanistan War Logs Released by Wikileaks, the Worlds First Stateless News Organization.

“In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new.”

Wikileaks.org: Afghan War Diary, 2004-2010Der Spiegel: Explosive Leaks Provide Image of War from Those Fighting It

New York Times: The War Logs

The Guardian: The Afghanistan War Logs

From my internal notebook and Twitter feed, a few notes on this development:

1. Ask yourself: Why didn’t Wikileaks just publish the Afghanistan war logs and let journalists ‘round the world have at them? Why hand them over to The New York Times, the Guardian and Der Spiegel first? Because as Julien Assange, founder of Wikileaks, explained last October, if a big story is available to everyone equally, journalists will pass on it.

“It’s counterintuitive,” he said then. “You’d think the bigger and more important the document is, the more likely it will be reported on but that’s absolutely not true. It’s about supply and demand. Zero supply equals high demand, it has value. As soon as we release the material, the supply goes to infinity, so the perceived value goes to zero.”

2. The initial response from the White House was extremely unimpressive:

  • This leak will harm national security. (As if those words still had some kind of magical power, after all the abuse they have been party to.)
  • There’s nothing new here. (Then how could the release harm national security?)
  • Wikileaks is irresponsible; they didn’t even try to contact us! (Hold on: you’re hunting the guy down and you’re outraged that he didn’t contact you?)
  • Wikileaks is against the war in Afghanistan; they’re not an objective news source. (So does that mean the documents they published are fake?)
  • “The period of time covered in these documents… is before the President announced his new strategy. Some of the disconcerting things reported are exactly why the President ordered a three month policy review and a change in strategy.” (Okay, so now we too know the basis for the President’s decision: and that’s a bad thing?)

3. If you don’t know much about Wikileaks or why it exists, the best way to catch up is this New Yorker profile of Julien Assange.

He is the operation’s prime mover, and it is fair to say that WikiLeaks exists wherever he does. At the same time, hundreds of volunteers from around the world help maintain the Web site’s complicated infrastructure; many participate in small ways, and between three and five people dedicate themselves to it full time. Key members are known only by initials—M, for instance—even deep within WikiLeaks, where communications are conducted by encrypted online chat services. The secretiveness stems from the belief that a populist intelligence operation with virtually no resources, designed to publicize information that powerful institutions do not want public, will have serious adversaries.

And for even more depth, listen to this: NPR’s Fresh Air interviewed Philip Shenon, an investigative reporter formerly at the New York Times, about Wikileaks and what it does. (35 min with Q & A.)

4. If you go to the Wikileaks Twitter profile, next to “location” it says: Everywhere. Which is one of the most striking things about it: the world’s first stateless news organization. I can’t think of any prior examples of that. (Dave Winer in the comments: “The blogosphere is a stateless news organization.”) Wikileaks is organized so that if the crackdown comes in one country, the servers can be switched on in another. This is meant to put it beyond the reach of any government or legal system. That’s what so odd about the White House crying, “They didn’t even contact us!”

Appealing to national traditions of fair play in the conduct of news reporting misunderstands what Wikileaks is about: the release of information without regard for national interest. In media history up to now, the press is free to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the laws of a given nation protect it. But Wikileaks is able to report on what the powerful wish to keep secret because the logic of the Internet permits it. This is new. Just as the Internet has no terrestrial address or central office, neither does Wikileaks.

5.  And just as government doesn’t know what to make of Wikileaks (“we’re gonna hunt you down/hey, you didn’t contact us!”) the traditional press isn’t used to this, either. As Glenn Thrush noted on Politico.com:

The WikiLeaks report presented a unique dilemma to the three papers given advance copies of the 92,000 reports included in the Afghan war logs — the New York Times, Germany’s Der Speigel and the UK’s Guardian.The editors couldn’t verify the source of the reports — as they would have done if their own staffers had obtained them — and they couldn’t stop WikiLeaks from posting it, whether they wrote about it or not.

So they were basically left with proving veracity through official sources and picking through the pile for the bits that seemed to be the most truthful.

Notice how effective this combination is. The information is released in two forms: vetted and narrated to gain old media cred, and released online in full text, Internet-style, which corrects for any timidity or blind spot the editors at Der Spiegel, The Times or the Guardian may show.

6. From an editor’s note: “At the request of the White House, The Times also urged WikiLeaks to withhold any harmful material from its Web site.” There’s the new balance of power, right there. In the revised picture we find the state, which holds the secrets but is powerless to prevent their release; the stateless news organization, deciding how to release them; and the national newspaper in the middle, negotiating the terms of legitimacy between these two actors.

7. If you’re a whistle blower with explosive documents, to whom would you rather give them? A newspaper with a terrestrial address organized under the laws of a nation that could try to force the reporter you contacted to reveal your name, and that may or may not run the documents you’ve delivered to them online…. or Wikileaks, which has no address, answers no subpoenas and promises to run the full cache if they can be verified as real? (And they’re expert in encryption, too.)

Also, can we agree that a news organization with a paywall wouldn’t even be in contention?

8. I’ve been trying to write about this observation for a while, but haven’t found the means to express it. So I am just going to state it, in what I admit is speculative form. Here’s what I said on Twitter Sunday: “We tend to think: big revelations mean big reactions. But if the story is too big and crashes too many illusions, the exact opposite occurs.” My fear is that this will happen with the Afghanistan logs. Reaction will be unbearably lighter than we have a right to expect— not because the story isn’t sensational or troubling enough, but because it’s too troubling, a mess we cannot fix and therefore prefer to forget.

Last week, it was the Washington Post’s big series, Top Secret America, two years in the making. It reported on the massive security shadowland that has arisen since 09/11. The Post basically showed that there is no accountability, no knowledge at the center of what the system as a whole is doing, and too much “product” to make intelligent use of. We’re wasting billions upon billions of dollars on an intelligence system that does not work. It’s an explosive finding but the explosive reactions haven’t followed, not because the series didn’t do its job, but rather: the job of fixing what is broken would break the system responsible for such fixes.

The mental model on which most investigative journalism is based states that explosive revelations lead to public outcry; elites get the message and reform the system. But what if elites believe that reform is impossible because the problems are too big, the sacrifices too great, the public too distractible? What if cognitive dissonance has been insufficiently accounted for in our theories of how great journalism works… and often fails to work?

I don’t have the answer; I don’t even know if I have framed the right problem. But the comment bar is open, so help me out.

9. Few people realize how important leaking has been to the rise of the political press since the mid-18th century. Leaks were actually “present at the creation” of political reporting. I’m moving quickly this morning, so I only have time for a capsule version. Those with a richer knowledge of the British Parliament’s history can confirm or correct this outline. Once upon a time, Parliament’s debates were off limits to newspapers. But eventually, through a long period of contestation, the right to report on what was said in Parliament was securely won (though not constitutionally guaranteed.) John Wilkes is the pivotal figure and 1770 the date when the practice became institutionalized.

A factor in that struggle was the practice of leaking. The way it worked then is essentially the same as it works today. There’s a bitter dispute in Parliament and people line up on one side or the other. Unable or unwilling to accept defeat, the losing faction decides to widen the battlefield by leaking confidential information, thus bringing the force of public opinion into play. It’s a risky maneuver, of course, but the calculation is that fighting it out in public may alter the balance of forces and lead to a re-decision.

Each time the cycle is repeated, the press becomes a bigger factor in politics. And internal struggles for power remain to this day a major trigger for leaks. Conscience, of course, is a different trigger. Whistleblowers can be of either type: calculating advantage-seekers, or men and women with a troubled conscience. We don’t know which type provided the logs to Wikileaks. What we do know is that a centuries-old dynamic is now empowering new media, just as it once empowered the ink-on-paper press.

* * * Posted by Jay Rosen at July 26, 2010 1:31 AM

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Filed under Current events, Death, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, News, Reading and writing, Tech, Weblogs

The serendipity factor

Here I write with reference to my earlier post on “Chris Brogan’s throwdown,” which cited his challenge to his readers and fellow bloggers:  What is the focus and purpose of your blog? 

I’ve been mulling this question off and on ever since, testing various formulations against current posts and my triple archive (Makurrah’s Blog, fledgling, and makurrah’s posterous).  But when I returned to my “About” page and re-read the brief lines there, I realized that they constitute an answer to CB’s question.

Pages from the notebooks and archives of a practitioner and critic of blogging in all its manifestations, who is attentive to media, new and old, and their relations to journalism and to historiography.

However, I have run across a few tweets and links that have brought into focus an important aspect of this blog, and an ongoing impetus for me to continue working in the medium.  I refer here to the possibilities, afforded by blogging in particular, for serendipity.

For the moment I will limit myself to providing a few links that got me thinking about this concept and its implications for the practice of blogging in all its manifestations. 

– Inside guardian.co.uk blog, March 26, 2010:  http://www.guardian.co.uk/help/insideguardian/2010/mar/26/random-guardian

– jaggeree blog, March 26, 2010:  http://blog.jaggeree.com/post/475027012/newspapers-as-serendipity-bundles-and-chatroulette-for

– Matthew Ingram at gigaom, March 29, 2010:  http://gigaom.com/2010/03/29/forget-paywalls-how-about-more-serendipity/  

I’ll have more to say on the serendipity factor as time allows.


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Two takes on Twitter: one thoughtful, one less so

Thanks to several links provided by folks I follow on Twitter, I’ve been able to catch up on some reading today:  two articles that take Twitter as their topic, one published on New Year’s day in the New York Times, the other on January 29 in The New Yorker.  Taken together, they provide insights into why Twitter has become a feature of so many lives, and into the resistance that others maintain in the face of its burgeoning popularity.

“Why Twitter Will Endure”:  The title of David Carr’s article for the New York Times does not pretend to disguise the author’s enthusiastic embrace of the service.  He recalls the initial roll-out of Twitter at the SXSW conference in 2007, and his initial reluctance to add “one more Web-borne intrusion into my life.”  http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/03/weekinreview/03carr.html

And then there was the name.  Twitter.

In the pantheon of digital nomenclature…brands within a sector of the economy that grew so fast that all the sensible names were quickly taken – it would be hard to come up with a noun more trite than Twitter.  It impugns itself, promising something slight and inconsequential, yet another way to make hours disappear and have nothing to show for it.  And just in case the noun is not sufficiently indicting, the verb, “to tweet,” is even more embarrassing.

Beyond the dippy lingo, the idea that something intelligent, something worthy of mindshare, might occur in the space of 140 characters – Twitter’s parameters were set by what would fit in a text message on a phone – seems unlikely.

Carr then returns to the present, to ask himself whether Twitter has, over the course of the past year, turned his brain to “mush.”

No, I’m in narrative on more things in a given moment than I ever thought possible, and instead of spending a half-hour surfing in search of illumination, I get a sense of the day’s news and how people are reacting to it in the time that it takes to wait for coffee at Starbucks. [He is not ordering brewed coffee at Starbuck’s, I’m guessing, but something involving espresso and steamed milk. – Ed.]  Yes, I worry about my ability to think long thoughts – where was I, anyway? – but the tradeoff has been worth it.

Carr goes on to explain that, nearly a year after opening a Twitter account,

I’ve come to understand that the real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice.…  At first, Twitter can be overwhelming, but think of it as a river of data rushing past that I dip a cup into every once in a while. [Does he use his Starbuck’s cup, I wonder? – Ed.]  Much of what I need to know is in that cup:  if it looks like Apple is going to demo its new tablet, or Amazon sold more Kindles than actual books at Christmas, or the final vote in the Senate gets locked in on health care, I almost always learn about it first on Twitter….

The expressive limits of a kind of narrative developed from text messages, with less space to digress or explain than this sentence, has significant upsides.  The best people on Twitter communicate with economy and precision, with each element – links, hash tags and comments – freighted with meaning.

Carr goes on to cite Clay Shirky:  “Anything that is useful to both dissidents in Iran and Martha Stewart has a lot going for it; Twitter has more raw capability for users than anything since email….It will be hard to wait out Twitter because it is lightweight, endlessly useful and gets better as more people use it.  Brands are using it, institutions are using it, and it is becoming a place where a lot of important conversations are being held.”

It may be, as Clay Shirky suggests, that it will be hard to wait out Twitter.  But George Packer, author of “Stop the World,” will be one of the hold-outs.  http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/georgepacker/2010/stop-the-world.html  [I should note at the outset that I find it passing strange that such visceral resistance to micro-blogging should come to us via a blog for newyorker.com.  Jay Rosen was on target in a tweet that pointed to an earlier piece by Packer for Mother Jones, “The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged” (2004), as a precursor to “Stop the World.”]

Packer is responding to Carr’s “Why Twitter Will Endure” at least as much as he is responding to Twitter “itself.”  His agitation – his “fear” – runs through almost every line of his post.

The truth is, I feel like yelling Stop quite a bit these days.  Every time I hear about Twitter I want to yell Stop.  The notion of sending and getting brief updates to and from dozens or thousands of people every few minutes is an image from information hell.  I’m told that Twitter is a river into which I can dip my cup whenever I want. [This unattributed partial citation from Carr precedes Packer’s direct invocation of “Why Twitter Will Endure,” which comes in the next paragraph. – Ed.]  But that supposes that we’re all kneeling on the banks.  In fact, if you’re at all like me, you’re trying to keep your footing out in midstream, with the water level always dangerously close to your nostrils.  Twitter sounds less like sipping than drowning.

The most frightening picture of the future that I’ve read thus far in the new decade has nothing to do with terrorism or banking or the world’s water reserves – it’s an article by David Carr, the Times’s media critic, published on the decade’s first day, called “Why Twitter Will Endure.”  “I’m in narrative on more things in a given moment than I ever thought possible,” Carr wrote.  And:  “Twitter becomes an always-on data stream from really bright people.”  And:  “The real value of the service is listening to a wired collective voice…the throbbing networked intelligence.”  And:  “On Twitter, you are your avatar and your avatar is you.”  And finally:  “There is always something more interesting on Twitter than whatever you happen to be working on.”

This last is what really worries me.  Who doesn’t want to be taken out of the boredom or sameness or pain of the present at any given moment?  That’s what drugs are for, and that’s why people become addicted to them.  Carr himself was once a crack addict (he wrote about it in “The Night of the Gun”).  Twitter is crack for media addicts.  It scares me, not because I’m morally superior to it, but because I don’t think I could handle it.

The analogy with addiction also figures in “The Revolution Will Not Be Blogged” (2004) which begins “First, a confession:  I hate blogs.  I’m also addicted to them.”  What is also curious about Packer’s quasi-hysterical reaction to Twitter is the complete failure to recognize that it’s called a “service” for a reason, that it is what you make it, in the very specific sense that you choose, or curate, the accounts you follow.  You have a lot to say about your incoming. The more time and thought that goes in to this process of curation, the more useful Twitter becomes.  It’s pretty simple to tailor it to one’s own purposes, whatever they may be.  And if Twitter will indeed endure, it is largely for that reason.


Filed under 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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fledgling’s archive, october 2009, part 2

October 2009


10/31/09  Hard core (not what you think)

With this post I will take some preliminary steps toward the goal of comprehension (cf my earlier posts on Kantian apprehensio and comprehensio), with the example or target being Twitter’s new “lists” feature, and microblogging’s iterative mode more generally (Josh Marshall of TPM makes reference to this with some frequency – I’ll return to some of his formulations down the line).  Taking the form of another page from my notebook, with little commentary for the moment, this will remain a draft even when it’s published; though it may appear obscure for now, I will try over time to make its relevance clear. 

The theoretical stakes in thinking through the repetitive, iterative character of Twitter itself and of the user’s experience are very similar those that underlie an essay by Paul de Man entitled “Anthropomorphism and Trope in the Lyric,” which appears in the volume The Rhetoric of Romanticism (New York: Columbia UP, 1984). The latter part of the essay takes the form of a reading of Baudelaire’s sonnet “Correspondances.   

The canonical and programmatic sonnet “Correspondances” contains not a single sentence that is not simply declarative.  Not a single negation, interrogation, or exclamation, not a single verb that is not in the present indicative, nothing but straightforward affirmation:  “La Nature est un temple…Il est des parfums frais comme des chairs d’enfants.” (243)  

Much of de Man’s reading, which I’m only telegraphing here, turns on the meanings and effects of the word “comme” (“like”) in Baudelaire’s text: 

When it is said that “les parfums, les couleurs et les sons se repondent…comme des longs echos,” then the preposition of resemblance, “comme,” the most frequently counted word in the canon of Baudelaire’s poetry, does its work properly and clearly, without upsetting the balance between difference and identity that it is assigned to maintain.  It achieves a figure of speech…. All this is playing at metaphor according to the rules of the game.  But the same is not true of the final “comme” in the poem:  ” Il est des parfums frais comme…/Doux comme…/–Et d’autres…Ayant l’expansion des choses infinies/Comme l’ambre. le musc, le benjoin et l’encens.”  Ce comme n’est pas un comme comme les autres….here “comme” relates to the subject “parfums” in two different ways or, rather, it has two distinct subjects.  If “comme” is related to “l’expansion des choses infinies,” which is grammatically as well as tonally possible, then it still functions, like the other “commes,” as a comparative simile:  a common property (“l’expansion”) links the finite senses to an experience of infinity.  But “comme” also relates to “parfums”:  “Il est des parfums frais…/–Et d’autres…/Comme l’ambre, le musc, le benjoin et l’encens”; the somewhat enigmatic hyphen can be said to mark that hesitation (as well as rule it out).  “Comme” then means as much as “such as, for example” and enumerates scents which contrast with “chairs d’enfants” as innocence contrasts with experience or nature with artifice.  This working out by exemplification is quite different from the analogical function assigned to the other uses of “comme.”   

In de Man’s reading, this use of “comme” in the sense of “such as, for example” is aberrant, out of order:  

For although the burden of totalizing expansion seems to be attributed to these particular scents rather than the others, the logic of “comme” restricts the semantic field of “parfums” and confines it to a tautology:  “Il est des parfums…/Comme (des parfums).”  Instead of analogy, we have enumeration, and an enumeration which never moves beyond the confines of a set of particulars….” (emphasis added)

Baudelaire’s sonnet thus exemplifies the way in which   

Enumerative repetition disrupts the chain of tropological substitution at the crucial moment when the poem promises, by way of these very substitutions, to reconcile the pleasures of the mind with those of the senses and to unite aesthetics with epistemology.  That the very word on which these substitutions depend would just then lose its syntactical and semantic univocity is too striking a coincidence not to be, like pure chance, beyond the control of author and reader.”  (RR 240-250, emphasis added)   

Here, then, are a few more notebook pages waiting to be re-read, ordered and introduced into our ongoing analysis of Twitter.   

Posted at 01:45 PM in Books, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: analogy, Baudelaire, enumeration, Josh Marshall, Paul de Man, The Rhetoric of Romanticism, TPM, Twitter   


10/30/2009  Calling all curators. Tend your lists.

For regular readers of this blog:  file today’s post under “apprehension,” and not yet “comprehension.”   


My Twitter “lists” function was activated today, a full 30 days after the Twitter blog published “Soon to Launch:  Lists,” written by the project lead, Nick Kallen (@nk).  The mild frustration that marked the wait for the “small subset of users” who got to try the feature on beta to expand to include me and my ilk was comparable to that involved in awaiting the H1N1 vaccine rollout (in the meantime, I got the flu).  Thus far, I’ve only had time to locate five lists posted by five trusted sources.  I have yet to track these new feeds extensively, or to begin to compile lists of my own (a bit of reaping before I sow).   

What first intrigued me about the new feature was the idea that users could “curate” lists of Twitter accounts (@nk’s post uses this term; it also asserts that “lists have the potential to be an important new discovery mechanism for great tweets and accounts”).  http://blog.twitter.com/   

From early on in my thinking about social media, and certainly in my practice, I have conceived of blogging and microblogging as the curation of ideas, sources and images.  To the extent that the lists feature enhances – even as it complicates – the activity of curation, it is a development to be welcomed (and of course monitored).   

A quick detour via the Oxford English Dictionary (almost always worth the drive) reminds us that to curate is to “select, organize and look after the items in a collection or exhibition,” and that the Latin root is curare, meaning “to take care of.”  My sense, at this early stage, is that care will be required in the thoughtful and progressive deployment of Twitter lists.   

For a handy assessment of the potential downsides, check out scobleizer’s posterous (post and extensive comments):   


Also worth consulting, as ever, is Dave Winer:  http://r2.ly/mgfw   

I’ll have more to say on the list as figure in due course.   

Posted at 07:00 PM in Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: blogging, Dave Winer, Nick Kallen, Oxford English Dictionary, scobleizer, Twitter, Twitter blog, Twitter lists   


10/29/2009  Diversify your media portfolio

Morning tonic: some characteristically adept reporting and analysis by The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders, writing from Prague as the 20th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall draws near:  “In Czechoslovakia, human network made the message go viral” (October 29, A20; http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/in-czechoslovakia-human-network-made-the-mesage-go-viral/article1343132/ ).  Recalling the history of the Czech resistance and its multiple modes of communication, Saunders’ article provides an important context for the vaunting of Twitter and SMS as instruments of political mobilization in our own time.   

In 1989, Jirka Meska was in the business of making information move, as fast as possible, around the communist state of Czechoslovakia.   

Officially, that meant he was among the country’s highly protected elite software engineers, responsible for writing operating systems and networking applications for the primitive mainframes of the Eastern Bloc.   

Unofficially, he had discovered more effective information-spreading techniques.  As a secret link to the country’s anti-authoritarian underground network called Charter 77, he was capable of helping cause 10,000 people to appear at a protest suddenly, or to stop work for a day, an escalating wave of actions that played a key role in bringing down the government.   

“It got to the point that half the country could know something within a few hours, even though it couldn’t be mentioned in any of the media or spoken over the phone,” the bearded programmer said the other day in his Prague campus office.   

Twenty years after the Berlin Wall fell on Nov.9, 1989, and the communist government in neighbouring Czechoslovakia joined its neighbours in giving up power six weeks later,the activists involved are struck by the fact they were able to communicate with a speed and efficiency that would be difficult today – even though they lacked the cellphones, e-mail networks, Twitter accounts and websites used nowadays by anti-government movements in places such as Iran.   

Former resistance members in the Czech Republic and the former East Germany say there were two factors that made news move at better-than-Twitter efficiency in the revolutionary days of ’89:  A network of human relationships that conveyed information informally on a regular basis, and a population who were highly focused on only a few channels of information, both official and clandestine.   

“You didn’t have people looking at 200 different TV channels and 10,000 websites and e-mails from thousands of people,” says Rainer Muller, one of the East German dissidents who brought 200,000 people onto the streets of Leipzig in October of 1989.  “You could put something on a Western TV or radio station and you could be sure that half the country would know it.”   

The technology was often primitive, for a good reason:  Using the telephone was extremely risky, and the print and broadcast media were regime-controlled.   

Mr. Meska, the software engineer, held such an important position that the regime had a high threshold for his insurrection.  So he became a trusted communication hub for the underground, a human router – though he resorted to a pre-digital medium to reach the nation.   

“I went into the research institute’s photocopy office one day with a copy of the underground secret newspaper Lidove Noviny, and I was surprised to find that the woman there let me make a copy of it,” he said.  “So later that day I came in and made 200 copies.  And after that I became a samizdat publisher, effectively.”   

Each of those copies would reach hundreds of people, because they would be circulated among networks of people – not members of the underground, but ordinary citizens who were used to meeting at pubs, passing on information and rumours, and sending them along to other circles of friends the same day….   

The phone was a risk – but the East Germans discovered it could be used effectively if large groups of people shared calls from public phones.   

And the goal was always to reach radio and TV stations outside the Iron Curtain that reached across the border.   

“We would hold a weekly telephone conference in which we would report on what was going on, and the purpose of this was to have someone different each day who could relay all the information to the Western media through West Germany – this proved an extremely effective method to reach the whole country,” said Mr. Muller, the East German…..   

After the Berlin Wall fell in Germany, Czechs began to organize a serious resistance movement known as the Civic Forum in early November, 1989, and within six weeks it became the government.   

It was launched in typical lo-fidelity fashion:  Czechs, who gathered habitually at the theatre, suddenly found the actors reading anti-government news rather than lines from the play.  It was massive, fast, and more effective than a text message.   

Here I refer my readers to my previous post, “A flock of tweets (like a murder of crows, or a parliament of rooks),” in which I cite Ian Dunt of politics.co.uk, writing in the aftermath of the Stephen Gately/Daily Mail surge on Twitter:  “It seems inevitable that within a decade we will see a revolution coordinated by Twitter somewhere in the world.”  Revolutionaries everywhere (fledglings included):  heed the lessons of Prague.  Diversify your media portfolio.   

Posted at 12:53 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: Berlin Wall, Charter 77, civic Forum, Czech resistance, Czechoslovakia, Doug Saunders, Globe and Mail, Ian Dunt, Jirka Meska, November 1989, Prague, Rainer Muller, samizdat, SMS, Twitter   


10/29/2009  A novice blogger’s inventory


 This, it turns out, is my 40th post on fledgling.  While it’s not a major milestone by any stretch, I thought it could serve as an occasion for taking stock of the posts to date:  not in terms of their quality or effectiveness (that is not for me to say), nor in terms of how many readers they have reached (despite Typepad’s dashboard data, this is not yet clear).  What I’d like to inventory for my own purposes going forward is this:  What is it that prompts the post in the first place?  To what source does it owe its existence?    

As of October 28 and excluding this post, my totals are as follows:   

– 39 posts   


– 1146 lifetime pageviews   

– 28.65 average pageviews/day   

So, without regard to any psychological or even analytical response I may have to those numbers at this stage, I’d like simply to tally figures on what sources prompted them.   

– A particular tweet or link served up by Twitter:  11   

– The Twitter blog:  3   

– Other online sources:  8   

– Print sources:  4   

– Broadcast sources:  1   

– My notebooks:  7   

– Mostly unmediated experience:  5   

For me, these numbers attest to how unpredictably this project has unfolded thus far.  I foresaw more posts originating with a conceptual or theoretical claim (which would then be tested against individual cases), and there is an element of pleasant surprise at how many of the prompts have come by way of particular tweets and their indispensable links.  At the same time, I am aware that some version of Kant’s two acts of the imagination, apprehension and comprehension, will be required for any critical reading of Twitter (cf my post “Breaking news:  Kant weighs in on Twitter, Part 1,” from which I take the liberty of quoting once again in this context).   

 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.   

In other words, I could continue ad infinitum taking my cues from successive tweets (which is good to know:  writer’s block shouldn’t be an issue).  At some stage – or rather periodically along the way – the effort to reach a cumulative understanding of what has been apprehended must, for a time, take precedence.   

Posted at 10:12 AM in Books, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: apprehension, blog post, comprehension, inventory, Kant, Twitter, Typepad   


10/28/2009  Breaking news: Google’s got “real-time” data. But, um, “how do we rank it?”


Thanks to @jayrosen_nyu for providing today’s prompt, in the form of a link to Marshall Kirkpatrick’s coverage, for ReadWriteWeb, of Google CEO Eric Schmidt’s recent interview at the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo in Orlando (http://jr.ly/n9fs ).  While much of what Schmidt had to say in the 45-minute interview was directed to business leaders, Kirkpatrick kindly excerpted “6 minutes that we believe is of interest to anyone who’s touched by the web.”   

A few highlights from those six minutes bear directly on my last two posts on the new Bing/Google/Twitter configuration.  In Schmidt’s own words:   

– “Real-time information is just as valuable as all the other information.  We want it included in our search results.”   

– “We can index real-time info now – but how do we rank it?”   

– Learning to rank user-generated info “is the greatest challenge of the age.” [emphasis added]   

Kirkpatrick concludes his report with the affirmation that “Schmidt believes Google can solve that problem.”  But whether or not this is the case, it is only responsible to ask whether it is Google’s CEO who decides what the greatest challenge of the age might be (perhaps especially when 39 of his allotted 45 minutes were addressed directly to business leaders).     

Posted at 11:04 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: Bing, Eric Schmidt, Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, Google, Jay Rosen, Marshall Kirkpatrick, ReadWriteWeb, real time search, search ranking, Twitter   


10/27/2009  Twoogle? Googlitter? Key documents, part 2

On October 21, 2009 at 2:41 P.M., @EV posted the following on the Twitter blog:   

@google  Nice!   

Our friends down in Mountain View want to organize the worlds’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.  A fast growing amount of information is coursing through Twitter very quickly, and we want there to be many ways to access that information.  As part of that effort, we’ve partnered with Google to index the entire world of public tweets as fast as possible and present them to their users in an organized and relevant fashion.   

We’ve always taken an open approach to how people experience Twitter, particularly in how and where tweets are read.  Users have benefited greatly from the abundance of choice provided by our ecosystem partners.  We’re honored to take this next step with Google and tap into their expertise to support the rapid, open exchange of ideas.   

You can read more about our collaboration on the Google Blog.   [emphasis added]


RT@google:  Tweets and updates and search, oh my!  is the playful title of the update to the Google blog posted by Marissa Mayer, VP of Search Products and User Experience, at 2:09 P.M. (i.e., shortly before @EV posted on the Twitter blog).   

At Google, our goal is to create the most comprehensive, relevant and fast search in the world.  In the past few years, an entirely new type of data has emerged – real-time updates like those on Twitter have appeared not only as a way for people to communicate their thoughts and feelings, but also as an interesting source of data about what is happening right now in regard to a particular topic.   

Given this new type of information and its value to search, we are very excited to announce that we have reached an agreement with Twitter to include their updates in our search results.  We believe that our search results and user experience will greatly benefit from the inclusion of this up-to-the-minute data, and we look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months….   [emphasis added]

My own strong hunch (inscribed in the boldface of the emphasis-added) is that, when the laudatory language of all four posts is distilled, the essential consideration that remains to be thought will be time, and specifically the variable and potentially incompatible temporalities of these media and the events they seek to register and archive.   

Posted at 12:59 PM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: @EV, Google, Google search, Marissa Mayer, real-time updates, tweets, Twitter, Twitter search   


10/27/2009 Twing? Bitter? Key documents, part 1

Once again a perusal of the Twitter blog has opened up possibilities and necessities for reflection on Twitter, its temporalities and its impacts (current and to come) on journalism and historiography.  I am transcribing parts of these key documents here, with emphasis added where it may assist in assessing the stakes of what transpired on October 21, 2009.   

There are two posts on the Twitter blog with that dateline.  The first (the earlier, which thanks to reverse-chronology is not the first you encounter on the page) is by @BIZ, posted at 11:40 A.M. (time zone unspecified) under the title “Bing Goes the Dynamite”:   

We very firmly believe the open exchange of information can have a positive impact on the world.  Every day we see evidence supporting this belief.  Most Twitter accounts are public for a good reason – people find value in openness.  An open approach means value for users, value for partners, and value for Twitter.   

We have a team focused on delivering value from a search and discovery perspective at Twitter and they’re just getting started.  Twitter is earning a reputation for delivering real-time results to queries about things that are happening right now.  Moreover, there are already tens of thousands of Twitter apps and more to come because people want the choice to consume and create tweets wherever and whenever they prefer.  The folks over at Bing took a keen interest in Twitter and worked fast to establish a working relationship with us in line with an open approach.   

You can read more about Bing’s new Twitter search on their blog or just try it out. Twitter is providing Bing access to the overwhelming deluge of public, real-time tweets rushing in from all around the world so they can help you find those that make the most sense right now.  While Twitter currently presents tweets based simply on timeliness, Bing is experimenting with new solutions such as “best match.”  We hope more working relationships with organizations in the search business will mean even more variety for our users.   

Because of our open approach there are many ways to interact with Twitter, and there will be many more to come.  As we work to mature our service and platform offerings, we also hope to develop meaningful relationships with companies that share our vision of creating value for everyone involved – especially users.  Whether it’s emerging startups, big companies, or people simply sharing information, we’re establishing successful partnerships.  Also, it’s fun.  [emphasis added] 

It sounds like fun.  So I was quick to click on the link directing me to the Bing blog, which turned out to be their “community page.”  There I found a post dated October 21, 10:24 A.M. (again, no time zone given, but in any event the posting predates that of @BIZ on the Twitter blog).  Authored by Paul Yiu and the Bing Social Search Team, it is entitled “Bing is bringing Twitter search to you.”   

One of the most interesting things going on today on the Internet is the notion of the real time web.  The idea of accessing data in real time has been an elusive goal in the world of search.  Web indexes in search engines update at pretty amazing rates, given what it takes to crawl the entire web and index it for searching, but getting that to ‘real time’ has been challenging.   

The explosive popularity of Twitter is the best example of this opportunity.  Twitter produces millions of tweets every minute on every subject you can imagine.  The power of those tweets as a form of data that can be surfaced in search is enormous.  Innovative services like Twitter give us access to public opinion and thoughts in a way that has not before been possible.  From important social and political issues to keeping friends up to date on the minute-by-minute of our daily lives, the web is getting more and more real time.   

Search has to keep up…. today at Web 2.0 we announced that working with those clever birds over at Twitter, we now have access to the entire public Twitter feed and have a beta of Bing Twitter search for you to play with (in the U.S., for now).  Try it out.  The Bing and Twitter teams want to know what you think….  [emphasis added] 

I’d also like to know what you think, but not before you read my next post.   

Posted at 11:53 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: @BIZ, Bing, Bing Twitter search, Paul Yiu, real time web, Twitter, twitter blog, twitter search   10/26/2009


10/26/2009  No end in sight

Monday morning and I am still facing my half-read printout of “The Reconstruction of American Journalism” (http://cjr.org/reconstruction/the_reconstruction_of_american.php?page=all ), the report by Leonard Downie, Jr. and Michael Schudson, published on October 19 in the Columbia Journalism Review, which has already been through the critical ringer on Twitter.  I promised myself I’d have it read and processed before this past weekend, to enable timely and substantive commentary, but the truth is that at the halfway point I became convinced – prematurely, I admit – that I had already read the report’s single most interesting line.  I cite it here in the context of the paragraph in which it appears.   

What is under threat is independent reporting that provides information, investigation, analysis, and community knowledge, particularly in the coverage of local affairs.  Reporting the news means telling citizens what they would not otherwise know.  “It’s so simple it sounds stupid at first, but when you think about it, it is our fundamental advantage,” says Tim McGuire, a former editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “We’ve got to tell people stuff they don’t know.”   

While I’m sure that the CJR report, skewered as it’s been in some circles, offers other formulations pertinent to the fledgling project, this one resonated in the circumscribed context of my own ongoing reflection on the purpose of this weblog.  While it does not set out to “report” in any conventional sense, it is certainly written with the goal of telling people – my handful of readers, now and to come – things they don’t know.  And the mostly unpredictable ways in which the posts are prompted, how they unfold and where they wind up, more often than not tell me stuff I don’t know, or didn’t know I knew.   

I promise to finish “The Reconstruction of American Journalism,” but I can’t say whether I will return to it here.  What I will pledge to take up is the matter of how reading Twitter with an eye to its impact on journalism and historiography involves an ongoing negotiation between reading individual tweets (in all their idiosyncracy) and theorizing microblogging in general, conceptual terms.  There is no end in sight.   

Posted at 11:19 AM in Current Affairs, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: ” Twitter, “The Reconstruction of American Journalism, blogging, Columbia Journalism Review, Leonard Downie Jr., Michael Schudson, Minneapolis Star Tribune, Tim McGuire   


10/23/2009  Minister Twitter remembers

One factor that makes blogging a) different from the kinds of writing I’m used to, and b) likely to keep me engaged for some time to come, is this:  I don’t sit down at the keyboard with an outline or a set agenda, but rather take my prompts where I find them each day (these tend to fall within the framework of the blog’s long-term project).  At this stage, anyway, I often come across a promising starting point while scrolling through my Twitter homepage each morning, without knowing where it might lead. Today, for example, I am taking my cues from three tweets posted by someone I have recently begun to follow.    

Of the individuals I track on Twitter, Shashi Tharoor is to my mind among the more compelling.  His profile lists his location as New Delhi, though his tweets, from all over the map, prove him to be highly peripatetic.  His Twitter bio, by definition abbreviated, retains the quality of an impressive cv:  “author, humanitarian, peacekeeper, columnist, former UN Under-Secretary General, now Minister of State for External Affairs, Govt. of India.”  He is also the recently elected MP for the district of Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala state (contracted to “Tvm” for tweeting), which I knew, having followed the Indian elections earlier this year.   


[The blog from which I borrowed this photo, http://alexp0205.wordpress.com/, includes a post entitled “Shashi Tharoor removes his own posters,” which quotes the then-candidate on his soon-to-be constituency:  “This is a beautiful town, and I don’t want politics to disfigure it.”]   

But it was less my interest in this accomplished and multifaceted figure than the content of one (then two, then three) of his tweets from yesterday, October 23, 2009, that kick-started this post.  I first ran across this one, which I promptly saved to favorites:  “Oct 23: day I lost my father, Chandran Tharoor, at age 63, 16 years ago. Still feel the pain of profound loss.  But now he’s always with me”.  I then noted another tweet from the same time frame:  “Oct 23:  commemoration of great Tvm fighter Achamma Cherlan who led peoples march for dem rights & responsible govt on 23.10,1938” – hence 71 years ago.  Around nine hours later, Shashi posted yet another commemorative tweet with the same dateline:  “Oct 23:  happy birthday to @23jacob, the man who put me on Twitter!”    

The fact that Minister Tharoor was prompted to tweet – thrice in one day – in commemoration of persons and events of importance to him is itself remarkable, and says a good deal about his relationship to Twitter. To dispatch tweets that range from birthday wishes to the person who “put me on Twitter,” to the remembrance of a historic civil rights march in his home district, to marking the anniversary of his father’s death – these are indications that the author takes the medium seriously, and that he may indeed warrant his nickname, “Minister Twitter.”   

In keeping with the objectives of this blog, which pertain to the impacts of Twitter and other social media on the history and historiography of our time, I would pause for a moment over the tweet that went out in commemoration of the death of the writer’s father.  Very likely these lines mark only one of several ways in which this anniversary was kept.  Of broader interest, perhaps, are the idea and the practice of commemorating by way of a medium – Twitter – that is characterized by frenzy and fragmentation.  A tweet is, apart from a vapour or a shadow, the furthest thing from a monument; indeed, it is barely an inscription (though it can be of course be archived).  What is the intention – and more importantly the effect – of commemorating a death (and so a life), in this most ephemeral of media?  It is an exercise “too poignant and too transitory,” to cite William Wordsworth, writing in his Essays Upon Epitaphs. More remains to be said on this matter, as time allows.   

Key excerpts from Wordsworth’s text are at http://www.english.ucsb.edu/faculty/ayliu/unlocked/wordsworth/essays-upon-epitaphs.html

Posted at 01:31 PM in Current Affairs, Film, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: blog post, blogging, Essays upon Epitaphs, Minister Twitter, Shashi Tharoor, tweet, Twitter, Wordsworth   


10/22/2009  Biodegradability and the cultural compost: “And so human life is enriched”


In general, I bristle with indignation at any post or tweet (or ad, or conversation, for that matter) that begins with “Best piece you’ll read today….”, or words to that effect.  This may be due to the indelible memory of the prophecy delivered by the chair of a department to which I had applied for a job long (indeed a lifetime) ago.  After my lecture, having escorted me to my accommodations for the night, he announced with perfect confidence: “This is the nicest hotel you will ever stay in.”  Never mind that the chair of a university  English department that wanted to hire me had just ended a sentence with a preposition.  I was outraged at the assumption that a Victorian guest house in a third-tier destination was to be the apex of my travel experience.  Over the next several years I wantonly booked and stayed at several lavish havelis and converted palace hotels in Rajasthan; in ultra-hip boutique hotels with room service from great restaurants in New York; in Willa Cather’s auratic cottage with spectacular views of the Bay of Fundy; in a converted 16th-century monastary high in the Sierra Madre in Puebla state… and in so many other unforgettable spots that I’ve in fact forgotten what the bloody small-town guesthouse in [________] even looked like.   

As I was saying…I don’t respond well to anyone telling me in advance what I will think or how I will experience something.  But because @NiemanLab is often a Twitter resource worth exploring, because its links usually net me something worthwhile on journalism and social media, I clicked through to what proved to be an interesting site, new to me, called posterous (http://mbattles/posterous.com/ ), which includes a blog authored by Matthew Battles entitled library ad infinitum:  the republic of letters and the storm called progress. His post of October 21, 2009, under the title “the novel dies a thousand deaths,” reproduces part of a letter from the novelist F.Marion Crawford to Stewart Gardner, dated August, 1896.   

“The old fashioned novel is really dead, and nothing can revive it nor make anybody care for it again.  What is to follow it?…A clever German who is here suggested to  me last night that the literature of the future might turn out to be the daily exchange of ideas of men of genius – over the everlasting telephone of course – published every morning for the whole world….”   


Battles is right to call this a “rich quote,” which can be viewed from several angles.  Here are his thoughts on the matter:   

In the first [way to look at it], Crawford’s vision is prophetic, if hasty.  The nascent, steampunk, fin-de-siecle telephone network took a century to evolve into an internet.  The struggle now is to comprehend and accommodate a daily exchange of ideas not among “men of genius,” but among everyone with a connection.   

But another way to spin this is to recognize the apolcalyptic mode for what it is:  not a harbinger, but a self-renewing mode of modern consciousness.  The telephone didn’t kill the novel; neither did radio, television, or rock ‘n’ roll.  Yesterday, Barnes and Noble announced that its own ebook reader, the nook, will connect using the AT&T wireless network – the evanescent digitized great-grandchild of Ma Bell (who was still in utero in Crawford and Gardner’s time).   

I like to think the two perspectives aren’t contraditory.  Eras end, media grow old, new modes of consciousness emerge.  And so human life is enriched.   

Matthew ends his post on a high note (memo to self – maybe that’s what it takes to get the quantity and quality of the comments he elicited).  In response, his reader Tim wrote a thoughtful and supportive message (“I absolutely believe this – so much so that I wrote my dissertation about it!”), which ended with a link that, via several other links (too many to reproduce), led me to the transcript of a BBC radio broadcast aired in July 1927.  In that programme, Leonard Woolf and Virginia Woolf debated a question that they had proposed to the producers in advance:  “Are Too Many Books Written and Published?”  The edited transcript, compiled by my colleague Melba Cuddy-Keane from pages preserved in the BBC Written Archives Centre and published in the journal PMLA (vol. 121, #1, January 2006, 235-244), is of great interest to the literary and cultural historian. I take this occasion simply to note down several of Virginia’s arguments (Leonard’s are also carefully drawn), with an eye to their potential value for reading across media in our own historical moment.   


V.W.  Yes, that is one of the great drawbacks of books.  They last a lifetime.  They take up space on our walls for ever.  They need dusting for ever.  How many times, after all, is one going to read the same book through?  Of all the books in your library how many have you read twice?  Yet there they stand, unopened and, I am afraid, often undusted, month after month and year after year.  What is wanted is some system by which private libraries could be thrown open to other people, so that readers living in the same neighbourhood could use each other’s books.  The present system, by which each of us has a certain number of books locked up doing nothing on his shelves is the most wasteful that could be invented.   

The concepts of waste and waste management will be of interest, along with the unavoidable matter of biodegradability and what we might term the cultural compost.   

V.W.:  ….Books will have to be cheaper.  Books ought to be so cheap that we can throw them away if we do not like them, or give them away if we do.  Moreover, it is absurd to print every book as if it were fated to last a hundred years.  The life of the average book is perhaps three months.  Why not face this fact?  Why not print the first edition on some perishable material which would crumble to a little heap of perfectly clean dust in about six months time?  If a second edition were needed, this could be printed on good paper and well bound.  Thus by far the greater number of books would die a natural death in three months or so.  No space would be wasted and no dirt would be collected – an ideal state of things in my opinion….   


No space wasted, no dirt collected.  Fine rules for a blog post.   

Posted at 02:10 PM in Books, Travel, Web/Tech, Weblogs | Permalink | Comments (0)   

Technorati Tags: Anselm Kiefer, BBC, ebook reader, Leonard Woolf, Matthew Battles, Melba Cuddy-Keane, Nieman Lab, novel, PMLA, posterous, Twitter, Virginia Woolf   


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