John McCann

Archive for the ‘Internet’ Category

Internet … a centrifugal force

In Internet, Newspapers, Television, Video on March 26, 2007 at 12:39 pm

An article in Wired describes Joost, a new Internet-based TV application, and discusses its implications for the television industry. At the end of the article, the author describes how the Internet has impacted the traditional media model of keeping everything central and bundling shows into schedules, stories into magazines, etc.

“The Net in particular is brutally centrifugal, fragmenting newspapers into articles, movies into clips, and CDs into songs, all dispersed to servers across the earth. It has never been kind to enterprises that try to gather everything under one roof. Google’s $140 billion value derives not from some comprehensive offering but from simply showing people where the fragments can be found.”

This fragmentation seems very natural to me. When I read a newspaper, I do not read all the articles but focus on topics that are of interest to me. And I only skim some of the articles that I do read, looking for the key points that let me understand the essence of the article. When I talk with a friend about an article or a movie, I rarely tell the whole story but simply relate the point of the article.

Students do the same thing when taking notes in a class. Our photographs are fragments of what we have seen.

Blogs such as this one are fragment based. I usually insert a fragment from something I have read, as I did with the quote at the top of this post, and then write about the content of that fragment.

It is common today to read that many newspapers are suffering because of this fragmentation. Just today I read in Tim O’Reilly’s blog (a blog, no less) that a major city newspaper is in trouble.

“I’m hearing rumors that the San Francisco Chronicle is in big trouble. Apparently, Phil Bronstein, the editor-in-chief, told staff in a recent ’emergency meeting’ that the news business ‘is broken, and no one knows how to fix it.'”

The really interesting part of this blog is a comment by Michael Schrage, who has a long association with the Media Lab and other organizations at MIT.

“i love print; i love [good] journalism; and i love healthy, vibrant and innovative marketplaces…alas, the real reasons so many newspapers are suffering is that they are not very good as reporting media, journalistic media and advertising media…competition of the web has made them – on average -worse, not better…they’ve done an even worse job than detroit in rising to meet the competition…but why should we be surprised? the big three were an oligopoly for decades and most newspapers have been de facto monopolies in their smsas…they don’t know how to compete; they don’t know how to innovate…the decline in their quality is obvious; their economic decline is deserved. “

I have seen this problem in my own teaching in executive education programs. Managers in firms that had a monopoly (or near monopoly) simply have a very hard time learning how to compete on a daily basis when their firm loses its market dominance. They try everything possible to hang onto the old structures and strategies, and when it becomes obvious that they must change, it is too late and/or they do not have the skills and mental models that are necessary in a competitive world.

I read newspapers every day, subscribing to my local paper and USA Today. While the latter seems to remain vibrant, my local paper is shrinking and I fear for its future. If you are interested in a discussion of how to save newspapers, as I am, read Doc Searls’ recent blog post.


Participation Architecture

In Architecture, Internet, Technology on March 19, 2007 at 1:25 pm

An article in the RosenblumTV blog gave a very succinct description of the problem established industries have when presented with a new technology. It is the mismatch between a technology and the appropriate architecture for deploying that technology.

“That is, a specific technology demands a specific architecture. Not the architecture of a building, but rather the architecture for the implementation of that technology. As lazy humans, however, we get the technology first; the architecture takes us time.”

When I first read the article, I was reminded of a story I read 50 years ago about how a very primitive tribe reacted to the arrival of a Coke bottle, which was a new “technology” to the tribe. A plane crashed in the jungle and the natives found coke bottles among the wreckage. Having never seen such an object, they wondered what to do with it. One person put a bottle onto a stick and created a club that could be used for hunting and battle, which were the very activities that consumed the time of the men in the tribe. They were hunters and warriors and they used their hunting and war architecture to implement the new technology of the Coke bottle.

Back to the blog entry. Rosenblum, a participant in the videojournalist revolution, tells the story of how AT&T bought the patents to the first wireless radio technology because the company thought that radio would compete with its wired telephony business. AT&T did not implement the radio technology and used the patents to prevent others from doing so. They only allowed Marconi to use the technology for communicating with and between ships. But then a strange thing happened: the Titanic sank while sending hours of messages from its wireless transmitter. Sixteen year old David Sarnoff heard those messages while working for Marconi and communicated to a crowd outside his building by yelling out a window.

Alas, broadcasting was invented. More broadly, the “architecture of radio” was invented. AT&T saw the world through the telephony architecture and thus totally missed the role that radio would play in the broader communication ecosystem. It took a kid to recognize the potential, and that kid went on to be a pioneer of the broadcast industry.

Rosenblum applies this story to today’s world.

“All too often, we also take new technologies and plug them into an architecture that we already understand. All too often we take the Internet and see it as an alternative platform for broadcasting. Take a look at What do you see? A newspaper. A newspaper put on the web. That is because that is what newspapers understand. That is the architecture they understand. As video comes to the web, broadcasters will also see it as a way to do what they do now – one signal to many people, but on-line. This will be a classic mistake.”

This is so true in all walks of life. Librarians see the world through their library architecture and thus see the Internet as a massive, global library. Educators use an education architecture when approaching the Internet. Microsoft seems to have seen it through the desktop computing architecture.

As was the case with wireless technology, it is people who operate outside traditional architectures who see the possibilities of a new technology and thus invent new architectures. Perhaps we should think of the Internet and associated technologies as forming an Architecture of Participation.

Participation Age examples

In Content business, Internet, Long Tail, Media involvement, Video on May 15, 2006 at 11:34 pm

I read five articles (including one advertisement) on May 15, 2006, that point to the rise of various aspects of the Participation Age and the associated diminishing of aspects of the mass culture age.

  1. An advertisement in the Life section of today's USA Today invited young people to use video to tell short stories: "What matters to you? Film it. Send it. Tell us. 30 to 60 seconds. Choose an issue. Open to all residents 18 to 26. Deadline May 21, 2006. Visit to find out more." This is one of several recent efforts to tap into the creativity of amateurs at the expense of professionals.
  2. The Money section of the same paper contained the following headline: "Most older teens can't ID the networks." The article provides some statistics: "Almost 80% of 16-to 18-year-olds can't name the four top TV broadcasters ….. Just 33% of the total audience — which ranged in age from 16 to 34 — correctly said NBC, ABC, CBS or Fox …" These two articles indicate that the Participation Age is indeed rising as the older Passive Age slips away. Young people are just not as tuned into traditional media as their counterparts were in previous times.
  3. A blog post by Dion Hinchcliffe discusses the challenges that Microsoft faces as the World Wide Web goes through a transformation to what some call Web2.0. He first writes about the change in Microsoft's focus from a software company to a media company and says it is yet another example of the "fundamental changes imposed on many corporates by the increasing pre-eminence of just about anything on the Web. … Microsoft thinks the action (i.e., value) is moving to content and the eyeballs (people) attached to it." He goes on to explain this shift: "attracting users with the most compelling content (including, or even especially, each other in the form of online social communities) is now considerably more valuable than punching out code in a world where non-connected software is becoming relentless commoditized and growth-constrained." The key aspect of this statement is the phrase "each other" by which he means that the content provided by "users" is of prime importance. This statement agrees with item #1 above. In this view, it is traditional software that you install on your computer (e.g., Microsoft's Office software) that is diminishing in value.
  4. Doc Searls, one of the bloggers that I read daily, writes about the rise of independent media, and the associated demise of traditional media. He starts his article by posing a couple of questions: "What would happen if anybody could produce radio or TV programming as easily as they consume it? What would happen if the natural limits to broadcasting went away?" After explaining, in some depth, the natural limits of radio and television broadcasting, Searls explains why those limitations are becoming mute points: "Today, if I want to put a show on the radio, I don't bother with radio at all. I record an .mp3 file, put it on a website and 'enclose' a pointer in an RSS feed. Anybody who picks up the feed or downloads the file can get the recording, anywhere on the Net. Which is anywhere with a Net connection, anywhere in the world. This is why radio as we know it is doomed. Same with TV. AM and FM stations have a future as long as manufacturers ship cars with radios. But that future will be increasingly restricted by a growing assortment of other sources of what we've come to call 'content'." He then writes about attempts to simply move the traditional TV model of passive viewers to the Internet, and he says that such approaches miss the point. "What all this misses, however, is the evolution of consumers to producers, and the obsolescence of 'media' as a one-way construct. … the result will be the end of media as we knew it — as scarce, expensive and restricted ways for a few producers to reach millions of consumers."
  5. As I explained in my initial posting about the content business, content is created via conversations, whether those conversations are recorded or simply pass away when the conversation is over. It is easy to generate such content when people are in the same room. And we can use phones, instant messaging, and other technologies to hold conversations among several people. But it is difficult to generate conversation-based content with a larger group of people who are distributed around the globe. We now have a new tool, Skypecast, that promises to solve this problem. An "early preview" on the Skype (a form of telephony that uses the Internet instead of the traditonal telephone network) website describes this new tool: "Skypecasts are live, moderated conversations allowing groups of up to 100 people from anywhere in the world to talk to one another. Skypecasts enable people to discuss shared interests — anything from classic cars and cooking, to home design and computer support. Skypecasts are moderated by the ‘host’ who is able to mute, eject or pass the virtual microphone to participants when they wish to speak. Hosting or participating in a Skypecast is completely free."

These five stories point to one common theme: new ways are emerging for people to participate in activities that were previously restricted to professionals in the "content businesses" and people are using those tools in different ways.

Don’t take my Net

In Internet on February 6, 2006 at 8:32 pm

The Internet is a grass roots phenomenon that has grown because it provides a standard method by which anyone can communicate openly with anyone else. That is, it is the network that any and all of us can use to participate in our economies and our cultures. Once our communications and our productions are in digital form, they can move over and share the same routers, wires, cables, fibers, and airways that compose the Internet. Keeping those wires, cables, fibers and airways open to all is at the heart of the participation age.

Such openness is the antethesis of the philosophy of almost all industrial age, and the large information age, companies. Telephone companies control their telephone networks; cable TV companies control their cable networks; etc. If you want to hang something on one of those networks, you need the permission of its owner … and those permissions are not granted lightly.

Customer control and lock-in are at the core of their products, services and marketing efforts. Their actions seems to be based on the belief that if a firm that can get a large group of people (who they call consumers) to adopt products and services that are proprietory to that firm, it can achieve higher profits, perhaps even monopoly-level profits. As the Internet becomes more central to the operation of these firms, we are seeing new efforts by large established firms to limit its openness, and perhaps even to close it to some degree. Perhaps to make the Interent operate more like the television network, controlled by several dozen entities that determine what and when the rest of us to view.

Being so very opposed to such a world, I was particularly pleased to read an article by Doc Searls titled “The Producer Electronics Revolution, Part I” in which he provides details about what he calls an unholy alliance. He concludes the article with some thoughts about how the tide is shifting away from the folks who would close the Net:

Right now this tide shift isn’t a smooth thing. In fact, it’s a fight. That fight is between independence and dependence; between liberty and slavery; between free markets and your-choice-of-silo; between what you want to do and what Apple or Microsoft or Intel or Real or Google will let you do.

It’s a fight between those who value music, artwork, video and writing, and those who wish to reduce all those goods to the container cargo they call “content”.

It’s a fight that has the The Net and its founding values on one side. On the other side is an unholy alliance between the “content” industries, Consumer Electronics and the carriers who still think the Internet is about delivering industrial goods in packeted forms to our TVs, desktops and MP3 players.

It’s a fight between two overlapping circles in a Venn diagram. The larger circle is The Net: an open noncommercial environment that supports countless commercial markets, including the one for Consumer Electronics goods. The smaller circle is the unholy alliance that thinks its circle is bigger.

The Net will win, because its circle is actually the world on which the smaller circle resides–whether or not the smaller circle likes that fact.

Doc promises to offer us ideas about how to “thwart that unholy alliance” and I certainly look forward to reading his ideas.