John McCann

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Just consume, don’t produce!

In Uncategorized on June 25, 2006 at 4:34 pm

A pair of recent Wall Street Journal articles illustrate the divide between a traditional view of what people should be doing with their time and what the younger crowd is actually doing.

In an article ("NBC Battles, And Joins With, Video Web Sites," June 6, 2006) about the changing nature of the relationship between NBC and YouTube, Brooks Barnes and Rebecca Buckman tell us that people use YouTube to "watch more than 50 million videos a day – mostly amateur clips – on its site."

Then columnist Lee Gomes ("Why Getting the User to Create Web Content Isn't Always Progress," June 7, 2006) tells us that this is bad, very bad. He starts his column with stories about companies producing tools for people to use to create their own videos. By the tone of these stories, we can see that Gomes is not a fan of such efforts; at one point he calls it "busy work." After watching some of the most viewed clips on YouTube, he concludes, "You can spend 10 minutes and watch all of it. Spend much more, and you start feeling guilty about the time you're wasting." He contrasts this with watching videos on the list "Favourite 20th century BBC TV programmes" and concludes "You can watch them decades after decades and never feel guilty about it."

His message: You would be better off consuming the work of the great masters than in producing work that is "so dismally inferior." Or more succinctly, you, the ordinary person, would be better off consuming than producing.

If this applies to video, it must apply to other endeavors. I imagine he would apply his logic to conclude that you would be better off:

  • eating food prepared by a great chef than cooking your own.
  • buying groceries from a famous store than growing your own.
  • reading a book by a great author than writing your own.
  • looking at a great work of art than painting your own.

Whether he realizes it or not, Gomes has written an advocacy piece for the great "consumer society." If we are not great at what we do, we should leave it to the masters. Don't produce things that are inferior to that produced by others, just consume.



Communicating with photographs

In Uncategorized on March 23, 2006 at 3:18 pm

An article in USA Today tells the story of the formation of Flickr by Caterina Fake and Stewart Butterfield. The passage that struck me the most was about how the couple tapped into the Internet community’s interest in sharing.

Butterfield says Flickr’s biggest innovation came from recognizing the social nature of photography. “It’s meant to be shared, talked about, pointed to, saved, archived and available by as many means as possible,” he says.

A photograph is a form of art and a form of communication. A photograph is a composition of what you saw and what you thought was interesting enough to capture in a camera. Historically you would print it, put it in an album or a box, pass it around for others to see, and perhaps revisit it every now and then when you dig out old albums or boxes. Looking through your pictures, you can recall the occasions when they were taken. They “jog your memory” so that you can relive your past for a brief moment.

I have two of those boxes in the bottom of one of my closets, boxes that I acquired when my mother died. They are full of pictures, some pasted into albums, many just loose in the boxes. I look through them every few years and I always, always wish that there was more to each picture than the picture itself. Who are those women with my mother? When was the picture taken? One picture shows my mother as a young woman riding a horse; where was it taken? Why did she never mention horses to me? Several of the pictures show my half-brother with his grandparents, the Easleys. What were their first names?

These photographs are not very good communications, at least not for someone who wants to know the story behind the photograph. Or even the basic data about each picture: who, what, where, why, when. They do not “jog my memory” because I have no memory of them. A picture without a story is an art form, but not an effective communication to anyone who does not know its story. A photograph without a story is only an effective communication to someone who knows its history. When such people are the intended audience, then the picture is an effective communication; to all others, it is ineffective.

Additionally, these photographs are not communicating because they are buried in a box in the bottom of my closet. But that’s another issue for another day.

FUSE is a common activity

In Human nature, Uncategorized on March 9, 2006 at 9:17 pm

In an earlier post on a Participation Architecture, I wrote about Yahoo’s FUSE model. At the time I was writing this post, I was lukewarm about this model. But in preparing to talk about it in class, I found that is seems like a simple but powerful way to illustrate the difference between how we participate in mass culture and how we can participate in today’s evolving culture.

To review, FUSE refers to finding something, using it, sharing our experience with others and expanding human knowledge by this sharing.

In a mass culture, a few very talented people, working with considerable resources, create new things (products, movies, concepts, articles, books, songs, etc.) and we consume them (use, watch, read, listen, etc.). In this world, we repeatedly go through a version of the FUSE process.

Consider a movie is playing at a theater.

  • We find the movie by reading a movie guide in the paper or online.
  • We use the movie by going to see it in the theater.
  • We share our reactions and thoughts about the movie with friends.
  • We expand our own knowledge base and that of the friends we talk to.

We may go through this process many times a day, whether with a product, article, song, radio program, etc.

We are probably more likely to go through an abbreviated or truncated version of the FUSE model in which we only find and use something, without sharing it with others. Or we may just find new things without using them, such as what happens when you walk around a clothing store and look at the clothes being offered.

In the Participation Age, you would use the same model but with more emphasis on sharing and expanding. Your interest is not just to offer your thoughts and analysis to your friends; it is to offer them to the whole world. You want to participate in the world in the way that is similar to how journalists, script writers, disk jockeys, etc. participate. You want your voice to be able to be heard by anyone.

Perhaps it’s the difference between being a member of the consuming class versus the creative class.

Architecture of participation

In Uncategorized on March 6, 2006 at 4:04 pm

Listened to a podcast titled Local Services and the Architecture of Participation by Paul Levine, General Manager, Local Yahoo!, Inc.

Levine starts the podcast with the search space vision at Yahoo:

Enable people to find, use, share and expand all human knowledge.

  • Find what you are looking for.
  • Use what you find to achieve a purpose
  • Share means sharing knowledge with people you connect with.
  • Expand means that you expand the amount of information that we can all tap into.

FUSE (Find, Use, Share, Expand) is their notion of how you participate. FUSE is their architecture of participation.

FUSE is a fine metaphor for how a large number of people use the Internet, particularly when approaching it from a search perspective. But it seems to me to be very limiting when approached from a wider perspective.

Tim O’Reilly provides us a different view, this time from the perspective of the open source movement, in a document titled The Architecture of Participation.

“Architecture of participation” that includes low barriers to entry by newcomers, and some mechanism for isolating the cathedral from the bazaar. This architecture of participation allows for a real free market of ideas, in which anyone can put forward a proposed solution to a problem; it becomes adopted, if at all, by acclimation and the organic spread of its usefulness.

This is a much looser architecture than Yahoo’s FUSE model, but it appeals to me because it talks about a free market where anyone can propose an idea or solution whose usefulness is the determiner of its success.

The Wikipedia entry, as of March 2, 2006, cites O’Reilly as the first person to use the phase and offers the following definition:

The phrase architecture of participation describes the nature of systems that are designed for user contribution.

Whether looking at it from a search perspective or from an open source perspective, it is important that we recognize that to have participation we have to have an environment that enables and encourages contributions by anyone, whether we call them users, consumers, listeners, readers, viewers, or just people.

Sun says sun has risen

In Listen to the Dawn, Open source, Uncategorized on February 18, 2006 at 7:50 pm

Scott McNealy says that the sun has risen on the Participation Age.

“Speaking at a San Francisco conference on Wednesday, Sun CEO Scott McNealy described today as the “Participation Age” in technology, saying Sun’s open-source approach fits with that direction.”

His presentation included a slide titled “The Participation Age is another Revolution,” one that joins railways, electricity and telecommunications as revolutions that drove the global economy over the past 150 years.

Each of these four revolutions share four attributes:

  1. Economic growth through new services
  2. Standard that allow competition
  3. Participation of the community
  4. Less barriers, more access

This is clearly true when you restrict your analysis to the software revolution, as McNealy does. But is it true for the larger participation arena in which ordinary people can participate in activities that were previously reserved for experts, anointed professionals and companies who control some aspect of an industry or activity?

The answer appears to be clearly Yes.

  1. New services and applications are coming on line almost daily.
  2. Standards are allowing the cost of almost all digital technologies to follow Moore’s law, which results in near professional-level applications becoming affordable to more and more people.
  3. Blogs, podcasts, vlogs, social networks, etc. are allowing people to join together into loose communities of like-minded individuals who participate in common activities.
  4. The open Internet, digital technologies and deregulation has lowered, or even eliminated, barriers in many fields to the point that almost anyone can have access.

Anticipating the dawn

In Uncategorized on February 2, 2006 at 5:54 pm

I have been interested in this topic since 1990 when I read a comment by George Gilder in his book Microcosm:

The power of the chip grows faster than the power of the host processor running a vast system of many terminals. The power of the individual commanding a single workstation increases far faster than the power of an overall bureaucratic system. The organization of enterprise follows the organization of the chip. Rather than pushing decisions up through the hierarchy, the power of microelectronics pulls them remorsely down to the individual..

I was so fascinated by the ideas contained in Microcsom (probably because they were congruent with my own values) that I devoted my sabbatical year (1991-92) to the study of how digital technologies will enable us to change the ways we work, live, educate and use media. It was during this sabbatical that I became re-acquainted with the Internet (I had been a USENET user in the early 1980s) and could see that it would play an unimaginable role in our lives.

Then I read another Gilder paper:

Computer networks give every hacker the creative potential of a factory tycoon of the industrial era and the communications power of a TV magnate of the broadcasting era.

From 1994 through 2003 I used these notions in a series of courses about the Internet and how it will change the way we live, work and use the media. One of the themes of these courses is the rise or empowerment of the individual.

Much more recently, I read Terry Heaton’s article titled, “Participatory Journalism” in which he used the phrase Age of Participation. I incorporated quotes from this paper in the most recent rendition of a lecture titled Dawn of the Digital Media Age, a lecture I have delivered to thousands of MBA students and corporate managers and engineers since 1995.

This blog will contain some of my past work as well as the latest incarnations of my research into how digital technologies enable, and human wants & needs drive, the emergence or dawn of the Participation Age. I have been thinking about writing such a blog since I retired from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in 2003 and became a Professor Emeritus.

It was a USA Today article on January 31, 2006 that provided the nudge that caused me to start this blog. David Leiberman’s “Papers take a leap forward, opening up to new ideas” that contains the following:

We call it a community in conversation with itself,’ says James Currow, Morris’ executive vice president for newspapers [at Morris Communications].

The article focuses on how newspapers are experimenting with new formats, some that include articles written by amateurs … individuals who are participating in journalism; individuals who are participating in the community conversation in a new and exciting way.


In Uncategorized on February 2, 2006 at 4:35 pm

Participate has been defined as “become a participant; be involved in) “enter a race”; “enter an agreement”; “enter a drug treatment program”; “enter negotiations””

Participation Age refers to the current period of time in which there is an explosion in the ability of individuals to participate in, be involved in, an array of activities that were previously very difficult or impossible for them to undertake.

In this blog, we will examine those activities, the digital technologies that are enabling new forms of participation, and the human wants & needs that drive us to want to participate.

Just by creating this blog, I have decided to participate in an activity that was previously very difficult for most individuals.

I have chosen to use the phrase Dawn of the Participation Age to convey my belief that we are just now entering this new age. We are witnessing the beginning, the dawn.