Homo homini rodentius est

Tech Porn

Somewhere along the way, perhaps the day that [Techcrunch] guesstimated that the launch of Apple’s iPhone had generated 700,000 sales (only off by about half a million!), or maybe it was when [Robert Scoble] turned his once-informative blog into the de facto Facebook FAQ, it dawned on me that what passes for tech journalism online has evolved into a relentless drumbeat of hype that is, essentially, nothing more than product public relations and marketing. I was going to say “free” public relations and marketing, but I don’t even know that to be true — so unreliable are the reputations and protestations of transparency from “journalists” who have popped up like mushrooms after a spring rain. As Jack Shafer says in [a column] today decrying the imminent demise of the reputation of the Wall Street Journal under Rupert Murdoch’s notoriously heavy hand, it takes decades for a media source to build its reputation. There simply hasn’t been enough time to know how reliable most tech bloggers are. But even if no money changes hands, that doesn’t mean there isn’t implied value exchanged in the form of favors or just increased audience and ad revenue from boosting the current hot toy.

A few weeks ago there was a dust up on the Net because some sites in the Federated Media fold were on the take from Microsoft for a “conversational” brand campaign and did not disclose this to their loyal readers. But that was a pretty obvious case — easy to pick out. What is not so obvious is the general culture of under-the-radar, one-hand-washes-the-other marketing that masquerades as breathless enthusiasm for an endless parade of unproven, fly-by-night technologies and products that, more often than not, barely deserve a moment’s attention.

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Thoof: The End of Culture as We Knew It, cont.

Mike Arrington features [yet another Web 2.0 startup] over on Techcrunch that aims to change the world — but this one, inexplicably named Thoof (why ask why..?) aims to provide personalized “news” that gets submitted through a Digg-like process that also allows wiki-like tailoring of the news announcement. Think Digg-meets-Wikipedia-meets-del.icio.us-meets-God.Help.Us.

Arrington quotes the site founder on the virtues of his platform:

Historically, news has been delivered in a one-to-many manner, meaning that lots of people tend to get the same news at the same time, but I think this is more of a bug than a feature. People don’t necessarily *want* to be shown the same stuff that everyone else is seeing, but the limitations of the technology somewhat required that this be the case. They would much rather see things that are specifically tailored to their interests, its just that either that option hasn’t existed, or it has been poorly executed.

People don’t necessarily want to be shown the same stuff that everyone else is seeing. [My last post] was about the decline of journalistic standards in a new media world where the economic models that supported time-tested institutions were being dismantled. Indirectly it was about the loss of a common information culture — a shared set of informational priorities that were provided to us through commonly-shared channels. Elite channels, granted. But elite channels that were accountable. In the current gold rush to grab eyeballs in the interest of garnering venture capital, where’s the accountability? Is there even an acknowledgment of value to society beyond the personal enrichment of the investors and the pleasure of the consumers?

This latest example of “let’s build it because we can” lays bare all that’s wrong with the new media culture. It is the definition of expedient greed masquerading as populism — gladly tossing the values of time-tested professionalism (news editing in this case) out the window in deference to audience whims. One cannot imagine the Second World War being won by a population that got their news (or as Thoof founder Ian Clarke calls it, “stuff”) from something like his invention. If Thoof and its ilk contribute to a Balkanization of the culture and the loss of common interests or polity — who cares, so long as it gives people what they want?

The problem, of course, is that people may not realize — until too late — that what they want isn’t necessarily what they need.

UPDATE 6/16, via Matthew Ingram’s [blog], I found my way to the debate on the anti-expertise trends of Web 2.0 over on the Britannica blog: Michael Gorman on [The Sleep of Reason] and Nick Carr’s [response]. Resonates with issues I’m trying to raise here.

The End of Culture as We Knew It

Paris Hilton dominates Washington Post front page

I’ve become pretty inured to the cheapening of our media culture that has been directly proportional to the lowered cost of entry provided by technology. Once upon a time it was fairly expensive and difficult to produce mass-market media and, as a result, we tended to see what the elites who controlled the media wanted us to see. This had downsides, to be sure, but over time it tended to sift out the garbage. Then it became relatively easy to provide 500 cable TV channels and an infinite number of Internet “channels” — all competing for eyes — and the implicit filters on what could and couldn’t be provided disappeared. “Give the people quality” became “Give the people what they want” and in a free-market democracy who can argue with that? Well, I can. What I’m seeing is a huge regression to the mean effect taking place, where the standards that people used to aspire to are inexorably declining to satisfy a mass audience with incredibly low standards of quality. The decline is particularly steep online, where the audiences are younger, and the most egregious recent example is this snapshot of the Washington Post online front page, where the majority of the “above the fold” space was devoted to the tragicomic misadventures of a whore:

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Gootube We Hardly Knew Ye

The news about Google being hit with a $1B lawsuit over copyright infringement throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the froth over Web 2.0 and user-generated (*cough* stolen) content. One envisions the superannuated CEO Sumner Redstone rising from a creaky rocking chair on the porch of his antebellum mansion, Viacom, and shaking his walking stick at those disrespectful upstarts in New Media.

He’s right, of course. They built their business on facilitating dissemination of copyrighted material (going so far as to helpfully transmute uploads into a standard format and slap their logo on it) and have been, for some reason, dragging their heels on setting up licensing deals. Mark Cuban, who has a dog or two in this fight, has been [practically lactating] over the news. But it’s also the talk of the town over on Mike Arrington’s [Techcrunch] and at [Scobleizer]. Aside from the 20-year-olds yelling “Fuck Viacom”, the consensus seems to be that Google will either settle or lose. The question is, why did the “geniuses” at Google allow it to come to this point?

For oh about… 3 seconds I considered taking down the YouTube videos I’ve used on this siite. I don’t want to be complicit in theft. But I’d much rather pay a nominal fee to host the videos. That I don’t have the option to do so points right back at those Stanford-minted geniuses at Google.

Another reason I’m glad I went to Columbia…

Microsoft Delivers News Network

Microsoft has delivered, on schedule no less, a new national [online network] for local news organizations to share and monetize locally-produced video. This is important. Local news organizations — real ones, not just the permed and puckered hacks in local “Eyewitness” TV package shows — now get to deliver quality video content directly to users and licensees on a global scale. A boost for local news, a black eye for Google’s video efforts and the timing may explain why Microsoft is suddenly aiming the [copyright gun] at the folks in Mountain View. The deal, which leverages MS back end tech and their MSN advertising platform, is a good example of how you partner with copyright owners to build a content network.

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