Wednesday
Jun172009

Twittering in Tehran and how small is the new big

It used to be that if you wanted to start a newspaper, say, oh, the National Post, you'd need a pre-jailterm Conrad Black and his investors to pony up millions of dollars for presses, trucks, paper and salaries. With that investment would come the expectation of commensurate profits. That's the deal with the devil high capital ventures make. The only way they can start is to get an early and large cash injection which in turn becomes an albatross when things go pear-shaped.

Times have changed. As sites like rabble.ca and others have shown, it no longer takes millions of dollars to get national reach, and, if you want ad hoc global reach, just put on a lab coat and toss some breath mints in a bottle of cola. It's not investment capital that wins the day now, it's social capital. It's not who you know, it's who they tell.

It also used to be the case that when big news spread on Twitter, say, oh the Mumbai attacks, folks would immediately switch on CNN to get live coverage and quick analysis.

Times have changed. This past weekend thousands of Twitterati, flooded with live Twitter feeds from Iran, switched on CNN to see video of the police beatings and protests. Instead they got a rerun of Larry King learning about motorcycles.

What do these two things have in common? They prove that small is the new big.

One of the main reasons that CNN epically failed to deliver on the Iranian election coverage was that CNN crews were too visible on the streets. CNN, which relied heavily on its own team missed out. Meanwhile Iranians (whose web access to Twitter was blocked) managed to get tweets, photos and videos out on their cellphones. They were small, diffuse and unstoppable. The event was a watershed, I think, for breaking news. When major networks did get their act together they spent a lot of time referencing tweets.

This is going to happen more and more often. A diffuse mesh of live coverage is going to become not only the early warning vector for local events of global import, it's also going to become a vital multimedia source. Traditional news organs are going to spend as much time curating that coverage as creating their own. And, when they do create their own, they'll be using the same cellphones and social networks as the rest of us. One or two big network eyes will be replaced by a network of small eyes bearing witness.

The displacement of investment capital by social capital is just as game changing. The demands of the market have overburdened newsrooms (and the corporations that own them). It's left mainstream journalism drowning in debt, a legacy of expensive equipment and, most importantly an addictive reliance on an outdated business model that was created by both.

That addiction leads to a desire by mainstream media to only imagine a world of social media insofar as it can have an old big business model wedged into it. But here's the thing, the changed media landscape favours the small, not the large. It favours the socially connected not the financially inflated. It, really, favours -- the gift economy and the contribution of fans.

What we saw in Iran were non-paid non-journalists contributing to the public good out of a sense of civic duty -- global civic duty. Each tweet, each photo contributed to a large whole of coverage that everyone, including mainstream media, benefited from.

It used to be that if you wanted to start a newspaper, say, oh, the National Post, you'd need a pre-jailterm Conrad Black and his investors to pony up millions of dollars for presses, trucks, paper and salaries. With that investment would come the expectation of commensurate profits. That's the deal with the devil high capital ventures make. The only way they can start is to get an early and large cash injection which in turn becomes an albatross when things go pear-shaped.

Times have changed. As sites like rabble.ca and others have shown, it no longer takes millions of dollars to get national reach, and, if you want ad hoc global reach, just put on a lab coat and toss some breath mints in a bottle of cola. It's not investment capital that wins the day now, it's social capital. It's not who you know, it's who they tell.

It also used to be the case that when big news spread on Twitter, say, oh the Mumbai attacks, folks would immediately switch on CNN to get live coverage and quick analysis.

Times have changed. This past weekend thousands of Twitterati, flooded with live Twitter feeds from Iran, switched on CNN to see video of the police beatings and protests. Instead they got a rerun of Larry King learning about motorcycles.

What do these two things have in common? They prove that small is the new big.

One of the main reasons that CNN epically failed to deliver on the Iranian election coverage was that CNN crews were too visible on the streets. CNN, which relied heavily on its own team missed out. Meanwhile Iranians (whose web access to Twitter was blocked) managed to get tweets, photos and videos out on their cellphones. They were small, diffuse and unstoppable. The event was a watershed, I think, for breaking news. When major networks did get their act together they spent a lot of time referencing tweets.

This is going to happen more and more often. A diffuse mesh of live coverage is going to become not only the early warning vector for local events of global import, it's also going to become a vital multimedia source. Traditional news organs are going to spend as much time curating that coverage as creating their own. And, when they do create their own, they'll be using the same cellphones and social networks as the rest of us. One or two big network eyes will be replaced by a network of small eyes bearing witness.

The displacement of investment capital by social capital is just as game changing. The demands of the market have overburdened newsrooms (and the corporations that own them). It's left mainstream journalism drowning in debt, a legacy of expensive equipment and, most importantly an addictive reliance on an outdated business model that was created by both.

That addiction leads to a desire by mainstream media to only imagine a world of social media insofar as it can have an old big business model wedged into it. But here's the thing, the changed media landscape favours the small, not the large. It favours the socially connected not the financially inflated. It, really, favours -- the gift economy and the contribution of fans.

What we saw in Iran were non-paid non-journalists contributing to the public good out of a sense of civic duty -- global civic duty. Each tweet, each photo contributed to a large whole of coverage that everyone, including mainstream media, benefited from.

That's an economy that doesn't make sense to corporations for whom the second bottom line of social capital is invisible. But, it's the new small business that has the upper hand when engaged citizens can change and cover the landscape.

That's an economy that doesn't make sense to corporations for whom the second bottom line of social capital is invisible. But, it's the new small business that has the upper hand when engaged citizens can change and cover the landscape.

Saturday
May302009

Betting on Stupid

This is a story of two ideas: one's a drunk, flatulent grandad at a wedding, the other a zombie and both counting on stupid customers for success.


First up, the Kindle DX.

Like the grandad, it's malodorous, inappropriate and needs to be put to bed.

When it was announced, Amazon's new big-screen e-book reader, the
Kindle DX, was heralded as the saviour of newspapers. The larger screen
real estate was seen as perfect for magazines, newspapers and
textbooks. But, when it was announced there was a collective gulp at
the price, just south of $500 US. That's a pretty pricey saviour,
especially since that's before the cost of the magazines, newspapers
and textbooks that are supposed to find a new home on the device.

But, I don't think the pricetag is going to be the Kindle DX's biggest
problem. It's going to be the Digital Rights Management that will
hobble it.

Let's play out a few scenarios to see why.

It's Sunday morning. You, your wife and your daughter have just
polished off a leisurely brunch and are belatedly diving into the
Saturday Globe and Mail. You fire up your Kindle DX and start reading
the Style section. Your wife wants Review and Books. But, wait, you're
the one with the Kindle DX. To read another section of the newspaper
you've purchased for your family she'll need a DX too. Your daughter
wants the Sports section and she has a DX. But wait. If she wants to
read that section on her DX, she'll have to have her own subscription
to the Globe and Mail even though you've already paid for a
subscription.
The next day your daughter heads back to university. She's just
finished a course that required her to buy an expensive textbook on
her DX. She wants to make some of that money back by reselling the
used textbook to a friend. But wait, she can't because the DRM
associated with the textbook makes that impossible. She can't lend,
give away or resell the text even though she paid good money to own
it.

You see the problem. The rights and conveniences we've come to expect as consumers of physical media get eroded when DRM, which only benefits publishers, is injected like a virus into our property. The only way publishers can get away with that is if consumers don't catch on because no consumer that knows any better wants DRM. We should be able to share, resell or lend our e-books, e-magazines and e-papers. So, in a society of informed consumers, the Kindle DX should fail. Second bad idea, newspapers charging for online content. Remarkably, this notion, which I though was dead and buried, turns out to be a zombie. All sorts of papers including the Globe and Mail, are now revisiting the idea. This makes no sense.

Newspapers like the New York Times tried charging for not just their content, but their best, exclusive content. They hid it away inside walled gardens and charged admission. But, there were two problems. First, not many folks visited. Second, and worse, no bloggers pointed to the content since their readers couldn't get to it without a costly ticket. That killed the papers' Google ranking or "Google Juice". Most papers who set up ill-considered "registration sites" knocked down the walls. Now they may be going up again. In other words, newspapers are expecting consumers to suddenly pay for content they used to get for free (and can often get elsewhere) without increasing the value of that content.

I'm not sure what business school the folks at newspapers attended but that's an expectation that flies in the face of consumer behaviour. In both these cases, DRMed books and publications and paid-for online content, success will depend on an uninformed consumer willing to be duped into giving up rights or paying for what used to be free.

If you've read this far, you won't be fooled. Pass it on.

Saturday
May092009

Toronto Skyline from Roof of CSI

I took this shot, as a six-image panorama yesterday as a storm was slowly rolling in.

Toronto Skyline from Roof of CSI
Tuesday
May052009

Quick Change - Episode Two - Janet Bike Girl 

I interview Janet Bike Girl about stencil art, bicycle activism and recycling for my vidcast on rabbletv, "Quick Change". Hope you enjoy it.

Sunday
May032009

Mayday Festival in Hamilton, Ontario

Yesterday I dropped in on the Mayday Festival on King William Street in Hamilton. Here's a short video of the celebrations.