Sips from the Firehose
A blog that seeks to filter the internet into a refreshing, easily-gulped beverage


Jul 06

Mobile Phone Wizards

Posted: under Digital Migration.


I bought a new Sim card from one of the hundreds of tiny shops that line Insein Road here in Rangoon. The guy on the right here wasn’t absolute magician with my phone. His fingers move so fast I could barely see them as he was setting up my phone to work on the Telenor network. 

Comments (0)



Jun 28

Just What Is a Digital Native Anyway?

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , , ,

Not to get all existential on your or anything, but it’s the difference between “Being” and “Doing”

Digital natives are not like other media - cat hiding among meerkats

It’s the difference between a cat … and a meerkat. Between an organization that pays lip service to the idea of engaging with an audience on digital platforms (while secretly wishing everything would go back to The Way Things Were) … and one that lives and breathes comfortably on a variety of platforms, while still maintaining its core ethos.

Recently, while putting the finishing touches on a Great Big Important Research Project For A Huge Client, I got into a discussion with Janine Warner, my partner in all things analog and digital, over nomenclature. What do we call these guys? Are they all digital entrepreneurs? News startups? New media players? Journalists-turned-geeks? Fact-based info-ventures? Digital natives?

It’s not exactly an earth-shattering insight, but what we call things deeply influences how we think about them. “Death tax” instead of “inheritance tax.” “Right-sizing employee headcount” instead of “firing workers to boost profits.” “Undocumented feature” instead of “bug.”  Read More

Comments (0)



May 01

Internet Security for Creative Professionals – The Basics

Posted: under Conspiracy Theories, Digital Migration, Sip With Caution.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Hackers want in. Don’t make it easy for them.

With all the controversies swirling around hacked emails and cyber-threats, I was asked to come in to USC-Annenberg, and speak to the students about what they need to know about security. Basically, I had to come in do a digital “Scared Straight” to try to get them to recognize how they will be targeted, and the steps they need to take to avoid having their emails, texts, private photos and snarky internal comments leaked out for maximum damage.

norse attack map shows cyber attacks in real time

I start out with the “attack map” from Norsecorp. And if you’ve never seen it, it’s a real show-stopper. It looks like the climactic scenes from Wargames – only it’s taking place right now. Every second of every day, cyber-attacks zoom back and forth, testing the intrusion counter-measures on Google, Facebook, Microsoft, the US government, NORAD, the international banking infrastructure, etc. etc. Check it out – it’s hypnotic. And then very chilling.

Particularly when you realize that a lot of the attacks are aimed at getting into America’s command-and-control infrastructure, to either lock us out from controlling our nuclear arsenal … or maybe to launch the damn things. Who knows the motives of a bunch of nihilistic haxx0rz?

Read More

Comments (0)



Dec 01

Solutions to Fake News 1: Deny Lie Merchants Access to Premium Ad Revenue

Posted: under adsense clickfraud, advertising, Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Politics & New Media.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Is a market-based solution the best way to solve the fake news problem?

There’s been a sudden realization outside the cozy confines of digital business model nerds, that the open nature of the web has allowed an entire class of scammers to establish themselves, grow, and flourish.

journalist taking notes rather than creating fake news stories

Actual journalists take notes and try to verify information before publishing. Fake News sites just make stuff up.

The end result of this has been that a substantial percentage of the U.S. public can no longer distinguish fact from fantasy. And they then vote accordingly. This is generally seen as a Bad Thing. Not just because one particular political party lost the recent election – if anything, the GOP is as up in arms over this as the Democrats, because they see their voting base as unruly and detached from reality, due to their reliance on fake news stories. The end game of an entire voting population lost to fantasy is that the country, already borderline ungovernable, becomes so splintered that it starts making really idiotic decisions (“Let’s invade Guatemala! They’re sending us Snake People disguised as immigrants!”).

A lot of journalism pundits have started to pile on, as the stories about scammers (and let’s just coin this phrase right here and now: LIE MERCHANTS) surface, and their behavior becomes more and more brazen. The last few weeks have seen:

  1. Lie Merchants using “typo-squatting” to impersonate the USA Today or ABC news, in order to promulgate fantasies, such as protesters getting paid $3,500 apiece by George Soros to protest Trump’s election.
  2. Two nitwit brothers in Long Beach who gleefully seize on actual news events, and create elaborate, hateful conspiracy theories around them, which they then promote on Facebook, all to drive traffic to their LibertyWritersNews site, making up to $12,000 a week on ads.
  3. Unemployed Macedonian musicians exploiting the anti-Clinton hatred whipped up by Fox News and talk radio, fabricating “exposes” about child sex rings and devil worship so they can pay for amps and guitars.

A history of fake news reporting here on Sips

I’ve written about these kinds of scams here on Sips.

I even wrote an entire book about the tabloid industry back in the 90s, because I saw the entire news industry going off the rails, and pursuing lurid stories in their desperate efforts to satisfy the corporate profit imperatives.

Lately, I’ve been writing about the vast Clickfraud industry that steals an estimated 33% of online ad revenues from honest content producers.

All these trend lines have converged this year, and resulted in a toxic mess. We now have the worst of both worlds: the Lie Merchants are making coin hand over fist, because they spend nothing on reporting, research, fact-checking, interviews, verification, travel to personally witness events, or any of the other costs of an actual, functioning news organization.

Meanwhile, actual journalists are being fired in droves, because the public has become so addicted to these fantasies, that they now reject any hint that the disgusting lies they are fed via rabid AM-radio hosts, email chains, Facebook, Breitbart comment threads, etc. etc. — are not based in objective reality. From the BuzzFeed investigation:

Pages like Freedom Daily play to the biases of their audiences — and to those of Facebook’s News Feed algorithm — by sharing videos, photos, and links that demonize opposing points of view. They write explosive headlines and passages that urge people to click and share in order to show their support, or to express outrage. And in this tense and polarizing presidential election season, they continue to grow and gain influence.

There are a lot of solutions being bandied about, but today I will focus on one that to me, shows a lot of promise: cutting these Lie Merchants off from the advertising revenue that sustains their operations. This will necessitate some kind of human intervention; we are going to need to come up with a human-intermediated way of validating people who produce actual, factual, news.

The opening shot in this burgeoning war was fired by online ad-tech outfit DoubleVerify, with their DV Digital Impression Quality product, which purports to be able to block advertiser’s money flowing to fake news sites by blocking their ads from being displayed on Lie Merchant sites via the (broken, but that’s a different subject) ad exchanges.

Can a market-based solution to Lie Merchants work? Well, one of the biggest obstacles is going to be the public’s appetite for such ugly, idiotic brain fodder. But if we choke off the reason these fake news sites exist in the first place – that they are wildly profitable – then we are going to take an important step towards cleaning up the online news space.

Comments (0)



Oct 18

Venezuelan currency – are any of these bills still used?

Posted: under Digital Migration.

While rummaging around the various souvenirs and mementoes from all our travels, I ran across these: 


With the inflation rate running in the near-four-figure range (the way it did in ’88 when I was an overwhelmed editor there), I wonder if there is even a use for a 2 bolivare bill these days? 

Anecdotally, it takes a stack of hundreds just to buy coffee. 

Somewhere, I have an old solid-steel 5 bolivar coin from ’88. They were common until deflation meant that it was worth more to melt them down and sell them as scrap metal than their face value. 

Comments (0)



Feb 20

Should Local News Be Marketed as “Infrastructure”?

Posted: under Digital Migration, newspaper crisis, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Ken Doctor at Neiman’s “Newsonomics” points out that the “self-asphyxiation” cycle is nearing endgame

I cross-posted a response to this on Facebook, so if you’ve already seen it there from me, my apologies.

pile of newspapers on fire

Fahrenheit 451 should not have been a documentary of what the future was going to be like.

But I’ve been watching the gradual descent of local news for most of the past 20 years, and the latest round-up by Doctor basically sums up everything that I’ve been fearing. A sampling:

While national/global news companies have cut their newsrooms, they have still maintained sufficient capacity to make their news brands valuable in the digital age. It’s not just the numbers of journalists: It’s a good mix of veteran experienced journalists who know their beats deeply and younger journalists, still early in their careers but natively more digitally inclined.

At the local press, it’s a different picture. As newsrooms have halved, older, experienced journalists have been disproportionately made to feel redundant, and then made sent off. The main reason: money. Older journalists earn more of it, and their cutting makes short-term financial sense.

The result: a disaster whose death spiral seems to be accelerating. When I’ve given talks, I’ve gotten a lot of nods from people in the industry when I show one single slide: A two-liter bottle of Coke selling for $1 next to a one-liter bottle priced at $2. That’s essentially what local publishers have done in product and pricing of print over the last five years, doubled the price and halved the product, a halving that, of course, carries through to their digital offerings.

Any company that disrespects its own products, and those who produce them, probably deserves its eventual fate.

(snip)

Yes, money matters, but it’s that beating heart of the business — creating news that local citizens need to run their governments and better their lives — that still has to be an antidote to the single-minded financial view of local news. (If “the market” won’t support local news, many have said to me, than maybe it isn’t needed. I ask them: If the same were true of education, the arts, or even roads, where would our struggling democracy be?) [Ed. note: emphasis mine.]

Where is the moral center of the local news industry — a moral center that long rested, if sometimes uncomfortably, alongside the demands of running a successful business?

While I agree with all the points Ken makes, there is one bit that jumped out: his equating of the news with schools, roads, bridges, etc. Yes, we all agree that we need a group societal effort to build & maintain these things, and that as a result, we all benefit from their existence. Thing is: the average citizen can SEE the roads/schools decaying, and is motivated to action. Lack of local news coverage only becomes a crisis when suddenly we wake up to lead in our water. The news industry, if it is going to transition from ad-supported to a more direct “charge the readers” model, is going to have to get on the stick and market itself better; make a case to the readers that they NEED local news coverage as a form of insurance policy.

Because meanwhile, over at the Shorenstein Center, we’ve got Walter V. Robinson talking about the “Spotlight” movie about the Catholic Church’s coverup of sex predator priests, and how the erosion of business models has particularly devastated investigative reporting. And yes, full disclosure, I started my career as an investigative journalist before going over to the digital zoo, so I have perhaps a skewed view of how important enterprise/watchdog/investigative journalism is to the health of a democracy. Still:

Unfortunately, investigative reporting is threatened in many cities, said Robinson. Although the Globe has partnered with Participant Media and other funders to offer a new investigative reporting fellowship, many local newspapers will no longer invest the time and resources required for stories that can take months of reporting, said Robinson.

“The prevailing view among editors is ‘investigative reporting is a luxury we can no longer afford’…The fact is, investigative reporting is a necessity that we cannot afford to do without.” Robinson said that in the face of declining revenue in the past decade, cutting investigative reporting was a “fundamental mistake.” Readers “almost always” rank investigative reporting highly in surveys, said Robinson.

“The amount of investigative reporting being done now in most cities is a small fraction of what it was in the year 2000,” he said. “In many communities even city hall doesn’t get covered. So the whistleblower who knows about official corruption in city hall has no one to go to…that’s a really serious problem for our democracy right now.”

So here’s my thought: what would be the best way for journalists and news organizations to start making a case for themselves? We’ve seen how well fear-mongering via news outlets works for moving the public to devote spectacular amounts of time, money and energy into heading off perceived threats. The Iraq war, Ebola, the wall at the border with Mexico, the gold standard, handgun seizures … all “crises” driven by media coverage that spurred Americans to either demand the government spend billions (trillion?) to kieep them safe, or got them to reach into their pockets, pull out their wallets, and spend a sizable percentage of their disposable income on something that would Keep Them Safe.

I don’t think we should get as crude and manipulative as many of these campaigns have been. But could there – should there – be a reminder in the middle of each news broadcast/article/infographic, making it explicit that this coverage just saved ordinary Americans from “X” and that to continue to do so, we need you the viewers/listeners/readers to support us in this manner.

And then lay out what might happen if the audience does not. Make it explicit, in the way that a collapsed bridge, or gradeschool on fire, or highway full of potholes does for the average, distracted American, who only has time to respond to direct threats to his/her existence.

Our audience is starved for time, and thousands (millions?) of new digital experiences are screaming for their attention (and money). News is too often marketed as “cod-liver oil” – it tastes like shit, but it’s good for you. I think we need to revisit that paradigm, and start figuring out better ways to make people appreciate what the news, and aggressive, honest local news coverage, does for them.

Comments (0)



Feb 02

Brainwashed User Confesses: “I Was a Human Bot-net for Klout”

Posted: under Digital Migration, New Marketing, Sip With Caution.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Industry-leader social management tool Hootsuite “deprecates” Klout – but who’s next?

Klout, you were mean to us and made us like it. You made us feel inadequate, and spend far too many hours indulging in unnatural behaviors to please your algorithm. And all we got were inane “Perks” like bland business cards that look like they were spat out of an old dot-matrix printer …

… or 1/2 off a crate of Sooper fREEKy POWer Drinkzzzz (aside: WhenTF are we going to collectively decide that replaces “S” with “Z” no longer denotes hip & outlaw status?) that magically combine the lovely taste of licking the sludgecrust from the bottom of a riding lawn mower with the sensation of a myocardial infarction and COPD. Yummy!

But all along, there was a sneaking suspicion that Klout scores were not all they were cracked up to be; that the “social media influence” they purported to measure&deliver was flawed, at best. Still, we went along with it, because, well, there really wasn’t much else. (Kred came and went and the less said about the brief spring of Empire Avenue, the better.)

Now comes the hardcore notice from Hootsuite that they are no longer including Klout, because “we put our customers at the forefront of every business decision.” My oh my. Whatever could that mean? Maybe that Klout does NOT do so? That they are, in fact, preying upon customers by snarfing up all our actions, interactions, posts, updates & etc. and selling them to the highest bidder? Or something worse?

BTW – do a quick Google search on “Why quit Klout?” and read through the posts. Most date back to 2011, but their objections still seem … unpleasantly valid.

Hootsuite deprecates Klout

This is what you get when you click on the Klout link. In corporate-speak, this is pretty much a bullet to the back of the head.

Embarrassing admission: I totally bought into Klout. For a time, I was even clicking like a lab rat hooked on blow on the “Share Our Content Now!” features on Klout. Yes, I was that kind of dingbat. I gave over my social media profiles to Klout and let them hijack my voice and suggest things that my friends and colleagues should read, all wrapped up nicely in a Klout-enabled URL shortener.

Mea culpa. Sorry. Won’t make that mistake again.

In my defense, when I obediently shared Klout’s suggested content, I saw my Klout score shoot up. But when I checked out all my shares, likes and interactions? Not a big change. Which obviously made me suspect that Klout was boosting its number to try to keep me incentivized into using Klout’s content and shortener.

I was becoming a human bot-net. 

It made me uneasy months ago, and so I quit sharing Klout’s content. But I still had in the back of my mind that I should pay more attention to Klout, that the score is essential to building and maintaining “your personal brand,” etc. etc.

But then I saw the above notice when trying to use Hootsuite. I can only read between the lines as to what’s going on here, but if Hootsuite, the industry leader when it comes to managing social media profiles, removes a feature that seems so essential to what so many community managers, social marketing execs and wanna-be YouTube stars are trying to do (i.e. identify & interact with “influencers” to thereby achieve business goals), then there is definitely Something Really Heavy going on behind the scenes.

Maybe it’s all the old objections finally coming home to roost: inaccuracy, lack of transparency, encouragement of inauthentic behavior …

…or maybe there’s been some business fight going on, over who should share what money with whom in exchange for what. But the bottom line is: with Klout out of Hootsuite, we are going to have to start using something else.

Here are the suggested alternatives to Klout:

First, Right Relevance claims to ” helps you better engage your social audience by letting you search and share the most authoritative content currently trending on the social web. We achieve this by mining the social web to identify and rank topical influencers. The inherent trust of the influencers communities is applied to finding the most relevant articles.”

This app breaks out the "share relevant content" features of Klout.

This app breaks out the “share relevant content” features of Klout. As with so many other “content suggestion engines,” the danger lies in the possibility that they will recommend content that benefits THEM more than it benefits YOU. I will be poking this one with a stick very carefully. 

Next up, Riffle Twitter Insights says that they are an “easy-to-use efficiency tool that helps you build an instant rapport with anyone on Twitter. With a simple, intuitive dashboard showing users’ social patterns, networks and interests.”

What, no Perks for using? (sigh) OK, the big downside here is right in the title: it’s only for Twitter. Klout claimed to bring in Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn, FourSquare, and any other bright-shiny-jingly-key-social-media-network.

Riffle Twitter Insights

They make the interface look so very cool. But I rather suspect that you don’t get these kinds of charts, graphs & sophistication with the Free level of service.

Unnoticed to most casual users of Klout: many of the high-end social media measurement and management platforms (such as UberVU, RavenTools, Radian6 and others) scraped Klout scores and put them right next to usernames in the dashboard. It was a quick shortcut to identifying “influencers” without having to built your own algo or develop that side of your business.

I’ll be interested to see if any of these alternatives gets any traction – or if Klout starts showing more signs of distress (other than the inconsistencies in their dashboards, UX, features or all the other quirks that have surfaced in the past year or so).

Comments (0)



May 29

Mary Meeker’s yearly “Future of Internet” PowerPoint

Posted: under Design, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , ,

Shorter: Mobile is still undervalued. Hackers suck. China is about over; India is next. Professional content producers still doomed. But good design still matters.

Every year, Mary Meeker produces a massive presentation that quickly makes the rounds on Teh Interwebz and gets name-checked by all the digerati. This year is no different; everything has changed, is changing, will change. So what does the Oracle of KPCB tell us this year? Well, for one thing, she’s down from the “Death by PowerPoint” presentations of years past, that clocked in at 350+ slides (and a whole lotta Visine for anyone plowing through the dense bar charts & bullet points).

Anyway, check it out:

So what’s my analysis of her analysis? Glad you asked.

Read More

Comments (0)



May 18

Five classes. Two years. One graduation day.

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The kids are all right. Despite my best efforts…

On Friday, I had five cohorts of students graduate from Annenberg-USC. Three graduate student cohorts (broken down into two cohorts that attended USC for two years, and one in the brand-new one-year accelerated Master’s program). One group of quirky, hardworking undergrads. And a summer school class of “Specialized Journalism” grad students.

happy grads all in a tent

USC-Annenberg class of 2015, right after the ceremonies ended – and reality started to sink in (at least for a few of them). The rest were ebullient, as evidenced by student Yingzhi Yang in the foreground, grinning and waving at me.

I had to start traveling at 4 a.m. in Sonoma County, to get to the graduation before all was over; but it was worth every second of sitting on runways and grinding my teeth while crammed into a coach seat (they get tinier every year, it seems). I got to see all my students, beaming and full of excitement, enthusiasm and hope. God knows we need those three emotional energy states in journalism these days.

Read More

Comments (0)



Apr 08

What is “native advertising” anyway?

Posted: under advertising, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

The IAB has published their view. I have my own opinion.

One of the biggest problems with “native advertising” is that it is such a new, made-up term of digital art, that it’s taken on an Alice in Wonderland-esque quality, in which the phrase means whatever the speaker thinks it means in that moment, while the listener pretty much has their own interpretation.

 “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.”

Read More

Comments (0)