Sips from the Firehose


Oct 30

Hurricane Sandy Coverage on Storify: An Inflection Point?


Posted: under Uncategorized.
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Major news outlets use Storify to aggregate & make sense of social media flow about Hurricane Sandy

In the last two days, as we’ve all been inundated (pardon the lame water-related pun) with near-constant TV, radio, web & social media updates on the progress of Hurricane Sandy, one thing that stands out this time around (as opposed to previous disasters) is that, having had time to prepare, the major media outlets turned to Storify to pull together live coverage of the storm, via the thousands (millions?) of ad-hoc citizen reporters who were posting so many TwitPics and Facebook updates.

storify front page showing stories about hurricane sandy

The front page design of Storify has gotten much better over the past year, and shows the clear stamp of the current trend towards “Pinteresting” everything. Still, when you look at the content mix that has made it to the front page, you can see just how widespread the Storification of Sandy has been…

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Sep 24

Apple’s iOS EULA: All Your Content R Belong to Us!!


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

Every time I read through one of these EULAs, it just keeps getting worse and worse.

I upgraded the iPad to iOS6, because I wanted to test it out, and I’m not ready yet to turn the Maps feature on my iPhone into a hot, steaming mess. But part of the whole upgrading regimen is, as is depressingly familiar to Apple users, having to agree to a new, dense and even more piracious End User Licensing Agreement (aka those damn “I Agree” screens that 99.9% of the population never actually reads, but just clicks on to make them go away).

apple's abusive privacy agreement for iCloud

I can’t believe the language in these things. The privacy policy has obviously been re-worked to try to put it in words that an actual human being would use – which kinda makes things even more insidious. They make an outrageous statement about how Apple is going to spy on you, and then they offer up a carefully worded explanation that makes you kinda go, “Hm. Well, I guess I can see that … that’s not so bad…”

So here, as a service to any of you who might be interested in just what rights you irrevocably, permanently, idiotically, signed away without ever actually bothering to check, are some choice bits from the EULA that is now part of your iPhone/iPad/iPod:

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May 28

State of Media in East Africa: “Mover and Shakers” Interview for AfroFM


Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, new media, Video.
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UPDATE: The first video below was erroneously a duplicate of video #3. I blame the shoddy connection I had – I am thrilled that the videos made it up to YouTube at all, frankly, and it took me an hour and several tried to get this post to publish, so I had some version-control issues. Anyway, I’ve fixed it so that vid #1 is now the proper first part, in which we talk about the persistent power of radio.

The more I learn about how the media operates in East Africa, the more I think this is going to be a fascinating area to watch over the next few years. The conditions here are ripe for some really interesting changes – we are going to see in this microcosm what the effects are of empowering a population that is still stuck with only one-way information flow (largely via radio – please see video #1, below) to suddenly leapfrog into the ubiquitous mobile web-fueled connectivity that we see in places like Japan, Korea and (to an extent) China.

BACKGROUND: A couple of weeks ago, I had a meeting with the CEO of Fana Broadcasting. At that time, I was told that the plan was to install 4G mobile connectivity throughout the country. I have since learned that the contract looks like it is going to be awarded to a giant Chinese telecom company. This is not necessarily good news. The suspicion among the journalists is that the infrastructure contract has been given to the Chinese because they have pledged to include many of the down-and-dirty spyware and censorship features that are common to the internet behind the Great Firewall of China. Also: it is rumored that the Chinese outbid US and European companies for this huge contract, because the government of China is (illegally?) subsidizing the work, secretly funneling money under the table to the ostensibly private-sector telecom company, to allow it to do billions of dollars of work for 1/20th the price. Conspiracy theories abound here; in the absence of any hard facts or verification, people always assume the worst.

At any rate: the plan is to wire up all the major cities and towns with 4G wireless internet service. One of the big reasons expressed for that is that the Powers that Be have noticed that on just about every roof, you can see a satellite dish. Those dishes are bringing news, information and TV programs into households from TV providers outside of Ethiopia. They want to jump-start their own domestic news and entertainment industry, to start to produce high-quality content, to lure audience away from these international sources. Part of this is to foster a sense of national unity: to expose Ethiopians to news, movies and TV series that star Ethiopians, speaking Amharic, and referring to matters that are of concern to Ethiopians (and eventually, to citizens of the surrounding countries, none of which really has their own video/web content production infrastructure). Part of it is to start building up the kind of media-production capabilities that might allow Ethiopia to start exporting its culture to the international marketplace; from what I have seen here, there is certainly an opportunity for the kind of smart, dedicated artists here to start changing the international perception of this place, which is still stuck in the famine years.

Anyway, in the first part of the interviews I did with Samson Tesfaye, for his show “Movers and Shakers” on AfroFM, we talk about what things are like in the present day – where the vast majority of the rural populations in Ethiopia still rely on what they hear over the radio as their main (perhaps only) source of news and information.

The next part of the interview, we focus on the impact of social media in East Africa. At this time, Sami says that social media is not having the kind of disruptive effects we see in North Africa, where the Arab Spring is still very much alive and kicking, or to the south in Kenya, where the technology scene is vibrant and lively.

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Apr 17

The Great Digital Migration: A Long, Featureless Trudge Into … What, Exactly?


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

27 Print Dollars for $1 Digital; Social News; Papers in Trouble; Kodak v. Fuji

I posted this picture via Twitpic earlier today, and my digital brethren quickly chimed in on how much they felt like this in their daily lives. And I get it. Working in the media industry these days is far, far different from the way it was when the journalists of my generation got into the biz. Looking back at recordings from the early 90s, I am struck by how much free time we all seem to have had back then – these days, you feel like you can’t take your eyes off your Twitter feed for even a second, lest you miss the Next Big Meme and are thus branded as a digital troglodyte who “just doesn’t get it.”

people walk across sand dunes in a vast desert

Strung out and exhausted, journalists are wondering when this migration ends, or even when they might run across a handy signpost telling them which way to go. (click to embiggen)

So yeah, if you feel like you’re lost in the desert and that the only future involves your bones bleaching in the sun next to a steer skull … well, maybe it’s because most newsrooms these days evoke the feeling you get when wandering through any of the weathered ghost towns that dot the arid landscape in Arizona and Nevada, left behind when the seams of gold and silver petered out.

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Apr 11

eBooks Pricing and Antitrust: Pricing Collusion or Draining a Fetid Swamp?


Posted: under E-ink devices.
Tags: , , ,

Today’s news of the antitrust suit filed by the DOJ against Apple and a consortium of large book publishers raises some interesting questions. First, here’s what the government alleges (h/t Wall St. Journal)

In a civil antitrust lawsuit, the Justice Department alleged that CEOs of the publishing companies met regularly in private dining rooms of upscale Manhattan restaurants to discuss how to respond to steep discounting of their e-books by Amazon.com Inc., a practice they disliked. The executives also called and emailed each other to craft a solution to what one of them called “the wretched $9.99 price point,” the suit said.

The five publishers and Apple hatched an arrangement that lifted the price of many best-selling e-books to $12.99 or $14.99, according to the suit. The publishers then banded together to impose that model on Amazon, the government alleged.

the amazon kindle bookstore as seen on an iPad3

Note the diversity in prices for the books on this page; contrast that with the uniformity of pricing for songs on iTunes (i.e. 99 cents, no matter what).

Now, this can be read two ways:

1. The book publishers and Apple got together to put the vise on Amazon to fix the prices of books at a level that benefitted the publishers (and Apple) by allowing them to jack up the prices of ebooks to be more in line with the print versions (thus protecting what the publishers see as still their core business, dead-tree editions).

Problem: Apple is being a total hypocrite here. One of the biggest gripes that the music industry has had about Apple over the years has been the 99 cent price point for songs. Labels fought to adjust that pricing – to make great hit songs cost more, while cutting the price of up-and-coming bands to give them a chance to get traction in the market. Apple relented enough to go for .69, .99, and $1.29 … which was rather too late to really do much good. 

2. Amazon successfully lobbied to be allowed to reinstitute its price-cutting schemes that allow Amazon to consistently have lower prices on the stuff they sell.

Problem: They can do this for the same reason that Wal-Mart has lower pricesAmazon is pretty much the only game in town. And if you don’t like it, tough. Go find somewhere else to peddle your stuff (good luck with that one, pally).

What does this mean for indie authors, and larger startup publishers, such as small-to-midsize newspapers that want to bundle up special editions and monetize their content by selling it via as an eBook (as enthusiastically proposed by the estimable Robert Niles)? Nothing good, I’m afraid.

Here’s what author Jim Hines found out when Amazon started cutting the prices on his books: 

A certain champion of self-publishing recently decried all of the “whiny bitches” complaining about Amazon, and argued how Amazon treats authors so much better than commercial publishers.

While there are certainly advantages to Amazon’s program, anyone who thinks Amazon is in this to help authors is a fool. Amazon, like pretty much any other business, is in this to make money. As for how they treat authors, let me share what I’ve experienced over the past week and a half.

Amazon can and will adjust your price as they see fit.

(snip)

So what’s the big deal? Don’t retailers put things on sale all the time? Well, sure … which leads me to my second lesson.

Amazon can calculate royalties based on the sale price, not your list price.

With my DAW books, if a bookstore offers a sale, I still get my royalties based on the cover price. Amazon is selling Libriomancer for pre-order at almost half-off, but I’ll get paid my full amount for every copy sold. Not so with self-published titles. Looking at my reports for last week, my royalties were slashed by 2/3 for every copy sold, because Amazon paid me 70% of the $.99 sale price, not my list price.

The lesson here is that when you’re looking to get paid for the creative work that you do, and when the opportunities for you to sell said work are increasingly running through only two channels (Amazon or Apple), then you are going to get paid what they feel like paying you. And they are going to take just as big a cut out of your earnings as they feel like taking.

Yeah, sure, they built up the stores. But those stores would have nothing to sell without the efforts of millions of creative people. Amazon and Apple are benefiting from being classic middlemen. They are the bottleneck between the consumers and the content that audience wants to consume. And they are starting to throw some very, very sharp elbows.

Read more detailed analysis about this dirty deal at The Verge:  

  • The DOJ says Apple “knowingly served as a critical conspiracy participant” by promising all the publishers the exact same deal and keeping everyone informed about the status of negotiations. When Penguin explicitly said that it wouldn’t sign unless at least three other companies signed, Apple “supplied the needed assurances.”
  • To persuade other publishers, Steve Jobs himself had to get involved. He wrote an email to one publishing CEO saying that the only existing choices were to “keep going with Amazon at $9.99” or “hold back your books.” He then offered a third choice: “Throw in with Apple and see if we can all make a go of this to create a real mainstream ebooks market at $12.99 and $14.99.”

The details read like some kind of overheated Mafia book by a cut-rate author – secret meetings at restaurants, high-level collusion, contemptuous disregard for the customers, and finally – yes – DOJ wiretaps on the guilty parties. Christ. It’s like they were dealing with garbage-hauling contracts in New Jersey.

It’s hard to know who to root for in this situation. Both sides seem to have rapaciously eyed the book-buying consumers the way velociraptors eyed up the poor heifer being lowered into their pen.

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Feb 21

HTML5 Video: “Cap’n! The CPUs Won’t Take Much More O’ This!”


Posted: under new media, Online Video.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Dep’t of Vaporware: New Super-Duper HTML5 Video Players Will Solve All Your Problems

I’m starting to get more than a little annoyed at the incessant blithe assurances that keep coming up around the (now) universally agreed-upon proposition that Flash Is Bad, All Right-Thinking Humans Must Avoid It.

Here's the problem: Playing video in a browser using the (still nonexistent) HTML5 standard is far more resource-hungry than you realize.

The problem is that the people making these statements haven’t really gotten their hands dirty with the actual workflows that the (non-existent) HTML5 video standard has inflicted on us poor A/V dorks trying to keep up with the chaos in the online/mobile video space. What’s getting my goat, you ask?

Check out the strain on system resources that playing video using the HTML5 tag puts on a Mac Pro with 8 cores, running at 3 gHz, with 9 GB of RAM and a upgraded ATI Radeo 4870 video card. Note the system temp. The fan was blowing hard enough to power a C130 cargo plane.

By means of comparison, this is what I got for usage stats when playing a Flash video in a web browser. Note the system temp. Also, the little blue graphs to the right of CPU are not pinned to the max for all eight cores, the way they are in the HTML5 playback example, above. Each one of those little graphs is a representation of the amount of strain being put on a core from the dual quad-cores.

Well. I keep seeing & hearing about these new players that will supposedly make it possible to custom-design a video player into a web page that will then adapt & play that video on any device, on any platform. The latest: thePlatform. Viz:

thePlatform is pushing cross-platform compatibility with a new offering that will let its customers create one video player that can be delivered to any device or browser that is trying to access it. That capability is being rolled out due to increased demand for HTML5 video, despite a lack of real standards across browsers for the display and rendering of video players.

(from GigaOm)

OK, fine.  What’s the big deal, right?

I shot the video below at the Social Media Club-LA meeting in January – it shows Tim Street, one of the early adopters of mobile video monetization, talking about the challenges of trying to deal with video across the profusion of platforms we’re now having to deal with.

My test of an HTML5 player, taking this video, putting it into a sandbox page in Dreamweaver, and playing it in a web browser returned the kind of usage stats seen in the screen captures above.

Flash had a lot of faults. I still think that it’s responsible for some of the heinous memory leakages that cause Firefox to take up to 1.6 Gigs of memory space if I leave it open for more than a day in the background as I do work. But fer crissake, at least it’s not melting down my CPUs when I’m just trying to play one video. If the average user starts seeing this kind of load on their systems just for playing a video, that means that there is going to be serious hits on the battery life of laptops/tablets, and some pretty bad lag times when trying to multitask – or even fast-forward, pause or (shudder) rewind.

Let me know if you get any of the same warning signs on your machine when playing back this video, eh?

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Jan 18

Truth Vigilantes and Online Reputation


Posted: under Digital Migration, new media.
Tags: , , , ,

This was originally a comment to Robert Niles’ excellent piece on the Online Journalism Review, on whether or not the New York Times should be a “Truth Vigilante”. I’m republishing it here, because it looks like the commenting feature on OJR (always a little hinky) is b0rked again, and this issue is one that touches a really raw nerve in me.

First, the background:

On Friday, Arthur Brisbane, the public editor (I guess it’s another way of saying “Ombudsman” or “Sacrificial Flak-Catcher”) of the New York Times published a now-famous piece, asking, Should the Times be a Truth Vigitlante?

I’m looking for reader input on whether and when New York Times news
reporters should challenge “facts” that are asserted by newsmakers they
write about.

(snip)

This message was typical of mail from some readers who, fed up with
the distortions and evasions that are common in public life, look to The
Times to set the record straight. They worry less about reporters
imposing their judgment on what is false and what is true.

Is that
the prevailing view? And if so, how can The Times do this in a way
that is objective and fair? Is it possible to be objective and fair when
the reporter is choosing to correct one fact over another? Are there
other problems that The Times would face that I haven’t mentioned here?

The reaction has been pretty heated. MetaFilter pithily said “Duh.”  Jay Rosen wrote a post name-checking his longstanding criticism of the whole “View from Nowhere” approach adopted by the press. And Gawker snarked that the NYT should instead just make stuff up.

Here was my reaction, republished here:

It’s interesting to see this issue break out into the open like this. In retrospect, the only thing that’s surprising is that it’s taken this long. Consider: internet sites like Snopes & PolitiFact owe their very existence to the breakdown of trust in our existing news institutions on the part of the audience. We read stuff (often sent via e-mail from the semi-mythical disgruntled conspiracy theorist uncle). Checking our newspaper/TV/radio/whatever, there’s a he-said/she-said story. So we go elsewhere to figure out if what we were originally sent is true or not.

Steve Yelvington long ago identified this as the most crucial (but neglected) part of the media in a societal ecosystem: being the “Town Expert.” (The other two roles are of “Town Crier” and “Town Square” – which media orgs more or less have a handle on.)

Can’t tell you the number of proposed startups that came through the Knight News Challenge in the last two years aimed at resolving this basic issue – how can we trust what we read? Many of them are seeking to assign some kind of a numeric “reliability score” to the source of the information. Which is interesting in theory – a published climate scientist getting a 99 score, for example, while a Big Oil-funded hack gets a 12.

But in practice, systems like this would probably fall prey to the same phenomenon that plagues Digg or other sites that rely on crowdsourcing to determine importance/credibility — the efforts of a committed radical few to rig the results in their favor. Still, it would be interesting to see a major media outlet start to offer little links in superscript next to attribution, that lead back to a page describing where that quote came from, who the person is, and what their history/agenda is.

We’re all struggling with the effects of the disintermediation taking place because of web technology – that much is evident to just about anybody working in media, advertising or marketing. The problem is that this is taking place at the end of a long, slow movement toward the utter blandification of content. The reasons for that are complex – some of them have to do with the influence of “risk management” thinking at media organizations, where the litigiousness of modern American society has driven deep-pocketed news organizations to water down stories out of fear, in order to evade expensive libel suits. The rest do have to do with the drumbeat these past 40 years of accusations of “liberal bias” in the press, and the attempts to defuse such accusations by applying the aforementioned “he-said/she-said” construction to stories, so that we can say, “Well, at least we gave them a chance to reply.”

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Dec 15

“Filter Bubbles” and the Raison d’Etre for This Here Blog


Posted: under Conspiracy Theories, Digital Migration.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Eli Pariser’s TED talk on the dangers of allowing someone else to choose what you see/hear/feel

If I were a weaker man, I’d just fold up my tent and move on.

However, upon closer inspection, I find myself saying “Yahbut …” a lot throughout this FUD screed.

Pariser has an entire web site devoted to this concept, called, The Filter Bubble. 

To all this sturm und drang, I can only respond by calling upon the wisdom of the Great Philosopher, Sgt. Hulka:

Lighten up, Francis.

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Nov 10

Ukrainian Professors Play with New iPad 2s


Posted: under Digital Migration, new media, Online Video, Ukraine.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

…in the courtyard of the Institute for the Digital Future of Journalism

I’ve got great video of everyone having a blast, experimenting with the new guerilla-style video production tactics I’ve been teaching them — I showed them how to use the front and rear-facing cameras on their iPads to shoot video. Here, they are working on producing “establishing shots” using whatever equipment is available to you at the time; in this case, it means holding the iPad up in front of your face and doing slow 360s, talking to the camera, so the audience can see for themselves what the landscape around you looks like.

journalism professors playing with ipads

They absolutely loved their brand-new iPad 2s. It was like seeing little kids getting handed Magic Mirrors. They were polite enough for most of the day, but about mid-afternoon, I just lost them in the wilds of the App Store. Also - I will never understand how the Ukrainian women manage to walk down these uneven, treacherous ancient cobblestone streets in stiletto heels.

I also taught them the basics of shot selection, framing, the Rule of Thirds, and some basic stuff about editing and shot sequencing as a means to create emotion. It was about a semester’s worth of material crammed into a one-day lecture, but at least I opened them up to what is possible, and where they can go to try to learn more on their own.

This is still a beautiful city, even if the sky in unrelenting slate gray, and the wind from Siberia knifes right through you after the sun goes down…

At night, the streets of Kiev are filled only with the rumble and clatter of Dr. Zhivago trolley cars, and the whistling north wind. The architecture here is like the people; kind of battered, but still full of character. Resilient.

I haven’t gotten to see as much of this city as I would like; I’ve always been working too hard, or pretty much exhausted & creaking from the demented flight schedule it takes to get here from Los Angeles. Still, the little I have been able to discover on my own has been delightful.

ukrainian student concentrates on the screen

This time around, my students arrived in my classes with significant New Media skills. Some of them were already creating infographics, and this girl is already ghost-blogging for big financial companies. As you can see, she is quite determined; meanwhile, behind her, another of my more active and vocal students gasps in horror at the convoluted assignments I have inflicted on the class...

One of the greater joys of this class was seeing my students help each other out. When they got stuck with some of my more technically challenging exercises, they reached out to each other, and shouted advice back and forth across the classroom.

There is no better feeling for me. I am only here for such a very short time; I keep wishing that I had an entire semester to really reach deep into these young people, to help them draw out their skills & refine them. But seeing their willingness to follow me down these strange multimedia pathways, and to help each other out along the way … leads me to believe that they will continue to help each other out after I am gone.

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Oct 04

A Kind of Symmetry


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

I’m in Sofia, Bulgaria, training journalists & others on how to use the various tools of New Media.

As part of the trip, we went into the mountains, to an ancient monastery. Yeah, I know — a trip up winding paths to a crumbling castle … bring your garlic, stakes and holy water, right?

Actually, the Rila Monastery (as I said in an earlier post) is one of the truly amazing places on Earth. Man, they really loved to decorate this place up.

So here’s a shot of me on the portico of the cathedral here — a quote I heard is that “this place is like the Jerusalem to these people. It’s their Holy Land.” To me, the symmetry of this place lies in the fact that the monks here, for centuries, preserved knowledge by laboriously hand-scribing illuminated manuscripts. Until they were supplanted by herr Gutenberg’s movable type technology.

I am here to teach people about the modern equivalent of that disruptive technology.

Surrounded by Devils

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