Archive for the ‘web 2.0’ Category
I just checked my blog server logs for the first time in many months and I discovered that I still get plenty of traffic for posts I wrote years ago wondering when Remember the Milk, my task manager of choice, would ever synchronize with the tasks in Microsoft’s Outlook. Most people know that a solution has existed for months: MilkSync. It runs reasonably smoothly and accurately (as in I haven’t lost any data), although neither Outlook nor RTM are anywhere near perfect services.
The Internet is awesome. For example, the Internet is how Jim Allen found me. Jim is a terrific songwriter and singer (one example, another one) in NYC whose honky tonk version of “Lose This Skin” was one of the first covers I received for The Sandinista Project. It came at a time when I doubted whether the record would ever happen. His faith in the project helped me rekindle mine in it and I’m still grateful.
Jim also, I’m embarrassed to say for him, has been known to follow my Twitter blatherings. My tweets, like most everyone else’s, try to capture a moment, either in a physically or emotionally descriptive way. Several months ago, my status was merely “waiting for Lydia.” It was mundane, I tapped it on a device while I was sitting in the car waiting for child #2 to emerge from a choir rehearsal, and I promptly forgot the three words. Jim, however, is one of those writers who can turn nothing into something, and shortly after that night he wrote me to let me know he had composed a song called “Waiting for Lydia,” title inspired by the tweet. I can’t post the song yet (it’s not done, Jim says, although I’m not sure I agree), but I really enjoy it. Someday you will too.
I bring this up not merely to thank Jim, although I’m happy to do that here. I’ve got two other points: (1) Always pay attention. You might be able to develop good art out of the most mundane material, and (2) Something good can come out of the Internets, people!
… and not just because it’s the second-worst album by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. The word “magic” is particularly annoying when applied to consumer technology, starting with Arthur C. Clarke’s oft-quoted “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” That’s pithy and pungent, but untrue. Air conditioner technology is quite advanced. We all know the difference between air conditioning and magic.
Bill Gates, during his post-CEO/pre-departure years at Microsoft, tried to push this word. I saw him use the term “magic” to describe what his company’s software did at many conferences, much as he does in this 2004 column for InformationWeek:
It’s the magic of software that will connect these devices into a seamless whole, making them an indispensable part of our everyday lives.
He’s describing Windows Update, a service about as magical as a doorbell.
And now Apple is playing the “magic” game. Its new mouse replaces its previous wireless “Mighty Mouse,” which was characterized mostly by its inability to hold a Bluetooth connection for more than 90 seconds. It’s called a “Magic Mouse.” It’s amusing to see the trendsetters at Apple picking up on a half-decade-old discarded Microsoft slogan. So much for thinking different(ly). But it emphasizes how much trouble computer makers are having selling their wares nowadays. With computers becoming more and more commoditized, it’s hard to get anyone excited about them for reasons other than design, at which Apple excels. So the companies who sell us computers and products that connect to them have to start making things up about them, like they’re “magic.” This doesn’t seem like much of an exaggeration anymore.
Over on PaidContent, Staci Kramer, ace reporter and Jill Sobule fan, reports AP Launching Newspaper Industry Campaign To ‘Protect’ News Content. Oy vey. If the people running newspapers and wire services (both now antiquated terms) think that aggregators stealing their content, rather than their own inability to navigate the dynastic shift I mention here, is their biggest problem, maybe they do deserve to go away. Those aggregators are giving the newspapers new customers. Why don’t the newspapers welcome (and focus on monetizing) their new customers rather than hope to sue away new technologies and business models? I’m having a how-the-record-industry-treated-Napster-in-a-way-that-hastened-its-own-demise flashback.
UPDATE: Staci has a super analysis follow-up today. I reproduce the lede in full: “Those of you who have never owned a mercury thermometer and a tiled floor at the same time probably won’t get this but the Associated Press campaign to “protect” news content is the online equivalent of trying to pick up mercury after you drop the glass thermometer. It’s virtually impossible to pick it all up and maddening to try. The AP and the news industry won’t be able to pick up all of the ways news content is used, even with the most sophisticated tagging or other technologies. And even if they manage to do so, they won’t be able to stop it all.”
By the time The Boston Globe arrived Saturday morning with the ominous headline Times Co. Threatens To Shut Globe, it was old news and that’s the problem. The story had been broken the day before by Adam Reilly at The Boston Phoenix and Monica Brady-Myerov at WBUR, both via electronic media; by the time the newspaper landed with a very light thud at homes and newsstands, the story had moved along. On Saturday morning, the initial shock had moved on to questions about management’s negotiation tactics and other meta-issues. The bloggers and microbloggers had taken over the story.
The Boston Globe is an inconsistent newspaper. Some sections, particularly Washington and Metro, are strong; others, like Sports, are driven by personality and trivia; still others, like Living/Arts, are so full of factual and conceptual errors that they rise to mediocrity only on a very good day. But none of that may matter when considering the survival of the newspaper. The life-threatening problem facing The Boston Globe is not, primarily, a content problem. The Boston Globe is middling and The New York Times may be the best in the English language, but they both face the same problem: a combination technology and business problem that adds up to a dynastic problem.
It’s the end of the print dynasty as the primary delivery mechanism for the content typically housed in a newspaper. Although papers as different in quality as The Boston Globe and The New York Times have shrinking print readerships, they have strong and, in many cases, growing online readerships. People want their product — just not in the wrapper that the newspapers currently offer as their primary product. Indeed, the costs associated with delivering the newspapers on paper are so extraordinary that one enterprising reporter has imagined a dramatically different and provocative way to spend that money.
If I’m right that this is a dynastic problem, not a content problem, then better content — although always desirable — will not solve the profound problems facing newspapers. The businesspeople charged with saving the Globe, whether it be the current ownership or a new team, must confront the truth that cutting down trees, printing tree-based products on large machines, and delivering smaller packages via trucks, is a dead business model for the delivery of timely news.
I’m not arguing that print as a general medium is dead. I am arguing what should be self-evident, but isn’t to many in newspaper management: that print as a way to deliver timely news will soon be over. Smart folks at the Globe and the Times may well dream up tough-minded, profitable print products, but those print products will be expensive, low-volume, premium entries, not mass-market ones. There is a small but sustainable audience that will pay a premium price for a high-quality physical item, so long as it plays to the strength of a physical item, such as permanence, portability, and higher, more controllable production values. But that print product will be secondary to its electronically published siblings. Once publishers stop wrestling with that, they can focus entirely on building the future rather than resuscitating the past. Even those of us who see the Globe as far from perfect want it to survive — but the powers that be on Morrissey Avenue and across the street from Port Authority had better understand that the only way it can survive is in a far different form. Newspapers: you wanna live? Give us new products. Now.
(Disclosure: Between 1998 and 2006, I served on and off as a consultant to boston.com, The Boston Globe‘s website, and over the past 15 or so years I have written a grand total of one book review and two op-eds for The Globe, none more recent than 2005. )
After five years of selling DRM-crippled music, Apple is trying to get out of that business — except Steve Jobs and Associates want their customers to pay for the company’s strategic mistake. Even worse: it used to be that you could repair your broken files one at a time for 30 cents each. Now, as that imposing, solitary “BUY” button makes clear, regular customers of the iTunes Music Store can make up for five years of Apple’s music-selling mistake only in one expensive swoop. Wouldn’t Apple gain more goodwill (and, in the long term, more money) if it simply liberated files that its loyal customers had paid for already?
I know many Apple products have astonishingly good hardware and software design. But does that make up for the company treating its customers this way?
Work is heating up (hence my presence in front of a computer on a Sunday afternoon) and one of the things that’s gotta give over the next month, until we get the new MIT Sloan Management Review website up and stable, is blogging. But don’t fear: I’m still going to deliver useless information to you. It’s just that for the next month I’ll be doing it in 140-character increments, i.e. via Twitter. In recent weeks I’ve found it to be a good vehicle for making one point quickly and then moving on. This is not one of those occasional hiatuses (hiati?) I pull here every few months. You’re welcome to follow me on Twitter. And I will be back here on a regular basis once work permits. And, face it, 140 characters at a time of me might be all you need most days.
(For those of you who follow my updates on Facebook, I use Ping.fm to update Facebook and Twitter simultaneously and identically. You don’t have to subscribe to both.)