Tipped by the always readable Farhad Manjoo, a NYTimes tech writer (with a good twitter name), I checked out Jia Tolentino’s lament for blogging, in The New Yorker, pegged in part to the closing of The Awl, sort of the blog equivalent of an alternative daily.
It’s a nice piece, although perhaps a bit impredicative in that it (I assume unwittingly) embodies some of the reasons people might not be so interested in blogs any more. Although it oversells a golden age” of the Internet that has been lost (such vanished Edens have always been with us, although perhaps they are disappearing over the horizon faster and faster), there is a sense of fun that has diminished (even for somebody who barely even qualifies as a blogger, like me).
I have previously shared with you Balk’s Law (“Everything you hate about The Internet is actually everything you hate about people”) and Balk’s Second Law (“The worst thing is knowing what everyone thinks about anything”). Here I will impart to you Balk’s Third Law: “If you think The Internet is terrible now, just wait a while.” The moment you were just in was as good as it got. The stuff you shake your head about now will seem like fucking Shakespeare in 2016.
Perhaps true, but also perhaps ever so, for more than just the Internet. Somewhere I recall a Mark Twain quote, “no matter what the show, the golden age seems to have ended the day before I bought my first ticket”
CES (formerly the Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas is the ultimate nerd destination, and yes, once my husband and I made a vacation of it. We learned that it isn’t all that accessible for your ordinary gear head consumers, more B2B and a media showcase, but as an anthropological experience it’s certainly something.
So far, all these bags seem more like proof of concepts than gadget of the year. A market exists for suitcases that cater better to those with mobility impairments, but I am not yet convinced this is the solution.
90Fun plans to take preorders for the Puppy 1 during the second half of 2018 in a crowdfunding project, which means it’s got some time to work out the kinks. For now, think of it as an actual, untrained puppy. In theory, it’s cute that a dog will follow you wherever you go, but pair that with the idea of enlisting a puppy to drag your luggage around the airport… and it’s about as useful as it sounds.
Somehow the sight of it falling helplessly to the ground makes me feel for it too…which is completely ridiculous!
This is a service, once hooked into your devices, in particular, your smart phone, and social media feeds, etc. tracks everything and compiles it into your very own search repository. They are in beta and have an explanatory video:
Brilliant? Creepy? Both? A solution in search of a problem? Or an early sign of how we will someday outsource our memories to our cloud storage lockers?
Aside from the rich ground for fictional (or humorous) speculation. (How do you call tech support to upgrade/correct your own memories? is there a “fish story” plugin?) it does immediately raise questions about privacy, identity, and invasion/malleability thereof. What happens to this mass of data after somebody dies, is it uploaded into a new person’s avatar. The Sci-Fi possibilities really are endless.
Yet at the same time, before I get my hackles up, all this data is already being collected by the Big Brotherhood, and quite possibly the NSA. Unforgettable.Me is at least offering your data as a service to you, instead of offering you up as raw material for ad revenue and the like.
Another managed quote: “O brave new world that has such data in it.”
TechCrunch has an interesting piece on the difference between print and e-books. It is written by Chris Lavergne, identified as “the CEO of Thought.is and the publisher of Thought Catalog” both unknown to me. (And visits to the sites are a bit mystifying–I think I miss some of the context, or are so far from the core audience that it goes over my head.)
But the bit of the article that caught my eye was a discourse about electronic publishing versus real books:
“The medium is indeed the message
We were surprised to learn that print books and digital books were almost two distinct businesses with totally different operating models. While a print book and an e-book share identical content, they reflect diametrically opposed media formats. Print books are luxury goods and e-books are utility, and this has real implications in the strategy and workflow behind the marketing and production of each.
This technical distinction is also present in consumer behavior. E-books — with their instant access and cheap prices — sell generally 6x more quantities than print books for us. That said, a print book will generally generate 7x more revenue than an e-book. It’s hard to generate revenue on an e-book because the whole premise of the platform is: I want this quickly and at the cheapest price possible. The premise of a print book in the digital age is driven by luxury: I read better on paper… or… I like the feeling of turning a page.
You can’t create much markup on utility, whereas you can create a great deal of markup on luxury. This has been perhaps one of the most important insights driving Thought Catalog Books’ growth. The print books department needs to be run like a luxury goods company, while the e-book department needs to be run like a technology company. The content is the same, but the medium dictates an entirely different business model.”
This seems plausible (if arguable) to me. I’m not much of an e-book reader, not because I’m opposed to the format, but just because of the long habit of print books, and more cognitive comfort and personal efficiency with them. (But I do read them once in a while, because I don’t buy them they tend to be oddball classics I can get off of Project Gutenberg. Currently it’s Three Men and a Boat, and previously I read News from Nowhere on my IPad, a singularly inappropriate title for an e-reader, given William Morris’ attitudes about technology).
Books aren’t luxury items for me–luckily enough, but I can see that for somebody who was born digital, books, magazines and eventually newspapers too, are prestige items (like the encyclopedia sets of my youth, or the solemn, and generally unread, volumes by Will and Ariel Durant). It’s an odd thought: a once dominant (and for me still far more companionable and effective) medium is now becoming a prestige lifestyle accessory. What could that status mean for libraries and for publishers? And how might ebooks with their different business model (if the article is correct) find an incentive to address access and literacy world-wide, given that more people have access to electronic devices now than have access to toilets according to the U.N.
Now that we are half a decade or so into the MOOC revolution it’s interesting to see it sort out and calm down a bit. Although it hasn’t quite fulfilled the utopian aspirations of the early evangelists, it has provided a useful means to get content to learners (particularly in tech areas). While it’s unclear how the business models are doing (probably not all that well), people and institutions have benefited.
As somebody who is interested in curriculum, class structure, and the rhetorical forms that educational content take (why 13 weeks? why lectures? etc.), I was puzzled by the slavish effort of MOOCs to reproduce the highly artificial structure of an on-campus course. This seemed to me a clear example of the Marshall McLuhan adage that the first thing that happens with a new medium is that you use it to deliver an old form. (Radio shows were the first thing on TV.)
There still is an excessive amount of ‘course-ness’ to the average MOOC, but Dhawal Shah reports that the format is moving from scheduled semesters to basically on demand. A “Netflix” of education.
He writes, “MOOCs are gradually being transformed from virtual classrooms to a Netflix-like experience. Many courses are no longer offered just once or twice a year, but rather are now available as a self-paced, sign up whenever you want experience Coursera courses are now offered regularly throughout the year, with new sessions starting automatically on a bi-weekly or monthly basis.”
A very welcome development, not just because mapping academic calendar conventions on MOOCs was silly, but because opening up things on demand may lead to content innovation. It happened with Netflix, and helped usher in new blood, and arguably even new formats into fiction and non-fiction television. Education could do worse…
The short answer is that Uber is asking to be considered as digital service, and thus not subject to regulations, instead of taxi service, which would.
That Uber is not a taxi service seems an absurd position, although it may prevail legally. Its drivers are also plausibly employees, and its business structure should be subject to the same tax®ulatory regime as any other.
But the larger question (I can’t resist calling it the uber question), is why don’t we regulate platforms in the first place? at least platforms that are companies too. And as a company, their incentives are not necessarily in the public interest, or in the interests of those of its workers or customers. It exists to make money. That’s reasonable, but Uber’s a company, and why not regulate it as such–and in all of its businesses? Does its technical product entitle it to some fuzzy emotional “feel good” hipster exemption from the norms. If it starts selling insurance, for example, should it be exempt from the rules concerning insurance markets?
Why this should come off as a heretical position perhaps has to do with the low esteem collectivism and regulation have had over the last decades. But if the digital sphere is where we live our lives, and there are signs that at least some of it has sort of been a degenerating sphere (whether Uber contributes to that or is agnostic), do we have no standing to ask governments to say wait a minute? Platforms are not outside the pale of general activity, and are not agnostic with respect to their effects on the commonweal.
I grant, it’s not going to be an easy calculus, but not doing it seems foolish not even to ask the question.
And for enjoyable foolishness of another sort, here’s stand-up about spreadsheets.
(I do play with spreadsheets for fun, and I knew what he was up to with 255! Yikes)
No news to anybody in the archives and records world, or researchers who work with public documents or manuscripts for that matter, but huge amounts of the original written legacy of the last 30 years is falling into the digital abyss as formats become obsolete, hardware is hard to find/non-functional, and magnetic storage media itself crumbles into dust.
But maybe there’s hope: A paper in Nature reports on a novel approach to saving the archives, applying techniques from digital forensics. Stanford’s efforts to save the Stephen Jay Gould Papers from oblivion gives an example of the impetus.
The Gould papers were an early indication of an issue that’s been rapidly worsening: four decades after the personal-computer revolution brought word processing and number crunching to the desktop, the first generation of early adopters is retiring or dying. So how do archivists recover and preserve what’s left behind?
From, “Digital forensics: from the crime lab to the library” by Mark Woverton.
The approach is to fit out archivists with the skills of a crime investigator (who will star in the spinoff “CSI: The Manuscript Division,” I wonder?).
The list of dead or dying media that a UNC prof mentions– floppies, Zip disks, CDs, DVDs, flash drives, hard drives–reads like my career. I’m sure that any digital traces of a monthly opera newsletter I contributed to and later edited for years was delivered to the printer and archived on SyQuest discs, a medium and a company both long gone. So is PageMaker, the program we designed it on. The newsletter was no great shakes, but probably somebody put stuff on SyQuest worth saving, be it a data set that has otherwise impossible to recreate info, a great novel or an archive of legal docs.
Seems like UNC is on the job, with a tool called BitCurator, so maybe future generations won’t have to depend on the digital equivalent of somebody using a scrap of Sappho’s poetry as a wine stopper to rescue a legacy. (I know that story may be only a romantic legend, but it’s still evocative.)
Much is made of our living in the age of algorithms, but I think that’s been true for centuries (at least since double entry bookkeeping, at least a methodology if not an algorithm). To me distinctive thing about our time is the advent of platforms, the Internet itself, and all its flavors, communication, collaboration, video, education, moving of merchandise, much of it happens on (or is indirectly supported by) a platform.
One industry that was former “platform champ”–they built it and exploited it for revenue–was the newspaper biz. So it’s particularly interesting to watch that model morph, and a Q&A on the Times site by reporter John Hermann and platform expert Andrei Hagiu takes stock of some of the changes. An excerpt. Worth reading the whole thing, and thinking about another world that is rocked by the advent of platforms, education.
NYTimes: How do pre-existing companies typically make the transition from being an independent participant in a particular category to being, basically, a platform constituent? That’s a broad question, but — is there an industry that might have useful parallels to the media industry with something like a major social platform?
HBS Prof and Economist Andrei Hagiu: I don’t think it’s true that transitioning from independence to life on a platform necessarily has to make things worse. One thing that I think a lot about — in conversations with venture capitalists and others — is the notion that platforms or marketplaces inherently commoditize. I think more likely what’s happening is the following: I think platforms, or marketplaces, make it a lot easier for, say, the content providers or app developers that are very, very good to rise to the top, and pretty much commoditize everyone else. So if you’re average, it’s definitely going to be very bad. Life is going to be worse on a platform, because you’re exposed to more competition. If you’re very good, life on a platform is a lot better.
Book store staff, librarians, and movie store clerks (back when there still were movie stores!) all have stories of perplexing requests from patrons, generally when there is a very specific title in mind, but the question is a complete puzzle, with a title described in such vague or idiosyncratic ways as to require mind-reading more than reference desk skills.
A few tidbits from Library Thing,
” I need that book that’s called Shakespeare, but it’s spelled with a “Ch” and the author starts with M…”
Fortunately, I was in my groove that day, and it only took me a few seconds to figure out that the patron wanted the book Chesapeake, written by James Michener.
My friend, as a young lass, once ran up to a librarian, very excited, and yelled out, “Do you have ‘The Cat Who Shat?'”
I worked in a record store all through my (many) undergraduate years and we would get many crazy folks into the store on a regular basis. The overall most common silly request was; ” Can you help me find this song? I don’t know what it’s called or who sings it, but it’s about love.”
Aren’t they all?
As a classical music person, I’ve encountered my share of these mysteries: Somebody raving about hearing “Faust’s Requiem.” (I figured it was some outrageous East German world premiere, but it was just the Fauré one.).
When I was responsible for an information service on opera (which is a fairly nutty thing to start with), I did reliably got calls about “that opera where she dies at the end.” I checked my impulse to say, “if she doesn’t die at the end, it’s probably just Rodgers and Hammerstein.”
But on reflection, all these misfires disclose that the brain is an interesting thing, and though no doubt we may all share much common neural architecture, we certainly don’t seem to keep track of and remember things or their associations in the same way. (In my case, I would charitably call this “neural metadata diversity of recall” but I suppose it could just be that I’m ‘getting on’ as the Brits would have it.) There is after all, a specific target for all these descriptions, it’s just that the getting there is fraught.
For myself, I do okay remembering music facts (I started early in this domain, and, since I listen to and play music every day and write about it almost as much, it remains relatively fresh), but boy do I get foggy about movie details. And am notorious for groping to remember titles of films I have seen or want to see. “The one about the farmer who drives to someplace in the upper Midwest to collect his life insurance pay out starring the guy who was in The Great Gatsby.”
“Train doors close and open on two different paths for the story.”
“Brad Pitt turns into a baby. Unbearably long “
Turns out, there’s an AI-powered web site that makes this a snap. “What Is My Movie?” assesses deep content using technology from cognitive science to suss out those elusive links in your query and unravel the mystery of which movie you were looking for on Netflix.
From their website:
Whatismymovie.com is a descriptive movie search engine that was originally created as a showcase for Arctic15, Helsinki in 5/2015. Its purpose is to present a new way of searching video content, using movies and TV as the chosen approach. Descriptive movie search is based on our research on what is called “Deep Content”. Deep Content is everything we can see and hear in a video, but cannot mechanically analyze – until now. Deep Content includes transcripts, audio, visual patterns and basically any form of data feed that describes the video content itself. After analyzing the deeper levels of the video, we automatically convert it into advanced metadata. This metadata is then processed by the beating heart of our engine: a cognitive machine learning system that understands natural language queries and matches it with our metadata.
It’s not foolproof. It got Sliding Doors and the (completely intolerable) Benjamin Button in the examples above, but didn’t realize I was thinking about Nebraska for the first. (Although it did suggest Borat!).