Lawrence Lessig On Google Book Search

larry-lessig

The presentation is close to 30 minutes long, but if you have any interest in the future of our society through the lens of culture, knowledge, creativity, politics, hell, if you have any interest in being an informed and participating citizen with this world, grab some chips and a brew, get comfortable and digest this presentation.

IP-extremism… so true.

(via Lessig Blog)

A New Night, For Good Luck

good-night-and-good-luck

Indy films definitely hit a substantial delay in finding their way to my new home in Greensboro, NC, so after a month or so of waiting, I finally had a chance to see Good Night, And Good Luck this past weekend.

Classic.

Heading into the film, I had already regarded Edward R. Murrow a warrior for exposing the truth and championing the rights of the common man and woman, but if GNAGL enlightened me to anything it was to his absolute dedication to a pure journalistic method and a deeply, refined and realistic business acumen.

The Prototypical Newsman

With his classic, stoic, “just the facts ma’am” delivery, Murrow captivated his audience. He came across as an authority figure to the less media savvy audience of the 1950’s, but he also played the role of friend and confidant in the daily struggle to keep on keeping on.

Murrow knew very well that if he didn’t consistently frame the paradoxes and contradictions of reality (in this case, Senator Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt), he’d be fair game for criticism and his career would head south. That recognition of ethical behavior and accountability was too refreshing to view on film, because in our modern day, mass media world, those self-applied standards of journalistic integrity have all but flown the coop.

Understanding Power

If the film was even close to truly representing the relationship between Murrow and William Paley (the head of CBS), they provided an amazing service by exposing the foundation which drives decisions within the media ecosystem: advertising.

While Murrow bartered with Paley at every turn in order to continue exposing the world around him, Paley seemed forever caught between a rock and a hard place; he needed to keep Murrow happy with his role at CBS by providing the latitude necessary to fuel his journalistic passion while somehow balancing the finicky palette of his paid advertisers. The character development of Paley was rich and multidimensional, as I truly felt his angst in the midst of his paradoxical role within such a Darwinesque ecosystem.

And to see Edward R. Murrow, champion of the people, interviewing Liberace, well, it spoke volumes about the character of the man. He didn’t play the role of prima donna, refusing to lower his standards to run chatty interviews. He didn’t use an agent to threaten litigation. He recognized his role in adding value to the network by spreading his good name across programming that would return a dollar for Paley and the executive team. Though, the look on his face while he ran a fluff interview reminded me of a look and a feeling I’ve seen and heard hundreds of times over.

Modern Day Murrows

The majority of present day citizen journalists have day jobs. We design websites, write code, run businesses, multi-task like madmen, etc. Do we all wish we could blog for a living? I’d venture to say that most of us would say yes, as long as we wouldn’t have a strict editorial edict with advertising pressures. You see, we’re a bit spoiled like that.

Murrow had to navigate closed, controlled environments with a high degree of grace in order to shed light through one window of opportunity, one night a week. Bloggers? Well, we’ve become accustom to firing from the hip, espousing our opinions, perspectives and, yes, researched journalism on a intra-day basis, with no editor or advertising revenues to be concerned with. Has this new paradigm created irresponsible reporting? No more than the closed venue of the mainstream media. The difference is that we’re now empowered to network common visions and dreams, driving the potential of a new day into an actual sunrise, and the power of that freedom is upsetting the status quo.

Corporate media and industries are absolutely petrified by the potential of ordinary people gaining broadcast reach. And as much as I plan on assisting corporate America through this transition into the fast track of iterative development and customer accountability, until they can recognize that everything has changed and that we, the people, are now empowered, I won’t lose one wink of sleep over their concerns.

Can There Be Flat Hierarchy?

It’s true that if it weren’t for the relentless corporate push to rapidly develop and monetize the web in the mid-90’s, blogging technology might not have come about as quickly. Just as true was that VC investment in the potential of the web greatly contributed to the explosion of the infrastructure of information retrieval — collaborative filtering, search algorithms and now folksonomies.

So yes, we are all in this together. The talent needs the funding, but not as much as the funding needs the talent. Remember the last time we danced to this tune: capital power players funded the development of the internet on the shoulders of false stickiness, returning large dividends of ad revenue while the innovators focused on innovation. Many of those same capitalists continued to overinvest by underwriting ridiculous IPO’s until the bubble burst.

Was it simply coincidence that a majority of them could reinvest in the internet at a basement entry price, while the talent scrambled about just to retain paid gigs?

Now the power players are scrambling to monetize our blood, sweat and tears at every turn, on every feed, on every page, while we continue to blaze paths two steps ahead of them with our eyes focused on the greater good. We’ll keep doing our thing, they’ll keep doing theirs.

In the end, what else can we say to them but “Good Night, and Good Luck?”

Tag! We’re it!

Alright, I admit it—I didn’t get out (or online) much while I worked for Ameritrade. 60 hour work weeks for two straight years while building a design practice and a forward-thinking trading platform will do that to your peripheral vision. Well, I’m making up for lost time, slowing down to explore the web… big time.

The IA in me is smiling. No, not for the sheer joy of seeing community indexing, the IA in me is smiling because it’s becoming clear to me where the web is heading, and it’s not following a topical, structured, media-filtered path.

Take Technorati for example; the approach is like a Bizarro perspective of the mainstream media.

bizzaro

Technorati isn’t dumb, ugly, inhumane or bizarro as a nemesis dimension in a comic book, but they are backwards in their approach to presenting a political/news media lens of corporate America… in a very good way.

The mainstream media presents the news by using explicit filters to ensure that what is published or broadcasted supports the primary objectives of capitalism. In the past, I’ve ranted about the much needed expansion of the Google and Yahoo! news model to place blogs into the mix when drawing from indexed sources. Well, Technorati flipped the model entirely with a communal approach to exposing and digesting information. There are no “vanilla” labels of a topical navigation, splitting the world into simplified categories and driving a pre-conceived notion of “valuable” content (i.e. politics, business, sports, etc.) into the skulls of society.

Technorati leverages tagging to present information based on our desires.

Run a tag search on “free speech” and you get a descriptive page of the latest blog entries, flickr images and a contextual list of social bookmarks which include mainstream media articles (based on del.icio.us and Furl tagging). It took me a few returns to stumble upon the revolutionary aspect of this approach. I mean, three months ago, I would’ve been happy if Google News simply added a column of contextual links of blog post that corresponded to a search query. Technorati has flipped the script and featured bloggers, reducing the media to a column of “see also’s.”

This is how you build community. I love it.

So where can this go? Can this approach sustain a movement towards fundamentally altering how American society exposes and digests information? Man, “it depends” is such an understatement.

  • If Technorati can reach a tipping point, similar to Google a few years back, and devise a marketing campaign, where, say, Tony Soprano is shown “Technorating” waste management on his computer, the impact on society could be huge. People will start to look for information from other people (sans an editorial slant), which flips the trust and credibility model
  • If Technorati partners with a Google to provide user-generated content within their results pages, society will begin to experience contextual alternatives to mainstream reporting, entertainment, et al without being forced to have to go search for it through RSS and other technical means.
  • If Technorati is bought by a Google, all bets are off. Only time would tell if Chomsky’s “propaganda model” proves itself to be a truism or if new media and its superstars are exceptions to the rule.

It’s obvious that the web’s semantic synapses are continuing to form. This is only the beginning.

All News Is Good News

they-live

A few years ago I ranted about my fear of a society where the media is absolutely controlled by corporate interests.

My head wasn’t in the sand; I obviously realized that we were already living in such a world, as money drives practically everything in this country. I was more concerned with the audacity of the FCC to even consider the type of deregulation it ended up approving. Sure, it happens every day; legislation lobbyed for by those in power increases the empowerment of those same people. I mean, this is how the free market works. But this legislation goes beyond just making money for the upper class.

The fact is that Americans are glued to the tube and this type of conglomerate legislation—spanning all media (television, print, radio and the internet)—has now allowed for a greater possiblity to create a lasting, singular, corporate perspective in the psychology of the moment and beyond. Consume messaging has been given even more proximity to our children’s brains.

They Live shades are looking pretty good right about now.

So without the prospect of landing a pair of alien sunglasses, what exactly can be done to defend ourselves from this destructive approach to creating a consumer culture at all costs? As a contributor to public discourse, I’ve always believed that the ‘net (in 1997), and specifically, blogs (over the last five years) were a key development in the fight to present a perspective to battle corporate marketing and/or government disinformation.

  • With blogging, there’s no managing editor around with advertising pressures to censor (or generate) a particular perspective. (well, that is until the corporate structure jacks blogging to apply its usefulness to its bottom line, thereby reducing its effectiveness in the wild)
  • Blogs are also a time permitting endeavor; you can publish many times a day or once a year. There isn’t a revenue figure to drive towards, which allows for individual perspectives to be expressed at will

This break from the days of publishing via the standard print revenue generation model is something akin to the advent of the printing press, yet with the merchant nation-state taking the place of the previously empowered Church. Okay, maybe that’s a little pre-mature, but the possibilities are there. And what are the possibilities?

Over the past few years, the blogging revolution has become more and more accessible and mainstream with the advent of RSS and aggregate readers. With Yahoo! adding access to RSS feeds to their My Yahoo! content modules, blogs are one step closer to being mainstream. But this last step is a big one, steeped in moral conviction.

Until blogs are automatically indexed as viable, alternative feeds when running, say, a news query at Google or Yahoo!, they are going to, at best, sit on the periphery of the conscious of the world’s inhabitants. The average person does not have the time, nor the patience, to sift through the pedagogy of managing RSS. Bookmarks are about as much as they can handle. Blogs do return in general search queries, but this “general return only” pre-supposes a value level to the quality of the information being retrieved. You know, a perspective or opinion or even investigative research presented by a blogger has less value than a feed from the New York Times, The Washington Post, etc.

That’s why this information retrieval concept would have to be one generated out of moral conviction. By keeping news sources limited strictly to incorporated, staffed and vested (in the economic structure of) newspapers, Google (or any other news search engine) is basically saying that only these sources can report and editorialize news. Even though Google has gone a long way in presenting perspectives from small and foreign sources, providing the chance opportunity for conflicting perspective, it’s still not enough.

It seems to me that with a search capability, news aggregator and a blogging tool, Google and Yahoo! are best poised to create convergence between the “professional” news organizations and blogging communities, within the boundaries of their individual interfaces. How accessible blogs become in the presentation, will be a litmus test of their commitment to providing contextual channels within the information age, while creating usable interfaces for digesting a world of information overload and disinformation.

It’s completely doable and an ongoing commitment to data mining and information presentation doesn’t seem to indicate that such domains will shy away from heading in this direction. Well, as long as blogs don’t impact their institutional investors or advertisers in a negative light.