Social Media Vacation, Week 2

Not only am I not finding it hard to stay away from social media, I’m thinking about staying away nearly permanently. In my previous fit of pique where I dynamited my entire Twitter network I only used Twitter when I was at science fiction conventions. That was predominantly to find out which room parties and hotel bars my friends were at. Frankly, I think I could go back to that sort of thing easily.

More and more, I’m thinking that I don’t care at all about social media for its own sake. It only really has value to me in the context of the logistics of a real world meeting. I’ve said over and over again that most of the value of Twitter to me is syncing up with other Myrtle Beach people where we are having lunch. I can envision a world where my Twitter usage is confined to a few days before any event (CREATE South, BarCampCHS, Balticon, Dragon*Con, etc) and between 11 AM and 1 PM on the weekdays. In fact, I could see value in building a customer Twitter API app that specfically didn’t check for new messages except in certain pre-defined time windows and possibly based on certain hash-tags. If that could be hacked in to HootSuite, that would be great. In all likelihood, I’ll do it the old fashioned way by just shutting the thing down except for the times I care about it.

Inbox 20

One side effect I hadn’t actually considered when I took the social media vacation was that I got caught up on my email within a week. When I started my break last week, my Mac’s inbox was around 300 emails. Today, without the constant distraction and without making any sort of heroic attempt, I have my inbox at 20. At the moment the ones I can see without scrolling are April 20 at the top and July 20 at the bottom. The very bottom one in the inbox is June 20, 2008 which is obvious that I’m trying my best to avoid dealing with.

I did not take the social media break in order to get caught up on email, but that’s a nice little side effect.

If Creativity is an Avalanche, Twitter is Regular Cannon Fire

Ski resorts sometimes use cannon fire to prevent large scale avalanches. They do this by triggering very small avalanches at regular intervals, firing howitzers or air cannons into the higher snow banks to shake loose the chunks that are shake-loosable. The more I think about it, I think regular use of Twitter has done a similar thing to my blogging and podcasting output. Because I have access to a fairly constant ability to broadcast small chunks of whatever is on my mind, I have less urgency to gather my thoughts and write up longer bits.

I’ve discussed elsewhere how I feel like posting to Twitter is sharecropping. You don’t own it, it disappears down a Twitter driven memory hole, and whatever value you build is accruing to the account of Twitter.com, not you. I don’t make a killing on this blog, but whatever trickle of cash I earn from the Google ads and the Amazon affiliate links on here is more than I get from Twitter. When I blog, I make some pin money and I own all my stuff. When I Tweet, nothing much happens for me other than reducing my incentive and motivation to create anything else. That seems like an obviously pretty bad deal in every way you slice it.

This evening I did the data entry for every survey form turned in at CREATE South 2010. A lot of what was discussed this year involved social media. It was an article of faith that the energy put into social media is a necessity and has a positive payoff. I’m not so sure I buy that. I think the graph of involvement to value created has a steep climb from nothing to a small bit, and then caps out quickly. I know that puts me opposite of folks like my friend Tee Morris and Chris Brogan, who believe this is a necessity for anyone that wants to be involved in any form of internet culture. I’ve avoided drinking that Flavor Aid and it seems ever less tasty.

I supported my compatriots at CREATE South that wanted to teach and learn more about social media but less and less do I have any desire to be a part of it. What value it provides to the user comes at a high price, one that practically never gets factored in to the equation. I’m trying hard to account for those terms in my personal calculus.

Update: I forgot to link to Garrick Van Buren’s examination of the same topic as he examines what changed in his life when he dropped Twitter.

Notes from the Social Media Vacation Week 1

Here are some random thoughts from the first week of my social media timeout:

  • In the lead up to this, it was suggested that I would have a hard time saying away from Twitter et al. It is not hard, it is very easy. I’m wondering now if I ever really want to come back. I do find that is taking a long time to get rid of the twitchy feeling that comes from frequent checking of new tweets. I often feel like I’m forgetting something. When I realize it is Twitter, I’m always relieved.
  • Today at lunch I was reading from Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget. I was in the part of Chapter 3 where he discussed Facebook and Twitter and the potential for redefining in a reductive way what social relationships mean to us. I personally find a lot of resonance in this notion. Some of my Twitter and Facebook friends are people I love dearly and some are people I have met once at a party. The fact that this nuance disappears is a weakness of the system and as Lanier points out over and over again, it disappears because it isn’t important to the people who build and design these things.
  • I used to dread making phone calls and now I find that I’d much rather call than send a Twitter direct message. I’m thinking my primary use for FB and Twitter might become remaining connected enough to use them to keep up with mailing addresses and phone numbers.

There is more, but I think the other big insight needs its own post.

Kick Start My Heart

At CREATE South last week, we had an informal pitch session at which I primed the pump by going public with some of my skunkworks projects, one of which is an independent documentary idea that I’ve been kicking around for years. In it, I mentioned that I thought I could bring the project in for around $5,000 (mainly by NOT PAYING THE CREW!) From the floor, Mur Lafferty asked if I had considered Kickstarter as a fund raising mechanism for the seed money. I admitted that I had not and wasn’t sure if it would be worth it. I did file the idea away for future reference though.

In a bit of coincidence, earlier today I saw this post on the Comics Reporter that references Patrick Farley’s attempt to raise money for his webcomic project via Kickstarter. I have seen Farley’s work before and liked it. It seemed like a webcomic version of what I liked best about the cyberpunk work of George Alec Effinger. I am interested in seeing his nearly successful fundraising campaign succeed (90% there with 6 days to go at this writing) and am considering kicking in a few bucks. I was looking at the particulars of his project and noticed that Brendan McCarthy is one of the contributors. Yes, THE Brendan McCarthy. That part truly rocks the house, that one might be supported in a project by someone cool whose work you admire. That seems like a rare but awesome case.

If I’m going to do this via Kickstarter it makes more sense to do it sooner than later, so I might well set this up in a day or three. If so, I’ll be posting here shortly. Keep watching the skies, radar rangers!

My Social Media Vacation Begins Today

Last night when I went to bed, I shut down Twitter (HootSuite, really) and Facebook and FriendFeed. I’m not going to look at or log in to any of those things for the next 30 days. There might be slight exceptions if I get a Facebook invite to something timely I want to accept but even if I have to sneak back in, I’m not reading and digging through status updates.

This is a mental health strategy for me. I have found that the always-on constant update of social media has worn on me more and more over the last year. When I turned it off for a weekend or to go do things around my town, it actually felt like a relief to me to be able to step back from that. Bear in mind, without any sort of smart phone I’m only a fraction as connected as most of my friends and still it wore on me over time. I understand the ways it can be useful but we need to think about what it does to us long term to be connected so much of our lives to these fast twitch update systems. You ignore the long term consequences of your productivity tools at your own peril. Even crystal meth is an effective productivity tool if you only consider the short term.

I still need to do my writeup on this year’s CREATE South conference (now one week in the past.) The only reason I didn’t start this vacation earlier was because of that conference. A certain bit of coordination and promotion was aided by Twitter and Facebook so I bit the bullet and stayed connected until the mopping up was mostly done. It made me feel like a bit of a fraud during the conference itself because a number of our sessions were about strategies for using social media to add value to your life or business while I was just counting the days until I could get social media out of my life for a month. This year the official CREATE South Twitter account was completely run by Tee Morris and that was a fabulous success. Not only did he do a job wildly better than I could have, it meant I didn’t have to stay locked in on that account. The result was better and I was happier.

I have a goal (not a death pact, just a goal) to blog at least once per day over this period. As I put more energy into the ephemera of social media, I put less into the more durable work on this blog and podcast. As I’ve said before, blogging for yourself in your own domain is like farming, posting your witticism into Twitter is like sharecropping. The work is the same, it’s just someone else cashing out most of the value. I hope to move my mix into things of lasting value to myself.

On top of that, my goal is to spend less time in front of the computer altogether. If there is one take-away lesson from CREATE South, it is that you get a lot of bang for your buck engaging with the people and the world around you and we geeks do too little of that. I want to attend the next Rivertown Social in downtown Conway. I want to start kayaking up the Waccamaw River. I can walk to the river landing, for pete’s sake. As I put it yesterday, “I want to spend less time with Facebook and more time with faces and books.” It’s shut down until May 23rd. We’ll see where it goes after that, but for now I am taking a well deserved break and it feels great.

The Shortest of Short Urls

This post is somewhat of an experiment. I’ve recently been shown the power of unicode domains, particularly in the case of URL shorteners for Twitter where every character counts. I’ve successfully tweeted these shortened URLs and had them correctly sho up on FriendFeed and Facebook. I’m curious if the Ecto to WordPress chain will be as succcesful at preserving it.

The English name of the service is Tinyarro.ws. Here’s an example of the link to this blog as shortened by the service: http://?.ws/?? . Hard to get much shorter than that.

I find this whole thing pretty cool and will keep fiddling around with this service. Unless it completely falls apart, it will be my shortener of choice even though I like the extra features of bit.ly such as the click counter.

Big Day in the eReader World

I missed it yesterday when Paul Biba at Teleread picked up on my ‘Kindle is not closed’ post from the weekend, which is gratifying and predictably brought out pushback in the form of comments including this one from Mitch Ratcliffe and a contrary response post from David Rothman. Some people agreed with me, some didn’t but in all the dissents they are talking about the Kindle store lacking openness. I agree with that but that’s not what I said. I very specifically was talking about the device, not the store or the upstream ecosystem. I stand by my post – the idea that one must purchase every book on the Kindle from Amazon is a misconception that needs clearing up. Less than 5% of the books on my Kindle were purchased from Amazon’s Kindle store.

Today came out with the news of the Barnes and Noble Nook e-reader. My very first reaction was “Really, B&N? You spend however much money to build, design, roll out and market this device and the best you can do on naming is ‘Nookie Reader’?” Like I tweeted within a minute of hearing the brand for the first time, that’s a name that is derision ready.

I’m looking forward to the point when the Nook is available for hands on fiddling at my local Barnes and Noble. My initial thoughts on reading the specs and looking at the feature comparison chart is that not a lot of the differences on their matter to me. Having wifi sounds great at first thought, but I’ve never once failed to get a Whispernet connection so what is the advantage there unless it is filling in gaps and jankiness in the AT&T data connection? When I turn on wireless on the Kindle, the job gets done. What would be different if that was wifi rather than Whispernet? The sharing sounds great, just like the Zune sharing does on paper. How many Zune users ever find themselves in the room with another Zune user? Very seldom have I seen other Kindles when I use mine, and that has a 2 year headstart in market share. If the Kindle had this functionality, I wouldn’t have used it once in the 7 months I have owned mine. The first time someone I know gets a Nook file shared with them I’ll care about this feature, until then it’s purely a theoretical curiosity.

The SD card expansion up to 16 GB seems useful, particularly if one wanted to put lots of graphic heavy books on there. The lower screen LCD touchscreen seems to make sense for browsing the library but other than that, what is it other than a battery drain? Swiping a touchscreen to change a page is not easier than clicking a button. The only reason that would seem to matter is if everyone’s iPhone muscle memory tells them to do that. The two worst parts of the Kindle 2 I have are the library management and the off-whiteness of the screen background. It looks like the Nook screen is the same one as the Kindle, so that’s a wash and the library management looks better. Being able to read PDF natively (without a conversion step) on the Nook is better than what I have, although it is available on the Kindle DX.

Overall this doesn’t look like the predictably named “Kindle Killer”. It looks like a rough Kindle equivalent with slightly different affordances. I am delighted that it exists though, because it will put pressure on Amazon in all the aspects I want them to have some pressure. I want to see them improve the sucky bookshelf management in some future system update. The contrast of the screen is what it is on the model I have. It’s acceptable but any device I buy in the future needs to be better. I probably would never buy a future one until the color e-ink technology comes along.

Whenever they hit the brick and mortar Barnes and Noble stores, I’ll play with a Nook. Anyone who wants to make a bet with me on when the Nook install base exceeds that of the Kindle, you set the line and I’ll take the over/under action. Chances are for any line you set, I’ll take the over.

Inbox Zero(ish)

Over the last week I made a serious effort to get my email inbox under control. I entered the week with over 200 messages in there, and now I have 13. That’s the limit that seems about like zero to me because I can see every mail in there without scrolling. I returned some of the really old mails that needed replies, filed or deleted some of the ones that were for offers or situations that long ago expired. I’m going to try my best to stay on top of this from here on out, but it will require vigilance. I’ve been down to this level before and it got over 200. I sure don’t want that to happen again. My goal is to keep it so that my in box never has the scroll thumb on the side, if not exactly at zero. I’d love to not have to reply to anymore mails with the preface “Sorry I didn’t respond in the last 18 months but …”

The Kindle is NOT a Closed System

I want to address one of the biggest bits of spurious push back I see on the Amazon Kindle. I see people over and over saying they don’t want one because it is a “closed system.” This is not the truth and I’ll get to that after a little prelude.

I’ve had mine for about seven months now and really enjoy it. It’s worked in to being a reasonable part of my daily life. About 80% of the non-comic book pleasure reading I’ve done in the last six months has been on this Kindle. When I do cardio at the gym I take it. When I need to be able to use Twitter or the the web in a mobile situation, I take it. When I shop the cheapo comic bins at a comic convention and need easy access to my collection inventory, I take it. This started as a luxury splurge for me, but it has become a daily tool of my life.

The counter argument I see over and over, in blog posts, in Facebook or FriendFeed comments when someone talks about the Kindle is something of the form: “I don’t want one because it is closed. I don’t want to have to buy all my books from Amazon.” I’ll give folks credit for not deliberately telling falsehoods, but that type of statement is not factual. You aren’t required to buy all your books from Amazon. You can put arbitrary documents on there from a variety of sources. I certainly do, and I’d imagine that practically every person that owns a Kindle has something on there that they didn’t purchase from Amazon.

I justified my Kindle purchase because in preparing for Reality Break interviews I get electronic copies of books. Sometimes these are prerelease manuscripts the author sends me, or electronic copies of a released book or in the case of Baen Books sometimes it is just temporary access to their Webscription catalog. Regardless of the path, I get ebook versions of a book I need to read to conduct an interview. Previously this required either reading on my laptop or printing out the book. I went to Dragon*Con 2008 with a giant stack of loose page printouts of books from Mur Lafferty and Tobias Buckell. It was a huge drag trying to read these things while standing in line or sitting in a restaurant with pages spilling everywhere. At that con, I thought “This would be so much easier with a Kindle.” Before the next year’s con, I did in fact own a Kindle.

In my seven months as a Kindle user, I have purchased exactly five books from Amazon for it: Gus Hansen’s Every Hand Revealed, Anthony Artis’ The Shut Up and Shoot Documentary Guide, Scott Kirsner’s Fans, Friends And Followers , Paul Melko’s The Walls of the Universe and Douglas Rushkoff’s Life Inc. In each case, the purchase process was simple and downright pleasant. I bought most of those from the regular Amazon web page but the Artis book I made a point of buying it from the Kindle itself as an experiment. Both ways of purchasing were equally easy and without issue.

I’ve paid Amazon around $60 (not all of these were the $9.99 price). However, I have hundreds of books on my Kindle. How did I get them? The first day after I bought it, I downloaded my entire library from Fictionwise and transferred it to the device. Because with Fictionwise you can choose a preferred format of books, I changed mine to MOBI and in 5 minutes had every book, short story and magazine that I had ever purchased with Fictionwise on my Kindle, in native format at that. Very sweet and easy.

It doesn’t stop there. I did an experiment where I took the first page of my recommendation list from the newly revived AlexLit site (I’ve had an account on there for 12 years!) and for every book that is in the public domain, I went and downloaded it from Project Gutenberg. That put another few dozen books on there, all for no cost and without any intervention from Amazon. I put them on via USB so I’m not paying the $0.10 per document to have them transferred. Even if I had transferred them at a dime apiece, that would have been $2.50 or so.

Add to this, I keep on my Kindle two text files related to my comic book collection. I take the data dump of my collection and my wishlist from ComicBookDB, run them through a formatting program and put the resulting text file on my Kindle. At Heroes Con, Dragon*Con and XCon, when I dug through the 3/$1 bins I had my electronic wishlist at the ready. If I wasn’t sure whether I had a specific issue, I’d switch over to my collection inventory to double check. It has a geeky irony to be using an ebook reader to handle my purchasing of paper comic books but it works out well.

These are just a couple of sources of books that one can use to get books for Kindle without paying Amazon. There is no definition of a “closed system” that this fits. One can argue that if such a proportion of my reading is non-Amazon why didn’t I get a different device? Fair enough question. In my case, I fiddled with a Sony Reader and just didn’t like it that much. I considered waiting for some cheaper Korean knockoffs but if my cheapo MP3 players are any indication, the spec sheets will tell one story while the actually usability is a whole different thing. I like the wireless access and I use it a little, for mobile tweeting and yelping and the like. It’s not good enough to do that iPhone/Blackberry thing of ignoring everyone else at the table but it is good enough to use Twitter to find parties at a SF convention. That’s good enough for me. It might be enough for you too. I’m not asking people to love the Kindle – everyone makes this decision for themselves. I am asking people to use valid and factual arguments when making the case for or against the device.

And while I’m on it, let me point to a dishonorable mention in Kindle criticism, here is a piece at Suvudu by Joe Schreiber, which includes this risible line:

If you own a Sony Reader or a Kindle, and you are able to use this amazing device to read hundreds of pages while its soft blue glow exhales into your eyes, well, big ups. I’m very glad for you.

That’s a clear indicator that Joe has determined these devices won’t work for him without ever actually being in the room with one. They don’t glow. That’s kind of the whole point of e-ink, my friend. It doesn’t glow, is opaque and easier on the eyes. It’s why we pay a premium for black and white e-ink devices when LCD are easy and cheap – it uses less power and is easier on the eyes for long haul reading. It’s OK to not like the device, but you should criticize it on aspects it actually has.

Update: I forgot a few other sources of books on my Kindle, all non-Amazon. I purchased the amazing King Dog by Ursula K. Le Guin from Book View Cafe, which is another up and coming source of electronic texts. I also purchased The Definitive ANTLR Reference from Pragmatic Programmers, which was more than a standard Kindle book at $24 but also cheaper than the paper version and allows me to download in MOBI, PDF or ePub but also tells me when the book has been updated so I can get an updated copy. That’s using the low friction distribution to good effect there.

Technorati Shuts Down OpenID?

I have been using Technorati.com as my OpenID delegate for years now. Just this morning I went to authenticate to something and got a “404, Page Not Found” error from the open ID access page. I know that David Sifry is no longer with them and the company seems to be changing focus more towards some kind of general, mass appeal slick thing, just like Bittorrent.com, Azureus->Vuze, etc. That seems to be the death throes for these interesting projects, is trying in vain for some kind of broad acceptance.

I’m not sure if Technorati has permanently turned off OpenID or just restructured pages without letting people know, but I’m pretty sure that I no longer have much use for it in my life. Oh well, it was a good run. Have fun with whatever it is y’all are trying to do now.

The Return of the MP3 Player

I’ve posted before about my Insignia Sport 4 GB cheapo MP3 player, and also about how I fit it into my podcast listening workflow. I’ve had a few hitches in that but am now in better shape and am happier with my podcast consumption than ever before.

First, for years I’ve been listening in my car via one of those cassette adapters. I get mine for $9 at CVS drugstores. Recently the tape deck in my car died and won’t play either real cassettes or my fake cassette in the adapter. In the year 2009, I’m not shelling out extra money to replace a car cassette deck (or 8 track either for that matter.) I decided to spring for one of those cheapo FM transmitters. This would give me a standard way of working with any car, my own or my wife’s or a rental.

What I did was pick up this cheap ass FM transmitter from Deal Extreme for $7.50. I bought essentially 2 versions of the same thing because I also bought this other similar but not quite identical FM transmitter but it is still unopened. That first one has some kind of crazy thermometer on it which I guess can be interesting to know exactly how hot your car is when you get in it. I’ve been using this for a little over a month and I’m insanely happy with it. It has a USB power input but I just run it off the three AAA batteries in there and never bother with the adapter. I might switch back to that later, as it didn’t work right with the cigarette lighter port doubler but I don’t actually need that now as I’ll get to directly. I bought a big pack of Costco AAA batteries thinking this thing would chew threw them, but I got about a month on the first set.

The other big thing is that after a solid year of pretty much all day every day use, the battery in the Insignia sport had given up. It got to where I couldn’t go all day on one charge, and then to where I could only get to lunchtime, would recharge in my car at lunchtime and then again on the drive home. Finally, it only held about 10 seconds of charge. I’m sure I got at least my 500 cycles in there. What made me insane is that they guy who sits next to me at work had the same player but cracked his screen and I never thought to harvest his battery and eventually he threw it away. Doh! This is why I was using the cigarette lighter doubler, I had the USB power for the FM transmitter and also had to keep the MP3 player plugged in to USB power too. It was quite a pain to have this giant mass of chargers sticking out of my dashboard.

For all the reasons in the first post of mine I linked, I didn’t want to replace this MP3 player. It fits perfectly in my life and I don’t want to find another cheap player that does. Luckily, I found that at Best Buy’s Part Search store (which I had never heard of) you can replace this battery for $19 + shipping. Hell yeah! I dorked around and didn’t order and finally did last week and got the replacement battery a few days ago. I got 2 full days of listening on that first charge and am just now syncing and charging up again. Oh yeah! I no longer have to walk the dog in silence, I actually get some of that good podcast listening that I’m in the market for.

For both of these things, I dropped about $45 in merchandise and shipping and I could have easily saved $10 by only buying one FM transmitter. This has me back in business as good or better than I’ve ever been at a pretty low cost and with backups at that. Color me happy!

Jared Smith Joins ReadWriteWeb

Congratulations to Jared Smith for his new gig as webmaster for ReadWriteWeb! Jared is active in new media in South Carolina just down the road in Charleston and is a strong player in their scene. He’s been a strong participant in the Carolinas, having presented at hte BlogHer make-up day that Kelby Carr and I assembled in Greensboro NC last fall and last year’s CREATE South.

This is a great gig for Jared and I’m looking forward to great things from him. Now I want to see the first occurrence of “Your Disaster Advantage!” on RWW. Let’s light this candle!

Media Multitasking and the Fast Twitch Impulse

I saw on FriendFeed that Howard Rheingold pointed to this study from Stanford about attention and mixed media. The basic idea is that people that are high multi-taskers in media consumption find it harder to do tasks that require discriminating things that are important from that are irrelevant.

At the risk of cherry picking the first data point that supports my position, this is exactly the sort of thing I’ve been pushing back on lately. My gut feeling from my own life is that the attempt to stay up on the most recent information from FriendFeed / Twitter / the blogosphere / et al is an endless treadmill that burns a lot of time and energy but doesn’t make me any happier. I’ve been talking about wanting to be more mindful in my life, and I describe iPhones and Blackberrys as “anti-mindfulness devices.” They are built to take you away from where you are and put you somewhere else.

Last weekend, without any particular plan, I mostly stayed away from those sources. I used the computer but I wasn’t particularly paying attention to the data feeds. More and more I feel the need to take time off from the attempt to stay current. The bits of data that I *really* need to know real-time is pretty small. Severe weather, trafific and road closures, where my friends are having lunch. That’s about it. I’d be surprised if there were more than 1 in 1000 posts on Slashdot or Boing Boing for which my quality of life would actually be affected whether I read it now, next week or never. In fact Ryan on Signal Vs. Noise recently posted (I’ll quote the post in its entirety since it is one sentence long:)

How many of these supposedly important blog posts and industry articles actually make me better at what I do?

I’m not sure where this line of thinking is heading me and I’m not in any hurry to get there. What I really need is a better data valet system that will manage these things for me and bubble them up based on importance to me. My very first big project I wrote in Java back in grad school was an information crawler that allowed you to specify search terms and a weight on them, and would then crawl web pages and usenet to find matching information and sort them by this fitness function. I’d be looking for something like that that takes all my social networking information feeds, RSS feeds and whatever arbitrary information feeds, collates them and sorts them for me. Bits and pieces of this exist, but I’d really love to have an overall holistic manager of the whole incoming noosphere. What I really want is something like the mythical Apple Knowledge Navigator. Let’s make that happen, internet.

FriendFeed, Facebook and the Insider Logroll

Yesterday the news broke that Facebook has acquired Friendfeed. It’s way early in the process of figuring out what this means going forward, but until it is proven otherwise to me, I’m assuming that there is nothing good in this for me. I like FriendFeed as it is and have been touting it for over a year as the antidote to the things that suck about Twitter. Shades of the buyout of I Want Sandy which shortly led to that very useful service getting shut down. My expectation that is the fate that is in store for FriendFeed. If it still around this time next year, I’ll admit that my gut feeling is wrong but that is where my gut compass currently points.

The reaction to this buyout shows the true polarization of the insiders and outsiders in the online world. There were basically two reactions to this news: 1) “Oh boy, it is doubtful that this is good for me as a user of FriendFeed” and 2) “I’m happy for the founders and investor who got to cash out.” The second reaction is common in these kinds of buyouts and it drives me crazy.

I don’t have any emotions for the founders of FriendFeed or their personal lives and bank accounts. They built something that is useful in my life, I used it daily and by my use, I was one of the many who byte by byte built the value that they later realized in a cash payout. The “this is great for the founders” view is something useless to me. If you are one of those couple of hundred or thousand Silicon Valley types who hang out in these social circles then good for you. One of your own made good. For the tens or hundreds of thousands of users of FriendFeed not in that circle, things aren’t looking so good. How about you insiders try to make the next one of these work without the broader online public and see how that works for you? If y’all are so happy, try being the only users of these things from now on. For myself, I am looking for good stewards of my online life yet over and over again, finding those I entrust lacking.

I’ve gotten tired of feeling milked by these things. I’m tired of integrating these things into my life and then having them pulled out from under me. I repeat, we don’t know that is happening here. If it does, this is a cut that won’t heal soon. I’ve built up enough Web 2.0 antibodies to become resistant to their idea viruses. The burden of proof that I should spend my time on any new whizzy thing will have been raised and my skepticism will become that much more solidified.

FriendFeed, Facebook, don’t screw me on this. If you pull an I Want Sandy style shutdown, you are closing the door on an era.

My Projects and Action Items from Balticon

I walked away from Balticon in May with a list of things to do. I had three primary ideas/ action items. I’ll lay them out as ideas. Anyone that wants to take these ideas and run with them, go for it. I’d much rather see them exist in the world than be a Dave ™ branded project that never happens.

1) Push the Creative Commons licensing of science fiction conventions events.

I’d like to see every discussion panel at the least be Creative Commons licensed , something like BY/NC/SA type. At Balticon, there were sessions getting recorded but it wasn’t every single one. It was pretty ad hoc. Thomas Gideon recorded and published one session we were on, but that wasn’t universal. There are panels I missed that I’d like to be able to hear. If the con can’t do it, I’d love to have an audience recording at the very least.

The discussions surrounding these are just stultifying. I went through it in 2006 when I recorded panels I was on at Orycon and I really got sick of negotiating with the panelists and crowd every single time. It’s a public event on the record in front of an audience. Make it CC licensed and let anyone do anything they want up to the limits of that license. Maybe authors doing readings would push back, as would filkers doing concerts and such. Let’s start somewhere and make every panel CC, please and we can work out the details of other forms of events later. Science Fiction cons with a heavy nerd liberty focus should take the lead on this and go for it.

2) Create an outreach program from podcasters to working published writers

This is actually happening now, taking the form of a panel at Dragon*Con. I hope it goes further and maybe becomes more formalized into things like workshops at the Nebula weekend or bigger SF cons, etc. Balticon had a big new media track and a big SF/fantasy literature track with a tiny amount of overlap between the two. It’s my belief that the two groups have an enormous amount to offer each other. The fiction podcasters have a tookit and new modes of interaction with ones work and ones audience to bear. Published working writers have access to the ways one can actually make money by writing. I’m sure that both groups would be stronger for interacting more and teaching each other what they know. I’d love to see higher professional standards in podcast fiction and more empowerment and ownership of the relationship with ones fans from the published writers.

For those who want to participate and shop up at this panel, I’ve created a Facebook event and am trying to turn the wall for that event into a psudeo-community to discuss the panel and the ideas behind it. Feel free to spread it around, particularly into communities of writers who might be attending Dragon*Con. I’m trying my damnedest to be of service to the writing community, so having writers participate is pretty much the minimum to make this work.

3) Digital Divide Bridging Widget

This came out of a conversation with Emil Volchek and is the one I cannot possibly do myself. I want to create a device that one can put in urban areas to bridge the digitial divide. The idea is that you have a box with an ethernet port, a wifi card and a low power FM transmitter. There would exist a basic web service that would allow one to configure and manage this device, which would have a unique account and periodically check in with the service. On the box would be a minimal podcatcher and a minimal MP3 player. The box would get files down, and play them out via the low power FM transmitter.

You can get fancier with this, like allowing for certain shows played at certain times, restreaming of other feeds when there isn’t already a scheduled show playing, playing the X newest files in a rotation, etc. In essence, this would be taking the power of podcasting and putting it back out in a low tech manner accessible to those without computers, without internet and without MP3 players. Practically everyone has access to an AM/FM radio of some form or another.

Imagine downtown in some city with municipal wifi. With a power source and a little height, you are done. With a little bit of management, you have a neighborhood FM station. Assuming that you have at least one person connected enough to manage the device, they could also do a local interest podcast and subscribe to their own show and rebroadcast it over the FM. It takes a lot of the power we talk about for the infotopia and puts it where it matters, to the people whose lives might be affected by this. It also allows for a counterbalance to the Clear Channelization of radio. As stations were bought up and homogenized, the amount of local relevance on the radio diminished. By doing this, you can create hyperlocal radio and push it out to your neighborhood. Rock on!

I don’t know what such a beast would cost, but I’d think with an Arduino and some off the shelf components, it could be in the low hundreds. Assume that the transmitter doesn’t need to reach more than say a 1 mile radius or even smaller and it might be feasible to do. Any hardware hackers out there who want to tackle this project?

Blogging’s Midlife Crisis

Regional compatriot Ed Cone has an interesting post from a few days ago, republishing his column from the Greensboro News and Record. In it, he ponders blogging a decade in. It’s too late to be the avant garde and too early to be the new mainstream. The interesting thing is that the restless malaise he describes is very much how I feel about podcasting and my role in it. I continue to struggle to identify where my place is and how I feel about it as time goes on. This is very much worth a read.

My Favorite Tweet

My disinterest in Twitter has been pretty documented on this blog. I stopped using it some time ago. I still see people’s tweets via FriendFeed but I couldn’t care less if the service disappeared tomorrow.

That said, here is my favorite tweet of all time. It rolls up everything I liked about Twitter and everything I hate about it in one convenient package.

Rip: A Remix Manifesto: FAIL!

I saw some references to Rip: A Remix Manifesto (probably on Lessig’s blog, I forget) and it sounded interesting and right down the line with my political beliefs. I went to the site and see they are doing an “open source film tour.” OK, interesting. You have to create an account to book a showing and download the film. Hmmm, OK, I created an account. Then I went to look around the site. I see the download page but it is always empty. I clicked around and at one point I got this message:

NOTE: You must accept the screening agreement in order to have your event approved and published. Please click the checkbox next to ‘I have read and agree to the terms of the B-Side Screening Agreement,’ and submit your event.

They want to approve my event? That is, I may have gone this far without a guarantee that I’ll be able to even go forward with this? This isn’t really fitting my particular vision of what an openness entails. In fact, about this point I realized that I have stopped giving a shit about this movie, I don’t want to hold a screening, I don’t want to download it and I’m not really interested in watching it or attending anyone else’s screening. My window of interest, that period where I was willing to grant this project of few hours of my very scarce time, has now closed.

You can talk the open talk all you want but when actions are out of line with that, I stop wanting to be involved. If you want the upside of “open source” you have to accept the loss of control that comes with it. What this looks like to me is a compromise that is the worst of all worlds.

Put another way, using the lyrics of the Clash:

But, you grow up and you calm down and
You’re working for the clampdown
You start wearing the blue and brown and
You’re working for the clampdown
So you got someone to boss around
It makes you feel big now

Kindle Edition of Fans, Friends and Followers

It’s “credit where credit is due” time. A few days I blogged about what seemed odd to me, that Scott Kirsner’s book Fans, Friends and Followers: Building an Audience and a Creative Career in the Digital Age was not available in a Kindle edition. I emailed him and asked in so many words “What’s with this, bro?” We had an exchange to the effect that he would work on it. Well, he emailed me today to let me know that the book is now available in a Kindle edition. Even sweeter, that version is only $7.99, a few bucks cheaper than even the direct download from him.

In order to be as good as my word, I bought it immediately. It’s the second book I bought and for this I decided to try out purchasing from the device itself. It was a very easy and satisfying process. It only took a few seconds to find it (the unique last name didn’t hurt), a few seconds to make the purchase and the book was already downloaded as soon as I went to look for it in my shelf. All good. Now I’m looking forward to reading the thing. Thanks, Scott Kirsner and thanks Dave Kellett for originally bringing this to my attention.