Set it Off

Doc Searls has always been my favorite “A-list blogger.” Part of what I like about him so much is how uncomfortable he is with that tag. Famous people who love to be famous for its own sake have a strong tendency to be assholes, so I like my famous people to have a certain amount of reservations about it. In a recent post, Doc went off on Nick Carr about A-listiness. Preach on, Brother Searls!

It’s weird how people talk and write about the blogosphere (and by slight extension, the podosphere and vlogosphere and other other citizen media -osphere). There are basically two tones one can take. 1) Breathless euphoria about the burgeoning infotopia at hand (think, anything Christopher Lydon ever says on the subject.) 2) An odd mix of fear at the lack of hierarchy and/or assertion that the hierarchy is there and this is just like old media (think, every single story ever done by major news media about blogs, vlogs or podcats). My thinking puts reality square in the middle – blogging and podcasting are useful tools and have been positive forces in my life but let’s not get too crazy. They haven’t transformed my life into something different, they have added a little to what is already there. New media is not governed by the rules of old media, and despite how many lazy reporters assert that the goal of every blogger or podcaster is to get famous and millions of fans, it is a patent lie.

Big media says that because big media is projecting their goals on citizen media and cannot imagine anyone having goals that differ from theirs. That someone might sit down and record a podcast or write a blog regularly, have 120 listeners or readers and be completely content with that is mind-fryingly weird to them. They cannot mention it without condescension or derision because of their own failures of imagination and vision. Blogs and ‘casts scale up and down, and while big media understands scaling up they lose it when it comes to scaling down. If MSNBC was offered the chance to have their ratings cut to 25,000 viewers but be of so much relevance to those fewer viewers as to completely alter their lives to their wild betterment, they couldn’t do it. We can. Ponder that dynamic, big media, and when you begin to understand that then perhaps you are in position to write or tape your story. Unless and until then, shut the fuck up about citizen media because you fail to grasp the one insight that makes us all do what we do. When you do a story without grasping it you are really reporting about yourselves and your own fears, not us.

Seeing and Hearing

Here’s some stuff lately that has interested me, bothered me or amused me in citizen media.

Today’s episode of Rocketboom mostly reruns this thing some guys in Berlin did where they stuck a projector outside a train and showed movies on the subway walls. Although the project is kind of cool, I think the actual execution was grotesquely irresponsible. A train pulls up, this guy sticks a metal case to the outside of a car and then it takes off. I would like to think that had I seen him do this, I’d have at least called 911, tried to keep the train from leaving and/or knocked the mother fucker down and held him for the cops. I can’t believe the crowds of people who just watched him do it. I’m all for dadaist street art, but now is not the time to be affixing suspicious looking gear to commuter trains. These guys could have caused the transit system to get shut down or possibly taken a bullet to the head, depending on whether they ran into sufficiently twitchy cops. The stupidity and creation of pointless risk made me too angry to enjoy the art of it.

I watched the first episode of Robert X. Cringely’s new video thingie, Nerd TV. The interview was with Andy Hertzfeld and was pretty interesting. Is it just me, or does Andy look like he could easily be Bruce Sterling’s brother? It’s licensed under Creative Commons, so I suppose if you wanted to take all these shows and edit them into your own non-commercial documentary you could. Pick one topic and just take out the interviews on that point, for example, and create a 30 minute show out of the whole season. That could be quite interesting. It should be pointed out that Cringely now lives about 90 miles south of me in Charleston SC and that they really really need an enclosure feed for the video. They’ve got them for podcasts of the audio, but not for the video. Why not? Am I going to have to scrape my own?

I’ll mention three shows from IT Conversations, two I loved and one I hated. The two I loved:

One was Jason Fried of 37signals giving a talk about the lessons learned building Basecamp. I agree with a lot of the philosophy about doing things cheap, avoiding the pressures of VC money, iterating often, etc. It sounds like all the good stuff of agile development without the woowoo bits of extreme programming that make me itchy.

The other was Doc Searls who talked to Sig Solares, the guy who kept his data center in New Orleans going through the hurricane and flood. It was fascinating on a technical level and horrifying on a human one.

The one I hated was the Larry Magid interview with George Gilder. I’ve heard multiple podcasts with Gilder recently and he strikes me as one of those pundits that people pay attention to but I’m not exactly sure why. Even though I overlap with his opinions on many points (citizen media being a big one), I find listening to him highly annoying. Mostly, his depth of criticism seems to consist of making up goofily insulting nicknames for the things he doesn’t agree with, like “fool cells.” Thank you, Deep Thought. His shallow dismissals for spurious reasons some technologies makes me nervous when I hear him high on technologies I am also high on. It makes me think that maybe I’m actually wrong, if I’m on the same side as him on that point. I heard him on the Gillmor Gang a few weeks ago and had a similar reaction to that.

Both Benjamen Walker and Bazooka Joe had interviews with Dr. Ben Marble, the infamous “Mr. Cheney, go fuck yourself” guy, on Theory of Everything and Small World (no permalink for that episode that I can find) respectively. Usually I fill with disdain at people who do everything to milk a buck out of their 15 seconds of fame, but the guy just lost everything as hurricane Katrina flattened his home and recording studio in Gulfport MS so I guess I’ll give the poor bastard a break.

Insight Strikes Late

Yesterday I had a phone call with Doc Searls (about which he blogs) and while I was giving him some technical podcasting support, at one point we were talking about iTunes as a podcatcher. He was talking about not getting episodes that way for a long time, and I realized something simple. All this time I’ve been pissed off at Apple for screwing up the rollout, I had a stopgap available to me. I added an URL rewriting rule to my Apache setup and now any attempt to fetch the default (Bittorrent) feed by something with a User-Agent that begins with “iTunes” will get the MP3 feed instead. Completely fricking simple and suddenly, it should all work again for everyone, even the ones subscribed to the default feed.

It sucks that I have to do something kludgy like this, but at least folks will not find their subscription to my feed silently fail anymore.