Monthly Archives: March 2009

It was so nice to have a break…

I recently Twittered that I thought spam levels were going up again (I correlated that with moving to the States in January) and, well, I was right about the increase but wrong about the reason: Spammer are rebuilding their infrastructure (NYT).  Here we go again. I do agree with the Gmail assessments in the comments – very few spam messages in my gmail account, and as far as I know, no false positives.

Time to look at filtering through Gmail, especially since more and more ISPs block outgoing SMPT packets (i.e., port 25) which forces me to use Gmail anyway.

Imagine a world where we wouldn’t need locks and passwords…talk about something that would reduce global warming…

Wikipedia as a city

Good article comparing Wikipedia’s development and life as that of a city by Noam Cohen, drawing on Lewis Mumford’s description of how a city comes to be:

Since their creation, cities have had to be accepting of strangers — no judgments — and residents learn to be subtly accommodating, outward looking.

Mumford elaborates: “Even before the city is a place of fixed residence, it begins as a meeting place to which people periodically return: the magnet comes before the container, and this ability to attract nonresidents to it for intercourse and spiritual stimulus no less than trade remains one of the essential criteria of the city, a witness to its essential dynamism, as opposed to the more fixed and indrawn form of the village, hostile to the outsider.”

The marvel of Wikipedia — and cities — is that all the intercourse and spiritual stimulus don’t make living there impossible. Rather, they are exactly what makes living there possible.


It is this sidewalk-like transparency and collective responsibility that makes Wikipedia as accurate as it is. The greater the foot traffic, the safer the neighborhood. Thus, oddly enough, the more popular, even controversial, an article is, the more likely it is to be accurate and free of vandalism. It is the obscure articles — the dead-end streets and industrial districts, if you will — where more mayhem can be committed. It takes longer for errors or even malice to be noticed and rooted out. (Fewer readers will be exposed to those errors, too.)

Like the modern megalopolis, Wikipedia has decentralized growth. Wikipedia adds articles the way Beijing adds neighborhoods — whenever the mood strikes. It is open to all: the sixth-grader typing in material from her homework assignment, the graduate student with a limited grasp of English. No judgments, no entry pass.

That simple and that beautiful…

Good survey of web business models

image Box UK, has a very complete survey of web business models. My concept of business models (though for information content and services, not just services) on the web was four: Free, ad-supported, subscription or some form of micropayment (Skype, I would say, is the largest user of this concept, though they pull it off a regularly replenished account).

This site expands that classification a bit, including things like taking payemnt for physical products and letting the service follow the product (which more and more electronics manufacturers do). What strikes me is that there really is nothing new here – all the business models have been around since time immemorial, something the media industries of the world should take note of.

The answer for more and more of the granulated information providers of the world lies in moving either towards the user (becoming, essentially, an integrated part of the user’s information need, such as Bloglines) or to step further from the individual information consumer, becoming a source of content for others to fight over. Paying a license, of course.

Anyway, a good list, and a good survey. Check it out.

(Via Chris Anderson of Wired.)

Shirky on newspapers

Clay Shirky, the foremost essayist on the Internet and its boisterous intrusion into everything, has done it again: Written an essay on something already thoroughly discussed with a new and fresh perspective. This time, it is on the demise of newspapers – the short message is that this is a revolution, and saving newspapers just isn’t going to happen, because this is, well, a revolution:

[..]I remember Thompson [in 1993] saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days.


Revolutions create a curious inversion of perception. In ordinary times, people who do no more than describe the world around them are seen as pragmatists, while those who imagine fabulous alternative futures are viewed as radicals. The last couple of decades haven’t been ordinary, however. Inside the papers, the pragmatists were the ones simply looking out the window and noticing that the real world was increasingly resembling the unthinkable scenario. These people were treated as if they were barking mad. Meanwhile the people spinning visions of popular walled gardens and enthusiastic micropayment adoption, visions unsupported by reality, were regarded not as charlatans but saviors.


That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.

And so it is today. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

That simple. He draws the line back to the Gutenberg printing press and the enormous transition that caused – much more chaotic that you would think with 500 year hindsight.

Highly recommended. And another piece of reading for my suffering students….

In defense of serious journalism

James Warren delivers the best defense for traditional newspapers I have yet to read, in The Atlantic. Interestingly, he singles out The Economist as one of the outlets that have done well in the face of the online onslaught. In Norway, the same thing has happened – the few papers that see increasing circulation are the quality niche papers, such as Morgenbladet and the extremely left wing Klassekampen, both of them niche publications that to some extent have shed their political affiliation and instead opened for quality journalism with opinions attached.

I feel encouraged that this is the way forward. Why waste paper on anything that isn’t high quality?

Update March 16: Linked from the same page: The potential disaster for investigative journalism, another good article, by James Warren. Methinks we need to look into funding of investigative journalism outside the subsidy model. Funny, I remember giving a talk about the decoupling of ads and content to Dagbladet, a Norwegian newspaper that is now in dire straits, in August 2000, and by then this wasn’t even news…