Heckle and Jeckle

Heckle and Jeckle

Magpie is troubling: “Allow us to embed our customers’ messages (aka spam?) in your Twitter timeline and earn money. Crass and inauthentic. Hoping anyone who signed up to have their Twitter feed hijacked by advertisers/spammers is thinking twice – Magpie will only work with adoption. I learned about this “service” from a post at ReadWriteWeb: “It’s so revolting and pitiful that it’s kind of sad.”

Should this really bother me? Well, yeah – I’ve invested much of the last two decades in my life online, and some significant percentage of that time evangelizing for an Internet that doesn’t go where commercial television, ultimately, went: ads interspersed with content. We’re not even sure that advertising works, certainly less so than before. At least with placement services like Google the ads have been subtle and generally out of the way. A redundant ad message popping up on every third tweet at Twitter would be rather completely unsubtle, potentially killing the goose.

In my life as a consultant, much of what I do is advise how to use the web to meet various business goals, and that’s often about making money, including sales, marketing, and advertising. If someone like Apple or Skype (users of the Magpie service) asked me about feeding canned ad messages into Twitter via Magpie, I would say “you’ll piss people off.” The weird and unfortunate thing about this kind of inauthentic brute force advertising is that, while it often does piss people off, it also somehow manages to increase sales. If statistics didn’t show that result, nobody would do it. All advertising would be tasteful and wonderful, authentic and well-placed. It’s a dilemma.

(In case you’re wondering about the title of this post, it’s a reference to the once-famous cartoon magpies.)

That buzzing sound…

Geographers are researching buzz, according to this New York Times article (thanks to the phenomenal Oliver Markley for the pointer). They’re creating a study and an exhibit, both called “The Geography of Buzz,” and in the process finding that buzz is hard to define explicitly. “Rather, like pornography, you know it when you see it.”

As a digital guy, I looked for the tech implications:

… the geo-tagging represents a new wave of information that can be culled from sites like Flickr and Twitter. “We’re going to see more research that’s using these types of finer-grained data sets, what I call data shadows, the traces that we leave behind as we go through the city….They’re going to be important in uncovering what makes cities so dynamic.”

“People talk about the end of place and how everything is really digital. In fact, buzz is created in places, and this data tells us how this happens.”

The geographers have some very cool buzz maps.

BarCamp Austin 2009

From its first year, I was committed in principle to BarCamp Austin but couldn’t quite seem to get away from SXSW Interactive long enough to make the scene. This year I made 100% commitment to go. Steve Golab of FG Squared wanted me to join him in a talk about Austin’s potential as a hub of the social media world. We grabbed a slot, but Steve had an emergency and had to leave before we spoke, so my friend Tom Brown stepped in to help, and I changed the presentation to something more general: how do you make a scene that involves diverse cultures and communities – the Open Source geeks, the Chamber of Commerce suits, the Bootstrappers and all the people brewing businesses from ideation through valley of death to growth? We talked a lot about the potential of coworking to bring voices from all these communities together in synergistic conversations. We were getting close to thoughts about solutions (with contributions from Sherry Lowry, Julie Gomoll, and others) but a half hour’s not along time. I’d love to continue that conversation somewhere.

Algae Biofuels Summit

Here’s a conference for “communities in the algae biofuels value chain,” including “power plant operators, industrial carbon generators, algae technology developers, algae equipment suppliers, algae project developers, biofuels refiners, financiers, carbon market players, oil companies, airlines, aircraft and engine manufacturers.”

…the goal of the Summit is to provide a forum where the algae community can discuss and learn how to build the links within the value chain that are necessary to make the algae biofuels industry a reality.

Shopocalypse now: be mindful

Gary Gach considers how Buddha would approach consumer Christmas: “We should be trying to base contentment on being, rather than having. Then the question of buying that fourth shirt or that new gizmo on display might be dwarfed by the prospect of creating more space in one’s life by donating your extra stuff. When tempted to bite the hook of despair over seeming scarcity in one’s life or in the world, try practicing generosity instead.” He menntion’s Reverent Billy’s motto: “love is a gift economy. Pass it along.”

The Buddha’s critique of mindless craving and needless suffering pinpoints the precise moment during which real pleasure becomes abstract desire – the want to want. In our addictive culture of capitalism, it’s the exact same vital acupressure point that our basic market economy capitalizes on. “Don’t get hooked,” the Buddha says. Remember the hungry ghost, craving more and more of what can never satisfy.

The alarms were working, but nobody was hearing

I was surprised that anyone else was surprised at the economic meltdown, because I thought I’d been hearing for many, many months that the fan was spinning hard and the shit was in the air, hurtling fanward. It seemed that that the alarms were firing full blast, but everybody was listening to very loud, very pleasant music through earbuds planted deep in their ears, and they couldn’t quite hear.

Jay Rosen on Twitter just posted a link to an article in American Journalism Review called “Unheeded Warnings,” which says “well before this year’s economic collapse, business journalists shined a spotlight on serious problems in the U.S. economy. But regulators and members of the public didn’t pay much attention.”

The business media in 2008 serve as a welcome scapegoat for those who simply want to ignore their own culpability in the financial meltdown. But it’s a bad rap. Gone since the tech bubble burst in 2000 are the flattering CEO profiles and the touting of Internet companies with no revenue. The business media have done yeoman’s work during the past decade-plus to expose wrongdoing in corporate America. In fact, a review of the top business publications in the country shows that they blanketed the major issues, from subprime loans to adjustable-rate mortgages to credit derivatives, that caused so much economic pain.

This is followed by an overview of some of the coverage. A bazillion stories referenced the “housing bubble” The Wall Street Journal warned for years about potential problems with Fannie and Freddie, such as a story in 2003 that included this bit of intelligence: “Far from the sleepy mortgage company of its carefully cultivated reputation, Freddie Mac in recent years has evolved into a giant, sophisticated investment company, running a business laden with volatility and complexity. That change has sent risks soaring, not just for investors but for U.S. taxpayers, who likely would be on the hook if the federally chartered company stumbled.” The New York Times had a 2004 piece called “A Coming Nightmare of Home Ownership?” that said “the most damaging legacy of Fannie Mae’s years of unchecked growth may not be evident until the next significant economic slump,” and another that said “If the company encounters serious setbacks, the impact on homeowners and the world’s financial markets could be unpleasant.”

Quite a bit more in the article, which gets to the key question – why after all this did the collapse of the housing market seem so shocking?

Andrew Leckey, director of the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at Arizona State University, compares the situation to an unwanted Christmas present wrapped in shiny paper and a bow: Nobody wants to open it up to see what’s inside. The reading public wants to read only what it wants to believe. Brauchli agrees: “The notion that the business press wasn’t paying attention is wrong, and the assertion that we were asleep at the switch is wrong. We were attentive. We were aggressive. We were aware. We wrote abundantly. But it is very hard to get the public’s attention for stories warning of complex financial risks in the middle of a roaring, populist bull market.”