18th century letters

Mitch Ratcliffe writes that weblogs are like 18th century letters, a social form in which the literate class wrote to each other expecting to be circulated and published.
Mitch’s perspective on this feels right to me. Some people use weblogs as diaries. I use the weblog to publish letters. Most blog entries here, including the book reviews and news commentary, were things that I was already writing and sending to one or two friends by email. The blog lets me share those thoughts with more people without committing spam.

Decentralization

The Supernova conference organized by Kevin Werbach, is getting started this morning in California.
The shindig is about decentralization — open spectrum, weblogs, WiFi, web services — new forms of decentralized communications, emergent social organization, and grass-roots content that will take down the dinosaurs of industrial bureaucracy and the behemoths of mass media and telecom. I have friends and colleagues at the conference; it sounds like the discussions are going be interesting and clever and fun.
The innovation up for discussion is real.
And the optimistic technological determinism is giving me the willies.
Because, while we’re developing and promoting all of this cool decentralized software and communications, there are:

  • people using centralized money to maintain and increase oligopolies on content and communications
  • people using centralized power trying to turn our country into a totalitarian state, with secret trials and searches without warrants and digital surveillance departments headed by convicted felons
  • people using decentralized power trying to kill people who look like us, trying to destabilize our society, and succeeding

Meanwhile, we’re feeling smart, and socially connected, and politically pretty powerless.
We need organization, with all of the decentralized and centralized tools and methods available to us, online and on the ground, and we need it now.

South Asian bluegrass…

Caught a fun show at the Clay Pit this weekend, with Ganesh, a percussionist visiting from Madras, India, who has played with Max Roach, Zakir Hussein, Glen Velez and is currently recording with both Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and the Violent Femmes.
The musicians on stage had varying levels of fluency in traditional Indian and Middle Eastern classical music, bluegrass, blues, jazz, rock, and country music. They improvised in various combinations of the musical genres; the audience and the musicians were all having fun.
Very Austin.

& & & ! !

Have run into several pseudo-debates today about the relative benefits of websites and e-mail. The answer is both.
Mitch Ratcliffe cites an argument between Mark Hurst, who argues that email is better than weblogs, and John Robb over at Userland who argues in favor of weblogs.
Meanwhile, John Robb cites Ray Ozzie, who argues in an Infoworld interview that people ignore collaboration tools and portals because they aren’t as “natural” as phone, fax, and e-mail.
“Natural” has nothing to do with it. Right tool for the job has everything to do with it.
When you’re trying to reach another human immediately, you phone, fax, email (or IM). Why waste time browsing a web site when you just want to talk to Ed?
But when you want to talk to a person whom you haven’t spoken in a while, you probably look up their website first. You don’t call Ed and ask, “Ed, are you still working as Director of the Do-Gooders Coalition?” You look up the Do-Gooders’ coalition website first, and when you talk to Ed, you congratulate him on the success of their recent fundraiser.
Ratcliffe is respectful about Hurst’s advocacy of push email vs. pull websites but with all due respect, I think the point is ridiculous. Email is wonderful AND you don’t want all of the information in the universe piling up in your email box! Some things are important enough to deserve regular attention, and you want to receive them by email. Other things are interesting, but can wait till you go fetch them.
The tools work best together.

  • Email can be used for discussion and for immediate call to action.
  • Weblogs are good for keeping in touch on a daily basis
  • Websites can be used to support research and follow-up collaboration.
  • Both. And.

    Who’s paying the bills?

    There’s an ongoing weblog conversation about whether bloggers need to disclose who’s paying the bills when they express an opinion on a subject, just like other journalists, pundits, consultants, and miscellaneous public figures.
    The debate was sparked by Mobius, a PR event to tout Microsoft’s latest PDA technology. Recognizing that bloggers influence opinion, Microsoft invited bloggers to the event.
    As I wrote in correspondence to Mitch Ratcliffe, who’s been ranting on the topic lately, “Of course bloggers are subject to influence by whoever’s paying the bills!! Anyone who thinks for a moment should realize it– marketers have been co-opting grass roots movements for decades. What product was John Lennon’s Imagine used to shill again? Remember the Pepsi Generation? Who is sponsoring the latest Extreme sports competition?
    For a historical perspective on the co-option of grassroots movements by marketers, take a look at Commodify Your Dissent!
    Disclosure: I’ve seen and heard multiple reviews, articles and interviews by and about the Baffler crowd, but I haven’t read the whole book.

    Fake people

    Microsoft is getting a lot of well-deserved mockery for its astroturf ad campaign about a person who switched from Mac to Windows. Unfortunately, the woman in the phony testimonial looked suspiciously like a certain PhotoDisk model.
    For some reason, web hosting services seem to be especially drawn to the use of fake people in their marketing, this when people don’t use the najlepszy hosting agencies. I was looking for a new host for alevin.com, and noticed that many hosting services seem to advertise their discount plans with pictures of cheesy, fake-looking people . Meanwhile, there is no information to be found about any real managers or tech-support humans at the company.
    Why does anyone think people are fooled by this? Whenever I see pictures of fake people, I imagine surly, disheveled employees in a basement somewhere, surrounded by cigarette butts in cups of day-old coffee scum.
    By the way, I signed up with Cornerhost , which has the advantage of being run by a real person.