The best breaking news from New Orleans I’ve been able to find…

is from the Times Picayne Breaking News blog. Very local coverage of Hurricane Katrina with updates several times an hour.
Update: The Times Picayune is evacuating their building and they’re not posting right now. WWL-TV is evacuating also. WWL is posting blog-style updates every few minutes.
Update: Also, StormDigest blog coverage is collating original reports from the mainstream media.
A local tv station had been on the air with substantive interviews with local officals interspersed with vacuous tv chatter; the stream isn’t working anymore. Update: they now have CBS broadcasting WWLTV
Best of luck and prayers for the people in New Orleans.

Innovest research shows returns on “natural capitalism”

Doing some homework on alternative energy and sustainable investing, I came across a paper in the Financial Analysts’ Journal using data from Innovest showing superior returns for a portfolio of companies rated highly on environmental metrics.
The difference between this study and earlier research is that green performance is measured, not just by reducing pollution, but by eco-efficiency, “defined as the ratio of the value a company adds (e.g., by producing products) to the waste the company generates by creating that value.” This makes some sense — attention to material efficiency, like supply chain efficiency, would improve a company’s performance.


Imagine a flat panel wall-mounted screen with a very slowly alternating selection from Flickr. The FlickrFrame could come with a remote control that lets you fast forward, pause, and navigate through friends, interesting photos, themes.

flight of the rainbow, Originally uploaded by linny.

Traditional art selection is a commitment. Unless you are wealthy enough to rotate a collection, you get a photo framed or buy a piece of art and live with it for years. The FlickrFrame would provide visual variety without Martha Stewart’s budget.
There are images that are emotional or loud, that I’d want to look at sometime, but not everyday all year long. The FlickrFrame would allow the viewing of jagged and soothing images, without being locked into states of permanent angst or tranquility.
Looking at the Flickr API docs, someone has done a little bit of this with a hack that lets you display Flickr photos on a TIVO. “You can choose to display pictures searching by tags, groups, sets, users or just the most recent photos. This is configured by a GUI on the PC, or command line options for the adventurous.” It doesn’t have the very-slow-rotation feature, and it requires a Tivo.
The idea of transient art is implemented in 3d by the Canvas Gallery, a cafe and gallery in San Franciso that has art for sale or rent. I haven’t seen the model in other places, not sure why. If there is furniture rental, surely there should be art rental.


Thinking about different settings to surf image, it would also be cool to have a Flickr browser for a handheld or screenphone. This would want a similar interface as the FlickrFrame’s remote control, allowing navigation of tags, people, and other streams with a few keypresses and good lookup. Good for meditative time on trains, in line, and other time spent otherwise waiting.
this looks like one way to do it.
Thanks to Peter Kaminski for Flickr-inspired brainstorming.

Neighborhood veggies

The new Farm to Market Grocery on South Congress is a super-convenient and friendly little storefront with fresh organic vegetables from local farms.

It’s not cheap, but it’s better food-per-dollar than takeout, and a fraction of the hassle of Central Market or the Whole Foods theme park, or HEB’s sad little organic produce section.

The veggies are the star of the show, but they also have fridge cases with organic dairy and frozen food, and shelves with packaged staples and condiments.

They also do a fine job with small quantities of fancy treats. A few days ago, I was buying dinner and craving dessert. They had a tiny container of goats-milk ice cream (no photo). Yum. For the money, less volume and more happiness.
Unlike the local Disney-qua-grocer, which requires you to get a permit to take a picture of their displays, the Farm to Market crew were happy to see a customer take snapshots.

Web platforms are as dangerous as desktop platforms, until…

Google maps, Flickr, Ebay, and other web services with APIs are pulling the relevant platform away from the desktop and toward the web.
Still, the network effect of powerful, privately owned web APIs is potentially as dangerous as the network effect of Microsoft’s desktop APIs. On any given day, Google or Ebay have the right to change their APIs and make life difficult for their developers. They have the right to change the terms of service, and increase prices on services that their developers depend on completely.
The lockout effect could be even worse, because Google and EBay own the servers, and changes can take effect in real time. When Microsoft bakes DRM into every copy of Windows, users don’t need to upgrade their PC immediately. But if Google or Ebay changed terms of service, those dependent on the service would need to comply immediately.
Google and Amazon, and Ebay’s big servers are a big deal. A web service can start small. But once service becomes popular, it takes a good amount of capital to complete. Currently, competition between GOOHOO and AMABAY are keeping things lively. But oligopoly could lead to complacency and extractive economics, as in other industries.
The owner of a dominant API/service is in a very powerful position. Google has the ability to adhere to its corporate slogan, “do no evil.” That ethical stance does make a real difference. A powerful ruler can choose to be a benevolent dictator or a tyrant. But the temptation is there for power to corrupt.
I can imagine a way out of this oligopoly bind.
What if there was peer to peer for web service requests. Many small servers could run the popular service, and publish their availability. When a client issues a request, the request would be taken by an available server. This wouldn’t work for services that require a pre-existing content store (like maps?). But it would work for services that require large amounts of individual content (like calendars?).
Maybe the technology already exists somewhere, and is waiting for the killer app. Maybe I’m missing something — this is just musing outloud. What do you think?

“Why can’t I burn a song, even if it’s in my music”

A few days ago, I disagreed with the argument that Yahoo was more closed that Google because Yahoo hosts commercial content. In a “long tail” world, popular content helps attract users and doesn’t displace peer content.
DRM and license terms are more relevant dimensions of open-ness. So long as the Yahoo Music Help section has a page called Why Can’t I Burn a Song, Even If It’s in My Music?, the jury says “closed”.
At the same time, Yahoo’s MediaRSS has the opportunity to be a disruptive technology, coming from the bottom up to change the market share of DRM.
In the words of Wired News, “Niche content creators syndicate their content with an MRSS feed, which includes metadata about the work. The information goes out to subscribers just like a blogger’s RSS feed and incorporates video and audio… Yahoo! made sure MRSS was open and nonproprietary. Thanks to that hands-off policy, MRSS has caught on: Both Google and AOL encourage content creators to use MRSS to help their search engines identify and index video.
Motivated amateur and mid-list music and video producers can syndicate with RSS. Good search engines will get the word out. When this approach starts collecting money (the way blog ads do), less restrictive distribution terms will start gaining market share.

Google kicks open closed IM services

Yowza! How long will it take for Google’s IM and voice chat to meet and surpass the usage of the whole sorry proprietary lot of AIM, Yahoo, and MSN. And how many minutes will it take to open their networks after Google’s announcement?
In a world where you can phone anybody and email anybody and fax anybody, the IM vendors created absurd islands.
Google’s service is based on the open Jabber protocol, unlike Yahoo, which fought and lost a guerrilla war last year against the third-party clients Gaim and Trillian, which patiently reverse engineered the repeated protocol changes that Yahoo used to fend off other clients.
By contrast, Google’s site proudly advertises other clients, including Adium, Gaim, iChat, Psi, and Trillian. The developer site invites developers to build more tools to help more people connect.
The vile AOL terms of service claims that AOL owns the content of its customers’ conversations: “”Although you or the owner of the Content retain ownership of all right, title and interest in Content that you post to any AIM Product, AOL owns all right, title and interest in any compilation, collective work or other derivative work created by AOL using or incorporating this Content.” AOL makes customers agree to those draconian terms, and then has the gall to claim that they don’t really mean it, it’s just boilerplate, the lawyers made us do it.
By contrast, Google’s lawyers know who’s the boss: ” Your Intellectual Property Rights. Google does not otherwise claim any ownership in any of the content, including any text, data, information, images, photographs, music, sound, video, or other material, that you upload or transmit from, or store using, your Google Talk account.”
I look forward to hearing from voice gurus about Google’s choices for security and voice — they’re starting off with XMPP, and adding support for SIP, and are federating with Earthlink and Sipphone service.
Summary — the anybody talks to anybody approach will destroy the island approach. Reed’s Law wins: the utility of large networks, particularly social networks, can scale exponentially with the size of the network.
tip from Chip, who explains that the server supports TLS security to encrypt your words in transit.
p.s. critique from the folks at Techdirt that the Google IM client is missing some important features — it doesn’t save conversation history, and it doesn’t search. It’s hard to imagine that Google will forget search in future versions.
I still think that major provider + open network + developer community will beat the closed islands over time.

PR is listening

I was on a panel last week for the Association for Women in Communications, a group of PR professionals. The topic was blogging in business, and it drew a lively crowd.
Teresa Estrada told the story of IBM’s blogging policy — they’re for it. As IBM becomes more of a services, company, they see blogging as a way of changing the impression of IBM as a faceless behemoth (not her words). She had sensible answers to people’s anxieties about unprofessional behavior.
Sean-Paul Kelly, aka the Agonist gave a fiery talk about how blogs compensate for the failings of mainstream media, and have a symbiotic relationship with mainstream media.
The hot button conversation topics are the ethics of blogging; blogging “vs.” the mainstream media; “getting fired for blogging”.
These topics distract from what seem to me to be the major theme for communications professionals. Blogging turns PR from mostly pitching to mostly listening. You can find out what people are saying about you, and be part of the conversation.
Traditional media (think mediation) is a workaround for the inability to talk to people directly, and to hear what people are saying.

Yahoo personality crisis?

via Peterme, an Economist article argues that Yahoo’s business strategy is contradictory — they want to provide content, and to provide tools for user-generated content.
The Economist’s analysis misses two key points about networked business models.

  • the Long Tail. Chris Anderson rightly argues that businesses providing “niche content” benefit from having popular content as a draw. A shopper might come for ColdPlay and find less popular artists through the recommendations. There’s no conflict, and a lot of benefit, to having a broad spectrum of content from commercial hits through homegrown productions
  • the Lead User. Services like search and blogging and mapping are streamlined for convenience-seeking, mainstream users. At the same time these services have APIs that allow “lead users” to craft more specialized applications that build on these basic services.

The Economist quotes John Battelle to make its point: