Dennis Haarsager's rolling environmental scan for electronic media. "Somebody has to do something, and it's just incredibly pathetic that it has to be us." --Jerry Garcia "Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then." --Bob Seger
More than half the comments to this blog are spam (I delete them before they're published and report them to TypePad). This one from a term paper company is amusing: "It is glad to see this blog, it is good that and detailed fun to read this, nice informative blog, Thanks for share this article." Guess they don't write the term papers they sell. --Dennis
I’ve been meaning to post for quite awhile on a lengthy (30 pp) essay by Pierre Bellanger, Founder and Chairperson of Skyrock, the French-based social network/ radio station (in itself an innovative mash-up). I do a lot of reading in media topics, and think this is the first time I’ve seen Goethe invoked. But what an interesting invocation! He writes:
… As regards the essence of its content, radio is an audio presence. Presence means the co-existence alongside me of another human being with whom I share the present moment. Radio is both about humanity and immediacy. Radio is the audio link between another person and me at the same time. ¶ Therefore, in radio there is an inseparable unity between the present and presence. To understand this better, it is necessary to read Goethe … Goethe wrote to his friend, the musician Zelter, and shared his thoughts on the present and presence which in German are a single word: Gegenwart. ¶ Goethe talks about an intense experience of the moment, a presence in the present and that is radio. It is only worth anything in that moment and in the human intensity which occurs at that moment. ¶ The vector of that experience is sound. …
The essay draws a distinction between just digitizing radio (e.g., HD Radio in the U.S.) and how radio can be something much more in the internet age.
I’ve just ordered Jaron Lanier’s new book, You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto based on a review in Slate by Michael Agger. He writes:
… As near as I can make it out, Lanier's view is that the Web began as a digital Eden. We built homepages by hand, played around in virtual worlds, wrote beautiful little programs for the fun of it, and generally made our humanity present online. The standards had not been set. The big money and the big companies had not yet arrived. Now Google has linked search to advertising. The Internet's long tail helps only the Amazons of the world, not the little guys and gals making songs, videos, and books. Wikipedia, a mediocre product of group writing, has become the intellectual backbone of the Web. And, most depressingly, all of us have been lumped into a "hive mind" that every entrepreneur with a dollar and a dream is trying to parse for profit. …
It seems to be a critique in many ways of how derivative content has become in the Web 2.0 age; how we’re replacing creativity with rehashing what’s come before.
Today’s episode (hour 2) of the NPR program, On Point with Tom Ashbrook is a discussion of the book with guests Lanier and long-time Web visionary (co-author of The Cluetrain Manifesto), David Weinberger. --Dennis
Social media outlets have certainly grabbed a significant share of attention, both from individuals and from organizations hoping to ride what many perceive to be a wave. I participate in three such (or four, if you count blogging), Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook, in declining order of value to me. As this is written, I have 382 "followers" on Twitter, 152 "connections" on LinkedIn, and 264 "friends" on Facebook. This compares to about 800 subcribers that FeedBurner says I have for this weblog. Modest levels all.
What motivates most of my Twitter "followers" is a mystery (in the last few months, some may have come from the follow link below left). They generally come in at a pretty steady clip -- one or two a day, though once in awhile there is a burst of 10-15 in a day. I recognize very few of the IDs. The 86 people I follow are of two types -- a handful people close to me (mostly family) whose tweets I like to get on my phone, and then everyone else who I read mostly using TweetDeck, which helpfully pushes tweets out. Those I follow are mostly favorites from my blogroll -- easier than scanning RSS feeds. No, you can't say much in 140 characters, but that's a good thing.
LinkedIn "connections" are almost entirely people with whom I've had a business relationship. I've used LinkedIn a few times to check "who is this person?" and a couple of times to look for potential hires. It's nice to have but not essential.
Then there's Facebook. Hope I don't come off as a misanthrope for the following -- I'm not -- but here goes...
In contrast to Twitter and LinkedIn, Facebook is increasingly annoying. "That's OK, grandpa," I imagine some of you saying, "it wasn't built for you in the first place." But when I read, as I did this morning in the Financial Times, that social sites are losing popularity with British 15-24's, I wonder if it's something more than what the author supposes is loss of the "cool" factor. Perhaps it's the underlying math of Facebook.
Think about your connections to other people. You have family and dear friends, casual friends, acquaintances, etc. As the circle of "friends" expands, you become less interested, frankly, in the stream of pictures and comments that come from them nor in the growing number of requests to join and support and hug and poke and to offer up your "friends" to causes and the like -- Facebook is full of goofy apps. It's set up like a big chain letter -- or rather a series of them -- only without the threat of harm if you break the chain. It's been ages since I actually did anything on Facebook other than respond to requests.
As your group of "friends" expands beyond your initial core group, you get more and more requests to "friend" new people. The longer you're on Facebook, the more common are requests to "friend" people who you barely know, or maybe met at a conference a long time ago, or in some cases don't recall ever hearing of. Yet they all come with some "friends" in common, so you want to be nice and include them in your circle. Maybe you had a great dinner or served on a committee with them five years ago and just forgot.
So, eventually, it seems that the math of Facebook becomes essentially a Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game where almost everyone can be connected. Management of "friends" and their various requests becomes your primary reason to visit the site, but the value of the site as a true social glue diminishes in proportion to the number of more distant relationships you "friend."
So here's my theory -- feel free to knock it down: The reported declining use among teens and early 20s is because they've been through the "chain letter" earlier than the rest of us and have thus widened their circle of friends already, and that's led to declining value for them.
Oh, hold it... Kevin added you as a a friend on Facebook. We need to confirm that you know Kevin in order for you to be friends on Facebook.
I'm beginning to think of my iPhone with its free Public Radio Tuner app as my "infinite dial," having just had the experience yesterday morning of an early drive from Baltimore to Washington listening to WSIU in Carbondale, IL by simply plugging my iPhone into my car's sound system. [Hint to pubcasters: WSIU's signal that morning was very reliable and sounded great, but the higher bitrates some stations are using contribute no fidelity that you can detect in a car and have many, many more dropouts.]
However, in this case, it refers to a study of this name from Edison Research and Arbitron:
We update the status of radio's new digital platforms (online radio, satellite
radio, HD Radio, and podcasting among others), social networks, online video,
iPhones, and implications for broadcasters, advertisers, and media planners.
They say, for example, that an estimated 69 million Americans listened to online radio in the last month and that weekly online listening (42 million) is up by one-third year over year. The same number of people who listen to internet radio in a month watch internet video in a week (69MM). For satellite and HD Radio, there are awareness data only. Finally, in spite of the rapid growth in internet radio listening, 80% of people say yes to, "In the future, you will continue to listen to AM/FM radio as much as you do now, despite increasing advancements in technology?"
N.B.Many readers know that I'm the Interim CEO at National Public Radio, but this personal blog (now closing out its fifth year) has only a couple of times been used to talk about related things going on at NPR or at my previous workplace. However, since what we're trying to build is so closely related to what I've learned over those five years and earlier, all of which I've shared here, I thought it made sense to share this "private" email to NPR station managers here.
If you're at a public television station or in a non-profit, education or government organization, please read on because this initiative could very well be for you also. So now, I'll quote from this morning's email with only very minor changes. --Dennis
Dear station colleagues,
Happy Monday! With apologies for the length of this,
I’m hoping to stitch together several developments at NPR in the context of
what they mean for the future of your station. It will pay special
attention to connecting a number of developments into a coherent digital
strategy. I am excited about these because I think they can be important
building blocks in lifting all of public radio.
The 90 stations that founded NPR did so because they wanted
to serve the public in a way that could only be achieved through
collaboration. This collaboration has encouraged impartial distribution
of both branded programming (NPR, PRI, APM) and independent productions - in
the intervening 38 years through PRSS and, more recently, PRX.
Distributed hours have grown tremendously over the past four decades. As
we seek to strengthen our relationships in content creation and fundraising, we
must make a strong commitment to reinventing distribution for a new age, or we
will fail to reach the audiences we seek to serve.
Radio will remain strong long after I’m a full-time grandpa,
but the rapid adoption of new digital platforms means we must effectively
utilize these platforms or ultimately witness the erosion of our audience
and economic model. More importantly, the new digital platforms give
greatly expanded opportunities to deliver broader public service, to be
more significant in our communities and nation.
Toward this end, there are now several initiatives on our
plate at NPR. I'll write primarily about a cluster of digital distribution projects from which we will draw to create something we're calling the "Community-Building Initiative," but I also want to mention a news-related one that will benefit from the same initiative.
A “News Network of the Future” (NNoF) is envisioned to provide structure and scale for collaboration in the support
and production of news for all platforms, building on ideas which have already brought promising results to a few stations (e.g., N3, the Northwest News Network);
Three related projects in the category of what I’ll call “distributed distribution” —expanding our ability to reach our listeners better, and expanding and engaging our audience:
The openApplication Provider Interface (API),
The acquisition of Public Interactive (PI), and
The Community-Building Initiative (CBI), which I’ll discuss below.
There have been several digital distribution efforts in
public media in recent years. Leaving out many, I’d like to tip a hat to
a few that have made extraordinary contributions. Independent producer
Stephen Hill showed us that the web can be an important means to serve the
audience, and that they will financially support such efforts.
Entrepreneur/philanthropist Mike Homer developed Open
Media Network, a functioning content delivery network for public media,
with the help of Stephen, KQED’s Tim Olson, myself and several others, and
gifted it to public broadcasting. PI (above) under the direction of Debra
May Hughes has been public media’s innovative application service provider for
years. Jake Shapiro’s team built Public
Radio Exchange (PRX) under the sponsorship of the Station Resource Group,
creating a way to cultivate, discover and distribute new talent, voices and
ideas and to innovate with models that connect listeners to a broader
world. Mark Fuerst’s Integrated
Media Association has led beyond-the-transmitter thinking for years.
NPR’s Dana Davis Rehm has championed both the News Network of the Future and
the Digital Distribution Consortium (DDC) of 2006 in which Jake, Tim and others
played critical roles. Lastly, the WGBH
Forum Network and Twin Cities Public Television’s Minnesota Channel are important
inspirations to the CBI.
Bottom line – there has been a ton of work by dozens of
people over nearly a decade during which, independently, Web strategies and
content distribution over the Internet have matured. We have learned a
lot in this time, we have successful exemplars, and it’s past
time to put those to work in ways that strengthen public radio.
This and what follows provides some context for the
announcements you’ve heard about the open API and the PI acquisition and why
it’s important for the future of your station.
The open Application
Programming Interface (API) is an awful name for a very powerful
functionality that permits accessing NPR and, soon, station and other content
and placing it with modest but important restrictions on non-NPR web
sites. These might be your station’s web site, or it might be a
non-profit organization with which your station has a relationship, or it might
be a blog that your sister maintains. If you look down the left column of [this] blog, you
can see an example that took me ten minutes to install. Why do
this? Because open, distributed access to public radio content will
result in much greater usage than if we require everyone to come to our
portals. It’s expanding the reach of public radio beyond the radio or our
own websites. This is being fairly recognized as one the most
progressive and powerful web initiatives in American media. Open APIs
are common on the web but are very rare among major media companies.
Interactive (PI) has been around for a long time and has a great
reputation for providing Web
services to the public broadcasting community. We’re pleased to have
reached an accord with Public Radio International to bring it into the NPR
family. Its mission is entirely consistent with our goal of increasing
NPR’s commitment to station services, as was our acquisition of National Public Media(NPM) last
fall. PI has a great suite of products and its core competencies are
consistent with our open API and other “distributed distribution” efforts to
grow the quality and relevance of station websites.
Combining these, we are developing the Community-Building
Initiativeto expose public media content
to broader audiences, strengthen public stations as a key community anchor,
help national and local community service organizations be more effective, and,
through all that, enhance and diversify the public media economy.
Like NNoF, the CBI is a “child” of NPR’s New Realities effort. An example
follows and this weekend I doodled a simplified drawing [see link] for
those among you who are visually oriented.
To seed this effort, we are working to establish several model
national partnerships with non-profit organizations which have affiliates
in your communities. There is a complex array of ways new partnerships of
this kind could work, so to help in understanding one of them, here’s a
Let’s say that you’re a public
radio manager who wants to gain exposure for what your station does and
build community public service alliances, adding local value. You
have recently been approached by a local conservation organization that has a
best-practices initiative relating to salmon recovery for which it would like
build awareness. It is also interested in building a community dialog
using modern social media tools. Traditionally, you might have put them
in touch with your news director, who has done stories on salmon recovery in
the past and perhaps might be interested in another one. She handles the
story in the journalistically critical arm’s length way and it is heard by
10-15% of your weekly cume on the air and then it (maybe) goes into a podcast
or is archived on your web site.
But the CBI expands
possibilities. Let’s say that the organization also has some video
content that it commissioned, perhaps from your local PTV station. With
proper guidelines, branding and labeling, it can be part of a larger collection
that you can distribute. So this video piece, the ten radio stories you’ve
already produced archived on this subject, some NPR stories on the subject
(Google gives 574 hits for “salmon” on npr.org), a couple of related stories
from PRX, and links to related blogs in your community are curated by your web
producer into a widget (a
piece of portable code that can fetch content from other web sites) carrying
your branding, the template for which has been provided to you by Public
Interactive. That template also includes social media features to
build communities of interest, plus opt-in sponsorship messages arranged by
NPM. The widget then goes on the partner’s web site, on those of many of
your other partners, on your own pages, on relevant blogs, etc. Others
will use the API tools to extract some of these pieces and republish them still
more places. Web searches build still more users, not just for the
distributed content but for your main web site. In the context of how
search works (see PageRank),
these multiple linking relationships make it more likely for your content to
emerge higher in search results. This strategy builds a much larger
audience by bringing content to people rather than requiring them to come
to your website.
Perhaps the station undertakes
similar partnerships with 25 or 50 or 100 other community organizations.
Some of these are local affiliates of national service organizations with which
NPR will have initiated relationships that stations can opt into. Others
are those you develop yourself. You can see that the placement
opportunities for content grow tremendously. So do new partnerships that
increase your station’s impact in the community, not to mention new funding
opportunities from new sources.
Public broadcasters have learned over nearly 40 years that
distribution success depends on brand impartiality. Recent digital
distribution work has taught that we’re better off starting with a
service modeland related economics, instead of with
technology, and that we need a to place our content many places on the web,
not just on our own web sites. To be sure, there are important
issues, especially with the need to maintain a wall between partner-generated
content and station journalism efforts, but there are numerous successful
examples to follow. The CBI plan is to incorporate all of these
assumptions in a way that just might transform the value equation for public
broadcasting stations in their communities.
These are exciting and challenging times for all of us in
public radio. I continue to be encouraged by what I see and hear from
stations around the country, and what is happening here at NPR. These
latest developments should give us some important new tools to address our
common future in a way that can transform both the impact and economics of
public media. Please share your thoughts about these issues with
me by posting a comment below.
My sister and brother-in-law have been staying with me in Washington this week, so I've played hookey a few hours during the week to do touristy things with them. One of them was a visit to the Newseum yesterday, a beautiful tribute to the values of big craft journalism -- which, of course, I try to nourish every day. However, that particular visit followed a briefing that our management team at NPR got from Andy Carvin concerning social media plans. I'm trying to nourish this kind of thinking every day also. So this juxtaposition of media values, which some observers might think are contrasting, were at work when I ran across the foot tall MASTER CONTROL letters on the 3rd floor of the Newseum. What room in a media company could be more at odds with social media? --Dennis
I've been doing some weekend bike riding and visits to the gym in my building for the last five or six weeks -- not that you would know it by looking at me. But when I want to visit an intellectual gym, I pick up the New York Review of Books or boot up Edge.org -- always satisfying.
... And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV. ¶ We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan's Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat. ¶ And it's only now, as we're waking up from that collective bender, that we're starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We're seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody's basement. ...
Be sure also to read the intro by John Brockman and the commentary by Tim O'Reilly on that same page, and Nicholas Carr's commentary, Gilligan's Web, here.
Shirky's writing usually resonates with me -- and I like his "cognitive surplus" coinage. But here, on first reading, I feel more comfortable with Carr's critique. I'll read it again in a week or so and see if I change my mind.
Update 4 September 2008: *Mark Laskowski asks, "what was the rare novel?" It was the excellent Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. --Dennis
It's taken me a while to note the death of Leroy Sievers in my blog because even though it perfectly illustrates how powerful the combination of broadcasting (NPR in this case) and social media (blogging in this case) can be, this one had a personal dimension for me. My wife, Sandra, died nearly a year ago after a 2½-year bout (since diagnosis) with esophageal cancer. Leroy's NPR appearances and his blog were, for both of us, important fuel for the fight she waged from the moment her cancer was first diagnosed in early 2005. Leroy was a journalist and so was Sandra early in her career (became a professor of it later), and she also wrote eloquently about it, though in her case it was in private emails to a large group of friends and family members. Maeve McGoran and Laurie Singer have posted to Leroy's blog since his death and many among his large circle of readers wonder if this is going to survive him. Or perhaps, since it was such a personal statement, it needs to be let go. I don't have an answer, only hope for the much too large a club that is touched by cancer. --Dennis