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  • feedwordpress 18:48:27 on 2014/08/30 Permalink
    Tags: agency, , , , Internet, internet weather, , , weather   

    “Facebook Is a Weatherless World” 

    The post “Facebook Is a Weatherless World” appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

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    This quote, from a piece in Motherboard,  hit me straight between the eyeballs:

    Facebook…will not let you unFacebook Facebook. It is impossible to discover something in its feeds that isn’t algorithmically tailored to your eyeball.

    “The laws of Facebook have one intent, which is to compel us to use Facebook…It believes the best way to do this is to assume it can tell what we want to see based on what we have seen. This is the worst way to predict the weather. If this mechanism isn’t just used to predict the weather, but actually is the weather, then there is no weather. And so Facebook is a weatherless world.”

    - Sean Schuster-Craig, AKA Jib Kidder

    The short piece notes the lack of true serendipity in worlds created by algorithm, and celebrates the randomness of apps (Random) and artists (like Jib Kidder) who offer a respite from such “weatherless worlds.”

    What’s really playing out here is a debate around agency. Who’s in control when you’re inside Facebook – are we, or is Facebook? Most of us feel like we’re in control – Facebook does what we tell it to do, after all, and we seem to like it there just fine, to judge by our collective behaviors. Then again, we also know that what we are seeing, and being encouraged to interact with, is driven by a black box, and many of us are increasingly uneasy with that idea. It feels a bit like the Matrix – we look for that cat to reappear, hoping for some insight into how and whether the system is manipulating us.

    Weather is a powerful concept in relation to agency – no one controls the weather, it simply *is*. It has its own agency (unless, of course, you believe in a supreme agent called God, which for these intents and purposes we can call Weather as well.)  It’s not driven by a human-controlled agency, it’s subject to extreme interpretation, and it has a serendipity which allows us to concede our own agency in the face of its overwhelming truth.

    Facebook also has its own agency – but that agency is driven by algorithms controlled by humans. As a model for the kind of world we might someday fully inhabit, it’s rather unsettling. As the piece points out, “It is impossible to discover something in its feeds that isn’t algorithmically tailored to your eyeball.” Serendipity is an illusion, goes the argument. Hence, the “I changed my habits on Facebook, and this is what happened” meme is bouncing around the web at the moment. 

    It’s true, to a point, that there’s a certain sterility to a long Facebook immersion, like wandering the streets of Agrestic and noting all the oddballs in this otherwise orderly fiction, but never once do you really get inside Lacy Laplante’s head. (And it never seems to rain.)

    The Motherboard article also bemoans Twitter’s evolution toward an algorithmically-driven feed – “even Twitter, that last bastion of personal choice, has begun experimenting with injecting users’ feeds with “popular” content.” Close readers of this site will recall I actually encouraged Twitter to do this here: It’s Time For Twitter To Filter Our Feeds. But How?.

    The key is that question – But How?

    To me, the answer lies with agency. I’m fine with a service filtering my feeds, but I want agency over how, when, and why they do so.

    I think that’s why I’ve been such an advocate for what many call “the open web.” The Internet before Facebook and mobile apps felt like a collective, messy ecosystem capable of creating its own weather, it was out of control and unpredictable, yet one could understand it well enough to both give and receive value. We could build our own houses, venture out in our own vehicles, create cities and commerce and culture. If anything was the weather, it was Google, but even Google didn’t force the pasteurized sensibility one finds on services like Facebook.

    As we like to say: Pray for rain.

     

    The post “Facebook Is a Weatherless World” appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

     
  • feedwordpress 00:25:43 on 2014/06/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , browsers, , , Internet,   

    Else 6.9.14: The Internet Beats Rabbit Ears 

    The post Else 6.9.14: The Internet Beats Rabbit Ears appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

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    The world’s most fascinating story kept time this past week – cord cutting beat rabbit ears, Google took some punches, and billion-dollar companies pondered their fate once the bloom starts to fade. To the links….

    Internet-TV Delivery to Surpass Over-the-Air – Worldscreen Worth noting that more of us get TV from the Internet than get it from “over the air” AKA rabbit ears.

    Broadband shouldn’t be like cable TV. Why consumers should care about peering – GigaOm Yes, we should, but we don’t. Because it takes too much time to sort through it all. Bottom line – we shouldn’t have to work this hard to get good, clean, neutral service. Right?

    40 maps that explain the internet – Vox Ya like charts? So do I.

    We’re all being mined for data – but who are the real winners? - Guardian This long piece gives a good overview, but fails to answer the question, save the rather easy “we’re not winning, but big companies are” angle.

    Thanks for nothing, jerkface – ZDNet  In which a very angry Violet Blue explains her disdain for Google+ and its (unintended?) consequences. Good fodder in here for those interested in the role of digital identity in our society. Also, some (biased, but passionate) explication of the fracas around Google’s decision to enforce “real names” on its identity services.

    Jimmy Wales Blasts Europe’s “Right To Be Forgotten” Ruling As A “Terrible Danger” – TechCrunch Well that’s a pretty clear signal how he feels about it, given he’s on the review board for said requests in Europe…

    Google Invests in Satellites to Spread Internet Access – WSJ Notwithstanding the target on its back (and front, and aides), the company just keeps pushing on all fronts.

     The Dropbox Conundrum – BuzzFeed I find these multi-billion dollar startups fascinating – it’s truly unique to our time that there are ten or more companies worth $10 billion – by the reckoning of their investors – and all are now struggling with how to manage such lofty expectations.

    Facebook Has Another Go At Snapchat With Slingshot – TechCrunch   Speaking of, I’d not really want to be SnapChat right about now. Except, Facebook keeps kind of getting it wrong, to wit: Facebook accidentally launches, then pulls Snapchat competitor Slingshot – Verge 

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    The post Else 6.9.14: The Internet Beats Rabbit Ears appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

     
  • feedwordpress 01:55:56 on 2014/03/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , , Internet, kurzweil, , , , utility   

    Else 3.3.14: Is The Internet A Utility? 

    The post Else 3.3.14: Is The Internet A Utility? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    elecutilThe week was dominated by Google related stories, but the top dialog had to do with the Internet itself. I’m sensing something of a shift in society’s beliefs about the Internet’s central role in our humanity. Five years ago, no one wanted to talk about Internet access as a basic human right. In 2012, the UN called it exactly that. With access consolidating into what looks like a natural monopoly, might regulation as a utility be far behind?

    Real Time (Medium) Another, denser version of previous essays asking whether it isn’t time to call the Internet a basic utility. “..the immaterial organisation of the internet has now become the most dominant force on this side of the planet...” Unfortunately, this piece is too dense. Try this one instead: The Internet Is Fucked (TechCrunch) in which the author enjoins: “Go ahead, say it out loud. The internet is a utility.There, you’ve just skipped past a quarter century of regulatory corruption and lawsuits that still rage to this day and arrived directly at the obvious conclusion.” Of course, that created a rejoinder: More? - “The Internet is an incredibly useful tool in modern society, but it isn’t essential to the basic functioning of society. Utilities are.” My take: The Internet is a basic need now for the info-organism we are all becoming. So I’m leaning toward the utility camp, I’m afraid. There’s a new book on the subject, should you be interested.

    The Monuments of Tech  (NYTimes.com) A meditation, with far too photos, on the meaning of the campuses built by Google, Twitter, Apple, Facebook. Have you read The Circle yet? Read The Circle. Then read this.

    Welcome to Googletown (The Verge) As long as we’re talking tech monuments, here’s a full blown deep dive into the relationship between Google and its Silicon Valley home, Mountain View. As one might expect, it’s fraught. But I’ve spent time in Mountain View before Google got there. Not that much has changed, outwardly. If Google keeps growing the way it’s planning to grow, that won’t be the case.

    Are the robots about to rise? Google’s new director of engineering thinks so (The Guardian) Part of me wonders why they let Ray Kurzweil out of the building at Google. But this is worth reading in any case. Related: Kurzweil’s review of Spike Jonze’ Her. 

    When quantified-self apps leave you with more questions than answers (The Daily Dot ) Something of a takedown on admittedly kludgy first generation self trackers. “I tweet a lot, but it’s mostly nonsense. I don’t have a whole lot of use for “data” about myself.” I just started using the Nike Fuelband. I’ll post plenty about that I’m sure, as the first week has proven interesting.

    Can Privacy Be Saved? (The New York Review of Books) Don’t you love articles that ask questions, then fail to answer them? Me too. This is a review of various government reports and Presidential speeches arising from the Snowden revelations. The essay makes a strong case for – making a stronger case for privacy. It ends by citing Orwell, Dick, and Bradbury. It does not answer the question – which may well be the answer after all.

    To Be Clear: Do Not Build Your Brand House On Land You Don’t Own (Searchblog) In case you missed it, a small reminder about the perils of building on rented land.

    The post Else 3.3.14: Is The Internet A Utility? appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

     
  • feedwordpress 18:42:04 on 2014/02/10 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , Internet, , progress,   

    else 2.10: “Information that was never designed for a human to see” 

    The post else 2.10: “Information that was never designed for a human to see” appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    This week, we were thinking about data post-language, reading the tea leaves of algorithms, and wondering how to protect the first principles of the web. As always, if you want to keep up with what we’re reading/thinking about on a weekly basis, the best way is to subscribe to the “else” feed, either as an email newsletter or through RSS. And tweet us links!

     

    We’re Leaving — The Bygone BureauI like this take on the discussion of the “post-verbal” in Her as suggesting a time when data supplants language. It was a very brief moment in the movie, but I think it’s at the crux of how we will relate to our machines going forward.

    Your Eyes or My Words — Joanne McNeil
    In a talk she gave at Lift, Joanne McNeil explores reading the “tea leaves” guess work of understanding algorithms. “Sometimes the information was surprising and made you wonder why that person spends so much time thinking of you. This is information that was never designed for a human to see.”

    You Can Now Edit Your Cheesy Facebook “Look Back” Video — Slate
    Facebook’s look back videos were poignant and nostalgic, but sometimes the algorithms were missing the mark, so it exposed the ability to edit. This is what happens when we let algorithms tell our stories for us.

    How Facebook Has Changed in 10 Years — Courtesy of an Ex-Employee —Re/code
    There were plenty of retrospectives celebrating Facebook last week, but this insight from a former employee exploring the “capital-R rules” shows exactly how much the normative rules of a system evolve in the span of ten short years. “No, you can’t let moms join Facebook because Facebook is for students.” to “No, you can’t allow anonymity because Facebook is built on real identity.”

    Attempting to Code the Human Brain — WSJ.com
    Facebook-backed Vicarious is teaching algorithms to imagine the shape of cows. “If you invent artificial intelligence, that’s the last invention you’ll ever have to invent.”

    As Technology Gets Better, Will Society Get Worse? — The New Yorker
    Tim Wu questions what “progress” means if it results in comforts that eventually kill us.

    Tim Berners-Lee: we need to re-decentralise the web — Wired UK
    Post-NSA, TBL warns against localized internet: “I want a web that’s open, works internationally, works as well as possible and is not nation-based.”

    #recap: Defending an Unowned Internet — Cyborgology
    Whitney Erin Boesel posted a nice recap of this Berkman talk discussing the consolidation of most of the web into corporate ownership (ex AWS). Video from the conversation is here in full.

    The post else 2.10: “Information that was never designed for a human to see” appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

     
  • feedwordpress 23:18:07 on 2014/01/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , global warming, , Internet, , , , , ,   

    Predictions 2014: A Difficult Year To See 

    The post Predictions 2014: A Difficult Year To See appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

    1-nostradamusThis post marks the 10th edition of my annual predictions – it’s quite possibly the only thing I’ve consistently done for a decade in my life (besides this site, of course, which is going into its 12th year).

    But gazing into 2014 has been the hardest of the bunch – and not because the industry is getting so complicated. I’ve been mulling these predictions for months, yet one overwhelming storm cloud has been obscuring my otherwise consistent forecasting abilities. The subject of this cloud has nothing – directly – to do with digital media, marketing, technology or platform ecosystems – the places where I focus much of my writing. But while the topic is orthogonal at best, it’s weighing heavily on me.

    So what’s making it harder than usual to predict what might happen over the coming year? In a phrase, it’s global warming. I know, that’s not remotely the topic of this site, nor is it in any way a subject I can claim even a modicum of expertise. But as I bend to the work of a new year in our industry, I can’t help but wonder if our efforts to create a better world through technology are made rather small when compared to the environmental alarm bells going off around the globe.

    I’ve been worried about the effects of our increasingly technologized culture on the earth’s carefully balanced ecosystem for some time now. But, perhaps like you, I’ve kept it to myself, and assuaged my concerns with a vague sense that we’ll figure it out through a combination of policy, individual and social action, and technological solutions. Up until recently, I felt we had enough time to reverse the impact we’ve inflicted on our environment. It seemed we were figuring it out, slowly but surely. The world was waking up to the problem, new policies were coming online (new mileage requirements, the phase out of the incandescent bulb, etc). And I took my own incremental steps – installing a solar system that provides nearly 90% of our home’s energy, converting my heating to solar/electrical, buying a Prius for my kids.

    But I’m not so sure this mix of individual action and policy is enough – and with every passing day, we seem to be heading toward a tipping point, one that no magic technological solution can undo.

    If you’re wondering what’s made me feel this way, a couple of choice articles from 2013 (and there were too many to count) should do the trick. One “holy shit” moment for me was a piece on ocean acidification, relating scientific discoveries that the oceans are turning acidic at a pace faster than any time since a mass extinction event 300 million years ago. But that article is a puff piece compared to this downer, courtesy The Nation: The Coming Instant Planetary Emergency. I know – the article is published in a liberal publication, so pile on, climate deniers… Regardless, I suggest you read it. Or, if you prefer whistling past our collective graveyard, which feels like a reasonable alternative, spare yourself the pain. I can summarize it for you: Nearly every scientist paying attention has concluded global warming is happening far faster, and with far more devastating impact, than previously thought, and we’re very close to the point where events will create a domino effect – receding Arctic ice allowing for huge releases of super-greenhouse methane gases, for instance. In fact, we may well be past the point of “fixing” it, if we ever could.

    And who wants to spend all day worrying about futures we can’t fix? That’s no fun, and it’s the opposite of why I got into this industry nearly 30 years ago. As Ben Horowitz pointed out recently, one key meaning of technology is  “a better way of doing things.” So if we believe that, shouldn’t we bend our technologic infrastructure to the world’s greatest problem? If not – why not? Are the climate deniers right? I for one don’t believe they are. But I can’t prove they aren’t. So this constant existential anxiety grows within me – and if conversations with many others in our industry is any indication, I’m not alone.

    In a way, the climate change issue reminds me of the biggest story inside our industry last year: Snowden’s NSA revelations. Both are so big, and so hard to imagine how an individual might truly effect change, that we collectively resort to gallows humor, and shuffle onwards, hoping things will work out for the best.

    And yet somehow, this all leads me to my 2014 predictions. The past nine prediction posts have been, at their core, my own gut speaking (a full list is at the bottom of this post). I don’t do a ton of research before I sit down to write, it’s more of a zeitgeistian exposition. It includes my hopes and fears for our industry, an industry I believe to be among the most important forces on our planet. Last year, for example, I wrote my predictions based mainly on what I wished would happen, not what I thought realistically would.

    For this year’s 2014 predictions, then, I’m going to once again predict what I hope will happen. You’ll see from the first one that I believe our industry, collectively, can and must take a lead role in addressing our “planetary emergency.” At least, I sure hope we will. For if not us…

    1. 2014 is the year climate change goes from a political debate to a global force for unification and immediate action. It will be seen as the year the Internet adopted the planet as its cause.

    Because the industry represents the new guard of power in our society,  Internet, technology, and media leaders will take strong positions in the climate change debate, calling for dramatic and immediate action, including forming the equivalent of a “Manhattan Project” for technological solutions to all manner of related issues – transportation, energy, carbon sequestration, geoengineering, healthcare, economics, agriculture.

    While I am skeptical of a technological “silver bullet” approach to solving our self-created problems, I also believe in the concept of “hybrid vigor” – of connecting super smart people across multiple disciplines to rapidly prototype new approaches to otherwise intractable problems. And I cannot imagine one company or government will solve the issue of climate change (no matter how many wind farms or autonomous cars Google might create), nor will thousands of well meaning but loosely connected organizations (or the UN, for that matter).

    I can imagine that the processes, culture, and approaches to problem solving enabled by the Internet can be applied to the issue of climate change. The lessons of disruptors like Google, Twitter, and Amazon, as well as newer entrants like airbnb, Uber, and Dropbox, can be applied to solving larger problems than where to sleep, how to get a cab, or where and how our data are accessed. We need the best minds of our society focused on larger problems – but first, we need to collectively believe that problem is as large as it most likely is.

    2014, I hope, is the year the problem births a real movement – a platform, if you will, larger than any one organization, one industry, or one political point of view. The only time we’ve seen a platform like that emerge is the Internet itself. So there’s a certain symmetry to the hypothesis – if we are to solve humankind’s most difficult problem, we’ll have to adopt the core principles and lessons of our most elegant and important creation: the Internet. The solution, if it is to come from us, will be native to the Internet. I can’t really say how, but I do know one thing: I want to be part of it, just like I wanted to be part of the Internet back in 1987.

    I’ll admit, it’s kind of hard to write anything more after that. I mean, who cares if Facebook has a good or bad year if the apocalypse is looming? Well, it’s entirely possible that my #1 prediction doesn’t happen, and then how would that look, batting .000 for the year (I’ve been batting better than .500 over the past decade, after all)? To salvage some part of my dignity, I’m going to go ahead and try to prognosticate a bit closer to home for the next few items.

    2. Automakers adopt a “bring your own” approach to mobile integration. The world of the automobile moves slowly. It can take years for a new model to move from design to prototype to commercially available model. Last year I asked a senior executive at a major auto manufacturer the age old question: “What business are you in?” His reply, after careful consideration, was this: “We are in the mobile experience business.” I somewhat expected that reply, so I followed up with another question: “How on earth will you compete with Apple and Google?” Somewhat exasperated, he said this was the  existential question his company had to face.

    2014 will be the year auto companies come to terms with this question. It won’t happen all at once, because nothing moves that fast in the auto industry. While most car companies have some kind of connectivity with smart phone platforms, for the most part they are pretty limited. Automakers find themselves in the same positions as carriers (an apt term, when you think about it) back at the dawn of the smart phone era – will they attempt to create their own interfaces for the phones they market, or will they allow third parties to own the endpoint relationship to consumers? It’s tempting for auto makers to think they can jump into the mobile user interface business, but I think they’re smart enough to know they can’t win there. Our mobile lives require an interface that understands us across myriad devices –  the automobile is just one of those devices. The smartest car makers will realize this first, and redesign their “device platforms” to work seamlessly with whatever primary mobile UI a consumer picks. That means building a car UI not as an end into itself, but as a platform for others to build upon.

    Remember, these are predictions I *hope* will happen. It’s entirely possible that automakers will continue the haphazard and siloed approach they’re currently taking with regard to mobile integration, simply because they lack conviction on whether or not they want to directly compete with Google and Apple for the consumer’s attention inside the car. Instead, they should focus on creating the best service possible that integrates and extends those already dominant platforms.

    3. By year’s end, Twitter will be roundly criticized for doing basically what it did at the beginning of the year. The world loves a second act, and will demand one of Twitter now that the company is public. The company may make a spectacular acquisition or two (see below), but in the main, its moves in 2014 will likely be incremental. This is because the company has plenty of dry powder in the products and services it already has in its arsenal – it’ll roll out a full fledged exchange, a la FBX, it’ll roll out new versions of its core ad products (with a particular emphasis on video), it’ll create more media-like “events” across the service, it’ll continue its embrace of television and popular culture…in other words, it will consolidate the strengths it already has. And 12 months from now, everyone will be tweeting about how Twitter has run out of ideas. Sound familiar, Facebook?

    Now this isn’t what I hope for the company to do, but I already wrote up my great desire for Twitter last year. Still waiting on that one (and I’m not sure it’s realistic).

    4. Twitter and Apple will have their first big fight, most likely over an acquisition. Up till now, Twitter and Apple have been best of corporate friends. But in 2014, the relationship will fray, quite possibly because Apple comes to the realization it has to play in the consumer software and services world more than it has in the past.  At the same time, there will be a few juicy M&A targets that Twitter has its eye on, targets that most likely are exactly what Apple covets as well. I’ll spare you the list of possible candidates, as most likely I’d miss the mark. But I’d expect entertainment to be the most hotly contested space.

    5. Google will see its search related revenues slow, but will start to extract more revenues from its Android base. Search as we know it is moving to another realm (for more, see my post on Google Now). Desktop search revenues, long the cash cow of Google, will slow in 2014, and the company will be looking to replace them with revenues culled from its overall dominance in mobile OS distribution. I’m not certain how Google will do this – perhaps it will buy Microsoft’s revenue generating patents, or maybe it’ll integrate commerce into Google Now – but clearly Google needs another leg to its revenue stool. 2014 will be the year it builds one.

    6. Google Glass will win – but only because Google licenses the tech, and a third party will end up making the version everyone wants. Google Glass has been lambasted as “Segway for your face” – and certainly the device is not yet a consumer hit. But a year from now, the $1500 price tag will come down by half or more, and Google will realize that the point isn’t to be in the hardware business, it’s to get Google Now to as many people as possible. So Google will license Glass sometime next year, and the real consumer accessory pros (Oakley? GoPro? Nike? Nest?!) will create a Glass everyone wants.   

    7. Facebook will buy something really big. My best guess? Dropbox. Facebook knows it’s become a service folks use, but don’t live on anymore. And it will be looking for ways to become more than just a place to organize a high school reunion or stay in touch with people you’d rather not talk to FTF. It wants and needs to be what its mission says it is: “to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.” The social graph is just part of that mission – Facebook needs a strong cloud service if it wants a shot at being a more important player in our lives. Something like Dropbox (or Box) is just the ticket. But to satisfy the egos and pocketbooks of those two players, Facebook will have to pay up big time. It may not be able to, or it may decide to look at Evernote instead. I certainly hope the company avoids the obvious but less-substantive play of Pinterest. I like Pinterest, but that’s not what Facebook needs right now.

    As with Twitter, this prediction does not reflect my greatest hope for Facebook, but again, I wrote that last year, and again…oh never mind.

    8. Overall, 2014 will be a great year for the technology and Internet industries, again, as measured in financial terms. There are dozens of good companies lined up for IPOs, a healthy appetite for tech plays in the markets, a strong secular trend in adtech in particular, and any number of “point to” successes from 2013. That strikes me as a recipe for a strong 2014. However, if I were predicting two years out, I’d leave you with this warning: Squirrel your nuts away in 2014. This won’t last forever.

    Related:

    Predictions 2013

    2013: How I Did

    Predictions 2012

    2012: How I Did

    The post Predictions 2014: A Difficult Year To See appeared first on John Battelle's Search Blog.

     
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