Copyright ©1997-2011 Glenn Fleishman except as noted otherwise. All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact Glenn Fleishman at glenn at glennf.com. Photo © 2008 Laurence Chen; used with permission.
Turning technology from mumbo-jumbo into rich tasty gumbo
My wife, brother-in-law, and I took a trip on Saturday to the newly opened Seattle Public Library: The library was designed by Rem Koolhaas and executed by Joshua Ramos is the best public building I have ever stepped foot in. It’s modern without feeling trendy. It’s cut off from traditional constraints of old materials without being a slave to new ones. Some people will certainly find the library jarring initially, but I found it an excellent study in creating space that has an open, light feel, in which access and flow is paramount. View my study in photos of the library’s spaces during my first look at it. It opened just this week.
Forget nanopublishing, in which tens thousands of people read a Web site or blog and produce enough revenue to support someone part-time. Let’s move to femtopublishing, in which one person a decade reads a blog page. Picopublishing is far too big time for me—that’s several readers a day!
I have some Gmail accounts to give away. I’m not into the Gmail economy; it’s interesting, but not appropriate for me as a journalist. If I know you, and you want a Gmail account, please email me with the address you want the account invitation sent to. If you don’t know me, honestly, I’m not going to send you an invite—sorry. I have a finite number.
I missed this excellent framework for the way to think about publishing in RSS/syndication formats on the Web. It avoids the political and personal issues, and looks at the purpose and yield. I agree completely with the recommendations. I’m partly blogging this so that I can later find the other entry more easily to refer people to when the political issues come up.
If you’re involved in creating standards, this page may irritate you because it chops away at most of the reasons for having a syndication format more advanced than 0.91. But if you’re interested in publishing and subscribing, this piece makes a great deal of sense for planning how to deploy and what to support. No format is denigrated; they’re all put in context.
I broke the news on Tuesday at about noon that Cometa Networks was ceasing operations. Several sites immediately hailed the fact that I’d beaten mainstream media with the scoop; Dan Gillmor posted an item, for instance.
It’s also slightly ironic that I’m being praised for breaking the news in a blog. If I’d had more confirmation and time, I would have written about it for one of the newspapers I contribute to. But given the timing and other factors, including getting sources on the record, I opted to break it locally and track it over the day so I could add details and keep it up to date.
It was interesting to track the credit on this, though. The sequence started with an anonymous email from a Yahoo account. I discredited that email due to misspellings and the lack of any way to confirm it. But I did call and leave a message with Cometa’s outside PR department, assuming that the rumor was false, but at least being a good journalist and checking directly with the company. I thought there was a story in the fact that someone was trying to discredit Cometa.
But shortly after that, and before hearing back from the company, someone in the broader Wi-Fi industry send me email out of the blue telling me Cometa was shutting down. I called another trusted source to confirm, and, sure enough, it was absolutely true. I tried getting Cometa on the phone at about 11 am, but no luck; and no surprise, as they were probably meeting to figure out how to deal with notifying all partners and venues before the story broke.
At around noon, after trying Cometa again, I decided that it was time to go with the story. I had total confidence in my sources, who I couldn’t cite. I knew that no one else had the story because of the sources I’d spoken to, and I went with it. The posting time shows 12.18 pm on Tuesday. Shortly thereafter, Cometa’s VP of marketing called me up, and gave me the full news. He said I was the first reporter they’d spoken to, as I’d broken the story.
Within a few hours, News.com and other sites had picked up the news. News.com’s first and second versions of the story credited my site, while a third version (in some syndicated forms) dropped the credit, which was the last graf. Several other sites also credited Wi-Fi Networking News, but many did not, even though their stories were obviously rewritten versions of what I wrote. Some did call Cometa, but only after reading my story.
Boingo Wireless put out a press release a little later in the day, which I blogged at 2.39 pm, and many news sources picked up the information from that release, which became their primary source. A colleague at one major newspaper said he would have given me credit had he known I’d broken it; the Boingo release triggered the story.
Reuters did give my site credit, which is great.
If you read Dan Gillmor’s blog entry cited above, you see that Dave Kearns of Network World Fusion remarks, a number of places had the story yesterday, including Network World Fusion, with whom I’m associated. The story from IDG News Service on Network World cites a company spokesperson in the leading graf. Since I had my story filed a bit before Cometa spoke to me and I was the first person they spoke to, I broke the story. QED. Many other sites had the story that same day, but after mine.
Another commenter suggests that Wi-Fi Planet had it first, but I can’t find any evidence of that. They don’t datestamp their entries. The second graf in the story cites the VP of marketing that I spoke to. Again, I filed my story before anyone else had spoken to Cometa. (The author of the piece wrote me after this post went up to confirm that I had it first; his posted after News.com’s. It’s very gracious of him. We score a scoop on Wi-Fi Networking News occasionally; Wi-Fi Planet and News.com both consistently beat print media on breaking news.)
Why defend my scoop? Because I see more established news sites trying to pick away at my two-person band (Nancy Gohring and myself write the site) whether or not they’re doing it purposely. News.com originally called Wi-Fi Networking News an “enthusiast site,” until I complained that I wasn’t enthusiastic; they changed it quite promptly to “niche news site,” which seems much more appropriate.
It’s a well-established practice as a journalist that if you find out about a story from another publication, not a source or your own research, you credit that source. If you don’t know that another publication broke the news, you’re off the hook, too, generally. But don’t go taking my scoop away.
Apple just released the patches that fix the security exploit discovered this last week that allows a Web page to execute an AppleScript of any kind on your system if it’s running Mac OS X 10.2 or 10.3.
A few weeks ago, I posted an item on this blog critiquing an article about a colleague. Don’t bother looking for that post; I’ve removed it for reasons I’ll explain here.
The subject of my blog entry contacted me a few days after the post went up. He was astounded that I’d written about him without calling him for his comments on my critique. We went back and forth in email: me, appalled that he’d call me out for writing my opinions about the article and about him; he, appalled that I would offer opinion based on an article without seeking direct comment from him to respond to some of the statements of fact I made.
That stopped me cold: call someone because I was writing about them in a personal blog. How strange. We agreed to talk by phone, calmly, after I returned from a week away, which we did today.
And I had my mind changed.
Over at Wi-Fi Networking News, I pursue classical journalism combined with blogging. We summarize and analyze articles published elsewhere frequently, which is the classical blog paradigm, but we also write quite a lot of original journalism in which we interview sources, test hardware, call for comment on our suppositions. We engage in reportage that requires talking to many people to try to present fairly a point of view, even if we’re writing opinion. Opinion must be backed by fact; conclusions can’t be specious.
The subject’s point to me in the phone call is that blogs are journalism. They are publicly presented pieces of prose. If I’m arguing on the one hand that Wi-Fi Networking News is journalism and on the other that my personal blog is not — then what am I saying? That I don’t hold myself in less formal public writing to the same standards of fairness and accuracy? No. That I can write any old thing and have no regard for its impact? No.
Now I’m not compelled to call subjects of my personal blog for comment on everything I write. But my colleague convinced me of a fact that others have tried to maintain: that the wall between blog and journalism is so thin now or non-existent that you can’t pretend to have two sets of standards.
It’s not every day you have your mind changed, and I enjoy the experience. It’s easy to maintain the same opinion all the time.
If I want to be a journalist, then I have to be a journalist and abide by the standards I set for myself in all the forums in which I write or contribute to.
I’ve removed the post that I wrote about the article because I’d have to rethink and rewrite to such an extent — and get comment from the subject and others — before feeling fair about posting it again. I haven’t changed my mind about my conclusions, but there’s a higher burden that I’ve set for myself now, and the time has passed where it makes sense to pursue it.
(And, just by the way, I ran what I wrote here by the subject to confirm that my representation of his actions and statements match his own recollections. He declined to be identified for this blog post, but had no corrections to its substance.)
You’re reading this post on a Web page created and managed by the Movable Type blogging system from Six Apart. Even though I’m on vacation, I noticed yesterday that Six Apart created a firestorm by releasing their 3.0 version with practically no new features and introducing mandatory pricing for a number of licensing categories that were previously free. Donations were welcome in the past for personal use, and commercial use required a non-enforced fee.
I’ll be happy to pay. I use tons of free and open-source software, and try to contribute to that process by reporting bugs, since I’m not a programmer. But I gladly pay for software that no open-source product has replicated, which typically includes software that requires a user interface (this is less and less true every day, though), my backup software (Dantz Retrospect), and my blogging software.
The folks at Movable Type didn’t test price sensitivity enough before announcing the move and generated thousands of blog entries, many of them on MT systems, about the pricing. They’ve since fixed the pricing model quite a bit, and I expect even more alignment to how people are using Movable Type informally instead of within the specific free guidelines they initially issued.
An important element of this mistake that you shouldn’t miss is that on posts like the one above on pricing revision or this one on Mena Trott’s blog — she’s one of the founders — the critique is right there on the same page through their Trackback system which allows blogs to ping each other when posts reference other posts. (It’s not Ted Nelson’s Xanadu, and it’s not Technorati’s outside-in link analysis, but it’s useful nonetheless.)
So while the Trotts and Six Apart are being hacked to death, they’re not a company that insulates themselves from these attacks and critiques; rather, the criticism is co-incident in Web space with the statements being referenced. This is an extraordinary development in business history.
On the more pedestrian side, the move from 2.x to 3.0 doesn’t carry with it enough features that if it were commercial software, people would feel good about paying an upgrade fee. I tried out the alpha, and didn’t devote much time to it, frankly, because it seemed to work so identically to 2.x that I was unable to figure out what I was supposed to be testing except for a few gross problems which I reported and which were fixed.
But I agree with many colleagues who note that Six Apart never claimed this was free or open-source software. Rather, it was freely available software in the current version, and they had a commitment to maintaining some free personal use. It was never free for commercial use, even if you didn’t pay — if you didn’t pay as a commercial user, you were violating the terms of service, and they politely didn’t attack you for it. As far as I can tell, the license fees are still on the honor system.
Now, I paid my commercial fee because Wi-Fi Networking News is a commercial operation. Six Apart says fees paid as donations (I think my fees count) for previous versions will be applied toward 3.0 licensing fees at 100 percent. So I may owe little or nothing to upgrade my license.
The big changes in 3.0 are the addition of a registration system called TypeKey that blog operators can optionally tie into (you have to pay your honor system fees to use that system, which is one of the big payment incentives); actual direct tech support, which was previously ad hoc and community forum based, although it worked quite well; and a rewritten back-end which should dramatically improve its speed.
Other features didn’t make it in, like photoblogging, and there’s a lot of anger from bloggers who stayed committed to Movable Type expecting substantial new features and are finding instead a pricing statement and a behind-the-scenes update. The flip side of this, of course, is that most nascent software companies wind up rewriting their early core engine to be more robust and modular, and that makes it substantially easier to add more sophisticated features more quickly.
Adobe eventually abandoned PageMaker’s code base because it was so old and ugly, despite rewrites, that they couldn’t build a modern desktop publishing architecture on top of it. Within a couple of years of releasing InDesign, however, they have the best-in-class desktop publishing package, oceans ahead of Quark’s feeble improvements, and lightyears beyond PageMaker.
I’m happy to give Six Apart my money and time. I know they’ll get there.
Trebek: “Who is deep throat?”
Woodward: “How much will I get?”
Trebek: “You get an inconceivable amount of money.”
Woodward: “He is an inconceivable person.”
Cue laugh track.
Life is a funny animal, to be sure. Today I received three copies of Diderot’s Lettre sur les aveugles (An Essay on Blindness, 1749), a book which led to his imprisonment for three months for questioning God’s existence. The books were sent to me by the fine people at Editions Gallimard because my picture is on the cover. (You can purchase a copy at Amazon.fr.)
No, I’m not without sight. No, I am not French, nor a Diderot scholar. My picture was taken by renowned Seattle photographer Natalie Fobes for the 24 Hours in Cyberspace project back in 1996. The Web site for that project is ironically dead and gone. She licenses her photos through Corbis (see image NF117633), and Editions Gallimard purchased those rights. But either due to European law or custom, or Corbis’s restrictions, they very nicely asked for my permission to use the photo. I said yes.
So now Francophones will associate my left eyeball and eyebrow with Diderot.
Ah, some days, I wonder if I should get out of bed. I woke up this morning to email from someone I had written about who had bones to pick with me. I wrote what I thought was fair, and I exposed my assumptions so those who disagree with my fundamentals can dispute or ignore my conclusions. But that doesn’t make it easier for the person I wrote about to accept external opinions about them, even when they’re a public figure.
Google makes it harder to have a public/private journal. When I write about anything on this blog — the Maine laptops program, for instance — because my blog has so much Google PageRank Whuffie, my post immediately rises to the top, sometimes within a few days, as a match for that term.
For instance, search Google for Maine laptop program, and my post is the fifth result, and third site listed. After posting an item a few weeks ago about the consistent lack of hard data to be coupled with the soft data that the program was collecting, someone involved in the analysis of its success emailed me to take me to task and pointed me to published research.
Unfortunately, in my analysis, the published reports actually demonstrated much more clearly than any of the reportage of the program that they had no hard data on absenteeism, improvement in test scores, or other measures that could be correlated.
The point, however, is that Google has removed my ability to have a simultaneous personal/private/public space. Before Glennf.com become so highly ranked at Google, I could post items that a few hundred people would read. It was public, but someone had to come looking for it. Now, anything I write becomes public/public/public: it’s almost immediately more important than it needs to be.
An even better example: I posted an item about Cingular and the time it took to switch my wife’s phone over to my account to reduce our bills. It’s been a few days, and Google puts me in the top 30 results for Cingular. Oy.
So I have to weigh my words more carefully. I have to think that anything I write will be read by anyone and everyone. In the words of Ben Stiller’s parody of Yakov Smirnov, “I miss former Soviet Union.” (Now just wait: this post will be a top match for Soviet Union in a few days.)
A random link on a security site brought me here to a visualization of news found a News.google.com presented in order of its importance and age. It’s a way to quickly see what Google’s news system thinks is most important without scanning all the headlines.
For years, I’ve talked about how great it would be on mailing lists and discussion forums to have a visual representation of what’s hot and what’s linked to avoid the very mechanical task of scanning and reading to organize the information in your head. I’d like to see more of this.
This happy fellow has been sitting outside our kitchen window for several days now (not continuously, but regularly). He’s got a nice shape to his head. There’s a nest that’s big enough around the other side of the house perched on an eve to be a robin’s nest.
We’ve spotted some robin’s-egg-blue egg fragments and have wondered — did the eggs get snatched (the nest is in a hard-to-reach place)? Is it still incubation time and those eggshells are unrelated? A bird information site noted that female robins immediately clean the nest of shell fragments after hatchlings are fledged and gone. So perhaps she already had one brood. They can have up to three broods a year, apparently, with each clutch of 4 to 6 eggs representing 90 percent of the female’s weight!
With this fellow sitting sentinel and watching me with his steely gaze—not moving as I get close enough to snap photos or even stand on a porch a few feet away from him—I’m guessing that the robinlings are still to come and that his mate hasn’t left her post yet.
Oddly, the robins seem to have perched directly above what we call the “cat highway” that runs along an alley on the uphill side of our house. All the neighborhood cats seem to have agreed to use that path to move among territories. Our front porch is some kind of neutral territory, too (scat!). We’ll be fooling the cats soon: a new fence and a closed gate may require the redistricting of our zone.
[Question] Denver, Colo.: Blogging seems to be a good fit to your personality and subject, do you ever long for more traditional journalism?
Ana Marie Cox: Yes, I do. But I really hate pitching stories… That’s why I started a blog, actually. Because I wanted to just write stuff without having to prove to an editor it was a good idea. If the only thing I get out of Wonkette is the ability to get editors to assign me stories without my having to _sell_ the pitch, I will be happy.
Pitching is the worst aspect of being a freelance writer. Even with editors who know you and know your work, you’re auditioning with every story. I like being a columnist, because it gives me the freedom to have the scope and planning to write about issues and return to them. But pure freelance work means justifying yourself — in some cases, justifying why a product or service or news event is worth appearing in print or online. That, in turn, can make you too committed to the story, and not able to step back when it doesn’t pan out.
For my Wi-Fi blog, I’m more of a pitch-less writer than an editor, and it’s worked out well so far. The audience has grown month over month, with substantial increases in daily page views and visitors since last fall, and it’s cited just in passing as an authoritative source (as it was in today’s New York Times).
I’m not paid, as Ana Marie Cox is, but I am producing revenue (not precisely the same as making money). Cox later makes this observation:
When engaging in what I call “blogger triumphalism,” blog proponents tend to forget that almost all the really successful/popular blogs are run by people who were already writing for a living, if not actual journalists — either professors or journalists, basically. I’d include myself in this group. I’ve been v. lucky that Wonkette has done so well, but I was honing my ability to for years prior to doing this.
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