Author Archives: Gary

Facebook is going to win.

Here’s an easy question. How does social media fund itself? You don’t get to pick ‘taking out loans from venture capitalists’. Seriously, the business model for social media is advertising, just the same as it was for more traditional media. Sure the advertising is more targeted now, build from a personalization engine, more easily retail than advertising has been in the history of ‘hey buddy, wanna buy a sundial.’ With that nugget of hard-to-swollow knowledge, and with the recent acquisition of Instagram by Facebook, it’s more clear to me than ever that Facebook is going to win this great big social experiment we call the Internet.

I was pretty bent out of shape by the Instagram acquisition shortly after I read about it. I wasn’t upset with Facebook for acquiring Instagram. I wasn’t upset with Instagram for selling out. No, I was upset with a legion of self-righteous hipsters who got their dander up and, with noses raised, declared that they would never be caught dead using a Facebook product.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised. It’s probably no surprise that the people that Instagram attracted skew towards the elitist technoarti end of spectrum. I’ve heard Gruber (my strawman for elitist, technoarti) say on several occasions that he doesn’t use Facebook because he doesn’t get get what it’s for. I can tell you what Facebook is, strawman Gruber. It’s the virtual table people are sitting around at the family Thanksgiving get-together or High School reunion.

Facebook may not have started out this way, but as it’s grown this is what it’s become. People you have had some tenuous relationship with getting together and talking around a table, swapping jokes, telling stories. It’s made easier by the immediacy of the Internet, you don’t have to store the cool stories in your brain and regurgitate them, you can just send them over to Facebook while you’re browsing.

People have been swapping jokes and stories long before the Internet. Email worked for that too, but email wasn’t really the right media for these social encounters. You could do the same thing on forums, but who was on those? Facebook is the thing that’s reached the masses for communal sharing of stories. Mass Social Media. Huh. Novel concept.

Where it doesn’t surprise me that the muckity mucks of tech journalism wouldn’t be a big presence in this communal coffee shop is the generally introverted nature of the people in this demographic. Here’s a hint, if you have to have your Mom guilt-trip you into the family reunion, Facebook may not appeal to you.

Here’s Facebook’s advantage, it doesn’t care how the stories get into it. Look at the difference between Google Plus and Facebook on this score. You can post to Facebook (and Twitter) from just about any media consumption application on the Internet. There are ‘Like’ and ‘Share’ buttons all over the Web, and more importantly, there is a published API for apps to post stories to Facebook. Facebook wants you to post, period.

Google Plus, besides ‘Plus’ buttons all over the Web, doesn’t encourage posting of stories really. Other than the official Google Plus app, there’s no mobile conduit to posting things to Google Plus. The conduit to post stories and consume them is the browser. It’s not surprising, Google’s central conciet is that the Internet is made of butts in seats clicking with a mouse in a browser.

Know what? That Internet is disappearing. Mobile is where people are. Mobile is where people are going. As we gravitate to the computer in our pocket the Internet is being App-ified. You don’t interact with ‘The Mobile Internet’[1] through a browser, at least not by choice. The user experience of Internet content is orders of magnitude better when viewed through an application optimized for a mobile device than through a web browser. Why wasn’t Instagram created as an HTML5 application that you used through your mobile device web browser?

So… The future is mobile. The future is frictionless sharing. Who’s doing this the best right now? Pinterest. Wait, what? How the hell did a story about Facebook, Instagram and Google Plus end up with Pinterest? Take a look at the user interface for Instagram. Take a look at the user interface for Pinterest. Hrm… seems kinda similar. What did Facebook really buy? Facebook didn’t buy 30 million users, they bought the product that Pinterest (the fastest growing social network in history) stole their UI from.

Facebook knows that frictionless sharing is what’s going to win in the long run. Facebook knows that mobile is what the Internet is going to become. Anyone that doesn’t see these truths is running to where the ball was, not to where it’s going to be. That’s why Facebook is going to win at the Internets. It’s running to where The Internet is going to be, not where it is.

[1]: Which is really ‘The Internet’, people who add the ‘Mobile’ are just in denial.

The Media Singularity


One of the first things I leared as a young man working in television news was ‘control the message, control the people.’ It wasn’t anything that was written in Sharpie in the television news reader. It became apparent as I observed reporters, and how they edited stories. As I watch the Occupy Wall Streat protest develop through the lense of social media though, I’m struck by how much the control of the message has changed in the years since I worked in television news.

When you read reports like (this one from Naomi Wats)[] I’m struck by the futility of the traditional media being used to control the message. The only traditional media I can think of that has any pertinence in the social channel world we live in is John Stewart, and he himself claims that he is not a news organization. When is the last time that something from the traditional media went viral? Maybe the Japanese Tsunami?

Traditional media is wholesale message control. When there was a relative monopoly on news distribution it was possible for those in power to co-opt that media infrastructure at a relatively low cost. Probably the high point of wholesale media control was just after 9/11, when most news media was consumed via television and to a lesser extent print publication.

Today Netflix accounts for the majority of Internet traffic, and people are cutting their cable television cords. The days of wholesale media control are disappearing, and there’s really no way for us to return to those days. When people get their news from social media, from the high-tech word of mouth, control of media becomes a retail affair, one more difficult, and in the environment of Internet time, ever changing.

This is the same story with all media really, but it’s particularly important when talking about news media. News media has been in decline for decades, and the latest attempts at message control since the Arab Spring have put a fine point on this. The Arab Spring was an amazing achievement for social media. It wasn’t that Twitter caused the revolutions in the middle-east, it is that Twitter provided an uncontrollable medium through which social media could flow that overrode the traditional media in many ways. Two things deeply effect this. People don’t trust the traditional media anymore, and people DO trust their friends, even if those friends are just people they met on Facebook.

The Arab Spring isn’t an exclusively Arab event when seen in conjunction with Occupy Wall Street. It’s the realization that we have passed the Social Media Singularity. Just as oppresive governments in the middle east could no longer control the message that was disseminated to its citizens, so too traditional media can no longer control the message that reaches any people. It’s grossly apparent in hindsight, but events like the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street bring it into stark relief.

The days when a few powerfull men could get together and try to control the message are quickly setting. To paraphrase Jarvis, we are reclaiming our Publics. Just as Guttenberg threw the media of the time into disarray, so too will this Social Media Singularity we’ve passed. There’s no stopping it now.

The Empire won.

I haven’t been a ‘real’ SysAdmin for a few years now. I really enjoy my current gig in the IdM and SQL space, but part of me laments not being around for the fall of a once great computer company and operating system. Oh sure, there are Solaris haters out there, but the guys at Sun did some impressive tech, even if it wasn’t quite what open source purists would have liked.

I saw a few days ago that the Solaris operating system is no longer free. You can d download it and try it for 90 days from Oracle, but you can’t run it as you want to anymore, even without support. With Oracle’s push into the Linux space it’s hard to imagine at Solaris as we knew it, a pioneer in OS innovation, is long for this world. I’m just a little sad that it came to this.

Apple stealing Android ideas now?

Is it just me, or do some of Apple’s new improvements to the iPhone OS feel kind of…. Androidish? First there’s multitasking that feels less like multitasking and more like the MVC model of web development, now today we hear about the possibility that the iPhone OS may include hooks to treat Facebook like an inbox, contact source and calendar source. Where have I seen this before? Oh, right on my friends Android. That tight Facebook integration was one of the few things that really turned my head about the Android.

I’m typing this on my new iPad, so my Apple fanbois credentials are legit, but it does seem a bit hypocritical to me that Apple is going after HTC about stealing ideas and patents and now Apple looks to be taking ideas from the Android and incorporating them into their devices. That said, I can’t wait to have Facebook tied into my iPad and iPhone on a deeper level than they are already. Props where props are due though, Android rocked this particular house a while ago.

The future of on-line communication

I’ve been obsessing over unifying my email, Facebook, Twitter and RSS into a single in-box-ish of late. Most of the things I see on the Internet are people trying to aggregate all of these things for publish, so that people can see all of your social applications in a single place, but the idea of taking all of your own sources of information about other people and bringing it into a single in-box doesn’t seem overly popular.

Threadsy does this for E-Mail, Facebook and Twitter, as does Mozilla Raindrop. Both are in Beta, with Threadsy being further along. Some services let you pull in a few others, but it’s still mostly an idea of pulling all of YOUR streams together. Lifestream is a concept for this, where you take all of the on-line sources of what you’re doing and aggregating them into a single stream. What I’m really looking for is a Lifestream aggregator, I want to see other people’s lifestreams in a single view.

It’s made me think about how we communicate on-line more. Comunication has been diverging for years. ICQ started things years ago, IRC before that, but it seems like only in the last few years have things really exploded. Facebook, Twitter, GMail, RSS feeds, Flickr, MySpace, IM (multiple networks), SMS, there are all kinds of conduits of communications available to us anymore. Each of them mostly have their own portal to the stream of communication. To be sure you can get to a point where you can group all of these into chunks. Trillian and Adium allow multiple connections to different IM networks, you can direct all of your various email accounts into GMail. You can link twitter and Facebook to some extent.

Maybe it’s just me and my former obsession with GTD, but it seems it would be nice to integrate our input streams into one view, into one in-box. People have already been going this way with the Lifestream idea. Let’s take it to a new level and aggregate other people’s lifestreams into a view.

Super iPhone

My wife and I are Apple snobs. I’ve been a full-fledged Apple snob ever since I became paranoid about computer security and too lazy to deal with making Linux work on a laptop. My wife followed after I gave her her first hand-me-down iBook and she discovered the joys of good interface design and an OS that got out of your way.

Now, to be sure I use other operating systems. I’ve used a LOT of operating systems. I’m a systems administrator by trade so my experience has run the gamut from OS/2 to Windows to most flavors of UNIX and Linux. I’m the quiet, smug Apple snob you want to punch in the face, but I use Vista at work and thought Solaris was God’s gift to SysAdmins. I’m never really sure why I feel the need to try to differentiate myself from other sorts of Apple snobs, but there it is. I guess I’m just a lazy computer user. I don’t want to deal with viruses. I don’t want to tinker under the hood with my own computer. People pay me to do that. I just want something that’s ready, willing, and able to do my light word processing, email and Internet. That it’s all wrapped up in the sexiest hardware on the planet is just a bonus.

Here’s the thing though. I’ve always LOVED tiny machines. Little laptops are like the bug zapper I throw myself against in the mall. I lusted after Libretos. My first laptop was a Mac Duo, back before I really understood the nature of my Apple Lust. I bought one of the first iBooks. Tiny is where it’s at. Laptops are supposed to be portable. You know, carry them around like a Note-Frikin-Book. They aren’t supposed to be ‘luggable’. The original iBook was alright, but by today’s standards it’s a brick. I had a MacBook Air for a while, and it was nice and thin, sexy beyond measure, and… big. I know, I know, it’s thin enough to slice bread or star in a Quentin Tarentino Movie. As a form factor though, and as a ‘grab it by the spine and walk to a meeting’ kind of appliance, it just couldn’t cut it.

Netbooks are eating the MacBook Air’s lunch. Sure, they’re clunkier, thicker, more brickish. At the same time they’re SMALLER. They really do get to the form-factor of a hard-bound book, hell smaller if you completely geek-out and pick up the latest from Neal Stephenson. Why can’t he go back to books you can read like Snow Crash or The Diamond Age? Why does everything he writes have to be a threat to small animals and children if hurled across the room? But I digress.

After seeing all the cool Netbooks that were being released into the market in some Darwinian spooge of variety in the gene pool I had to try one out. E-bay and my brother-in-law took care of my MacBook Air (thank you Sean) and I plunked down an insanely small amount of money for a Lenovo S10. I’ve got to say this little machine is everything I could hope for. Nice big hard drive for all my media, decent keyboard for typing blog screeds over double-half-caf-mocha-bazooka-lattes, good sized screen. Hell, I hear if you Hackintosh them you’d think you left your MacBook in the dryer too long and a cute little parody popped out. I’d love to buy an Apple Netbook and have all the luxuries that are afforded someone who is willing to pay the Apple Tax.

Apple doesn’t make a Netbook. This week Apple said during it’s financials call that it was watching the space, but they couldn’t understand why people would want to buy the crap that’s out there now in the space. Lots of people have pointed to this as Apple missing the boat at best, as more Apple snobbery and elitism at the worst. You know though, I’ve heard this before. I’ve heard Apple ask why people thought they should get into a space, why would they try to do something that was just such a terrible fit for them? Yeah, I heard that before the iPod, and I heard it again before the iPhone. Apple’s got to be cooking up something pretty good out at their Skunkworks.

Apple’s got a good lock on the Laptop market. Apple’s got an outstanding lock on the iPhone market. The thing I see happening is a development of a market between the two. Right now people do quick things with their iPhone. They call, they SMS, they e-mail, maybe they run custom apps. They do quick things on the iPhone, waiting for the bus, in line at the supermarket. It’s about as much a computing platform as say, an ATM. Convienient, yes. Cool, yes. Culture changing, yes. Ultimately though it’s not a thing for even semi-serious work. Latops, traditional laptops, can do serious work. More and more people rely on them as their primary machine. You have to cary them in an Indiana Jones bag though. You sit at Starbucks or Panera and leach their WiFi to do the cool stuff with them.

Netbooks are finding the spot between the two. Hell, HP’s new Netbooks are styled and marketed like handbags. Sony’s new Vaio (which looks like an Apple by the way) is styled as a ‘lifebook’. They’re all really down-sized laptops though. You’ve got a laptop OS that you have to fart around with to make work. Worse, if you want to get free WiFi working be prepared to fight with XP’s terrible WiFi stack. Hrm… what sort of OS could get out of your way, have some built in functionality with quick wireless networks as well as WiFi, and could work well on a small form-factor screen?

The InterTubes have been a buzz about some ‘Jumbo iPhone’ for years now. I think this is where Apple’s going. I think there are two big obstacles to the adoption of the big money maker though. One, Steve Jobs hates the Newton. One of the first things he did when he came back to Apple was to kill off the Newton. Not such a bad idea in my opinion at the time. The Tech wasn’t ready, it’s probably still not quite ready. Super iPhone smacks of Newton on the surface. It’s not, but I’ve got the feeling that the anti-Newton sentiment is holding it down. 

The second problem is the keyboard. Now, I love my Lenovo’s keyboard. It’s good enough to do real writing on. Apple’s not going to slap a keyboard on a Super iPhone though. They also probably won’t do a flip-out keyboard a-la the Blackberry, scaled up for Super Phone. I’m not sure really what could be done to address this issue. Apple’s let slip a few cool ideas for keyboards on screens, but that’s all pie-in-the-sky stuff. I think though if and when Apple figures out how to do a keyboard properly on Super iPhone we’ll see the 3rd big thing in the consumer electronics market that Apple can own.

Kindle is trying to be iPod for books. It gets a lot of things right, but Amazon has missed the boat a bit by catering to it’s core business. Super iPhone is going to be nothing less than the Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. It’ll be about the same form factor as a book, you’ll be able to connect from anywhere, to anywhere and it’ll keep a better charge than a Netbook OR an iPhone. Who knows when, or if, Apple will get off the pot and pull another rabbit out of their hat. You can be sure someone will. If that someone isn’t Apple we’ll all be the worse for it,  putting up with crappy Linux implementations on what should be Apple’s 3rd pillar.

The Audience Will Love It

I know what I want to write about. I want to write about my turn away from depression and anxiety to a more happy state of mind. It doesn’t seem right though. I’ve been close enough to bipolar to wonder when I seem to snap out of a funk if this is just a temporary euphoria that will again be replaced with a inky darkness of despair. I suppose that fear taints all of the good feelings that I experience. It’s easy to get in that habit, to expect the worst, especially when the world seems as gloomy as it does these days.

I’m not even quite sure what has effected my change, though I suspect that it has something to do with the Dalai Lama and imagining clown noses on the people who make me anxious and sad. Maybe it’s a sympathy for the people who hurt so much that they feel they need to hurt others. I’ve known what it is like to hurt so bad emotionally that you strike out at others with spite and vitriol. It’s a terrible place to be, a place you wish someone else could pull you out of. It takes a long time to see that you can pull yourself out, if you work at it a little. It’s not easy. Western culture seems to want to treat the darkness of emotion with pharmaceuticals, therapy costs to much to be covered by our medical plans. Part of me wishes sometimes that I could be a content church goer, someone who could find comfort in more accepted western religion. Some of the most caring and emotionally helpful people I’ve know have been priests or pastors, though I’ve never known them in a church.

I miss my friend Steven at times like this. He had trained to be a priest, had spent time in the Vatican studying. I knew him as a theater set designer. His office and the theater where littered with wonderful signs with Latin words that no one understood but Steven and the people he explained them to. He never pressed his religion on anyone, but it flowed from him in a way that I wish more holy people would let happen. He was a big bear of a man, with a gruff demeanor, and a heart of gold big enough to share with far more people that anyone should expect. I miss his calming influence, his laugh.

I miss my friend Doc too. Both Steven and Doc worked at the same theater. You couldn’t have much more of a different pair. Steven the big bear, and Doc the short stocky, powerful man. Steven was a devout Catholic, Doc a Unitarian Minister, and yet they both exuded the same calm and cheerfulness that put me at ease when I worked for them or with them.

We worked with difficult, demanding people in the theater. Actors and Directors are always wont to be difficult for theater techs. Actors and Directors practice plays for weeks before technical folks get involved in a production. They’ve worked out their inter-personal relationships and have gotten somewhat comfortable with the play, with their roles. Then you introduce a stage, lights, a set, props and lots of people to make those things work. Techs get to practice a play for a couple of weeks, if that. They’re a different sort of community, a different sort character. Steven and Doc were the head techs for many of the productions I worked on. Their calming influence kept their flocks of lighting geeks, prop nerds, and shift crews from getting too worked up about their difficulties finding their footing among the actors who had already started to trot on their path to a production.

Those few days that Techs have to come to understand their place on the play, the rhythms that a play falls into as the sets and props move, as the actors make costume changes, as we all move towards and audience are hectic and stressful. There’s always so much to do, so much to practice, so much to get right. There were many times I told myself that I would never do this again, it was too much. How many times could we be yelled at before we just walked away? Through it all there were Steven and Doc, weathering the stress with us, offering advice, figuring out how to make things work.

You know though, somehow things always seemed to work themselves out. No matter how bad it looked to be, by the time an audience appeared the production was ready. Some nights things weren’t perfect, some nights minor catastrophes appeared along with the actors. We got through them though. What else could you do? The show must go on. I think that’s something that can help people get beyond the dark places in their own lives.

We all try really hard to do what we think is right. We all try to do what is expected of us. The Directors in our lives try to get us to do more than we might realize we can do. They can usually get us to do that little extra we didn’t think we were capable of. No matter how bad things seem, how much we screw up, we mostly get it right, and that’s enough for an audience. The audience can tell when you’re trying. They will respond to it. The audience wants you to succeed. It’s always easier to realize this when you have a Steven and Doc to help you see it. So when things are bleak, when you feel like you’ve been a week from opening night for months, remember that Steven and Doc are there to remind you things will work out, the show will go up, and the audience will love it.