Archive for August, 2008

Old Dude 1, Techheads 0

By , 29 August, 2008, 1 Comment


Last week, I was all amused to watch CNN steal Barack’s thunder by breaking his veep choice before his so-so-cool text message went out. I took it as a sign that old media might be more agile and relevant in this high tech age than some bloggers like to argue.

This week, I’m all amused to learn that McCain has picked Sarah Palin as his veep. Of the choices he had, I think he made the best one. His other finalists–social conservative Romney, ‘Sam’s Club’ conservative Pawlenty and hawk Lieberman–were all fatally flawed: reviled as a person, an unknown and gasp! a Democrat.

But the benefits of picking Palin–proven maverick, social conservative–are undercut by the baseness of assuming that Hillary voters will swing to her just because she’s a woman:

1. most Hillary voters weren’t for her JUST because of her gender
2. the ones that were, the ones for whom “women’s issues” are the only issues that matter are not the kind of people who would vote for a pro-lifer.

Plus, as a man with serious health/age concerns, McCain is picking a VP with a decent shot of being No. 1 one day. Palin’s foreign policy resume just isn’t big enough for that. That said, on domestic policy, I think Palin fits right where McCain wants to position himself, so overall, I think it’s the right choice.

Given that neither McCain or Obama totally bungled their choices, then, I think the veep choices come out even, meaning the race is still neck and neck and still focused on the same few states as before.

What McCain does win, however, is the media battle. Mr. Old Dude, supposedly out of touch and mocked by Paris Hilton for his mashup video of Obama managed to keep his choice a total secret in the age of 24-hour news and bloggers dying to scoop him. Meanwhile, Mr. 21st century, Obama, got scooped. Score one for being old, I guess.

Call me old-fashioned

By , 27 August, 2008, No Comment

I know we’re in the age of Web 2.0 now, where the pursuit of information gives way to the pursuit of links, ways to connect and think about information.

Call me old-fashioned, hungover from Web 1.0, but I still get a kick out of raw information troves like this project to digitize the Dead Sea Scrolls. One may wonder why, 10 years into the Internet Age, we still haven’t scanned and uploaded all the pre-web written material. Well, obviously, there’s a lot of it. But more importantly, most old documents can’t handle radiation and bright light. Which is why this project is so exciting. If this Israeli venture works out, and we apply the same technology to other ancient tomes of wisdom, we might finally get that universal library, the digital Alexandria, webheads have been heralding since 1995.

Apocalypse 7: Stealing Barack’s Thunder

By , 24 August, 2008, 1 Comment

Unless you lived under a rock last week, you probably heard some chatter about the Obama campaign’s plan to announce a runningmate (it’s Biden, by the way) via text message The young faithful Obama-ites would be in the know before the media pundits; the news would be all over the blogs before it hit the evening broadcast.

It didn’t work out that way. Late on Friday night, CNN had enough material to break the Biden news on air, followed within minutes by the other networks and the websites of all the major newspapers. Panicked, the campaign sent out their text to supporters at about 3 am (AFTER the news was out for the general public) instead of the 8 am time they had planned. Oops.

Now my anecdotal reporting suggests a certain correlation between the Obamamaniacs and the free culture radicals who are waiting for blogs and citizen journalists–camera phones in hand–to obliterate the CNN’s of the world. Both groups are young, urban lefties, after all.

So fittingly, when the Obama cell phone campaign got scooped, the free culture argument lost out too: the threat of new technologies didn’t kill the old media hounds, it just made them work harder to get the story first.

By raising the bar, might the Internet actually be good for the news industry?

“OMG, he asked for my number!”

By , 21 August, 2008, 2 Comments

No, not the guy who shares my cubicle at work (alas), but Barack Obama. If I give him my digits, I can be among the first to know (by text) his choice of runningmate. How hot is that.

Like everything Obama does these days, the media pundits–old and new–immediately labeled this a genius move. Now the Obama campaign can incorporate cell phones–and their young users–into their phone bank lists and begin hounding us all to vote for their man in November.

Here’s the glitch. The folks who need to know Obama’s veep the second he makes up his mind are either Obama kool-aid drinkers or political junkies, or both. Those aren’t the ones you need to call, Barack, cause they already have their minds made up one way or the other. Unless you’re just going through the motions of this campaign to enjoy the celebrity adulation.

The folks you oughta be calling–those 11% undecideds–are still wavering not because they love you and McCain so much, or because they hate you both so passionately, but because frankly, they’re just not that into either one of you. So the idea that those people are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting for a veep choice–and gonna cough up their privacy to be in the know–is pretty ludicrous.

Comcast in Portland: A Cautionary Tale

By , 18 August, 2008, No Comment

My friend Steve just moved to Portland, OR. Being a 22-year old man with clear priorities, he immediately set about acquiring food, a TV and a couch. In that order. Food is easy to come by in Portland, apparently: there are free ice-cream cone giveaways on the streets, and $1 hot dogs at minor league baseball games. Setting up cable, however, proved a challenge.

In a city that hosts chipmaker Intel, it’s only fitting that Steve would turn to the web to set up his new Comcast account. But instead of filling out an online form to request a visit from the cable guy (which is fairly standard across the country), Steve found himself handing over credit card information via an instant message.

The process was a lot faster than calling one of those corporate 800 numbers and dealing with an automated menu (“press 1 to pay us, press 2 to pay us more”), but Steve wasn’t pleased. This is “f***ing retarded,” he said. “Horrendous.”

First off, there’s the uncertainty of putting your credit card info into an IM that you have no confirmation page for. Halfway through the transaction, the IM client crashed when Steve tried to open a new tab on his browser.

Secondly, there’s the increased chance of fraud: the credit card Steve used actually belonged to his girlfriend Dana.

Thirdly, an IM conversation is an ideal place to make typos and grammatical gaffes. The Comcast rep asked to “ruin a credit card,” and after setting up a time for an installation told Steve, “Please make sure that there should be someone 18 years old and above, who is English speaking must be present for the duration of the appointment. Please be inform that the technician will call you 15 minutes before the installation.”

I don’t buy the whole Google-makes-you-stupid theory about internet users, and I don’t think the Comcast rep speaks this way in real life. Rather, I believe the same individuals can be less articulate over fast-paced communication technologies like IM or SMS than they are in print or even over e-mail, where there’s time to spell-check and proofread. And while error-prone IM is fine for personal conversations, Steve says that’s not okay when $100 a month is at stake. I agree.

And Steve is a tech-savvy guy. Like most 20-somethings, he uses the web to listen to music or surf YouTube!; plus, he has a subscription to a service that allows him to watch live coverage of professional sports that don’t make prime time on ESPN. That he still expects a certain formality and decorum from commercial relationships is a telling sign: just because the internet allows us to abandon all the old playbooks, doesn’t mean the Google generation wants that. That’s an important lesson for any companies trying to navigate the digital age.

Too Fast for Jarvis

By , 14 August, 2008, No Comment

Today, the news cycle got faster than the blog cycle. Jeff Jarvis, who I’m convinced has an intravenus feed from his brain to his blog he posts so damn frequently, got behind the news.

At 5:58 AM this morning, he announced a new scheme for newspapers, that resource-crunched industry, to save money: get rid of your convention coverage. Nothing happens at political conventions. The platforms are released beforehand, the candidates are pre-determined and some major national TV outlet (or 2 or 3 or 4) will cover the big speeches. Will you get some local color from covering your city’s delegates? Sure. Is that news? Not so much.

Ooops.

At around 10 this morning, every news outlet was abuzz with the information that Hillary Clinton’s name will be thrown into the roll call at the Democrats’ shindig in Denver. That doesn’t change the fact that Barack is the candidate (whatever the Clinton die-hards may say), but it allows her supporters to make a lot of angry noise and allows the GOP to make the case that the Dems run a dysfunctional family picnic. In politics, any opportunity for one side to make the other side look bad IS news.

And most of the infighting will be happening on the local level between the Obama and Clinton people within individual state groups. Which means for once, local newspapers might have an edge, and a real reason to be on the convention floor.

Never Thought I’d Say This

By , 12 August, 2008, No Comment


…but Wolf Blitzer has done something right. For the record, I have no soft spot for his newscast, the Situation Room. It’s something I watch at the gym because it’s just mindless enough to keep me distracted while I run or ellipticize. But a few days ago, something Wolf said actually got me thinking.

Apparently, you can download a Situation Room screensaver on the show’s website and get a running ticker of headlines on your screen. It’s one of those inventions that makes me wonder why no one thought of it sooner. In the olden days, families ran their TVs on mute over dinner. In the ancient days, they kept the radio on low volume in the kitchen. The news was background noise. In today’s digital world, the screensaver is (silent) background noise.

Granted, it’d be better to have the global headlines from a decent news show like BBCWorld or some regional news from a local station (here in New York, that’d be NY1). Still, even a Blitzer-ticker beats those silly swimming fish or the geometric animations that come on most PCs.

Apocalypse 6: Supply and Demand

By , 10 August, 2008, No Comment

This is the 6th in a series of posts about the struggles of print journalism, the many experts who are convinced its days are numbered, and the (attempted ) innovations of news organizations trying to stay alive.

One of the common refrains among print journos these days is that since information breaks online instantly, no daily or weekly publication can be in the business of hard news gathering. Instead, they should offer analysis, perspective, a “take” on the headlines or broad trend stories that have no links to the headlines at all. That’s what an editor at a major news mag told me on Friday. Looking at sales and ad figures for American magazines, he says that the ones doing best offer a lot of opinion, a clear political stance and very little in the way of timely information. He suggests that that’s what the internet age readers want: print content that supplements but doesn’t compete with what they get online. Print publications that try too hard to be newsy will get left behind.

But just last week, one of the most active internet readers I know, tells me he wants more. not less, news from print organs like the NYTimes. Jon doesn’t read the Times opinions pages (although they are often the site’s most emailed links) because “there’s too much opinion” out there on the web already from bloggers galore. What he wants is some cold hard reporting to help ground him after a day reading diatribes from the internet’s self-made pundits.

In principle, these two arguments are the same: print organizations should fill in the gaps left behind by the internet. But given the magazine sales figures and Jon’s reading habits, it seems like neither news nor opinion represents such a supply gap.

Both information and perspective abound online, but rarely on all subjects and on the same websites. So what print organizations can do is become aggregators, partnering with and bringing together the expertise of various blogs with small additions of their own. That’s the path the Washington Post, the Guardian and Conde Nast have taken already, and it’s my prediction for the way forward.

The “New” Political Culture

By , 7 August, 2008, No Comment

I’m skeptical of Barack Obama’s “new” politics. This week, the NYTimes revealed that it’s really just a YouTube-genic version of the old politics: despite all his claims to the contrary, Obama gets his funding from big bundlers just like everyone else. I have no beef with bundlers–campaigns are expensive. But since Obama told everybody he was a $50 check kind of guy, the bundlers are a problem for him.

Meanwhile, McCain was learning a different lesson about the “new” political culture: how impossible it is to have a controlled message in this viral age. His attack ad about Obama as the greatest celebrity got big press, but not in the way he wanted:

Coffee Makes You Smarter. Duh.

By , 6 August, 2008, No Comment


I’ve been saying it for ages, if only to justify my addiction to the bitter bean. And the Enlightenment philosophes proved the link between coffee drinking and intellectual debate a long time ago. That’s why this blog has the name it does–it’s a virtual coffeehouse. So I’m pleased, but unsurprised to learn that science has finally caught up with common sense–coffee DOES make you smarter.