Friday, April 1, 2005
Tel Aviv skyline from Jaffa.
I’ve put up about seventy more photos from Israel. These go from Tel Aviv and get into Jaffa. Yup!
Start here if you just want to see the new ones.
Monday, March 28, 2005
Hi. Yeah, so I’ve finally had some free time to start tagging my collection of photographs from the recent Israel trip to stick online. So here they are — or at least the first few days worth.
Enjoy. And keep it real, yo.
Saturday, March 19, 2005
[This is a (mostly complete) transcript of Wagner James Au, Peter Ludlow, Tony Walsh, and Jane Pinckard†talking about writing about online worlds. Official details about the panel here.]
Pinckard: [Introductions]. Ludlow got kicked off the Sims Online by EA and now runs the largest webzine about SecondLife. Walsh staged a virtual protest of McDonald’s.
Au: Pinckard writes GameGirlAdvance.com and is a stafff writer for GamePro magazine. And an excellent musician.
Au: I work on SecondLife, an online world. All of the objects in the world are created by “residents.” [Shows an image.] That’s why they brought me in as an embedded journalism a few years ago. I was writing for Salon at the time, and they said “why not write for us?” I have a few avatars, including a Hunter S. Thompson look-a-like. I think my avatar is a better reporter than I am. I see two categories of online journalism: as a catalyst for real-world journalism or as a microcosm of real-world issues.
Au: Your avatar is you and also not you at the same time. Especially in SecondLife, which bars talking about real-life identities. I interviewed in SecondLife a guy who had just come back from serving in Fallujah, Iraq. He was taking some r’n’r in SecondLife. He wasn’t able to share these experiences with his sister until after he got into SecondLife. Another example, Anjay Chung, is one of the most powerful businesspeople in SecondLife. She makes quite a bit of real-life money as a virtual real-estate speculator. You can go to third-party sites and buy and trade “linden dollars,” the SecondLife currency.
Question: How much does she make?
Au: Her SecondLife net worth was over $30,000. Here’s a picture of her at Briar Beach, an artist community in SL. She bought the island, changed the name, and kicked everyone out. Turned it into a vacation settlement for the French. She’s based in Germany and she decided the SL community wasn’t catering to the EU community enough. So she created this area for French-speakers. And she made an area right next to it for German-speakers. Brings up all these issues of globalization, capitalism vs. community, etc. And I find stories like that exciting. […] I am a contractor with Linden Labs, so I have a vested interest. And I see myself as an ombudsman with the community. We’re a small world right now with about 25,000 users, but I have a backlog of stories, amazing stories of people happening in the real-world and in SL. There’s a great opportunity for bloggers to come inot SL and find some really amazing stuff. We have about forty SL bloggers right now, all linked to from my site. I’d love to provide more links out to SL bloggers.
Pinckard: Now on to Tony Walsh.
Walsh: I’ve been a gamer for about 25 years. I’ve got a considerable amount of experience in gaming. Even live-action role-playing, the lowest rung on the gamer totem pole. I’d like to talk about some of the larger issues about reporting on virtual worlds. In SL there are a couple of in-world-only magazines that you have to log in to look at. But what we do is about the events that occur. [Shows pic of his avatar — looks like him.] [Starts his Keynote presentation.] […] Online worlds are having more of an impact as they become more popular. WoW has over 1 million users. Populations are increasing dramatically and it looks like that will continue. Now we also have bloggers who are covering their own spheres in these worlds. We’re at a time when online worlds are more of a topic of “normal” conversation. Especially in Asia with Lineage — they have millions of users. Super-popular. Why are they worthy of coverage? They can foster a dynamic culture. You get interesting social and political situations. And you have interesting opportunities to compare online life to real-life. Do they represent the future of entertainment? A future lifestyle? They’re definitely a force to contend with and, as such, imminently worthy of coverage.
Walsh: Mainstream media tends to go for the most sensational or weird. “Is it making people rich?” “Are they getting dumped by their wives?” “Are they getting kicked out of school?” Total immersion makes for better stories. And online communities are as sensitive as real-life communities. I was speaking with some users who were quoted out of context and annoyed at bad behavior by a journalist. Ethics and standards: Journalistic stardards still apply. Naming sources. How to handle certain subject matter. Etc. I always ask before I use someone’s real name or share information like that with users. Then there’s the on-the-record/off-the-record sort fo thing. I’m supposed to have a press badge, but I don’t. So when does the reporter hat come on and off? It’s all about expectation management, really. What the people you speak with expect their words to be used for. And fact checking isn’t easy. It can be very difficult.
Walsh: Actual vs. virtual freedom. Online, freedom isn’t guaranteed. They’re run by companies, so whatever the good intentions, they must work to popularize and maintain their product with rules of etiquette and such. There’s no constitution for online world. In reeality, you have no rights. And that goes for the press, too. Peter got entangled with the Sims 2, for example, when they disagreed with what he was saying. It amounts to a customer “firing” customers. But is it in the best interest of game companies to emulate real-life freedoms? We can talk about all of this in the discussion.
Walsh: Which are most suitable to cover? Those with complexity. In SL you can make your own objects. In Star Wars you can make you own organizations. Those that offer more user freedom. The more powerful the users can be, the more interesting things to users will do. And those that show promise in particular areas, technically and otherwise. We, for example, raised over $10k for tsunami relief.
Walsh: Angles and audience. Macrocoverage: pop-culture, mainstream news, industry-focus, etc. Microcoverage: MMOG players, game developers, bloggers, game studies. In-between: Official: Corporate blogs, PR, developer plans, operations. And also in-between: General coverage: Closest to mainstream news journalism.
Walsh: Conclusion. Online worlds are increating in popularity and opportunities for online journalism.
Ludlow: I kind of disagree with the other guys. I don’t call myself a journalist. I role-play a journalist and, in my case, as a tabloid journalist. We report bugs, wedding announcements, game reviews. Some are just silly. We also cover mafia wars in the game. And we have “post 6” girls, virtual girls that appear on the blog sometimes. We usually try to stay with stories (we still cover EA because we hate them)… We also cover stories like this one: An individual from Germany had been suspended seven times from SL for making some kind of Nazi death training camp thing. And here’s a post about the virtual Central Park Gates. [He’s going down through his weblog posts.] Another picture of the Nazi girl.
Au: We have regulations against hate speech.
Pinckard: What about hate design?
Au: Well, it’s a gray-area.
Ludlow: More images. This group had a huge swastika on their building. They said it was a hopi symbol of peace. Probably not… Here’s another person with an avatar based on Sasami, an anime character. This avatar was selling themselves as an escort and slave and selling hentai porn. Here are somee of my favorite stories… At one point we had an area populated by active-duty service people, mostly from the south. [Shows image with a Confederate flag and “Heritage Not Hate.”] An developer was going to set up a mega-mall nearby. Here are some chatlogs behind the land barons, trying to strong-arm people. The WWIIers build a huge wall, first. Then some grafitti: “Fuck you WWIIOLERS.” More barriers. A metal, armed, flying moose. So the confrontation. Just words are exchanged at first. So the megamall plan fell apart, sadly for the developer. So he torched the WWIIOLERS HQ, a model of the Reichstag, and put his flag over it. He made a thermonuclear weapon that could take servers offline. So the WWIIers shot up his club. Then someone called me — they had taken off an entire server… Don’t know why… So one of them makes another club, Club X-Tacy. A couple days later, Club X-Tasy was vaporized. And I can’t say why because I must protect my sources.
Pinckard: So let’s talk about that. It’s fascinating, but what does it mean.
Ludlow: Why does it have to mean anything? These other guys tend to over-intellectualize everything.
Walsh: From a philosophy prof…
Ludlow: Hey. I’m just saying that there doesn’t need to be a reason it’s important. Why does it have to be?
Au: We had an experience with grafitti about the Iraq war turning into in-game shootings and such.
[It’s hard to transcribe this fast-paced chat.]
[Ludlow’s kind of crotchety in comparison to the others, like a guy not totally buying into the hype and not worried about saying that. Which I like about him. The other panelists seem to have more of a direct interest in SL — working for the company. L doesn’t.]
Question: So this has been going on since 1997, Ultima Online. The debate often occurs in the message boards. Why is reporting better than what goes on in there?
Walsh: It’s filtering out the noise, bringing to the fore-front what the reporter wants the public to understand. You make it as unbaised as you can, but I normally have an opinion. The difference is that I can write, I can communicate these ideas better than users in the message boards. It reads better.
Ludlow: The messageboards are censored. Heavily. You won’t get a story about suspensions, for example.
Au: I’ve reported on stories that are very ambiguous. Like a branding agency bough the first island we offered for sale. Big discussion. Some personal attacks in the message boards. The larger narritive was about capitalism coming into the world for the first time. So I tried to pain thte bigger picture about what was going on here.
Walsh: If you like messageboards, go for it, but many people rely on a more condensed version of that. And these communities are gated in that you have to buy the game to join in. So for non-players we have to make sense, as well.
Question: Why does SL allow people to take down a server?
Au: Yeah, that’s a violation. They’re breaking the terms-of-service. They do it for publicity, so I don’t report on it (though it’s sometimes very creative what they do.)
Ludlow: I did. I do what I can. I think it’s a myth to say they do it for publicity.
Question: L’s story sounded more like a draft for a William Gibson story rather than normal journalism.
Au: It is role-playing. The in-world stuff. So it does become a type of fiction, paradoxically. Peter’s story is really cool on its own.
Ludlow: A sci-fi writer recently joined our team to write on a meta-level.
Walsh: When Peter posts, SL players will come and post on the story in character. Don’t know if they see it as collaborative fiction, but they are contributing to it.
Pinckard: And it is entertainment that the users pay for.
Au: Linden Labs lets you own anything you create in SL. A guy made a game in SL and he sold it out in the real-world. It’s all his.
Walsh: In future versions we might include some Creative Commons-type licences.
Question: Is there a place for an open-source alternative here?
Walsh: There is the Croquet project that’s open source. Linden Labs has said they might let people run their own servers in the future, but it’s hard.
Question: Is the corporate big-brother thing necessary?
Ludlow: Given the restrictive nature of the Linden Labs temrs-of-service, why wouldn’t users go to an open project? There are a few, but they’re not really getting popular.
Walsh: But a player wants a guaranteed customer experience. And a company can provide that.
Au: LL asked whether the users wanted to police themselves. And there are a few with their own bylaws and constitutions.
Pinckard: Voting’s hard!
Au: It’d be fascinating to see happen. There’s always an appeal…
Pinckard: ToonTown, another MMOG, is for kids, so it’s got a tight control.
Pinckard:It’s 11am, now. Thanks, everyone!
[Note: I might alter this transcript in the coming days to remove typos and clarify the content. I post it now just to make it available as soon as possible.]
Friday, March 18, 2005
[This is a (mostly complete) transcript of Mike Linksvayer, David Galbraith, Cameron Marlow, Steve Champeon, and Matthew Haughey talking about using data and research to improve design. Official details about the panel here.]
Haughey: [Details about the Creative Commons party.] This panel’s semantic web. For the past three years I’ve worked on a project with a bunch of people making a semantic web application. I’ve been a skeptic ever since then. Three years to do a tiny piece, so how’s the entire web going to be prescribed by really intense standards?
Haughey: I want to start off really quick. I pitched this as… I don’t do much semantic web stuff. Barely read. It’s a crazy world and there are so many standards on top of standards. But. [Gives definition really fast… Ack.] I also run Metafilter. I have tons of content. Millions of records in a database. I’m sort of a skeptic, I’ll say it out front. I just wanted ot assemble some people and see what there thoughts were. We’ll start with introductions and a quick statement.
Galbraith: I was interested in tags and how they might enable some of the things in RSS. I’m a skeptic, as well. RDF is very old and not a single RSS reader that will read metadata. Nor a simple way to create an RSS module without sitting down in a committee. Why can’t I filter stuff in an aggregator by price? Tagging. That seems like something people are willing to do. If I define a flag in Flickr or whatever. Tag it Apple. Is that the company? Fruit? So I was interested in letting people use name=value pair. Fruit=apple. And that’s a mess. But if a bunch of people start tagging things intelligently, then maybe that tag will be bumped up into an RSS module. So I’m interested in the bottom-up approach.
Marlow: I’d love to say I’m not a skeptic. But my interest comes from my background in the field formerly known as knowledge representation, now known as the semantic web. It’s really building upon a whole literature of knowledge representation. Which never solved all the problems it was supposed to. I’ve a skeptic because I’ve never really seen an application that takes advantage of this sort of knowledge. As a tool developer, I’m constantly looking for uses for people’s data. My conception of the SW is that it’s mostly defined by data that exists that computers can take advantage of. The reality is that it’s the glue that holds these different pieces of information together so the computer can make inferences about how to deal with them.
Linksvayer: Besides working at CC. I also did a thing called BT [?]. I wanted to draw paralells between SW and AI. AI was to produce intelligent machines. SW tech has been around for a relatively short period of time. May be used all over, but not recognized as such. Java. Applets would revolutionize the web. People did make many applets, but Java has been hugely successful as the 21st century version of COBOL. [Etc.] SW may be following a common path. Initial failure to succeed in the “sexy” domain, but useful for business purposes. Oracle has included a kind of SW in their recent products. [This is hard to follow, what he’s saying. Sorry.] But. There are reasons to think SW might be different. If you’re looking at data on the web, what is it but agiant data integration problem? A good example is MSpace. You can see that they’re using RDF to integrate data from a bunch of different sources. Users don’t see that, but it’s there. They’re pulling in a Classical music ontology by someone else from Schemaweb.org, where you’ll find dozens of schemas and RDF datasets developed by people from all over, detailing beer, wine, veg food, and stuff you would put in your mouth. [Matt shows MSpace browser on the screen.] By design the SW is meant to be decentralized and not controlled by the W3C.
Champeon: I got into this business in 1993. Unemployed liberal arts major. Etc. I stumbled into SGML-based document conversion on the day I was laid off from the t-shirt printer. Which was great. They were trying to land some contract. We were tagging court data so it could be searched upon in various ways and I was really impressed by this because people put a lot of thought into these rules and how you could add structure and meaning to this information. We thought it would never last because it was too simple and generic. SGML was too complex, XML fixed much of that. I couldn’t get away from the idea that you should be able to mark up any language. What we got at first were people using the tags wrong, trying to lay out their page some how and just screwing up. So they started talking about SW and I thought: Cool. They’ve fixed a lot of the problems. And then it started to get muddy. On the issue of what he was saying about “Apple.” I have an iPod. And there’s an integration kit for iPod and Mini, the car. Apple introduces the mini. Then the Mac mini. So you can’t find the Mini iPod integration kit anymore. So if the tech doesn’t give you a way to apply context, you’ll have trouble attaching meaning to a document in a larger context. Because the meaning of words evolves over time, as well. Context dictates the semantics your going to apply to any given chunk of data. So all of these further complexifications don’t tackle the core problem.
Haughey: I wanted to throw out a few topics. Semantic Web (upper case): A rich data description. Semantic web (lower-case): Adding meta-data to information. So I want to ask: Is lower-case SW a gateway drug to upper-case SW?
Galbraith: Yes, absolutely. RDF is defined as a data model. There’s nothing to say that in the grassroots sense things might gravitate towards a similar model. In a Darwinian sort of way. Initially the W3C did a very good job with some real successes with standards like HTML, but I think all the XHTML/CSS stuff is bullshit. There’s a fundamental structural problem. In SW, I tihnk the premise is right.
Marlow: Riffing off of this, the web as it stands is a semantic web. Language. The reason we’re making this parralel web is because we think computers are to stupid to understand this language. But there are companies out there making leaps and bounds actually reading this language that people write. Just because the computer can’t understand it now isn’t a limitation on the data, it’s a limitation of the computer.
Linksvayer: I wanted to spell out something that keeps coming up. If you want to use the SW it requires going through a committee. That’s not the case at all. It’s designed to be decentralized. So the lower-case sw might be a good way of bootstrapping into integrations with the upper-case SW.
Haughey: I looked around the SW and it’s kind of born of an academic world. Do you think it’s being held back for lack of money?
Champeon: SGML was a defence dept thing that came out of IBM. People were involved because there was so much stuff to convert and they wanted to make a million dollars. When HTML hit, a lot of them went to the W3C with their pet project and ended up working on some extension or related technology that evolved from HTML. Or something.
Galbraith: The interesting stuff is happening in the enterprise at the moment. There’s an XML database that would make something like Technorati fantastic. But they’re using it for Boeing who have their own XML documents.
Champeon: Many companies that have lots of data are still the ones using it. Like IBM had ITDOC [?]. […] There’s the pure vision and then the awkward reality.
Haughey: Low-hanging fruit? Quick win?
Galbraith: Taking tags to the next level. Fruit=apple. Then tools to allow people to make their own RSS modules. And an aggregator that uses this information. None do right now. If you wnat Bloglines to display your RSS feed from a custom module, it’ll be blank. All that data is thrown away.
Marlow: I’d probably agree. The big win the short term is taking the hype and the use of these data structures and creating some way of turning those into something real semantic web applications can use. The people who can do this right now may not be able to actually make the tag definitions. But if you let people at large make these definitions, then you’ll get a much nicer emergent systems. Semantic middle-ware.
Linksvayer: The killer app is PageRank. Other things. CC, of course. search.creativecommons.org. You can look for works under terms you want. That’s all meta data. Some obvious short-term: decetralized social calendars and events. There’s a desire for those and a lot of work has been done. It just requires somoen to build aggregators. And then, of course, data integration ingeneral. That’s the killer app in a broad sense.
Haughey: Chicken-and-egg problems. You’ll come up with a new tag or use, then you have to get thousands of instances of that sitting around and then someone will make an app. Right? Doesn’t always really happen. CC, we just made the tool ourselves. Movable type and TypePad automatically spit out RDF data. Why hasn’t someone built a search engine around that?
Marlow: I collect all that data on Blogdex. I try to avoid search at all costs, but I collect all of that data. And it’s useful. The fields that would be interesting to me, though, are not really filled in. No one uses keywords. I haven’t founf any gains from this data I have.
Champeon: HTML works because it’s a layout language, a mark-up language — but it’s pretty useless as far as marking up language. No richness there, semantically. And no reason for someone writing a blog to add semantic information because they don’t really care. […]
Haughey: Last question. Google’s kind of skirted the whole SW. Ever see an SW Google Labs search engine? Or will they ever need the SW?
Linksvayer: Obviously they’re doing the right thing in concentrating on text. But they’ll only do it if there’s a huge amount to gain from it. To a degree they can drive whatever standards they want, if they declare they’re going to use a certain kind of data.
Marlow: And they have a specific way of turning non-textual features into a part of their ranking algorithm. But the core tech of Google is search, so I can’t envision them doing something wild and out-there.
Linksvayer: They can easily allow you to add different sorts of stuff into that one field, as they do.
[These are a bit too quick to write down clearly. One topic that came up was Dublin Core, which might be worth taking a look at.]
Galbraith: Flickr is an amazing thing. They’ve solved the problem of tagging. There are an average of five tags per item.
[Note: I might alter this transcript in the coming days to remove typos and clarify the content. I post it now just to make it available as soon as possible.]
Friday, March 18, 2005
[This is a (mostly complete) transcript of Philip Kaplan, Jason Calacanis, Gokul Rajaram, Henry Copeland, and Bill Flitter talking about making money with online advertising. Official details about the panel here.]
Calacanis: I now run Weblogs Inc. that runs about 75-or-so boutique blogs, kind of like Gawker. So this is a pretty good panel of people who make tools that can help people like you make money.
Calacanis: Let me start with Google. How many advertisers in the network? And why don’t you tell us the percentage of the revenue we get?
Rajaram: There are thousands of advertisers. We don’t reveal because we want publishers to focus on the actual number, the actual money they’re making. And we want to reserve the flexbility to reward or publish of publishers who do well or poorly.
Calacanis: Isn’t the real reason because people are constantly trying to game the system?
Rajaram: That’s the third reason. But really, we’d prefer the users focus on the actual money.
Calacanis: [Pulls up a screenshot of a page with Yahoo! Marketplace ads.] If Yahoo! displays percentage, will Google?
Rajaram: No, because it detracts from the ECPM [effective CPM].
Calacanis: Let me ask you, Phil. You learned a lot with FuckedCompany. Now you’re persuing Google’s business. Why?
Kaplan: Running FuckedCompany was and still is a big publication. We got a lot of requests to link to peoples sites, but we don’t do this. We tried advertising in some ways. So we built a system to automate the system. Not trying to compete with Google, we just filled a need. We give publishers 75%. And we tell people what the average cost per click is. Total transparency. We even show page views. We also show repurchase rate. [Looking at AdBrite site on the screen.] And we have no exclusives.
Calacanis: Google, also, no exclusive. Does this make Google nervous?
Rajaram: It’s very complimentary. There’s not just one revenue option. There are other options that attract other sets of advertisers.
Calacanis: If you have ads that look similar …
Rajaram: You can’t run contextually-targetted ads on the same page with GoogleAds.
Calacanis: I’ve heard the Overture wants an exclusive. Google doesn’t. Now, to Henry. BlogAds. Very focused. You chose to do a different style of ads.
Copeland: Our theory was that blogs and blog audiences were very different. So we have different kinds of units. Kind of a bloggish unit. It helps get advertisers into the blog mindset. We’re very friendly — publisher does what they want to do.
Calacanis: Google forces pubs to put “Published by Google” in their ads.
Rajaram: We want to make sure the users know that it’s really an ad and not a part of the content of the site. The success of any program is dependent upon the advertisers being satisfied.
Copeland: [Showing ads on Wonkette and talking about what’s a success and what’s a failure.]
Calacanis: I have a little problem with it as a publisher. It’s hard to tell what’s an ad sometimes. Why not label?
Copeland: We’re here to serve bloggers. We’re not going to tell them what to do. Except don’t serve porn.
Calacanis: We started selling RSS ads back in July or August. Not a lot of demand for them. Tell us about Pheedo. And your issues with RSS advertising.
Flitter: Basically what Pheedo does. It’s an ad server plus analytics engine. We to want to ad value to that process. Ad content that’s relative to that feed. But you’re right — RSS does have some unique problems to it that we’ve solved. Like understanding your stats. Like where expired ad links go to. And what standards to use. There are no standards. So we’ve been working together to make these standards. Top publishers: Can’t talk about some right now. Topix.net. Lockergnome. Paidcontent. And they’re rebuying. Advertisers pay by click. Measuring impressions is part of our secret sauce.
Calacanis: One way to tell if an ad has been seen is to add a 1x1 pixel image that no one can see. We get a lot of traffic for spiders from Technorati and all these other places. And you can’t block them or you’re not getting indexed on Technorati. DoubleClick came up with this a long time ago.
Kaplan: I looked at the P&L statement when they went public and it came out to between 25% and 32%, what they take for the ads (publishers get 75% or 68%).
Calacanis: We pay our writers based on traffic. And our big blogs (engadget) pay for the smaller blogs down the line, like a cancer weblog. The goal of the company is to have 700 topics, so that’s the goal.
Question: What is your position on full-text versus partial text in feeds. Does it impact readership?
Calacanis: If it starts canibalizing on our viewership, we’ll change it.
Question: Two schools of thought. One says that RSS should just be a notification system. The other is that you should post full text in the RSS and do ads.
Calacanis: We don’t do that.
Question: Talk to me in a couple years. You will.
Calacanis: I think there will be a trend towards giving more to the user and less “selling out.”
Question: Can I hear some success stories?
Copeland: A handful of bloggers are making more than I am right now.
Calacanis: Mobiletracker makes $5-$10k per month from his site. paidContent.org also makes about $70,000/year.
Flitter: One thing he does do. paidContent is very particular about what ads he’ll accept. It has to be exactly related.
Calacanis: He’s doing a digital music blog with Billboard. They’re paying him. And then he’s building his own brand in parallel.
Question: [About money.]
Calacanis: A Gawker writer makes $30,000/year.
Question: What sort of rates would a blogger get. How do you pay a part timer?
Calacanis: Anyone getting paid to blog is paid because they have a passion and because they have other revenue streams. We like the idea of having four or five blogger working on a site and then doing something else.
Question: Some ad networks run out of ads and you end up getting ugly, flickering ads for mortgage rates and such.
Copeland: We let publishers decide. The number of ads shown floats depending on how many fit.
Kaplan: We give you the option as to whether you want those filler ads.
Question: Google, are you punishing or rewarding me?
Rajaram: We believe that if advertisers are not happy, they will go elsewhere. There are a ton of different factors and we don’t publicly disclose them. If your clicks don’t result in sales, then the amount of money you get goes down. Protects us from click-through fraud a bit.
Question: Follow up. Can publishers, then, be punished when the ad doesn’t represent the actual product or service.
Calacanis: Google created a link that’ll go through your page and redraws the page with their own links on keywords. [I don’t fully understand.]
Rajaram: We should have an offfline discussion. It’s a sensitive topic.
Copeland: “Do no evil” is an interesting proposition. We try to do good, in the positive. I admire their engineering. Philsophically it’s odd.
Calacanis: It’s one of those things that’s technically possible and sounds cool. Then you make it, and it’s not that good of an idea.
Question: How do you deal with click-fraud?
Rajaram: We think we’re very good at finding false-positives.
Kaplan: We do some per-click and some flat-rate stuff. For a click to count, it has to jump through a bunch of hoops.
Question: Lots of low-quality sites in AdSense. How do you deal with this?
Rajaram: Combination of technology and humans terminate problem sites.
Calacanis: It’s a total non-issue. A technology starts doing well, and the press latches onto the downside. It doesn’t happen that often. It’s a manufactured controversy.
Question: How do you get new advertisers?
Copeland: I think Google has about five-hundred people. We have two right now.
Kaplan: We have about five or six people right now. We got $4mil in venture capital..
Flitter: We have three.
Question: I heard that 15% of Google clicks are fraudulent.
Calacanis: That’s outlandish.
Rajaram: I don’t know. Not that high. We have a large fraud-detection department.
Rajaram: Content has lower click-through rate than search. [Etc. More about this…]
Copeland: All clicks and conversion are not created equally.
[Note: I might alter this transcript in the coming days to remove typos and clarify the content. I post it now just to make it available as soon as possible.]
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
[This is a (mostly complete) transcript of the keynote with Bruce Sterling and Alex Steffen. Official details about the panel here.]
Bruce Sterling: Here we are, another year under the bridge. I’m teaching design this year on the west coast. And the question foremost on everyone’s mind is, how can he invite all of the audience to his party when he doesn’t even live in Austin. We’re having the party at the American Legion Hall on Lake Austin Boulevard. [And more information about this…]
Alex Steffen: There are increasing numbers of creative pepople who want to tackle the big problems we face as a planet and we need a name for this movement. Cybergreens? World changers? But there’s a sense that solutions are starting to come at a very rapid pace, the sense of a race between products and solutions. Is the world getting better fast enough.
Bruce Sterling: Some problems I consider of interest. Fourteen chronic problems. Habitat destruction [and variations]. Increased consumption. [Etc.] Humanity approaching using the world’s entire photosynthetic capacity. All classic future issues on a slow timeline. Not to be solved in two years in the House of Representatives. I expect to see these problems diminish in my lifetime I be defeated in the 2060s. And the most interesting people in our society are those who will be able and willing to tackle these. The people are not conventional enviros or digital people. We’re seeing an electronic con[what?] of different groups of people, trading information across previous institutional boundaries and punt info into the world of mass-consumption. It’s not enough to do things in a virtually green way, these are things that will have to be done as a matter of status quo. Protocrats. A new society ahead of the curve in developing new technologies and pushing them into mass development. Protocracy suits my own proclivities. Grand topic: The actual is the new virtual. I’ve brought some things from California. [He has a box of stuff. Something printed from a 3-D printer, a dino bone or something. And another one made out of ABS plastic. And another, larger one. And others made of starch.] “Fabjects.” [More and more.] What we’re seeing here is the birth of the object processor. [Dinosaur head.] It’s difficult to see the detailing here. There’s an outfit called SecondLife where you can design landscapes and objects. And you could make them — print them out with frabricators.
Alex Steffen: Let me jump in with why that’s important. One essential problem is that we use way too much crap. Ecological footprint — how much planet it takes to lead your lifestyle. Essentially we have 1.9 hectares per person. We’re using 2.4 planetwide. Americans are using 7. So all of the problems listed earlier are related to that fact. So you need some way to redefine the material basis of society. But we’re not the only ones who use stuff. 1/2 the planet is under 30. 1/3 under 15. and no one’s going to be happy with a well and a goat if they’ve seen people on Baywatch with a Ferarri. And if everyone lives like wealthy Americans, we’d be screwed really quickly. So can we figure out a way to be sustainably prosperous. And I think we can. Now almost every object we used gets theoretically fed through a computer. Chairs. Clothes. Cameras. Gives us incredble leverage to redesign things. But can we make them better. What if one of these fabjects was a water pump that could give someone access to clean water?
Bruce Sterling: Fabs are a breakthrough innovation. We’ve got to disintermediate the method by which we’ve made practically evrything. And I think it’s doable. And it’s actually happening. Like this. A guy scanned his hand and printed it out as a fabject. And I’ve seen human skulls made out of this by surgeons. “Scan his head and print out his skull.”
Alex Steffen: And the twin to this is that stuff itself is getting smarter. One of the most interesting things is that you can track and share stuff like cars — car sharing. Thousands of people already share cars. And tool labs. Etc. How many things could you actually share so you don’t need to own a washing machine? That’s what we’re able to do right now.
Bruce Sterling: We’re heading for 11 billion people and they’ll mostly be living in cities. That 50% more people living in areas that don’t exist yet. And stuff can’t be built in the old way. It just won’t work. LA is a megacity. They’ve got traffic and smog problems. And housing costs. Almost makes the city unlivable in many ways.
Alex Steffen: Those are relatively nice problems compared to cholera. I heard a stat that we’re building a city the size of Seattle every 7.5 days. And we need to figure out ways to provide the services and structures for people to live in these mega cities. Like Mexico City. Lagos, Nigeria has 14,000,000. Cities are exploding in China. How we meet that challenge is one of the fundamental questions. Can you build cities better than the Romans? We’re still using some tech that’s 4,000 years old. How do you provide food? Some people say we’re in a food bubble. these are big, big meaty problems.
Bruce Sterling: And they’ve got solutions. Smog could go in pretty short order. There are hydroelectrics. The traffic problem is do to the stupidity of highways and not expect people behind the wheel to do all of the navigation for an area that large. And housing costs and critical. Green megacities won’t work unless we can break off our traditional notions of what structures are and how they’re maintained. Right now the center of LA and Austin are two of the most booming areas of the cities while the suburbs are turning into ghettoes. It’s a slow wave that needs to be analysed better and understood better. It needs a new level of sophistication in which the actual is the new virtual. Problems are solveable. Leapfrogging and treefrogging.
Alex Steffen: The idea behind leapfrogging. Under certain conditions some pople can skip a step of development. Not much phone grid in most fo the developing world, for example. So. They could just ahead and just use cellphones and never install a physical network. Extrapolate from that model. No power grid? Why build the 19th century power grid? Build more distributed power. Solar power. Smart grids. So leapfrogging can be used in many areas. And many of the most interesting innovations are coming from the developing world.
Bruce Sterling: You can just see leapfrogging. Companies know. That’s why they lobby the government against some of these more efficient ways of distributing internet access, for example. So WiMax goes to Belize and wires it up. But it doesn’t leave much for people in the advanced countries to do. Treefrogging. That’s altering how you live your own life to alter consumption patterns. Treehugger.com has some interesting information. I visit it often. What do you sit on? Build your house out of? Eat? [Some rambling about LOHAS — lifestyles of health and s—? magazines.]
Alex Steffen: I’d recommend metaefficient.com, barking-crickets.com.
Bruce Sterling: And they’ll become affordable in short order. You can eat at Whole Foods and buy a hybrid electric car.
Alex Steffen: Not all of us have money to give to good causes, but we do have attention. Attention philanthropy. There’s an ability that’s emerging right now of people making recommendations and promoting.
Bruce Sterling: I reviewed a solar backpack for treehugger.com. This guy made some backpacks with solar panels to charge cellphones. That sort of this. Ecoture. If you wear it people will come and talk to you. It’ snot that difficult to power a cellphone. He made a couple of dozen and gave them to blogger friends. Now he’s picked up by Hammacher-Schlemmer. It’s a new method of introducing technological innovation. and learn to take “yes” for an answer. Makes money? Manufacturing it. It’s not that difficult to meet consumer demand. It’s not that hard now to move this stuff into production really fast. And there are methods of doing this. Switch topics. Now. Neo-biology and biomemetics.
Alex Steffen: Biomimicry. One can create better design solutions by mimicing nature. And there’s a lot of really cool stuff out there. And it’s part of a larger shift that we’re seeing towards a neo-bio industry. Computers based on living organism. Growing your next laptop. One thing that’s fascinating about that is because a problem is that we make stuff wasteful and very toxic. We all wear it. We’re covered by it. Bill McDunnogh has great rants about this. Can you design a non-toxic environment? And more and more designers are saying, “You might be able to.”
Bruce Sterling: I read “Cradle to Cradle.” What’s you most intimate connection to an object. You buy it. It wears out. So we can talk about my rotting Converse shoes. These shoes have a tough sole built into them, here. The bottom has been abraded by use. That’s what it’s for. What happened to the missing part of the shoe? Knocking into microscopic particles. A gas. Where’d that go? I inhaled it, basically. It’s not like I took off my Converse and smoked it, but I did on a slower skill. Turned into vapor finer than cigarette ash and surrounded my body. What happened to all the microscopic particles around me? Well, a lot of them have been integrated into my body. The sinister part is that some stuff is bioaccumulative. I’m basically a little ocena under my skin. Sea water. Stuff floats around. And stuf fparticles are bioaccumulative. The body thinks it can make stuff out of it. So a fish will bioaccumulate mercury. Then I eat the fish and I bioaccumulate it. And that’s the most intimate relationship we have.
Alex Steffen: The breast-milk study. Affluent people have their breastmilk tested and it contains things like lead and jetfuel.
Bruce Sterling: Jetfuel? The body grabs jetfuel in trace amounts. And that doesn’t go away. It’s become a permananent part of your infrastructure. So we need to understand the memetic natures of our bodies and we shouldn’t make things out of stuff that our body will accumulate. We’re turning our bodies into dumps. Design is design for the dumb. [Eh?] First, there are always unintended aspects of it. Externalities.
Alex Steffen: […] Can we design a world in which the delivery of soda to my body doesn’t get into our breastmilk and our bodies. [The container.]
Bruce Sterling: You can have your body scanned to see what part is industrial artifacts. And we all carry some because we have to breathe. And if you had a monitor, you could see that you had a bunch of jetfuel in you. You’d talk to neighbors. Blog. And you’d kind of narrow in on the cause of the pollution. And the jetfuel in our bodies was created just now — it’s from our parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Because the dumps will get larger and larger until you can fold them back into the production cycle. […] So you make stuff out of stuff that life can use. Or. You build monuments that will last for hundreds of years, never decay. The difficulty with that is that you don’t get to change your mind afterwards. Third way. Never thought of before, but I’ve been writing about it. Label everything and digitally track it. Google the barcode. Scan it. Track its lifetime. Follow it through the production stream from retailer to owner. When it breaks, it calls something to pull it appart. Designed for disassembly. We have an internet of web pages but we don’t have an internet of things. The closest thing we have is Amazon. Everything has a haze of data around it. And I think this is the future for many manufactured objects. They don’t even exist before I pay for it. Like with a Dell computer. They don’t make it until you order it. And if they could watch the thing and take back the parts when you were done. You wouldn’t lose anything, but it’d be in a nice, closed loop. It’d be a complete remake of the complete political-economic-social system. And that sort of thing happens all the time. The internet of things. First we’ll see it in places like WalMart and the Pentagon and eventually it’ll just be something you do. Most people in this room when old will be surrounded by trackable object. If you loose your car keys, you’ll just google them. When your 75. And it will seem simpler like Google seems simpler. I google my own stuff — stuff that’s on my own hard disk! And in an internet of things, those things exist throughout the physicality. That’s how you look for every thing.
Alex Steffen: Huge leaps are going to happen no matter what you do. Something unsustainable cannot go on. So do we choose a future or do we get the default future? I tihnk we can beat som eof these problems and some things that we consider optimistic our kids will take for granted. We need to design something that’s better than what we’ve got. More attractive. Lots of creative people here with lots of good visions about making things better.
Bruce Sterling: Our society needs a victory condition. It’s in a completely reactive mode. But we are going to be transformed. I’m talking 30-60 year time-span. Environmental problems are slow and chronic. But we need to learn how to play and win. And almost all of our problems are infrastructural. We have the feul problems because we’re committed by fossil feuls. So we have to create a society that no longer relies on that resource. So we’ve got to invent our way around it. And that sounds radical. But what if you were to bring in someone from 30 years ago and have them ask everyone here what they do — they’d have no idea. The words didn’t even exist then. And now they’re huge industries. Computer gaming is bigger than Hollywood now! We really need society to have its creative people get out of bed with a fire to change. Two possibilities: A world that’s unimaginable and a world that’s unthinkable. In practice, we’ll be somewhere between the two. Our victory condition: [says it really fast — and applause].
Tuesday, March 15, 2005
[This is a (mostly complete) transcript of Tantek Celik, Jonas M Luster, Joyce Park, Ernie Hsiung, and Danah Boyd talking about leveraging decentralized social networks. Official details about the panel here.]
Does “social networks” mean anything when pretty much everything that goes out of the computer is a part of a social network in a sense?
Does “why” matter? Why do people put so much information about their lives online to possibly be archived for ever. Maybe it doesn’t matter why. Maybe we can just build on their behaviors and build products that meet their needs.
Who owns your data? AIM claims to own everything you write through their chat program, for example. [He only alludes to this with a cough.]
Can technology be too simple? Or are we making it simple enough as it is?
Luster: Let me start with a story. In 1993 I was in Somalia. I asked an old woman there who else was coming out there. She said “experts.” Turns out they don’t have a word for “expert.” So they use the word to mean someone with a suitcase who talks a lot and doesn’t know anything. I used to be an academic, but I’m not at “expert.” I’m looking at the question, “Can technology be too simple?” I’ve been looking at social networks since 1992, 1993, before anyone else was thinking about it in relation to a computer. [Shows screen with six words that define what makes a social network.] My first though looking at Friendster is that it’s not a social network — it’s a community site. When we talk about social networks, we’re not looking at the attributes of the person — we’re looking at the attributes of the relationship. My three favorite books are not a social network analysis. The group of people who like those books is. Proximity. It’s a factor. […] Time. On Friendster you can find people who are friends with lots of other people. The question is when and has that relationship changed over time? These are not answered by looking at a modern social network application [like Friendster]. Direction. Orkut is bi-directional — requires both sides to consent to a connection. In “old school” social networks it can be uni-directional. Density. Type. How did I meet the other person? What kind of social network? So what’s in a social network? More than just one variable. The networks are transient. We look at Orkut and see people are coming in and going out. Do they use well-definined vocabularies or free declarations? These are interesting to me because they are overlay networks, something much deeper than normal networks. Trans-communal areas.
Celik: [Graphic on the screen.] Here’s a graphic of the XFN web on Flickr.
Park: I built Friendster and then got fired from Friendster then worked on ePinions. I’m interested in the tension betweeen openness and privacy. Tantek asked why do people put things on blogs. I’ve been interested in whether people understand the consequences of putting something into a fully public realm. One big difference between the genders I’ve seen is that women have greater needs and desires for safety [and a few other things that she listed quickly]. For instance I was talking to someone about Dodgeball.com. She said, “I’d never use that — it’s a stalkers wet dream.” And I think the best use would be for call girls. Another example. I was talking to a man about what social software product he’d like to see. He’d like Outlook for his social life so friends can schedule to have dinner with me, for example. So he his wife and she thought it was crazy — half the time she lies to people about why they can’t get together. The little white lie would go away. One last anecdote. I was talking to a woman whose uncle I know. She didn’t want to use social networking sites until she knew her uncle, work friends, and real friends couldn’t see the same data about her. Most social network sites have been built for young men by young men. And what do young men like to do? Look and lots of photos of good looking women whom they don’t know but might like to know. And to stalk them. So can we use this open, public, un-private system to fit these real needs.
Boyd: Hi. I’m a PhD student and an ethnographic engineer at Google. I’m interested in the questions of “why” and “who.” How people engage with networks. How they’re transformed by technology. What does it mean to be “open?” Put in the public. Open. Transparent. Utopian ideal that transparency will solve all of the world’s problems. But not everyone has equal access. There is freedom in walled gardens for many poeple. 1995 I created a website for Ani DiFranco fans with lyrics. She attracts 13-15 year-old queer girls who are often victims. So I created the site and I attracted those girls and they wrote about these troubles. And when I created a weblog, they went there. One problem with having a large audience is that they’re not now safe. On a big site, people sometimes attack them. They’re not as free. And even services we don’t think of as closed can be. Gay men thought everyone on Friendster was gay. But it’s not. In a homogenous group, you’re okay. So who’s values are being served? If you go to Golden Gate Park, you’re in the public. But we still have a notion of audience if I’m talking to someone in the park. I can talk to you about Friendster without explaining. So what’s lost when you’re dealing with diverse audiences that don’t know what Friendster is. So when we build these systems we have to think about whose values are being served. TechnoSocial problems: Social awkwardness. We don’t know how to say “no” to “are you my friend,” for example. Articulation problems. Try describing yourself. Does that match my description of you? No. We don’t know how to articulate this. Favorite music? Hard. The problem with the public. I heard TypePad is 50% private blogs. Not everyone wants to speak to the world-at-large. I’m an academic. I deal with groupware and that stuff. We’ve not actually built anything that new technology-wise, but we’ve built something socially new. And one of the best way it’s changing things is that people are throwing technology out there and is makes social change. The best social software evolves along with the social group. Friendster didn’t evolve, now it’s not really used. MySpace does. So does Flickr.
Hsiung: I’m probably the least academic of the people on this panel. But I do have a little experience. Had a blog in 2000. And am now a web developer at Yahoo! in their communities group. I look at the user types that get into these services and things like that. So I’ll come from a user-advocate perspective. Personas. Who are the types of users who would use different sorts of services. Yahoo! Photos. Used mostly by people like new mothers. So. XFM. Stands for XHTML Friends Network.
Celik: Parodying the Psychic Friends Network.
Hsiung: So the idea is to tak eht eida of social linking out of sites like Orkut and putting them on your own site or, in this case, a weblog. It comes with assumptions. You needa weblog and a blogroll. If you know HTML and have the blogroll, you can use a “rel” attribute in your “a href” to indicate this. So if I have a blogroll, I would like to Tantek’s blog with a “rel” attribute that says something like “met friend muse” etc. [Pulls up a screen showing pre-defined terms like “colleage” and “crush.”] For additional functionality developers would have to make tools to use it. For now it’s just a framework. There are some basic apps like Rubhub.bom. In the same way like Friendster. The difference is that you’re on your own site and that where the whole idea of decentralization comes from. So bloggers are all about ego. When you invest all of this time in your blogroll and throw in all of these keywords from your friends. Then nothing happens. You go to RubHub and see your friends. Great.
Luster: I use a little CSS-fu to put an asterisks next to any name on my site that uses these XFN tags.
Hsiung: So. It has a lot of potential, obviously. But there’s not that much functionality. Right now it’s a meme. There’s not that much functionality built ot do stuff that’s cool — er, superfunctional.
Celik: Matt in Metafilter added XFN support. So then when you’re looking at a story, you can look at comments made by people in your social network.
Hsiung: It’s not difficult to make applications that use this. Right now, it’s just a need thing. If more people use it, it will build.
Luster: One thing I do and you’ll be able to do with Mac OS X Tiger. I’m extracting all the rel= attributes. If the person’s not in my address book, it’s add them with their URL or whatever. Goes into Dana’s argument — how much do I actually want to expose to others?
Question: If there was something you could do with verifyable anonymity… How would that affect social networks?
Luster: There’s a difference between implicit and explicit knowledge. Most social networks are not very explicit. It’s implicit. What does a hug mean? It’s implied. If we look only in the declarative space and trust everyone to be explicit, this might work. In the implicit place we’re in, this wouldn’t work.
Boyd: Anonymity is not possible. You can be short-term anonymous, but the first time someone points to you and says, “that’s Dana,” your anonymity is broken forever. And you can fingerprint people based on how they write.
Luster: Maybe we could make something that changes how you write. Like the Swedish chef. Bork Bork Bork!
Boyd: There are a lot of bloggers that claim to be public, but also use a lot of layered, coded information. My blog. People think it’s a professional blog. But my friends get other things out of it.
Celik: That’s a good point about anonymity. There’s a broad spectrum of privacy. And that’s totally natural. Where you feel you fit on that spectrum is totally up to you. Sometimes you’re not going to be able to make a swiss army knife.
Luster: One quick point. The question of anonymity. It’s come up about three weeks ago. Someone wrote how the word “folksonomies” sucks. So I tracked how the word spread from one paper to all around the world. Perpetuated over and over and over. By looking at little designators like this with a clear, distinct meaning I can see who reads who, who adopts from who. I can read these relationships and a few other indicators to very effectively break anonymity. And I can break information blocks put up against me.
Boyd: You’ve heard the magic number 150. When monkeys groom, they build social networks. That what we do by gossiping. Keeping up with people’s likes. 150 is the maximum number of people who can cognitivily keep track of. More is overloading. And the people ebb and flow.
Question: These are great tools to show connectivity, but what about reputation? This person is smart. This person is full of crap. And such.
Celik: Take a look at VoteLinks.
Boyd: Look at eBay. Very small percentage of negatives. They have to really piss you off. Most people arent willing to say “I don’t like you” publically. So when are we willing to be negative and what are the consequences.
Question: I’m curious about internationalization, such as the Brazilian network of Orkut. They seem to be using it differently.
Hsiung: From what I know, talking to Randy Farmer, one of the reasons Orkut is so focussed on Brazilians is because it’s still invite-only. The early techie adopters got tired of it. But the chain of friends began to focus on Brazil. As more and more came, they kind of crowded out the other members.
Boyd: How many of you know why? The dumbest thing. For the longest time on Orkut, they had a bunch of country flags. Looked like the World Cup. What do you do? Beat the other countries! So that’s what they did. Sign up your friends, we’ll beat the Americans. That sort of thing. And they had fun with it and it met their needs. Only recently did people begin to really move from city to city so people needed new ways of creating social networks. So it made sense. They were already doing it and they made sense with it. Culture and society coming together. And Google keeps trying to meet their needs.
Luster: There’s an amusing book called the Cowpatty Ecosphere. Cows graze. They crap. More grass. More cows. Loop. Same with social networks.
[Screen: Brazil: 65%. US: 10%. Iran: 7%. Pakistan: 3%. orkut.com/MembersAll.aspx]
Question: Speak to unintended social consequences.
Celik: One word.
Luster: I had the same word.
Monday, March 14, 2005
[Beforehand: She’s tiny and looks pretty nervous. Otherwise, like in the photos.]
Evan Smith: I’m from Texas Monthly and I have the honor of interviewing Ana. Or is it Wonkette?
Ana Marie Cox: Ah-na. First thing.
Evan: She’s 32. Married to an editor at New York magazine. [I may have misheard this.] Part of the Gawker Media family. [Etc.]
Ana: Did a semester at UT. My dad was a professor here, as well.
Evan: Who picked Wonkette? The name?
Ana: Actually, I don’t remember the specific conversation. But I think it was my idea — but I immediately dismissed it — too gender-specific.
Evan: Begin with two stories in the paper today. One: Liberal bloggers have been on the phone with the NYTimes asking that things they post get covered in the mainstream media (MSM).
Ana: It’s trying to close the symbiotic loop between MSM and bloggers. Without the NYTimes, bloggers would have nothing to complain about and no facts, except what you can google. So it’s closing the loop. And it’s beautiful when it happens. The circle of life.
Evan: Circle jerk?
Ana: But not quite as pleasurable, somehow. More painful.
Evan: Do bloggers give a damn if the NYTimes reports what’s on their websites?
Ana: I think there are some bloggers out there trying to “keep it real,” punk rock. And then some people want to be a part of the machine, using it as a resume point. Every scoop bloggers want to claim makes them more like the MSM. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Another wave will come along behind them.
Evan: Do you feel like the machine right now or the rails? “She’s in Lucky magazine. So she’s inside the tent.”
Ana: I’ve never claimed to be anywhere tent-specific. I haven’t claimed any partcular outsider status. It’d be ludicrous for me to claim the true punk rock pedigree. I never want to have that “sell out” conversation. Rather do it often and early.
Evan: The second article: Journalism of assertion is trumping journalism of validation. Assertive opinion is more important than facts.
Ana: Didn’t read the article, but I’ll comment on it. When they say trump, they mean what?
Evan: More people are getting their news from those journalists.
Ana: It’s easier to say stuff than to spend money getting facts. And it’s a cheap way to achieve narrative drama. Cheap to have two people scream at each other and it creates drama. Creating drama through news and storytelling is harder, more expensive.
Evan: You were talking about lowering the bar. No cost to entry.
Ana: Not much to say except “welcome.” Citizen journalism is not a bad thing. It means that people need to become more critical in their consumption of the media. Only a minor perceptage of web users read blogs. And people shouldn’t be getting their news from blogs. It’s a supplement. Ice cream.
Evan: Against my economic self-interest, why should people read the MSM?
Ana: What do you mean by credible? Blogs can influence MSM in a goood way. There’s a rigidly-enforced sourcing with links. This is missed in the MSM. But can you believe what they’re saying? You can only get that over time. NYTimes. They tend over time to get more things right than wrong.
Evan: But that seems to be lost on a subset that attacked the media for todays sin, forgetting the past 100 years. The Ratherbiased people, for example, are as guilty of the sin as the sinners. What do you make of that?
Ana: Excellent point, sir. Rathergate is an example fo the best and the worst in the blogosphere. Everyone has a bit of information to offer and it coalesces into something major. Not such a good thing in that we lost the discussion of Bush in the National Guard. And the same thing happened in the Eason Jordan case. People were caught up in what he said and we lost perspective. More journalists have been killed in Iraq, and now that topic is toxic. Another way the blogosphere… The human tendency to want to beat your chest, have a clear and bloody victory. That’s what happened with the Rather document. They wanted a scalp — that of the President.
Evan: On balance, are bloggers more accurate?
Ana: It wouldn’t be a panel if someone didn’t ask, haven’t you been wrong? But I just quote the MSM, so I don’t get things wrong. Few blogs claim to do original reporting, so what could they get wrong?
Evan: The Washingtonienne deal. She asserted she’s been having a relationship with a chief of staff of someone high-up. You posted photos of a bunch of chiefs of staff.
Ana: Her blog was out there. She claimed. We couldn’t verify it. So I googled chiefs of staff and found lots of pictures and thought, “Who would have to pay for sex?” Unfortunately there was a large pool. That was almost a year ago. Anal sex captures the imagination of Washington like nothing else… But that seems to have stuck with me. So I’m glad I didn’t do the Playboy thing. Thought they would’ve paid. Lucky didn’t.
Evan: How do you do your job? You commute from NY and Washington.
Ana: I do have to now commute. Gives me lots of time to write. Tough on your marriage. It gives me a great perspective on Washington not to have to be there all the time. Reminds me of just how small of a town it is. As far as mechanics, I have a 12” Powerbook that I take with me everywhere. Alarm goes off at 7am. I roll over and get on my laptop and start looking at the papers. Don’t have to get dressed, use deodorant, and all of those things. It’s in my contract to post twelve times a day. Because that’s how Gawker makes money. Stop updating your blog and readership goes down. Not a difficult graph to draw.
Evan: Are there liability issues? Gawker posted the Fred Durst video and Durst threatened to sue.
Ana: I probably don’t do enough of the kind of stuff that would get me in trouble. In my annual review he said, I don’t personally like this Jon Stewart stuff (the non-gossip stuff), but it seems to be popular. In Wash there is no equiv of Fred Durst. Denny Hastert? I do have a general policy of not outing people. It must be hard enough to be a gay Republican… Why make it public?
Evan: You kind of almost outed Washingtonienne.
Ana: I would not do that again. I got her fired, but she did get a $300,000 book deal. I didn’t even get a blender, which she got from one of her paramours. I guess I thought the photomontage was a fairly harmless thing — not singling anyone out and something everyone had access to.
Evan: But you did bring it to a much larger readership. Ever get any crap from people? Thanks for ruining my life?
Ana: No. I don’t think the people have actually been uncovered. She’s been true to her standards, odd or low though they may be.
Evan: Are bloggers journalists?
Ana: The definition of journalist is independent of what media you’re working in. What is opinion journalism? I guess I know, but if we include Maureen Dowd as a journalist, then why not bloggers? So you’re a journalist. Then you have a blog or not. Josh Marshall has a blog, but he’s also a normal journalist. Jeff Gannon. CNN immediately started calling him a blogger, maybe because he got stuff wrong? I don’t know. He has a blog now, though. Journalists. They check facts? Leave the house? I don’t know the minimum requirement.
Evan: Does being a journalist make you a better blogger?
Ana: In my mind, I’m good at many things. In practice… Another thing. Bloggers would do well to experience delayed gratification. Running up against walls for whatever reason — creating an entertaining narrative, finding facts, etc — that experience is a valuable one. Without that experience, I wouldn’t be as hard on myself now. There’s a myth that good blogging come from rawness. But most people aren’t that interesting on a first draft and you need to work it over a bit. The ones that are good are the people who care about what they’re writing. Having been a print journalist, you’re already thinking about the craft — but you don’t have to have been. Some of my favorites are not professional. So I think it helps, but the bigger thing is to have the mentality of a writer.
Evan: We were talking today about Jeff Jarvis.
Ana: It’s a lot of words and not much of a filter. Which can be good and bad. I prefered filtered thought. Then you have someone like Glenn Reynolds who doesn’t actually write much — he just offers links.
Evan: Let me ask you about the book. It’s not a book about you and Jessica Culter.
Ana: Yes, but it’s about politics. It’s novel called “Dog Days” about DC between the conventions and the election. I’ve never been caught up in that time period before. The Pres leaves. Things slow down. For a town like high school, it’s suddenly like summer camp. The intereaction between media and campaign becomes much more visible. I was inspired by “The Gay Place” about Austin politics. It’s the best political book ever written, I think. A lot of drinking and screwing in my novel. And it will be out in September.
Evan: Now, questions.
Question: Jon Stewart asked the Crossfire people stop hurting America. Does you site help or hurt America/democracy?
Ana: [Jokes.] I’m something of a cyber-libertarian. So more information is better and the people can do the censoring, not the government. More about ass-fucking. More ass-fucking in the White House not less. And more White House correspondents naked. The cute ones.
Evan: Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
Ana: I’m a commie pinko symp. Voted for Kerry. Voted for Nader in 2000. [Boos.] In DC, so it didn’t count! I have real views on real issues and policies, but I try not to let that get in way of the humor.
Question: Dan Gilmour defined journalist as people who find out stuff and tell other people. Does that apply to most of the blogosphere?
Ana: Depends of whether you consider your own opinion a discovery. That’s a very broad definition. So seeing Condi Rice trying on shoes at Nordstroms makes me a journalist. The bar should be a little higher, with fact checking. But it seems like a valied definition. The definition is always in flux. Something I’ve admired about American jounralism is that it’s non-credentialed. So to impose a credentialing would take us backwards.
Evan: Literal “credential.”
Ana: The White House briefing room. It’s already theater, so why not use fake credentials? The press would bust him [McClellan?] privately, but not in the briefing room. What happens in the “press pen” beforehand is where more of the action occurs. The idea of the citizen-journalist is here and if you can pass a background check, why shouldn’t you be able to ask Scott McClellan a question.
Question: Did the Wonkette style happen organically?
Ana: Yeah. I’ve been around writing for ten years. I had a sense of humor. Didn’t have to discovery it. But there was a kind of decision to make it a character. It’s me after a few margaritas. Wonkette’s meaner. She’s more obsessed with ass-fucking than I am — ask my husband.
Question: There’s beena groundswell of not being feminist. Weird anti-feminist ladies supporting Bush, for example. Have any of them bitched at you, argued with you? I would label you as a progressive.
Ana: Yes, commie pinko symp… It’s interesting. I haven’t had much discussion of Wonkette in the context of feminism. If anything, the aggressive girliness of Wonkette have made some conservative woman fans. There’s a sort of Queenmaker in Washington who’s a fan, and she’s about as girly and conservative as they get.
Question: How much of what you’ve done at Suck.com has come over to Wonkette?
Ana: I mostly editted. But mostly the inability to take anything seriously and not caring what other people think. It’s really hard to care whether people get upset with me and that, in Washington, is a gift, actually.
Question: Speak to the practical economic reality of getting paid to be a blogger. Does that affect how you blog?
Ana: I get a paycheck every month. Other people have found their way to be successful. One of the reasons I wanted ot do a blog is that I didn’t want to have to think about my readership. What can I say? Find someone who’ll pay you no matter what you say? That’s not a practical answer. Gawker handled my advertising. I’m mystified by numbers. I do my cellphone by letter.
Evan: Some bloggers have been picked up by the MSM.
Question: Were you not invited to the Republican convention?
Ana: I was there, but not with MTV. They didn’t invite me. I had a really good time at the Democratic convention. That might have been a problem. I did a five-minute think that was on at some weird time. I did a five minute thing and have done maybe ten interviews about working for MTV.
Question: After a couple of margaritas would you still make the responsible distinction between blogging and journalism?
Ana: I don’t know. I think so. I drive well drunk, in case you’re curious.
Question: What advice would you give to a young blogger?
Ana: Wow. I can’t advise following in my shoes. I think the idea of remaining true to your ideals and beliefs — and talk about ass-fucking a lot.
Evan: I’ll cut off at the comment about ass-fucking. Please give your thanks to Ana.
I'm Josh Knowles, a technology developer/consultant on a variety of mobile, social media, and gaming projects. I founded and lead Frescher-Southern, Ltd. I grew up in Austin, Texas and currently live in New York City.
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