Get the audio track "Marble Machine" by Wintergatan:
I randomly stumbled upon the hashtag #safarilive on Twitter the other day, and noticed everyone was talking about what seemed to be a safari that was going on at that very moment in South Africa.
A little searching resulted in the discovery of an outfit called WildEarth.tv which among other things operates live, unedited, noncommercial safaris in the huge 7000 sq mi Kruger National Park in northeastern South Africa. Twice a day, you can go to YouTube and see the live "Safari Sunrise" and "Safari Sunset" broadcasts, sometimes 2-3 hours in length.
What is remarkable about these broadcasts is that they're the real deal. This is what "reality television" should be. Raw, unedited, authentic. You never know what is happening next: the ranger may be driving along trying to reach a pack of lions before sunset when suddenly he get acid flies in his eye, forcing him to pull over as he's temporarily blinded; a random water buffalo may suddenly appear out of nowhere, just standing there staring at the humans in the truck (old South African lore says that water buffalos always look at humans the way someone looks at you when you owe them money). Around a bend may be some gaunt vultures drying off up in a dead tree. A minute later, there might be a group of pregnant, lazy lionesses snoozing in the sun right along the dirt road when suddenly a tiny tortoise walks right over and cozes up against a sleeping lion's front leg! All along the rangers, who are walking/driving encyclopedias of nature facts and figures and stories, help the viewer appreciate what they're seeing and hearing. And, this being the age of social media, they even have little earpieces allowing the rangers to (one supposes) receive a private radio signal back at the command center, where someone is telling the ranger about a tweet or email question that just came in that moment... so the driver turns to the camera and says something like, "Good question, Amy from North Dakota...." and then rattles off an answer.
Unlike the usual fast-edit, hyperbolic, tense-music-backed American "run! fear! danger! extreme! it's out to KILL you" bullshit nature programming shown on Animal Planet, Disney nature movies, National Geographic Channel (owned by FOX, remember), and even PBS's nature series, or the slow-motion, super-productions that come out from the BBC, WildEarth is no "best-of" and severely cut and rearranged and one might even say fictional nature broadcast. This shows the animals as they are -- or aren't -- at that very moment. Which means, for the most part, you encounter them just hanging around, feeding, raising their young, marking their territory, being amused or annoyed by the curious humans driving around in those noisy, stinky, petrol-burning machines.
It's an extraordinary, well-run operation, prone to occasional technology glitches, but still, the idea that I can fire up my AppleTV, feed a live YouTube signal into my HD projector, and curl up and watch on a 12-foot screen a LIVE broadcast in glorious high-resolution video, of a safari going on right at that moment some 10,000 miles away is just plain cool.
I see movies. Most of them movies that Americans are completely unaware of, or skip.
I'm going to try something new for 2016 in this blog. I'll update the list of movies I've seen, but present them in order from least-best to best in 2016. So each time I post a new blog post with this list, it'll be revised.
Here we go. I've seen a dozen movies so far this year. Remember, my opinion only, from least-best (#12) to best (#1).
12. THE WITCH. Acting fine, costumes fine, production fine, photography fine (I think; theatre I saw it in must've lazily left projector in 1/2-brightness mode after showing a 3D movie; it was severely dark and hard to see throughout), story fine, reviews were generally excellent, but... meh. Just didn't buy into it. Too much madness in the current world, don't need to see what irrational raving totally-lost-it madness was like in 1630.
11. 2016 OSCAR NOMINATED ANIMATED SHORTS. I've seen numerous of these anthologies over the years, and this one was pretty forgettable compared to most, which is surprising and disappointing. Worst one: Bill Plympton's piece.
10. CHI-RAQ. I get it, but, ugh. But, I did go see it.
9. THE TREASURE. A very simple modest little film, not bad, ending disappointed. Would drive most American audiences crazy. I dare you to sit through it.
8. BROOKLYN Another 1952-era setting, like CAROL which was a better film. This was fine EXCEPT the last half hour, when the protagonist started doing things that made absolutely no sense and ruined the whole thing for me.
7. HAIL, CAESAR! Perfectly fine film, well-made, well-acted, sometimes funny. Kind of like RAY DONOVAN meets HUDSUCKER PROXY. But still... meh. Instantly forgettable entertainment.
6. FLOWERS (aka LOREAK). Took me half the movie to figure out the language was Basque and that the area was northern Spain. Interesting plot. Not too bad.
5. HITCHCOCK/TRUFFAUT. If you're a film person, this is a pretty great documentary. Learned lots. Then, went and Netflix-rented the 50s version of Hitch's THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH and hated it, it was disgustingly dated. So, go figure.
4. JOY. Liked it a great deal. Could relate a lot to the entrepreneurial mission and challenges. Also learned lots about how QVC worked.
3. WHERE TO INVADE NEXT. Michael Moore's new thing. Not superb, he's a sore for sight eyes, but at times funny, illuminating, lots to learn, lots to think about. Go see it. Discuss afterwards.
2. THE BIG SHORT. Loved it. Went to see it twice. Can't recommend it enough.
1. REQUIEM FOR THE AMERICAN DREAM. Best thing I have seen in 2016 so far. If only every single American would see it, think about it, discuss it, we might wake up and realize what's going on (particularly with the fiasco that is the 2016 presidential election and the corporate media coverage of it).
There's been a lot of news in the past week about Twitter planning to introduce "algorithm enhancements" to Twitter feeds, and how users are furious over this, complaining it's one more example of Twitter trying to be like Facebook. It's Twitter management's ongoing struggle to ruin what makes Twitter unique and special in order to no doubt appease Twitter shareholders and advertisers by making the service behave more like Facebook, in the process hopefully boosting Twitter's revenue and market value.
This reminds me of this great Louis CK moment on the Conan O'Brien show:
Dear Twitter management: your company has created a magnificent tool for the people of the WORLD. There are HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of people (okay, subtract all the bots, but still) who use and enjoy your service, and find out all kinds of things in near real time, almost always beating out TV and news media. Also, it's a great way to follow the thoughts and observations of people whose thoughts and observations you find interesting. Here we are in 2016 and this amazing service exists and ALL THESE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE use it ALL OVER THE WORLD, it is truly a marvel of TECHNOLOGY, as Louis CK has argued with airplanes, which, after all, enable you to SIT IN A CHAIR IN THE SKY.
So why is it, Twitter, that you have to fuck that up? Why ruin it? Twitter users love Twitter largely because IT. IS. NOT. FACEBOOK. It is different. It is special. It is a completely different thing. And yet you seem determined to ruin that which makes it special. Why? Because your board is pressuring you to? Your institutional investors? Your big billionaire investors, looking for a return on their pre-IPO investment?
How many of these bigshot investors use the system every day? How many of them appreciate how GREAT the service is, as-is? The more you tweak it, the more you try to make it like that other thing, the less value it is. Why do that? Would it be so wrong to just say enough is enough, and appreciate that even one percent growth a year is wonderful? What is wrong with three hundred million users? It is a PHENOMENON! A miracle of technology. You should be so incredibly proud. Why ruin that? Why cave to this absurd pressure to double that size, or triple, or more? Who cares?
It's a times like these I wish Twitter had never gone public, and had kept its staff small. Find modest ways to monetize the business, sure, no harm in that. What's wrong with say ONE BILLION DOLLARS A YEAR in revenue? Does it have to be two? Ten? One hundred? Couldn't you just keep the employee count to a few hundred people, and operate it indefinitely at a reasonable burn rate? Why does it need 3000 employees?
I'd love to see Twitter's management wake up and get a clue about what's important and unique about the service, and stop trying to change it. Your users don't want it changed. Or, change it in meaningful ways that benefit users. It boggles my mind that Twitter has such little vision and imagination and is incapable of striking the right balance between innovation, monetization, and maintaining a happy user community.
One of the better cover songs I've heard in recent times.
I used to love Netflix. The scope and range of their offerings far surpassed the site's shortcomings, which included an inability to filter out stuff I wasn't interested in. But that was back when one rented discs. I still do rent discs, and consider that the only good part of Netflix in 2015. But the streaming is the focus of the business, so one has to deal with it.
Here we are in late 2015, and Netflix continues to race towards whatever it is it believes it needs to be racing towards. All I know, is it is racing away from me. How about you? Are the streamable offerings on Netflix relevant to you? The majority? I bet not.
The level of desperation at Netflix can be seen in their wave of site redesigns over the past year or two that continue to attempt to conceal the lack of content available for streaming. There's such a dearth of material available, it would be screamingly obvious to customers, so they attempt to conceal that by a lot of cheap content lacking much merit, and by creating their own content like House of Cards. Some of Netflix's content is okay. Most is about as memorable as the movie that just finished five minutes ago on Syfy but you already can't recall what it was about.
It's Time for NOTFLIX.
What I have wanted for 13 years, ever since joining Netflix, is the ability to simply tell Netflix what I do NOT want to see. Ever. As in, don't even suggest it to me. But they are afraid to do that, is my guess. Because if they did, in 2015, the result would be nearly-empty or entirely-empty web pages on Netflix's site.
A company like Netflix is too afraid to go down that path. Which is a shame. Because I would LOVE it. If Netflix went down this path, it would indeed mean, over time, that more things would be saved as "I don't want to see that" than Netflix is able to add to their streaming collection, with the result being very little to nothing available to stream.
But would that really be so bad? Seriously. People celebrate and even brag on Twitter about achieving "zero inbox." Why not "zero Netflix"?
Take another look at that Recently Added screenshot above. There is no ability for the user to tell Netflix the following: "I don't ever want to see 'This isn't Funny' nor do I ever want to see 'China's Forbidden City', nor do I ever want to see 'Yukia Yuna is a Hero', nor do I want to see . . . " well, you get the idea. I would go through every one of these utterly crap TV shows or made-for-Netflix movies and say NO to Netflix. Then the next time I visited this page, the ONLY things I should see are new things, and things I did not indicate "I don't ever want to see this" on.
I call this extremely-filtered version of Netflix "Notflix." Because it knows what I do NOT want to see. Which is the vast majority of swill that passes for content these days on the service. But the great thing about Notflix is how easy it would be to keep an eye on. When new stuff appears, as in really new, stuff I don't know about yet, I can easily see that, and not have to slog through all the crap -- face it, it's filler -- that Netflix stuffs their meagre offerings with so that they at least look like more than you can count at first glance.
Funny how Netflix keeps content in the "Recently Added" bin for months, possibly years on end. Seriously: there's junk there that I have seen for months on end, still being passed of as "Recently Added". It's a pain to have to shovel through that stuff either on the Netflix website, one of the Netflix apps, or the Netflix thing on AppleTV. It's all the same: stuffed to the gills with filler.
A Notflix service would let me quickly indicate "I don't ever want to see this, stop showing it to me, period" to any content. The list of such content would grow large quickly. THAT IS OKAY. What would be left would be a very small set of offerings. THAT TOO IS OKAY. Really, Netflix, that would be perfectly fine. Achieving "Zero Netflix" would be a good thing.
Years ago I asked Netflix to add the ability to tell the service to simply HIDE forever certain genres I never want to see, never will see, period: kids content, sports, anime, faith and spirituality, zombie crap, Marvel comic book crap, all kinds of genres. It is still not possible to do that. A Notflix service would of course offer this ability, so that entire swaths of new incoming content would be auto-hidden from customers who already indicated to hide it.
I can see the day I give up on Netflix. If you look at that ever-growing array of streamable offerings on AppleTV, Netflix is just another box. There's really nothing great there, nor is the brand any different than the other array of brands on the long scrolling AppleTV menu. Once again, Hollywood likes to imagine itself as a set of branded silos, believing consumers like silos. We don't. We never bought record albums based on the label. We don't buy books based on the publisher. We don't go to movies distributed only by Sony or Universal. These are Hollywood fictions. And it's no different with streamable content.
I'll continue to rent blu-rays from Netflix as long as it makes financial sense. Even that is questionable. But for streaming? Netflix is increasingly just not worth the trouble.
And the most awesome fire-hose of scientific jargon you've ever heard from the narrator. I dare you to try to keep up with what he's saying....
Yesterday, Jeff Jarvis wrote a piece on Medium entitled "REFORM ADVERTISING... before it is too late." I read it and shook my head muttering, "Jeff, Jeff, Jeff... I love ya, but I can't believe this is really what you think.... I think you know better than this."
I thought about his article a lot yesterday and last night. This is my attempt at a reply. It is not brief.
Jeff, if you see this, welcome. I challenge you to read all of this. I always read your stuff, with great respect, always. You're an important voice and thought leader on media and online issues, always have been, and I have the greatest respect for you. When you have something to say, I pay attention. But sometimes I think you tend to tune out to voices who rather strenuously disagree with you on the specific issue of media and advertising. I am one of those in disagreement.
The Problem Is, It's No Longer Advertising.
Jeff, you say that advertising needs to be reformed, "before it is too late." On the contrary, seems to me it is too late. It has been too late for a long time. We are way past the point where publishers should consider a "if we simply steer advertising away from its bad ways, all will be well again, and the media ecosystem can continue on its merry way" approach. No. The media ecosystem has been contaminated and is no longer a healthy ecosystem. It has been poisoned and corrupted beyond anything we've ever seen before. It's like when you have a plumbing leak and the water goes into the drywall and into the wood and doors and under the carpet. Sure, you can re-seal the pipes and tighten the joints and make sure everything is tight and the leak stops. But once the dampness invades those places that should always be dry, it begins to rot and nature takes over and the result is, well, trés biologîque. This is where we are with media online now. It is overgrowing with nasty stuff that people do not want and no longer tolerate. It all has to be torn out. Gutted. It's time to start over from scratch. First, fire all the ad salespeople. If things go the way I think they should, there are no longer jobs for ad sales people.
I speak as someone who has been blocking ads for well over ten years. Now, Jeff, you will no doubt desire to dismiss me as an "edge case," as an extremist, perhaps even as a hater, because anybody who is so mean and cruel as to have been blocking web ads for over ten years can't be a nice person, can they? Well, I am a nice person. Guess what, advertising isn't nice. And you should know better than to defend it. We are way past the point where it is defensible. It is evil.
They have finally had it with irritating, irrelevant, invasive, repetitive, ugly, stupid, creepy, slow advertising and its threat to privacy.
Some of us were, even when it came to routing around advertising, "early adopters," in the sense that we began blocking years and years ago. Ad blocking has now crossed the chasm, and is becoming mainstream. (Ironically, thanks to media attention!) This is a welcome event, and should be celebrated. I don't have data, but I have suspicions what's causing it. One, the shift to mobile. Mobile platforms have for the past few years become the new emphasis for not only advertisers, but the makers of the platforms themselves. This is where the growth is, this is what Wall Street looks at. Mobile users often have to put up with even more irritating, irrelevant, invasive, repetitive, ugly, stupid, creepy, slow, and privacy-invading ads on their devices than they ever had to on the desktop. People are tired of it, you're right. But they've also been educated by Edward Snowden and his whistleblowing efforts. And we know that this is no longer advertising. It is something much worse.
They now have the tools to fight back. Their allies are Apple, which wants to ruin the ad business for everyone else, and racketeering adblocking companies.
Jeff, you remind me of book publishers, the Authors Guild, and Authors United (which are all basically the same thing), when speaking of Amazon, and auto dealer associations when speaking of Tesla, and the MPAA and National Association of Theatre Owners when talking about videotapes and DVDs and DVRs. All these big bad evil forces now at work that want to destroy the way business has been run for a very long time in some very old industries. In this case, the media industry.
I have to chuckle. Apple is no ally. Apple is one of the bad guys. In fact I see them as no friend to the user: their support for ad blocking is a ruse, it's really Google blocking, as you suggest. But run any game app on iOS9, and be confronted with Apple's own ads -- it's what they are -- for GameCenter. Relentless popups for GameCenter. Just one example of Apple's intent: they don't want to free the user from ads, they want to make sure that Apple controls the ads users see on their platforms.
(On a side note, I have to chuckle at some who admire Google and Apple for getting into the car business, if the rumors are accurate. I don't believe for a second they view it as the car business. They view it as a new mobile platform. They, I am sure, look with admiration at Tesla not for their electric drivetrain and innovation, but rather they look at Tesla for their always-on, always-connected vehicles, pouring data back to the mothership while the car is moving, while the car is stopped, while the car is parked. Imagine five, ten years from now: you drive down the street and your car points out the deals you could get right now at this shoe store, that eyeglasses store, this auto parts store, that movie theatre, this restaurant, that furniture store. Cars are a new ad platform, a dream platform, the culmination of everything up to this point. It's going to be a fucking nightmare.)
But back to your quote. First, we, the consumers of the content, have always had the tools. Worst case, we turn the thing off. TV, radio, whatever medium the ad noise is coming from. With print, we stop reading, or we unsubscribe. With the internet, we stop visiting a site, or stop using an app. The tools are our arms and hands and fingers. Worst case, our feet. No blocking software needed.
This is not about evil racketeering ad blocking companies (this sounds so much like the book publishing industry it's uncanny... next we're going to hear about news publishers wanting the Department of Justice to begin an investigation of ad-blockers, no doubt). This is about, like you yourself said, people being fed up. They have finally had it. And they're doing things about it. They're cutting the cord. No more TV (try it, it is the best thing one could EVER do, and for me the wisest move I've ever made).
I see a pattern: an old, established industry, which has for generations, centuries sometimes, been doing the same old thing, and making boatloads of money doing that same old thing, never having to change the business model, other than a few tweaks here or there, attempting to look "innovative" but, when all is said and done, doing very little innovation. In fact that is what makes the industry so attractive: not much innovation necessary. The market demands something, the industry forms, and builds the products or services or content and offers a supply of it, to meet that demand. Repeat. Nice, cozy setup, especially when it lasts for decades or centuries. But when push comes to shove, when changes start appearing, when outside forces start cutting in and taking a piece of the action, or simply start educating the market that, you know what, maybe you shouldn't be demanding this stuff after all, and here are some tools to block some of the unwanted detritus that the industry is loading on top of that which you've demanded . . . when that starts happening, these old industries tend to get mean. They look for people to blame. They direct attention to these outside forces that are ruining the nice, cozy setup that's worked for so long. In some cases (auto dealers for instance) they've been at it so long and have paid off so many generations of legislators, they've managed to pass reams of laws to protect the nice, cozy setup and make sure it continues to be a nice, cozy setup for years to come. An example of them getting mean: they start making insinuations that these outside forces are breaking the law and must be stopped. You know, maybe they're racketeers. And hey, maybe some of them are breaking the law and if so they should be stopped. But for this particular reader and consumer of content, I don't see this kind of behavior on the part of ad blockers. News to me, actually. I don't see much of anything. That's the whole point: the good ad blocking tools, the plugins, work in the background, like a tap water filter: they filter the bad stuff out and you don't need to even be aware of it other than to maybe change out the filter every six months.
The point is, these dying industries rarely look inwards, rarely look in the mirror. And the media needs to be doing that right now. They need it bad. The model of ads in exchange for content is done. Cooked. Burnt. Toast. Over.
The Problem Is, It's Surveillance Run Amok.
In fact, face it, it is not advertising anymore. You speak of "advertising" but that is now a quaint, 20th century term that has no place today or going forward. There is only one word for what this shit is. It is surveillance. The gigantic ad industry, mostly known as Google, but to a lesser extent Facebook and Apple and others, is not an ad industry at all. It is a surveillance industry. To describe it as anything else is to be in denial. This is not paranoia speaking. This is the cold, hard truth. Jeff, you are trying to convince us that advertising if reformed would be good and wonderful and benign if not beneficial. It is not advertising. It is surveillance and it is about recording every behavior, every action, every communication, who I communicate with, who communicates with me, everything consumed, everything produced, everything shared with someone else, everything shared with me, and noting the time, location, device type, duration, and anything else that can be recorded at the moment that behavior, or action, or communication, or sharing, or consumption, or production took place. That is not market research anymore. That is not market insight or analytics. That is signals intelligence. It is behavioral tracking. It is studying the metadata, that "harmless" metadata. Theoretically, if one reads the hilarious "privacy agreements" these media companies put on their sites, all of this surveillance is for our own good, see, it's to help "improve the service," don't you know, to make the service better and more relevant for each and every user. It's to "individualize" and "personalize" the service, the content, and offerings. How nice.
Jeff goes on:
Jeff proposes three ways to improve advertising by improving the quality of ads: make them more relevant, make them more useful, make them more engaging.
I'm sorry Jeff, but I have to disagree. What I and I suspect a growing millions of others object to is the simple existence of ads, their very existence is pernicious and no longer welcome. Ads and the surveillance behind the ads have no place in this world. They should be eliminated. It is a pestilence that needs eradication. No amount of improvement (consider it lipstick on a pig) would make any difference. Indeed, the notion of increased relevance means only one thing: increased surveillance. Fuck that. As for engagement, the last thing I want to do is engage with any advertising! Quite the opposite: if I see it, I disengage as swiftly and immediately as possible. Indeed, that is what we seek: better tools to disengage so effectively and completely we never had to engage in the first place and we weren't even aware that something was trying to engage with us and us with them. We do not want our attention interrupted by advertising. And we don't want our lives, and every aspect of our lives, sold behind our backs.
Another thing about relevance, usefulness, and engagement. How can any intelligent person have any respect for any media organization that uses fake content and passes it off as real? I speak of the vast list of very well known online publications that use services like Taboola and Outbrain to trick readers into clicking on sensational stories that appear to be part of the publication, but, upon close inspection, are not at all. Sponsored content, whatever you want to call it, it's all part of this pestilence of cheating, trickery, and surveillance. We all know what I am talking about: it's almost always pictures of women or celebrities with headlines about the top ten celebrities whose plastic surgery went too far, or you'll never believe what these child stars look like now, et cetera. Any website I stumble upon that features a damp, fetid cesspool of Taboola or Outbrain links at the bottom of a news article is a website for which I make a mental note to never visit again. And I don't care how good the site is. I actively boycott stuff and I do not forget and I do not forgive. If a publisher thinks so poorly of its readers, has such contempt for its very lifeblood, the readers, that it shows that kind of shit to them, then fuck that publisher. Period. If a publisher is tracking me, and loading up a web page by stuffing it full of tracking cookies and deep cookies and all sorts of surveillance nastiness, then fuck that publisher. Period.
Seth and his purple cows are wrong. Permission is bullshit. For the longest time I would have said otherwise. When I was doing startups I would have been the loudest booster of Seth's ideas. But times, they are a-changin'. We are so far along now, into the valley of the shadow of surveillance, so deep into a world of relentless, ruthless, persistent, ubiquitous, pernicious corporate surveillance masked as advertising, that we are long past such quaint notions as "permission." I don't want a media outlet's permission. Media outlets cannot be trusted. Consumer web services cannot be trusted. They may start out trustworthy, but as soon as the venture money has gotten in there, like a virus, and started circulating, and as soon as the ethically challenged MBAs have arrived, watch out. All bets are off. Simple tracking and analytics soon becomes not so simple tracking and much more fancy analytics. Advertising becomes surveillance, and the better you surveil, the more advertisers (and VCs) will like you. Look: if a publisher wants to record my behavior, my actions, my communications, my impressions, what I consume, what I produce, who I communicate with, who communicates with me, who I share with, who shares with me, what I say, what I think, what I do. . . if a publisher wants any of that, then you need to pay me. The hell with permission. I want payment. And if you don't pay me, or are not willing to pay me, then I won't give it to you. And if I see you tracking me without paying me, then I block you or just boycott you. Forever. And I urge others to as well. And I look forward to your going out of business because this shit has gone on too long and has gotten so incredibly far out of hand and out of control that the only way to stop it is to make it die. Sorry. I can't be more blunt.
If brands ever succeeded at building their own true relationships with customers, I fear that media could be left out of the equation. But happily for media — if sadly for customers — we’re a long way from ever reaching a world without advertising. To paraphrase the old Woody Allen joke, they need the eggs; so do media. But advertising will not become effective by becoming ever worse: ever-more intrusive and awful. So can we in media say goodbye to the old ways and help raise advertising to new and better ways?
Few brands truly succeed building standalone relationships with customers. Even Apple, the king of brands, sucks at real genuine relationships with their customers. They're just too big. Go visit Apple's support discussion forums some time. Google's worse. Have a problem with Gmail? Try getting help from Google. The giant technology/media hybrid companies (for that is what they have become) don't care about individuals other than that their activity and presence leaves profitable trails of behavior, action, communication, sharing, friend networks, producing, and consuming. Users are eyeballs and mouse-clicks and tablet taps, with a trackable identity and a credit card. Nothing more.
Now, I agree with Jeff that advertising will not become effective by becoming ever worse. But I, and I suspect many, many others, don't want advertising to be effective. We want it to be eliminated. Again, Jeff's going to say, oh, you're extremist. You don't represent the norm. You're way way out on the edge, the fringe of the curve. No, I'm just an early adopter, I caught the wave early, but there are millions behind me. I'm one of many canaries in this coal mine. We are legion.
A Modest Proposal
Jeff, I come from five generations of newspaper publishers and editors. I grew up with ten daily newspapers on the coffee table in the family room, and hands black with ink from reading them every day and loving every minute of reading every page. I absolutely love journalism, I absolutely love journalists, they are a vital and necessary part of the ecosystem and society and, when they do their job well, and their employers don't ruin things too much, they keep the public informed and in so doing protect democracy. I love great investigative journalism. I love stories that expose corruption, that comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, or announce new scientific breakthroughs, or simply help explain tough concepts or walk through complexity so, again, I can be a more informed member of the public. It's all good.
Here's the thing: I hate paywalls as much as you do. And I don't want to subscribe to a zillion sites. BUT: I am willing to pay. I just don't want any tracking or targeting or anything that even has the slightest whiff of advertising, upsells, or promotion. I catch any of that, I am gone.But, as I said, I am willing to pay. I am wanting to pay. I'm waiting to pay. But I don't want to do it consciously while reading. I want it done automatically, with my blessing and under my control.
Allow me to describe.
This is just an idea. And it's nothing new, it's been bandied about, kicked around, knocked down, shot down, many times already. It's a riff on micropayments that I would propose as a possible solution to the whole problem of ad blocking and advertising and keeping media healthy.
My proposal is simply this: if you want to get rid of ad blockers, you start by getting rid of advertising. Completely. Totally. Ruthlessly. And never look back.
If it's really about journalism, and great content, if that is why publishers exist, then the focus should always be on the journalism and the great content. But it isn't. It's about the ads. The tracking. The ever-growing surveillance and the buying and selling of surveilled user data. So if we got rid of all of that, but kept the journalism and the great content thriving, that would be good, right? Since that is why publishers got into business, right?
Just for argument's sake, imagine, for a moment, an online world without advertising. You might immediately say, gone are all those great journalists and investigative pieces that you so cherish and benefit from. And I would say, no, whoa there, not so fast.
What I want is a tool, embedded in the browser, perhaps even embedded further down, in the operating system, that allows me to manage a media consumption budget. I put some money in, either real currency or bitcoin or its equivalent, and then I either go on to the web and surf around and use the default rules built in to this tool, or, more likely for me at least, I first go into preferences and designate which sites I particularly value, perhaps even which bylines I most seek and value, and what rate, perhaps in pennies per story, or per click, whatever, details aren't important right now. I set things up and then go read the New York Times, or Slate, or whatever publications I prefer to read. No paywalls. No ads. Just good old fashioned journalism. And my browser or the operating system interacts with agreed-upon standard protocols to exchange some of my media consumption budget as I surf these websites. Automatically, money is doled out in dribs and drabs, to these sites that offer the kind of content I appreciate, seek, admire, and want more of. The act of visiting and reading becomes the act of paying and rewarding. The more I visit and read, the more that site and the creators of that content are rewarded. If I suspect I am being tricked, with clickbait or other deceptions, I rescind my rules, withdraw my budget, and move on to other sites more deserving of my time and trust.
Jeff, you say,
First off, you cannot defeat the ad-blocker. You will never defeat the ad-blocker. No matter what you do, an ad-blocking reader will continue to block. If you ban ad-blockers, and I fully suspect the media will try to pull off such a stunt, either through legislation, litigation, or sneaky moves via TPP and other secret international trade "agreements," then ad-blocking readers will simply stop reading. (Personally speaking, I have plenty of books and records and videos. Happy to go all Desert Island on the web publishers if it comes to that.) There is no way to stop the ad-blocking reader. If you try, you'll just piss them off. All that will do is make them ignore a publisher altogether. No tools required. No plugins. No apps. No mods to their computing environments. No technology whatsoever. They just up and walk away and never look back. And believe me, there are many websites and apps away from which I've already so walked for good.
What disappoints me about this mess --- and again it is the same mess whether it's the Hollywood movie/TV industry, the auto dealers against Tesla, the book publishers and one-percenter authors against evil Amazon, or the publishers against the ad blockers --- is that I see so little in the way of innovation on the part of these special interests. They aren't very bright when it comes to technology. Their expertise lies elsewhere. That's fine, I suppose. Not everybody is a technical wizard, and very old industries tend to not appreciate enlightened innovators in leadership positions. I've seen it time and time again: "Oh, you're an engineer. What would you know." Bookstores complain that Amazon is killing them. And yet, what exactly has a bookstore done in one hundred years to change and improve their chances at sustainability? They still operate as consignment shops. It's pathetic. I love love love love bookstores but I cringe every time I step inside one. It's like 1850 all over again. Oh, they tried the superstore/grocery-shelf model, they tried to become The Third Place, but that didn't last. We cherish indie bookstores now, but hell, why would anyone pay list price for a hardcover when it's available cheaper online? With auto dealers: they spend decades paying off state legislatures to set up laws to protect their businesses from any form of outside change, including innovative companies like Tesla that don't need franchises or dealerships (nor do they need ripoff service departments which are, face it, the bedrock of the profits dealers depend on). When a threat is seen or perceived, they circle the wagons and try to keep the threat away. Instead of innovating. With newspapers, they've done very little. Very few fresh ideas. I agree that paywalls are dumb. For instance, I don't pay a subscription to the New York Times. I read as much as it will let me before it blocks me each month. At which point I just go search for the headlines on Twitter, find the shared social media link, and enter the Times that way (always works... the paywall is an illusion). Once again, publishers have failed to innovate. They think there is either advertising, or there are paywalls and subscriptions. There cannot be anything else.
This is where I think they're wrong. I think there is something else. I want to support the editors and reporters whose work I enjoy and benefit from reading. And I think there is a way to do it. It's nothing new. The method is one we've talked about for years.
Micropayments. Credits. Some form of "bank account" that is private and local to each user. The user is in control as to how the payments trickle out and to whom.
Heck, maybe the media companies offer incentives, either at the time of purchase of the device, say, an iPhone. Imagine you buy a phone and it comes with a budget of, to stay abstract and not use dollars, 5000 quatloos. The user decides how those quatloos are going to be divvied up. (And hell no, Apple doesn't collect 30%. Apple and Google have no involvement here. If they tried I would quit that just as swiftly as I'd walk away from a Taboola-shoveling media site.) Maybe if I do something, read an article or something, a site rewards me with some more quatloos. Maybe a friend can "gift" me with some quatloos when they share some link to some content they think I'll like.
The bottom line, I am all for supporting good journalism and creative content on the web. I want to see more of it. I want it to be of the highest quality. As an author myself, I want readers, lots of readers --- there's nothing like getting readers. And if I can get financially rewarded for putting in the research and time to write an article or a book, then great. The more the better. I get it.
It's just that the old ways are now really achingly embarrassingly old, and worse, they've become incredibly pernicious to society and to the future of the internet. They need not reform, but abolishment. It's time to start with a clean slate. (And a clean Slate.)
If I could from time to time manage my little Media Budget on my device, or maybe across all my media-consuming devices, and designate either a modest default amount, or a higher amount for my favorite authors, reporters, musicians, filmmakers, etc., and then when I read/listen to/watch their content, the designated amount trickles out of my little Media Budget and into their bank accounts, would that be so bad? I think it would be kind of cool. A web devoid of tracking, surveillance, and invasive, obnoxious ads. Instead a web of well-paid content creators, researchers, reporters, editors, authors, artists, creators, all pumping out great stuff, all with great followings, in an ecosystem that finally recognized the out-of-control surveillance model for what it was, abandoned it, and replaced it with something far more beneficial, fair, and equitable.
Sounds good to me.
Twitter's new user registration page with a little added twist.
On the bright side, it'd provide huge job security to resume screeners and background checkers in HR.
Copyright © 2002-2014 Birdrock Digital. brianstorms is a trademark of Birdrock Digital.