Another flap about which I don’t care

These three tweets from Jay Rosen sum up the whole Keith Olbermann thing and why I don’t really care about it.


MSNBC suspends Olbermann indefinitely for donating $ to Democratic candidates http://jr.ly/5qn7 NBC rules clearly say you cannot do that.
@jayrosen_nyu
Jay Rosen


As many have told me, NBC rules say don’t donate to candidates without getting approval from your boss. Olbermann did not do that. Ergo…
@jayrosen_nyu
Jay Rosen


Whether NBC should have these rules, whether Keith’s suspension makes sense, whether they know what they are doing: all are open to doubt.
@jayrosen_nyu
Jay Rosen

(Also, I really wanted to test out the new Blackbird Pie plugin.)

If the kids just understood how the world used to work, life would be better

Earlier this month, the Corridor Business Journal reported that Iowa City was all but video store-less. Mr. Movies and others have closed, and That’s Rentertainment, a local independent shop, was soon to follow suit, leaving us with a just single Blockbuster. This is gets back to the news business, just stick with me.

That’s Rentertainment has clearly seen better days. When I was a kid — when you had to physically schlep to a store if you didn’t want to settle for the TV edit of National Lampoon’s Vacation — That’s Rentertainment had at least three locations and seemed to be doing well. Now, it has receded into a $250-a-month piece of the Hall Mall, an off-the-beaten-track home to tattoo parlors and head shops. (The Hall Mall has gone downhill since my childhood, too).

Netflix, Redbox, iTunes, Hulu and other online-stream services have got to be just killing That’s Rentertainment’s business. It’s more convenient to have movies show up in the mail and to browse the selection online. And cheaper two; That’s Rentertainment charges $4 to rent a new release for two days, $3 to rent anything else for three days. I pay Netflix $9 to have a single DVD out at a time and all the streaming I can handle through my laptop, wifi-enabled Blu-Ray player or my Nintendo Wii, and nothing to watch movies and television shows on Hulu.

The recent change of location probably didn’t help business since it’s now more inconveniently located for most movie-renters, but, here’s the interesting part: instead of saying “yeah, there’s just no way I can compete with that infrastructure and convenience,” the CBJ quotes That’s Rentertainment’s owner saying:

I’ve really noticed a generational shift during the past few years with incoming University of Iowa freshmen and sophomores, who grew up watching things on the Internet, where everything’s free, right? … It’s not just educating them about your new location, it’s educating them about the video industry.

Yes, blame the customer for being ignorant of what your older model has to offer. See, if the kids who grew up with free Internet stuff were educated in the ways of the video industry, they’d understand why they should pay more for less convenience. It strikes me as similar to the bitter old-school print guy’s lament about how the Internet is devaluing the core product by letting jerks take this stuff for free. But why adapt when you can complain that the young ’uns are ign’ant, and go out of business?

Android and iOS, better and right, saying and linking

I find John Gruber, when he’s got the snark dialed up to 11, annoying, grating, vial and egotistical. But that’s only when I disagree with him. I, of course, love it when we’re on the same side.

Gruber seems like a smart guy. His analysis and reporting is usually good. He’s willing to point out the iPhone’s and Apple’s flaws, even if he sees the world of technology from a decidedly pro-Apple perspective. That’s why, as someone who as never owned any Apple device, I continue to read his blog.

But I was surprised to see this in his latest piece, ‘First to Do It’ vs. ‘First to Do It Right’ about the way Apple doesn’t rush features to market:

Here’s the test. Take some normal people, where by “normal” I mean people who have never heard of TechCrunch or Daring Fireball. Give them brand new still-in-the-box iPhone 4’s and HTC Evos. Now ask them to make a video call to one another. With the iPhone 4, they’re going to be able to do it. The only thing that’s technically confusing about FaceTime is that it only works via Wi-Fi (I think many people have little understanding of the difference between Wi-Fi and 3G data — at least insofar as why a feature would work over one but not the other). Otherwise, FaceTime is as easy to use as making a regular voice call.

There are many things in Android that feel like technological demos. (Google Goggles, built into Android starting with 2.1, is a perfect example of this; taking a picture of what you want to search for or add to your contacts is a neat idea, but rarely works well in practice.) And it sounds like Gruber’s right: normal people will be able to figure out FaceTime much, much faster than HTC Evo’s “Android Time.”

But “as easy as making a regular voice call”?

Well, as easy as making a regular voice call to someone with the same model of phone connected to WiFi, sure.

Yes, I’m sure normals can probably figure out how to make a FaceTime call pretty quickly, and they may not need another account. But they still need to make sure the person they want to face call has an iPhone 4 and can connect to WiFi. (While Apple says it wants to make FaceTime an open standard, it hasn’t yet and there are no devices in wide use that can makes these calls, at least until next week when the iPhone 4 is shipped.) That’s not hard, but that’s not “as easy to use as a regular phone call.”

Apple’s implementation does sounds vastly superior to anything Android offers, but it gets sticky when we slap the word “right” in there, as if there is a final, correct way to do things. Is Apple’s implementation of this feature “right” or just “better”? Is Apple’s iOS 4 multitasking done “the right way”or just done a different way? Marco Arment, the lead developer at Tumblr and only developer of Instapaper, has some suggestions for improvements for iOS 4 multitasking. (For what it’s worth, my favorite Android app, the podcast app Listen, allows me to have it update and download new episodes in the background when it’s plugged in and on WiFi.)

How did he declare this the “right” implementation? I might find Gruber’s argument more convincing if he, or anyone else outside of Apple, had used FaceTime for more than the demo time alloted at WWDC, or if he could find something to link to backing up that assertion besides Apple’s own product page. It’s sort of like backing up an assertion that the iPad is actually magical by linking to Apple’s iPad page. I’ve come to expect better from Gruber.

Eustace Tilley on Tumblr acts like you would expect

Remember how The New Yorker is on Tumblr? Tumblr is diverse. Some blogs cover politics. Some collect examples of cutting edge Web design. Some blogs have a personal vibe. Some post for lulz. But the ones that work, at least to my mind, remember that Tumblr is a social platform and have an authentic voice.

Back to The New Yorker. One Tumblrer posted a link to The New Yorker’s “20 Under 40” Q. and A. with its bingo-like 4-by-5 grid of illustrated mugs and the line “There is definitely some kind of inappropriate bingo to be played here…” A funny, authentic way to link to the piece.

Those jokers at The New Yorker reblogged and added to hilarity: “Perhaps a game where each correct answer corresponds to the writer’s Q.&A? Click on the image to read Q.&A.’s from each “20 under 40” writer about his or her origins, inspirations, and coming work.”

Yes, as tone deaf as I’d expect Eustace Tilley to be .

Why Tumblr is the best RSS reader

I use Google Reader like most RSS subscribers. But you know what? Tumblr’s better. (Added: I know Tumblr’s not a true RSS reader. Stick with me.) Here are five reasons:

No “unread” counts
I hate watching the number of unread items pile up until it hits “1000+.” Dave Winer thinks that’s the wrong way, too. It bugs me so much, I asked Aardvark for suggestions for a Google Reader-like without the unread count and got the reply “get over it.” Guess what Tumblr doesn’t have? I can start at the most recent and go until I start seeing stuff I’ve already seen or until I’m bored.

Everything gets mixed together
In both Google Reader and Tumblr, I subscribe to a huge range of things: politics, media, technology, funny, interesting, people I know. In Google Reader, even though I don’t have to, I segregate different stuff into different folders. But on Tumblr, that’s not even a possibility. So I’ll get some hilarious 4Chan joke right after photos of pelicans covered in BP’s oil. Believe me, way better than slogging through a bunch of tech blogs.

Commenting is just like blogging
When I pursue my feeds in Google Reader and something pisses me off so much that I am forced to spew Internet-troll rage inspires me to respond, that comment is often buried in Google Reader. But on Tumblr, if I have something to say, I can hit the “reblog” button, write as much or as little as I’d like and publish it to a blog. My blog.

Subscribing isn’t a commitment
Even though it’s not, subscribing to a feed in Google Reader feels like a commitment; suddenly I’ve just added 10 more unread items and a new feed to to categorize and prioritize. But when I land on a Tumblr blog, I almost always subscribe. It’s not going to add a bunch of new unread items to my reader, I don’t have to figure out where it fits in my folder scheme. If the blog becomes bothersome, I can unsubscribe easily.

Everything’s a full feed
I never, ever have to leave Tumblr’s dashboard to read the rest of something, which streamlines my reading a lot.

I’d miss some of Google Reader’s functionality (e-mailing and saving items in Pinboard, for instance), but if I could move all my non-Tumblr feed to my Tumblr dashboard, I think I would.

Realtors warn potential clients to be wary of the Web!

A story posted by KCRG warns potential renters and home buyer about the dangers of finding property online!

As technology improves, criminals keep finding new ways to scam people. Realtors say more and more con artists are trying to take advantage of people looking to buy or rent homes online.

See, Realtors nowadays have to compete harder for sales against for-sale-by-owner types (which can sell their homes for less since they don’t have to pay a commission to a real estate agent) because of, guess what, the INTERNET! So while buyers and rents should be careful using Craigslist, it seems that the Realtor source might be a little biased when warning potential clients to be wary of the Web.

The New Yorker remembers it has a blog on Tumblr

Today, The New Yorker said on Twitter:

We are now on @tumblr! Follow us: http://newyorker.tumblr.com/

But the magazine has 199 pages of Tumblr posts and its first post is dated Dec. 1, 2009. So really they meant

We are now going to try to pay attention to our @tumblr! Follow us: http://newyorker.tumblr.com/

or

We remembered we are on @tumblr! Follow us: http://newyorker.tumblr.com/

or maybe even

We figured @Newsweek got good pub for their @tumblr! Follow us: http://newyorker.tumblr.com/

Facebook isn’t free

Just a few points that I wanted to make in response to the conversation I was having with Dave Schwartz on Twitter about Facebook’s ever-changing privacy policy and the growing complaints about it that doesn’t quite fit in 140 characters:

  • Facebook isn’t “free” for users. It doesn’t cost them money (unless they’re buying gifts or game credits or whatever), but the cost of entry is data. The more data you put in, presumably the more you can get out. Tell Facebook where you went to high school and reconnect will former classmates. Tell Facebook who your family and friends are and be fed their updates and feel connected. Tell Facebook what your interests are and possibly gain new friends.
  • Facebook has the right to control its own product and set its terms of service in any way that is legal.
  • Users have every right to complain and still use the service. Just like if you wish the service on your AT&T iPhone was better.
  • Facebook isn’t one-size-fits all and offers different privacy settings for that reason. Some users will be willing to give up more information than others. I live pretty publicly online. I use my real name everywhere. My phone number isn’t hard to find. I don’t have creepy people in my past that I don’t want finding that information. The equation will be different for different people. Individuals need to make that calculation on their own.
  • Decide the tradeoffs aren’t worth it? Users have the right to leave if they feel the bargain is no longer fair. Users have the right to delete data. (Does Facebook honor this right?)

I don’t think Dave and I are far off. I think we both believe users have to be smart about what they’re feeding Facebook. But it’s also important to recognize that there are people feeding Facebook a ton of data and not really thinking about it. The (loud and growing) complaints are good for them, too, so that they have reason to think about what the cost of Facebook is to them.

Twitter, Blackbird Pie and permanence

Twitter released a small, simple app called Blackbird Pie that, when Twitter isn’t painfully slow and blogged down, should make it easy to embed a tweet in a blog post. It creates little bit of static HTML code that you can plop in a page. Like so:


This is a tweet that I will later delete to see if the Blackbird Pie version stays up or goes away.less than a minute ago via web

But what if I delete the tweet? I think it will stay there, since I see the tweet’s text in the code. But thought I’d check. Also, one could, I guess, make a fake tweet pretty easily. (Not that it’s hard now.) Like so:


For lunch I ate an entire cow. Except its tail.less than a minute ago via web

Helpful? Maybe.

Update:
Clearly this takes on too much of my own CSS styling.

Update II:
There was clearly an issue with the code that Blackbird Pie was spitting out that has since been fixed. See:

This is a tweet that I will later delete to see if the Blackbird Pie version stays up or goes away.less than a minute ago via web

Later Robin Sloan suggested why is wasn’t exactly working the bestest, adding

So I just want to add a stronger caveat here. First of all: I think we’ll drop the royal “we” on Twitter Media from now on—it’s confusing. To be clear, this is just @robinsloan here, pitching a little hack of mine. Please regard it as such, even though it lives on this fancy domain. Seeing people call it a “feature” is making me cringe, because I know what kind of care goes into real Twitter features! This is not one of those.

Let me underscore the point: in the course of writing this blog, I coded up a simple script that I found helpful, so I decided to share it with you. It’s a prototype. It’s really rough. It doesn’t even work in a lot of places! But that’s what we mean by “experiment,” right? And, as part of the Twitter Media team, I couldn’t credibly ask producers and developers at media companies to experiment and prototype if I wasn’t doing the same thing myself.

And yes, I know it doesn’t work on Tumblr.

Update III:
I see now that WordPress was trying to “help me out.” Stop it.

Why the old model is dying: a case study

Earlier this year, a reporter from US News & World Report got in touch with my wife. The reporter was working on a story for the magazine’s annual graduate school rankings issue, which is a Big Deal for both the magazine and the schools.

After several e-mails back and forth and a few phone calls with the reporter, the magazine’s photo editor got in touch to schedule a day when a photographer could come out and get some art for the piece. They picked a day the following week.

The magazine flew a freelance photographer from Washington, D.C., to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on a week’s notice, and paid for his meals, rental car and a night in a hotel. He spent the day taking photos and ended up with a glorified stock photo and a cutline that doesn’t even identify it has being anywhere outside of Washington, D.C.

The story mentions and quotes my wife a single time. At the very end.

So how much did this photo cost? And what did it add?

And is it any wonder that this business model has been proven unsustainable?