‘aka Syscrusher’ Category Archive

More on “blog” evolution

One of the key factors in the evolution of the blog into something that can’t be easily stripped down to a primitive form is the parallel rise of group and institution-sponsored blogging. If blogs were originally records of what one person found interesting online, with maybe a bit of their own commentary, reader communities didn’t matter, and thus the ability to comment didn’t matter. Group blogs, such as Daily Kos, changed that by emphasizing community, discussion and organization, much of which hinged on the ability of readers to interact via comments (both with each other and with the bloggers). Similarly, institutional bloggers, such as those employed by major media outlets, have an incentive to use comment sections to build and retain site traffic.

Predictably, active comment sections have proven difficult to utilize to their maximum effectiveness. The more open comment sections are, the more likely they are to attract trolls and other malcontents, driving away potential community members who just don’t want to deal with it. Registration can help, as can techno-organizational factors like discussion-threading and comment-rating, but the risk of somebody pissing in the punch bowl will always be there. A couple days ago, Ezra Klein relayed some other bloggers’ hesitant feelings toward their commenters and would-be commenters, and suggested that he’s interested in moving toward the most highly controlled form of commenting, which is already employed by the likes of Talking Points Memo and Andrew Sullivan — e-mails to him that he would post if he felt like it.

I don’t think there’s anything majorly impactful or important about these specific developments, but I do think they’re worth noting as milemarkers on the road away from “the blog” and toward a broader theory of online publishing.

Filed: aka Syscrusher || 22:46, December 24 || No Comments »

Daily Kos and the evolution of the blog

The beta of the Daily Kos redesign (aka “DK4”) was opened to the public today. Given the site’s status among the highest-traffic political blogs, it’s worth taking a look at. To me, the striking thing is how much it retains a great deal of the traditional blog format, particularly at a time when the format is being blurred beyond recognition by The Huffington Post and largely abandoned by the Gawker network. I argued in a paper for AEJMC this year that the existence of the blog as a primitive format in 2010 is an illusion — even though Daily Kos runs on its own platform as opposed to a commercial one like WordPress, it’s clear they have a commitment to the producer-audience relationship fostered by blogs as opposed to the top-down paradigm of online magazines.

As an example, take this description of DK4’s “mojo” system. In the Daily Kos community, mojo is essentially a metric of trust, based on past activity — comment recommendations over time get you there in the current system, but the new system is substantially more robust. As Kos describes in the post, it provides three categories of activities that build as indicators of community trust, but they do so without providing a lot of quantitative data. I find this particularly interesting, because one of the things that’s always struck me as a little odd at Daily Kos was the chest-puffing about having a low UID — that is, being a long-time member of the site (full disclosure: my UID is 8475). The UID is still on display in the new site, but the mojo score aggregates and subtly obfuscates the specifics of one’s community behavior. It’s a way of both encouraging engagement and discouraging argument from seniority. This is part and parcel of Kos’s expressed vision for the site — fostering and filtering quality content from the community. Unlike so many other giants in the liberal blogosphere — HuffPo, Talking Points Memo, Think Progress — and in the blogosphere and big-time social media in general, the creation and nourishment of community makes Daily Kos stand out.

Filed: aka Syscrusher || 21:30, December 15 || No Comments »

Movies should be free as in markets

Next week, Netflix will be added to the S&P 500, while the New York Times Co. will be dropped, which is being seen as (altogether, now) a sign of the times. But the cozy business model Netflix has set up for itself — backing into a streaming media business that now outweighs its physical disc business, due to industry and consumer ignorance at the time the original deals were struck — may be on the way out. Despite having rebuilt the video rental business in its image, Netflix faces two major challenges in the near future.

The first is that their original licensing deals are about to start expiring in bulk. Studios were willing to sign over streaming rights quite cheaply back when there was no streaming market to speak of; they won’t be so eager now. For one thing, the booming market for streaming content makes those rights much more valuable than they once were. This is particularly true as non-PC media consumption devices — video game systems, netbooks, tablets, phones — become more and more a part of consumers’ TV- and movie-watching habits. But on top of that, Netflix isn’t doing anything with their streaming business that the studios don’t think they could do themselves. Indeed, this is the entire rationale behind Hulu — why let Amazon or Apple take a chunk out of a one-time sale, or Netflix take a chunk out of the subscription fees? Anyone can put bandwidth and storage space together, right? This is a simplistic take, of course, which ignores the ability to build a working business model, to create a functional user experience, etc., but those are in some ways ancillary to simply having a lot of content already on hand. Hulu even manages to start eroding the one major advantage Netflix has over any studio-operated competitor, which is that it doesn’t just have one studio’s content. If any major studios decide to walk away from Netflix, the difference in content availability becomes narrower.

Meanwhile, just as Netflix is using streaming as a way to hedge their bets on the future of postage costs, the future of bandwidth costs is uncertain, as well. When a major ISP decides to seriously challenge the de facto doctrine of net neutrality, Netflix is likely to be an early target. They’re a major user of bandwidth, and unlike some of the other likely targets — YouTube, Hulu, ESPN — they don’t have the backing of a giant company (that is, giant relative to S&P 500-member Netflix) or of a company with an existing relationship with the cable companies that dominate the ISP sector. Similarly, when a major ISP decides to go to metered usage — as many wireless carriers have already done — Netflix is going to suffer. If your $7.99/month “unlimited” streaming plan from Netflix requires you to add $30/month to your cable bill to get all the bandwidth you need, it suddenly becomes a lot less attractive.

The common denominator here is that Netflix has opened up a potentially huge new revenue stream for the movie and TV industries, and the existing power-players have a lot of incentive to shove their way in. They might enter as competitors, they might insert themselves as middlemen, but one way or another, they’re coming.

Filed: aka Syscrusher || 10:05, December 12 || No Comments »

Survey of iPad owners

Business Insider conducted a survey of iPad owners with some interesting findings:

No info seems to be available about how the survey was conducted, so take it with a grain of salt.

Filed: aka Syscrusher || 10:41, November 16 || No Comments »

It’s not TV, it’s TCP/IP

A new study by Sandvine indicates that Netflix alone accounts for about 20% of prime-time bandwidth usage in the United States:

That’s just Netflix; all streaming media combined account for 43% of non-mobile Internet traffic. Considering the pushes being made by Hulu and (especially) ESPN, that stands to grow significantly, and it presents a tremendous wrinkle to two big issues on the landscape of corporate media: the decline of the mass television audience and the debate over net neutrality. On the former, the TV networks have suffered eroding viewership since the mass adoption of multi-channel subscription television services (i.e., cable) began in the early 80s. They’ve hedged their bets by investing heavily in niche cable channels (even if the niches are often not so niche, like SyFy and its wrestling shows) and now by launching streaming and download services, most notably Hulu. Apparently people are responding. The business model is still a little unclear, and will almost certainly involve the networks using Hulu to make a power play against Netflix, but Netflix has a huge member base to stand on, as well as relationships with movie studios that have much different incentive structures than its relationships with TV studios. Perhaps its something Netflix can leverage into becoming a less chaotic version of YouTube — subscription-based access to original, independent content that’s organized and reliable could be extremely attractive.

While its got one eye on the TV networks, Netflix also needs to watch out for Big Bandwidth. As long as net neutrality remains unassured — and there’s certainly no legislative guarantee coming any time soon — Netflix is in danger of being extorted for packet delivery. It’s not as big as YouTube (i.e., Google) or as well connected as Hulu (i.e., most of the big media corporations); it’s potentially right in the crosshairs for a neutrality challenge by any of the big cable providers who are also some of America’s biggest ISPs. Coincidentally, these are also some of the companies being affected most of the drop in TV viewership. I wonder what might happen if one of these companies — say, Comcast — were to try to buy one of the big TV networks — say, NBC Universal? That’s an organization that would have a lot of incentive to go after a company like Netflix, and at least two powerful positions from which to do so.

Filed: aka Syscrusher || 20:28, November 8 || No Comments »

You already know how to use it

I got an iPad last spring. This is the first time I’ve bought a first-gen Apple device and I went in as a skeptic. I mainly wanted it because my wife and I spent a lot of time traveling last summer and she wanted to be able to read without lugging a laptop or a bunch of books around. Somewhat to my surprise — even though my iPod and my iPhone are among my most useful possessions — it quickly took over all my reading and much of my casual web-surfing. I’m even writing this post on it!

But still, there was something about it that bothered me. I felt like it was a very important step as a communications device, but I couldn’t articulate why. Was I just turning into a nonsensical Apple fanboy, in love with this thing for no apparent reason? I thought I might be, until I saw the new iPad ad campaign, which spells out exactly what is so groundbreaking about it, and why people who see it as a threat to traditional computing paradigms are correct: You already know how to use it. Like its iPhone predecessor, it is incredibly intuitive and designed to interact with the tools we know best — our fingers. Unlike the iPhone, its size allows it to feel like a computer. The pages you see on it look pretty much like what we expect from pages on computer screens. On top of that, its highly regimented and closed nature means everything is where you expect it to be. You turn it on and open Videos or Safari or Pages, and there’s everything you need. From an HCI perspective this makes all kinds of sense — as much as a traditional computer is more a content-creation device than a content-consumption device, the iPad is the reverse. Sure, you’ve got Notes and Pages and various drawing apps, but this thing is designed for reading the web and watching video.

What makes this such an interesting development (and an absolute head-basher for proponents of open platforms) is the characteristics of the people who still struggle with traditional computing models. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported this week that many returning college students lack basic computer skills. This isn’t just a problem if you’re coming back to school to learn how to do marketing online or computer-assisted organization management — many basic pieces of the higher education infrastructure are now computerized. Students in my classes turn in all their assignments via our “learning management system,” Blackboard. Much of the material that I distribute to them goes out through the same system, including the bulk of their grades. Unlike the iPad, it’s not a system that’s designed terribly well for usability, and even the students (and professors!) with decent backgrounds in using computers have problems with it at times. Is this something that the iPad can fix? Not on its own, certainly, but I imagine LMS designers are thinking a lot about mobile and tablet computing these days, and a cloud-backed system that was built with the iPad’s interface and capabilities in mind could go a long way toward easing the transition into the basic information environment of modern higher education. Returning students would still need to get accustomed to the traditional computing model in order to learn, for instance, digital content production skills, but this first step might make learning those skills a smoother process.

Filed: aka Syscrusher || 15:53, November 5 || No Comments »