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What is content?

Really interesting post by Jeff Jarvis at BuzzMachine.com.  Hat tip to bosacks.com for bringing this to my attention.  The post uses the often commented on question about  iPad is a content creation device, content consumption device or some blend of the two as a starting point to ask the bigger question – what is content?

As of this writing there were already 61 comments on the original post.  I read the first several and felt that most missed the point entirely. The interesting element of Jarvis’ comments are not about the iPad per se.  Rather, the key point is that we need to think differently (no pun intended) about what content is.  Every action we take that is logged somewhere is or has the potential to be “content.”  Jarvis writes:

When we email a link to a friend, that act creates content. When we comment on content, we create content. When we mention a movie in Twitter — that’s just useless chatter, right? — our tweets add up to valuable content: a predictor of movie box office that’s 97.3% accurate. When we take a picture and load it up to Flickr — 4 billion times — that’s content. When we say something about those photos — tagging them or captioning them or saying where they were taken — that’s content. When we do these things on Facebook, which can see our social graph, that creates a meta layer that adds more value to our content. On Foursquare, our actions become content (the fact that this bar is more popular than that bar is information worth having). When we file a health complaint about a restaurant, that’s content. Our movements on highways, tracked through our cellphones, creates content: traffic reports.

This is all something that most of us intuitively know and yet that we don’t spend time thinking about. It is worth thinking about.

I’m adding BuzzMachine.com to the list of sites I follow.

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And I’m free, oh! free fallin’

The title notwithstanding, this post isn’t about a classic Tom Petty song.

According to the progress bar on my Kindle, I am about 19% of the way through Freefall: American, Free Markets, and the Sinking of the World Economy by Joseph E. Stiglitz.  I started reading this just a few days ago after learning that Stiglitz would be giving a talk to the Columbia alumni community in NYC on October 12th.  (I’m planning to attend.)

I’ll reserve final judgement until I finish the book.  If you have been following news accounts related to the financial crash and the ensuing Great Recession, a lot of the ground Stiglitz covers won’t be new to you.  However, he lays out in a way is clear, compelling and sure to get your blood boiling at least just a little bit.  His narrative reinforces the conclusions that (a) the mess we are in wasn’t inevitable and (b) the sub-optimal policy repsonses of the Bush and Obama administrations took a bad situation and made it worse.

As  I noted above, I am only about one-fifth of the way through the book.  Thus far I have found most interesting Stiglitz’ seven principles for a well-designed stimulus program:

  1. It should be fast. Economic policies take months to be fully effective. It is therefore imperative to get money into the economy quickly.
  2. It should be effective. Effectiveness means a big bang for the buck—every dollar spent should give rise to a large increase in employment and output. In other words, focus on spending with the biggest multiplier effect.
  3. It should address the country’s long-term problems. Low national savings, huge trade deficits, long-term financial problems for Social Security and other programs for the elderly, decaying infrastructure, and global warming all cloud the country’s long-term outlook. An effective stimulus would target them, or at the very least not make them worse.
  4. It should focus on investment. If stimulus money is invested in assets that increase the country’s long-run productivity, the country will be in a better shape in the long run as a result of the stimulus—even as short-run output and employment are increased.
  5. It should be fair. Middle-class Americans have fared far worse in recent years compared to those at the top.3 Any stimulus should be designed with that in mind.
  6. It should deal with the short-run exigencies created by the crisis. In a downturn, states often run out of money and have to start cutting jobs. The jobless are left without healthcare insurance. People struggling to make mortgage payments may default on their mortgage if they lose their jobs.  A well-designed stimulus should deal with as many of these issues as possible.
  7. The stimulus should be targeted at areas of job loss. If the job losses are likely to be permanent, the stimulus should be directed at retraining workers with the skills they will need for their future jobs.

Stiglitz acknowledges that sometimes these objectives are in conflict.  Nevertheless, I find this framework helpful in thinking about what has been done already and discussions about what needs to be done moving forward.

I am interested to read/hear Stiglitz’ take, but my three-cents going in is as follows:

  • Probably could have been faster.  My recollection is that the Bush administration spent a long time trying to reassure us that all was well when educated observers knew that we were in trouble.
  • Given the size of the relief given to the banks, this probably small in comparison.  But the investments made under ARRA will likely have positive impacts down the road.  For instance, spending to encourage physicians to adopt EHR (Electronic Health Record) systems.
  • Extensions to unemployment insurance and subsidies for COBRA payments likely helped to mitigate the severity of the downturns impact on millions of families. In so doing, it likely also had a significant multiplier effect, thereby helping the broader economy.

Oh, and back to Tom Petty.  He sings “I’m a bad boy for breakin’ her heart” and this apparently leads to his Free Fallin’.  Well, we’ve got more than our share of “bad boys” responsible for sending our economy into a Freefall, don’t you think?

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How much more can I take?

I’m joking.  OK, I’m mostly joking.  Apple’s iPad has been released into the wild and I don’t have one.  Haven’t planned to buy one and almost certainly won’t anytime soon.  I don’t (absolutely) have to have the very latest gadget out there, right.  I’ve made peace with that.  But following so quickly on the 4/2 intro of the iPad is news that this Thursday Apple will release the details on the new iPhone OS 4.0.  If this announcement is accompanied by news of a new iPhone, I don’t know how I’ll handle being even further behind the state-of-the-art Apple  times.  Like I said above, I am mostly joking!

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If you pretty much stick to running a plain-vanilla Mac environment, using only the applications that came with your Mac plus maybe Microsoft Office, then this post isn’t for you.  However, if you like to tweak you Mac with lots of different software applications and extensions, read on.

For a long time I’ve visited MacUpdate.com on a regular basis to check out their Mac software “deal of the day.”  While I’ve purchased several items from them, up until a week or so ago I hadn’t subscribed to their core MacUpdate offering.  I have now done so and am really glad that I did.  Their application installs on your machine and will automatically scan the applications on your machine and let you know which ones are out of date.  In most cases, each application can be brought up-to-date with a single click.  MacUpdate handles all of the normal install-process dialogs behind the scenes.  If you attempt to update an application to a beta release, you will be notified and given the adoption to abort the update process.

Highly recommended and worth the $20 annual subscription price.

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Encouraging Economic News

Very encouraging to see a story on Forbes.com this week that magazine ad sales for April and May are heading higher.  Hearst Magazines’ chief marketing officer, Michael Clinton, reports that sales for April rose 12% compared to the same period last year. Now Clinton says May will be even better. Ad sales across 13 of Hearst’s main titles are already up 17% for May, he says, and the month isn’t fully booked yet. Hearst won’t report official numbers until mid-April.  The story reports that the growth is being driven by Hearst’s “big books” like Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping, Oprah and House Beautiful.  The ad climate seems to be improving for the magazine business. Overall ad spending for magazines will rise this year by 1.9%, to $9.4 billion, predicts a recent study from Outsell. For consumer titles (as opposed to b-to-b), spending will climb 4.2%.

While I take this as a very encouraging sign in terms of the direction our economy will take over the next 12 to 24 months, this won’t change the long term trend for print magazine revenue, either for advertising or circulation.  In fact, according to a recently released Outsell report (Annual Advertising and Marketing Study 2010: Total US and B2B Advertising), “For the first time, advertisers plan to spend more on digital and online marketing and advertising (in 2010), 32.5% of the total, than on print, 30.3%, an industry milestone crossover event.”  I am not alone in expecting this trend to continue.

Interesting commentary on the Outsell report (as the report itself is behind a very tall pay wall):

Breitbart.com:  US advertisers to spend more on digital than print: study

FolioMag.com: Print Magazine Advertising to Grow in 2010 Despite Popularity of Online

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Reading Web Content on Your Kindle

Though the Kindle has a rudimentary web browser, I have found it to be so limited and so slow that I won’t use it.  However, I was looking for an easy way to read Web content on my Kindle.  I am using the following process to move content I find online to my Kindle for reading at a later date.

To make this work, first you should install a terrific “bookmarklet” from the folks at Arc90 called Readability.  You can find it here. What Readability does is to reformat the core content of just about any article-type content you find online in a way that is very easy to view online.

OK, so here are the steps I use to get content to the Kindle from my Mac:

  1. Find something online you want to read at a later date.
  2. Click to activate the Readability bookmarklet
  3. Click the print icon or command-P to print the page
  4. In the print dialog box, select PDF, then Mail PDF
  5. Address the PDF to YourKindleUserName@free.kindle.com
  6. Type “convert” in the subject line of your email
  7. Click the Send button to send the email on its way
  8. If all goes well, in about 1-2 minutes or less you will receive a file back from Amazon. Copy this file to your Kindle using the USB cable

By following these steps, most of the time you will wind up with a well formatted, easy to read document on your Kindle.

These steps will not work for Windows users unless they have installed software that allows them to easily generate PDFs as described above.

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An unbelievable decision was handed down on 2/25/10 which holds that a stamp issued by the U.S.P.S. based on a photograph of the Korean War memorial violates the copyright of the artist.  No, not the photographer.  It violates the copyright of the scuipter!

I heard about this today and actually read the opinion of the U.S. Federal Circuit court in its entirety.  The majority opinion really strains any definition of common sense as the introduction to the dissenting opinion makes clear

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is a work of public art and a national monument. It was authorized by Congress, installed on the National Mall, and paid for by appropriated funds. My colleagues on this panel now hold that the persons who produced this public monument for the United States, under a contract which requires that copyright is in the United States, can nonetheless require the United States to pay damages for copyright infringement based on use of a photograph of the Memorial in snow on a postage stamp. This holding is contrary to the contract provisions, contrary to statute for works done in the service of the United States, contrary to copyright law, and contrary to national policy governing access to public monuments. I respectfully dissent from the court’s holding that
the United States is liable for infringement of an improperly obtained and unlawfully enforced copyright.

In the grand scheme of outrages, this is a relatively small one.  But it really make you wonder….

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Google Buzz – Smart Move…

The rise of Facebook, Twitter and other social media services is surely of concern to the brains inside the Googleplex.  Google’s latest attempt to reclaim some of this social media territory and mindshare is Google Buzz.  I read about this for the first time yesterday and it was finally activated for my account today.  I’ll need to spend some more time with it before commenting in any great detail.  My first reaction is that Google has made a very smart play but it may not be enough to slow Facebook.

Increasingly, the first thing people are doing when turning on their computers is logging into Facebook to see what is happening in their world. This represents a sea change, relegating email to position #2.  Google is playing to their strength with Buzz by bringing social media updates into the Gmail inbox.  This is a very clever play.

The challenge for Google is that while they are bringing buzz into Buzz from the likes of Twitter, Flicker and other sites, updates from Facebook (and Linked In) aren’t there yet.  If Facebook can’t be brought into the Buzz, then I doubt this move will be sufficient to stop, or even slow, the Facebook juggernaut .

More thoughts on this to follow once I’ve had more time to evaluate Google Buzz.

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Shelby to Obama: Hold On!

I’ve recently been following the absurdity that is the U.S. Senate with equal parts frustration and disbelief.  OK, I can get my head around how 40 Senators can bring things to a halt via a filibuster.  Understanding how one Senator can stop further action on 70+ executive branch nominees is harder to fathom.

This is precisely what Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) did on Thursday according to the office of Majority Leader Harry Reid. Shelby’s holds mean that the Senate cannot vote on a nominee unless the hold is broken using a cloture vote that requires 60 senators or if the senator lifts the hold.

Given his stature as a United States Senator, you could assume that there must be some issue at stake of grave concern and importance for the country. Of course you could assume this, but you would be wrong! According to his own spokesman, Shelby applied the holds because of a dispute over a contract to build Air Force refueling tankers. The issue? Whether the contract will be awarded to a contractor that will build the airplanes in Alabama.

There has been plenty written about this in the press over the past few days, but I think Gail Collins’ New York Times Op-Ed piece on 2/5 (No Holds Barred) really captures the absurdity of it all in a way that can make you laugh out loud.

What do you think?

  • Is Shelby justified in doing this?
  • What arguments can be made in support of this?
  • Should the Senate rules be changed to prevent anyone, of either party, from pulling a similar stunt in the future?

More on this subject:

America is Not Lost by Paul Krugman, New York Times, 02/07/2010

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Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

While driving home yesterday I caught the tail end of a story on NPR about the need for real debates in American politics. The piece discussed an area of agreement between two individuals from opposite ends of the political spectrum:

  • Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation
  • Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, Board of Directors, National Rifle Association and the American Conservative Union.

Katrina vanden Heuvel:

These are times when unfiltered, unfettered public debate — rigorous, substantive, candid and civil — are rare and hard to find….Last week we witnessed a rare event — President Obama met with GOP House members, and their debate was as riveting as the best reality show. It made us all remember that political exchange can be compelling, even entertaining!

 

Grover Norquist:

One reason politics in the United States is so uninspiring and uninteresting is that it consists of long speeches by party leaders. Speeches allow one to go on and on at length, unchallenged, possibly inventing facts and certainly presenting only one side of the argument. In a debate, both sides make their case in real time. Debates are better than speeches; debates are competition. Speeches are monopolies….Debates, like the question time the British have in Parliament, promote politicians like Winston Churchill. Speeches get you politicians like George W. Bush and Barack Obama — and there are no teleprompters in the debates. Coaches and speechwriters…do very little to prop up the incompetent in a debate.

Norquist went on to discuss a long ago debate that took place in May of 1967, one that I had never heard or read about before.  This debate was ostensibly between Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan. I say “ostensibly” because in reality the debate was between these two men and a group of radical students.  Here is how the debate’s moderator described the session:

I’m Charles Collingwood and this is TOWN MEETING OF THE WORLD, the latest in an occasional series of trans-Atlantic confrontations that’s been going on ever since communication satellites made them possible. With me here in the studio of the BBC in London are a group of young people, university students from – one from the United States, but the rest of them from Europe, Africa and Asia. They are all attending universities in Great Britain. They have ideas, all of them, sometimes provocative ones, about the United States, its role and its image. For the next hour, via the Atlantic communications satellite, they will be participating in a global dialogue with Senator Robert F. Kennedy, Democrat of New York, and Governor Ronald Reagan, Republican of California.

And so here is how Norquist described this debate and its implications for today:

In the 1960s, Robert Kennedy and Ronald Reagan debated the Vietnam War. No one who saw that debate then, or on tape since, would have been surprised in later decades by Reagan’s political abilities. He wasn’t just a speech reader; he was an original thinker and a debater.

I was only two years old when Kennedy was assassinated in 1968. The Reagan years, however, were formative ones for me. They encompassed my time in both high school and college.  If Kennedy had a reputation as a great orator, Reagan was often presented as an amiable dunce, a puppet in front of the cameras, the epitome of style over substance.  I could go on.  Though I never really believed these characterizations, this wasn’t a popular position on a college campus in the 1980s.  So, intrigued by the Norquist’s description of this debate, off to Google I went to find the details. I found a 10 minute video clip, which is shown below, and a transcript of the entire debate.

I also found a May 2007 NationalReview.com piece by Paul Kengor entitled “The Great Forgotten Debate.”  Kengor makes the argument that “There was total agreement, including among media sources who revered Bobby Kennedy, from the San Francisco Chronicle to Newsweek, that Reagan overwhelmingly won the debate.”

I’ll take a different point of view.  I was truly impressed be each of these great men. Coming from different perspectives, they had command of the facts and were able to speak intelligently without the aid of anything except what was between their ears. The real winners were the more than 15 million Americans that had the opportunity to see this debate live on CBS TV.

In America today we have a non-stop, 24 hour new cycle that delivers us less real information and insight than ever before. We have too many empty-suit politicians that thrive based on their ability to deliver sound bites that play well to their base. And so this is why Norquist and vanden Heuvel joined last week with “a diverse group of bloggers, commentators, techies and politicos, calling for more question sessions with the president and the opposition party.”  As vanden Heuvel put it,

These are times when unfiltered, unfettered public debate — rigorous, substantive, candid and civil — are rare and hard to find. I believe that “Demand Question Time” will help us to nurture a smart and vibrant democracy.

Today I signed the petition at www.DemandQuestionTime.com.  If you think this is a good idea, perhaps you’ll consider doing the same.

OK, but what does any of this have to do with Joe DiMaggio? Well, as I watched these debates, I was left with a nostalgia for a time of real leaders, of men like Reagan and RFK.  And this emotion brought the DiMaggio reference from Paul Simon’s song “Mrs. Robinson” rushing into my consciousness.  I always thought of that line as a yearning for an earlier time, one when we had real, genuine heroes.  Perhaps it is too much to wish for heroes.  But is it too much to yearn for leaders more real and more genuine than we have today?

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