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Ed Driscoll

The Long Tail

12 Years of Instapundit

August 10th, 2013 - 5:32 pm

Everybody has their story of how they discovered the Blogosphere; for lots of people, it was via Instapundit.com, which turned 12 years old this week. Here’s my take (originally published in 2011), a visit to the Jurassic days of the early Blogosphere.

Ten years ago, when I was making my living as a freelance writer, and writing four to six articles a month to magazines in various fields — back then mostly “on dead tree,” I had only just started to write for political Websites. I had submitted an article on the Mies van der Rohe exhibition then ongoing at New York’s Museum of Modern Art to National Review Online, and then followed up with an article on the Computer History Museum, then at Moffett Field in northern California. I was always doing Google vanity searches on my name, to see who was linking to my articles online.

Shortly after the piece on the Computer History Museum went up at NRO, I found it had been linked to by something or someone called “Instapundit.” I had seen Weblogs before, but they were always of the “I went to the mall and bought a great pair of Nikes” or “I had a really great date at Applebee’s last night” variety of daily diaries.

And I had seen self-published e-zines, in the form of Virginia Postrel’s Dynamist.com, KausFiles, and maybe Andrew Sullivan in whatever incarnation he was then currently in, plus of course the self-published Drudge Report, and had thought about launching a Website of my own, but these looked like they were beyond my then-meager Web skills. Designing a page template? FTP’ing up new pages every day? I didn’t know of any programs that automated that sort of thing.

But what set Instapundit apart, at the time, was that it was on Blogger. In fact, as Glenn Reynolds mentions in his new video at PJTV celebrating the tenth anniversary of his pioneering blog, his original URL was indeed instapundit.blogspot.com.That little Blogger Button in the corner of Glenn’s Weblog made all the difference. It suddenly became obvious that the platform of Blogger.com and the content it held were two very different things. While the vast majority of blogs on Blogger.com’s Blogspot hosting site were daily diaries, in reality, a blog could be anything.

And it helped that Glenn picked a catchy name for his nascent enterprise. As marketing gurus Al Ries and Jack Trout once wrote, there’s reason why we remember Apple as the first personal computer, and not the Altair 8800 or the IMSAI 8080. Because Apple had the name that made computing sound simple, easy to learn, and reliable, and not something you needed Wehner von Braun and Stanley Kubrick to walk you through. Similarly, the name Instapundit instantly explained the purpose of this new Website. Want news? Want opinion? What it fast? Who doesn’t, in the age of the World Wide Web? Well, this is your Website.

Once I saw the short “hit and run” style of Instapundit, the light bulb went off for me, as it did for hundreds, possibly thousands of other would-be bloggers back then: you could point readers to a story, and interject a short comment, but you needn’t hold yourself out as an expert on a particular topic. You were essentially an Internet traffic cop, directing traffic to the hot story of the moment, and blowing the whistle on those stories were the journalist got it wrong. And unlike a magazine article, which typically is of a fixed word count to fit into an existing page space in-between advertisements, a blog post could be any length, as we’ve seen from Glenn’s short one sentence (occasionally even one word) posts, to 5,000 word essays that Steven Den Beste routinely used to post in the first half of the previous decade. Or a blog could be devoted primarily to photos or video.

In other words, it was immediately obvious there was a whole new freeform style that had opened up, when I clicked on Instapundit around September 3rd or 4th of 2001.

And then the next week, the world changed. As Bryan Preston writes at the Tatler:

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Glenn Reynolds started InstaPundit.com. His blog was the first I ran across in the chaos of 9-11, and I was instantly hooked by his calm, reasonable, patriotic and liberty-focused take on the horrors of that day, and he way and speed with which he assembled opinion and reaction from all over the world. The way he dissected and destroyed media memes was a lifeline to sanity. InstaPundit was a revelation to me. Later I would start my own blog, JunkYardBlog, inspired and led by Glenn’s work. Thousands of other bloggers out there have been similarly impacted and inspired by Glenn Reynolds, and millions of readers have too. Glenn Reynolds is the blogfather to the blogosphere itself, among the right and libertarian blogs.

Right from the start, Glenn’s list of permalinked Weblogs were worth clicking on in and of themselves, just to see who was out there in this new world of journalism.

In early 2002, as I was planning to launch Ed Driscoll.com, originally simply to promote my magazine articles, I decided to use the Blogger.com interface to allow for easy access of the site, but with a different color scheme to differentiate myself from Glenn. (The hat design, based on a Trilby I had picked up in London in the summer of 2000, and swanky ’50s font came a couple of years later, when I commissioned Stacy Tabb to update my Weblog.)

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Hilarious comment posted to  Charles C. W. Cooke’s post on 3D-printable guns:

Just now, I noted that 100,000 people have already downloaded the digital blueprints to Defense Distributed’s 3D-printable gun. This gem was among the comments on my post:

The answer is we have to ban 3D. No one really needs a third dimension. If it will save just one life, it will be well worth it. Living in a two-dimensional world is just a sensible limitation on our depth perception.

This is pretty funny but, as with most things that are pretty funny, it strikes at a real point – that being that the Second Amendment implications of limiting the printing of guns are the least of America’s worries. If previous panicked attempts to prohibit items of which the state disapproves are anything to go by, the whole Bill of Rights will eventually find its way into the crosshairs of the censors, liberty interests being subjugated as usual by ostensible “necessity.” There is simply no way of making a serious effort to prevent — not prosecute after the fact, but prevent — people from making, carrying, and transporting 3D-printed guns without going after Americans’ First Amendment right to distribute whatever blueprints they wish and without undermining in some way their Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

Which seems to dovetail well with Phil Bowermaster’s post at Transparency Revolution on “Catastrophic Success:”

I’m reading K. Eric Drexler’s new book Radical Abundance, which explores the impact of atomically precise manufacturing (APM). Drexler predicts that APM will be with us soon and that it will transform the global economy in ways that can be compared to the industrial revolution of the 18th century or the advent of agriculture some 10,000 years ago. That is to say, he predicts it will be among the biggest shifts that have ever occurred.

Drexler compares the introduction of APM with the digital revolution of the past few decades, asserting that APM will essentially turn the production of physical goods into a form on information technology. Just as digital technologies made it possible to produce unlimited copies of information products (books, recorded movies, music) at essentially zero cost, APM will enable the production of physical goods at a tiny fraction of the cost of producing them today — enabling a world of radical abundance per the book’s title. This transition will not come without problems, however. Imagine the kind of disruption which has occurred in the music business over the past decade and a half applied to manufacturing, agriculture, and energy production. The elimination of infrastructure, businesses, and employment will be staggering. Drexler warns that with the introduction of APM we may face a period of “catastrophic success.”

Found via Glenn Reynolds, who would likely add, “Well, it is the 21st century, you know.”

Of course, getting old media into the 21st century may be a bit more problematic, though ABC seems to have back-ended into a rather libertarian stance regarding gun-grabbing totalitarian monsters of the past: Hitler, Lenin, what’s the difference?

(Last item via Kathy Shaidle, who links to some excellent advice here: “Don’t apologise, explain that this what a joke looks like – and then enjoy the writhings of the old order as they seem themselves so brutally wrong-footed.”)

Meanwhile, In Retail…

January 4th, 2013 - 7:05 pm

Once Borders blew itself up, Barnes & Noble’s future as the chief surviving national retail book chain was assured, right? Well, so much for that idea:

After a year spent signaling its commitment to build its business through its Nook division, Barnes & Noble on Thursday announced disappointing holiday sales figures, with steep declines that underscored the challenge it faces in transforming from its traditional retail format.

Retail sales from the company’s bookstores and its Web site, BN.com, decreased 10.9 percent from the comparable nine-week holiday period a year earlier, to $1.2 billion, the company reported. More worrisome for the long-term future of the company, sales in the Nook unit that includes e-readers, tablets, digital content and accessories decreased 12.6 percent over the same period, to $311 million.

“They are not selling the devices, they are not selling books and traffic is down,” said Mike Shatzkin, the founder and chief executive of Idea Logical, a consultant to publishers. “I’m looking for an optimistic sign and not seeing one. It is concerning.”

As the fourth year of Recovery Bummer drags on, will the last retail chain please turn out the lights — assuming some form of illumination — one that doesn’t cause cancer, if that’s not too much to ask for — is still legal, of course.

Since my blog was one of many inspired by Instapundit.com in the immediate wake of 9/11, and since it’s celebrating its tenth anniversary this year, I had wanted to do a video interview with Glenn Reynolds to discuss the history and state of the Blogosphere. Given that he has a new “Broadside” (much longer than most magazine articles, but shorter than most books) from Encounter Books on the Higher Education Bubble and the impact of its aftermath on both students and academia, this seemed like the perfect opportunity. With a little help from the folks at PJTV.com for arranging the video hookup between our two one-man in-home video studios, here’s my video with the Professor, in which he discusses:

  • Glenn’s early blogging influences.
  • The similar attempts to burrow their heads in the sand by Big Media and Big Education, despite knowing that both institutions are clearly in trouble.
  • How a speculative bubble forms and then bursts, and this case, how education costs have completely outpaced the rise in housing and medical costs. (Here is the scary-ass comparison chart by economics professor Mark J. Perry that Glenn mentions during the interview.)
  • The relationship between Occupy Wall Street and the higher education bubble.
  • Why expensive universities pushed unemployable majors, and why students were so eager to sign up for them.
  • Will the bachelor’s degree increasingly be seen as increasingly less important to success?
  • How technology could help ameliorate the higher education bubble.

Click on the above video to watch; a handy embeddable YouTube version is available here. And click here and just keep scrolling, for three years worth of our earlier editions of our Silicon Graffiti video blog.

Update: Welcome readers clicking in from:

And now, a few words on the long-term dangers of deficit spending, from a rather unlikely source:

YouTube Preview Image

(Correct me if I’m wrong, but he wasn’t too crazy about President Bush’s foreign policy, either. Go figure.)

On his personal blog, after linking to the above clip, Moe Lane writes about a topic I’ve explored a few times myself over the years. Back in 2006, I dubbed it “The Internet Immortality Thesis,” a sort of corollary of Mickey Kaus’s beloved Feiler Faster Principle. Linking to the above clip, Moe notes that while we take YouTube and other video aggregation sites for granted today, YouTube itself was only founded in February of 2005.

This means that the 2004 presidential campaign was the last more or less fought under the old rules of battle, with strategies largely dictated by the MSM.  John Kerry’s campaign was the last to play under the old rules of the game, and he paid for it dearly. Even without YouTube, the Blogosphere devoured him, thanks to his Radical Chic past. As I wrote right around this time seven years ago (my how time flies on the Internet), Kerry’s campaign was very much “Built for a 1972 Media:”

Kerry’s massively invented narrative (“swashbuckling Swift Boat lieutenant”–as Steyn describes him–turned brave defender of soldiers’ rights) was built to survive the glancing scrutiny (if you can call it that) of a 1972-era media that consisted of three TV networks with half hour evening news shows, and a few liberal big city newspapers, all of which were staffed with journalists more or less largely sympathetic to Kerry’s leftist anti-American beliefs.

But between the Swift Boat Vets and the Blogosphere, there are far too many people examining Kerry’s story, and his “reporting for duty” edifice has crumbled.

Is that fair? We’ll, we’re deciding if we want the man to have the key to the most powerful arsenal ever assembled. If he can’t survive the scrutiny of the Blogosphere, who James Lileks recently described as an “obsessive sort with lots of time on their hands”, is he someone who should be trusted with this power?

The 1972-style media seems to think so.

When Joe Biden described Obama in early 2007 as “clean,” what he meant, once you translated the typically painful Biden-ese into English, was that Obama didn’t have the same sort of radical chic paper trail that could come back to bite him in the Barack as other previous black leftwing presidential candidates. (See also: Sharpton, Al.) The appearance of Rev. Wright and Bill Ayers began to complicate Obama’s narrative, but Obama’s handlers, the JournoList, the complicit MSM, and the financial meltdown all helped to clobber a sclerotic and supine McCain campaign that was terrified of being branded racist. (Well over four years of this slash and burn tactic by the left have greatly devalued the potency of the scarlet-R, but then, short-term tactics often blind the left to their more permanent implications.)

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Ten Years of Instapundit

August 11th, 2011 - 10:02 pm

Everybody has their story of how they discovered the Blogosphere; for lots of people, it was via Instapundit.com, which turned ten years old this week. Here’s my take, a visit to the Jurassic days of the early Blogosphere.

Ten years ago, when I was making my living as a freelance writer, and writing four to six articles a month to magazines in various fields — back then mostly “on dead tree,” I had only just started to write for political Websites. I had submitted an article on the Mies van der Rohe exhibition then ongoing at New York’s Museum of Modern Art to National Review Online, and then followed up with an article on the Computer History Museum, then at Moffett Field in northern California. I was always doing Google vanity searches on my name, to see who was linking to my articles online.

Shortly after the piece on the Computer History Museum went up at NRO, I found it had been linked to by something or someone called “Instapundit.” I had seen Weblogs before, but they were always of the “I went to the mall and bought a great pair of Nikes” or “I had a really great date at Applebee’s last night” variety of daily diaries.

And I had seen self-published e-zines, in the form of Virginia Postrel’s Dynamist.com, KausFiles, and maybe Andrew Sullivan in whatever incarnation he was then currently in, plus of course the self-published Drudge Report, and had thought about launching a Website of my own, but these looked like they were beyond my then-meager Web skills. Designing a page template? FTP’ing up new pages every day? I didn’t know of any programs that automated that sort of thing.

But what set Instapundit apart, at the time, was that it was on Blogger. In fact, as Glenn Reynolds mentions in his new video at PJTV celebrating the tenth anniversary of his pioneering blog, his original URL was indeed instapundit.blogspot.com.That little Blogger Button in the corner of Glenn’s Weblog made all the difference. It suddenly became obvious that the platform of Blogger.com and the content it held were two very different things. While the vast majority of blogs on Blogger.com’s Blogspot hosting site were daily diaries, in reality, a blog could be anything.

And it helped that Glenn picked a catchy name for his nascent enterprise. As marketing gurus Al Ries and Jack Trout once wrote, there’s reason why we remember Apple as the first personal computer, and not the Altair 8800 or the IMSAI 8080. Because Apple had the name that made computing sound simple, easy to learn, and reliable, and not something you needed Wehner von Braun and Stanley Kubrick to walk you through. Similarly, the name Instapundit instantly explained the purpose of this new Website. Want news? Want opinion? What it fast? Who doesn’t, in the age of the World Wide Web? Well, this is your Website.

Once I saw the short “hit and run” style of Instapundit, the light bulb went off for me, as it did for hundreds, possibly thousands of other would-be bloggers back then: you could point readers to a story, and interject a short comment, but you needn’t hold yourself out as an expert on a particular topic. You were essentially an Internet traffic cop, directing traffic to the hot story of the moment, and blowing the whistle on those stories were the journalist got it wrong. And unlike a magazine article, which typically is of a fixed word count to fit into an existing page space in-between advertisements, a blog post could be any length, as we’ve seen from Glenn’s short one sentence (occasionally even one word) posts, to 5,000 word essays that Steven Den Beste routinely used to post in the first half of the previous decade. Or a blog could be devoted primarily to photos or video.

In other words, it was immediately obvious there was a whole new freeform style that had opened up, when I clicked on Instapundit around September 3rd or 4th of 2001.

And then the next week, the world changed. As Bryan Preston writes  at the Tatler:

It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years since Glenn Reynolds started InstaPundit.com. His blog was the first I ran across in the chaos of 9-11, and I was instantly hooked by his calm, reasonable, patriotic and liberty-focused take on the horrors of that day, and he way and speed with which he assembled opinion and reaction from all over the world. The way he dissected and destroyed media memes was a lifeline to sanity. InstaPundit was a revelation to me. Later I would start my own blog, JunkYardBlog, inspired and led by Glenn’s work. Thousands of other bloggers out there have been similarly impacted and inspired by Glenn Reynolds, and millions of readers have too. Glenn Reynolds is the blogfather to the blogosphere itself, among the right and libertarian blogs.

Right from the start, Glenn’s list of permalinked Weblogs were worth clicking on in and of themselves, just to see who was out there in this new world of journalism.

In early 2002, as I was planning to launch Ed Driscoll.com, originally simply to promote my magazine articles, I decided to use the Blogger.com interface to allow for easy access of the site, but with a different color scheme to differentiate myself from Glenn. (The hat design, based on a Trilby I had picked up in London in the summer of 2000, and swanky ’50s font came a couple of years later, when I commissioned Stacy Tabb to update my Weblog.)

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At her Accidental Futurist blog, Kate O’Hare writes:

Last year, I spent some time on Twitter musing about whether or not I should buy a Kindle to accompany me on a cross-country plane trip. In the end, I decided that it was just too pricey (this was before the smaller, lower-priced ones came out) and opted for audio-books downloads instead.

That worked fine, but when I came back, a kind pal gave me a Kindle DX — that’s the big one — as a gift.

I now read books. Old books. New books. Lots of books.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t read books before. I have always been a voracious reader and, in my time, have plopped down untold amounts of cash in bookstores and on Amazon.com.

But the way I read books is different now.

I tried getting books from the library. One was on a list, but when I finally got it, it proved to be a dense tome and had to be read slowly. I couldn’t finish it in time, and since it was on a list, the library wouldn’t let me renew it.

That’s the last time I went to the library. I put this book on my Kindle for a very low price (it wasn’t a new release), so nobody can tell me how fast I have to read it.

Facing a long train ride but not wanting to spend a whole pile of money, I took advantage of the many free books available for Kindle download. I went the American-history route and got “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin,” “The Federalist Papers (Optimized for Kindle),” Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense” and Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America, Volume 1 & Volume 2.”

Then, for fun, I threw on “Pride & Prejudice” and the complete works of William Shakespeare.

For very nominal fees, I’ve added a couple of Bibles, a pile of Oscar Wilde and “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.”

And that’s only a fraction of the classic works available for Kindle (and, one assumes, for Barnes & Noble’s Nook, the iPad and other devices) at low or no cost.

I’m increasingly liking the concept behind the Kindle, though I have mixed emotions about the actual physical Kindle device itself. But the ability to read a book anywhere, and carry the digital equivalent of a massive stack of them onto an airplane via my Kindle, laptop or Android Tablet is pretty darn nifty. Not to mention the prospect of freeing up space on my overflowing bookshelves. As is the ability, at least on my PC or laptop, to cut and paste text from a book into a blogpost rather than have to physically put a book into a scanner and OCR the whole thing, as I’ve done for a few blog posts. And pray that a word doesn’t become gobbledygook somewhere in the translation process.

For a more Luddite point of view, naturally enough, we turn to the L.A. Times, for an article whose arguments are quite similar to those made when physical newspapers began to lose out to the Internet. As James Lileks said in one of the Ricochet podcasts a while back, everybody longs for that nostalgic Annie Hall-like feeling of having the Sunday New York Times spread out alongside the bagels and orange juice on the kitchen table. Or as Marshall McLuhan once quipped, “People don’t actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.”

Similarly, I think everybody has that feeling of buying a book (or taking it out of the library), bringing it home, and taking it outside on a sunny day to become utterly absorbed in it. Perhaps that tactile feeling is lost or greatly diminished with the Kindle, but the flexibility it provides offsets it in many ways.

Of course for that reason, perhaps books are about to become luxury items, given at birthdays and at Christmas, the equivalent of giving someone an expensive necktie or sweater. Or these days, a compact disc, for that matter.

Related: The London Independent wonders if the home library will become a casualty to the Kindle, which is one of their less preposterous predictions.

Related: The dead tree equivalent of the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, or life imitates the ending of Fahrenheit 451.

Meanwhile, Back in Old Media…

January 6th, 2011 - 1:12 pm

Both the film and music industries recorded record low sales in 2010. Let’s take the film industry first, courtesy of Time magazine:

The number slumped to 1.35 billion tickets in 2010, which is a 5.4% drop from 2009 and the lowest figure since 1.33 billion tickets were sold in 1996. But revenues remained high, going over the magical $10 billion mark for only the second time, due to rising ticket prices and 3D surcharges. Hollywood’s continuing obsession with its pushing of 3D might end up giving the industry some cause for concern if viewers feel that plot and great acting is being pushed aside in favor of (admittedly spectacular) effects.

Acting being pushed aside for spectacular effects — what could go wrong?

And here are the numbers for the recording industry, via Big Hollywood:

USA Today:

In the 52 weeks ending Jan. 2, album sales fell 13% to 326.2 million units, and digital track sales managed only a 1% gain, to 1.17 billion. That hefty consumption of downloads helped offset overall music losses, which fell only 2.4%.

Piracy, vanishing record shops and decreasing shelf space in big-box stores continue to depress album sales, and the digital boom has been flattening. Only 13 albums sold more than 1 million copies in 2010, down from 22 in 2009.

Labels remain optimistic about digital’s future. More than one-fourth of albums sold last year were downloads.

What boomed in 2010? Vinyl. The throwback format grew 13%, with The BeatlesAbbey Road leading the charge. Consumers bought more vinyl albums in 2010 than any other year in SoundScan history. Fans bought 71% of vinyl albums in independent record stores.

Read the full article here, and then combine that news with this news:

Gross revenues and total ticket sales from concert tours were down considerably in 2010 as the faltering economy and a glut of overpriced shows shunned by fans cast doubt on the music industry’s last sure bet.

Pollstar year-end numbers show overall grosses for the top 50 tours worldwide fell 12 percent to $2.93 billion and ticket sales dropped 15 percent or about 7 million from 2009’s 45.3 million.

Estimates from the touring industry trade magazine show Bon Jovi pulled in more than $201 million worldwide to land 2010’s top tour. AC/DC was next ($177 million), followed by U2 ($160 million), Lady Gaga ($133 million) and Metallica ($110 million) rounded out the top five.

Both industries have shown enormous contempt for wide swatches of their audiences, even as they’re also still riding out the technological trend created by the rise of the Internet and other forms of demassified media. The traditional music and film industries were created during the first half of the 20th century, when media meant mass media — by the 1950s, you had three channels on your TV, a handful of radio channels, and a couple of local movie theaters within easy driving distance.

Today you have YouTube, Blip, iTunes, Netflix, DirecTV, etc.

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New Silicon Graffiti Video: BlogWorld 2010

October 26th, 2010 - 12:00 am

For the latest edition of our Silicon Graffiti video blog, we check out the sights, and sounds, and blogs at the Fourth Annual Blog World and New Media Expo, last weekend at the swanky Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino.

Featured in this video:

  • My interview with social media consultant Brian Reich, who’s working with the Learning Channel to promote their upcoming show Sarah Palin’s Alaska, from the folks who brought you Survivor and the Apprentice.
  • A clip from Sarah Palin’s Alaska, released by TLC just in time for Blog World.
  • Hugh Hewitt’s interview with Scott Monty, the Ford Motor Company’s new media guru.
  • My interview with Lt. Col. Andre Dean from the US Army, recorded in their large milbogger booth at BlogWorld.
  • Plus more from the floor of the Blog World exhibition.

Click on the video below to watch:

For more from Blog World, check out the latest edition of PJM Political, which features more from representatives of the Learning Channel on Sarah Palin’s Alaska, plus my interviews with Hugh Hewitt, and Rick Calvert, the CEO and founder of BlogWorld.

And for 60 or so previous editions of Silicon Graffiti, just click here and keep scrolling and watching.

embedded by Embedded Video

YouTube Direkt

“If you are part of the free press and actually expose a political scandal, you will suffer for it in this country. It is intolerable to those in the media that young people, independent people who have access to YouTube could possibly have all that power. We’re just obscure nobodies, yet we can actually influence Congress.”

– James O’Keefe, speaking to the American Chesterton Society; video online here.

That’s also a topic that Steve Green, Bill Whittle and Scott Ott explore in the latest edition of their Trifecta show on PJTV. Stick around to the end — the “County Law” snippet is a riot.

And on the flip-side, “Media Steps Up Defense Of Obama,” Dan Riehl writes:

It seems when Politico’s Roger Simon went to bat for Obama against his base, it wasn’t an isolated act. Below is Stephanopoulus via BreitbartTV. The memo has gone out. I’m quite serious when I say, they are only going to allow this guy to fall so far before they step in for him to the fullest extent they are able. They have too much invested in him to allow him to fail without a fight. And if the GOP takes Congress, there will be a new demon in town by 2012.

ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos details the “achievements” of the Obama Administration during an interview on Good Morning America. “That’s quite a legislative record, isn’t it?”

Sounds like a variation on the “Comeback Kid” scenario I had mentioned back at the start of June.

In his brilliant and frequently-updated non-fiction book, Profiles of the Future, Arthur C. Clarke famously quotes a remark attributed to William Henry Preece, the chief engineer of the British Post Office, when he was told in 1877 that the Americans had stumbled across a then-bleeding edge communications technology:

“The Americans have need of the Telephone — but we do not. We have plenty of messenger boys.”

In contrast, Clarke had infinitely more foresight. In 1967, he gave a speech in which he said:

Newspapers will, I think, receive their final body blow from these new communications techniques. I take a dim view of staggering home every Sunday with five pounds of wood pulp on my arm, when what I really want is information, not wastepaper. How I look forward to the day when I can press a button and get any type of news, editorials, book and theater reviews, etc., merely by dialing the right channel.Electronic “mail” delivery is another exciting prospect of the very near future. Letters, typed or written on special forms like wartime V-mail, will be automatically read and flashed from continent to continent and reproduced at receiving stations within a few minutes of transmission.

And as the first of Clarke’s Three Laws goes, “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

So with all of that background, how did Newsweek do in 1995 just as the World Wide Web, the still-new graphical interface running atop an Internet that had been around since 1969 was just taking off?

Just came across this article from Newsweek in 1995. It lists all the reasons the internet will fail. My two favorite parts:

The truth in no online database will replace your daily newspaper, no CD-ROM can take the place of a competent teacher and no computer network will change the way government works.

* * *

Yet Nicholas Negroponte, director of the MIT Media Lab, predicts that we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Intenet. Uh, sure.

If Newsweek is as good at maintaining the journalism industry as they are at fortune telling, they should be around for a long time.

Heh. Although, maybe not at this burn rate.

In the meantime though, Newsweek is determined not to get caught flat-footed once again. Via Tim Blair, a photographed smuggled out of Newsweek HQ just moments ago shows a highly-paid, smartly dressed consultant explaining the latest in technologies to the magazine’s crack staff, who stare wide-eyed at the wonders of the future to come:

Well, Better Late Than Never

November 4th, 2009 - 1:25 am

Harvard discovers the hyperlink:

harvard_hyperlinks_11-09

The Stalinist (sorry — couldn’t resist, Frank) Vast Right Wing Conspiracy sets out to capture the high ground of cyberspace! Don Surber dubs it, “The Axis of Instapundit”:

Oh no!

A blogger at Harvard has discovered that blogs link to one another:

At the moment I will not address the merits of the criticisms, but focus instead on the interesting diffusion process that followed from the initial criticism from Coburn. Each day it was picked up by another few blogs. A quote from John Stossel provides a sense of the tone of the postings: “This summer’s town hall meetings made many congressmen and senators uncomfortable. No worries. The sycophants they fund have used your tax money to fund a study that advises politicians how they can avoid seeing you altogether.” Initially, I would infer, the first few blogs must have been on some distribution list from Coburn’s office (i.e., they weren’t just watching his website) because there were quotations from materials from Coburn that were not on his website. Thereafter you could see how different blogs picked up on the story, typically quoting or copying from another blog. So what one sees is a signal propagation process through the blogs. And as the signal propagates it evolves. Thus, for example, Stossel quotes from the Heritage blog, but then adds his distinct emphasis. The link and copying structure reflects the attention each blogger is paying to other blogs, however one would guess that each blog has a different but overlapping audience.

So the lesson here is that bloggers communicate with other people, including fellow bloggers.

Eureka!

This has to be the ultimate example of “I need a study to tell me this?” Though as Don writes:

Actually, it is quite flattering. I just love how a blogger in Poca, West Virginia, with a few thousand hits a day is placed on par with Sean Hannity, who reaches 10 million listeners. There is something very American — and very strange — about that.

Don adds, “Heaven help us if Harvard ever discovers Twitter.”

Heh. Maybe we can give them a head-start if they’re following blogs linking to their breakthrough study.

The latest edition of Silicon Graffiti definitely lives up the first half of the series name, as I interview Silicon Valley’s own Michael S. Malone of ABC News and the “Edgelings” blog at PJ Media, about his new book, The Future Arrived Yesterday: The Rise of the Protean Corporation. We’ll discuss:

  • What is a “Protean Corporation”?
  • How does it differ from a “Virtual Corporation”? Whose name, now commonplace, derives from an earlier book that Michael co-authored.
  • Why the Obama administration is trying to reign in a wildly diversified economy with a command & control governing style.

And he’ll also extensively discuss his Drudge-lanched article at ABC and Pajamas, (each of which received literally hundreds of reader comments) near the end of the 2008 presidential election, in which he wrote, among other things:

I learned a long time ago that when people or institutions begin to behave in a manner that seems to be entirely against their own interests, it’s because we don’t understand what their motives really are.  It would seem that by so exposing their biases and betting everything on one candidate over another, the traditional media is trying to commit suicide – especially when, given our currently volatile world and economy, the chances of a successful Obama presidency, indeed any presidency, is probably less than 50:50.

Furthermore, I also happen to believe that most reporters, whatever their political bias, are human torpedoes . . .and, had they been unleashed, would have raced in and roughed up the Obama campaign as much as they did McCain’s.  That’s what reporters do, I was proud to have been one, and I’m still drawn to a good story, any good story, like a shark to blood in the water.

So why weren’t those legions of hungry reporters set loose on the Obama campaign?  Who are the real villains in this story of mainstream media betrayal?

The editors.  The men and women you don’t see; the people who not only decide what goes in the paper, but what doesn’t; the managers who give the reporters their assignments and lay-out the editorial pages.  They are the real culprits.

Why?  I think I know, because had my life taken a different path, I could have been one:  Picture yourself in your 50s in a job where you’ve spent 30 years working your way to the top, to the cockpit of power . . . only to discover that you’re presiding over a dying industry.  The Internet and alternative media are stealing your readers, your advertisers and your top young talent.  Many of your peers shrewdly took golden parachutes and disappeared.  Your job doesn’t have anywhere near the power and influence it did when your started your climb.  The Newspaper Guild is too weak to protect you any more, and there is a very good chance you’ll lose your job before you cross that finish line, ten years hence, of retirement and a pension.

In other words, you are facing career catastrophe -and desperate times call for desperate measures.  Even if you have to risk everything on a single Hail Mary play.  Even if you have to compromise the principles that got you here.  After all, newspapers and network news are doomed anyway – all that counts is keeping them on life support until you can retire.

And then the opportunity presents itself:  an attractive young candidate whose politics likely matches yours, but more important, he offers the prospect of a transformed Washington with the power to fix everything that has gone wrong in your career.  With luck, this monolithic, single-party government will crush the alternative media via a revived Fairness Doctrine, re-invigorate unions by getting rid of secret votes, and just maybe, be beholden to people like you in the traditional media for getting it there.

And besides, you tell yourself, it’s all for the good of the country . . .

Tune in here to watch — and listen to this coming week’s  PJM Political for more from our interview:



To watch our nearly 40 previous editions of Silicon Graffiti, click here and just keep scrolling, or visit our YouTube page. You’re more than welcome to embed the above video on your own blog — in fact, we encourage it. For a YouTube-sized version, click on the sideways-Y-shaped icon on the above video. To embed the bigger 16X9 widescreen version, click here, then click “Embed” and choose (naturally enough) “Big Widescreen Player” from the options below.

Happy Birthday, YouTube

April 24th, 2009 - 12:42 pm

Found via Greg Pollowitz, the Penn Station of video hosts turns four years old today. Here’s my early “Army of Davids”-style look at the benefits of the site at Tech Central Station from February of 2006. As for its downside, here’s my firsthand report at the drawback of relying upon the site as your sole video host.

And from Videomaker magazine in late 2007, here’s my look at some of the other video hosts out there, complete with quotes from my interview with Liz Stephans and Scott Baker of Breitbart.tv.

(For some uber-wonky video talk, my latest Videomaker article compares and contrasts CMOS and CCD sensors in video cameras, with a cameo appearance by Hahn Choi, one of the many hard working behind the scene people at PJTV.)

The 1990s Are Officially Over

April 24th, 2009 - 2:41 am

“Yahoo pulls the plug on GeoCities.”

Hey, it’s survived me being on there, so I’m guessing it’s somewhat bulletproof. But still, Nova Spivack has some interesting questions about Twitter’s future. In my “All You Need Is Tweet” video, I compared Twitter to a combination police scanner and Internet chatroom; Spivack has an equally viable analogy:

Twitter reminds me of CB radio — and that is a double-edged blessing. In Twitter the “radio frequencies” are people and hashtags. If you post to your Twitter account, or do an @reply to someone else, you are broadcasting to all the followers of that account. Similarly, if you tweet something and add hashtags to it, you are broadcasting that to everyone who follows those hashtags.

This reminds me of something I found out about in New York City a few years back. If you have ever been in a taxi in NYC you may have noticed that your driver was chatting on the radio with other drivers — not the taxi dispatch radio, but a second radio that many of them have in their cabs. It turns out the taxi drivers were tuned into a short range radio frequency for chatting with each other — essentially a pirate CB radio channel.

This channel was full of taxi driver banter in various languages and seemed to be quite active. But there was a problem. Every five minutes or so, the normal taxi chatter would be punctuated by someone shouting insults at all the taxi drivers.

When I asked my driver about this he said, “Yes, that is very annoying. Some guy has a high powered radio somewhere in Manhattan and he sits there all day on this channel and just shouts insults at us.” This is the problem that Twitter may soon face. Open channels are great because they are open. They also can become aweful, because they are open.

Which also dovetails nicely with Compuserve’s groundbreaking CB chat application, which, in the early 1980s, along with regional BBSs, was one of my very first online experiences. (Yes, I had to walk a mile home from school barefoot in the snow to get to my computer, and we needed tin cans, strings and stone knives and bearskins–or at least TRS-80′s–to connect. In those primitive days, 1,000,000 years B.C. (Before Cable-modem), life online was a constant struggle to survive–and pay the connection fees.

I don’t think Twitter is as susceptible as Compuserve’s CB was to a high signal to noise ratio, simply because it’s possible to filter much of the spam and noise out of a conversation. But Spivack has some additional suggestions that might help to ameliorate the impact of a sudden rush of new tweeters.

Twitter On The Edge Of Forever

March 14th, 2009 - 11:30 am



The proprietor of Right Wing Nation is not yet ready to join the Twitter Collective:

I am one of Ed Driscoll’s biggest fans, but I am just as profoundly uninterested in the latest, hottest web 2.0 gimmicks as I am pop culture. I’m not sure what the excitement about Twitter is about; from what I’ve seen, it’s nothing more than individual sentences, blogging reduced to its tersest and least communicative, and I fail to see the point.

While we very much appreciate the compliment about our efforts in general, I can understand RWN’s reluctance about Twitter. I remember finally meeting James Lileks in person during the GOP convention in early September in Minneapolis, and his raving about Twitter–and thinking, OK, I’m blogging, I’m doing radio, I’m doing video, what do I need Twitter for? But right around that same time, my wife started Twittering to promote her law practice.

Somehow, she stumbled over TweetDeck, and that makes all the difference in the world. The Twitter HTML page doesn’t look like much. But seeing a combination of headlines from various publications, breaking news, and chats from your Internet friends wizzing past in close to real time on an applet like TweetDeck is a pretty nifty online experience. And as I mentioned to Hugh Hewitt in the above video, it’s been fascinating watching breaking news bubble up first from Twitter, then to the blogs and Drudge, then to the MSM.

On the other hand, I’m with RWN when it comes to Facebook–which Matt Labash cheerfully demolishes over at the Weekly Standard.

Update: Welcome Little Green Footballs’ Lizardoid Army–and note that Little Green Footballs now has a Little Green Twitter feed. If you’re on Twitter, click early and often on its “follow” button.



After all of the recent political and media bias Silicon Graffiti videos, I wanted to do something in a lighter vein, so here’s (hopefully) a fun overview of Twitter. No doubt, hard care power Tweeters (yes, it’s supposed to sound silly) will chide me for leaving out whatever this week’s killer app of the century is, but I’ve tried to make something enjoyable for both newcomers and veteran users of Twitter.

From a Twittering Barack Obama to Hugh Hewitt and all points in between, we go deep inside your computer and try to make sense of Twitter.

Featuring:

Click here to follow us on Twitter, and here to check out our previous 26 or so prior editions of Silicon Graffiti.

The Collapse Of Middlebrow Culture

March 3rd, 2009 - 12:48 pm

John Derbyshire links to this Terry Teachout essay from 2003:

Just as city dwellers can’t understand what it meant for the residents of a rural town to wake up one day and find themselves within driving distance of a Wal-Mart, so are they incapable of properly appreciating the true significance of middlebrow culture. For all its flaws, it nurtured at least two generations’ worth of Americans who, like me, went on to become full-fledged highbrows–but highbrows who, while accepting the existence of a hierarchy of values in art, never lost sight of the value of popular culture.

The catch was that the middlebrow culture on which I was raised was a common culture, based on the existence of widely shared values, and it is now splintered beyond hope of repair. Under the middlebrow regime, ordinary Americans were exposed to a wide range of cultural options from which they could pick and choose at will. They still do so, but without the preliminary exposure to the unfamiliar that once made their choices potentially more adventurous. The rise of digital information technology, with its unique capacity for niche marketing, has replaced such demographically broad-based instruments of middlebrow self-education as The Ed Sullivan Show with a new regime of seemingly infinite cultural choice. Instead of three TV networks, we have a hundred channels, each “narrowcasting” to a separate sliver of the viewing public, just as today’s corporations market new products not to the American people as a whole but to carefully balanced combinations of “lifestyle clusters” whose members are known to prefer gourmet coffee to Coca-Cola, or BMWs to Dodge pickups.

The information age offers something for anybody: Survivor for simpletons, The Sopranos for sophisticates. The problem is that it offers nothing for everybody. By maximizing and facilitating cultural choice, information-age capitalism fused with identity politics to bring about the disintegration of the common middlebrow culture of my youth. Let’s return for a moment to those unlettered folks who don’t know who painted the “Mona Lisa.” I assume, since you’re reading this, that you’re distressed by this unmistakable symptom of the widespread cultural illiteracy with which what Winston Churchill liked to call “the English-speaking peoples” are currently afflicted. But it so happens that a great many American intellectuals, most of them academics, would respond to your distress with a question: so what? To them, the very idea of “high art” is anathema, a murderous act of cultural imperialism. They don’t think Leonardo da Vinci should be “privileged” (to use one of their favorite pieces of jargon) over the local neighborhood graffiti artist. And as preposterous as this notion may seem to you, it is all but taken for granted among a frighteningly large swath of the postmodern American intelligentsia.

Which brings us right back to the problem of cultural illiteracy. How can we do anything about it if we can’t even agree on the fact that it is a problem–or about what basic cultural facts ordinary people should be expected to know? The answer is simple: we can’t.

What’s really sad is that most people under the age of 35 or so don’t remember and can’t imagine a time when there were magazines that “everybody” read and TV shows that “everybody” watched, much less that those magazines and shows went out of their way to introduce their audiences to high art of various kinds. Those days, of course, are gone for good, and it won’t help to mourn their passing. I’m not one to curse the darkness–that’s one of the reasons why I started this blog. Even so, that doesn’t stop me from feeling pangs of nostalgia for our lost middlebrow culture. It wasn’t perfect, and sometimes it wasn’t even very good, but it beat hell out of nothing.

One reason why culture has become so polarized is that the Internet rewards those who connect to it with more or less exactly what they want. For those who want to find the remnants of middlebrow culture, there are writers like Teachout and James Lileks. For those who wish to find angry bitter screeds, there’s no shortage of them on both sides of the aisle. Pop culture? Porn? Unlimited quantities of both.

Technology is one element in that divergence, and I’m very happy to be connected to an Internet with unlimited options. (And happy that it’s allowing you to read this as well.) But long before there was an Internet, the institutions that gave us the middlebrow culture of the 1950s and ’60s ceded their responsibility for the care and feeding of their audiences’ minds. In her latest blog post on another facet of our fractured culture, Dr. Melissa Clouthier writes, “America has become The View.” But doesn’t ABC share some of the blame for putting such a trainwreck of a show on the air in the first place?

Domo-Ballmer!

December 2nd, 2008 - 11:44 pm

He’s two cult Web memes in one–but is Domo an XP or Vista kind of guy?

Filed under: The Long Tail