The Death of Newspapers. Or Not.

Note that this is a multiple page post. If you are reading in some feed readers, you may not get the entirety of the article unless you come to the site itself.

The question posed over at Friendfeed asks, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

The answer, quite simply, is no they are not.

I have talked about the newspaper industry quite a lot and part directions with many others in the new media space. In a world of absolute positions staked by nearly everyone, that paint issues in stark contrasts of black and white with no grey in between, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that if blogs are successful over newspapers in some area, then they must be killing the newspaper across the board.

In my old age of nearly 33, I’ve learned something in this life. That absolutes are generally far from absolute. The passion that is put forward by belief in something is enough to cause issue-oriented myopia, wherein it is impossible to consider other possible alternatives.

Thus is the case when the question is posed, “Are blogs killing newspapers?”

Let me pose both sides of the argument.

New Book Deal In the Works

Just a note that I’ve been approached by a major publisher to write a sizeable book for a notable series that they own. Clearly, I’m being a little sketchy on details until the deal is done. It will, of course, put my back against the wall for a period of time while I try to balance the push to meet deadlines with the need to engage clients.

People who have known me for awhile will know that this is not the first time I’ve gone down the “book” route. Jeremy Wright and I also collaborated on a book project back in 2005. While that book was never published, it certainly gave me a taste for the drive and expectations behind writing. Also, in 2005, I did not have the experience writing professionally as I do now, so it will end up being a completely different experience.

I’m excited and scared shitless at the same time. More details as I can share.

It's a Read/Write/Execute Web and We Just Live In It

I hesitate to put any kind of definition around the versioning of the web. The fact that the internet world has to quantify the differences between the so-called Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 is silly at best. However, there is no doubt that there is a vast degree of difference between the web that was known in, say, 1999 and the web that we know of in 2009.

Objectively speaking, the first generation of the internet was based around a premise of “Read only”. It, of course, was not termed that, but the technology did not exist to support anything else. People used the internet to read the news, find weather forecasts and catch up on sports scores. Blogs didn’t exist. Facebook and Twitter were but thoughts in their founders minds, and likely thoughts that did not even exist yet. Who knew that a time would come when the most interactive thing on the web would not be shopping and ecommerce?

Somewhere in the middle of this decade, the web took on a more interactive approach. Tim O’Reilly began calling it Web 2.0 to note the clear cut difference between a “read only” web and a “read/write” web. Social networks and blogs gave users of the internet a chance to participate in the creation of it, by generating content. Eventually, content generation transformed from the written word to video, podcasts and microcontent.

On the cusp of a next generation to the web, there is a movement toward meta-data, that is granular information to help discoverability on the web. APIs allow developers to take content from, say, YouTube or Twitter, and repurpose that into something usable in other forms by humans, applications and mobile devices. It is, in essence, a “read/write/execute” version of the web and we are already beginning to see this.

Ari Herzog, a longtime reader of this blog as well as a longtime opponent of mine, wrote a post declaring Europe’s Government 2.0ish aspect of their EU site a win over the United States. See his post for his rationale.

He certainly makes a good point with his premise after the jump:
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Tech Community Worthless to Economic Recovery

One of the most notable things about the dot com bubble burst is that the innovations and technologies established in the late 90s and early 2000s spurned the comeback of the economy and the establishment of a new economy of business and internet value. We called it, for better or for worse, Web 2.0 and it was marked by stark innovations in human interaction driven largely by the glut of bandwidth provided by undersea cables laid in the 90s. The technology that, arguably, caused the downturn that resulted in so many dot-com bombs, became the impetus for a new generation of business and spending.

Unfortunately, this new generation of internet technology, technologists and startups is so far not demonstrating any ability to lay the groundwork for the economic recovery and innovation. Instead, we continue to focus on “teh Twitter”, and marketing gimmicks played out by celebrities like Ashtun Kutcher and Oprah. We talk about the new look and feel of Friendfeed, seen Friendfeed focusing on making what we know better, but ignoring the very impetus for economic recovery proven time again – innovation. Something new. Something radical. Something that challenges the basis of the cultural and societal problems in existence that generate the economic problems affecting everyone, not just a subset of the population existing in a subset of the worlds geography.

In the 1930s, the United States (and by proxy, the world) faced the worst economic crisis in modern history (one could make the argument that the Dark Ages were actually centuries old and worse than anything generated by modern economic recessions). It wasn’t until society was forced to innovate, via programs instituted by President Franklin Roosevelt, that the economy began to recover.

Silicon Valley, as bubble-like as it is, has been the center of innovation in the technology world, for several economic cycles now. In every case in the past 20 years, the impetus for technology growth and recovery, can be categorized by new ideas, new companies doing new things. They don’t rehash the same cycles. They haven’t focused on the same ideas. They start over building from the plateau left from the cycle before – utilizing prior technologies and developing completely new things.

This is innovation and this is not what is happening in this cycle. Instead, the technology world talks about celebrity races to 1 Million Twitter followers. They talk about the mainstream adoption of these technologies. We live in years of yore, still conversing about how Obama won the White House using social media – as if that fact will somehow change our world.

We still talk about advertising on blogs, as if advertising sales are somehow going to spur economic recovery, despite a regression in advertising spending across the board. We still build companies based on an idea that free is a valuable asset.

BREAKING NEWS: The economy spins out of control while people keep spinning stupid ideas worthy of 2001.

It’s time to get smart about business. It’s time to start applying the entrepreneurial spirit that we claim as important to our culture. It’s time for the technology community to actually be important to the economy. It’s time to stop expecting that the President will call upon us as a community of change and innovation, when all we can do is talk about publicity stunts by celebrities.

Grow up, people. Get real about making a difference. Maybe we can actually get this country and this world moving again if we stop being stupid. Maybe. We are not necessarily the chosen ones. That right must be earned.

But Once You're Gone, You Don't Come Back

Here’s the question of the day. If your name is mentioned in some kind of conversation, whether on the internet or offline, how do people identify you? Are you the founder of a company that does something? Are you a blogger? Photographer?

When they hear your name, do they associate you with a movement? Are you an expert in something? Does your reputation put you in a position of leadership or authority? Are you, like the guy I met a few weeks ago, an I.T. Project Manager?

Does your job identify you? Do you find your value – heck, do others find your value – in what you do or what you are associated with?

If the answer to any of these questions are “Yes”, you have failed. The good news is, that’s not the end of the story. More after the jump
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Tax Day Open Thread

Today is April 15th, one of the worst days of the year for Americans. It’s the day that the tax man comes calling. If you’re lucky, you’re getting a refund. If not, you owe the government. The problem, of course, is the tax code. Taking up over 57,000 pages, the taxcode is altered yearly. Pieced together and never built with a cohesive, all-encompassing forethought, it is filled with complications and confusion.

Clearly, the tax system in this country needs to be rebuilt. Ground up. Simplified. I, for one, support the idea of a flat tax, but I understand that some call that regressive, so I’m open to ideas. Something needs to happen though.

In the comments below, sound off on your feelings on the tax system in the U.S. Comments will only be moderated if things get too personal or hateful, but otherwise, I’m staying out. This is your time to be heard, and I guarantee, this post is being watched by politicians, and media organizations. Around the nation, today, the Taxpayer Teaparty movement is also occurring. While, I share some of the concerns and motives of the Teaparty movement, this action is not to be construed as associated with that movement.

With that said, the mic is now open.

Crossing Over Technology With Government

In recent months, I’ve made a small fuss over the so called Government 2.0 experts descending on Washington expecting to change the way of life in government. Of course, I’ve been also called out for not providing actual solutions. Probably rightly so, but understand that I don’t work in the government space. I am simply an outside observer who approaches problems with some degree of sobriety and realism.

Today, I figure I’ll offer some ideas that can move the conversation forward in some kind of constructive way. Wired’s Noah Shachtman covered a white paper released from the National Defense University that approaches Government 2.0 from the perspective of information sharing. While that is indeed a portion of the solution to the greater problem, the military in particular, probably needs to look at broader solutions (and more specific, less 50,000 foot view), as a more effective technology complement to their Mission.

For instance, while simple communication across the various branches of the service is useful for any enterprise, it would pay to address the core war-fighting mission of the military. For instance, a less than 50,000 foot view that suggests “information sharing”, might propose use of mobile devices that utilize GPS information for tactical war-theatre decision making.

Real-time use of video and photography immediately makes data available to analysts requiring split second decisions (such as the split second decision making by the Navy Captain responsible for ordering the sniper takedown of the Somali pirates this weekend).

It is not useful to simply put out generic information about “information sharing” and suggest blogs, wikis and the like are the solution to the problem. While I understand whitepapers are intended to provide a skeletal framework for further action, it is condescending to organizations who already value and understand the need for “information sharing”. What they are looking for is the “hows” and “whats” to achieve their mission.

As stated in previous articles, this is where the “experts” should be focusing. Realistically, those activities will be classified and not published for public consumption. That’s probably the way it should be. The real experts are working internally, inside their organizations, with their constituency – not in the public forum where context and value are lost.

Good Friday, Easter Sunday and What It Means to Me

This post is off-topic. I make no bones about it. It is not about social media, web technologies, startups, product reviews or anything else I normally talk about. It’s about my faith. I will not be offended if you choose not to read, I only ask that you respect my beliefs and the beliefs of anyone who chooses to comment here. I will be aggressive in comment moderation because there is nothing more divisive in this world than religion. Politics is right up there, but faith is something far more personal, and therefore, far more villified.

Today is Good Friday. As someone who has grown up in the Christian tradition, I struggle with it. I’ve often said that my faith in God has not changed, so much as my faith in the Christian tradition – that is, what we call “church”.

As a pastor’s kid, I grew up going to church, and knowing the Bible. I still do. Very well. The very core of my existence is based on how I was raised, and I thank my very godly and loving parents for raising me the way they did. I have no regrets, nor do I feel like I’ve walked away from God in anyway.

I have, however, walked away from Church. This will be the first Easter Sunday that I am not in church. Do I feel wistful? Maybe a little. But then I think about the hypocrisy of so many in the church. The desire to put on an image in front of those who might think less of them. To somehow please God through their behavior, as if God wasn’t aware of their behavior through the week.

I don’t care about their behavior. We are all sinners. We do things. It’s humanity. It’s the curse. We lie, cheat and steal without batting an eye. We say things in one sentence and do something else, because situational ethics allows us to rationalize our behaviors. It’s part of the curse of being human, and I don’t fault anyone for anything they do.

The essence of the Gospel, as conveyed by Christ, is that not one of us is perfect and that if God can forgive us, then perhaps we should love each other enough to forgive as well. That is the long and short of Christianity, right there. Sure, we can get all theological and discuss the merits of Calvinism or Arminianism. We can debate the process of sanctification. But it doesn’t really matter, at the end of the day. These are conversations that don’t happen in daily life, just as much as we don’t have conversations about the resistance factor of capacitors on an electronic circuit board in everyday life.

Late last year, my dad who is still very much a “church” guy, yet clearly understands that I am not, sent me a podcast to listen to. He genuinely wanted to know my thoughts on it, and I promised I would formulate my thoughts and let him know when I did. I never did. In a way, I’m making up for that right now.

In this podcast [here], the speaker, a well known evangelical, explained to a group of Bible School students the concepts behind Chaos Theory. It was quite bizarre to listen to, actually. I’m not used to such nerdy speak in these types of venues. He explained that Chaos Theory supposes that in all the supposed chaos in the world, there is actually an order to things. That if you examine concepts such as the Butterfly Effect, patterns emerge from the perception of chaos. (Incidentally, the theory is somewhat counter-intuitive since the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics states that everything left to itself progresses continuously toward disorder).

The concept is that the Kingdom of God exists continually, even when the systems put in place by humanity dissolve in an unordered way. That the Church of today is in chaos, yet the purpose of God transcends the chaos. This article certainly isn’t to cast judgment on anyone, yet this chaos in the church can clearly be seen in high profile secret conduct of evangelical leaders, the unequivocal bigotry (whether intentional or unintentional) of the religious system that deals with the society, both political and cultural, in existence today.

This is not the way it was supposed to be and it is the reason why I am not in church.

So on this Good Friday, the day we remember the death of Christ, and Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate his resurrection, I put this plea to the church of today: Please stop vilifying those who don’t fit your agenda. Stop demanding government involvement in the role that Christ himself gave to you: be salt and light, and change the world. Understand that people are people. It’s the curse of humanity. Stop pretending to be holy when you can’t cast the first stone. Don’t hide behind your theology and presumptions that have been passed down. Your basis is your faith, not your intellect. Take that faith and find your God.

Happy Easter!

The Pros and Cons of Cloud Computing

Several years ago, a new buzzword entered the fray of internet speak: The Cloud. In the past, I’ve written critically about cloud computing, and my reservations originally outlined remain. However, there is real value in the cloud as well.

Known for applications that are considered “Software as a Service”, or SaaS, The Cloud represents the idea that data processing and storage exists, not on physical hardware maintained by an organization or their designated controlled environment data center, but literally out on the internet. The data and processing is harnessed by the power of distributed computing across grids and data centers. The power of multiple hundreds of thousands of server farms can much more effectively manage the processing power of a service, application or company far better than a single server or node of servers. In fact, economically, cloud computing is far cheaper than traditional computing paradigms.

In an enterprise sense, cloud computing is often handled by Content Delivery Networks (CDNs) such as Limelight, Panther or Akamai. These enterprise solutions run as cheap as $0.25/Gb of bandwidth/transfer to $1.00/Gb. Other lower cost solutions include Amazon’s EC2 or Google AppEngine (which now supports Java in addition to it’s longstanding Python commitment).

Companies looking to expand their offerings with web apps, downloadable materials or provide a service relying heavily on rich media (images, video [especially HD video], or streaming audio) might consider the Cloud as a viable scaling solution. In my opinion, based on my experiences, there are benefits and drawbacks to the Cloud.

Benefits of the Cloud

Cloud computing is cheap. Dirt cheap. If you’re scaling up an application – that is active growth projections and model, not simply a prototype – Amazon EC2 will give you computing power for as little as 10 cents an hour, and time is measured only when the cloud is actually working on behalf of a user, so if it’s idling you’re in the clear. In addition, at 10 cents per gigabyte of bandwidth, it’s extremely cheap to begin a large scale growth projection.

A secondary benefit of using the cloud is your ability to fire your IT staff. Within reason, of course. The absence of physical hardware and infrastructure security requirements allows your company to devote more resources to the development of your technology product, as opposed to positioning watchmen on the wall, so to speak.

Thirdly, the cloud is infinitely scalable. It is not necessary to worry about clustering, nodes, GeoIP content serving (that is, serving content from a UK-based data center to a user in Germany as opposed to serving from Southeast Asia, as an example). Simply put, the Cloud allows you to build as much capacity and bandwidth as you’re willing to pay for.

Drawbacks of the Cloud

Of course, since there is no such thing as a free lunch, there are also detractors to leveraging the cloud. In a siloed environment of physical hardware and CAT-5 cabling across server closets, it is possible to scale by diversifying the vendors and hardware and data centers. From a business perspective, this means you can work one vendor against another and possibly incite a bidding war. You could use all or none of the vendors that might show interest. In the cloud, it is difficult, if not impossible, to choose 2 different CDN providers in addition to Amazon EC2, for instance. Tim Bray wrote a piece about this last year and raises significant, yet important, questions.

Secondarily, especially for cheaper solutions like Amazon S3 (different from EC2 in that it is simply a storage facility in the cloud), you have a high chance of latency. Simply put, the network connection is not fast enough to be able to rely on to serve rich media at scale. Many services out there, including WordPress.com opt to use Amazon S3 as a “cold cache” – that is, the last place that content is served from and then only if needed. The latency of the network makes it prohibitive, depending on the application, to do it on every page load.

Finally, Cloud reliance can cause significant problems if the control of downtime and outages is removed from your control. Over the past year, Amazon has had significant downtime incidents (8 hours in one case!). Reliance on the cloud can cause real problems when time is money.

In the past, we have advocated for a hybrid solution to cloud computing. It is perfectly okay and reasonable (even expected!) for companies to leverage the cloud. Economically, it allows them to go crazy at building the business and focusing resources. In a down economy, the economics behind the Cloud over physical hardware is a no-brainer. However, we continue to advocate for a failover plan that will help an agile company dodge the effects of downtime. A hybrid environment is also attractive as well, allowing companies to directly manage and control critical operational systems and benefit from the infinite possibilities of scale.