It Isn’t The Same Thing.

Two recent pieces in the New York Times have led me to con­clude that it’s time to remind our­selves of some­thing very basic about inno­va­tion and progress.  Bill Keller, the exec­u­tive edi­tor of the Times, ded­i­cates his weekly col­umn to the ques­tion of whether Twit­ter makes us smart or stu­pid.  Then, in an arti­cle pro­fil­ing Google’s long-run­ning Authors@Google speaker series, Alone Together author Sherry Turkle is quoted:

We shouldn’t kid our­selves that going on YouTube to watch an author is the same thing as going to a bookstore.”

Show me the per­son who seri­ously claims that watch­ing an author speak on YouTube is the same thing as going to a book­store to hear them speak.  Mar­keters, of course, make such hyper­bolic com­par­isons between the new and the old (“It’s just like being in the room!”).  But — and please tell me if you think I’m wrong — few are those who truly believe that read­ing an e‑book is the same thing as read­ing a real book, that tweet­ing is the same thing as talk­ing in real life, or that mak­ing friends on Face­book is the same thing as mak­ing friends in per­son.  Of course they aren’t.  Far away is the time when a vir­tual expe­ri­ence will flaw­lessly sim­u­late a phys­i­cal one.

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NYT Recommendations Guilt Trip

I have mixed feel­ings about the New York Times pay­wall, but here’s some­thing intrigu­ing.  A few weeks before the pay­wall launched, the Times released a “rec­om­men­da­tions” page that sug­gests new arti­cles you might be inter­ested in based on your brows­ing his­tory.  They even list these rec­om­men­da­tions in a lit­tle wid­get in the side­bar of every arti­cle page, as well as the home page.

That’s a great fea­ture, and it seems to work decently well.  But, while I think the Times does want to help read­ers find inter­est­ing con­tent, I believe the real rea­son they’re sur­fac­ing this fea­ture is to show you this:

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Shooting at Moving Targets

Great thoughts by Conor Frieder­s­dorf on The Atlantic as to why we’re more pro­duc­tive in cof­fee­houses than offices:

There’s that scene in Butch Cas­sidy and the Sun­dance Kid when the lat­ter is asked to demon­strate his shoot­ing prowess, but can’t hit the tar­get unless he’s mov­ing. On some level, I think the same thing is going on when I write. Forced to focus on a sin­gle thing the mind rebels, whereas adding another ele­ment some­how focuses it. The cof­fee­house some­how pro­vides that element.

Makes sense.

Responding to Copyhype’s “Copyright and Buggy Whips”

Terry Hart at Copy­hype crit­i­cizes the “buggy whip” anal­ogy often used by copy­right crit­ics to dis­par­age the con­tent indus­try.  Hart makes some fair points, but I found that he largely mis­in­ter­preted the anal­ogy and thereby ignores its cen­tral point.  Though it would be best to read his post in full to get the entire con­text, here are some per­ti­nent quotes:

The buggy-whip anal­ogy […] describes a busi­ness that refuses to adapt in the face of tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tion. When auto­mo­biles replaced horse-drawn car­riages, buggy-whip man­u­fac­tur­ers either had to change their busi­ness mod­els or risk obsolescence.

How are con­tent indus­tries like buggy-whip man­u­fac­tur­ers? It’s not like they are mak­ing some­thing no one wants. Peo­ple haven’t switched entirely to new forms of enter­tain­ment; peo­ple haven’t to a large extent embraced alter­na­tives to the con­tent cre­ated by tra­di­tional indus­tries. […] To put it another way, if media indus­tries are mak­ing buggy-whips, and buggy-whips are obso­lete, why are peo­ple pirat­ing buggy-whips?”

I responded in a com­ment, but wanted to repro­duce it here for my archival pur­poses as well as to invite your own thoughts.

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Tell Me Something I Don’t Know

cc-by-nc /​ Chiot’s Run (Flickr)

[Update: Of course, right after I pub­lish this, I see the news that my6sense is launch­ing a Chrome exten­sion that will pri­or­i­tize your native Twit­ter stream on the web.  Looks cool, and I think it pro­vides an answer to one of my crit­i­cisms below.  If some­thing like my6sense can sit on top of all my brows­ing, it will learn more about the diver­sity of my interests.]

I’ve been using an Android app called my6sense.  You hook it up to your Twit­ter, Face­book, and Google Reader accounts.  As you use it to browse those feeds in a sin­gle stream, it starts to learn what you’re inter­ested in.  Over time, it reorders your stream based on what it thinks you’ll be most inter­ested in.  It also starts to feed in con­tent from other sources that might not nec­es­sar­ily be in those orig­i­nal streams, but is related to your inter­ests.  It’s pretty magical.

This sort of sys­tem is often pre­dicted to be the future of news con­sump­tion: know­ing our inter­ests and read­ing behav­ior, tools will start to tell us what we should be read­ing on those sub­jects.  But there’s a prob­lem.   Read more