I’ve flown 1,500,242 miles with United Airlines. My wife has flown at least a million more. Both of us currently enjoy Premier status, though we’ve spent much of our time with United at the fancier 1K level. We are also both lifetime United Club members and have been so for thirty-three years.
Unlike many passengers of big airlines, we have no complaints about United. The airline has never lost our luggage or mistreated us in any way, even going back decades, to when we were no-status passengers. On the contrary, we like United—especially some of the little things, such as From the Flight Deck (formerly Channel 9) on some plane entertainment systems, and free live Internet connections (at least for T-Mobile customers, which we are). And we rolled with it when United, like other airlines, changed the way frequent fliers earn privileges.
United Airlines is considering using its passenger information to help brands serve targeted ads to its customers, joining a growing number of companies trying to tap their troves of user data for advertising purposes.
Some of these targeted ads could appear on its in-flight entertainment system or on the app that people use to book tickets and check-in, people familiar with the matter said. United hasn’t made a decision yet and may choose not to launch a targeted-advertising business, some of the people said.
Airlines have long taken advantage of the captive nature of their customer base to show them plenty of ads, including commercials on seatback screens, glossy spreads inside in-flight shopping catalogs or, for some, advertisements adorning cabin walls. Offering personalized advertising would greatly expand United’s advertising business, some of the people said.
Of the 106 comments below the story, all but one opposed the idea, and the one exception said he’d rather not keep seeing ads for feminine hygiene products.
The big question here is whether and how United might share personal data with parties other than itself. Because there are lots of companies that will pay for personal data, and United does have, as Patience says, “an advertising business.”
What exactly is that business? Is it just showing ads to United customers? Or, in the process of now personalizing those ads, is it sharing data about those customers with “partners” in the adtech fecosystem, which has been hostile to personal privacy for decades, as a matter of course?
Already, just on the basis of this one story (and 99+% of the thumbs-down comments it got), that this is a terrible idea. But, this kind of idea is terribly typical in the marketing world today, and a perfect example of what Cory Doctorow calls enshittification, a label so correct that it has its own Wikipedia article. In The Guardian, John Naughton asks, Why do we tolerate it?
1) It’s normative in the extreme. As I put it in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff, “Madison Avenue fell asleep, direct response marketing ate its brain, and it woke up as an alien replica of itself.” Today the entire .X $trillion digital advertising business can imagine nothing better than getting personal with everybody. And it totally excuses the tracking required to make it work. Which it doesn’t, most of the time.that
2) Journalists are afraid to bite the beast that feeds them. Here is a PageXray of where personal data about you goes when you visit that story without tracking protection (which most of us don’t have). Here is just one small part of the hundreds of paths that data about you travels out to advertising “partners” of The Wall Street Journal:
Click on that link, wait for that whole graphic to load, and look around. You won’t recognize most of the names in that vast data river delta, but all of them play parts in a fecosystem that relies entirely on absent personal privacy online. And some of them are extra unsavory. Take moatads.com. Don’t bother going there. Nothing will load. Instead, look up the name. Nice, huh? (As an aside, why am I, a paying WSJ subscriber, subjected to all this surveillance?)
I’ve challenged many journalists employed by participants in this system to report on it. So far, I’ve seen only one report: this one by Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times, back in 2019. (The Times backed off after that, but they’re still at it.)
As for the consent theater of cookie notices, none of “your choices” are meaningful if you have no record of what you’ve “chosen” and you can’t audit compliance. (Who has even thought about that? I can name two entities: Customer Commons and the IEEE P7012 working group. My wife and I are involved in both.)
Unless United customers stand up and say NO to this, as firmly and directly as possible, the way to bet is that you’ll start seeing personalized ads for all kinds of stuff on your seat back screens, your United app, and in other places to which data about you has been sold or sent by United, one way or another, to and through who knows. (But you’ll probably find some suspects in that PageXray.) Because that’s how great real-world brands are now enshittifying themselves into the same old fecosystem we’ve had online for decades now.
Statista last January said “the ad blocking user penetration rate in the United States stood at approximately 26 percent in 2020, indicating that roughly 73 million internet users had installed some form of ad blocking software, plugin, or browser on their web-enabled devices that year. While awareness of these services lies at almost 90 percent, the number of internet users actively leveraging the technology has stagnated in recent years following visible changes in online user behavior. The switch from desktop to mobile has arguably had one of the most significant impacts on ad block usage: As internet users increasingly browse the web via mobile devices, desktop ad block usage rates in the U.S. and many other parts of the world are dropping, albeit at varying speeds. While mobile ad blocking adoption is still at a nascent stage in the U.S., the global number of mobile ad blocking browser users is rapidly increasing.” On another page, Statista says marketers “can conquer ad blocking by offering personalized advertising.” Anybody want that? Give me a show of hands. Thought so.
Blockthrough, an advertising company, offers a 2022 adblock report that requires filling out a form. So I passed on that one too, but can report that its “key insights” are these: “With 290M monthly active users globally, adblocking on desktop has climbed back close to its all-time-high from 2018,” and “The average adblock rate across geos and verticals is 21%, as measured across >10B pageviews on 9,453 websites.”
Surfshark has some cool maps showing which countries hate ads most and least, based on searches for ad-blocking software. (France was at the top.)
Perhaps more interesting than any of those stats (all of which are unsurprising) is using AI to generate graphics for a post such as this one. At first, I wanted the system (Bing Creator) to show two separate populations: one living blissfully in a land without advertising, and one with advertising everywhere. That was a fail. I couldn’t get it not to show advertising on both sides. Then I tried to get it to depict the blocking of ads, for example with a wall. That failed too, because advertising always appeared on the wall. Finally, I got the image above with a prompt asking for people who were happy to have advertising inside a giant bottle. Isn’t it crazy how fast the miraculous becomes annoying?
The Big Calendar here in Bloomington is one fed by other calendars kind enough to syndicate themselves through publishing feeds. It is put together by my friend Dave Askins, who writes and publishes the B Square Bulletin. Technically speaking, it runs on WordPress, and uses a plug-in called ICS. Dave is steadily improving it, mostly by including more feeds. But he also has a larger idea: one that satisfies the requirements I’ve been outlining in posts about deep (and deeper), wide, and whole news, plus a community’s (and journalism’s) need for facts and not just stories.
What Dave suggests is a whole new platform, just for community calendars. He calls it DatePress (modeled on WordPress), and describes it this way:
A bigger idea for community calendars
WordPress is a fantastic platform for running all kinds of websites—from news sites that generate lots of chronological posts, to websites that are mostly static, and serve up encyclopedic information.
For added, very specific functionality, WordPress fosters a robust ecosystem of plugins.
But there’s one kind of plug-in that is worth developing as a platform in its own right: a feed-based calendar. What if the whole point of the website is to host a feed-based community calendar? Such as this one here. We can do that with the WordPress ICS Calendar plug-in, as we do at that link. But why use a plug-in to do a platform’s job?
Let’s call this as yet undeveloped calendar platform DatePress, just as a placeholder. DatePress would be a calendar hosting web engine that is built from the ground up to host feed-based calendars. Maybe some enterprising soul develops a plug-in for DatePress that allows a user to add a blog to their calendar. But the one job for DatePress would be: Publish community calendars.
DatePress does what?
What kind of functions should DatePress have? For starters, it should have the kind of features that the WordPress ICS Calendar plug-in already includes. Specifically:
It should be easy to add feeds to a calendar, and specify a background color and label for each feed.
The published display should include ways for a visitor to the published calendar to filter by typing into a box.
The published display should make it possible to add any individual feed displayed by the published calendar to their personal calendar.
But there should be so many more tools for calendar administrators..
For any calendar feed, it should be possible to add a prefix to any event title in a specific feed, to help people who visit the published calendar understand what kind of event it is, without clicking through.
For any calendar feed, it should be possible to assign multiple tags, and it should be possible for calendar visitors to filter by tag.
For any view that a visitor to the published calendar generates with a filter, the parameters for that view should be passed to the URL window, so that a visitor can send someone a link to that view, or embed that specific view of the calendar in their own website. That view should also define a new feed, to which someone can subscribe.
DatePress itself should know all about the content of feeds:
Duplicate events across feeds should be automatically identified and collapsed into a single event.
When a feed is slightly non-compliant with the standard, behind the scenes, DatePress should be able to convert the feed into one that is 100-percent compliant.
Why does DatePress need different levels of logged-in users, which really demands that it be a platform? Here’s how that looks:
Only some users, like the administrator, should be able to add or delete feeds from the calendar.
A curator should be able to manually flag events across all feeds—and all the events flagged by some curator would define a new feed. Visitors to the published calendar should be able to look at events by curator, and to add the curator’s feed to their own personal calendar. A curator should be able to embed a display of their curated calendar into their own website.
Annotators could add information to event displays, especially after an event is over. After the events are over, their status will change to “archived.” Annotations could include a simple confirmation that the event took place. Or maybe an annotation includes a caution that the event did not actually take place, because it was canceled. Annotations could include links to published news articles about the event. The calendar archive becomes a draft of a historical timeline for everything that happened in some place.
Let’s please build this thing called DatePress.
I think this is a great idea that can start to do all of these things and more:
Pull communities together in many commons (such as we study here at IU’s Ostrom Workshop) around shared interests.
String the pearls of local journals without any extra effort on anyone’s part.
Give calendar hosts a way to think of their events as part of a bigger commons.
Let rank-and-file residents tap the wisdom of those who are “in the know.”
Recruit community members to the work of making local history more complete.
Calendar archives could jump-start history-based newsrooms in communities everywhere.
Please add your own.
The images up top are among the best of the hundreds I’ve had Bing Create produce using DALL-E3. The prompt for these four was, “A library building with the name Date Press (spelled exactly that way) over the door. The roof and walls are calendars.” I insisted on exact spelling because without it the AI left out letters, obscured them, or added extra ones. I also separated Date and Press because it always screwed up “DatePress” when it was prompted with that as a word. And it never liked lower case letters, preferring always to use upper case. Visual AI is crazy and fun, but getting what one wants from it is a little like steering a cat by the tail.
Just sharing some stuff I said on social media recently.:
It’s easy to make an ad hominem argument against anything humans do.
If we had to avoid every enterprise with owners we don’t like, we might as well graze on berries or something.
Capitalism is way too broad a brush with which to paint all of business. As Peter Drucker put it, most people don’t start a business to make money. They do it to make shoes.
The tech world we’ve had for the last few decades is deeply weird in many ways, such as its mix of thrown-spaghetti venture investments and psychotic incentives, e.g. wanting to break things, to run the world, to replace humans with cyborgs, and to work toward exits that will doom what’s already built while breaking faith with customers, workers, and other dependents. Economic thinkers of the industrial age, from Adam Smith and Karl Marx all the way forward, could hardly have imagined any of this shit. I still haven’t encountered any economic theory that can make full sense of it. (Though I’m not saying there isn’t one.)
The prompt for the AI art is a riff on #4. Note that the AI doesn’t have a clear idea of how Adam Smith looks.
I love studying infrastructure. I read about it (hi, Brett), shoot pictures of it, and write about it. Though not enough of the latter. That’s why I’ve started to post again at Trunk Line, my infrastructure blog.
A post there earlier today was about “dig safe” markings (aka digsafe and dig-safe). I ran it in part so I could create a cool new site icon (and favicon). If you’ve opened any link to Trunk Line, you’ll see its eight colors, like a flag for infrastructure itself, in the page’s tab.
But I’d like a title image that says infrastructure without explanation. The 36 images above were generated by Microsoft Bing’s Image Creator, using the prompt “A collection of images representative of infrastructure, including digsafe markings, a bridge, a high-voltage tower, a culvert, a road, a traffic light. Digital art.” Clearly it didn’t know what digsafe markings are, though Bing certainly does. (Wikipedia puts them under utility location.)
Do any of those work for you? Just wondering. Suggestions for other prompts, perhaps?
Even though I have tracking turned off every way I can, I still see ads for hearing aids all over the place online. I suppose that’s because it’s hard to hide when one occupies a demographic bulls-eye.
They’re wasted anyway because I’ve done my deal with Costco. Consumer Reports top-rates Costco’s best offering, and that’s what I’ll pick up later this month when I’m back in Santa Barbara and can go to the Costco store in Goleta. (There are none here in Bloomington. Nor a Trader Joe’s. Since those are our two dessert island requirements, we suffer.)
I’ve had my hearing tested at Costco three times: in 2019, 2021, and last month. Each test looked roughly like what you see in the audiogram above, which is a test I did in September with my new Apple AirPods Pro. (2nd Generation). I got those because they kinda work as hearing aids. (In “transparency” mode. If you have them, give it a try.) The main problem with the ‘pods is that they tell people I’m not listening to them. Also, they tend to fall out of my head.
As you see from that audiogram, my hearing loss is moderate at worst. And that notch at 4 kHz is at least partly due to tinnitus. At all times I hear several separate tones between 4 and 7 kHz at a volume that runs between 30 and 60 db, depending on the time of day and how much I’ve been exposed to loud sounds. (Amplified concerts, lawnmowers, and vacuum cleaners crank my tinnitus up to eleven, for hours afterward.)
Since my hearing loss doesn’t test as severe, each Costco audiologist hat tested me has recommended against getting hearing aids. (Their tests were also far more complete than what I got from my otorhinolaryngologist, whose office also pitched me on hearing aids costing upwards of $5k.)
The hearing aids won’t help my APD, and certainly not my ADHD (which actually isn’t that bad, IMHO). But they also won’t hurt. We’ll see—or hear—how it goes.
As Dave says here, we’re remodeling this blog a bit, starting with the title image, which for the last few years has been a portrait of me at work, drawn by the fashion illustrator Gregory Wier-Quitton.
My likeness online is not in short supply. Here’s a sampling from a DuckDuckGo image search for my name:
He also doesn’t think the current title art (which it is, literally) looks like me. I don’t either, for an odd reason you might not guess: I don’t wear glasses except when I’m staring at a screen. Or out in bright sunlight. And even then, I just wear off-the-shelf shades: typically the polarized ones that cost $21.99 at CVS.
In fact, I did wear glasses most of the time between my senior year in college and the end of the millennium. You can see me with them in the title image of my original (1999-2007) blog:
That’s from this photo of the four Cluetrain authors in the summer of 1999:
That design was by Bryan Bell, who designed many of the early blogs.
I wore glasses because studying a lot (which I didn’t bother doing until college) made me nearsighted, and reading and writing for a living kept me that way until I tested the theory that myopia is to some degree adaptive (and why studious kids seem to need glasses more than kids that aren’t). Starting in the ’90s, I tried to wear glasses as little as possible. That theory was proved, at least empirically, by vision improved to the degree that I no longer needed them to drive. That happened in the early ’00s. (My driver’s license doesn’t say I require them, and my vision is now 20/15 in my right eye* and 20/30 in my left.)
I also don’t think it’s right to use a shot in which my head still had enough hair on top to comb. Until my late ’60s, I thought I was free of the family curse (on my mother’s side), but then most of my hair fell out as if I was on chemo. While it’s true, as Dave says, that I’ve had hair for most of the time I’ve been blogging—and for the much longer stretch of the time I’ve been writing—the simple fact is that I no longer look like I did when I needed a barber. Also, in 2017 my eyelids were surgically liberated by removing the forehead that was falling down into my vision, disabling my eyelids and squeezing my eyeballs out of spherity. (This was a medical move, not a cosmetic one.) This also altered my look.
Somewhere in the oeuvre of Fran Liebowitz she advises readers worried about their aging faces to confront a mirror and realize this: “It only gets worse.”
With that and the spirit of renovation in mind, does this blog need an image of me on top? I could fill my screen and yours running down a list of fine blogs and newsletters that don’t feature their authors’ image in a header—or anywhere except maybe an About page.
For example, I love how Dave’s blog is titled with self-replacing images from his own library. If we were to do that here, I have 6 TB of photos we can choose from, with morethan 66,000 of them on Flickr alone.
But hell, maybe we could just use the most recent photo of me. This one was shot yesterday over breakfast downtown (at the Bucks Woodside of Bloomington, called Uptown) by my pal Dave Askins, after we discovered that the silverware was not only ferrous but well-magnetized:
My wife hates that shirt, and that napkin is kinda weird, but here’s my thinking on the whole thing: at 76, I’m still alive† and having fun. Such as right now.
*My right eye improved to 20/20 until it got a cataract. When that became annoying, I had the cataract removed and replaced by a fixed lens that improved my vision to 20/15. The left eye also has a cataract; but can still focus, which is why I haven’t had that one fixed. Once it’s fixed I’ll need to wear glasses again: ones with progressive lenses, so I can read and look at close stuff. Meanwhile, I’m holding off.
†If I read this right, most male babies born in the U.S. in 1947 are now dead. For more data of the actuarial sort, find sources here, here, here, and here.
I started blogging in Medium because Ev Williams created it, with lots of noble intentions, and I wanted to support Ev and his work. I also liked its WYSIWYG-y approach to composing pages. And I liked the stats, though I mostly stopped looking at them after they defaulted to highlighting how many claps a piece gets. I never liked the claps thing.
I forget when and why I started paying. I half remember that it was around when they pitched me on maybe making money blogging after the subscription system started up. I wasn’t interested in that, but I was interested in Medium experimenting with money-making.
But the whole system seemed kinda complicated, so I didn’t pay much attention to it. I just kept posting now and then, and it seemed to work well enough, I suppose because I didn’t see the paywall. Or worse, I did see the paywall when something I wrote got popular and became “Members Only” somehow.
I see the paywall now on this post by Doug Rushkoff and this one by Cory Doctorow. Yes, I can read their whole posts in this browser, which has a cookie that remembers that I’m a paying member; but it doesn’t on any of the other browsers I use for different purposes, and I don’t feel like logging in on all of them.
Call me old-fashioned, but I hate being teased into subscriptions. That’s why I’ve been dropping subscriptions to newsletters that tease readers into a paywall. I feel over-subscribed as it is, and the paywall tease is just rude. Ask, don’t coerce.
Let’s say you’re a public official. Or an engineer. Or a journalist researching a matter of importance, such as a new reservoir or a zoning change. What do you need?
In a word, facts. This should go without saying, but it bears saying because lots of facts are hard to find. They get lost. They decay. Worse, in their absence you get hearsay. Conjecture. Gossip. Mis and Dis information. Facts can also get distorted or excluded when they don’t fit a story. This is both a feature and a bug of storytelling. I reviewed this problem in Stories vs. Facts.
So how do we keep facts from decaying? How do we make them useful and accurate when future decisions require them?
One is by treating news as history. You do this by flowing news into well0-curated archives that remain accessible for the duration.
The other is to gather and produce facts that don’t make news but might someday—and flow those into curated archives as well.
In both cases, we are talking about facts that decision-makers may need to do their work, whether or not their work produces news.
So let’s start with history.
Timothy Snyder defines history as “what’s possible.” In his Yale lectures on The Making of Modern Ukraine, he also says history is discontinuity. By that, he means we give the most significance to moments of change, to times of transition. Elections. Wars. Disasters. Championships. And we tend to ignore what’s not making news in the meantime. We also tend to ignore the kind of news that just burbles along, not sounding especially historical, but is interesting to readers, watchers, and listeners—and might be relevant again. This is most of what gets reported by the obsessives who still produce local news. But how much of that stuff gets saved? And where?
Here in Bloomington, Indiana, the big industries for more than a century were limestone, furniture, and radio and television manufacture. Specifically,
The furniture industry came and went in about seven decades, but at its peak Showers Brothers Furniture produced a lion’s share of the affordable furniture sold in the U.S.
In the Forties and Fifties, so many radios and TVs were made here that Bloominngton for a time called itself “the color TV capitol of the world.”
If you haven’t seen Breaking Away yet, please do. Besides being one of the greatest coming-of-age stories ever told, it’s an excellent look at Bloomington’s small-town/big university charms, plus its limestone industry and the people who worked in it, back when the quarries and the cutting plants were still right in town. (They’re still around, but out amidst the farmlands.)
In Showers Brothers Furniture Company: The Shared Fortunes of a Family, a City and a University (Quarry Books, 2012), Carol Krause gives a sense of how huge a business Showers Brothers was at the time:
Shipments averaged seventy rail carloads per month. The sawmill daily cut 25,000 feet of lumber at that time and secured its lumber by purchasing large tracts of land and then logging them. This is undoubtedly part of the reason that so much of the land around Monroe and surrounding counties had been completely clear-cut early by the twentieth century.” (p. 121)
Her source for that was the April 26, 1904 issue of Bloomington Courier, then one of two papers competing to serve a town of about seven thousand people. But countless other bits of history are forever gone. In her notes about sources, Krause writes,
The business records of the Showets company have unfortunately been lost, and only a handful of the annual furniture catalogs survive, despite decades of publication. We no longer have the training materials that the company distributed to its salesme, and we have virtually no remaining business correspondence. As for family papers, we possess only the handwritten memoir of James Showers, the spiritual daybook of his mother, Elizabeth, and a small handful of family photographs. There is also no comprehensive Bomington history that sums up the major events or characters in the company’s history. Owing to the lack of records, this work relies largely upon accounts published in newspapers of the period. this record is fragmentary during the early years and we cannot consider any of it fully accurate or complete, because of the political partiality of the newspaper publishers. Nevertheless, newppaper records are the single largest remaining source of information available about the Showers family and its company, so this book reflects countless hours spent at the microfilm machines at the public library, perusing the headlines of bygone times. (p. xv)
The best sources I’ve found for Bloomington’s history as a broadcasting town are Bloomingpedia and Wikipedia. From the former:
In 1940 RCA moved a major manufacturing plant from Camden, NJ to Bloomington. The 1.5 million square foot RCA plant, although originally planned to build radios, was converted to televisions when that technology became viable, and when the first television came off the line on September 6, 1949, “TV Day” was declared in Bloomington. The plant was located on south Rogers Street, and produced more than 65 million televisions over the next 50 years. The factory employed over 8,000 workers at its peak, roughly 2% of the entire Bloomington workforce, and also provided many jobs for industries servicing the plant. Sarkes Tarzian, Inc. was among these. For a while, Bloomington called itself the “Color Television Capital of the World”.
Labor unrest began to swirl in the 1960’s. In 1964 5000 workers walked off the job over the protest of both management and union leaders. After a week, a new contract was approved and the workers returned to the assembly lines; but in October of 1966 the workers stuck again, claiming the company was in violation of the union contract, and several violent scuffles were reported. In 1967 a third, rather disorganized strike also took place.
In 1968, over 2000 people were laid off; mostly the young female workers that were considered to be most skilled at the delicate work of assembling televisions on the line.
RCA was bought by General Electric in 1986, then immediately sold to the French company Thomson SA, and rumors of the plant closing immediately began. On April 1, 1998, the last television rolled off the line and Thomson moved the plant to Juarez, Mexico, where RCA had had a small plant as early as 1968.
The Sarkes Tarzian company was an important manufacturer of radio and television equipment, television tuners, and components. Its FM radio receivers helped to popularize the broadcast medium. Sarkes Tarzian manufactured studio color TV cameras in the mid-1960s. The manufacturing operations were spun off in the 1970s and today the company still exists as a broadcaster, owning several television and radio stations. Gray Television has owned a partial stake in Sarkes Tarzian, Inc., since the early 2000s.
Those are all great sources, but the holes are bigger than the hills.
We also have a new situation on our hands, now that we are completing what Jeff Jarvis calls The Gutenberg Parenthesis: the age of print. How do we best accumulate and curate useful facts in our still-new digital age?
Back in 2001, my son Allen astutely noted that the World Wide Web was splitting between what he called the Static Web and the Live Web. Here is what I wrote about the former in the October 2005 edition of Linux Journal:
There’s a split in the Web. It’s been there from the beginning, like an elm grown from a seed that carried the promise of a trunk that forks twenty feet up toward the sky.
The main trunk is the static Web. We understand and describe the static Web in terms of real estate. It has “sites” with “addresses” and “locations” in “domains” we “develop” with the help of “architects”, “designers” and “builders”. Like homes and office buildings, our sites have “visitors” unless, of course, they are “under construction”.
One layer down, we describe the Net in terms of shipping. “Transport” protocols govern the “routing” of “packets” between end points where unpacked data resides in “storage”. Back when we still spoke of the Net as an “information highway”, we used “information” to label the goods we stored on our hard drives and Web sites. Today “information” has become passé. Instead we call it “content”.
Publishers, broadcasters and educators are now all in the business of “delivering content”. Many Web sites are now organized by “content management systems”.
The word content connotes substance. It’s a material that can be made, shaped, bought, sold, shipped, stored and combined with other material. “Content” is less human than “information” and less technical than “data”, and more handy than either. Like “solution” or the blank tiles in Scrabble, you can use it anywhere, though it adds no other value.
I’ve often written about the problems that arise when we reduce human expression to cargo, but that’s not where I’m going this time. Instead I’m making the simple point that large portions of the Web are either static or conveniently understood in static terms that reduce everything within it to a form that is easily managed, easily searched, easily understood: sites, transport, content.
At the time I thought—we all thought—that the Live Web was blogs. But then social media came along, mostly in the forms of Twitter and Facebook. After Technorati (which I had a hand in creating) began to index the Live Web of RSS feeds, Google also began to index the whole Web in real time, and soon began to supply the world with live information such as traffic densities on maps in apps running on hand-held phones connected to the Internet full time.
As I shared in Deep News., Dave Askins of the B Square Bulletinwould like us to create a “digital file repository”—” a place where anyone—journalists, public officials, and residents of all stripes—can upload digital files, so that others can have access to those files now and until the end of time. It can also serve as a backup for files that the city has made public on its website, but could remove at any time.”
“Removing content from our site is not a decision we take lightly. Our teams analyze many data points to determine whether there are pages on CNET that are not currently serving a meaningful audience. This is an industry-wide best practice for large sites like ours that are primarily driven by SEO traffic,” said Taylor Canada, CNET’s senior director of marketing and communications. “In an ideal world, we would leave all of our content on our site in perpetuity. Unfortunately, we are penalized by the modern internet for leaving all previously published content live on our site.”
This is the exact opposite of deep news. It’s about as shallow as can be.
Not that Google is much deeper. I have a number of pages here that contain a unique word—kind of an Easter egg—that Google used to find if I searched for it. Now Google doesn’t. Why? whatever the reason, it is clear that Google is optimized for now rather than then.
So we need to start creating deep and archival ways that serve meaning across time.
I have a lot more to say about this, but want to get what I have so far up on the blog, where others can help improve the post. Meanwhile a bonus link:
That’s Peter Cushing (familiar to younger folk as Grand Moff Tarkin in Star Wars) pounding a stake through the heart of Dracula in the 1958 movie that modeled every remake after it. Other variants of that caption and image followed, some posted on Twitter before it was bitten by Musk and turned into a zombie called X.
Was anyone representing you at the White House Summit on Artificial Intelligence? How about the AI World Congress coming up next month in London? Or any of the many AI conferences going on this year? Of course, our elected representatives and regulators are supposed to represent us, mostly for the purpose of protecting us as mere “users.” But as we know too well, regulators inevitably work for the regulated. Follow the money.
Though her work at Meta, Dr. Zannoli has come to believe that maximizing what’s useful about AI and minimizing what’s scary requires close collaboration between academic, industry, and governmental organizations. She’ll explain how in a lively discussion that will take place at the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies at IU, and online via Zoom (on a wall-sized screen).
The cost is $0, but you have to register to attend the Zoom. Do that here. And I’ll see you there.
The image above was generated by Bing Image Creator, using a prompt I can’t find right now but was something like, “Give me an image of people building a giant AI.” It was my first whack at using the service, and I think it worked pretty well.
Stories and facts have always been frenemies. Stories can get along fine without facts, though facts are good to have for framing up stories. Facts by themselves are blah, and need stories to become interesting. So: different beasts, often in conflict, which can make great stories too.
Like right now, when my wife and I are watching The Diplomat on Netflix. The whole series is about the conflict between stories and facts. But then, so is every movie or series about journalism, newsrooms, or any topic where what’s true and what’s being said don’t square up.
In Where Journalism Fails I explain that stories are what journalism sells. Back when we still had newspapers with newsrooms, senior editors constantly barked the same three words at reporters: What’s the story? Because stories are the base format of human interest. That’s why stories sell. It’s why you keep watching, listening, and turning pages.
So it helps to know what exactly makes a story. Fortunately, the basic formula is simple. Stories have three elements:
The character can be a person, a cause, a team, a politician, whatever. They can be good or bad, old or young, rich, poor, strange, or anything—as long as they are interesting. To be a character is to be interesting. Stories usually have a collection of them.
The problem is anything that creates or sustains conflict. There can any number of problems as well.
Movement has to be toward resolution, even if that never happens. Without movement, the story collapses.
If your team is up by forty points and there are two minutes left to play, the character that matters is you, and your problem is getting out of the parking lot. After all, many stories are happening at any one time, and you are the lead character in most of them.
Here are another three words you need to know: Facts don’t matter.
Kahneman says facts don’t matter because people’s minds are already made up about most things, and what their minds are made up about are stories. People already like, dislike, or actively don’t care about the characters involved, and they have well-formed opinions about whatever the problems are.
Adams puts it more simply: “What matters is how much we hate the person talking.” In other words, people have stories about whoever they hate. Or at least dislike.
Now we like to call stories “narratives.” Whenever you hear somebody talk about “controlling the narrative,” they’re not talking about facts. They want to shape or tell stories that may have nothing to do with facts.
But let’s say you’re a decision-maker: the lead character in a personal story about getting a job done. You’re the captain of a ship, the mayor of a town, the detective on a case. What do you need most? Somebody’s narrative? Or facts?
Wouldn’t it be better to have facts than to guess at them? Or to take as fact what somebody simply claims?
This is half of my case for Deep News. The other half is the need to formalize the way we accumulate facts over time, so the result is what we might call history-based news. Because history is made of facts. We’ll tell better stories and make better decisions if we base them on facts.
So it matters how we assemble and accumulate facts, and how we do this together. I’ll visit that in an upcoming post.
Journalism is in trouble because journals are going away. So are broadcasters that do journalism rather than opinionism.*
Basically, they are either drowning in digital muck or adapting to it—and many have. Also in that muck are a zillion new journalists, born native to digital life. Those zillions include everybody with something to say, for example with blogs or podcasts. As Clay Shirky put it in the title of a very relevant book about our topic, Here Comes Everybody.
An odd fact about digital life is that its world is the Internet, which works by eliminating the functional distance between everybody and everything. Think of this habitat as a giant three-dimensional zero: a hollow sphere with an interior that is as close to zero as possible in both distance and cost for everything on it. This is a very weird space that isn’t one, even though we call it one because space works as a metaphor.
Still, we are all embodied creatures operating in a natural world with plenty of distance and lots of costs. This is why we form communities, towns, cities, organizations, institutions, and social networks of people who see and talk to each other in the flesh.
For more than a century, the information center that held a town or a city together was its newspaper. This is no longer the case. The Monroe Country History Center and the Herald-Times (our local paper) explain the situation in an outstanding exhibit at the Center’s museum called Breaking the News:
But hey! There are still plenty of journals, journalists, and news sources here in town, including the Herald-Times. That’s some of their logos, gathered at the top of this page. I also listed them in my last post, calling them all, together, wide news. If their work is well-archived we’ll also have what I call deep news in the prior post.
I suggest that the answer to the question asked by that exhibit—where will it go now?— is whole news. That’s what you get when all these media cohere into both a commons and a market.
And, as it happens, we have some resources for creating both.
One is the Ostrom Workshop at Indiana University, where my wife Joyce and I are both visiting scholars. The workshop carries forward the pioneering work of Elinor Ostrom, who won a Nobel Prize in economics for her work on commons of many kinds. If we’re going to make a whole news commons, the Workshop can be hugely helpful. (So can other folks we know, such as Clay Shirky. Note that the subtitle of Here Comes Everybody is The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Clay will be here to speak in our salon series at IU in December.)
Another is Customer Commons, a nonprofit that Joyce and I started as part of ProjectVRM, which we launched when I started a fellowship at Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center in 2006. Customer Commons (says here) is “a public-facing organization focused on emerging issues at the intersection of empowered individuals and the public good,” while ProjectVRM is a community with hundreds of developers and others working on new business models that start with self-empowered customers. Within both are business model ideas for journalism that have been waiting for the right time and place to try out. (Examples are intentcastinglistenlog and emancipay.)
But the first step for us is getting to know the people and organizations on the supply side of news here in Bloomington, where Joyce and have now lived for two years. We know some local journalists already, and would love to know the rest. If I don’t reach you first, email me at doc at searls dot com.
And, as always, everything I’ve written above is subject to corrections and improvements, so I invite those too.
*Put simply, journalism’s mission is to get stories right, while opinionism’s mission is to get and keep an audience. But it’s sometimes hard to tell the difference, because the same labels can apply to both, and even the best journalism rests to some degree on opinions—of experts and eyewitnesses, for example.
You can see how blurry this can get by looking at Nielsen’s ratings for radio stations. Here is a table of Nielsen’s top twenty-five markets, with links to each station with a measurable audience, and labels for each station’s format. As you look at each market, click on the station link to see what’s behind its “News/Talk,” “News,” or “All News” label:
For example, in Dallas-Fort Worth, KERA and WBAP are both “News/Talk.” But KERA’s schedule is built around NPR programs while WBAP’s schedule is built around conservative talkers. Listen to both to draw or re-draw your own conclusions.
News/Talk, however, is at most a very small part of whole news, which is about how no one source of good information owns the whole space, as newspapers used to do. We haven’t yet defined this space, which is why we need to talk about it.
How do people get news where you live? How do they remember it?
For most of the industrial age, which is still with us, newspapers answered both those questions—and did so better than any other medium or civic institution. Newspapers were required reading, delivered daily to doorsteps, and sold from places all around town. Old copies also accumulated in libraries and other archives, either as bound volumes or in microfilm reels and microfiche cards. News also came from radio and TV stations, though both did far less archiving, and none were as broad and deep in what they covered and how. Newspapers alone produced deep news.
And wide news as well. Local and regional papers covered politics, government, crises, disasters, sports, fashion, travel, business, religion, births, deaths, schools, and happenings of all kinds. They had reporters assigned across all their sections. No other medium could go as wide.
After the Internet showed up in the mid-’90s, however, people also began getting news from each other, through email, blogs, texting, online-only publications, and social media. To keep up and participate, newspapers, magazines, and other legacy print media built websites and began to publish online. Broadcast media began to stream online too. But the encompassing trend was the digitization of everything and everyone. Consumers became producers. Every person with a computer or a phone was equipped to become a reporter, a photographer, a videographer, or a podcaster. (In the 24 September 2004 issue of IT Garage, I reported that a Google search for podcasts got 24 results. Today it gets 3,84 billion.)
In the midst of all this, the local and regional newspaper business collapsed. The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post found ways to survive and continue to thrive. Many other major papers are getting along but none are what they were. Nor can they be. Today most local papers are gone or shrunk to tiny fractions of their former selves. Countless local commercial radio stations are now owned by national chains, fed “content” from elsewhere, and maintain minimized or absent local staff. Public radio has survived mostly because it learned long ago how to thrive on listener contributions, bequests, and institutional support. TV news is still alive, but also competing with millions of other sources of video content. None of its coverage is as wide as newspapers were in their long prime.
Another reason for the decline of local news media is economic. Craigslist and its imitaters killed newspapers’ classified sections, which had been a big source of income. Advertisers abandoned the practice of targeting whole populations interested in sports, business, fashion, entertainment, and other subjects. With digital media, advertisers can target tracked individuals. As I put it in Separating Advertising’s Wheat and Chaff, “Madison Avenue fell asleep, direct response marketing ate its brain, and it woke up as an alien replica of itself.” That replica cares not a whit for supporting journalism of any kind.
Eyeballs and eardrums were also pulled toward direct response marketing by algorithms rigged to increase engagement. A collateral effect was pulling individual interests into affinity groups that grew tribal as they became echo chambers favoring the voices that excelled at eliciting emotional responses. Naturally, media specialized for feeding tribal interests emerged, obsolescing media that worked to cross partisan divides—such as old-fashioned newspapers. (In the old days, papers with a bend to the left or the right isolated partisanship to their opinion pages.) Talk radio and cable news became entirely partisan operations.
So, by the time Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) said “Facts don’t matter. What matters is how much we hate the person talking” (March 13, 2022), what Yeats poetized in The Second Coming seemed fulfilled:
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
And yet, as James Fallows told Joyce and me a couple of months ago, if you talk to people in small towns about anything but politics, they’re just fine. Moreover, they still work together and get things done. (Jim and Deb gained this wisdom while researching their book and movie, both titled Our Towns.)
Towns do have their fault lines, but people everywhere are held together by their natural need for the conveniences that arise out of shared necessity—for markets, medical help, education, public spaces, and each other. They also need good information about what’s going on where they live. By good I mean the kind of information they used to get before newspapers—and the daily ceremony of innocence newspapers provided—were obsolesced by the Internet.
Back in the mid-’00s, the idea of “citizen journalism” (which went by other labels) first showed up in the writings of Dan Gillmor, J.D. Lasica, Dave Winer, Jeff Jarvis, Jay Rosen, myself, and others. All of us were also concerned about the decline of newspapers. So, in January 2007, after The New York Times sold the Santa Barbara News-Press to a billionaire who fired the staff and made the paper a vehicle for her personal interests, the Center for Information Technology and Society (CITS) at UC Santa Barbara convened a charrette to discuss the future of local newspapers. The title was “Newspaper 2.0.” It was led by yours truly, then (and still) a fellow of the Center. Some of the people mentioned earlier in this paragraph were there, along with exiled News-Press staffers, educators, and other local media, including “place blogs” that were also daily newsletters. Here is a photo series from the event, and the wiki we put together as well. I don’t know to what extent that gathering helped enlarge the degree to which other media made up for the failure of the News-Press (which finally filed for bankruptcy this summer, after a decade and a half of irrelevance). I do know that Santa Barbara now rich with news sources.
Now it’s e pluribus unum time. There are many other media in town, covering many topics, and I’m not yet clear on how much they comprise a news commons. But, as a visiting scholar (along with Joyce) at Indiana University’s Ostrom Workshop, which is all about studying commons, I want to see if our collection of local news media can become an example of wide news at work, whether we call it a commons or not. From my current notes, here is a quick, partial, and linky list of local media—
So my idea is to hold a charrette like the one we had in Santa Barbara, to see how those interested in making wide news better can get along. No rush. I just want to put the idea out there and see what happens.
I think one thing that will help is that nobody is trying to do it all anymore. But everybody brings something to the table. Metaphorically speaking, I’d like to put the table there.
Thoughts and ideas are invited. So are corrections and improvements to the above. I see this post, like pretty much everything I write online, as a public draft.
“Breaking the News” is the title of an exhibit at the Monroe County History Center here in Bloomington, Indiana.* It traces the history of local news from the mid-18oos, when several competing newspapers served a population of a thousand people or less, to our current time, when the golden age of newspapers is long past, and its survivors and successors struggle to fill the empty shoes of local papers while finding new ways to get around and get along.
Most of the exhibits are provided by what’s left of the city’s final major newspaper, the Herald-Times, which thankfully still persists. Archives of the paper are also online, going back to 1988. I am told that there are microfilm archives going back farther, available at the Monroe County Public Library. Meanwhile, bound volumes of the paper, from the 1950s through 2013, are up for auction. (More here, including word that older bound volumes are apparently lost.)
Meanwhile, in our other hometown, the Santa Barbara News-Press is gone after serving the city for more than 150 years. The Wikipedia article for the paper now speaks of it in the past tense: was. Its owner, Ampersand Publishing (for which I can find nothing online), filed for bankruptcy late last month. You can read reports about it in KSBY, the LA Times, the Independent, Noozhawk, Edhat, and a raft of other local and regional news organizations.
From what I’ve read so far (and I’d love to be wrong) none of those news reports touch on the subject of the News-Press‘ archives, which conceivably reach back across the century and a half it was published. There can’t be a better first draft of history for Santa Barbara than that one. If it’s gone, the loss is incalculable.
Back here in Bloomington, Dave Askins of the B Square Bulletin, which reports on what public offices and officials are up to, has issued a public RFQ for a digital file repository that will be a first step in the direction of what I suggest we call deep news. Namely, the kind that depends on archives. It begins,
The B Square is seeking proposals from qualified web developers to create a digital file repository. The purpose of this repository is to provide a platform where residents of the Bloomington area can contribute and access digital files of civic or historical interest. This repository will allow users to upload files, add metadata, perform searches, and receive notifications about new additions. We invite interested parties to submit their proposals, outlining their approach, capabilities, and cost estimates for the development and implementation of this project. For an example of a similar project, see: https://a2docs.org/ For the source code of that project, see: https://github.com/a2civictech/docstore.
The links go to a project in Ann Arbor (where Dave used to live and work) that was clearly ahead of its time, which is now.
We also need wide news, which is what you get from lots of organizations and people doing more than filling the void left by shrunken or departed newspapers. (Also local radio, most of which is now just music and talk programs piped in from elsewhere.)
Wide news, when it happens, is a commons: an informal cooperative. (The Ostrom Workshop, where my wife and I are visiting scholars, studies them.) I think we are getting there in Santa Barbara. But, as the LA Times story on the News-Press suggests in its closing paragraphs, there are gaps:
Santa Barbarans have turned to other sources as the newspaper’s staff withered to just a handful of journalists. Along with the Independent and Noozhawk, some locals said they turn to KEYT television and to Edhat, a website that relies heavily on “citizen journalists” to report on local events.
Melinda Burns, one of many reporters who left the paper after feuding with management, now provides freelance stories to many of the alternative news organizations. Burns, who has spent decades in the news business, including a stint at the Los Angeles Times, said she has seen gaps in coverage in recent years, particularly in the areas of water policy and the changes wrought by legalized cannabis. She continues to report on those topics and said she gives away her in-depth stories free to reach as many people as possible.
“It keeps me engaged with the community and, God, do we need the coverage,” she said. “The local news outlets are valiant but overworked. It’s just a constant scramble for them to try to keep up.”
Maybe it helps to know that a landmark local news institution is gone, and the community needs to create a journalistic commons, together: one without a single canonical source, or a scoop-driven culture.
I think the combination of deep and wide news is a new thing we don’t have yet. I’ll call it whole news. We’ll know it’s whole by what’s not missing. Is hard news covered? City hall? Sports? Music? Fashion? Culture? Events? Is there a collected calendar where anyone can see everything that’s going on? With whole news, there is a checkmark beside each of those and more.
Toward one of those checkmarks (in addition to the one for city hall), Dave Askins has put together a collective calendar for Bloomington. Wherever you are, you can make one of your own, filled by RSS feeds and .ics files.
At the close of all his news reports, Scoop Nisker (who just died, dammit) said, “If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own.”
From 2007 until about a month ago, I wrote on three blogs that lived at blogs.harvard.edu. There was my personal blog (this one here, which I started after retiring my original blog), ProjectVRM‘s blog (also its home page), and Trunkline, a blog about infrastructure that was started by Christian Sandvig when he and I were both fellows at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society (and which I kept alive with very occasional posts since then). The image above is from those blogs’ header images.
All three are now re-homed. This one is at doc.searls.com (a URL that had redirected to blogs/harvard.edu/doc for many years), ProjectVRM’s is at ProjectVRM.org (a URL that had redirected to blogs.harvard.edu/vrm address) and Trunkline’s (which had been at blogs.harvard.edu/trunk) is now at trunkli.org.
Their hosting service is Pressable.com, a WordPress subsidiary that worked with the Berkman Klein Center to make sure that every link on the Web pointing to pages at those three Harvard-hosted blogs now goes to those pages’ new locations, without anything being 404’d. Which is just. freaking. awesome.
My thanks and gratitude to all the people who helped, both within those organizations and in my own network of friends. Together they demonstrate that the Web is a living archive and not just a whiteboard.
So I thought I’d give Bing a try at using ChatGPT to answer a question for which I knew the answer.
The question was, “What group sings the theme song to the podcast ‘A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs’?”
Bing search took me to a page of search results about the podcast itself, which didn’t help; but I saw a chat menu under its search bar. Clicking on that brought up a huge popover headlined, “Chat mode is only available when you have access to the new Bing.” For that I need to “unlock conversational search on Microsoft Edge.”
So I fired up Edge and clicked on the Chat link. Next, it wanted me to log into Microsoft itself. This required two-factor authentication for my password manager (Dashlane) and for Microsoft, all of which was annoying, but we live in an annoying time.
Afer all that I finally got to ask Bing Chat the same question. It replied, The theme music for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is called “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles1. I hope that helps!
It didn’t help. In fact, it could hardly be farther off.
So I said, “No, it’s a female group, and the song was recorded in the 1930s.” It replied, I’m sorry but I couldn’t find any information on the female group that sings the theme music for “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” that was recorded in the 1930s. Would you like me to help you with anything else?
Then I tried ChatGPT, and got this answer:
The theme song for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is performed by a group called “The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing.” The band is known for their unique blend of punk rock and Victorian music hall influences, and they have a dedicated following within the alternative music scene. Their song “Margate Fhtagn,” which is used as the theme song for the podcast, captures the spirit of the show’s exploration of rock music history.
Next I went to perplexity.ai, which gave a correct answer, complete with sources: The theme song for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is called “Rock and Roll” . It is a song from 1934 and is believed to be the very first song to use the phrase “rock and roll” in those words.
In that post, Andrew Hickey, the amazing host and producer of ‘500 Songs’, writes,
The song is called “Rock and Roll”, and it’s from 1934. It is, I believe, the very first song to use the phrase “rock and roll” in those words — there was an earlier song called “rocking and rolling”, but I think it’s the first one to use the phrase “rock and roll”.
It’s performed by the Boswell Sisters, a jazz vocal trio from the thirties whose lead singer, Connee Boswell, influenced Ella Fitzgerald among others, and it was written by Richard Whiting and Sidney Clare.
They actually wrote it for Shirley Temple — they’re the people who wrote “On the Good Ship Lollipop” — but it was turned down for use in one of her films so the Boswells did it instead.
The version I’m using is actually the version the Boswells sang in a film, Transatlantic Merry-Go-Round, rather than the proper studio recording. That’s just because the film version was easier for me to obtain.
So there you have it.
I don’t know who does perplexity.ai, but it is by far the most useful AI chatbot I’ve found so far. (Though I’ve been briefed on another one in the works. Stay tuned for that.)
[Later…] I just asked Google’s Bard the same question, and got this answer:
The theme song to the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is “Rock and Roll” by the Boswell Sisters. The song was released in 1934 and is considered to be the first song to use the phrase “rock and roll” in its lyrics. The Boswell Sisters were a jazz vocal trio from the 1930s who were known for their harmonies and their innovative arrangements. Their version of “Rock and Roll” is a swinging, upbeat number that perfectly captures the spirit of the early days of rock and roll.
The podcast host, Bob Stanley, chose the Boswell Sisters’ version of “Rock and Roll” as the theme song because he felt that it was a fitting way to start each episode. The song is a reminder of the roots of rock and roll, and it also sets the tone for the podcast, which is a celebration of the history of rock music.
Right about the Boswell sisters, wrong about the host of the podcast. Again, it’s Andrew Hickey, not Bob Stanley.
So Perplexity.ai still wins.
[Later (27 July)…] Retesting before pointing to this post again.
Bing: The theme song for the podcast ‘A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs’ is called “500 Songs” and it is performed by the band The Heat Death. (The  footnote just goes to https://500songs.com/. Not very specific, that.)
ChatGPT: As of my last update in September 2021, the theme song for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” is performed by the host of the podcast, Andrew Hickey. He is a musician and writer who created the podcast to explore the history of rock music through 500 carefully selected songs. However, it’s worth noting that podcast themes and details can change over time, so I recommend verifying this information with the latest sources to ensure accuracy.
Bard: I’m a language model and don’t have the capacity to help with that.
Perplexity.ai: After conducting a search, I could not find any information about a female group that recorded the theme song for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs”. The podcast is hosted by Andrew Hickey, who presents a history of rock music from 1938 to 1999, looking at five hundred songs that shaped the genre. (Six footnotes are appended.)
So this time all of them failed.
I only followed up with Perplexity.ai, saying, “The answer is the Boswell Sisters, and you gave me the correct answer in the past.” It replied, I apologize for the confusion. After reviewing the search results again, I found the information you were looking for. The Boswell Sisters, a female vocal group, recorded the theme song used by Andrew Hickey for his podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs”1. Thank you for bringing this to my attention, and I apologize for any inconvenience caused. The footnote, irrelevantly, goes here.
[Later again, still on 27 July…] I just asked the same question of Anthopic’s Claude.io. Here is the dialog:
DS: What group sings the theme song to the podcast ‘A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs’?
Unfortunately I do not have enough context to determine what the theme song is for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs.” Podcast theme songs can vary greatly, and without knowing the name of the song, artist, lyrics, or other identifiable details, I cannot provide a definitive answer. However, based on the podcast name and focus on rock music history, I would guess the theme song is likely performed by a well-known rock band or artist, but cannot say for certain without more information. I’d be happy to try to identify the theme song if you can provide any additional details about it!
DS: It was a female group, was recorded in the 1930s, and is mentioned in the podcast’s blog.
Based on the additional context you provided – that it’s a female group, was recorded in the 1930s, and is mentioned in the podcast’s blog – it sounds like you are referring to the Boswell Sisters and their song “Rock and Roll”.
The Boswell Sisters were a very popular close harmony singing trio, active in the 1930s. They were known for their jazz, blues, and pop vocal styles.
In the blog for the podcast “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs”, the host Andrew Hickey mentions that he uses a 1932 recording of “Rock and Roll” by the Boswell Sisters as the podcast’s theme song. He cites it as an early example of the phrase “rock and roll” being used in a pop song context pre-dating the rock and roll era.
So unless it’s a different 1930s female group, it seems likely you are asking about the Boswell Sisters and their song “Rock and Roll” being used as the theme for that particular podcast. Let me know if this helps identify the artist you were asking about!
DS: That is correct. Thank you.
You’re very welcome! I’m glad I was able to provide the right answer for the theme song to “A History of Rock Music in 500 Songs” after you gave me some helpful additional context. Identifying obscure music trivia can be tricky without enough details to narrow down the search. Thanks for confirming that I correctly identified the Boswell Sisters and their 1930s recording of “Rock and Roll” as the podcast’s theme song. Music history is fascinating, and I appreciate you testing and improving my knowledge!
I wrote this today for a list that’s mostly populated by folks in overlapping music, broadcasting, legal, tech, and other businesses who share a common interest in what’s happening to the arts and artists they care about in a world now turning almost completely digital.—Doc
Here is a question I hope can get us out of our heads, our histories in the businesses (music, broadcasting, entertainment, publishing, law, pick-your-art), and up past the 30,000-foot level, out into space, so its possible, at least conceptually, to see the digital world that now coexists with the physical one, but with completely new blessings and curses that may have little to do with the physical world models that operate with and under it.
With that in mind, let’s try putting our minds outside the supply side of the marketplace, with all its incumbent mechanisms and rules, and where all of us have operated for the duration. We’re in space now, looking down on the digital and physical worlds, free to see what might be possible in these co-worlds.
Now try visiting this question: As a consumer or customer (not all the same) of artistic goods, what would you be willing to pay for them if payment was easy and on your terms and not just those of incumbent industries and their regulatory frameworks?
For example, Would you pay the recording artists, performers, producers, and composers the tiny amounts most of them get from a play on Spotify, Amazon, YouTube, Apple Music, Pandora, SiriusXM, a radio station or indirectly through the movies or TV shows that feature those goods?
Try not to be mindful of standing copyright regimes, deals made between all the parties in distribution chains, and subscription systems as they stand. In fact, try to put subscription out of your minds and think instead of what you would want to pay, value-for-value, in a completely open marketplace where you can pay what you like for whatever you like, on an á la carte basis. Don’t think how. Think how much. Imagine no coercion on the providers’ side. You’re the customer. You value what you use and enjoy, and are willing to pay for it on a value-for-value basis.
To help with this, imagine you have your own personal AI: one that logs all the music you hear, all the programs you watch, all the podcasts you listen to, all the radio you play in your car, and can tell you exactly how much time you spent with each. Perhaps it can tell you what composers, writers, producers, labels, and performers were involved, and help you know which you valued more and which you valued less. (Again, this is your AI, not Microsoft’s, Google’s, Facebook’s, or Apple’s. It works only for you, in your own private life.)
Then look at whatever you’re spending now, for all the subscription services you employ, for all the one-offs (concerts, movies in theaters, bands night clubs) you also pay for. Would it be more? Less? How much?
The idea here is to zero-base the ways we understand and build new and more open markets in the digital world, which is decades old at most and will be with us for many decades, centuries, or millennia to come. It should help to look at possibilities in this new non-place without the burden of leveraging models built in a world that is physical alone.
I submit that in this new world, free customers will be more valuable—to themselves and to the marketplace—than captive ones. And that sellers working toward customer capture through coercive subscription systems and favorable regulations will find less advantage than by following (respecting Adam Smith) the hand-signals of independent customers.
We don’t know yet if that will be the case. But we can at least imagine it, and see where that goes.
When I was a kid in the 1950s and early 1960s, AM was the ruling form of radio, and its transmitters were beyond obvious, taking the form of towers hundreds of feet high, sometimes in collections arranged to produce signals favoring some directions over others. These were landmarks out on the edges of town, or standing oddly on salt bogs or farmland.
From my bedroom in New Jersey, not far across the Hudson from New York City, I could see the red lights on the tops of towers standing in the “Meadowlands” (we called them swamps then) with Manhattan’s skyline beyond.
The towers in the photo above are three of those, tasked with beaming WMCA/570 and WNYC/820 toward New York’s boroughs from a pond of impounded water beside the Hackensack River and the east spur of the New Jersey Turnpike. Built in 1940, these three towers have by now become the most-seen AM radio signal source on Earth. For a while, they were also the most heard. That’s because, in its prime, which ran from 1958 to 1966, WMCA was also the leading top 40 music station in the world’s leading radio market. (WABC, with a signal ten times as strong, ruled the suburbs, with a night signal heard across half the country.)
While these days WNYC is the AM side of New York’s public radio empire (which brings in more money, largely from listeners, than any of the commercial stations in town), it is most famous for Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s “Talk to the People” show, which ran in the first half of the 1940s. (Back then WNYC had its own towers standing on what’s now WNYC Transmitter Park, alongside the East River in Brooklyn.)
Prior to the Internet, major media comprised a fewness of sources, in both print and broadcast. That fewness is over now, and the writing of over-the-air broadcasting’s end is being written on the Internet’s walls, perhaps most purposefully by yours truly. Because I’ve shot and shared thousands of photos of transmitters and antennas, knowing that the land under the most vulnerable ones—those on the AM band—tends to be worth more than the signals themselves. Many of these sites have already been sold off, with signals moving to shared towers on other stations’ sites, or just going dark.
Radio itself is also slowly being eaten alive: on the talk side by podcasts and on the music side by streaming services and webcasters. So I publish those photos as historical evidence of what in a few years (decades at most) will be no more. (Sorry, but no amount of lawmaking or regulation will save AM radio. Much as many of us—me included—still love it, neither the tech nor the economics can compete with the Internet, smartphones, the cellular system, and computers.)
So I recently ran a test of a theory: that it is good to have a conversation about all these developments, at least among professionals both active and retired in the broadcast engineering world. What follows is a post I put up for a private group that includes more than a dozen thousand of those.
Some hopefully fun detective work.
First, an ad in the November 14, 1949 issue of Broadcasting, the Youngstown-based company that built (or supplied steel) for countless AM stations in that band’s golden age. The image is of the array of six 400-foot tall self-supporting towers putting out the directional night signal for WFMJ, now WNIO/1390. HT for scanning and publishing that page goes to David Gleason, who gives us the amazing and valuable [https://worldradiohistory.com/](https://worldradiohistory.com/)
Second is a Google StreetView of what I think is the current view of the same site, with the transmitter shack and the six towers replaced. One of those is also a tower in WKBN’s own directional nighttime array. (Also, in the distance is another tower that appears not to participate in either station’s system.)
Third is a Bing Birds Eye (a fixed-wing aircraft) view of the whole site:
And a fourth is the Google view from space of the same.
Of possible relevance is that WNIO and WKBN are non-directional by day, the former from a tower at another site in town. Also that WNIO was a 5kw DA-N from the site for most of its life and is now 9.5kw from the day site and 4.8kw from the night site we see in these images—and that its six towers have six different electrical lengths, ranging from 105.8° to 215.1°, apparently in slightly different positions on the ground. Also that WKBN has been 5kw day and night since the late 1940s.
We can also see from the Truscon ad that the original address of WFMJ was on Poland-Broadmans Road, which I think is now just Broad. (The current shack for WNIO is on East Western Reserve Road, while WKBN’s is at the end of a long driveway off that same road.) One can also see from above something of the entrance off broad and possibly something of the original footprint of the original tower layout.
So, some questions are:
1) Is the first photo from the entrance to the site in the Truscon ad?
2) When did WKBN show up, or was it already at this site?
3) Are the different lengths of towers in the current WNIO array the result of more efficient towers in it, and also why the 4.8kw signal roughly matches the old 5kw footprint on the ground?
4) In 1949, were six towers about the limit of what one could do with a directional array using long math, trig tables, and graph paper, and perhaps a record number for its time?
5) Was Truscon the outfit that pioneered narrow rather than fat towers, and ones with three sides rather than four?
There are other variables, of course. But I just enjoy this kind of detective work, and I’m kinda chumming the waters to bait others who like to do the same. Thanks in advance.
We’ll see who rises to the bait and with what.
[Later…] Old pal Scott Fybush pointed to one of his transmitter visit reports and added this: “Summary: the current WNIO night site is not the original 1949 six-tower site. That was on what’s now Boardman-Poland Road (US 224) at what’s now the Shops at Boardman Park strip mall. It succumbed to development in the early 1990s, at which point 1390 moved to what’s now its current day tower. The current six-tower night array on Western Reserve Rd. was built in 2003, next to the 1977-vintage WKBN array. WKBN’s original DA was at the WKBN studios at 3930 Sunset, which is still the WKBN-TV facility.”
Given that radio’s content (as we now call it) is gone at the speed of short-term memory (unless it’s recorded, which mostly it isn’t), this kind of reporting may be the only history it has. So, if history matters, this kind of inquiry also matters.
The top photo is one of many I’ve shot on en route to EWR (Newark Liberty International Airport). By the way, these towers were built when one could walk on the land there. One needed boots and a scythe, but it was possible. The water was impounded in the 1990s, I think. Here are some shots from a visit to the site nine years ago.
I’ll be talking shortly to some readers of The Intention Economy who are looking for ways to connect that economy with advertising. (Or so I gather. I’ll know more soon.) What follows is the gist of what I wrote to them in prep for the call.
Both are still valid (IMHO), but don’t yet cover what A.I. will inevitably do to advertising. There are two possible ways that can go.
One is toward hyper-personalized advertising based on even more pernicious uninvited tracking than we already have, with A.I.s rather than lawyers and hired intermediaries finding loopholes in privacy law that will automate specious forms of “consent” far more efficiently than possible without it.
The other is toward finding the best vectors for targeting the right audiences rather than the most-tracked individuals—and to find those amidst the millions of podcasts, newsletters, blogs, mainstream media, and other online outlets into the ever-widening world of thought, opinion, news, scholarship, journalism, sports, and the rest of it.
The former will make tracking and personalized targeting far worse, and the latter will make advertising targeted at audiences far better. It will also do a much better job of supporting journalism in the process because more money can get through to publishers and reporters who won’t be fed by an evil hand they avoid biting.
Those two directions are the chaff-vs-wheat choices for A.I.’s future in advertising. For now, there is surely far more action happening with the former than with the latter, given the sizes of today’s spinning adtech flywheels. But this also means there will be bigger opportunities with the latter: a blue ocean away from the red one.
What makes the intention economy ocean blue is that it will exist almost entirely outside both those advertising systems—and inside horizons that are far more expansive than can be seen through the lens of advertising and marketing as we’ve known them.
Here the opportunities will be in creating better signaling from demand to supply, and better intermediation between them: forms that will safeguard the privacy needs of individuals and the legitimate needs of businesses. In some cases there will be no intermediation at all—just forms of agency on both sides that are friendly to each other and can interact directly. And, where intermediations are required, they will find a wide-open space for what we’ve long calledfourth parties.
To visualize the opportunities here, think of every customer as a boat afloat on a sea of goods and services, and friendly to the ecosystems where demand encourages supply at least as well as supply satisfies demand.