Thursday, May 31, 2007

Taking your online stuff offline

Now this sounds like a good idea.
Google Inc. (GOOG) said on Wednesday it had created Web software that runs both online, and offline, marking a sea change for the Internet industry by letting users work on planes, trains, spotty connections and even in the most remote locations.

The technology, called Google Gears, would allow users of computers, phones and other devices to manipulate Web services like e-mail, online calendars or news readers whether online, intermittently connected to the Web or completely offline.

By bridging the gulf between new Web services and the older world of desktop software, where any data changes are stored locally on users’ machines, Google is pushing the Web into whole new spheres of activity and posing a challenge to rival Microsoft Corp. (MSFT), leader in the desktop software era.

While I remain delighted by my Mac and the applications that I use on it, I often find myself taking advantage of Google's various on-line applications. And my wife uses those apps extensively in her business, so that she and her partner can communicate with each other and share info all the time no matter where they are.

So the ability to get that usefulness and apply it in situations where you don't have web access sounds like a new "killer app" to me.

Here's the link to the full story.

Technorati Tags:
, ,

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Myth of the Genius Designer

Usability guru Jakob Nielsen has posted a new Alertbox article called The Myth of the Genius Designer. He makes the case that even the best designer is not a replacement for sound user testing of a Web-based product. (Or other product designs, for that matter.)

It's an argument well worth considering while you're putting together your own plans, whether you're working on a new piece of software, or a user guide or an event plan. Putting the end user's needs firmly in control of the process will benefit everyone, as Neilson points out:
The real question is not whether you should use a good designer, but whether using a good designer eliminates the need for a good usability person. It doesn't.

It's wrong to rely solely on a "genius designer" for several reasons:
* You must run your project with the team you actually have, not the team you wish you had. In most companies, you won't find one of the world's top 100 interaction designers waiting around to work on your project.

* Design is an inexact science; even if you have a superb designer, not all of his or her ideas will be equally great. It's only prudent to reduce risk and subject design ideas to a reality check by user testing them with actual customers. (Remember, new ideas can be tested at low cost through techniques like paper prototypes.)

* How do designers get to be good in the first place? By learning which of their ideas work and which don't. This feedback requires empirical data, which usability testing provides.

* Even the best designers produce successful products only if their designs solve the right problems. A wonderful interface to the wrong features will fail. And how can designers find out what customers need? Through user research.

* Nobody's perfect. Even a very good design can be improved when you follow an iterative process of continuous quality improvements. For each step of the design, you should conduct a usability evaluation (testing or guideline review), and use the resulting insights as the step-climbing metric to drive your user experience to the next level of quality.

Several decades' experience with quality assurance says that the best results come from following a systematic quality process, including reality checks every step of the way, rather than simply hoping that you got it right.

If you aren't familiar with Nielsen's usability work, I recommend you visit his website to find out more. He's a guy who really practices what he preaches. For an example, read this explanation of why his site has almost no graphics.

Technorati Tags:

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Feeling blocked? Take a walk.

When I'm struggling to find the right words for a particular project, I'll grab just about any idea if it will help me get going again. Try googling Writers Block for a sample of just how desperate I can become.

But really, there's nothing that works better than sitting down and reading something good. I get energized by writers who are in control of what they're doing. I know that a lot of work goes into coming up with breezy, effortless prose that moves the point along to its inevitable conclusion. Like some wonderful things we come across in our daily life, it's an art form. And the best artists make it look easy.

Today, searching for some relief from my temporary blocked-up-ed-ness I came across an article by Garrison Keilor in Keillor is the star of NPR's Prairie Home Companion and a story-teller par excellence. He writes about what it means to be a writer, especially one with a deadline looming. And he's got some good advice on how to deal with stress.
Writers get obsessed with a project and lock the doors and sit and work at it, like animals in a leg trap trying to chew through the leg, which is not good strategy. My advice is to get out of the house and take a walk, a good first cure for the depression that hits after you've been working for a year and it dawns on you that your book is not "Huckleberry Finn" but you must finish it anyway because the publisher's generous advance has been spent on a new pair of shoes for the baby and she has worn a hole in them already, so you press on -- on -- on -- though it strikes you that the world has a great many books already and does it need yours? And the readers you most want (youth) are fixated on screens, not on paper. This is so depressing you want to tie a rock to your ankle and jump in the Mississippi, and if you remembered how to tie the knots that could hold a rock you might, but a long walk can bring you around.
I love the image of a writer caught in a trap chewing his leg off to avoid the looming deadline. There's plenty more. I recommend it even if you're not blocked up.


Technorati Tags:

Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday fun for May 25, 2007

A telemarketer's worst nightmare

Have you ever had the urge to turn the tables on a telemarketer? You know, make him or her wait on the other end of the line or figure out a way to make them feel as annoyed as you do?

Well, I found this recording of one guy who came up with quite the little scheme to make this telemarketer's life really interesting.

Give it a listen by clicking this link.

Let's slow things down a bit

Seriously slow. Remember years ago when you first saw those amazing pictures of a drop of milk exploding when it hit the ground? Or a speeding bullet, captured by a high-speed camera? I've always been captivated by slow-motion. Watching all the things that are happening so fast that you never realize what's happening.

Well, now they've got cameras that will slow things down by up to 1000 times. That will stretch a second of action out to 15 minutes!

This short video gives a good sample of what they're capable of. I don't know what program this is taken from, but I'd like to see the whole thing. Let me know if any of you find it before I do.

Here's the link.

Some serious guitar boogie

I haven't featured a guitar video for awhile...but this one is worth the wait. Maybe it's because I was tooling around on my own the other day, but listening to what a single guitar is capable of is a lot of fun. And if you like boogie, you'll like this clip. It's a bit long, but it will get your toes tapping.

Here's the link


Technorati Tags:

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Getting control of your e-mail

I'm in the fortunate position of not being inundated with e-mail anymore, thanks to not being part of a large organization. But in the past, I've been faced with dealing with hundreds of e-mails daily and struggling to figure out how to stay on top of it all.

Even now, with my daily email load significantly less, I'm still tempted to check my email more often than I should. As a result, I often let relatively insignificant matters derail my best intentions for getting things done.

So I'm always attracted (or is it distracted?) to articles with advice on how to gain back control of your in-box and other time-saving advice.

Here's the latest. It's an essay from the folks at ChangeThis, an interesting site that sends out regular collections of articles (or manifestos, as they refer to them) about living in today's digital world. They say their mission is to spread important ideas. It's a bit eclectic, but usually interesting.

Given my attraction for time-management articles, how could I resist something with this title when it showed up in my in-box?

The Low-Information Diet: How to Eliminate E-mail Overload and Triple Productivity in 24 Hours

(Click here to download the .pdf directly.)

It's written by Tim Ferriss, author of a book called "The Four-Hour Workweek." (And if you've never heard of Tim Ferriss, check out this Google Search on his name. He's a high-profile geek, to say the least.)

Ferriss's advice is not new or startling, but it's written in a straight-forward manner and backed up by some solid research. Here's a sample:
Though selective ignorance has several facets, we’ll focus on the low-information e-mail diet (here forward called the “low-information diet”), as e-mail is the single greatest time waster in modern life. Before we get into specific guidelines, the two fundamental principles of selective ignorance are
worth mentioning:
1. If you don’t define your goals clearly, everything seems important and requires action. If you define your goals clearly, especially your single most critical goal, almost all things are of little or no importance and few things require action.

2. Trying to make everyone happy—besides being impossible—is the surest way to make yourself miserable.
There are then three specific steps for following the low-information diet that we’ll explore in descending order of importance: decreasing frequency, decreasing volume, and increasing speed.

I'm intrigued by the low-information diet. I don't expect to implement it immediately, given that my volume of email is not that bad right now.

But if you or your clients are struggling with managing the daily flood of digital information, you should read the article. Your co-workers will probably thank you.

Technorati Tags:

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Customer service tales

Rick Segal is a Canadian venture capitalist who writes a blog called The Post Money Value, which is a Canadian's take on the high tech industry. It's an interesting perspective from an industry veteran.

Rick is also an airline junkie -- he's forced to fly all the time. Lately, he's been using Air Canada's unlimited North America pass.

In this post, he offers an intriguing view of Air Canada - everyone's favourite airline to hate (as I can attest to). It's called A Tale of Two Airlines - Air Canada. But it's not really about the airline. It's about what makes great customer service, and how important it is that companies understand what it takes to make them great.

Air Canada does know what it takes to give great customer service - as Rick can attest. But all too often (as his daughter points out in the other "tale") Air Canada fails to deliver. And what's worse, they don't seem to give a damn.

Rick wraps up his post with three points that every company should ask itself about how it deals with customers (these make more sense if you've read the whole post):
Are you paying attention to who you think matters to your business? You can say, everybody is equal, we strive for it, etc, but every person out there has, at one time or another, received amazing service over somebody else because of price paid, section of the venue, etc. Rachel would fly on WestJet in a second if they flew in/out of LA. Could AC doing anything to make her loyal? Should they? Again, I offer the questions not my opinion as my opinion doesn't matter in running your business.

Are you setting tone? The right tone? What struck me about the 'pillow lady' was her smile and her genuine, no problem, attitude. It was so easy to give me that pillow with, here you elitist, make 10x more money, drive nicer car, eat better cat food, than me attitude, but she didn't. It was genuine, here you go, thanks for your business. That attitude should be present for the $99 (or less) air fare. Just because I'm a Super Elite, that is not a license to dump on others. For your start up? Set the right tone with your folks. Encourage and embrace those that go the extra mile for customers. The Canadian Revenue Agency (CRA) sends an acknowledgement when you file your taxes. The letter notice starts off with Thank You. I know, there are a billion smart ass remarks you want to say, but the point is tone/attitude.

Are there lots of stories out there that mention your company? I'd probably be laughed at if I said the Air Canada pillow incident was a purple cow for me. I suspect that is a reach but my point is how many amazingly good stories are coming out of your team? David Sifry, (CEO, Technorati) many years ago, when I just fired up the blog, personally called me after I emailed in a random tech support question. Home email, cell phone, nobody blogger. He didn't know (or care) I was a VC or that I knew the toll booth lady on the GG bridge. He just dived in and answered the question. Purple Cow. How many stories about your business are being created this week? Today? An hour ago?

I've written about customer service - good and bad - before but I don't think it ever gets worn out as a topic. Think about how often you come into contact with a company via their front lines - a receptionist at an office, the ticket agent at the counter, the voice on the other end of the phone. Those are the contacts that will make or break the relationship. They have to be good.

Seth Godin is another marketing guru I quote often. (He's the guy that coined the "purple cow" term that Rick Segal mentioned in his post.) Last week, he had a post that talked about how to be a great receptionist. The advice works for a lot of positions. And it brings up two challenges for today's corporations. First, how to get your managers to buy into this concept? And the second is how to get employees to feel the same way? Hint -- They're not different answers.

Got any ideas? Use the comment button below to share your experiences.

Technorati Tags:

Friday, May 18, 2007

Friday fun for May 18, 2007

Last week, I was a day late with the Friday fun Upload, and here it is, over half the day gone and I'm only now sending out this one. Oh you'll see from some of the items I found for you this week, time is a bit of a premium for me right now. No matter when you're reading this, take the time to enjoy noodling around. There's some fun stuff here.

Strange Statues

There's not much point in introducing this segment. The images are pretty self-explanatory. And the site title says it all -- these are some weird (and wonderful) statues.

- Link


One thing I'm short on right now is probably the same thing everyone else is. Time. There just isn't as much of it as there used to be. Money's like that too, now that I think of it. But you can have fun with time, if you know what you're doing. If anybody can figure out how to turn this page into a screensaver, let me know.

- Link

Express Yourself

Are you a budding Picasso? Or just want to express yourself...take a look at this site. And be sure to look at some of the other paintings that have been done before. It's a cool application.


The end of it all

And finally...It's the long weekend here in Canada. We call it Victoria Day. Or in some parts of the country, the May Two Four weekend. We care about things like this in the Great White North. But enough research. It's time to step away from the computer and go outside and enjoy the weekend.



Technorati Tags:

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Proud (but disappointed) Papa - NCAA edition

Sadly, Kelly and her teammates on the Louisville Cardinals Division 1 Womens' Rowing team are not going to be going to the NCAA championships in two weeks.

The NCAA announced the 16 teams that would be attending, and the Cardinals are not on the list.

Kelly's response, not surprisingly, was short and pointed.

"Absolute b#%@#*%@! Nobody made it. This is ridiculous and unfair," she wrote me in a furious text message minutes after the news was posted on the Internet.

The team's hopes had been high a few weeks ago that they would finally be invited to the prestigious national championships for the first time. But in the last few weeks, they have been frustrated by the weekly rankings, which seemed to be ignoring their positive results, while other teams they had beaten seemed to get the benefit of the doubt.

It's not the first time the Cardinals feel like they've been denied a place they should have received. The news was similar last year. Fortunately, the selection process is supposed to change next year, when it will be based on a more transparent system which should get rid of these kinds of controversies.

Alas, the subjective nature of the ranking system means that no one really knows the criteria that go into the final decision. So although there seemed to be a lot of competition among the schools, the predictable teams will be there again this year.

The championships will be held May 25-27 at Melton Hill Lake in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.

For Kelly, that's the end of her freshman collegiate rowing season, which has to be ranked as a tremendous success. She gained valuable experience and scored personal bests several times in her erg scores. And she's got three more years ahead of her.

She's heading up to Hamilton for a couple of weeks, then she's going to be coming out to Victoria for the rest of the summer. She'll be rowing with the UVIC team here over the summer and participating in the Henley Regatta in St. Catherines in August.

What about your other kids, Dave?
Good point. It's been awhile since I updated any of you on Jaime and Cory, isn't it?

Cory is now living at our cottage in Buena Vista, just outside of Regina. He moved out from Hamilton in February and settled in at the lake as soon as the weather warmed up. He's enjoying the place a lot.

In a couple of weeks, he'll be starting work in the oil fields in Alberta, which he's looking forward to. He'll be on a 2 weeks on, 1 week off cycle and he'll be at the beach when he's not at work. It's hard work, but compared to what he used to be doing as a bricklayer's apprentice, it should be a piece of cake.

Jaime has just started another work term with the provincial government here in Victoria as part of her recreation and health program at UVIC. She's taking some time off from competitive rowing this spring in favour of working full time. And she's loving every minute of it. After 7 years of getting up at 5:00 am every morning, heading off to work seems like a breeze.

She's not sure whether she'll be rowing in the fall again or not. Only time will tell.

And me? Well...let's just say that I'm not rowing either. But we finally got some roof racks for our kayaks, so look out!

Technorati Tags:

Pandora access stops in Canada too

Well, I've now been cut off Pandora, unfortunately.

After I wrote last week about Pandora sending out notices to people outside the US, I was happy to notice that I was still able to get the service. But it didn't last.

Yesterday, I got this note from Pandora founder Tim Westergren:
Dear Pandora listener,

Today we have some extremely disappointing news to share with you. Due to international licensing constraints, we are deeply, deeply sorry to say that we must begin proactively preventing access to Pandora's streaming service from Canada. We began blocking access from almost all countries outside the U.S. last week and had originally hoped to maintain access to Canada. However, it has become clear in the last week that we just haven't been able to make enough progress to continue streaming.

It is difficult to convey just how disappointing this is for us. Our vision remains to eventually make Pandora a truly global service, but for the time being, we can no longer continue as we have been. As a small company, the best chance we have of realizing our dream of Pandora all around the world is to grow as the licensing landscape allows.

I really hope that they are able to work out licensing arrangements in Canada. It's a great service and I've enjoyed discovering new music through it.

Technorati Tags:

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Friday fun for May 11, 2007

I know this post is a day late...but I got busy and forgot I had some good stuff to show you. Good weekend fun too, so I don't think you'll mind it a day late.

Two items for your perusal this week.

The 100-year-old blog

Like me, you probably thought that weblogs (or blogs) were a relatively new phenomenon. Well, think again. OK, I'm kidding. But suppose for a minute that social media tools were around back at the turn of the last century (the 20th, I mean.) This blog will show you what I mean. There are a lot of interesting photos, some that will make you smile, some that are chilling. But they're all interesting.

Here's the link. You'll see what I mean.

Running the numbers

This guy makes big, big pictures. I can only imagine what they'd look like if we could see them live...but it's when you look closer that you realize just how much of an impact they're making. These large prints are made up of thousands of smaller photos and they're designed to make a statement about consumption.

It's a powerful and compelling story.

Here's the link.

Next week, I'll try to make my Friday deadline. Enjoy.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

The emerging usefulness of social networks

Dan York's Disruptive Conversations blog has a great story about how Twitter and Facebook helped him find a pair of cowboy boots in Ottawa.

Intrigued? Follow the link to see the whole post.

Here's the link.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Lobbying pays dividends for the movie industry

There's a disturbing example in today's Globe and Mail of the effect of lobbying in our political (and media) worlds.

Michael Geist (a U of Ottawa law professor who specializes in copyright issues) writes about the issue in his blog today:
Others have noted the Globe and Mail's one-sided coverage of the camcording story, however, there is one paragraph in today's story that requires an additional comment. In its front page story, the Globe reports:

Canada - particularly Montreal - is known as one of the world's worst offenders for piracy, rivalling places such as China, Lebanon and the Philippines. A Motion Picture Association analysis of counterfeit discs in 2005 revealed close to 75 per cent of all films illegally camcorded in Canada were recorded in theatres in and around Montreal, recently identified as the No. 1 city in the world for surreptitious camcording.

This claim bears little relation to reality. While it is possible that Montreal is responsible for three-quarters of Canadian camcording, Canada is not known as one of the world's worst offenders for piracy. While I have previously criticized the USTR's Special 301 List, this year's list identified at least a dozen countries for the "priority" watch list - Canada was not among them. Moreover, the claim that Montreal is the world's leading source of camcording is rebutted by today's Los Angeles Times, which reports an MPAA claim that New York was responsible for 20 percent worldwide camcording (last week they said 40 percent). According to the MPAA, the world's leading source of pirated movies is the United States, home to the anti-camcording laws that supposedly solve the problem. The MPAA says that 43 percent of pirated movies are sourced to the U.S. and now says that 20 percent come from Canada. Leaving aside the ongoing inconsistency of the industry claims, there is no disputing that the MPAA itself has identified New York, not Montreal, as the number one city for camcording.

The Globe's coverage is unfortunate, but the comments coming from MPs in today's papers leave little doubt that change will happen. Canadian Heritage Minister Bev Oda says the issue is on the government's agenda and MPs from the opposition parties, including Liberals Dan McTeague, Roy Cullen, and Marlene Jennings as well as the NDP's Brian Masse are all on record supporting legal change (in fact, Jennings says she is working on another private member's bill on the issue to go with her lawful access bill). With that level of support, neither the facts nor the inaccurate reporting really matter at this stage as it would appear that legislation is a matter of when, not if.

Geist has a couple of other posts here and here with more on this whole business. It bothers me that the issue seems to involve everything but the truth.

Putting the green back in the grocery business

I was sitting at the kitchen table this afternoon, working away on my computer (my office has been taken over by three young boys who have taken over my computer network to play Runescape!) when I heard a soft voice calling from the front doorway.

"Hello? Hello? I've brought your groceries in...hello?"

"What the...?" I wondered. I don't get a lot of visitors and they don't usually bring me food.

Just as I made it to the door, I saw a young guy in shorts and T-shirt, with a bicycle helmet, making his way down our front walk. It was the guy from, who had just dropped off our weekly delivery of organic produce. But this week, he was delivering it using his fancy bicycle trailer, which carries about two dozen Rubbermaid containers. It's quite the rig.

I wish I could show you a picture of this contraption, but my camera is still in the shop for repairs. But I can't resist telling you about this cool little company that brings organic produce you've ordered over the Internet, right to your door.

SPUD, for those who haven't heard of it, stands for Small Potatoes Urban Delivery. It's a web-based business, where customers receive weekly emails about what's available, pick out what they want, send their order in, and it shows up the next week at your door.

It started in Vancouver in 1997, and has since grown to locations around Vancouver, Vancouver Island (including Victoria, where I am), Calgary and into the US.

The website has a good explanation of how the service works and a history of the company, put together by founder David van Seters.

Here's a short excerpt:
After completing a study on the economics of sustainable community food systems, I felt I had identified an ideal business - an organic food delivery company. Such a business would have numerous benefits. It could:

* protect the environment by buying local, organic, minimally packaged, and eco-friendly products;

* build community by creating more direct connections between food producers and consumers;

* reduce traffic congestion and pollution by delivering groceries on a set route;

* educate customers about important food issues through a weekly newsletter; and

* donate leftover food to food outreach groups and disadvantaged families.

Finally, by operating from a low rent warehouse, the avoided cost of a commercial retail space could be put into delivery vehicles, thereby offering customers the convenience of home delivery for no extra cost than they would pay at their local grocery store.

I like the concept and I think it illustrates a viable mix of conventional business (the grocery store) making use of today's Web technology to deliver a useful product.

Your order arrives between 9 am and 9 pm on your delivery day, and your day depends on where you live. Most of the products are organic and you receive a print-out showing you how many kilometres everything you bought had to be trucked. There's a preference given to local producers and even a nifty newsletter added to every order.

Maybe it's because I'm so busy with my business these days (not that I'm complaining, understand!) that I am attracted to success stories like this. I like the integration of technology and savvy. It's a good combination. Check out their website. If they're in your area, I recommend you give it a try.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Proud Papa Update -- Kentucky Derby edition

Today is Derby day in Louisville -- when the whole city shuts down and goes crazy for the Kentucky Derby. And guess who will be attending this year -- dressed in her formal gown and a trendy turquoise hat? That's right -- Kelly is going to the Derby!

We got a phone call this morning from a very excited daughter.

"Guess where I'm going??!!" she said as soon as the call was put through.

"You're going to the Derby?" screamed back her mother, who was even more excited than Kelly, if that was possible.

It turns out that a friend's mother had an extra ticket and so they were wondering whether Kelly might be interested in joining them in box seats on the finish line? Hard to believe, but true. Who knows? Maybe she'll even meet the Queen, who's attending the race as part of her visit to the US. The Queen will be watching from Millionaire's Row, which Heather and Kelly had a tour of in February, when Heather visited Louisville.

I don't know whether Kelly found a camera to take with her or not, but if she sends some pics I'll post some links. I'm sure she's going to have a great time.

It's a busy weekend for Kelly. This morning, she moved out of her dorm at the University of Louisville (school actually finished a week ago) and into her new house that she's renting with three of her rowing teammates. Then she's at the derby in the afternoon, and her fancy rowing wrap-up banquet tomorrow night. But her rowing season isn't quite over yet.

Next weekend Louisville will be racing in the NCAA Regional finals and they've got a pretty good chance of making it to the National finals, which are going to be held in Oak Ridge Tennessee, in three weeks. It would be the first time that Louisville has made it to the National Championships, and I've got all my fingers and toes crossed for them.

Technorati Tags:

Friday, May 04, 2007

Friday fun for May 4, 2007

This week, a selection of landscape photography photos that are simply spectacular. They are the kind of pictures that most of us only dream of creating.

Here's the link to the website.


Technorati Tag:

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Pandora users outside the US are going to be cut off

Well, this sucks.
If you live outside of the U.S. and enjoy listening to customized radio stations on Pandora, brace yourself for some bad news. The site will be shutting you out starting Thursday evening. Registered users who access the service from outside the U.S. received a warning email yesterday letting them know that this will be happening.

Pandora operates under Section 114 of the DMCA, which gives them a clear process for paying rights holders in the U.S. There is no international equivalent of the DMCA, and so to operate legally in other countries, Pandora must sign deals with rights holders directly. That means separate deals with labels and publishers for each song, an extremely difficult and time consuming task.

Pandora has always made it clear on the site that it is for U.S. users only, and requires a U.S. zip code for registration. That didn’t stop many international users from registering anyway, using “90210″ or another famous zip code to get access to the service. Now, with IP-based filtering, users will be forced to go through proxy servers or other complicated mechanisms for getting to the music.

I spoke with CTO Tom Conrad this evening about the change. He says Pandora has been working on international rights deals for nearly two years now, and they hope to have enough deals done in the UK and Canada to launch in those countries soon. Other markets will take longer, he says.

Here's the link to the story on TechCrunch.

Technorati Tags:

Net radio copyright fee date pushed back

There's a glimmer of good news for Internet radio stations. CNET has a report that the implementation date for the contentious copyright royalty fee increases has been pushed back. (See previous posts here and here)
The U.S. Copyright Royalty Board has pushed back the date on which a contentious fee hike for Internet radio broadcasters takes effect.

In a 32-page final rule (PDF) formally published Monday, the three-judge panel within the Library of Congress set July 15 as the date that the new royalty rates required of Net radio operators will kick in--two months later than the original deadline.

After more than a year of vetting outside submissions, the judges issued an initial ruling on March 2, drawing widespread outcry from large and small commercial Webcasters and the public radio community.

The board prescribed rate hikes of .08 cents per song per listener retroactive to 2006 and then 30 percent each year until 2010, when they would climb to .19 cents per song per listener. It also said each station would have to hand over a minimum $500 royalty payment.

SoundExchange, the non-profit entity that collects the fees and supported the hikes, has said the CRB's changes are necessary to compensate artists adequately.

A group called SaveNetRadio, whose members include Internet radio listeners, Webcasters and artists, says the decision will cripple the Internet radio medium if left untouched. It is supporting a new House of Representatives bill that would invalidate the board's decision in favor of setting a level rate for all digital music services, including satellite, cable and Internet radio and Internet-based jukeboxes.

Here's the link to the story

Technorati Tags:

World Press Freedom Day

Today, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day. Over at, they've put together a package of information about the day.

From the introduction:
The rights to life and to liberty and integrity and security of person and also to freedom of expression are fundamental human rights that are recognized and guaranteed by international conventions and instruments.” (UNESCO Resolution, General Conference 1997)

May 3rd is the annual World Press Freedom Day. This year’s theme is violence against journalists. MediaChannel has put together this special coverage package with resources for those concerned about freedom of the press.

UNESCO is celebrating World Press Freedom Day in Medellin, Colombia, where the 2007 UNESCO/Guillermo Cano Press Freedom Prize is being awarded posthumously to the slain Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Here's the link to the website.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

One guy's flotsam is another's jetsam

Let's slot this into the "See? Some good can come of anything," file, shall we?

This story comes from Science News via Boing Boing:

David Pescovitz: Fifteen years, ago a shipping container fell off a boat crossing the Pacific, spilling tens of thousands of rubber duckies, turtles, and other bath toys. The mishap was actually helpful for oceanographers who to this day occasionally find the toys and use their recovery location and time as data points in their study of ocean currents. This is just one example of how scientists count on floating junk in their efforts to map and understand subcurrents and other ocean phenomena. Interestingly, random bits of flotsam can sometimes work better than electronic devices designed for this purpose due to the limitations of battery power and algae growth that can block the sensors. From Science News:

Worldwide, about 10,000 cargo containers fall overboard each year. In most parts of the world, the dispersal of flotsam isn't of major interest to researchers. But along the bustling trade routes that link eastern Asia to North America, the tennis shoes, kids' sandals, hockey gloves, and other stuff that drops off ships is enabling scientists to fill in details of how the Pacific Subarctic Gyre works.

Often, the lost items float and can be readily identified as coming from a ship at a certain location. Recently, (retired oceanographer Curtis) Ebbesmeyer and his colleagues used almost a century of data from such floating objects to map the gyre's major subcurrents and swirls.

Now, for the first time, scientists have determined that a lap around the Pacific Subarctic Gyre takes about 3 years. That information, in turn, led Ebbesmeyer and his colleagues to identify long-term variations in water temperature and salinity in the North Pacific that hadn't been noted previously.

All this from studying flotsam...

...The flotsam-researchers' techniques may not seem scientifically rigorous, comments Richard Thomson of the institute (of Ocean Sciences) in Sidney. However, he adds, "with oceanographers, the more data, the better. ... [Studying flotsam] is one of the few ways to get it."

Link to the original story

And here's a link to a Wikipedia article on flotsam and jetsam, just in case you can't get enough of this stuff.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

What happens if sources stop talking to reporters?

One of the built-in contradictions (or is it a connundrum?) of the news-gathering business is that at the same time reporters are struggling to tell a story, they are forced to edit it like crazy.

When I was a reporter, I would routinely come back to the office with a notebook full of notes and quotes. I'd have various hand-outs that someone had given me, and often a tape recorder with the verbatim of the interviews I'd just done. Then I'd have to sit down and "tell the story" pulling the quotes and information that I thought worked in the story I was writing.

And that's the problem. I like to think I was a good reporter and that I managed to convey the "real" story, without being influenced by my own biases or preconceived notions of what the story was. But of course, that's just wishful thinking. I was as much a part of the story as anyone else involved. Most of the people involved in the news business understand this - especially in the political world, which is where I spent most of my time. That's why "sources" tended to deliver the goods to certain reporters. They had a pretty good idea in advance what kind of reception their comments would get and how the story would probably come out. That's the way the game was played.

Times change
In today's news environment (I've been out of the business for 12 years now) the rules have changed. Things like the 24-hour news cycle, the Internet, instant communications, blogs, company websites, etc, are putting all kinds of new pressures on the conventional reporters and editors that bring us the news. We're living through an information revolution and who knows how it will work itself out. Perhaps it won't. Continual change now seems to be a given in our world.

But however much the news-gathering process has changed, most reporters still depend on time-honored tools, like conducting interviews with their subjects, then digesting the results, choosing the appropriate "best parts" and presenting the story as a unified whole. The reporter as narrator provides the overall commentary and his sources contribute quotes and ideas at the appropriate places.

That's how I did it. In fact, that's still how I work, when I'm writing stories. But the problem is how often the "sources" in the story are uncomfortable with the result. They spent 10 minutes, or an hour or more chatting with the reporter. They answered a variety of questions and covered a whole range of subjects. But the final story might contain only a single quote, and often they don't like the way it looks in print. I often ended up writing stories that I thought were accurate and others seemed to think so - but not the subjects of the story. And this didn't just happen to print reporters. If anything, radio and TV reporters had to be even more ruthless, compressing everything down to five second clips that backed up what they were saying.

So back to the question that sparked this post. What if those sources decide not to talk to reporters anymore? What if the specialists and "smart people" that reporters always look for decide they don't want to play that game anymore? What if they have their own blog, where they can write about the issue, but do it in their own words? What if they don't need reporters to get their point of view out? And, most importantly, what if the public can just search on Google or Technorati under a hot topic and find those points of view themselves? Where does that leave our traditional reporting?

So many questions
There are a lot of questions and I don't have the answers. But the discussion is on-going and worth watching and thinking about. I welcome your thoughts on this in the comments.

What got me started on this was a column by Jay Rosen, in his PressThink blog, called Last Week That Man Tried to Run You Over. Why Are You Having Dinner With Him? It's about the New York Times recent decision to pull out of participating in the White House Correspondents Association Dinner.

I'll let you read it for yourself, but what I wanted to note was Rosen talking about a couple of recent incidents where he was interviewed by reporters because of his status as a journalism professor. And while he was not misquoted, the way the results of the interview were used met the journalists' needs, but did not necessarily reflect Rosen's own views.

Here's an excerpt:

Two weeks ago, Jim Rutenberg, a Times correspondent in the Washington bureau, interviewed me about the upcoming Correspondents dinner and in particular the choice of 70’s-era comedian, Rich Little, after last year’s funny man, Stephen Colbert, held the press and president—and the dinner itself—up to extremely effective ridicule. This is not the opinion of the journalists who were there, of course, Rutenberg included. In his view Colbert “just wasn’t funny.”

Rutenberg’s article made me wish I had followed, in this instance, blogger Dave Winer’s policy. When asked for a phone or e-mail interview, he usually declines. “If you have a few questions, send them along, and if I have something to say, I’ll write a blog post, which of course you’re free to quote,” he said last week. Responding to Winer, and to this event with Jason Calacanis and Wired magazine, Jeff Jarvis wrote: “The interview is outmoded and needs to be rethought.”

I know I’m rethinking it. Rutenberg and I had a pretty detailed conversation about the put down of the establishment press under Bush, certain failures of imagination in Washington journalism, the interpretation of Colbert’s performance in 2006, and the “musty” feel that the invitation to Rich Little had. I pointed out, for example, that Little was at his peak at roughly the same cultural moment that the Washington press coprs was at its peak in the afterglow of Watergate.

But what Jim needed me for was the bloggers vs. journalists debate. “In hiring an impersonator practiced in an old-school approach to comedy, meant to entertain but not offend, the White House Correspondents’ Association has, however, provoked left-leaning political activists, who see his assignment as a retreat from last year’s dinner.” (Subtext: Wow, the left is as angry with the press as the right was. Just listen to the so-called Net roots attack us for not carrying their message.)

What I think we will see more of is people participating actively in both the "old" and "new" media. It will start with people like Rosen, who have their own blog. He may well still grant interviews to people, but he'll offer his own transcripts on his website, or in his blog. We're already seeing that sort of thing more often, where someone will write that they were interviewed for some show, and post a transcript of the interview. The show might include only part of it, but the entire interview is available. That didn't used to happen.

As news junkies, we will now be able to do more of our sleuthing to find out all the details about a story and make up our own minds on an issue. We can watch the news conference live (not just edited clips later), then we can visit the various sites of the groups involved and get their side of the story. Then we can watch the various stories produced and see how they interpret the material that we've also been able to look at.

I know that sounds like a lot of work but as our technology develops, we'll be able to find those original sources as effortlessly as changing the channel on our TV. I think it will make for a more news coverage. We will still have "star" reporters who are visible and trusted, but they will have earned our respect by what they do - not by what they're told by people who know the "real" story. And that's OK with me.