Postmodernism Marches On (Although Most Still Don’t See It)

Postmodernism — that is the new cultural era brought about by the advent of the internet and the web — is advancing far from the sight of those whose oxen are being gored in the process. Call it what you wish, but long after I’m gone, and on into the centuries to come, the empowering of the people will continue. Chaos will be the on‐the‐table discussion item in the years ahead, because those people who are latched onto the tit of logical and rational modernism can see only chaos with anything else. Always remember the precision of Henry Adams’ observation that the way of nature is chaos, but the dream of man is order.

Let me state emphatically, too, that chaos is in the eye of the beholder. To the postmodernist, there’s nothing inherently chaotic about this new era, only that it is a welcome change from the silos of logic and reason to the breath of creative fresh air.

Even now, the evidence of the conflict between the old (modernism) and the new (postmodernism) is everywhere. It’s in every human institution, like a slimy monster that fits itself into places where it seemingly doesn’t belong and challenges us to rethink just about everything and especially the form of personal advancement known as “credentials” or “expertise.” Jeff Jarvis refers to such as “the high priests” of culture, those who’ve managed their way to the top through their lineage, schooling, hard work, luck, and especially through the protections in place to help those already near the top and to make it difficult for everybody else. Witness the current scandal involving the purchase of bogus “scholarships” to access the best universities in the land. This is a logical behavior in a world that values credentials based on schooling.

As C.S. Lewis wrote in his commencement speech at King’s College, University of London, in 1944 titled “The Inner Ring,” once a person makes it into the inner circle, she defaults to making it harder for others to get inside.

“…your genuine Inner Ring exists for exclusion. There’d be no fun if there were no outsiders. The invisible line would have no meaning unless most people were on the wrong side of it. Exclusion is no accident; it is the essence.”

Protected knowledge is that which separates everyday people from the experts in a logical, modernist culture. For example, it’s what gives doctors the fortitude to suggest that their medical degree beats Google searching, but this is merely self‐preservation in a chaotic tsunami of informed patients. This will rage on, and it has already partially disrupted the authority of the physician. It’s not that she isn’t an expert anymore; it’s just that her expertise — with its incumbent authority — isn’t what it used to be. This conflict will continue until we find and accept that we’re all better off with such knowledge. The medical industry? Not so much.

We all have personal stories of how the institutions of the West have failed us in one way or another. The simple truth here is that the “push” world is being replaced by one that “pulls,” and no matter how many lawyers get involved, the rise of the people — those who’ve today known a freedom that our ancestors never imagined — will not go backwards. Look, information is power, and power that is distributed horizontally in a democracy will forever tip the scales away from absolutism at the top, much to the dismay of those at the top of the modernist pyramid.

Try to search ANY medical condition, and you’ll find at least one group of people with that condition who are ready and able to help those newly diagnosed. If one’s medical degree is, in fact, the be all and end all, then why are these groups forming? It’s because, for a great many people, medicine has its own fatted calf to protect, and its needs are not always in the best interests of patients. As long as the A.M.A. governs medical practice in the U.S., the practice of medicine will never be fully patient‐friendly. The demands on practitioners is so great each and every day now that they simply don’t have the time or the inclination to discuss or argue medicine with patients. And that is to their great shame. Higher education doesn’t make you smarter; it merely positions you for scaling the imaginary cultural ladder.

In his seminal argument, Everything Is Miscellaneous, Harvard author David Weinberger makes the case that no knowledge storage retrieval system that humans can possibly create could ever outdo basic search. This is the “pull” concept in long form. Knowledge can’t be sorted into any directory system that can compete with search. From grocery store shelves to libraries to any institutional silo, it’s impossible to even come close to the efficiency of search. And search has gotten so good that even coming close on a guess often leads to what the user is actually seeking. This is not about to go backwards, so those who insist that THEY can organize their goods in such a way that physical proximity is necessary are being quite ridiculous. After all, these sorts of organizations exist to advance themselves, and it doesn’t matter to them if consumers are inconvenienced.

But, Terry, what if shoppers need what they’re seeking NOW? Enter Amazon’s new “same day” delivery. This is a powerful game‐changer that’s getting very little publicity, but just try to imagine a downstream scenario in which such a service is thriving. Amazon has turned the entire retail system on its head already. People will soon come to accept such and will revel in the magic of it all. Imagine the time saving! Shoppers won’t have to go store‐to‐store in order to find something; they’ll simply search for it online, and it will come to them. This is uniquely postmodern, because stripping away hierarchies is the logical future of empowered people. Grocery chains offer pick‐up service, and while that’s nice, it can’t compete with same‐day home delivery via Instacart. This will change. I promise you.

And now comes Amazon Prime Wardrobe, where the company will send a box of clothes pre‐selected by the user along with a handy convertible box which is used to send that which the customer doesn’t want back to the company. This eliminates the need for the store and the booth in which we try on clothes and moves the whole process to the living room or bedroom (or whatever). So, the customer gets a box of clothes, picks out what he wants, is charged for those, and returns the rest at no cost to him. This is designed to further destroy the value proposition of retail clothing shops, and for Amazon, it’s a way to say “anything you can do, I can do better.”

Those who fear that this horizontal empowerment itself will lead to future hierarchies are stuck in the past and fearful of Orwell’s 1984. The problem with this thinking is that the web provides the same opportunities to Aunt Helen that it does to Big Brother, for the web views them as identical. This is just one of the many reasons we fought so hard for net neutrality. The internet belongs to the people, and although we lost the first round on the issue — it’s a modernist response to the loss of control — we’ll be back and better prepared for what happens next.

Postmodernism is moving power to the base of the pyramid, while institutional power must be at the top. When people at the bottom seize the power given them through the net, they’ll never give it back willingly. So, we’re in for turbulent times as the culture groans in reaction to what it views as an assault, and there’s nothing new to this. The same thing happened with the dawn of the printing press and for the same reasons. At that time, the power was with Rome and the church. When Gutenberg had the audacity to print a Bible, the shit hit the fan, for the priests knew well the danger of putting “the word” in the hands of everyday people, and they were right. The reformation would never have happened, if only Rome held access to the book’s contents. It was John Wycliffe’s common language translation that led him to say, “This book shall make possible government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” The same concept is alive and well today.

In fact, it’s fair to say that the years following Gutenberg produced the same kind of Western response that we’re seeing today. Erotica was one of the first genres to be printed. Rome wanted to establish a licensing arrangement where only they could approve of those who wanted to print the Bible. It didn’t work, and the power of the Vatican in all matters cultural slowly but steadily slipped away.

Christian institutions ignore the web today and press for top‐down control, which is kicking against the pricks of culture’s progressive but steady march. It’s not hard to understand, because all they know is a stage and the audience. They want little to do with the work of a more horizontal experience, because they simply cannot trust people who aren’t on the podium. “They’ll never get it right,” the thinking goes, “if they don’t have a group of educated higher‐ups holding their hands.” Such nonsense. Look where we are today with Christian leaders saying that Donald Trump was ordained by God in the manner of the ancient Persian King Cyrus. This flagrantly false and misleading reference is so dangerous that we’ve become a people tripping up a step that isn’t there.

The hue and cry over fake news is another example of the modernist crowd screaming for control. I don’t deny this is an area that needs our attention, but it’s nothing more than a Trojan Horse foisted upon us by the top‐down and right‐wing crowds in an attempt to frighten us into submission. The originators of fake news came from the law and order right wing of American politics. In olden days, we used to call this “propaganda,” but it reached new pinnacles with the horizontal nature of the web. The right wing’s response to the clamor was simply to label opponents “fake” in order to hide their own mischief. In the wake of New Zealand, we now have people demanding that we regulate social media. This is akin to swatting a fly with an atomic bomb. We wish to shield our children from everything we went through (or “could” have gone through), and in so doing we’re preventing them from experiencing the very things that shaped our own character. It’s like beating our kids over the head with a 2x4 rather than giving our permission for them to scrape their knees.

The managers of the status quo come from two different groups — the lawyers, those rule‐bound grifters who suck the life out of everything they touch and turn it into profit for themselves and those they represent — God bless ’em — and the world of business, where players sell their souls for profit and suppress anyone who stands in the way, including the government and especially the poor. The more people become aware of this, the more they’re going to object, and nothing will be impossible for them.

After me, there will be a sweeping constitutional convention to address all of this, because our government was formed in a previous cultural era and is insufficient to govern people who are connected horizontally. Traditions will be given more weight than today, perhaps even equal to laws, for traditions can be discussed and argued whereas our laws are currently given to us by lawmakers, those who exist at the pyramid’s top and therefore have their own self‐centered wants and needs. Influence will slowly move to the bottom, although new forms of hierarchies are quite likely. The buck still has to end somewhere, at least that’s the way I think today.

Much is given to the politics of those who have the final say in our laws, the Supreme Court. The law says there shall be no litmus test for the selection of those who make it to this upper bench, but that is just lip‐service. And, while we are kept busy with arguments about, for example, abortion or religious freedom, the most glaring political difference in the selection of nominees is the extent to which each supports business or the rights of workers. This is the real differentiator, because real power in our culture is a struggle between the top of the pyramid and the bottom. Everything else is a side show.

The Bible says the poor will always be with us, and it’s our reaction to this truth that is the great determinator of our response. If it gets in the way of those at the top, then it’s thought to be a nuisance to be ignored or even made worse, and this is another revelation that comes with empowering the bottom. Civil war in America today would not be political nearly so much as it would be class‐motivated, and this energy has grown, in my view, during the Trump election and administration. So far, Republicans (the silk stocking crowd) have been successful at keeping the truth from their bottom supporters through arguments about religion and abortion, but that will not last forever.

Information is power, and power has a way of opening eyes.

Look, I know we’re in a season of cynicism and confusion, but please do not underestimate — under any circumstances — the power of the masses in determining their own government. This was Wycliffe’s point back in the 15th Century, and it’s the point today in the wake of the web.

If I had any influence on the Democrats, this is the message I would pound home to the people. It’s the money. It’s all about the money. Modernist thinking, however, forces the discussion to the box of “what new policies will you put in place instead?” This moves the narrative away from simply fixing what’s wrong to providing solutions ahead of time, so that they can be analyzed and dismissed by those at the top. That’s the cart before the horse and the source of our current gridlock.

If the base of the pyramid crumbles, the top will have no backs on which to stand. Think about it.

Why YouTube Red is the future

YouTubeRedsmI’ve been a subscriber of YouTube Red for the last month, and I’m completely sold on its model and its virtues, so much so that I think this is the one everybody in the content distribution world should be copying. Not only does it provide me with the greatest consumer experience possible, but it actually encourages me to spend even more time with YouTube.

No advertisements. Zero. Zip. Nada. That’s the draw, and it’s one in which everybody wins. The only way in for those wishing to do commerce is to participate as content providers. It is the essential distribution point for content marketing, and some of the best content on YouTube is advertiser content such as movie trailers, celebrity interviews, and much, much more.

And I’m personally thrilled that Google is the one to present this, for these guys figured out a long time ago that a clean and simple product such as free search could open vast doors of wealth in ancillary products and services. Good for them.

YouTube Red overcomes the taxonomy challenge of any publisher who wants people to find their content, whether published today or many yesterdays ago. As David Weinberger has taught us, there is no organizational system that humankind can create that will ever surpass the efficiency of search. YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world, second only to Google itself.

It also provides the front end for a micropayment service for artists of every stripe, and this thrills me for the future of the arts. The whole thing is what many of us envisioned long ago when we first attempted to understand the magnificence of the network and connectivity. This will continue to evolve, and Google continues to prove that what used to be impossible is actually very doable today. It is a breathtaking time to be alive.

The model of YouTube Red works in ways that I don’t even know yet, and it stands as one of the most important applications for study since the advent of the Web itself. My ability to create an endless stream of music videos that play in the background while I’m doing my work beats any mp3 system anywhere, because the cost to me is just $10 a month. Hell, my time alone is worth vastly more than $10 a month. TV viewing comes without interruptions, assuming the programs I enjoy are available on YouTube, and you’d be surprised at the volume of entertaining videos that exist in its library. In my view, this is where the future of video distribution will take place.

Facebook wants to take some of this away from Google, of course, but Facebook’s big weakness is that so far the ease of distribution of its videos beyond the walled garden of Facebook isn’t nearly what YouTube offers. This will eventually work against Mr. Zuckerberg and his wishes to take over the world. Don’t get me wrong; I love Facebook, but I also love the open Web and the idea that I can provide “my” videos anywhere I wish to make them available, including (at least for now) Facebook.

I’ve written previously that YouTube has reinvented advertising for videos via the Web with its 4‐second pre‐rolls, but once you experience the same videos without even those, there’s just no going back.

Color me happy and amazed.

Google rewards responsive design

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 8.24.35 AMThe search engine giant (and smart, smart, smart network master) is tweaking its MOBILE search algorithm, and the result could be a disaster of Biblical proportions for all those TV station websites still clinging to the bloated design of popular CMS providers. As I’ve written a billion times, the path to downstream irrelevancy for broadcasters is clinging to old models, and these CMS templates are as old as it gets in web years. According to the AP, Google’s move will take place Tuesday and will “sway where millions of people shop, eat and find information.”

Google’s move will push every online provider to be more “mobile friendly,” and most TV station websites aren’t.

To stay in Google’s good graces, websites must be designed so they load quickly on mobile devices. Content must also be easily accessible by scrolling up and down — without having to also swipe to the left or right. It also helps if all buttons for making purchases or taking other actions on the website can be easily seen and touched on smaller screens.

If a website has been designed only with PC users in mind, the graphics take longer to load on mobile devices and the columns of text don’t all fit on the smaller screens, to the aggravation of someone trying to read it.

Google has been urging websites to cater to mobile device for years, mainly because that is where people are increasingly searching for information.

Go read the whole article via NetNewsCheck, because it’s filled with important stuff.

The essence of the problem is that local broadcasters are still competing with each other online. They’re trying to be TV stations online, because they cannot or will not look beyond their own industry to see what’s really happening in the networked world. TV stations are mass media vehicles and the “broad” in broadcasting is rightly interpreted as one‐stop‐shops for all entertainment and information. This is ridiculous online, but TV people keep adding content and sections to their sites. And of course when you do this, you feel obligated to provide a doorway to all that precious cargo, so deep navigation becomes an essential part of any page. Moreover, an interrupted television signal is an emergency for broadcast stations, so the same paranoia is applied to their websites, which elevates the importance of stability in their approach to content management. These are the things to which broadcasters cling, and Google is about to shove it all right up their backsides. Why? Because none of it is “mobile friendly.”

And good luck with those apps of yours, too. If Google’s spiders can’t see it, it means nothing in search.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This post is an addendum to my essay Time to Revisit Our Mobile Strategy.

Whither Apple: It’s the infrastructure, stupid!

Apple LogoIf you’ve not been following the work of Dave Winer recently, I encourage you to do so. He’s on an impassioned quest, to keep the Web itself open for future developers, and I think he’s onto something terribly important. As Silcon Valley companies like Google, Apple and Facebook continue to develop their business models, they’re doing so by trying to keep us within the confines of their own infrastructures.

That’s because infrastructure is where the money is in a world where we — you and me — are the product being served to a hungry hoard of people with deep pockets: advertisers.

This is a concept that Dave is pounding away at, because when we’re inside someone else’s infrastructure, we’re playing by their rules, and we’re trapped in a universe that will always default to the best interests of the owners. The Web, on the other hand, isn’t owned by a corporation, and it must remain as such, complete with its own infrastructure.

Apple’s odd introduction of OS X “Mountain Lion” to its biggest fanboy writer, John Gruber, yesterday is an example. Apple’s future is built onpushing everybody and everything to iCloud, which it will own and operate. Sounds okay for now, but we’ll see.

Facebook wants you on its servers and inside its infrastructure. Same thing with Google, although Google  is a different iteration of the same theme, because it gives the appearance of growing an independent Web — with Google’s “help.”

I think this is a big story that’s not going away, because Madison Avenue lives in the pipes and stitchery of media infrastructures. Mass marketing’s infrastructures are on the way out, but those offered by Facebook, Apple and Google are alive and well.

I still remember AOL and the remarkable statements made when it was purchased by Time Warner. AOL’s entire value was based on its infrastructure, a captive audience that still needed the Internet training wheels the site provided. As a result, I’m not convinced that anybody has the wherewithal to pull this off completely, because the more the cinch is tightened, the more it will feel like AOL, and the goodies will seem beyond its reach.

Let’s be careful not to give away tomorrow for the sake of today’s convenient experience.

 

Media companies await Google+ for Business

Facebook launched its “Facebook for Business” subsite this week to take advantage of the tardiness of Google in opening up its new Google+ engine for businesses, Google+ for Business. The Facebook site, however isn’t much more than a primer on how to run a fan page, which is something everybody already knows anyway.

Facebook for Business

Facebook has become a very important tool for media companies, especially as a referral back to our own websites, where we can hopefully monetize the traffic.

But I think Facebook will be child’s play for media downstream compared to the potential of Google+. It’s not that I expect the news conversation to necessarily shift, but Google+ isn’t merely a Google social play; it’s the next version of Google itself, and no company on earth has disrupted the business of media like Google. Media companies look at Google as a competitor for content, but the Web giant is actually a competitor for our revenue, and that’s what makes Google+ for Business both so potentially useful and yet dangerous at the same time.

While we’re thinking that Google+ creates new brand extension opportunities, what it will really do is make it easier for small and mid‐sized businesses (SMBs) to connect with customers and potential customers. It will also help us reach people in the community, although we’re going to have to figure out how to make that really work for us. Google+ for Business will also tilt the balance of search, and while Facebook and Twitter are feeding local news websites, nobody already does that better and more often than Google. The point is that Google+ for Business won’t be an option for media companies.

The real power of Google is that the Web itself is its business world. You don’t have to be within its proprietary framework in order to be influenced by Google. There is no walled garden, per se. Oh, its tools are all within its cloud, but it doesn’t need to “capture” people to make money. Google provides ammunition for the people of the world to help themselves and their enterprises, and it does that very well. Google+ for Business is simply the latest.

An excellent article in PC World outlines reasons why G+ for Business is a game‐changer. Looking at this list as a media observer, it’s easy to see why it will be so important.

Search — Google will incorporate the real time stream from G+ into search, as it was doing with Twitter before its contract expired July 4th. This will radically alter news searches, but it will also create great opportunities for smart businesses who learn how to play the game.

Productivity and Communication — Google has 200 million Gmail users and 3 million businesses already using its Apps for Business productivity suite, and these will be incorporated into its social network. As noted above, Google is already a significant driver of traffic to media company websites, and the addition of Google+1 will accelerate that. Facebook has its “like” button, but it has nothing to compete with all that Google can offer.

Video — Yes, Facebook has a deal with Skype, but Google owns YouTube and has already advanced the interactive video world with G+ “Hangouts.” KOMU‐TV in Columbia, MO has already experimented with using Hangouts on‐the‐air, and I expect we’ll see a lot more of that downstream.

E‐commercePC World: “Google already has the Google Checkout payment system and its Products search tapping into all sorts of online merchants. Google could theoretically tie both services into Google+ for businesses, enabling a company to link its payment service to a back end database of products within Google’s ecosystem, rather than sending shoppers off to PayPal.”

Business Websites — Google has its Blogger publishing platform, which has a wide variety of implications for media companies and SMBs in a Google+ environment.

Advertisting and Analytics — Google’s highly successful Adwords system has been around since 2000 and Adsense, which enables people to embed contextual ads on their blogs and websites, has been working since 2003. Google Analytics is far ahead of anything Facebook can offer on deeper traffic and ad performance tools.

Mapping and Location‐based Tie‐ins — Google will likely integrate the new Google+ pages with Google Places, which appear in its Maps search results. This is a natural for SMBs but even more so as a tool for users, because integration with G+ allows for interaction with those search results. PC World: “Say, for example, that a user is considering several local search results for sushi in his neighborhood. He could theoretically not only compare the local results, but also ask questions about the menu or seating on each restaurant’s Google+ business page before deciding where to eat.”

Mobile Payments — Google has been testing various near field communications (NFC) applications as part of its e‐wallet concept through its Android operating system, and they give a hint as to what’s potentially in store downstream. In theory, according to PC World, a Google+ user could be tracked from when she clicked on an ad, how much time she spent on the website, when she checked into the store, and what she bought. Google already has proven models for most of these interactions; there’s no reason not to tie them together.

There’s no official timeline yet on when Google+ for Business will be available to everybody, but now is certainly the time for us to begin thinking about and talking about how we fit into the mix. There has never been a more important time to immerse ourselves in all that Google offers and to appreciate the reality that half a loaf is better than none. Google+ for Business has the potential to be something for us that goes far beyond simple brand extension, and the smart local media manager is one who understands that.

The ultimate success of the modern social network, the PC World article notes, will depend as much on its supportive services—in which Google has an advantage—as it will on its aggregate users. This truth is the essence of Media 2.0.

Close doesn’t count in database advertising

I’m constantly preaching the value of targeted advertising, and here’s a humorous exactly from today’s Web surfing. The image below is from YouTube, owned by Google. A little over a week ago, I did a Google search for “tall nightstands,” because I was in the process of a bedroom remodel. I found what I needed at Amazon, and they’re sitting in the bedroom today.

So YouTube/Google served me an ad today for tall nightstands, which is targeted specifically to that search. It’s very sophisticated, except for one thing: I don’t need them anymore.

So nice try, Googs, ol’ buddy, but close doesn’t count. Of course, I suppose it’s just a matter of time before they get this one right, too. It is, after all, a simple matter of connecting shopping behavior with actual purposes.

The ad I was served this morning via YouTube.