Despite my frequent Instagram and Klout posts, I'm not a tech pundit. If anything, I think of myself a journalism pundit, and the coverage of Instagram's Terms of Service debacle has convinced me that technology journalism, at least from anything other than independent bloggers, is dead.
When half-baked bullshit like this post from CNET that, as far as I can tell, was based on a misreading of the terms and a desire to cash in on the hysteria, is what comes from a large organization and even Wired, who I normally respect getting in on the act, it's clear that there are two kinds of journalism left covering the tech world: regurgitation of press releases and gadget announcements and wild, barely-informed speculation about the latest trending topic.
In fact, about the only bright spot was The Verge having Nilay Patel (who has a law degree) dissect what the terms ACTUALLY mean. And you didn't need a law degree to do that; just a basic comprehension of how terms of service or end user license agreements work. How does at least one person at every site covering technology not have that?
I'm not a fan of sober, dispassionate reporting—I think the analysis that journalist bring to the table is a key part of succeeding in the modern media—but there is—has to be—a difference between clear analysis based on experience and writing inflammatory, link-bait posts about the topic of the nanosecond.
There is a difference between being first and being the first one who is right, and when traffic is the name of the game being first trumps all, but it shouldn't.
And none of this is even touching on the fact that most technology journalism is little more that nerd-baiting wish-fulfillment, predicated on the idea that more is better and that everyone needs to know the exact specification of every gadget as it's released. It's calorie-dense, nutrition-free content; easy to churn out and monetize.
There are some good ones out there: Gruber, of course, Jim Dalrymple and the rest of the crew at The Loop, and the folks at GigaOM get it right most of the time. But there are dozens more sites that are focused on pageviews and clickthroughs above all else.
There's really only one solution, and it's hard to implement: Don't look. Stop reading sites that practice the half-assed idiocy that passes for tech journalism these days. Let's kill technology journalism. Then we can rebuild it.
Instagram has already written a post saying they aren't going to steal sell your photos to the highest bidder.
They're not even going to use them in ads.
To provide context, we envision a future where both users and brands alike may promote their photos & accounts to increase engagement and to build a more meaningful following. Let’s say a business wanted to promote their account to gain more followers and Instagram was able to feature them in some way. In order to help make a more relevant and useful promotion, it would be helpful to see which of the people you follow also follow this business. In this way, some of the data you produce — like the actions you take (eg, following the account) and your profile photo — might show up if you are following this business.
The language we proposed also raised question about whether your photos can be part of an advertisement. We do not have plans for anything like this and because of that we’re going to remove the language that raised the question. Our main goal is to avoid things likes advertising banners you see in other apps that would hurt the Instagram user experience. Instead, we want to create meaningful ways to help you discover new and interesting accounts and content while building a self-sustaining business at the same time.
OK, so everyone can stop panicking and go back to applying filters to their camera phone photos. (My favorite is Nashville, what's yours?)
I think that's an excellent question. Using editorial photos for advertising is bad enough, but using them for advertising purposes when the news organization doesn't get a cut? That is not going to go over well.
And there's another question: What about non-profit organizations? At the college where I work, we have a strict policy about not accepting or displaying advertising, not licensing our images for advertising except in very limited purposes. One of my goals for the new year was to use Instagram for the college, but now I need to reconsider that, even if I do keep using it for myself (which I almost certainly will).
Some or all of the Service may be supported by advertising revenue. To help us deliver interesting paid or sponsored content or promotions, you agree that a business or other entity may pay us to display your username, likeness, photos (along with any associated metadata), and/or actions you take, in connection with paid or sponsored content or promotions, without any compensation to you. If you are under the age of eighteen (18), or under any other applicable age of majority, you represent that at least one of your parents or legal guardians has also agreed to this provision (and the use of your name, likeness, username, and/or photos (along with any associated metadata)) on your behalf.
Sound familiar? It should, since it's been Facebook's policy for a long time. When Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion, they figured that they could make much, much more than that, and obviously now they've decided advertising is the way to go. Whether it is the way is a post for another time.
Instagram and its corporate overlord parent may be overreaching here, and the loudness of the opposition is pretty compelling, but not much has changed. You still own your content, and are granting Instagram a license to use it—just like you do with Twitter, Tumblr and, yes, Facebook. It's a pretty unpleasant policy to say they can use it to advertise any product they choose, but the people most likely affected are professional photographers.
I think Instagram has made it too easy to share—Twitter drama notwithstanding—for users to start moving away en masse. If users valued privacy and control over how their content was displayed, they'd actually leave Facebook. But most don't, because it's easy to use and they know people on there. Facebook's executives have learned that lesson. They might take a PR beating over the next few weeks, but in the end, terms of service like this are going to be the new normal, as depressing as that might seem.
I've described newspaper executives as callow, stupid, misguided, incompetent and many other perjoratives, but apart from one billionaire tyrant, evil didn't enter the picture.
The this story started making the rounds yesterday. The executives at the Kansas City Star are making two reporters decide which of them gets laid off. This is appalling, and an abdication of an unpleasant but very real responsibility of leadership, as Steve Buttry noted.
But more than that, it seems downright evil. Nearly cartoonishly supervillian evil, to be precise.
(The Kansas City Star management team)
I doubt that they intended it to seem like a dramatic event played out for their amusement, but that is exactly how it seems. If you lay off people based on seniority, then do that. If you choose based on performance or usefulness of their beat, do that. But it's up to the managers.
Stories like this make it really easy to understand why newspapers are failing. If the management doesn't have the spine to make a difficult decision about personnel, how could they hope to lead an innovative news organization?
The thing that most of the commentators on Twitter's API changes aren't thinking about is this: Twitter started out as a cutting edge service used by the tech savvy. The people (myself included) who have been tweeting since 2006 or 2007 feel like they're in some small way responsible for the services current mainstream success. Any maybe they are, but Twitter doesn't see it that way.
For good or ill, Twitter finds itself with half a billion registered users, a cultural touchstone second only to Facebook and YouTube and needs to figure out how to turn those 500 million users (probably closer to half that, really, when you figure how many are inactive or SPAM accounts) into money to repay investors. Sponsored tweets could be quite lucrative, but only is EVERY user sees them. And as long as there are third-party applications, that's unlikely.
Every iteration of Twitter has found the service moving away from a 140-character answer to “What are you doing right now?” and toward becoming a fully-fledged platform that can compete with the likes of Facebook and Google+. That's why they introduced Twitter cards and media embedding in tweets.
And like a band that's become mainstream and now irritates the hell out of its original hipster fan base, Twitter is trying to move away from pleasing the nerds and toward being a dominant way of communicating and consuming content.
So if it seems like Twitter doesn't care very much about the developers who helped push widespread adoption, that might well be true. Or maybe it's a case of “Thanks for all of your hard work, but we'll take it from here.”
It's not that Twitter doesn't still love developers, just that it only loves developers of certain applications *.
But the nerds—the ones who saw the potential in Twitter, who lived through the growing pains of 2008 and 2009, who developed the clients that made Twitter better—aren't the audience Twitter is reaching for any longer.
The fact that one of those applications is Klout makes me wonder where Twitter is really headed.↩
I'm curious to see if Branch will catch on in the way that Twitter and Facebook have, but I have one question: Do we need another tool?
I'm not the only one wondering this. From the little I've seen, it's a lovely, elegant site with a great purpose—fostering real conversations between people, but aren't there other tools to do that?
If it's a one-on-one conversation, why isn't SMS or IM the solution? If it's more people than that, why aren't Quora, a Facebook group or a Google+ thread the right choice? If you want to keep things very selective, why isn't something like fiesta.cc (which I quite like and use regularly) a good tool?
I want there to be more considered conversation on the Web—the background noise on Twitter and Facebook are the reasons I don't use them as often as I once did, but deciding to use a new site, as opposed to going, signing up, visiting a few times and never coming back, which is something I've been guilty of dozens of times in the past five years, isn't easy. It takes time to form that habit, and it needs to be worth your time. How can a company ensure that it has user-generated content that's appealing while also eliminating the background noise?
The great Chip Scalan wrote a post nearly 10 years ago that's stuck with me, “Be a Sponge, Be a Duck” in which he gave some advice to reporters dealing with criticism.
The takeaway: If the criticism is valid, accept it, if it isn't, let it go. It's never quite that easy, of course, but it's a great idea, and I've found myself repeating that like a mantra over the years.
It applies to more than just criticism. Which of your own thoughts are useful, and which are harmful? What ideas will make a difference in your life, and which will slow you down?
Twenty years after my own graduation, I have come gradually to understand that the liberal arts cliché about teaching you how to think is actually shorthand for a much deeper, more serious idea: learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed.
Those who follow me on Tumblr and Twitter well know by now that I've quit smoking. And while that's the genesis of this post, it's also got me thinking about how we think and the thoughts we allow into the front of our conscious mind. I make no claim to be a philosopher, but one of the most intriguing (and maddening) things about the human brain is the ability to think two contradictory thoughts at the same time. For example: “I never want to smoke another cigarette.” and “I should take off this patch and go buy a cigarette.”
But the trick to being well-adjusted (as Wallace puts it), or indeed, even functional in society, is that ability to hold on to some ideas and let others go. And as simple as it sounds, it's a hard skill to learn.
How can both of those be true? And why are we still having a discussion about the benefits of digital?
Sometimes it seems like newspapers aren't just dinosaurs, they're dinosaurs with an unbelievably strong desire to go play in the tar pits.
As more time passes I become more inclined to just let them, no matter how Scrooge-like that might make me seem. After all, we've tried the slow approach, and that's resulted in layoffs, cuts in stories and generic local news sites. What it hasn't resulted in, though, is the death of journalism.
There are a lot of people still practicing good journalism, even at sites I hate.
So if traditional media companies don't have a monopoly on journalism, I care less and less about saving them.
Advocates for a digital-first or digital-only approach aren't lone kooks crying out in the wilderness. I'm not a hard-hearted capitalist, but if newspaper executives still don't understand the advantages of digital and can't make the Web pay, maybe it's time they suffer the natural consequences.
Six years ago I was asked to join a company-wide innovation seminar. Editors, ad managers and publishers from a few metro and a few community dailies got together, listened to some presentations and tossed around phrases like “innovating from the core.” It was dreadful, and I only remember one thing about it.
On the last day, we were broken up into small groups and told to come up with one practical idea that we could go back to our respective papers and implement. I couldn't tell you what my group came up with, so it couldn't have been very good, but I do remember the last group's idea.
MySpace, but for pets, and in print
Remember, this was 2006, so MySpace was the thing to beat. The idea was pronounced with the certainty that only the clueless get to have. And it wasn't received to peals of laughter, either.
Think about how truly bananas that idea is—how it not only misunderstands social networking and the Internet, but how it also does nothing other than ape an existing success with a small twist. It sounds like a jokey story about Hollywood executives, and if I hadn't heard it with my own ears, I might not have believed it.
But the truly depressing part, at least for me, was that my publisher didn't understand my complete incredulity that idea like that passed for innovative. She thought there was nothing wrong with taking and repurposing a good idea.
And she was right, up to a point. But innovation is more than just repurposing something, it's doing something new and different with an existing idea.
There's a reason newspapers never built a viable competitor to huge social networking sites: none of them had the idea until it was too late.
Part of the problem is that executives at businesses like newspapers have a tendency to play small ball because they don't want to kill their main source of revenue. That's understandable, but what isn't is that they still feel that way when they can see huge problems for their main source of revenue in the future. They don't want to be the person whose zany idea caused a venerable newspaper to cease operation, even if that zany idea might be the thing that stops that very scenario from happening.
But at least one of them had the idea for MySpace, in print, for pets. So far as I know no one ever implemented the idea; there's an untapped market ripe for the taking. And now there might be a newspaper executive out there desperate enough to try it.