The German conservative elitist literature magazine Merkur “wonders what the hell the Internet is good for.”
From argument 1 — “What the hell is it good for?” — to argument 9 — new technologies reduce our ability to think, write and read — German writer and journalist Kathrin Passig compiles cultural criticism’s most frequent objections to new technologies, which in recent years have been resurrected in connection with the Internet.
“It’s an amazing invention”, said US president Rutherford B. Hayes about the telephone in 1876, “but who would ever want to use one of them?” (argument 2), while British colonel Sir John Smyth strongly disapproved of the use of the musket in 1591: “The bow is a simple weapon, firearms are very complicated things that get out of order in many ways” (argument 6).
What is really remarkable, writes Passig, is how much critique of new inventions has to do with the critic’s age, and how little with the thing itself: “The same people that greeted the Internet in the 1990s, ten years later reject its continuing development with exactly the same arguments that they poured scorn upon back then. At the age of 25 or 30, it is easy to appreciate and to use technologies if they give one an advantage in terms of status or knowledge. If, a few years later, it is one’s own advantages that need to be defended against progress, then it’s more difficult.”
Passig’s remedy against the trap of recycling worn-out arguments: unlearn. “The adult human being simply knows too many solutions for problems that no longer exist.”
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Data Management as a signifying practice
David Gugerli, ETH Zurich
November 13, 2009, Amsterdam
Edited by: Baruch Gottlieb
Databases are operationally essential to the search society. Since the 1960’s, they have been developed, installed, and maintained by software engineers in view of a particular future user, and they have been applied and adapted by different user communities for the production of their own futures. Database systems, which, since their inception, offer powerful means for shaping and managing society, have since developed into the primary resource for search-centered signifying practice. The paper will present insights into the genesis of a society which depends on the possibility to search, find, (re-)arrange and (re-)interpret of vast amounts of data.
Download here the full lecture of David Gugerli given during the Society of the Query conference on Friday the 13th of November 2009.
I first became aware of Demand Media by reading this feature by Daniel Roth in the November 2009 issue of Wired [Ed: ReadWriteWeb wrote a feature about it in August]. In fact, Roth alerted me by email that his piece was about to come online, because he thought I would find it interesting. He was dead on. I found it fascinating, and also scary.
Since then the discussion of these "content farms" (what ReadWriteWeb editor Richard MacManus called them recently) has picked up a lot intensity online. For a good round-up, see Jason Fry's recent post The Furor Over Content Farms. In the following interview with Demand Media founder and CEO Richard Rosenblatt, I explore this new online phenomenon.
Jay Rosen teaches journalism at NYU and blogs at PressThink, which won the Reporters Without Borders 2005 Freedom Blog award. He is also the director of NewAssignment.Net and blogs at the Huffington Post.
I've been discussing Demand Media a bit on Twitter, always referring to it as... (the demonic) Demand Media. This got the attention of someone from the company because I heard from Richard Rosenblatt, the founder and CEO, who said that I didn't understand the firm's mission. I asked him if he would do an interview with me to clarify what that mission was. He graciously agreed. Today I caught up with him by IM and we had the following exchange.
Rosen: In the November 2009 Wired article by Daniel Roth, this was the part I thought most important:
"Most media companies are trying hard to... boost the value of their online content until it matches the amount of money it costs to produce. But Rosenblatt thinks they have it exactly backward. Instead of trying to raise the market value of online content to match the cost of producing it -- perhaps an impossible proposition -- the secret is to cut costs until they match the market value."Now, when you wrote to me, you said I didn't get the mission of Demand Media. As I understand it, the mission is to make a ton of money on the Web by using data mining to understand demand and then cutting costs in this way Roth described. Do I have it wrong?
Rosenblatt: It's not all about cost cutting but about building a sustainable media model that allows us to achieve our mission to build an engine for what the world wants to know and share. We do this by connecting consumers with content that meets their specific interests and [offers] connections to people that share their passion. To do this well, and at scale, has required significant innovation and investment.
Rosen: Here's what I think Demand Media has right. It's important to know what people are interested in. It's good to have tools that tell us what they wish to know. Using that knowledge to guide production is innovation, too, which we need-- precisely because production is so easy and cheap and the tools are so good.
But here's what I think bothers a lot of people, and leads to a description of your firm as a "content farm" or "factory." I read about the 11 people - and 15 different roles - involved in the production of articles and video in Demand Studios. I get your idea that "quality is based on relevance." But if you're trying to match costs to the available revenue for a given piece of content, what happens when editorial quality requires costs greater that what's available in search revenue? And who's watching out for that point?
Rosenblatt: I like the way you describe and characterize our business; maybe we have a lot more in common that you think. We are building content that is evergreen and solving a different type of problem. We are focused on creating content that solves problems, answers questions, saves money, saves time, makes you laugh - content that improves people's lives in big and small ways. It's relevant and impactful to millions and millions of people every day. It must generally fit within the economic framework the Internet provides today. As those economics change so will we.
Rosen: Okay I got that but I am not sure it answers this part of my question: ...if you're trying to match costs to the available revenue for a given piece of content, what happens when editorial quality requires costs greater that what's available in search revenue? And who's watching out for that point?
Rosenblatt: We only make content that we think can be done responsibly and within our cost structure.
Rosen: As you know, there's a conversation going on out there about Demand Media, and I want to show you a bit of it. The premise, as Jeff Jarvis puts it, is that companies like yours (and Associated Content, to name another) "produce crap that's just good enough to fool algorithms," especially Google's. This is said to be a problem for Google.
So Jarvis writes, "I think we may see search fall as the sole or even key means of discovery and filtering of quality content. I see three rings of discovery today: search (Google); algorithms (see: Google News, Daylife); and humans (see: Twitter). Note again that Bit.ly alone causes as many clicks a month -- one billion -- as Google News. Human power rises again. That's what Fred Wilson says today when he argues that social beats search, because "it's a lot harder to spam yourself into a social graph." What do to you think of Wilson's idea, "social beats search" because it cannot be gamed as easily? If he's right, isn't that a threat to Demand Media's profits?
Rosenblatt: First of all, we're not filling up search engines. We're creating content that lives on some of the most engaging websites in the world. These sites have really amazing tools that truly help people - whether it's managing your diabetes, motivating yourself to stop smoking, helping you drop your golf handicap, or determining what hike to take the kids on this weekend.
And I wouldn't say we are even "search-led" any more. We are led by consumer demand. We are maniacally focused on giving users exactly what they want, where they want it. We have algorithms that tell us what search visitors want. And algorithms that tell us what YouTube visitors prefer. And we're working on new algorithms that tell us what social network users desire. And we're pretty sure the needs of mobile users will be different than all of the above - so we'll tune our approach for them too.
Search is just where we started, because that's where most consumers started their information seeking experiences. But the world has changed a lot since we started Demand Media four years ago - and we're changing with it.
Rosen: So you're getting social too and moving away from just search?
Rosenblatt: Absolutely and have been planning this for years; we consider this a core part of our business and social has been at the center of our business since we started
Rosen: Does the description of your company as a "content farm," content mill, factory (or even digital sweatshop) seem to you inaccurate or point missing in some way? I mean I know these are not nice terms or polite descriptions but are they wrong headed?
Rosenblatt: Completely missing the point. We have significant editorial processes. Let me explain. How do we do this? We hire qualified professional writers, film-makers and copyeditors. Set clear editorial objectives and style guidelines for every piece. Require external sources with every submission. Copy edit what's been turned in. Fact-check it. Check it for plagiarism. Rate each piece so that writers get feedback. Provide education to improve the team members. Perform quality audits and take down content that doesn't meet current standards (thousands per month). Weed out content creators who aren't performing well or improving fast enough (we let go more than 100 creators per month). What's more like a sweatshop: someone's living room working their own hours or a typical newsroom?
Rosen: When you're trying to build trust in an editorial brand, you pay those costs when they exceed available revenues, which I talked about. But it seems to me that Demand isn't trying to build trust in that way, it's trying to create content that meets demand, stays relevant and grabs the available search revenue. Why doesn't Demand Media create the bulk of its content under the Demand brand, like Reuters, say?
Rosenblatt: We believe that the Internet continues to fragment and passionate audiences want their own community and brand. The brands we are focused on: our Web sites such as eHOW, Livestrong and our other properties. This is where we focus our branding energy.
Rosen: As you know, journalism is in a good deal of peril today because of a collapsing economic model. I've read that Demand does not want to go anywhere near news, which is interesting, but do you feel you have discovered anything that would be useful to journalists as they try to survive
Rosenblatt: We respect journalists very much. We think they need to use technology to help them figure out what audiences want and how to get value from their content more effectively. And there are big opportunities for them to increase quality by removing inefficiencies in the process of content creation. We would love to partner with as many publishers and media outlets as we can
Rosen: You seem to know how to make money on the Web, why not get into news?
Rosenblatt: Because we haven't figure out how to do it responsibly and profitably also, its completely saturated and highly competitive. Consumers already have more sources than they need.
Rosen: Someone who follows my work and knew I was interviewing you told me to ask you this: Do you love the Web? The implied question there is: if you love the Web, then why are you doing this, running these content farms... ?
Rosenblatt: OMG. My entire career and life has been about the Web. Trying to innovate and create value where open spaces exist. We do not have a content mill as we discussed but an efficient method to get people the information they need when they want it. That is improving the Internet and I am proud of it
Rosen: Open spaces? What does that phrase mean?
Rosenblatt: Where there is a lot of room for opportunity for not only our company but for other entrepreneurs.
Rosen: I know you have a meeting to run to... thanks very much... anything you wish to add?
Rosenblatt: I hope to see you in NY in the future to continue our dialogue. All my best and happy holidays.
Check out ReadWriteWeb's entire coverage of Demand Media and content farms:
Farm photo by Randen Pederson.
- Content Farms: Why Media, Blogs & Google Should Be Worried
- How Google Can Combat Content Farms
- Demand Media Is a Page View Generating Machine - And it's Working
- Answers.com: 31 Million Copied and Pasted Web Pages Can't Go Wrong
- The Age of Mega Content Sites - Answers.com and Demand Media
- How Demand Media Produces 4,000 Pieces of Content a Day
- Ad-Driven Content - Is it Crossing The Line?
Jay Rosen photo by Joi Ito.
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Forget family time! I am so stupid tired that I can't play World of Warcraft anymore. So what do I do? Go to bed? No.
I read the mail, then the news, then anything else I can think of. When there's no more new anything I resort to Lolcats. When I run out of lolz, I remember to check xkcd... just in case...
Randall Munroe's been reading my mind again.
I may not be popular this Christmas because all the family are getting brain training software, including my partner and the kids (reading). It's not a hint! It's a help!
New Technology Keeps Senior Drivers Safe on the Road
Author: Posit Science
Date: Thursday, November 19, 2009
CAMBRIDGE, MA – Nov. 19, 2009 – New technology reduces the crash risk of senior drivers and can keep them safely on the road for a longer period of time, according to data presented at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) today to a national gathering of aging experts. Jeff Zimman, Chairman of Posit Science®, the leader in brain fitness software, spoke on “Mobility for Tomorrow” as part of the Shaping Life Tomorrow conference, convened by MIT AgeLab.
“Driving is essential to leading a rich life in most areas of our country,” said Zimman. “As we age, most of us want to be able to keep driving as long as we can safely. This past summer, brain fitness technology that achieves that goal and that had previously been available only to study participants became commercially available to everyone.”
The technology, called DriveSharp™, was brought to market by Posit Science as cognitive software for people concerned with their driving. After a thorough review of some 60 medical and science journal articles that have appeared in recent years attesting to a long list of benefits of these training exercises, DriveSharp is recommended by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
In his talk, Zimman reviewed numerous studies that have shown that users of the exercises in DriveSharp, on average, cut their at-fault crash risk in half, doubled their visual processing speed and improved their reaction time sufficiently to increase stopping distance. A multi-year study released this year also showed that those who completed the brain training exercises drove further, more frequently and under more varied conditions. They were less likely to give up driving and were able to continue driving with greater safety.
Zimman also cited a number of studies that have shown that these and other Posit Science exercises deliver benefits beyond driving, including better memory, attention, wider field of view, quicker processing, higher functional independence and better health-related quality of life. A white paper by aging technology analyst Laurie Orlov reviewed multiple studies, including ACTIVE, IMPACT and SKILL, and concluded that these exercises can help people “age in place” or “in the place of their choosing.”
Based on the study results, Posit Science recommends people use the DriveSharp program for about an hour a week for 8-10 weeks to tune up their abilities to the levels seen in the studies.
DriveSharp is available for $89 at www.PositScience.com or at a discount through AAA clubs at www.DriveSharpNow.com. Last week, Posit Science partnered with AAA to donate $1 million dollars in software to Massachusetts public libraries.
About Posit Science
Posit Science is the leader in delivering clinically proven brain fitness software. The company combines breakthrough research and a focus on great customer experiences to create products that are engaging and help users think faster, focus better and remember more. Staff neuroscientists, engineers and video game developers collaborate with more than 50 scientists from leading research institutions to design, build and test computer-based training programs. Posit Science products are available online and through health, long-term care and auto insurers. Posit Science is currently featured in the PBS documentary "The Brain Fitness Program.” For more information, visit www.PositScience.com or call 1-866-599-6463.
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
I swear it's true. My Smoking Vagina is about to play our first gig in about 20 years and instead of practising, aka, trying to remember where the notes go, I'm at the Australian Conference for Field Robotics watching the... could be a wicked elvis costello joke there but it will go untouched... eigenvectors and wondering why there are no women in the room.