Fight Back against the #ParisAttacks: Spread Tolerance

I am fighting back against the horrible attacks in Paris by spreading a message of tolerance for all religions, including Islam.


I don’t discuss politics on the Internet. This is different. This is my small strike back against the evil that manifested in Paris last night.

I’m generally dismissive of social media activism for often over-simplifying discussions of complex issues into us vs. them shouting matches. This is different. This is very much an us vs. them shouting match, in which we are members of a multi-cultural global civil society and they are zealots who want to start an “apocalyptic ‘war of civilizations.'”

I share the belief that the goal of the Paris attacks is to eliminate the “grayzone” of Moderate Islam by triggering Islamophobic backlash in the non-Islamic world. It is the same goal of the other recent atrocities attributed to the self-proclaimed Islamic State: the bombings in Beirut; the downing of the Russian airliner; the bombings in Ankara. These terrorists believe in a black and white conflict between Radical Islam and the entire rest of the world, and these attacks are their way to make that vision a reality.

Their strategy is sickeningly straightforward:

  1. Commit atrocities in the name of Islam against the non-Islamic world;
  2. The non-Islamic world will turn against *all* Muslims;
  3. Moderate Muslims will be forced to give up Islam entirely OR join the Islamic State.

There’s a big weak spot in this strategy: it depends on us to behave like them.


This is our opportunity to fight back! Do not allow the perpetrators of these attacks to be proved right by our words and deeds, nor our inaction against the words and deeds of others, in response to their horrible acts of evil. This is a time when spreading messages of tolerance and love on social media actually can have an impact.

I stand with the majority of Muslims in the world, who are equally devastated by these attacks, to show the enemies of civilization that it is *all of us together* versus them.

By no means is this alone a panacea. These events have made clear that the threat from the self-proclaimed Islamic State is much bigger and closer than most of us had hoped. Unfortunately, the hard work and sacrifice required of government officials, diplomats, armed forces, and first responders all over the world may be far from over. But this is also a propaganda war being fought on our home turf, and those of us not in a position to take direct action IRL can make a difference with our voices online.

Inside the Mind of (a) Yahoo!

For better or for worse, Yahoo! has always been a pretty siloed organization. Each major Business Unit is very much a reflection of its leader’s personality and style. While the famed re-org promises to reduce the number of these silos (and make them more aligned with logically distinct business objectives), it shows no signs of reducing the autonomy of BU leadership — which is a great thing in my book.

The head of the BU in which I work, Connected Life, is Marco Boerries. And he is one of the main reasons I’ve remained at Yahoo! through all of the shit that has gone on in the last 18 months or so (there’s a big part of your answer Kareem). This is where the siloes come in handy — no matter how crazy things have gotten in YMG or with Panama, those of us in Marco’s world have been able to focus on our goals and have largely had the tools to achieve them.

For those of you not in the know, the mission of the Connected Life BU is to extend Yahoo! “beyond the browser” — specifically, that means mobile, digital home, and the PC desktop. Working in Connected Life is all about taking bleeding edge products and technologies and bringing them to Yahoo!’s mainstream audience, which is extremely challenging but always exciting. And, to my initial point, it’s also a lot about executing on Marco’s personal vision for how consumers will use Yahoo! across devices. Now, normally that would irk someone as headstrong as me — having to follow someone else’s lead. And at times, Marco and I have had some pretty heated debates. But for me, and a lot of other people I respect, it’s pretty hard to disagree with most of what Marco wants to get done.

Back in November, Marco was asked to deliver the opening keynote at >play. It provided a rare public glimpse into the philsophy that drives the vision behind some of the most interesting (IMHO) things going on at Yahoo! today. I posted about it at the time, and vowed to put the full deck up at some point.

So, here it is: http://straussnet.gorjk.com/random/PlayKeynote.pps

(Note to Y! Legal folks: this is information that has already been vetted by PR and presented in public)

And in the tradition of Ian‘s fantastic BarCampLA1 preso, here’s the text-only version:

“It’s the Consumers, Stupid!”
Technology = Consumer Empowerment
The Internet is the Ultimate Democratizing Innovation
Delivering Consumers What They Want is the Best Strategy
Case Study — Digital Music:
iPod/iTunes/iTMS = total vertical integration ->
Plays for Sure = completely open ecosystem ->
Zune = total vertical integration

There is Another Way
You don’t have to build everything yourself, but you can’t leave it all to chance either
Through close partnership with industry-leading network operators and OEM’s, Yahoo! is extending our consumer-centric view across the value chain

What Consumers Want
It’s Not About Bringing the Device to the Internet
It’s About Bringing the Internet into the Device
Device-Optimized Experiences Leverage Features Unique to the Device
Example — Flickr:
Mobile Phone = Upload -> TV = View -> PC = Manage

What About Content?
Publishers want their Content Distributed as Widely as their Business Model allows
The Internet is Lowering Costs and Enabling New Business Models
Content Delivery is no longer a Publisher Pain Point
Content is no longer Scarce
Consumers care about the Relevance of Content, not it’s Source — “Tier 1 to Me”
“Context is King”

Social Relevance is the Key
Too Much Choice is the new Consumer Pain Point
Attention Management is the new Frontier of Innovation
The Evolution of Attention Management — Web Content:
Editorial = Y! Directory ->
Automated = Google Search; Y! Search ->
Social = del.icio.us; Digg; Y! MyWeb; Technorati

Notes:
– “Context is King” comes from a presentation Randy‘s been giving inside Y! and has promised to blog about (going all the way back to this post)
– “Attention Management” is a term I first heard from Ian
– 9 days after Marco delivered this presentation, Bear Sterns released a report called “The Long Tail: Why Aggregation & Context and Not (Necessarily) Content are King in Entertainment”

My Christmas Odyssey

Like many, I had a bit of a time getting to where I was going this holiday. However unlike most of them, my issues were pretty much of my own doing. The 32.5 hours between when I first left my house and when I finally arrived in Aspen provided some interesting (mis)adventures. And thanks to Twitter (with a little help from Flickr), I managed to capture most of it in what I like to call my Web 2.0 travelogue (comments in [ ] were added after the fact).

Enjoy…

[December 22: I called a cab for a 5:45pm pick-up to catch a 7:05pm. I was planning to check 1 bag (+2 carry-ons), but I had checked-in online and United now offers online bag check at SFO. The cab was there on time, but I didn’t get downstairs until 6pm. Then I realized I forgot my laptop charger. Ok, now it’s 6:05pm and we’re just leaving the Marina. As long as we get there in 20 minutes, I should be fine.

We actually make it there by 6:25pm. But, I forgot that this is the Friday night before Christmas and the airport is pretty packed. While United.com makes it sound like the online bag check is just a simple drop off, I spend 20 min in line before the agent tells me to just try to gate check the bag. I then end up arguing with a security guy for 5 min about whether or not I can bring 3 bags through security — guess who wins. It’s now 15 min before my flight is supposed to leave and they tell me I have no choice but to get in line to be rebooked.

Well, I know that means I’m not going anywhere until after Christmas. So, I furiously cram the contents of my backpack and the backpack, itself, into my other 2 bags. Get through security with 2 bulging bags, flight leaves in 5 min. Run to the monitors (keep in mind that one of these bags has my ski boots and all my ski clothes, so running is not easy) to see what gate my flight’s at. It’s delayed by 20 min, hallelujah! Get to the gate, and then the fun really starts…]

MeFlight cancelled. But, at least they’re rescheduling it for tomorrow morning. Higher powers willing, I’ll still be on the slopes tomorrow. 07:49 PM December 22, 2006 from mobile

[The details of what transpired in the 13 hours between these two Twitter updates are, and will remain, somewhat shrouded in mystery. What I do know is that after arriving home from SFO around 8:30pm, I repacked my bags (2 back to 3) and booked a cab to pick me up at 4:30am the next morning. Then, I figured I’d pop by the bar for a drink or two. Well, two drinks turned into more, and the next thing I know I wake up 3 hours after my flight was supposed to leave.]

MeOk, now I just straight up missed my flight… 09:01 AM December 23, 2006 from mobile

RogerThat sux js 09:18 AM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeSo, I’m on my way to Oakland to try to catch a 10am to Salt Lake. And if I don’t make that (which I prob won’t), I’m driving 1200 miles. 09:31 AM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeOk, I’m driving. 1,200 miles = 12 hours, right? 10:04 AM December 23, 2006 from mobile

RogerThats the spirit 10:19 AM December 23, 2006 from mobile

[Here’s the route I took (had to use G Maps, because Y! Maps gives a different (some would say wrong) route.]

MeMile 0.1 – Oakland, CA; Mental state: hung-over and not fully grasping the reality of the situation. 10:40 AM December 23, 2006 from mobile

PatrickRed bull+funyuns 11:19 AM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 40.3; GPS sez: arriving @ 5:45am; Mental State: GPS don’t know shit! 11:18 AM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 106 – Roseville, CA; GPS Sez: arriving @ 5:42am; Mental State: need Gatorade 12:13 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 182 – Truckee, CA; GPS Sez: arriving @ 5:19am; Mental State: Tahoe is far, but Aspen is farther. Still need Gatorade. 01:19 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 263 – Churchill County, NV; GPS Sez: arriving @ 4:58am; Mental State: Pissed that the Pontiac G6 cruise control doesn’t go over 105. 02:18 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 300 – Somewhere in NV; GPS Sez: arriving @ 4:45am; Mental State: 1/4 of the way there & sobering up. This doesn’t feel like such a good idea [anymore] 02:39 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 333 – 95 miles East of Battle Mountain (“Halfway to everywhere”); GPS Sez: arriving @ 3:47am; Mental State: Gatorade + Combos = bfast of champs 03:11 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

CodyBattle Mountain. Famous for a giant “BM” emblazoned on the side of the mountain. Awesome. 03:13 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

IanStrizzle, I think you’re onto something. Channeling Hunter S. via Twitter. 03:14 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 350 – Mill City, NV; GPS Sez: arriving @ 3:42am; Mental State: Can’t wait to see Battle Mtn now, thanks to Cody. 03:19 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

[Getting the Twitter updates from my friends definitely helped me make it through the unending bleakness of Northern Nevada’s high desert. Though, I was pret
ty disappointed to not see the “BM” when I passed Battle Mountain — Cody’s update really made me chuckle for a good 20 miles.]

Flickr: Somewhere in Nevada
Somewhere in Nevada
4:28 PM December 23, 2006

MeMile 474 – near Elko, NV; Busted by the fuzz 🙁 04:33 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

[Ticket for going 100mph in Nevada = $347 — I guess it’s for the best that cruise control wouldn’t let me go any faster. If I wasn’t already regretting the decision to drive, this definitely put me over the top. But, there was no turning back at this point…]

MeMile 541 – Beverly Hills, NV; Mental State: Forgot how dark it gets out here. Need caffeine. 05:31 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 573 – Somewhere in Eastern Nevada; Mental State: Worried. Fuel light came on 32 miles from next gas station and it’s 27 degrees out. 06:02 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

[What I didn’t mention was that I had passed a town with gas about 28 miles earlier and decided to keep going, even though the fuel gauge told me I only had enough gas to make it 4 miles past Wendover. Why would I do such a thing? Because I didn’t want to stop before I hit the 600 mile mark, duh!]

MeMile 603 – Wendover, UT; Mental State: So much to celebrate – 1/2 way there, made it to UT, didn’t run out of gas 😀 Beef jerky time! 06:43 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 730 – Salt Lake City, UT; Mental State: Wishing I had bought a car adapter for my iPod. Just heard Ferg-alicious for the 5th time. 08:16 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

[I believe the final count was Fergalicious” 6 times and “London Bridge once. Why not change the channel, you ask? Well, in most of these places, other than the one top 40 station, every other channel (and usually there were only 2-3 others) was either Xmas music or people talking about Jesus.]

MeMile 847 – just East of Price, UT; Mental State: Sick of fing Xmas songs! 10:17 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 899 – Green River, UT; Mental State: 3/4 of the way there and thinking I can do this. Stopped for more caffeine. 11:11 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

PatrickI’ve been to green river. Its a little scary there. 11:12 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeThere appear to be only 3 radio stations here, and right now they’re all playing songs about Jesus. 11:19 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 933 – near the UT/CO border; Mental State: Still amazed at how much space there is! Roads that go straight as far as you can see. 11:39 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

PatrickIts gods country js 11:40 PM December 23, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 964 – Westwater, UT; Mental State: Thinking about an awesome 2 day rafting trip that started here. 1 of my top 5 fave life experiences so far. 12:00AM December 24, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 969.3 – UT/CO border; Mental State: “Welcome to Colorful Colorado” – wOOt! 12:04 AM December 24, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 1,004 – Grand Junction, CO; Mental State: Sad it’s dark out. This is where the really pretty part starts, and I can’t see it. Missed Hwy 6 too. 12:30 AM December 24, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 1,058 – Rifle, CO; Mental State: Stopped for a roadside “break”, and the snow, the cold, the sound of the river reminded me why I did this. 01:19 AM December 24, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 1,084 – Glenwood Springs, CO; Mental State: Running on fumes (me, not the car this time). But, only 40 miles to go. Sack up! 01:33 AM December 24, 2006 from mobile

MeMile 1,117 – Snowmass, CO; Mental State: Might be too excited about skiing tomorrow to sleep tonight. 02:05 AM December 24, 2006 from mobile

[Somehow, this update got delayed being posted on Twitter. So, I reordered it and used the time I sent it from my phone.]

Me1,123.8 miles, 15hr 37min (3.5hrs less than GPS said!), and one moving violation later, I’m here. Except for 1 small problem: I’m locked out. Lol! 02:23 AM December 24, 2006 from mobile

MeManaged to get in the house and get some sleep. Woke up to 3+ in of fresh and still comin. Gettin on the gondola now. Ready to rip shit up! 10:20 AM December 24, 2006 from mobile

So, that’s it. I made it having only missed 1 day of skiing. That plus the cash costs of the rental car, gas, and, of course, the speeding ticket, seem a fair price to pay for my idiocy. But those who know me, know that it probably won’t keep me from doing something like this again (in fact, this reminds me of the time I went to North Carolina for a wedding and missed my flights going and coming back — spent more time in transit than at my destination).

Anyway, I’m glad to be here with my family (not to mention the nice snowy mountains). Here’s wishing everyone as happy, if less adventurous, holidays.

Change is good, but not easy

I had a somewhat synchronistic experience yesterday that made me want to write about this subject. First, I was reading my monthly Wired in good old paper form and came across this blurb:

Almost three years ago,Scott Kirwin was Wired‘s pissed off programmer (“The New Face of the Silicon Age,” issue 12.02). Tossed from his job and raging against globalization, he had launched the Information Technology Professionals Association of America to lobby against offshored work and imported workers. These days, Kirwin still works with computers. He’s just less pissed: In June, he shuttered the ITPAA. “I don’t view outsourcing as the big threat it was,” he says. What changed? Well, Kirwin found better work as an analyst and software architect. And he noticed that the talents that make him valuable – open-mindedness, a willingness to take risks, flashes of ingenuity – couldn’t be reduced to a spec sheet and emailed to Hyderabad. If more Americans develop such abilities, Kirwin believes, the use of Indian programmers could even improve our economic outlook. Outsourcing isn’t going away, he says. “But in the end, America may be stronger for it.”

This happy-ending story got me thinking about a blog post with the first half of this one’s title. In my professional life, I constantly find myself arguing on behalf of disruptive change. So, I am always looking for examples to help me in what generally devolve into emotional arguments instead of rational discussions. The concept of creative destruction has been part of the discussion of economic theory for over 50 years. But, the human mind (while incredibly able to adapt) is inherently change-averse when it comes to the underlying assumptions of one’s daily life.

This reflexive defense mechanism is probably a good idea in this case, because Schumpeter‘s theory is a macroeconomic phenomenon — it only holds true at the scale of entire industries or economies, and it provides little consolation to those individuals and firms destroyed so that others might be created. Which is where the second act of synchronicity and the second half of this post’s title come in. Last night, I decided to watch one of the two Netflix movies I’ve been holding on to for the last 6 months (you’re welcome, Netflix). Roger & Me is Michael Moore‘s first film, and it just happens to be a documentary of the microeconomic impact of creative destruction in action — specifically, the devestation of Flint, MI in the late ’80’s due to drastic changes in the US auto industry.

While I don’t particularly care for Michael Moore (even though I am a liberal Democrat) and I disagree with his fundamental premise in the film (that the auto-industry “owed” the people of Flint because that’s where it began), I found his account of the personal and social impact of these events to be extremely poignant. The trade-offs between the advancement of the greater good and the cost to individuals are never easy (John Rawls proposed a theoretical means of making these decisions with his difference principle, but no one has figured out yet how to put it into practice systematically).

I really don’t have a point to make with this post, per se. I guess I said what I had to say with the title alone. Progress is generally good, but how good really depends on how one goes about it. There is a human element to value creation, something that won’t show up on any balance sheet. I think good leaders know this and guide their actions to maximize their own concepts of this holistic value (objectively measuring such value is precisely where implementation of Rawlsian principles starts to break-down), and not just the financial bottom-line. As Kant said, a human being “must be treated never as a mere means but as…an end at the same time.”

One potentially happy sign that progress is improving on itself comes from a comparison of these two examples of creative destruction. Only now, more than 28 years after GM started eliminating jobs in Flint, is the city showing evidence of a sustainable social and economic transition from its roots as the birthplace of the world’s largest auto-maker. Yet, those who feared similar economic devastation from the rise of software development outsourcing appear to be thriving just three short years later. While this is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison, it is encouraging to think (right or wrong) that in only two decades change has actually become a little easier.

Odds & Ends for 2006-12-11

  • In the words of our Engineering Manager, “hey so now that you’re famous, can you put the job description up on your blog?” I actually did post these job descriptions before, but I didn’t quite have the same readership way back then (i.e. before last Wednesday). So, here it goes again: the Yahoo! Widgets team is looking for client developers with Win32, C/C++ and Carbon/Cocoa experience. If you know anyone who is interested, please have them apply via the links below or email bmayes -at- yahoo-inc.com 
  • Another member of our team, Brady Wood in Product Marketing, deserves special credit this week for simultaneously spearheading browser marketing efforts at both Yahoo! and Google. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and Brady’s trying not to let it go to his head too much.
  • And finally, a little known irony that was overlooked in last week’s feeding frenzy and of which I was just reminded today: I’m still the face of Yahoo! Investor Relations. ROTFL!!! That’s been up there for ~2 years now, and I had totally forgotten about it — I wonder if now they’ll take it down or leave it up longer?

Wow!

Jeez, this whole interweb thing sure is powerful Image

When I wrote that post last night (with Kevin standing over my shoulder), I had no idea it would blow up like *this*. I really didn’t have any ulterior motives at the time, I was just so incensed reading all the punditry (as wrong as some of the bloggers are getting things, it’s the commenters who really piss me off) that I felt compelled to speak out.

So now that my day of Internet celebrity is coming to a close, I thought I would preserve some of my favorite moments for posterity:

  • Making the top story on Techmeme (pictured), and Ian‘s comment: “i think that’s the first time i’ve seen a 360 post make techmeme”
  • Nick Denton defending Valleywag from accusations of ripping off GigaOm by commenting “Hey, we read Strauss’ blog too!”
  • Thomas Hawk commenting “Yahoo! needs more fire in the belly people like Strauss.”

But, what I’m truly happiest about is all the positive feedback I’ve received from current and former Yahoos and people not even affiliated with the company. With the critics being so vocal of late, I’m glad to see that there are still some fans around. And I hope more of them will start to speak up.

Ok, now back to my normal ramblings that no one else generally cares about (and sticking to my usual rule of not blogging about work-related matters).

Amen, Terry!

So, I’m probably breaking a ton of rules by doing this. But, f@$k it! Here is the transcript, verbatim (I rewound the webcast several times just to get it right), of Terry’s closing comments at today’s re-org all-hands:

“At the next all-hands. Just as a reminder. I’m sorry I didn’t do it today. I’m gonna put up there all of the press reports on how Yahoo! was going out of business 5 years ago. And of how we were gonna be swallowed up by AOL, owned by Time-Warner,  and by Microsoft, and by everybody else. And Yahoo! looked like it had a dim future. Well those headlines, of course, were used to wrap a lot of fish in a lot of people’s houses, as the expression goes. And they were all full of shit, and they had no idea what we had planned for them. And they do not now as well!

So, we could read about how I’m gonna join some retirement home. And we could read about how the company doesn’t have a vision. And we could read about how we can’t do this and we can’t do that. Trust me, they will be as full of shit this time as they were last time.”

To hell with what Valleywag, TechCrunch, or WSJ say. It’s easy to sit back and Monday-morning-quarterback the leadership of a multi-billion dollar international company in the fastest moving and most competitive market that has likely *ever* existed. Today was one of the most exciting days in my two and a half years at Yahoo!, and I know a lot of people who feel the same.

As someone who has witnessed many of Yahoo!’s dysfunctions first-hand, I am frankly surprised at how right on they got it with this re-org. The changes that were announced this week and the ones that will come over the next few months are pretty much exactly what I think needs to be done to enable Yahoo! to realize its full potential. What seems to have been lost in the media’s Yahoo!-bashing dogpile is the fact that we are still the dominant player on most of the web. Yes, we’re #2 in search and Google is currently monetizing much more effectively than we are. But, they keep trying to get into our core businesses with very little success. Why if Google is so awesome, are they trying to do all the things that pokey old Yahoo! does? Hrmmm…must mean we actually do have some valuable assets. While we have a lot of improvements to make in certain areas, I firmly believe that Yahoo! still has the opportunity to approach our market from a position of strength. And I think this re-org is a *huge* step in that direction.

As for the Terry-bashing, you are all idiots. It seems like the tech world is getting its hubris back in bubble 2.0 and pundits are dying (again) to prove that an outsider can’t possibly have what it takes to succeed on the Internet. Schadenfreud is very easy to spot, and it is ugly. I hate to break it to all of you, but the Internet isn’t about technology. Cisco is a technology company, Yahoo! is a consumer services company — the fact that those services are delivered via IP is just a detail. The people who fault Terry for not knowing how IP switching works might as well have criticized Ted Turner for not knowing how to install a cable head-end. Technology savvy can be hired (and I won’t defend Yahoo!’s track record on that), but true leadership is something more.

What our company needs right now from a leader is resilience, defiance, and strength. And I couldn’t think of anyone better than Mr. Semel to provide that. All those idiots speculating on Terry’s departure (which has been talked about since he got here), have no understanding of the man. Do you think that after WB he ever had to work another day in his life? Let alone 70 hour weeks (I know when he leaves, and it is frequently after my 7:30pm shuttle)? Think about the kind of man who takes one of the most sterling records in recent executive management history and steps into a turnaround role at a company and in an industry with no certainty for the future. He may not be as bellicose as some other CEOs in tech. But, Terry is not the one to run from a fight — he runs to them. Right now we don’t need a leader who invented some cool technology when he was 25, we need the guy who spent 25 years climbing the corporate ladder all the way from the bottom to become arguably the most respected leader in one of the most cut-throat businesses in the world.

Keep on keepin’ on Terry, we’re right behind you.

All the Cool Kids Hate “UGC”

I’m glad to see that the anti-“UGC” (the term, not the concept) meme that started back in April is finally getting some mainstream (if you can consider Valleywag mainstream) airplay now that our very own Web 2.0 poster-boy Stewart Butterfield is speaking out.

Stewart’s public comment, which ironically made it on the screen during the “(User Generated) Content is King” panel at >play today, was:

“Every time I hear “UGC”, a little part of me — and everything I’ve ever believed in — dies.”

Amen, brother! But, let’s give credit where it’s due. Derek Powazek originated this meme (as far as I know) back in April with his post “Death to User-Generated Content” (a title I just realized I unintentionally/subconsciously repurposed in a post last week). Here’s how Derek breaks it down:

User: One who uses. Like, you know, a junkie.
Generated: Like a generator, engine. Like, you know, a robot.
Content: Something that fills a box. Like, you know, packing peanuts.

So what’s user-generated content? Junkies robotically filling boxes with packing peanuts. Lovely.

Calling the beautiful, amazing, brilliant things people create online “user-generated content” is like sliding up to your lady, putting your arm around her and whispering, “Hey baby, let’s have intercourse.”

I have subsequently posted twice on this topic, here and here. And I know from conversations with others who I respect that there is a broad consensus among the people who get “it” that the people who throw around the term “UGC” like so much “2.0” clearly don’t. I’m glad that this meme has now shown up on the only tech blog (or blog, period) that these “corp development morons” (Denton’s words, not mine) likely read. Maybe now they will be too ashamed to keep dropping it at every opportunity.

And I’m not at all upset that this is (probably only) being talked about in the context of people hating on Michael Arrington (in real-time, no less). I sat through the first 5 minutes of the panel in question, and that guy is a pompous prick. It probably didn’t help that the sycophantic b-school student introducing him called him the “King of Web 2.0” and he didn’t even consider blushing at such an absurd statement. The organizers of >play, who did an excellent job, had an innovative real-time feedback system powered by Mozes that enabled the audience to text their questions to the panel and have them show up on the big screen. In the true spirit of community participation emblematic of his reign over Web 2.0, Arrington’s first request was to turn the system off because it gave him less personal control over the conversation (a request the organizers, surprisingly and happily, refused). Then he proceeded to launch into a totally premeditated and exceedingly smug attack on Micki Krimmel and Revver, a person and a company for which I have a lot of respect.

Arrington’s relatively simplistic premise — of which he was oh-so-proud — was that the popularity of sites like YouTube was built on the back of illegal use of copyrighted content and that, as such, there was no legitimate business model to be had in this space — basically he was saying that no one wants to watch truly user-generated content. I wanted to remind him that Apple’s entire billion-dollar digital music business was built on illegal use of copyrighted content (iTunes and the iPod pre-date the iTunes Music Store by several years), and explain to him that this whole Web 2.0 thing that he apparently rules is all about the fact that you don’t need to aggregate large audiences to build a successful business. But, I left to go watch some football instead.

P.S. I managed to sneak Randy‘s term “Context is King” into Marco’s keynote this morning. It was far and away the best delivered and received speech I’ve heard from an executive at a conference in a while, way to go Marco! Maybe if Arrington had shown up for that as well, instead of just for his panel, he would have had a clue. I’ll link to the deck when it goes online.

You can find the deck here.

“Keeping the New Media new”

Yesterday, while still in the place that spawned these posts, I stumbled onto this post by Micki Krimmel, a fellow film industry vet (and LA BarCamper) who now works at Revver and writes for Worldchanging.com. Micki’s post on “Keeping the New Media new” is a great primer for citizen content creators and consumers on what they can do to preserve the open nature of entertainment on the Internet in a world in which conventional entertainment incumbents are taking an active interest in “user-generated content.”

And, the discussion in the comments would make Hegel proud:

  • Thesis A – Content is king.
  • Antithesis A – Content’s importance is only derived from the control it has over context (i.e. distribution / consumption).
  • Synthesis A /Thesis B – Context is king.
  • Antithesis B – Context is created by conversation / community.
  • Synthesis B – “If context is king and conversation is the queen mum, then consumers are the subjects who give this monarchy its power by investing it with their sovereignty.”

My two not uncontroversial assertions based on this are:

  1. Net Anti-Neutrality is a greater threat to the telcos themselves than it is to consumers.
  2. Apple currently poses the  greatest potential danger to an open digital media ecosystem.

Now, go here and add your $0.02.

Shout Outs (and some interesting reading):

  • Randy, for coining, as far as I know, the phrase “context is king,” which is the title of a presentation he’s been giving around Yahoo! (and has promised to blog about soon) – and for continuing to tirelessly represent the voice of the consumer.
  • Ian, for educating me on the evils of DRM for ceaselessly evangelizing his anti-DRM stance within Yahoo! and for making it the official policy of Yahoo! Music.
  • Russell, for the discussions that honed my thinking on DRM strategy (and for this post, which  in hindsight is a case in point for the better product and execution beating the seemingly better strategy).
  • Kareem, Heather, and all the others responsible for BarCampLA – a venue for discussions on the intersection of media and technology much more powerful than any Digital Media Summit Yahoo! has paid $2,000 to send me to.

Ok, enough Media 2.0 fun for now. Back to work on my day job: creating Web Candle + Monkey.

Death to “UGC”

So first of all, things aren’t right with the world when your former summer intern is getting quoted in more prominent publications than you are (and no, that’s not a totally shameless “look at me” non-sequitor, it’s more of a partially shameless “look at me” semi-sequitor – and way to go Gilbar!). But, this is just representative of the increasingly mainstream fascination with user-generated content, also called “UGC” by people who have no idea what they’re talking about. I ranted about this in a post a few months back which Randy reminded me of when we were chatting today and he lamented that those of us who hate this name (and it’s more than just the two of us) have yet to agree on something better. And then it dawned on me, we don’t need a new name because user-generated content no longer really exists.

“Huh?”

Bear with me here. This past weekend, I was hanging out with my dad, who is about as old school media as you can get. On our way to lunch on Saturday, he asked me if I saw continued growth in user-generated content/YouTube. My first reaction was to disambiguate the two; YouTube is far from the end-all, be-all of user-generated content. And in doing so, I had somewhat of an epiphany: the primary meaning of user-generated content has morphed. It is no longer really a description of the means of production (or more accurately, financing), it now symbolizes a certain aesthetic that we have come to associate with what user-generated content used to mean – content created by amateurs and offered free of charge.

The comparison that first springs to mind is what has happened to “Indie Film” in the age of Paris Hilton attending Sundance. When Miramax was acquired by Disney, did its films lose their street cred? And are Warner Independent Pictures or Fox Searchlight or Sony Pictures Classics producing and distributing “studio films” by definition? And wtf are we supposed to call movies from the new Weinstein Company!? When you try to categorize films by who paid for them, the original denotation of the independent vs studio distinction, it becomes readily apparent that these terms now mean something completely different – they represent a look, a feel, a sensibility that have come to connote artistic integrity and authentic expression contrasted against unabashed commercialism and pandering to the lowest common cultural denominator as established by some formula churned out by a program on a mid-level studio marketing flunky’s computer.

Similarly, user-generated content is now more of a style than a statement on the professional status of the producers. How else could you explain the example du jour, LonelyGirl15 – a YouTube distributed serial produced by professional filmmakers and starring paid actors that initially passed itself off as a teenage girl’s video blog? Or what about our boy Gilbar’s crew of begrudgingly amateur filmmakers who managed to produce a short of higher quality than some tv shows? (See, that earlier reference was relevant. Did I mention that I was quoted in AdWeek?) How about ZeFrank or the Ask A Ninja guys, who started producing content for fun but can now make a living off of it? When you think about it this way, “The Blair Witch Project” was really the first example of the potential of the user-generated content aesthetic.

Those who work with me know I’m fond of saying there are 3 types of content in the world: PBS (free to consumers); NBC (ad-sponsored); and HBO (consumer paid). There is also a *spectrum* of content producers: from those who do it for the love of the game to those who rely on it to finance the lavish lifestyles to which they’ve become accustomed. And finally, there are innumerable styles and techniques in a filmmaker’s bag of tricks designed to evoke specific responses from the audience. While user-generated content began as a reference to a perceived intersection of these three independent axes (namely, free content produced by amateurs with low fidelity DV cameras and choppy editing), that intersection now only represents a subset of what the term has quickly come to encompass in our vernacular. The three axes of business model, professional status, and production value have diverged and the distinctions that defined user-generated content have begun to break down (thanks in no small part to services like Revver that can give anyone an ad-sponsored business model). If user-generated content means anything now, it is merely a certain style of production that is associated with the origins of the term. �

And so, I hereby pronounce user-generated content dead as a business term. Any business person who continues to believe that they can just set up some submission UI and people will hand over the rights� to worthwhile content for free deserves his fate. Another saying of which I’m fond is: “you get what you pay for.” People who want to be part of the network in order to reap the benefit of value created at the edges had better start thinking harder about how they can contribute some value too.