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Debating Zittrain’s “The Future of the Internet” 06/20/2011

Posted by Derek Belt in Musings.
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Debating Jonathan Zittrain's "The Future of the Internet"
Jonathan Zittrain’s crystal ball does not paint a pretty picture. In The Future of the Internet: And How to Stop It, the author and professor of law at Harvard Law School explores a world ripe with possibilities yet riddled with controversy. Where the Internet succeeded in changing the way we communicate, Zittrain says it no longer functions as originally intended. It’s far too easily taken advantage of, he says, and the risks are beginning to outweigh the rewards. The “future” he is trying to stop is not merely one of open source ideals and generative technology, but of regulation, legislation and reform. “The solution,” he says, “is not to conscript intermediaries to become the Net police,” (Zittrain, p. 195). But what is the solution? Zittrain, who co-founded the Berkman Center for Internet & Society, does not fully explore possible solutions in The Future of the Internet. Instead, he wrestles with the possibility of a closed-network society that willingly sacrifices the freedom to innovate for security and peace of mind.

Though the generative qualities of the Internet initially gave way to stunning insight and earth-shaking innovation, it also spawned viruses, spam, hackers and worse. According to Zittrain, the government and/or corporate intermediaries—both of which loosely regulate the Internet nowadays—will move to strengthen the Net’s regulability and, thus, wield more control over it. This, he says, will destroy the generative Net as we know it. An “appliancized network” is a term Zittrain uses to describe technologies or networks that discourage or disallow tinkering. Generative technology, on the other hand, invites or allows modification. The latter, Zittrain says, is what makes the Internet function. He believes in the Net’s openness and feels we can preserve its generativity if we simply act fast.

To solve the problem, Zittrain proposes a “latter-day Manhattan Project, not to build a bomb but to design the tools and conventions by which to continuously diffuse one,” (Zittrain, p. 173). Essentially, he wants to make subtle changes to the Net’s so-called operating agreement and hold those accountable who would use it for ill intent. But it may be too late, as Zittrain himself points out at various points throughout the book. “Any comprehensive redesign of the Internet at this late stage,” he says, “would draw the attention of regulators and other parties who will push for ways to prevent abuse before it can even happen,” (Zittrain, p. 245). If governments and corporations enact legislation to preemptively stop bad things from happening, it will lead to a closed network and less innovation on the part of end users. This is not the future Zittrain wants to see.


Chris Anderson – “The Long Tail” 03/26/2011

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Chris Anderson – The Long Tail

Reaching Millions
The great thing about broadcast is that it can bring one show to millions of people with unmatchable efficiency. But it can’t do the opposite–bring a million shows to one person each. Yet that is exactly what the Internet does so well. (Anderson, p. 5)

One Size Doesn’t Fit AllThe era of one-size-fits-all is ending, and in its place is something new, a market of multitudes. (Anderson, p. 5)

What Consumers Want
Unlimited selection is revealing truths about what consumers want and how they want to get it in service after service–from DVDs at the rental-by-mail firm Netflix to songs in the iTunes Music Store and Rhapsody. People are going deep into the catalog, down the long, long list of available titles, far past what’s available at Blockbuster Video and Tower Records. And the more they find, the more they like. As they wander farther from the beaten path, they discover their taste is not as mainstream as they thought (or as they had been led to believe by marketing, a hit-centric culture, and simply a lack of alternatives). (Anderson, p. 16)

Hits And Niches
For the first time in history, hits and niches are on equal economic footing, both just entries in a database called up on demand, both equally worthy of being carried. Suddenly, popularity no longer has a monopoly on profitability. (Anderson, p. 24)

The Nature Of Markets
When you can dramatically lower the costs of connecting supply and demand, it changes not just the numbers, but the entire nature of the market. (Anderson, p. 26)


A Google search helped save my dog’s life 12/27/2010

Posted by Derek Belt in Musings.
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I learned early in my relationship that the dog came with the girl. They were, as my wife said to me then, a package deal. I’m a huge fan now, but that wasn’t always the case. A rescue Chihuahua named Romey, this pup was kind of a laugher. She peed everywhere. She threw up on me once. And she was fat. Very fat. I can’t tell you how many times I got asked the question, “Is that a Chihuahua?” She looked more like a Dachshund to everyone else.

Then she almost died, I saved her life, and I couldn’t possibly imagine life without her. Funny how quickly things can change.

My wife was at school one night and it was just me and the dog on the couch. Romey’s lost nearly two pounds since I’ve known her, but it hasn’t been because of the exercise. She likes to sleep. A lot. At some point, she awoke from her slumber and headed into the kitchen for a quick bite. She worked on a chew stick, and I guess a small chunk of it broke off because she came running into the living room coughing and coughing. She just kept hacking and it was the most terrible sound.

When it first hit me that she was choking I almost lost it. It’s fascinating what flashes before your eyes in moments like this, and I couldn’t think of anything other than how sad my wife was going to be. This little dog means everything to her. I had to do something, but what could I do? I picked her up, massaged her tummy and neck, and poked my finger down her throat to try and lodge the piece free. I later learned this was not the correct course of action, but what else was I supposed to try at the time? Romey just kept coughing and coughing and her little eyes were so scared. My heart was racing. She was dying in my arms. When she jumped away from me and squiggled back behind the TV, my instincts told me this was pretty much the worst-case scenario. Animals tend to hide so they can be alone when they die, and I was running out of time.


Kristina Halvorson – “Content Strategy for the Web” 12/22/2010

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Kristina Halvorson – Content Strategy for the Web

It’s All About the Text, Baby
Text is everywhere. Today, most of the content on the web is text. We search for it in articles, blog posts, product descriptions, reviews, and more. We depend on it to tell us which video we’re about to watch, or where to click in order to complete our purchase. We create it ourselves using social media channels, blogs, wikis, and more. Text instructs, guides, informs, confirms, communicates, connects. (Halvorson, p. x)

A Whole Lot Less
Online, when it comes to informational, marketing, or promotional content, more is almost never more. Instead of going for “critical mass,” think about striving for “a whole lot less.” (Halvorson, p. 7)

We Need a Website
In the mid-1990s, we all woke up one morning to discover that, suddenly, we were expected to establish an online presence for our organization right now. No one asked for it. No one planned for it. But almost overnight, if we wanted to build or maintain credibility as a viable, trustworthy organization, we needed a website. Period. (Halvorson, p. 21)

No Shortcuts
Content should be your first thought. Not an afterthought. There are no shortcuts. No matter what you’ve read, no matter what the “experts” are telling you, aggregation doesn’t equal differentiation, users will not magically generate your content for you, [and] you can’t buy effective content on the cheap. (Halvorson, p. 23)

The People Behind the Content
Quality, relevant content can’t be spotted by an algorithm. You can’t subscribe to it. You need people—actual human beings—to create or curate it. (Halvorson, p. 24)

Preparing Your Content
Content on the web is a living, breathing thing. It’s ever-changing, ever-evolving, constantly shaped and reshaped by curators, creators, reviewers, and users. Prepare your content carefully, and it will live a longer, happier life online. (Halvorson, p. 111)

What Readers Want
Amber Simmons (AListApart.com) eloquently defends the need for better writing online: Content fills a real need: it establishes emotional connections between people. The writing has heart and spirit; it has something to say and the wherewithal to stand up and say it. Content is the stuff readers want to read…. It hooks the reader and draws him in, encouraging him to click this link or that, to venture further into a website. It delivers what it promises and delights the attentive reader. (Halvorson, p. 129)

Social Media Rules the Day
More than any media channel the world has ever seen, social media needs maintenance. Care and feeding. Upkeep. All. The. Time. (Halvorson, p. 141)


Halvorson, Kristina. Content Strategy for the Web. New Riders, 2010.

Charlene Li – “Open Leadership” 10/03/2010

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Charlene Li – Open Leadership

A  New Approach
Leadership requires a new approach, new mind-set, and new skills. It isn’t enough to be a good communicator. You must be comfortable sharing personal perspectives and feelings to develop closer relationships. Negative online comments can’t be avoided or ignored. Instead, you must come to embrace each openness-enabled encounter as an opportunity to learn. And it is not sufficient to just be humble. You need to seek out opportunities to be humbled each and every day—to be touched as much by the people who complain as by those who say “Thank you.” (Li, p. xvi)

Shift in Power
What’s really going on here? The answer, both simple and far-reaching, is that there has been a fundamental shift in power, one in which individuals have the ability to broadcast their views to the world. (Li, p. 5)

Time to Get to Work
The first step is recognizing that you are not in control—your customers, employees, and partners are. If you are among the many executives who long for the “good ol’ days” when rules and roles were clear, indulge yourself in that kind of thinking for just a few more minutes—then it’s time to get to work. This is a fad that will not fade, but will only grow stronger, with or without you. [Li, p. 8]

Buy Now!
With today’s empowered customers and employees, organizations need to earn the right to have a conversation, and then only at the right time. Without a relationship in place, the best marketing campaigns will fall on deaf ears, especially as people struggle to channel the real signal in the cacophony of today’s media clutter. So just as a marriage proposal on a first day is, with rare exceptions, alarmingly premature, a pitch to “Buy now!” would be spurned. (Li, p. 57)

Measuring Relationships
What’s the ROI of a handshake? Or think of a lunch you recently had with a colleague or direct report, where you invested time and money to develop a deeper relationship with them. How do you calculate the ROI of an internal business lunch? This illustrates the fundamental problem of being open and of business in general some things in a relationship can be measured and managed, but many other things cannot. (Li, p. 76)

Coffee Pot Effect
Companies invest an inordinate amount of money on relationships, everything from public relations to establish relationships with highly influential members of the media to the coffee pot in the lunch room to keep up employee morale. In most cases, more than half of a company’s operating expenses are likely to be spent on activities that have an indirect impact on the bottom line. We may not be able to link the ROI of these expenses to direct sales, but we know there’s some incremental benefit that makes them worthwhile. (Li, p. 76)

A Deeper Dialog
As you try to measure the benefits of ROI of a deeper dialog and relationship with customers, you must realize that you can’t even begin to calculate the benefit of protecting your organization’s reputation in a real-time communications world. Another way to frame the issue is to ask: What is the ROI on your fire insurance policy? You wouldn’t even contemplate going without it! Reputation protection can’t be a primary goal for your openness strategy, as it quickly becomes obvious that you are acting in a defensive manner rather than trying to develop a real relationship. In the end, reputation protection is a good by-product of deeper relationships, a benefit that organizations derive when key employees—and customers—come to their rescue. (Li, p. 89)


Li, Charlene. Open Leadership. Jossey-Bass, 2010.

Clay Shirky – “Here Comes Everybody” 10/03/2010

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Clay Shirky – Here Comes Everybody

We Change Society
When we change the way we communicate, we change society. (Shirky, p. 17)

Sharing is Caring
We are living in the middle of a remarkable increase in our ability to share, to cooperate with one another, and to take collective action, all outside the framework of traditional institutions and organizations. (Shirky, p. 20)

Breaking Down Walls
Most of the barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gathering together and getting things done. (Shirky, p. 22)

When Will the Change Happen?
Group action gives human society its particular character, and anything that changes the way groups get things done will affect society as a whole. This change will not be limited to any particular set of institutions or functions. For any given organization, the important questions are “When will the change happen?” and “What will change?” The only to answers we can rule out are never, and nothing. (Shirky, p. 23)

Business As Usual
Anyone who has worked in an organization with more than a dozen employees recognizes institutional costs. Anytime you are faced with too many meetings, too much paperwork, or too many layers of approval … everyone complains about institutional overhead, without much hope of changing things. In that world (the world we lived in until recently), if you wanted to take on a task of any significance, managerial oversight was just one of the costs of doing business. (Shirky, p. 45)

Everybody Get Together
The collapse of transaction costs makes it easier for people to get together—so much easier, in fact, that it is changing the world. (Shirky, p. 48)

Rungs on the Ladder
You can think of group undertaking as a kind of ladder of activities, activities that are enabled or improved by social tools. The rungs on the ladder, in order of difficulty, are sharing, cooperation, and collective action. (Shirky, p. 49)


Shirky, Clay. Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Penguin Group, 2008.

It’s not a revolution, it’s a change in scope and perspective 10/01/2010

Posted by Derek Belt in Reflections.
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A lot of what we’re grappling with here is scope and perspective. Scope being the general impact of the communications shift we’re seeing across the globe. We are moving away from a shout-it-out-loud, top-down marketing approach thrust upon us by big firms and mega media conglomerates, to a Summer of Love-style, let’s-talk-about-the-issues form of social communication. This change is huge-big as Kathy Gill likes to says. Perspective, of course, is what Charlene Li addresses in Open Leadership. With all of these new tools at our disposal, are we being diligent and asking the tough questions? For example, “Is this good for me?” Every company is different, every organization unique. We have to look at what matters most. Is it money? Is it engagement? Is it customer satisfaction?

There is a place for all of this in business and communications. But as professionals, we are responsible for sifting through the hype and determining which tactics are best for our companies, be it a one-person startup or a Fortune 500. I like the everyman that Clay Shirky portrays as the champion of social media in Here Comes Everybody. But I respect Malcom Gladwell’s take on “weak ties” being exactly that: weak. Is this a revolution? Or is it simply a shift in scope and perspective? Gladwell takes on Shirky in this fantastic article from The New Yorker.

Open Leadership has many case studies of social media success. These tools work for certain companies in certain situations. That’s the exciting part. What’s difficult is being on the inside with all of it at your fingertips and having the guts to say, “We actually don’t need to be on Twitter.” The opposite is true just as much: having the confidence to convince your boss that a company blog is a good idea. Scope and perspective. What does it mean to you?

Bottom line, learn as much as you can and make informed decisions. We’ve never had so many options. Understanding what’s out there is where the real power lies.

Rob Salkowitz – “Young World Rising” 09/26/2010

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Rob Salkowitz – Young World Rising

Best Years Behind
The bottom line is that the countries that have been the drivers of innovation and productivity for the past several centuries are running out of juice. An increasing percentage of the populations of Japan and Europe have their most productive years behind them–and their years of greatest healthcare costs ahead of them, or upon them. Even absent any other externalities, that situation creates enormous competitive challenges for any economy. (Salkowitz, p. 20)

Backward Compatible
Pre-digital generations tend to view digital technology and digital culture as disruptive–for good or for ill. Change is a problem to be solved. Digital generations accommodate pre-digital processes primarily out of courtesy to their elders, below it all, they suspect that their own methods would produce better results if not for the need to keep contact with the laggards who insist on following old rules that don’t fit the current situation. Contrary to the suggestions of some observers, Millenials are indeed “backward compatible” with traditional work cultures and work practices, especially when job opportunities are scarce, but organizations that find ways to empower them in full digital-native mode tend to get greater productivity, engagement, and loyalty in return. (Salkowitz, p. 36)


Salkowitz, Rob. Young World Rising: How Youth, Technology, and Entrepreneurship are Changing the World from the Bottom Up. John Wiley & Sons, Inc, 2010.

Brian Solis – “Engage!” 08/23/2010

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Brian Solis – Engage!

The Art of Attention
That’s the trick of all this. It’s the art of garnering attention and then capturing and holding it now and henceforward. Everything requires promotion through the consistent and vigorous acts of connecting profiles and pages to those who will enjoy them. With increasing visibility by willfully sharing your presences within their social graph. Participation is key to growing the community and ensuring its integrity and associated activity. (Solis, p. 77)

Anthroplogy 101
Altogether, this is not unlike the fieldwork and observational studies performed by anthropologists and sociologists. Typically, we view the connections established within social networks as symbolizing relationships between people. Therefore we look at the number of friends and followers as a metric for authority and popularity. However, we’ve learned that in social media the pattern for forging connection is migrating towards orbiting objects over the criteria usually associated with establishing traditional friendships and acquaintances. (Solis, p. 105)

How We React
As the Social Web and new services continue to migrate into and permeate everything we do online, we’re faced with an increasingly thinning state of continuous partial attention. It’s affecting how and what we consume, when, and more importantly, how we react, participate, and share. That “something” is forever vying for our attention and relentlessly pushing us to do more with less, driven by the omnipresent fear of missing out on what’s next. (Solis, p. 112)

Information Will Find You
Now and in the future, information will find you. And it will be spread through the vision and words of our peers and other citizen reporters who are compelled to leverage their networks of influence to unite people, if for a but moment, around information that captures the heart, mind, and soul. (Solik, p. 142) (more…)

Smartphones on the brain 08/22/2010

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Before I even look at my first post from our summer smartphone class, I am going to throw out a few gut reactions. First, this program is still blowing my mind. I love the MCDM.

The readings for this class were the best I’ve had in the program so far. Our book, The Business of iPhone App Development, was easy to follow and incredibly detailed, though it could have used an extra editor. The PDFs we were given made everything fall into place, from the chapter on cognitive friction to the essay on designing for power. I really did take them to heart and learned a lot about why developers and designers need to work together.

The speakers were great, too. I heard T.A. McCann speak in the economics course, but his presentation this time around was different and he really cut to the chase about why a smartphone app works for Gist. I also enjoyed hearing from Michael Schneider, who inspired me with his “Developers rock!” attitude. To me, that’s what digital media is all about. Putting great minds together and making even greater things happen.



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