Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Next Right

Patrick Ruffini, who has been blogging at his own site and at PrezVid, announces a new joint venture called The New Right. It's meant to spark a netroots movement for the right to counterbalance the established movement on the left. Ruffini explains:

Part of the problem is structural. When the conservative blogosphere first emerged, we were in the midst of a political upswing, with back-to-back-to-back victories in 2000, 2002, and 2004. Political activism wasn’t going to be a comparative advantage for the right online. Most were content just being pundits or media critics. This trend was reinforced by the blogosphere’s success in scalping Dan Rather, part of a series of new media-driven events that arguably changed the trajectory of the 2004 election.

Ever since then, a radically different set of circumstances has dominated our politics. It’s one that requires a substantially different response — one that requires us to stop being pundits and start being change agents.

Put simply, the party, and in many cases, the movement, has lost its moorings. Earmarks exploded ten-fold, and it wasn’t under a Democratic Congress. In this winter’s primary, we saw the once mighty fiscal-social-national conservative coalition turned in on itself, with economic conservatives pitted against social conservatives. And too many of the “experts” in the Presidential campaigns this cycle failed to modernize the way the party does business, clinging to the old top-down rostrums of direct mail and fundraising-by-cocktail-party in an increasingly networked and crowdsourced world.

It’s no wonder that Joe Conservative outside the Beltway feels that none of his self appointed “leaders” are listening to him. He looks to Washington and sees a leadership class that is too often arrogant, timid, divided, and technologically behind the curve. It’s no wonder why this year more than most his wallet has been sealed shut when it comes to supporting Republican candidates — even the good ones. 

Ruffini really gets these tech changes in political organization, strategy, and analysis, and it should be interesting seeing how he applies his knowledge in the new venture, no matter what your politics.

Patrick Ruffini :: Introducing The Next Right
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Work smarter, not harder

An argument for firing workaholics. Bottom line: no virtue in working hard if you can't prioritize, can't get things done, and inadvertently cause the crises you solve. 37Signals diagnoses workaholism as a symptom of perfectionism, and I think that's true, but it also results from getting locked into a tactical, reactive stance.

I should link this from my syllabus, since I regularly tell my students they are graded on results rather than effort.

Workaholics fixate on inconsequential details - (37signals)
Blogged with the Flock Browser

iWAC 2008 presentation - "Learning to Cross Boundaries"

You're coming to iWAC 2008 in Austin, right? Here's my slides. Some are similar to the ones I used in Santa Barbara this February, but the emphasis is on horizontal and vertical learning this time.

A rare story: China outsources manufacturing to US

LA Times, via BoingBoing. A (rare) story about a Chinese businessman who has invested $10m in a South Carolina  printing-plate factory:
His main aim is to tap the large American market, but when his finance staff penciled out the costs, he was stunned to learn how they compared with those in China.

Liu spent about $500,000 for seven acres in Spartanburg -- less than one-fourth what it would cost to buy the same amount of land in Dongguan, a city in southeast China where he runs three plants. U.S. electricity rates are about 75% lower, and in South Carolina, Liu doesn't have to put up with frequent blackouts.

About the only major thing that's more expensive in Spartanburg is labor. Liu is looking to offer $12 to $13 an hour there, versus about $2 an hour in Dongguan, not including room and board. But Liu expects to offset some of the higher labor costs with a payroll tax credit of $1,500 per employee from South Carolina.
I wouldn't take this as a larger trend, but it does point to some of the (short-term) advantages the US still has in the manufacturing realm, particularly a reliable public infrastructure.

Chinese firms bargain hunting in U.S. - Los Angeles Times
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Conjunctured signs a lease

I blogged about Conjunctured a while back because the concept was interesting to me. Conjunctured is a "co-company" in which independent freelancers "come together to collaborate on the projects they feel most passionate about." As I said in that earlier post, this org structure sounds a lot like Zuboff and Maxmin's "federations," but even less hierarchical.

Conjunctured has now leased a coworking space, which is great. But what stopped me was this:

We were excited about being a part of such a cool community, both in 501 and in east Austin (the city’s fastest growing part of town). Here are some shots of the space we were tweeting about here, there andeverywhere Tuesday afternoon.

After soliciting feedback from potential coworkers via Twitter DMs, emailing people who have filled out our membership questionnaire and making some select phone calls to loved ones and advisors, we decided to bite the bullet, throw down a deposit and sign a one-year lease.

It makes sense that a distributed co-company would use such distributed avenues. Twitter in particular.

Conjunctured » Blog Archive » Scouring the city for a space.
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Microsoft possibly targeting Facebook?

Yesterday I basically opined that Facebook is bloatware and might be vulnerable to the lightweight, single-function, interoperable applications that are currently colonizing it via activity streams. Today Microsoft's bankers are rumored to be nosing around Facebook. Somehow this makes sense.

Potential Microsoft Move Leaked
Blogged with the Flock Browser

GDocs now allows CSS for document styling

A big step toward Word-level formatting. Of course, you have to know CSS in order to take advantage of it. My guess is that this step is transitional, and a point-and-click style editor will wend its way down eventually.

Google Docs: Style Your Google Docs with CSS
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Twitter Blocks

I mentioned that tools such as Twitter need some sort of aggregated view. I wasn't really expecting Twitter Blocks, and it doesn't really get the job done, but it is fascinating. Thanks to my spotter for passing this on.

Reading :: Quests

Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives
By Jeff Howard

Jeff Howard, an alum of the Computer Writing and Research Lab, recently published this interesting and unusual book that brings together game and narrative, gaming and literature, design and criticism. It aims to reach several different audiences, including digital media theorists and game designers, but in many places it works the hardest at reaching instructors who want to incorporate videogame design into their literature classes.

If you're thinking this is a fairly narrow audience, you're right. And at some points, the book has a hard time maintaining its balance, switching from inside baseball on lit crit to code snippets to discussions of the Aurora Toolset. It can be dizzying.

But the book does achieve its purpose: it draws direct analogies between literary quests and game quests, demonstrating how quests must be implemented differently in the different fiction environments, and discussing how to make that transformation in ways that lead to better games and better interpretations of the literary texts. And although the switches between environments can be dizzying, Howard manages to make things look easy. His low-key writing style and chapter organization help us to know when we're on familiar territory and his analogies help us across unfamiliar territory.

Even though the book is pitched at these specific audiences, you might pick it up if you have a background in one area (computer-assisted instruction, literature, game theory) and want to see how the other areas can help you out. It's an unusual book, but an illuminating one within these areas.

Blogged with the Flock Browser

Ambient intimacy; thoughts on Facebook's future

Jeff Jarvis meditates on the term, linking to Leise Reichelt. The notion has been at the top of my mind lately, as I've been ramping up my set of Twitter friends and checking my Facebook via mobile phone.

As Jarvis and Reichelt both argue, the (life)streams of updates we get from Twitter, Facebook, FriendFeed, etc. allow us to keep up with each others' moods, activities, and interconnections in ways rather different from face-to-face contact, email, written letters, or phone calls. That doesn't necessarily mean better, but certainly different. Like Jarvis, I've reconnected with friends and former students who would not be on my radar otherwise. I've also found opportunities to network and think through shared problems.

I find to my surprise that my media hierarchy is tilting sharply toward Twitter. Now I check it before my RSS reader: some of the people I follow on Twitter can be counted on to post the big tech headlines. For a small circle of friends, I receive their updates via SMS, allowing me to anticipate their day and text them condolences or congratulations. We arranged an impromptu game of Mario Kart online yesterday via Twitter -- another killer app that had not occurred to me. And Twitter's direct messaging function allows me to text people without knowing their mobile numbers as well as archive interactions.

The mobile integration is critical here, since (a) I am on the go so much; (b) unlike my computer, I own my phone; it is a more private space; (c) SMS takes so much less bandwidth and is so much less obtrusive.

Okay, so what does this mean for Facebook? Here's the thing: Facebook is to Twitter what Emacs is to the Unix | operator. Facebook has attempted to become a platform in its own right, a place where you can run an  unlimited number of apps and extensions that take advantage of its network effects. Twitter focuses on doing one thing well, with stripped down functionality. It's open API allows it to take in and push out text along a variety of paths (it's how I update my tasks in Remember the Milk, for example).

I recently thought that Facebook's approach made a lot of sense: you supply a platform, you lock people in with network effects. BUT -- people follow my Twitter updates through Facebook's activity stream (via FriendFeed). So what happens over a short period is that Twitter colonizes Facebook, exploiting its network effects. People are setting up Twitter to update their Facebook status. And using Twitter rather than Facebook to direct-message each other. And those apps that you can access through Facebook can generally be accessed through other services too. At some point -- and I have reached that point -- Facebook becomes a dispensible middleman. FriendFeed becomes unobtrusive connective tissue for one's many web services, Twitter becomes the preferred communicative medium.

All this suddenly makes me wonder whether Google's loss of high-profile executives to Facebook is a matter of getting the wrong people off the bus. If Facebook becomes Emacs, it's going to become too restrictive for many users, and Facebook's threatening ad revenue growth is not going to be sustainable. Meanwhile, targeted mobile ads show surprising strength, and Google has a much more realized mobile ad strategy right now. Ask me what I think in a month or two.

BuzzMachine » Blog Archive » Ambient intimacy
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Monday, May 05, 2008


In response to my earlier post on Blyk, Ricky sends me a link to his weekly BlykWatch. Fascinating. If you want to know what ad-supported mobile might look like, here it is. And if you wonder how people might react to the ads, well, let's just say that I'm sure that different demographics will respond differently.

SMS Text News » BlykWatch
Blogged with the Flock Browser

Blyk experience suggests ad-supported mobile phones are more than viable

Meant to blog about this last week:
Blyk announced last week that they had reached the 100,000 subscriber level in the UK. For those who do not read our blog regularly, Blyk is the radical UK youth-oriented mobile service provider, who offer free calls and free SMS text messages, to youth users (absolute age limit 16-24, membership by invitation only) in exchange of receiving up to 6 mobile advertisements per day.
Not only do subscribers tolerate the ads, they have reportedly asked for more of them. Response rates are 29%, which is incredible for advertising.

So I've been thinking about this. Would I enter into this sort of bargain, in which I received free mobile service in exchange for six ads per day?

On the one hand, I'm already seeing ads through the mobile web interface. They're not impairing me. And I already receive a lot of text messages via Twitter, GCalendar, etc., so I don't think it would take much cognitive overhead to process them. Six messages a day doesn't seem like a lot to process at any rate, certainly compared to a hefty monthly phone bill.

On the other hand, where does Blyk get the marketing information? I assume that with response rates that high, ads are highly targeted. Would I need to fill out a detailed questionnaire in advance? To what extent would my communications and choices be monitored? I'm sure this information is available; I'd need to go over it with a fine-toothed comb before committing to such a service.

At any rate, I'm only able to speculate at this point: Blyk is only in the UK right now, and I'm way outside the target range of 16-24. But it's a model to watch.

Communities Dominate Brands: Blyk hits target 5 months early, 100,000 youth members VERY happy with mobile ads
Blogged with the Flock Browser