Archive for March, 2010

A RETROSPECTIVE ON NEWSMORPHOSIS 2.0

March 31st, 2010
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We presented the NewsMorphosis program on March 18th at the Plaza Club. It was by all accounts a success, although some of that has to be related to the buzz created by the sale of the Advertiser to David Black. In any event, all three of our out of town panelists came and came on time. They were all interesting and vivacious and were great anchors for the three panels we presented that day, and it's more than likely that they'll carry the word back to their respective constituencies that yes Hawaii can do high level conferences.

BOOKEND KEYNOTES

Avi Soifer, constitutional scholar and Dean of the UH Law School, was our “wakeup” keynote. And that he did. In a relaxed breakfast style, he gave the crowd a splendid talk, with great personal aloha, on “The Role of News in a Free Society.” The webcast video of his remarks is on vimeo.com/10515668 or thinktechhawaii.com, and is well worth watching.

John Temple, new editor of Pierre Omidyar’s Peer News, was our luncheon keynote. He didn’t like the title we had given his keynote – “The Role Peer News will play in the Transformation.” He thought it implied he would talk about Peer News. Well, we had hoped he would talk about Peer News. I don’t think they would have come to hear him talk about something else.

Aside from calling me out on the title of the keynote, John’s point seemed to be that there was no “silver bullet” and we shouldn’t expect too much from Peer News. But it certainly seemed there is more going on under the hood than he was willing to tell us about. Why hire an editor and “host” reporters and spend the money to design and develop Peer News if it isn’t going to play a role in the transformation. Doing another conventional news site will go nowhere fast. Peer News must be developing something new, which we haven’t seen before.

You can see what he said and make up your own mind. The webcast of his talk is on vimeo.com/10517131 or thinktechhawaii.com. Or you can check it out on Channel 54 when the full OLELO coverage is posted on Olelo.org.

VANITY JOURNALISM

Avi Soifer talked about “volunteer fire department” citizen journalists, and in the challenge of the business models to come, that may well be the best and most affordable option, one which Peer News and other Internet plays might well be considering. John Temple said Peer News hoped to build “community” and “engagement” with the readers. Volunteers could be a key part of that.

Perhaps they should also consider vanity journalism, i.e., pay to play. The in-house “host’ journalists can be used to supervise and encourage them. These vanity volunteers would pay for space, and the proceeds could be applied to compensate the most talented of them. Good journalists should be paid well and treated like stars. Click through ads won’t cover the labor costs, and a subscription model won’t yield enough revenue to do it, especially in Hawaii.

WRITING, READING, RATING

When Pierre Omidyar gave his recent Kipapa lecture, he explained that eBay’s challenge was to build trust among strangers so they would buy and sell from each other. How different is Peer News? The essence of it, perhaps one could say the silver bullet of it, is to build trust between writers and the readers – to fashion an interactive relationship among them to keep them coming back.

This will have to involve a rating algorithm, just like eBay. John Temple said Peer News will go live in Q2, so watch and see if I’m right. Readers rate writers, writers rate readers, and readers rate writing. Ratings raise writers to the top, where readers can see them. Writers raised to the top get paid more. Readers who regularly read, rate higher when they rate writers. Readers who regularly rate, rate higher when they rate writers. Writers who regularly write, rate higher. Writers who regularly respond to raters who write, rate higher. Got it? It’s a trusting and trusted community of writing, reading, rating and reward.

COMMUNITY AND ENGAGEMENT

Everybody will have a place in that community in an online pecking order, a matrix of news process. You get a piece of it by writing or reading or rating or all three. The more you come around, the more you belong, the higher up you get and the more rewards you receive in a challenging competition to get to the top and stay there. On eBay, the best rated buyers and sellers have better benefits, so we might expect that on Peer News the best rated writers, readers and raters will have better benefits and access to news and networking, space to publish, free subscriptions, a toaster oven, and who knows what else?

Sounds like a lot of design and development for Hawaii’s small news market? I don’t think for a minute that this is destined to stay bottled up in Hawaii. How hard will it be to transform a smart news site in a small market to one in a global market? So much of the news is aggregated anyway, as in Google News. Hawaii can be a laboratory for this news site, as it is for so many other things. As mainland TV stations want to emulate Hawaii News Now, mainland news sites will want to emulate Peer News. How long do you think it will stay local?

GENERAL REACTION

Everyone did well. Gina Mangieri did a great job with Will Moss (who came from Beijing), Mark Platte and Chris Archer; Mary Fastenau did a great job with Sarah Lacy (who came from San Francisco by way of India), Kyle Tanouye, Dan Leuck and Olin Lagon; and Steve Petranik did a great job with Michael Friedman (who came from Washington, D.C.), Jeff Portnoy and David Shapiro.

The media were there and covered the program. After all, it was about them. The papers wrote about it. In the last few days, the Advertiser had pieces by panelists Mark Platte, Michael Freedman and David Shapiro. PBS asked for Avi Soifer’s remarks. We posted the webcast tapes on ThinkTechHawaii.com. OLELO will broadcast their more extensive coverage soon. Someone said there was a news article about it in a mainland paper, but I haven’t seen that yet.

We had a variety of comments. Most people liked all the panels and thought the program was well thought out. Some liked the tech panel and some liked the other panels better. Everyone liked David Shapiro. Some felt the panel moderated by Steve Petranik, had the most informed and relevant panelists. Others felt we should have had more panelists representing more media.

TAKEAWAYS

Different people took different messages home. The message I got from the program is that the King is Dead, and soon enough Long Live the King. That’s transformation for you. The problem is we don't know how to get from the old one to the new one. Bridging the gap, akin to a generation gap, isn’t so easy.

One thing seems clear - the 200 people who attended NewsMorphosis will be watching intently to find out what happens with the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin. They’ll probably also be hoping to learn more about Peer News.

Thanks so much to the speakers, moderators and panelists for participating, and to the planning committee, sponsors and supporters who made it possible. Thanks also to the people who came down to attend and the media that covered it. What an experience for all of us. All things considered, I did feel it was a healthy discussion and a generally candid and constructive coming together on the issue and recent historic developments.

This was a lot of work, and some important lessons, but we were grateful and gratified with the way it came out. Our committee is already planning the next one. It’ll be called Recovery 2010 – Solutions for a Troubled Economy; Straight Talk with the Elephants in the Room. It’ll cover what we can do to fix Hawaii’s ailing land and tourism economy to compete in the 21st century. Save the date – August 25, 2010. It will be an equally ambitious ThinkTech-HVCA program.

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DATABASE TECHNOLOGY CAN HELP THE HOMELESS

March 23rd, 2010
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The homeless are everywhere in Honolulu, thousands, but no one can say exactly how many or how they got there. We would probably be surprised to know how close their lives are to ours.

The City moves them from park to park, and they swell in numbers because soon enough the almost homeless become the real homeless. There’s a standing legacy population that has been homeless for years and, to make matters worse, other states send them here with one-way tickets.

The limousine liberals feed them turkey on Thanksgiving and Christmas, emanating concern on the 6 o’clock news, but not doing anything much the rest of the year. We have kitchens like River of Life Mission and IHS, which are kind and truly commendable, but band-aid at best.

We have Sprung “temporary” structures in Waianae that are neither popular nor comfortable. They erode self-respect and cannot be a long-term solution, but have been up for years now. A temporary and ineffective solution has become a permanent blight and public embarrassment.

MOVE THEM ALONG

When I asked the mayor’s representative at my neighborhood board meeting what the city was doing about it, she said they had a project on River Street that was stuck in controversy, and no one knew when it would be unstuck. When I asked her the size, she said there were 100 units.

One hundred units is a small fraction of the homeless it's not worth talking about. We’ll just slip further behind that way. When you boil it down to reality, the City isn't really doing much at all about the homeless, except to move them nightly when the park closes. Tell me it isn’t so.

Other members of the neighborhood board took up the issue, but instead of asking what solutions could be considered, they asked the police there why they didn’t just ask the homeless to move along in the neighborhood. The major said HPD does not ask people to move along anymore.

He’s right, and HPD is right. There are too many homeless now. Where would they go? Where would you move them to? HPD takes action only if the law has been broken. That’s the decent thing. I would have wished a higher level discussion among the neighborhood board that night.

ONE BY ONE

Yes a law has been broken, a higher law. What about taking care of the weak and vulnerable? Most of the homeless would like to have a home. Our society ignores that and puts them on the streets or the beach. That’s wrong. We need to bring them back, one by one, and make them productive again.

So many people think the homeless are at fault for their homelessness, that they WANT to be homeless and should be given no sympathy and told to move along. But shouldn’t we make a home for them, both out of kindness as well as for the security of our streets and economy?

When we lose someone to the streets, it will be generations before we get them and their children back into the mainstream workforce again. We simply can't afford to have such large numbers of people homeless, either in recession or prosperity. It corrodes our society, and long-term.

One rule of dealing with demographic issues is that we have to address people personally, one by one. We can't just profile them as homeless in a group of homeless spread across miles of beach and sleeping in their cars. We have to know them and deal with each one individually.

The first step is to know how many and who they are, to know their names and community relationships, each one of them. That will allow us to understand and help them, and to decide what services and referrals they need. You can hardly do this without knowing who they are.

We can't treat them all the same. There are those we can't bring in. Perhaps they are mentally ill or unable to live indoors. But there are others who are having a run of bad luck and would be only too happy if someone gave them the chance of coming indoors and having a home again.

We could expand the concept of foster children. People with homes (foster owners) could take in people without homes (foster people) and take care of them. We could pay foster owners to do this just as we pay foster parents to take in foster children. With a home, you can get a job.

BASIS OF ALL WEALTH

We all know the price of land is so expensive in Hawaii that it forces people out of their homes. They can't afford mortgage or rent payments, and before you know it, they and their families will just fall off the wagon. To bring them back long-term, we need to change the system.

The system is sick. A few owners of large tracts of land believe they have fiduciary obligations to systematically and relentlessly push rents higher and higher, even during times of destructive recession, and even if that means undermining the economy and putting families on the beach.

Land reform in Hawaii is a critical part of the solution to the homeless problem.

So far we've roundly ignored the homeless. They are unrepresented . There is no organization that advocates for them. We feed them and build temporary structures for them, but that’s not enough. They should have a presence and champion in the legislature, just like other groups do.

This should be an organization managed by people who understand the homeless problem. It should be supported by contributions from people caring and concerned in the community, who prefer to push for tough love rather than permanent handouts and multi-generational dependency. What about giving them jobs on public works?

If we don't find a solution soon, I would fear for our self-respect, our decency, our economy and our safety. If we continue to ignore the problem, we will pay an awful and irreversible price. We need to identify our homeless and then match them with assets sufficient to bring them in from the cold.

No easy task. So far our efforts at solutions have come to naught. The homeless grow in leaps and bounds; they come from we know not where. In many ways, they are a mystery, a mystery that no one, including federal, state and city government, knows about or wants to know about.

GETTING THE DATA

The truth is we don’t really know what’s going on here. And that’s the biggest part of the problem. We need to know the problem in order to cope with it. We need to know the long and short of it, the size and scope of it, that is, everything we can possibly know about it to beat it. But we don’t.

The 2010 Census could give us an idea. But how does the Census actually count the homeless. It can’t – street people and children are dynamic. They move and change and can’t be found, like fish swimming in the pond, they are difficult to count or for that matter identify or help.

In short, we have a complex problem and the Census is not likely to help very much.

Database technology can be more sophisticated than that used for the Census. We could make and analyze data tables of the people who are homeless, who they are, where they are and where they’ve been, their families, health, schooling and job histories, and pretty much everything else.

We have the technology. We could do this using the magic of database technology. It would cost money and would require skill and creativity, but it would be worth it because it could help us gather and analyze the demographics of this group to fashion and implement new and innovative solutions.

Put another way, without using this technology we’ll never get a handle on things. So, damn the torpedoes and the competing complaints of NIMBY on the one hand and Right-of-Privacy on the other. It’s time to get started, before our homeless problem completely turns off the tourist industry. And you know what that means.

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TWO NEW PRODUCTIVITY APPS I AM COMING TO LOVE

March 15th, 2010
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SPEAK-WRITE

This used to be a website only, but remarkable. After you established an account you could dial a number on your phone and dictate. A few minutes later, you’d get an email with a good transcription of what you dictated. The cost, about 1-1/2 cents per word, would be charged against your credit card. The transcription would be done by real people, probably in India or the Philippines, as good as a live secretary could be, but cheaper, and faster, and ready at your command any time of day or night.

But it’s gotten much better. Speak-Write recently came out with an iPhone and Blackberry App that takes the idea miles further. After you download the App, you can dictate into a sound file. You can save the sound file on your machine. You can build your sound file with additional comments you think of later, and then you can actually edit it on your machine, taking stuff out and putting stuff in. The result is that the sound file is much cleaner than what you get from a straight phone call dictation.

And when you’re done and satisfied with your sound file, you press Submit in the App. The sound file is then uploaded from your iPhone or Blackberry to the cloud and thence to India or the Philippines and voila a few minutes later you get an email with a very good transcription. The price is still about 1-1/2 cents a word. It’s easy and cheap and the user experience is terrific. At first you worry about spending too much money on too many words, but after you’ve done it a few times it not so nearly threatening.

This App is a key to the virtual office. Where secretaries have historically played a role of transcribing dictation, you don’t need a secretary to transcribe any more. Although some people I know gave dictation up years ago, this App is so good those people ought to consider taking it up again and use the new power it now offers. With it you can create the text for any number of things, from email to heavy documents. Turn the App on, press Record, dictate, press Submit. So effortless, I may never go back. If you have a cellphone that has the Speak-Write App and a laptop that has email, you can rule the world.

You can only guess the technique I used in dictating this blog, right?

BUMP IN THE NIGHT

It works on GPS. If you and your acquaintance are standing near each other in the same GPS location, you’ll be able to exchange and send up to four business cards of phone numbers, street addresses and email addresses. What a huge time saver that is. Remember the last time you wanted to get someone’s email or phone and you scrambled for a pen and paper to write it all down in hopes of inputting it later.

No more of that now. All you need to do is bump. You bump your phone against his phone or actually against anything. In fact, all you need is to shake your phone once or twice to activate the exchange. When bumped or shaken, it makes a sound and starts looking for another phone with Bump in the same GPS location and if it finds one it automatically exchanges your address with his. In fact, it can exchange multiple contacts at the same time. If that’s not enough, Bump also checks to see if he has people in his phone that are also in your phone. It sounds like Facebook or some other kind of social networking, doesn't it?

One of the big changes in business conduct over the past few years is the need for, and huge benefit of, social networking. If you’re in business, it’s often mission critical these days to make and keep business contacts, in short to network like a banshee and develop the biggest Rolodex (make that Outlook contact list) you can. Of course, there are other Apps and programs that can also exchange contacts and help you build your mailing list, but Bump is the easiest and most powerful one I have found, and as far as I can see it sets the standard for the genre. The cost of downloading the App – it’s free, and worth much more. Who needs business cards anymore? Let’s save the trees.

When I downloaded Bump, my cell phone told me it was also waiting to download updates for some 20 other Apps I had downloaded earlier. So I said yes, of course, and it took a minute or two to make all the Apps on my iPhone current. The point is that when some developer improves the quality of his App, you get an automatic download of the improved version on your iPhone. That would include Speak-Write and Bump, and all the other killer Apps too. Is this a great time to be alive, or what?

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MATT DAMON'S GREEN ZONE TAKES US BACK

March 15th, 2010
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Matt Damon was never better. Playing a chief warrant officer in the army in Baghdad, he stumbles into a U.S. Government subterfuge on WMDs, an attempt to find them, and thus justify the invasion of Iraq, even though they didn’t exist. Actually, this doesn't seem fictitious at all, and the whole move rings true.

The Green Zone is the common name for the International Zone of Iraq— a 10-square-kilometer (3.8-square-mile) area in central Baghdad. The Green Zone has been an oasis in Baghdad, fancy hotels and posh swimming pools minutes from the most brutal fighting you can imagine. The disconnect is striking.

The Damon character isn’t as liberated as his earlier Jason Bourne character (most recently, the Bourne Supremacy), and certainly how could he be as an officer in the army in the middle of a battle zone. At the same time, within those constraints the character is very liberated and the movie lets him race through the backstreets of Baghdad in a never ending chase.

The action is continuous. You can’t even blink your eyes it happens so fast. And the music and sound effects don’t let you take your focus of it even for a second. Although this all took place in 2004, the technology is still impressive today - GPS maps, eye in the sky spotting, night vision, satellite phones, and more.

The special effects are dazzling. It’s not only the gunshots and explosions and the excitement of the humvees racing through the midnight streets of Baghdad. It’s the shots of the war technology. The pace of this movie is eye-popping from one end to the other. It makes James Bond look like a piker. It made my wife seasick.

The movie is fiction but sounds in what we imagine happened there. It is not complimentary to the Government, but then all things considered, the experience in Iraq in general is not particularly complimentary to the Government. You know, the CIA warring with the DOD, Americans muzzling Americans to keep things quiet. We’ve heard it before, and it wasn’t limited to the movies.

The movie plays on what the White House and the intelligence community may have been doing to keep the fact that there were no WMDs under wraps. That’s not so fictitious, is it? It’s only six years ago, and a lot of this movie resonates with what we read in the paper at the time, about the deception of the American public and the world on the WMD goose chase. I had to remind myself that it was fiction.

No romance here, there's no time for that if you want to follow the action. The Wall Street Journal reporter suspects the wrongdoing and ultimately gets first copy of Damon’s blockbuster email revelation. But he doesn’t limit the report to her – he also sends it to a myriad of other friends in the press. Way to go.

This is a no-nonsense, all action movie. You wonder where the Damon character and his crew get their guts from. It’s a nice compliment to the foot soldiers in Iraq. And for my money, it’s also a sensitive treatment of the Iraqis themselves. They are portrayed in violence and dissension, but somehow the movie helps you understand them.

Truth is stranger than fiction, and sometimes uglier. Can the WMD scenario happen again? Don’t be naïve (one of the lines in the movie), you bet it can. War is never pleasant and this one wasn’t and isn’t. And war doesn’t necessarily bring out the best in apparent victors. There are many levels in Iraq, and some of them are hidden and don’t come to the surface until years later in some action movie.

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WHERE WILL ALL THE ARCHIVES GO

March 9th, 2010
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When I was a kid with a question, my mother told me to call the New York Times – they could answer any question. Indeed, I called LA 4-1000 (that's Lackawanna, if you're wondering) on a regular basis. They knew everything. Regrettably, that number doesn’t answer anymore.

I also remember the microfilm in those days, and how you could look through the old newspapers. When I was at Queens College in New York, I spent my days at the Paul Klapper Library there, spinning my way through lots of newspapers.

That’s where you did your news research – at the microfilm machine. You checked out reels and reels of microfilm and spun through them til you found what you wanted. You had to know the date of the articles or you’d get bleary-eyed and a little seasick.

MICROFILM IS ALIVE

Today, I called the Hawaii State Library and found that microfilm is alive and well. They get reels of the newspapers, both the Advertiser and the Star-Bulletin, three months after publication. It's a little late, but some people still do research that way.

Then I called the library at the Advertiser. They have electronic archives from and after May 1995, when the Internet was born, but they also have microfilm and microfiche for earlier editions reaching into earlier times.

Although the microfilm at the State Library is organized chronologically, the Advertiser has indices based on names and subject matter, and you can find things easier that way. When they had more staff, they had hoped to convert their microfilm to digital. Now, everything is uncertain.

Reporters go to newspaper archives for background. The public goes to find family history, relatives and memories. You can find things there you’d never find on the Internet, but regrettably the Advertiser’s microfilm archives aren’t open to the public.

ELECTRONIC ARCHIVES

Although electronic archives are searchable, and that’s a huge benefit, they only include articles by local reporters and only from the mid-1990s. With microfilm copies, you get everything in the paper, including the wire services.

The Advertiser’s electronic archives are open, but dear. You have to pay $3.95 for a reprint. The rates are on the site, and are so high that many ordinary readers are not likely to pay them. Beyond that, they don't yield links that bloggers like me can include in their articles.

If you can pay, you can order a photo or story or a page of some edition that takes you back to some event or era in a kind of time travel. Can this continue? Not clear, the buyers haven’t said much about what will happen to the Advertiser's archives.

If we knew, for example, that a given edition of the Advertiser was going to be its last, that would be an edition or a front page I’d certainly like to keep. It’d certainly be worth a few bucks to have a reprint framed on my wall or for my collection, family or friends.

WILL GOOGLE SUFFICE?

The word is that when David Black acquired the Star-Bulletin ten years go, he didn’t get the archives, and it’s not clear what happened to them. Will the buyers now get and keep the Advertiser’s archives? Are they worth fretting about?

Clearly, microfilm archives are bound for the glue factory. Online storage technology is cheaper, faster, more efficient and the clear winner. But do we need dedicated newspaper archives at all? Why not just move over to the Internet and rely on Google and its powerful search algorithms?

Google is great, but it focuses on recent news, not news of 100 years ago. It is not as rich or replete as a voyage through newspaper archives, and the overwhelming point is that it doesn’t give you the same hands-on time machine experience that the archives do.

KEEPING THE RECORD

The New York Times charges for old news, but it hasn’t yet started charging for the newest news online. This may be a failed or failing business model, but it does show the public’s respect, and need for, contact with old news and old newspapers.

For better or worse, a newspaper and its archives are the ongoing record and the documented evolution of the community. What happens when you lose one? What nostalgic facts and treasures will be lost, and what future understandings frustrated?

It’s all about building institutional memory, preserving access to an accurate community history and keeping an historical and consistent perspective. We know that the society that forgets the lessons of its past is unhappily bound to relearn them.

LIFE WITHOUT ARCHIVES

The irony is that when all is said and done we may be left without archives, microfilm or electronic, that hold the turning points and stepping stones of our development. Old newspapers give you a look at past events that you can’t get anywhere else.

Perhaps newspaper archives are already on the way to extinction. Isn’t the Internet, with all its faults, as good or better to hold the keys to our past? We have terabyte servers, advanced Google searches and long-term reliability. What more do we need to look back down the trail?

I once appeared on PBS and then asked them whether I should get copies of the videos, or do they just keep all the videos on their server. They told me no need – they’d keep the videos there forever, yes, forever. Nice thought, but how can you be sure? I got the copies anyway.

I hope we can cover these questions at the NewsMorphosis Conference at the Plaza Club on March 18th. Want to know more? Check out thinktechhawaii.com.

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