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The new “gift economy”: How flaming notebook, Legomania fueled free labor

April 1, 2009

   Glad to read that Dell now embraces its customers with “groundswell” technology. Gee, if I hadn’t picked up Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff’s book on the same subject, I never would have known.   For some of us, it’s a too little too late. I was one of the many unfortunate owners of a problematic Dell laptop: Part of my keyboard melted only weeks after I bought it.  So what did Dell do? It sent me another computer all right – a REFURBUSHED model.  So I paid full price for a new computer, which had a meltdown in no time, and in return I got a used computer. Perhaps if I had been blogging in early 2004, I might have made an impact on a company with shoddy customer service. But Dell did have an impact on me: it lost me forever. As far as I’m concerned, I don’t care what technology it now uses to lure its customers.

   However, Li and Bernoff’s account in their book, Groundswell, did make me consider a few things relative to Dell. First of all, I wonder if the person with the notebook flambé – the one that actually caught fire – also got a refurbished model. I suspect not, because that mishap was too well publicized for Dell to get away with it. Also, the authors relate that after journalist Jeff Jarvis began “mouthing off about Dell hell,” the company began tracking blog posts. So my question is, what about the rest of us who didn’t blog then? Seems we didn’t matter, which is remarkable considering that blogging was an activity of a small minority back then;  even in 2006, according to Groundswell, online reviews by a blogger rated last, at 30 percent, in sources consumers trusted for information about products or services. So it seems Dell was interested only in a particular kind of customer – whose very public diatribe reached only a limited — perhaps elite — group of other customers. 
   I’m also blown away by the book’s various accounts of people spending what amounts to the equivalent of a job making money for companies that don’t pay them a dime. Dell is one of them. Jeff Stenski, we learn, has a day job as an engineer, but he also posts on Dell’s community support forum. Since 1999, he’s logged on to the forum an equivalent of 123 working days a year.  Jeff singlehandedly saves Dell over $1 million if one out of 20 people reading his posts has, as a result, had their question answered and not called Dell. People like Jeff participate for the “gratitude,” we are told, and this phenomenon is called “psychic income.”
   Ditto for Lego, which fans out “ambassadors,” who have “an explicit responsibility” to listen to other Adult Fans of Lego, “develop consensus, and highlight their desires to the Lego company.”  They become spokespeople for the company’s message, which “has an incalculable value in helping ensure that products designed for adult Lego buyers will actually succeed.”  Yet these folks are not paid in cash; they’re paid in Lego bricks. We further learn that “A company that starts by energizing the groundswell will end up with a whole bunch of unpaid R&D partners.” 
    Then, the authors go on to tell us that if a company has celebrity customers, it can reach out and “secure (and pay for) their participation in advance.”

   This smacks of inequity to me; we get to toil for “psychic income,” unless we are famous, in which case, how can we not get paid in real income?  Also, I wonder if anyone is seeing these massive freebees that boost the company bottom line as glorified online sweatshops. Would there be massive protests over exploitation?
   I did a little digging, and it appears that what we are seeing relative to rolling up our sleeves gratis is part of a gigantic paradigm shift that is documented by Wall Street Journal blogger Gary Hamel, who writes about “Management 2.0.” In addressing the gulf between the Facebook generation’s new work expectations and  the old legacy practices of Fortune 500 companies, Hamel compiled a list of twelve “work-relevant characteristics of online life” that will be used by future employees as yardsticks to determine whether or not your company is passé.  Here’s one of them:
   “Intrinsic rewards matter most. The web is a testament to the power of intrinsic rewards. Think of all the articles contributed to Wikipedia, all the open source software created, all the advice freely given—add up the hours of volunteer time and it’s obvious that human beings will give generously of themselves when they’re given the chance to contribute to something they actually care about. Money’s great, but so is recognition and the joy of accomplishment.”
   Blogging about this phenomenon, Jarvis uses the same terminology to address the “gift economy.”   As a journalist who has been critical of closed minds, it’s critical for me to remain open to this new concept and see how this new economy plays out.

   I do have an immediate concern, though, that warrants addressing. Groundswell informed me there is a Massachusetts company, BzzAgent, that sells word-of-mouth programs; if your company signs up, BzzAgent sends some of its 300,000 “volunteer brand evangelists” your product or coupons for your product. If your product is a thumbs-down, BzzAgent won’t buzz about it; but if they like it, they will.
   Seems to me we’re being told the key reason to embrace “groundswell” is for an honest dialogue with our customers. Are we to believe that BzzAgent’s strategy is genuine communication? And that is precisely why I am just a bit skeptical of the power of “word of mouth.” Li and Bernoff say, “Hear it from one person, and it’s intriguing. Hear it from five or ten, even if you didn’t know them before, and it has to be true.”  Given BzzAgent’s MO, I have reason to worry.


Is “Groundswell” Business Fad or Future?

March 16, 2009

   It’s all about relationships and the need to engage people. Groundswell authors Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff didn’t have to sell me on that one. I’ve believed all along that the difference between success and failure in the business world (and in life) can be measured in large part by the ability to connect in a meaningful way with others and pick up on their cues. That these techies see technology as a merely a tool to enhance that link really resonated.  I’ve met too many IT types for whom technology is the means, the end, the ultimate reason we exist. It was refreshing to read that their world view:  first decide on the people, objectives, and strategy before employing technology, and define a credible community around customers’ “passions or pain points.” Now that’s a real understanding of what makes the world tick.

Perhaps that’s why Groundswell offers a somewhat limited view of IT people. When you’re about to transform your relationship with your customers, they ask, is it “a job for some mid-level IT or marketing person? The ultimate responsibility for this plan should rest with an executive who reports up quite high in the organization. ” Li and Bernoff seem content to relegate ITs to an advisory role.  Actually, it was rather shocking to read their account of an IT strategist at a fast-food company who wanted to know how her company could “become part of the social networking space.”  And the CIO at a furniture company who wanted to know best practices for starting a blog. Are they the exception or the rule?

From personal to professional, Groundswell offers some practical and enlightening ways new technology is transforming the way we work and play. As I was trying to think of how Twitter could be useful beyond keeping up with a yawning list of my friend’s monotonous motions, the authors educated me about a great use: Olin College folks built an application that generates tweets about the availability of washers and dryers in the dorm rooms. Not that I’m in laundry queue. But I immediately started to think of all the wonderful applications, particularly in the health world, where we wait endlessly as if our time is worthless.

I also was intrigued by the Parisian social network whose sole purpose is to connect people with others in their own neighborhood. Once upon a time, I might have viewed that as the height of stupidity. Why not just ring the doorbell? Or how about looking up, smiling, and saying hi next time you pass a neighbor on your block?  But unlike yesteryear, when kids actually played in the streets and parents (mothers) hung out on the stoop and connected with neighbors while watching their kids, we tend to be more insular. Perhaps this is the introduction to break the ice, tech’s version of the pound cake we used to schlep over to our neighbors to melt away any initial awkwardness.

And the many examples of groundswell’s diverse applications to the corporate world – particularly healthcare – also were fascinating. Businesses large and small appear to be catching on. Did you ever think your fund manager would “friend” you on Facebook? That’s precisely what  Charles Schwab does to woo younger investors.

But I found myself wondering about the investment businesses must make in “groundswell.” Having scanned the ROI table, I still was not completely sold. Why? The authors note a hefty consumer online survey – 10,000 people tapped in 2007 – regarding participation in groundswell activities. The results  seem pretty fragmented, with 29% being the highest category – those who watch video from other users.  Only 25 % read blogs, 20% update/maintain a profile on a social networking site, and a mere 14% comment on someone else’s blog.   And the “Social Technographics Profile” of the 18-27 age group in the U.S. reveals that some 60% are “joiners,” with only around 40% creators (41% men, 37% women).   

While I have to admit that it was fun to log on to and play with social profile data – the authors make this available at – I couldn’t help but wonder about the enormous commitment required of businesses, considering those rather fragmented stats.  To do it right, a company must hire another company to “listen” to the Internet – blogs, discussion forums, YouTube, and everything else on its behalf. This costly, full-time monitoring has fueled a cottage industry of nouveaux watchdogs. And Li and Bernoff tell us that we business people will  get “pitched” by the CEO or head of sales of these companies, but have us question whether their staffers – the likely people who will do the grunt work – are as smart as their bosses.

Furthermore, I’m wondering if blogging is worth the time and trouble for businesses that have a complex vetting process because of legal or regulatory concerns. The authors do acknowledge the need to develop an editorial process, but again, this is more investment of time and money. And to create an effective community, you must constantly support and maintain it, Li and Bernoff warn: “Communities need care and feeding – with content, new features, and redesigns – to stay relevant and successful.” Additional bucks.  It’s not that I’m negative on the need to tap into groundswell. To the contrary. And the authors rightly emphasize that analysis is critical to know exactly what part of groundswell will serve your business well. However, I can’t help but wonder: Is this the latest management fad that will eventually be shelved like the old MBO – management by objectives? Or is this a fundamental transformation that’s part of a new business framework?

I do understand the public value created by these connections, but privacy issues have yet to be shaken out.  Over in Congress, Representative Rick Boucher (D-VA), who has just replaced Representative Ed Markey (D-MA) as  head of the house subcommittee in charge of telecom, technology, and the ‘net, has indicated his wish to pass a bill to regulate privacy of Internet users; he has bipartisan support.  And the juggle between private and public continues as employers use Facebook rants to shed employees

How ironic – the tools that create conversations could actually be undermining their future. So the question is where will this all land?

Community, Communication, and the “Bazaar”

March 9, 2009

 As I read Eric S. Raymond’s “The Cathedral and the Bazaar,” I chuckled as I my eyes caught something bizarre-looking in my downloaded and printed version: the formats for the open quotes and closed quotes did not match each other.
 I found this humorous, because it brought me back to several years ago, when I was writing and editing for a chain of Boston-area weeklies. Lo and behold, I had to endure that very same software glitch. It infuriated me that something so basic in a publishing tool was so wrong. But alas, there was nothing that I, the tech ignoramus, could do about it; surely, there were greater minds working on this problem. But why, I wondered, was this software released with such a basic flaw?
I found some answers in Raymond’s thoughtful, honest, and down-to-earth piece. And he is a master at explaining concepts in a way that invites us non-techs into his world, thereby showing us that he practices what he preaches:  that building a community is key. Raymond makes a solid case for the “bazaar” approach to software development:  “Given enough eyeballs, all bugs are shallow.” If you properly cultivate users to become co-developers and offer lots of encouragement, he says, your users will diagnose problems and suggest fixes more quickly than any one person can if unaided.
 Point well taken.  A community of debuggers will devote infinitely more time to a debug effort than one person possibly could. Raymond readily admits that design, rather than debug, is his strongest skill. So why not have a community of eager folks complement his best assets? I can apply this to the publishing world, where some are great writers and lousy editors, while others are terrific at debugging others’ work but less adept at or interested in creating editorial work.  We really are co-dependent in producing a seamless product. I found myself wondering if that software bug that bugged me endlessly an editor would have been easily unearthed if the “babbling bazaar” method of software development had been a choice back then.
But I find myself hesitating a bit regarding the “release early, release often” part of Raymond’s open-software philosophy. Raymond said he used to believe that this was bad policy for “larger than trivial” projects, because early versions are almost by definition buggy and you don’t want to wear out the patience of users. He no longer believes that holds. The problem is, I have a tough time letting go of that original outlook. Perhaps that makes me too inflexible. But here’s how I look at it. The techies he attracts to do his debugging are a self-selected bunch who are part of a shared subculture, and so by nature have more patience for bugs than I, the end user non-techie.
 I, on the other hand, just want things to work when I need them to work and have no knowledge about how to fix them. There are lots of me out there, who would lose patience for Raymond’s world.  So while it’s great that great minds are putting their heads together, where does that leave us? That’s why I believe timing of release is still important if “the long tail” of the population – folks like me – is part of the equation.
Kudos to Raymond for recognizing that communication skills are vital to building the community he needs for creating a “bazaar” framework:  “In order to build a development community, you need to attract people, interest them in what you’re doing, and keep them happy about the amount of work they’re doing. Technical sizzle will go a long way towards accomplishing this, but it’s far from the whole story. The personality you project matters, too.”  Raymond’s secret sauce: at least a little skill at charming people.  Raymond says this should be obvious, but we all know from our past endurances of pointy-haired bosses (a la Dilbert) that it just isn’t so. He’d be wise to take this one on the road – to all levels of management in all sorts of organizational environments.  Raymond should teach a course in “egoboo,” his term for ego-boosting.
I wish that Tim O’Reilly had made his work as accessible on an equally important subject that sometimes overlapped with Raymond’s: “What is Web 2.0. Design Patterns and Business Models for the Next Generation.”  His piece seemed directed more at techies than a general audience, with several terms and references left unexplained.
  However, he did make some good observations that are easily grasped. “Great internet success stories don’t advertise their products,” O’Reilly says. Rather, their adoption is driven by “viral marketing,” that is, recommendations propagating directly from one user to another.  It was an integral part of Google’s success story, as John Battelle notes in his book, The Search. O’Reilly also notes that companies like Microsoft will have to shed “old patterns” if they want to compete with native 2.0 companies. As a Wall Street Journal post relates today, he’s not the only one with those thoughts.

In describing reaction to Microsoft’s pay cuts for third-party temps, one blogger was quoted as writing, “you’re working for a dinosaur. Word on the street is your brain-trust got raided by Google.”
Ah, winners and losers.  Only time will tell. And that time frame is getting smaller and smaller.

Success Breeds…Slogans

March 6, 2009

 Let’s give credit where credit is due. Could it be that much of the criticism heaped upon Google is actually jealousy over two twenty-somethings with the vision and perseverance to strike gold?  Face it, Google’s founders did have vision, while myopia misdirected everyone around them from the get-go.  Page submitted his first paper, an overview of the PageRank algorithm, only to have it rejected. The paper ultimately was published in conjunction with a Stanford project, no doubt softening the power of its punch.  But Brin and Page persisted on this resistance-filled path, cluttered with naysayers.

And they found treasures in others’ trash.  For instance, in the late 1990s, the goal was not to send people away from a portal, as search did, but to glue them there instead, notes John Battelle in his book, The Search – How Google and its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture. Even Yahoo CEO Tim Koogle (how ironic) went so far as to “brag” in an analysts’ meeting that his search-related traffic was declining. But Page and Brin were gifted enough to see what others couldn’t. We should applaud them, not scorn them for this. 

That they carefully guarded their “baby” also is to be commended. A responsible “parent” not protecting its nurtured prodigy?  Let’s get real. Setting loose engineering managers who made their organization top-heavy was smart. So was dissecting employment decisions with the precision of a surgeon. Not spending a dime on marketing while their company was bleeding was responsible; bringing in PR exec Cindy McCaffrey to adopt a “press-first” approach was brilliant. Why spend money when you can get the media to spotlight you for free?  And the media were thrilled to oblige; Google became their do-no-wrong darling.

I do, however take issue with Page’s put-down of inventor Nikola Tesla’s reach, as related in Battelle’s book: “The Twelve-year-old Page was struck by this fact: regardless of how brilliant and world-changing Tesla’s work had been, the inventor received little long-term fame or fortune for his efforts.”  Now that’s a bit arrogant, considering the unit of measurement of a magnetic field is — Tesla.  So why would you care? Say you’re having an MRI critical to your future health. If the machine you’re lying in is three Tesla, you’re in state of the art. Two Tesla?  Not quite as much resolution. I’d say, “Give me more Tesla!”  

            And at least some have questioned whether Google’s motto, “Don’t be evil,” also smacks of superiority. Battelle notes that Amazon CEO (and Google investor) Jeff Bezos “summed up the reactions of many observers” in telling him, “Well, of course, you shouldn’t be evil. But then again, you shouldn’t have to brag about it either.”

 Journalist Jeff Jarvis also weighed in during a recent interview, calling the slogan “dopey” but valuable in spurring Google staff to question behavior and tactics “I know this is awfully optimistic to say, but I have to believe that a company that gives its employees the license to question its actions, based on its mission, is a good company,” Jarvis said.

I don’t really care much about slogans, because it is action that matters. And I certainly don’t view Google as “evil.” To the contrary, the company has created a lot of value. On the other hand, I do find some things a bit creepy for my taste. Take 800-GOOG-411. I tried it out after reading David Pogue’s New York Times post, in which he gushes over Google’s geniuses and “gems,” the 411 service being one of them The information I received about delis in my area was right-on, but why did I hear the message, “Call’s recorded”?  I can’t recall any other 411 service recording my communication.  If Google as a company is entitled to some privacy, why aren’t we?

I was happy to read that Google has voluntarily agreed to blur images of certain locations, ranging from the White House to shelters for victims of domestic violence, on its Google Earth satellite service. A California lawmaker has raised the issue of protecting “soft targets” like schools, hospitals, houses of worship and government buildings; he reportedly introduced a bill after reading reports suggesting that terrorists used online map imagery to plan attacks in Mumbai and elsewhere. An Indian court is considering a ban on Google Earth following reports that its imagery played a part in the Mumbai terrorist attacks.

The question is why on earth we need Google Earth. I can imagine more harm than help emanating from that service. Must we endure yet another blow to our privacy? Hey, Google, maybe it’s time for that reassessment: “Don’t be Evil.”



Of Vision and Victory

February 23, 2009

John Battelle’s account of Google’s various predecessors in The Search conjures up distant memories of Boston’s Route 128, once known as America’s Technology Highway. That was home to the now defunct Digital Equipment Corporation, known as DEC, and other towering high-techs. At DEC, Louis Monier took AltaVista from “concept to executable code.” His search engine, with multiple simultaneous crawlers, produced for its time an unprecedentedly wide-ranging index. But when Monier sought approval from DEC to go public, its executives “scratched their heads,” Battelle notes. After all, DEC was a hardware outfit, and this new phenomenon did not fit the company plan to sell minicomputers. Those corner-office creative thinkers stumbled over success and kicked it out of their way as they headed to obsolescence.

What the DEC execs lacked was vision. Ditto for Compaq. I wonder how the chain of events would have played out if those folks had possessed some foresight and imagination. Would Google now be the powerhouse it is?  Kudos to Google for having that vision. The question is whether Google can maintain it. There’s a thin line between success and failure.

Blogger journalist Jeff Jarvis, who wrote the book What Would Google Do?, gushed about Google’s sensational success on “Press: Here,” a Silicon Valley Show on the San Hose NBC station

“It’s genius what they’ve done,” he declared. “It’s just amazing to see a company that defaults to smart.”  Jarvis added that Google has a “different relationship” with their employees and their world.  If that is the magic of Google’s stardom, companies should take a hard look at their MOs . Gary Hamel’s Management 2.0 blog in The Wall Street Journal, offers a checklist to prod companies toward a similarly successful vision in this new economic era. It can no longer be management as usual, Hamel tells us. Among Hamel’s most pressing items:

Adaptability:  Companies must be as adaptable and resilient as they are focused and efficient. The problem: Typical management processes “reflexively favor more of the same and discourage pre-emptive change.”

Innovation:  It’s the only protection from destruction. The problem: Most management processes were built to promote “conformance and alignment rather than contrarian thinking and bold experimentation.”

Engagement: Institutional success depends on the willingness of employees to bring the “gifts of initiative, imagination and passion to work each day.” The problem: Traditional management systems, while good at “compelling obedience and harnessing expertise, typically fail to engage the emotional and spiritual energies of employees.”

 So with Google seemingly taking a page from this playbook, it sits on top of the world.  It’s lucky even in the legal world, where a federal judge this past week dismissed the lawsuit a Pittsburgh couple brought against the company claiming that it Google Maps’ Street View violated their privacy

But will that good fortune continue? Will it take more than futuristic management for a company whose riches rest on mining personal data to continue doing so? Will Google be able to take the next step that DEC and other companies could not? It’s mind-boggling that Google’s “Database of Intentions,” as Battelle calls it – our collective electronic footprint – is probably the world’s best monitor of our global culture.  And right now, we just shrug our shoulders in resignation as something known as privacy has been swept up in the dustpan of history.  But already, there are rumblings of starting over with a “new” Internet; Stanford techies already designing it. . There is speculation that “the current Internet might end up as the bad neighborhood of cyberspace. You would enter at your own risk and keep an eye over your shoulder while you were there.”

 If so, the question is, what would Google do then?

Blogging Accessibility, Veracity, Tenacity

February 18, 2009

Dan Gillmor’s We the media – which chronicles the evolution and influence of new media, particularly blogs – is both an easy read and chock-full of amusing and thoughtful anecdotes that even a technological novice can appreciate.

Gillmor extols the virtues of blogs “as acts of civil engagement” that can instill a sense of excitement even in those who have remained on the periphery of political discourse; nevertheless, he buries in his Epilogue and Acknowledgments some worthwhile analysis regarding the “viral” quality of blogs described within the book. In this ending section, Gillmor quotes his friend and editor Tom Stites, who cites “the blog elite” in surmising that “democracy is doomed.”  Stites is not referring “business/government power,” Gillmor quotes him as stating. Rather, this so-called blog elite is “a highly educated deeply curious insider group centered among the technologically proficient. The sad truth is, most people are passive consumers of news who, because of the insider jargon blogs tend to be written in, couldn’t decipher most blogs even if they signed on; the segment of the citizenry that are savvy and proactive news-seekers is very small, and I don’t expect that to change much.”

            Given that blogs have the potential for broadening the conversation, their predominant use by a niche group is disheartening. How can the breadth and depth of dialogue expand if blogs are primarily a tool for the educational and technological elite?  And by using language that average folks cannot interpret, are bloggers creating their own “walled garden” that effectively shuts out diversity? From a policy perspective, there is something really wrong with this picture.  If blogs have the ability to influence public officials and public policy, will a significant portion of our citizenry continue to be voiceless despite a medium that purports to give voice to anyone with an Internet connection? Of course, not everyone has access to an Internet connection that would allow for this expression. Instead of ending with Stites’s prediction that the status quo will remain, I would have liked to read about ways we could bring about needed change.

            Gillmor rightly points out that the “growth of grassroots journalism has been accompanied by serious ethical issues, including veracity and outright deception.”  He notes that anyone with Photoshop skills can manipulate images to distort reality. But such lapses have occurred in the mainstream media as well. Some three years ago, a Reuters photographer was discovered to have manipulated images. And according to Poynter Online – Visual Voice, such practices continue: see “Inauguration Photo Manipulation Raises Questions,” .


            Bloggers play an important role in exposing this type of fraud, but a prerequisite to true transparency is a blogosphere built on the kinds of credentials Gillmor himself seems to possess:  He tells us that he verifies information, quotes credible people, avoids anonymous sources wherever possible. But how many bloggers actually engage in such scrupulous fact-checking? Is it naive to expect such a high standard?

            Gillmor offers a caveat to consumers of blogs:  “take information on the Internet with a proverbial grain of salt… verify the claim before reacting.”  I share those sentiments, but would like to believe there is a place for building an ethical framework, given the power of bloggers to expose important stories that our mainstream media miss, or choose to ignore. For example, Gillmor relates that an Iraqi blogger was a key conduit of information regarding a massive march on the streets of Baghdad in December 2003 involving “thousands of Iraqis” who protested bombings by insurgents. “For all practical purposes,” Gillmor states, “The New York Times and other major media outlets missed the march and its significance.”

Bloggers can play a powerful role, but if the editorial standards are impeccable and a diverse audience is accessible.


On new voices, media transparency

February 9, 2009

My journey through new media with Dan Gillmor’s We the media has been both uplifting and disheartening. Gillmor outlines several ways new media give voice to the voiceless at a time when trust in traditional media is low.  The evolution from journalism as a lecture to journalism as a conversation, has he puts it, has indeed humbled Big Media. But I can’t help worrying about these voices, given his statement that “most of us don’t stop long enough to consider what we’ve been told, much less seek out context.”  Particularly in view of his revelation that most bloggers have not enabled the comment feature, will this lead to the substantive dialogue we all seek? Will RSS as our own “Presidential Briefing” open our minds and conversations, or further close us off to valuable information?

I join Gillmor in lamenting the demise of quality investigative journalism, which requires commitments of time and money few media outlets are willing to support during these convulsive times.  I disagree with Yale University professor Yochai Benkler’s referenced comment that Big Media retain an advantage over open-source journalism in the investigative realm. Sure, Big Media have the better capacity to make this happen, but they have squandered that gift.  Big Media began chipping away at investigative journalism years ago in favor of quick, cheap, mindless stories. With that, complex thinking was swept up in the dustpan of history. The question is: Is that what the public wants, and if so, should media defy demand and offer expensive investigative pieces at its peril?

I am intrigued that business is making use of wikis for planning and collaboration tools. But this kind of connectivity also must extend to customers. Perhaps the “hacking” phenomenon Gillmor describes – consumers making adjustments to products – could be the result of the death of customer service as we have known it. On the other hand, I’m not sure his push for more public information sharing in the product-development phase would be workable for businesses whose existence depends on patents.    

While business can’t be expected to spill trade secrets, it nevertheless can, and should, share information on successes and failures that could help the industry as a whole. But behold, even the media business, whose livelihood is communication, is reluctant to do this. In his buzzmachine blog on Feb. 6, journalist Jeff Jarvis pleads with The New York Times to reveal information about its Times Select books venture, “the shuttered experiment in paid content,” for the benefit of the industry .

                Which brings me to Gillmor’s astute observation that journalism is among the least transparent of industries; I contend that it is this veil of secrecy that in part triggered the popularity of blogging. But even he doesn’t seem to take the leap toward full disclosure. While embracing those who challenge and correct him, he shows discomfort with the emergence of what he calls “Truth Squads,” and expresses doubt that the media industry will become entirely transparent. But the truth is that other industries, such as medicine, have their scrutinizing truth squads, so what makes the media less touchable?  It seems that a proactive rather than a reactive approach might work better if Big Media are truly committed to the transparency that’s needed to rebuild credibility. Why not make available for each news story a full list of sources tapped, so consumers can decide for themselves whether the story was constructed with truth and objectivity? This could be problematic for investigative pieces, but hey, who sees those anymore anyway? 

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February 4, 2009

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