Archive for February, 2010

Dancing on Clouds – A Letter to LarryandSergey

February 27, 2010 2 comments

Dear LarryandSergey,

On March 9, 1967, 6 years before either of you were born, Joni Mitchell composed the song Both Sides Now. We have been inspired ever since by her metaphor of clouds and how it helps us see that there “are a lot of sides to everything.” She sings:

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
It’s cloud illusions I recall
I really don’t know clouds at all
© 1969; Siquomb Publishing Company

Joni had just finished reading Saul Bellow‘s book Henderson the Rain King, and told an interviewer that:

“…there’s a line in it that I especially got hung up on that was about when he was flying to Africa and searching for something, he said that in an age when people could look up and down at clouds, they shouldn’t be afraid to die.”

LarryandSergey, you’ve inspired us too, you’ve learned how to look up and down at clouds of data. After looking at both sides I’ve decided my digital life is really better now that I can Google. My searches are rewarding and fast; I am empowered. I click, therefore I am. I can find and share videos and links and laughter. And, if anyone googles: paul r wagner, you get me! Yep, that’s me at the top of the list!

I know that my many divergent paths are your affordances. But, I am learning as much as you. I pay you in clicks and links and stops and starts and I am rewarded, too. My online journeys become part of your daily algorithm. I don’t really mind at all. I know that if I do this and if the next click happens to find a new discovery then that leads me down another path. So, like you, I can also look at things from both sides now. That’s my algorithm.  I Google, therefore I am.

All 500 million of us thank you everyday because we all have an innate need to constantly be searching for something. With some of us it’s desperation, with many of us its exultation. In turn, we don’t mind being the wisdom of clouds for you. We click. We get results. We go on. Like you, we’re dancing on clouds of information. Our lives are better.

I know that some of us are skeptical about Google’s ‘don’t be evil’ mantra. I’ve heard both sides. I’m going with what your Marissa Mayer revealed:

“We have several key factors that we look at to really understand what we call user happiness.”

Why is it hard for me to detect any element of ‘evil’ in that goal? I compliment you on your Walt Disney-Henry Ford allegiance to my user happiness, to such singleness of purpose that you keep demonstrating over and over? You are technicians with taste and you’re leveraging what you’ve learned about us. That’s not called communism or the evil empire, that’s called competitive advantage. Shall we call a cobbler evil if his mantra is “if the shoe fits, you’ll want to wear it”?

Let’s talk about the big banks that actually had our money in their hands and, in effect, irreverently lost that money this past year. In fact, they lost so much of our money (they still can’t explain where it went) that we had to bail them out! That algorithm doesn’t compute and so I think we could start talking about evil in the banks, don’t you? Maybe you can teach them about the wisdom of clouds and user happiness, ok?

So, again, thanks. You’re the best. I think I’ll just keep clicking for free, getting faster and more targeted results and let you figure out how to pay for all of this free stuff you keep giving me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to be evil by leaving you with the bill, it’s just that, well, you’ve offered.

O, and before I close this letter. I forgive you for going ahead and digitizing millions of books and then asking for permission afterward. Heck, I do that all the time. If you don’t go ahead and get started on a good idea it will never happen.

Can you imagine if your idea instead was “Let’s form a national committee of smart people to figure out how and if we should digitize 20 million books.” What a brilliantly bad idea that would have been, eh? Sounds like something that might have come from that poster child of inefficiency, the book publishing industry.

Speaking of the value in forgotten books…I googled and very quickly (thanks) found the Google-digitized version of the book, Beautiful thoughts about happiness (1911) . As you guys know, it had been languishing in the library of the University of California which I’ll probably never get a chance to visit in my lifetime. Of course, thanks to you, now it’s really easy to quickly search keywords throughout this book. I searched for “clouds”. Here’s what I found. Maybe this can inspire you to keep up the good work on my user happiness?

Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.
-Henry W. Longfellow


Your pal, Paul



February 21, 2010 Leave a comment

Because of the Internet, consumers and companies have totally changed how they sell and buy goods.  The emergence of online auctions in the marketplace can take full advantage of high-speed information technology to create more efficient markets. We are now able to bring together buyers and sellers with greater effectiveness on a massive scale.

Sellers and buyers from all over the world can now participate in trading relationships without time or space constraints. The most successful online marketplace, eBay, a popular online auction flea market, offers over 3 million items for sale at any given time for anyone, from anywhere.

The ability to bring together buyers and sellers at such a worldwide scale may be both a blessing and curse for the effectiveness of electronic marketplaces. On the one hand, it is a tremendous advantage since buyers can reap the benefits of greater product diversity with potentially lower prices and sellers are able to reach a greater pool of potential buyers.

However, one of the difficulties for buyers is that they have to put in extensive effort in searching through an enormous amount of products. In addition, sellers have to compete with a great number of sellers in order to effectively reach the potential buyers.

Despite the growing interest in and importance of such marketplaces, our understanding of how the web design of the marketplace affects its use is still quite limited.

One of the difficulties with online auction sites is the poor navigation within the site. Scanning the most popular sites it is easy to see this as a major problem for which a creative solution seems yet to be discovered.

Basically, an online marketplace is a Web application that acts as an intermediary between market sellers and buyers. Each site has to establish and clearly define the rules and procedures for trading between sellers and buyers.  What determines a good interaction on the site is how effectively buyers can browse and search for items that sellers have offered for sale.

An online auction is a special type of marketplace where resource allocation and prices are determined with an explicit set of rules based on bids from market participants.

Site navigation design is important because it affects the amount and effort of search required to find products from the part of the buyers, and to find potential buyers from the part of the sellers. This usually consists of some kind of searchable categorization.

One can easily observe at eBay, for instance, product categories with over 2,000 items for sale at any given time. Some of the more popular product categories list over 8,000 items. This translates to 40 web pages of 50 item lists for categories with 2,000 items (and over 160 pages for those with over 8,000 items). Therefore a buyers’ process of searching for items is hardly automatic or instantaneous.

It’s easy to see how the problem of information overload may greatly impact the market efficiency of online auctions.

Categories: COM566

New ‘TV’ technology changes everything.

February 20, 2010 Leave a comment

All the debates lately regarding the political economics of media, the need for new legislation on net neutrality and the impact on our democracy as qualified journalism is jeopardized MIGHT be muted. It won’t be because these debates are subversive or threatening national security–no, it will be a new technology that will change the conversation.

I think the new technology of the all-in-one TV=RADIO=INTERNET=VIDEO/MOVIE PLAYER device that will become the replacement for our current TV will make all of these separate ‘media channel’ arguments irrelevant.

You’ll pay one bill to a consortium to have this one device do ALL OF THIS. Broadband will be indistinguishable from cable TV from satellite radio, etc. So, our kids won’t know any difference between a TV show, from a video, from a Wikipedia search.

Channel hopping in the future will be a wild ride!

This device will win because of consumer convenience, like refrigeration replacing the ice box.

So, what part of all of this will not be democratic? Heck, we will just vote for our favorite political candidate on it too without any worry about dangling chads.

In fact, this sounds so promising, I think I’ll go into the lazy boy recliner business. See? It’s already providing new jobs!

Categories: COM580

Robert McChesney isn’t stopping any traffic on Madison Avenue

February 13, 2010 1 comment

I thought our good friend Capitalism was working just fine until I encountered Robert McChesney’s book “The Political Economy of Media.” You see, McChesney is a communications professor (yikes!) and he’s done a lot of unbiased research and he’s decided that he wants to overthrow the government’s current manner of dealing with the free Press. [Be careful, professor, that public-funded library you’ve been using might have to start charging you.]

Anyway, let Robert have a word here:

Any serious effort to reform the media system would have to necessarily be part of a revolutionary program to overthrow the capitalist system itself.”

Now do you see why I said ‘yikes’ earlier? I get scared when I hear words like ‘overthrow’, don’t you? And heck, I grew up lovin’ Bob Dylan (platonically, mind you). I guess, the times really are a changin’, here’s another quote from the Professor:
Socialists since the time of Marx have been proponents of democracy, but they have argued that democracy in capitalist societies is fundamentally flawed. In capitalist societies, the wealthy have tremendous social and economic advantages over the working class that undermine political equality, a presupposition for viable democracy.”

Since I’m all for that wild and crazy First Amendment, I don’t mind that McChesney is a Marxist. In fact, McChesney also loves to invoke Jefferson and Madison as founding fathers that probably meant well but never got the chance to shake hands with Karl Marx. They were just a little confused writing the First Amendment since they forgot to explain how it would be much better if the U.S. government would just spend $30 billion dollars a year to finance the Press! (Hang on, Billy Graham, you’re next.)

Yes, that’s correct, McChesney wants the government to finance the ‘free’ Press. Then, I suppose, the Supreme Court can tell Rupert Murdock to unload those boring Press holdings he has and put his money into Religion or the Right to Assemble or something that McChesney hasn’t researched yet.

McChesney’s Petition is simple, let’s just get rid of capitalism:
Our job is to make media reform part of our broader struggle for democracy, social justice, and, dare we say it, socialism. It is impossible to conceive of a better world with a media system that remains under the thumb of Wall Street and Madison Avenue, under the thumb of the owning class.”

Does anyone find it ironic that ‘Madison Avenue’, a metonym for dirty rotten Capitalism, is named after McChensey’s pal, James Madison?

Despite all of McChesney’s yammering, I still believe the First Amendment is all about the freedom to have a bias – my point of view. It’s about the freedom to hear from different sides – my freedom of choice. It’s not about market control or Madison Avenue and it is wrong to try to mix the two.

We (including our journalists) have more access to information than ever in the history of mankind. There’s an app for that, too.  If, James Madison were living today, I don’t think he’d give a hoot about who owned and financed all the information available to be a fully effective citizen if he exercised his freedom to regularly read The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Huffington Post, Mother Jones, Reason, the Nation and his favorite blogger. So, how is dominance by corporate media ruining Madison’s democratic abilities? Capitalism is working just fine, it seems to me.

You want to hear me whine? Turn any one of the five freedoms in the First Amendment over to the financial control of the government. Yikes! Then, I’d run out and join Pat Robertson’s 500 club because he and I would finally agree on something.

Hey, text me on your government phone when McChesney gets rid of capitalism, will ya?

Categories: COM580 Tags: ,

There’s a book for that!

February 8, 2010 Leave a comment

Since I am always recommending books to my friends and colleagues, my digital-native friends have decided that instead of the popular phrase “there’s an app for that,” I need to act my age and say “there’s a book for that!” And so, I naturally considered the Amazon Kindle™ as my favorite, interactive ‘big idea.’ Until I realized that there is a much bigger, more practical, ‘reading-inspired’ and interactive product that I use every day.

In fact, every month 65 million people acquire at least one of the 3,186,664 different ‘stock numbers’ of this product. In my entire life, I am not likely to find a product that represents such a price-value relationship because this product is free and is not for sale. None of the company’s products ever wears out and each is constantly added to and improved.

The company has grown into the top ten in its field and yet never advertises. It uses 85,000 product developers who are adding new products every day. The management and the workers care deeply about the quality of their work but they do not expect anyone to fully trust them. What is it?

Wikipedia™ turned a mere nine years old in January of 2010 and continues to write one of the most interesting and record-setting success stories. What has to impress is that more than 10 million users contributed to that milestone. This kind of growth is not bad for a service originally conceived as an afterthought to Nupedia, a failed first attempt by Internet entrepreneur Jimmy Wales and philosopher Lawrence Sanger at creating a free online encyclopedia.

Starting out as Nupedia in 2000, the plan was for it to feature expert-written, peer-reviewed content, not unlike Microsoft’s Encarta. But Nupedia suffered from a major problem: a lack of speed. In its first six months, only two articles made it through the process. To spur better production, Sanger suggested creating a counterpart that anyone could contribute to without editorial review. went live on Jan. 15, 2001, and the new model quickly eclipsed its older sibling. It’s now the largest encyclopedia on the planet and it’s still free to anyone with access to the web.

Microsoft, on the other hand, finally closed down its Encarta project last March. It was to be the greatest encyclopedia of all time written by paid experts in every field. Heavily financed, advertised and finally launched in 1993, 8 years ahead of free Wikipedia, fee-based Encarta should have succeeded with its traditional business model. It should have been recognized as a superior value, accurate product offering fast computer and web-access to information. Wikipedia, on the other hand, applied the ‘long tail’ principles of enticing ‘free’ content providers who have a self-motivated purpose to offer their mastery of a topic in autonomous conditions. The stick and carrot motivators of the information age are replaced with the self-motivated, right-brained thinking of the conceptual age. Not only is the new, open source world faster, most of it is free. is such a big idea that there ought to be a book for that!

Categories: COM566 Tags: ,