Archive for the 'Bloggotry' Category

27
May
11

Google Correlate: Coming Soon To An Undereducated Blogger Near You

What’s the greatest downside to the blogosphere?  Blogs filled with lousy work, spilling fact-challenged pollution back into the common information supply and thereupon into search results.  Mountains of summary, worthless “research”. Fallacies and nonsense growing like mildew in a million SRO hotel showers.

What is the number one supply source for this tsunami of piffle? From whence comes the raw material that feeds these millions of undercooked posts? To whom does the army of the not-terribly-qualified on politics, science, economics, business or sociology turn to fuel and justify its worldview?

Nowhere more than Google.

At least as much as it has aided us in the hunt for data and information, Google has harmed us in our hunt for knowledge and wisdom. And the bloggers who don’t see this are truly something to behold. Nothing can be gotten more glibly, magnificently wrong than that found in the hackwork of credulous dilettantes who shower themselves indiscriminately with the Big G’s search results.

In fits of intellectual onanism, graduates of the “University of Google” routinely feel qualified to hold forth on poorly- or barely-understood topics at length. They proceed as if their “research” — more fairly called “loosely related compilations from Google’s keyword-obsessed, context-hobbled indexing robots burped up in search results” —  stands in for an education or for depth of experience, or just plain old humble respect for a complex topic.  It of course does not.

A classic fallacy found repeatedly in the spittle-flecked gabble churned out by these folks is the mistaking correlation for causation. For many who are no good at inductive reasoning, or are untrained in logic, inexperienced in business or creative endeavor, this is a very popular mistake. It is to believe that whenever two things take place near in time to one another, one of the things was the cause of the other. Without argument or proof, the correlations pile up to the sky and are treated by the lazy, handicapped blogger as if they were proof of causation.

So guess what’s here to help that fallacy hot rod along by adding nitro fuel and giant drag racing tires?

Enter Google’s newest beta program: Google Correlate. Correlate is  new tool that allows you to upload a time series expressing a trend. Google emits back the best-matching pattern of search terms inside the big G’s historical database.

As with most of Google’s utility as a research tool, serious results are only pointed to by its output, not proved.  But don’t expect the blogosphere (or mainstream media for that matter) to notice, or to be inspired to do the work required to actually add to human knowledge. Running with a tiny shred of dubious information is a lot more fun.

Boy, do I hate fun sometimes.

04
Jun
10

As A New Media Critic, Adam Curtis Makes A Great Documentarian

“First of all, the people who do blogging, for example, are self-selecting. Quite frankly it’s quite clear that what bloggers are is bullies. The internet has removed a lot of constraints on them. You know what they’re like: they’re deeply emotional, they’re bullies, and they often don’t get out enough. And they are parasitic upon already existing sources of information – they do little research of their own.

What then happens is this idea of the ‘hive mind’, instead of leading to a new plurality or a new richness, leads to a growing simplicity.

The bloggers from one side act to try to force mainstream media one way, the others try to force it the other way. So what the mainstream media ends up doing is it nervously tries to steer a course between these polarised extremes.” – Adam Curtis

It’s a testament to how much I admire the work of BBC documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis that I do not turn my back on it for his being so shockingly wrong about something so important.

Curtis, a contemporary of the immensely important and beloved band Gang of Four hails from Leeds and was friends with the band in its earliest days.  As such, he had a head start as an ally of RW370 without my even considering his film work.  But it is these that inspire awe.  His documentaries for BBC Century Of The Self and The Trap are among the most important of the last decade. They have a frighteningly keen insight into the little-discussed ways the 20th century’s most revolutionary ideas in psychology, marketing and politics have enabled the dominant political and commerical institutions of our time. Curtis adroitly chronicles distortions imparted by the institutionalizing process upon the culture as well as the original ideas themselves. Century is especially brilliant, illustrating the hidden history of the development and imposition of the templates from which all of today’s political marketing is drawn.

That’s the Curtis I know. Today, I read a new and different Adam Curtis from an interview in 2007, and I’m sorry to say don’t like this one much and hope he’s come around since.  This Adam Curtis is a new media bigot who portrays bloggers as “bullies” and parasites who are”self-selected” and have “a lack of enthusiasm about finding out about the world”.

Some things about Curtis’s extended complaint about the writers who make up the new media landscape are fairly sound: he finds a tendency for bloggers to simplify their subjects to the point of creating journalistically useless content, and he has found that bloggers have undue influence in mainstream news media. Many bloggers, he effectively says, are committed more to heat than light. Fair enough, as such superficial and universal conclusions go.  I have a hard time finding anything in these complaints that doesn’t apply to mainstream media equally.

To characterize influential bloggers as “self-selected” is one of the more embarrassing canards a clueless baby boomer can level at new media. I hope I am not the one to tell him that the internet, distinctly unlike the model of, say, Mr. Curtis’s television network employer, treats the issue of selection as a plain matter of direct democracy, using clicks as votes.

Curtis doesn’t understand that an influential blog is not that way because one person decided it to be so. Nobody who ever read a traffic statistics report for a blog would ever hold that notion for long. A blog’s influence is manifest solely in the consumption of its content – the relevant selection is that done by its audience, not its publisher. Compare this with any TV network’s programming decision process and see which is the more unilateral and arbitrary. Traffic reports aren’t guesses, and linkback traffic – the signal to the blogosphere at large of what the real headcount is at a blog – isn’t falsifiable to any meaningful extent. Curtis is so far off about the fundamental online power relationships, it’s embarrassing.

Nor does it help when he goes on to excoriate the mainstream media for not knowing enough (or anything) about the things they report upon. It’s not that he’s wrong about TV news – mainstream TV has never made much money at reportage and in fact stands to lose its corporate owners far more money than it could ever make if it was to become competent at it. But again Curtis’s warped new media landscape places TV news’s routine derogation of its duty not in the domain of its corporate ownership but inexplicably on “bullies” – bloggers, who “from one [ideological] side act to try to force mainstream media one way, [while] the others try to force it the other way. So what the mainstream media ends up doing is it nervously tries to steer a course between these polarised extremes.”

This is an unfortunate breakdown in understanding. Were it true that mainstream media takes its cues from its position relative to bloggers instead of its corporate owners, navigating a path between the extremes wouldn’t require much steering – polar extremes by definition have maximum space between them. The problem isn’t in finding a center, the problem is in commercial pressure of reaching for maximum audience.  This is absolutely done by reaching for the extremes of the spectrum. Could it be that Curtis has not listened to enough US right wing talk radio – as utterly mainstream a product as exists – or explored its decades of commercial history to understand that saying insane things that sound plausible to economic victims is not a fringe strategy, but is in fact wildly popular and profitable?

Audience, Mr. Curtis. Ignore it at all of our peril. As you so clearly showed in Century Of The Self, the self-image of people was the first thing sold to them en masse. Why throw away this magnificent truth when the medium is a web browser?

[UPDATE: Happily, since 2007, Adam Curtis has indeed straightened out his new media perspective and has joined the self-selected bullies with a great new online property, to which I gleefully link here and at the sidebar.   Thanks to other Curtis fans for the gentle boot in the arse.]

30
Nov
09

What Tiger Has Taught Us About Twitter, TV and the NY Times

Kudos to TechCrunch’s Devin Coldewey for a sensible and important conceptual arrangement of the media ecosystem in his piece “Real Time, Real Discussion, Real Reporting: Choose Two“.    It confirms that it’s okay to deeply hate each of the legs of the tripod for their failings, that there is no “new media” and dissemination of non-news as news isn’t the end of news, it’s the end of news cycles.  (Link swiped from Andy Lester.)

05
Oct
09

FTC Cracks Down On The Shills Of The Blogosphere

thou shalt not shill

Image by duncan via Flickr

Very little irritates me more about online life than undisclosed consideration. This is the practice of marketers passing out free products, services or money to bloggers who then favorably review the product without disclosing the freebie. It poisons conversation, distorts history and lends precious credence to the braying of marketing chumps and others who treat everything on the Internet as an exercise in “brand building”. Those of us who’d rather not adopt the habits of bullshit purveyors as we conduct our own lives and pursue our own tastes and interests don’t play around with our reputations by omitting potentially coloring circumstances from our writing. The problem is, undisclosed consideration makes it difficult to identify who is crapping in the well and who isn’t.

This practice wasn’t invented in the blogosphere. I saw it for years, albeit with more transparency, working behind the counter at Pravda Records in the late 1980s. Every month, writer after writer for local and national music magazines came into the store to unload their promo CDs to us for a couple of dollars apiece. It was widely known that the records they reviewed weren’t something they paid for, and that the extra dollars we paid them for their Guadalcanal Diary and Slammin’ Watusis CDs were part of the perks of their job. The arrangement didn’t necessarily ensure positive reviews (who could suffer through Concrete Blonde and not cry for help in print?) but neither was the process presented as “I’m a guy who bought this and this is what I think”.

Today’s blogosphere has compelled trillions of words and indulged hundreds of millions of motivations for those words, not all of which can be trusted, but practically all of which enjoy a benefit of the doubt purely because they’re on blogs and blogs are individuals writing opinions, right?

The Federal Trade Commission seems to think so, and have moved to do something about the problem of undisclosed consideration on blogs. Starting December 1, the FTC will fine bloggers up to $11,000 for failing to reveal material connections to what they write:

“The revised Guides also add new examples to illustrate the long standing principle that ‘material connections’ (sometimes payments or free products) between advertisers and endorsers–connections that consumers would not expect–must be disclosed. These examples address what constitutes an endorsement when the message is conveyed by bloggers or other ‘word-of-mouth’ marketers. The revised Guides specify that while decisions will be reached on a case-by-case basis, the post of a blogger who receives cash or in-kind payment to review a product is considered an endorsement. Thus, bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.

Of course this won’t catch 90% of what goes on out there, but that’s not the point.  It’s a bulwark against a burgeoning shillocracy and it will turn some heads that need turning.  Any move to bring greater media literacy is a move welcome in these parts, even if it comes almost  twenty years too late to disclose, say, Bill Wyman at the Chicago Reader’s “material connections”.

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30
Apr
09

Shirky Debunks Blogging Bubble: Is There Any Marketplace The WSJ Can’t Misreport?

In “America’s Newest Profession: Bloggers For Hire“, a dubious piece published at the Wall Street Journal “Microtrends” blog, former Hilary Clinton campaign strategist Mark Penn added no victories to his resume but maintained the WSJ’s status as king of business reporting organs.  Given the publication’s total failure to report on the realities of the economic downturn until its own desks were on fire, that was nothing to be proud of.

Along with co-author E. Kinney Zalsene, Penn upheld the Journal’s best traditions of junk research and hugely inflated valuations passing as gospel — only instead of credit markets, Penn misreported and grossly overvalued the bottom line of the blogosphere itself, spreading the hilariously wrong idea that the average blogger is making thousands of dollars a year “publishing their opinions”.

Called in by Xeni Hardin at Boing Boing to clean up the mess was the great author and internet analyst Clay Shirky, whose essay is here.

04
Feb
09

Led Zeus Shit Jar, ATP ’09: Too Big To Fail

Take the name of Chicago perv-rock legends The Jesus Lizard.  Scramble up the letters.  Scramble ’em good.  What do you get?  Zest Jihad RulesJeez, Radish SlutHertz Used Jails.  And, of course, Led Zeus Shit Jar, which is a name TJL played under for one secret show at Czar Bar in ’91 or so.

Why the logophilic reminiscence, you ask?  Well gee, William Fuckin’ Buckley, it’s because the almighty Lizard — broken up lo these many years — is signed on with original members to play an alleged 30 shows this year, including All Tomorrow’s Parties in the UK.  This calls for commentary.

Where do I even begin?  First of all, there’s this: TJL’s Bass Officer David Wm. Sims, Chicago’s raised-bet answer to The Stranglers’ JJ Burnel and The Birthday Patry’s Tracy Pew, provider of monstrous, gulping low frequencies in the late lamented outfits Rapeman and Scratch Acid — has been blogging. Too Big To Fail, he calls his effort, and  for all we know, this fine bit of WordPressery may indeed be the result of the Federal Reserve bloating Mr. Sims’ institution with freshly minted greenbacks by the trailerload — it’s not as if they’re keeping any records over there.   But more likely, TBTF is simply another enjoyable expression of the aggro-musician-with-great-taste phenomenon Chicagoans are appreciated for – even when they come from Texas and live today in NYC.  Several thumbs up.

Then there’s these upcoming Jesus Lizard shows.   The first time I saw this essential band was at Edge Of The Looking Glass in…I dunno, 1990?  (Singer David) Yow was wearing a suit and had a huge sponge soaked with what appeared to be ink and kept sqooshing it over his head – when he wasn’t delivering interperative-dance moves akin to a woozy Bob Fosse.  I knew the Davids from Scratch Acid, but had never before seen and been blown away by the full combo.  The diamond-sharp blare of Duane Denison and the sideways artillery of Mac McNeilly just made me want to quit music, because they had solved it. I saw ’em with Slint.  I saw ’em out of state. I saw ’em a lot of times, and every time was a joy.  Yes, I’m going to some of these shows.

And then there’s this, a world-colliding (well, at least to me) double bill with Devo and The Jesus Lizard at All Tomorrow’s Parties.  I guess now is the time to tell this one:

Around nine years ago, I worked at a record label/recording studio.  I had a little latitude and was able to chase down a dream project – as a producer of sorts. So I went for it.

I had heard through mutual friends that one of my biggest musical mentors, Devo’s bassist Gerald V. Casale, was beginning to work on a solo record and had need of a drummer.  I heard some tapes and they were cool.  At the time, TJL’s Mac McNeilly was no longer with the band, so I figured I’d see if he was interested in maybe working with Gerry on his record at this studio.  Amazingly, Mac was into the idea.  I sent Gerry copies of Goat and Head. Then, even more amazingly, Gerry was into the idea.  Or at least that’s what it seemed like, because he was super-appreciative of the Macness.   The tapes I heard were grinding, raw and great, but…it turned out that Gerry saw all that as a problem to be overcome.  He kept talking about scrubbing away all the dirt and making the record to a click track and laying the drums in last…which, I’m sorry to say, is a great way to make a shiny, quantized and very “L.A.”  record.  — and no way to waste the wind tunnel of Hurricane Mac.  So it didn’t happen. Boo hoo.

But now – TJL and Devo on the same bill? Yes, please.  In the words of Tina Fey: “I want to go to there.”

07
Jan
09

US Air Force Seeks To Militarize Blogosphere; Unveils Flowchart, Neologism

air_force_blog_char

Am I a “rager”?

Coming from both sides of the military-industrial complex’s hyphen, authoritarians have engaged social media to varying degrees of absurdity.  Corporate mishandling of internet communications technologies and communities are already the stuff of legend while military blogging policy for active-duty personnel is more or less “don’t post, don’t comment”.

These outcomes are unsurprising, given what the core social media pretexts of transparency, equality and sharing mean to the classic operating philosophies of profit-making and warfighting.  They mean what oil means to water.  As such, in the case of the Air Force, paranoia over social media reigns.  For airmen on duty, centralized IP blocking of blogs has reportedly been in place since February. Of course, USAF blocking isn’t in place for “established, reputable media outlets” – nor was it ever in place for airmen’s private machines in their own homes.  The absurdity is inescapable: authoritarianism usually doesn’t (and in today’s world, cannot) care about the effectiveness of its results as much as it cares about the appearance of applying its authority.

This problematic truth about authoritarian censorship, set against the communications realities of the blogosphere and a planet’s slow crawl toward social democracy, is what has allowed slow change in even the most vertical and anti-social organizations our society has ever produced.  It was only a matter of time before the US military service branches began to wake up to the problem of being, for lack of a batter term, stupid about social media.

The procedural, bureaucratic  mindset maps its way out of stupidity through the judicious application of…procedure. The military takes the premise to its logical extreme: there are field manuals for everything one accomplishes in the military.  And USAF Captain David Faggard, acting as the USAF’s “designated social media guru”, has added an Air Force field manual for blog commentary (see above graphic). In a handy flow-chart presentation, USAF personnel are given a means by which to navigate the blogosphere and decision points to guide interaction – and non-interaction – with it.

Most interesting about the chart is the designation “rager” for blog posts that are one shade more credible than those of a troll, yet are not to be replied to, only monitored.

I would like very much to know if my post qualifies as a “rager” post.  After all, it isn’t positive about the USAF, its blogging technique, institutional stupidity, centralized authority.  And truth be told, I’m not so hot on General Curtis LeMay, polluting Vieques island Puerto Rico with weapons contamination, posessing and bumbling an overwhelming nuclear arsenal, and having almost eight hundred foreign military bases all over the world flying my country’s flag, eternally fighting WWII.  This is a fairly anti-militarist blog, and I’m a fairly anti-militarist guy.

So where do I fall in Captain Faggard’s hierarchy?    At first glance, it appears I am an “unhappy customer”.

Though I find repugnant the tendency for government to reach for commercial language to describe its relations and work, I have to admit that in this exercise, the Captain has done a good job with his nomenclature.

As a taxpayer, I am indeed unhappy, not the least at the fact that all cultural indicators point to Captain Faggard attaining a rank of Major or Colonel before reaching for his piece of the military-industrial complex largesse on its civilian side.  Unhappy because when he does, the fairly trivial and broad groupings he has created in his chart will absolutely represent boardroom gold for those private enterprises heretofore unaware of how to begin to participate in social media.  Enterprises who might hire him to import a clue to their organization just as he has done for the USAF are – cultural indicators suggest – going to be subsidized by my taxes ad infinitum.  The Captain  would be a big exception to prevailing conditions if, even as he left the service,  he did not remain in the sphere of national “defense”.  The all-too-common career move is to hop across the hyphen from weapons buyer to weapons maker.

So unhappy, yes, but not despairing.  Because social media isn’t something you drag along to the silos – the literal and figurative silos of an over-weaponized, over-capitalized culture.  Social media is the chatter permeating and shrinking those silos despite best efforts to channel, guide and harness from above.  The free exchange of ideas as a baseline social expectation is far too simple to suppress, to prevalent to ignore, too beneficial to brand. As long as electrons move, social media will withstand, abide and flood every silo that thinks itself a dam.

Rager out.

(Thanks to Noah Schactman’s original piece in the excellent Danger Room blog about Capt. Faggard’s chart.)




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rob [at] warmowski [dot] com

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Rob Warmowski entry at Chicago Punk Database
1984-89: Defoliants
1991-94: Buzzmuscle
2001-05: San Andreas Fault
2008- : Sirs
2008- : Allende

Rob at Huffington Post

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