From Motherboard TV comes this story of a man in Monrovia, Liberia who gleans the news from both traditional, print sources and digital sources and compiles them, aggregates them in the new terminology, into … wait for it … a whiteboard blog.
In the car on the way home from gymnastics yesterday, Lily announced to Yung that she was growing “tired of reading.” I think she framed it a bit in terms of being “a big girl now.” Both a bit tickled by this and a bit concerned — Yung is the truest lover of books I know — Yung simply asked why that was. Lily replied that the books she read were not very interesting. They were, in fact, boring. Not at all as interesting as the stories she played, as she put it, with her toys. Those stories are more complicated, “more things happen in them.”
Yung’s response was that as Lily got to be a better reader, she would encounter more complex stories that would be more interesting. In relating the story to me, Yung expressed a bit of concern that we keep a lookout for how this response develops. Me, her folklorist husband who, yes, loves books but loves the things people make for themselves and each other too, I just grinned.
While I was gone, Lily had to spend a bit of time on Friday in day care associated with her school while Yung worked. The place was full of her cohorts, and apparently at one point she and her good friend Sydney, whom she has known since they were both 2, got in an argument. This is how she reported it to Yung tonight:
“Mommy, Sydney thinks she can do anything as long as she has permission. But that’s not right. She can’t do everything.”
Yung agreed but didn’t pursue it since this story was coming as she and Lily were lying in bed and Lily was clearly protracting bed time.
“So I said to her, if your mommy gave you permission to drive the car, could you do it?”
Sydney paused and admitted, no, she could not.
“If your mommy gave you permission to eat candy all day, could you do it?”
Again, no. And then apparently, Lily followed with: “So, you see, Sydney, not everything is available to you right now.”
Lily turned to Yung, grinning, and said, “You see, Mommy, I made my point.”
Over at HiveLogic, Dan Benjamin has a great [guide on Podcasting Equipment][hl], which has been updated for 2009. He distinguishes between four types of users: beginner, entry, mid-range, and prosumer. (Okay, that isn’t a very coherent typology, but the scenarios he provides for each are clear enough to be helpful to anyone curious.)
***Note for readers**: this post is currently in process while I am in Boise for the AFS meeting.*
For those who attended the forum at the annual meeting of American Folklore Society in Boise this year, here are a few posts that form the background to my current thinking:
* [In the Era of the Meta-Platform, Content Is King][era] (20 April 2008) is sort of a foundational statement, for me, of what I think the possibilities are more broadly for the humanities.
* In [The Road to Digital Considered][road] (14 August 2008) I discuss …
* In [The Cult of the Author in the New Economy][cult] (8 August 2009) …
* In [The Difference Digital Makes][diff] (29 July 2009) …
* In [One Digital Difference][one] (16 July 2009) …
* In [The Future of Scholarly Publishing from an Individual Perspective][future] (29 January 2009) …
Derek Powazak has a nice post about SEO optimization: don’t do it. Or, as he details, do it the way you would have done good content in the first place and don’t spend time, nor money, trying to “optimize” for various search engines (e.g., the mighty Google, which shifts and tweaks its algorithms weekly anyway). Powazek goes on to argue that SEO is, in fact, [poisoning the web](http://powazek.com/posts/2090).
It goes without saying that this applies a broad range of industries, disciplines, vocations and it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there YAP (yet another post) that really is some version of *do what you love because you love it* — okay, the echoes of Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss” make my head hurt — which is really becoming something of a Web 2.0 mantra. Don’t get me wrong, I like it … I even believe it. *Yikes!*
***UPDATE**: Work continues on a third section to this post that treats the “why” of universities embracing their role as content aggregators.*
### So Comcast Bought a Stake in NBC
The big news in the media content and distribution industries is that Comcast is acquiring a 51 percent interest in NBC. (That would be a controlling interest.) This really shouldn’t be news because after Comcast previously tried to do something similar with Disney. But should this be news to those of us in the university?
The short answer is yes.
The longer answer is that this move by Comcast reveals that it is aware that it’s traditional business model, subscribing individuals to tiered cable packages, is waning. As almost any current, or former cable subscriber can attest, or guess, the money to be made through the tiered system was in spreading out compelling content across the tiers, usually drawing (aka forcing) subscribers to upgrade to more cable than they wanted in order to get the one or two or three channels in the next package up they wanted. (And don’t get me started on the incredible jump in pricing for HD, especially in the wake of the almost too overt to be believed deterioration in SD delivery.)
Now, with aggregators like iTunes and Hulu already in the marketplace and making it possible to get exactly what they want, quite often, for the price of a decent broadband connection, it’s clear that the cable subscription model has limited life left in it. The emergent model is, well, I’ve already said it: aggregation.
Neither iTunes nor Hulu, nor the other aggregation players, produce any content, they only make it possible to get it more easily, more conveniently, without having to traipse around the web, without having to download yet another browser plug-in.
Okay, iTunes does require that you download, well, iTunes, and Hulu now offers its own standalone desktop client, but both have sufficient quantity, and quality, of content that they can make such demands and most users don’t mind.
The new technology landscape makes it possible for all of us to be producers of content as well as consumers. Not all of us will make the choice to produce, but those who do have found out that it’s hard to find a place, an audience in a marketplace that dins with teenaged boys filming each other doing stupid things on Youtube.
To some degree, both producers and consumers want aggregation. Wil Harris of [Channel Flip.com](http://www.channelflip.com/) makes this point on [the most recent TWiT program](http://twit.tv/215).
**Producers** want it because they don’t want to have to do distribution themselves, and they also stand a better chance of getting paid upfront in exchange for cutting exclusivity deals with distributors, letting the distributors worry about CPM (clicks per thousand) and other bits of advertising arcana.
**Consumers** want it because most really want someone else to vet the quality of materials for them. Given the press of everyday life, there is simply too much to do and so it’s nice when you can count on someone else to determine which are the best tech news feeds or gardening news feeds.
Are these things customizable? Sure, and that’s going to be the next step, but as much as advertisers probably dream of being able to buy targeted specifically to the people who will certainly buy their product, the chances for cross-fertilization and our own human boredom with too much of the same will, I trust, keep things sufficiently general as not too overwhelm us with too much of the same thing.
Honestly, I’m a Mac user and I like tech, but one Mac rumor/tech site is enough for me. After that, I’m ready to move on to Slashdot or Wired and get a wider view of what’s happening in the tech world.
### What was that about universities?
Universities are, if you think about it, already in the business of content aggregation. It happens in the curriculum and in classrooms and it happens in libraries. Universities are already in the business, in fact, of aggregating content producers. Their chief problem, at present, is that they are grappling with how best to use the latter business to drive business to the former.
One of the tensions, of course, is that the content producers, scholars and scientists — who may or may not think of themselves as content producers — already have extant forms of content aggregation in the form of scholarly societies and journals.
Some universities are aggregating by simply making a lot of the non-scholarly stuff available. E.g., MIT’s OpenCourseWare. Some universities are simply mandating that scholarly products also be available via their distribution channel. E.g., Harvard University. But some universities are seeing this as an opportunity to capture a little of the classroom, a little of the scholarly, and a whole bunch of that stuff that happens in between — data, preliminary notes and findings in blogs, conversations — in an on-line venue. Stanford has elements of this in their SEE (Stanford Engineering Everywhere) and [Entrepreneurship Corner](http://ecorner.stanford.edu/).
A quick glance at the Stanford site reveals that it has not been passive in its aggregation of content: these are not self-produced podcasts and videos. So the university has taken on some dimensions of production, but we could, I think, understand that to be a function of its larger investment in, its larger aggregation of, producers.
I also recognize that almost all these examples are drawn from business schools and/or their ancillary units, which makes a certain amount of sense. Universities already have revenue streams there. I think the real opportunity here is for universities to recognize these same possibilities for their humanities, human sciences, and science faculties. As I have said before, this may require a more active role in the production of these materials, but once faculty grasp/grok these new opportunities, I think enough of them will embrace them and take them in new directions that none of us can now imagine.
### Why? Why Do This?
Why take the time? Why spend the money? Why dedicate the resources?
These are all valid questions for any university to ask when engaging any new course of action. And they are important to ask especially when engaging a course surrounded by so much hyperbole and prolegomena. *To the digital parapets, people! We must be victorious lest our competitors vanquish us first!*
Okay, it’s not quite that dramatic, but sometimes it feels that way. It’s definitely the case that all too often the answer to *why?* consists of some version of *because everyone else is doing it*.
My answer is this: it’s what smart universities have always already been doing. (*A tip of the hat to Derrida.*) What the IT revolution has done is to lower considerably both the cost of doing it more and better and to raise the visibility of the end product.
Slashdot brought this [BBC story](http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/science/nature/8291267.stm) to my attention:
> The BBC reports that researchers are digitizing the captains’ logs from the voyages of Charles Darwin on HMS Beagle, Captain Cook from HMS Discovery, Captain Bligh from The Bounty, and 300 other 18th and 19th century ships’ logbooks to provide historical climate records for modern-day climate researchers who will use the meteorological data to build up a picture of weather patterns in the world at the beginning of the industrial era. The researchers are cross-referencing the data with historical records for crop failures, droughts and storms and will compare it with data for the modern era in order to predict similar events in the future.
Glyph, founder of Twisted — the Darwin calendar system, has recently been offered a job at Apple, which he is taking. He shared with the world the unboxing story to end all unboxing stories: the offer itself. I offer a sample of what he shares below, but it really is worth [checking out for yourself](http://glyph.twistedmatrix.com/2009/10/unboxing-you-won-see-on-gizmodo-or.html). What you see is a company for whom design — design with a clear goal and aesthetic — has impregnated every aspect of its culture, even making paperwork look good.
I wasn’t at this year’s Museums and the Web conference, but I was checking it out while I was considering applying for the 2010 meeting in Denver. (I did apply, with the hope of getting some feedback on the Virtual Vermilionville idea.) The Indianapolis Art Museum was the host institution this year, and so its director, Maxwell Anderson, gave the opening keynote speech. Anyone who’s been to such keynotes knows they can be fairly divergent in quality, but Anderson’s thoughts, especially on how the on-line realm can open the museum out to visitors and, in effect, invite them in, is a really good one, and one I hope to pursue in this work with Vermilionville.
Here’s the video: