Archive for the ‘New York Times’ Category

Why doesn’t the New York Times take advantage of the web’s most basic feature?

Friday, October 3rd, 2008

I read the New York Times website regularly. But I have one significant complaint. Articles on the website do not hyperlink to anything outside the Times archive. As such, the articles don’t have the value and impact they could.

Here’s an example. In today’s Times, I read this article about the McCain campaign. I was intrigued by the following paragraph:

He has been searching for a message and a way to make a case against Mr. Obama, and often publicly venting his frustration at the way the campaign is going, as he did this week in a contentious meeting with the editorial board of The Des Moines Register.

A contentious meeting with the Des Moines Register? I was intrigued. Where was my link to more information? There was none. To find out about it, I needed to do a Google search to find this explanation (with lots of external links, by the way).

This may sound like a trivial complaint, but hyperlinking within a document to other sources is one of the primary features of Tim Berners-Lee’s design for the web (described at length in his great book Weaving the Web). And it’s one of the main reasons a web site is richer and more vibrant than a newspaper or a book.

So why doesn’t the Times use it? Out of a misguided notion that a web site needs to keep people inside by constantly referring to itself. Every web site does that to an extent (this one does, as well), but internal references need to be leavened with numerous external links… especially when there’s not an internal elaboration available (as was the case with the Des Moines Register reference).

Even if you’re the Times.

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Is it time to downsize that big house?

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Friends of ours, as their small business grew, moved up into a large, spacious house with a big deck and yard overlooking a creek. Business is still good, but this month they are moving back to the smaller house they used to live in.

The VP of Common Sense has from time to time floated the idea that we downsize our house as well. “Wouldn’t it be great to live in a nice little Cape?”

And today’s New York Times profiles people who are radically downsizing into “tiny homes” that measure 100 sq ft or less.

Rising energy prices and carbon-awareness are certainly impacting this thinking, but there are other factors as well. Bigger houses mean more stuff–furniture, wall hangings, rugs, toys (if you have kids). Keeping them clean is hard to do yourself. Maintenance costs are higher. And neighborhoods can be a factor–our friends found that their large-home neighborhood was too quiet. They rarely saw their neighbors, there weren’t kids around. It was lonely.

The “little Cape” discussions in our house usually don’t last long. But they keep coming back. Who knows? If you come visit us someday, you may have to sleep on the living-room couch.
(Photo: a Tumbleweed Tiny House)
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Zuckerberg learns

Thursday, July 24th, 2008

I didn’t like much of what I read about Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook. Seemed like a bratty kid, ego on overdrive. The questions about perhaps appropriating the idea from Harvard classmates cast a shadow to me.

But I am impressed with what I’m reading about him now. Today in The New York Times, Brad Stone profiles some new Facebook integration tools, and in the article some quotes from Zuckerberg that are out of step with his old persona, to say the least.

Like this:

“We paid a lot of attention to making sure that people have complete control over what is in their feed,” he said. “We learned from last time.”

And this:

“As happy as I am with the growth of the ecosystem, there are a lot of mistakes we made,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “I think we can all agree that we don’t want an ecosystem full of applications that are just trying to spread themselves.”

To that end, Facebook announced a series of new incentives for developers to write what it characterized as “meaningful” tools for the service. It said it would pick certain applications that meet a set of Facebook principles to be part of a new “Great Apps” program.

Others are recognizing Facebook’s progress:

Blake Commagere, the developer who created zombie and vampire games for a variety of social networks, said Facebook was simply learning as it goes, like everyone else in an unprecedented Web experiment.

“It’s been a learning process for developers and for Facebook,” he said. “They are breaking new ground, but these guys are sharp. They are going to continue to improve it.”

So, it’s a much humbler and seemingly wiser Zuckerberg. That can only bode well for the future of the platform and the company.

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Food doesn’t only have to be fresh, it needs a story as well

Saturday, June 28th, 2008

This from today’s New York Times (”Food-Shopping Tips Direct From the Manager,” by Ron Leiber):

Not every grocery store bothers to highlight local products. So you may need to ask what comes from nearby and who grew or made it. “One of the things Whole Foods taught us is the need to tell stories” about our products, Mr. Heinen said. In fact, Heinen’s has 50 stories that it trains employees to tell customers about its meat, produce, baked goods and other items.

I guess it’s not surprising, in the wake of salmonella scares on tomatoes and spinach, that the dominant narrative for food products is becoming, “where did this come from, and how did it get here?”

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The new media onslaught is making entrepreneurs out of creators

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

An article from the New York Times earlier this week (”Bridging The Gap, The Sequel“) starkly illustrated that venture capitalists from Silicon Valley and creative types from Southern California are having difficulty cooperating to create financial and partnership models for new media.

One of the biggest obstacles, according to the articles, is the Southern Californians’ focus on upfront cash rather than long-term equity.

How this situation came to be is easy to understand: when the means of production of creative property were expensive, there was a distinct separation between the “suits,” who raised needed capital, and the “talent,” who wrote, acted, sang, directed, etc. The suits financed productions and paid the talent, who worked job to job. It was in the talent’s interest to get as much of their payment upfront as possible because (1) they didn’t know when their next job would come through and (2) the suits could, and wanted to, maintain full ownership of the property.

Now production costs can be much smaller, for music, video, text, etc. Prices for distribution are coming down too as new outlets emerge for digital distribution. And media companies are looking to hedge their risk as the old moneymakers (CDs, DVDs) erode.

As a result, an entire new entrepreneurial class has emerged, between the suits and the talent, combining the ability to raise money, cut deals, etc., with songwriting, producing, or acting. Around this “middle class” is a new set of technology and business enablers that are providing key pieces of the production and distribution infrastructure for these creators. (This edition of the radio program “Fresh Air” discusses some of the new models and companies emerging in the music business. Companies like Indieflix provide distribution services for video/film producers.)

Here’s an example of the new world order for music: the LinkedIn profile for Fran Ten of the LA band West Indian Girl:

oversee and run all the departments of the west indian girl business – management, marketing, new media, touring, merchandising, promotions, licensing, legal, accounting, art, etc etc.

music is a business and musicians that dont understand this are at a disadvantage.

this job is just as much a blue collar job as the one i had in high school working at a brake factory in grand rapids, mi. sometimes i think it’s even dirtier.

Technology advances have made internet video and mobile entertainment accessible to consumers on a wide scale. The business models are lagging behind. The old way–suits and talent–isn’t going to be able to work them out. The “middle class” will have to do it.

(Photo: a still from “Fields of Mudan,” the all-time best-selling DVD on Indieflix.)

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Can mobile phones eradicate poverty?

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

This past winter I had the opportunity to spend a night working at a local homeless shelter. It was an unforgettable night for many reasons, including the memory of huddling around a radio with four other guys after lights out listening to the Giants beat the Packers to go to the Super Bowl. Among everything I experienced, one thing that surprised me was the share of people staying at the shelter that night carrying cell phones. By my reckoning, it was roughly half.

As I thought about it, though, the idea of a homeless mobile-phone subscriber seemed less peculiar. Without a fixed address, the phone provided a means of connecting to the world. Employers could call if there was work available. Family and caregivers could check in. For most of us, the ability to be connected while mobile still seems an extravagance, a luxury. For these guys, it was a lifeline.

An article in today’s New York Times magazine brought this back to mind. “Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty?” by Sara Corbett trails mobile “user anthropologist” Jan Chipchase of Nokia as he studies how people use cellphones in developing countries and thinks aloud about whether mobile phones could provide a key ingredient in reducing poverty.

Corbett writes:

There are a growing number of economists who maintain that cellphones can restructure developing countries [similar to how just-in-time techniques changed manuracturing]. Cellphones, after all, have an economizing effect. My “just in time” meeting with Chipchase required little in the way of advance planning and was more efficient than the oft-imperfect practice of designating a specific time and a place to rendezvous. He didn’t have to leave his work until he knew I was in the vicinity. Knowing that he wasn’t waiting for me, I didn’t fret about the extra 15 minutes my taxi driver sat blaring his horn in Accra’s unpredictable traffic. And now, on foot, if I moved in the wrong direction, it could be quickly corrected. Using mobile phones, we were able to coordinate incrementally. “Do you see the footbridge?” Chipchase was saying over the phone. “No? O.K., do you see the giant green sign that says ‘Believe in God’? Yes? I’m down to the left of that.”

To someone who has spent years using a mobile phone, these moments are common enough to feel banal, but for people living in a shantytown like Nima[, Ghana] — and by extension in similar places across Africa and beyond — the possibilities afforded by a proliferation of cellphones are potentially revolutionary. Today, there are more than 3.3 billion mobile-phone subscriptions worldwide, which means that there are at least three billion people who don’t own cellphones, the bulk of them to be found in Africa and Asia. Even the smallest improvements in efficiency, amplified across those additional three billion people, could reshape the global economy in ways that we are just beginning to understand.

Corbett writes, “In an increasingly transitory world, the cellphone is becoming the one fixed piece of our identity.” Based on my experience at the shelter, I’d have to agree.

The cure to poverty is connectivity…
Another inspiring thought from Dr. Yunus

[Photo: the Nokia 1200, designed for emerging markets]

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Old technologies hang on for decades

Monday, March 24th, 2008

What do radio, mainframe computers and photocopiers have in common?

They were all predicted to die a quick death at the hands of a successor technology, and all are still here today.

The New York Times profiles the venerable IBM mainframe, still a multi-billion-dollar business (not that any CIO would admit publicly to buying one), which has hung on through the minicomputer revolution (remember DEC?), the PC revolution and the client-server revolution.

According to the Times article, “survivor technologies” retain certain compelling benefits that the successors do not offer. Hence, for certain niches, they continue to provide value. For radio, it is the idea of “audio wallpaper,” entertainment that’s less distracting than video–i.e., good while driving or working. For the mainframe, it was the ability to retain billions of dollars of software investment while taking advantage of hardware’s increased price-performance. Photocopiers offer easy-to-handle and share hardcopy documents that the paperless office can’t provide. (I worked for a year without a copier and was that ever a pain.)

So consider this: the next time you read that a certain technology will be obsolete within five years, you may want to buy some stock in the dinosaur.

(Photo: an IBM mainframe that is likely no longer in service.)

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The new gamer: social and casual

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

The New York Times’ astute video games columnist, Seth Schiesel, has written an article explaining the current state of the videogame industry, with insightful comments from speakers at the recent Game Developers Conference. Former leaders like Microsoft and Sony have lost ground due to their fixation with single-player games aimed at young men. The “new wave” including Nintendo and Activision (both companies with a lot of history) have brought out product that meets customers’ desire for social gaming experiences–and less daunting, “casual” games.

Judging by our household, where the Wii is such an attraction to our seven- and five-year-old sons that we must ration access, and where playdates involve bringing your Wii remote to your friends’ houses, I’d say we are right in the middle of that new market.

When winter breaks, we will see if my hours of swinging the remote on Tiger Woods PGA 2008 has any impact on my proper golf swing.

(Photo: a Nintendo Mii avatar in the image of Paul McCartney from

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How is the Getty Museum different from Enron?

Saturday, January 26th, 2008

It’s not a trick question. There may be little difference at all. The Getty is one of several museums that have been accused of systematically acquiring stolen antiquities. (The Getty last year agreed to return forty disputed works to the Italian government.) In today’s New York Times, an article states that staffers at two other LA-area museums knowingly engaged with smugglers wishing to sell antiquities to the museums.

But there’s one difference I see. The Enron spectacle played out on the front pages of the nation’s newspapers. Today’s Times article led off the Arts section. The Enron conspirators received sentences of twenty years or more in prison. By contrast, there seems to be little appetite to “make an example” of those associated with trafficking in smuggled artworks (charges were dismissed against the main figure in the Getty case, though other charged remain open).

Why the double standard? Why is buying smuggled artwork less odious than defrauding shareholders? Are curators somehow too classy to engage in criminal behavior?

Or is that no one cares about fraud in the narrow niche called the art world?

(Photo: a disputed funerary wreath returned to Greece by the Getty Museum in 2006, from Agence France Presse via the Guardian)

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The world’s worst professional services invoice

Sunday, January 20th, 2008

In today’s New York Times, a front-page article in the Business section concerns the legal difficulties of famed plaintiff’s lawyer Richard Scruggs, one of the authors of the multi-billion dollar settlement with the tobacco companies. What caught my eye was the above invoice, sent to Scruggs (or “Dickie”) by PL Blake, a figure in the case.

There is little or nothing tangible exchanged in a professional services transaction. Therefore, the invoice is normally constructed to give comfort to the payer (and its auditor) that the vendor delivered appropriate and valuable services in exchange for the payment.

Given the large amount due and the, say, haphazard way it was put together, invoice #856 sets a new low in the practice.

I wonder what his tax return looked like?

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