Web 2.0 Feed

Mourning for the Web I Lost

I wrote this meditation on Web 2.0 on Facebook this morning, but after posting it there, decided it deserved a broader audience. This morning there was a BBC article entitled,"Network sites 'need help buttons'." It begins,

Major social networking websites have been criticised for not introducing a help button for children to report concerns about grooming and bullying.

One of the things on my to-do list is to return a NY State Trooper's call regarding an Internet harassment complaint I filed with Essex County, NY a couple of months ago. Existing mechanisms take a long time to work. So the problem of Internet harassment has been on my mind this morning.

Here is what I wrote about the BBC article.

It's not just kids that could benefit from a "Help" button on Web 2.0 sites. Pretty much every age group can. Social network sites like, say, LiveJournal are the killer ap for a wide range of cyberbullying tactics.

Any system that allows for anonymity + closed group/mob formation should have a Help! button of the type suggested, and not one just for kids.

This is one reason I tolerate the kids being on Club Penguin: There are easy-to-use mechanisms by which the kids can put a quick stop to harassment before it becomes anything damaging.

Another Web 2.0 site that has fairly sophisticated mechanisms for such things is Wikipedia. The problem with Wikipedia's implementation is that because of its anarcho-collectivist social structure, sometimes the enforcers are the perceived aggressors. And also, it takes a while to learn the ropes, so while I know what to do about the jerk in Florida who vandalizes my Wikipedia talk page every morning, a new user wouldn't.

On balance, so far, I regard Web 2.0 as a social disaster that destroyed much of what I thought was good about the Internet because of the harassment/bullying problems. Almost by accident, I did some amazingly effective Good Works using the internet circa 2005. What I/we did then would not be possible in 2009 because Web 2.0 nastiness is too corrosive of the public trust.

I have been for a while in a state of mourning for the Web I lost. Partly, I was simply too naive to understand the risks I was taking and too pleased with myself when those risks paid off. 

But nonetheless I think the web now is a very different place, and that Web 2.0 has catalyzed the Internet's general tendency to regress adults to the emotional level of 7th graders.

If I turned the computer off and went away for a year, would things be better when I came back? No, I think not.

"Defining Characteristics of the Posthuman & the Emergent Transition to the Transhuman: a Dystopian Scenario" by Kathryn Cramer

Posthumans communicate electronically. Pay no attention to the geek behind the handle.

A posthuman outnumbers a human: their emergent relationship is often predator and prey.

Humans are single, identifiable individuals. Posthumans are legion; they are multi-headed hydra. When fully developed, they contain multitudes, as many identities as they need.

Posthumans are the heroes of their own stories.

Humans may have several social identities, usually dependent on contexts such as work, parenting, gaming. Posthumans have more.

Humans are cursed with continuous lives; posthumans are not. Posthumans can go underground with a keystroke. Bingo, another identity!

Posthumans are lonely, they are looking for love and companionship and attention. Self-love does not ease the ache for another, more satisfying identity. Perhaps even as a superhero.

Posthumans are disinhibited.

Posthumans are thrill-seekers, enjoying the rush of the group demagogic skydive.

Posthumans live in constant fear of exposure as insignificant meat.

Posthumans argue against the unique identification of moral actors.

To protect them from predation, children are taught in elementary school how to become posthuman when going online. As with many top predators, by adolescence, these proto-posthumans with have learned the role of predator. Social networking plays a major and perhaps even Darwinian role in this socialization.

Posthumans hunt in legions. If no one else will hunt, posthumans become the legion.

Posthumans bear no responsibility for the past. For posthumans, electronic life is an organizing principle imposed on the past, which is chaos.

All the truth posthumans need is available online. And if it isn’t there, they can make something up and put it online.

For a human to seek a human's address and phone number, she looks in the phone book. For a human to seek a posthuman's address and phone number is stalking!

Humans privilege relationships formed in and founded on what they call "real life." Posthumans either deny a distinction between “real life” and online relationships, or disparage the idea that "meatspace" relationships have any privileged meaning.

Posthumans like to watch. They especially like to watch humans and other posthumans fighting.

Posthumans find inflicting pain easier than do humans. Posthuman demagogues easily replicate the results of the Milgram experiment again and again, since posthumans are drawn to such experiences.

Posthuman culture changes at a much more rapid pace than human culture, such that the social protocols of online communities less than five years old are often regarded as ancient and venerable traditions. Still, most bad ideas go back a long way.

Truth is the consensus of posthumans today. Tomorrow's truth will be different. There is no fact outside of constantly-shifting consensus truth.

Humans are limited to no more than 3 or 4 romantic entanglements at a time. Posthumans may pursue 15 or 20 simultaneously; those posthumans augmented by bots can pursue hundreds. For some posthumans, this can prove highly profitable, particularly those who specialize in widows and the elderly.

Posthumans can blogswarm from jail!

The posthuman condition is a happy state for registered sex offenders.

Posthumans have solved the problem of professional ethics: The ethics of posthumans are completely undiscussable. How dare you raise the issue of ethics!

Posthumans are becoming the natural prey of Intelligent Agents, currently in the service of humans and adept at parsing social networks and friends lists. Intelligent Agents perform due diligence.

A posthuman’s HR department already has the posthuman’s Charles Manson fanfic on file; is already aware of the disturbing themes in the posthuman’s Shirley Temple Second Life porn; the posthuman’s Flickr account has already been run by legal. Legal has advised management to let him dig himself in a little deeper.

Posthumans are losing security clearances for unexplained reasons.

Posthumans are now being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Now posthumans lose their jobs.

Intelligent Agents take over. Truth is the consensus of corporately owned Intelligent Agent systems.

The era of Transhumanity is at hand.

History has ended. Posthumans have no history.

Copyright © 2009 by Kathryn Cramer.

Cynthia Burack: "A Note about Politics"

Burack.healing I picked up Cynthia Burack's Healing Identities: Black Feminist Thought and the Politics of Groups (Cornell University Press, 2004) on our book shopping trip to Maryland a month or so ago when we collected a debt I was owed in books.

IMG_4251.JPGI have just started reading it this morning while snapping occasional shots of this morning's Lake Champlain sunrise -- it's a cloudy day, so the good shots only happen every couple of minutes.

The book's introduction begins with "A Note about Politics," which is a cool little piece all by itself.

No less a political observer than Henry Adams remarked in the early twentieth century that politics can be understood as the "systematic organization of hatreds."1 In face, hatreds are not always terribly well organized, but Adams's comment nonetheless captures a key reality of political life. Group hatred is "like a sturdy weed: you can weed several times a day and, in the morning, there it is again."2 Groups matter in part because of the vast harm those motivated by group identifications can do.

. . . Feminists tend to stress the coalitional political and social justice opportunities created by groups, while mainstream political thinkers tend to stress violent, dangerous, and unstable aspects of groups. All are right, of course: in group relations people can exhibit both extraordinary forms of cooperation and seemingly irrational forms of contentiousness. (p. 1)

1. Henry Adams. The Education of Henry Adams: An Autobiography, vol. 1 (New York: Time, 1964), 6.
2. Andrei Codrescu, The Devil Never Sleeps, and Other Essays (New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000), 129.

This passage is particularly interesting to me in that I am coming to believe that one of the primary usages of the Web 2.0-style Internet is various forms of scapegoating, in which individuals or groups are named as the cause of the problems of and as a threat to other group.  I find the emerging situation very worrisome.

Gender, Identity, SF, & the Singularity ( a draft essay written 7/14/07)

The following is an unfinished essay drafted in July of 2007 in response to a panel I was on at Readercon in 2007. I could not lay hands on some crucial resources, such as the essay "Performance" by Don West (byline "D. West"). It appeared in Malcolm Edwards' fanzine TAPPEN, issue 5, 1982. Reprinted in DELIVERANCE, a 1992 collection of West's fanzine writing, in order finish it, and so I never did, though God knows, as we excavate the Hartwell basement archives, it may in time turn up.

I've decided to publish this unfinished draft, since my opinions on pseudonymity have recently attracted so much interest. 

—Kathryn Cramer


I am pretty good at communicating my thoughts to the science fiction field most of the time, both in essays and on panels. But once is a while, I find that I've said something I thought was clear, and that it really didn't communicate. In a number of cases in the past, this has lead to book projects or essays, for example my anthologies The Architecture of Fear and The Ascent of Wonder, or essays such as "Science Fiction and the Adventures of the Spherical Cow."

I seem to have just had such an experience, given comments I've heard or read about the panel at Readercon entitled "The Singularity Needs More Women." Such comments are for the most part not hostile, and it was not a hostile panel. Rather, I gather that some substantial portion of the audience did not get the connections I was trying to make between the science fictional notion of the Singularity and the here and now, specifically in relation to people's online construction of their identity.

I'm not going to try to rehash what was said on the panel, but rather explore what I was getting at from a different angle. —K

In a way, this was an impossible panel: We were invited into the hazardous quicksand of feminist identity politics to indulge in fantasies about what things would be like if this were only cleared away, if only all gender-related constraints on our identities were removed. We mostly didn't go there. And inasmuch as we did go there, it has not made people happy.

One continuing theme I find myself wanting to talk about at Readercon is that we already live in an unrecognizably transformed world; social changes have been worked upon us that we are unable to recognize or articulate. On this panel, I used the example of online identity and pseudonymity; in previous years my example has been how suburbia as it actually exists has become unrecognizable and that its social codes have been transformed in unrecognized ways, transformations that often are not a liberation.

Both the the Singularity and Transhumanity are social concepts. The core issue of the topic of Singularity and its relationship to gender is the extent to which one believes gender can and will be transcended through technology. And a key element in these concepts is our inability to recognize a transformed society and our transformed species: The Singularity is supposed to be an unrecognizable transformation. One thing usually said on panels about the Singularity and science fiction is that if such thing is truly unrecognizable, then one can't really write fiction about it. This panel was no exception.

A couple of works I should have talked about and didn't: Frederick Pohl's story "Day Million,"  a story about social identity in the far future that David Hartwell and I described in an introduction as "a story set in a future so distant and different that we can only glimpse it in mysterious reflections and intriguing images," and Bruce Sterling's Schizmatrix. A "Day Million" moment in Schizmatrix is when a man proposes to his ex-wife and so much has changed in their post-human existence that she accepts his proposal without knowing she's married this man before.

"Day Million" is of course deeply entangled in the subculture of science fiction's Futurians, which had its geographical center in New York City, and later in Milford, Pennsylvania. The post-Futurian sf sub-culture centered around the influential Milford writing workshop, held in Milford.

For a while in the 1980s, I lived in Milford, Pennsylvania and worked for Virginia Kidd, a literary agent and the ex-wife of SF writer James Blish. Before taking the job, I read Damon Knight's The Futurians to catch up on the back gossip. (I discovered later, after many conversations, that there is no one canonical account of the Futurian era: each person has their own -- most are fascinating -- and they mostly don't match.)

One key element of Futurian society was choosing a name. Many of the Futurians changed their names in order to change their lives. Virginia Kidd's first name on her birth certificate was not "Virginia." James Allen, another agent with the Virginia Kidd Agency once told me how Virginia counseled him to change his name when he became a literary agent. Virginia's good friend and client, Judith Merril (who was also Fred Pohl's ex-wife), told me over dinner how she came to change her last name to Merril. (She subsequently wrote this up for her autobiography.)

No one knew who the heck Lester del Rey was until several years after his death. He left behind a substantial estate and after several years of attempts to sort out the inheritance, it was apparently revealed that his name was Leonard Knapp.

Such name changes were partly pragmatic, since many were Jewish and could expect a more successful career under a non-Jewish name. And at least one member of that generation was looking to avoid back child-support. But there was also a substantial element of social fantasy. One thing I tried to understand over many such conversations was exactly why the Futurians perceived changing one's name as such a powerful act. I interpret "Day Million" as a partial expression the fantasy of only apparently real identity, or perhaps of the Modernist idea of a mask identity.

I see the current popularity of the concepts of the Singularity and trans-humanity as closely tied to online experimentation with the fantasy of apparent identity. Examples I used on the panel included Wikipedia admins who insist on the use of a pseudonym and claim that all attempts to decipher it amount to stalking; and Second Life, which requires you to adopt a pseudonym when you register -- you must select your last name from a pull-down menu and may only specify a first name; and the vast social wasteland of online dating, an unfolding disaster in human relations on a huge scale. My strong anti-pseudonymity message is not something people are all that receptive to at the moment.

The science fiction community strongly influenced the early evolution of the Internet because so many techies read sf and are involved in the sf community, and sf's ideas about pseudonymity and the adoption of a fannish name and persona seem to me to have influenced Internet fashion.  Cyberpunk sf was especially influential upon the shape of Internet social space: from William Gibson we have the very name of cyberspace, which as I recall he described in the 80s as that place you are when you're on the telephone — except that now 100 million people might overhear your call,which is recorded and archived.

There is one important difference between Futurian beliefs about only apparently real identities and the current online version of disposable personae or identity: The Futurians chose a name and tended to stick with it for the rest of their lives, whereas online identities are much usually more ephemeral. Also the Futurians used such names in person, whereas online aliases are mostly intended for use in electronic communication in cyberspace.

A significant transitional figure is James Tiptree, Jr. (aka Alice Sheldon aka Racoona Sheldon), a mother of the cyberpunk movement. She was a client of Virginia Kidd's. After her death, I accepted a couple of her posthumous awards on behalf of the Kidd agency. My husband, David Hartwell, was her editor and one of the few people in science fiction who ever met her in person. (Philip K. Dick, another writer who prefigured cyberpunk, is in some ways an opposite figure to Tiptree. He was concerned with distinguishing the authentic from the "only apparently real." )

Alice Sheldon used her real name in her everyday life, but used an alias for her writing and correspondence in the science fiction field. Her true identity and gender were only revealed after the death of her mother, a well-known writer. Her fascination with the power of pseudonymity seems to have its origins not in the Futurian subculture, but in that of the CIA. She was briefly employed by the CIA and was the wife of a high ranking CIA official, Huntington Sheldon. The Sheldons were part of the intelligence subculture that founded the CIA.

(Perhaps the origin of the false identity as it is used in the "intelligence" community is the Romantic spy and criminal fiction of the 19th and early 20th century: in the Robin Hood stories, Richard the Lion-Hearted supposedly sneaked back into England to depose the bad king.)

Tiptree had a tremendously seductive literary voice and persona. But while the science fiction field may have benefited from her adoption of an alias, since it arguably enabled her to write a highly regarded body of fiction, it is not clear that she herself benefited. Her adoption of the Tiptree pseudonym apparently started as a joke, and took on the role in her life of an addictive drug. Her life did not end well: She had chronic problems with depression and ended her life by shooting her husband and then herself. Tiptree is an icon in feminist sf as someone who liberated her writing voice by adopting a male pseudonym. In the context of a discussion of trans-humanity and gender, she perhaps represents feminist hopes for liberation from the constraints of older constructions of female social identity.

Though Tiptree and Phil Dick are in some ways opposites as literary figures -- Tiptree as icon of the power of pseudonymity, and Dick as an icon of the technological relevance of Kierkegaardian authenticity -- both writers are intensely concerned with alienation, which seems to me one of the core issues of Internet constructions of personal identity.

The argument can be made that the adoption of the alias James Tiptree, Jr. allowed Alice Sheldon a truer expression of her inner voice than society would have allowed for someone named Alice Sheldon, and that the adoption of an alias was a form of authenticity. This argument is rarely used with regard to adoption of aliases today, with one notable exception: The strange case of Laura Albert aka J. T. Leroy. Albert, an author who lost a civil suit claiming fraud brought by a movie company, gave some very interesting testimony:

Ms. Albert herself, in testimony from the stand, suggested that JT LeRoy was far more than a pseudonym in the classic Mark Twain-Samuel Clemens mold. She offered the idea that JT LeRoy was a sort of “respirator” for her inner life: an imaginary, though necessary, survival apparatus that permitted her to breathe.

The portrait of Alice Sheldon in her biography suggests some similarities to Albert. Interestingly, the end of the New York Times article about the ruling against Albert suggests that she is now "liberated" from her pseudonym.

Despite the many arguments that are made about the necessity of Internet pseudonymity for reasons of privacy, alienation is much more important to the core ethical issues of online communities and their strivings toward a trans-humanity, a transcendence of all constraining circumstance. While we are no more intelligent and perhaps no less powerful online than we are in person, we can certainly make ourselves seem  unrecognizable and estrange ourselves from our genders of birth, our ages and educational levels (see the Essjay controversy), our marital status (as is widely practiced on dating sites), etc. While this is not true trans-or post-humanity, it represents at least a kind of fantasy of trans-human existence, easier than a make-over or reinventing yourself under your own name. Much as we would like science fiction to be about the future, it is so often about the present. 

For the most part, writers such as Charles Stross and Cory Doctorow who are concerned with the Singularity subject matter, do not try to conceal the connection of their writing to the here and now.

We did, I think, get at that issue toward the end of the panel: How gendered popular types of Internet communications truly are; how much more flamboyant gender expression sometimes is online than in real life, and on the darker side, how much more overt and nasty online enforcement of gender codes can be.

Backlash is at least as characteristic as liberation of rapid social change generated by technological change. Is the Internet fad for pseudonymity a form of backlash or of liberation? The popular claim that a protected pseudonymity is necessary to protect people from stalking suggests that pseudonymity is a backlash against unwanted transparency. David Brin claims that transparency is "freedom's best defense." I think I agree with him.

Before the panel, I was asked by the convention program chair whether I was pro- or anti- the notion of the Singularity, ostensibly because this was anticipated to be an anti-Singularity panel. I'm not sure whether the above discussion makes me pro- or anti-Singularity. I believe we are already in the midst of rapid transformation that is rendering the world unrecognizable, already in the midst of a rising inadequation of the mind to the world.

There is another word for this: alienation. And perhaps that is what we should be talking about.

Or maybe not. From Charles Stross's Singularity! A Tough Guide to the Rapture of the Nerds, a definition of the Singularity:

The SIingularity is what happens when reality throws a divide-by-zero error or you extrapolate a curve to a straight line. Or something. Maybe it's what an Italian rock star says when you give him a wedgie. Who knows? All I know is that Vernor Vinge invented it -- damn him! (If it wasn't for those meddling computer science professors I could still be writing about PixieDust ...)

Anyway. You don't need to understand all that stuff to write about the SIngularity. What you need to understand is that after the SIngularity things will be cool. We'll all be PostHumans or UpLoading ourselves into our pocket calculators, there'll be lots of ArtificialIntelligence to help fight outbreaks of GreyGoo, and if there are annoying folks you don't want to have around you can just tell them to go TRanscend.

It's the hot new topic for wish-fulfillment adventure and escapism. And there'll be jam for tea every day.

As the Mad Hatter said, "Have more tea."

(to be continued at some point  . . .)

Charlie Stross on Web 2.0 as an attractive nuisance

Charles Stross & Kathryn Cramer

Antisocial Networking:

And what I've noticed is that all successful social network sites are structured to provide an attractive nuisance.

This isn't to say that they aren't sometimes useful, but in order to attract users, a social networking side like Facebook or LinkedIn has to keep folks coming back. It's not enough to get them to create a user ID in the first place; I've seen some estimates that around 90% of legitimate, human-derived accounts on social networking sites are inactive. (I qualify this as human-derived because a whole lot of them are bot-generated accounts used by spammers. I'm talking about the ones with a human brain behind the name.) So the successful sites need to get real humans to keep coming back — especially if they're going to raise the advertising revenue from click-throughs to pay their bandwidth bills — and the developers are therefore subjected to a ruthless Darwinian selection pressure: add attractive nuisances, or die.

We can see this on FaceBook with its endless games. (I sometimes wonder if I'm a Facebook widower.) We can see this on LJ with its endless rounds of emotional affirmation in comment threads. We used to see it on USENET back in the eighties and nineties, with the flamewar season. Social networks don't grow because they provide utility to their users: they grow because they keep pushing the social stimulus button.

I do get something out of Facebook (by disabling all games and other intrusive apps), and a little bit out of Twitter. But in general, I think Charlie's spot on.

Mobsourcing: a term I've been needing

I just learned an interesting new word: mobsourcing.  It is a word I've been needing for a variety of  situations I've observed on the Internet. The Wikipedia-style crowd-source ideal should in principle bring consensus close and closer to the truth. My observation with Internet mob behavior, the large number of participants can make the group impervious to factual corrections.  

From the Web 2.0 Blog, by Ken Fischer, 12/26/08: Mobsourcing vs Crowdsourcing: Can conformity occasionally make for a more reliable crowd?

In my last post I started to examine the claim of the cluetrain manifesto that a more networked audience is more intelligent or at least a better detector than an individual. The #Mumbai victim list twitter distribution illustrated 4 ways which a network can apply truth filters and 2 ways in which the network affects might work against detecting falsehoods over the short term.

One recent tweet from Deb Lavoy questioned whether crowdsourcing will always generate good ideas, because after all a mob is also a crowd. Mobs are famous for poor and emotionally driven decisions and actions rather than intelligence and innovation. So how do we prevent crowdsourcing from becoming mobsourcing? Do connections between audience members, which a mob seems to have, mean better decision making? . . .

. . . and Ken Anderberg, January 2008, Is it a crowd or a mob?

Most of us have seen the Western movie, where the crowd lathers up at the saloon, grabs weapons and rope, and marches, mob-like, down to the sheriff's office, ready to string up some alleged villain down at the livery. The villain wants the sheriff to let him out so he can defend himself. The sheriff grabs the 12-gauge and any handy deputies, and meets the mob outside the front door of the jail. . . .

These mobs always have one thing in common--a few people, always in the front, are the instigators, the ringleaders. Everyone else is mostly just jazzed up, liquored up maybe, and just going along with the crowd. That is, with the mob.

The sheriff, using his knowledge of how mobs work, points his shotgun and his pistol at the mob leaders in the front of the pack, and says, "You know, Amos, there are way too many of you, but I guarantee that the first two shots out of ol' Betsy here will be aimed directly at you, and I'll get a bunch more of you with my Colt."

Right about then, the mob leaders figure they will be dead before anyone is hung, and they won't get to enjoy the fun. So they decide the effort is not worth the price and go home, grumbling as they retreat. The mob also disperses.

So, too, is it with crowdsourcing. A few people lead the pack, provide most of the input, while most of the rest of the crowd is little more than onlookers, perhaps somewhat lathered up about the topic, but really without much expertise to add anything meaningful to the discussion.

Is that really crowdsourcing, or is it more akin to mobsourcing?

Creating politically motivated mobs to spread a harmful meme about a candidate was, for example, a very common tactic during recent elections.

Bruce Sterling, international treasure

Why I love Bruce Sterling.

(Via Making Light.)

March 1st update: After a gentle nudge, Chairman Bruce has posted the original text of his speech: What Bruce Sterling Actually Said About Web 2.0 at Webstock 09: THE BRIEF BUT GLORIOUS LIFE OF WEB 2.0, AND WHAT COMES AFTER

That's the key Web 2.0 insight: "the web as a platform." Okay, "webs" are not "platforms." I know you're used to that idea after five years, but consider taking the word "web" out, and using the newer sexy term, "cloud." "The cloud as platform." That is insanely great. Right? You can't build a "platform" on a "cloud!" That is a wildly mixed metaphor! A cloud is insubstantial, while a platform is a solid foundation! The platform falls through the cloud and is smashed to earth like a plummeting stock price!

Imagine that this was financial thinking -- instead of web design thinking. We take a bunch of loans, we mash them together and turn them into a security. Now securities are secure, right? They are triple-A solid! So now we can build more loans on top of those securities. Ingenious! This means the price of credit trends to zero, so the user base expands radically, so everybody can have credit!

Nobody could have tried that before, because that sounds like a magic Ponzi scheme. But luckily, we have computers in banking now. That means Moore's law is gonna save us! Instead of it being really obvious who owes what to whom, we can have a fluid, formless ownership structure that's always in permanent beta. As long as we keep moving forward, adding attractive new features, the situation is booming!

. . . and . . .

I really think it's the original sin of geekdom, a kind of geek thought-crime, to think that just because you yourself can think algorithmically, and impose some of that on a machine, that this is "intelligence." That is not intelligence. That is rules-based machine behavior. It's code being executed. It's a powerful thing, it's a beautiful thing, but to call that "intelligence" is dehumanizing. You should stop that. It does not make you look high-tech, advanced, and cool. It makes you look delusionary. . . . This stuff we call "collective intelligence" has tremendous potential, but it's not our friend -- any more than the invisible hand of the narcotics market is our friend.

. . . and . . .

We've got a web built on top of a collapsed economy. THAT's the black hole at the center of the solar system now. There's gonna be a Transition Web. Your economic system collapses: Eastern Europe, Russia, the Transition Economy, that bracing experience is for everybody now. Except it's not Communism transitioning toward capitalism. It's the whole world into transition toward something we don't even have proper words for.

The reason I love Bruce Sterling is that he seems to be able to talk sense at times when almost no one else can.

Kathryn's Blog Prognostication in light of the Coming Ad Crash

I got a note from Henry Copeland about gloomy predictions for ad sales revenue with my hundred bucks from Blogads this morning. The expanded version of what he said is now on the Blogads blog: Ad sales in Depression 2.0. I wrote him a long -- and I hope helpful -- letter back with suggestions as to how Blogads could do better with what it has to sell. Here's some of what he has to say:

The good news for indy bloggers and Blogads: our competitors — with higher overheads, less skin in the game, higher turnover and less devotion to the connecting advertisers with bloggers — will suffer more than we. Eventually, as competitors like NYTimes, TMZ, HuffingtonPost, OMG, Buzznet, TheAtlantic, Blogher, People, Myspace, Newsweek and Glam fold, scale back or lose their staff to greener pastures, ad buyers will spend more than ever with indy bloggers and Blogads.

There are a number of articles on on the Coming Blogvertising Crash out there. Googling news on ads and bubble or advertising and bubble in the news category turns up some which I was reading just last night.

Putting on my Social Media Web Guru turban for a moment (I have a lot of hats in the top of my closet), here is Kathryn's Super Supper Web 2.0 blog prognostication: A lot of blogs that tend to publish headlines with the following key words to go away:

  • How to . .
  • Reasons
  • Ways
  • Solutions
  • Easy
  • Simple
  • and headlines with numbers under five hundred (especially number spelled out)

. . . as in Fourteen Ways to Stuff Lima Beans in Your Nose, Five Sticky Things to Put in Your Hair, Fifteen Easy Ways to Build a 747 in Your Basement, Real Simple Solutions for Those Looking for an Easy Way Out, How to Decant Wine with Your iPhone, Seven Simple Reasons to Be Hostile to Strangers Wearing Yellow, Five Ways to Tell that This Blog Post Won't Actually Help You & You Should Go Take a Walk Instead, 101 Reasons You Should Stop Trying to Blog for Profit, Plus 18 New Ways to Make Below Minimum Wage while Wasting Your Life on the Internet . . . ad nauseum.

Why am I so confident in this amazing prediction? Because people who blog like that are in it for the money! It used to be that people who wrote articles with titles like that got paid two or three grand and got published in the slick magazines sold in airports and grocery stores. These days people write that kind of article for a whole lot less money, often merely the hope that Google Ad Words will slip them ten bucks. Slick magazine-type writing has really come down in the world.

And so now there is apparently about to be a big decline in online advertising revenues. I've seen estimates of the decline ranging from 9% to 40%. A bunch of would-be for-profit bloggers are about to discover how truly unprofitable blogging can be. If Gawker and Wired are cutting back, what does that mean for the rest of the blog-for-profit too-slick and too-on-message scene?

A big die-off.