Earlier this week, Larry Lessig channeled his grief over the death of Aaron Swartz, who he calls his mentor, and his anger at the federal prosecutors and legal system that equated civic activism with felony, into a must-see talk at Harvard Law School. In the lecture to mark his appointment as Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership, Lessig showed us what made Aaron Swartz special — worth watching for that alone if you don’t already get it — then methodically took apart the current U.S. legal approach to hacking and showed how it could be put right. (He also gave a master class in how to use slides and multimedia.) Worth every minute.
Reading about the new CNN Situation Room and the other interactive efforts underway, I had the strangest feeling we’d stood and talked like this before. (Apologies to Rogers & Hart.) We had — the CNN show was called TalkBack Live and it broke the ground the others stand on today. And yet it’s as if the show never happened. I’ve posted the full article I wrote about TBL seven years ago in extended comments; here are some excerpts.
On any given day, participants can join a live audience, enter an on-line
chat room, send e-mail, phone in or fax in. By late August, "TalkBack Live‘s" newest access point — video conferencing — should be out of testing and ready to go. And computer users with a fairly fast connection, a decent video card and the right software don’t have to turn on a TV to watch the show via Webcast. …
When "TalkBack Live" debuted on Aug. 22, 1994, the reviews were not all kind. Some were downright dismissive of the techno-gimmickry and the addition of yet another talk show. One reviewer described it as CNN’s "’Larry King Live‘ crossed with ‘Donahue’ with just a hint of talk radio." …
It may be hard to imagine, but the show began before the Web was a household word. Back then CNN’s major on-line presence was through CompuServe, where "TalkBack Live" hosted a forum. E-mail, faxes and phone calls were all part of the mix. The show even tried video conferencing, but the technology was too slow to be of real use. …
I’m not suggesting the Sit Room is a TBL remake or that it isn’t worth attention in its own right. But it didn’t spring from Zeus fully formed, either, and a lot of what’s being tried now isn’t new.
\r\nThat way there are no commercials, though CNN does run a promo every time you
\r\nSoon, viewers may even have a direct say in the topics to be discussed on
\r\nthat day\’s show.
\r\nWhen "TalkBack Live" debuted on Aug. 22, 1994, the reviews were not all kind.
\r\nSome were downright dismissive of the techno-gimmickry and the addition of yet
\r\nanother talk show. One reviewer described it as CNN\’s " \’Larry King Live\’
\r\ncrossed with \’Donahue\’ with just a hint of talk radio."
\r\nToday, however, the concept doesn\’t seem so far-fetched, says Teya Ryan, vice
\r\npresident of program development for CNN Productions and the creator of
\r\n"A lot of it came out of the \’92 campaign, when you started to see the
\r\ncandidates going around the media and to the public trying to create a direct
\r\nline. . . . It seemed the public was really responding," she says. "They wanted
\r\nmore direct access to people that influence their lives, and those people could
\r\nbe the president, members of Congress, the head of a corporation, anyone whom
\r\nthe general public generally doesn\’t have direct access to."
\r\nCNN, she thought, was in a unique position to make this happen as a network
\r\nthat has room "to go beyond the experts and create a direct link between the
\r\npublic and the people who have power in the country."
\r\nA live audience in the atrium of CNN Center in Atlanta was the core of the
\r\nidea, but Ryan thought the show could do more. "People were beginning to
\r\ncommunicate in ways that were really different. If I was going to open this up I
\r\nthought we should do it in a way that acknowledged that."
\r\nAnd, she added, "I felt that we shouldn\’t close the doors to anyone. If you
\r\ncouldn\’t come to Atlanta but could send in a fax, you should get on the show."”,1]
A nifty new web service went live tonight — Gabe Rivera’s tech.memeorandum.com. I’ve been testing Gabe’s handiwork since late June when he sent me a note suggesting "you might be interested in monitoring my still-in-development Tech news site. By "interested", I mean it actually might assist you in your work!"
He was right. I quickly became addicted to checking the site, often multiple times a day, to see what kind of buzz it was picking up in the tech world. The pages are built automatically, pulling from mentions across the tech blogosphere and news universe. Just posting may not be enough to make the page, as I quickly found out, but posts bubble up as links multiply. One link from a site weighted heavily in Gabe’s equation can push a post into view.
Gabe explains his goals here so I won’t go into detail. The highlights: Recognize the web as an editor; rapidly uncover new sources; relate the conversation. I like watching the conversation evolve as a story moves around the web, often in ways I would not have imagined.
He started the process with a politics/current events page that crosses political boundaries and cuts through some of the partisan kludge. I’ve given him a couple of ideas for future memeorandums — personally, I’d like one on journalism ethics — but these aren’t easy to build. I’m looking forward to whatever he puts his energy to next. Thanks for the head start on this one, Gabe.
Update: Just saw Robert Scoble’s rave review. He goes into enough detail for both of us.
Coda: That’s Gabe on the left — a picture he thought he wound up in by accident but I took very deliberately at the end of BlogNashville.
Someone asked the other day what I thought telephony/VoIP/internet phone had to do with media and entertainment content. In the strictest sense, the two seem like separate businesses with little crossover (save ownership in some cases). But the boundaries are shifting with increased access to free or cheap voice communication over the internet paired with the spread of broadband and improved audio quality. More commercial content providers are incorporating some form of telephony or audio chat, including video games with live voice interaction. The lower price barrier enables global collaboration and with it more creativity and collaborative content. For instance, numerous podcasts include VoIP interviews or co-hosting from multiple locations, unthinkable for most at land-line or mobile long-distance rates.
I don’t agree with the enthusiasts who say that voice makes everything easier. Time shifting by email has its place, as does communicating by IM (particularly useful during conference calls or situations when audio would be difficult or inappropriate). And, face it, it’s still not foolproof. But integrating voice into the internet — in media and entertainment, in business, in personal communications and preferably in meaningful ways — carries powerful possibilities.
It’s nothing like the magnificent dance scene from "Seven Brides For Seven Brothers" — although I’d probably pay to see Dave Winer log roll — but I’m taking part in a modern barn raising. The barn in this case is Dave’s OPML Editor and I gather from talking to him that I’m one of the few non-developers taking part in the process during this phase. That won’t last long.
There’s a weird kind of excitement to watching a program being built before your eyes — and having some input no matter how minor. Read a message or post one about a glitch, blink and someone’s got a solution or the code has been updated. Sharing is a core value and goal of the program so as I’m working my outline Dave or anyone else who wants can read my take, act on it, comment on it via their outliner or brush it off. My first glimpse of the power in this came Thursday when I decided to use the instant outliner to track my progress with the OPML Editor; a conversation Dave and I had later that day about some of my issues leapfrogged several steps because we were on the same page already.
Of course, Dave did tons of work on it before any of us even got a look but there’s still so far to go — and plenty of room for other developers to have an impact. I’ve already started a wish list.
Coda: Once some of the usability issues are resolved and it’s ready for wider distribution, the OPML Editor could make a good tool for journalists (in and out of newsrooms); notes, project planning, group work, resource sharing are just a few of the possible applications. The ground-floor cost is nothing but a little time investment/learning curve. The return on that investment could be manifold. The other editor in my house is already interested.
During a dinner chat at "D: All Things Digital," Steve Jobs was asked about Apple’s lawsuits against bloggers. From John Battelle, who is among those blogging the conference: "He claims that no one has the right to publish confidential
information just because they can, and so far, the courts are agreeing
with him. " Battelle’s stayed out of the fray thus far but last night’s comments pushed him into taking a public stance.
"I say, fuck that. I’ve stayed out of this one because it’s orthogonal
to search, but it’s directly related to my ability to do my job, and I
am not alone.
At the core of this case is a clear attempt to draw a line between
professional and amateur journalism, and as a practitioner of both, I
have to say it’s a very dangerous line to be drawing. Should the courts
decide whether the next Tom Paine has to work at the Wall Street
Journal before he starting cranking out his pamphlets? I don’t think
He added: "Forcing journalism into some kind of a ‘qualified’ box is a very bad
idea. Jobs vowed at the conference to take this issue to the Supreme
Court if necessary. I hope he does, and I for one plan to fight him the
whole way there. If you agree, help EFF work on this issue. "
John gets it.
The not-so-perfect end to a crazy week: our cable modem service is out, something to do with an unhappy RF signal not being able to make a commitment. I’m actually on 45.2 kbps dial-up right now. Charter Communications is going to see if someone can drop by tomorrow — Saturday — sometime during the day. No guarantees since my psychic powers didn’t kick in, warning to me to make an appointment in advance because my service was going out. But they did promise to call my cell phone with a warning, allowing me to wander a short distance from home.
On the bright side, the Clayton Farmer’s Market opens in the morning down the street from two hotspots (Starbucks, Krispy Kreme) and around the corner from "my" usual hotspot (Northwest Coffee), in case I have to mix business with pure pleasure.