Social Fatigue: How Google+ could dilute social. The return of the niche.

With the hype of Google+ fading we should brace ourselves for it to renew itself when the product officially launches. I’ve been critical of Google’s lack of design as a source of many of its product failures. It seems that they have invested more deeply in visual design for Google+ although I remain unimpressed by much of their infrastructure design.

With the hype of Google+ fading we should brace ourselves for it to renew itself when the product officially launches. I’ve been critical of Google’s lack of design as a source of many of its product failures. It seems that they have invested more deeply in visual design for Google+ although I remain unimpressed by much of their infrastructure design. The array of Google apps seems like a messy afterthought. I don’t mean that they’re bad products but the compounding of them and the assumption that everyone will find them useful feels like an even more convoluted version of Microsoft’s mess of business applications. (Note the tangent, let’s move on.)

The tidal wave of techies declaring Facebook and Twitter as defeated by Google+ only highlights that many people just didn’t like these services all that much. I too think G+ does a lot of things better than the aforementioned. The problem for me at the moment is that it won’t replace either Facebook or Twitter. While I do feel Facebook is stagnant it also represents connections with real people I know. I always thought this was the true value purpose of Facebook and I’ve rarely ever friended anyone I haven’t actually met face to face. Twitter in conjunction with the Flipboard iPad app has made Twitter really work for me in terms of consumption. Google+ has devised a way to have the best of real friends and real interests. Both Twitter and Facebook already had these capabilities yet Google takes a rare win for design in making Circles of who you’re following their main differentiation. Even so I now have 3 social networking services open daily. The end result is that I just look at Facebook and Twitter a little less. Continue reading “Social Fatigue: How Google+ could dilute social. The return of the niche.”

The state of digital music (as I see it)

Several months ago I wrote an essay about how I thought Netflix could save music. Since then I’ve become a big believer in subscription music services. I chose Rdio because I liked the design, the social aspect and lack of ads. I honestly don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t use a subscription music service (MOG, Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio) instead of paying more and listening to less with iTunes. I’ve come down pretty hard on iTunes in essays and on Twitter. I fail see why we need it and how it’s good. In this so called ‘cloud’ age owning an mp3 has become redundant. While I’m skeptical of the cloud for personal data I think distributed media (music, movies) has found a perfect and profitable future in the cloud. Continue reading “The state of digital music (as I see it)”

The State of Social Media (as I see it)

Facebook is hemorrhaging American users. It’s been slow to evolve. No good Facebook iPad app? That’s unacceptable for the ‘premier’ social network. Twitter has recently been blessed by all-powerful Apple as the sharing destination. Twitter is an amazing informational resource. It’s also a terrible social network. I held great hopes for Diaspora. I even tried to sign up. It looks like it’s not going to happen and its moment has passed. Ironically Facebook still instigates with its privacy trespasses. I’ve read that Facebook is losing users because of the privacy issues. Not true. People really don’t care about or understand privacy. That’s for elite activists (god bless them.) People are losing interest in Facebook because it has bad User Experience design. It doesn’t easily give them the information they actually care about. Twitter is great and very democratic. But it works better in conjunction with an app like Flipboard to distill all the chaos into a palatable format. I’ve gotten into Instagram. I think it’s more about the effects. It doesn’t seem that great unto itself as a social network except that it sends my pictures to Twitter and Facebook. I’ve come to question why we need Twitter or Facebook to be our hub of social. Google could probably shake things up a bit if not for their ADD/disinterest in terms of UX quality. Apple went with Twitter because it doesn’t see a clear way to eek out profits from really getting into the Social Media game directly. No one wants to buy Myspace. Listen Twitter bots and spammers and marketers. People don’t like ads. They are disingenuous. People can smell them a mile away. It really doesn’t work. It’s why Myspace is crumbling. That need to turn a profit leads to the path of least resistance…advertising. And it is certain death in the social space. Facebook already feels dusty. Are they really giving us something we can’t get elsewhere. They are not. Twitter hit the jackpot by getting into bed with Apple. They can actually sidestep the advertising swamp they may have been heading to by continuing to allow real connections through devices. I believe that there’s a hidden and obvious social winner, still dormant. It’s not Tumblr. Tumblr is a nice and harmless fad. No, it’s WordPress. It still has different concerns and hasn’t tackled social in a meaningful way. But it has the power to change the game in an open source and moral way.

I am Jason Paul

What does it take to exist in this world? It was brought to my attention that I don’t have a great Google ranking. A quick search for Jason Paul brings up a page of other Jason Pauls. Actually I do sort of appear on that page. The last Jason Paul is me but it’s a link to my old and now obsolete site which I still keep online because I’m not ready to deal with the volumes of data I have stored there. This site, jasonpaul.net, is probably on page 2. Who are these other Jason Pauls?

Topping the list is 20 year old Jason Paul from Frankfurt, Germany who is dedicated to the sport of tricking which I only just learned about based on his profile. You can read about tricking and probably come to the same conclusion that I did. With nearly 5,000 Facebook friends and superhuman athletic ability, this kid will probably be number one for a long time to come. So I go to see whose number 2 and it’s a cluster of Youtube videos…for this Jason Paul’s acrobatics…and uh…wow! I can honestly say I’m a Jason Paul fan (my own prospects for fame declining by the minute). This kid is a real ninja:

Ok, so finally we get down to the next Jason Paul…and oh dear. It’s a website for Jason Paul Design. That’s interesting…because I’m a designer. On first glance of Jason Paul’s website I can breathe a sigh of relief because it’s a very different design aesthetic than I would employ. If you’ve worked with me in a design capacity you’ll know that I’ve done my utmost to retire the use of Helvetica (Arial). Jason Paul is using Arial and a lot of very tight leading and tracking, a combination of things not in my aesthetic toolbox. He presents himself as Advertising & Marketing which are two words I’ve stricken from my descriptions (although admittedly there is overlap) and it seems his work leans more to the promotional side of design. A little sleuthing from his vcard links reveals that Jason Paul is really Jason Mullins from South Carolina. Well that’s ok…am I really Jason Paul? If you don’t know my surname then you probably don’t need to.

The third Jason Paul is a fashion photographer. The overlap here is that his bio says he’s in New York City. The photo on his about page is really badass…such intensity. I’m not writing this to critique other Jason Paul’s but I must say that Jason Paul the fashion photographer desperately could use a new website. His current website is in Flash which, as we know, is terrible for the social web (and for interactivity in general). It’s also considered bad for Google to find your site but this Jason Paul has bypassed the laws of SEO and still managed to hold the number 3 rank despite the use of Flash. Jason Paul fashion photographer, I strongly encourage you to upgrade your site to WordPress. At bare minimum choose one of the many photo WordPress themes available for free on the web and do the content management work to get your photos into that system. You will thank me for this.

Number four is Mr. JaSoN PauL Chad. JaSoN PauL is somewhat of a mystery. I could call him (which reveals that he is also in NYC!) or email him, but can’t dig him up on the social web. He doesn’t explicitly say what he does, but I’ve deduced that he is also a web designer. A closer inspection of his site and his work shows that JaSoN PauL is still building static website pages in the old way, with HTML tables. Hopefully he’s made the leap into CSS and his site will soon reflect the benefit of acquiring that essential web design/development skill.

Number five on the Google rank list is entertainment photographer Jason Paul Roberts. I’m glad that the name Jason Paul has such great representation in the arts. It looks like Jason Paul Roberts is doing fairly well for an individual on the Social Web with his Facebook page receiving over 1400 Likes. His website is a little antiquated because it’s done in static html pages yet also acts as his portfolio and blog. It must be tedious to keep this up-to-date. I have been there yes I have. I’d have to also recommend to Jason Paul Roberts that he consider upgrading his site to a WordPress CMS. (Yes I know, I’m zealous about WordPress and the previous post ‘Why I Use WordPress‘ seemed to put me in a position as the sole defender of WordPress as an exemplary content management system…but I digress.)

Number six is disappointing. It’s the outdated resume (2006) of some Jason who goes by the name jigl who is not even a Jason Paul. It’s results like these where I must go off on a tangent about how Google could really do a lot better. Google search obviously is not that smart and has a long way to go. It’s no wonder that Google is held hostage by black hat SEO charlatans who dedicate their lives to gaming the system. It seems to me that the system is not hard to manipulate.

There are two things I despise about Google search. The first is that I always have to reset the search date because Google defaults to giving me old results. Apparently it puts a larger premium on page views than freshness and relevancy. If a crap page has been sitting on the web for a decade it will naturally have a higher rank even though it’s completely useless. I always have to click ‘Show Search Tools’ which thanks to Google’s terrible UX and contempt for design is always a pain to find. Then I usually end up selecting ‘Past year’ in the custom range. Why can’t it just default to past year instead of results that are old as sh*t? Beyond Black Hats, how may sites are reaping the benefits of higher rankings in Google when they really don’t deserve them (I’m tempted to name names but I wont.)

The second thing I hate is crap sites that rank on Google that are only created by black hat SEOs as receptacle’s for backlinks to game the Google system into ranking other sites. I don’t think Google likes this either. What this amounts to is an SEO bubble which Google could easily burst. They made an example out of JC Penney but I don’t think it’s enough. They need to fundamentally fix their system so that SEO no longer can be manipulated to rank sites that haven’t earned it. My personal feeling is that SEO should not even be a job. All SEO should connote is making well formatted websites in HTML. HTML writing formats should be taught in school to kids. H1, H2, H3 tags, ul, li and p tags etc. Hopefully RDF will start to mean something in the near future. If we learn to describe the content we write correctly the web and Google will actually be enriched ten-fold instead of being polluted by bad content.

Number seven is Jason Paul Peterson, concert pianist. A musician! What can I say? Jason Paul Peterson is very accomplished. I wish my music ability went beyond Rock and Roll and music sequencing but I doubt I’ll be able to dedicate the time to actually learning to play the piano correctly anytime soon. For the record I did study music theory and composition for a brief period with a Julliard professor a decade ago and those concepts have never left me (although I have employed them into pop writing which is probably not where he would have wanted to see me make use of them). Jason Paul Peterson’s site does look well made as it’s built in PHP so I must assume he’s got some sort of content management system. The copyright date is 2007 and the design does look very dated and could benefit from an overhaul. Of course I would recommend a certain CMS which would no doubt improve the state of Jason Paul Peterson’s site but I’ll let you fill in the blanks.

Number eight, finally something different. Jason Paul is an accomplished private chef in Hawaii as his domain name explicitly communicates. The design of his site looks outdated more so because the images look over optimized. It was built in CSS although on static HTML pages. As a brochure website I’d bet this site is working out quite well for Jason Paul the chef.

Number nine..which Jason Paul is this? It’s me! My old site which I previously used to get work and was probably started 7 years ago. I won’t be taking this down but I decided to put a vcard up on the homepage to direct people to my more contemporary sites and social media destinations. I am Jason Paul and at least I’m on page one of Google search in some capacity. Hopefully this site will start to climb in rank. I doubt I’ll replace trickster Jason Paul of Germany as it seems he’s on his way to becoming a very deserving bonafide celebrity. Ok, I’ve had enough of Jason Paul and so have you.

Why I Use WordPress

I suggested the choice of CMS was a philosophical one which began a discussion which put WordPress on the defensive against ExpressionEngine.

I recently got in a Twitter ‘discussion’ where I felt like I was put in a position to defend WordPress as a superior CMS to ExpressionEngine. Not an argument I’m actually qualified to make as I’ve never used ExpressionEngine. I did consider it about three years ago and perhaps if I’d started then I’d be on the other side of the fence. But I decided over a year ago that WordPress was going to give me the juice I was looking for in a CMS and I dived in head first. The truth is I experiment on the web too much to pay an entry fee for every install (EE). I may have run 50 installs of WordPress in the last year for both client and personal projects including demos and tests. That would be a pretty serious expense on ExpressionEngine’s pricing model. Thankfully WordPress is fully open source and free to experiment with.

Here’s some interesting tweets from that Twitter conversation:

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/iAmJasonPaul/status/47870309071720448″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/PXLated/status/47910383712874496″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/iAmJasonPaul/status/48037270770556928″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/PXLated/status/48022168314986499″]

[blackbirdpie url=”http://twitter.com/#!/iAmJasonPaul/status/48039051877552129″]

There was a bit more but hopefully you get the jist. Defending WordPress against ExpressionEngine doesn’t happen when I bid for jobs. Usually clients are more concerned with which open source CMS to use such as Joomla, Drupal or WordPress and I’ve come to see strengths in each although I’m strictly a WordPresser for the moment. I’d estimate that it’s difficult to be a master in more than one CMS as a web developer, although probably not impossible. The time one puts into developing on a CMS cannot help but create a kind of myopic point of view on how to develop for the web. So I kind of do understand where PXLated is coming from. He’s invested serious time into EE, he has control of it and intimate knowledge of how to achieve results. That’s similar to how I feel about making sites on WordPress. But not exactly. His point about surgery and makeup is actually quite true. I prefer it that way though. It can be like working on a special car. After I’ve customized a WordPress site I definitely feel like I’ve built something. Often there are moments when I feel like I’m starting from scratch with WP. It’s very rewarding to be able to assemble the right mix of code/plugins to make a site do exactly what I want.

I do have a feeling that he’s right in a way. For certain situations, building a site on EE would be easier and faster than it would on WordPress. WordPress’s native format is a blog structure. If a client is looking for a blog or publication website it’s hard to see how they would choose any other platform besides WordPress. A lot of sites are smaller and more like ‘brochure’ websites. While WordPress may be competing with other CMS’s to prove it’s the ideal platform for page based sites the truth is static content is a cakewalk on WordPress. EE has something called Channels which is extremely helpful in structuring out a website (Not everything should be categorized as a Page or a Post…the native WP formatting). WordPress lacked this kind of taxonomy until version 2.9 and thus wasn’t taken seriously as a CMS until it allowed for Custom Post Types and Taxonomies. Even now these crucial features require either extra functions or plugins to implement. I have a feeling these will be baked into the next major release of WordPress which will make it an undisputed fully functional CMS. Despite the fact that WordPress is the most used CMS on the web there are detractors.

But that’s all boilerplate. I’m not really an expert with stats or on every CMS. I’m a designer and WordPress developer who is also a user. This is important because in addition to it’s usefulness in my professional life, customizing my WordPress sites is also now a hobby for me. This blog/site is a good example. I’m sure it’s evident that I haven’t designed it despite the fact that I earn a living as a web designer. Aside from time constraints (isn’t it hard to design a site for yourself?) it’s strategic. I use this blog as a test platform for all sorts of new plugins, functions and features. I intend to make this site an archive of my entire creative life. It’s a personal project. I have various interests that range from art, tech, music and ideas. How to categorize these things? Well, I wanted to be on an evolving platform. I love that when I have an idea or have seen a new web functionality on the web I can Google around and find either the perfect plugin or function to implement on my blog. It’s actually not always as easy as it sounds. But it’s fun for me. The chase of finding that piece of code that’s going to expand the capabilities of my website. This tenacity to build and expand my personal websites for fun by experimenting has taught me so much about usability and given me great strategic insight into the functionality a site can and should have. This hobby creates useful knowledge that I then apply to client jobs. This kind of integration creates a special appreciation for the work (and play) I do.

I’ve read that some EE designers love that they don’t have to muck around with PHP code. Seeing how powerful and accessible WordPress is I feel the opposite. I’m inspired to learn more code so I can contribute something to the platform if I have my own take on a specific functionality. Seeing and experiencing the enthusiasm and vibrancy of the WordPress community (I went to my first WordCamp NYC last year) I have to say that I feel even more inspired to dig in and help WordPress grow and improve. I got the sense that WordPressers feel they’re involved in something special. Matt Mullenweg is an incredibly pure face/figurehead for the platform. Here’s someone who is arguably as important as Mark Zuckerberg (same age too) yet has chosen to vehemently adhere to the open source values he had when he first forked WordPress (at the age of 18). I doubt he’s rich (but I bet he’s comfortable) and he’s shown something vibrant and innovative can be created without monetizing the daylights out of it. More importantly he’s shown that open source success can surpass commercial products in an overwhelming way (not necessarily in a monetary way.) All these developers, designers and amateurs working and hacking at this one thing is really yielding some amazing web innovations.

Why do I use WordPress? It comes down to community, accessibility, scalability, usability, fun, freedom and yes…philosophy.

Beyond Derivative Music

Pop music elitists and pessimists often bemoan that “everything has already been done” with a certain futile resignation. As a maker of music myself I’ve found through process that honest and deliberate imitation often yields new and fresh results.

I drafted this essay in pen about a month ago on a long bus ride in South America. In the wake of Lady Gaga’s blatant copycat song “Born This Way” and just after the Grammy Awards (which I barely watched) I think it’s more prescient than it was when I first wrote it.

Pop music elitists and pessimists often bemoan that “everything has already been done” with a certain futile resignation. The most astute of these often go on to make derivative music in the spirit of their well-cultivated tastes. MGMT, Lady Gaga and Arcade Fire come to mind but you could take nearly any popular music of the day as a case study and begin to isolate influences. In fact, you could say that about music from any time. I used to think in a narrow-minded way that imitation was indicative of a lack of imagination. As a maker of music myself I’ve found through process that honest and deliberate imitation often yields new and fresh results.

An example I can give is a song I wrote to the lyrics of DaVe Lipp called “Weird World” when I was fronting a band called Japan Seoul. In the course of my search for inspiration for DaVe’s lyrics I had been listening to Roxy Music’s “Mother of Pearl.”

I found the building nature of the melody moving and appealing. I began to half self-consciously graft DaVe’s lyrics over that melody. Very quickly the nature of the lyrics revealed new melodic directions and the finished song probably doesn’t resemble “Mother of Pearl” to most. I think “Weird World” is important to my work because it points the way to how I’ll make music in the future.

Is there something wrong with the device I used to write the song? The producer/engineer was just a little horrified when I revealed my method to him. You don’t hear much about the outright theft artists employ in the process to create consciously or not. Some artists do embrace this direct influence process such as Mark Ronson and Cut Copy (the name says it all). Other artists pay a high premium to sample works directly for commercial use (Diddy, Kanye West). Beyond DJ and hip hop groups many artists don’t discuss the imitative part of the song writing process. Perhaps it’s because of a fear of copyright infringement in our lawsuit infested system. Lawrence Lessig wrote a book about the paralysis current copyright law is having on art and business called “Remix.”

I would like to suggest to the “everything new is old” camp (a song lyric from “Rock And Roll“, my old band Music For Girls, written by Wendy Chin and myself) that the reason why music progress seems slow, stale, bland and unoriginal is because of the stigma an artist gets internal and externally for being derivative. No one would dispute that an artist needs to make music they are moved by. Music composed solely of ground breaking sounds and concepts just will not stick. It will be too oblique and will require special effort from the listener beyond what is reasonable. “Pushing the envelope” in music is a special dialectic which is a dance between coupling the familiar in a Trojan horse with the groundbreaking to subtly take the listener out of bounds.

If we look at the history of rock all the greatest started as unselfconscious imitators. The Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin etc. This uninhibited impulse to steal directly pointed the way for them to create the greatest works of the 20th century. The irony is that we, the artists of the present, are actually discouraged from borrowing directly from these greats in the way that they did to build their careers. Kirby Ferguson makes this point incredibly well in his documentary series “Remix“. Here’s Part 1 of the series (be sure to view Part 2 here).

In an interesting and ironic twist, the music technology of today beckons the artist to sample, remake remodel (note the homage to The Beatles in the middle of that Roxy Music song). The conclusion I’ve come to for my own creativity is to simply forget all about the dinosaur music industry and just MAKE. Don’t censor. Forget selling. We’re at the edge of an avalanche of fresh music that is liberated from the requirements of industry. Groups like Girl Talk are a primitive indication of what’s to be unleashed by uninhibited musicians. Artronica, a movement in which I’m a ‘founder’, represents this liberated music. Our intellectual device is to classify the music we make as fine art. It is not a necessary classification for all liberated music, just the niche we choose to occupy because of the purpose it lends to the music we create. I’m advocating a music process that freely borrows from the past without concern for the pretense of originality. This is the way out of the pop music doldrums taking us to a new era of fresh and original music.

What do I have to say about Lady Gaga’s latest hyper-derivative song? Well, plenty, but I’ll leave you with this great article which articulates it best by Tris McCall titled “Lazy Gaga.” Here’s a quote from Gianni, someone who commented on that article:

It would be more Gaga-honest if she simply sampled “express yourself ” to create something new altogether rather than present this single as if it was born this way -new and original, for apparently it wasn’t. Despite the artist’s best and let’s hope earnest intentions.

That about sums up my own position on the controversy. If you’re going to steal, STEAL. Go all the way with it, don’t tip toe around it. Dive in. Only with that clarity and boldness (and audacity) is when you may just make something new. Let us close now with The Staple Singers hit from 1972, Respect Yourself (brought to my attention by my friend Steven Roberts).

Your Own Personal Cloud

This personal cloud idea makes me question a lot of other cloud platforms. Truth be told, all these cloud offerings leave me feeling fragmented once again. How many accounts must we use to store pieces of ourselves? Google has useful document apps, Dropbox and Yousendit for moving files around, Soundcloud for audio, Amazon AWS for media, Flickr for photos, Tumblr and Wordpress.com for blog content, not to mention Twitter and Facebook…I’ve just mentioned a fraction of services I have accounts with and use. DOES ANYONE ELSE THINK THIS IS CRAZY? Whatever happened to the good old fashioned web host?

“The Cloud” is big right now. On some level it’s necessary. Our hard drives can’t be trusted to protect our data in perpetuity. I read an article on TechCrunch about how a Cloud Storage provider called Mozy created an uproar because it needed to raise it’s prices when it realized it couldn’t keep offering customers unlimited data. I was a bit surprised at the tone the author John Biggs took in which he writes that most people should just keep using inexpensive storage devices because the majority of data they save is worthless. Hard to argue with that. However I do like to keep all of my data. It’s like going through an album of my life. I create digital things so it’s really important, at least to me, to have access to things I was making ten plus years ago. So I do see real value in this Cloud fad even though I haven’t signed up with a serious Cloud storage provider. Writing as an average citizen susceptible to the persuasions of mass branding I have not been convinced that there is even a provider out there that will have the kind of longevity necessary for me to make a cloud storage investment. Perhaps Amazon AWS has the clout and reliability to convince me to invest my dollar but it seems more geared toward developer needs than general consumer backup needs. This need to save and preserve has got me thinking of an alternative to all these Cloud services. It’s rooted in an older, preexisting model. Web hosting services.

I’ve used Dreamhost for nearly a decade. It’s something I don’t even think about anymore. I’ve used it to host a multitude of websites but also to FTP and share files. I have even used it to backup my regular data at times. With hosting I’m just renting raw space. I can put whatever I want on it. And I get quite a bit of storage as well. It does require some light web development knowledge such as FTP but not much more. This process has remained the same or similar to when I first signed up for webhosting. The explosion of new Cloud, the reliability of web hosting (old cloud?) and Open Source technologies have got me thinking of an alternative path to preserving our data.

I’ve gotten very deep into WordPress this past year. This site is a self-hosted WordPress site. What I’ve found spectacular about using WordPress is that there are literally thousands of free plugins I can browse for that cover almost any web-related functionality I could dream of (and more often ones I would have never thought of). Not that WordPress is the proper conduit for facilitating cloud data backup…but it could be. Imagine having every piece of data you’ve ever generated backed up and indexed into a database instead of just loosely organized in self-made directories. That data would be searchable within a regular browser on the web. I can only hope a developer reads this post and decides to take this idea and run with it. For me, this option of storing my data, using my own web hosting and WordPress or some other Open Source CMS to index and organize my data is the most favorable. It makes me 100% responsible. Which means if I can’t afford the $100/yr it takes to pay for my hosting service then it’s up to me to rescue all the data I’ve preserved in my own personal cloud. The one flaw of course is if Dreamhost ever shuts down then we’re back to the same problem I’d have with a cloud provider…but the one advantage is that it’s all in one place. So I can literally just dump the whole thing somewhere else (although possibly a severe undertaking if you factor in Terabytes of data needing to be transfered).

This personal cloud idea makes me question a lot of other cloud platforms. Truth be told, all these cloud offerings leave me feeling fragmented once again (See this essay on Singular Login). How many accounts must we use to store pieces of ourselves? Google has useful document apps, Dropbox and Yousendit for moving files around, Soundcloud for audio, Amazon AWS for media, Flickr for photos, Tumblr and WordPress.com for blog content, not to mention Twitter and Facebook…I’ve just mentioned a fraction of services I have accounts with and use. DOES ANYONE ELSE THINK THIS IS CRAZY? This is severe fragmentation of self. I want/need everything in one place (just like I could use one login to rule them all). I need it in a place I own, or at least I feel like I own. Paying for web hosting is like renting. It’s your space and you can do whatever you want with it. If things get really out of control like you accidentally delete crucial data you can ask the hosting company to restore your site to where it was a few days ago. Certainly not something to take for granted but comforting to know it’s there.

In this time of increasing connectivity it seems very plausible to me that if there was a large movement towards users maintaining separate personal clouds the natural progression would be to connect them socially in ways that still preserved their privacy and autonomy. Perhaps that’s where the still in beta Diaspora social network could succeed. The personal cloud is probably not that different than the regular cloud in the long run. It’s just that the personal cloud is totally comprehensive. It is the online receptacle of a life digitized. Maybe Dreamhost will hear my plea for broader data backup tools. If you read my essay Oven vs. Closed Apps I’m suggesting that the future of all computing is entirely done online because of the internet horsepower that can be harnessed even through a tiny iPhone if you’re working remotely. I’ve had a taste of this while managing my WordPress database all from the phone. Powerful stuff happens on the server.

To take the idea of a personal cloud even further, once you have your own hosting you actually could bypass Youtube, Gmail, Soundcloud, Myspace, Tumblr…the list goes on. I won’t go so far as to include Facebook and Twitter in that list yet. As of now Facebook and, to a much lesser degree, Twitter have created a social pipeline that can be used to connect millions of otherwise disconnected websites (Google is still the place to start but it does not facilitate meaningful interactions between users and websites like Facebook).

The Proposal for the Personal Cloud

The personal cloud can work as open source. Benevolent developers could create an Open Graph which differs from Facebook’s. Perhaps the power of multiple computers can be harnessed as the database engine. Webhosting companies could expand their initiatives to market to consumers who are seeking Cloud storage solutions. In an Open Graph users could have a plethora of Social Networking sites to choose from and still be connected to their friends instead of the “walled Facebook model” (I got that phrase from @joygarnett on Twitter). We would use this pipeline to share content we’ve created on our own personal cloud servers. An advantage for many is that this open source Personal Cloud network would change the ad game in that ads would need to be placed on User’s personal cloud networks with their permission. It’s truly cutting out the middleman here (Youtube, Myspace). There could be an entire password protected layer of the Personal Cloud which is used for archiving and storage. Sharing files with others through Personal Cloud networks could be as simple Google Documents as long as there is some site-to-site open source permission network in place.

Can Open Source really create this type of infastructure? The answer is yes. We only need to look as far as WordPress to see how successful and robust Open Source can become. There’s a lot of convergence of technology that would need to happen for a Personal Cloud to overtake the very efficient Clouds we have right now. But I think it’s worth it. In my own experience, with all my stored backup on my own equipment, I have a pretty good idea how to find old files going back years. If you rely on Cloud networks for storage these start-up businesses are often so transient that the insurance you’re paying for is actually just an illusion. The only entities I can trust to secure my data are myself and my webhost. Why do I trust the webhost? Because I kind of have to. Without all these webhosts there really is not much of an internet to speak of. It’s the lesser of two evils in my mind. I don’t want to buy the building, just rent the apartment.

What can we do now in anticipation of the Personal Cloud?

We can start small. I see the value in all these services like Youtube, Soundcloud, Amazon, Flickr but when you have your own hosting you don’t actually need these services. The advantage for many is that they are their own social networks so if you’re after more visibility for the media and content you’ve uploaded it could help to be inside the network community. But guess what, Twitter and Facebook are the most effective ways to share content at least today. Both networks don’t require you to host any of your big media you’d like to share, you can simple pass around links to direct people back to your web host, your personal cloud. No doubt the metrics become convoluted if it’s something you’re worried about. Facebook and Twitter actually interface quite well with many cloud media services. But with Facebook I could have just as many people or more see my self hosted videos or mp3s. In my opinion Youtube, Soundcloud and Flickr just aren’t that great at being social networks and their true value to people is as repositories to get their stuff out on the public web in a sharable place. With this in mind, why not just use your own hosting. There’s a plethora of WordPress plugins for media management which render much of these cloud sharing/storage services useless. We’ve been doing this since the inception of the web and it still works really well. I still have the data I FTP’d to my Dreamhost server 8 years ago (even if I’ve let the DNS registered names expire!). I don’t have anything from AOL, Yahoo, Geocities…all gone. Why? Because those proto-clouds weren’t ‘mine’. They were over commercialized entities that always went out of their way to ensure that those spaces weren’t really mine through shear mega-branding and ad saturation. The same can be said about many of today’s cloud content services like Youtube, Google, Facebook or just insert your service here.

There’s a great post and thread at Zeldman.com about owning your content. It deals with a whole scope of issues regarding data preservation, many of which I haven’t even touched upon.

The Coming Print Revolution

Print is dead. Except it’s not. The digital revolution isn’t going to kill print. It is going to make it a more valuable object of desire.

Print is dead. Except it’s not. The digital revolution isn’t going to kill print. It is going to make it a more valuable object of desire. It’s true that the printing and paper industry is being considerably reduced. I certainly don’t want to see people lose their careers. But I am looking forward to the day when I don’t receive a single bit of junk mail in my non-virtual mail box.

For print to assure its longevity in the future it needs to become synonymous with value instead of trash (or recyclables). This has broad applications. Instead of innumerable paperbacks we can now buy virtual Kindle editions of books. But a book can be a considered a work of art fit for the bookshelf gallery. When we’ve read something of true value we can go the extra mile and acquire that book as we would a painting.

If access trumps ownership, when should we own things? I’d say when they’re manifestly important, and only in the best format we can afford. Truth is, it’d be a total shame not to own a single book, because there’s something about the things that’s valuable in constructing an identity. Scanning someone’s bookshelf is like peeking into their cognitive medicine cabinet, so go buy those books that made you who you are, but buy them in hardback and the best copy you can find. The important books, albums, and movies are a little piece of you, and they deserve to be treated as such.

—From Frank Chimero’s Blog

I think if the publishing industry released print editions as collectibles, more precisely as limited edition art, they would find an untapped market of serious book collectors.

We’re leaving the era of mass production for an era of infinite copies. It’s not so much about downloading the Kindle books as it is about having infinite access to the books we’ve already paid for (See my essay: “How Netflix Can Save Music“). Interestingly, if books have low edition runs the printed form they take on could change. An example could be doing a limited edition run of 100 in silkscreen and letterpress, signed by author, artist and/or designer. I think we’re headed for a time of beautiful, rare and valuable printed books. (The concept is similar to Artronica: Music as Art—why not books as art?)

The same value principles can apply to print collateral for marketing (admittedly less sexy than the venerable book—but let’s change that!). In an age where every executive is carrying an iPad it seems old fashioned to inundate prospects with sell sheets and other cheap print materials. If you really want to use print for marketing in the digital world you must create something of value that no one would consider garbage. The simple medium of print must be employed with good reason. This is a great challenge and most marketers will ultimately opt for the cheapest communication method of all, email marketing (whose days are numbered, but that’s a topic for another essay).

Print is not dying but evolving into a higher form which is closer to art. Designers, don’t be discouraged. It’s time to rethink print for a demassified age. Traditionally, large quantities needed to be printed to justify the cost of producing fancy, quality materials. I think this must change because there will be a huge demand for unique, high quality work in short print runs (As of now, short-run jobs have been the cheaper and lower quality jobs). If we leave behind conventional large run processes there is actually lots of room for experimentation in the small run space. Let’s throw away the print rule book and make beautiful, special and valuable things in print!