Aug 7 2011

The Two Koreas

Jamie Barrows

I was browsing the web this weekend and found a photo blog with recent pictures of North Korea. The pictures were really good and I recommend clicking the link and checking them out for yourself.

It was fascinating to see the differences between the North and the South. The extreme poverty and deprivation that is present in the North is even more shocking when you compare it to the affluent and prosperous South. Especially when you consider that it wasn’t that long ago that both were on equal footing. Both nations were equally devastated by World War 2. And the Korean war that followed left most of the peninsula in even worse shape.

But in the years since 1953 when the Korean War ended, South Korea has become a major world economic and technological power, and North Korea has become a place where starvation is common. No where else in the world is the difference between relatively equal nations, in terms of starting point and resources, so distinct. The effects of the dictatorial government of the North’s policies has been a complete disaster for the nation. Whereas the South’s policies have rebuilt and modernized the nation.

Aug 14 2009

Dependencies – A new one

Jamie Barrows

New iPhone
A few years ago I wrote a post on here about modern dependencies. In that post, I was referring to Internet access and how dependent I had become. And now I have yet another dependency that crept up on me when I wasn’t looking. And annoyingly it is one I should have seen coming. Especially since it is related to my previously mentioned Internet dependency.

I’m talking about my iPhone. Specifically the always on internet connectivity and email it gives me. So I guess the dependency is really a mobile internet dependency. The actual phone is not really the issue. Most likely any halfway decent smartphone would fill my new need. It just happens to be that the smartphone I have is an iPhone.

As with the Internet dependency, I feel cut off when I can’t get a decent connection. And old non-smartphones, that I previously would have been perfectly satisfied with, now feel excessively limited. All of the information and communication advantages of the Internet are now with me 24/7. And I’ve become used to having them around me all the time.

What brought this realization on, was buying a new phone for my wife. We went to the store and picked out a phone that was well rated and had a great looking design. It wasn’t a smartphone, but it was a highly advanced text messaging phone with a full keyboard and a touch screen. Just a few years ago I would have loved the phone. But my standards have changed since then, and what I expect from a phone is very different from what I expected then. So when we got it home, and started actually using it, we found it to be frustratingly limited. It had all the technical specs of a smartphone, and yet it had a crippled non-smartphone OS. Email was clunky, web browsing was limited, and there were no applications except the standard ones that were built into the phone. It just felt too limited. And that is when I realized that I could never go back to a “normal” phone.

The end result was that after keeping the phone for a week, we took it back and got a smartphone. And we are much happier than we ever were with the other phone.

Jun 17 2009

The power of the social web

Jamie Barrows

I already posted this video in my twitter feed, but in light of the current happenings in Iran, I thought I would post it here as well. That way if you missed it in my twitter feed or if you don’t follow me on twitter you will still see it.
Watch this and you should get a better understanding of how powerful and revolutionary the social web (Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, Etc.) actually is.

This video really highlights why the social web is so disruptive and game changing for both governments and traditional news. The amazing thing is that you can see it happening right now with the Iran situation. If you really want to know what is going on in Iran, your best source for news is Twitter. And that news isn’t being generated by governments or by news organizations. It’s being generated by individuals who are directly involved.

May 13 2009

Reputation: You vs. The other you

Jamie Barrows

I read an article the other day on Scott Adam’s blog titled The Other Scott Adams” In case you don’t know, Scott Adams is the creator of the Dilbert comic. A comic that helps all of us office workers keep a little sanity. And ever since I found his blog, I’ve been enjoying his daily(ish) comments on society and current events.

So anyway, back to the article. The gist of it was that in this day and age, if you have a common name, your reputation ends up closely tied to the actions of the “other” you(s) that are out there. This isn’t really a new thing. Throughout the history you can watch the popularity of names rise and fall based on the actions of prominent people. After all, no one wants to be named after a mass murderer or even have themselves associated with one via their name. What makes today’s name associations different from those of the past, is the ease with which those associations can be found.

In the past, it was unlikely that someone(with the same name) else’s actions would ever be noticed by your friends, coworkers, and relatives unless they became famous/infamous for them. These days those other you’s are a simple Google search away. And as people search engines(which I mentioned in a previous post) become more common and better at finding details about individuals, those other people with your name are going to be noticed by you and your friends even more.

So try it. Google your name and see how many other you’s there are in the first two or three pages that come back. Unless you post a lot online under your own name, you will probably be surprised at how many other you’s there are in the first three pages. Now ask yourself, is it likely that people who don’t know you very well or are potential employers likely to be able to tell which of those “you’s” that come back are really you?

Mar 10 2009

Finding things Out

Jamie Barrows


I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking up something and finding something else on the way.
Franklin P. Adams

Read the above quote the other day and thought it was particularly true in the Internet Age. How often do you go online to find a bit of info, only to learn 10 different things that you weren’t even looking for?

I know it works that way for me.

Feb 24 2009

Paying for News

Jamie Barrows

Coffee and Newspaper
There has been a lot of talk lately from the old school newspapers about charging for news online. Saying they want to force people to pay for news as they read it.

Newspapers all over the country are struggling to find new revenue streams as the old dead tree based streams are drying up. The truth is that people don’t buy newspapers anymore. In fact, people don’t even read free newspapers anymore. More and more people read all of their news online. And that is hurting the newspaper industry that has been relying on subscriptions and print ads for it’s main revenue streams. If people aren’t buying your newspaper, that revenue stream is gone. And if people aren’t reading your newspaper (even if you give it away), then advertisers aren’t going to buy ads in your newspaper. And there goes the other main revenue stream.

On the online side, revenues are minuscule for most newspapers. Subscription based pay walls simply drive readers to other sites, and Internet ads don’t make up for the lost ads on the paper side. Competition for Internet ads is cutthroat and dominated by big giants like Google and Microsoft. And the traffic levels for many newspaper websites are even lower than their subscription list. So revenue from internet ads is often significantly lower than that of the paper edition. All of that adds up to a major crisis for the news industry.

So far the majority response of the newspaper industry is to claim they need to force the online users to pay subscription prices for access to the news content. The only way that is even remotely possible is if the ENTIRE industry switches to a subscription model. Because if even one newspaper or news source offers news online for free, then the whole model breaks down. And to be realistic, there is no way to ensure that all news sources abide by the agreement to charge for news. Even making it required by law (as some journalists have suggested) wouldn’t work in the online world. After all, laws can only be enforced within the geographical boundaries of the nation that implements them. And the Internet doesn’t follow geographical boundaries.

So the future of newspapers looks pretty bleak. No revenue from the old models, and the only new models they have come up with are simply impractical and doomed to fail. All in all, pretty bad.

That is until I read an article today in the opinion section of the Wall Street Journal. The best quote from the article that really sums up the entire point was the following.

“For years, publishers and editors have asked the wrong question: Will people pay to access my newspaper content on the Web? The right question is: What kind of journalism can my staff produce that is different and valuable enough that people will pay for it online?”
L. Gordon Crovitz

If you ask that question from the start, then all of the other problems go away. Because when you think about it, the problem with online revenues is a competition problem. Instead of competing with a few local newspapers for readers, you are competing with millions of newspapers all over the world. Most of whom are nearly identical to your newspaper. So there is no incentive for people to pay for access to your news over someone else’s news. And there is no particular reason for anyone to read your news website instead of one of your competitors news websites when it’s the same news.

But if your news is different in some way from that of your competitors, then they will read your website instead of other sites. And if your news provides some tangible benefit to the reader beyond simply keeping them informed, then they will be willing to do something to get it. With a tangible benefit you can charge a subscription for access, and people will pay it. And furthermore you can charge higher rates for your online ads because you can guarantee an audience that fits a specific mold.

This isn’t really a new concept. The problems facing newspapers today aren’t really any different than those any industry faces when it has a lot of competition. It’s just that most newspapers have gotten used to an environment where they didn’t really have to compete. And now that the Internet is forcing them to compete, they don’t seem to remember how.

Feb 20 2009

When did it become a crime to succeed?

Jamie Barrows

Lately the tech news sites have been filled with rumors about a possible antitrust prosecution against Google. Most of the rumors are based on statements made by Obama’s nominee for antitrust chief, Christine Varney. She has mentioned that Google has acquired a monopoly type of position in the Internet advertising industry and may be a future target of antitrust proceedings.

There is no question that Google has a very large and rather dominant position in the Internet advertising industry. The vast majority of Internet advertising is controlled by Google and that majority is increasing all the time.

But when people look at why it’s so large and why it’s increasing, no one cites dirty tricks or monopolistic practices as reasons. All of the analysts, even those critical of Google, point out that Google simply offers a better value than any of it’s competitors. It’s sheer size does give it the ability to offer more at lower prices, but that doesn’t change the fact that what Google offers is better than what any of it’s competitors offer. Google offers better value to the the customers who are buying the ads, as well the websites hosting the ads. A win for everyone.

So basically the reason Google is so successful is because it is providing a better product than it’s competitors are providing. And because customers have recognized this, Google has become the dominant player in the market.

So when did it become a crime for a company to be too successful? When did it become against the law to gain too much market share by simply being better than anyone else? Where is that invisible line between having a successful law abiding business, and a business that is now too successful and illegal?

Oh, and before anyone says this is a Democrat/liberal vs Republican/conservative thing, I would like to remind you that the Bush administration was making many of the same types of statements about Google. So this isn’t because the Obama administration is anti-business and the Bush administration was pro-business. This is a mindset that affects both parties.

Your business is allowed to be a success as long as it isn’t too big a success. Because if you are too big a success, then aside from any illegal or unfair dealings, your business could be prosecuted.

Feb 3 2009

Privacy and the Inadvertent me

Jamie Barrows

I’m not sure if I mentioned this before or not. At least I’m not sure if I mentioned it on this blog. But even if I have mentioned it before, it still bears repeating. Anything you put online may come back to haunt you some day in the future. So be careful what you post or say in forums and on blogs like this one.

What brought this topic to mind for me was a blog post I read on the Freedom To Tinker blog, called Satyam and the Inadvertent Web. Basically it’s the story of how a group of pictures taken and uploaded to Flickr several years ago, suddenly became highly relevant when Satyam became news worthy.

The pictures were taken by someone with no real connection to the company other than visiting it on a trip to India. They sat on Flickr for years and lived in obscurity all that time. Then Satyam got in the news for one of the biggest financial coverups of the Indian high tech industry. Suddenly, they were being referenced and viewed regularly. Suddenly those photos became a very large part of who the photographer is online.

The point is, whatever you say online. Whether on an obscure blog like mine, or on a major traffic destination, could become a big part of who you are and how you are perceived when people do a search for you.

People search engines are becoming better and better at finding all the bits and pieces of yourself that are scattered all over the web and aggregating them into a clear picture of you. Don’t believe me? Do a search for your name on Google and see what comes back. Probably more than you would expect. And Google doesn’t even specialize in people searches. If you do a search on a people specific search engine like Pipl.com. You will be amazed at what it can find about you. All those little comments, pictures, and even government records get matched up to your name. It can often even match up nicknames and pseudonyms that you have used in the past.

Those little tiny pieces of you that are scattered all over the web may lie in obscurity and be hardly noticed for years, and then a current news story can easily bring them to the forefront. Suddenly that comment or picture you posted years ago, is on the first page of a Google search for you. And what’s worse, is that you can’t ever really get rid of info once it is online.

It’s not like having an embarrassing conversation with someone or saying something stupid. Those things are easily forgotten once the conversation is over. Comments, blog posts, pictures, and social networking profiles can stick around forever once they are online. Even going back and deleting them (assuming you can) doesn’t really make them go away. They will still be in caches and archives all over the web. And it’s getting easier and easier to find that info if you are looking for it.

I’m not writing this to scare you off from commenting in forums or on blogs. And I’m not saying you shouldn’t have your own blog or facebook/myspace account. All I’m saying, is that you really should think very carefully before posting anything online. You should carefully consider your words before whipping out a comment on a blog or forum. Because you never know when that little piece of you might become a BIG piece of you.

Jan 20 2009

No Internet!

Jamie Barrows


Click image to see full size

Jan 19 2009

When is too much information, too much information?

Jamie Barrows


I read an interesting rant over the weekend. It’s titled "Is this the better world you were talking about?" And the main theme seemed to be the information glut that we are daily exposed to. And the point seemed to be that the information glut is causing more harm than good.

I’ve written about information overload in one of my posts before. But other than claiming I need to be better at dealing with it, I am pretty strongly of the opinion that more information is better than less.

The author of the article makes the point that a huge amount of the information out there these days is exaggerated or overreported. And he’s right. A lot of it is just exaggerated opinions and fearmongering. Bias and sensationalism is rampant in our news media. But is that really a difference from the past or a problem that needs to be fixed? As I posted in one of my posts over a year ago, I don’t see that as an issue. ALL NEWS is biased by the opinions and beliefs of the reporter. That holds true no matter what the medium (TV, Newspaper, Radio, Internet, etc.) is. As long as you can identify the bias of the reporter and know that it is there, you should be able to get the facts out of the story.

And as for being overwhelmed by the information, it isn’t all that hard to just turn off the TV, or not read the article. If the weather channel is giving you too much information, just don’t watch it. If you are constantly getting sucked into the conspiracy theories of fringe groups, stop listening to them.

The way I see it, it’s just a question of developing proper filters. People need to learn how to filter out the fringe extremist groups and make sure they get their news from multiple sources to recognize and counteract the bias present in any one source. They need to be disciplined enough to turn off the news feed if it is taking over their lives or becoming an obsession.

There will always be those people who can’t or won’t develop decent critical filters, but that doesn’t mean the world would be better off with less information. If you look at history, you will see that in almost every repressive society, much of that repression was accomplished by a strict control of information and the means of communication. That kind of control, in our information rich and information overloaded society,  is no longer possible.

These days we have true freedom to express our knowledge and opinions. And the luxury of being able to choose our sources of information and control the quantity of the information we receive. I don’t think I would want to give that freedom up or go back to the days of limited information.

Would you? Is there such a thing as too much information?