October 17th, 2010 dotted line

I Live in the Future (2010), Nick Bilton

Bilton has a good thesis, one which isn’t fully fleshed out until the end of the book. “We are all storytellers”. That’s what matters. At the heart of the digital revolution is simply the desire to find the best ways to consume and create our stories.


Google calls it “dog-fooding” – engineers using their own product (eg. Gmail). When creators choose not to use their own product, you know there’s a problem. Bilton himself, an editor at the NY Times, canceled his paper subscription – a clear sign things weren’t well in the newspaper business.

Storytelling is Nick’s common thread through his career, the common link through his forays into advertising, writing, photography, video, programming, UI design, etc. I suspect it could be mine too.

One of the reasons I like SF so much – it’s a place on the cutting edge of tech change, and tech change is a key driving force behind today’s media and social change. For a storyteller, this is unbearably compelling. Access is the key, and why China and other authoritarian countries are trying to control access to the Internet.

Digital is the distribution channel for content today, and its cost of delivery is virtually negligible. This is a wrenching change for many knowledge industries.

Nick’s introduction gives a summary at the chapter level of the entire book, something I’ve seen in other books of the same ilk.

Reporting (aka journalism)! Something I’d like to look at more.

“Morality sherrifs” (in his chapter on the porn industry).

Beginning a story without seeming to, so the flow of thought isn’t broken. I hate it when an author telegraphs this – it feels like they’re making you wait before they make their real point.

There is a long tail even in the porn business (niche tastes). Apparently this is where revenue is these days – these consumers will pay if the price is reasonable.

Two strategies for fighting the porn pirates without taking them to court (legal fees can cripple a fledgling business, and if you can’t fight ’em..) – 1) Upload preview clips from new, upcoming content to promote them, 2) post high quality clips for films which have low quality bootleg versions, to show consumers what they’re missing out on.

Gawker has a family of niche-targeted blogs, which are doing very well.

Niche, quality, immediacy and price. To that, add an experience for the consumer, whether its through social media to build a relationship with the customer, or live concerts.

The book is itself the story of the months Bilton spent doing the research for it. A person and personality comes through his writing, which makes the experience enjoyable.

When I have time (30 minutes+), I often choose long form reading (eg. a New Yorker article). However, in most cases I have less time than that, and prefer the immediacy and lower time requirements of RSS, Twitter, news articles, etc.

Compulsive consumption is a manifestation of “an effort to not miss anything”. The solution for this is what Bilton calls “anchoring communites”, which help him navigate the information flood. My term – “filters”. However, I can appreciate the reference to community – I feel I’m getting to know the people I follow on Twitter – sportsguy33, kottke, etc. Note that even filters are getting overloaded these days, and you could easily see filters on top of filters.

We have different relationships and dynamics between online and real-life friends, and it makes sense that the way we engage and treat them is different too.

Tipping points for adoption are different for everyone. For me, I got the iPad because it was unlocked, unlike the iPhone, which requires a contract. I finally started using Twitter because an iPad app (the official Twitter client) came out whose UI was universally praised.

Brands sell trust. These days, more individuals are becoming brands unto themselves. Eg. I trust Mick LaSalle’s movie recommendations, and so he is one of my filters.

Following. Often you just go with the group because you have no set agenda – if someone has more knowledge and starts moving with purpose, the group will follow.

“We were never born to read” – Proust. Similarly, our brains will also adapt to the needs of the new information age.

FPS games don’t work for me, because mastery of the interface (controller) hinders me. If there was a more intuitive interface (Wii, Natal), I would be more likely to enjoy the gaming experience.

A campfire experience (movies, concerts, etc.) – a group of people sharing a realtime experience – has now evolved to an experience shared in bits, and in non-realtime (sharing, social sites, etc.).

Price, quality, timeliness (current, latest, can purchase immediately), experience (which must be priced correctly). Price and fairness – many consumers will happily pay (the success of iTunes) if the price is just and commensurate with the experience. If pricing is egregiously high – eg. the WSJ annual subscription of $99 – they will stay away in droves.

Instapaper subverts the pay mechanism of eReaders. Instead of paying a subscription to read the New Yorker in book form, I use my iPad and Instapaper to download articles (the process of marking and saving articles is painless, which is key) and read them in a book format, a very similar experience, for free.

Digital speed is fast. It stands to reason that change also takes place quickly in this realm.

I am at the center of my digital world.

Idea: charge for personalization (ie. on the NY Times site), and price it appropriately.

Teenagers and young adults represent the hotbed and laboratory of change today – a dream anthropological field experiment if they happen to be your target audience.

“Brain research has been catapulted into the mainstream.”

Being able to tune out distractions, immersion, and control over the process, are hugely important in experiencing a movie in an enjoyable way – people are able to enjoy films on their iPods.

Some thoughts at the end of the book.

Stories and people drive human interaction, engagement and relationships (though not all stories are equally important). Digital media is evolving at a rapid and fascinating rate. Technology is providing ever increasing opportunities for individuals everywhere to reach and touch others with their stories.

January 11th, 2010 dotted line

Learning a language, for Netflix

Say I live in the US, and that physical access to other languages and cultures happens to be difficult. If I had time to learn a new language, which makes the most sense?

Here’s one way to answer that question. Many people start learning a language because of films they like, and looking at Netflix‘s foreign language film catalog, the top 6 languages by number of page listings are:

Cantonese 23
Mandarin 25
Japanese 29
French 34
Spanish 43
Hindi 61

So if Netflix was my primary source for movies, I should choose Hindi to:

  • maximize the amount of content which will help me learn my new language,
  • increase my enjoyment of this content (matters of taste aside).

My knowledge of Indian cinema is limited, so I was surprised by this; I had expected one of the other five languages on the list to come out on top.

A more interesting list is top languages ordered by amount of all cultural exports (film, TV, music, comics, etc.) based on that language. In that list, I would expect Korean to figure more highly.

January 7th, 2010 dotted line

Sydney photos

A handful of photos from Sydney, including a standup paddle surfer a long way from the shore.

October 6th, 2009 dotted line


Photos of a kitesurfer.

October 3rd, 2009 dotted line

LA Photos

From a recent roadtrip.

September 22nd, 2009 dotted line

Dinner and Hope



September 13th, 2009 dotted line

Credit Card, Cash

See Expenses.



September 7th, 2009 dotted line

Pocket notebook

Fisher Space Pen and Moleskine notebook.


September 7th, 2009 dotted line


A year ago, to the day, I started keeping an expense journal. Every item of personal expenditure has been duly recorded for the last 365 days, and I have been surprised by how closely linked money and almost everything I do of consequence are linked. My expense diary is my defacto personal diary.


Monthly totals

May 12th, 2009 dotted line

Spain, London photos uploaded

Spain, London photos