The empty threat from Irene

Luckily, Irene turned out to be an empty threat in the end.

Mind you, I’m talking about the woman. Not the hurricane turned tropical storm which caused very real damage along its path. Even though its impact could have been much worse I agree that «nothing is ‘not that bad’, when lives are lost».

I feel for all those who lost loved ones or saw their property wrecked.

But I must admit that while I was watching the coverage of Irene, the hurricane, hit New York today - despite being worried for friends and family - another Irene also played on my mind.

You see, if Irene the woman had been more than empty threat I probably wouldn’t have been here today.

My late grandfather, a war sailor, met Irene at some British harbor, and was quite decided on leaving his young family for her. Had he done so when that thought took hold of him, chances are my mother might not have been born.

As chance would have it, he hesitated right up until my mother was conceived.

Her arrival made him change his mind and stay, a fact he recounted to me on more than one occasion, although he did have the audacity to give his new daughter Irene as a middle name (a name my mother later removed).  

From this story you may rightly conclude that my grandfather was a rather colourful character, but all the same, despite all his flaws and quirks, he played an important role in my life and I loved him dearly.

Incidentally, he was the one who bought me Tajo, the dog who later saved my life.

Tajo was his gift to me.

All very lucky coincidences without which I wouldn’t have been here today.

That’s the thing about all the horrors this summer has brought with it:

It really makes you count your blessings and wonder at, and feel grateful for, those big and small decisions, which may once have seemed trivial, but turn out to be so crucial when seen from a distance.

Or, as Grethen Rubin just blogged (updated 29/8-11 23:01 CET):  "It's a sad foible of human nature that it often takes loss, or the threat of loss, to make us appreciate what we already enjoy."

Can we have the silly season back, please?

Shocked out of holiday mode, and a general cutural innocence, by the worst terror attack in the country's modern history, it is perhaps not surprising that some Norwegians find themselves missing the summer's traditional silly season.

"I miss headlines about dangerous tics, murder snails and vegetable prices," said one influential commentator I ran into on my way into work the other morning.

"I want the headline news on the six o'clock news to be about a farmer's ruined cabbage field... I want the talk of town on warm summerdays in Oslo to be the  price of prawns...I want the men I'm struggling to get a grip on to be ordinary men, not psychotic killers," one blogger wrote on Monday.

Other bloggers have voiced similar sentiments.

It's not only the terror attacks on 22/7, though they have dominated the news ever since that day.

Norway's seen two fatal boating accidents in July too, and it's such a small country that even those affected lots and lots of people.

Not to speak of how such accidents always feel so meaningless and unnecessary.

But I'd never thought I'd see the day when people actually are begging for a return to the much derided silly season, though a part of me can undertand the sentiment.

Having said that, even thought headlines about fruit and vegetable prices was a sign of cultural decay when I grew up, I've since come to understand that these price fluctuations tell us a lot both about hyperlocal and international affarirs. 

"As above, so below," the mystics used to say.

I myself am no mystic but this summer has reminded me that even the focus and absence of a country's silly season can tell us a lot about a country and the state it's in: the small things in life - or the absence of them - often mirror the bigger ones.

How the wheel turns: from 9/11 to 22/7

Just how will the wheel turn, how will the public debate shift, after the terror attacks of 22/7? Food for thought from Björn Stærk:

...After the terror attacks in Norway on July 22, perpetrated by a fanatical opponent of multiculturalism and the Islamization of Europa, it happens again.  The wheel turns.  We won’t pretend that everything has changed, no more than everything changed on 9/11.  The threat from Islamist terrorism is the same.  The immigration challenges of Europe are the same.

But reality has shifted sufficiently that you cannot mindlessly apply the same old models to the new situation.  And, this time, the pundits who reveal themselves to be most out of touch may well be precisely those right-wing critics of immigration and Islam who took the lead after 9/11...

Would you believe, after 22/7 lots of people have called Norwegian news sites asking that their anti-Islamic comments be deleted?


Photo from Flickr: "Prayer Wheels" by Eric Montfort", republished here under a CC-licence

Oslo terrorist attack just a marketing ploy to promote the terrorist’s anti-Islam manifesto?

Anders Behring Breivik might have killed close to 100 people to market a manifesto partly copied from the Unabomber.

I didn’t know whether to cry or throw up while reading the manifesto published by the man who has admitted to the twin terror attacks on Oslo Friday.

When people started discussing and publishing excerpts from the manifesto – which also includes a detailed description of the attack, how it was planned and a diary leading up to 22/7 – on Google+ last night, there were those who said media would be playing into Breivik's hands by covering it.

There is some truth to that as the author of the manifesto more than hints that the atrocities that left at least 77 people dead were just a marketing ploy for his 15000-page manifesto.

Still, I believe transparency is more productive than secrecy in such instances, and we need to understand the terrorist's motivations in order to expose his contradictions and fallacies – even though it requires more than a degree of sobriety from the media when covering it.

As a blogger it’s my gut reaction to always link to my sources, but in this case I’ll leave it up to those interested to look up «2083. A European Declaration of Independence».

In it the author describes the necessity of using "terror as a method to wake up the masses" to the silent Islamification of Europe - aided, abetted and legitimized by “multiculturalist traitors”, cultural Marxists (or relativists) and feminists.

I was called up yesterday and asked if I could possibly put together an analysis in 2,5hrs of the attacks in Norway for Mail on Sunday (which was a challenge I couldn’t resist: the article can be found here).

That was before we knew of the manifesto.

Now, having read it, I guess I should be gratified by just how spot on my analysis of Behring Breivik’s motivation was:

This was an attack on Norway’s Labour party, which members are described in the document as some of the worst cultural Marxists aiding and abetting multiculturalism and Islamification.

The author also pays tribute to folks like Pim Fortuyn, Geert Wilders and BNP - and Tony Blair is describe as one of the most dangerous cultural Marxists' of them all.

The manifesto’s author quotes a wide range of sources – including Theodore Dalrymple, Melanie Phillips, Mark Twain. Every time a writer I like, such as Mark Twain, is mentioned I just felt like screaming:

“No, not in my name – don’t use this as support for your crazy arguments.”

The document is an awful muddle of reactionary Conservatism, Christianity, anti-Islam, anti-Marxism, philosophy and practical advice to would be terrorists, but most of it is both eloquently and lucidly written.

Part of what is so sickening is how every argument he touches on, even the few I agree with, becomes contaminated by his madness.

For instance, I’m not a big fan of Marxism, the ideology, but the context he puts this all into, and the actions he recommends based on his conclusions, makes me physically sick.

What we’re presented with is a manifesto for a terrorist BNP, a terrorist movement akin to Al-Qaeda only that it will fight for a nationalist, Christian-Conservative society free from Moslems, Feminists and Cultural Marxists.

The author believes this will be accomplished by 2083.

However, by comparing the two manifestos, right-wing news site revealed that huge chunks of the "2083 manifesto" probably is copied from the manifesto of the Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski....

This story just keeps getting more and more surreal.


Terror in Oslo: A near miss

“You know, it was a near miss for you just as it was for me as I narrowly avoided being on the Piccadilly line train when one of the bombs exploded on 7/7”

The sentiment belongs to my Dutch ex-partner. We lived together in London on and off for years, and I was just talking to him over the phone yesterday about what happened in Oslo on Friday, on 22/7, when he said something along these lines.

He had left five minutes earlier for work than usually on that fateful day in 2005. Had he got on the Underground train at his usual time that morning, he would have been on the 311 train that was close to Russell Square when the bomb went off.

Myself, I don’t really feel that I was caught up in the bomb attack in Oslo Friday, even though I was in a newspaper building close to where the bomb went off. All of us in that building had a very lucky escape.

I’ve described what happened on that day to, who also recorded an Audio boo with me, here.

It just felt incredibly surreal and incredibly sad when it happened.

I’m devastated for all those who were killed or injured by the twin-attacks in Oslo and on Utøya, and for all those who have loved ones who were killed, injured or are missing.

But the scope didn’t really sink in until I read what we believe to be the terrorist’s manifest0 this morning.

Even if the perpetrator is a Norwegian this was beyond any doubt a meticulously planned and well-executed terrorist attack.

It had very explicit political motivation and aims - a key aim being to wake people up to, and halt, what this guy sees as the Islamification of Europe - but I’ll return to that in a different post.

Here’s Oslo City Hall yesterday: 


Terror in Oslo: Saturday's frontpages

It was the morning after the worst day in Oslo's recent history, and these are the frontpages we woke up to.

It must be said that VG, Norway's largest newspaper and also my main employer, was right across the street from the governement headquarters where the bomb went off, and large sections VG's glass walls facing the explosion fell out (as you can see from this video I just re-shared on Google+ ).

The tabloid's staff was evacuated not once, but twice during the afternoon and evening of 22/7 - first from VG, then from its temporary workspace in Schibsted's headquarters - and ended up renting suits in a nearby hotel to have a workplace in which they could finish today's paper. Incredibly professional, and I am impressed by the paper they did put together under trying cicrumstances.

I for one forgot my mobile phone charger when evacuating the VG building, and I couldn't have been the only one to do so because talking to the salesman in the store I bought a spare charger today he said someone from VG had bought a whole load of chargers after the attack yesterday.

Here's the frontpages of Norway's two largest tabloids, VG (Verdens Gang) and Dagbladet:


And here's Aftenposten, Norway's newspaper of record, and Dagens Naeringsliv (DN), our largest financial daily:



A ghostly weekend and the future of streaming

I was ill this last weekend and spent it in the company of ghosts. Fictional ones, that is.

As it happened, I’d been fighting flu for quite some time.  But I had just finished some big, important assignments, could finally allow myself to be ill and it was raining cats and dogs:

So what better time to test an online streaming service for audio books?

Ordflyt, owned by Norwegian publishing house Cappelen Damm, bills itself as a kind of Spotify for audio books (or rather, Wimp for audio books, as the service is developed by Aspiro, the company that also has developed Norwegian Spotify-competitor Wimp).

In either case, it was the perfect companion on a grey and rainy day, and even though the selection of audio books available through the service still is limited, and the free section mostly is limited to old classics, I greatly enjoyed being reacquainted with Oscar Wilde’s old classic “The Canterville ghost”.

On the whole I liked Ordflyt (though still in beta) because of its App Store-like ease of use:

Digital marketplaces such as Apple’s App Store and Amazon’s Kindle has spoiled many of us to such a degree that we’ve come to expect that ease of use from any new service.

But more interesting than the streaming service in itself:

Of course, for book lovers such as me, it’s great to have a Spotify for audio books too, but when I tweeted about my review of Ordflyt, @portart (aka Marius Röstad) had an interesting suggestion:

Why not combine streaming of music and streaming of books in the same service?

Certainly, if it wasn’t for the business-related challenges, combining Ordflyt and Wimp, would give Wimp a huge competitive advantage over Spotify? (Wimp is currently available in Sweden, Denmark and Portugal in addition to Norway).

Both Android and iPhone-apps with the ability to seamlessly transfer tracks between say PC and iPhone are in the process of being developed for Ordflyt – and having both audio books and music available to stream, or play offline, via any of your computers  and/ or mobile devices seems like a very attractive proposition to me.

In fact, in the long term: why not combine the likes of Spotify, Audibook and Netflix into one big streaming service?

I am aware that streaming movies and streaming sound is two very different propositions and that movies take up a lot more bandwidth, but still: it’s an attractive proposition – your very own mobile entertainment centre that you can tap into wherever you go.    

As for ghosts, I also read Andrew Taylor’s “The Anatomy of Ghosts” this weekend, mainly because I greatly enjoyed his bestselling book “The American Boy”


I found some of the villains in “Anatomy of Ghosts” so annoying that I nearly put the book down at times, but it certainly did wonders for my flu to lose myself both in the paper-book and the audio book.

It’s rather amazing what a miracle cure just staying at home for a few days with some decent books (and Lemsip) can work on flu;-)

And while we’re on the subject of ghosts, this ghostly weekend of mine also reminded me of one of the most bizarre stories I’ve ever worked on: namely when I did all the research, effectively working as a fixer, for a big magazine feature on how to have a ghostly holiday (or rather go ghost-hunting) in Britain.

This is about five years ago but I was rather proud of myself for putting together a great travel route which included a meeting with one of Britain’s top paranormal experts and a stay at what billed itself as the most haunted house in Britain - with a representative from the local paranormal society bringing over all sorts of equipment for identifying any ghostly presence.

I’m afraid I’m pretty much an out-and-out rationalist myself, but I found working on the story both fascinating and enjoyable - if bizarre. The most bizarre moment was probably when I called up an establishment in the West-Country, which told me:

“Unfortunately, all our eight ghosts are friendly ones, nothing scary like in this place on the other side of the mountain”

That place on the other side of the mountain was Skirrid Mountain Inn, by the way, not that I’ve ever been there or got to send “my journalist” there in the end.

But luckily, I did blog about my experience putting together that story. Reading through that blog post now I can recall the week in question vividly, which I doubt I’d be able to do without that blog post


Food for thought: opt-out is the new opt-in

Here's an excellent observation from a talk I've just been convinced I would have loved to listen to (thanks to Adam for liveblogging it):

"Highly technical people are dictating how we communicate with each other. The least social people are dictating how we interact. They force us to opt-out not opt-in. There's software that kills you internet connections for a set time to allow you to focus. Opt-out is the new opt-in."

Nothing all that new in the higlights Adam posts from Jeremy Tai Abbett's talk, but the way Abbett coins these key trends is refreshing and very much to the point. Read the full post here.

At the frontline of the tablet revolution

An issue of a media magazine I wrote the lead story for just won a prize for front page of the year during the Nordic Media Festival in Bergen.

I had absolutely nothing to do with that front page but I love how it alludes to some of the paradoxes of the "tablet revolution", or at least the media's approach to it.

Because in some respects it's been a very old fashioned revolution to this point, for some media organisations almost a(n attempted) return to the olden days:


And from the actual story:


This issue was published in early autumn last year, at which time we were still speculating as to what this "revolution" would entail. The 10 page story features interviews with many of the usual suspects (well, at least to the readers of this blog), including Eirik Solheim (@eirikso ), Adam Tinworth ( @adders ), Alan Patrick ( @freecloud ), Jon Einar Sandvand ( @johnei ) , Eirik Newth ( @astronewth ) – and some reflections from INMAs tablet summit in Oxford last spring.

And now, 10 months on, a new issue of that same magazine is just out with another lead story of mine on how the market for (media) apps is evolving (I'll return to one of the key themes in a different post).

10 months on we're not really all that much wiser though.

We know a lot more about how people use tablets, but it's fair to say that the media industry is still some way off from cracking the tablet code – even though there's also some good stuff happening.

So, perhaps Adam in right, when concluding from my most recent blog post:

My gut reaction: tablets are in the same place that the web was in the mid- to late 90s: companies think that they can recreate the environment of the past, even as the tidal wave of change surfs towards them. While people were building brochure sites, the blogging revolution was getting underway. Look for the niche, techie, cool stuff happening on tablets, and you'll see the real face of the future.

Having said that, my media consumption has shifted heavily to my iPad.

Checking news there, mainly using Flipboard +VG and Aftenposten's iPad editions, is the first thing I do in the morning – before I get out of bed even, and my Google reader section of Flipboard has almost entirely replaced my newsreader (I still check Newsrac k, also for iPad, on occasion, but it's rare). During weekends, my iPad reading is more varied.

But even though I absolutely adore, and find myself thinking I couldn't live without, apps like Flipboard and Zine, some of the debates we're having about such apps reminds me a lot about those we had about RSS and newsreaders.

The two latter were going to change everything and outcompete mainstream media imminently, but lacking a decent business model they never did. Or at least haven't done so far. Apps such as Flipboard have many of the same challenges.

In fact, a recent study by City University's Neil Thurman shows that basically, readers are too lazy to take advantage of many such innovations:

New research from City University London reveals that the use of personalisation features has been growing at major news website in the UK and US. However, passive news personalisation ― which allows news websites to filter and recommend articles based on user browsing behaviour ― is outstripping active user customisation by a factor of three.

Do read it in full here.

Apple and publishers: A Faustian bargain

"Publishers are finally saying yes to Apple's terms because turns out their fear that Apple’s policies would deny them the consumer data they need to do business was unfounded".

So writes Jeff Bercovici on his Forbes-blog.

His post reminds me of two things, well three come to think of it.

First of all, to slightly rephrase Neil Postman:

"All new technology is a kind of Faustian bargain – you get a lot but you also lose something. It was true for the alphabet, for the printing press, for radio, for TV" – and it is true for Apple's iPad (from this video-interview)

In the case of Apple, publishers lose control, which perhaps isn't such a brave new thing because they already lost that with the web, with online publishing and social media – just in a different way.

Still, looking at this particular exercise in letting go of control, Adam looks at Apple's pop-up window that asks customers to share their personal data with publishers and concludes:

It's a pretty bland, factual pop-up, so it's not really giving people much incentive to click "Allow", really, is it? In fact, it very easily reads like you're accepting a dump of junk mail.

Now, I'm not sure how customisable that pop-up is (my guess is that it isn't), but surely if developers could find ways of incentivising people to accept earlier in the process, by highlighting the benefits of that data transfer on the subscription information page. Because there are benefits to the user from this, right…?

Which brings me to my third point, as this quote from Hearst Magazines announcing its new deal with Apple really made me pause:

"Our deal is fundamentally different from any other deal Apple has done with a publisher; we came to fair and equitable agreement that allows both parties to own customers together"

I do wonder how customers feel about the prospect of being co-owned by Hearst and Apple.

I understand the  business sense behind that statement, but it made me wonder if anyone remembers stuff like Day of the Longtail and the empowerment of the people formerly known as the audience?

I guess that must all have been forgotten in the iPad-age... and the people who prior to 2006 were the media's very own "cuddly coach-potatoes" preparing a revolt causing total disintermediation ... well, they must've gone back to being cuddly coach potatoes again (If my metaphors in this paragraph is lost on you, do watch Day of the Longtail here).  

I know of course, that some of the people who previously were at the front guard of the  Cluetrain-revolution, now are deeply involved in working for Vendor Relationship Management (VRM), working for solutions that would enable users to regain control over all the personal data they now have to leave with numerous different vendors.

So maybe the next question should be if there ever will come a time that VRM will gain the traction Cluetrain did, or if we have become sated, made complacent, by the new range of marvellously easy-to-use, well-designed devices that make our lives so much easier in so many ways...

... If we're on the road to surfing ourselves to death. I know, that's a really bad wordplay on Postman's classic title... but I do wonder ... Apple's iPad does seem to have caused a mentality-shift...

But perhaps that's just an inevitable step in the perennial "cycle", the succession of optimistic and open media, each of which in time, becomes a closed and controlled industry, Tim Wu talks about in "The Master Switch".

Anyway, I'm just thinking out loud here, and covering more than a decade of social media history while at it so forgive me if I don't explain all of my references sufficiently (perhaps in the morning I shall add more links).

For the record I should say that I have a rather pragmatic approach to Apple/Android/Linux/Microsoft etc. As it happens the only Apple-device in my household at the moment is an iPad, but it's one I've found very good use for: it has become integral  both to my media habits and to plain everyday habits (such as cooking).

The girl whose dog saved her life

"You're the girl whose dog saved your life, aren't you?"

It's sometimes strange how people from different parts of your life remember you, the things they associate with you.

Last night, attending a reunion for junior high school, one of the girls present met me with the question quoted above.

She added, a twinkle of tears in her eyes: "The girl whose dog sat down in the middle of the road, stopped that car and dragged the driver over to where the hit-and-run driver had left you to die? It was such an amazing story!".

To which I could only answer: "Yes, that's me".

There was a twinkle of tears in my eyes too at that point. It sure was, and is, an amazing story, but one I rarely touch on these days.

Because that was me 17 years ago.

Today I'm more used to being that columnist or blogger, the media journalist or technology commentator, even the girl who writes for VG.

But yes, I'm that girl whose dog saved her life too.

As I've blogged more about here, he's the one whose amazing actions have made all of these years after the accident possible.

Had this happened today, my dog would probably have had a Facebook-fanpage set for him. As it was, I did set up a blog for him when he died in 2006 but it was quickly forgotten in the stream of deadlines and workday-demands. Not sure if I even remember the password now.

But it struck me the other day, when I saw a friend add the journalist who covered my accident and its aftermath most intimately as a Facebook friend, that had I the inkling to do so I could probably add most of the key actors of that drama as Facebook-friends.

Because most everyone, be they people you remember with fondness or fury, are on Facebook these days.

As it was, this accident happened towards the end of 1993, long before internet and social media had become the part of our society's infrastructure it has today.

But luckily, the guy whose car my dog stopped (we've met once on a TV-show where my dog was the guest of honour) did have a mobile phone to call 911 with... even that was all too rare in those days if my memory serves me correctly...

A painful lesson in why innovation is so hard for (media) companies

Do you remember how "stickiness" used to be considered a virtue online?

I can recall it being praised as such in a newsroom I worked as late as 2007.

However, a story from 1997 about this very same "virtue" really leapt at me when reading Steven Levy's new book on Life in the GooglePlex.

Back then what was to become Google search was called BackRub and there's a lesson for many a company in this anecdote. Google's founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were looking for investors and/or a potential partnership, and met up with Excite CEO George Bell, a former Times Mirror magazine executive, with this object in mind.

The two teams fired up BackRub in one window and Excite in another:

«The first query they tested was "Internet"... Excite's first results were Chinese web pages where the English word "Internet" stood out among a jumble of Chinese characters. Then the team typed "Internet" into BackRub. The first two results delivered pages that showed you how to use browsers. It was exactly the kind of helpful result that would most likely satisfy someone who made the query.

«Bell was visibly upset. The Stanford product was too good. If Excite was to host a search engine that instantly gave people the information they sought, he explained, the users would leave the site instantly. Since his ad revenue came from people staying on the site – "stickiness" was the most desired metric in websites at the time – using BackRub's technology would be counterproductive....»

Sounds familiar?

Needless to say, the deal never happened.

I reviewed this book over Easter for work( the review's here, in Norwegian), and might return to it again on this blog as it was a very interesting read – and another good book from Levy.

I spent some 30 hours reading this, in Kindle for iPad, which is an amazingly long time for me as I'm normally a very quick reader – but it was absolutely worth it even though I kept checking the percentage left with repeated amazement as I was moving through the last third (just natural impatience on my part).

Are newspapers content farms?

With all the hullabaloo over content farms, Google, and whether Huffington Post really is a content farm, as of late, two contrary perspectives struck me last week.

First, I attended Robert Picard's talk on media business models, as mentioned here. What I didn't mention was some points he also raised the last time I heard him on this issue:

"Media is also in trouble today because they produce very little original content, most of what they publish is just edited content from the wire services. Most newspapers only produce about 20 per cent of their content themseleves. The rest stems from photo- or wire agencies or is copied from other newspapers," he said.

He argued that to survive newspapers need better news and information than our competitors, different news and information than our comptetitors and news people value, saying: "You don't win this competition by just copying everyone else".

That much should be obvious, but then fast-forward to this whole debate about content farms such as Demand Media, or to the discussion of whether Huffington Post, recently acquired by AOL, really should be classified as a content farm:

"In other words, I think we are nearing the high water mark of the Content Farm AdSpam business model, and in a few months it will be drastically curtailed as search engines start to select for the original authors and content spam blockers start to just cut out certain sites - which is why Demand Media, HuffPo et al's backers have to rake in the cash now.

"It is exit or bust (or at least a shorter and more brutish existence) so I expect to see a plethora of content farms and near-content farms trying to sell themselves now," wrote Alan Patrick over at Broadstuff.

That spurred this post:

"I disagreed with a recent blog post by Alan Patrick which described the Huffington Post as a content farm. I do not think that the alleged lack of original content at the Huffpo is any worse than at many newspapers: so I concluded that it is not a content farm. It could be interpreted the other way: newspapers are content farms too.

"How much original content is there in newspapers?" asks the blogger, and then goes on to analyse at the ten most recent stories from The Guardian's RSS feed.

He concludes:

"There are only three pieces of really original content out of the ten I looked at, and two of those are related to the arts and are not really what I would call news (nothing wrong with that, of course).

"Journalists are more skilled reporters and better writers than those who churn out stuff for the likes of Demand Media. They add some original content by chasing up quote, but that is really all they add. If the Guardian is not a content farm, most of it is not very different from one."

Do check out the full post here. I'd be interested to hear your thoughts...

What the geek hierarchy may reveal about Julian Assange

I've been following the Wikileaks story intensly for a good long time, and writing a bit of commenteray on it here (in Norwegian), so I couldn't help but laugh reading this story on it over at Brian's blog just now.

In his usual understated way, Brian, commenting on a headline from Daniel Domscheit-Berg’s recent book, writes:

"Until today I didn’t know what to make of the WikiLeaks affair. Frankly I’ve pretty much been ignoring it. I mean, what has he been trying to do? Destroy Western Civilisation seems to be the basic complaint, although maybe I have that wrong..."

"... But tormenting a cat is a serious accusation. Maybe I will have to start taking this story seriously."

Whereupon Michael chips in in the comment section:

"Weird hacker nerds are usually nice to cats, in my experience. If these accusations are true, it puts everything in an entirely different light."

Which all reminded me of this marvellous graphic (above) I found via Adam's microblog.

Make of it what you wish, for me it feels very apt until we reach the light blue band. From that point on I think I've organised so many local conferences I've moved beyond wishing for more, and deep down I'm sure I nurture the hope to change the world, but the rest is on not really on my agenda. Or, self-actualisation is cool of course, I do hope the answer to that lies somewhere in my deadlines...



The Media industry: stuck in a rut of daily chaos

What if it's that endless routine of trying to create some sort of order out chaos, minute by minute, day by day, that's to blame for the media's challenges in coping with change?

I've been listening to Robert Picard, currently director of research at the Reuters Institute, again. He was in Oslo today giving a talk on Business Models and why the media is having a hard time grappling with change.

If you're a regular reader of this blog you may remember that when I interviewed him last year he talked about of how deadline pressure was negatively affecting the media's ability to innovate.

Today he talked a lot about path dependencies, and how your structures make you vulnerable.

On the one hand he referred to many historical examples on how path dependencies make it difficult to see the opportunities along the way:

From an early stage railway companies saw themselves as railway, not transportation, companies. So when trucking and airlines came along they didn't see either as a threat. And by the time they realised they'd been in the transportation industry all along, they had a big problem on their hands.

"It's the same with media, we used to think we were in the newspaper industry," said Picard. "Our business consisted of creating and printing newspapers. So when radio came along we thought that's not the business we're in, so we dropped it. You could say the same for the Internet or mobiles."

As a side note, I think this has changed a bit over the last few years with what we sometimes call "the mobile revolution", but what perhaps should be more accurately called a revolution in mobile payment.

On the other hand, Picard talked about how routines and processes combine with company culture to stifle change and innovation – whereas start-ups have no organisational inertia of this kind to hold them back.

Among media's inertia problems he listed:

- Most involve highly structured and complex entities

- Most have really strong process orientation to accommodate ongoing production

- Most have personnel with strong professional values which limits the field for innovation and create institutionalised roles which undercut innovation.

- Media's tendency to reuse things that worked once

I think, as I mentioned, that media's attitude to the evolving mobile market of the last few years is a slightly different story. You could argue that the innovation in formats have been insufficient, but most media organisations have embraced mobile platforms wholeheartedly.

As for what was perhaps last year's most hyped gadget however, Picard said he was a bit of a cynic.

"If you look at the electronics markets most devices top out at 20 or 30 per cent of the market. A tablet is a consumption device, most people don't use it to create stuff on so you need at least two devices. The many different tablet sizes will also be a problem in terms of penetration"

That fragmentation, both in the mobile- and tablet market, might spell more chaos to come, in other words. That is, if media companies try to develop native apps for all the new mobile platforms and don't look more to developing web apps that can run on all platforms. But that is a different debate.

Back to the issue chaos and how our daily chaos affects the industry's ability to innovate, I'm reminded of an excellent quote I first picked up via Paal Leveraas:

"We stand in the stream of events, while busy chasing deadlines the world changes and we are too busy to notice the change."

Actually, while searching for various takes on "stuck in a rut", Google suggested I'd take a look at U2's classic "Stuck in a moment". I think Google might be on to something, keeping in mind this Picard quote from last year ( the slight changes in brackets are mine):

"Because of the pressures of news – you can’t have dead air or blank pages – so much of your focus and time spend is on today [the here and now, on moments in time] that you don’t have much time to think about tomorrow."


Why did you stop blogging?

Erm... well, actually I never did.

So when someone asked me this question at a conference, where I was giving a talk about the state of digital media, recently, I thought it was about time I'd deliver on my promise to myself to start blogging more here again (the person who asked me was referring specifically to this blog).

In short, my blogging so seldom here as of late is only because I took on a few new assignments, which involves blogging, columnisting and writing elsewhere - and moved. House hunting and moving took up a lot of my time in the months before Christmas.

Also, for the last half year, my beat has changed somewhat. It's weird how covering media go through phases: one year it's all about M&As (06-07), then social media (08-09), then tech (2010). Seriously, even the media journalism I've done in 2010 (mostly magazine features and working as a media columnist) was predominantly about tech.

2010 was the year where all the focus of the media industry seemed to shift to digital platforms – in particular smart phones and tablets - while internet companies such as Facebook, Google and Twitter continued to influence a changing media landscape. So it's only natural that as of August the main gist of my work changed from covering the media industry to focusing more on how the tech industry is influencing our day to day lives.

That does not mean I've stopped following the media industry or will change the focus of this blog dramatically, I'm also still in charge of the Norwegian Online News Association.

But I do think a blog is something that kind of grows with the blogger, and my focus has shifted somewhat over the last year or so. Certain media stories tire me, certainly the more newsy ones where you feel this is just history repeating for the umpteenth time. But media change still fascinates me.

To be honest, it's perhaps more precise to say that change fascinates me, and at the moment it's like we're standing in a flood of change, one where the undercurrents are so strong it's hard not to be swept away with the flood. That makes for interesting times, my only challenge is finding time to write about it all...

Actually, while talking about how media coverage go through phases, here's a recent, and I think very to the point, summary when you look at covering all things digital (taking into account that Norway was much slower to adopt social media than e.g the US or UK):

"A short summary of web communication trends from #sw2011: Social media is soo 2009, apps soo 2010. 2011--> is mobile internet (+ html5)" (Hans Petter Fosseng summing up a web conference today)

The dog who made this blog possible

2010 was a rollercoaster year for me professionally – busy, trying yet rewarding – but as it was coming to an end, most all I could think about was how lucky I am to be alive.

As I start 2011 it's with an immense feeling of gratitude to all the people who've helped me over the last 17 years, who've helped get where I am to today – and, of course, to the dog who made it all possible.

See, if I'm ever to write my autobiography it would start on the third day of Christmas 1993. On the night when I was was left to die next to a deserted forest road by a hit-and-run driver, a male stripper who later served time for murder.

If my dog hadn't managed to stop a passing car, and alert the driver to my whereabouts and predicament, I wouldn't have been here today.

I have no memory of the car hitting me or the stuff that happened afterwards, so no matter how many times I've gone over what I since learned about that night it's still very surreal to me. I do remember waking up in the hospital some time later though, in January 1994, and being told something which amounted to how my life probably was over.

I was 17 at the time and was told, not only had I had a near brush with death, I would also have to lie still for three years, quit school and all activities, until the doctors knew for sure whether I had sustained life-crippling injuries.

As if lying still for three years at that age in itself wouldn't be life-crippling.

So I ran away, figuratively speaking.

I moved to a school which allowed me to graduate on schedule despite all the time I'd spent in hospital, and later fled the country when coping with the driver's insurance company and the legal battle became too much.

I was adamant that I'd prove the doctors wrong; adamant I'd not let the legal battles break me; adamant I would not allow the accident change my life in any way.

And now, 17 years later, I find it changed everything and has entirely shaped my life.

Yes, I've proved the naysayers wrong. No, it didn't break me.

But most of what I've done for the last 17 years has been in response to the chain of events and reactions the accident sat in motion - which, I'd hasten to add, is not entirely a bad thing. Far from.

Just deeply ironic.

There are so many wonderful people I think it highly unlikely I'd ever have met if it wasn't for that accident. Places I might never have visited, countries I might never have lived in, life lessons I might never have learned.

Okay, there are experiences I could've done without. I'd never whished a similar ordeal on anyone else, but looking back I find more and more that I have so much to be grateful for.

As it happens, I was not very grateful right after the accident.

Amnesia made it seem too surreal, and at the same time, when I was weaker and more vulnerable than I'd ever been, I was forced to be inhumanely strong when dealing with the hospital, the insurance company, the trial etc.

More than anything I felt angry and scared in the first years after the accident. Angry that I'd been deprived of my freedom of movement, and possibly future; scared that the doctors were right - both strong feelings that motivated me for a large part in the years after the accident.

It motivated me to the point where I thought at some stage that I have now tried to use both anger and fear as fuel, both, albeit effective in the short term, have their downsides, so how about trying something else? Say enjoyment? Funnily enough, it's easy to forget that is an option if you get too busy just surviving.

It seems crazy looking back at it, but it's also good to know that all that drama is in the past, and in many respects is ancient history by now.

I literally hit 2010 running, working crazy but fun hours while being mostly on the road. In September, another crazy but fun month, I found myself a proper home for the first time in a long time. I now rent a flat in an old wooden house from 1700.

I have apple trees outside the window, a fire place in the kitchen, and it is ever so quiet here. Not literally, but there's a peace about this place, a sense of calm, which daily amazes me.

So when I fell ill over Christmas I had all this peace and quiet to think back and feel grateful both that the past is past, and for being right here, right now. That's a good note to end on I think.

Tomorrow's another day with deadlines to be met, stuff to do, albeit in the most wonderfully, peaceful surroundings for the most part. More about media, work and stuff will just have to follow later. I'm very aware it's been awfully quite on this blog as of late - I will try to improve on that in 2011.

In the meantime, here's my unlikely hero (now long gone):



"Internt verbiage is now entirely sufficient for me"

Food for thought: my own media habits have changed in a somewhat different direction than Brian's as find myself consuming more and more of my news on the iPad, but there's still universal insights here worth contemplating:

"What seems to be happening is that many are now willing to pay pennies to read professional media stuff, on their iPads and iPhones and Google-Android equivalents. How much of a real business this will turn into remains to be seen. Very big but very different from the recent past would be my current guess...

"...Meanwhile, all those who, like me, want also to write about it (whatever it might be) and to link to other writings about it will continue to want free stuff. It's absolutely not - or not only - that we amateurs are cheap. The key is linkage. If we can't say to everyone reading our own free stuff: hey, have a read of this (no link there because that is my exact point), there is, for us amateur writers, no point in us reading it either.

"Another way of putting all this is to say that whereas it used to be that the Mainstream Media were … the mainstream media, while us internetters all lived in our dusty little caves of off-message opinion, gibbering and cursing with only our closest friends, now it is the pay-as-you-read ex-mainstream media who will be the ones living, if not in caves, then at least indoors, so to speak, and hence ever more cut off from "public" opinion. Think: Palace of Versailles. That this switch is already happening explains a lot about the current state of politics, worldwide..."

Oh, and few but Brian could have me voluntarily read about cricket, the topic of blog post these quotes are taken from.

Social networks come and go, friendships remain

Remember MyBlogLog?

I must admit I'd almost forgotten about the network, even though I still have its widget on this blog.

But when news of the leaked memo from Yahoo broke this week, showing it as one of several products "to be sunsetted", I was reminded of how it once played an important part in getting to know new bloggers, or getting to know bloggers you vaguely knew of better.

At one point it helped tie blogging communities and communities of readers closer together. For my own part I can think of quite a few bloggers I initially hooked up with via the MyBlogLog widget, the network in itself, or followed closer because I saw they were reading my blog.

The great thing is that these are all people I now follow either on other networks or via my RSS-reader (yes, still use one of those).

Perhaps that shouldn't come as such a big surprise as this often happens in real life too.

Just after graduating, in 2002, I spent some time working in a local pub which has since been turned into a modern gastro pub /restaurant with little of the atmosphere left.

But the regulars have just moved to the pub across the road, and not much had changed, give or take a few deaths from old age, when I last visited in 2007. They were even discussing pretty much the same issues as when I used to work there, a feeling I sometimes get with blogging communities too.

In other words, the real and virtual worlds are often not so different as they are portrayed, though, with a bit of luck, online we get to download back-ups of the coversations we've had in the soon-to-be-defunct networks.

Oh, and I know this blog's been very quiet the last few months: it's only because at the end of the summer a lot of good things happened at the same time and I've felt a bit like being in a benevolent pressure cooker - if such a concept makes sense - since. More on that later though.

Update 20/12-10: Of course, if Delicious is closed too it's more of an issue (I've blogged about this in Norwegian here), but as it's easy to export your bookmarks I'm quite relaxed about waiting to see where my Delicious network is moving. At the moment, it looks like it'll be to Diigo.

Food for thought on a Sunday

"Oh, I don't read HER. It's not that I don't like her, it's just that she makes me think too much," a journalist friend told me back when I had just graduated from City.

He'd been in news reporting for a decade or more already by then, while I, even though I'd started my media career as a columnist when I was 18, had done precious little of day-to-day news reporting.

And I must admit I found his statement absurd: how can an a writer make you think too much? Isn't it always a good thing if a writer makes you think a lot? Since then I've come to appreciate, albeit very reluctantly, that at least it's perfectly possible to get so busy you don't have time to read writers that make you think a lot - which is a pity, a big loss and detrimental in the long run if you keep running out of time to do so.

These last few weeks I have been too busy with work to do much of this kind of reading - not too busy to read and think, but too busy to really contemplate all the things I'd like to, so here's a few posts that I'd really like, and will return to, to contemplate some more: