The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13
Snarkmarket commenter-in-chief since 2003, editor since 2008. Technology journalist and media theorist; reporter, writer, and recovering academic. Born in Detroit, living in Brooklyn, Tim loves hip-hop and poetry, and books have been and remain his drug of choice. Everything changes; don't be afraid. Follow him at

Media wisdom
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An observation from Siva Vaidhyanathan:

In Holland, “media literacy” is called “media wisdom.” I love that.

The Dutch word is “Mediawijsheid.” The Dutch sometimes use “media literacy” too, to describe strict literacy, but “media wisdom” has a specific slant, similar to (but I think stronger than) the more robust sense we sometimes give literacy:

In the Netherlands media literacy is often called “media wisdom”, which refers to the skills, attitudes and mentality that citizens and organisations need to be aware, critical and active in a highly mediatised world.

Mediawijsheid_13_Wordle

Wisdom. What we really mean, what we have always meant, is wisdom.

2 comments

ALLOW US TO REINTRODUCE OURSELVES
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This is the new Snarkmarket. I want to welcome you inside, and tell you how we got here.

Five years ago today, I joined Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson at Snarkmarket.com, a two-person site they’d built to write about media, the future, and everything else. It was the site’s fifth anniversary. (It was also the day Barack Obama was first elected President of the United States.) For five years, I’d haunted the comments at Snarkmarket, writing responses longer than the posts themselves; now I was being asked to join the show.

It may be a strange thing to wrap our minds around now, but being a member of a popular but noncommercial blog in 2008 was a very big deal. Nobody was getting paid, and nobody was doing what was recognized as “work,” but it was a platform that brought two things with it:

  1. Writing for the best, smartest, most playful community of commenters on the internet;
  2. Access to the wider Snarkmatrix, the readers who’d followed the blog from the start, back before there had been so very many of us, and many of whom had fallen upwards to positions of influence and responsibility.

Snarkmarket gave me a fighting chance of writing about something besides university books for a university audience. I felt like I’d won a lottery ticket. And for the next two years, that kicked off my favorite period in the history of the site: when we made New Liberal Arts, when Robin improbably became a bestselling novelist, when Matt returned from the midwest to help reinvent blogging for NPR, when I even more improbably became a technology journalist at Wired and then The Verge.

But as the three of us were pulled into our thirties, and that decade’s corresponding commitments, and as much of the discussion around news and ideas began to shift away from user-owned blogs to new media properties and superheating social networks, Snarkmarket entered a new phase. During this time, Robin called Snarkmarket “a hardy desert ecosystem.” The site proved infinitely adaptable, but its visible flourishing diminished.

As we approached our tenth anniversary, Matt and Robin and I had an idea. We would make the Snarkmatrix — our community of readers, commenters, friends, well-wishers, lurkers, and musers — manifest. We would assemble at the Poynter Institute, where it all began, as Matt and Robin decided to start a blog. We would celebrate Snarkmarket’s tenth birthday with the people who’d made it possible.

But — and this is where the hardy desert ecosystem metaphor becomes especially useful — we also took the Snarkmatrix underground. We started doing weekly meetings — a Snarkseminar — where different members would bring to the group ideas, problems, texts, videos, questions for the group to discuss and respond to. The whole thing was Powered By Google; we’d doodle on a Google Doc each week with marginal notes, conduct a live hangout. Whoever could come was welcome; if you couldn’t make it, no harm, no foul. And it was exciting to see what we could do with those tools, in that smaller space, with two or three dozen people actively collaborating on an idea rather than two or three guys (however skilled we three might be).

And for a while, we thought that would be where it would end. A victory lap for the community we brought together, a reward to people who’d found us, whenever or however they found us. And a reward for the three of us, a big party in Florida with our best friends and biggest fans.

We thought we’d get a little Kindle single out of it — here are the products of our labors, a set of final projects for the Snarkseminar, created by the community online, hammered out face-to-face. And that was exciting.

But then we thought: what if we go bigger?

It turned out the Snarkmatrix was actually the Justice League all along.

What if the point of the tenth anniversary of Snarkmarket wasn’t to present its tombstone, but to bring it back to life, bigger and stronger and bolder than ever? And what if the mechanism for its resurrection was right in front of us — the core community of Snarkmarket readers and commenters, to many of whom the site (and the ideas animating the site) meant as much as it did to us?

What if the tools we needed to create a fun, participatory, community-driven blog were available to us, and what if this time, right now — the age of social media, the age of the new, big-business online media company, driven by ads and scale and Hadoop nodes and dataviz and all that marvelous crap — was to double the fuck down on the enthusiast, curated, small-n multiuser blog? What if it was time to go full MetaFilter?

So that’s what we’re doing. Five years ago, Snarkmarket went from two editors to three. Now our community is growing by dozens. You’re going to see a lot of new writers here — but if you’ve been a long-time reader, they won’t be strangers. You’ve been seeing them in the comments for years.

We’re also building new tools and interfaces to try to take advantage of this newfound swarm of talent. We’re going to have collaborative stories, inline glosses, conversational forks. We’re going to try to reimagine (with the robust tools we already have, tweaked by some of our design geniuses) what a group blog looks like, and what it can do for the reader.

And that’s just the beginning. If we do this right, is a collective that will be continually throwing off new objects like sparks from a hammer on hot steel. Some of those will be objects you can participate in making. But for now we’re settling in, seeing what this new Snarkmarket can do.

There’s been a lot of discussion in the last few months as new sites have launched, also trying to do new experiments in online writing and reading in 2013. “Is ______ a platform or a media company?” is the new “Are bloggers journalists?”

Snarkmarket is proudly neither a platform nor a media company. It is a community of friends and colleagues, allies and advocates, learners and thinkers, who have gathered together for mutual aid, support, and encouragement, and experimentation. The visible expression of that community is now, as it has been, what you see at Snarkmarket.com. We want you to join us as a commenter. We want you to cheer us on. We want to cheer you on. We want to know what you think. We’re ready to try anything. We’re ready to see what’s possible.

Let’s light this candle.

21 comments

Paper and ink, pixels and Flash
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Today, it’s not just the government that’s back in business! The internet gives us two great articles about cartooning (and technology!) that go great together.

First, Mental Floss scored a huge coup and interviewed the elusive/reclusive/exclusive Bill Watterson, author and artist of Calvin and Hobbes. (As I said on Twitter, this is like ten Salingers times a Pynchon.)

Where do you think the comic strip fits in today’s culture?
Personally, I like paper and ink better than glowing pixels, but to each his own. Obviously the role of comics is changing very fast. On the one hand, I don’t think comics have ever been more widely accepted or taken as seriously as they are now. On the other hand, the mass media is disintegrating, and audiences are atomizing. I suspect comics will have less widespread cultural impact and make a lot less money. I’m old enough to find all this unsettling, but the world moves on. All the new media will inevitably change the look, function, and maybe even the purpose of comics, but comics are vibrant and versatile, so I think they’ll continue to find relevance one way or another. But they definitely won’t be the same as what I grew up with.

Cue up Onion A/V Club’s Todd van der Werff, who looks back at that other great grandchild of Charles Schultz’s Peanuts, Mike and Matt Chapman’s pioneering web video series Homestar Runner.

Much of Homestar Runner’s animation is fairly rudimentary stuff. Arms go up and down. Mouths flap open. Characters stand in place while the background races past them to indicate movement. But all of that belies the program’s true strength: terrifically designed, perfectly written characters. The weirdos that populate Homestar’s world aren’t drawn from animated kids’ shows or even children’s books, but from another great American art form: the newspaper comic strip. As with Peanuts or Pogo, the characters may have hidden depths, but they’re largely defined by striking, singular personality traits. Homestar is the good guy, and even if he’s a bit of a nerd in the process, he’ll always return to that basic decency. Strong Bad proved too slippery for the antagonist role and ended up becoming something like a 10-year-old boy’s conception of everything that is awesome in the world. His brothers, Strong Mad and Strong Sad, were just what they sounded like. Coach Z was motivational, in his own weird way. The Cheat was basically Snoopy.

Read more…

2 comments

Higher education’s obesity spiral
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(Last week, I read Priceonomics’ “The Supersizing of American Education” on Facebook. I started to write a Facebook comment on it. Then — as you guys often know happens to me — the comment got out of hand. So I posted it on my own Facebook page, and now I’m posting it here. — TC)

The problem with the formulation “even the recession hasn’t stopped the flow of money into American higher education,” as well as the economic lesson that this article draws (the underlying problem is revealed to be federal subsidies) is that well, it’s just not thinking very hard.

First, the recession has increased economic anxiety (for both parents and kids). This leads job-seekers to seek shelter, and helps create a boom in higher ed — hey, if I can’t find a job, at least I can get MORE SCHOOL! And I’ll definitely have a better chance of finding a job in THIS economy if I have more and better education, right? (Note: this is more or less true, but in a way that’s so bound up with hidden variables that the economic logic becomes self-defeating.)

Meanwhile, the state subsidies for public higher education have fallen away, which is partly ideological, but I’ll go ahead and concede is mostly a product of the last decade-plus’s financial and economic problems. Which leaves federal subsidies and, especially, enormous amounts of federally-subsidized private debt. And it also means the gap between public and private higher ed isn’t as large as it used to be, so more kids are applying to private schools.

And last, there’s tremendous demand for American university education worldwide, and both state and private universities are rushing to fill it. Globally, American higher ed is cheap and amazing for the world’s super-rich (and even its not-so-super-rich).

So basically, over the last twenty years, American higher education has become like apartments in Manhattan: a bizarre macroeconomic experiment where a mix of public and private subsidies, huge economic anxiety and inequality, unprecedented national interest and demand, and unbelievable and wildly distorting international interest and demand all combine with genuine improvement in both the substantive quality and superficial prestige itself, creating a cost spiral that will eventually destroy the system for everyone except the people who are wealthy enough that they don’t really need it anyways.

Meanwhile, the overeducated and underemployed are everywhere, piling up on every street corner, like so many Starbucks and Duane Reades, each of them individually a good idea, each flocking to the meritocratic promise of money and success like moths to flame, collapsing under their own weight, desperately grasping upwards, trying to collect just some of the wealth and meaning and stability that is always just around the corner, always just barely out of reach.

And somewhere, too, we are all receiving what on its face seems like very persuasive advice to look down at their upraised hands and whisper, “No.” And we forget that there was ever another way.

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Thirteen ways of looking at Jeff Bezos
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Some of you are saying “just thirteen?” and others of you are saying “AUGHHH I’ve already seen thirty-teen opinion pieces about Jeff Bezos buying the Washington Post and nobody KNOWS anythng, just make it STOPPP.” Whether you’re either of these: don’t worry. Here, we’ll just do three.

First, Nieman Lab let me write my take on the Bezos purchase. This is very Snarkmarket-y insofar as it’s:

  • written by me (with Matt’s and Robin’s voices in my head)
  • about the future of media
  • leans heavily on a rich storytelling reference (in this case Citizen Kane)
  • mixes and matches historical trend lines with a kind of literary, empathetic imagining of the future.

Second is Rusty Foster’s story at The Awl, which foregos traditional analysis for a full-on science-fiction phantasia peppered with philosophical ruminations:

I lay out Mr. Bezos’s single-use titanium microfiber undergarment and jumpsuit for the day. The truth is there isn’t much for a robot butler to actually do here in the Flying Dragon Lair. Ever since Mr. Bezos moved his home and business headquarters to the cloud, above Mt. Rainier, everything has pretty much run itself. Even laying out his clothing is largely a ceremonial duty. We used to work much more closely together, Mr. Bezos and I. I have been with him nearly since the beginning, and he relied on me for everything back then. But now, sometimes weeks go by and I don’t even see him.

Then our rockets descend from the cloud back to earth, with Dave Pell’s is-he-or-isn’t-he serious tweet, posted just now:

I don’t know how exactly that’s a viable evolutionary strategy for the Bezos-owned Post (and as you see if you read my longer post, I think it’s actually pretty important that the Post business is separate for Bezos from Amazon rather than some enchanting yet-unborn hybrid) but… come on, that kind of totally technology-driven personalized market is clearly the game-theoretically dominant strategy for Amazon, right? And when you scratch the surface, it’s just dark and thrilling and Ned-Beatty-toward-the-end-of-Network-updated-for-the-21st-century enough to be true, isn’t it?

Also, holler.

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A light haze which wouldn’t be pushed away
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Tim Maly writes about the true architectural marvels of New York, not the skyscrapers, the low-slung brownstones, or the magnificent suspension bridges, but the rivers and islands and shorelines of the city itself:

In 1660, Pearl Street ran along the shore. Captain Kidd had a waterfront property at the corner of Pearl and Wall. Today, that site lies three blocks inland. In the 1690s, the City sold water lots to private would-be landowners, each forty feet wide. Purchasers agreed to infill forty feet into the river, leaving space for public access wharves on the far side. These wharves became Water Street, which is itself two blocks away from the shore today, thanks to subsequent infill.

When these areas were built up, landscapers didn’t build very high. As sea levels rise and the climate becomes increasingly wild, we now have a series of artificial flood plains populated by people who did not sign up to be residents of a flood plain.

You can roughly trace Manhattan and Brooklyn’s original shorelines by looking at a map of the flood zones. Take away Zone A, and you get a pretty good picture of the ancient boundary between water and land. Some of that territory didn’t use to be land at all. Much of it was marsh and wetland.

“The High Line,” Tim writes, “is an architectural marvel made possible by the dredging of Newark Bay.”

Tim’s essay reminds me of two of my favorite pieces of writing. The first, “Atchafalaya,” by the great John McPhee, is probably the classic account of human’s semi-tragic, quasi-doomed, but all-too-real attempts to remake and restabilize the relentless natural wonders on which we’re precipitously perched.

The consequences of the Atchafalaya’s conquest of the Mississippi would include but not be limited to the demise of Baton Rouge and the virtual destruction of New Orleans. With its fresh water gone, its harbor a silt bar, its economy disconnected from inland commerce, New Orleans would turn into New Gomorrah… The industries were there because of the river. They had come for its navigational convenience and its fresh water. They would not, and could not, linger beside a tidal creek. For nature to take its course was simply unthinkable. The Sixth World War would do less damage to southern Louisiana. Nature, in this place, had become an enemy of the state.

The second is from Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel Amerika (also called The Man Who Disappeared). In the original draft of the book, Kafka gets key details of New York City’s geography “wrong,” so his editor Max Brod “corrected” them in the early published version. But I think Kafka’s absurd, imaginary architecture (restored in this translation) was entirely deliberate and from the standpoint of literature is actually far superior:

The bridge connecting New York to Boston hung delicately over the Hudson, and it trembled when you squinted to see it. It seemed entirely without traffic and underneath it ran an inanimate, smooth belt of water. Everything in both of these giant cities seemed empty and pointlessly displayed. As for the buildings, there was barely any difference between the large ones and the small. In the invisible deep of the streets, the bustle went on after its own manner, but nothing moved above it except for a light haze which wouldn’t be pushed away, but it was as if you could chase it away without any effort. Even in the harbor, the largest in the world, it was quiet, and only here and there, influenced by your memory of seeing it up close, you might believe you saw a ship pushing on for a short stretch. But you couldn’t follow it for long, it escaped from your eyes and couldn’t be found anymore.

Besides, it’s not as if the geography of New York is fixed and immutable anyways. We’ve built things nearly as flabbergasting as this.

3 comments

The imaginative flip-flop
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So I’m hand-coding an EPUB file to salvage a badly-OCRed and not-much-better auto-converted PDF, because these are the things I do when I can’t sleep or write and I decide it’s better to do something constructive and thoughtful rather than brainless but I only have the firepower to, like, delete a whole bunch of excessive line breaks one after the other while I read the text.

The book is Erich Auerbach’s Mimesis, which you might or might not remember I wrote about a couple years ago in a Longshot essay called “Hero’s Welcome.” It’s a favorite of mine. I’m cleaning up the introduction, written by the great and now-late Palestinian scholar of comparative literature Edward Said. Then Said pulls this long quote from Auerbach’s book, taken from a little chapter on Schiller’s 1780s play Luise Millerin, a petit-bourgeois tragedy you’ve probably never heard of.

And b’gosh, for Auerbach, writing a book on the history of European literature, from exile in Istanbul, as World War 2 is crashing all around him, the quote is everything:

Basically, the way in which we view human life and society is the same whether we are concerned with things of the past or things of the present. A change in our manner of viewing history will of necessity soon be transferred to our manner of viewing current conditions. When people realize that epochs and societies are not to be judged in terms of a pattern concept of what is desirable absolutely speaking but rather in every case in terms of their own premises; when people reckon among such premises not only natural factors like climate and soil but also the intellectual and historical factors; when, in other words, they come to develop a sense of historical dynamics, of the incomparability of historical phenomena and of their constant inner mobility; when they come to appreciate the vital unity of individual epochs, so that each epoch appears as a whole whose character is reflected in each of its manifestations; when, finally, they accept the conviction that the meaning of events cannot be grasped in abstract and general forms of cognition and that the material needed to understand it must not be sought exclusively in the upper strata of society and in major political events but also in art, economy, material and intellectual culture, in the depths of the workaday world and its men and women, because it is only there that one can grasp what is unique, what is animated by inner forces, and what, in both a more concrete and a more profound sense, is universally valid: then it is to be expected that those insights will also be transferred to the present and that, in consequence, the present too will be seen as incomparable and unique, as animated by inner forces and in a constant state of development; in other words, as a piece of history whose everyday depths and total inner structure lay claim to our interest both in their origins and in the direction taken by their development (443-444).

Now this in turn reminds me of a lovingly-written and well-thought essay by Joshua Rothman on Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina appearing a week ago at The New Yorker’s website. This, too, digs into something similarly human and inspiring, both bounded and boundless:

Tolstoy, when he wrote the novel, was thinking about love in a different way [from a typical love story]: as a kind of fate, or curse, or judgment, and as a vector by which the universe distributes happiness and unhappiness, unfairly and apparently at random.

Those thoughts aren’t very romantic, but they are Tolstoyan. When he turned to “Anna Karenina,” Tolstoy didn’t simply leave behind the themes of “War and Peace.” Instead, he found a way of thinking about many of same issues that had always interested him—fate, chance, our powerlessness against circumstances and our determination to change them—in a different context.

For the titular Anna, love is a disaster. She runs smack into the limits of what is possible specific to her time and place. She struggles against them, but the universe is indifferent to her heroism. Her limits are just as real as the prohibitions laid down by the gods of Ancient Greece, but there’s no oracle to announce them, with or without room for irony. These gods roll dice; these gods leave seams. Rothman:

In “The Hedgehog and the Fox,” Isaiah Berlin writes that, for Tolstoy, wisdom consists in the ability “to grasp what human will and human reason can do, and what they cannot.” The only way to find those limits is to struggle against them, but gently, with the goal of finding and accepting them. You can’t think your way to the limits. You have to feel your way, learning through experience and suffering. And there is a risk in experimenting with what will and will not work in life, which is that it might not work. You might move to New York to pursue your dreams, and end up with no career to speak of. You might think you can wait to find the perfect spouse, but wait too long, and end up alone. You might think you can have that affair and still have the love of your spouse and children—but you may be mistaken about what’s possible, and lose everything.

Can you think your way through time and recognize yourself on the other side, not through a false sense of universal humanity but through the textures of lived experience? Can you encounter the dark miracle we have chosen to christen “literature”?

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Tantric orgasms of critical insight
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Sam Anderson takes to the pages of the New York Times to praise Roland Barthes, “the man who essentially created cultural criticism,” from the systematic analysis of novelistic structure to the TV recap:

Instead of constructing multivolume monuments of systematic thought, Barthes wrote short books built out of fragments. He was less interested in traditional coherence than in what he called jouissance: joy, surprise, adventure, pleasure — tantric orgasms of critical insight rolling from fragment to fragment…

His critical metabolism ran unusually high: he would flit from subject to subject, defining new fields of interest (semiology, narratology) only to abandon them and leave others to do the busywork. He treated canonical French works with such unorthodox flair it drove conservative professors crazy…

In his inaugural lecture at the Collège de France — a sort of mission statement for the most prestigious academic post in the country — Barthes announced that he aspired above all to “forget” and to “unlearn” and proposed, as a kind of motto, “no power, a little knowledge, a little wisdom and as much flavor as possible.”

I have a hard time giving up knowledge so easily — and really, Barthes did too. (I think it’s mostly the pretense to knowledge, the use of knowledge as a cudgel, that he saw as the problem.)

The part I probably love best and most fully endorse is the section on what a critic is supposed to do:

“Mythologies” is often an angry book, and what angered Barthes more than anything was “common sense,” which he identified as the philosophy of the bourgeoisie, a mode of thought that systematically pretends that complex things are simple, that puzzling things are obvious, that local things are universal — in short, that cultural fantasies shaped by all the dirty contingencies of power and money and history are in fact just the natural order of the universe. The critic’s job, in Barthes’s view, was not to revel in these common-sensical myths but to expose them as fraudulent. The critic had to side with history, not with culture. And history, Barthes insisted, “is not a good bourgeois.”

The pairing of these things, the genuine jouissance and the relentless critical awareness, the ruthless crusade against the conventionally obvious, is what makes it all work.

Never just a cheerleader. Never just a killjoy. Something beyond either. And listing always in favor of flavor.

PS: Mythologies was just published in a terrific new edition/translation which is like twice as long as the bowdlerized version we’ve had in English for forty years. That’s the occasion for the essay.

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How Netflix’s Content Strategy Works, Even When It Doesn’t
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To me, the most fascinating part of Netflix’s earnings release for the past quarter [PDF] is the section on original programming:

One way to think of originals is in terms of brand halo. If we are able to generate critical success for our originals, it will elevate our consumer brand and drive incremental members to the service. That took HBO nearly a decade to accomplish, so we don’t expect overnight results. The breadth of media coverage we already get, though, for the highly anticipated new season of “Arrested Development”, as well as for “Lilyhammer” and “House of Cards”, has been great.

In marketing, this kind of press coverage is sometimes called “earned media.” In particular, original programming ideally gets Netflix media coverage both in places that always cover the company and in places that never did before.

Another way to think of originals is vertical integration; can we remove enough inefficiency from the show launch process that we can acquire content more cheaply through licensing shows directly rather than going through distributors who have already launched a show? Our on-demand and personalized platform means that we don’t have to assemble a mass audience at say, 8pm on Sunday, to watch the first episode. Instead, we can give producers the opportunity to deliver us great serialized shows and we can cost-efficiently build demand over time, with members discovering these new franchises much in the same way they’ve discovered and come to love shows like “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad.” In this regard, we are happy to report that in terms of cost per viewing hour, which is how we evaluate content efficiency, “Lilyhammer” so far performs in line with similar premium exclusive content that we currently license.

As Nav and Robin point out, “cost per viewing hour” is both really fascinating and really pointless. (Maybe it’s fascinating because it’s pointless.)

You could say, “who cares how much people WATCH any particular show?” It doesn’t make you any extra money. What matters is whether that content makes people fork over their cash each month — if a family gets or keeps their Netflix subscription precisely because they can watch new seasons of Arrested Development or the whole back catalog of Mad Men.

But that’s almost impossible to measure. And these are edge cases, to say the least. More people aren’t going to make this decision hinge entirely on a single piece of content, or even a whole passel of it, like Starz’s. It’s an aggregate thing — you want to feel like you’re getting value out of the service. And cost per viewing hour doesn’t seem like a bad way of doing that.

It’s definitely a good way for Netflix, which doesn’t have unlimited resources, to think about how it’s going to spend its money. (Maybe it spent too much money on Mad Men.) Netflix wants programs that are beloved, not beliked. And if it can get them for less than HBO is spending for the same kind of content, that’s even better.

Finally, a third way to think about originals is as a hedge, in case, say, FX chooses not to license us prior seasons of their next hit as good as “Sons of Anarchy”. FX in this case would seek to monetize prior seasons of their next hit in parallel to how HBO does, in other words, only on “FX GO”. As long as we can better monetize prior seasons, through both scale and technology, than anyone else, then this scenario is not likely, except from a premium TV competitor like HBO that is strategically motivated to impede our growth.

Oh ho ho, Netflix, you wascally wabbit.

Hmm, you want to try to do your own thing and syndicate yourself online? Good luck with that. It’d be a shame if it turned out you weren’t able to make any money doing that.

Netflix can go to networks and say “we can make more money from your old content than you’ll ever make yourself.” It can go to creators of new shows, and say “we can make you money online, forever, and FX can’t do that.” Networks that don’t have HBO scale have extra reasons to play nice with Netflix.

As we build our capability in originals, we will have some advantages relative to our competitors. Namely, we have extensive user viewing history and ratings data to allow us to better understand potential appeal of future programs, as well as a very broad and already segmented audience. At the same time, we don’t face the same pressure as linear or ad-supported online networks to deliver ratings. Finally, we should be able to use our size and international scale to bring the best original and exclusive content from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world. This is a real advantage over our regional competitors.

Two constant themes in all my tech writing come together here:

  1. Global, global, global;
  2. Whoever knows customers best wins.

It’s a good day for Netflix. I don’t know exactly what the stock market is up to, or how it will react in the long run, but it feels like Reed Hastings knows what he’s doing again.

Disclosure: Robin Sloan owns one share of Netflix stock.

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Bizarro Snarkmarket
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Now that Megan Garber is in place with Alexis Madrigal and Rebecca Rosen over at The Atlantic Tech, it feels a little bit like a major magazine — I don’t know, say The New Yorker — decided to adopt Snarkmarket as its tech, media, and tech/media culture blog.

Since I’m technically a rival, like, it’s one thing to admire them, in a “man, those creeps can roll” sense, or to feel like the posts were written just for me, but yet another to have that uncanny shock of recognition when you see someone doing something that’s somehow more you than you.

Take this Garber story on Thursday’s iBooks announcement, “A Brief History of Textbooks, or, Why Apple’s ‘New Textbook Experience’ Is Actually Revolutionary.” Take the title and the first blockquote — James Bowen’s A History of Western Education, which in turn namechecks Donatus’ grammar, from the 4th century — and it totally seems like Garber is going for the full Carmody. Like, more Carmody than Carmody.

But! Keep reading, because Garber’s going to fool you. She’s actually coming with the full Sloan:

But! That bit of ordinariness is exactly what makes Apple’s education play so transformative. The defining element of textbooks, up to now, has been their commodity status: Being standardized, they’re also impersonal. They’re transient. They’re given to you at the beginning of the school year; you give them back at the end. (Or, worse: You buy them at the beginning of the school year; you sell them back at the end.) Textbooks are not, in any meaningful sense, yours.

In all that, they enforce the notion of the student as a cog and of learning as a machine, and effectively frame education as, first and foremost, an act of consumption rather than exploration. Memorize something — check. Take the test to prove you’ve learned that something — check. Check and check and check.

Inspiring, no? But it’s an approach that’s been as necessary as it’s been frustrating: In an analog environment, wisdom is contingent on memorized information. You have to know things before you can understand things. (Or, as Jay Rosen might put it, “You’ve gotta grok it before you can rock it.”)

Wait, was that Matt Thompson’s kung fu style sneaking in at the end there?… Turn it off, turn it off! It’s all just TOO REAL.

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