Boogie Man Tonight on PBS

PBS’s Frontiline is showing Boogie Man: The Lee Atwater Story tonight The film was shown at both the Democratic and Republican conventions, and both audiences liked it. I guess we all see what we want to see. I had the pleasure of screening this extremely well-done documentary at the Mill Valley Film Festival, and I highly recommend it. You’ll learn a lot about how the U.S. political scene has changed in recent decades. Alpha 0.4

A week ago, I blogged about a conceptual breakthrough in the design of In a nutshell, I realized the site would ultimately be built on the relationships of people: one member recommending programs to others, and members following others and their recommendations. The concept survived Doug’s 48-Hour Rule for Conceptual Breakthroughs, and I’ve spent the past five days coding and debugging the first component, which turned out to be collections. Formerly known on the site as Playlists, Collections are just that: collections of programs, RSS feeds and now even other collections that any member can create, curate and share. Yes, allowing collections to include collections without all Hell breaking loose was tricky. Details are in the FAQ.

I’m currently struggling with a few more issues. First is that the site has four classes of “objects” and it’s currently difficult to (visually) tell which is which. We’ve got members, programs, feeds and collections, and they all look pretty much the same. The question is, therefore, how to change their visual representation so visitors can tell which they’re looking at. Seems pretty basic, but I’m visually challenged and I’m too close to the code.

Another big issue is how and what to feature, in particularly on the home page. Experts (and our advisors) tell us that you should be able to play programs immediately from the home page. (That’s not quite the case, yet.) But we also want to encourage the social activities: collecting, recommending, sharing and following. How can we strike the balance between just providing access to the programs and at the same time get people to interact with one another? Like I say, that’s what I’m scratching my head about tonight.

So please come by and check out Alpha 0.4. The new features are still a little rough around the edges, particularly some Ajax issues on IE6 and IE7. But you should be able to register, login, create collections and add programs, feeds or other collections to your collections. You can find great programs by browsing, searching — Advanced Search is in good shape — or just clicking on tags. You can send me feedback, leave a comment here, or (if you’re interested in our planning process) join the strategy discussion and post your ideas there.

The Best Election Coverage You’ve Never Heard

Like many, I’ve become a cable-new junkie. I spend far too much time flipping back-and-forth between CNN and MSNBC looking for the least-objectionable coverage of the same old stuff, over and over again. But for a refreshingly different perspective, for unique stories that you probably won’t find anywhere else, I’ve been listening to ’08 Conversations. Today’s show is a great example:

How are young adults dealing with the issues of elections and government? Are they more or less likely to vote? As a part of the first post-September 11th generation, their opinions and actions are thought-provoking. Amina Al-Sadi, a college freshman, is featured in an excerpt from a public radio special produced by and for teenagers.

PRX’s Charles Lane has spent the past five months finding these terrific programs from independent radio producers, working with our own series producer, Joel Tscherne, to bring you a new show every Monday. Visit ’08 Conversations. I’m sure you’ll find something inspiring, different and a cut above the TV noise.

Conceptual Breakthrough

I think I’ve had a conceptual breakthrough. I’ll let you know, if it lasts 48 hours — known as “Doug’s 48-Hour Rule for Conceptual Breakthroughs.”

The breakthrough is that isn’t really about the content as much as it’s about the connections between the people. (Duh. That’s why they call it “social networking.”)  I’ve been focused on submission of programs, creating playlists, etc. Sharing has been based until now on old-fashioned ideas such as “mail to a friend.” The concept of ratings has been applied to programs, feeds and playlists, but I learned years ago that you have to be extremely careful when you actually rate people. It works on eBay, but that’s rare. Saying “good” or “bad” about a person is fraught with problems. But you can rate a person by “voting with your feet” and that’s the starting point of the breakthrough. It’s eBay+Twitter, and we have Twitter to thank for showing all of us the idea of “following” one another. You don’t have to explicitly say you like or don’t like someone. What you need to do instead is to “follow” someone and to be able to see who’s following whom and how many followers and followees someone has.

It clicked for me when Stephen Hill sent me a link a few days ago to I urge you to check it out. And don’t just visit — register and add some songs to your collection so you can see how it works and understand this discussion. The folks at recently made some major improvements to the site and it has some terrific features.

If this survives Doug’s 48-Hour Rule, I think I’ll start by adding general support for the concept of following. I’ll make it easy to follow someone who seems to be promoting content you like. The content you see will then be that which has been rated highly by those that you’ve chosen to follow, and the content will be identified by those sources. “Number of followers” will become a reputation metric, much as it is on Twitter, but I think it will be less polluted by the “star” factor simply because isn’t going to appeal to such a general audience. Eventually you may even be able to adjust the weight of the opinions of those you follow: Some people’s opinions would carry more weight than others.

Also like, I’m considering the concept of “influencers” and the associated point system. I need to think this through in more detail, however, and consider what’s working on other sites like StackOverflow. Twitter is so beautifully simple and is already s bit confusing. It took me some time, for example, to understand the difference between my collection and my playlists. (Do I really need both?) Maybe following is all we need. TBD.

Once again, the strategic discussion of the future of is happening on our Google Group. You’re welcome to join if you want to help us figure this out.

Calls for Obama

We went to the local DNC headquarters again today to make get-out-the-vote calls into northern Florida for the Obama campaign. Amazing turnout: maybe 100+ people will mobile phones in every nook and cranny, even sitting on the sidewalk outside. Our little local office alone is aiming for 20,000 calls/day for this last weekend.

Lots of nice people in Florida. Even McCain supporters were polite. One guy said he and his wife had alread voted for McCain, but he wasn’t sure for whom his son (the person I was calling) was voting for because he was in Iraq. My favorite was the woman who said her husband wasn’t at home, but she was going to “make sure he gets his ass down there on Tuesday!” She said he had already waited two hours in line on Thursday, but couldn’t stay longer. A huge percentage we spoke to had already voted. Seems quite common in Florida. Overall, it’s very satisfying to make these calls. Other than giving money, it’s one activity that makes you feel like you’re making a difference. I hope to be back there tomorrow.

Building the Community

As is the case for many web sites, the success of is dependent upon the participation of a community – one that doesn’t yet exist. Unlike our legacy channels (IT Conversations and Social Innovation Conversations) will not have a traditional top-down curatorial process managed by a small number of people with limited time and imagination. Instead we want to leverage the power of our community as individual curators. It’s all about members finding, recommending and sharing programs with one another. It’s not a new concept by any means. You can see it at SoundFlavor, Huffduffer, Collectik, Lala, the pioneering but now-defunct WebJay and of course Wikipedia.

Most of these sites also fit the model of submit->discover->recommend->share popularized by YouTube and Flickr. Imagine how diferent (useless) these services would be if a small number of people were the bottleneck for any one of those stages: submitting content, discovering the best content and sharing it with others. We’ve all seen the magic that occurs when anyone can submit, anyone can discover and anyone can curate and share with others. That’s our objective, too.

My current challenge is to understand which of the many tools make sense for I’ve already implemented a few:

  • tagging (as in Flickr)
  • playlists/collections (as in WebJay and others)
  • RSS feeds for everything
  • explicit ratings (Amazon, Netflix)
  • badges (from
  • personal profiles with avatars, links, resumés
  • comments
  • sharing (via ShareThis)
  • embeddable RSS readers and players

And here are some others I’m considering:

  • automated recommendations (from Loomia)
  • enhanced public profile pages (like Facebook)
  • MyPage (a place to get things done)
  • a better homepage design
  • a reputation system (like eBay or StackOverflow)

But so far it’s just that: a bunch of features thrown into a web site without any underlying sense of mission — sort of a kitchen-sink approach. I’ve been adding features as quickly as possible and haven’t even recruited a designer yet. Now it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture.

These are just tools waiting for people to pick them up and put them to use. The unanswered question is what’s going to motivate those people? There are two (possibly overlapping) groups of people. First are (forgive me, Doc) the consumers: those who come to the site to find great recordings. These are the people we’ve learned a great deal about at IT Conversations. They need tools to quickly find and then organize the programs most relevant to them. The second group is relatively new to us: the curators. They’re the ones who are most important to the success of, for they’re the ones who replace the old-style top-down curators of traditional sites like IT Conversations, broadcast-media services, etc.

So what motivates and satisfies the curators? What does it take to make the Wikipedia of spoken-word recordings? Perhaps in that comparison I’m answering my own question. Perhaps it’s giving people a combination of pride in their contributions, a degree of power and control, and respect, reputation or whuffie.

What is the combination of features that will help build this community and how must the features be organized and presented in order to create the right environment to attract and retain the curators we need to make succeed? Specifically, what’s important from the second (to-do) list? What may not be important from among the features already implemented? And again, what about their presentation?

[Join the discussion we’ve started at]

Looking for Discussion-List Tools

We need a way for our most-active and motivated members to share ideas and plan the future of As 20th-century as it may sound, I think the best way is via an email/discussion list. Normally I’d just create one in Google Groups or Yahoo! Groups, but I’d like to link the subscriber list to our membership database. This would allow members to opt into (or out of) the group from the web site. As far as I can tell, neither Yahoo! nor Google have an API suitable for this.

What’s the best alternative? Python Mailman is a well-tested package, but I don’t think it’s particularly easy to link to our membership database in MySQL. What other choices are there?