Monday, June 2, 2014

How Net Neutrality made TWIT better...at least for a day



In the past few months there's no doubt that a majority of the articles in this blog have been critical of TWIT.  I'd hope that the criticism could be taken as constructive instead of denigrating but ego can get in the way.  There's no shortage of fanboy shills in any TWIT chatroom or forum discussion but you learn nothing from people who always agree with you.

That said, credit where credit is due.  To many, it's obvious what's wrong with TWIT these days but what about what's right?  Happily, every now and then the cream rises to the top and we get an experience that delivers on  the promise of what TWIT could be or at least what many thought it once was. 

This week's episode of Security Now provided one of those moments...

TWIT's weekly foray into the world of online security hosted by Steve Gibson (Security guru and creator of SpinRite) and Leo Laporte tries to unravel topics that can often leave even the most geeky of techies dazed and confused.

The average show presents complex security topics in a comprehensive yet understandable format with the aim of educating a wider audience.  Whether you're an IT pro or dyed in the wool techie, Steve's got your fix but even the casual viewer will find something of value here.

This week was a little different, however.  There was still in depth coverage of the latest security concerns but the program started with a discussion between Laporte, Gibson and guest Brett Glass best known for creating the world's first Wireless ISP (WISP) in Laramie Wyoming otherwise known as Lariat.

The conversation started out friendly enough with the topic being Net Neutrality but soon became a debate with Glass advocating for ISP's, Laporte for content producers and Gibson as the somewhat unwilling referee. 

For the most part It stayed civil but upon Glass's dissertation on the woes of high bandwidth use content producers "unfairly" burdening ISP's "limited" bandwidth Laporte rose in opposition.

From the podcast transcript...

BRETT: ...So the chairman of the FCC, Tom Wheeler, went ahead and proposed that, when they made some new rules to try to keep ISPs from misbehaving, they allow what's called "two-sided markets."  And immediately there was this tremendous hue and cry that you're hearing all over the Internet:  "Oh, no, that's creating a fast lane.  That's somehow unfair."  Most of this was actually the result of lobbying by Netflix and Google, who simply didn't want any of the money to flow back from them to the ISPs.  They wanted to keep it all.  And so when you hear people talking about that, that's, you know, a lot of it is due to the publicity campaigns by the content providers that want to keep more of the total money that the customer is paying. 

STEVE:  That does make a lot of sense, Brett.

LEO:  Not to me.  But I'd like to jump in.  It makes no sense at all.

BRETT:  Please.

LEO:  What you're saying is of course you want to make more money.  I don't blame you.  That's exactly what Comcast wants to do, and so does Google, and everybody else wants to make more money.  What doesn't make sense is for you to undercharge and then draw more money from the provider.  You need to charge what your service costs you.  And the problem is not Netflix, which can afford it, or Google, which could afford it, but TWiT, which can't afford it.

So what you're telling me is that, if I wanted access, and your customers were downloading a lot of TWiT, I'd have to give you some money.  That's not how the Internet was designed, Brett.  You know that perfectly well.  It was never designed for edge providers to pay Internet service providers.  You're a utility.  You provide a utility.  It's as if the water company says, well, you're drinking an awful lot of water.  We're going to have to figure out some way to get some money from the reservoir.  Your job is to provide free access to the Internet.  Why is that not your job?

And with that we were off to the races...
 
Everyone likes a good debate but this wasn't about the conflict between two obviously opposing viewpoints.  

To be clear, I wasn't looking for the podcast version of some Jerry Springer chair throwing exchange.  Rather it was about that one delicious moment where Laporte elevated TWIT's content above the mediocrity viewers have been subjected to in recent months.  Anyone watching would have seen Laporte advocating not only for himself but his viewers.

Glass' presentation, on the other hand, ultimately made him look like an industry shill and Laporte was having none of it.  Glass' ridiculous assertion of the "suffering" of ISP's at the hands of the likes of Netflix held no water. 

Perhaps Laporte did a little research on Glass prior to the show.  A quick search found almost the same arguments from Glass in a forum discussion about Time Warner abandoning usage caps in 2009.   

Watch the video below and see if you agree that this was a splendid example of the kind of programming that we need to see more of on TWIT.


Sunday, May 25, 2014

The Emperor has no clothes


It drives me nuts...

Even though I know it shouldn't...

I mean, really now, who cares about one little podcasting network anyway?  In the grand scheme of things such concerns are less than trivial if not inconsequential.  If a beloved icon of tech journalism like Leo Laporte chooses to delude himself while his Rome is burning what business is it of ours if he chooses to believe otherwise?

If TWIT vanished from the landscape of Internet content the number of people who actually cared would be lower than the percentage of LGBT's in the Tea Party.

...and the king of Tech punditry would do just fine thank you...

Still...

Over the past few months I've continued to witness a sea change at TWIT with the most obvious symptom an exodus of popular hosts and programming.  In their place bizarre additions like Marketing Mavericks, a show based on sucking up to the kind of people who dreamed up click-through ads and stadiums named after cell-phone companies.

And then there's the ads!  Oh those god awful ads!  Where do they find these products??

Of course, not everybody agrees with me...

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it people like me!" Stuart Smiley

If you can sift through the barrage of delusional self-affirmation and staunch denial of anything contrarian that pervades today's TWIT, there are still gems to be found on the network. 

Shows like This Week in Law, This week in Enterprise Tech, Windows Weekly and the grand old man of the group This Week In Tech still shine.  Unfortunately, to find them you'll have to ignore the cognitive dissonance that promotes Tech News Today (TNT) as still being relevant or Floss Weekly and Ham Nation as being interesting.  Incidentally, after almost 6 months, TNT still consistently ranks far behind Tom Merritt's Daily Tech News show and has yet to break into the top 10 on most ranking authorities. 

With the often abrupt departures of popular talent like Tom Merritt, Brian Brushwood and even Iyaz Akhtar, the void that remains has been filled (with varying degrees of success) by hosts like:

Father Robert Ballecer,  the affable and upbeat "digital Jesuit" who is increasingly ever present and likely  heir to TWIT if not for his "other" job.  

Chad Johnson, OMGCHAD and newest Laporte protege' who is often called upon to beta test new programming like the short-lived This Week in YouTube and RedditUP (currently in beta.)

Sara Lane, a stalwart TWIT personality and second only to Laporte in the sheer volume of shows she hosts.  As one of the few remaining alumni from Laporte's TechTV days, Lane appears loyal to Laporte but one has to wonder if those convictions have been tested since the surprise departure of so many TWIT colleagues from the network.

And of course, Laporte himself who recently took back hosting duties of TWIT's tech review show Before You Buy after former host and producer Shannon Morse left TWIT's full time employ. 

Shannon Morse, the contractor, now only appears once a week on TWIT as co-host of Coding 101 with Fr. Robert Ballecer.

Morse, known most prominently from Darren Kitchen's Hak 5 was a recent addition to the network in the past year.  Her decision to trade a full time gig at TWIT to be a contract host for one show (while doing at least 2 others for Revision 3) can only be viewed as a foot out the door.

The only time a full time employee converts to a contractor these days is when somebody is on their way out and Laporte taking back hosting duties of Before You Buy underscores just how "out" Morse really is.

But let's be fair here.  While TWIT's apparent missteps are beginning to border on habitual, it's not entirely their fault.  Take a look at those same podcast rankings that are so damning to TNT and you'll find a saturated landscape.  Everybody and their brother seems to have a tech podcast.  Couple that with the fact that the novelty has worn off.  There's very little new information out there and "revolutionary" is just a marketing buzzword.  Technology isn't "magical" anymore and even your grandmother can use an IPad.   

Go ahead, check The Verge, TechCrunch or even TNT (if you can stay awake) and the content is without fail a daily march of ad nauseam reviews of yet another "revolutionary" smart device.  Lest we forget the constant security breaches of well known web properties and tech pundits desperately  inflating their copy by reviving long dead adjectives like, "plaudits."

Not very exciting...

Short term gain leading to long term consequences.

That TWIT advertising has increasingly strayed from a tech focus to products like razors, jewelry and snacks may be an indication that tech just isn't that sexy anymore.  Unfortunately, it also frequently results in content straying from technology to heated debates over single versus multi-blade razors.

Viewer's of TWIT could likely care less about razors, underwear and harvest rice sticks when they're watching Security Now or Windows Weekly.    At times even the hosts seem annoyed as they hawk often ridiculous and contextually irrelevant wares.  With an average of 2 to 4 live ad reads per TWIT show, anything that strays from the content runs the risk of losing an easily fickle audience.

Where TWIT may once have been a destination rivaling its progenitor, TechTV, in the past year it's become more akin to G4.  In case you don't get the analogy, G4 began as a cable channel focused on video games and gaming culture and ended with a schedule largely consisting of Cops reruns and infomercials.

TWIT's bizarre programming changes, a trend of topically irrelevant advertising and exodus of talent paint a dark picture of the network's future. 

It's high time ego and hubris take a back seat. 

Rome is burning and the Emperor has no clothes...