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Joshua-Michéle Ross
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A beautiful look at how a new medium requires a totally different interaction and design method... "No one knows what the language and grammar of VR storytelling is…" 

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This is the first year since Bookscan started collecting data on book sales at the cash register for all publishers, that there has not been at least one week ahead of the prior year. This seems to indicate that physical book sales have still not found the bottom of the market. I would not be surprised if I post that same thing next year at this time. Holy shit  it looks like developers no longer consume print copies of tech books.

I never understood why Amazon priced Digital copies less than print copies when the digital version is more versatile and useful. Perhaps it was to torque a few publishers out of the market? Or to drive the prices to the basement so they could control the market. It certainly is not going in the right direction for all tech publishers. Fortunately at +O'Reilly we do more than just publish tech books that sell through the retail channels. I really wish that the forces left in this industry would build a strong ecosystem and not one that is dependent on Amazon to lead. We will all do better when we all do better. Operative word is ALL.

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Watch the skies tonight for a #supermoon: 14% closer & 30% brighter than other full moons of the year. 

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Jon has always amazed me with his commitment to immersive environments and how they can be used to reimagine the future - or take us back into the past.

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Facebook, Google, and the mirage of "engagement"

I've been struck by a host of stories lately with headlines trumpeting the fact that people spend more time online with Facebook sites than at Google. Google, of course, has played into this narrative by positioning themselves as a social alternative to Facebook. 

What's sad to me is that Google used to pride itself on the speed with which it helped you find the information you want, and then get out of the way.  "Time on site" is a terrible metric for an information utility!

When I'm looking for the answer to a question, when I'm looking for directions or my next appointment, or directions to my next appointment, when I'm getting routed to interesting articles that I want to read, Google provides more utility the less time I spend on site.

There's a real danger here that Google will fall into the Yahoo!  trap, forgetting who they are by pursuing the competition.  Yahoo! was a terrific content destination, and lost its way trying to be a search engine.  Might Google be doing the same in trying to become a social destination?

With a little time to reflect on the Google I/O announcements, I'm disappointed by how many of them were social time wasters rather than real improvements in utility.

I do think social should be an important part of Google's strategy, and overall, I'm impressed by the way they are integrating social across all of their products, but my advice for competing with Facebook is to constantly focus on how to make social data more useful - which may mean less time on site - rather than more "engaging."

Of course, both Google and Facebook time on site is dwarfed by the "time on site" of television, that vast wasteland of passive consumption. That ought to tell us something about the folly of time on site as a metric.

I want services that help me get more benefit from less time online, not services that take me further and further from time in the real world. 

This may be why of all the announcements at Google I/O, I'm most excited about Project Glass.  While the demo for Glass emphasizes how it can be a powerful vector for social sharing of experiences (that skydive was awesome!), Glass will avoid marginalization (I heard several people refer to it as "the Segway of 2012") only by focusing relentlessly on becoming useful rather than becoming engaging.  It will need to slip into the background rather than being in the foreground, a tool for enhancing our engagement with the real world rather than our engagement online.

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I just went down to check out the scene at the rally. It was a bit of a disappointment, for a number of reasons. First, there were only a few hundred people there (one of the organizers told me they peaked out at around a thousand on the weekend). Second, the people who were there were the wrong people.

What do I mean by that? The attendees were mainly scruffily dressed young people, whose attire and approach was too easily dismissed by those in authority. The smirk on the face of the Fox News reporter who was interviewing various participants said it all. "These people are easy to dismiss."

I couldn't bear to see him goading these idealistic young people into making bombastic statements (the reporter is a tool of AIG was one comment I overheard), so I stepped over and asked if I could speak to him.

I told him that I run a company with about $100 million in revenue, and that it isn't just kids who think that Wall Street bankers got away with a crime. There are a set of people who constructed a set of financial products with intent to defraud. They took our country to the brink of ruin, then got off scott free, even with multi-million dollar bonuses. I'll be interested to see if Fox runs my comments anywhere.

It seems so odd to me that the Tea Party isn't out in force at this protest. It seems so odd that government largesse aimed at rich corporations seems to be OK with them, while government largesse aimed at the disadvantaged ought to be cut. I would have loved to see blue collar Americans out in force at this protest, not just college students.

(Personally, I'm all for a leaner approach to government that I've described with the geeky vision of "Government as a Platform." Spend strategically in order to catalyze society to do what needs to be done. Unfortunately, in this case that wasn't done.)

I highly recommend Matt Taibbi's Rolling Stone reporting on the financial crisis of 2008 , as well as these recent pieces: and They should make your blood boil.

It's not the American Spring yet, but it ought to be.

Here are some of my photos from the event:
OccupyWallStreet (29 photos)
29 Photos - View album

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This New York Times piece on the Amazon-California sales tax dispute misses the long-term perspective. In the 90's, when online commerce was just taking off, having it free from sales tax was absolutely the right thing to do, since it gave an advantage to a fledgling industry that needed every advantage just to survive. But now that online commerce is becoming the dominant model in many industries, it is almost criminal to continue to provide that advantage.

Like so many others, I love the convenience of shopping at Amazon, the unparalleled selection, the great customer service, the ease of checkout, the low prices. I don't need the added incentive of no sales tax to make me shop there. Yes, it would be a minor inconvenience for Amazon to collect sales tax for every county in the nation (but hardly the challenge they make it out to be, given the power of computers to handle repetitive tasks, and Amazon's vaunted capabilities at building scalable systems.) But at this point, the added advantage we're giving to them and other online retailers is completely unnecessary, except to gild their bottom line. Meanwhile, it's doing terrible damage at the local level, which our society will one day rue.

We're seeing the result in shuttered local businesses, which degrades the quality of our towns. I was really surprised on a recent visit to Harvard Square to find the old Wordsworth bookstore location still empty seven years after the bookstore's closure. What a sign of the decline of local retail when a prime location in the heart of one of the most prestigious college towns in America has remained empty. I understand why it would not have been filled by another bookstore, but the fact that no other retailer has been able to survive there is a telling example of just how far the pendulum has swung in terms of what kind of business needs preferential tax treatment!

The damage to local and state government is even greater. Local services depend on sales tax for their funding. As local retail declines, so does the community's tax base. Services decline (I was just in a vacation community in the Sierras this weekend where I was told I had to haul out my trash to another town 15 miles away!), and the quality of life goes with them.

Amazon's attempt to avoid sales tax is one more sad example of the short-term thinking that rules American business. Amazon has to be aware of the long term trends in retail and its consequences for local communities, but they are selfishly putting their own short-term advantage over paying their own fair share of what it takes for us to function as a collaborative society.

If California fails in its attempt to collect online sales tax, there will be other taxes levied on us that are far more onerous (see for example California's attempt to collect "use taxes" for online transactions ) This shifts the compliance burden from an online retailer, who can easily track and charge the tax at point of sale, to us as individuals. This is a truly horrible outcome, one that would do far more to drive me away from online retail than paying sales tax.

In an imaginary world where Jeff Bezos was as public spirited as he is far-sighted about pursuing competitive advantage, Amazon would not only willingly collect and pay sales tax, but would offer the infrastructure they built for doing so to other online businesses. Amazon would encourage other online retailers to also adopt this policy, realizing that a society in which every member pays a fair share is a far better society than one in which particular business segments or particular individuals successfully avoid paying taxes while still reaping the benefits that then must be paid for by others.

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People who talk about Google+ by comparing it to Facebook are thinking small. What's being built is a powerful backbone of social infrastructure, with an inclination toward openness, that will underpin a web-wide ecosystem. Being better than Facebook is a necessary precondition, but it isn't sufficient for Google's goals.
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