The center will not hold: disintermediation x 2

glenn reynolds.jpg

A great op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal today from Glenn Reynolds (of Instapundit fame) on the ways in which blogging may someday supplant the newspaper. As Reynolds notes, “newspapers” constructed out of the work of independent, decentralized, unedited, undirected bloggers gives us the news with certain filters removed. This is one of those pieces that makes the future legible.

Reynolds’ essay reminded me of a piece in the New York Times a couple of days ago. It is now possible to get unauthorized tours of the Museum of Modern Art. The Times says these reflect,

a recent podcasting trend called “sound seeing,” in which people record narrations of their travels – walking on the beach, wandering through the French Quarter – and upload them onto the Internet for others to enjoy. In that spirit, the creators of the unauthorized guides to the Modern have also invited anyone interested to submit his or her own tour for inclusion on the project’s Web site,

This is a splendid act of disintermediation. Museums have been pretty bad custodians of their collections. With exclusive control of the museum space, it was their way or the highway. Podcasts give us a way to break this stranglehold. (I do not mean we should not listen to their wisdom, only that they should have been given “sole source” authority.)

Newspaper and museums, these are two of the gate keepers of contemporary culture. Their diminution must help a hundred flowers bloom.


Kennedy, Randy. 2005. With Irreverence and an iPod, Recreating the Museum Tour. New York Times. May 28, 2005. (Sorry, don’t have this reference.)

Reynolds, Glenn. 2005. We the (media) People. Wall Street Journal. May 31, 2005 here

12 thoughts on “The center will not hold: disintermediation x 2

  1. LK

    thanks for posting re this; i’m involved in a research project (via SFU & UBC in vancouver) that has been studying user-created content scenarios and something particularly interesting that emerged out of the focus groups (conducted with technology-friendly 20-24 yr olds) was that they generally weren’t interested in what “other people” had to say; their measure of credibility was either someone they know…or a friend of a friend (eg the friendster model) or a bona fide expert (long live phillipe de montebello at the met!). one of my favourite moments during these focus groups came out of a discussion involving using converged devices (PDA/cell phone hybrids) for things such as movie or restaurant recommendations…and the 21 yr old blackberry-toting guy basically did a spit take and said “i wouldn’t trust me”.

    so while the theory behind blogs and podcasting and the democratizing and disintermediation of everything is great (how can one really mount an argument against it), in practice i think the results come up short. i’m sure there’s a moore’s law type template that applies here. in fact steve portigal, we once e’d about this, so feel free to chime in. i know you’ve done a lot of work with “participatory design” scenarios.

  2. Steve Portigal

    Wow a shoutout from LK! There has been a lot of stuff written and presumably researched about trust and credibility online – doesn’t Howard Rheingold have tons of stuff on this? Reputation systems? Cory Doctorow posited “whuffie” in one of his scifi novellas and that phrase has become shorthand among the digerati for the buzz or karma we create (someone used the term to me on the phone, without explaining it, just the other day).

    I think there needs to be a hook or a brand that makes the content interesting. You’ve read the blog, now download the podcast?

    There’s a whole culture of Amazon reviewers out there, it seems? Wasn’t there a profile of a ridiculously prolific reviewer that was blogged a few weeks back? Other stories about that culture seem to leak out; I don’t know too much about it myself. But it’s an example of a community with individuals within it that emerge to have brands and branded content.

    So, is it exciting to have access to someone else’s commentary on a DVD? Or tour through a museum. Well, yes. For us, because we see the possibility. But LK makes an amazing point – that it’s not obvious what those possibilities are if you aren’t in that mode, and the skepticism about the content is pretty smart.

    Without Instapundit and BoingBoing and Metafilter and This Blog Sits and (etc.) blogging isn’t on the face something that great? Although I guess you’ve got the LJ approach which is the friendster thing you mention.

    Anyway – I’m just burbling at this topic here. It’s very interesting, and nice to have disinterest thrown back in our faces. Wouldn’t it be GREAT if you could do blah blah. Well, no, actually, who cares? Ha! I love it.

  3. Grant

    Leora, thanks for your comment, you are the perfect person to consult on this one (museum administrators take note). I guess these are early days in which all alternate tours are created equal and the search costs for finding the one (or ones) we like better than the MOMA standard are very high. But eventually, this too will self organize. Someone will create a website that identifies the best tours. Thus does the internet remediate what it has disintermediated. As we have noted on this blog several times, the business model has been slow to take shape here. The new editors, the new mediators, dont yet have a way of harvesting the value they are creating. But I guess this too will change. How does this strike you? Thanks, Grant

  4. Grant

    Steve, thanks, I think I was writing while you were posting. Sounds like we are on the same wave length.

    What we need is a curator of the ipod tours, a Sister Wendy, as it were. And since responding to LK, it occurs to me that we may already have a party that is incented to do the sorting of good tours from bad ones. The tourist guides out there could and should flag the best tours. Especially someone who is interested in the “hitch hikers,” Europe on $5 a day, variety.

    But really what we are looking at here (and this is why someone cares) is that we are looking at the death of a mass society “one tour fits all” model, especially when its driven by the thoroughly discredited “museum of the only voice of authority” model. In fact, there should be many guides each with its own point of view, each speaking from its own authority, each adding value in its own way.

    The museum was always keen to scorn a mass society and it proves to be one of the last institutions embracing its presumptions.

    Thanks, Grant

  5. The Owner's Manual

    I wrote something prescient, I guess, a couple of years ago.

    An Audio Guide to the Birth of Venus

    Painting #12 The Birth of Venus

    This is Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. Do you think the pagan Venus is pretty? You’re supposed to. She represents beauty’s arrival in the world. But look how her arm hangs like her shoulder is broken. And her neck is really too long, don’t you think? I really don’t know what guys see in the little floozy. I think she’s equal parts soft porn and Robert Tilton. Venus on the Half Shell, indeed.

    Look at the old guy sitting on the bench in front of the BOV. The one with the sack lunch and catcher’s mitt in his lap. He doesn’t have an audio but looks blissful anyway. What’s that all about?

    With the snarly guard and roped-off viewing area, the only way to see Venus up close is to buy your very own BOV wrist watch at the gift shop. What, you think that is low class for an art museum? Where do you think the old guy got the catcher’s mitt? It’s you conservative types who first bitch about taxpayer art funding then look down your noses at bleached peanut husk renderings of The Thinker, for sale by the six-pack.

    Let’s go to the next painting. I have a headache.

  6. Grant

    TOM, you have missed your calling. Stand up for those who must walk around. Thanks, Grant

  7. LK

    steve P: LK shouting out from the 604 to the 415: thanks for your comments. i’m sure you mentioned a _______’s law about the ratio of briliance to the unbearably bad when you and i e’d about participatory design last summer/fall. can you summon that name and/or law?

  8. Tom Guarriello

    If you listen to the podcast sightsee of the Pollack painting mentioned in the Times article, you’ll see that this is not someone interested in being Phillipe de Montebello (whom I mentioned in my short post on this subject, These are people creating a new genre, more long tail stuff, which will resist all attempts at authoritarianism. It’s museo-punk, certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, but like Tom’s Botticelli ride above, great fun for those with the taste for it.

  9. Grant

    Tom, I guess I disagree. I don’t know that all of the podcast alternatives will be Alternative, i.e., Punk. Some will be more religious than museums are ever prepared to be. Some will be gendered one way or another. Some will be higher church than museums are now allowed to be. Thanks, Grant.

  10. Steve Portigal

    Slidin’ back from the 650 (we don’t need no 415) givin’ my tragically white props to Sturgeon? Sturgeon’s Law /prov./ “Ninety percent of everything is crap”. Derived from a quote by science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon, who once said, “Sure, 90% of science fiction is crud. That’s because 90% of everything is crud.” Oddly, when Sturgeon’s Law is cited, the final word is almost invariably changed to `crap’

    (that’s all I can possibly imagine I was referring to at the time???)

  11. LK

    steve, i throw no shade whatsoever on the 650. and yes sturgeon’s law. that’s what it was. thank you for introducing me to it. i always thought / knew 90% of everything sucked but before your reference to sturgeon i could only express this suspicion in beavis/butthead-ian terms (which doesn’t play all that well in some rooms). in fact, *this* room may be one of them. so sturgeon’s law it is…that’s why i’m concerned about the democratization and disintermediation of almost everything. the bog of the blog (present one excepted of course)

  12. Grant

    Leora and Steve, wow, thanks, Grant
    p.s., I take this exchange of posts as proof that the people who should be inventing new language for trends are engaged in other things.

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