Please excuse the mess

I’m doing some housecleaning with the site, especially focused on cleaning up the design. I’m also deploying a new logo, like so:

Gravity Medium Logo

Things should be settled in by early October, well ahead of the PublicMediaCamp festivities. In the mean time, things may look a bit messed up and some features may not appear. Thanks for your understanding!

PublicMediaCamp 2009

PublicMediaCampWelcome PublicMediaCamp attendees!

You may be wondering, “What — or who — in the world is Gravity Medium?”

Well, the short version is this:

  • my name is John Proffitt, I currently live in Anchorage, Alaska and this is my blog
  • I’ve worked in public media in the past (radio, TV, web and news)
  • I’ve been blogging here since early 2008 on public / digital media topics
  • I’ve been on Twitter — @jmproffitt — since early 2007; I also have @gravitymedium on Twitter
  • I lead a Twitter community called Alaska Tweets
  • I’m a huge fan of Umair Haque, Seth Godin, Robert Paterson, Clay Shirky, Jay Rosen, Jeff Jarvis and all the hard-working web pros in public media today
  • more than anything, I want the legacy values and services of traditional public media moved to the web, where I and the generations that follow me already live most of our lives

And perhaps most importantly…

  • I’m damn excited to be attending PublicMediaCamp 2009 in DC!

I chose to become a “sponsor” because, well… it’s going to be a great conference (or un-conference, if you prefer) and I feel kinda bad about getting in for free. And, c’mon — let’s get real — a little blog traffic wouldn’t kill me. 😉

Blogging & Tweeting

me-180Right now (early October), I’m firing the blog back up with a revised site design and more postings. Plus, I’m expanding my Twitter community via @gravitymedium. Gravity Medium has been largely quiet for months as I’ve made some professional changes and as I’ve worked heavily on building a social media community in Anchorage.

The PublicMediaCamp has given me new energy to fire things back up. And I owe special thanks to both Karen Olstad, COO at WOSU Public Media and to the Energizer bunny of digital media at NPR — Andy Carvin — for suggesting I attend. They moved me from “meh” to “Yeah!” and I can’t thank them enough.

PublicMediaCamp Tweetup: Friday

Thanks to @acarvin and @jdcoffman for organizing one of my favorite things: a Tweetup!


My photos from the conference are all posted to Flickr. Check out my photos or all the photos in the Public Media Camp group.

Finding me online

If you’re looking for me anywhere online, you can find pretty much everything on my Google Profile.

How did the 1993 futurists do?

The attached AT&T video has been making the rounds lately on Twitter and beyond. It’s a series of commercials broadcast in 1993 — dubbed the “You Will” campaign — centered on the notion that AT&T is working to bring you next-generation technologies and experiences.

Keeping in mind these commercials were first broadcast 16 years ago (!) and were pitched at the time as futuristic fantasies, it’s remarkable to see how many of these predictions have come true, and come true to a such a complete degree.

For fun, let’s watch the video, then review the predictions and compare them to current technological facts in the industrialized world.

Borrow a book from thousands of miles away
Done and improving
In the 1993 futurist’s eyes, a person looks at a book through a digital screen of some kind; as they swipe a finger across the screen, the pages of the book turn. While that’s a very literal representation of a book from a distance, we pretty much have that functionality today in lots of ways. PDF documents make digital documents look the same on any screen or platform, plus the contents are searchable. Google’s book digitization efforts (legal wranglings notwithstanding) are a remarkable and growing achievement. Plus the arrival of Amazon’s Kindle — the first mass-market e-book reader to even marginally catch on — arrived last year. And I have at least two iPhone apps that let you swipe a finger across the screen and watch a virtual page turn.

Interestingly, the notion of “borrowing” a book likely won’t come true. That suggests that only one person can look at or “use” a book at a time. But in a world of digital goods, everyone can have a copy simultaneously. No late fees.

Cross the country without stopping for directions
No argument on this one. AT&T’s futurists showed an in-dash GPS navigation system that’s increasingly common today. The devices are even portable. The only thing AT&T did to jazz up what we already have is to put Hollywood-style fly-through structural videos into the screen. Everything else — road locations, spoken directions — we’ve already got.

Send someone a fax from the beach
Done, but already outdated
Faxes? That’s so 1993. While technically you can send a fax from the beach today, why would you? Nope – today we shoot video with our cell phones and upload the clips to instantly share with friends and family worldwide. Not to mention sending e-mail. All that’s required is a live Internet connection via cell service or WiFi — which is nearly ubiquitous. In fact, with the right phone and connection, you can stream live video from wherever you are to thousands of live viewers anywhere on the ‘Net.

The other thing shown in the video is the fax sender writing on what we would call a tablet PC screen. Tablets are widely available, but rarely purchased these days. The pen-style interface pioneered by the Newton actually shipped for the first time in 1993 and, with an appropriate modem, you could actually send a fax from the device. You just couldn’t do it without a physical phone line yet.

Pay a toll without slowing down
This was done years ago, especially on toll roads in the more trafficked parts of the country. You pop an RFID chip into your car from the toll road operator, pass through the toll area at a reasonable speed, and your account is debited appropriately.  Simple.  In fact, I had an RFID chip from Mobil years ago that let me pay for gas by simply waving my tiny keyfob near a gas pump pad and everything was handled in the background.  This is old hat.

The one thing the futurists got wrong is the notion of speeding through the toll booth at 90mph, as the driver appears to do in the commercial. That’s just not safe.

Buy concert tickets from a cash machine
Done, but not in the way AT&T predicted

Cash machines, or ATMs, are really still just for simple bank-related transactions these days. And rightly so. C’mon — you’ve stood behind the person that’s taking so long to use the ATM you wonder if they’re handling their secret Swiss bank account — we don’t want these devices used for more transactions! On the other hand, you can buy anything online, and you can do it from any number of ‘Net-connected devices.

Example: Last spring I was in Washington, DC with family and we decided to see a movie. Not being from the area, we didn’t know what theaters were nearby or what was playing. So I whipped out the iPhone, got a GPS fix on my location, and used the Fandango app to find the nearest theaters and get current showtimes. Then with a few taps, I selected a movie, a time and paid for the tickets instantly. This would have been unimaginable just 3 years ago, let alone 16.

All told, we can buy concert tickets today from far more locations than just ATMs.

Tuck your baby in from a phone booth
Done, but no phone booth
Leave it to a phone company to see a future for phone booths. We do have Internet cafes — a kind of 21st-century phone booth, I suppose — but people traveling a lot already have their own laptops, most with webcams built-in. With Skype, iChat and lots of other apps out there, you can “tuck your baby in” from anywhere your laptop hooks up to the Internet.

Open doors with the sound of your voice
Can be done, but it’s not done much or easily
The automated home has always been “just around the corner” ever since the Jetsons were first on the air (1962). You can do this “voice print” thing today, but you have to be really determined. While voice recognition, as a form of biometrics, does exist, it’s not widely used and not generally in consumer electronics. What you can do fairly easily today is get an RFID key that will unlock the door for you without a word, but just physical presence.

Carry your medical history in your wallet
Not quite there yet
Google Health, one example of the Personal Health Record (PHR) movement, exists already. So if you’re determined to digitize your medical records and you’re willing to take on the perceived privacy risks, you can do it right now. Info in your wallet? Well… sort of. You can bring up your data on any Internet-connected computer with your username and password, so there’s that. And again, if you’re determined and willing to take the risk, you can store the same data on a USB flash drive — and that would fit in your pocket.

Generally speaking, digitization of health info continues to move incredibly slowly, probably due to privacy worries and the lack of standards for data interoperability (despite early work on the HL7 standard and work on HIPAA). Plus, there are no economic incentives for the players involved. So this will come someday… someday…

Attend a meeting in your bare feet
You’ve been on conference calls where there are screaming children or barking dogs in the background, right? Yeah, me too. This one’s definitely done. Maybe overdone.

Watch the movie you want to the minute you want to
Video-on-demand has been around in one form or another for many years now. It’s not universally available and it may require “extra” subscriptions to your cable, satellite or fiber provider, but it’s out there. If you consider computer screens as legitimate viewing devices, you can also add Hulu as an example of a monstrously huge on-demand viewing service.

Learn special things from faraway places
Distance learning is old hat on most university campuses these days. It may not be as flashy or as interactive as the example shown in the commercial, but it’s out there. Video, audio, remote interactivity options — it’s all there. Not to mention discussion boards, blogs, real-time chats and more.

So what’s the score? Of 11 predictions, 9 are already a full reality (82%) while the other 2 are largely done while still under active development. If you’re willing to work for it, the futurists were completely on the ball on all counts.

Pretty amazing.

Nonprofits and engagement media

I’m out of the nonprofit world these days, but I’ve spent some years in it, so I’m not at a total loss as to how things work and how cultural norms accrue. I’ve got my opinions, to be sure.

So when I saw, via FriendFeed, a post from Beth Kanter — Seth Godin’s Non Post About Nonprofits: Deers in the Headlights? — I was curious. I like both Kanter’s and Godin’s work and this seemed to be generating some buzz. So I clicked over to both Kanter’s post and to the original Godin post: The problem with non.

Quite a bit of the conversation was on Kanter’s site, so I joined the fray with the following post-length comment…

I was, until recently, trying to develop engagement media practices inside a public media company. It was a disaster, but not for the reasons most nonprofit managers would point to.It wasn’t about the tiny budgets or the excessive time required. It was about EXACTLY what Godin was talking about: resistance to change and slothful, good-enough-for-a-nonprofit management practices. It was also because the traditionalists liked their ivory tower positions; they liked speaking from on high to the little people in the audience. I was told we didn’t want to get the public involved in public media — that’s too messy.

Godin has nailed it and the reason for the violent response is precisely because he nailed it.

Lots of nonprofit workers, after a while, develop a sort of victimization mythology that serves the stagnation problem. “I don’t have enough money, so I can’t do this, so I can’t make more money… woe is me. But I’ll keep at it because I’m such a nice person. And maybe someone rich will come along and notice me. It could happen!” I saw that all the time.

Is it all nonprofits? Nope. But it’s a lot of them. Of the 2 million out there, how many are really creating engaging relationships with donors or their constituents regularly? Maybe 10,000? Whatever the number is, it’s not enough.

Here are the key nonprofit organization questions you have to answer:

  1. Who are you, why are you here, and why should anyone care? (And if you spit out a mission statement, you just failed step 1.)
  2. What are you doing today to build authentic, meaningful relationships with donors and potential donors? (Mass mailings via any means don’t count.)
  3. What are you doing today to build authentic, meaningful relationships with the individuals, firms or communities you serve? (Look up the words “authentic” and “meaningful” before you answer.)
  4. What are you doing today to connect your donors and your beneficiaries, either directly or indirectly, so the donors feel energized and involved and the beneficiaries feel supported and involved, too? Or in other words, how are you building a community around your mission? (And broadcasting doesn’t count as connecting.)
  5. Given #1, what tools will best help you handle #2-4? (Notice I made no mention of Twitter or any other social media tool.)

charity:water is just the beginning. There’s a new generation of donors growing up right now and they won’t take your call or your e-mail or your mass mailing. But they will respond to an earnest call for help, especially from a friend they know. The next-gen trick is to be that friend first.

Nonprofits had best start making new friends. Because the old ones are dying and the broadcast campaigns (e-mail blasts, newsletters, appeal letters) will largely die with them. There’s still a place for building awareness, but action will come via relationships.

Godin’s pointing all this out through this post, his recent Tribes book and plenty of other posts. It’s a tough message, especially if you’re a “victim” inside a change-averse nonprofit (or a for-profit, for that matter!).

From here, you can deal with it — seeking new ways to engage your community — or just hope he’s wrong.

Frankly, I think it’s more fun to engage with your community regardless of what Godin says. But if proving Godin wrong sounds more fun to you, enjoy.

What I didn’t mention in my comment was my own immediate experience with fundraising for a cause via social media — via connections built across my own “community.” It was a small, first effort. But it was the collective action of a group of people with no nonprofit organization whatsoever. We came together to help a friend we’d literally never met.

For my generation and especially for Generations Y and Z, the old impersonal “broadcast” approaches used in public media and across the nonprofit spectrum will have diminishing returns.

But if I know you and you know me and we know we care about one another in some meaningful way — if we’re engaged in each other’s lives — the support will be there.