Cow Matters

Faithful Acowlytes all! It is that time of year again and for me, 2010 has truly flown by. I approach the end of my seven month visit to the USA and our project is almost finished. You will hear all about it in 2011, around about the beginning of March, so be sure to stay tuned.

Because I’ll be travelling with my family for the next few weeks things will be a bit quiet on the Cow, so I want to take this opportunity (with the help of a video from one of my favorite artists, Mr Luke Jerram) to wish you all a very happy festive season, and a joyous and peaceful holiday. Thank you for your visits, comments and intellectual rigor1 over the past year and I look forward to offering you a more attentive Cow year in 2011, when I will be back on home turf with a little bit more time to devote to things Cow. Many new ideas in the pipeline!

One piece of news that will disappoint many of you – the annual Rasputin competition will have to be a little delayed this year. I will not have time to devote to it before New Year, sadly. But I’ll make it up to you in 2011, I promise!

Merry Christmas! Hyvaa joulua! Glædelig Jul! Natale hilare et Annum Faustum! Heughliche Winachten un ‘n moi Nijaar! Gozhqq Keshmish! QISmaS botIvjaj ‘ej DIS chu’ botIvjaj! Alassëa Hristomerendë! Alassëa Vinyarië! ᖱᒣᖳᒐᒉᑊᖿᒪᔪᖱᖽᐧᒡᒧᐧᖾᒍ!

  1. Well, except for Malach – no intellectual rigor there. []

The blogosphere is a funny place, defined as it is by ephemeral digital bits that flit around the planet at speeds that were once inconceivable, and turn up on luminous screens as words and pictures of pretty much every imaginable sort. At this point in time there are probably somewhere in the vicinity of 200 million blogs on the web,1 and although the boom years of blogging have probably passed, the number is still growing.

Of course, of these 200 million offerings, barely a hand full are worth attending to, as we all know. And even of these, most settle into the well-worn, usually pedestrian, reiterations of the kind of media that we’ve had for centuries: magazines, news reports, gossip, diaries and opinionated grumblings.

In my opinion, the real potential of blogging has been overlooked by all but a very special few. Joey Polanski, or ‘Sir’ Joey as he is known around these parts, is one of those special few. Or, I should say, was one of those special few, for as many of you already know, a couple of days back, Joey brought down the curtain on his blog The Joey Polanski Show. I watched the lights go out in the JPS theatre with the greatest of sadness, because over the years, the flitting digital bits that have made their way to my screen from JPS Central have formed themselves into something quite remarkable: a friend.2 When I started blogging, I would never have thought something like that possible. Now Joey’s retirement is certainly not the same as if he suddenly disappeared and I never knew what happened – indeed, I even had warning that the Show was going to fold. But it does leave me with the feeling that an actual real friend has left town and that when I wander past his place all I’ll see from now on is windows with drawn shades and cobwebs forming under the eaves.

I think I do understand Joey’s reasons for closing up the show though. Sometimes a thing just runs its course, and the time becomes right to leave it be. I can’t imagine that happening at The Cow just yet, but I know I couldn’t absolutely rule out the possibility. Whatever the reasons, Sir Joey says that even though the theatre has gone dark, the old hoofer isn’t averse to a special appearance now and then and I hope that’s so.

I said before that Joey was one of a special few that, in my opinion, understood the real potential of blogging. The way I see it, anybody can write a diary, but it takes skill, and humour and prescience to understand the idea that a blog works best as a two-way street. This, indeed, is one of the reasons I think that the traditional media is having so much trouble with their presence on the net – they don’t understand the fundamental appeal of being an active part of the thing you’re reading.3 That was one of the very first things that attracted me to The JPS – even when I first started visiting YEARS ago, there was a constant amusing, sometimes hilarious, banter going on. It was like wandering into a party in full swing, and being handed a beer at the door.

The best thing was that Joey started coming to my parties too, and brought some of his infectious irreverent humour with him, and I know you’ll all agree that his shtick in the comments of some posts has often been more entertaining than the posts themselves. On more than one occasion I’ve even had to step back into the shadows and let Polanski and Atlas steal the stage entirely, and indeed, those two guys are responsible for big chunks of Cow Lore. It is without doubt a situation of the sum being greater than the parts.

Joey’s Shelf will remain permanently installed at The Cow. It’s in the basement (which I confess, is prone to flooding) but I do make sure that Sister Veronica dusts Joey’s trophies every now and then, and removes any of the crap that Atlas has dumped there. I urge you to visit The Shelf from time to time as a sort of homage to Joey. You never know what you’ll find.

Joey, thanks for all the good times over at the JPS. Thanks for the laughs and the pomes. And thanks, above all, for getting it.

So, as this sad era comes to a close, only one thing remains to be said:

Sir Joey Polanski: The Cow Salutes You!

  1. It’s actually hard to get an exact figure. This number is based on a best-guess estimation from Technorati and Google. It’s probably an underestimate if all foreign-language blogging is accounted for. []
  2. And a strange and wonderful kind of friend; the person who I know in my head as ‘Joey Polanski’ is a fiction concocted by a real person. I’m sure there’s a lot of that real person in Joey Polanski’s character, but I am always aware that ‘Joey’ does not exist in any corporeal way. And yet, I still conceive of him as a friend. What a remarkable a magic trick that is! []
  3. The Guardian gets it – there is an increasing involvement of readers in the Guardian site. The comments on many articles rage into enormously entertaining debates, and there are Guardian photography and writing competitions – active communities that feel like they are part of The Guardian world. Contrast that with Rupert Murdoch’s cloistered communities, dotted with doddering old fogeys who are wondering why the Letters pages are so empty all of a sudden. []


Image courtesy of Queen Willy


You will remember that some time back I was musing about the exploration of models for earning income in the new media paradigm.

At that time I installed the Collection Plate, to the right there in the sidebar, just to see whether visitors could even be bothered to flick a virtual coin my way when they found something on The Cow that they liked. Well, it’s been a mixed response. As I might have guessed, the click count was proportionately high toward the beginning and has now tapered off. Even factoring in King Willy’s irritating clicking frenzy in the early days, I can see that there was interest when it was a fresh idea, but has now settled into a predictable low-level trickle. Not surprising really.

As of today the plate has collected 860 coins – if we assume that people might have dropped in 5c a hit, that’s a grand sum of 43 bucks in 3 months. It’s obvious that I’m not headed off to the Maldives anytime soon. Still, my readership is small (if entirely faithful) so those figures are obviously dependent upon traffic – it’s not bad for someone who’s busking in a back alley on a cloudy day.

When I installed the Collection Plate, you may recall that I mentioned, somewhere during the discussion, a concept called Flattr – a micropayment ‘sharing’ system being set up by Peter Sunde, one of the Creators of Pirate Bay. Well, I was recently invited to join the Flattr beta project and you will infer by the Flattr icon underneath the Collection Plate over to the side there, that I have accepted a role in the Flattr experiment.

This is how Flattr is supposed to work:

First of all, you need a Flattr account. Currently these are given by invitation only, but the idea is that when Flattr is launched, anyone can get an account just by signing up. When you have your account, you decide how much money per month you’d like to spend to ‘Flattr’ people who you visit on the web. This money goes into your Flattr account – you can’t get it back. Then, over the month, the amount of money you decide upon – say five dollars (or Euros, as it is at the moment) is divided up by the number of times you click on Flattr buttons you encounter while traipsing around the intertubes. That amount of money then goes into each Flattr account you clicked on. In other words, if you only click one Flattr button on one site, that site gets the whole five bucks. If you click on two Flattr buttons, each site gets $2.50. And so forth. If you don’t click on any Flattr buttons, all your monthly allowance goes to a charity.

I’m giving Flattr a try, but I have numerous reservations about its concept. Let me elaborate:

•Straight off the bat, when I activated my Flattr account I was asked to nominate an amount of money I wanted to spend to Flattr people each month. This is too damn tricky, I think. I simply don’t know what kind of a figure I think is reasonable to spend on my internet travels. Heck, mostly I get my stuff for free right now – why should I pay? I don’t think I’m the only one that will ask that question. This idea is too much like subscription models that have already shown to be less than effective on the internet. And a big difference is that with subscriptions you know in advance what you’re getting, and can make an assessment of whether it’s good value.1

•Right from the first time I heard the concept vaunted I could see a huge drawback: Flattr must break a critical user barrier before it’s got a hope in hell of working. If Flattr buttons were everywhere, and you saw them on YouTube and Wikis and Forums and so forth, then I think you’d be inclined to join up, if for no other reason than to get a chance at a slice of the pie for yourself. But for now, the very first thing you realise after you put some money in your Flattr distribution account is that there are not many people out there that you want to Flattr. Well, sure, for the novelty you’re likely to chuck a few coins in wherever you see a Flattr button, but the idea is that you reward people who are doing great stuff, not just exchange coins with everyone else in your club.

We can see the problem here of course – Flattr needs to be ubiquitous to get the system working, but the system has to be working for Flattr to be ubiquitous. It’s an unenviable conundrum. Can Flattr pull itself up by its own bootstraps? I’m doubtful.

•You can’t proportionately award good stuff more Flattr points the more you like it. Flattr will only let you click on one unique button once a month. I think this is a problem. I understand the egalitarian idea behind sharing revenue ‘fairly’ among places that I visit, but let’s face it, I want to be able to decide that if I like someone a lot, I can click on their button three or four times to reflect that. I’ve hit this stumbling block already – I’ve visited a few sites that are linked off Flattr and, well, they’re OK, but do I really want to give them my coin? If I plonk my click down on one site, then I am under pressure to find another site just so site #1 doesn’t get my whole month’s allowance. There’s something that I find instinctively wrong about that concept.

•You can’t see (as far as I can tell) who has Flattred you. This is probably not something that would be ultimately relevant, but while Flattr is new I think it’s quite important. If someone Flattrs you, you instinctively want to see what they do also. It’s like when someone leaves a comment on The Cow – mostly I will pay their link a courtesy visit to see exactly what it is they’re about, and if I like it, I might even stay. I believe this sense of community is vital in a scheme like Flattr, at least in the early stages. (It occurs to me that it’s also a very good way of finding out exactly who actually even has an account on Flattr, since the only people who can Flattr you are Flattr users). And related to that:

•To even get a leg-up, you need to have Flattr users come visit you. I don’t see how I’m going to get this to happen unless I actively solicit visitors to The Cow. Once again, this may not be as much of a problem if Flattr becomes widespread, but for the moment it is a stumbling block. You can see how many people have Flattred me by the count on the Flattr icon. Right now it’s zero and I expect it will remain that way for some time.

How do I get you guys to join up with Flattr, so that you can Flattr me? Why, according to the Flattr website, I tell them to! So – how many of you are heading across to Flattr right now to get an account? Right, I thought so.

So, there are my thoughts on the Flattr mattr. As I said in my original article, these things interest me so I’m all for some experimentation, but I really don’t hold high hopes for Flattr. I aim to stick with it for a few months – let’s see how we go.

ADDENDUM: I thought of another instability just now. Flattr exists as a kind of community contribution idea – I Flattr you, you Flattr Gilbert, he Flattrs me, what goes around comes around. But exploitation of the system would arise very fast. Let’s say I post something on my site that really gets people’s attention. They all Flattr me, and not only that, I get quite famous, with lots of readers and a nice Flattr income. There is no incentive for me to care about belonging to the Flattr community, as such, any longer. I can reduce my Flattr contribution to the minimum allowable and just let it go to charity every month. Meanwhile I’m doing very nicely out of a constant Flattr revenue stream. I’m not suggesting this would happen a lot, but there would definitely be Mega Flattr sites that are sucking it in rather than giving it up.

Another thing that occurs to me is that knowing how much people are being Flattred is likely to influence how much they get Flattred. If I see someone with lots of Flattrs I’m likely to think – oh well, they’re doing OK, I’ll save my click for someone else. I think this could be ameliorated slightly by having the number of Flattrs NOT displayed on your icon. It may well be that doing this might counteract the situation I mentioned above.

  1. I suppose that you can always treat your Flattr account as a hypothetical donation to charity from the get-go – which it kind of is. []

Here’s what happens to your readership when Boing Boing picks up one of your posts. w00t!

Faithful Acowlytes! For your convenience I have now installed threaded comments on The Cow. I’m not sure I entirely like this idea, since I think it probably stops the ‘flow’ of commenting slightly, but since it’s become de rigeur most everywhere else I want to make sure I’m keeping up with the Joneses.

You will also find that your comments are editable as well, so Queen Willy can now go back and correct her own typos instead of asking me to do it.



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