by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. XXVI

This Week's Clue: Crossroads

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This Week's Clue: Crossroads
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
SP (Shameless Promotion)
XHTML MP
The Myth of Media Power
The Collapse of Winer World
Clued-in, Clueless
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For the Week of June 28, 2004

I'll be on the high seas this week, specifically on a Royal Caribbean liner. I'll be with dozens of other Blankenhorns (and Blankenhorns-in-law). It's the first formal calling of the clan since 1935, when my late father was near the age my son is at now.

The cruise comes at a crossroads in my own life. I've written a-clue.com since 1997 and, thanks mainly to the spam flood, there are now under 1,300 subscribers. After over a year of hard work my Mooreslore blog is still lagging among tech blogs. First-mover advantage is very hard to overtake in this space, and I haven't cracked the code yet. As many of you may know my career as a business analyst crashed when the business I was working for filed Chapter Seven bankruptcy, taking with it nearly $40,000, nearly all my last years' earnings.

Of course when god closes a door she frequently opens a window. A local entrepreneur has taken my ideas on training cell phone users and run with them. He hopes to build in a position for me. Another friend wants to revolutionize how the aged are cared for, giving them networked resources in ways they can access and building an online community from it. Neither of these positions would let me write full-time, of course.

I have made a half-hearted start at a new novel, and I still want to do "The World of Always-On." But "The Blankenhorn Effect" never made back the money I advanced it, and it's hard to get psyched for work with no payment.

So what I want to do, over the next few weeks, is leave all this aside for a while. I tell you these stories to leave them in your hands, but ultimately the decisions, I know, are up to me.

I love writing, but I can also speak, when I'm passionate about my subject. I would love to build something valuable and important, some business that will help care for me in my old age and help others as well.

I hope you will help me with this. Are there opportunities I'm failing to pursue? Are there contacts you have, who might want to represent my work, and find its market in ways I can't (or won't)?

Among my fellow voyagers this week (or at least scheduled to appear) is an in-law named Dash, and I think about him often. Once he had a hit record but he turned from that path, preferring instead the less-traveled road of spiritual enlightenment, with the Bahai , a faith of peace that was founded in Iran and has been persecuted as few religions have (at least few that survive).

As my own favorite Yogi (Berra) once said, "when you come to a fork in the road, take it." And that I surely intend to do. I expect that, whatever decision I come to, writing will be at the center of it, because that is the air I breathe. I'm not looking for spiritual enlightenment -- I get it every morning when I look in my wife's eyes. How much of my path will purely be devoted to writing, however, must still be determined. Shakespeare ran a theater, Bach was a teacher and Charles Ives was in insurance - who am I to think my genius demands constant nurturing to create anything? The plain fact is I have had hardly any income for two years now - although I fooled myself into thinking I had it for much of that time.

I can do a job for someone, and for myself. The time has come to figure out what that job might be.

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Shameless Self-Promotion

I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am presently searching for opportunities.

My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .

You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...

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Shameless Promotion

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If you're serious about Internet Commerce, you need Whitehat Interactive . Get it today.

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Takes on the News

XHTML MP

XHTML MP may be the most important technology of 2004. It is an attempt to reconcile Web standards to the needs of cellular phones, making them the most common Web platform in the world.

The X comes from XML, the tags that let you define things like common invoices for business purposes, and display them on the Web. The HTML is a stripped-down version of the mark-up language, without the frames, nested tables, CSS, or JavaScript that are tough to display on tiny screens.

What makes XHTML MP important is the coming convergence of cellular telephony and the computing mainstream. Openwave is carrying the ball on this to push a mobile phone browser, but don't criticize them for it. I'm glad they're doing it.

What's remarkable is how far under-the-radar this effort has been. Consider how many mobile phones there are, consider what they will be like next year, and it's obvious XHTML MP will be the dominant syntax in the new Internet that's coming. Yet no one is noticing.

The key to XHTML MP, meanwhile, is the X, as in XML, the electronic invoicing standard.

The problem all cellular data schemes have in common in the U.S. is the problem of getting paid. While XML isn't a complete solution, it does allow companies to define tags used in interfacing the output of an HTML form with corporate billing and collection systems. It's a link, in other words, between the Web of content and the Web of money.

The U.S. market will still have problems, even with a fully-functioning, massively-accepted XHTML MP. But a beginning is being made. And for the rest of the world, the Clue is even simpler. Meet the new Web, same as the old Web.

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The Myth of Media Power

One of the biggest lies journalists and politicians tell themselves is that journalists have power and politicians can retain it by controlling journalists.

Italy put the lie to this recently, as Prime Minister Sylvio Berlusconi found that his ownership of 90% of the nation's TV outlets wasn't enough to keep from losing European elections, and with a high turn-out no less.

There is a Clue here, both for politicians who complain about "media bias" and for those of us just trying to do business. Not only is the media usually impossible to control, but control of it is a prize not worth the cost.

The effort to control the media only degrades both the reputation of the media and those trying to control it. The result is that people stop believing both, and the harder a lie is pushed the more people resist it.

This should be obvious by now. Pravda wasn't believed by Russians, and Al-Jazeera was embraced by Muslims specifically because it wasn't state-controlled. Right now the only Muslim nation where Americans are popular is Iran, whose government is doing the most to get its people to hate Americans.

We all need to learn something from this. Let the story tell itself. Don't sweat the small stuff of journalism, and it's all small stuff. If the conservative myth of a "liberal media conspiracy" was ever true, people saw through it and elected your candidates anyway. The same is true for liberals who complain today of Fox and the "So-Called Liberal Media" (SCLM), where the most rational reporting is done by the comedians of "The Daily Show."

People are smarter than that. Give them credit.

The Collapse of Winer World

Back when I first started in this business, I hung out with a close friend of Dave Winer.

So I quietly rejoiced when he became a successful serial entrepreneur, especially when he helped launch what became the "blogging craze" through Userland Software.

But anyone can lose the plot, and Dave did. He trusted the wrong people, he didn't bring in real money when he decided to leave for Harvard, and now he's paying the price.

Weblogs.Com, one of the biggest publishers of online blogs, suddenly disappeared a few weeks ago. Userland decided it couldn't afford the free hosting service anymore, Dave tried to quietly pick up the slack, some health problems meant that he couldn't, and the whole thing got dropped. "I'm just a person," is how he tried to explain it on his own blog, Scripting News.

But he's not just a person. Dave Winer made himself into an institution, and he rode the reputation of that institution. So when he pulled the plug on what he had built, it wasn't just as a person, but as an institution.

Your Clue here is that when you decide to leave, leave clean and leave what you left in financially strong hands. Those hands may indeed screw the pooch, but at least then you won't take the fall for it. Better to be Steve Jobs than Adam Osborne.

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Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Pilkington Activ , a British glass with a super-thin layer of titanium dioxide that never needs cleaning.

Clueless is the City University of New York, for passing up Pete Hamill as dean for its new journalism school. This is a trade, not a profession.

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