Gillmor Gang: Culture Clubs

I’ve spent the last few weeks diving into the world of crypto, and lo and behold, there might be something to it. Part of the problem is I rarely sense an innovation that revolves around the inevitability of people making big money. Instead, I become aware of something that might be bubbling up, like a new Apple chip or series of chips that create a new market opportunity. The M1 series was such a development; it provided a palpable layer of horsepower that changed the equation of how I use computing. As with Tesla, market conditions evolve as chip production is brought in house.

The iPhone and iPad were transformative for Apple and the tech industry. The obvious stuff was the touch interface, the app ecosystem, and the decoupling from the late great PC era. Before, computers represented a way to leverage software as a change agent for our daily lives. I learned the interfaces of Office, then the underlying structure of operating system services, then the connection point to the network. In a way, it was like the structure of filmmaking: the skeleton that was the plot, the scaffolding that was the dialogue, the narrative that was the connection between characters and the situation, and the rhythm that was the product of editing and off-screen context. That last one was most furtive in its revelation, but the key to the humor, music, and not just what is seen and heard but what is inferred.

iPhones were famously the way Steve Jobs realized the iPad. The target was personal and business communications, easier to market than a replacement for the PC. There were the entrenched carriers, who propped up the perception that price was guided by physical distance. Today, we don’t think about the concept of local versus long distance. Our friends and family are equidistant from us and each other. Our politics remain governed by historical measurement. The electoral college maintains the upper House’s power distribution regardless of population; the smallest and the largest of the states each get 2 Senators. The power flows through and is metered by the fractured structure of gerrymandering and filibuster.

Before the iPhone, video conferencing was limited to corporate links between hub and satellite offices. After the iPhone, each new entrant to the network was endowed with the effective unlimited bandwidth of the first carrier domino to fall — AT&T. By signing an exclusive deal with one carrier, Apple effectively held a gun to the head of the rest of the industry. The essential disruptive feature of unlimited access was only possible with the one network. Any other carrier lowered the feature set of the groundbreaking hardware. On the iPhone, audio became a first class citizen. With IP calling, the cost limitation of the previous POTS generation was erased. As other networks worked their way into broadband, the iPhone took new ground, with video conferencing and the apps ecosystem.

Even today, third-party apps like Facebook Messenger are often used more frequently than the iPhone’s built-in iMessage. The Facebook app rides on top of audio, video, messaging, screen sharing, and the beginnings of ecommerce — across international borders, proprietary phone systems, video standards, and wirelessly device to device via Apple’s Airplay WiFi grid. The phone became the hub for watches, AirPods, stationary bikes, telemedicine, and iPads. What started as a small form factor iPad has now absorbed the larger sibling as a peripheral replacement for the PC. Cue the M1.

Once the iPhone/iPad iOS operating system could run on M1 Macs, it seemed likely that the apps ecosystem would migrate to the Mac. Notifications seem better supported on the Mac than previously, but there’s no real synchronization between the two platforms. Some video production apps like LumaFusion run across iPad and M1 without modification, but I’ve been happy to use the iPad as a staging machine for editing, and the M1 for transcription of conversations and interviews. The iPad has been upgraded recently to use the M1 chips, but for now I’m so happy with the Mac Book Pro that I’d rather move the majority of my computing off the iPad and split between the iPhone and M1 Mac. I didn’t expect this, but the pandemic and its acceleration of work from anywhere has been the driver.

As video conferencing has become a core service of the new office, the M1 has shifted my consumption of media in important ways. Streaming tools like Restream and the cross-platform ubiquity of Zoom make it trivial to produce a video conversation on multiple platforms. Airpods let us work on multiple streams and editing projects on multiple iPads and M1s, with an elastic subscription model that reduces all-over costs by as much as 10-1 on a monthly basis. Screensharing over Zoom will soon be atomized as APIs open up to allow live editing and audio sweetening to be distributed to iPads while the M1s (a Mac Book Air and Pro) produce text and manage social media releases. Zero fan noise makes the M1s ideal for use in live production. And when travel and events return, the whole studio comes along for the ride. Blur mode retains a consistent visual feel.

Then there’s the live audio trend, which sits atop the same tools plus an emphasis on the iPhone. The two major platforms have distinctive personalities: Twitter Spaces leverage the social graph, while Clubhouse seems more aggressive about adding features to keep pace with larger and more enterprise competitors. Twitter’s tools for downloading recordings are clunky; the 30 day limitation on replays needs to shift to a more producer-centric perspective. Over time, the two feature sets should combine as notifications have done on Apple and Android. The vendor sports horserace aspect of the creator economy may drive media interest, but the more tangible impact will emerge in the iterative wave of what David Weinberger called small pieces, loosely joined.

Clubhouse’s new Shared on Clubhouse tool seems geared to earballs, quantity over influence. You can broadcast a comment to followers, expanding the social graph to welcome not just live participation, but crucially Replay listeners. Those notifications attract more organic groups of shared rooms and interests that exist outside of the more traditional newsmaker interviews and other celebrity-focused events. Sharing statistics promote a kind of interactive guide at the top of shared rooms, and listeners become 1st class citizens with the ability to comment and aggregate their discoveries to the same middle tier that retweets drove Twitter’s viral social graph. Of course, Twitter or LinkedIn adoption of these tools will prove successful in their bigger ponds. If crypto fans prove prescient, decentralized open standards may facilitate an actual use case for an alternative to centralized first- and third-party cookie replacements.

None of this is to suggest these networks will become an important part of our work or social lives. Following the news on a regular basis is a frustrating exercise for those more accustomed to legacy platforms such as newspapers and magazines, or what some are called the new land line — cable.. But informing yourself about issues of the day seems a waste of time when large swaths of the country refuse even the simplest actions like vaccinations as some sort of political conspiracy. The characteristics of a replay economy may turn out to be more significant than the misinformation mills that social networks struggle with.

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The Gillmor Gang — Frank Radice, Michael Markman, Keith Teare, Denis Pombriant, Brent Leary and Steve Gillmor. Recorded live Friday, January 14, 2022.

Produced and directed by Tina Chase Gillmor @tinagillmor

@fradice, @mickeleh, @denispombriant, @kteare, @brentleary, @stevegillmor, @gillmorgang

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