From MySpace to TRUTH Social

Donald Trump was banned from Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in the wake of the January 6, 2021 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. His social media accounts were also flagged multiple times for spreading false information about voting fraud in the 2020 presidential election. So banished from major social media platforms, the former President has now announced plans to form a public company that will launch a social platform of his own.

This past week a press release announced TRUTH Social would be his space. It is supposed to beta launch in November with a wider rollout in 2022. In the information released publically, Donald Trump is listed as the chairman of the Trump Media & Technology Group. TMTG would be formed by joining with Digital World Acquisition Corp., pending regulatory and stockholder approval. DWAC is a special purpose acquisition company, which sells stock with the intention of buying private firms, and the release says the corporation will invest $293 million in the Trump project.

The day I read about the announcement was the same day that a friend emailed to say that he discovered my old MySpace account was still online. the two things fit together for me.

myspace 1

"My space" is what Trump wants. A place where he can say whatever he wants without someone else controlling what content he puts out. He tried this before. His attempt to start a post-presidential blog didn't last very long. In June 2021, that blog shut down.  after Trump had become frustrated because there was little traffic to the site. It was not a well-designed site and cost only a few thousand dollars to make (by a company run by his former campaign manager set it up). Rather than give Trump a megaphone, it ended up making his voice and influence seem small and less significant.

As soon as this new venture was announced the media started commenting. CNN (no friend of Trump) gave three reasons why the Trump venture will fail: Twitter already exists; the conservative social space is crowded (and not doing well); and Donald Trump isn't President anymore.

A post on engadget.com gave a more serious technical reason for problems with the site - a licensing error. "The Software Freedom Conservancy (SFC) says The Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG) violated a licensing agreement when it recently launched a test version of TRUTH Social. The website ran on a modified version of Mastodon, a free and open-source platform for operating Twitter-like social media networks. Anyone can use Mastodon provided they comply with AGPLv3, the software license that governs its code." That would include that you share your source code with all users. At the Trump site's test version launch, it did not do that. TMTG has 30 days to comply with AGPLv3 or face consequences.

I can imagine Trump telling the designers of the new platform that "I want my space online to say whatever I want to say."

On the business side of this, the stock price for DWAC skyrocketed on October 21st after the announcement. I hope the SEC is looking at who bought shares of DWAC in the days before the announcement. And I assume they will carefully note who sells that stock before any announcement that, like Trump's earlier social effort, the whole thing collapses.

It Is Way Past the Time to Update the Communications Act of 1996

social media
Image by Pete Linforth from Pixabay

If you have been using the Internet for the past 25 years, you know how radically it has changed. And yet, no comprehensive regulations have been updated since then.

The news is full of complaints about tech companies getting too big and too powerful. Social media is often the focus of complaints. We often hear that these companies are resistant to changes and regulations, but that is not entirely true. 

On Facebook's site concerning regulations, they say "To keep moving forward, tech companies need standards that hold us all accountable. We support updated regulations on key issues."

Facebook may be at the center of fears and complaints, but they keep growing. Two billion users and growing.

There are four issues that address that they feel need new regulations.

Combating foreign election interference
We support regulations that will set standards around ads transparency and broader rules to help deter foreign actors, including existing US proposals like the Honest Ads Act and Deter Act.

Protecting people’s privacy and data
We support updated privacy regulations that will set more consistent data protection standards that work for everyone.

Enabling safe and easy data portability between platforms
We support regulation that guarantees the principle of data portability. If you share data with one service, you should be able to move it to another. This gives people choice and enables developers to innovate.

Supporting thoughtful changes to Section 230
We support thoughtful updates to internet laws, including Section 230, to make content moderation systems more transparent and to ensure that tech companies are held accountable for combatting child exploitation, opioid abuse, and other types of illegal activity.

The Telecommunications Act of 1996 was the first major overhaul of telecommunications law in almost 62 years. Its main goal was stated as allowing "anyone [to] enter any communications business -- to let any communications business compete in any market against any other." The FCC said that they believed the Act had "the potential to change the way we work, live and learn." They were certainly correct in that. But they continued that they expected that it would affect "telephone service -- local and long distance, cable programming and other video services, broadcast services and services provided to schools."

And it did affect those things. But communications went much further and much faster than the government and now they need to play some serious catchup. It is much harder to catch up than it is to keep up. 

 

Cut the Cord, Narrow the Stream, Reconnect

data streams
Image by Yan Wong

A few years ago I was writing about how a lot of people were looking to save money on their TV entertainment by what was known as "cutting the cord" since it meant disconnecting from a cable service. Those services had boomed in the 1970s and 80s and had brought clear channels from local and distant services and led to the rise of services like HBO and Showtime. People are still cord-cutting, but things have changed.

We tired of $100+ per month channel bundles that included lots of channels we never watched. People wanted a cafeteria-style choice. Just pick the things you wanted. But cable companies didn't want to offer that. So, people began to drop their cable contract and replace it with streaming TV services and perhaps a TV antenna or device that offered local channels, news, and a kind of all-in-one bundle.

In 2015, I wrote about a group of people that I called "The Disconnected" and I did a presentation on how we might connect to the disconnected. The disconnections ranged from cord-cutting to ownership of things (home, cars, physical media) and possibly from education and the world. Since then, I have added other disconnected aspects of our lives.

The pandemic that forced disconnections in early 2020 has accelerated some of that. Ironically, as disconnected as we became to friends, offices, campuses and stores, most of us became more connected to media.

Cord-cutters still needed an Internet service and that connection became quite critical in these pandemic times. We needed it to continue working, learning and staying in touch with other people. Those connections are very important, but I also have been thinking about how connected we have become to those streaming services on our screens for entertainment.

The tech divide either got wider the past year or minimally became more obvious. Home Internet speeds should be at least 15Mbps (megabits per second) for each device you plan to have running at the same time. That means that those two TVs, the laptop and three smartphones and one tablet all playing at once would ideally have a connection of at least 105Mbps. That’s a lot to ask of a DSL or satellite service and from most cable company broadband services. Those people with access to fiber broadband or some other fast connection had a big advantage.

It is now almost a decade from dropping your cable connection and moving to streaming and now I am hearing more people complain about the cost of buying all the services needed to keep up with the content that all your friends are telling are essential viewing. 

What is the cost of having Netflix, HBO Max, Disney Plus, Hulu, Amazon Prime, Peacock, and others and also a bundle of live TV channels such as YouTube TV or Sling TV?

Yes, there are a bunch of free (ad-based) sources of streaming video too (Crackle, IMDb, Kanopy, Peacock, Hoopla, Pluto TV, the Roku Channel, Tubi TV, Vudu, etc.). 

You might also want a streaming device that connects to the Internet and allows you to show things on devices on bigger screens (Chromecast, Roku’s Streaming Stick, or Amazon’s Fire TV Stick. 

At one time, I could watch Disney films on Netflix, but Disney and most of the other content providers have now decided that they are better off offering their content on their own services. YouTube TV recently was removed from Roku. Battles will continue.

If you cut the cord, will you soon need to cut or narrow the streams flowing into your home?

The Last Bookstore on Earth

closed bookstore

My title - The Last Bookstore on Earth - sounds like science-fiction. In 2021, it is sci-fi future thinking, but it might well be true in 2071 and I wouldn't be shocked if it turns out to be true much sooner. We know that physical bookstores have been closing ever since Amazon and the age of online booksellers began.

This past weekend was Independent Bookstore Day and brick and mortar bookstores still have ardent supporters - me included - but it's tough to keep a store going just selling books. The pandemic didn't help them, but the pandemic did help online book sales.

There is a whole bookshelf worth of "the end of" books. I have read three: The End of Everything: (Astrophysically Speaking), The End of Historyand The End of Science. Of course, all those things are still going

Some young people may not know that Amazon.com started as a bookstore, but it fairly quickly expanded and now (especially by using third-party suppliers) it seems to sell everything and threatens not only bookstores but all kinds of stores.

My inspiration to write today came from watching the documentary The Last Blockbuster on Netflix. It tells the story of Blockbuster Video, the video rental company that put many independent video rental stores out of business. One way it did that was by making distribution deals with film studios.

It is an interesting history because movies on video were at first seen as a threat to movie theaters. That initial fear turned out to be less threatening than first thought because there were still plenty of people who wanted to see movies on a big screen and when they were released rather than months later when they hit video. This path has been traveled again, especially in the past pandemic year, with closed theaters and greatly increased streaming video use.

There were several indie video stores in my neighborhood when Blockbuster opened a large store. The indies could not compete with the wide selection and many deals. (About the only thing the indies could offer was pornography which was not in Blockbuster.)  Blockbuster had made revenue-share deals and so could negotiate lower prices than their local stores in exchange for a cut of the rental fees.

There is a nice irony in The Last Blockbuster being released by Netflix which wiped out the video stores of all sizes and helped wipe out the DVD market too.

But Netflix doesn't own the streaming business anymore. Hulu, Apple, Disney and Amazon Prime are examples of services that not only offer subscriptions but also additional rentals and, most significantly, are funding original content that they will own exclusively. Media companies, such as CBS, Paramount, that sold content to places like Netflix have now started their own streaming services and let their deals with the older services lapse.

VCRs were replaced by DVRs which are being pushed aside by streaming. Netflix pushed aside stores and DVDs. Online booksellers hurt bookstores, though most now offer online purchasing and during the pandemic offered curbside pickup and some offered virtual author events and readings.

People will return to movie theaters as pandemic restrictions disappear. People who went to bookstores to browse will return too. Students who were learning online for the past year are returning to their classrooms and predictions are that they will be back to a kind of normal this fall. But all of these institutions and businesses are changing because of moves online that occurred either because of technological evolution or pandemic necessity.

I hope the idea of the "last bookstore" is just an idea and that some online service will never be able to make a video about it.