My vloggercon keynote: how values get embedded in technology.

I was very honored to be asked to give the vloggercon keynote this year. And even though I was pretty nervous and forgot a few bits (it’s a BIG room!), I was very happy with how the talk came out. It was important. I talked about technology and values, and how now is the time to get it right or mess it up. I think some of it hit home with everyone, in the following days, values in technology (what a social-science geeky concept!) was talked about again and again.

Here’s the speech that I wrote beforehand (not exactly what I said but hey).

The brilliant Truffaut quote that Anne gave me is at the bottom.

The vision.

There’s a vision people have been having for a long time now, and my instance of that vision was something like this: I’m on my couch, and I’m watching the Simpsons, and then I switch to a videoblogger in Colombia who has an interesting show that I like. And that videoblogger has an unmediated, strong voice, they don’t have to ask anyone permission to make this show, it’s not expensive; they do it for the love of it.

It’s a simple vision, and probably some of you have had something like it. We might have eaten similar mushrooms. In any case.

We need tech and culture.

I believe that the way to make this vision happen is a mix of technology and culture.

The technology ecology consists of the internet plus some software and websites, plus some hardware to get things on your TV or device.

We also need a culture (“a set of learned beliefs, values and behaviors the way of life shared by the members of a society.â€?), a culture in which people feel that they can have a voice and an audience. A culture of openness, of unmediated voices.

People have had this vision for a long time, and now, again, we’ve come to a time in history, a window, in which we have a chance to make this happen.

If we don’t make this happen, video on the internet will still happen, the technology is getting there, but without the culture, it will consist of downloading tv-shows for $1.99, and watching funny clips of dogs on skateboards, and that’s scary. Those are the things that BigMedia wants us to do. Those are the things that fit with their values and business models. That’s the stuff that will happen regardless of what we do.

Tech and culture co-evolve.

There’s one point I want to make today.

The technology and the culture of videoblogging co-evolve.

So the practices and believes that you have are shaped in part by the technology that’s available to you, and the technology that’s being created like crazy these days is shaped by the practices and believes you hold.


Beginnings are delicate times, and maybe this is the beginning of an important change in how video, the most powerful medium we know, is used. Video is different from text. It’s emotional. What we watch shouldn’t just be controlled by corporations.

Beginnings are times when you set a direction, and the direction is set by how values are embedded in technology, in business models, in the whole ecosystem.

To put it simply, this is what I think: we have an opportunity here. A dream, a vision. But it might not happen. The technology alone won’t take us there.

Technological determinism

There is an idea that’s called “technological determinismâ€?, which says that a technology, like the internet, will evolve in a certain way, regardless. It’s kind of inconspicuously popular in our thinking, but it is wrong.

Technology will evolve differently depending on the culture and the values that influence it. For example, Japan is not “aheadâ€? of the US in their use of technology, they’ve just chosen a different technological path, with different priorities.

Technology and culture evolve together.

Very practically: if you tell technology creators what you want and don’t want, they’ll adopt some of that. And at the same time, some of the subtle details of the technology that they create will affect the culture that grows around it.

For example: a lot of new video websites are geared towards popular content. They show popular stuff on the homepage. The people who go there are subtly suggested that popularity is what matters. But it’s not what matters to me. Or maybe to you. For me, it’s about real voices. So why not make a website that puts independent voices on the homepage, instead of the most popular content? It’s harder, but doable. But you need to know your values for that.

The startups will listen.

Everyone has something that drives them. The technology creators are mostly interested in cool stuff. And their bosses are mostly interested in making money.

What it comes down to is: you need to tell the technology creators about your values. And they’ll listen to you, because they need you. And then they’ll embed some of those values in the tools.

At some level, the startups know that they need you. They know that each of you is a pioneer. That each of you speaks with the voice of a million future customers. That’s why they do focus groups, and user testing, and just generally try to please you. Because if you don’t use their products, they loose.

That’s an opportunity. You *can* influence the technology, and that technology will in turn influence thousands of future people. Right now, they are listening. Especially startups, they listen hard.

Know your values.

So it’s important to know what your values are, and how they get embedded in the technology. I can’t tell you what your values are, that’s a conversation everyone needs to have with themselves and others.

For me, it’s about voices. Giving people the sense that they have the ability to speak with their own voice, without having to ask permission, or without having to compete for “popularityâ€?, or without the fear that what they say will be taken down, which leads to self censorship. And with the knowledge that others can listen to this, freely. That they don’t need lots of cash or influence to speak.


So how do values get embedded in technology?

Things like RSS are not neutral. They give power to users, and take it away from big companies. Blogs, too, they give you a personal platform that is not censured by anyone, hopefully.

How we categorize things often really matters: ratings are a good example: I think they’re useless. Your highly rated blog may be useless to me, so why add ratings all over the place? Ratings suggest that popularity is what is important, and I don’t agree with that.

Ownership is very important to support real voices. Can someone take my video down? And also, can I make money from my video, or will someone else profit from it? Creative Commons is doing a great job there.

Formats, how portable are they, what can you do with them? Microformats give us an opportunity to easily create metadata that is spread easily. We can email companies about these things, and talk about them publicly. Flash is popular right now for watching video in the browser, but you can’t watch Flash video on your iPod, and it’s problematic for syndication.

Linking. It really annoys me that iTunes doesn’t link you back to the site where the video was created.

Businessmodels are under our review too. You want me to make a video for you for the chance to make 500$? And sign away all rights? I don’t think so.

Those are just a few examples of how our values can help shape the technology and marketplace. And once we do that, in turn, the technology and the marketplace will shape the actions and values of millions to come after us.

And we can call out companies. Say, kudos to Google for adopting mediaRSS, a format created by rival Yahoo. Kudos to Yahoo for adding a “video blogâ€? category to their new video site. When a company does something in a market this young, they’ll listen to what we have to say.

We don’t have to be a mob. We can be intelligent about it. I’m not saying, crucify companies. Just email them about the values they are embedding in their technologies. Blog about it.

The thing to realize is: these companies are scared of us. They depend on us. They need us, and we don’t need them. So now is the time to really push for our values, stand up every day and say what we believe. This way, we’ll influence the technologies, and this in turn will influence the millions that will come after us.


So let me say it one more time: The technology and the culture of videoblogging co-evolve. And we have an opportunity, now, to embed values in the technology that will in turn influence millions of people down the line.

This window of opportunity will close in a few years, or less. We can choose: 10 years down the line, a world full of skating dogs, and 1.99$ Simpsons downloads. Or, all that, AND a world of independent voices using this medium. Now is the time to stand up for our values.

Finally, remember that vision? People have been having it. We have a chance to make it happen now. I would like to read something by Francois Truffaut, published in Arts magazine, May 1957, 49 years ago. Thanks to Anne Walk for this one.

â€?The film of tomorrow appears to me as even more personal than an individual and autobiographical novel, like a confession, or a diary. The young filmmakers will express themselves in the first person and will relate what has happened to them: it may be the story of their first love or their most recent; of their political awakening; the story of a trip, a sickness, their military service, their marriage, their last vacation…and it will be enjoyable because it will be true and new…The film of tomorrow will not be directed by civil servants of the camera, but by artists for whom shooting a film constitutes a wonderful and thrilling adventure. The film of tomorrow will resemble the person who made it, and the number of spectators will be proportional to the number of friends the director has. The film of tomorrow will be an act of love.â€?

Thank you.

0 thoughts on “My vloggercon keynote: how values get embedded in technology.

  1. Thank you very much for posting this. It was a very inspiring presentation you gave at vloggercon, and I hope we don’t lose sight of those questions you raised here.

  2. In fact your model pays for the transiton cost by taxing the greater private account returns. This can be done by either directly taxing the returns, or indirectly by reducing the benefits. Economically it is exactly the same, in both cases the total return is reduced to pay for transition costs.

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