Facebook is Censoring My Notes

I don’t post “notes” to Facebook often, but I’d noticed a few weeks ago that several pieces I’d published like this a while back were apparently unpublished by the platform. I hadn’t seen or heard anything from Facebook about them being unpublished or having issues, so I didn’t realize the problem until I randomly stumbled back across my notes page.

They did have a piece of UI to indicate that I wanted to contest and republish them, so I clicked on it. Apparently this puts these notes into some type of limbo “review” process, but it’s been a few weeks now and there’s no response about either of them. They’re still both sitting unseen in my dashboard with sad notes above them saying:

We’re reviewing this post against our Community Standards.

There is no real indication if they’ll ever come back online. Currently my only option is to delete them. There’s also no indication, clear or otherwise, of which community standard they may have violated.

I can’t imagine how either of the posts may have run afoul of their community standards, or why “notes” in particular seem to be more prone to this sort of censorship in comparison with typical status updates. I’m curious if others have had this same experience?

We’re reviewing these posts against our Community Standards.

This is just another excellent example of why one shouldn’t trust third parties over which you have no control to publish your content on the web. Fortunately I’ve got my own website with the original versions of these posts [1][2] that are freely readable. If you’ve experienced this or other pernicious problems in social media, I recommend you take a look at the helpful IndieWeb community which has some excellent ideas and lots of help for re-exerting control over your online presence.

Notes Functionality

Notes on Facebook were an early 2009 era attempt for Facebook to have more blog-like content and included a rather clean posting interface, not un-reminiscent of Medium’s interface, that also allowed one to include images and even hyperlinks into pages.

The note post type has long since fallen by the wayside and I rarely, if ever, come across people using it anymore in the wild despite the fact that it’s a richer experience than traditional status updates. I suspect the Facebook black box algorithm doesn’t encourage its use. I might posit that it’s not encouraged as unlike most Facebook functionality, hyperlinks in notes on desktop browsers physically take one out of the Facebook experience and into new windows!

The majority of notes about me are spammy chain mail posts like “25 Random Things About Me”, which also helpfully included written instructions for how to actually use notes.

25 Random Things About Me

Rules: Once you’ve been tagged, you are supposed to write a note with 25 random things, facts, habits, or goals about you. At the end, choose 25 people to be tagged. You have to tag the person who tagged you. If I tagged you, it’s because I want to know more about you.

(To do this, go to “notes” under tabs on your profile page, paste these instructions in the body of the note, type your 25 random things, tag 25 people (in the right hand corner of the app) then click publish.)

Most of my published notes were experiments in syndicating my content from my own blog to Facebook (via POSSE). At the time, the engagement didn’t seem much different than posting raw text as status updates, so I abandoned it. Perhaps I’ll try again with this post to see what happens? I did rather like the ability to actually have links to content and other resources in my posts there.

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Brief Review of The Atlantic Interview Podcast

An awesome policy-focused and interview-based podcasts from one of the premiere news outlets of our day.

I’ve now listened to a dozen of the opening episodes of The Atlantic Interview and am enamored. It’s officially ensconced at the top of my regular rotation.

The weekly show, hosted by Jeffrey Goldberg, The Atlantic’s editor in chief, features him doing a relatively in-depth interview of a single guest for about thirty minutes.

I almost look at this podcast as a far better version of some of the “Sunday shows” where the guest isn’t always so heavily guarded because it would be impolitic or that they’re lost in a sea of voices amongst a larger panel where they just can’t develop some longer coherent thoughts or theses.

To some extent, this podcast is starting to fill a hole in my daily schedule that was created by the disappearance of The Charlie Rose show late last year. The sad part is that, at only once a week, I’m going to wish I had a lot more when I’m done binge-listening to the short backlog I’ve got. On The Atlantic Interview I appreciate that the “thing guests may be selling” (book, article, show, film, etc.) takes a pointed back seat to the broader topic(s) at hand.

Much of the strength of what I’ve heard thus far stems from interviews with people that are slightly off the beaten path, but with serious messages and interesting viewpoints. They’ve all been journalisticly solid and almost always provide me with news, viewpoints, and subtle information that I didn’t have before. Another strength is that the show can give guests additional time and depth than they might receive on other traditional shows. The guests so far have been very smart, cogent, and interesting. Their selection has been well balanced for gender, topic, and general variety within the space the show occupies. The show has generally impeccable audio and production values.

While initial guests seem to have an air of familiarity with the host as the result of closer (disclosed) interpersonal connections, I suspect that even when the list of immediate friends in his Rolodex runs dry, the show will easily have enough value and gravitas to successfully run on long beyond this.

One of my favorite parts of these podcasts are the somewhat snarky bumpers that Goldberg puts onto the the end encouraging people to give reviews and subscribe. I kind of wish he’d let loose a bit more and inject some of this kind of snark into the interviews too. If nothing else, he’s at least having fun with a part of the show that would otherwise be typically painful to trudge through.

Suggestions

I’d love to hear more about education policy, health care, public heath, internet, and foreign policy. A few guest ideas I’d love to hear in this format: Tressie McMillan Cottom, Mike Morrell, Susan J. Fowler, César A. Hidalgo, Tantek Çelik, Ellen J. MacKenzie, and Ezekiel Emanuel. Continuing in the vein of interviewing the interviewers, which I find terrifically fascinating, I’d love to see Judy Woodruff, Fareed Zakaria, W. Kamau Bell, Trevor Noah, and John Dickerson in the future. These aside, I suspect that anyone that Mssr. Goldberg finds intriguing, I’m sure I will as well.

Additional Technical Commentary

I really wish their podcast had individual web pages for each episode so I could more easily email, share, or target individual episodes for people. It would also be nice if the main page actually had .mp3 versions of the audio embedded in them to make it easier to bookmark and share through services like Huffduffer.com. I really don’t know why podcasters insist on using third party podcasting services to hide their .mp3 files from the outside world–it’s literally their most important product! Stop it! I find the practice to be as irksome as newspapers that use Facebook as their primary means of distribution, and just like that case, they’ll regret it in the long run.

While Megaphone.fm is a nice hosting platform for the show, I’m not sure why a publication the size and scope of The Atlantic isn’t simply self-hosing their own content using their own URLs.

The content for the show is still a bit scatter-brained. The main page on The Atlantic has the best and most comprehensive meta-descriptions of episodes, while the Megaphone page has some nice individual episode artwork that The Atlantic doesn’t have or present. This is sure to cause uneven experiences for people depending on how they choose to subscribe.

I appreciate that some of the early episodes went to the trouble to have full transcripts and some additional snippet content and images. I miss these transcripts. I do know that doing this can be painful and expensive, though perhaps services like Gretta.com might have some technology to help. If they want to go crazy, it would be cool to see Audiogram functionality, which they could use instead of relying on Megaphone or some other platform.

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👓 The MoviePass Tips You Need to Know | Lifehacker

The MoviePass Tips You Need to Know by Patrick Allan (Lifehacker)
MoviePass, the almost all-you-can-watch buffet of movies on the big screen, is a pretty sweet deal at $9.95 a month. But what if I told you that deal could be even sweeter? We’re talking scoring free popcorn, guaranteeing tickets to brand new releases, and easily avoiding the most common problems. All you need is the right tricks.
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👓 How Facebook Is Killing Comedy | Splitsider

How Facebook Is Killing Comedy by Sarah Aswell (Splitsider)
Last month, in its second round of layoffs in as many years, comedy hub Funny or Die reportedly eliminated its entire editorial team following a trend of comedy websites scaling back, shutting down, or restructuring their business model away from original online content. Hours after CEO Mike Farah delivered the news via an internal memo, Matt Klinman took to Twitter, writing, “Mark Zuckerberg just walked into Funny or Die and laid off all my friends.” It was a strong sentiment for the longtime comedy creator, who started out at UCB and The Onion before launching Pitch, the Funny or Die-incubated joke-writing app, in 2017.

This article really has so much. It also contains a microcosm of what’s been happening in journalism recently as well. I have a feeling that if outlets like Funny or Die were to go back and own their original content, there would still be a way for them to exist, we just need to evolve the internet away from the centralized direction we’ve been moving for the past decade and change.

Highlights, Quotes, & Marginalia

eliminated its entire editorial team following a trend of comedy websites scaling back, shutting down, or restructuring their business model away from original online content.  Hours after CEO Mike Farah delivered the news via an internal memo, Matt Klinman took to Twitter, writing, “Mark Zuckerberg just walked into Funny or Die and laid off all my friends.” It was a strong sentiment for the longtime comedy creator, who started out at UCB and The Onion before launching Pitch, the Funny or Die-incubated joke-writing app, in 2017.


“Mark Zuckerberg just walked into Funny or Die and laid off all my friends.”


The whole story is basically that Facebook gets so much traffic that they started convincing publishers to post things on Facebook. For a long time, that was fine. People posted things on Facebook, then you would click those links and go to their websites. But then, gradually, Facebook started exerting more and more control of what was being seen, to the point that they, not our website, essentially became the main publishers of everyone’s content. Today, there’s no reason to go to a comedy website that has a video if that video is just right on Facebook. And that would be fine if Facebook compensated those companies for the ad revenue that was generated from those videos, but because Facebook does not pay publishers, there quickly became no money in making high-quality content for the internet.


Facebook has created a centrally designed internet. It’s a lamer, shittier looking internet.


The EU has a bunch of laws kicking in to keep this in check — one is algorithmic transparency, where these places need to tell me why they are showing me something.


If someone at Facebook sees this, I want them to know, if they care at all about the idea that was the internet, they need to start thinking through what they are doing. Otherwise, then you’re just like Lennie from Of Mice and Men — a big dumb oaf crushing the little mouse of the internet over and over and not realizing it.


And I want it to feel that way to other people so that when they go to a cool website, they are inspired: They see human beings putting love and care into something.


Facebook is essentially running a payola scam where you have to pay them if you want your own fans to see your content.


It’s like if The New York Times had their own subscriber base, but you had to pay the paperboy for every article you wanted to see.


And then it becomes impossible to know what a good thing to make is anymore.

This is where webmentions on sites can become valuable. People posting “read” posts or “watch” posts (or even comments) indicating that they saw something could be the indicator to the originating site that something is interesting/valuable and could be displayed by that site. (This is kind of like follower counts, but for individual pieces of content, so naturally one would need to be careful about gaming.)


Here’s another analogy, and I learned this in an ecology class: In the 1800s (or something), there were big lords, or kings or something, who had giant estates with these large forests. And there were these foresters who had this whole notion of how to make a perfectly designed forest, where the trees would be pristinely manicured and in these perfect rows, and they would get rid of all the gross stuff and dirt. It was just trees in a perfect, human-devised formation that you could walk through. Within a generation, these trees were emaciated and dying. Because that’s how a forest works — it needs to be chaotic. It needs bugs and leaves, it makes the whole thriving ecosystem possible. That’s what this new internet should be. It won’t survive as this human-designed, top-down thing that is optimized for programmatic ads. It feels like a desert. There’s no nutrition, there’s no opportunity to do anything cool.


Recommending things for people is a personal act, and there are people who are good at it. There are critics. There are blogs. It’s not beneficial to us to turn content recommendations over to an algorithm, especially one that’s been optimized for garbage.


the internet was a better place 3-4 years ago. It used to be fruitful, but it’s like a desert now.


Facebook is the great de-contextualizer.

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👓 Journalists Boycott Disney Films After L.A. Times Snub | Hollywood Reporter

Journalists Boycott Disney Films After L.A. Times Snub (The Hollywood Reporter)
The L.A. Times is currently barred from attending advance screenings of Disney movies.

I’m betting this doesn’t end well for Disney’s corporate image. How shortsighted can they be?

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Feed reader revolution

It's time to embrace open & disrupt social media

The state-of-the-art in feed readers was frozen in place sometime around 2010, if not before. By that time most of the format wars between RSS and Atom had long since died down and were all generally supported. The only new features to be added were simple functionalities like sharing out links from readers to social services like Facebook and Twitter. For fancier readers they also added the ability to share out to services like Evernote, OneNote, Pocket, Instapaper and other social silos or silo related services.

So the real question facing companies with stand alone traditional feed reader products–like Feedly, Digg Reader, The Old Reader, Inoreader, Reeder, NewsBlur, Netvibes, Tiny Tiny RSS, WordPress reader–and the cadre of others is:

  • What features could/should we add?
  • How can we improve?
  • How can we gain new users?
  • How can we increase our market share?

In short the primary question is:

What should a modern RSS feed reader be capable of doing?

Continue reading “Feed reader revolution”

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👓 I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died. | Vox

I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died. by Dennis Perkins (Vox)

Some interesting analysis of what we’re loosing with the death of video stores. In particular, we’re losing some of the same type of recommendations and serendipity we’re loosing with the rise of e-books and less use of libraries/librarians. In particular, loosing well-curated collections is a big issue as we replace them with streaming services which don’t seem to have the same curatorial business models.

I particularly enjoyed this quote:

A great video store’s library of films is like a little bubble outside the march of technology or economics, preserving the fringes, the forgotten, the noncommercial, or the straight-up weird. Championed by a store’s small army of film geeks, such movies get more traffic than they did in their first life in the theater, or any time since. Not everything that was on VHS made the transition to DVD, and not every movie on DVD is available to stream. The decision to leave a movie behind on the next technological leap is market-driven, which makes video stores the last safety net for things our corporate overlords discard.

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Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni Event on 1-12-17

Join students and alumni from the Film and Media Studies Program in Culver City

I’ve been invited to participate in a panel discussion as part of an Intersession course by the Johns Hopkins Film and Media Studies Program. I hope fellow alumni in the entertainment and media sectors will come out and join us in Culver City on Thursday.


Join the Hopkins in Hollywood Affinity Group (AEME LA) as they welcome Linda DeLibero, Director of the JHU Film and Media Studies Program, and current students of the program for a dynamic evening of networking which features an alumni panel of industry experts.

Open to alumni, students, and friends of Hopkins, this event is sponsored by Donald Kurz (A&S ’77), Johns Hopkins University Emeritus Trustee and School of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board Member, and the Hopkins in Hollywood (AEME LA) Affinity Group.

Event Date: Thursday, January 12, 2017
Start Time: 6:30pm
End Time: 8:30pm

Panelists

Donald Kurz, A&S ’77
Moderator

Donald Kurz is Chairman and CEO of Omelet LLC, an innovative new media and marketing services firm based in Los Angeles.   Previously, Mr. Kurz was co-founder and CEO of hedge fund Artemis Capital Partners.  Between 1990 and 2005, Mr. Kurz was Chairman, President, and CEO of EMAK Worldwide, Inc, a global, NASDAQ-traded company providing Fortune 500 companies with strategic and marketing services internationally. Mr. Kurz’s 25 years’ experience in senior leadership includes management positions with Willis Towers Watson, PwC, and the J.C. Penney Company. Mr. Kurz is a Trustee Emeritus of the Johns Hopkins University, having served for 12 years on the Hopkins board.  He received an MBA from the Columbia University Graduate School of Business and a BA from Johns Hopkins University.

J Altman

Jason Altman, A&S ’99

Jason Altman is an Executive Producer at Activision working on the Skylanders franchise and new development projects.  Prior to Activision, he spent the past 5 years at Ubisoft Paris in different leadership roles, most recently as the Executive Producer of Just Dance, the #1 music video game franchise.  He is a veteran game producer who loves the industry, and is a proud graduate of the media studies program at Johns Hopkins.

Boardman

Paul Harris Boardman, A&S ’89

Paul Boardman wrote The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005) and Devil’s Knot (2014), both of which he also produced, and Deliver Us From Evil (2014), which he also executive produced.  In 2008, Paul produced The Day the Earth Stood Still for Fox, and he did production rewrites on Poltergeist, Scream 4, The Messengers, and Dracula 2000, as well as writing and directing the second unit for Hellraiser:  Inferno (2000) and writing Urban Legends:  Final Cut (2000).  Paul has written screenplays for various studios and production companies, including Trimark, TriStar, Phoenix Pictures, Miramax/Dimension, Disney, Bruckheimer Films, IEG, APG, Sony, Lakeshore, Screen Gems, Universal and MGM.

D Chivvis

Devon Chivvis, A&S ’96

Devon Chivvis is a showrunner/director/producer of narrative and non-fiction television and film. Inspired by a life-long passion for visual storytelling combined with a love of adventure and the exploration of other cultures, Devon has made travel a priority through her work in film and television. Devon holds a B.A. from Johns Hopkins University in International Relations and French, with a minor in Italian.

Chris Aldrich

Chris Aldrich, Engr ’96

Chris started his career at Hopkins while running several movie groups on campus and was responsible for over $200,000 of renovations in Shriver Hall including installing a new screen, sound system, and 35mm projection while also running the 29th Annual Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium “Framing Society: A Century of Cinema” on the 100th anniversary of the moving picture.

Following Hopkins he joined Creative Artists Agency where he worked in Motion Picture Talent and also did work in music-crossover. He later joined Davis Entertainment with a deal at 20th Century Fox where he worked on the productions of Heartbreakers, Dr. Dolittle 2, Behind Enemy Lines as well as acquisition and development of Alien v. Predator, Paycheck, Flight of the Phoenix, Garfield, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., I, Robot and countless others.

Missing the faster pace of representation, he later joined Writers & Artists Agency for several years working in their talent, literary, and book departments. Since that time he’s had his own management company focusing on actors, writers, authors, and directors. Last year he started Boffo Socko Books, an independent publishing company and recently put out the book Amerikan Krazy.

Source: Hopkins in Hollywood | Johns Hopkins Alumni

 

Register Here

More information Office of Alumni Relations
800-JHU-JHU1 (548-5481)
alumevents@jhu.edu

Part of the course:

The Entertainment Industry in Contemporary Hollywood

Students will have the opportunity to spend one week in Los Angeles with Film and Media Studies Director Linda DeLibero. Students will meet and network with JHU alums in the entertainment industry, as well as heads of studios and talent agencies, screenwriters, directors, producers, and various other individuals in film and television. Associated fee with this intersession course is $1400 (financial support is available for those who qualify). Permission of Linda DeLibero is required. Film and Media Studies seniors and juniors will be given preference for the eight available slots, followed by senior minors.Students are expected to arrive in Los Angeles on January 8. The actual course runs January 9-13 with lodging check-in on January 8 and check-out on January 14.

Course Number: AS.061.377.60
Credits: 1
Distribution: H
Days:  Monday 1/9/2017 – Friday 1/13/2017
Times:  M – TBA | Tu- TBA | W- TBA | Th- TBA | F- TBA
Instructor: Linda DeLibero
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Recap of Our Little Free Library Grand Opening

A big "Thank You!" to all those who helped make our Little Free Library Grand Opening so successful.

First a major note of thanks to everyone who helped to make the launch of Little Free Library Branch #8424 a fantastic success.  Everyone’s support and encouragement is truly appreciated.

When I was setting up, I naturally brought a book to read, but I did it mostly thinking that only two people might actually stop by. (Hey, I’ll be the first to admit that this is a pretty nerdy and a very local pursuit. It’s easy to click “like” on a post; it’s a whole other thing to visit a small neighborhood library even one with free oatmeal cookies.) Fortunately and very pleasantly, there was a steady stream of people from start to finish, so much so that, as the host, I didn’t get to chat with the visitors as much as I would have liked. Apologies to those I couldn’t chat with more, and even moreso to those who heard answers to the same questions multiple times.

In the end, we had over 20 people and a few pets stop by our little event.

A Double Drive-by… booking?!

Under the heading of “Only in LA” I’ll mention that, the highlight of our grand opening was what I can only describe as a double “drive-by booking.” Fortunately no one was hurt.

About 20 minutes into the event a car drove up with two bibliophiles. They each had a book to donate, but apparently didn’t have the time to park and actually stop for a glass of tea or any cookies. So they simply dropped off their books anonymously and then drove immediately off into the sunset. A few minutes later, another car drove up and did the same thing: they donated a book, said hello, and then proceeded on their way without joining the party!  Maybe they had an important book signing or a library event to rush off to? Maybe the library police were chasing them for late fines?  The mafia probably would have called foul as they didn’t technically put a foot on the curb or call us out, but hopefully this is as dangerous as things get in the Little Free Library world. One of the donated books had its South Pasadena Library serial number filed off, possibly to keep it from being traced, but authorities are working diligently on the case.

As if the double drive-by wasn’t odd enough, we also had a minivan drove by with a brief stop to ask what was going on. The driver mentioned that the car of several people happened to include two librarians, so apparently we’ll have to keep our eyes peeled for possible additional drive-by bookings.

Thanks for the Donations!

Special thanks go to Adam and Darren who dropped off 3 books. And to Delilah from down the street who was responsible for our first children’s book donation. And we can’t forget the massive donation of 8 books of literary fiction from Jeffrey Stewart making the largest, single one time donation. Several other neighbors dropped books off, and many browsed and found something interesting to take with them. I have to admit that I’m glad that I live in a neighborhood with such great taste in books.

The award for the longest distance donation goes to Samantha Marks who donated a signed copy of her new book A Fatal Family Secret which she shipped from Ellicott City, Maryland just in time for the Grand Opening. It counts as the newest book in our collection as it was just published in May. Since it was checked out almost as soon as it entered the collection, it also rates as our quickest check out; those in a rush may want to pick up a copy at Amazon or other fine booksellers.

In all we had a total of  26 donations for our Grand Opening, bringing our grand total to 49, so far.

As a special mention, the award for the furthest distance traveled to make our grand opening goes to Jocelyn, who came from London on her way to Oklahoma!

Again, a big “Thank You!” to everyone who helped to make our Grand Opening such a lovely success! We look forward to seeing everyone come back soon!

Website and Social Media

For those who weren’t able to stop by, we’re now open 24/7 365 days a year.  You can visit our branch online at its own website or by means of your favorite social media platform:

 

The oatmeal cookies and iced tea we served at the opening.
The oatmeal cookies and iced tea we served at the opening.
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Little Free Library #8424 Progress

My Little Free Library is getting closer to launch...

Almost the same moment I saw my first Little Free Library, I decided that I wanted to host one of my very own, so I registered with the intent of building one in my free time. The registration arrived and I’d drafted some very serious custom plans, but just never gotten around to purchasing the supplies and building it.

Recently I saw something a bit more quirky and interesting than my original plans that I could up-cycle, so I made the purchase (happy belated birthday to me)!  It’s got two spacious shelves with two doors including a glass fronted one, and it’s got the capacity for at least 6 linear feet of books. We’re nearly ready to go.

Little Free Library #8424 (prelaunch)
Little Free Library #8424 (prelaunch)

I’m hoping to get some mounting materials and have the library up and running soon.  My plan is to specialize in literary fiction, though I’m sure we’ll also stock a fair amount of popular science and non-fiction as well as thriller, mystery, and suspense as well.

Invitations to the “launch” party should be coming shortly! If you’ve got some books you’d like to donate toward the cause, let me know in the comments below. Be sure to include a Book Crossing ID number on them if you’d like to track where your favorite objects head off to in the future.

 

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Machiavelli in Hollywood | Gavin Polone’s ‘Textbook’ on the Entertainment Industry

A series of articles by producer Gavin Polone can serve as an excellent introduction to the business of Hollywood.

Dearth of (Great) Textbooks on The Entertainment Business

In having previously taught several classes on the business of the entertainment industry, I was never quite able to pick out even a mediocre textbook for such a class. There are a handful that will give one an overview of the nuts and bolts and one or two that will provide some generally useful numbers (see the syllabi from those classes), but none comes close to providing the philosophy of how the business works in a short period of time.

A Short Term Solution

To remedy this problem, I was always a fan of producer and ex-agent Gavin Polone, who had a series of articles in New York Magazine/Vulture.  I’ve recently gone through and linked to all of the forty-four articles, in chronological order, he produced in that series from 9/21/11 to 5/7/14.

I’ve aggregated the series via Readlists.com, so one can click on each of the articles individually.  Better yet, for students and teachers alike, one can click on the “export” link and very easily download them all in most ebook formats (including Kindle, iPad, etc.) for your reading/studying convenience.

My hope is that for others, they may create an excellent starter textbook on how the entertainment business works and, more importantly: how successful people in the business think. For those who need more, Gavin is also an occasional contributor to the Hollywood Reporter.  (And, as a note for those not trained in the classics and prone to modern-day stereotypes, I’ll make the caveat that I use the title “Machiavelli” above with the utmost reverence and honor.)

I’m still slowly, but surely making progress on my own all-encompassing textbook, but, until then, I hope others find this series of articles as interesting and useful as I have.

 

Gavin Polone is an agent turned manager turned producer. His production company, Pariah, has brought you such movies and TV shows as Panic Room, Zombieland, Gilmore Girls, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Follow him on Twitter @gavinpolone

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Git and Version Control for Novelists, Screenwriters, Academics, and the General Public

Revision (or version) control is used in tracking changes in computer programs, but it can easily be used for tracking changes in almost any type of writing from novels, short stories, screenplays, legal contracts, or any type of textual documentation.

Marginalia and Revision Control

At the end of April, I read an article entitled “In the Margins” in the Johns Hopkins University Arts & Sciences magazine.  I was particularly struck by the comments of eminent scholar Jacques Neefs on page thirteen (or paragraph 20) about computers making marginalia a thing of the past:

Neefs believes contemporary literature is losing a valuable component in an age when technology often precludes and trumps the need to save manuscripts or rough drafts. But it is not something that keeps him up at night. ‘The modern technique of computers and everything makes [marginalia] a thing of the past,’ he says. ‘There’s a new way of creation. Some would say it’s tragic, but something new has been invented. I don’t consider it tragic. There are still great writers who write and continue to have a way to keep the process.’

Photo looking over the shoulder of Jacques Neefs onto the paper he's been studing on the table in front of him.
Jacques Neefs (Image courtesy of Johns Hopkins University)

I actually think that he may be completely wrong and that current technology actually allows us to keep far more marginalia! (Has anyone heard of digital exhaust?) The bigger issue may be that many writers just don’t know how to keep a better running log of their work to maintain all the relevant marginalia they’re actually producing. (Of course there’s also the subsequent broader librarian’s “digital dilemma” of maintaining formats for the future. As an example, thing about how easy or hard it might be for you to read that ubiquitous 3.5 inch floppy disk you used in 1995.)

A a technologist who has spent many years in the entertainment industry, I feel compelled to point everyone towards the concept of revision control (or version control) within the realm of computer science.  Though it’s primarily used in tracking changes in computer programs and is often a tool used by large teams of programmers, it can very easily be used for tracking changes in almost any type of writing from novels, short stories, screenplays, legal contracts, or any type of textual documentation of nearly any sort.

Example Use Cases for Revision Control

Publishing

As a direct example, I’m using what is known as a Git repository to track every change I make in a textbook I’m currently writing.  I can literally go back and view every change I’ve made since beginning the project, so though I’m directly revising one (or more) text files, all of my “marginalia” and revisions are saved and available.  Currently I’m only doing it for my own reference and for additional backup not supposing that anyone other than myself or an editor possibly may want to ever peruse it.  If I was working in conjunction with otheres, there are ways for me to track the changes, edits, or notes that others (perhaps an editor or collaborator) might make.

In addition to the general back-up of the project (in case of catastrophic computer failure), I also have the ability to go back and find that paragraph (or multiple pages) I deleted last week in haste, but realize that I desperately want them back now instead of having to recreate them de n0vo.

Because it’s all digital, future scholars also won’t have problems parsing my handwriting issues as has occasionally come up in differentiating Mary Shelley’s writing from that of her husband in digital projects like the Shelley Godwin Archive. The fact that all changes are tracked and placed in a tree-like structure will indicate who wrote what and when and will indicate which changes were ultimately accepted and merged into the final version.

Screenplays in Hollywood

One particular use case I can easily see for such technology is tracking changes in screenplays over time.  I’m honestly shocked that every production company or even more likely studios don’t use such technology to follow changes in drafts over time. In the end, doing such tracking will certainly make Writers Guild of America (WGA) arbitrations much easier as literally every contribution to a script can be tracked to give screenwriters appropriate credit. The end results with the easy ability to time-machine one’s way back into older drafts is truly lovely, and the outputs give so much more information about changes in the script compared to the traditional and all-too-simple (*) which screenwriters use to indicate that something/anything changed on a specific line or the different colored pages which are used on scripts during production.

I can also picture future screenwriters using services like GitHub as platforms for storing and distributing their screenplays to potential agents, managers, and producers.

Redlining Legal Documents

Having seen thousands of legal agreements go back and forth over the years, revision control is a natural tool for tracking the redlining and changes of legal documents as they change over time before they are finally (or even never) executed. I have to imagine that being able to abstract out the appropriate metadata in the long run may actually help attorneys, agents, etc. to become better negotiators, but something like this is a project for another day.

Academia

In addition to direct research for projects being undertaken by academics like Neefs, academics should look into using revision control in their own daily work and writings.  While writing a book, paper, journal article, essay, monograph, etc. (or graduate students writing theses) one could use their own Git repository to not only save but to back up all of their own work not only for themselves primarily, but also future scholars who come later who would not otherwise have access to the “marginalia” one creates while manufacturing their written thoughts in digital form.

I can easily picture Git as a very simple “next step” in furthering the concept of the digital humanities as well as in helping to bridge the gap between C.P. Snow’s “two cultures.” (I’d also suggest that revision control is a relatively simple step one could take before learning a particular programming language, which I think should be a mandatory tool in everyone’s daily toolbox regardless of their field(s) of interest.)

Git Logo

Start Using Revision Control

“But how do I get started?” you ask.

Know going in that it may take parts of a day to get things set up and running, but once you’ve started with the basics, things are actually pretty easy and you can continue to learn the more advanced subtleties as you progress.  Once things are working smoothly, the additional overhead you’ll be expending won’t be too much more than the old method of hitting Alt-S to save one of your old Word documents in the time before auto-save became ubiquitous.

First one should start by choosing one of the myriad revision control systems that exist.  For the sake of brevity in this short introductory post, I’ll simply suggest that users take a very close look at Git because of its ubiquity and popularity in the computer science world and the fact that it includes a tremendously large amount of free information and support from a variety of sites on the internet. Git also has the benefit of having versions for all major operating systems (Windows, MacOS, and Linux). Git also has the benefit of a relatively long and robust life within the computer science community meaning that it’s very stable and has many more resources for the uninitiated to draw upon.

Once one has Git installed on their computer and has begun using it, I’d then recommending linking one’s local copy of the repository to a cloud storage solution like either GitHub or BitBucket.  While GitHub is certainly one of the most popular Git-related services out there (because it acts, in part, as the hub for a large portion of the open internet and thus promotes sharing), I often recommend using BitBucket as it allows free unlimited private but still share-able repositories while GitHub requires a small subscription fee for keeping one’s work private. Having a repository in the cloud will help tremendously in that your work will be available and downloadable from almost anywhere and because it also serves as a de-facto back-up solution for your work.

I’ve recently been playing around with version control to help streamline the writing/editing process for a book I’ve been writing. Though Git and it’s variants probably seem more daunting than they should to the everyday user, they really represent a very powerful tool. I’ve spent less than two days learning the basics of both Git and hosted repositories (GitHub and Bitbucket), and it has been more than well worth the minor effort.

There is a huge wealth of information on revision control in general and on installing and using Git available on the internet, including full textbooks. For the complete beginners, I’d recommend starting with The Chronicle’s “A Gentle Introduction to Version Control.” Keep in mind that though some of these resources look highly technical, it’s because many are trying to enumerate every function one could potentially desire, when even just the basic core functionality is more than enough to begin with. (I could analogize it to learning to drive a car versus actually reading the full manual so that you know how to take the engine apart and put it back together from scratch. To start with revision control, you only need to learn to “drive.”) Professors might also avail themselves of the use of their local institutional libraries which may host small sessions on learning such tools, or they might avail themselves of the help of their colleagues or students in the computer science department. For others, I’d recommend taking a look at Git’s primary website. BitBucket has an excellent step-by-step tutorial (and troubleshooting) for setting up the requisite software and using it.

What do you use for revision control?

I’ll welcome any thoughts, experiences, or additional resources one might want to share with others in the comments.

Syndicated copies to:

John C. Malone on Assets in the Entertainment Industry

John C. Malone (1941 – ), American business executive, landowner, and philanthropist
at Sun Valley Conference 2012, quoted in New York Times

 

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Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences study on The Digital Dilemma

With a slight nod toward the Academy’s announcements of the Oscar nominees this morning, there’s something more interesting which they’ve recently released which hasn’t gotten nearly as much press, but portends to be much more vital in the long run.

Academy_awards

As books enter the digital age and we watch the continued convergence of rich media like video and audio enter into e-book formats with announcements last week like Apple’s foray into digital publishing, the ability to catalog, maintain and store many types of digital media is becoming an increasing problem.  Last week the Academy released part two of their study on strategic issues in archiving and accessing digital motion picture materials in their report entitled The Digital Dilemma 2. Many of you will find it interesting/useful, particularly in light of the Academy’s description

The Digital Dilemma 2 reports on digital preservation issues facing communities that do not have the resources of large corporations or other well-funded institutions: independent filmmakers, documentarians and nonprofit audiovisual archives.

Clicking on the image of the report below provides some additional information as well as the ability (with a simple login) to download a .pdf copy of their entire report.

Digitaldilemma

There is also a recent Variety article which gives a more fully fleshed out overview of many of the issues at hand.

In the meanwhile, if you’re going to make a bet in this year’s Oscar pool, perhaps putting your money on the “Digital Dilemma” might be more useful than on Brad Pitt for Best Actor in “Moneyball”?