December 16, 2005

The Toolbar Times

--Or --
"Everything I need to know I learn from my toolbar"


SOMETIME AFTER THE NICHOLAS BERG BEHEADING was shelved to make room for the new major media show called TAAGAS ATTUYBE! ( "Torture All Abu Ghraib Apprentices/Survivors All the Time Until Your Brain Explodes" ), disgust with traditional media reached tsunamic proportions across the Internet, as well as in the population at large. On the Internet this revulsion was expressed by a plethora of commentary, fact-checking, and pointers. Still, it all has a "been there, done that, have the T-shirt" feeling to it. And it masks what the continuing failure of the major media are doing to themselves, every day in every way, as -- following their benighted blisss -- they become worse and worse.

There's another quieter way, in which users are, day-by-day, having their say about the sealed fate of the moral and ethically compromised major media, the evolution of The Toolbar Times. To paraphrase John Gilmore, "Users are seeing the work of traditional news media as system damage and routing around it." Like Scoop Nisker, we'd don't like the news so we're going out and making some of our own.

Somewhere someone is updating a graph. The graph has two lines. The first line depicts traditional media (a combination of audience numbers for television and radio news and the circulation of

newspapers and magazines). It is a line in decline. The second line depicts the use of the Internet to gather information, news and opinion. This line is ascending. At some point, perhaps not too distant, the two lines will cross. At that point the angles of decline and ascent will steepen until, at some other point, the line for traditional media will drop off the significant part of the chart forever.

For many of us, that time is now. For others it will come to them as inevitable as the force of gravity. If you are reading this, the odds are favorable that you now get your daily dose of news and opinion from a source I like to think of as "The Toolbar Times." If so, you're a charter member of the only newspaper that matters: yours. And you made it yourself. Why? Because you could.

There's nothing new to my observation. Getting people to subscribe to an Omni-Paper has been the goal of countless dot-dot-com operations for years. Their solution is to beg you to make their page your page and the offer a host of options for "customization." Easy enough for Net beginners but it doesn't take long for the love of "MyYahoo" to fade as you note that "MyYahoo" is just "TheirYahoo" with pretty colors. From Pages to Portals to Push and back to Portals and then to Pages. Quite a circular ride wasn't it?

But it isn't what's on their portals that's important. It's what's on your Toolbar. Portals aren't the quickest way of finding what's important to you on a daily basis. The quickest way is to drag those pages that satisfy you to the Toolbar and then click your way through.

This isn't about links or even about bookmarks/favorites, but about The Toolbar Times, Your Toolbar Times. Links are infinite and, after a time, saved bookmarks can also grow until you start looking for special software to manage them. Then you just forget about them. Like the Dude, The Toolbar Times abides.

The most limited (hence precious) real estate of any browser is the Toolbar. That's where I keep those sites that are important to me and, no doubt, if you've been paying attention, that's where you keep sites important to you.

The default nature of an efficient Toolbar Times is to get as many sources in it as you like without having them scroll off to the right. I've developed a system of abbreviations to maximize this by renaming them to two lower-case characters, but there is still a limit for efficient browsing. My edition of The Toolbar Times can take about 25 sites. That's good. That's very good. The fact there is a physical limit to Toolbar items means I have to be selective about those pages that I deem important. So do you.

Every icon in my edition of The Toolbar Times got there because I found I came back to it so often that pulling it up from the bookmarks or typing it in (even with autocomplete) was a bore. Like Topsy, my Toolbar Times just grew. But soon it grew until it scrolled off the edge of the screen. This required me to cut the icons back, which I did and I still do. When a new source of news or opinion becomes, for whatever reason, important enough to me to warrant a slot in The Toolbar Times something else has to go. It's a kind of information triage.

The sections of my Toolbar Times form my daily data stream. What they are is as irrelevant to you as yours to me. It's enough that we are all beginning to read the same paper with different pages. That ability is what will, in the not-so-long run, kill off traditional media. I keep a variety of views represented in the Op-Ed section of my Toolbar Times. Most quite naturally reinforce my own views but a few a utterly opposite. If you are wise, yours will in some way replicate this, but it really is no business of mine. Your Toolbar Times is yours and yours alone.

A couple of years back there was a lot of talk about the need to get people to bookmark a page. We still see endless sites that offer you a handy way to bookmark them as if you didn't know how to do it yourself. Even more plaintive are the sites that beg you to make them your home page (The grail of capturing a user to most sites). The blandishments for doing this are infinite but do not, as yet, offer cash in large quantities in unmarked bills -- when that happens I might take bids.

Until then I'll ignore these supplications as one might ignore sounds of ancient oceans that somehow have made their way make into a seashell I once held to my ear on a forgotten beach and then tossed away forever.

Tomorrow millions of people will make their way into their driveway and bend over to pick up a newspaper. The day after tomorrow, they will be a thousand or so fewer in number. Those people not bending over in their driveway will be those for whom the new news source has become the news they made themselves -- The Toolbar Times.

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Posted by Vanderleun at December 16, 2005 11:22 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Small nit, the Dude "abides", not "endures". Other than that, you get points for the Lebowski reference, as well as the articulate response to the vaunted Grey Lady.

Posted by: Jeremiah at May 21, 2004 1:45 PM

Thanks for the nit. It now abides.

Posted by: vanderleun at May 21, 2004 2:41 PM

There are still stiff problems to be solved, not the least of which is that news sources that start out reliable don't always stay that way. That having been said, the Toolbar Times is, indeed, proving to be preferable to the pabulum and pontifications of the mainstream press. Those latter scoundrels have abused their privileges for far too long.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at May 21, 2004 6:16 PM

Here on Long Island, TAAGAS ATTUYBE, is the main course and the inhabitants think they are well fed. They feed at Newsday's trough. They can have the same dish from the N. Y. Times and be assured that they are intelligent to boot, a veritable feast!

Posted by: Dennis at December 16, 2005 8:17 PM

Great point, especially if (in my case) you substitute "RSS reader" for "toolbar". I get more focused news faster and more accurately than ever before, in less time. But crucially there are MORE sources behind this news, it comes from everywhere, corrects itself, sometimes even contradicts itself and let's me see more of the big picture. All at less cost than ever before. Awesome.

Posted by: Ole Eichhorn at December 17, 2005 10:02 AM

And the best part... the wild card slot: When nobody has yet written on the object of my curiosity, there is that little search box I can use. My Toolbox Times has MUCH greater resource depth available than any print medium.

Posted by: Mr. Michael at December 19, 2005 9:57 PM

I had a similar experience sorting and culling blog bookmarks down to a "daily read" list. What has amazed me most about comparing MSM newspapers to blogs is the number of important stories they completely suppress. Before becoming a blog reader this year, I did not know I was only getting a highly filtered version of the "news" from MSM.

Posted by: j. blair at December 20, 2005 8:07 AM

I never realized how much news I was NOT getting until I discovered blogging about a year ago. Let's never let the UN get their corrupt hands on this resource.

Posted by: opine6 at December 20, 2005 2:45 PM

My Toolbar Times is:
Power Line
Michelle Malkin
Little Green Footballs
Captain's Quarters
Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler
Drudge Report
The Indepundit
Hugh Hewitt
Ranting Right Wing Howler
Confederate Yankee

Posted by: tracelan at December 20, 2005 8:54 PM

Excellent post, and observations!

I use, but what I use it for is my "Toolbar Times," which consists of links down the left column. I can put a short plain english description, which helps, because what I write in the description dictates where it appears in the column, via the alpha sort that Yahoo applies. Got every one there, that tracelan has, too. I thought that was interesting.

Have yet to get serious on RSS feeds, though.

Posted by: Norm at January 3, 2006 8:50 PM
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