Saturday, February 21, 2009

Quick observations on the solar industry

I've just spent a piece of today costing out solar systems for home use, because soon I'll be starting to build a holiday shack on a little plot in the Southern Tablelands.

I settled on price per watt as a handy benchmark because it was easy to calculate, and there were some surprises.

The first is that the price variations are huge - the most expensive at retail are twice the price of the cheapest, even though I found the range of brands available quite small (so it can't be put down to the old "quality" standby excuse for high prices).

The second is that eBay isn't a great place to buy solar. Only a handful of prices on eBay for stuff that was sold were much below normal retail, and many of the cheapies could not be identified by brand.

The third is that I went back over some old prices, courtesy of the Internet Archive's Wayback machine, and have come to the conclusion that the solder industry knows a boondoggle - courtesy of government subsidy - when it sees it. So much for saving the planet; we're really about stripping the punters, and who's going to notice a price hike when the government's picking up 2/3 of the tab?

Finally, I really hate the sorts of companies that run the same business under 20 domain names just so they can drag Google searchers. Once I've dismissed someone as overpriced, I'm not going back under some other domain name.

I will be able to put together a solar system I can afford, but the industry doesn't make it easy. Three out of ten, solar industry, and try giving up the extra fat and getting rid of the ripoff merchants.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Let's burn a few social media straw men

Perhaps it's the insecurity born of being the new kid on the block, but social media experts are full of criticism of journalists for not understanding or embracing social media. Their critiques are almost exclusively built on straw men, and I figure it's just as well to identify these.

1) Journalists don't use Twitter.

That's odd, because I know a bunch of Twittering journalists. In my immediate experience, journalists have grabbed Twitter with enthusiasm. Some journalists do, some don't, but that's not surprising; Twitter is still a minority activity – a couple of million users out of a billion Internet users.

2) Journalists don't understand how to get stories from Twitter.

If it was true yesterday, it won't be true tomorrow. Journalists pick up story leads and tips wherever they happen. Just because they prefer selling their output to a paying customer such as a publisher, rather than spilling their livelihood in 160 characters for free, doesn't make the journalist clueless.

3) Journalism is old media

I know quite a few journalists who avoid the term “journalist”, because they've bought the new media fan's cry that journalism is old media. Actually, journalism is an activity. It's something that people do, and the activity is easily differentiated from both the medium (old or new media) and the business model. Avoiding a word because some idiot uses it as a term of abuse means you've accepted the other person's mindset; you're defining yourself in their terms, instead of your own.

Generally, those who say journalism==old media publishing reveal their own lack of understanding. The journalist can exist in a huge range of places that aren't in (say) News Corporation or Fox, and always have.

4)Twitter is the best / only place for contacts

It sounds so silly, put like that, but there are people who believe it. The best place to get a contact is wherever the story comes from. If your contact is on Twitter, that's the place; if your contact is in the pub, then the pub's the place. Anyone who can only interpret life in terms of one channel is, themselves, unidimensional.

5)Twitter is first

The first time I read a story outlining how Twitter outruns the old media straw man, I took the analysis as straight and thought “that's interesting”. The second time, I was watching Twitter unfold at the same time as the story. Since Twitter's stories came from other media (eg, RSS feeds, including 'old media' sites), the claim that it was outrunning its own primary sources is demonstrably nonsense.

As with all media, Twitter has the ability to be first. Any moderately real-time medium can be first; it depends on the channels and reporters (I don't restrict “reporter” to “professional journalist employed by major publisher”) that exist between the event and the reader.