Fourteen billion web pages … but you can get from any one to any other in 19 clicks or less.

Opte Project Web Network Map
A visualization of the ~14 billion pages that make up the network of cyberspace. Red lines represent links between web pages in Asia … blue lines for North America … yellow for Latin America … green for Europe, Africa and the Middle East … white for unknown IP addresses.  (Opte Project)

There are an estimated 14 billion+ web pages in existence. But even with this massive number, you can navigate from any single one of those pages to any other in 19 clicks or less.

That’s the finding of Albert-László Barabási, a Hungarian-Romanian physicist and network theorist. He’s constructed a simulated model of the web, and in doing so discovered that of the ~1 trillion web documents in existence (this figure includes every image or other file hosted on every one of the ~14 billion web pages), most are poorly connected.

In other words, they’re linked to just a few other pages or documents.

But the web also has a smallish number of pages associated with search engines, indexes and aggregators that are highly connected and can move from one area of cyberspace to another.

It is these “super-potent” nodes that allow people to navigate from most areas to most others relatively easily.

Physicist Albert-László Barabási
Albert-László Barabási, physicist and network theorist.

Hence Barabási’s “19 clicks or fewer” finding.

He posits that the web mirrors fundamental human experience: the impulse for people to tend to cluster into communities (both real and virtual).

Thus, the pages that make up the web aren’t linked randomly. They’re part of an interconnected organizational structure that includes country, region, subject/topic area and so forth.

That interconnectivity is illustrated nicely in the Opte Project’s “map” of cyberspace. This endeavor, spearheaded by Internet entrepreneur Barrett Lyon, gives us intriguing visualizations of the web and how it is interconnected.

The resulting picture (see above) is impressive, visually arresting … and even a bit scary.

Move Over, Howard Stern: Now Google’s the “King of All Media”

Google and Print Advertising Revenue Trends, 2004-2012It’s official. With nearly $21 billion in ad revenue generated during the first half of 2012, Google now attracts more advertising business than all U.S. print media combined.

That is correct:  German-based statistics portal Statista reports that Google garnered ~$20.8 billion in total ad revenues over the period, while all U.S. newspapers and magazines took in only about $19.2 billion.

Never mind that the comparison isn’t completely apples-to-apples … in that print revenues are for the United States only, while Google generates ad revenues worldwide. Still, it’s a dramatic milestone, and it says a lot about the fortunes (and future) of print versus online advertising.

Statista has helpfully published trend charts that show how quickly the ad picture has changed (see above). Only a few years ago, print advertising dominated the scene, but the trajectories of it and Google have been on opposite paths ever since.

It was inevitable that the lines would eventually cross, but how many could have foreseen it happening as early as 2012?

As if on cue, Advance Publications, a company that owns a number of venerable newspapers in New Orleans, Cleveland and elsewhere, has just announced that it is likely to cut the publication frequency of the Plain Dealer newspaper from its current seven days a week.

If Advance follows through on its intentions, it will join the New Orleans Times Picayune as a daily newspaper that’s no longer a daily.

The publisher’s letter to Plain Dealer readers described the newspaper’s future in lofty terms, noting that changes were coming as the paper seeks to “embrace dynamic shifts in the way information is consumed.”  And other such language.

It also noted that the pending changes are “not about cost-cutting.” But who believes that?

And in fact, the publisher’s letter states also that “if we maintain the status quo, we risk doing what everyone – our employees, advertisers and the community – wants to avoid: disappearing.”

If people don’t see a correlation between the Statista data and what the Plain Dealer has in store for its readers … they’re living on another planet. 

Immigration Nation: Northern Lights Edition

Hovsjo Estate, Sodertalje, Sweden
The “road to wherever” is paved with good intentions: Hovsjo Estate, Sweden.

As an adjunct to my recent blog post recounting the views of my expat brother, Nelson Nones, on immigration policy and its impact on national identity, here’s another interesting missive – this time from Sweden where my brother is currently working on a long-term consulting job.

What he writes is a cautionary tale on how not to deal with the tide of foreign nationals flooding in …

Background

I’m staying in Södertälje, a town of about 65,000 people located 22 miles southwest of Stockholm. Although Södertälje is today considered part of the greater Stockholm area, albeit on the fringe, it is an old factory town.

I’m here because Astra AB, which merged with Zeneca Group of the United Kingdom to form pharmaceuticals giant AstraZeneca, was founded here in 1919. Today AstraZeneca has two manufacturing sites in Södertälje, one of which is the largest tableting plant in the world.

One bit of trivia you’ll find out here: It’s the hometown of tennis star Björn Borg.

As most people know, Sweden is a very socialist market economy. The Swedes I know tell me that the only real difference between the Right (mainly represented by the “Moderate Party”) and Left (mainly represented by the “Swedish Social Democratic Party” which is Sweden’s largest political party) is their position on whether (Left) or not (Right) the government should run state-owned enterprises.

Sweden has a very generous public welfare system financed by the second-highest tax regime in the world, after Denmark. Personal income tax starts at 29%, but anyone earning over ~US$ 52,000 per year will pay between 49% and 60%.

Throw in the 25% value added tax (VAT) which is similar to sales tax in America, and you’ll get an idea of just how high the taxes are here.

Sweden is Europe’s fifth-largest country by area (not counting European Russia) but its population is only 9.5 million, so it is Europe’s third most sparsely populated country, after Norway and Finland (again, not counting European Russia and also excluding Iceland). Sweden is also relatively poorly endowed with natural resources.  For example, neighboring Norway has large North Sea oil reserves, but Sweden has none.

Recognizing this, the Swedish government aggressively pursued a policy of promoting large-scale industrial development after World War II, and this is one reason why Sweden has so many large industrial companies today. They include AstraZeneca, Volvo, Ericsson, Scania (also headquartered in Södertälje), Skanska, Saab and Alfa Laval.

To build these industries Sweden needed workers – lots of them. So it entered into a trade agreement with other Northern European countries back in 1952 which established a common labor market and free movement across borders. As a result, Sweden successfully attracted a large number of immigrants during the 1950s and 1960s from countries such as Finland, Germany, and even the Baltic States.

Another piece of important background information concerns greater Stockholm’s development since World War II. Unlike most big American cities, very few people in the Stockholm area (including Södertälje) live in single-family detached homes. Most of them live in apartments that were constructed in the 1960s and 1970s as part of Sweden’s Million Programme to build 1 million new dwellings in 10 years (for more information, see the Wikipedia article http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Million_Programme).

One of the main motivations of the Million Programme was to build affordable housing for the immigrant workers recruited to fuel Sweden’s industrial growth, and quite a few of those houses were built in Södertälje because it was already a well-established factory town.

To give an idea of how prevalent this sort of housing is, I had dinner recently with one of AstraZeneca’s senior executives and his family at their home, which is a flat in a small development on the outskirts of Södertälje consisting of two-story apartment blocks, four flats per block. It’s a beautiful home, but it still is … a flat.

How It Went Wrong

Partly because of its liberal immigration policy over the years, Sweden is also one of the world’s most accommodating countries for political refugees.  In recent years, many of them have come from the Middle East; specifically Christian Iraqis and Assyrians facing religious persecution, and also Muslims.

A very large number of these refugees settled in Södertälje. Today, approximately 40% of Södertälje’s population is foreign-born and, outside of Iraq, Södertälje is the largest enclave of Iraqis in the world.

Why Södertälje? Local opinions differ, but from what I can piece together it appears that:

  • Although Sweden’s industrial development policy proved very successful at first, employment in large industries is now in decline. As one example, AstraZeneca shut down its R&D center in Södertälje earlier this year in order to cut costs and consolidate R&D activities in the United Kingdom. (Previously, the Södertälje R&D center employed ~1,000 people.) Sweden’s automotive industries, especially Saab, have been hit hard by the global recession. It doesn’t help that Sweden is a very high-cost manufacturing locale today, so the country has lost many of the competitive advantages it possessed in prior years. As in America, industries have attempted to reduce high labor costs through automation, further reducing local employment.
  • Södertälje’s residential vacancy rate surged as job losses mounted and people moved away to find work elsewhere.
  • The Swedish government pays 100% of the housing cost for political refugees, who typically are unemployable because they lack the necessary language and/or job skills.
  • Södertälje is a convenient place to house these refugees, because vacant flats are readily available at (relatively) low cost, and because the town is on Stockholm’s urban fringe where the new arrivals are least likely to disrupt the area’s social fabric.

One of the Södertälje neighborhoods where the refugee population lives is Hovsjö (a tongue-twister pronounced something like “hoe-joo”). It was a Million Programme project put up between 1971 and 1975.

Unlike American ghetto neighborhoods, this one is on the far fringes of Södertälje, on top of a hill in the middle of a huge pine forest, and adjacent to a stunningly beautiful lake. It has 2,200 apartments, mostly in high-rise buildings, and is home to over 5,000 people.

You can view a documentary of Hovsjö at http://frankaschberg.com/sets/hovsjo/1296 and I can confirm from having driven up there once, just to see it, that the images paint an accurate picture.

Is this what comes to mind when one thinks of Sweden?  Most likely not!  With the help of Google Translate, shown below is a 2008 news article that says it all (you can find the original, in Swedish, here: http://lt.se/nyheter/1.47788-rasistdad-mot-nya-minoriteter-i-hovsjo).

New Racist Minorities in Hovsjö

“There are families who are prisoners in their own homes.”  Hovsjö Muslims, newly arrived refugees and people who stand out, are all becoming victims of harassment in Hovsjö. “I do not know why they harass me,” says Louris Kalo.

Hovsjö has become calmer for most people. But for a minority, it has become a living hell. Arriving refugees – especially Muslims – are particularly vulnerable.

“The problem must be taken seriously by politicians. There are families who are prisoners in their own homes, who take their children to kindergarten and then lock themselves inside out of fear,” says Hovsjö police chief Niclas Johansson.

One victim, who is neither Muslim nor Iraqi, is hairdresser Louris Kalo. She is Syrian but from Syria, not Turkey. “I do not know why they harass me, but the police and Securitas [the private security company] have been really kind to follow me home.”

For some reason, perhaps because she is a single woman and supports herself, she is met by taunts and she has repeatedly been forced to lock herself in her apartment after over 30 youths threw eggs at her salon and wrote bad words on the door. “Most of Hovsjö’s families are good and I do not want to move from here. But for the sake of the young people, I hope their parents do something about it before it is too late.”

Politicians know that in the past, Muslims were targeted by Christian immigrant groups. Now, however, even Iraqi Christians suffer hate crimes.

According to Mayor Anders Lago, the basic problem is that Södertälje is forced to accept too many applicants, creating segregated areas. “Södertälje has no agreement to accept any refugees at all. All those who come here do so because they have chosen to live here. But Sodertalje cannot shoulder this burden alone, so we want the government’s help to repeal the law that currently allows refugees to decide for themselves where they want to stay.”

Other news accounts point to a rising tide of violence between Christians and Muslims in Hovsjö, particularly between gangs of unemployed youths. All of the bad blood between Christians and Muslims is simply spreading over from the Middle East to bucolic Sweden.

[You can read more about Hovsjö’s litany of woe (in English) here: http://www.thelocal.se/tag/hovsj%F6.]

Hovsjö is not alone. There are at least two other areas that are nearly as bad in Södertälje, one of which is right up the hill from the house where I had my recent dinner (and I witnessed quite a bit of police activity then).

My dinner hosts, who are the stereotypically Swedish family and very nice people to boot, spent much of our evening together deploring the present situation in Södertälje.

I might add that, like most Swedes, they don’t mind paying high taxes, but they bitterly resent seeing their tax money given away to “hooligans,” as they would say.

The Moral of the Story

If you’re going to open the door to immigrants and refugees, then:

  • Don’t put the new arrivals on the dole.
  • Make sure they’re able to earn their own living after they arrive – not by offering “make work” jobs, but through the cumulative effects of fiscal and economic policies that stimulate domestic demand for workers having the skills, knowledge and abilities that the new arrivals possess.
  • Remove whatever incentives might cause the new arrivals to crowd into ghettoes (like the Mexican border zone in the U.S., or the dreary estates of Södertälje).  As an example of an alternative approach, America’s immigration policy in the 19th century was to give away rural (and widely dispersed) homesteads to immigrants.
  • Focus on attracting immigrants for economic or educational reasons, not on refugees for humanitarian reasons.  This may sound harsh, but it’s not as cruel as the social dysfunction (and even mayhem) that exists in places like Hovsjö. 

As people say, “The road to h*ll is paved with good intentions.”  I’m interested in hearing your thoughts and reaction to what Nelson is reporting from “bucolic Sweden.”  Could it be that the grass is not actually greener …?

A view of the 2012 U.S. Presidential election results from halfway around the world …

Latinos with American FlagMy brother, Nelson Nones, has lived and worked outside the United States for years.  He wrote me the other day with his “take” on the 2012 Presidential Election results. 

I thought his observations are interesting and thought-provoking … and offer a somewhat different perspective from what we’ve been hearing in the local media.  Here’s some of what Nelson shared with me.

On the 2012 the economic messages of the political parties:

It looks like capturing as many “WASP” votes as possible is not enough to push a Republican Presidential candidate over the top anymore.  On matters of foreign trade (labeling China a “currency manipulator” on Day 1) and immigration policy (preach self-deportation and round ‘em up), the Republican Party seems to be falling into the perilous traps of protectionism and isolationism.

The Democratic Party fell into similar traps years ago because of their affinity with labor unions and anti-war activists, and they could win national elections only rarely for many years as a result. 

Now it’s the Republicans’ turn.  Hopefully, and unlike the Democrats years ago, the Republican Party will learn its lesson well enough – and early enough – to avoid the slippery slope towards irrelevance.

I think the ability to attract immigrants from many races and cultures is one of America’s competitive advantages over rising powers like China, which is a palpably racist, Han-supremacist society that does not tolerate the integration of foreigners (I know; I’ve lived there). The U.S. political party that demonstrates leadership winning the economic race against China is the party that will dominate in the coming years.

By rights, Hispanics and other immigrants ought to be Republicans, not Democrats. They tend to be more traditional, more religious and hold stronger “family values” than many whites these days.  The majority are naturally hard-working and self-supporting, so even if they’re poorer than most people, they aren’t “47 percenters.” Another Republican majority will never emerge without them.

Not only that, in time the Republicans will lose strongholds like Texas and Florida which have substantial Hispanic populations – and they will never have a prayer in states like California and New Mexico.

On immigration policy and its impact on voting behavior:

I think the idea that Republicans should oppose immigration reform because it will welcome “millions of new Democrat voters” is incredibly short-sighted thinking.  It is also fundamentally flawed because it presumes that all those new citizens will vote Democrat.

From what I’ve read, Governor Romney (who lost) got 25% of the Latino vote, while President George W. Bush (who won) got 35% in both 2000 and 2004. However, if Republican lawmakers continue to obstinately oppose immigration reform, or if the Republican brand continues to be linked to harsh enforcement of existing laws (whether or not such linkage is fair), it’s a very safe bet that Republicans will never capture more than 25% of the Latino vote for a long time to come.

Let’s not forget that distinct racial and ethnic groups always reward the hand that enfranchises them — often for generations.

The history of Southern blacks proves this point. At first the blacks were Republicans, because Lincoln (a Republican) freed the slaves. But they were also disenfranchised by Southern whites, who were Democrats because Lincoln and Republicans had won the Civil War.

When the northern Democrats put civil rights on their agenda, everyone switched sides:  The Republicans successfully courted Southern whites (and now can bank on winning most of the South), while blacks overwhelmingly shifted their allegiance to the Democrats (and Romney apparently got way less than 10% of the black vote).

Hispanics or Latinos constitute over 16% of America’s population now; this demographic group is about 30% larger than the black population, but in recent times is roughly five times more likely than blacks to vote Republican.

Bottom line: the number of potential Republican votes cast by Hispanics and Latinos is seven times larger than the number of potential Republican votes cast by blacks.

To retain a strong presence on the national political scene, the Republican Party must focus on doing what it takes to hold the Hispanic/Latino bloc of votes, and then enlarge it. Pushing an agenda that Hispanics and Latinos perceive as disenfranchisement cannot possibly work.

Actions … consequences:

This isn’t just about attracting votes. It’s about exploiting one of America’s biggest competitive advantages to stay ahead of China in the economic race. There is no reason why Republicans can’t, or shouldn’t, transform their brand and take leadership of the economic race.

The best example I can think of to prove this point is President Richard Nixon’s rapprochement with China. Nixon, the diehard Commie fighter and leader of a political party that utterly detested China, took leadership and received credit for what is arguably one of the biggest transformational events of the 20th century.

Not coincidentally, the Chinese admire Nixon and mention his legacy to me all the time. Why? Because ordinary Chinese believe he (and not his counterpart, Chou En Lai) enfranchised them by opening the door to reform in their country.

On language:

Are some Americans obsessing too much over the issue of English as the national language?  Here’s my take on this: 

I have personally delivered services on location in the following countries over the past five years: Australia, Brunei, China, Egypt, Germany, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Malaysia, the Netherlands, Philippines, Poland, Singapore, South Korea, Sweden, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

English, my native tongue of course, is the common national language in just six of these countries: Australia, Hong Kong, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.  I am somewhat fluent in Thai and struggle to communicate in Bahasa, (Mandarin) Chinese and German.  Arabic, Dutch, Japanese, Korean, Polish (utterly incomprehensible), Swedish and Tagalog?  No way.

Yet I’ve delivered my services and my clients are evidently happy, because they’ve paid their bills. How could I do this? Because they all use English, including the Chinese.  (The Japanese are worst at it, by the way, but routinely employ translators, headsets and microphones to overcome the language barrier).

You might counter that I deal with educated professionals and couldn’t pull this off with working-class people. Not so.  Most of my clients are manufacturers, so I deal with factory workers as well as managers and professionals.

Also, in the course of all my travels, I have to engage with plenty of local taxi drivers and McDonald’s clerks. Naturally not all of them know English, and when they do, their English skills are usually pretty dodgy, but nevertheless we are able to communicate well enough to get the job done.

So it seems that the world has also learned to speak English. This being the case, wouldn’t most of the new people arriving in the U.S. as a result of immigration reform continue to use English, as they now do when necessary in their native countries?

Having said this, even if the new arrivals abandon their current habits and insist on using their native languages, as a person with conservative political viewpoints, I would steadfastly oppose any attempt to make English mandatory.

Moreover, any attempt to do so would be clearly unconstitutional, because Article I of the U.S. Constitution declares, “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech” (the Constitution does not state “English speech”).

Simply put, all Americans, whether immigrants or not, have the absolute right to use any language they wish, whether or not their choice is rational. Conservatives ought to be passionate about protecting this right, not undermining it.

Of course it’s conceivable that English evolves to become America’s sole de facto language if the country does everything in its (legal) power to keep foreigners out. But protecting a single national language by targeting and blocking Latino immigration (thus preventing the spread of Spanish) isn’t conservativism in the classic liberal sense; it’s isolationism.  And you can’t convince me that America would be better off pursuing an isolationist course in today’s world.

Are there some countries that try to keep their languages and cultures “pure”?  Sure … but usually with laughable results.

France, currently mired in recession and hardly a bastion of American-style conservativism, comes to mind.

Back in 2003, according to the Associated Press, the French government mandated the use of courriel instead of e-mail as the term for electronic mail: 

“The Culture Ministry has announced a ban on the use of ‘e-mail’ in all government ministries, documents, publications or websites, the latest step to stem an incursion of English words into the French lexicon,” the AP reported.

All the French people I know acknowledge that this policy is utterly ridiculous. And they continue to use the term “e-mail.”

Like France, Thailand has linguistic and cultural sensitivities as well. Just last month, The Nation, an English-language Bangkok newspaper, reported:  

“The debate surrounding the Royal Institute’s plan to change the spelling of 176 words ‘borrowed’ from the English language should focus the public’s attention on the use of Thai language in today’s fast-changing world. The Royal Institute revealed its aim to change the written form of 176 words borrowed from English, such as ‘computer,’ ‘nightclub’ and ‘kilometre,’ by adding tone marks. The Institute reasoned that the additions would be a guide to correct pronunciation.”

Yet all the Thais I know think this plan is a total waste of public time and money – and if you don’t believe me, just ask my wife!

What to do?

It’s clear to me that the 2012 Presidential Election results weren’t a one-off event, but rather the result of inexorable demographic change.

Now, the Republican Party could circle the wagons and collectively moan about the erosion of cultural values, like using one language.  But this way forward carries great risk: ceding permanent political power to the Left, whose agenda is certain to deal our fragile economy even more devastating blows.

Alternatively, the Republican Party could take a pragmatic approach to enlarge its diverse coalition of citizens who hold common views of political freedom, limited government, the rule of law and economic freedom.  I think that taking leadership on immigration reform is one way to do this.

Happily, it would also strengthen our economy by leveraging one of America’s most potent competitive advantages against China, today’s rising economic superpower and the most significant threat to U.S. economic hegemony.

As if on cue, I found this Wall Street Journal article on Yahoo! News today: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/heartland-draws-hispanics-help-revive-040400742.html and it reinforces my points on why America should be leveraging its appeal to new arrivals through immigration reform.

The WSJ article also illustrates the challenges of fear and mistrust that need to be overcome. That’s where political leadership comes in – and if the Republican Party were to start exerting the right kind of leadership, I’d bet it could win many hearts (and future votes).

And now your take:

What are your thoughts?  Do you think my brother is on target with his observations … or would you offer a different point of view?  Please share your comments — let’s get some discussion going!

Election Campaign News Consumption: What a Difference a Dozen Years Makes

Trends in Campaign News Sources (Pew Surveys)One of the interesting aspects of the U.S. presidential elections that come along every four years is the opportunity to see how Americans are getting their political news. That’s because the Pew Research Center for People & the Press conducts a survey every presidential election year to find out those very behaviors.

The 2012 survey of ~1,500 voting-age Americans older was fielded earlier this year. It found that fewer people are following news about the campaign compared to four years ago.

That’s hardly surprising, given that the “heady and hopeful” campaign rhetoric of 2008 has given way to nothing more than a long, hard slog in 2012. 

What’s more interesting is to see how campaign news consumption behaviors have changed.

If we compare survey results this year against those of 2000 – a dozen years ago – it quantifies what many suspect has been happening: a big decline in traditional news sources like newspapers and network news in favor of the Internet.

In response to Pew’s question as to where consumers are regularly getting their campaign news, here are the comparisons between 2000 and 2012:

  • Cable TV news: Rose from 34% in 2000 to 36% in 2012
  • Internet: Jumped from 9% to 25%
  • Local TV news: Declined from 48% to 32%
  • Network news: Declined from 45% to 26%
  • Local newspaper: Dropped from 49% to just 20%

[Interestingly, the Internet as a source for campaign news has actually leveled off since 2008, when 24% reported it being a regular source for news. In the previous four-year cycle, that source had doubled in popularity.]

The most popular Internet sources for campaign news are the usual suspects:

  • CNN: ~24%
  • Yahoo: ~22%
  • Google: ~13%
  • Fox News: ~10%
  • MSN: ~9%
  • MSNBC (NBCNews): ~8%

But what about social media, the newest kid on the block when it comes to news sources? The Pew survey reveals that social media are being used by a pretty limited audience for presidential politics: ~20% report that they regularly or sometimes receive campaign information from Facebook, and only ~5% say the same about Twitter.

More details on the Pew survey – perhaps more than you ever wanted to know – can be found here.

America’s “Summer of Funk”

Consumers are in a funk in the Summer of 2012.

How much do American consumers spend in an average day? According to a July 2012 Gallup Poll, they spend about $70 per day in stores, gas stations, restaurants and online. (Housing, utility costs and vehicle purchases are extra.)

It turns out that this figure is a pretty big drop from the average daily spend of $104 Gallup found in 2008.

That meme we’re hearing on the campaign trail about people’s livelihoods having shrunk over the past three or four years? Evidently, it’s a fact.

And Gallup is also finding that upper-income Americans have undergone the same degree of spending reduction as everyone else. Their spending is now down to about $116 per day.

Evidently, confidence in the U.S. economy and the stock market’s uneven performance have taken their toll on the psyche of even the affluent classes in America. And Gallup isn’t the only organization charting this. Ipsos MediaCT is finding a similar story in its surveys.

Last week, Stephen Kraus, an Ipsos senior vice president and author of several books on the upper-income sector of society, wrote: “Widespread uncertainty plays a role in a fundamental fact of today’s “affluent” marketplace. For the most part, affluents today simply don’t feel affluent.”

Krauss continues, “This feeling isn’t new; for most, it is part of the lingering hangover of The Great Recession. But it is particularly pronounced in the summer of uncertainty.

Krauss concludes his remarks with this rather gloomy observation: “It’s a summer of uncertainty indeed – about the economy, about the future, and even about one’s own standing in today’s financial hierarchy.”

Reading these very latest reports on the level of uncertainty – even resignation – that people have about the economy, it underscores the collective funk the American people seem to be in as the 2012 presidential campaign grinds on inexorably to its conclusion.

Perhaps once Election Day has come and gone, Americans will “snap out of it” and begin to feel brighter about the future.

Perhaps. But don’t hold your breath. 

Coming Attractions: A Newly Sanitized YouTube

YouTube Cleaning up its ActThe YouTube phenomenon has been one of the biggest success stories of all in cyberspace.

Over the years, YouTube has gone from being a weird corner of the web made up of curious, strange and often forgettable video clips, to a site that attracts millions of viewers every day – some of whom have essentially ditched all other forms of video viewing in favor of mining the vast trove of material YouTube carries on its platform.

In the years since Google acquired YouTube, traffic and usage have exploded, even as the video fare has become more varied (and also more professional).

But there’s one holdover from the early years that continues to bedevil Google: YouTube is a repository of some of the most inflammatory, puerile and downright disgusting commentary that passes for “discourse,” posted by all manner of rabble.

But now, Google is signaling a strategy that has the potential to clean up the crude comments on YouTube – and in a big way.

YouTube is now strongly encouraging users to post their YouTube comments using the name identity associated with their Google+ account.

In fact, if you decline to do so after being prompted, you’ll be asked to state a reason why, underscoring the nudge away from “screen name anonymity” and towards “real-name identity.”

The notion is that people will be less likely to post flaming comments when their “true” web identity is known – that people will exude good behavior in “polite cyber-company,” as it were.

Of course, one needs to possess a Google+ account in order to link his or her identity on YouTube. But that’s for today only; some observers see YouTube’s move as just the first step toward hiding – and eventually eliminating – all comments coming from anonymous accounts.

So the new bargain will be something closer to this: “Open a Google+ account and link your YouTube account to your Google+ account … or else forfeit your ability to post any comments at all on YouTube.”

The likely result will be a much more “sanitized” YouTube – less edgy, but also less red-faced embarrassing. And that’s just what many brands, businesses and advertisers would like to see happen.

Of course, YouTube’s moves may well spur the launch of an alternative site that seeks to preserve the (nearly) anything-goes environment of the YouTube of yore.

Perhaps it could be called “YouCrude,”  But, as it happens, that handle’s already been nabbed — by a fellow WordPress blogger!