12.23.2008

object vs content: direct conflict.

Intellectual Property companies (Recording Industry, Film Industry, etc) want to have their cake and eat it too.  At the core, they only really have two options: they can argue that the content they sell is worth money (digital information), or they can argue the format they sell is the element with value (CDs, DVDs, Theatre tickets. etc).  


They have been, unilaterally, claiming both.

If the value comes from the intellectual property, there is almost an argument for the criminalization of filesharing.  Said criminalization would still be horribly detrimental to both culture and business, but at least an argument could be made.  Frankly, I could almost live with this: if purchasing a CD meant I was allowed to play with the content in any way, in any format I wanted, as long as I did not create a rival (key word) commercial offering that hurt sales of the original intellectual property, I would buy a lot more music and movies.

If the value comes from the format the information is presented in, then any claim on infinitely copyable digital information is ludicrous - a downloaded mp3 isn't in competition with a CD, which will always be infinitely more 'real' and 'complete', incorporating the form, packaging and information that the creator intended.  Similarly, no one who argues that the object / experience is the value should care about bootlegged theatrical releases - the product is the theatre experience, not a poorly shot digital capture of the film.

You can believe one of these things, but not both.  Someone who argues that intellectual property is a protected right, and the source of all value can't justify trying to charge you 5 times for the same song, in CD, mp3, ringtone, FLAC, and Pro Tools formats.  Someone who argues that the packaging, the formatting is the key element of value shouldn't care if you interact with the content independent of it's format.

The fact that the IP obsessed industries have been doing both is a clear indicator that they either haven't thought this through in the least, or, as I assume, that they are grasping as straws to keep the stock value up until the current crop of executives can retire.

12.17.2008

8 things from 08: jamaica.

In July, I went to Jamaica for the first time.  I'm fairly certain I'm going to look back at it as a formative experience in my life.


I could talk at length about what I saw, what I learned, what I did, but the core of it is this: I learned where I come from.  I got enough context to see just how hard the journey to where I am was for the people who came before me.

I learned exactly what I owe, and who I owe it to.

Beyond that, I was granted enough time away from my life to have perspective.  I came back motivated, and more willing to look at the things I care about (including communication theory) with a perspective that wasn't rooted in North America, or my economic group, or Canadian culture.

It was good enough for me that I'm starting to think regular vacations are more important that I had always assumed they were.

charitable donations manifesto.

I will, for as long as I deem fit, follow the following rules in regards to any and all charitable donations I make, including volunteering my time, expertise, advice, or funds.  Obviously, there will be unforeseen circumstances that require me to bend these rules, but I think they should be recorded so that others can reflect on them or adopt them.

  1. I will not respond positively to any unsolicited phone call asking for donations to a charity.  I dislike my information being recorded on a list, and re-used without my permission, and I will not encourage this to happen further.
  2. I will not respond positively to any unsolicited request for donations on the street, unless I am particularly interested in the charity in question, and have free time available.  Neither of these conditions will ever occur immediately surrounding 9am and 5pm, especially not in winter.
  3. Advertising that is based on tapping in to some kind of religious guilt, or general shame, will be disregarded.
  4. Charities that have a massive corporate structure, and are not extremely clear about what is done with the money raised, will be generally disregarded.
  5. Preference will be given to charities recommended by friends, or charities that tap into a specific interest or issue I take to heart.
  6. Preference will be given to charities with a sustainable model for both fundraising, and distribution of funds.
  7. Preference will be given to charities that focus on 'teaching people how to fish', rather than 'fish supply'.
  8. Charities that demonstrate a bias in favour of a religious group, or political party, will generally be disregarded, excepting those that are fighting political corruption or dictatorships.
  9. Charities that attempt to address first-world problems in the developing world, such as a lack of networked technology in places where malaria and clean water are vital issues, will generally be disregarded.
  10. Marketing / Branding initiatives that work in co-operation with charities are acceptable, assuming all previous conditions are met, and the charity is the focal point, above the involved brands.
The above list is obviously informed by my own experiences with charity, as well as my stances on religion, corporatism, and politics.

8 things from 08: everyone hates PR (but me).

A recurring theme I noticed in 2008 is that everyone hates what I do.


I blogged a lot about PR this year, sometimes thinking about what I could and should do differently, sometimes arguing that it's as valid as ever, and sometimes just feeling like crap as wave after wave of people I respect deemed it irrelevant.

I'm starting to think it's becoming more relevant by the second, but that most practitioners haven't figured out that the scope of what we do is broadening by the minute.  A good media strategy is no longer about carefully massaged press releases, embargoed review products, pre-packaged interviews, and a dependence on traditional media outlets.  Public Relations and Media Relations are quickly becoming the same this, as more and more of the media is generated by the public.

I've come to expect reactions from mainstream media ranging from honest appreciation to outright hostility, with flat out avoidance and mild distaste somewhere in-between.  I've also gotten past the point of taking this personally, and instead look at it as instructive.  This is something to fix, something to work around, not something to blame on things I can't change.

I'm consistently excited by these challenges, and a little terrified by them.  I'd rather be in an industry in a state of flux than one which risks becoming stagnant, however, like anyone else, I wonder if I'll recognise what comes out the other side of the paradigm shift.

I love what I do.  I hate things about how it's done.  But I got a lot more excited about my career in 2008, despite people telling me it's unimportant or destructive.  PR is getting more social, more honest, more strategic, and bigger, in my view of 2009.  From a communication strategy junkie perspective, 2008 was a great year to watch, learn, and plan.

the benefits of my generic name.

There is a massive amount of text out there dedicated to the idea that the clash of millennial, gen y, what-have-you ideals (youth immersed in social media), and the exiting baby boomer and gen x (the people who do the hiring / are in control) principles.  The long and short of it is that if anyone can track down who you are, and what you've done in the past, your datashadow on the internet will haunt your career, and opportunities.


I came upon this link (via @thegirlriot on Twitter) that lists suggestions for creating the perfect Twitter profile, one of the first suggestions was using your real name.

I tend to go by some variation of brokengentleman when I sign up for services, for many reasons.  Key among them is the lack of searchability for my real name, Jon Crowley.  This is an irritating thing for 'building a personal brand' (which is so wooden a phrase that it makes me uncomfortable), but I'm thinking it could be a beneficial thing in many other ways.  If you google 'jon crowley', or 'jonathan crowley', I appear among a group of others with the same or similar names.  I don't 'own' the name Jon Crowley, not on the internet.  Choosing brokengentleman as a username often enough is my workaround for that.

And, if you have a name that is common enough, you can actually manage to disappear into the crowd, for a little bit.  I have the feeling that kind of anonymity will be getting more and more scarce, and more and more treasured.

That is to say, if you name your kid 'Bookcase',  I can guarantee that every employer WILL see the pictures of them shotgunning a beer in a less-than-classy halloween costume online.  Whether or not I think that matters, I can guarantee James Smith won't have the same problem.

advertising, social media, and colonialism.

A great post from Clay Parker Jones, discussing the connection between advertising over social media and colonialism.  I've touched on this a few times before, but not with the underlying theory, experience, or clarity that he does.


12.16.2008

8 things from 08: social for a cause.

I'm going to resist the urge to write about the Obama campaign itself, and instead focus on what I considered the most interesting part: the use of social media to actually organize people for a cause.


This was hardly the first time this has happened, but it was probably the most sustained and visible example.  Starting very early on with a social network, then adding email and text updates, facebook updates, etc, the Obama campaign kept me fully informed for more than a year, letting me know changes, important news updates, deadlines and opportunities to do something.

This was a clear use of social media not to augment a strategy for organization, or to allow a community to grow within an organization, but social media AS the organization.  The Obama campaign managed to not only secure a massive amount of money from small individual donors, but also to create, manage and inform a massive number of volunteers.

We're talking about a campaign that released an iPhone app that organized your contacts by address, and let you know who was essential to call when.  This was the first time I've seen something other than a charity truly bet everything on human capital.

And it worked.  Beautifully.

Something I've been hearing a lot is how a year ago, every conversation about branding discussed Apple.  Now, every conversation about branding is a conversation about Barack Obama.

There is a clear lesson.  Social media strategy isn't icing - there's nothing to be gained by slathering it on top of, say, Proctor and Gamble without changing anything about the company.  But as an organizational tool, and a method of not only building engagement, but converting those engaged users into a tool for action, I have a feeling we're looking at the most powerful tool for collective effort of my lifetime.

Can it work for consumer brands?  I don't know.  But as a means of 'organizing without organizations', as Clay Shirky labelled it, I have all the proof of concept I need.  The Obama campaign made it more than clear than massive, lasting change to traditional structures is possible through social media, not just new or emerging structures.

As inspired as I am by the election of a Black President of the United States, this validation of my feelings regarding the potential of social media is more exciting from a career / industry perspective.

12.15.2008

8 things from 08: music matures.

This happens every year, but 2008 was a great year to watch music grow up.


I could write an entire post only about Nine Inch Nails (and have repeatedly), but 2008 took the promise that I saw in Radiohead's pay-what-you-want release of In Rainbows, and continued to actually do interesting and innovative things with it.

2008 was the first year where established professionals, rather than people on the outside like myself, were advocating looking at what could be done with the current state of the music industry, rather than just complaining that people weren't buying enough CDs anymore.

Applications that add context, Album art that changes from song to song, products tailored to different consumer profiles, online streaming / music sharing services, new business models, etc etc etc.  New ideas are being tested.  I couldn't care less that we haven't found one that works yet.  I'm ecstatic that there is actually interest in fixing music rather than riding the current business model into the grave.

The two quickest summaries of what I observed / learned about music in 2008 are here and here.  

8 things from 08: twitter.

When I started using Twitter, I did so mostly because a couple of friends had begun using it, and because someone I respect but do not know made an inquiry into following me on Twitter.

Twitter wasn't necessarily better than the now defunct Pownce, but it's advantages mostly came down to SMS and the community.  While Canadian telcos killed incoming SMS from Twitter, the community is good enough that I use it again and again on a daily basis.  

Part of my Twitter addiction is having Twitterific on my iPhone, I admit.  But the major part is a constant, stream of consciousness style rolling feed of content from people who I know personally, people who I only know of due to blog posts, and people who I respect due to the artistic endeavours they engage in, often comic writers and artists.

The form and limitations that come with Twitter are actually a positive thing: when you force people to be concise, it's just the idea, or just the joke, just the link.  If forces stream of consciousness.  And, for me, it gets me to use other services more as well - if I start writing a tweet and it's too long, it usually ends up here, or on my tumblr account.

I don't know how they'll monetize it, and I don't know if it will last forever, but I do know that it's valuable, and very addictive.  08 wouldn't have been the same for me without Twitter.

12.12.2008

8 things from 08: iphone.

I've had an iPhone for several months now, and I can say without hyperbole that it has changed the way I interact with information across the board.


I could ramble about the app store, or the interface, but I'm going to focus instead on the biggest change: I know perceive the potential of the internet entirely differently.

When I started using the internet, I thought of it as an endless supply of information I could tap into.  Later, I thought of it as a means of connecting people (and the information they have / generate), regardless of location.

When I think of the internet now, I think of it as an invisible layer of information, accessible from anywhere, but with context as to where you're accessing it from.  My iPhone is my major point of contact with information, and it can serve up content based on my location.

That isn't far, conceptually, from geo-tagging becoming an important part of how I interact with information.  This gets me thinking of a future where I walk into a building, and a searchable directory is available on my phone.  Or when I get the menu instantly when I enter a restaurant.  Or a world where I never have to ask 'What does that company do?'

This shift in perception is mostly due to the iPhone I bought a few months ago.  And that's why in 1/3rd of a year, it's been as impactful as things I've been doing since January.

8 things from 08: tumblr.

I started using Tumblr on Jan 1st of 2008, which, at the time, I was convinced I would refer to as 'the Ocho'.  That part didn't go well.


Tumblr, on the other hand, has gone great.  In a lot of ways, it's similar to LiveJournal, in that the major attraction is the community.  But what sold me on it first and foremost was the incredible ease of posting pretty much anything.  Anyone who reads brokengentleman.com knows that I rarely post anything but text; a lot of that is because the Blogger interface seems best suited to posting text.  Comparatively, Tumblr feels as though it's designed to share stuff, more than to be a blogging platform.

I've tried the majority of services available for publishing content online.  Despite limitations, I can say pretty decisively that Tumblr is one of my favourites.

8 things from 08: NOTCOT.

I've decided to do a little rundown of 8 things that mattered to me in 08, at least in terms of things that related to this blogs 'mandate'.


Number one for 2008 has to be my favourite corner of the internet, the NotEmpire.

I've been reading NOTCOT since about mid 2006, and it's consistently interesting and inspiring.  I always find things to research, covet, stare at, etc.  Literally, NOTCOT has gotten me looking at and thinking about everything from wedding rings to garden gnomes, and it's done it with a clean style and solid writing, that, shockingly, keeps me entertained without resorting to snark.  There's legitimate enthusiasm that tells me regardless of it being a business, it's run for the love.

NOTCOT.org is a great place to distract myself while I wait for new posts to come out, a cork-board style page of user submitted / editor vetted links that range from ad campaigns to interesting product design to the simply informative.  This has been a resident of my bookmarks bar in Safari for the entire year.

NOTCOUTURE is the same concept as .org, but focused on fashion.  While I might complain (silently, to myself) that there isn't enough men's content, I inevitably end up pointing the finger at myself and my lack of submissions.  Still, it's the most consistently updated source of links to men's clothing / fashion / photoshoots that I engage with.

I guess that's about enough slobbering about NOTCOT for one post.  I would suggest you check it out, I've managed to turn every friend I have with any interest in design into a rabid fan.  

So, thing one for 08: NOTCOT is my favourite place on the internet for this year. 

12.09.2008

the potential for social media in canadian democracy.

A recent conversation with my father let me know that until recently, and MP from my area considered listening to Talk Radio call-in shows a good way of monitoring what issues were important to his constituents.  Not only does this only represent a small segment of our population, but letters likely represent an even smaller one.  Conversations with our elected officials should not be intermittent, or one directional.

I'm still wrestling with how best to create a watchable discussion, based on riding, and divided by issues, that could assist with measuring public interest and ideals for Canadian MPs.  My first instinct is to sort out which tools would best fit the idea, and therein lies the problem: I both want something that is easy to use and doesn't require a large time commitment, and I would prefer an engaged group that hashes out ideas in depth.  Not easy to figure out which service would best fit.

I don't particularly think Facebook fits, although everyone is already on it.  Facebook isn't, in my experience, good for focus or commitment.  People will join a group, or make a comment, and then forget about it while maintaining an affiliation.  Being part of a group on Facebook doesn't mean the group becomes part of your Facebook experience.

I'm considering Ning, mostly because creating a riding specific micro-network with sub-groups and discussion boards relating to key issues / legislation appeals to me.  But I'd love feedback on the service.

If there is a simple, free way to create dialogue (on a by riding basis), and then provide MPs with regular digests (created by wiki?) on what constituents find important, and what they want raised as an issue in the house, I think that would help Canadian politics, or at the very least help Canadians consider their own role in politics. 

I'm willing to try if you are.

12.08.2008

twitter and the content wall.

I'm pretty certain the main difference between being knowledgeable about social media, or being active through several different forms of social media, is whether or not you actually have time to participate in anything else.


Upon my (far too late) conversion to reading blogs via RSS, I needed to find the content wall, the magic number that is my limit: I can generally read about 100 feeds at any given time, without it impacting my productivity, and without it getting out of hand and me hitting the wall.  I'm starting to feel as though that number can rise, given my iPhone adding a lot of time where I can be reading feeds to my schedule, but I'm hesitant to try to find the wall again.  It's actually a harrowing process for me, because I'll spend a week reading the internet until 2am every night before I realize I need to cut back.

After a lot of hesitation, I'm trying to find my content wall with Twitter.  It's more difficult, because I'm trying to avoid following anyone who tweets 50+ times a day, excepting people I either know, or deeply respect.

That said, I'm looking for twitter users worth following.  My major interests are advertising/marketing, communications, internet culture, media theory, fashion, comic books, and a sarcastic take on current events.  All suggestions are welcome.

this is a placeholder.

I'm still figuring out the details, but a conversation with my father (in which I told him this would be impossible) has inspired me to think about how to build a better feedback loop for Canada's parliamentary democracy, using free web based tools.


I'm interested enough at the moment that I might spend a long, long time figuring this out.  And then, shock of shocks, I might actually do something with it.

12.05.2008

dealing with economic problems. (off topic).

One of the common things you hear when the economy tanks is 'You can't get out of a recession through deficit spending.'  I call bullshit.


Here's how I see the current situation: The economy needs to be stimulated somehow, money needs to be spent, and it needs to be spent in a useful way that bolsters consumer spending, but doesn't result in waste.

As it happens, Canada is in the middle of a massive failure of infrastructure, because upkeep of roads, bridges, transit, etc etc etc has been pushed further and further into the future, to maintain balanced budgets.

Why not spend money there.  Instead of spending taxpayer money on directly bailing out failed corporations, why not take the billions that will eventually be spent, and use it to 1) fix a ticking timebomb of failing infrastructure (that we will need to pay for eventually), and 2) create jobs, projects for construction firms, long term contracts which in turn mean stability.

The most important part: just because it's deficit spending doesn't mean it shouldn't still be prudent.  Use the economic downturn, and the scale of the project, to get companies to fight for the contract with low bids.  No 'cost plus' here.

In short, use the economic crisis as justification to fix decades worth of disregarded infrastructure, at a better price than you ever could if it was done gradually.  While actually doing something meaningful to help Canada through this crisis.

Just a thought.

11.30.2008

eyeballs are screen agnostic (monetizing p2p television).

I'm consistently baffled about why pirating TV online is an issue.  Let's look at this logically:

  1. TV is paid for (in part) with advertising sales.
  2. Advertising is a matter of eyeballs, and metrics.  The number of people watching, and other demographic info, determines the price of advertising time, with past results dictating future pricing.
  3. Piracy is fast, wide distribution, usually at no cost to the uploader of content.
  4. The simplest option, with the minimum intrusiveness, usually wins.
If those four things are true (and I believe they are), I will never understand why television programs aren't distributed online, at time of broadcast, from the networks that broadcast them traditionally.

Eyeballs are eyeballs regardless of what screen they are focused on.  Whether I'm watching a show on a TV, a monitor, or an iPod, I'm still watching.  When I watch a program on my iPod, it normally doesn't have commercials; but only because I'm either paying for it, or it has been uploaded without commercials.  

If the first place to get a TV show I wanted to watch was from the broadcasting network, with commercials, I would get it there.  No questions asked.  Because the time saved in downloading something at 8pm from NBC rather than at 11pm from EZTV is worth a few minutes of commercials to me.  I would wager it would be the same way for others, provided the download was in an open format, with no copy protection.  This would be a product that competes with piracy, using the tools the content owners actually have: initial release date (usually), and best quality (almost always).

The interesting thing, is that there is a potential for a wider market of advertisers.  If google analytics can tell me which country my readers are coming from, it can probably tell CBS which country a visitor is trying to download How I Met Your Mother from.  Why can't there be dozens of versions of each show, each with localized commercials in the same break period?  Why can't online distribution mean that the same ad space can be sold to different companies in Canada, the US, and Uruguay?  It happens when signals are rebroadcast over TV, why not do the same online.

Instead of complaining about the internet stealing eyeballs, why not sell access to those eyeballs too?  Why not do the whole thing via bittorrent, at next to no cost?  Why not use the torrent download information from each localized version, and use that to justify ad prices?

The short version of why is because you're leaving money on the table, and because you won't stop piracy unless you give customers a better product than piracy does.  If you want to keep selling high quality versions without commercials, there will still be customers.  People will always be willing to pay for a premium version, or for a physical copy (DVD).  Monetizing content online can't be based on the idea that you can change behaviour, only that you can create a system that isolates value in that behaviour.  So get on it, despite the complications of clearing content in different countries.

Because the shortest version of 'Why?' is a desperate need to stay relevant.

[To point out: 1) Yes, I am aware that people can skip past ads in downloaded content.  They can also leave the room to get a drink, and often do.  No one uses this as an excuse to stop advertising on TV.  2) People could just burn DVD copies of the torrented shows.  People already do.  Buying a DVD is usually about convenience, quality, love of the content and special features.  3) There are probably technological issues with this.  I understand that, and this is why there are people smarter than me to make it work regardless.]

11.25.2008

popularity and perceived quality.

I've listened to the new Kanye West album, 808's and Heartbreaks, a couple of times now, and I actually enjoy it.  But it's a massive departure, and not one that will easily be accepted by existing fans.  That said, I think it will be interesting to watch how the album sells.


808's is for Kanye the equivalent of Common's Electric Circus: a huge step away from what he has done before, and a huge step away from what anyone who is considered a contemporary is doing.  But, there's something interesting to point out here; that the album preceeding Kanye's big departure (Graduation) has sold three times as many copies in a little over one year than Common's pre departure record (Like Water for Chocolate) did in it's first five.

The question is, how big will the effect of popularity be?  It's impossible to measure, because you can't compare quality, and the music industry is a far different beast now than it was then, but it's still sticking in the back of my mind.  Is Kanye popular enough that he can still sell an admittedly odd record to a notable portion of his massive audience?  Will people be more willing to give the record the multiple listens it may need?

Either way, the more popular someone is, generally the kinder the perception of their work.  It will be interesting to see how far one of the most popular artists currently making music can push the envelope before it all falls apart.

11.24.2008

on social media specialists.

I saw this gapingvoid cartoon today, and immediately came to a gut reaction.


The concept of a social media specialist is one of those transitional holdovers that will seem almost embarrassingly quaint in the not-too-distant future.

Most 'social media experts' have about the same level of skill with social media as the average western teenager, but usually lack the same fluency, the same level of intimacy.  The difference is, they see it as a new frontier, and interesting realm of communication to study and hopefully leverage effectively.  But social media isn't an interesting quirk of how young people talk - it's an essential part of communication for the internet generation, and it's only going to get more integral as it shifts to mobile.

Having a social media expert will very quickly be like having a telephone expert: essential only when your company is staffed with people who clearly do not understand that the world has changed.

We are heading quickly to the point where everyone has to be a social media expert.  We are already at the point where anyone who gets labelled as part of a company's younger generation should already be one, and should know that bragging about it is like claiming proficiency with email.

11.18.2008

you can't copy innovation.

I read an article, not too long ago, about the creation of a Chevrolet plug-in hybrid, and how the major goal was to actually create innovation.  I can't remember where I read it, but the major thing I took away (other than the project probably being doomed) was Toyota announcing a similar product later on, with a more restricted schedule and numbers, and a GM exec feeling accomplishment and delight, even awe, in the fact that this fearsome, dominant competitor was being a 'follower'


The BlackBerry Storm, the first touchscreen phone from RIM, is available in the next few days (I believe starting Nov 21st).

Just saying.

i don't do press, i do narratives.

I've loved narrative for as long as I can remember.  I used to drive my mother crazy because I would read rather than do anything else.  Until I was 22 or so, my only career aspiration was novelist.


Narratives are the most important thing in getting attention, interest, audiences and markets.

I was never the kind of writer who planned everything out.  I developed my characters, a situation, some undefined ideas, and went to it.  Writing was a process of discovery.  I can't do that anymore.

PR isn't just about arranging press coverage.  It's about developing a narrative, and exploring and expanding it through the media.  This is a hell of a lot more complicated, because you need to plan around the unexpected actions of others, the trends that dominate the marketplace, upcoming changes in those trends, the personalities of your stakeholders, the tangents that drive away from the actual narrative, and, of course, the truth (which is essential, immutable and unavoidable).

I'm spending a lot of time crafting, developing, and planning the narratives I manage and create now.  It's very rewarding, in a very similar way to how writing fiction was.  If anything, it feels like a particularly complex version of the same, but rooted in truth and the real world.

Because your brand, your narrative, is no longer up to you in the post-internet world.  All you can do is create the set of concepts, framing, ideas and narrative that best defines your product and goals, while planning around the nearly limitless number of things the newly infinite citizen media can do with it.

It would be terrifying if it wasn't so much fun.

11.14.2008

different types of instant.

Everything on the internet happens fast.  Blogging is a demonstration of the power of instant publishing, RSS is speedy content distribution, News online makes the idea of a daily update seem quaint, and so on.  But when everything is fast on a technological level, the playing field changes, and speed on a human behaviour, or an interaction level.


The best example I can use is the mixture of Twitter, Facebook and Google Reader.

I inevitably find out about things through Twitter first, mostly because it encourages many small updates, and many visits to find out what people are up to.  As the content isn't identical, I usually have my favourite bloggers on Twitter as well, expanding the data shadow.

I end up clicking the Twitter links for that lead me to blog posts.  That I see later in the day in Google reader.  And that pop up again later on in Facebook, having been shared by other friends who have the same interests.

Repetition is unavoidable in social media, but the difference in speed is what interests me.  Twitter is absurdly fast, faster than email, or SMS, or blogging, faster than nearly any major way I communicate with others.  And it's not a technology issue - it's based entirely on the behaviour the service inspires.

Instant is relative.  Plan accordingly.

11.13.2008

thoughts on prop 8 and equality.

The question everyone has been asking, the questions I've been asking, after the passing of Proposition 8 in California, and the further attack on the concept of equality, has been the obvious one: How is it that in the same day, a nation made such a clear step towards moving beyond racial bias, and intentionally decided to re-institute bias on the basis of sexual orientation.  How did one of the most liberal areas in America decide that they were okay with a black man running the nation, but terrified by loving gay couples getting married.


The core issue is that inclusive messaging across aligned groups leads to a united front with mroe influence, where exclusive messaging leads to self-directed, but less influential, groups.  To expand:

There are a lot of 'reasons' society is uncomfortable with gay rights issues; the relatively short amount of time people have been openly homosexual, the willingness to pretend this issue has anything to do with religion, etc etc etc.

The short truth is that arguing against gay marriage is like arguing against inter-racial marriage.  It taps into bullshit generational ideas about what is for who, equality, who counts as a person, and who gets to make decisions about the lives of others.

It wasn't thought of as this, due to a failing in most fights for equality.  I owe everything I have to the civil rights movement, but it was clearly cast as a matter of black people getting equal treatment under the law.  This was inevitably an equality issue, but it was presented as, and approached as, the rights of one group versus the majority.

The women's rights movement is the same thing.  A clear issue of equality, but approached as the rights of women, and a struggle specifically against male oppression.

None of this is wrong.  But it's not as right as it could be.  Very soon, most western nations will have more 'minorities' than straight, christian whites.  May countries already do.  If we insist on arguing each fight for equality step by step, everyone has to suffer through the same long struggle.

If the message was 'everyone deserves equal rights and treatment', rather than 'MY group deserves equal rights and treatment', we'd have a stronger united front, serve long term universal interests, and hopefully make the world a better place.

We're just going to keep letting each other down until it stops being about equality for blacks, equality for gays, equality for latinos, etc, and just starts being about equality for all of us, without exception.

leveraging boredom.

I bought an app on my iPhone yesterday specifically because I was bored.  This does not bode well.


The app is excellent, a lot of fun, and worth the $4.99.  I love tower defence games, so Fieldrunners was a logical choice.  But I wouldn't have purchased it from store shelves, or bought it online from my Mac at home.

I bought it specifically because if the mobile app store, because my credit card information is already stored there, and because I didn't have anything specific to do at that time.

Apple has created a system where spending 5 bucks because I'm bored has nearly no barriers.

This is both powerful, and dangerous.

mobile social media and missing links.

The INQ Social Mobile phone is not something that appeals to current, 24 year old me as a consumer.  But I look at it and immediately appreciate how attractive it could be to a massive number of people, with it's reasonably priced social mobile experience.  This isn't the future of the mobile future, but I'm fairly convinced that similar devices are going to be the link that brings that future to us.


Reasonably priced, simple phones with elements like Facebook, Skype, Google, Last.fm and IM integration are essential because they are the key to hitting a mobile internet critical mass.  20 and 30 something techie types don't create worldwide change by themselves, the key is creating a common usage of something, letting it become part of the standard social landscape.

When enough 14 year olds are on Facebook from their cellphones, it's just a matter of time until it's no longer an option, but a demanded basic element of cellular service.

The interesting thing, in my mind, is the potential impact such devices will have in the developing world.  As cost drops, places where the mobile phone is the major point of communication and connectivity will begin having readily available points of entry into social networks.  And frankly, the idea of self-generating, hyperconnected groups in the developing world is something that excites me to no end.

I'm dreaming of flashmobs coming together via Facebook events to expand crumbling infrastructure, or self-organizing small business and aid groups.  I don't see it yet,  not necessarily from this INQ product, but I see the potential.

Steps like this remind me of how the future is built.

[I discovered this via Rachel Bremer on Twitter.]

11.09.2008

magazine design quirks.

One of my least favourite common elements of magazine design is the quote (usually edited in an odd manner) repeated somewhere on the page, as a visual element.


I guess I just don't get it.  If the point is to emphasize the quote, wouldn't it make more sense to do so completely, and in context?  Or to have some kind of visual link between the large image / quote and it's original place in the text?

I'm not saying this space should always be used for images, or that pages should be pure text.  I'm just arguing that this 'text as a visual element' think could be better used to add information, rather than just repeat it out of context.  Imagine using this space for footnotes with images, or for background information on the article subject, or further information on an abandoned tangent in the interview.

As it stands, I still think of this as something done purely for a visual boost, without being optimized.  And, frankly, the magazine industry isn't doing so well that they can afford to regularly put out a product with examples of waste by design on every other page.

Then again, I seriously doubt anyone gets as irked by this as I do.

11.06.2008

the same plan.

I've been thinking that Microsoft and Apple have more or less the same plan, when you stop and think about it.


With Microsoft, I see the future in the XBox.  A powerful, versatile box that snuck Microsoft into the living rooms of millions, and has expanded from a gaming platform to a communications hub, a direct link to the cloud, a place to buy content, rent movies, and interact with your social network.  The XBox took what Microsoft did best, complex systems run with massive scale and compatability, and sold it initially as an entertainment product.  Buying an XBox is buying into the framework Microsoft is building, and the relative ease of use that comes with having that in place, and purchasing other Microsoft products.  

If this interoperability is pushed further, Microsoft will be inseparable from the entertainment practices of countless people.

With Apple, the future is clearly the iPhone.  You could argue that the iPod was about getting Apple into the lives of potential users, showing them the way Apple software worked.  The iPhone took that unprecedented brand loyalty, and snaked it into other aspects of your life.  A shocking amount of my communication comes through my iPhone, as does a notable portion of my entertainment.  It's my gaming, video, audio, telephone, email, facebook, etc etc etc.  Apple dropped the 'Computer' from it's name not that long ago, which I considered a clear, telegraphing move.

The plan is more or less the same: stake out a segment of people's lives, and put the computer there.  Make your product, your company, the point of contact for that location.  Take the computer out of the bedroom, or basement, or living room.  Take the computer out of the computer.

Microsoft is taking the living room, with the XBox, and potentially with the Surface table.  Apple is taking your pocket, and your personal telecommunications.

It's the same plan.  And the only question is, which one is more important in your day to day life, and your connections with others.  The living room, or the cell phone?

11.05.2008

looking to the future.

As a Black person, as a person of mixed race, as someone who believes that we as humanity can do better, it makes me happy, proud, and hopeful to say that Barack Obama is the next President of the United States.


We all know that this campaign was unprecedented in terms of social media application, use of newer communications media to organize and bolster support, and clean design and pitch perfect marketing.

I'm calling it now - every other president in recent memory has gone on the lecture circuit talking about leadership, or entered the military industrial complex, or oil business, as a high powered executive taking advantage of his connections - Barack Obama will leave office (hopefully in 8 years) and be reached out to for his ability to craft a compelling message, build his own tribe out of a disparate people, and market himself, his product better than anyone in living memory.

For his next trick, living up to the hype.  Best of luck, President-Elect Obama.

10.31.2008

iphone as music platform.

I will be the first to admit that owning an iPhone rather than an iPod has resulted in a massive shift from listening to music, to watching video.  That said, it's still my primary music device, and it opens some interesting possibilities.  Two notable things I've seen:


Perennial BrokenGent favourite Nine Inch Nails are featured in a special addition version of Tap Tap Revenge, a simplified Guitar Hero / DDR style rhythm game.  Included are 13 tracks from The Slip and Ghosts I-IV, apparently personally selected by patron saint of the Future of Music, Trent Reznor.  On sale for $4.99 on the iTunes app store, this is a potential, though clearly untested, additional revenue stream.  Like a Rock Band download pack for your pocket.

This idea further positions music as an additive experience, which I think has been the core impact of the iPod.  At least this implementation keeps the music as an integral element of the experience.

The second thing is the free Apps that have popped up which duplicate and expand the functionality of liner notes, including the Snow Patrol one released.  It's an interesting experience, letting users dig through origami stars that contain lyrics, behind the scenes videos, etc.  This lets the iPhone app act as both a promotional tool for the album, and an addition to the album.  Nice incentive for purchase.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again.  The music business isn't about selling music, or plastic slabs that contain music.  Sell simplicity, background, a datashadow, immersion, an experience.  The music is the core element, but not the merch is where the money is.

10.30.2008

on impositions.

I was watching the Obama infomercial last night, when I received a call from a charity hockey game, asking if I was interested in buying tickets or taking donations.  I generally follow my father's example in these situations, which more or less means being polite, hearing them out until I know what they want, and then saying 'No, thank you' ad infinitum until I feel justified in hanging up.


The first thing the woman said to me was 'It's nice to hear a pleasant voice, everyone either hangs up or yells at me.'

This would have been said, but she was essentially opening everything with an imposition at 8:05pm.  Irritation is acceptable. But it's difficult to build an outreach and awareness campaign without any imposition whatsoever.  'Permission marketing' is a good idea, but it's also based on existing awareness of a product or service, or a transactional 'for permission you get this newsletter/trinket/exclusive widget' model.  People need a core reason to hunt you down, merely offering things for them to learn about or try isn't enough.

Options include being remarkable, indispensable, or controversial.

Another option is to, carefully, impose on people.  It's irritating, bothersome, and increasingly being screened out.  But the funny thing is, a carefully targeted, remarkable / indispensable / controversial imposition is rarely considered as such.

If someone had called me at that time with a request for funds related to someone I care about deeply, or to ask if I was interested in receiving a package with information on something I care about, I probably would have considered talking to them.

This is why it all comes down to targeting for me.  Targeting offers the chance to make impositions, on a consumer level, obsolete.  Given, of course, that what you have on offer is of sufficient value to offset the irritation of a ringing phone or unsolicited email.

10.27.2008

lessons in human failings.

The main thing I learned in the last month is that no matter what I am dependent on a mixture of my memory and my hearing.  This is one of the reasons my preference is for email, or another form of written communication.


I am addicted to having a paper trail.

The problem is, that having a paper trail in many cases demands repetition.  And people (myself included) have very little tolerance for repetition, especially in cases where technology is involved.

The solution is fairly simple - I would pay through the nose for a service that delivered automated transcripts of my phone conversations, or even of face to face conversations, to my email inbox.  Being able to point to the exact moment of communication breakdown would be essential, especially since it has become unavoidable that I conduct fairly important conversations over several media.

An increased dependence on technology means an increased demand for accuracy.  unfortunately, the rust between the gears is always human falliability.  Plan accordingly.

10.22.2008

latest iphone realization.

I realized something while sitting at a stoplight, downloading an application from the mobile version of the iTunes application store onto my iPhone.


The ability to go 'Oh, I need a QR Code reader, right now', and add that functionality to my phone, while I'm standing outside, is creepily similar to the way Trinity asked for a download of helicopter pilot skills in The Matrix.

Except not quite as cool, and with less pleather.

10.20.2008

normative music and the personal touch.


I came home to a package from the Normative Music Company.  Two important things to point out: 1) Normative founder Jakob Lodwick made the offer to send out these CDs to anyone who send him an email, with no cost.  2) He sent them to me, in Canada, without a second thought.  These are important points that curry my favour.

First, the music.  It’s good.  Francis and the Lights is great walking around music.  Good to listen to, good to think to, good to type to.  I’d definitely go see them live, if only to see how it measures up to the video for ‘The Top’ that Normative posted online.  I’d already heard the Vulture Realty disc, but it remains good nonetheless.

Second, the idea – The CDs came with a personalized, typed note, addressed to me, signed by Lodwick.  A nice touch by any means.  The disks were packaged in simple sleeves, solid photography on the front, reflecting the character of the music fairly faithfully.

And now, because I’m me, the criticisms.  Well, the criticism.  Only one.  And it’s not really anyone’s fault, but a CD died in my superdrive, the top layer flaking off.

I like the Normative Music Company.  Hopefully the personal touch, and the quality of the product, don’t falter as it grows.

10.19.2008

oversimplifying the internets.

The Internet isn't one place.


I was reading the Toronto Star this morning, and (despite my ability to find evidence of this to link to) they've decided to stop printing online comments in the editorial page.  The thing that frustrated me isn't deciding that print content will be held to a different standard than online comments (anything should be held to a higher standard than online comments), it's that apparently someone suggested to these people that you cannot expect anyone online to use a real name, or write with correct grammar.

The Internet isn't one place.  Each location can, and does, establish it's own rules of engagement, expectations, and limitations on what is deemed acceptable.  One of the major problems print media has faced is finding the middle ground between refusing to change to incorporate the online readership, and flat out pandering to them.  If you want to print online comments in the Letters column, go ahead.  But let people know that comments won't be printed unless they are written fairly reasonably, and the writer is identified by a believable name.  Or, heavily moderate the comments, sending the message that people are welcome to enter the discussion, providing they want to maintain a suitable level of discourse.

Stop pretending the entire Internet is the same.  Because, nearly always, that assumption comes along with an inherent infantilization or criminalization of all 'digital natives'.  People who interact with others online are neither uniformly stupid, nor uniformly rebellious.  If you want to incorporate yourself into the online community, and incorporate the online community into your product, you need to figure out who you actually want to be spending that time interacting with.

If the future is social networking, being able to attract the suitable kind of people to your enterprise is more important than you think.

10.17.2008

it's not your fault, and you can't fix it.

Continuing on the subject of radio ads, the ads for a product called Evercleanse have been inescapable.  They are also hilarious, but they make an interesting point when to comes to selling people products related to healt, wellness or fitness.


Evercleanse, in brief, is a product that contends your intestines and colon are filled with waste that is making you fat.  The waste is diet proof, immovable, and compared to 'spackle or paste'  That's right.  Evercleanse wants you to know that you aren't fat.  You don't need to diet or exercise.  You are merely filled with secret poo.

The genius part of this, for me, is that the ad opens with a condemnation of men: we're overweight due to fast food and overeating.  With women, it's a matter of secret poo, so diet and exercise won't do anything.

Convincing, and promising to customers that they are blameless, as opposed to those other people, is useful.  Convincing them that the effort they weren't going to put forward anyway would be wasted, is useful.

Where it falls apart for me is the suggestion that Evercleanse serves a need that no one else can serve.  Being a solution, or the best solution, or the only logical choice, is great.  Telling me you are the only possible solution leads me to question your credibility.  That, and the secret poo.

mcdonald's monopoly mishaps.

Yesterday morning I heard an ad for McDonald's yearly Monopoly contest.  I found it a little odd that the young woman speaking in the ad referenced her losing games of Monopoly constantlydue to her brother hiding the money is his pocket.


Does anyone else remember the mess a few years back, when McDonald's found out the company they had hired to run the promotion had been rigging it so family members of employees would win?

This is why things have to be run by a wider group of people.  I have the feeling some of the guys in McLegal would have remembered this, and felt like it draws attention to past incompetence.

Either that, or it was completely tongue in cheek, and I'm underestimating the genius of McDonald's

10.15.2008

the shock doctrine.

First, the capsule review: the book is damn good, changed my opinion on Naomi Klein, and is highly recommended to anyone who wants to better understand the dangers of ideology being more important than evidence.  Go read it, and talk to your friends about how screwed up unregulated (or fundamentalist) capitalism is.


Now, what I actually learned from the book.  I've detested Klein's previous work.  No Logo bothered me for a lot of reasons, mostly the idea that there was something wrong with powerful, recognizable brands that resonated with large swathes of society, and influenced behaviour on a global scale.  If the point of the book had been that mis-using this power is wrong, it would have been obvious, laughed at, and unpublished.  By pretending that the danger somehow came from brands itself, it was edgy and revolutionary.  To most people, at least.

The Shock Doctrine however, attacks a specific brand of capitalism, and a specific type of behaviour.  The dangers of unregulated, unchecked behaviour is a reasonable target by any measure.  The book isn't an attack on capitalism in general (Libertarians may disagree), but an attack on an extreme form.  Most importantly, incontrast to Klein's earlier work, I could actually empathize with the victims.  Foreign economies that have been ruined by the greed of intervening governments are very different than disaffected upper middle class children protesting against the companies that employ their parents.

If you are going to condemn something, put together a narrative that shows you understand your target, the victims, and the reality of the situation.  Don't just decide that an entire branch of thinking or strategy is somehow evil, regardless of application or intent.  You have to creat a narrative that supports your opinions, whether in a book, or in a campaign.

To disregard unfairly is to be disregarded summarily.

[I'm still amused at how many of the people I know who read 'No Logo' did so because it was part of their Marketing / Advertising course readings in University or College.]

10.14.2008

words to live by.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”


In my opinion this quote very clearly explains the shifting stages in power dynamics, and the messaging that changes between large and small companies.  Which is why I've been applying it constantly, without realizing, to far too many conversations I've been having.

The important thing isn't applying this to yourself only when you are the little guy.  The truly important thing is to remember the dominant role in the story - if you can continue indefinitely against a competitor, either ignoring them or laughing at them, you are probably in good shape.  However, a competitior only gains status when you decide to start fighting them.  Don't give them the opportunity to win.

Keep laughing.

slideshows.

I'm obsessed with the art of presentation.  I've always cared more than most people about public speaking, but now I'm starting to get into powerpoint style slideshows as more than just a tool.  I'm fairly convinced they are one of the least utilized and most versatile forms of digital media available.


A slideshow can be expressed in a massive number of ways, using the exact same designs and words.  Taking the slides and using them as images, with the read text printed as words, and you have a magazine style article.  Take the slides themselves, and you can save them as individual images, a slideshare prezo, PDFs, or even printed copies that create a take home that will jog the memory of an audience.  Encode an MP3 album in iTunes format, with each slide being the album art for a 30 second vocal track.  Make a YouTube video that's just the stills and the audio.

This is all without the major use, standing in front of a group of people, regardless of size, and shaping their attention and time into a learning experience.

I'm obsessed with slideshows for the same reason I'm obsessed with memes.  You can throw a fully formed idea out there, in discrete units, and let it propagate on it's own, throughout a nearly endless list of forms.

More important than any of that is the fact that a good slideshow is one of the most impressive, interactive and multimedia things that someone can do on a computer with minimal ability, next to no equipment, and infinite repeatability.

I don't make enough slideshows.

10.09.2008

oppositional / opportunity.

[Another poorly formatted mobile post.]

In a recent meeting, the issue of dealing with any backlash or undue
oppositional messaging came up, and my colleaguea and I made a few
comments to reassure everyone assembled. But it got me thinking,
especially in any situation with a strong web2.0 element, that there
is no credible reaction that doesn't inherently open an avenue to
further push positive messaging, and there are few unreasonable
responses that don't do the same to some degree.

A well thought out negative response is a chance to argue and
reiterate your point, expanding without seeming preachy, an
engendering sympathy. An irrational one actually supports your
message, by characterizing opposition as irrational.

Most importantly, oppositional messaging immediately legitimizes your
campaign and arguments. To paraphrase Gandhi, first the ignore you,
then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. Though the
final result is far from certain, I've observed that any escalation in
those stages is usually of benefit from a communications standpoint.

Put even more bluntly, opposing your messages and work directly forces
your opposition or competition to let you define a portion of their
messaging, spending, creative, etc. For free. Because they are scared
or threatened.

Then you win.

10.02.2008

five signs of fail: customer relations.

  1. It takes more than ten minutes to speak to a human, and identify the problem.
  2. Customers can google your flowchart, and  talk the CSR to the correct conclusion, more efficiently than they would actually be helped by the customer relations reps.
  3. A customer needs to be escalated to a higher level representative more than twice.
  4. There are more than five automated menus, in any circumstance, before speaking to a human.
  5. There is no direct communication between the customer service department, and people who can 1) make decisions, or 2) authorize refunds, repairs or replacements.
Five signs of fail for Customer Relations.  It's worth noting that around 95% of customer relations departments have all five of these problems.

9.30.2008

five signs of fail: ads.

  1. The ad content and form is defined by the messaging of competitors, thereby validating their claims / insults.
  2. The focus is a direct reaction to opposing messages, and the campaign would not exist if those messages hadn't provoked it.
  3. The campaign intrigues without offering the audience anywhere to go for further information, even if they research independently.
  4. The images / messages contradict either the reality of the product, the reality of the brand, or other elements of the same campaign.
  5. The ad is based on an internet meme that is either lacking in mainstream appeal, or has already passed out of public consciousness.  Related: the ad directly copies an established meme, adding nothing original.
These are my five signs of fail for advertising.  Feel free to guess which specific campaigns inspired each point - I am giving away no-prizes.

the real (short) meaning of mobile's rise.

Most web applications are about fitting themselves into people's computer using routine.  Whether this is embodied by RSS feeds fitting blog reading around the workflow of other tasks, or about fitting social interaction into computer time at work and home through instant messaging or social networks, tying an application to a computer meant tying an action to a location or mindset.  I didn't think of it this way at the time, but IM probably helped me get more homework done in high school, because it added an incentive to sit in front of the computer and enough distraction that actually doing the work didn't seem arduous.


Mobile applications remove the location bias from these activities.  So, Facebook and IM and GReader, etc etc etc are now fitting into my actual living routine, and the adjustment is notable.  Email is not something I check when I get to work, when I get home, etc.  Email is a way of reaching me at any time, suitable not to a location or time, but to a type of message.  Same thing with Facebook and IM.

This isn't a huge difference to the people who are spending 8 hours a day in front of a monitor anyways, but I start to feel it when I spend more time out in the city, or on location for work.  The change is notable enough that even my laptop is starting to feel cumbersome, which I would have found absurd a year ago.  My social and work information flow / social actions are becoming tied only to the flow of information, and the way I choose to connect to people.

What does this mean?  It means that it's no longer enough to make something seamless in integration with the way people work, or the way people use a machine.  It's becoming necessary to make something that seamlessly integrates with the way people want to connect.  Tying your service to a work-station, or a single machine, isn't a good idea.

If I'm going to be mobile in terms of space, you need to be mobile in terms of platform.

9.29.2008

ranking my screens.

Many communications and business blogs have talked at length about the importance of the 'Third Screen', the informational / communications / internet device that lives in your pocket.  Inherent in the title they've worked with is the question of ranking.  I'm realizing my third screen is quickly becoming my first screen, because it's where I do the majority of my hybrid (work and personal) communications.  And now it's actually dictating which platforms I use for my communications.


Blogger isn't cutting it.  The lack of actual iPhone compatibility has become a real deal breaker.  I've tried the options available, including emailing posts, but the formatting is broken, or the presentation is messy, or the experience is generally unfulfilling.  My options are basically to either give up using the iPhone to blog, or to change my blogging platform to something that lets me work with my third screen, which is quickly becoming my first screen.

I've been on blogger for far longer than the month and a half I've been an iPhone user.  And despite the long (long) list of complaints people have about blogger, I've generally not considered switching platforms.

But here we are, and now I'm thinking WordPress might be a rational option, considering they at least consider the idea of letting what I consider an important and influential market play too.

9.24.2008

my life offline.

After a weekend without steady Internet access, I spent the majority
of the day offline, excepting my iphone, due to some networking
issues. This is not an ideal situation for me at any time, but at work
it has severely complicated my day.

This disruption led me to a realization; that previous generations
likely did less work, but more tasks - that is to say, instead of
spending the majority of the day on the key tasks of the job, that
time was spent on things like delivering messages, copying documents
by hand, retyping edited documents, travel time for research or
meetings, etc etc etc.

It would have been impossible to do as much actual work 75 years ago
as it is now. But because fewer jobs are based on manual labour, the
perception is opposite.

Increased efficiency inevitably leads to increased expectations. I'd
argue this is a good thing.

9.20.2008

dear facebook, beacon is evil.

I know I've just recently berated anyone who whines about Facebook's new setup, but I've been seeing rumours here and there that the Beacon system might be coming back.  I hate Beacon, and I think my rage directed at it is more justified than those raging against the live feed option, or the new layout, or what have you, for one reason.


Facebook catalogues and organizes your social information.  It does this based on what you decide to tell the site about yourself, filtered through your privacy settings.  You might not like everyone you are friends with seeing what you do or say on Facebook, but you have decided to do and say those things, on the Facebook platform.

Beacon is problematic because it follows you around after you leave Facebook, and then tells everyone you have identified as a friend what you are up to outside of the Facebook platform.  To me, this breaks the implicit contract that Facebook users have - that Facebook stays confined to Facebook.  Telling people I'm said 'Happy Birthday' on a friend's wall is very different then telling them I googled the release dates of 35 mens fashion magazines, or watched several videos centred on the history of the bow tie.

What makes me odd, is that I don't have a problem with Facebook tracking this information, and using it to better target ads to me, assuming it is stored in a double-blind system, and kept for a limited amount of time.  What bothers me is that information, which I did not tell Facebook to collect, being distributed among individuals. 

Social networks are about projected identity, not actual identity.  If you remove the user control over the identity presented online, then yes, you are invading their privacy to an extent.  That, I have a problem with.

9.17.2008

google valve rumours.

I don't normally obsess over rumour, but I have to say...


social media still needs the broadcast model.

It all comes from somewhere.  People want buzz in social media, and generally they think the obvious solution is to 'go Viral', as though this is something predictable or simple to replicate.  Social media is supposed to bread the broadcast model, but what we keep forgetting is that social media, in the large scale sense that communications pros and companies want, is based on the broadcast model.


The big blogs are either original works or commentary.  They disseminate to smaller blogs, and to sites like Digg and Reddit, generally the same way Newspapers would disseminate into real world conversations.  Many of the things that become comment peices are linkblogged from larger, more established sources.  Sure, the timing is faster, but it works the same as it always did - sources with the biggest audience generally trickle down into the sources with smaller audiences.

There are major differences and advantages in the results - blog and Digg coverage results in a fast online paper trail, google results, more impressions, etc.  For the reader, trickling down into blogs results in stories being approached from more varied and specific viewpoints.  But, if you want blog coverage, if you want social media relevance, the major ingredient beyond having a topic that is relevant to social media, is targeting and getting covered by the big boys.

This is what amuses me to no end about being told, constantly, that PR is dead, is useless, is irrelevant.  Half the time someone will say this, and within a week, link a story from the New York Times, or Marketing Magazine, or Fast Company, or a youtube clip from MSNBC.  Cognitive dissonance is an odd thing to watch writ large.

Social media has changed the game, certainly.  And approaching large entities online that operate on the broadcast model is not the same as contacting traditional media outlets.  But assuming that things that reach the largest number of people are less important at a time when things are breaking down into smaller, more specific conversations forgets the key element of having a topic.

And topics come from shared experience.

fatal flaw of tagging.

Tagging seems like a great idea - allowing individuals to create an adaptable sorting system for their information.  The main problem, and the thing that totally destroys the usability, is the existence of synonyms.


If every tagging system came with a number of pre-set tags, and then allowed the addition of tags that didn't fit into that system, there would be less of the 'tag-spread' that makes tagging useless.  Blogger has a version of this with their 'labels', a little 'show all' button that I use religiously.

I suppose I could go back through all 200 odd posts I've made here and fix the tagging, but going backwards seems against the logic of blogs.  This is a good, personalized system that would work a lot better with a bit of the limitation that the free software world is very often against.  I love crowdsourcing, but people need a path to show them where to go sometimes.

9.16.2008

adding a social media layer.

I've had a very social media themed day.  I'm not going to go into the details, but I'm solidly in the headspace, so I'm going to talk about something cool I saw on PSFK recently - the addition of a social media layer, melded with competition, on top of vapid reality TV.  


I don't particularly like the Hills, but I'd be very happy to see this added to streaming TV online on a wider scale.  Lately I've taken to sitting in front of the TV with my iPhone, twittering, tumbling and IMing my way through whatever I happen to watch (normally about one show a week, considering bittorrent is my favourite station).  If I'm watching most things on my laptop screen, I'd like that comment layer.  More useful would be the ability to tie it into the social media services I already use - TV show based chats with my Facebook, MSN, Twitter, etc contacts would be interesting and beneficial.

The scoring part is something I find less useful.  I know many people are excited by the idea of getting voted up or down in a Digg comment thread, but I'd prefer to actually have a conversation.

That said, I'd love watching a deep-tagged episode of the Hills with the highest voted commentary popping up at the times it was made by each individual viewer.  Crowdsourced criticism is easy to see entertainment in.

9.15.2008

everything is aspirational.

A short one for lunch:


Targeting shouldn't be about who you think should have your product.  Targeting is about finding the people who WANT to be the person who should have your product.  Everything is aspirational, even when based on cold hard facts like location or stated interests.

9.13.2008

crowdsourcing as cubism: crowdfire.

I watch BoingBoingTV, usually on the subway as I head to work.  It's eclectic, and, frankly, has gotten a lot more watchable since they stopped with the 'German-French-Whatever Aspiring Action Hero' series, which was neither funny nor interesting.

The one I watched this morning was an in-depth look at CrowdFire, something the extended boingboing crew seems to have been involved in with backing from Windows, operating at the Outlands Festival.  CrowdFire, in short, is absurdly cool.

The quote from John Battelle was 'the idea is to give the crowd the tools to create the crowd's experience.'  In practice, this means giving the crowd a repository of crowd-sourced images, sound and video from the festival, to be remixed, re-edited, and broadcast during and after the festival itself.  To a creative commons geek like myself, this is already cool enough to warrant a blog post.  But it got me thinking about the project as a normalization, and communalization, of mediated experience.

CrowdFire is, in a way, about second memory as a communal action.  Photographs and video recordings are about sharing and preserving memories better than human equipment can do without assistance.  This is capturing something different though - the increase in scale makes it a recollection on a swarm scale - 60,000 snippets of a thing, as experienced by 60,000 people.  Opening this up not only to tagging, but to remixing and broadcast, makes me think of cubism.  Crowdsourcing something on this scale isn't a matter of photo realism, but experiential realism.  Looking at a compendium like this is seeing every facet, every angle at once.

And I can't help but wonder if this is the future of memory.


9.12.2008

worrying signs from apple.

I haven't bought Leopard yet, because despite an impressive set of features, I keep hearing horror stories about it not working properly without a clean install.  And I just downlaoded an iPhone update that included the phrase 'crashing' when it listed it's fixes.


Apple has very quickly become a 'wait-for-the-update' company, which was always one of my biggest problems with Microsoft.

I'm impressed with the iPhone 2.1 OS firmware update, but I'm not impressed that I'm impressed.  This is a company built on the idea of 'it's beatiful, functional, and it just works'.  Two out of three is insufficient.

I know of a large consultancy that has a fairly small margin of profit per project, because they truly believe that it is impossible to do a quality job for a reasonable price with a higher margin.  They instead choose to do the best work possible, and profit based on the massive scale of their projects.  I'm starting to wonder if Apple is only capable of churning out little boxes of perfection when they're the underdog in every way.

When you control every element of a product, it should work.  Reasonable demand, I think.

(Yes, I am still a raging Mac fanboy.  No change on that front.)

9.11.2008

top ten iphone apps.

And now, the broken gentleman's top 10 iPhone apps, based on usefulness, coolness, and how excited they make me.

  1. Twitteriffic - I use this more than any other feature or element of my iPhone.  Twitter is a thousand times more useful, and I am a thousand times more obsessed with new information on people I barely know.
  2. Evernote - Text, image, or voice notes, backed up online from my phone.  I use Tumblr as a scrapbook, but I use Evernote as a scratch pad for my half formed rambles.
  3. VNC Mocha Lite - Stuck at an event, I opened my office email list, on my home computer, using only my iPhone.  I was then able to find my colleague's number, call him, and get access to the VIP area.  So yeah.  This is useful.
  4. Simplify Media - Access to my entire music library, and that of my friends, streaming, no matter where I am.  Because sometimes the people around me just need to hear Skullcrusher Mountain.
  5. Air Sharing - Dear USB Memory Stick.  You are now obsolete.  I'd pity you, but I'm not the type.  Now I can drag and drop files wirelessly to and from my iPhone.  Win.
  6. Shazam - This is just actually magic.  I use this more to show people that it exists than to actually find out the names of random songs, based entirely on an 8 second audio sample plucked from the air.  The direct links to YouTube videos help, as well.
  7. Palringo - Not perfect, but free, relatively consistent IM application, which lets me use MSN and gTalk from anywhere.  Quickly becoming habit forming.
  8. Spore Origins - For the poor, sad last generation Macbook user who can't get the real deal.
  9. Last.FM - Streaming music, spontaneously generated stations, bio info, and concert dates.  Easy, clean, fun.
  10. Now Do This - Not actually an app, but a website that works perfectly on an iPhone.  Simple, minimal to-do lists.  Nowdothis.com.
I could also talk about Tumble, Facebook, Super Monkey Ball, etc, but I figured ten was more than enough.

on the new facebook.

I have a lot of trouble taking any complaints about changes to Facebook seriously, because they are almost always freak-outs based on a fear of change.


When the News Feed first emerged, everyone freaked out except me.  It was called 'Stalker Feed', a bunch of groups were started and joined, and people generally decided that presenting the same information that was available before in a more logical way was terrifying.

People actually freaked out, because people knew what they were doing, on a system composed entirely of profile information and lists of people who can view it.  This is the greatest example of cognitive dissonance I can think of in the last 5 years.

Now, the same people are freaking out about the new Facebook, calling it 'Stalkerbook', and complaining, paradoxically, that it makes it too easy to see what people are doing, and too hard to find information on them, due to different tabs for different things.

This is a service, that is based entirely on organizing and sharing personal information with a select few approved people.  If you want to freak out about Google listings of personal info, and it's impossible to opt out, then fine.  Otherwise, you're getting what you expected, and freaking out because the package is more clearly organized.

This probably means you're irrational, at best.  A more usable version of the same information is BETTER, not scarier.

consistent branding is more important than continuity.

A good friend, who recently got some serious blog attention for noticing that even stuff aimed at the casual gamer hates macs, pointed this out to me.


They're updating the PC based version of the XBox Live Marketplace.  And have decided to give it the moronic title of "Games for Windows - LIVE XXXXX" where XXXXX is replaced by a selection from random user suggestions.

And it's embarrassing.  I've avoided commenting on the Seinfeld ads extensively, in part because I'm convinced the value will become apparent in the longer campaign, and in part because I think my distaste is Apple fanboyism gone rampant.  But this I have to comment on.

The XBox, and XBox Live, are the crown jewels of Microsoft's image.  Despite hardware that fails regularly, it's a premiere system, and in my informal observation, the number one choice of the hardcore gamer.  XBox is the brand you want associated with a system that is going to be a one stop competitor for Steam, iTunes Music Store, and who knows what else.

The product should be called XBox Live on every system, I'd think.  When you think of XBox, you think Microsoft Gaming, not specifically a console.  The marketplace should be the same whether you browse it on your Zune, your PC, or your XBox 360.  You should be able to buy products from any of these consoles, and have them download when you turn the appropriate device on.  You should be able so share and organize content between them.  XBox, in terms of appreciation, is the glue of users loving Microsoft.  Make it the glue of your digital distribution strategy.

I'd go as far as to release XBox editions of Vista, optimized for the hardcore PC gamer.  Why not?  It's a brand extension, but it needn't dilute the brand value, because it's the same idea.  Ideas don't have to be bound to a format, that's the first lesson of the digital copying era.

9.07.2008

standardized pricing is bad.

Yesterday I bought Dr. Horrible 'Season One' from the iTunes store.  All in all, it was a solid decision, as I love the mini-movie-musical, and am hoping desperately for further installments.  That, and I generally try to buy anything that combines good content with an innovative approach to the distribution problem.  In Canada, the total cost for all three acts of Dr. Horrible was $4.99.  Reasonable.

However, the soundtrack is also for sale on iTunes.  For $9.99.  Twice the cost of the actual short film.

I recognize that it's 14 tracks.  I understand that this is the set price iTunes has for albums, and getting out of the mold is impossible for the content creators, because Apple controls the channel.

But charging twice as much for the soundtrack to a musical, then for the musical itself, makes no sense to me at all.  Hopefully we'll reach a point where creators get to decide the price point for their work, the same way they should have control over album art, liner notes, etc.  Artists create a product that is often defined by it's package.  Let's stop pretending price has nothing to do with that.  And let's not keep making absurd choices - my first reaction to seeing the price for the soundtrack of a musical I loved should not be 'Well, that's moronic.'

9.04.2008

transparency as product.

Wired is doing something very interesting with Storyboard, a beginning to end blogging of an upcoming peice on Charlie Kaufman (the dude who wrote Adaptation, among other screenplays).  In doing this, they are increasing reader involvement with the peice, advertising the upcoming issue containing the peice, and creating a new revenue stream from the article itself (advertising on the blog).  This is both creative and innovative.  And I wonder how well developed it could be in other creative media.


For example, imagine if an established band decided to liveblog the recording process, etc, of an upcoming record.  They could post half finished lyrics, snippets of vocal and instrumental tracks, videos of rehearsals and discussions, explanations of the process, etc.  While the money generated by advertising wouldn't be absurd, it would serve as a great introduction to the record.  For certain bands with a large enough following, people (read: Me) would be willing to pay some small monthly amount to get a password and login to access the page.  You could include it in the physical copies of a release, offering the feed for the next upcoming record.  Throw it in a greatest hits package, for example.

Print media isn't dead.  Music isn't dead.  But we have to change what we're selling, and how we're marketing it.  That said, I'll admit the idea wouldn't work outside of an established magazine, an article on an established personality, with an established audience.  But figuring out how to transfer old media success to new media success seems like an important step in figuring out how to create new media success stories from whole cloth.  Transparency as product might be a part of that future.

9.03.2008

open standards vs. proprietary formats.

I don't buy clothes online.  I love clothes, and buying things online is cheaper and more efficient, generally.  But, sizes aren't standard, and I need my clothes to fit me properly.  So, generally, I buy things in person.  Sizes could easily be standard, but a mixture of appeals to vanity, and lack of rigorous agreed-upon meanings, is the current system.


It's the same deal with web browsers, as came up in a recent conversation.  They don't all read the same code in the same way.  A page might be programmed to say one thing, but when you get there, you see another.  On a wider scale, you can see why this would appeal to some companies - a closed process, or a proprietary one, combined with other market advantages (popularity, some unmatched feature) can equal dominance.  This is the same logic as one retailer making size 40 jeans labelled 34.

But when everyone does it, and there is a wide marketplace of comparable products each using the same system with different meanings, the industry in question is inherently fragmented.  This can result in greater brand loyalty, but only as a form of stockholm syndrome.

Proprietary systems make you, and your competitors wrong at least some of the time.  There's no incompatibility that doesn't go both ways.

So I have to go into the store to buy my pants.  Which means I keep buying my pants from the same places, because there is less inscentive to find new places, and have to learn the meanings behind each label there.

Open standards only seem like a bad idea if you can't understand the basic tenet of enlightened self interest - making your entire industry / ecosystem / world better inevitably makes things better for you.  It also lets you compete on something other than entrenched market position, which is always transient.

9.01.2008

more rabid iphone love.

This time, I think, I've centered on why the iPhone impresses me so very much.  It's not just a phone with mobile internet.  It's the first thing I've used that has actually incorporated nearly all of my mediated communications into one package, that fits into my pocket.


I got interested in computers and the internet right about the time I realized livejournal and ICQ were better ways to speak to my friends than a telephone was.  Part of my stance on this was that I was a 13 year old boy, and phone conversations seemed like a lot to ask.  A larger part was that I could incorporate ICQ and LJ into my workflow (although that isn't how I thought of it at the time).  I could have conversations while doing other things.  This very quickly became the whole point of computers, and the internet, for me.

A list of communications tools I use on my computer: gmail, gtalk, msn messenger, skype, blogger, twitter, tumblr, facebook, linkedin, google reader.  (I'm definitely missing a few)

Communications tools I use on my iPhone: gmail, palringo (msn and gtalk), tumblr, google reader, twitterific, facebook, linkedin, sms, voice calling, voicemail, blogger, etc etc etc.

The iPhone impresses me not because it's the best phone I've ever used (it is) or the best mobile internet experience I've had (my laptop wins that one), but because it's not just a phone, it manages to facilitate the use of nearly every communications tool I use, from anywhere, without much hassle.  I never have to say 'if I was on msn, I could get in touch with _____', or 'I'll have to send _____ a facebook message when I get home'.

I joked with friends a few weeks ago that we'd say to our kids 'when I was your age, we had the internet in our hands, not our brains, and we were damned lucky to get that!'  As time passes, I'm fairly certain I'm going to point to the iPhone as the first palpable outbreak of the hyperconnected future.  Because it's a medium agnostic communications tool, rather than a phone or PDA or computer.  And every time I start using something like that, my life changes a little bit.


8.28.2008

in (further) defense of public relations.

The Long Version:

Newsmedia, and Journalism, isn't the paragon of ethics it pretends to be. This massive concentration of power is in the hands of business interests, like anything else. Journalists are influential, intelligent, and often have an agenda, whether based on personal opinions or editorial mandate. A careful twisting of an off the cuff statement has the potential to do massive damage to a reputation and business, without necessarily crossing the boundaries of libel or slander. PR has an image problem. PR has a lot of catching up to do with developing media, and the changing way people get information. PR will be necessary as long as there is a concentration of influence among media outlets that may be biased, because individuals will always try to protect their personal interests, including their image.

The Short Version:

Everyone thinks the world would be better without Lawyers, too, until they actually consider what the law would look like without individual representatives.

why can't i be ripped off by somewhere reputable.

Oh look, a year old blog post of mine has be re-published somewhere.

To be fair, I don't have a specific problem as long as there's reasonable attribution (which there isn't, in this case). I don't hoard ideas, generally. But I'd like at least a link and my real name if you're going to use my material to draw attention to your work.

Of course, this got me thinking about my own piratical actions. I'll probably blog about that later on today.

8.27.2008

fake follow = fail feed.

Reading PSFK today I saw a post about Fake Follow, a feature on FriendFeed that makes me supremely uneasy.

What amuses me, is that this is getting positive feedback so soon after the 'PR is evil' meme showed up.

Social media is supposed to run on a principle of honesty, I'm so often told. We're supposed to connect on a personal level, even if it's mediated. Sharing, caring, etc. Fake Follow is more or less designed to create the impression of a connection, without the upkeep that a true connection would require.

This is sad, because the amount of effort necessary to maintain a single connection online is comparably negligible, when you take a look at relationships that exist in meatspace.

Social media is about relationships. If you get angry when outsiders step in, and either attempt to game the system, or to interfere without an understanding of how those relationships work, you should be fairly disgusted with the idea of something like Fake Follow. If you want the connection, you should be willing to listen to what that person has to say. Transparency, in things like this, is only reasonable.

Otherwise, you're campaigning for the fake web. You're asking for the least desirable, most charicatured aspects of the media industry to take precedence over the concepts behind social networking.

This may be the reason FriendFeed, which I hear so much about, has such minimal penetration in comparison with the hype. The people this would appeal to most are the people who are the notable pundits who love FriendFeed so much - the people who aren't actually participating in social media anymore.