who cares: social media and the 'assumed' audience.

So, I started using twitter. This is only notable because it started an interesting conversation, one I have had before, in various permutations. It was kicked off by this Penny Arcade comic, and went from a question of 'does anyone really care to read what you are doing at any given moment via twitter' to 'why do you use social media?'

I explained, pretty clearly, that for me, social media is about interaction, but not really about the potential or intended audience.

Some people using services like tumblr, or twitter, or pownce, etc, are doing so as a promotional extension of their dominant destination, whether or not they are thinking of it as such. When someone has the power to break websites by linking to them, yeah, they have to consider their intended audience. But these are not the people that make social media work, really.

It's become cliche that most blogs only have one reader - the person who writes them. And yet, blogs continue to be created in a non-professional capacity, and facebooks and twitters and tumblrs follow suit.

For me, social media is about building my context. It's about building an archive, a data shadow, and something to point people at when something I thought or wrote or experienced has new relevance. This became clear a little while ago, when I shuttered my livejournal account. I backed up the whole 5 year ordeal as a PDF, and it's sitting in my laptop, and on my backup, as a giant pile of information that could be best labelled 'Jon Crowley, 2002-2007'

It's a wonderful side effect that people who care what I have to say, however few, can dig through the trail I'm generating, and possibly find something that interests them. But I'm not, and in all probability will never be, one of those people who can ask the legion of fans to help me with a technical issue, or to surge to the defence of something I have a personal interest in. And while that's cool, it's not what I was after when I started playing around on the internet.

I was, and am, in love with the utility of a recorded history of minutiae. I'm addicted to information, no matter how miniscule, and how it all fits together. I like the idea of that information, that minutiae, being parts of a person, thoughts, ideas, random snippets. I'm willing to (with a clear understanding that nothing is private), put selected thing out there.

So, I understand the appeal of twitter, at least for me. It's another way to record my minutiae, and another solid point I can direct people to if they want more context, more snippets. That's what this blog is for, the utility of recorded ideas, not some imagined readership that (frankly) I know I'm a little too unknown, and a little too inconsistent, to have.


time and space bias, dead and dying

chartreuse examines time bias, or more bluntly, declares time dead.

I agree, but was kinda hoping this much was obvious by now. Then again, watching most media outlets makes it clear that obvious doesn't really mean a change in operations. I'm more interested in space bias - and the idea that most content owners have, that owning something in one form, shouldn't justify ownership in several formats, each suited to a location (meaning, a device, a file format, and a set of permissions and interactions tooled to that medium).

Time bias is more or less dead, and all it took was storage, compression and bandwidth. Space bias falling apart will be more of a cultural shift, and an eventual understanding that consumers are only willing to pay for something useful. Useful, very soon, is going to be defined as unilaterally useful. In other words, people might be willing to spent 15 bucks for an album again if it means they can get a physical copy, get a digital copy, and get enough context with it that the experience is tailored to each tool they use to enjoy it, from ipod to computer to car.


the newspaper i want to read.

I was talking with a friend who is just finishing her education in journalism, and about to enter the workforce. In the midst of one of those conversations that are universal among my generation, the 'I don't know where my industry / career / aspirations will fit in the everchanging landscape'. I told her, and still think, that there will always be a market for trained investigative journalists, mostly because they can do a story justice in a way most bloggers often can't.

I do, however, think that the newspaper is more or less dead in the water, and the magazine (in terms of news, not niche interests) is in a similar, though less drastic, situation.

The newspaper I would operate, on a base level, like a blog network. Individual blogs, run by trained journalists, covering one specific beat. Stories could be reported in full, or as they develop, but each beat would have a distinct voice, and the overarching narrative that can be established by having the same person covering the same issues over time.

Mix this with a solid amount of professional oversight, and it could be curated into a standard daily paper, and more than that, into tailored subscription papers, online or in print, that would only include selected beats, or writers, or even tags. Obviously, this would be available online as it happened, because speed is the other major advantage that blogging has over traditional outlets.

Depressingly, the idea of a voice, or author narrative coming through for current newspapers is more likely to mean a columnist that completely ignores the concept of critical distance from the story (paging Rosie DiManno) than it is to give each beat a character.

This isn't a well defined concept. But I think the current approach taken by newspapers to maintain an online presence that mixes the failings of blogs, with incompleteness when compared to the print edition, is doomed.

If someone would print me a one section version of the Globe and Mail, written by only people I respect, and containing only stuff I care about, I'd be willing to subscribe just for convenience. This is, of course, related to my obsession with print on demand.


if people care, they matter. treat them that way.

My instinct is that this is a generational thing, but I rarely think of phones when I think of outreach, interaction, etc. Phones, to me, inherently mean sloppy, delayed, and often impersonal, when used in connection with products, services or brands. However, I just read something on Seth Godin's Blog that got me thinking:

Shouldn't every single inbound call be answered in one ring? Shouldn't there be as much spent on self-service customer support as is spent on the design of the selling part of your website? Shouldn't you be tracking in the finest detail what people have to say when they call in? Shouldn't you be rewarding call center operators by how long they keep people on the phone, not how many calls they can handle a minute? Shouldn't there be an easy, fast and happy way for an operator to instantly upgrade a call to management (not a supervisor, I hate supervisors) who can actually learn something from the caller, not just make them go away?

This more or less dovetails a lot of what I was saying when I wrote about social media relations. A phone is a tool like anything else, but my own little fishbowl skews towards the digital, I often forget that this is a simple thing that can be done better. I feel like the entire industry does, too.

One of my core tenets is that information is precious, and it should be held on to for the good of everyone, on either side of the transaction. If you leave it on the table, whether through less-than-stellar CSR service on the phone, or by ignoring online communities, I immediately wonder how seriously you take your customers.

People who care enough to pick up the phone are the same as people who care enough to contribute to an online community. They keep the lights on at your company, because people who care are people who pay. Keeping them happy isn't always cheap, but it is almost always worth it. Learning from them is priceless.

Why do we assume that interacting with the people who care is something that belongs at the bottom of the ladder, when interacting directly with corporate clients, and keeping them happy would never be outsourced, or left to the inexperienced.?


fashion / branding as transferable signifiers.

Fashion is a way of communicating. When you get your message wrong, it’s good that the people around you let you know. - Dries Van Noten.

Branding practices, in general, have a lot to learn from fashion.

Over the last several months, I've developed a more than passing interest in fashion. This has, for some people, come across as more of a vanity issue than anything else. I'll freely admit that vanity has something to do with it, as I care what I look like. But I also care what the way I look says. I care about the role clothing plays in my projected persona, and the interpretations of my identity that others make.

I recently referred to branding as a transferable signifier, something that consumers can take onto themselves as an element of a constructed, projected identity. The connection between clothing and branding is one that transcends logos. A specific cut, style or fit, is potentially as heavy with meaning as the brand of any global corporation.

A lot of my ideas about this stem from issues and questions I have related to racial identifiers and stereotypes. As a mixed-race (Jamaican / Irish) individual, I find myself asking questions about how certain clothing makes me look. I'll be the first to admit that this is a stupid thing to have to ask, but I'm in no way blind to the fact that if you put me in certain clothing, a percentage of the population will immediately make negative assumptions about me. There is a smaller-still percentage that will make negative assumptions about me regardless, but I'm still fascinated by the potential of having an immediate visual signifier that I can control - in contrast to my facial features and skin tone, an immediate visual signifier that I cannot (and have no desire to) alter.

If fashion is a method of communication, then I would argue branding with logos is the crudest form of yelling in comparison. Brands should aspire to be like clothes - something that adds to the consumer identity without usurping it. Something that takes first impressions into account, and manipulates them to the consumers advantage. Something that intends to speak louder than words.


on depressing news.

Paul Arden is dead.  He was a brilliant ad man, and hell of a thinker, but, for me, he was the author of 'It's not how good you are, it's how good you want to be', probably the only non-fiction work intended to inspire that actually inspires me.

Paul Arden died at 65.  The former Saatchi & Saatchi creative director, and titan, will be missed by anyone who appreciates good ideas, and the shameless fight to do and be better.