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.


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.


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.


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.


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. 


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.


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.


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.