keep the broadcast model for a broadcast medium.

There are limitations to how many people you can read about, learn about, and conduct conversations with.

If you are willing to deal with a fragmented, less social experience, you can increase that number, with drawbacks occurring as the number of people you intend to interact with increases.
At some point, you will no longer be able to respond to every question or comment directed at you.  At a later point, you will no longer be able to read every question or comment directed at you.  

After a certain level of growth, you will no longer be able to read enough of the volume of comments or questions to build an understanding of the individuals you are attempting to interact with - you may recognise names, but be unable to have a profile of the person filed away in your head.

At a final point, you will no longer be able to recognise the sub-groups, factions or cliques, within your following.  You will merely have a mass of people who have offered to give you their attention.  This is massively powerful, but it's not the same as building a lasting social interaction with someone (or several someones).

We have platforms that work well for mass non-social outreach.  Broadcast media, and the broadcast model, do this absurdly well, and features such as confining a message of this type to a certain object, or a certain time, help to build a community experience despite the disconnected nature of the messaging.

Why do I keep seeing experts try to use social media for the broadcast model of communication?  Ten thousand people fighting to speak with you via Twitter and being ignored isn't better than the same ten thousand getting a video podcast or one-way mailing list - it's worse, because Twitter comes with an expectation of conversation.

Ignoring the realities of the form, and thinking that more is better in a medium that is optimized for, and defined by social interaction, doesn't help anyone.

I'm not trying to discourage celebrities, thought-leaders, and experts from interacting with social media.  I'm just arguing that they aren't experiencing social media, because social media is about developing conversations and connections that don't play well with fame.

Play to the strengths of the medium.  Or find a medium that plays well with your strengths.



An ambigram is a piece of stylized text that is still legible (either the same text or different) right side up or upside down.

Walking to work this morning, I think it might be the best way to consider communications - something that has a clear, valid message regardless of which angle you approach it from.  If you are betting the success of a campaign on the idea that your messages will be interpreted only from the perspective they were conceived, you are ignoring the way the world is.  Once you release a message, you relinquish control.

Control goes to the hands of anyone interested in interpreting, re-interpreting, dissecting, disseminating, remixing, mocking, re-purposing or otherwise using what you've created.  Everything has multiple readings.  Everything can be interpreted from multiple viewpoints.

Make sure you get the message across upside down or backwards.  It increases the chances of your meaning remaining visible, despite the presentation others may give your messaging.


journalism is the harbinger (or, say goodbye to sleep).

One of the attempted fixes the newsmedia has tried to bolster profits and smooth the transition online, is to basically to work journalists to death.  On top of the many, many facets of the actual job, the research, the interviews, the investigations and the writing, some journalists are expected to maintain a blog, create smaller pieces for websites, and generally add another separate job's workload to their day.

This is going to happen to all of us.

In a society where social media is well and truly mainstream, where transparency is a given, and where each individual within a company is seen as a potential representative, lots of people are going to find a social media element added to their duties.  Posting on a corporate blog, or updated a company focused next-generation equivalent of a twitter account, or flickr, or facebook page, is going to become a standard part of everyone's workday.  There will be a point where a lack of 'humanizing content' on behalf of a company or representative will seem as odd as meeting someone who refuses to use contractions.

The issue is, maintaining a meaningful social media presence is a lot of work.  Many of us are busy enough that we don't really know how to fit everything into a work day already.  I'm lucky enough to have a job where my use of social media on the job is accepted (and quickly becoming industry standard).

We should all get ready for the double shift.  It's coming.  And for the people who wouldn't be doing it anyways, it's going to be uncomfortable.


the big changes.

As far as I’ve seen, the internet makes a few major changes to human culture, and extrapolating from those tells us where the future is going.

Time and space bias are becoming less and less important.  When and where no longer limit information, entertainment, communication or conversation.  Any business model based on exploiting time and space bias, or enforcing time and space bias, is officially on deathwatch.  Business based on making time and space bias entirely irrelevant will probably find an audience, and success.

Potentially everyone can publish.  This doesn’t mean that everyone has an equal voice, but it does mean that people will learn the responsibility of their works.  If your words, your ideas, are put in front of the world, you become responsible for them in a way you can’t be without an audience.  People fear an audience because it forces evolution and improvement.  People cherish an audience for the same reason.

Knowing about something is going to become less and less valuable, as information is rapidly becoming accessible from everyone, from everywhere.  Knowing how to do something is going to remain essential, because skill requires more than information.  Discovering information about something will always remain valuable.

If something exists, there is less and less resistance against it becoming ubiquitous.  This is currently true of information, and will likely be true of physical creations in the coming decades.

These are all fairly obvious at this point; I’m not breaking any new ground by writing this.  But I’m finding it next to impossible to come up with a recent world-changing development that isn’t explained by the logical progression of one of these factors. 

If I’m doing something that doesn’t address or leverage one of these issues, I can usually do it better by asking myself why.


idealistic communications rant.

Communication is about new ways of talking.

Communication is NOT about old ways of talking on new platforms.

This is an important difference, and a common mistake.

Twitter ≠ RSS.  Don’t use it exclusively for linking to your blog.

Blogging ≠ Infomercial.  Strategic ‘authenticity’ is still inauthentic.

New ways of talking create problems.  The first instinct for both writer and reader, is to apply the standards of old ways of talking, or to ignore the lessons of old ways of talking completely.

Writing emails as formal letters is an example of the former.  Ignoring the freedoms we have for sampling and remixing text when developing limitations of creative freedoms with video or audio is an example of the latter.  Both, upon reflection, don’t make a lot of sense.

New ways of talking mean new rules of talking, but they don’t necessarily mean the lessons of older modes of communication should be ignored.  If we’re using English, a beautiful phrase will likely still read as a beautiful phrase.

Phrases can have beauty online, as much as they can in a novel.  There can be art and underlying meaning to communication anywhere, if we decide not to drown it in shit.

[inspired from a lot of places, more recently Lawrence Lessig's Remix, which is very much worth reading.]


how we deal with real change.

I  never shut up about my beloved iPhone, but it's one of the few things I've owned in the last 5 years that has actually changed anything.  Clearly, this is more about the rise of smartphones in general, than a specific gushing about Apple's current gadget du jour.

I recently read Cory Doctorow's 'Little Brother'* on my iPhone, through Stanza.  Last night, I read several comics released in an iPhone application format, from iVerse media.  Both of these experiences got me thinking.

We deal with new technology in one of two ways, generally.  These are both examples of the first way, which is usually the most successful and the majority of uses; taking something we already do well and finding a way to emulate that on the new platform.  Taking content created for one form (print media) and finding a way to make it work reasonably well in another form.

The second way we deal with new technology is to think about the essence of things we currently do (in this case, text narrative, graphic fiction, etc), and then devise a new way to do them based on the abilities and limits of the new technology.  This is substantially more rare, because it's very easy to do poorly, and very difficult to do if new technology isn't standardized.  Also, in comparison, written text has centuries of R&D behind it, any new form is pre-Alpha, by comparison.

That said, the second method, creating a wholly new way to do something important or interesting, is where the massive transformational power is.  It's at least worth spending some time considering this approach whenever you're tasked with reconfiguring content from one medium to another.

*It's good enough that not only will I recommend it (and probably blog about ways in which it inspired me later on), but that I'm planning on giving it to the majority of YA fiction readers in my extended family, who I've always worried weren't geeky enough. 


journalism and dialogue.

If you haven't heard, the modern news media is having some tough times.  Not too long ago, the refrain from communication studies classrooms was that Journalism was Dead, because of the rise of infotainment, the propagation of stories from government PR, and inherent bias in the presentation of facts, rather than a bias in editorial mandate.

Now the issue is the massive decline in advertising dollars and print readership, while no one has figured out how to make enough money to support a real newsgathering operation via the online audience.

At some point in the not-too-distant future, every story, every narrative will become collaborative, whether or not it is authorized to be.  I have a feeling the influential media outlets, and the journalists, that exit that transition in the best shape, will be the ones who can strike a balance between publishing from a position of authority and collaborating as part of a community.

I regularly debate the validity of things like transparent sourcing, and the position of authority most journalists operate from, with a good friend of mine who happens to be a journalist.  This is one of the few things we don't seem to have much common ground on, and it's confusing.  I respect journalism and journalists, not just professionally, but because I believe the type of society I want to live in requires an informed populace, and the kind of check-and-balance that investigative reporting represents.

At the same time, I think journalism is like cryptography: while some people would argue that key elements should be left in the hands of professionals, nothing is truly tested unless every interested eye can take a look, and see if they can spot the holes in it.  By this I don't mean that articles should be a wiki - but I do think it's reasonable to think that links to source documents, or other takes on the issue, will eventually become standard in the same way that comments are quickly becoming standard.

I'm not going to entertain the idea that proper reporting doesn't have a role in the future of newsmedia, because frankly, opinion pieces are only a small part of what proper news entails.  But I will say that I think the days of leading the conversation without becoming part of it as it moves on, are coming to a close.  I don't think the column or article is going to be the defining element of a story.  I think it's going to be the story.

I imagine following a journalist in more or less real time, getting the elements of a story in blog posts, in tweets, in images, all of which later come together in a more definitive story - crafted by the professional, but informed by the comments, queries and input of those who've been watching as things have developed.

I'm not claiming that I know anything special about journalism, but I am making a statement that I think it's not just the responsibility of journalists to figure out how to save the newsmedia.  I think that actual change and evolution requires looking at what elements are essential to quality journalism, and what elements exist because of the limitations and boundaries of the old media, the old production cycle, and the old technology.


information distribution: pr as arg.

Getting back to the concept that started 2009 for the blog, I've been looking at NOTCOT's recent posts related to the promotion for Coraline.

I'm convinced the future of the press kit is creating an experience that appeals to both press and the general community, and then allowing both groups to create a dialogue that further explores the related product or event.

Some people (usually not working in PR) would like to pretend that the mainstream media will stop being essential at some point in the future.  I think the value of our industry, moving forward, is creating opportunities for the community to interact with and influence the mainstream media.  For the public to relate to the story, the public has to relate to the people telling it.  Why not put them on the same team?

Looking at these Coraline 'boxes' I imagine sending something similar out, in a slightly different way.  Imagine sending 50 boxes, out of order, to media outlets - and then another 100 or 200 out to individuals who has expressed an interest in the film, whether through subscribing for updates to the website, or participating in a contest for free tickets.

The media outlets with a broad reach would act as a teaser.  They could create interest in the campaign as a whole, and a starting point for those involved.  The packages would clearly need to contain actual information about the product, and further interviews, information, etc, would need to be made available to satisfy the requirements most journalists have, information-wise.  As well, the assumption has to be made that journalists would (and should) break the fourth wall.  That said, the presentation of information informs how it is discussed (the medium is the message, etc).

The story (from a journalistic standpoint) is part of the story (from a narrative standpoint).

Individuals seeded with the similar press packages would interact with news stories on a standard level, but hopefully also as a presentation of information that would help them navigate the wider narrative of the campaign.  Similar things are happening now, mostly using websites and blogs as a means of reaching media while maintaining a narrative.

I guess the dream is a fully integrated promotional strategy that is part of, and an expansion on, the core narrative.  Trailers, commercials, print advertisements, release schedules, public appearances - all of these could be used to further the narrative, as well as to create audience interest.  Media relations strategy could easily be a part of the overall narrative, rather than just the promotional one, and therefore part of the community generated narrative.

Of course, this is all vague, and reads (and is written) more like a plea to consider things differently than a directive.  I'm okay with that, and I hope you are too.

personal twitter anecdote.

People complain regularly that social media is just another way of commodifying personal relationships, turning friendship into a score and social bonds into bragging rights.  I'm sure for some people this is true, but due to some circumstances of my life and friendships, I can't agree with it for a second.

My mother returned from a short trip to Washington, DC earlier this evening.  She'd been sick the night before, and was complaining of tingling in her extremities, a general feeling of weakness, and nausea.  Obviously, I took her to the emergency room.

In the waiting area (which is a cell-phone friendly zone, don't berate me in the comments) I posted my location and situation to Twitter.  In the next 20 minutes, the following things happened:
  • @replies showed up from my girlfriend, as well as a good friend in town, and a friend who currently lives in Los Angeles.
  • The aforementioned local good friend called to check in on me, and make sure that my mother was doing well.  He also offered to stop by, and get me anything I may need, despite repeated assurances that the situation wasn't serious.
  • My girlfriend called, checking on me, and offering to come wait with me (about a 30 minute drive for her), again despite there not being anything major to worry about.
The main thing to take from this is yes; the people in my life are really, really wonderful.  But it's also important to note that part of my standard operating procedure - posting my events / mindset via Twitter - resulted in the support system I've established in my life, reaching out to help me.

The benevolence of social networks has been an issue recently, highlighted in David Armano's very successful attempt to help someone out by tapping into the Twitter community.

This isn't related to that, or a commentary on that.  But I think it's worth pointing out that my meatspace social network, and real life connections, reached out to me entirely based on a fairly mild Twitter update.

Right now, I'm fairly certain that my social life and social connections are optimized by services like Twitter, not undermined by them.

Oh, and it was a false alarm.  My mother is in good shape, but better safe than sorry.


transit and unintended consequences.

I'm officially confused by the TTC.

Starting in April, buying a monthly metropass will no longer get me free parking at Finch Station.  My current monthly transportation budget looks something like this: $109 (Metropass) + $50 - 75 (Gas) = approx $175 a month.

Come April, when parking starts costing $6 / day, my expenses start looking like this: $109 (Metropass) + $50-75 (Gas) + $120-138 (Parking) = approx $300 a month.

Curiously, driving the entire way to work would likely result in a 50/50 mix of free and paid parking (which is probably underestimating how often I could get an office spot), with an estimated cost breakdown of: $150-200 (Gas) + $40-48 (parking) = approx $200 a month.

I understand that transit is expensive to maintain, but does it actually make sense to create a situation where a single person, driving from suburbia to the downtown core every day, is SAVING MONEY by ignoring public transit?  Not a few dollars, understand.  We're discussing nearly $100 per month in savings, understanding that despite increased mileage, maintenance costs exist in either scenario.

The reason I'm bringing this up, other than my desire to complain?  I've heard a lot about the justification for this move, mostly due to the 'lost' money that free parking for metropass holders results in.  I refuse to believe that there isn't a large population of people in the same situation as me.  No planning decision that increases costs to the user unilaterally results in more money.  Watch out for unintended consequences.

Like a fairly environmentally conscious guy deciding to drive his car to work everyday.


oppositional proof-reading.

Walking to work today I saw a Tim Horton's billboard that got me thinking.

The ad consists of the Tim's logo, a full pot of coffee with the time '10:27' written on it, and handwriting-style text to the tune of 'this pot of coffee has 20 minutes to live'.  Simple, fairly easy to understand - they are letting you know that any coffee you buy at Timmy Ho's will be no more than 20 minutes old.

However, my immediate thought was 1) 'What an absurd waste of coffee', and 2) 'I wonder how much energy that wastes?'

Clearly, this wasn't the reading that the creators of the ad intended.  And it was easy to see the meaning they had intended the ad to create.  But at the same time, I have to wonder if I wouldn't do better work if I looked at every sentence I wrote, and considered the knee-jerk oppositional readings that are most likely, when I created it.

All any of us can do is create something, and make it available to others.  At that point, we lose control over meaning.  If I can make it even slightly harder to find a point of disagreement with what I create, it's probably worth it.  I do this to a certain extent already, but I'm going to endeavour to make it a more standard part of my creative process / workflow.


pr as arg.

To me, the future of PR is in the mass narrative.  Not the official company line, or in the image generated by a specific piece of coverage, but in the collage created by every mention a company gets, whether from the New York Times or a rarely read WordPress blog. 

To work with this future, a company needs to do whatever it can to use it’s stance as a source of information and the authority on itself, to influence the attitudes and associations that the community attaches to the brand itself.

I’ve asserted before that I don’t consider myself someone who works in a media role, I consider myself someone who works with narratives.  This isn’t to say I craft narratives like an author, my function is more of a curator – I take facts, elements of a story, and make them available, either publicly or to specific interested parties in the media.  Through this, I exercise a small amount of influence (but not control) over the public perception of a brand.

I don’t write words on a page.  I encourage the development narratives across society, traditionally through media outlets.  (Or at least, I do when things work well.)

My vision for the future of PR is communication strategy modeled after an Alternate Reality Game.

I’ve spoken about ARG’s before, as a method of advertising and building engagement with a brand or product.  However, I think the same concepts can be shifted slightly, and put to use to engage the public, and share information with them, in a way that is mutually beneficial to community and brand.

I’ll add to this in the future, but here are some starting concepts:

Information Seeding:  Giving information to engaged parties instead of just widely read media outlets.  I wouldn’t suggest massive exclusives, but any company that would share information about upcoming offerings through a forum they did not own, and for no reason other than knowing the community there would care, stands a decent chance of building loyalty and interest in the products / services they offer.

Cumulative Narrative:  The whole story comes from learning about the individual elements, rather than an official line published somewhere, that omits defining information.  If people want to learn about what you do, they should be able to look at any element of your business and understand the core values that drive the overall brand.  Be defined by every part of your reality, not just the parts you think of as ‘media friendly’.  (This also suggests that you should have a reality you are comfortable with from every angle, not just the ones you consider ‘media facing’).  More importantly, people who care SHARE information.  The main thing that PR can learn from ARG’s is that a community that informs itself is more efficient, and generates more engagement, than official sources alone can.

Discrete Sub-Narratives:  Create more points of entry, and explore the stories within each story.  There’s no reason to share any information that would damage your business, but why shouldn’t every key feature of what you offer have it’s own point of contact for interested parties?  Off the top of my head, a ‘production blog’ for each key team building part of an interesting whole allows a community a better chance to find something that interests them, and a greater understanding of why they should care.  As mentioned before, each of these elements builds into a greater whole, which, if necessary, can be summarized (think social media optimized press releases).

‘Playing Fair’:  This is more related to any mystery story, but it’s a key point.  Narratives that play fair offer enough information that readers can come to reasonable conclusions.  A narrative that doesn’t play fair comes to a conclusion that no amount of rational speculation would have come to.  Playing fair encourages speculation.  While companies like Apple can generate speculation through secrecy, leaks drive the interest of the crowd.  If you control the flow of your own information, you can create a connection with the community.  And they can make themselves a part of your narrative.

Players Direct the Game:  The best narratives build and change with the ideas the crowd generates.  I’m not suggesting changing your brand at the whim of the crowd, but if people are interested in a specific element of what you do, release more information about it.  If there is a large concentration of interest in a specific geographical area, arrange a small event and spread information around discreetly.

The core concept of all this is to learn from the best example we currently have of telling a directed narrative through (and not TO) a large number of interested parties.  I’m going to try to go deeper into this, and expand on each element I mentioned (as well as a few others) in the coming weeks.