question five: list 5 books.

List the five books most influential to your view of communication:

If you have read, or do read, all of the above, I probably want to be your friend. Just saying.

[This is the 5th in a 5 part series, answering questions I suggested be asked of any potential media hire. I haven't done number 4 yet, because I wanted to answer this one first. Out of order FTW.]


question three: publishing online.

What services have you used to publish online?

Diaryland, Blogger, LiveJournal, Wallop, Flickr, Blogger (this time after Google acquired it), Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter.

I am nearly certain there are others, but these are the ones I can recall at the moment.  Any obvious things I've missed?

[This is the third in a series of posts wherein I answer the questions I suggested posing to potential employees working in media.]

different, not right or wrong.

People are usually good at being right, sometimes good at being wrong, and usually terrible at understanding those aren't the only two options.

This came to mind when I was discussing different viewpoints on social media, in relation to the old guard.  Even if people admit that social media is important and can't be ignored, they often fall into one of the first two categories.

People accustomed to working with traditional media sometimes think it's their job to educate bloggers on how media works.  By educate, they mean: impose the behaviours of old media on new media.  Turn a new thing, into a new channel for the old thing.  This is "I am Right" thinking.

Almost as bad is "I am Wrong" thinking, where someone with a long history working in traditional media, and a large amount of expertise and wisdom, decides that they do not understand social media, never will, and therefore should attempt to stay away from it.  By assuming they are flat out wrong in relation to anything centered on social media, less of that hard won wisdom and skill gets put to use, and much of it is applicable.

It's harder to admit that things are just different.  That it's not about being right or wrong, it's about taking what you've learned and developed, and seeing what works with the new world order.

Different is harder because the only option is fighting to keep an open mind, while considering new information through the experience that informs wise action.  When you are used to either being right, or wrong, this comes across as a massive amount of work.

Don't discount the older guy who says Twitter is a waste of time, even though we all disagree with him.  He probably knows a thing or two about how to make 140 characters impactful, or engaging, if you can express why everyone would benefit from his expertise.

[I suppose this could be considered the counterpoint to my post on millennial arrogance.]


question two: over-hyped social media service.

What social media / social networking service do you think is the most over-hyped?

For me, the only answer is LinkedIn.  I understand it's importance, I have a profile myself, and I do my best to keep it updated.  But for me, LinkedIn fails on the 'social' element, and that keeps me from making it part of my day to day usage.  I don't have relationships on LinkedIn, (and I fully admit this is my fault) I only have information there.

LinkedIn serves a particular niche, in my eyes - People who see the power of social media, and are still unnerved it.

Twitter has conversations, which lead to being exposed.  Facebook has history and context, which lead to being exposed.  Blogs have content, which paired with context, leads to being exposed.  LinkedIn seems designed to avoid exposure at all costs, and feels like it is based on the premise that your work life, and work social ecosystem, should be kept separate from your personal one.  To me, this feels like a service designed for people who like the idea of social media, but are terrified of incorporating it into their lives, and dealing with the exposure related to that.

Again, I understand the appeal of LinkedIn.  But for me, it feels as though it was designed for a subset of the current generation of employers, the people who think an embarrassing picture on Facebook, from five years in the past, is an accurate indicator of an individual's ability to contribute to an office environment.

So, I don't think LinkedIn in the future.  I think it serves a specific missing link between the people who have no interest in using social media, and the people who will soon be the only target market that matters: those who live in social media.

[This is the second in a series of posts where I answer the questions I suggested people ask potential media hires.]

just say no to ghostwriting.

Ghostwriting blogs came up today at Dave Fleet's Podcamp Toronto talk on Ethics in Social Media, and I've been thinking about it all day.

I disagree with ghostwriting in general, but I understand why it happens.  I disagree with ghostwriting in social media especially, because social media requires authenticity and trust to overcome the disparity in authority it faces, when compared to traditional media outlets.

That was a generalization, but I think it's a fair point.  I get my news from print media, and from bloggers.  I trust the Globe and Mail because it's the Globe and Mail.  If I trust information I get from your blog, it's usually because I trust the person I've seen writing and sharing that information with me and every other reader.  That trust is developed over time, and I think it's got more to do with the value of social media as a news source than speed does.

To clarify, I have no problem with hiring freelance writers, or bringing on unpaid guest writers, to pen entries for any blog, as long as it's made clear in some way that this is happening, or may happen.  If your blog has a note on the about page that says 'entries on (blog name) are often the result of a collaboration between myself and a ghostwriter', I might not like it, but I won't be able to justify getting mad about it later on.

My core issue with ghostwriting in general is it's not really justifiable.  If the value of your outlet or blog is the brand, it shouldn't matter who is writing, as long as it's associated with the brand.  If this is the case, there's no argument for misleading readers as to who the author is.  If, conversely, the value of your blog is the personality creating it, there's no justification (at all) for misleading your readership about what content is coming from that personality.

There's some overlap here, but the point stands even if we're talking about a 'Personal Brand'.  If the emphasis is on brand, someone else publishing with your approval (under their own name) should still carry weight.  If the emphasis is on personal, then you are obligated to do it yourself, to whatever extent works for you.

In the session mentioned above, someone pointed out that Barack Obama doesn't write his own speeches.  I (and several others) countered by pointing out that the guy who writes Obama's speeches gets profiled in the New York Times for doing so.  If credit goes where it is due, (or at least doesn't go to someone undeserving) there's nothing to get mad about.


explaining millennial arrogance.

This weekend, while doing some volunteering at OYP, I heard the now tired rant about my generation (the 'millennial' generation) and the apathy, entitlement, and arrogance that define us.  I'm going to do my best to explain some of that, if not justify some of it.

The internet is likely the biggest alteration to human interaction with information, since written language became commonplace.  I don't think this is hyperbole.  The written word allowed stories concepts, ideas and information to exist without being directly shared, and to have a life beyond the individuals, and even the cultures, that created that content.  The internet allows instantaneous communication, collaboration, and access to mankind's collective stored information, and has the ability to make physical and temporal distance irrelevant.  It has changed everything, and the millennial generation is the first one to consider it as a given and as a right, rather than as a tool.  The way we envision communication, culture and problem solving is based on this level of connectivity, which did not exist when current leaders learned how to solve problems.

Every generation thinks that it is living in the apocalypse times.  We don't have nuclear war (yet), but we have the strongest economies in the world collapsing, the spectre of rapid climate change, and asymmetrical insurgent warfare, on top of everything else.  We've inherited a pretty ruined world, and after a lifetime of being told we wouldn't have pensions, or steady jobs, or social security, we are being told that expecting a career, or a stable environment, is unrealistic.  We also can't help but notice that many of these issues are at least partially traceable to the generations preceding us.

We were raised specifically in rebellion to the discipline and sacrifice taught to our parents by the Greatest Generation.  Most millennials have been told from childhood that they are valued, they should expect to be heard, that they have valid ideas, and that expecting fulfillment in one's work is a bare minimum.  The education system in many areas has been shifted to one that doesn't consider failure an option until the early teens, and in my experience we've created a culture where we expect that 75% of students can be above average.  This inherently results in apathy regarding results, as expectations are absurd, and/or grading criteria are meaningless.

Now put this person in the workplace.

They have ideas, they are excited and motivated to finally have a chance to do something that MATTERS, that will be judged on functionality, not an artificial standard.  This is not the reality of the working world.

The people in leadership positions, in most corporations, are people who don't like being presented with entirely new ideas, especially not by people who are considered untested.  Most business structures are still operating on a pre-internet base, or at best with a thin veneer of new technologies applied to old structures.  Old structures are resistant to new ideas.  And millennials in the workplace quickly realise when they are in another situation where what comes before is dictating the options available to them.

We don't subscribe to the idea of paying dues before you get to make change, because in our minds, everything has changed, and the people who have the status necessary to influence things don't understand it.  If you'd like proof, the best example I can give is record industry execs admitting that they didn't hire anyone to help them with technology, because they wouldn't know who to hire.

To a millennial, every industry looks like that, or will soon.

We were raised to think this way, we have been presented with a well and truly ruined world, and when we actually try to do something about it, we are told we will have to wait a decade or so, to establish the credibility necessary to get anyone with influence on our side, or we are shown by others to strike out completely on our own, and make the change we see as necessary without support from older structures.  While being told to wait a decade, we are also hearing that we have a decade or so to change everything before the world falls apart.

We can see how bad things are, the world over, in more detail, and more personally than any other generation in human history.  And we keep getting told that the only thing we can do, for now, is business as usual.

Not sure if you've noticed, but business as usual has failed.  Miserably.  And doing the same thing, with hopes for different results, is the definition of insanity.

Of course we come across as arrogant, as entitled, as apathetic.  The entire world has changed, the way the human race interacts has fundamentally changed, since the current leaders of the world have entered the workforce.  Speaking to close friends and family members even ten years older than me is astounding, because they cannot speak 'internet'.  And we're being asked to wait, and to stick to failed structures.

You'd be arrogant, entitled and apathetic, too.

question one: why i care about APIs.

Last week, I suggested five questions that I thought were worth asking anyone you are hiring in a media related job, if you want to be sure they are fairly literate in terms of how people communicate online.  I've been asked to answer those questions myself, and will be doing so one at a time.  

Question One: What is the most interesting thing being done with an API in the services you use online?

If I'd been asked this last week, it would have been a comment about tying real time communication into a visual representation of location (Probably a Twitter / Google Maps mashup) but I had a thought today that gave me a different answer.

I recently started using Tweetdeck and TwitterFon as my Twitter tools of choice, after several months of using the desktop and iphone versions of Twitterrific.  I did this not out of preference for the interface, but because I'd hit the content wall for Twitter - I was following too many people to keep on top of any attempts to reach out to me directly.  Content was being lost in the stream, and the stream is the essence of Twitter.

The applications I'm using now go fishing in the stream, basically.  Replies directed at me, content that fits search parameters I have set up, is set aside for me to peruse at my leisure.  Instead of reading every post I can in an attempt to stay up to date, I can take advantage of asynchronous communication, and use Twitter in a slightly less obsessive manner.

This isn't a mindblowing use of the Twitter API, it's more or less exactly why the information was made available.  But, in terms of my interaction with the service, and in terms of my limitations in terms of time and attention, fishing in the stream of Twitter updates fundamentally changes the service.  Twitter is a different beast, in terms of my behaviour, using these applications.

It's expanded beyond the experience it was designed to have, and it's done so by letting control out of the hands of the creators.  This is what APIs are for, but it was astonishing for me to watch the changes in my own life, firsthand, due to these tiny changes.


five questions for potential media hires.

[This is inspired by a line in this article on the things newspapers could do online, which I found via Mathew Ingram on twitter.]

Five simple interview questions that I think should be part of the interview process for any job in PR, Social Media, or Journalism, if you plan on hiring people who are legitimately savvy as to how people ramble at one another online.

What is the most interesting thing being done with an API in the services you use online?

What social media / social networking service do you think is the most overhyped?

What different services have you used to publish online?

What are the benefits of both full RSS feeds, and truncated feeds with links to the original page.

List the 5 books most influential to your view of communication.

There are all fairly vague questions, but they are the ones I'd ask.  The first four mostly because a blank look indicates you're talking to the completely wrong person, a stumbling answer indicates some kind of familiarity, but not fluency, and a long, sprawling answer makes it clear that they not only use social media tools as part of their normal communication, but also that they thought about it.

The last question is in there for two reasons: firstly, to weed out the people who haven't read more than five books (dead-tree or ebook) in relation to the subject matter, and secondly to weed out the people who don't source any information from offline or traditional media outlets.  Social media is an echo chamber, sometimes, and the last thing you want to do is hire someone incapable of an original thought, and ignorant of traditional media and communications.

[If anyone would like, I've be happy to write my own ideal answers to these questions.]


1 week, 57 brands, 245 entries.

Last sunday, I decided I was going to track my significant interactions with brands (or branded objects / services) using Daytum.

At the time, I figured I would do this for a month.  I was blissfully unaware of how much of a time commitment that was.

So, after one week, here we are.  57 brands, 245 individual entries, and an awesome pie chart.

The top spots go to Club Monaco (37), Google (28), Apple (23), Body Shop (16), H+M (14), Starbucks (12), Roots (11), Zara (9), Tumblr (8), Twitter (8).

None of this is particularly shocking, but some specific things popped up to me looking at the information.  Roots, for instance, is just recurring use of two items, my wallet and a scarf.  But the fact that the wallet is in my pocket every day, means at least one daily interaction with Roots.  

(If someone asked me what the top ten brands I interact with were, Roots would probably not make the list.)

Similarly, Body Shop is semi-coincidence.  I bought several products on boxing day (body wash, skin cream, face wash) but don't really consider myself a Body Shop loyalist.  That said, I was interacting with up to three products from Body Shop every morning, making it outrank things like my car (Acura), my glasses (D+G) or public transportation (TTC).

Things I use every day ranked easily.  Companies that offer more than one product or service I use skyrocketed - I didn't think clothing would be such a huge factor, but it makes sense - dressing appropriately for winter requires about ten items of clothing, and I don't shop at too many different places.

The really interesting part was the changes in my behaviour brought on by knowing I would be tracking this information.  I'm conscious of the brands I associate with, but this was very different, literally altering my decisions based on thoughts like 'I've already been to Starbucks twice today, I should really try something else' and 'I don't really want to enter another brand into the tracking data, I'll wear the H+M socks instead'.  

I also began thinking about the amount of 'real estate' in my life I've decided to give to Apple, Google and Club Monaco.  Normally that was fairly invisible to me, as the justification for purchase or use is based (I hope) on functionality or enjoyment on my part.  What was more interesting to me was the amount of real estate I was giving to brands I'm more or less ambivalent about (again, Body Shop is a great example).

(I wasn't tracking instances, which is an important thing to note.  If I had been, this would have been impossible, and would be based mostly on how often I check my iPhone.)

Some of the things I use most visibly ranked substantially lower than things I don't really think about.  The brands I consider statements, or somewhat representative, did well, but not as well as a competitor with a broader product line.  This makes me wonder about the value of branding a product as a statement rather than a functional commodity.  Creating a badge that people want to be associated with is an excellent way to sell one thing.  But I was spending most days covered in stuff that wasn't overtly identifiable by brand - if the average person sees me in my day to day clothes, they won't immediately think of a brand, considering how often I get asked where some clothes are from.  Meanwhile, the bag that says 'Fred Perry' on it in massive lettering was only used once this week.

I don't know if that's a statement on me, or on the process I used, but I'm guessing it's both.

In terms of usable information, experiment fail.  But in terms of getting me to think differently about my brand interactions, it was a massive success.  

In short, the most successful brands, in terms of integrating themselves into my life, aren't the ones that I think about constantly.  I'm surrounded by brands I don't think about at all, and they are probably making a bigger subconscious impact than I think.

Oh, and I'm stopping this particular experiment.  I'm still a huge fan of Daytum, and will leave this information up there for the foreseeable future, but this was an exhausting experience.


pick a race you can win.

Steve Rubel makes a great point today at MicroPersuasion, which got me thinking about something.

I dream of running a campaign where the information is released free-for-all, with interested parties (whether they be print journalists, bloggers, or simply interested people) have access to the same information, at the same time.

I will not get to do this any time soon, because it would massacre the potential for coverage in many major traditional media outlets.  The most important things I can offer to journalists I've worked with are relevance, accuracy and access, but while these are essential, they lack the pure excitement that getting something first, or something exclusively, can generate.

This is a really bad call on the part of everyone involved.

Social media means information is faster than journalism.  When someone was shot on the subway system, I heard about it through Twitter, several minutes before there had been anything authoritative on television or online about it.  It's the same logic as an album leak - if information exists, it will be shared first through unofficial channels.

This happens, because journalists are, and should be, held to a higher standard than anyone else sharing information.  Being better at times means being slower.  If you're researching, fact-checking, and carefully crafting a balanced article that deals with all aspects of a problem, the value isn't in doing it first.

The value of good journalism is doing it BETTER than the layman.  Not sooner.  Insisting that first is genuinely important encourages the audience to forget that.

Newspapers, television, magazines and radio aren't fast enough to win on speed without hampering the flow of information, or sacrificing quality.  But they've proven the value of careful, skillful investigation and exploration an innumerable number of times.

There was a time when daily was fast enough to be the source of new.  That time has passed, and we should adapt.


addendum: daytum brand tracking.

A few things to add:

I'm counting individual objects / services, not instances. So, three coffees from Starbucks is 3, whereas google search gets 1 entry per day, regardless of how much googling I do. Similarly, my iPhone, Twitter, Tumblr usage is really just checking in on the same service again and again.

This puts a focus on brands that offer multiple discrete products or points of service. Physical products get an advantage, which I think reflects the greater impression a physical product can make.

As well, a magazine gets a mention, but not the brands featured within. TV is being left out, as I track that independently on daytum.

I'm also not counting independent / one-off stores.  Interestingly, I decided not to count Futureshop, as the experience had little to do with the store.  I came in, got a gift, and paid.  Futureshop as an entity had little to do with the process other than being the box it took place in.

This is already more work than I had anticipated.

how i will drive myself mad.

I was recently invited into the beta for Daytum, a personal data tracking site that you can read the interesting history of here.  (It's the progeny of the Feltron Annual Reports, and if you're a design geek like myself, knowing that the same guy is one of the Daytum co-creators just made you click the link and read the slideshow.)

I was trying to figure out which things about myself I should be recording, and the very last thing that came to mind was tracking what brands I use, and how often.  Clearly, this owes a massive (and total) debt to the Brand Timeline idea created by Dear Jane Sample.

The concept (and rules) are as follows.  Every branded object / service that I interact with on a meaningful level gets noted.  Each object / service only gets noted once per day, otherwise apple would get a mark every time I checked my phone, which is enlightening, but not in the way I'm aiming for.  If I mentally associate a brand with a larger parent brand, that's where the mark goes, such as giving google the nod when using blogger.  If something fades into the background, it doesn't get noted.  I know my furniture is from Ikea, but once I bought it, it's seems more like it's part of my room than it does an Ikea product.

I'm totally aware these rules are somewhat arbitrary, but I need to set certain minimum requirements to keep the workload from this plausible.

I'm hoping that 1) this doesn't drive me completely insane, and 2) I can be consistent enough to develop some interesting information regarding which brands I use constantly versus irregularly, and how much of my mental 'brandscape' they make up.

That said, I do still need to work a day job and lead some kind of life, so I can guarantee it won't be 100% accurate.

You can see my Daytum page here.  It is likely utterly boring to everyone except myself.