10 Things To Finally Admit To Ourselves About Social Media

September 27th, 2012 by admin. 3 Comments »

I was recently messaging with a colleague, discussing the finer points of republishing content posted on a Facebook Page, when we got on to the topic of crediting sources. The conversation got me thinking, and following are some of those thoughts, for what they’re worth:

  • Sharing content is cool, giving credit for the source is even cooler.
  • Illegally sharing hundreds of films or music tracks online is not cool, no matter how you cut it. Everyone uploads or downloads a song here or there, or surreptitiously catches an episode they missed of their favorite series, but wholesale mass theft of content is just that – stealing.
  • Trolling is for idiots.
  • Flame wars are for fools.
  • Cat pictures should be limited to Furcadia.
  • If you’re redistributing a Twitter post that someone else made, it’s called a “retweet”, and there’s a button for that. It is not called a “cut and paste and pretend I thought of it”.
  • Don’t tweet, post, or otherwise publish content just to be the first, coolest, or any other attention-grabbing reason. For most of us, High School ended a long time ago. Try limiting yourself to publishing content which you SINCERELY believe will Inspire, Challenge, Educate, or Empower (my version of Tony Hsieh’s very compelling ICEE philosophy for tweeting).
  • Empire Avenue, Klout, and Kred are Casual Games. They have no other functional value (with the exception of advertising). Don’t pretend otherwise. This may change one day, but for now it’s all just about as useful as milking a virtual cow. Enjoy the diversion, but don’t make any more out of it than that.
  • Your follow count – be it on Twitter, Facebook, Quora, or elsewhere – has no metric value other than to tell you how many people clicked “Follow” or “Like”. Relatively few of them actively read your content, so suck it up and get on with your REAL life.
  • Once in a while, something you post will publish at *just* the right moment, and the content will resonate at *just* the right frequency with the community in to which it is launched, sufficient to go viral (for whatever short period and distance it does so). Take a moment to enjoy the moment, and then get on with your REAL life.

Social media is engaging, immersive, sometimes even addictive. However, it is counterproductive when it becomes anything more than a utility. If you manage online communities for a living (or as an important aspect of your identity), then social engagement (a term I coined in 2005) will understandably hold a central place in your daily life. Everyone else, look upon it as you would the telephone or television: a game-changing innovation that serves to bring the world closer together, and facilitate communication, education, information, and commerce. Used in moderation, it represents an extraordinary leap forward in personal expression, global connectivity, and cultural rapprochement. Used to excess, it erodes the intellect, dumbs down the conversation, and reduces us to yabbering consumers of junk, and little more.

Great tools and platforms have been (and continue to be) developed. Let’s use them with a modicum of wisdom and restraint. The promise they hold is immense, but only if we use them responsibly.

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This Is Not Your Father’s News Hack

June 26th, 2012 by admin. 2 Comments »

The value of news in the digital age runs in inverse proportion to the amount of time since its release.

If a news item is published at 1:00pm PCT, it has half as much value by 2:00pm, as it did when it was first posted, and only a quarter remaining value by 5:00pm. Obviously, a more accurate measurement of shelf life would take in to consideration the online network on which the news was published, the original posting time (early morning posts tend to get wider reach than early afternoon), and several other factors.

Some media companies, such as the New Yorker and Wired magazine, have recently determined that this is largely because they are giving their news away to 3rd-party providers for free, unreasonably diluting the brand value of their offering. Their solution is to terminate those relationships (as they did earlier this week by removing access to their content from such renowned platforms as Flipboard).

Other media companies are laying off reporters in droves, as they desperately try to save their way to prosperity, under the same “bricks, mortar, and paper” model as ever. talk about lunatics running the asylum…

I think there’s a much simpler solution and, as ever, it all comes down to content.

Consumers don’t place the highest valuation on a distribution channel, platform, or app, but rather upon the content itself. Flipboard may well fail, if too many content providers remove access via that platform. The UX is unquestionably appealing, but who cares that the library is pretty, if there’s nothing to read therein? That said, if content providers restrict access to their content too zealously, minimizing consumer ability to share and spread the appeal of that content, they will effectively squander the “early release” value of their content, and vastly diminish its value, by extension.

Before I propose what I consider to be an enormously simple solution, let’s accept and agree upon some basic truths:

  • Good news comes from good reporters. Not (bless ‘em) good printers, nor good truck drivers. Journalists such as Nicholas Kristof (@NickKristof) and Lisa Napoli (@lisanapoli) are demonstrating that direct connection to their “readers” vastly increases the spread of their content.
  • The Paywall method of news delivery is a clumsy protectionist system that works only in the absence of better paradigms.
  • People will get their news, and entertainment, one way or another. If you stand in their way, they will work around you. If you develop a solution that is a win-win for everyone, they are more than likely going to work with you.

Taking in to account the aforementioned and obvious fact that news has highest value early in its lifecycle, and marrying this with the fact that netizens place high value on content that raises their network visibility, it stands to reason that those wishing to take on the mantle of “influencer” will be prepared to pay for “early access” to compelling media content. If it costs $4.95 to have a big headstart on the rest of the web, when it comes to news and other media, I know many who would gladly pay. The difference between this scenario and the current paywall system is that my solution does not exclude all other netizens from access to the content. After a sufficient time delay, content could be released to the wider public, free of charge. It’s an exercise in transparency and digital openness, with a nod to commercial necessity. If you want to access content in the first hour of its publication, you need to be a subscriber. If you want access within the first 2 hours, you must be either a subscriber, or have access to the link via a subscriber (further elevating the viral power of full subscribers, and cementing their loyalty to your media brand). If you are willing to wait until the end of the day, so be it. The model needs refinement, but the concept is sound.

Take for example Nicholas Kristof’s latest Op-Ed piece, entitled “My Iranian Road Trip”. As is usual with his work, the Twitterverse and Facebook ecosystem have exploded with activity, as this video goes viral, and spreads around the web. The New York times has a paywall up on their site, so only subscribers can see the video. However, because this is the ONLY option offered, someone has kindly reposted (at least until the NYT reports it!) the video, free-of-charge, on YouTube:

YouTube Preview Image

The New York Times gets no love nor revenue out of this scenario. Nicholas Kristof gets his story out. The readership share the YouTube link, and ignore the NYT site altogether. Were my solution in effect, nobody would likely be compelled to waste their time extracting the video content from the NYT site, and reposting it, knowing it would be freely available in a matter of hours. Instead they would be focusing on positioning themselves as first line influencers, sharing the NYT site link and thereby their subscriber access with their own network. Subscriptions would rise, content “piracy” would be mitigated, brand value would be strengthened, and the value of viral media would be elevated in a manner consistent with both the ideals of an increasingly transparent society, and the realistic needs of any business. My scenario recognizes the need to shift from a “control” mentality to a “collaborate” one, recognizing that the core value is highest at point of publication and readership (journalist and consumer), and everything in between is either conduit or obstacle.

I’ve been invited to a private event at the Los Angeles Times building tonight, hosted by Muck Rack (@Muckrack) and the LA Times. It’s been labeled as “a casual cocktail event for a few select journalists, PRs and news junkies to talk about journalism in the age of social media”. I’m eager to see what this constituency makes of my “crazy idea”…

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Declining Standards, or Merely Changed?

June 19th, 2012 by admin. No Comments »

Remember when grandparents and great-grandparents said that they only had an 8th grade education? Well, this is the eighth-grade final exam from 1895 in Salina, Kansas, USA . It was taken from the original document on file at the Smokey Valley Genealogical Society and Library in Salina, and reprinted by the Salina Journal.

8th Grade Final Exam: Salina, KS – 1895

Grammar (Time, one hour)

1. Give nine rules for the use of capital letters.
2. Name the parts of speech and define those that have no modifications.
3. Define verse, stanza and paragraph
4. What are the principal parts of a verb? Give principal parts of 'lie, ''play,' and 'run.'
5. Define case; illustrate each case.
6. What is punctuation? Give rules for principal marks of punctuation.
7 - 10. Write a composition of about 150 words and show therein that you understand the practical use of the rules of grammar.

Arithmetic (Time,1 hour 15 minutes)

1. Name and define the Fundamental Rules of Arithmetic.
2. A wagon box is 2 ft. Deep, 10 feet long, and 3 ft. Wide. How many bushels of wheat will it hold?
3. If a load of wheat weighs 3,942 lbs., what is it worth at 50cts/bushel, deducting 1,050 lbs. For tare?
4. District No 33 has a valuation of $35,000.. What is the necessary levy to carry on a school seven months at $50 per month, and have $104 for incidentals?
5. Find the cost of 6,720 lbs. Coal at $6.00 per ton.
6. Find the interest of $512.60 for 8 months and 18 days at 7 percent.
7. What is the cost of 40 boards 12 inches wide and 16 ft.. Long at $20 per metre?
8. Find bank discount on $300 for 90 days (no grace) at 10 percent.
9. What is the cost of a square farm at $15 per acre, the distance of which is 640 rods?
10. Write a Bank Check, a Promissory Note, and a Receipt

U.S. History (Time, 45 minutes)

1. Give the epochs into which U.S. History is divided
2. Give an account of the discovery of America by Columbus
3. Relate the causes and results of the Revolutionary War.
4. Show the territorial growth of the United States
5. Tell what you can of the history of Kansas
6. Describe three of the most prominent battles of the Rebellion.
7. Who were the following: Morse, Whitney, Fulton, Bell, Lincoln, Penn, and Howe?
8. Name events connected with the following dates: 1607, 1620, 1800, 1849, 1865.

Orthography (Time, one hour)

1. What is meant by the following: alphabet, phonetic, orthography, etymology, syllabication
2. What are elementary sounds? How classified?
3. What are the following, and give examples of each: trigraph, subvocals, diphthong, cognate letters, linguals
4. Give four substitutes for caret 'u.' (HUH?)
5. Give two rules for spelling words with final 'e.' Name two exceptions under each rule.
6. Give two uses of silent letters in spelling. Illustrate each.
7. Define the following prefixes and use in connection with a word: bi, dis-mis, pre, semi, post, non, inter, mono, sup.
8. Mark diacritically and divide into syllables the following, and name the sign that indicates the sound: card, ball, mercy, sir, odd, cell, rise, blood, fare, last.
9. Use the following correctly in sentences: cite, site, sight, fane, fain, feign, vane, vain, vein, raze, raise, rays.
10. Write 10 words frequently mispronounced and indicate pronunciation by use of diacritical marks and by syllabication.

Geography (Time, one hour)

1. What is climate? Upon what does climate depend?
2. How do you account for the extremes of climate in Kansas ?
3. Of what use are rivers? Of what use is the ocean?
4. Describe the mountains of North America
5. Name and describe the following: Monrovia, Odessa, Denver, Manitoba, Hecla, Yukon, St. Helena, Juan Fernandez, Aspinwall and Orinoco
6. Name and locate the principal trade centers of the U.S.
7. Name all the republics of Europe and give the capital of each.
8. Why is the Atlantic Coast colder than the Pacific in the same latitude?
9. Describe the process by which the water of the ocean returns to the sources of rivers.
10. Describe the movements of the earth. Give the inclination of the earth.

.

Notice that the exam took FIVE HOURS to complete. Gives the saying ‘he only had an 8th grade education’ a whole new meaning, doesn’t it? What it also has done, is spur many netizens to vociferously proclaim the decline of our educational system, by comparison.

Do you believe today’s educational standards are poor, by comparison? Have you considered that there is no requirement for English Literature in the above test? Where are the algebra and geometry? World History? US Government? Foreign Languages? The 1895 8th grade test looks immensely daunting, until one considers that much is not covered. Add to this the fact that none of us would likely pass our contemporary High School tests, without the usual cramming we did “back in the day”, and the criticism of today’s standards in education, based on this test, begin to lose their impact.

There’s no denying that many of our children are not learning as well nor as much as they ought. I believe, however, that instead of pointing the accusatory finger at all that the “system” is apparently failing to accomplish, we would do well to question what we as parents are failing to do, in order to actively engage in the responsibility of enriching the mental, cultural, social, and psychological state of the next generation…

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The Power of Engagement

April 4th, 2012 by admin. No Comments »

The acronym for the day is SOCIAL, or “Suitably Overt Customer Interaction And Loyalty”.

Many of my new clients express frustration at Twitter, decrying it as a shadow play with little substance and no value to their corporate brand needs. In those cases where Twitter conversation would be a useful mechanism in brand building, it doesn’t take long to lay out the many reasons why such engagement has value. It takes more than a few minutes, however, so when a brand demonstrates the value of Twitter engagement in literally a few minutes, I want to celebrate the case study.

This afternoon, in between meetings, I stopped by a Chipotle restaurant, to grab a chicken burrito (one of my occasional not-too-guilty pleasures!). I’ve enjoyed the experience at this restaurant for several years now, with its proven mix of marketable ingredients (organic, sustainable, carefully prepared, etc) and fast friendly service. I was surprised and disappointed, therefore, when I was served today by a somewhat lackluster team of servers with little enthusiasm, who doled out minute portions, and then back-filled my burrito with copious amounts of lettuce, in order to disguise the miniscule mix of “main” ingredients. To make matters worse, they left my burrito sitting open on the counter for a lonnnng time, while they went off in search of the lettuce, such that it was stone cold when I finally bit in to it. I was in a hurry to get to my next meeting, so I hurriedly vented via Twitter, and carried on my day, disappointed, but focusing on other matters. Here below is my tweet:

Within less than a minute I got this reply on Twitter:

Keeping with my shark analogy, I decided to bite, and – while listening to a particularly monotonous Q1 earnings call, I filled out an online customer feedback form. I hadn’t even finished the call, when I received an email from a customer service rep at Chipotle (copying a grand total of 13 other Chipotle employees!) apologizing to me for my experience, and detailing the actions the company intended to take to ensure that the restaurant where I had had my unfortunate experience improve its service with all due haste. That I was also offered a free burrito was a nice “icing on the cake” gesture that I appreciated. I was most struck, however, by the clearly demonstrated urgency and seriousness with which Chipotle’s online customer service team responded to my offhanded “vent”. In a matter of minutes, this individual disenchanted customer was converted in to an admiring partner in their success. I immediately tweeted my reaction:

And was instantly answered:

That short exchange cemented the brand’s humanity and intimacy, which is all too often a casualty in a very noisy retail marketplace, especially in the food services sector. It took Chipotle less than 20 minutes to fix a relatively small problem, but that 20 minutes also served to reestablish and strengthen a relationship with one of their most valuable brand stewards, the customer.

So, when you’re next wondering whether an investment in social engagement is worth it, take a look at the cost of all your ad buys, and the time you spend interfacing with your agencies, and the weeks you spend percolating messaging, and then perhaps you’ll realize that the ability to have quick and direct conversations with your end-user is of far greater value than you previously imagined: 20 minutes, perhaps 8 times daily, exponentially multiplied by the knock-on goodwill generated…there’s real power in doing things right.

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Happy Presidents’ Day

February 20th, 2012 by admin. No Comments »

Breakfast With Champions – Nominees Breakfast for the Producers Guild Awards

January 21st, 2012 by admin. 2 Comments »

As a co-founder of the New Media Council, and long-time member of the Producers Guild of America, I am sometimes able to benefit from certain opportunities that make me fall in love with filmmaking all over again. This morning was one such opportunity.

Tonight marks the 23rd annual Producers Guild Awards, precursor and controversial bellwether to the Oscars. A select few members of the Guild are able to attend a breakfast gathering, on the morning of these awards, to meet and hear from the Producers of each nominated Feature Film. It is an intimate and convivial get-together, and always illuminating.

Despite the assumption by many that Producers focus mostly on the fiscal value of a film, when pondering which box to mark on their voting ballot, the conversations this morning were only momentarily focused on financing, and largely concerned with the creative and operational processes of bringing a story to the screen.

What struck me almost immediately was how collaborative and connected to one another these producers had been on these projects, during the past year: Kathleen Kennedy was the impetus for both War Horse and The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, while Spielberg catalyzed the realization of The Help. Amusingly, everyone on the panel credited Brad Pitt with some aspect of their production, even though the actor/producer was unusually restrained in his remarks re. friend George Clooney (strongly involved in two of the nominated films).

Even more compelling were some nuggets of wisdom and info dropped by individuals, during the course of conversation:

War Horse

When asked why he made the movie, Spielberg answered “I made the movie to get to that scene where the German and the Geordie free the horse from the barbed wire together”.

8 horses were used to portray the central character in the film, with two (“Abraham” and “Finder”) carrying the heavy acting load.

Midnight In Paris

Woody Allen‘s scripts are largely devoid of stage directions. Just dialogue. The visual is only revealed during production. More startling still is the fact that Woody Allen doesn’t write a thing until full financing is obtained. This film was made for $18 Million, all of which was obtained on his name alone. Only when the money was in the proverbial bank did Mr. Allen begin the scriptwriting process, which consisted of well over a month of “just thinking”, followed by 4 short weeks of longhand writing, and then typing up the draft (which Woody had to do himself, since nobody else could read his writing). Unlike most of the other productions, Woody Allen’s films have no rehearsal whatsoever, and every scene is shot on location (no studio shoots).

Bridesmaids

Casting drew strongly from Kristen Wiig’s compatriots at the Groundlings Improv company, and the original script was strongly augmented with rewrites culled from improv rehearsals. These revisions were themselves then altered dramatically in production, where additional improv took place. In essence, the film worked with 3 scripts as a result: two written, and one unwritten. The resulting 1,200,000 feet of film shot is testament to the production’s desire to capture the very brightest moments of performance and storytelling.

Each producer had favorite scenes in their respective film. Some examples:

  • Jim Burke particularly enjoyed when George Clooney’s character in THE DESCENDANTS, Matt King goes into the ancestral family home and opens the curtains, letting in the light, and showing us the family photos, thereby giving himself and us an insight into his place in the family history.
  • Ceán Chaffin was deeply impressed with the final scene in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO, when Rooney Mara’s character, Lisbeth Salanader, realizes some important truths, and the actress silently shows everything going on in Lisbeth’s mind, in that painful moment.
  • Brunson Green’s favorite scene in THE HELP was at the end, where the main character is about to walk into the room to be fired and confront Hilly.
  • Graham King’s favorite moment in HUGO was when the scholar, Rene Tabard, goes to George Méliès’ apartment and screens the film for his wife.
  • Grant Heslov was struck most by the restaurant kitchen confrontation scene between Ryan and George in THE IDES OF MARCH
  • From an acting perspective, Brad Pitt especially enjoyed the trading scene in MONEYBALL

Two particularly telling comments came from Mr. Spielberg. In response to a question as to whether any of the producers would now consider shooting a silent film, given the success of THE ARTIST, Spielberg admitted his surprise and delight at that film’s success, saying “I didn’t think silent film was possible in the 21st century, until The Artist” – testament to the fact that we never need lose opportunities for learning, no matter our experience.  Later, when asked what he looked for in submissions, Spielberg strongly decried any notion that writers should submit supporting materials (Sizzle reels, previz, storyboards) when pitching their work. Spielberg asked that he and his fellow producers be given enough credit to fill in the gaps with their own imaginations, which would always be far superior to whatever one might supply in the way of pre-visualizations.

When compared to this evening’s upcoming glitzy and impersonal gala affair, attended by thousands, I think I and my peers got the better part of the deal, as we spent a relaxed morning in the presence of some very talented and unquestionably devoted stewards of creative storytelling.

Moderator:

  • Gary Lucchesi (President, Lakeshore Entertainment)

Panelists:

  • Thomas Langmann for THE ARTIST
  • Barry Mendel for BRIDESMAIDS
  • Jim Burke for THE DESCENDANTS
  • Ceán Chaffin for THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO
  • Brunson Green for THE HELP
  • Graham King for HUGO
  • Grant Heslov for THE IDES OF MARCH
  • Letty Aronson for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS
  • Brad Pitt for MONEYBALL (Producers  Michael De Luca and Rachael Horovitz were also in attendance)
  • Steven Spielberg for WAR HORSE (Producer Kathleen Kennedy was also in attendance)
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In Case You Missed It… (1st in a series)

October 10th, 2011 by admin. No Comments »

It’s been almost 2 months since I last posted anything here (I have no interest in blogging for the sake of blogging, and I’m sure you have no interest in reading self-important daily ruminations on the state of social media, society, or Steve Jobs (RIP)).

So, beginning today, I will be compiling – in keeping with my commitment to publish only when I have something worth publishing – recaps of a few of the various things I’ve discovered and shared during the previous month, be it via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, or whatever other social brand made sense in the moment. I won’t be recapping ALL my postings and discoveries (saints preserve us!), but only those that I think still merit review, one month later. As noted above, I’ll be calling this regular entry “In Case You Missed It…”, and I welcome any feedback or input, as always.  So, without further ado, here is the first installment of this regular publication for your enjoyment, information, education, and perhaps even inspiration! (this first posting will cover a little more than the past month, just to get us all caught up):

Fundraising in the New Economy

As many of my readers know, I have been dedicating a big chunk the past couple of years to supporting a small variety of Not-for-Profit Organizations, helping them to strengthen their brand and financial positions during this economic downturn. Many NPOs are still wasting a lot of time pursuing legacy funding channels that no longer deliver the returns they used to bring, at the cost of other revenue generation opportunities. Crowd-sourced and network funding channels abound now, including ProFounder, Kickstarter, Razoo and others. NPOs need to have a dedicated New Funding Director, well-versed in emerging channels (from text-based through Social, and beyond). In July, Mashable published an interesting article offering some tips for NPO mobile campaigning. It was a little simplistic, but a great way to help NPOs start thinking along the right lines.

21st Century Pop

Later that month, I came across a very compelling site called thesixtyone, where “new artists make music and listeners decide what’s good”. Why it took me so long to check this out, I’ll never know, but I’m glad to see it still going strong, and now there’s another offering, exclusively for the iPad, called Aweditorium, which is similar, yet just different enough to make it worth looking in to. While Spotify, Grooveshark, Pandora, Mog, and Last.fm are hands down the best purveyors of mainstream music over the Net, it’s great to see intuitive, crowdsourced music experience such as thesixtyone and Aweditorium. Kudos to Reid Hoffman and Joi Ito for supporting such truly grassroots musical adventures as thesixtyone, and I’m eager to see what sort of UX the iCloud offers, to mitigate the lousy experience that is currently iTunes.

Gee, Plus or Minus

Also in July, I began using Google+, and I must say I am still struggling to adopt it as a preferred social network. I can see some potential, but it is so specifically reliant on the input of users that one wonders whether “we” are enough to ensure ongoing and continually expanding usefulness, beyond the fraternity of early adopters. This network may end up becoming little more than a glorified techie BBS, which is not a bad thing, just not perhaps what everyone had initially expected or hoped for. I yearn to be proven wrong, though, and see this evolve into a deeply enriching experience for a vast cross section of society, sufficiently differentiated from Facebook that it moves beyond being an “either/or” proposition. Other niche social networks are growing strongly, meanwhile, including photography site 500px (an alternative the increasingly messy deviantart).

Incremental Change

I’ve been waging a more than 2-year battle to have a major residential street in Burbank calmed sufficiently to allow for bicycle lanes, a center turn lane, upgraded signalization, and safe pedestrian crossing experiences. Just a few weeks ago, with the help of many friends and professionals, the battle was won, and we now move on to the next street, in this war (at least, that’s what it often feels like!) to make urban living safer, more manageable, and more sustainable.  My efforts were quiet and diplomatic (for the most part!), compared to the impressive actions of people like Vilnius Mayor A.Zuokas and Ed Begley Jr. While we may not all have the discipline, vision, & commitment of Mr. Begley, wouldn’t it be nice if we each moved an inch further in the right direction? Standing still on the issue of sustainable living isn’t going to improve air quality, landfill overflows, urban heat island effect, & the host of other challenges bearing down on us. Whoever said “ignorance is bliss” was a fool (Hello, Thomas Gray). As for the tank stunt: Is it all staged? Perhaps. Does it momentarily fulfill the fondest wish of many a pedestrian, bus driver, and bicyclist around the world? Definitely. The streets of our urban areas are supposed to be for ALL forms of transportation, not just cars. Does your city have the legislative tank commanders necessary to ensure you are able to get around a cleaner city, however you wish, and safely? Think about it, and maybe one or two more of us can act upon it…

In the meantime, while we fight to make our cities more inclusive, many among us are worrying about how our privacy is becoming compromised online. Facebook is certainly not to blame, if you are stupid enough to post drunken/naked/awkward pictures of yourself on your profile, or otherwise upload sensitive data. That’s all on you, bubba! However, your phone number, real estate records, social content, name, age, and so much more are easy to find on the web, regardless of your Facebook activity, thanks to a host of sites you may never have heard of. Clearing the data can be a bit of a headache, but finding all those sites has recently become a whole lot easier: Unlistmy.info is a free service that helps you identify those sites and remove your personal data from their records.

Speaking of records, the results from the 2010 Census came online last month, and they’re interesting to wander around, during your coffee/tea break… (some intriguing questions arise, such as: if all designated races experienced population decline in Los Angeles County, how did the overall population in that California county INCREASE by nearly 300,000 people?). Explore the 2010 Census here (courtesy of CNN).

Keeping The Fire Alight

More recently, Lots of new techie toys have been coming out: iPhone 4S, Amazon Fire Tablet, Kindle Touch, Samsung Galaxy S2 for T-Mobile and others, a couple of new Android tablets, some more Windows phones…Despite high unemployment, and a gasping economy, our almost unconscious desire for the newest consumer tech bauble remains as healthy as ever. At some point we will suddenly wake up to the fact that all these devices are nothing more than toys or tools, and as such need to be either mightily entertaining or extremely useful…and, in both cases, firmly reliable.

Let that day come sooner, rather than later.

The speculation surrounding the Amazon tablet release was perhaps the most feverish, with claims being made that the “Fire” was a potential “iPad Killer”. Despite press reports supporting this dramatic contention, nothing could be further from the truth, IMHO. As I said in one of my Quora answers last month, the new device from Amazon certainly opens up the market, with a price point ($199) that will bring fiscal fence-sitters into the arena. However, the feature-set on the Kindle Fire make it more like a juiced-up iPod Touch than an iPad. The Kindle Fire has no camera, no microphone, and no 3G connectivity. That said, it has two things that the iPad does not have: Amazon Silk and a vast content library (remember, Apps are not content, per se, they are applications!). The iPad will continue (for now) to dominate the upper end of the tablet market, with its dominant app collection and solid device performance. Meanwhile, the Kindle Fire represents a price and feature challenge to the rest of the market (Android and Windows8, essentially). To go out on a limb, just for the heck of it, I’m going to predict that that Kindle Fire does very well in the short term, while the new Kindle e-readers do astonishingly well, once they come out in November. Amazon may well take 2nd place in tablet market share, but not for long, as I have to believe the release of Microsoft’s Windows 8 tablet OS will force the Android Tablets and applications communities to mature at an accelerated pace. Amazon will take 1st place in mobile content delivery, and will keep it, so long as they maintain focus on their existing core capabilities.

I don’t think Mr. Jeff Bezos and Co. are looking to secure early advantage in the tablet race. Their objective is loftier. Amazon is in the multiplatform content delivery market for the long haul, as evidenced by their Kindle ecosystem. While the HTCs, Dells, Samsungs, RIMs, and Motorolas of the world (sorry, HP, but a jailbroken tablet can no longer be considered viable competition) fight it out in their respectively scrappy fashions, Amazon would do well to stick to its proven methodologies: manage and enhance a world-leading library of diverse content; produce competitively priced, robust, yet simple-featured devices; tying it all together with a superior (if still prone to outage) cloud infrastructure,

Market analysts have claimed that everyone who was going to buy a Kindle has already bought one, but the new touchscreen functionality and very affordable price point now position the Kindle e-reader as the only game worth playing in town. The Nook is in serious trouble (trapped between the Kindle Touch and Fire, yet costing almost as much as both combined). Watch for massive sales of this new line of Kindle e-readers, assuming the interface is solid, and the Whispernet deal (free wireless content delivery) stays equally secure.

The Kindle Fire represents a widening of the market for tablet users, not so much a direct challenge to the iPad (although it may convince Apple to lower the price on their current model, and keep it on the market when the next iPad iteration comes out, all depending on whether there is sufficient differentiation between their current model and the next release. Most signs point to this not being the case).

The new line of Kindle e-readers positions Amazon to garner such a massive and insurmountable lead over all other book distributors, digital or otherwise, that the Big 5 publishers are going to have to come back to the table soon, with their tails between their legs. Although Apple’s iBook may have better UI, the Kindle App gives readers a degree of mobility and flexibility that is unmatched.

Amazon is pursuing software and hardware innovations in full support of their core competencies, and the company will prosper mightily as a result. If AWS can reduce outages, and their Cloud infrastructure is able to handle the load that might come to bear when 50 million (or more) tablets and e-readers and other devices call for content at the same time, then Amazon will be the new leading entertainment studio of the 21st century: in charge and in control of distribution more content to more people, in more places, on more devices, than any other entity.

That brings me to the end of September, and I haven’t even mentioned my Twitter postings (tweets). So I’ll just post a few from the beginning of July below, to give you a taste of what you can usually find there! In the meantime, I look forward to next month’s recap and, if you prefer to connect in a more timely fashion, I encourage you to follow my regular (almost daily) tweets on Twitter, and/or my weekly short posts on Facebook.

A few Twitter tweets of note for early July:

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Kumbaya Redux

August 16th, 2011 by admin. 1 Comment »

With economies crumbling, politicians posturing, nations in upheaval, and “Wizards of Waverly Place” canceled, one can’t be blamed for thinking humanity has lost its bearings, and all is lost. However, I believe that nothing could be further from the truth.

After decades of conspicuous consumption, corporate and personal greed, and upended priorities, the double-dip depression (that’s what I’ve been calling it, and I’m sticking by it) is forcing many of us to review our lifestyles, and reconsider what is really important. Statistics suggest that the undeniable financial stresses of late are not increasing divorce rates, but rather reversing the trend (divorce rates are down year-on-year since 2008YE), and families are growing closer, with adults moving back in with parents, resulting in shared costs and shared burdens. The high cost of oil (regardless of recent gimmicky dips) is accelerating the drive toward alternative fuel vehicles (here’s hoping that we blast through the not-so-green hybrid and electric cars currently on offer, and really get it right with 2014 models). Citizens of cities around the world are increasingly clamoring for alternative modes of urban transportation (bicycle, pedestrian, public transport), leading to the exciting redesign of urban landscapes – incorporating  complete streets, more green spaces, pedestrian safety, increased access to local retail businesses, air quality improvements, mitigation of obesity rates, and reduction of urban heat island effects.  The process is slow, sometimes painfully so, but it is at least progressive, and I believe accelerated by the pressures brought to bear by our collective and individual financial woes.

The struggles faced by our society are reinvigorating our awareness of the communities within which we live, work, and play. More to the point, they are humanizing an existence that seemed to be losing itself in an entropic vortex of “technology for the sake of it”, rampant consumerism, and material one-upmanship. Individuals are becoming more aware of the truth of our shared reality. Nobody is in this alone, and this noble cliché seems to be reawakening an almost instinctual urge to share what little we have with those around us. The amount of dollars being given to charity may be down, but the number of people making donations  is up. This drive is manifesting itself in some wonderfully strange ways, a few cherry-picked examples offered her below, as evidence:

Airbnb is trying, with varying degrees of success, to connect private homeowners with regular travelers, for mutual benefit. Have an extra room (or whole residence) sitting empty at any particular time of the year? Offer it up for rental, and airbnb will help find a tenant.  As soon as the service manages to work out how to minimize vandalism and theft, and refine the availability calendaring (hopeless at present), it’s going to be fantastic.

Meanwhile, one wonders what the point of grassroots lodging is, if one doesn’t have a clue what to do in the city one is visiting. MyGuidie to the rescue! This service, still in alpha mode, is building a database of professional tour guides offering their professional services to travelers seeking to explore a destination properly. However, the real clincher about this site is the fact that it is ALSO registering volunteer locals willing to offer up a little guide time in return for a cold brew or friendly meal! Salacious potential aside, this is civic pride in action.

Don’t rely solely on your guide, however, when you consider that restaurants, museums, and many other places to see and be seen are actively pursuing ways to connect with their customers, fans, and clients. The obvious Foursquare and Facebook check-in mechanisms are but the proverbial tip of the iceberg, marking the spot in an ocean of opportunity. Underneath these well documented landmarks in communications and interconnectivity lie some very compelling niche programs worth checking out, such as – to give but one example among an increasing horde – the Connections program from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where staff are sharing their personal histories and perspectives on art, and overlaying these worldviews on the more specific  touchpoints offered in the museum’s collections.

While on the subject of taking people out to lunch, or visiting a place of interest, it’s intriguing to note that We&Co, a Foursquare outcrop app, is providing users the ability to leverage the increasingly ubiquitous “check-in” to recognize and thank the people who make a particular moment in our day a pleasant one, be it our waiter, retail clerk, dentist, or tour guide.

These are but a few of the apps, sites, and services cropping up (and growing fast) to accelerate this healthy compulsion many of us are experiencing: now that we have less money, perhaps we’ll focus a little less on building or buying more, and  instead take a little more time to show some interest in those things that truly make life worth living: the people and places that comprise our world. As my close personal friend, Henry David Thoreau, once said: What is the use of a house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?

Henry David Thoreau, in 1861.

Image via Wikipedia

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Pigeonholing Evolution

July 14th, 2011 by admin. No Comments »

{EAV_BLOG_VER:833d5130113b8052} My friend, Mike Brown recently posted a short piece on his own blog, entitled “Who is creating social media content in your organization?”, exploring where the departmental responsibility for social media (or “social engagement”, as I prefer to call it) lies within an organization. I added a comment to the posting, which drew some very flattering responses via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and email – so I thought I’d post my comments here below (as much to remember what the heck it was I wrote, as to keep the conversation going!):

Perhaps above and beyond the obvious impact Social Media is having, in terms of offering new opportunities for brand evangelists to introduce and moderate their platforms in existing or new constituencies; for product and solution marketing teams to try and launch “campaigns” via new channels; for corporate representatives – be they CRM, legal, or otherwise – to try and cautiously bring their brand and offering connection closer to the end-user, in response to an increasing demand by consumers and clients to participate in the valuation of offerings, further up the value chain….above and beyond these and other immediately evident opportunities, benefits, or enticements (presented across the still primordial social engagement landscape), there is growing one even larger opportunity that has been only tangentially addressed here, and deserves to be directly examined:

Instead of attempting to qualify which existing department should or does own or lead social engagement activities, within traditional corporate infrastructures and silos, the real question of deepest worth may be “has the advent of social engagement, greater organizational transparency, transversal responsibility for failure and success alike, and deeper demands from every part of the process (including consumers) for collaboration in development, innovation, productization, distribution, and iteration (breathe here) created not just an opportunity, but a demand, for organizations to review their org. charts, and functional infrastructures, in order to best respond to and manage new models and ecosystems in customer and client relationships, product sales and management, and other aspects of B2B and B2C business?”.

Perhaps the answer lies not in shoving social media activities into one or the other pre-existing pigeon hole, but instead taking this opportunity to stir the pot more than just a little, and take some time to divest ourselves of 1950′s functional structures..?

This is the moment to loosen our grip on the past and present, and see this undeniably disruptive practice of social engagement as a chance to reinvigorate and possibly reinvent the way we manage innovation, human resources, market penetration, customer service, and so much more. Let’s not get carried away with a presently rather shallow tide, but let’s recognize that the tides have nevertheless shifted, and the currents are moving in compelling new ways which will certainly change the landscape. Where your ship lands depends on how well you learn to navigate these currents and tides, and how efficiently you reassign your crew.

My fundamental suggestion is that corporate and organizational models are ripe for transformation, reflecting massive evolutions in internal and external communications, operations, personnel management and education, marketing, and customer relations – to name but a few areas that are both deeply impacted by and – in turn – heavily influence hierarchies and processes within organizations. The way social engagement permeates an infrastructure could prove invaluable in effecting valuable transformation: watch the practice as it flows through the organization: something akin to a corporate blue dye (BDT) and modified barium swallow (MBS) test! Should Marketing and Communications continue to be lumped together (“MarCom”)? Is the skills set of Marketing best maximized as a Sales support function, or is there a more strategic opportunity therein? Should Communications really be a satellite support function, activated only whenever a Business Unit or other department determines there exists a need to “push” information outward, or is more potential just itching to manifest itself? The communal nature of social engagement gives organizations the priceless opportunity to move beyond legacy charts, developed to manage the 19th Century industrial revolution. Several revolutions have taken place since then, and this latest one – effectively disrupting how we connect, communicate, and transact with one another – presents an opening that should not be overlooked.

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Who Needs Experts?

April 28th, 2011 by admin. 1 Comment »

As professional reviewers and taste-makers find themselves increasingly marginalized by the aggregate insights and observations of “the crowd”, one wonders whether the demise of printed news may actually be beaten to the punch by the obsolescence of the once-all-powerful critic.

It used to be that we relied on Patricia Wells or Brad A. Johnson to guide us from one fine dining experience to the other. Indeed, reading their restaurant reviews in the Herald Tribune or Angeleno (respectively) represented something of a tasty appetizer, prior to the main experience of visiting an emerging “hot spot” discovered by their renowned palates.

Today, we are far more likely to turn to the legion of self-anointed food critics that live on Yelp, and – by parsing their experiences – so determine our choice of venue.

Of course, this trend is not limited to food: IMDB, Metacritic, and rottentomatoes.com are but a few of the resources available to moviegoers seeking to crowdsource their entertainment choices; a slew of new apps and engines, such as Weddar (location-based, people-powered, social weather reporting) and Fflick (twitter-based movie recommendation engine, recently acquired by Google), to name but a couple, are rapidly making anyone with the inclination a “retail influencer”.

It seems that for every institution, industry, and brand, there’s an app or a site ready to offer up a plethora of user-generated reviews. Amazon’s main value proposition is arguably not so much its products or pricing, but rather the fact that every one of those products is accompanied by a rich diversity of opinions from past shoppers. Groupon and Foursquare give users the opportunity to share “tips” and other product insights, and what’s Facebook if not one big moshpit of “Like/Unlike”? From PCs to software downloads, cars to cancer treatment, the experienced insights of trained professionals or deeply experienced specialists are being usurped, in favor of the massed choir of “fellow shoppers” in whom we prefer to somewhat blindly place our faith – jaded by a glut of advertising, and suspicious of prognosticators that seem less perfectionist and more political…a classic case of “quantity trumps quality”, based on the assumption that a sufficiently large aggregate of diversified opinions and reviews will yield a more truthful mean insight than one or two “professional” perspectives.

During the early days of this trend, the notion that one could turn to our peers for honest pre-purchase evaluations was both compelling and valuable. Sites such as Epinions.com and eBay fostered communities of idealistic shoppers, keen to ensure that their fellow consumers benefited from their prior experiences with a brand or product. As with most movements, the early days were a refreshing and invigorating alternative to what had admittedly become a somewhat stuffy status quo of entrenched, predictable, and unimaginative thinking. However, with mass adoption comes an exponential raising of the volume. The signal-to-noise ratio has diminished so swiftly that  I believe the “great experiment” risks expiring, gorged on the fat of its gluttony. Opinion aggregating sites such as Yelp are working frantically to develop and perfect algorithms that will mitigate the mess, but code often confounds the issue (many Yelp users – consumers and businesses alike – are complaining that their bona-fide reviews are being filtered for no apparent reason, and Yelp representatives explain that they have no control over the automated process of removing reviews that its algorithm deems “suspicious”).

This leaves us at the proverbial crossroad: either engineers or programmers discover and develop a stronger mechanism for managing the overwhelming pool of reviews attaching themselves to every book, diaper, TV, ointment, and car available on the Web; or we begin to find ourselves gravitating toward, and eventually anointing a select few regular reviewers, and making them the professional critics of the 21st Century, hired by their readership/viewership, and empowered to guide us all once more, as we seek out – albeit a little more frugally than our parents may have done – the next great meal, deal, or wheel.

What is certain, IMHO, is that crowdsourced review pools are fast reaching their saturation point and, unless someone begins to refine and maximize the resource, it will be as appealing and nourishing as sitting in a pool-full of marshmallows: the idea was thrilling, and the initial experience inspiring, but eventually the reality proves somewhat mind-numbing, and perhaps even a little sickening.

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