Cafe Witness

Friday, March 30, 2007

My Two Cents on Kathy Sierra (Or, Why We Can't Let the Bastards Win)

This is old news, but Kathy Sierra has ceased blogging (or appearing publicly) due to a number of death threats and generally misogynistic behavior from a number of anonymous blog followers.

Needless to say, the blogosphere has been electric with the news. Nearly everyone agrees that this is a horrid situation. As Seth Godin points out, quite accurately, "Isn't it sad that misogyny is so common that there's even a word for it?"

Robert Scoble's response to the situation is to let his blog go dark for a week, in a form of peaceful protest.

But, as many of his commenters point out, this is probably the least effective way to go about ENDING the problem.

Drawing attention to it? Absolutely -- CNN noticed. But silence won't do anything to stop the overwhelming problem of internet trolling and, more broadly, ignorance-based hate from the scum of the web world towards people who are different -- women, minorities, homosexuals, etc.

So What Do We DO About It?

How you respond to news like this depends upon how strongly you feel about personal responsibility.

Judging from the bulk of asinine behavior powered by the anonymity of the web, I'd say very few people believe in personal responsibility these days -- which means it's all too easy to sweep this kind of behavior under the rug as "an aberration."

Personally, I'm fully on the side of John C. Welch, who writes:

"When someone threatens you, out them. Publish the comment, with IP address, and whatever other kind of information you can find. If you can dig up real names, publish them too. No, I don't have qualms about it...

Oh yeah, call the FBI, the Cops, and Dear Abby's daughter too...

The point is, don't YOU be the one doing the hiding. Expose and report the little fuckers every time it happens. Don't give them the power to attack you from the safety of darkness. Make them operate in the light. Someone threatens you or your family, don't ignore it. Handle it in whatever way you feel safest doing, but don't ignore it, don't silently take it. That's what they want. Don't give them what they want. Make it so fucking painful to threaten you that they'd rather eat glass than do it a second time. Better yet, make them not want to do it the first time."

Internet Bullies Don't Want Your Lunch Money

They want to intimidate you because they want power.

They NEED power.

They need to know they have the upper hand in a situation because they lack the upper hand in their own lives.

Internet bullies hide behind the spectre of anonymity because they believe it offers them the ultimate power: to control the people who DO make themselves public, and bend them to their will.

John Carman is right when he says (via Twitter):

"The internet is a power tool, and I think parents should caution their children about it in the same way."

It's one thing to have to handle the problem of internet bullies who ARE picking on someone their own size. But when you draw children into the mix, things get even uglier.

Those of you with kids and computers: how do you plan to prepare them for the wild ride ahead?

How do you plan to educate your kids on the proper way to handle someone who's not just bullying them in the schoolyard, insulting them to their faces and demanding money or toys?

How do you train them to deal with someone who hides behind an avatar or a handle -- or, even better, an "anonymous" posting -- and can spend hours a day spreading rumors, lies and reputation-damaging information on the internet?

Fight or Flight?

Someone in school calls you a name, you have three choices: take the high road and ignore it, take the middle road and deny it, or take the fight directly to them and make them very sorry they started a problem in the first place.

Those rules still apply online, except the processes are very different.

Taking the high road means the bullies believe they won. Anytime they start a problem, they know your response will be to ignore them and hope your friends come to your rescue. That could become very inconvenient in a world where a week of silence is akin to becoming a technological Rip van Winkle.

Denying the allegations is insanely time-consuming online. As fast as information (or misinformation) spreads, there's no way you can track down every hotly-Googled, troll-laden Digg article that could hit the circuit. You'd have to hope, once again, that your friends have higher Google rankings and Technorati authority than the trolls do.

But, as we've learned with insurgents in a ground war, having more firepower doesn't mean you'll stamp them all out.

Your only recourse? Take the fight to them, but not in a way that glorifies the attack.

Think of what evening news programs are doing now with "to catch a child predator" shows. Think any of those idiots will try that activity again? (Sadly, some probably will, but if they get caught again...)

Now apply the same logic to the embittered 17 year-old... or 24 year-old... or 52 year-old... who takes pot shots at you in the dark, from the safety of his (yes, almost definitely his) online hidey hole.

You really think THAT guy wants to be dragged, kicking and screaming, into the light by the feds? (Or, worse, a group of vigilante hackers who know how to make his every move public knowledge?)

An End to Anonymity

The end result in all of this is simple, of course: we need an end to anonymity.

If we can't use it properly -- and history has proven that mankind is almost universally incapable of making the best choices for itself when saddled with crowd mentality -- then we shouldn't be able to hide behind it at all.

What if your every move online were trackable, and everything you did meant you'd be held accountable? How much asinine shit would YOU do on a daily basis?

Maybe you'd still be a member of AdultFriendFinder, and then we could finally have a conversation about why America is so afraid of sex.

Maybe you'd still complain about bad service, false promises and lousy bosses. But now the world would know how to make it up to you -- and, if you were fired for complaining about your job, everyone would be able to see which companies value freedom of speech and which ones are working to learn from their mistakes.

And maybe you'd still insult everyone you already insult, but now the world would know you meant it because you weren't doing it from behind a closed door. You were standing in the light, like a man (or a woman), and saying, "Hi, I'm ___, and I think you're full of shit because ___."

And then maybe we could all move forward in this great big experiment we call "life."

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Video on the Net: The Personal Recap

As with all things web media, it seems like the residual energy from a major event like VON is yet another "snack-based" item, something that dissipates quicker than it should.

It's logical, considering there are another 20 items vying for my attention the day I step off the plane and return to my "normal" life. But, fortunately, that residual energy doesn't fade away completely; it just wanes, ever so slowly, while my attentions are diverted.

So, before the memories fade completely, let me regale you with my personal recollection of the event. Will this be instructive? Doubtful. Will it make you wish you were there? Quite possibly.

I Love People

I'm a social guy. Drop me in a room full of interesting people and I'll find a million ways to amuse myself.

I'm not always the chattiest guy, nor am I someone who feels compelled to meet everyone within eyesight, but I do enjoy finding out what makes people tick.

At VON, I was fortunate to spend most of my time with people I either already knew and valued, or people I met and grew to appreciate in a very short amount of time.

Old Faces

- Chris Brogan, who made the world go 'round

- Jeff Pulver, who provided the gravity (and the raison d'etre)

- Steve Garfield, who continues to pioneer strange and wonderful new ways to use new media

- Brian Conley of Alive in Baghdad, who continues to strike fear in the hearts of insincere videobloggers everywhere

- Jim Kirks of The Clip Show, who remains one of the web's best "undiscovered" personalities

- Michael Bailey of MobaSoft, who has become nearly ubiquitous on the new media social scene. If there's a podcasting event, chances are Michael is on the guest list.

New Faces

- Clintus McGintus, who went from complete stranger to "my roommate" in the span of five minutes. One of the nicest human beings I've ever met, and without an ounce of pretense to muddy the picture. Great guy.

- Sarah Atwood, one half of Nontourage and co-star of the short-lived (but perhaps resuscitatable?) Vloggy-winning podcast Almost There. The female foil for many male egos in San Jose, Sarah proved her worth to the firm time and again.

- Grace Piper, whose Fearless Cooking podcast is truly the work of a woman to be reckoned with. Especially if you're a squid. (AKA Winner of $200 in a hit-and-run poker game at the after-party...)

- Jim Long, whose 17 years of experience as an NBC cameraman have prepared him well for this world of on-the-fly information gathering. Smart, friendly and self-deprecating to a fault.

- Casey McKinnon, the female half of Galacticast. (We'd actually met at PodCamp Boston, but I wasn't in the business of being memorable at that time.)

- French Maid TV's Tim Street, whom I'd also met at the Yahoo Halloween party in October. (Again, I tend to blend in quietly unless provoked.)

- Roxanne Darling, star of Beach Walks with Rox, who is every bit as calming and visibly wise in person as she is when following nature's paths in Hawaii.

- Schlomo Rabinowitz, "enabler to the podcasting stars of tomorrow." Also knows the right time for shots of Jameson. (Answer: always.)

- Toronto podcaster Vergel Evans, who was easily the silver medalist behind Clintus in the "nicest guy / happiest to be here" 100 metre dash.

- YouTube juggernaut Mark Day, who's nowhere near as blood-curdlingly intimidating as I expected him to be when left alone with him for the better part of an hour. Turns out all he needs is a good chaperone through the technological landscape and he's content.

- Nick Douglas, vlogstar of Look Shiny. We thought for quite awhile that we knew each other. Nope. Just turns out I'd seen Look Shiny recently and thought I knew him. You get that a lot in web video...

- Scott Simpson of iTunes, who -- in addition to being generally hilarious in a completely deadpan manner -- told what shall go down in history as, easily, the most paralyzingly funny story at the VON "after-party" circuit. I've tried replicating the moment with several audiences myself and failed; Scott sets a new bar for "dry delivery."

There were dozens of other folks I had a great time with, and whose brains I picked endlessly for some truly fascinating conversations. But many of them are executives or lawyers or other "behind-the-scenes" people, so I'll spare them the association with a blog post that's shaping up to be more "Entertainment Tonight" than "Inside the Actor's Studio."

If I've failed to mention any of the other wonderful people I met and enjoyed the company of at VON, by all means, consider yourselves lucky to remain anonymous.

The Inside Stuff

So, wondering what exactly goes on among a group of half-drunk pseudo-celebrities such as ourselves at an event like this? Here are, in no particular order -- and in no way guaranteed to make complete sense -- what I recall as some of the highlights of my week in San Jose:

- Arrive in San Jose. Make my way to the hotel. Bump into Steve Garfield, Blip TV's Dina Kaplan and others in the hallway outside the "beta party" suite. Dina talks to me for a few sentences before we both realize she doesn't recognize me. Last time we hung out, my hair was about 6 inches shorter. It takes Garfield, who'd lost his voice after SXSW, to explain who I was in pantomime.

- Pulver party suite: booze, piano, poker. Lots of food. Lots more liquor, mostly in people. People who are playing Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero...

- I'm supposed to share a speaking slot with Garfield and Conley. We ask each other what we intend to speak about.

Garfield? The ease and impact of videoblogging with consumer-level equipment.

Kownacki? How to create engaging, sustainable episodic content.

Conley? "I'm just gonna walk up there, kick over the podium and let them all know they're full of shit."

Sounds like a well-rounded presentation...

- At VON, looking for a plug for my laptop. The only one I can find is being occupied by BuzzMachine's Jeff Jarvis. I momentarily consider asking if I can share his outlet, but some obscure form of "don't talk to the A-listers" stigma prevents me from doing so -- which is odd, considering Jarvis is quite a normal guy. Instead, I blog from the presentation room floor until my battery dies, while Jarvis makes small talk with VON honcho (and raconteur) Andrew Lipson -- not even using the computer that's plugged in.

- Wednesday morning. 11 AM. Garfield, Conley and I are due to speak in 15 minutes. My cell phone rings. It's Conley.

"Where are you?" I ask.

"Walking over from the hotel. I never set the alarm. Where is everybody?"

"Waiting for you to speak."

"Oh... Is there any juice?"

- Walking to a nearby Mexican restaurant on a beautiful spring evening with Kirks and Atwood. Says Kirks, apropos of nothing and with complete contentment, "We're gonna die tonight." This strikes all three of us as being perfectly agreeable.

- Never one to look a gift premonition in the mouth, we later find ourselves (and several of the others mentioned above) standing in a Jack-in-the-Box at 2 AM in the part of town that, it can charitably be said, "is where you get shot."

Never before has Michael Bailey taken SO LONG to open a straw wrapper. Seriously. The entire time, all that's going through my mind is the donut shop scene from Boogie Nights. Fortunately, we escape unscathed...

- A cheerful homeless guy asked us if we had "$100,000." As Jim Kirks noted, that's a bum with aspirations.

- Discussing (and toasting to) agnosticism with Conley and McKinnon as the "little people" at VON -- the actual service workers at the convention center, who REALLY make the event happen -- worked their tails off around us.

- Clintus's shrewd manner of ordering rounds of tequila shots when no one's looking. (Somewhere, never to be Flickr'd, there's a photograph of Atwood doing the tango with a parking meter...)

- Upon cashing out from the Mexican place (Chacho's, I now recall), we eyeballed the check. $1,400? $1,200 of which was for alcohol? Our stomachs dropped.

"How many tequila shots did you ORDER?"

"Who's got Pulver's number?"

Fortunately, the error was soon spotted: the cashier had accidentally cashed out the ENTIRE OPEN BAR to our party. Whoops. Situation amended, no bail money needed.

- Observation from Scott Simpson: "If a plane is allowed to fly lower than 500 feet above your downtown, you don't actually live in a city."

- When I die, I want to come back as Jim Kirks's hair. It's uncanny. That sh*t could survive a wind tunnel unscathed.

- And, of course, my now semi-legendary "drunken fan moment" involving the Pitt men's basketball team.

In Closing

Perhaps the signature moment of the entire week came at the end, when the roll call was down to me, Sarah Atwood and Grace Piper as the only three entities left behind after the masses had flown home.

My flight wasn't until 10:45 PM, so I crashed in Atwood's hotel room and watched some NCAA basketball while she labeled Flickr photos. We'd agreed to grab Grace for one final drink before I hit the road to the airport.

At halftime of the Pitt / UCLA game, we headed down to the bar. I texted Grace on the way:

"Drinks @ Fairmont."

Within seconds, she texted back:

"Already in bath with martini. Good luck!"

Rock stars. We may not yet be them, but for a few weeks every year, we can certainly live like them...

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Big Noise, White Noise

Two interesting news bits made their way across my sphere of awareness today.


On twitter, Schlomo Rabinowitz asked Charles Hope from Blip TV what the website "Blipd" was. I noticed the message and went clicking around myself.

Turns out that Blipd is the brainchild of Ty Graham. An easy Google search pulled up this blog post from Startup Booster, in which the specifics of the Blipd concept are discussed.

In a nutshell, Blipd appears to be a patented way to monetize social networks. Graham's ultimate goal is to sell the idea, which he's been sitting on since 2005, to Google for use in YouTube.

Despite the bravado in his claim -- phrases like "It’s stunning how no one has thought of this yet" and "I hold the ultimate key for more tremendous Youtube success" do nothing for the cause of humility -- it could be interesting to see how this all plays out...

... especially since I find it odd that someone would coin a phrase ("blipp'd") to describe something so startlingly similar to the existing Blip TV that he even used the same color scheme on his own site...

Pyro TV

Speaking of borrowing ideas...

Jeff Pulver received a phone call from the folks at Pyro TV today, asking him to promote their site. During the phone call, Pulver noticed that Pyro TV seems to have all the great shows on their homepage -- Ask a Ninja, Rocketboom, Diggnation, even the evening news from ABC and CBS!

When he asked if the gent on the other end of the line had a working relationship with these content creators, he was told that, no, because the RSS feeds are just "out there," he felt they were free for the taking.

I have a sneaking suspicion the Ask a Ninjas and CBSs of the world may beg to differ -- especially because the Pyro TV logo is all over their content...

Onward and upward...

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Network2 Takes Manhattan

Chris Brogan, Jeff Pulver and the Network2 crew went to Times Square yesterday to relive the glory days of MTV -- specifically, the "I Want My MTV!" battle cry.

The results can be seen here.

No better way to build a buzz than by getting attractive people to shout about your product in Times Square, no?

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Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Crosspost: STBD / VON on Geek Riot

On Sunday night, Shawn and Justine at Geek Riot invited me to talk about the STBD relaunch and my experiences at VON.

Joining us for the first hour of the show is Jeff Pulver, VON creator, who also talks about his Video on the Net Alliance and its impending battle to preserve web video from the prying eyes of the FCC.

It's a good all-around show, and features a healthy mix of STBD and VON topics. The whole enchilada clocks in around 2 hours (!), but you can stream and skim if you so desire.

(And yes, I know I posted this at the STBD blog too. Sometimes, there's an overlap. Other times, there are cupcakes. We adapt.)

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Leaving on a JetBlue Plane...

Every day, I find another place I SHOULD be going to, for whatever reason.

Today, there's a Network2 shindig in New York.

Next weekend, there's PodCamp NYC.

Just checking my Feedburner stats, I saw an ad for the upcoming Personal Democracy Forum.

And yet, here I sit.

What I need is a travel fund.

$1.61 cup of coffee

I met with STBD uber-fan (and patron) Andrew Smith two weeks ago at ye olde Crazy Mocha in the South Side Works. During the conversation, a useful concept popped up: the emergency JetBlue fund.

Whether you're away from home for work or school, or whether you're in a business (like web media) where you may need to fly somewhere at the drop of a hat, it makes sense to have that emergency travel fund set aside.

Or, in less desperate terms than "emergency," an ongoing, sustainable travel fund.

Think about it: you can get anywhere in this country in one day, and almost anywhere in the world in two. All you need is about $500 (give or take), plus a little extra scratch for hotel rooms (bookmark Priceline), taxis and food.

And, if the reason for at least half your trips is business, you should be able to recoup those costs cyclically.

In my case, it would also help to have extra $ set aside to bring the occasional STBD cast member along for the ride. (After all, I'm not the star the way they are.)

Budget It In

Smart people have budgets. Those budgets automatically include x amount of dollars per paycheck to be allotted to specific "funds" -- rent, groceries, cable bill, credit cards, donations, taxes, alms, etc.

Why not add a travel fund?

That way, whenever a great new opportunity pops up -- especially on short notice -- you won't have to think twice about whether or not you can go; you'll already be there.

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Monday, March 26, 2007

VON: The Industry Perspective

I don't proclaim to know everything there is to know about our industry. If I did, I'd have retired by now.

But I do know a lot about the content creator's side of the story, and I got a much better perspective of how we're perceived -- and where our industry is heading -- at VON.

Bright, Shiny Things

Six months ago, I said "it's frustrating to be one of the only people in the room (at VON) that gets it."

"It" was the potential of web video, and the other people in the room were primarily old media representatives trying to figure out how to do old things with new media. The possibilities were endless, but they were only interested in looking at it from the pre-existing standpoint of control and monetization, without seeing the bigger picture.

Now, we content creators are no longer the shaggy, ill-portending strangers we may have been percieved as previously. Instead, people recognize that we're here to stay, and that we've earned a place at the table (which we've essentially built ourselves, so thank you).

In one way, we're the bright, shiny things in the room. Everyone else is attracted to our potential, but no one's really sure what to do with us -- or what we CAN do -- yet.

Neither are we.

The Downside

The bulk of the presentations I saw were directed at existing industry employees looking to monetize the space.

This makes absolute sense, because that's who the conference is for. And, without someone finding a way to monetize web video, it won't grow past the YouTube stage anytime soon.

The frustrating part is, listening to a pack of industry "experts" sharing their viewpoints -- and frequently exchanging information that seems flat-out pointless -- does nothing to boost morale among those of us looking to disrupt the playing field. It actually worries me that people are spending this much time, effort and money to NOT get ahead of the curve.

Example: a gentleman from Nielsen was invited to give a presentation on audience metrics. Despite assurances that this man was chock-full of vital information, the six of us from the content creator side could not believe the words coming out of the man's mouth. As any of us will tell you, the high point came in the following quote:

"The bad news is, homes with broadband connections are watching less television."

Um... Bad news for who? Those of us already creating content in this space or those in the industry who still think "Must-See TV" is the cutting edge?

(More alarming: given that the event was called "Video on the Net," who exactly was that comment directed at? The people who see video as a necessary evil, or another task they have to channel into their workflow? Was this conference seen by some as a warning rather than an opportunity?)

Suffice it to say, that kind of talk left a few of us out of the loop on occasion.

The Upside

It's always great to see so many content producers in one spot. Anytime this occurs, a few things happen:

- Old friendships are rekindled
- New friendships are begun
- Information about HOW we do what we do is exchanged, improving everyone's work, and
- New ideas are generated through conversations you just can't have electronically

At an event like this, you also get to take a peek at the new technologies coming down the pipeline and wonder, "What COULD we do with something like this?"

I met so many great people at VON that I don't want to slight anyone by choosing favorites. However, there are three companies whose services stuck in my mind:

- VideoEgg is a service that enables video producers to embed clickable ads in an overlay channel, similar to watching a football game and seeing an ad for the network's news show pop up at the bottom of the screen. Except, in this case, it's clickable. Could be a great alternative to post-roll advertisements. They also offer distribution options through a network of affiliate channels.

- Visible Measures was the exception to the "metrics" rule. These folks understand what we content producers ACTUALLY want: comprehensive understanding of how our audience interacts with our media.

In this case, their systems can analyze every frame of your video and tell you which sections have the highest drop-off rates and which ones are rewound and rewatched the most. Forget "number of plays" -- now you can chart individual interactions on a second-by-second basis. Partner tyhis with an ad overlay service (like VideoEgg) and now you have a marketing weapon.

- Bubble PLY, by PLY Media, is the wild card. I'm most interested in them because, quite simply, I don't think they've yet understood the full potential of their own software.

In a nutshell, this is the interactive web video version of "Pop Up Video": content creators can allow visitors to overlay their own word balloons, thought bubbles and caption boxes atop existing video, thereby changing the content directly by adding a pseudo-narration... or a self-mocking tone... or vital statistics... or trivia... or advertisements... or easter eggs...

The sky's the limit here, and this is one of the first ways I've seen that we at STBD, for example, could open the doors to our audience and allow them to tinker with our "finished product" (i.e., each new episode). We're in discussions with the folks at PLY to see how best we can make this happen. Look for a mini-announcement in the next week.


We're not light years away from last year's VON Boston, but we have made progress. More than anything else, the space has become MUCH more crowded. If VON Boston was the wild west, this is the Land Rush: everyone wants a stake in what's happening, even if they're not sure what it'll lead to next.

It's a very exciting, occasionally aggravating, and ultimately eye-opening time. Thus, I leave you with three bits of observed wisdom:

1. Make friends. (It's impossible to do this alone. It's even worse to attend an industry cocktail party and not bring business cards.)

2. Keep friends. (It's great to know everyone. It's better to actually know a few people WELL. Those are the people who will make an effort to help you succeed and see you as more than just a number.)

3. Ask questions. (Having surfed the various blogs and Flickr photos after the event, I'm amazed at everyone I didn't talk to. Whether I just didn't see them or I didn't think to introduce myself, there go another 2 dozen great conversations -- and contacts, and resources -- I could have enjoyed.)

Don't confuse this space with something that makes sense. We're all in this together. Start making waves.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007

VON Photos and Assorted Mayhem

My VON photos are up on Flickr. (Searching for "von2007" should help you find hundreds more from other attendees as well.)

I have much editing and other "real" work to do, but fear not; I've realized I need to sub-categorize my VON thoughts over the coming days, so I'll be doing it as such:

STBD @ VON (already up)
The Industry Look at VON (coming here soon)
VON from the Podcasters' POV (ditto)
The Seamy Underbelly of VON (ditto)

In the meantime, please note that I'll also be interviewed about both VON and the STBD relaunch during tomorrow night's Geek Riot talkcast with Shawn and Justine @ 10 PM EST. If you're free, call in and join the chat!

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7 Songs I Like

I awoke to find I'd been tagged by Chris Brogan re: a new meme, started by 7 year-old Aidan Hatch (!), called 7 Songs I Like. The concept is pretty self explanatory:

7 Songs I Like (in absolutely no order):

"Idiot Kings" by Soul Coughing
"El Dorado" by The Tragically Hip
"New Millennium Homes" by Rage Against the Machine
"Some Party" by The Constantines
"The Morning Story" by Running from Dharma
"Time Running" by Tegan and Sara
"Luck Be a Lady" by Frank Sinatra

And now, I tag: Steve Garfield, Sarah Atwood, Jim Kirks, Vergel Evans and iJustine.

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Friday, March 23, 2007

VON Recap... Tomorrow

Jetlag is a cruel mistress. I look forward to resuming my normal blog schedule this weekend.

LOTS to update about VON, and I'll probably split the posts into STBD-specific stuff at the STBD blog and personal observations here.

Buzzword of the event: "Twitter."

Secondary buzzword of the event (in a close race): "Monetize."

Buzzwords within the podcasting community: "Dinosaurs," along with "coffee, free booze," and "snooze alarm."

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Live from VON

Due to my being on the road this week -- in San Jose, at Video on the Net -- my blogging time will be limited. If you'd like to follow along with my adventures at VON, please check the official STBD blog, where I'll be uploading throughout the week. If not, check back here Friday and see how coherent I am after my redeye return flight...

You can also follow along in "real time" at Twitter.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Why Break Down When You Can Build Up?

Since it's so easy to find information about anything -- or anyone -- online these days, each of us now has a certain responsibility every time we type a word, record a syllable or post a video to the web: we have the power to create or destroy.

I Know I've Got a Bad Reputation... And It Isn't Just Talk, Talk, Talk...

By now, we all know the power of Jeff Jarvis's dissatisfaction with Dell: he complained about their poor customer service on BuzzMachine and became the leading spokesperson about their business practices.

If someone is dissatisfied with YOUR business, product or services, the damage they can do to your brand and reputation is far greater than the good they could do if they were madly in love with you. Why? Because it's been proven through numerous consumer behavior studies that customers are nearly 10 times more likely to tell their friends about a BAD experience they had with a business than they are to relate a GOOD experience.

People take good service for granted. People EXPECT you to deliver what you promise.

But if there's a wrinkle in the plan, their good graces go out the window.

Suddenly, your five minute delay or minor hiccup could cost your customer time or money -- and their vitriolic review of you online (or to their friends, who could ALSO bash you online) could cost YOU even more.

And yet... instead of sitting around complaining about the ills of the world, think of how much more productive we could be if we all spread the word about the POSITIVE experiences we have.

Pass It On

Someone you know is taking part in a cancer run. Someone else is volunteering at a daycare or a homeless shelter. And someone else is trying to figure out what, exactly, to do about Darfur.

Does everyone else in your social circle know about these compelling individuals? Does everyone you connect with have an avenue to assist these folks in whatever way they can?

Probably not.

Probably because you took your ten minutes of blogging or Twittering time today to update people about how lousy you feel, or how pressured, or how something important broke, or how angry you are at a waitress or clerk or civil servant who didn't move your day along as fast as possible.

So, instead of linking the people you know to the information you KNOW they should be aware of, you instead become yet another voice of dissent in their lives. You may be amusing, you may be insightful, you may be hysterical -- most of all, you may be RIGHT -- but the one thing you're NOT doing is ADDING to the conversation.

Think about it: would you rather your friends all go to bed tonight knowing that TalkShoe is helping Kiva finance small businesses in developing countries through their Talkathon, or knowing that traffic was horrible both to AND from Wendy's, and that your hamburger was undercooked?

There are millions of people out there who are dissatisfied about something. That's why spreading good news tends to stand out so clearly: no one else is doing it.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

What IS Productivity?

If you're like me, these are the days of your life:

Some days are spent in front of your computer, churning out email after email, tackling tasks, searching for information, making phone calls, assisting friends in need and otherwise making full use of your web capacity? Time seems to fly, and suddenly it's 5 o'clock... and you realize you haven't actually done anything of substance.

Meanwhile, other days, you can make one edit to a video, record one line of audio or write the equivalent of a quick blog post and walk away with a paycheck.

These two realities are not congruent.

How do you judge how productive you're being?

Try these 5 Easy Hacks to Improve Productivity:

1. Weigh Your To-Do List

Not all tasks are created equal. Sometimes, the time-consuming ones offer minimal benefit, while the "easy" tasks provide maximum payoff.

Instead of gauging your workload by the amount of time to be spent, gauge the individual tasks by how important they are to reaching your goal. For example, cleaning out your entire "to-do" mailbox may talk all day and result in zero new business, whereas taking ten minutes to finish that webpage design that's been "almost done" for a week now may trigger the payment that will cover your rent for a month.

Do the math. Decide which tasks get you closer to your goal. Put those "heavy" tasks at the top of the list. (Even if there's only one or two of them, accomplishing them is FAR more productive than accomplishing the 20 smaller items at the bottom... even though they're easier.)

2. Stop Twittering

At my old job, I had the benefit of being able to IM while I worked. Inevitably, this caused a slowdown, especially when the real-life drama (or comedy) was more interesting than my actual workload... which was often.

Twitter is the modern version of the IM (or the chronic MySpace toggle), and it's a time-sucker. As interesting and useful as it CAN be, it's also pathologically addictive.

As an experiment, don't Twitter today. Or, don't IM. Or MySpace, or Virb, or email, or blog, or whatever "side communication" it is that you allow yourself to indulge in during the workday.

See if those extra few minutes result in the accomplishing of an extra few hours of work.

3. Become Unavailable

Akin to #2, you can also choose to go cold turkey and become completely unavailable.

Granted, most of us can't get away with this; we need to be accessible at least in case of emergency. But, by and large, you'd be astounded how much more you can get done when your concentration isn't interrupted -- voluntarily or not.

Turn off the cell phone. Quit the email program. Hell, unplug your router.

At a cafe with wireless? Move to one without. Do whatever it takes to forcibly keep your eyes on the ball, rather than the cheerleaders.

4. Filter Emergencies

Not all emergencies are created equal.

Most of the time, new information that seems pressing is really information that can be (and should be) processed later. Making snap decisions in the heat of the moment is a great trait to develop, but so is being judicious enough to realize that every new email, every new phone call and every knock at your door is NOT the most pressing thing on your plate.

When a problem arises, a complication occurs or an opportunity presents itself, before you make a decision, buffer your choice with the following qualifier: is this new action more important to me in the long run OR the short run than the action I'm currently taking?

If yes (i.e., "Mister Eisner is on the phone," "Please pull over to the side of the road," "The office is on fire," etc.), then take that new action -- but only grant it as much time as it's worth.

If no (i.e., "Accounts payable is on the phone," "Subject: Discrete Tran$fer of Fnuds," "Would you like dessert?"), then postpone that new action -- or ignore it altogether.

Sometimes there are more important things on your to-do list than that piece of tiramisu.

5. Be Honest with Yourself

And, sometimes there ARE more important things than sealing the deal and paying the bills.

Sometimes, you need to spend time detaching, or thinking, or creating, or letting your mind (and body) wander.

Sometimes, you need to allow yourself the freedom to STOP going at 100 miles per hour.

Personally, I tend to need a nap during the afternoon. Even a 20 minute respite can help recharge me for the rest of the day. Instead of telling myself I'm wasting time, I remind myself that I'll be more focused and productive after I nap.

The catch? Actually BEING more focused and productive after the nap. Don't confuse recreation with productivity; recognize it as the balancing half of an effective day's work.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

How Many Social Networks Does It Take to Screw in a Lightbulb?

As I mentioned yesterday, I recently joined Virb, on the advice of Justine, who proudly proclaims Virb to be the new and improved version of MySpace.

I agree, Virb is nice. It's clean. It allows for increased customizability without needing to resort to trolling the internet for hacks and codes. And because it's so new, it doesn't have the profile that attracts spammers (yet).

But why do I need Virb? I already have a MySpace.

Tool Time

I've also been toying with Ning and People Aggregator, which are two sites that allow you, the user, to CREATE YOUR OWN social networks.


What will your new social network do that you can't already accomplish with a forum, a message board, or a Twitter account?

Some people like, Steve Garfield, use Ning as a catch-all for existing groups, like Boston Mediamakers. That would make sense, as long as the group doesn't already have its own website or wiki.

After all, isn't asking people to come to two different sources for the same information a bit redundant? And if there's different information on both sites, isn't that a bit presumptuous to assume that a group's members have the time and interest to visit both sites regularly?

As with your blog and your actual site, all peripherals -- MySpace, Twitter, wikis, etc. -- must build back to the same brand. They must build on the overall experience for a member of your group -- or, in STBD's case, our fans -- rather than creating a disjointed, cacophonous racket.

They Can't All Be Screwdrivers

However, that's not to say you can't happily maintain a presence on numerous social networking platforms.

The question is, WHAT DO YOU DO at each of them?

As the grandaddy of the form, MySpace has one thing going for it: numbers. It's easier to aggregate a large audience there than anywhere else, solely because they already have the userbase. If you need to get a message out fast to the legions, MySpace is the place to do it.

So why use another service? Because perhaps there are actions you can take there that you can't take at MySpace.

Let's consider Virb again. What are the pros?

- Clean
- Easily customizable
- Everything is taggable
- Shareable playlists
- No spam (yet)

And the cons?

- Small(er) userbase
- Small(er) growth rate
- Potential redundancy with MySpace

So, from a user-end POV, if I didn't already have a MySpace, I'd choose Virb in a heartbeat. Presuming it'll continue to grow at a healthy clip as more and more people discuss it, it may become the social networking site of choice for people who prefer it to the five-and-dime look (and interface) of MySpace.

What potential actions could be taken on a smaller, more nimble platform? Could Virb be used to:

- Create a "street team" of more centralized, passionate individuals?
- Recruit extras for filming group scenes, with friends sorted by location tags?
- Program a faux-podcast using the built-in shareable playlist feature?
- Easily buzz businesses for sponsorships or event hosting, using friend tags?
- Encourage fans to customize their own brand-themed Virb pages?

MySpace has long been established as a place where users come to "hang out" and exchange information about themselves. With a name like "Virb," it seems only natural that the site could be used for far more action-oriented experiences.

What other ways could you use Virb?

What other ways could you use other social networks?

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

(Secret?) Identities

Christopher Penn has a pair of very valid blog posts about how the Web 2.0 is quickly becoming the Matrix 2.0, and on the value of protecting your brand name assets on Twitter.

This got me thinking about a number of related topics.

Self-Defense Real Estate

- Do you own the URL of your name (i.e. "YOU dot com")? If you don't, who does?
- Do you own all available comparison URLs of your name ("YOU dot net, YOU dot tv, etc.)?

If you don't, or if you believe you're "not important enough" to need to, let me ask you this: what happens when you ARE "important enough" to become a household name, even in a very small circle?

Chances are, you'll BECOME popular because other people are talking about you... and other people may realize the value of your name before you do.

The savvy people are out there right now, buying up every URL associated with their own names, "just in case."

The savvier people are out there buying up every URL associated with OTHER PEOPLE'S names...

- Do you own the URLs for your children's names?

Let's presume that the web, as we know it, is here to stay, and that URLs will still be a valid way around the information superhighway in another 20-30 years.

How many of us have children who -- like ourselves -- may someday grow up to "be someone"?

Imagine how grateful you'd be, as a kid, knowing that your online identity was safely registered by your parents before you could even clutch a mouse. It certainly beats the alternative: knowing that you'll someday need to buy that URL back from some black market identities dealer who's currently using it as an affiliate site.

All Websites Are Actually Real Estate Agencies

- Is your profile registered on MySpace? Facebook? Digg? Twitter? Technorati?...

I recently joined Virb, a new social networking site... or, rather, STBD did.

I initially saw Virb as a new networking / marketing tool -- a cleaner version of MySpace -- so I registered a profile for Something to Be Desired. As I'm writing this post, I realize I haven't yet signed up as myself yet... so I just did.

I could (and should) do the same for every other social networking site on the planet... and every other web app that could be used for marketing, communication and brand imaging. So should you.

EVERY WEBSITE is a potential link into your world -- or your brand / product / business -- for someone else.

Think I'm joking? Google me. What do you see?

As of today, the top search results are:

- Something to Be Desired (the web sitcom I produce)
- The STBD blog
- This blog
- My Technorati tag
- My Blogger profile (including my AIM handle)
- A Jeff Pulver blog post referencing me
- Bryan Person's audio interview with me from PodCamp Boston
- STBD's Network2 show page
- A Chris Brogan interview with me from April of last year
- My MyFeedz tag


- The easiest way for people to find me is through my work.
- Blogger and Network2 are ways to find me that I have AT LEAST SOME CONTROL OVER.
- Technorati and MyFeedz tags are ways to find me that I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER.
- Pulver, Person and Brogan's blog posts are also inbound links to my life that I HAVE NO CONTROL OVER.

Two other interesting notes:

- The Brogan interview was several pages down on my personal Google search results in April of last year. (Yes, I ego-surf.) Since then, Brogan and I have each seen our profiles rise, to the point that this same once-buried interview is now hot stuff.

- My MyFeedz tag actually produces no results. I've never even heard of MyFeedz until just now. But evidently other people have, and whatever is said about me there will have a much better chance of being heard by others than what I might say myself on, say, the PodCamp Pittsburgh Feedback page, which doesn't appear until the fourth page of Google search results.

What Does This Mean?

- You'll never have 100% control of how you're viewed by other people -- especially online.
- You DO have SOME control over how you're viewed -- and you should take those opportunities to stake your claim (and "defend your brand").
- You never know when your profile on an arbitrary website, a comment you've left on a blog or something you say in an interview will be stumbled upon by someone else, and THAT WILL BE SOMEONE'S FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU.

Each of us needs to decide exactly how much of a "public persona" we're interested in cultivating online, and how much of a "private persona" we're willing to live without.

Think Michael Jackson had it bad walking down the street in the '80s without being recognized? That's nothing compared to what Britney Spears contends with from Perez Hilton on a daily basis -- or what you face thanks to Google, MySpace, WordPress, Twitter...

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Monday, March 12, 2007

5 Ways Twitter Has Changed My Life (After a Week)

I started using Twitter last Monday.

I was wary. I didn't know if it would be worth my time. I didn't understand how another attention-stealing device could improve my life.

After 8 days of use, here are my five observations:

1. Twitter Is Highly Addictive

This is obvious, because that's what Twitter was built to do. It's designed to enthrall the generation that can't help oversharing with itself, 24/7. But it's WHY in which it's addictive that's unusual.

Unlike a publicly-accessible forum, in which you may or may not particularly care what half the commenters have to say, the members of your Twitter group are all friends you've VOLUNTARILY chosen to "follow." This amounts to a nonstop stream-of-consciousness dialogue with the people whose opinions and anecdotes you inherently care about.

In my case, my Twitter friends happen to be a few dozen of the movers and shakers in the new media space. This colors the information I receive. Instead of inane posts from friends whose lives are no more interesting than where they're eating dinner and what they're watching on TV, I get real-time windows into the offices and mobile lives of the people who are changing the way we communicate.

This enables me to take action or supply information as needed on an instantaneous basis, which means I need to stay connected.

2. Twitter Replaces Multiple Websites and Apps

Twitter is billed as a "better IM" -- or, in some circles, the app that will kill blogs -- but I disagree.

I see Twitter as an ever-updating group chat or forum thread. Here, my Twitter friends can post links to news articles they're reading (or writing), events they're attending, pop culture they're consuming and world events they're considering.

Instead of needing to check Digg, Newsvine, CNN and other rapidly-updated sites all day, I can usually gleam the best of the buzz from my Twitter list. If something's relevant or worth talking about, someone on my list probably mentioned it, and included a link.

Instead of leaving Instant Messenger open all day, I now logon only when I'm looking to communicate with someone directly and privately and may need to transfer files. (I could do most of that directly in Twitter as well, but I have yet to cycle AIM completely out of my bag of tricks.)

And I check MySpace almost exclusively for business purposes at this point, because the people I'm really interested in keeping up with are on my Twitter list -- and I don't need to waste time opening their messages or approving their comments in Twitter; they're just there.

3. Twitter Inspires Me to Do More

Seeing what everyone on my Twitter list is up to reminds me that I need to keep up with their productivity.

At my old day jobs, I paced my workflow against that of my managers. If they seemed to be slacking, I knew I could slow down because the vibe was mellow. If they were stressed out, I knew I'd better keep my head down and get things done.

Now I can gauge the day's workvibe against my Twitter friends. And since the folks I follow on Twitter are all involved in a medium I'm highly interested in, and their work has massive and far-reaching impacts on the medium (and on me), they set the bar pretty high.

Speaking of which...

4. Twitter Urges Me to Be More Relevant

The meta-conversation my Twitter friends have tends to be the kind of conversation that moves a medium forward. At any given moment, a few of them can be asking questions, soliciting advice and making connections. If I'm fast on the draw, I can be part of the problem-solving process.

Twitter is also a great place for self-promotion. Did you just blog about something? Include a link in your Twitterstream. Are you being interviewed at a certain time and place? Mention that to your "followers." New song? New video? New website you've found that no one else seems to have glommed onto yet? Stake your find on Twitter.

Meanwhile, if I've noticed that 3 or 4 of my own most recent Twitter updates are of the "what I ate for dinner" variety, I realize I need to get back to work...

5. Twitter Reminds Me to Get Up Earlier

If I didn't realize I was wasting time by sleeping in before, I certainly do now.

It's embarrassing to see Chris Penn posting a new Financial Aid Podcast, Chris Brogan wading through three meetings, Jeff Pulver flying through twelve time zones and Steve Garfield raising the dead before I've even had breakfast.

Striving to keep up with my contemporaries means I need to get at the workload earlier and hit it harder. Otherwise, the dozens of people who get my Twitter updates will start noticing I haven't been around, and they may presume I'm wasting time... and they might be right.

The Last Word

Despite the downsides to the service -- it's obviously growing faster than it can handle, and it doesn't currently support a lot of features that many of us are striving to find workarounds for (like groups, filtering and "highlight reels") -- the immediate upside is hard to argue.

Twitter hasn't yet changed my life in such drastic tones that I can't imagine not having it around. But it certainly does add a new facet to my daily web life that I'm finding increasingly more dynamic by the day. And it enables me to live at the pulse of the new media lifeline.

I don't believe I'm jumping the gun when I say: The revolution will not be televised -- it will be Twittered.

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Be the Hero

As I mentioned previously, there seems to be a worldwide subconscious need for "heroes" these days. Times are tough, positivity is waning and people in power seem ignorant to our needs. Everyone is looking for someone to believe in.

Why not be your own hero?

Reality Check

Every so often, when I seem overwhelmed, landlocked or depressed, I'll ask myself, "What would the ideal me do in this situation?"

It's the agnostic's equivalent of "What Would Jesus Do?" It also addresses the same issue: if I were perfect, what would I do in this situation?

Well, I'm not perfect. But I CAN improve. And, realistically, I CAN be a much better person than the one I am now.

So what would the version of me that I can look up to, the version that I would want to be around, the version I (were I seeing myself through the eyes of others) would want for a boyfriend, a son, a dad, a friend... what would THAT version of me do?

Find Your Superpower

Yes, it's geeky, but the analogy applies: all of us have a skill or two that sets us apart from everyone else we know.

Think about your own friends. Ask around. Who are the "experts" at certain things? Or, more accurately, when you think of a person, what do you immediately think of in conjunction WITH that person?

For example, in my mind, Chris Brogan is synonymous with "connectivity." Chris is a community developer, he's a bridge builder, he's a people person. That's his superpower.

Likewise, Christopher Penn is the MacGyver of finance; he could probably find a way to monetize your bathroom if you gave him ten minutes and a paperclip. That's his "mutant ability."

And iJustine is the closest thing I've seen to the apex of the perfect geek storm: equal parts attractive, self-deprecating, nerd and dork. As such, life just falls into her lap. She doesn't control it; things just happen to her. She's a web magnet -- that's her "special ability."

Me? I'm not sure I know what my ability is, but I have a few guesses. (Quite often, these elements are best observed by others who don't see the "alter ego" of the individual every day, and aren't distracted by both the pros AND the cons...)

Take Action

Of course, knowing what your superpower is doesn't help if you don't use it. And, since no one wants to take meaningless action, you won't feel fulfilled until you move toward something you're passionate about.

- Is there a cause you feel strongly about? How can you use your abilities to help that cause succeed?

- Is there a flaw in your current business that you feel needs to be repaired? How can you fix it?

- Is there a brand new business or organization you feel needs to be built? How can you create it?

- Is there a specific person you know of who needs help? What can you do to assist them?

Once you identify the one thing you're most passionate about AT THIS MOMENT, decide what action needs to be taken next to solve the problem. Even if it's just a 10 % action, it's better than no action at all.

Form a Team

Have you ever noticed that Captain America, Spider-Man and Batman can handle just about anything on their own, until a problem becomes so gigantic that they actually need help?

Terrorists? Drug dealers? Stilt-Man? No problem.

But when alien armadas, natural disasters and pissed-off gods come to town, very few heroes can stand on their own. That's why we have The Avengers, The X-Men and The Justice League.

Since new media, at its heart, is all about community, it helps to build connections you can call on when the going gets tough. When a problem is larger than you can easily handle on your own, what other skills (that you don't possess) would help you solve that problem faster? How quickly can you get the word out?

Seek out others who are using their skills to accomplish greater things. Ask what you can do to help. Join forces. Win bigger.

All Change Starts With You

Obviously The Avengers don't come knocking door-to-door, asking if any two-bit hero off the street wants to join. They need to know a person is serious about getting the job done in the first place.

That means you need to take action. Even one small step, and then another, until you're no longer walking; you're running. After that, the rest comes naturally:

Run until you can fly.

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Saturday, March 10, 2007

We Need a Hero

For months now, Chris Brogan has been referring to the new media creators as "super-heroes" and "rockstars."

Just yesterday, Christopher Penn was musing about WHY, exactly, super-heroes seem to be so popular these days.

And then, today, I see on Technorati that Captain America is dead.

How ironic.

Setting the Stage

As anyone who follows comic books knows, the death of a character is rarely permanent. Whether due to fan appeal or lack of ingenuity on the part of the writers, a character's "death" usually has a life cycle of a few months to a few years. Even long-dead characters in the Marvel universe, like Bucky (dead since the '40s) and Captain Marvel (dead since the '80s) have recently returned, unofficially implying that no character death is irreversible.

But Marvel is going out of its way to proclaim Steve Rogers, at least -- the man who actually wore the costume of Captain America -- to be dead.

Considering the way he's killed -- by a sniper bullet (or, according to some "eyewitness accounts," multiple bullets from multiple sources, signifying a Kennedy-esque conspiracy) -- that may well be the case. Steve Rogers, like Bruce Wayne, is a human being; it's a wonder that Captain America and Batman could have ever survived this long in a world of gods, robots and aliens.

Marvel editor-in-chief Joe Quesada -- himself already responsible for some of the more questionable choices in recent comics history, like the decision to have Peter Parker divulge his secret identity as Spider-Man to the general public, or insisting that perpetual cigar-chomper Nick Fury cease smoking because one of Quesada's own relatives died of lung cancer -- is all too happy to talk about what the fallout of Captain America's death will mean to the Marvel universe. He muses over what implications this action will have for Rogers's family and friends -- and enemies. He also implies that the costume will be passed on to someone else -- because, after all, Marvel won't stop publishing one of its flagship titles just because the title character is dead.

Shameless Shill or Social Commentary?

Because this event occurs during the Civil War storyline, in which Marvel's heroes took ideological sides over whether or not the United States government should force superhumans to be registered with the state -- clearly an allegory for all of the post-9/11 paranoia -- there may be more to the story than a mere attempt to sell more comic books.

Marvel seems to be attempting to make a larger statement about the role of idealists in the modern world. Steve Rogers is an icon of American optimism, the eternal boy scout at war with an evil world. As times have changed, and the world at large has become ever-more cynical, Captain America came to represent an ever-more anachronistic vision of what America itself could be... or once was.

In the Civil War storyline, Cap even surprises the government by refusing to cooperate with the registration act -- a kind of government policing of his civil liberties which he refuses to tolerate.

Choices like this, which continually pit Rogers against the powers-that-be, indicate that Marvel is well-aware of their political stance. By taking action to silence Steve Rogers, one can only presume they're attempting to make a broad social commentary: that a true idealist can no longer survive in this modern world of gods, robots and aliens.

And, hey, if the death of idealism sells a few more comic books...

What Does All of This Mean for New Media?

We're a generation of fairly cynical voices. It starts with the baby boomers and shakes on down to the 14 year-olds who are coming of age in a world of limitless communication.

No one believes in tradition.

No one believes in simplicity.

No one believes in anything that seems to good to be true.

New media is a seismic jolt to the established boundaries of communication, and yet, by and large, it's being created by people who, in their hearts, have great trouble believing in the power of positive change. As far as we can tell, we're all caught in the downward slide of entropy, and the best we can do is comment upon it.

Perhaps that's why the Spider-Man and X-Men films -- as well as Children of Men and The Matrix -- dark and cynical as they may be, are also so popular: the anti-hero, dragged kicking and screaming into a world of action (instead of blissful cynical passivity), somehow finds the courage to do what he or she, in his or her heart, knows must be done to set things right again.

In the end, these imperfect people shake off their fear, doubt and limitations, and they take the actions necessary to ensure that good triumphs over evil for another day.

In the end, the good guys win.

Is that mentality still a fantasy? I don't think so. I think it just depends on how much effort we can muster to take the actions we need to set things right again.

How do we go BEYOND our cynicism? How do we create a dialogue that charts the places we CAN go, rather than the places we CAN'T?

What do YOU want to say?

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Friday, March 09, 2007

The Value of NOT Getting It

Over at BuzzMachine, Jeff Jarvis has a great post about the litmus test a new spearheading team at The Economist is using to determine if their "outside-the-box" ideas for the next wave of change in their company is actually working:

"They say they will know they have succeeded when they present their big idea and get someone saying, 'I don’t get this at all.'"

The Timestream of "Getting It"

When I attended Video on the Net in Boston back in September, I was one of a few podcasters -- or "disruptors," as Jeff Pulver referred to us -- swimming in a sea of suits. I was one of the people creating the exact same media that people driving Mercedes were trying to wrap their heads around: What IS this? Why does it MATTER? What does it MEAN to me?

And, of course, "How do you MONETIZE?"

Surprisingly (to me), that was 6 months ago. I'll be speaking at Video on the Net in San Jose in two weeks, and I can tell you right now that the number of suits in that room who "get it" is ten times greater than it was in September. The world has changed, and the concept of user-generated content is no longer the head-scratcher it was to the CNNs and NBCs of the world. (They still may not understand exactly how to utilize it, but they definitely know it's there.)

Suddenly, the bar for the future has been raised -- and it's not enough to simply be one step ahead.

Worst-Case Scenario

Let's say the folks at The Economist spend six months of time and money developing new ideas to take their company where no other company has gone before, media-wise.

They walk into the boardroom, surrounded by suits who've been paid just as much money to ensure that the status quo has been maintained for those six months. They whip out their laptops, Power Point presentations, Second Life walkthroughs, and whatever other materials they need to get their point across to their colleagues.

And, at the end of the presentation, everyone else in the room looks around at one another and they all say, contendedly, "Yes, this makes absolute sense. We get it!"

The presenters' shoulders will drop and their smiles will crack, and rightfully so.

They will have failed.

Twice Removed

Being an innovator means seeing into the future, understanding what's possible, and then leaving a trail of bread crumbs behind you so the mass of humanity can catch up. It does not mean taking that same mass of humanity by the hand and shepherding them to the next plateau; it means calling down from the top of the mountain while sending carrier pigeons to the sherpas.

If your next great idea is easily graspable by people who only now have a vague understanding of new media -- or of whatever your current emerging industry "trend" is -- your idea is not the next great idea: it's the next logical idea. No one gets a promotion for having the next logical idea. No one writes front page articles about the next logical idea. And venture capitalists surely don't scour the earth looking for the next great logical idea.

You need to disrupt the status quo. And the only way to do that is by being at least two steps ahead.

Let's presume the folks at The Economist walk into their meeting in six months and do the same dog-and-pony show as mentioned before. This time, baffled looks of bewilderment cross the faces of the suits in the audience. One man coughs violently, a psychosomatic reaction to vaguely perceived threats.

Finally, the chairman stands up and, red-faced at having wasted six months of resources on these clinically insane people, says, "I don't get this at all."

Then the presenters can hold their heads high and rest assured that the money and time was well spent.

Separation Anxiety

Innovation is not a smooth process. It's not painless, stress-free and placid. It usually involves massive amounts of blood, sweat, tears and caffeine.

Mostly, it requires two teams: the advance team that scouts ahead and starts to build the new infrastructure, and the security team that's sent back to escort the old infrastructure to its new home.

As an innovator, you want to be on the team that sees what no one else sees. You want to understand not what's next, but what happens after that.

And then you need to send word back to the village that it's safe to proceed.

The biggest danger an innovator faces is in not being innovative enough. If the ideas you report back to the village are met without conflict and argument, then clearly you haven't seen far enough beyond the horizon.

The Middle Manager Test

Whenever you feel you've developed a sufficiently innovative idea, ask yourself the following question: if I presented this idea to the average middle manager in a company in my field -- a person whose job it is to maintain the status quo and ensure that the existing (and therefore, by definition, obsolete) machine is running smoothly -- would he or she grasp it immediately and sign off on it as a good idea?

If the answer is yes, you're not an innovator. You're on the security team, and you've just discovered the proper wording to motivate the village to follow you into the clearing.

Now you need to figure out what's beyond the clearing. Think bigger.

As an innovator, you need to be able to see farther into the future than everyone else. You need to identify a potential disruption in your market, see the possibilities that can grow out from that tidal wave, and then discern which ripples in the pool can start the wave toward rising.

Anyone can see the ripples. You need to see the wave.

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Limitless Abundance and the $1.50 Cup of Coffee

I had an eye-opening experience this evening.

I was sitting in an Eat 'n Park (a Pittsburgh-area version of Denny's, but brighter) with Dan Stripp (aka Jack Boyd on STBD) and his wife Erica, two old friends who had gotten married, had a baby, moved away and now were back for a visit. They and their now 3-year-old were eating dinner and discussing their jobs and future plans. Both of them recently received raises and were actually working a little less than they had been before.

All in all, life was good.

Meanwhile, I was sitting there drinking water because I don't have enough money in my wallet or bank account to cover the cost of $1.50 cup of coffee.


Because for the past two years, my priorities have been awfully misarranged.

You Can't Put the Cart Before the Horse if There's No Horse

In 2005, I quit my job to produce STBD full-time. The catch: STBD wasn't making money yet. So, I gave myself three months to get the show off the ground and into the black.

Two years later, STBD still isn't making any money.

Meanwhile, I've been working various freelance jobs to pay the bills -- video, audio, writing, voiceover work. But buy "pay" I mean "barely scrape by," and by "barely scrape by," I mean "occasionally fall behind." And by "occasionally," I mean usually, often or always.

My realization, sitting in Eat 'n Park, is that I'm profoundly uncomfortable with the way I'm living my life right now.

What Came First: Depression or the Egg?

As anyone in debt knows, nothing stays on your mind like money owed. Not even love, though it's a close second. That's because love is an uplifting feeling; even unrequited love is an inspiring promise of what could be.

With debt, the only promise is that if things don't get better quick, they'll keep getting worse. It does more than "occur." It lingers.

It's become apparent that a mere change of priorities won't be enough to steady the ship, but it's certainly a move in the right direction. However, the bigger fault lies in my thought process: I'm perpetually aware that I'm in debt, and therefore, it colors my mood quite drastically.

At this stage, it's impossible to tell if I'm frequently depressed because I'm in debt, or if I'm in debt because I'm frequently depressed. It's difficult enough to pull yourself up by the bootstraps, but doing so while under the thrall of worry, doubt and other non-productive emotions isn't especially motivating.

Fateful Attraction

I recently came upon a blog posting mentioning a new film called The Secret. Much like What the #$*! Do We Know?, The Secret is a film that tackles, in quasi-documentary fashion, the connection between our thoughts and the world around us. Evidently, the actual secret is very simple:

Like attracts like.

When I was in high school, my mom became interested in metaphysics, and I ended up reading many books by one of her favorite authors, Emmet Fox. The general principal of his books seemed to be:

Like attracts like.

So, by that rationale -- explains The Secret -- the way out of debt, depression, boredom or other general dissatisfaction with life is simply to think positive.

After all, if we're endlessly focused on our debt -- or that project that's never done, or that relationship that's forever on the rocks -- all we're doing is reinforcing our current negative emotions about the situation, and therefore, we shouldn't be surprised when we encounter more of the same.

Subconsciously, "we asked for it."

New Age or Common Sense?

Part of me rejects this theory outright. Why? Because, at its base, it seems too easy.

Granted, maintaining a positive frame of mind during the most trying of circumstances is anything BUT easy, but if attracting wealth, health and contentment into your life is as easy as wishing for it and then steadfastly sticking to that mindframe...

Does anyone else see where my doubts are justified?

Beyond that, it's also a fabulous excuse for not getting involved in the lives of others. In fact, in one quote from the film, one of the talking heads essentially suggests that you need to stop paying attention the world around you (to avoid the negativity) and focus solely on what it is that YOU want. Somehow, this seems like the most selfish and counter-intuitive instruction ever...

And yet... in the bigger picture, it does also seem to make absolute common sense.

Pseduo-Scientific Soiree

Let's say there's a guy at a party. He's got great energy, he's kind, he's attentive, he listens when you speak and he remembers people's names. He's a charmer, but his charm is natural, not falsified: he's having a good life. No worries. No stress. He's not bringing you down.

Who wouldn't want to be around that guy?

And, because that guy can essentially have his pick of people to associate with -- after all, he's a hot social commodity -- wouldn't he also want to be around people whose association provides him with what he needs? So he surrounds himself with positive people, fellow listeners, people who take action.

Like attracts like.

(Meanwhile, if you glance around the party, you'll notice that the cynics tend to group together as well -- who else can they mock the crowd with?)

Free Refills

The universe, according to The Secret, operates on one common law: like attracts like. If we focus on what we want and where we want to be, instead of what we don't have and where we are now, we'll naturally move toward our goals. Our minds are programmed to attract to us those things we're focused on.

By that rationale, it does me no good to feel bad about the fact that I can't currently afford a cup of coffee.

Instead, I should be focusing on a bottomless cup of coffee -- or, more importantly, the means through which to acquire a bottomless cup of coffee for life.

That doesn't mean I don't need to take action to get from here to there. It just means I should take action both outwardly and inwardly. It's hard to appreciate the upward climb when your mind is still focused on the depths below.


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Fear of Language

When I was in high school, my English teacher asked each of us to close our eyes. Then he said the word "boat." He asked each of us to open our eyes and describe what we saw in our minds. Invariably, everyone saw something different from everyone else.

I might see a schooner. You might see a sailboat. The guy in the next room might see a rowboat. We're all right, within our own context, but none of us is seeing the same thing.

That's because everyone comprehends every word -- and therefore, life -- differently.

The "V" Word

Three honor students at a New York City suburban high school were suspended for using the word "vagina" during a public reading of The Vagina Monologues at an event sponsored by the school's literary magazine.

School officials say this isn't a case of censorship. But, as it says in the article, "Principal Richard Leprine said Tuesday that the girls were punished not because of what they said but because they disobeyed orders not to say it."

So, basically, the girls were free to say anything... except the words they were told not to say. And telling people not to say something isn't censorship, it's...

... um...

Mean What You Say

Let's forget for a moment that these girls may have been looking to provoke controversy by uttering a "taboo" word in public. In fact, they probably were -- and for good reason.

Why are words taboo in the first place?

It's impossible to have open, intelligent discussions if certain words are off the table. That extends to certain concepts, certain beliefs, certain ideals. In essence, if we can't talk about something, then we have a problem.

On one hand, a "taboo" word / concept / belief draws more power than it rightfully should. Think about your own childhood: whenever someone told you that you COULDN'T do something, what did you then want to do MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE IN THE WORLD?

(Side note: apply that same concept to most of us trying to spin gold from fiber optic cable here in the new media space and you'll see that some of us were born to be disruptors.)

On the other hand, a "taboo" word / concept / belief means we're limiting our possibilities. We're essentially saying, "These options are off-limits. All sensible discourse must be routed around them." And so countless opportunities that could be explored, whether fruitful or not, are never investigated because to do so would be "wrong" -- according to someone else.

Are we not more highly evolved than we were hundreds or thousands of years ago, when concepts like "unspeakable words" would seem to have been far more laughably quaint?

Instead, if we're drawing parallels, the same city that just outlawed the "N" word is now also censoring the "V" word. That's a grouping of concepts that doesn't seem equally inflammatory to me. In fact, it seems quite reductive.

Why should any word, concept or belief system be closed to discussion?

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Get By (Or Not) With a Little Help from Your Friends

Michael Bailey at MobaSoft has had a series of revealing blog posts lately.

In seasonal fashion, he's been working through the same late-winter blahs that affect most of us, and cause us to second-guess what we're doing and why. A few days ago, it looked as if he was getting ready to hang it up for good -- all before his product ever officially launched.

But now he's decided to carry on, albeit with a change of procedure: he's flying solo instead of working with friends.

You Say Goodbye, I Say Hello

It's a tough situation to work closely with friends because the lines between casual and professional interaction -- and expectations -- can become fuzzy.

- Friends may not do what you need them to do.
- Friends may not know what they CAN do, so they overinflate their value.
- Friends may take liberties that strangers wouldn't.
- Friends may not work as hard as strangers.
- Friends may not listen.

When it comes time to make hard choices, often it's the friendship that suffers more than the business. Any business can rebound from the loss of a single employee, no matter how integral he or she is to the business structure. But a friendship is between two people, and when the connecting lines have become tangled, severing one set often means you end up severing both.

Personally, on paper, I'd never advocate working with friends. And yet I continually work with friends and acquaintances on projects large and small. Why?

- Friends already "know" me, and are personally invested in seeing me / us succeed.
- Friends know people, and can introduce me to them.
- Friends take phone calls at 3 AM.
- Friends talk me down when the going gets tough.
- Friends understand that there's more to life than business.

But the most important reason I choose to work with people I know is:

- Success feels better with a team I cherish, and I already cherish my friends.

Come Together

Not everyone I work with is a friend, but almost everyone I work with BECOMES a friend. That's because I can't help but endeavor to make a connection with someone that extends beyond paperwork and deadlines. I want to RELATE to the people I like / admire / connect with, not simply be a name in their address book.

When I started Something to Be Desired, I did so with a few friends. We needed a larger cast, so they tapped a few of their friends. With rare exception, our initial cast was comprised of people 1 or 2 degrees away from me personally, which gave us a personal stake in the series' success.

Now, our cast is so large, I couldn't possibly be close friends with everyone. But that doesn't mean we're not all "close," in a way. When you're dedicating as much time and effort to a venture as the STBD cast is, you can't help but form the kind of bond you often hear about in film crews, bands and small businesses: we're a family. We may have black sheep, problem children and estranged cousins, but we're all in it together and we find a way to make it work.

The Long and Winding Road

Sometimes, despite everyone's best intentions, it doesn't work out.

Sometimes working with friends doesn't produce the desired results. In those cases, we're faced with a decision: accept the situation and learn to work within the new realm of (lowered) expectations, or cut ties (professionally) in the hopes of sticking to the original vision.

Your decision is based upon your own desire as a leader: is the success of your idea more important than the stability of your friendship?

Your answer will vary depending upon the issue at hand and the strength of the friendship. Sometimes you need to be willing to bend. Other times, you need to be willing to break -- up the partnership.

Ob La Di, Ob La Da, Life Goes On

Some friendships thrive on conflict. One promotional team we've worked with before is comprised of friends who drive each other crazy in their drive to get things done.

"So," I asked them last week, "when are you two moving in together to maximize productivity?"

"We're not," came the answer. "She yells at me too much."

It doesn't mean they're not friends -- they were sitting right next to each other and laughed, because they both know it's true. But they've identified where their boundaries between work and friendship lie. They know how to push each other's buttons just enough to get the job done without causing personal strife.

Find those people. Find those boundaries. Find something you want to create together. Go forward.

And, should your paths diverge, wish each other the best. Leave the communication channels open.

You never know when your paths will cross again.

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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Battling the Lateness Gene

There's an interesting article on Newsvine about "chronic lateness," and how it's caused by something as simple as hitting the snooze button in the morning. Those extra ten minutes can wind up costing you a whole half hour by the end of your day. And that's not just your own time -- that's other people's time you're wasting.

Like most tardiness articles, it's filled with tips / strongly-worded suggestions about how and why you could (and should) always be on time. And, when meeting other people, I would advocate the same: don't make people wait (even though I do it ALL THE TIME).

But one thing the article doesn't elaborate on are the cases it touches upon in which some people DO work best under pressure, due to the adrenaline rush of being "late" or otherwise "under the gun." I'm one of "those" types.

Party's Over -- Whoops, Out of Time

I never studied in gradeschool, and rarely in high school. I didn't need to. Then I went to art school, where my procrastination led me to finish nearly every project the night before it was due. Instead of changing my habits, I realized I could still maintain solid grades (As, Dean's List, etc.) with less and less prep time... so I used that extra time to do a lot more outside of class.

I'm sure I could have gotten the work done FIRST, and THEN had a life outside of school, but that isn't the way my brain works. Over time, I've come to realize that:

a) I do much better when I'm running late and NEED to take action, and
b) I almost always need to be doing something OTHER than what I'm SUPPOSED to be doing.

Each observation fuels the other: I'm chronically running late because I'm never doing what I'm supposed to be doing, and yet I usually do well at everything I do because I subconsciously ENJOY doing the "wrong" thing at the right time.

Time to work? I'll take a break. Time to go home? I'll stick around and work. My mind is uncanny.

The Politics of Punctuality

One trend I detect in the comments on that article, and among punctual people in general, is that people who endeavor to be punctual usually expect it of others, and are personally offended when they're on the receiving end of latecoming. (Hell, I'M offended when someone I'm supposed to meet is late, and I'm the king of being late... which means you must REALLY be bad if I'm waiting for you.)

But the people who decry the snooze alarm as the root of all human problems seem to fall into the same category as people who have unreasonably high expectations of everyone else in the world, and who fail to understand that everyone works differently.

One commenter on the article mentioned that he'd feel incredibly stressed out if he wasn't at school at least half an hour before classes start, and an hour would be better. He wonders how some of his professors can walk in with only 2 minutes to spare before the class begins. How can they prepare? Do they just ad lib?


Or perhaps they approach time from a completely different standpoint, and aren't stressed out because they're "only" on time instead of early.

The more strict we are with our own expectations, the harder it is to make allowances for others. That doesn't mean we shouldn't all strive to be the best we can be, and to be on time. It just means we shouldn't expect the entire world to adhere to our own, possibly narrow or limiting, estimation of what's "right" -- ESPECIALLY when it comes to time.

Now, if I could only cure my actual tardiness, which traditionally sees me show up more than 20 minutes late for meetings, I'd be much more content...

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Monday, March 05, 2007

I Went and Done It

I activated my Twitter account...

Now the world can breathlessly follow my story as I... um... do pretty much what I always do...

Or do MORE...

The Three Elements I'm Most Interested In Exploring


- Will I come to enjoy leaving updates?
- Will I feel burdened by the oversharing?
- Will I feel the need to do more interesting things in order to justify the time it takes people to read my updates?

(You could apply that last sentence to pretty much any phase of my life. Or yours.)


I know Twitter can help me keep in touch with everyone on my list. But I could already do that through other services. This is just one more wrinkle along the corduroy information superhighway.

More interestingly:

- How can Twitter be hacked to become productive? (Christopher Penn has a good idea.)
- What information can I gather from Twitter that I can't gather elsewhere?
- How will what basically amounts to a neverending passive-agressive chatroom morph into a valuable font of real-time feedback?


- Will Twitter expand its operations to other services?
- Will hacking (or open sourcing) enable users to turn Twitter into MySpace 2.0?
- Will social networking as a whole become a new lifestyle we can't imagine living without?

We shall see...

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