Cafe Witness

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Thankless Job of Being Ahead of the Curve

Oregon Trail Pano

This week, the world was all abuzz about the mainstreaming of Twitter thanks to Ashton Kutcher & CNN, Oprah Winfrey, USA Today and countless other "names" who've taken up the habit of Twittering.

Of course, by "world," I mean the relatively self-obsessed cadre of regular Twitter users -- myself among them -- who thought social media was a pretty cool club until the stars showed up. Like the aesthetic suckerpunch that comes from seeing the captain of the football team wearing your favorite indie band's t-shirt, the mainstreaming of any subculture is a tragedy for those who were there first. In one seemingly innocuous act, whatever exclusivity there was that bound you all together is now eroded. It's like your girlfriend taking a sudden interest in Star Trek -- or your mom using Facebook.

You know who wants your mom to be on Facebook? The people who create the service and the people who profit from the service.

You know who doesn't want your mom to be on Facebook? The people who use the service -- or, at least, the ones who used it enough to make it useful to your mom in the first place.

Being Useful Is the Fastest Way to Die

In order for any business or service "succeed" -- social media included -- it has to go mainstream. This means it has to be considered useful (or at least interesting) by the masses. But since "the masses" tend to be less interesting than the individuals who comprise them, when something does generate a wide appeal, it tends to do so at the expense of the individuals who partly defined themselves through it. And as the originators of a subculture leave, they take something with them: the originality, eccentricity or unconventional wisdom that made that subculture worth noticing to begin with.

So now, as blogging, podcasting and social networking become commonplace, the power centers behind these tools shifts away from the geeks who'd started them and becomes concentrated within the same media conglomerates for which these tools were originally conceived as an antidote. (This is not unlike veteran political skewer Al Franken eventually being absorbed into Congress.)

How Many Coonskin Caps Is One Fail Whale Worth?

What we've been seeing this week is the lamentation of hardcore Twitter users who've realized that their much-maligned (and yet, paradoxically, much-loved) service may be on the brink of becoming mainstream -- and, simultaneously, irrelevant.

If all these Twitter pioneers sound bitter, it's because they realize society is now waiting for them to pull up their stakes and migrate away from Twitter, on toward some other as-yet undiscovered social media country... that can be colonized and mined for profit, by others, in another 2 or 3 years.

Meanwhile, any book written decades from now about the success of Twitter will almost surely mention Ashton Kutcher's name, but it probably won't mention yours -- even though you were there first.

Image (taken along the Oregon Trail) by Fokket.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where I'm Speaking Next: The Business Smart Tools Conference

On Tuesday, May 5, I'll be conducting a pair of workshops at the Business Smart Tools Conference in Stamford, CT. The subjects I'll be covering are the two I spend the most time with online: video and Twitter, both in terms of business use.

The BST Conference is aimed squarely at companies who are just starting to explore social media. Admittedly, as someone who's been creating social media for years, I often take it for granted that everyone already knows what I know. Then I meet someone new -- or I organize a PodCamp Pittsburgh -- and I remember that technophobia and learning curves tend to keep some people away from the web. This event is intended as a way to break down some of those barriers and get new businesses interested and up to speed on the potential of social media.

Other speakers include Tom Guarriello, John C Havens, Cindi Bigelow, Albert Maruggi and Scott Monty, who's been working wonders on the social media front at Ford.

Want to attend the BST Conference? Register with the discount code "twitter" (no quotes) and save 20%!

Want to hire me to speak at your event? Contact me on Twitter, or leave your email address in the comments below.

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Monday, April 20, 2009

I Have Seen the Future, and It Is Me

I was profiled in a KDKA TV News feature about Pittsburgh's young entrepreneurs. Reporter Andy Sheehan talked to several local innovators about the ways our businesses differ from the norm -- my tendency to work from cafes while producing STBD, for example, or the wisdom of converting a home into the (multi-employee) office for local design firm Blue Tomato.

As always, most news items about young people in Pittsburgh tend to focus on two themes: whether we'll save the city by reinventing it, or whether the city will empower us to make our dreams come true. This particular clip does a bit of both -- which is typical of the city's identity crisis. As the region with the second-oldest population in the country (behind only Miami), Pittsburgh is forever torn between the need to redefine itself and the presumption that it doesn't have to.

If I were a casual viewer, I'd probably think every one of us featured in this video -- including Nick Pinkston and Kellee Maize -- are naive young crackpots who need a real 9-to-5 job to drive some reality down our throats. But, on the off chance that one of us succeeds, that same casual viewer can take pride in the fact that we didn't listen to their conventional wisdom after all.

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Friday, April 03, 2009

What I Do: The Floodgates of Self-Promotion

Sometimes this blog goes quiet for awhile, and people might suspect I'm slacking off. While that's often true, sometimes I actually have legitimate(-ish) work to do.

This week, three different videos (that I had varying amounts of involvement with) have hit the web simultaneously. As much as I'd love to promote each of them independently, I happen to be leaving for vacation in Seattle + Portland shortly, so I've decided to group them all together and minimize my own horn-tooting.

Talking Tea with Joe Torre, Phil Simms & Terry Francona

This is a promotional video that the Creative Concepts agency filmed for Bigelow Tea. I happen to record and edit nearly every video that Creative Concepts produces -- including another Bigelow Tea video we filmed this same day, which generated a little buzz over on Chris Brogan's blog.

Something to Be Desired: Episode 6.7 "The Red Scare"

In addition to my corporate media work, I also produce the web's longest-running sitcom, Something to Be Desired (STBD). We've been on hiatus since mid-December, but I finally found the time to edit a new episode for April Fool's Day. (Fun fact: this episode was filmed on Sunday night, then edited and posted on Wednesday. Meanwhile, the Torre video above was filmed before Christmas.)

Pittsburgh City Councilman Bill Peduto Answers Questions from Lady Elaine

Pittsburgh city councilman (and occasional STBD guest star) Bill Peduto asked me if I could do him a favor: a local blogger named Lady Elaine asked a series of questions to all local electoral candidates, and instead of responding in text, Bill wanted to work the questions into a video. The results are above -- and yes, there are puppets. (And in case you're wondering: no, the puppets were not purchased with city money... but at least one came from eBay...)

Side note: after posting these videos side by side, I realized my camera work and editing style remain fairly consistent from project to project, regardless of who I'm filming or why. Evidently, I've developed a personal method that works (for me, at least).

So, for everyone who follows me on Twitter and occasionally wonders what the hell I actually do, now you know (some of it, at least).

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