Dumb Things I Have Done Lately

Friday, October 30, 2009

Griefing the DARPA Network Challenge

I took a quick look at the DARPA Network Challenge site (on December 5th, they'll fly ten red 8-foot diameter moored weather balloons; the first person to register the locations of all ten will win $40,000). Also, I read the rules (which I'm not sure very many commenters have bothered to do yet, since they're in PDF), so here are a few thoughts:

* As currently structured, it's obviously a problem in game theory, behavioral economics, and group collaboration, not technology. Contestants will register as individuals, not organizations -- of course, people will collude and collaborate, but they'll have to determine not only mechanisms for intaking, validating, filtering, and crediting distributed reports (your basic crowdsourcing problems), but they'll also have to figure out the basis for distributing the prize. (And $40,000 is in the realm of "real money.")

Presumably, a large enough group to win will be in it for the bragging rights (I'm sure everyone is thinking "Anonymous"), and simply donate the money to charity, to avoid all those messy distribution issues.

However, since the registrant has to be an individual, the winner of record will still get stuck with the tax on the $40K prize, even if they donate it all to charity. Something to consider.

* The rules are only two pages right now. I'd be really surprised if the rules (which "may be modified at any time without notice") don't iterate and grow dramatically in between now and December.

Of particular concern is the potential griefing issue -- anyone with any modicum of deviousness has already said, "Hey, we should just fly a bunch of fake weather balloons to fuck up everyone else."

(The rules state that official balloons will be accompanied by DARPA representatives -- we're going to need some authentication method beyond "Some asshole wearing a navy blue polo shirt holding a clipboard." It'll have to be communicated far enough ahead of time to propagate, but not so far in advance to be easily spoofed.)

Griefing goes to the idea of motivation: You might not be able to mobilize and organize an credible nationwide team to win, but I can easily see groups of griefers -- call them "cells" -- popping up on game day:

Looking at costs, an 8-foot diameter balloon holds about 270 cubic feet of helium; with cost of balloon and tank rental, that's a few hundred bucks, which is easily spread across a few friends.

* Hopefully, no one will try shooting down balloons. That would be a bit much (as well as a violation of the contest rules). The rules cover changed locations, but I don't yet see anything about accidental or manmade balloon failure post-launch.

As to other potential hurdles (balloons in really out-of-the-way -- but still road accessible -- locations, I don't find that as interesting as the challenge of dealing with griefers, especially highly-motivated ones bent on undermining the game.

Of course, since no one ever accused DARPA of being dumb, it really depends on how they implement the Web site reporting mechanism (will it provide feedback when you submit a location, etc.)

Watch the skies.

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Friday, October 02, 2009

An Embarrassment of Upcoming Things, October Edition

Not sure what I'm doing tonight. Tomorrow, though (Saturday, 10/3), presents us with choice paralysis a-plenty:

* The Dulles Day Plane Pull is from 11am-4pm. The plane pulling bit is fun to watch (and sometimes teams need spectator help), as well as the aircraft display. (See my photos from 2007; 2008 was canceled due to heavy rain, which doesn't look like it'll be a problem this year.)

* The Crafty Bastards craft show-thing is in Adams Morgan, from 10-4pm. If I go, it will be to maybe get a t-shirt, but definitely a falafel.

* I'm not 100% on this, but I'm pretty sure I saw a sign in the median on Reston Parkway for the Fairfax County Police Department Reston District Station Open House, 11am-3pm?

The kicker is that the Fell's Point Fun Festival is also both days this weekend. (Although I pretty much have to stay local Sunday to do some painting, which rules that day out.)

I'm a little leery of driving up to Baltimore after what happened the last time, though it's fun, even if you just end up hanging out in the beer garden (nee parking lot) and not moving. I'm pretty much leaning to the purely local stuff.

Looking out a bit further:

* The Reston Oktoberfest is Oct. 9-11 in the Town Center.

* Wednesday, Oct. 14 is both the October Washington Blogger Meetup at Madam's Organ in Adams Morgan. I was originally a maybe on this, because Cowboy Junkies are playing the Barns at Wolf Trap, but it looks like they're sold out. Yay for indecision!

* Friday, Oct. 16, The Raveonettes are playing the 9:30 Club.

* The PublicMediaCamp unconference is Oct. 17-18 at American University.

* The final BlogPotomac is October 23. I am as yet undecided, though I suppose I should decide quickly.

* CrisisCamp Philly is Oct. 24-25 -- I might just go virtual for this.

* Thursday, Oct. 29, Mike Doughty plays Birchmere.

As for Halloween, I have no idea what to do for a costume, which would be a big letdown after last year. I will have to do some thinking.

November brings BarCamp DC and CrisisCamp NYC, but one month at a time.

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Monday, June 22, 2009

Meet (Busty) Christian Women, Easy

I don't usually pay attention to the ads on my Facebook profile, and they're pretty easy to ignore. But this one stood out: Not only because of the mistargeting (Christian singles is pretty far off the mark), but because it features a model with huge tracts of Bible:

Busty Christian Singles Ad Then I realized that I'd seen this particular particularly pneumatic model before -- she's busty glamour model Denise Milani (she works non-nude -- barely -- but I wouldn't call the site SFW) and she's a former SportsbyBrooks girl.

TinEye reverse image search finds the photo in larger size, used in other, decidedly non-Christian contexts.

While it's possible, of course, that Denise Milani is a fine, upstanding Christian woman, and that her photo was licensed to this particular Christian singles site, it seems far more likely that whoever was responsible for the ad -- either the site or an affiliate -- just grabbed an eye-catching photo off the Web. *yoink*

Seems to be standard operating procedure for any dating site ads on Facebook, whether it's over 30s, Christian, or whatever -- find a pretty girl whose boobs take up 40% of the available image area. (Actually, I guess that's the SOP for pretty much any Facebook ad.)

I actually did click through to take a look at their site. (Their slogan is "The Community for [Busty] Christian Singles.")

It has a lot to offer -- for example, it has a wonderfully streamlined registration process. For example, it asks your gender, but doesn't ask what gender you're seeking. Simple!


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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2 Year Twitterversary Statistics: No More Than 184,520 Characters of Inanity

After eDemocracy Camp 2, I was thinking about how much Twitter had become the de rigueur conference backchannel / session notebook / fashion accessory, which I didn't think was the case for the first one just a year ago.

That got me wondering about when I first joined Twitter, so I paged back in my archives and found that I posted my first Tweet on April 22, 2007, which was just about my 2-year Twitter anniversary when I first started this entry.

[This entry, incidentally, is unrelated to any of the current "When Did You Join Twitter?" or "How long are you on Twitter?" foolishness that's been going around. Also, if you hadn't noticed, I've given up my previous petulant objections and am resigned to calling Twitter posts "tweets."]

Getting My Twitter Stats
I was curious about my own Twitter posting pattern; the quick, easy, and pretty way to look at your stats of course is to use TweetStats (which I also did), but I wanted a little more granularity. (For example, TweetStats calculates your daily average just using the days you posted, instead of looking at every day.) So I decided to pull and crunch the numbers myself.

Here's my 2-year Twitter post count:

Click through to Flickr for additional notes by Patrick.

I signed up on April 18, 2007 and posted for the first time 4 days later. My posting was pretty much non-existent until the first spike (8 whole posts in a day!) from the Baltimore Kinetic Sculpture race on May 3.

I stayed primarily with phone updates until June 14, when I got Twitterific, and you can see a general trend upwards (I switched to Twhirl on June 25), with an all-time high responding to birthday greetings (March 26).

Pulling the Numbers
To get the numbers:
* I used the Java TwitterBackup 2.5 to pull the XML file, which basically has everything (it took about 50 minutes -- it does 20 per minute to avoid hitting API limits)
* As suggested, I did a bunch of find-and-replaces in TextEdit to clean things up and remove extraneous fields
* I then pulled the numbers into Excel, where I did some serious massaging of the numbers. This included fixing the year on the previous years' posts (in the process, I may have shifted some of the dates a day... damned leap year).
* I also added in the intervening days where I didn't post to Twitter, consolidating them to get my daily Tweet count (this is where using the FREQUENCY formula came in.)
* Finally, I plugged the numbers into Google Spreadsheet to get a pretty chart, and uploaded it to Flickr to get a nice, 500px wide image.

TweetStats gave me an average of 3.2 average posts per day (with a median of 2.0 posts), though my numbers for the entire period (counting days I didn't post at all) gave me 1.8 posts per day (median 1.0). I haven't done any deeper digging; Tweetstats has a good talking points topline, and I have the raw data if I want to look any further.

Thrilling, yes?

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

And now it can be told: Crostonfest

Actually, there's not that much to tell. Saturday was Crostonfest, a surprise thank-you in honor of DC tech scenester John Croston, held just before the DC Geeks Love Wine tasting event at nclud.

While we waited for John, there was Mario Kart:


Looking down:

Oblivious to the passersby gawking.

And the man comes to town:


Not being much of a wine drinker, I did not stay. Instead, I hoofed it over to Amsterdam Falafelshop to grab a bite:

"Falafel: You are chickpeas fried in Love and wrapped in HELL YEAH!"

On the way back, here's a traffic light control box on 19th Street:

When Flashing (You only live once)

On a photo note, I've started carrying my Fujifilm Finebix F30 again, since it has an Aperture Priority setting and I want to get a little depth-of-field in my photos (though I still don't want to spring for a DSLR).

This is after I've installed CHDK (add-on firmware that unlocks features on Canon point-and-shoots) on my Canon Powershot SD1100 -- it's somewhat cumbersome, though playing around with manual focus and aperture override might still be useful.

The downside, of course, is my F30 is bigger, heavier, and pretty beat up -- the case is dented and has a visible gap from being dropped so many times, and the shutter button sticks sometimes.

Afterwards, I had some time to kill before going to Ragtime to see Scott's band, so I went to work out at the still-shiny-new Fitness First in Arlington (on North Courthouse, coincidentally across the street from Ragtime) -- despite being a somewhat half-assed workout, I was still pretty tired, but I managed to stay awake with the help of a chai tea latte.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Check Me Out Over at the Network Solutions Blog (with some bonus features for my Twitter post)

For the past few weeks, I've been doing some blogging over at the Network Solutions blog, Solutions Are Power. (I'd met blog honcho Shashi Bellamkonda at a Twitter meetup last year, and stayed in touch through various DC tech events since then.)

I'm blogging about social media and online community topics (naturally), with a particular focus on how it can affect small business. (And I mean real small business, not just social media consultants.) So naturally, there's some potential overlap with stuff I've been known to write about here. (Not the dumb things. Well, not my dumb things.)

For example, a few of the posts I've done over there, started out as drafts in my head that were going to be used here, but I never got around to doing.

Take my "Twitter: I Was Doing It Wrong" entry. I'd been sitting on it for a few months and not getting anywhere with it, when I found a new hook and used it for the NetSol blog. Book it. Done. Well, with a few tweaks:

* Twitter Priority: I left out the idea of Twitter posters prefacing their posts with a number on a set scale (say 1-4), so that recipients could filter to the level of posts they wanted to see from any particular person. (Remember, even if I know and like you, I don't necessarily care about the trivial emphemera of what you're doing right now... or even if I do, I don't need to know it in real-time).

An example scale would be:

1 - Your standard bullshit update of no consequence (that is to say, a normal Twitter post)
2 - Your standard bullshit update, except with your location
3 - An update where you're specifically trying to share information you think might be interesting or useful to others (say, a traffic disruption, celebrity sighting, or miscreants setting off fireworks inside the Metro)
4 - An update where you're explicitly requesting a reply from people (like a question)

Throw in a 5, for truly extraordinary, emergency circumstances (e.g. "help, i'm in egypt getting arrested.")

Since it would depend on people's ability to honestly self-categorize their own Twitter posts -- well, let's just say I'm not holding my breath on this idea.

* On my Facebook/Twitter persona: A while back, one of my Facebook friends asked me why I was out partying all the time. When I asked why she thought that, she said that it was the impression she got from looking at my Facebook status.

My Facebook status comes from Twitter (via TwitterSync) -- I don't update it any other way. And at that time, I only updated Twitter when I was out and about. Which is why my friend thought I was just partying non-stop.

Anyway, check out my entries (and, heck, the other entries, too) on the NetSol blog if you like, and drop a comment and say hi over there.

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

The New York Times Doesn't Want Any Dirty, Stinking Fark Links

I've seen a notable lack of New York Times links on Fark over the past few months. NYT used to be really unfriendly to social bookmarking and linksharing sites (with their login-registration wall), but that changed when they added permalink sharing URLs, which made linking to their stories easier.

Now, though, when you try to submit an NYT link to Fark, it fails -- you get an error:

"Can't verify that link: Throwing away unfetchable URL... 302 Moved Temporarily"

The error message says it's a 302 temporary redirect, though Redirect Checker says it a 301 permanent redirect. Either way, Fark doesn't like it.

I'm not 100% on the timing, but I think it's related to changes that were made when NYT rolled out their TimesPeople social network a few months back. (I already disliked TimesPeople because it adds a persistant Javascript tool bar at the top of the page -- when you page down in an article, it cuts off the first few lines, so you have to scroll back up to pick up where you left off. It's annoying.)

Anyway, that's probably why there haven't been any NYT links on Fark the last few months. (Other social booksharing sites seem unaffected.)

I guess an alternate interpretation would be that Fark doesn't want any NYT links. But the headline on that doesn't sound as cool.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Followup: Washington Post LiveWire Spam -- Oopsie

Here's a followup to my impotent fist-shaking about the unsolicited, opt-out Washington Post LiveWire DNC coverage e-mail from yesterday -- after a serendipitous encounter with a Postie (and former AOLer) familiar with the situation, we can safely invoke Hanlon's Razor:
Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.
As I suspected, the opt-out e-mail blast was a mistake, accidentally sent to the wider audience instead of the smaller one. It seems that there was a bad call by an inexperienced staffer, combined with a lack of process and control.

Admittedly, it was something of a tempest in a teapot; part of the reason why this perceived violation was so noticeable is that, to date, WashingtonPost.com has been a trusted source (at least, when it comes to self-marketing). For such a rookie mistake to appear was... jarring.

Additionally, as I had surmised, my blog entry is currently the #1 search result for the term post livewire. So I got that going for me.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Washington Post LiveWire: All the convention news you need -- whether you want it or not

As I Twittered a few hours ago, I got a "Convention Update from Post LiveWire" e-mail, and I'm pretty damn sure I didn't do anything close to subscribing to anything remotely like it.

Checking my Washington Post e-mail preferences, as well as a reply from another Twitterer, confirmed this.

Looking at the mail header, it comes from bigfootinteractive.com; Bigfoot Interactive is an e-mail marketing firm that's now part of a larger marketing company, Epsilon.

I bounced it over to my Gmail account (it went into the spam folder, shockingly), which revealed an Unsubscribe link that didn't show up in PINE (yes, I still use PINE, which is still not ELM). I clicked the link, and all was revealed:

Washington Post LiveWire e-mail optout
Washington Post LiveWire e-mail optout screen.

Note the page title in the browser: "Optout."

Optout. Now, I don't care if it was a mistake, a one-time thing, or a rogue marketer -- there's nothing that will set bloggers to wiggling their tiny, Cheeto-stained typing fingers in impotent blogging rage than an e-mail marketing opt-out.

It could be an urgent evacuation notice giving the best route to high ground to avoid the oncoming asteroid-induced tidal wave -- if I didn't subscribe to it, I don't want to see it.

I find it somewhat ironic that this would happen on the very same day that the Post featured a story about companies using blogs and other social media to reach out to customers ("Marketing Moves to the Blogosphere" -- it got more than a little blog traction here because it name-checked some of the usual area and marketing bloggers.)

Especially since bloggers and blog readers -- the very users who companies try to engage using social media -- are the most enraged by things like opt-out marketing e-mails.

Anyway, as I'm in this annoyingly-vocal, self-important and overinflated minority, as I finish this little impotent screed, I can only take solace in imagining that, thanks to the voodoo that is SEO, this entry will show up somewhere in the future on the first page of results for "Washington Post LiveWire."

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Crowdsourcing a Restaurant: Good Luck With That

Today's Post has a front-page item about a DC restaurant-to-be (Elements) that's crowdsourcing its theme and menu: "Online, a Community Gathers to Concoct A Neighborhood Eatery."

The theme the community has picked is, er, a "sustainable vegetarian/raw food restaurant," with a community-center vibe.

Now, the article mentions that the owner/funder has the final say over all business decisions, so presumably she's crunched the numbers and sees a market opportunity that backs up the community's sentiment. I don't know anything about consumer demand for raw foods or the restaurant business (other than it's a tough racket), so I'll leave that be -- other than to say that what might work for a co-op or other collective endeavor, might not work for a 3,500 square foot restaurant with $1 to 1.5 million in startup costs, and that has to have appeal outside of the core community participants.

However, I do note a few caveats on relying on a community for feedback and guidance. I believe it's a valuable practice -- but you have to go in with your eyes open:

1. The loudest, most engaged people do not necessarily represent your entire target audience. Paying attention to users is important. Paying attention to all users -- not just the loud ones -- is also important. You need to capture the wants and needs of people who don't participate in the community, too, which requires looking at metrics, testing, and other forms of research.

For example, in product development communities, your active contributors may be power users or edge cases clamoring for features that have little value to the rest of your core audience. Overserving them can pull resources away from items of greater benefit to the larger community.

Look at the political primary system, where candidates cater to primary participants (the most engaged, active, and extreme sections of the electorate) to build momentum, then move to the center for broader appeal in the general election.

2. Don't forget about Participation Inequality. This is basically a restatement of point #1 -- the loudest users will dominate the conversation. Even if they are "influencers" with disproportionate impact on other people, you're still only hearing a few voices.

The Elements community has about 400 people -- here's a graph of their top 20 community points holders (which I will use as a proxy for participation -- I left out the #1 "Living Green" user, since that's composed of 4 people):

Elements community points graph
Sorry, no means, medians, or standard deviation -- this is as statistics as I get.

Since I'm not a member, I can't see the boards; even if we assume that semi-active participants (normally the "9" in the 90:9:1 ratio) number higher in this particular community, that's still not a lot of people, so you need to take care that you're seeing the whole picture.

3. If "The squeaky wheel gets the grease," wheels will find reasons to squeak. Again, this goes to audience tunnel vision. People are not wheels -- they like it when you pay attention to them, they get used to it, and they find ways to maintain your attention. You need to continually reach out to new voices (while at the same time, you can't alienate your early adopters -- it's tricky.)

4. Community drama can impact the business. Inevitably, every community goes through crises. Sometimes it's board drama that goes overboard. For activist-types, it's often a case of the revolution eating its own -- factions develop. In some cases, it's the introduction of a poisonous personality or incompatible culture.

If the business is explicitly tied to the community, this can be a problem. If you intervene, you're seen as taking sides. And if the community splinters in a meaningful way, you've got a big problem.

I don't have a case study, but I do have an anecdote, courtesy of subscriber letter in a March 1989 copy of Dragon magazine (I unearthed it and liberated it from my parents' house a while back):

A Dungeons-and-Dragons-type gaming group in Kentucky, numbering about 200, had an influx of what we today would call "griefers." This eventually caused group members to drop out, then splinter into smaller factions that eventually both withered away. In the process, the local gaming store (which provided supplies and a venue) saw its clientele dry up and subsequently went out of business. The community, which formerly sustained the business, took the business down with it.

The article says, "Unlike so many Web discussion sites, there are no angry or insulting posts in the Elements community." To that, I would just add, "Yet." Community conflict is inevitable... but it can be managed.

Anyway, the proof is in the pudding. Going to the community for feedback is great, but it's only one part of the puzzle. Unless the 10% of active and semi-active contributors is going to eat at the restaurant all-day, every day, the proprietors need to make sure they're not just catering to the whim of a select group of people, especially if they need to make a broader audience play.

(I was just going to add this to my del.icio.us slushpile for later neglect, but I'm making a conscious effort to reduce my post-procrastination; that is, post more, bookmark less.)

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

I Enjoy Smart People and Dumb Quotation Marks (Refresh DC)

I made it to my first actual Refresh DC event tonight (I'd been to a happy hour or two before). Got to Georgetown slightly late, and I think I passed up a couple close parking spots because I wasn't sure they were valid. Chicken.

The speaker was Ellen Lupton talking about typography and design. Her presentation was funny and engaging, though I have to admit I was feeling a bit contrary tonight. Also, it looks like Twitter ate the updates I sent during the event, but bad typography is not a "crime against humanity."

Also, when it comes to quotation marks, as much as she hates dumb quotes, I hate smart quotes -- while I understand the usefulness and aesthetic, in practice, we've all been burned too often by cutting and pasting smart quotes that turn into little boxes or otherwise get munged. You can blame Microsoft or other software developers, but if text is something that people are going to work with and not just look at, until you can fix these kinds of real-world problems, it's just not worth the trouble.

And even though I appreciate good design, something felt a little hollow -- like the idea that good design justifies frivolous consumer consumption that will fill some void in our lives. (And I'm as much of a consumer as anyone.)

Or perhaps the notion that crafting is on the rise because fewer and fewer of us have vocations where we actually make anything worthwhile, and try to make up for it by creating silly notions, stuffed soft goods, t-shirts, papercraft and the like.

Like I said, I was feeling contrary and a bit off, so I skipped any post-event socializing and trucked home for a late workout. My neck is still a little sore from hitting the turf last night, so I ditched the pullups, but I felt a little better afterwards.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Facebook Loops... and the College Kids Scream

Apparently, something is amiss with the rollout of the new Facebook layout (presumably if you checked out the new design in Firefox); I've been getting this error for the past few minutes -- it's apparently looping between www.facebook.com and www.new.facebook.com:
Redirect Loop: Firefox has detected that the server is redirecting the request for this address in a way that will never complete.

I expect many indignant Twitter posts and subsequent blog entries on the matter.


Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Microblogging Is a Mistake (By About Five Orders of Magnitude)

Microblogging, as exemplified by an individual Twitter entry, is 140 characters.

"Micro-" is the SI prefix for "millionth," so it logically follows that a regular blog entry would be a million times bigger, or 140,000,000 characters. (If nothing else, blogging is a completely logical behavior that is characterized by its rigorous adherence to strict scientific standards, is it not?)

At 5 characters per word, that's 28,000,000 words. Or about 280 novels.

Of course, no blogs begin to even approach this word count (some merely feel as if they do). So a renaming is in order.

If Microblogging Is Wrong, I Don't Want to Be Right

By one study, the bulk of blog entries are under 249 words.

Eyeballing my last few entries and using the quick-and-dirty Google Docs word count, my own entries are a little wordier than average (go figure) -- tending towards 500 words per entry, so call it 2,500 characters. Heck, I'm lazy -- call it 2,800 characters (it makes the math easier).

If a standard blog entry is 2,800 characters, 140 character-blogging (so-called "microblogging") is only 5% of that. Which would put the proper name for this kind of blogging in the realm of "deciblogging."

Meaning that the term microblogging is a misnomer by a factor of, oh, 100,000.

Now, since I just push words around, I know that I probably committed math abuse in there somewhere. And I'm okay with that. Since it would still be far less facepalm-worthy than this honey of a math error that I found in a Yahoo! UK & Ireland Answers response to the question, "How many words in a basic adults book?" that I came across as I was writing this:


Vici says, "i wondered this the other day so i counted a page full of words and times it by the number of pages

the answer came to twenty thousand

that means with every 5 books i read i read a million words i think that is amazing myself."
Yes, vici, I'm sure you do.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mullets, Facepalms, and Creative Commons

I was looking at my referrers the other day, and other than a random MSN Search query for "Card for blessing non religious person who has more than her share lately" (got that, Hallmark people?), there wasn't really that much out of the ordinary.

That is, until I saw a hit from Wikimedia Commons for "Wikip-facepalm.jpg."

I followed it back to the Wikipedia entry for facepalm (it's on the Types of Gestures page) -- and there I am:

This, of course, is a spiritual followup to my mullet making it into Wikipedia.

Now, other than the pure showing off/vanity of it, this illustrates one of the primary benefits of forgoing copyright in favor of Creative Commons licenses:
If you make it easy for people to use your stuff, they will use your stuff -- and it's more likely that they'll attribute you for it, than if they simply stole it.
Of course, I'm not a professional photographer, and I don't have any pretensions of making any money off my photos. So I license nearly all of my pics "Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic" -- I don't even require "noncommercial" use (whatever that means these days) -- just give proper attribution and adhere to share alike (which, in all likelihood, would really curtail any use except noncommercial use).

I'm not a revolutionary -- I do still think that there is a place for intellectual property (though I feel that the idea of "tolerated use" is fascinating). But when it comes to personal sharing, I've come around to the idea of "What are you saving it for?" (I'll probably talk about that some more later.)

Incidentally, since I wear glasses, the photo doesn't depict my actual facepalm (fingerprints, you know) -- my true facepalm is more of an eyerub:
My Real Facepalm

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

It's an RSS Feed, Not a Calendar, Dammit

I'm in the process of cleaning up my feedreader (currently NetNewsWire), which is wildly disorganized and bloated with redundancy right now.

Now, others have noted why it's a good idea for you to subscribe to your own blog's feed, primarily so you can spot technical problems. For example, in the Small Wars Journal feed some of the longer entries lose line breaks in NetNewsWire -- see "The Problems With Afghan Army Doctrine" -- it's one big mass of text.

(Actually, "full-content feeds with line breaks removed" could be a middle ground between offering full-content feeds and summary-only feeds: It lets you see all the content, but it's basically unreadable unless you click through to the main article.)

For another example, I'm going to call out my friend Susie Felber, whose RSS feed looks like this:
Feb-head, I think you need to tweak your Blogger template a little bit -- you're not populating the TITLE field of your entries. (I, of course, know to read all of your entries since you're such an interesting person. But others might not.)

The other reason to check your RSS feeds is editorial: It tells you when your entry titles are not useful.

For example, here are the recent feed item titles for My Damn Channel (home of You Suck at Photoshop):
I realize that they're announcing new video clips, but that's not an RSS feed -- that's a calendar.

Now of course, sometimes you don't need a super-descriptive title -- you just want to announce that new content is up -- for example, for the Dilbert Daily Strip, "Comic for June 18, 2008" is fine. (Especially for a comic with serial storylines. Though I think that a descriptive name never hurts - look at XKCD's feed.)

Other times, you're announcing a new content update, but one that features a lot of different components, like the DC Blogs Noted and Postsecret feeds, where you might not be able to list out everything in the title.

Where practical, I like to do at least a taste of the content -- you start out with the name of the regular feature, followed by a sample of what's included (a la Things That Are Upcoming: Blog Potomac, Puppini Sisters and More).

The Morning News's feed does a mixed model, where the generically-named feed items ("17 June 2008: Morning") are just a mass of links, but where their original stories do have descriptive titles. (I don't find the "mass of links" model particularly useful -- I might break those kinds of things out into a separate links feed, a la Waxy.org Links, so you don't drown out the original stuff.)

Anyway, this isn't an SEO-entry or anything -- just to say that good titles are good titles, whether they show up in a browser window or as a line in an RSS reader. So check out your own stuff, so you can see it as others see it.

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Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tips on Getting Fark Greenlights (or, an unexpected Fairfax Times Twofer)

I was catching up on this week's Fairfax County Times (Reston/Herndon edition -- the print version comes out mid-week), and I saw a couple of stories that I thought were potentially Fark-main page worthy: The first because it involved beer pong/beiruit and offsetting stupidity; and the second because it hews to one of Fark's favorite current ideological punching bags, "millenials as precious snowflakes."

I like submitting items to Fark -- partly to contribute to the community (in the realm of the Fark top 100 commenters, I'm solidly in the 9-percent portion of the 90-9-1 participation inequality ratio side of things), but mostly to test out my writing chops, to see if I can generate a funny or interesting wordplay, or one that otherwise fits in with the current Fark zeitgeist -- something that stands out among the thousands of submissions.

The headlines I submitted this afternoon, though, were not particularly interesting. So I was surprised to see that they were both greenlighted to the main page, back-to-back, in a Fairfax Times two-fer:

(Some Guy) Stupid School groups protest forthcoming beer pong game for Wii. Game company claims beer pong actually discourages drinking because, "If anything, you're going to be drinking less" (67)
(Some Snowflake) Asinine Fairfax County, Virginia schools abandon "valedictorian" in favor of groups of "honor graduates." Reactions range from, "This is a communist system" to "I'm glad I don't have to give a speech." (145)
I wonder if the Fairfax Times people are scratching their heads trying figure out where the traffic spike is coming from. (They seemed to handle the load okay, though they didn't get any comments -- most likely due to the required registration.)

So that takes me to 24 greenlit headlines. Not a lot, but a respectable number.

I've never had any success trying to pitch anything I'm working on professionally (and rarely try), but here are a few strategies that seem to have worked for me in general (this is in addition to following the submission suggestions in the Fark FAQ):

* It doesn't have to be new, but it has to be interesting: My very first Fark greenlight was in 2004, referencing a 1997 article about Army lessons learned from the 1992 LA Riots. Not at all current, and the the headline was pretty straight. However, the straight headline invoked some very comical imagery, and was therefore funny: "Lesson learned from the 1992 L.A. riots: Cops and marines understand "cover me" to be two entirely different things"

If you try to submit breaking news or something that's already being highlighted on another popular social linksharing site, you have to be fast and funny (funny enough -- by the time you craft the perfect comedic gem, you will probably have already lost out to someone else). There's a lot of competition around the time-senstive stories, so I try to stay out of it.

* Submit outside of peak times: Since I'm a night person anyway, I'll take a look at the BBC News to see what they've got going on that the US will get to in a few hours. Also, the next-day's Washington Post top stories are usually up on the Web by then. (I submit a lot of Washington Post items, mostly because I'm reading it anyway.)

It's somewhat paradoxical, but if you submit during a slower time, when fewer items are flowing through the submissions queue, there's a higher likelihood of your submission catching someone's eye.

* Know your Fark community: Admins tend to pick topics that they know will generate lively discussion. As I said before, Farkers lately like to beat up on the perceived "everybody gets a trophy" stereotype of the millenial generation, though boomers are also pretty common targets. Hence a lot of "precious snowflake" and "get off my lawn" references in headlines.

Other discussion drivers include guns, driving, fat people, female teachers having sex with students, and bad parents.

Here's another example -- after an April 2007 redesign caused some problems and complaints from some folks, a Fark employee ill-advisedly told people, "You'll get over it." It's made it into Fark folklore and at least a few headlines (including a recent one of my own).

* Crowd-pleasing headline constructions: There are certain headline conventions that are pretty popular on Fark. Most of them are now tired cliches used by unfunny people trying to be funny. But when used carefully (especially if you can turn a headline cliche around and do something different with it), they'll resonate with the community.

The Fark FAQ has a list of Farkisms (though a lot of them have aged out by now). Other headline constructions I'd note:
  • [Alarmist story.] EVERYBODY PANIC (bonus points for clever wordplay variations)
  • Having solved all other problems, [politicians wasting time on trivial matters]
  • [Something strange in an otherwise mundane story. ] Wait, what?
  • *Shakes Magic 8-Ball* used in connection with a reason for a change in oil prices
There's a bunch more, including backwash/blowback from 4chan, SomethingAwful, and other internet memes. Keep an eye out and you'll see some trends that you can dovetail your submission into.

* Rhyme and alliteration are the province of hacks: Of course, anyone can be a hack at any particular time, and a good use of rhyme, alliteration, puns, germane movie quotes, etc. can be worth a cheap laugh. And a cheap laugh is still a laugh. Just don't try to force it too hard.

* Be useful, be interesting (or best of all, be both): You don't always have to be funny. In fact, if you're not funny, you probably shouldn't even try. Just play it straight, but be informative. And brief.

Things I wouldn't recommend doing:
  • Sometimes, a headline will be so miserably spelled (or otherwise incomprehensible), the administrators will approve it just for the entertainment value. I wouldn't call it a good strategy.
  • Seeding a comment to get your submission into the "Commented" category (as opposed to the full-on regular queue) -- I don't do this, and I have no idea if it would help anyways.
Oh, and you can also try looking at the profiles of some of the more prolific submitters -- they tend to highlight their favorite headlines (braggarts, the lot), so you can see some samples.

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Thursday, June 12, 2008

Things That Are Upcoming: Blog Potomac, Puppini Sisters and More

Okay, so I've been slack on any number of things this week. Here are a few things of interest coming up in the near future:

* Tomorrow, Friday, June 13: The Blog Potomac Conference at the State Theatre in Falls Church. I'm looking forward to it, even if I bagged the dinner after the Social Media Club DC event for the book Now Is Gone.

(I like blathering about social media and online community as much as the next social media and online community consultant, and there were a few folks I genuinely enjoy seeing. So why did I bag? For some reason, the thought of hearing and saying more blather about social media and online community -- even my own -- made me seriously consider throwing myself out the plate glass window on the second floor of the Clarendon Barnes and Noble.

Instead, I ended up browsing briefly through Eastern Mountain Sports, the Apple Store, and the CD Cellar -- where I, yet again, bought a CD I already own -- and had dinner at the East-West Grill before going home.)

* Sunday, June 15: The Puppini Sisters play Birchmere. As previously noted. Not sure how definite this is. (Well, for me -- I'm sure they'll be playing.)

* Wednesday, June 18: As with every third Wednesday, come to RFD in DC (right across from the Verizon Center) for the monthly Washington Blogger Meetup. Remember, there is wifi available, so bring a laptop if you're interested in starting a blog or spiffing up your existing blog (the members of the Washington Blogger Meetup cannot be held responsible for any damages incurred to your blog. Especially since alcohol may will be involved.)

(Incidentally, it appears that Meetup has redesigned. It seems a bit friendlier. Definitely more 2.0ish.)

* Friday, June 20 is another Hirshhorn After Hours. Trust me: If you're interested in going, get your tickets in advance. I keep saying I'll do an entry explaining why you want to do this -- and I may. Eventually.

* Wednesday, June 25 is the Web Content Mavens June meeting, also at RFD. This month's topic seems pretty interesting, though I have a conflict.

* Thursday, June 26 is the inaugural event for the DC Design Babes at Cafe Citron in Dupont Circle. Hey, since my (real) purpose for going to DC-area tech events is to meet girls (I'm really bad at it, which is why I just end up networking), I'm there.

After that: Independence Day. Then, onward to the sweet embrace of death.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

PodCampDC Thus Far

I'm at PodCampDC right now -- NBC's New Media Jim and NPR's Andy Carvin are talking about Social Media and New Journalism.

I'm still not much of a liveblogger, but we're still in the Twitter stump-speech portion, so I'm going to do a little catching up about PodCamp so far.

Here are my first 12 photos: PodCampDC, 4/19/08.

I got to Rosslyn slightly late, so I didn't catch the intro. From the Spectrum Center, we walked over to the Art Institute of DC (where the sessions are taking place) -- there was much video, utterzing and such en route:

This is very social media meta.

[Andy Carvin is currently doing a live demo of utterz.]

I had a little trouble getting started because I couldn't find any coffee (had to go out to the Tivoli) -- also, there are no provisions for wifi, which is pretty baffling. There are networks in the Art Institute building -- we just aren't allowed to use them, so there have been a few ad-hoc hotspots set up, and intermittent coverage from the Hyatt down the street.

Jessie Newburn, whom I'd met last night gave the first social media track presentation, on Generational Theory and Social Media. She's very animated:


While I think there are definitely are generational differences when it comes to social media (And every other media. And technology as a whole), I'm not sure how useful the generational theory construct is. It's mostly my distaste for overly broad archetypes that marketers want to use as big hooks to hang people on.

The next session was a Podcasting 101 by Michael Domingo, whom I'd also met last night:


It was a pretty good session.

Okay, this session has pretty much spiraled out of control. And we're out of time.



PodCampDC Happy Hour: Social Schmoozing, Secret Handshakes and Unauthorized Persons on the Track

Friday night was the pre-PodCampDC Happy Hour at the Capitol City Brewery in Capitol Hill (moved from the location downtown).

I got there more or less on time. John Croston was outside, and as we headed in, we met up with Justin Thorpe and started picking up steam.

The setup was in the back room. There was a cash bar (only without the bar -- a few of the waitstaff ran orders to the front of the house.) I chatted for a bit with Nick O'Neill and Jessie Newburn and gleaned what bits I could from the Wisdom of Consultants (Jessie is also going to be doing a session tomorrow about social media across generations.)

Of course, Aaron was there, though he wasn't streaming. I guess that's tomorrow.

Judging by the cards I collected, I spoke to a pretty good mix of media types -- Lauren from National Geographic (and she knows the AOL alums I know over there); Kerri Forrest from NBC News (and of course she knows New Media Jim); independent filmmakers (Carl Eyster; also Christina Ruppert from the 48 Hour Film Project); and oh, even a few podcasters (the prolific Jerry Brito; Michael and Melissa, dating podcasters, in both senses of the term).

I also ran into a bunch of folks who I'd seen in various Twitter incarnations. And there were more photographers than you could shake a stick at -- there were so many cameras flashing, I didn't bother with any pictures. (Well, I took one, but it sucked.)

Let's see, other than that, I went through most of my usual social media conversational stock lines (remember, if you haven't heard me say it, it's new to you); I did get to work a reference to the uncanny valley, and I was subject to a secret handshake that is apparently similar to the APO secret handshake (but wasn't). (Note: The point of doing a secret handshake is generally lost if the recipient of said handshake, whether by cluelessness or malice, gauchely blurts out, "Hey, that was a secret handshake, right?")

Things broke up before 11pm, but I didn't feel like staying out, so I headed home. I would be lying if I said it didn't have anything to do with catching the replay of tonight's Battlestar Galactica.

I almost didn't make it in time -- as I twittered, the train was stuck in Farragut West for about 10 or 15 minutes, due to "*garble**garble**static* unauthorized person on the track at Rosslyn."

Though it gave me time to finish my crossword puzzle.

Sessions start tomorrow morning. I anticipate I will be tired for the first few.


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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Things That Are Upcoming

I'm at the Beach Shack in Falls Church again, to grab a quick pulled pork sandwich and hush puppies before the April edition of the Washington Blogger Meetup Group at RFD in DC (across from the Verizon Center).

Despite earlier rumors to the contrary, Pope Benedict will most likely not be attending.

[Sidebar: Lary from Galaxy Hut just showed up with his daughter.]

Other pending things going on in the DC social media and tech universe:

* This weekend is PodCampDC; it's primarily in Rosslyn, though the Friday night kickoff party is at the Capitol City Brewery downtown.

* Tomorrow is a DC New Media, Movie, and Creative Industry Happy Hour, at Lotus Lounge in DC. Call me a maybe on that (Unless you're an aspiring model, actress, or model/actress looking to meet a producer. Then I'll definitely be there. Trust me.)

Lotus Lounge is also the location of the DC New Media Tech - Web 2.0 & Video 2.0 Meetup, Wednesday, April 30th. Also mark me a maybe on that one.

* Next Wednesday is the April Web Content Mavens Meetup -- the topic is about Web analytics (remember when "analytics" were simply "metrics"?), so I anticipate a sellout crowd (that is, a crowd of sellouts...)

* Next Thursday is Tech Cocktail DC 2, at 1223 in DC. Since I am a big mooch and it's the only time I get to go to 1223, I'll be there.

I also see that on the Tech Cocktail DC events listing, that May 10 is SocialDevCampEast up at the University of Baltimore. I don't know if I'm going to that one yet.

Getting a little chilly out on the patio. Come out to RFD (but maybe bring a jacket.)

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Social Matchbox DC

There's an item in Techcrunch right now about Scalr, some sort of open source server management thingy by a company called Intridea.

Scalr, Scalr. Why does that sound familiar? Oh, right: The company was one of those presenting at Social Matchbox DC on Monday. Good on them.

So now I have a hook on which to hang a quick entry about Social Matchbox DC.

Like I'd said, since TeqCorner is in McLean, right down the street from where I'm consulting, going was a no-brainer. I went as a Socializer, as opposed to Job Seeker.

It was a pretty big crowd. Plenty of blue (or was it green, I forget) badges (the aforementioned job seekers) stalking the red badges (people with, um, openings).

During the pre-presentation mingling, I did talk to a bunch of people, handed out some cards and got some in return. I note that, especially in the DC area, if you ask someone what they do and they say "government," they either work in law enforcement or intelligence... or they want to make it sound like they do.

Folks, since the followup question is invariably "What part?", you might as well just come out with it.

As to the companies's 3-minute presentation pitches: Most were okay, some were good, and a few were really bad.

I'm far from the best public speaker (a lot of times I speed-talk my way into a stammer, and my posture is pretty bad, until I remember and overcompensate, sticking my chest into the front row, which I guess would be more effective if you're a woman), but at least people can hear me. (A few years of high school drama in the age before body mikes will do that for you.)

I should reach out to a few of those companies and offer my services as a presentation coach.

Anyway, I don't have cards I collected on me, but some of the companies that were there included the secretive Pseuds; the ever-present Shashi of Network Solutions; WhyGoSolo (who I likewise see everywhere); fantasy politics provider Publi.us; Foliofn (I know someone who used to work there, back when they were known as Folio[fn], which was a great name until you realize that the brackets don't actually work in URLs and people aren't going to get the math reference); more than a few IP TV-related ventures; Hungry Machine; Searchles (note: not "search less"); Loladex (another recent Techcrunch mention); Investors Without Borders (I guess Kiva with an ROI); Positive Energy (working to apply peer pressure to energy conservation); Mobile Posse; and a bunch of others.

So, it was a good event. Needs beer, though.

Remember, presentation coaching services available. Real cheap (and you definitely get what you pay for). Inquire within.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

At Last: MySpace Lets You Categorize Your Friends

So I see that yesterday/today, MySpace finally added the ability for users to categorize their friends:
Does this mean that future MySpace enhancements are dependent on movies that are tangentially related to Judd Apatow?

Functionally, this means that, in addition to creating groups for Friends, Enemies, Cow-Orkers, Work Spouses, Work Spouses With Benefits, etc., you can also create groups for people Who Aren't Actually Your Friends, which is basically everyone you don't know personally: Bands, venues, radio shows, comedians, porn stars, c-list quasi-celebrities and other entities you want to keep track of but are not, strictly speaking, your friends. (This is an important distinction.)

The ability to organize and categorize your friends, I'm sure, ties (in some oblique, opaque, and eminently billable ways) into your social graph. If I hadn't already had 3 (or was it 4?) beers, I'm sure I could do a graphic with some very skillfully annotated concentric circles. And perhaps even an Indexed-style Venn diagram.

However, it reminds me of many, many AOL product Powerpoint presentations that hinged on leveraging "the first and most relevant social network: the Buddy List" -- as a primary driver for success.

At a theoretical level, it made a kind of sense. But (and maybe this was just a function of crappy product execution), I don't know anyone who actually used their Buddy List categories in a way that was fungible to this kind of social network application.

Looking back, it was kind of like trying to apply your landline phone's speed dial to a social network: The metaphor didn't really translate across media. I'm not sure why -- looking at my own online interactions, online presence is very much a key driver of how often I harass my friends.

I will have to think about it some more.

Anyway, the conceit that leveraging the existing AIM/AOL Buddy List network would overcome the many fundamental flaws in product concept and execution, resulted in the titanic thuds that accompanied more than a few launches, some of which were outlined in this week's FastCompany article on AOL, "Dead Man Walking."

[Edit: Boy, it's a good thing Blogger normalizes entry titles by stripping out punctuation -- otherwise, I would have had to live with "Let's" in the title. Oh, the indignity.]

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Monday, February 11, 2008

Unintended Consequences: An Exercise for the Reader

Item the first: Slashdot article about how a Danish court-ordered block on BitTorrent tracker site The Pirate Bay has backfired, actually increasing traffic from Danelandia.

If true, the traffic increase presumably results from increased media attention, raising awareness of the site, causing new people to seek it out, adding the court-ordered block to the long list of examples of the "no such thing as bad publicity" phenomenon.

Item the second: A series of self-congratulatory articles on Digg about the recent anti-Scientology raids and protests by Anonymous (yes, yes: we are legion, we do not forgive, we do not forget, we are your waiters, we have seen Fight Club too many times), culminating this weekend in a series of coordinated global real-world protests.

Exercise for the reader: Assume that Anonymous eventually gets bored and switches targets or otherwise moves on. Once the dust settles, what will be the long-term impact on Scientology: Net gain, or net loss? Show your work.

Is Scientology a deserving target? Of course it is. And this is not a new thing -- the anti-Scientology fight has been going on for years; remember when Usenet was the big battleground? But to imagine that this is for some higher purpose than lulz or notoriety or whatever is just silliness.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Cognitive Lock-In, in Living Color: The AOL FDO Message Boards

In my feedreader today was an item from Joe Manna in the AIM Social Media Blog (the group blog I spearheaded before I got canned) that AOL is finally retiring its legacy FDO message board interface.

The FDO front-end is the old ("Classic") view of the message boards seen only from inside the proprietary AOL client. It was superseded by the Web board front-end a couple of years ago, though you could still backdoor your way into the FDO view.

And many people did just that -- partially because the Web front-end had some problems, but also because they were simply used to things as they were. And why wouldn't they be? Outside of a back-end transition near the beginning of the millennium, the FDO message board interface was substantially the same as it had been, going back to the early days of the AOL service. It wasn't fancy, but it worked (mostly), it was pretty fast, and most important, people were used to it.

We've Always Done It This Way: Cognitive Lock-In

So, this is a particularly dramatic example of cognitive lock-in (an issue I'd written about in the AIM Social Media Blog last year: THIS SUCKS! Or, Cognitive Lock-In: The Familiar Is Better (Even When It's Not) .

Cognitive lock-in is a fancy term for "You can't teach an old dog new tricks," usually combined with a flavor of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It means that once people learn one way of doing things, they usually prefer it to a newer way, even if the newer way is "better" (by any objective standard -- like it takes 3 steps to do something instead of 5).

Which means that, even if the new product is a lot better, it would still have a couple of strikes against it, simply because people -- especially the stereotypically non-tech savvy AOL users -- were so invested in the old version.

It doesn't help, if, as in this case, the newer Web front-end is not a lot better. It had a lot of problems, dropped a few features, and still lacked many, many features any Web board user-at-large would take for granted (I remember a new internal employee who could not believe that people couldn't edit or delete their own posts.)

Psychology Strikes Again: Emotional Lock-In

So, when change like this happens, people complain. Often and loudly.

You can't expect people to understand the business and technology rationale for doing stuff like this (even if it's valid, which isn't always the case). And sometimes, you just outgrow the product, or the product outgrows you. In cases like these, I often wondered why people didn't just vote with their feet: If things were so bad, why didn't they just... leave?

If you weren't one of those paying customers who needed the dialup, there wouldn't seemingly be a lot to hold you -- there are lots and lots of robust interest communities out on the Web that match or surpass the communities that had developed on AOL, and they've definitely got more features.

This is where psychology comes into play -- especially for long-time community users, there's a sense of ownership and entitlement. For the folks who got to be the old guard, who were the big dogs and got to feel like they owned the joint: If you go to a new community, you're starting over from scratch -- a newbie all over again. If you've already paid your dues, why should you have to do that again? It's a powerful disincentive to leave, so you stay and complain, even beyond the point where it makes any rational sense to an outside observer (there's community in complaint and commiseration, too).

We saw another prominent example of this in the recent Digg algorithm change top user revolt. If you're an outsider, it looks silly and self-important there, too.

So What Can You Do?

You can't not update your products -- that way lies stagnation and the death spiral. The lesson to companies, then, is make sure that when you're making changes that could hit the walls of cognitive and emotional lock-in:
  • Don't do it unless you can make demonstrable, positive improvements with clear benefits you can show regular users (Note: Telling people about the cost-savings you'll realize because you're not trying to support dead or multiple platforms is not a user benefit)
  • Don't just add new features -- Make sure that you don't lose any of the old ones
  • Find user advocates to help evangelize and message the changes
  • Communicate the changes early, incorporate meaningful user feedback, and tell people what you do as you do it.
  • Prepare to take your lumps, because there will always be those folks who hate any kind of change... and in that group, you'll find the folks who won't leave unless they absolutely have to.
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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Social Media Minute: Schneier MIA from TSA and More

Two items from today's topic slushpile:
  • GovBlogging at the TSA: Saw in Wired's Threat Level this morning that the Transportation Security Agency now has a blog: Evolution of Security. (The story has since been picked up at BoingBoing.)

    Taking a quick look:

    - Platform: I was surprised to see that they're using Blogger (presumably, too many foreign ownership issues with LiveJournal). Since the blog is hosted on TSA servers, they won't have the full set of Blogger widgets and features (this is the problem I'm facing), though if it meets their needs, that's fine.

    - Comments: They're moderating comments (see their comment policy), though allowing anonymous comments. I don't see anonymous comments lasting too long (unless they're hoping to encourage participation from TSA whistleblowers -- shyeah), in which case the installed Blogger user base and Google account and OpenID support for commenters is nice.

    - Naming Names: I'm not thrilled by the lack of full names on their Meet Our Bloggers page (and they seem to be missing some folks) -- at the very least, there should be the editor's full name (presumable this Neil guy -- he seems most active).

    After the fake FEMA press conference debacle, this type of government transparency is kind of important.

    - Hey, Where'd Bruce Schneier Go? Well, this is new. I'm positive they had a link to security guru Bruce Schneier's blog in the sidebar (among others), but it's not there anymore. I was about to give them a brownie point for that -- I wonder when and why they removed it.

    As to the impact of the blog as a whole? Openness and dialog are great, but the true test of the matter is the ability to redress problems and affect change. Just as with a corporate blog, you can only apologize so many times without actually fixing things before it hollows out your message.

  • Social Media in Ethnic Conflicts: Christian Science Monitor talks about the impact of cellphones and the Internet on the coverage of the ethnic conflict in Kenya.

    A lot of the unalloyed social media utopians only look at the positive benefits of social communication, and I think many still think that the Internet has a self-correcting bias towards objective truths.

    I think that's crap -- when all we had was word-of-mouth, there was plenty of room for rumor, hysteria, panic, and mob madness. Social media doesn't change that, and we shouldn't forget the ability of media, both citizen and old-school, to inflame passions, spread misinformation, disinformation and propaganda, and be manipulated by interested groups.

    Plus, any given online community normally faces issues with drama, trolls, and flamewars -- throw in factors like ethnic discord and a possibility (or even propensity) for violence, and you can see how online behaviors can influence offline behaviors (and vice versa).

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Monday, January 28, 2008

You, With the Blog: You Are Irrelevant. Also, Mahalo Multiprofiles and More

Surefire way to get buckets of virtual ink -- tell bloggers that they aren't worth the bother, just like Target did, following that silly little dust-up about the ad photo with the broad's crotch in the bulls-eye. (Oh, noes! The center of a splayed human figure is the naval/crotchal area! Why didn't someone tell us this before?! )

Of course, this is not to say that Target isn't being stupid and shortsighted here in its broad-brushed dismissal (almost typed "dismal," heh) of blogs. They are, and I sense a upcoming press release with a new social engagement strategy. But I always get amused at the self-interested, self-important, navel-gazing, breast-beating of the PR-o-sphere when someone does not chug the entire tub of social media kool aid. (Note: Other than a quick peek at TechMeme, I am just making assumptions based on past behaviors. Actual breast-beating content may vary.)

Can we fast-forward to social media as a mature technology already, so people can focus on doing stuff, instead of hearing people talk about it?

Actually, most people are already focusing on doing stuff, even if it's just adding annoying blinky sparkly things to their MySpace pages, so I wonder just who it is that the influencers are influencing.

Mahalo Social Multiprofiles: Possibly Un-useless?

Spiritually related to my previous post seeking a social profile status aggregator (at Greggie's suggestion, I'm trying TwitterSync, which addresses two of the bigger parts of the problem -- Facebook and Twitter), Jason Calacanis posts today about multiprofiles in Mahalo Social, which tries to aggregate the viewing and management of your many and evermultiplying social profiles and pages using proven Web 2.0 HTML 3.x technology: Frames.

Now, there are already profile mashup services out there -- I have a profile on Profilactic that pulls from my blog RSS, Flickr, and a few other sources. But this is a technology I can really understand. None of this mashed-up, APIed, Open this or that. Just... Frames. It's simple enough that it may actually work (barring any frame-breakout stuff, but what I've seen seems to work) -- I will have to give it a try.

(Also, I see that the blog's comments, which require an e-mail validation, appear to publish a placeholder comment ["An e-mail has been sent to confirm your e-mail address. Click on the link within the e-mail to activate your comment!"] to the comment thread, instead of just relying on a confirmation message. That's actually pretty clever, as a very visible way to get people to realize that they need to do one more thing -- it was a problem I saw in the AIM Social Media Blog, which was also powered by Blogsmith, but didn't have that feature at that time. Edit: Hrm, it may be an artifact created by wiseacre or idiot commenters -- I can't tell. It would still be a useful prompt if you require e-mail validation.)

Another Bloggy Bit

Brief blog bit in passing -- I cruise by the About.com DC page as part of my local links, mostly out of habit. I can't remember the last time I heard anyone talk about them, but their continued existence speaks to... continued existence.

Anyway, the DC page seems to be bloggier than it was before. I'm not sure if it's a recently updated design or something that's been around for a while that I never noticed. I didn't see any notes of it in the sparse comments or forum posts, so I will ping the maintainer, just to see if I am losing what remains of my mind.

Enough of all that Cal

Anyway, now, I should go deposit my final severance check (which is probably the most fruitful thing I will do all day), buy a vernier caliper, and get a cup of coffee. Then, bowling, which means I will miss Social Matchbox, though bowling in this league is another form of networking (no shit).

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Joelogon Is: Wondering About Social Profile Status Aggregators

I got invited to join Pulse (Plaxo's social networking play) last week, so I signed up and created Yet Another Social Profile. Haven't played with it much yet, but I saw that it had Yet Another Status Update field, which means that Pulse joins the ever-growing list of status messages that gets updated sporadically, if at all:

I think I'm wondering about social profile status aggregators.

The composite screenshot above shows the social profiles whose updates I use the most regularly (Twitter and Facebook), as well as MySpace, Pulse, and AIM/Adium (I don't have an active profile on any of the messaging services).

Having just sent five identical status updates to five separate services (each ditches the unchangeable leading "is"), this raises the obvious question:
Is there a service or app, current or planned, that lets people manage their different social networking/profile status messages -- a profile status aggregator?
The ability to choose which services you update with what status messages would be a nice plus. As would the ability to receive status updates from your friends. Oh wait -- that would pretty much be the social network version of a multi-IM client, and a hobbled one at that.

Well, that's the minimum of what I'm looking for: A one-way, multi-network status updater widget. Anything like that exist out there?

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