Archive for the ‘General’ Category

One Question To Rule Them All

December 5, 2008

Yea, I know, I should be beaten for such a horribly unpunny title (oops).

You figure out the “why” and the rest will follow.

I feel unbelievably fortunate that someone introduced me to that concept many years ago – as I have tried to make it a central part of my approach to life I have seen its power. I have also seen how easy it is to stop one-step shy of the uncovering the final (real) “why.”

I have been thinking alot about the Republican Party, what has brought us to the place we currently find ourselves and how we move forward. I believe that most if not all of the explanations and solutions fail to uncover the actual “why” and as a result are destined to yield less than optimal results at best.

As I become more and more enthralled with all of the developments within Digital/New/Social Media I see a similar pattern as many “experts” fail to grapple with why these tools work in lieu of the verbal equivalent of a dazzling light show.

There are a number of people out there who achieve a great deal of success without ever bothering to understand the “why.” These individuals are talented and masterful executors of  the things they have been taught and while they are rewarded with varying degrees of wealth and respect they will never max out their abilities and will always be reliant on others to teach them newer and better ways.

There is also a small group of individuals throughout the world who, for whatever reason, each find themselves drawn and dedicated to the discovery of the most basic “why” they can find. These are the ground breakers, the game changers and the history makers.

Just a quick reminder (probably more for me than anyone else) that, in order to achieve the optimal level of performance in any given endeavor, you have to start by figuring out the “why” first.

What about you?

Are you merely executing what you have been taught or are you mentally or physically breaking down whatever it is that you do until you reach that final “why?”

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Digital Media and the Field of Dreams Myth

December 2, 2008

You don’t have to convince me of Digital Media’s power – I’m already a huge believer.

While I am happy to see more and more organizations grow in their awareness for their need to take advantage of its many benefits, I am frequently amused/frustrated by the Field of Dreams mentality that seems to be so prevalent in their current approaches.

Digital Media is not a magic baseball field. People are not going to come just because you build Social Media applications. Creating a Facebook group for your issue or organization is not going to create a torrent of enthusiasm where none previously existed.

Take the Obama campaign for example. To say that their use of Digital Media created all of the excitement we witnessed is beyond ridiculous. I’m not trying to take anything away from the Obama campaign’s amazing use of a vast array of tools that helped connect and engage supporters but at the end of the day all they did was amplify what was already there.

This isn’t a chicken or the egg situation – in fact John McCain provides the perfect example. In the 2000 election with an enormous amount of organic excitement for his candidacy, John McCain was able to break new ground in the area of online fundraising (oh how quickly we forget – he wasn’t always viewed as technologically challenged). Ironically, it was the enormous success of their online efforts in 2000 that created many of the early financial problems for McCain version 2008 as much of their lauded $100 million primary war chest was predicated on a robust online fundraising effort that never materialized.

What changed? The natural level of existing enthusiasm.

What I love most about Digital Media is that it is nothing more than the exponential enhancement of the communications dynamic that has existed throughout history. Strip away the funny sounding application names and the dizzying array of usage options and you are left with the same fundamental concepts of human nature that have always existed.

So do me a favor, if in your current capacity you advise or implement communications plans that include Digital Media please remember – in the real world people don’t just drive to baseball fields because somebody built them. They drive to baseball fields because they are excited about baseball.

Guest Post on Burson-Marsteller’s “Digital Perspective” Blog

July 18, 2008

I have had the wonderful opportunity of getting to know Burson-Marsteller Chief Digital Strategist, Erin Byrne lately and was honored and excited when she asked if I would be interested in writing a guest post for Burson’s digital media blog discussing social media from a grassroots perspective.

If you have a moment – pop on over and give it a quick read. Would love to hear any thoughts you may have!

5 Things I Learned From My FriendFeed Fast

July 7, 2008

I spent the better part of the last week in Connecticut in celebration of the 90th birthday. I adore my wife’s family but they are about as crazy as I am so keeping up with the wonderful world of FriendFeed was pushed way down the list of target objectives, buried by things like: keeping my sanity, not overdosing on food and sleeping.

I have  always enjoyed the insights of other Feeders following similar sabbaticals so I thought I would share some of my own. These may be, but are not meant to be, universally applied and except for #1 these are listed in no particular order.

I should first clarify something – this is not one of the “we spend too much damn time on the internet” paternalistic screeds I often see us subject one another to. I have never understood the off-handed attacks often made against the internet or communication facilitation tools like Friend Feed.

If I told someone that I had found a bar or coffee house where people regularly met in large groups to socialize and share massive amounts of ideas and information would they be likely to tell me that that is a ridiculous way to spend my time? Of course not, and yet that is what is essentially what I hear people say with regards to social media outlets like Friend Feed all the time.

If there is one thing that every society in the world has in common it is a desire and need for some kind of communication with their fellow citizens. It is a historically verifiable trend that humans have never stopped looking for ways to communicate more information, with more people, more quickly. Friend Feed is yet another example.

1) I must make it a priority to regularly unplug and process. I didn’t realize how badly I needed the 6 hour drive from DC to Connecticut. Between work and adjusting to the joys and demands of fatherhood I rarely take the time anymore to just be.

I recently commented that I have learned more in the last two months using Friend Feed than the previous six combined. I love that but that massive impartation of such vast quantities of information has spawned a myriad of ideas and contemplations and, until last week, I had been unwittingly pushing them aside.

My wife and son headed up to Connecticut a day before I left so I was able to crank the radio, throw open the windows and let my mind run free. Without even trying to I worked through several things I had been thinking about and gained a new level of clarity on some ideas I had been developing. I will be making this kind of activity a regular part of my life from now on.

2) The masses are no where near ready for this stuff. I’m wouldn’t have considered myself an early adopter prior to the revelation that was Twitter and Friend Feed so I interact with people who don’t “get it” every day. That said I have become more and more amazed by just how great the divide is between what is technologically possible and what society-at-large is prepared for.

“Normal” people are just getting the hang of texting – if they use Facebook they likely feel like they are on the bleeding edge. I become more convinced by the day that there has never been a time in recorded history when what is technologically possible so vastly out paces what is realistically viable.

3) The community that currently exists on Friend Feed is unbelievably special. With few exceptions, and allowing for differences in the degree to which the following statement is true, the lowest common denominator of everyone who participates currently understands the benefits of, and has an abnormal desire to expand their ability to communicate with others.

By and large the tone of the communications that occur on Friend Feed are marked by a respectful curiosity for one another’s ideas and opinions. It helps that, like many social media tools, Friend Feed allows users to unobtrusively share bits of information about themselves that, while trivial on their own, aggregate to form a bridge of commonality that greases the naturally rusty wheels of relationship building.

It would have been odd and unnatural if, during last week’s family reunion, I abruptly blurted out “I just listened to Radiohead’s ‘Creep’ and I love it!” and yet that is precisely what Friend Feed allows me to do.

Similarly, there are so many bits of information that would ease the process of getting to know someone you just met in person that we either don’t think to share or refrain from sharing because it is unnatural in that setting.

5) Its not going to be like that forever. As much of an optimist as I am I must sadly admit that, in time, human nature will pervert Friend Feed and strip the thing I love about it most.

As Friend Feed becomes more popular, the motivations of its users will become more decentralized and it will devolve into the very things that drove me to Friend Feed in the first place. The comment section of blogger Queen of Spain’s July 4 AOL Hot Seat question will, I fear, become more of the norm
should Friend Feed ever enjoy mass adoption.

As much as #5 saddens me I plan on throughly enjoying every glorious moment until then – if you are not currently using Friend Feed I would HIGHLY encourage you to join the fun. Look me up when you get there – I’ll be the one trying to convince everyone that not every Republican is insufferable.

My Independence Day Wish

July 4, 2008

Today is the United States of America’s birthday. I am going to forgo the part where I gush about what a wonderful country the U.S.A. is and how blessed I feel to have been born here – you will get enough of that during your History Channel binge today.

As an inanimate object, my country not able to submit the wish it has coming to it so I am going to arrogantly stand in the gap on its behalf. For my friends from other countries I ask that you mold my surrogate birthday wish so that it can apply to your interactions with those of us here.

My wish is simple (and, unfortunately, rife with cliche): disagree without being disagreeable, argue passionately for your view but always remember that it is possible to see a different solution to the same problem.

We live in an imperfect world – some have been unable to rid themselves of ignorant xenophobic or racist tendencies, others despise the country that has given them more than it has ever taken. In neither case are these individuals representative of the whole.

If I, as a Republican, turn a deaf ear to your thoughtful concerns and dismiss them as the errant and biased ramblings of a naive, unpatriotic, liberty despising communist I do us both a disservice – myself because I have lost the opportunity to learn and you because I have ignorantly forced you into a ideological corner inwhich you probably do not belong.

If you, in turn, sweep aside my considerations, labeling me a “neocon” or member of the “Radical Right” bent on legislating morality and eviscerating individual rights through fear mongering, you do the same.

I’ll end with an offer – it is easy to misappropriate the intentions of those who maintain values different from our own – if you consider yourself liberal and, as such, believe that those of us on the other side of the ideological divide bear nothing but contempt for the rest of mankind I invite you to come visit me in DC. We will have drinks with staff members from various parts of the Bush Administration from the White House to the Pentagon to the Department of Homeland security so that you can see that they don’t fit neatly into the Neocon, Hyper-conservative categories you would like to cram them into.

I’m doing my part to better the quality of debate in our beloved country – will you?

One piece of Tweet-Speak I have yet to hear on FriendFeed

June 18, 2008

I like Twitter, really I do, I just don’t like-like it the way I like FriendFeed.

It occurred to me the other day that I had not heard a certain phrase used on FriendFeed that was in abundant supply in Twitterland:

“If you are not following so-and-so you really should…”

In that phrase a good deal of Twitter’s essence is revealed along with the reason I prefer FriendFeed.

P

Dear Early Adopters Please Pull Your Heads Out of

June 12, 2008

…the dirt. Sorry to do that – you thought I was going to say sand didn’t you?

I don’t currently have the energy to pull together all the blog posts, comments and FriendFeed threads that have lead to this post so I will be brief.

Stop freaking flogging yourselves about the cycle you go through when you hear about new applications that have the potential to do everything we all believe our current level of technology should allow us to do. It is important that you do exactly what you are doing (OK, one link so you can see a description of the cycle I am referencing).

That cycle is extremely valuable as vets these new products, identifying their weaknesses, shaping their interfaces, determining their value, etc. If you, as an uber-user, who appreciates these new products because you readily see their potential value can’t figure out a freaking need for a product WHO WILL? No one.

PS Keep the FriendFeed fire hose on – I’ve learned more in the past month than in the last 6 combined!

…but don’t get lost in there

June 4, 2008

I wanted to briefly follow up on yesterday’s post because I get the feeling sometimes that the people instigating and taking part in the social media debates that have become ubiquitous on FriendFeed are unaware of exactly what it is they are participating in.

It is a rare thing to be able to watch a large group change, grow and work through a concept in real time. Many times paradigm shifts can occur at such a slow rate that it is only after they have taken hold that you realize what just took place. I believe we are in the midst of such a shift right now.

It is unlikely that the general public has ever heard of any of the key players. It is also unlikely that they realize that one of the central characteristics of the change underway is that anyone can become part of the process anytime they wish, from anywhere.

Unfortunately, it will not always be this way – but that doesn’t matter. In fact, I would go so far as to say that, technically, services like FriendFeed or Twitter don’t matter either. In my eyes it’s not the interface that is going to impact our world in such a dramatic way, it’s the foundational concepts they are built on. (I am going to follow this post up with some thoughts about why those concepts are so revolutionary, what benefits they will bring and what we will lose along the way)

The eventual death of unfiltered, unfettered social media as we know it right now has been predicted clearly through thoughtful posts like this and this. As much as I wish it were untrue they are right, human nature dictates that a service like FriendFeed will never be widely adopted in its current form.

In a few years, with rare exception, very few of the individuals who are currently central players in many of the discussions taking place on FriendFeed or Twitter will have gained any wide notoriety than they have today (Maybe Scoble will have become the web’s official talk show host by then – sorry couldn’t resist). Social media applications will be scaled down, repackaged and users will enjoy the ability to instantly share and communicate with a vastly smaller universe of individuals with similar interests.

In the meantime I plan on enjoying the ability to interact with an unfiltered universe of individuals who, whether they know it or not, share one thing in common: they are all, in some way great or small, helping shape one of the most powerful shifts in communication in all of history.

Dear “tech elites” We Need You to Continue Navel-Gazing

June 3, 2008

Updated: Original title misspelled “navel” as “naval” leading some to wonder why I thought they needed to keep their eyes fixed on the high seas. I’m still laughing with at myself for that one…

Alexander van Elsas recently posted his navel-gazing induced thoughts on why he believes many of us are attracted to FriendFeeds “always on” conversation stream and, more importantly, why many of those reasons are built on faulty foundations. In Alexander’s mind many of the discussions in FriendFeed regarding “noise” levels, the need for filtering and social media’s ability to bring “enlightenment and salvation” to the masses are the myopic considerations of a community who has forgotten that there is a larger, much different world of people around them who live their lives in much different ways.

While I would agree that the world at-large is not spending a nanosecond trying to figure out how they could share and access an unlimited stream of information anytime, anywhere, I humbly submit for consideration the idea that Alexander and others immersed in social media with similar opinions just might be falling prey to the very thing that causes them to diminish the importance of the conversations currently underway.

What I don’t think many of the tech and social media types understand – from Scoble and Arrington to individuals like myself who are little more than observers to the madness – is that they are all, right now, in every conversation they have, helping to shape the philosophical and practical applications of these services for the world at large.

I recently added one of Twitter’s luminaries to my LinkedIn account. After scanning her contacts I wrote to her laughing at the fact that at NO point did our contacts intersect.

The fact that I am not a techie-type or social media insider is the very reason I began to emerge myself in the worlds of Twitter and FriendFeed. It is also the reason that I view and filter what is currently happening from atop a somewhat detached perch.

One thing that has become abundantly clear to me is that the bulk of FriendFeed’s current user base are an amalgamation of uber-early adopters, tech vanguards and other PR and marketing types who seek to offer their clients unprecedented knowledge and analysis of new developments in social media. Oh, that and navel gazing is the order of the day in social media land.

Now, navel-gazing could easily be construed as a pejorative so allow me to clarify. In a previous post I posited that classical philosophers would have loved the forums for idea exchange that services like Twitter and FriendFeed create – that was a misstatement on my part. I realized this after another FriendFeed user (Louis Gray natch!) shared the story and one of the comments said that I should better illuminate the connections between each philosophers ideas and Twitter and FriendFeed. What I should have said is that the followers of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates would have loved these services.

On one hand social media services are merely an extension of a movement that has spanned all of time, driven by nothing less than human nature itself. On the other hand these services are so immensely different from anything we are used to that they are completely disrupting virtually every aspect of our lives.

The Historical Drive for the Diffusion of Information

I am not a historian but as I look back over time I see a consistent pattern of the development of tools to diffuse information faster and more efficiently. The innovations seem to be borne of the same innate human desire to share information.

I touched on this a little in the Plato post but each new technology has been developed with the specific intention of broadening the reach of information. From the creation of written language, to the development of ink and parchment, to the printing press, the moveable-type printing press, the telephone, the radio, the television, mobile phones and finally the internet humans have never stopped looking for new ways to broaden the reach of information.

Today’s technologies – call them social media, web2.0, whatever you want – are not only a natural extension of what appears to be a prime human directive but an exponential increase that eclipses all previous attempts because as amazing as all of these previous methods of communication have been they have largely lacked one thing: the ability to facilitate instantaneous mass interaction.

Disruption on a Massive Scale

As I stated before I agree with Alexander’s assertion that the world at large is largely unaware (even uninterested) of applications like FriendFeed. The development and adoption of the mobile phone (and subsequently mobile devices providing email and web service) was jarring enough. “I have a phone at home, I even have an answering machine, why the hell would I need to be able to talk to anyone, anywhere at anytime?” was a common refrain when mobile phones first came out. Try living without one today. (Note: We are all aware that there are still millions of people who, by choice, or due to economic restraints, still don’t use mobile phones. It would be impossible to discuss any of these new technologies without focusing on how they relate directly to the segments of the world’s population that can and do use these kinds of technologies)

In much the same way individuals look at something like FriendFeed and think “I have email, I even have a Delicious account, why would I need to be able to instantly share information or interact with others?” This is the question that the “tech elite,” as Alexander calls them, are debating day in and day out. Whether they know it or not their points and conclusions will continue to shape the ways in which these technologies are eventually presented to and adopted by the public.

I was recently describing why applications like FriendFeed are so important to our society to a skeptical friend who happens to be an attorney. I asked him to name the individual he believed to be the preeminent legal authority alive today. I then asked him if he had a relationship with that individual that allowed him to shadow this great thinker for an entire year, not only seeing what he read but hearing his thoughts about the things he had just read – what he agreed with, where the author was wrong, etc – if he thought that he would be a better attorney because of it. My friend’s response was obvious: “of course.”

That to me is the power of these new technologies.

In my opinion services like FriendFeed and Twitter are only the tip of the iceberg. Their existence reshapes the way we function and communicate and in turn will give rise to the cross-application of the core concepts of these applications to other areas of communication.

I was driving home the other day and listening to my ipod – a song came on and I instinctively reached for a button so I could immediately share the fact that I loved this song with my social network. It wasn’t there.

Later I was watching a fascinating documentary on our nation’s complete history of nuclear weapon testing. Again I instinctively grabbed the remote to send the show to friends I knew would enjoy it. It wasn’t there. I also found myself wanting to be able to interact with others on-screen through my tv, to look up more details on the web and share them, to engage in discussions about what I was seeing. Those buttons weren’t there either.

But they could be and they will.

The services that some of us are using to view and comment on a constant stream of information from a constantly expanding social network is unlike just about anything we have ever experienced. Although it utilizes the same web technologies it is such a drastic departure from the web capabilities we are used to that it makes the web in its previous form seem like a stone tablet with pictures. As a result it is going to take the public a while before they can wrap their heads around something that, once again, completely changes the way in which they interact and communicate. The conversations currently taking place on FriedFeed and elsewhere will be one of the largest contributors to whatever form these applications finally take to facilitate mass adoption so navel-gaze on dear tech-elite.

Plato, Socrates and Aristotle Would Have Loved FriendFeed and Twitter

May 13, 2008

FriendFeed and Twitter have become a modern day Greek countryside as some of the social networking community’s leading thinkers gather daily to discuss the possible uses, drawbacks and relevant considerations of the myriad of new innovations that have the power to make our world smaller.

For many these applications are simply ways to keep in touch with friends and family, for others they offer a new means of self-promotion.

I can’t say for certain what will happen to the community that has formed when these types of tools “go mainstream” and experience mass adoption. It is very likely that the excesses that seem to be inherent with the democratization of any medium will lead to the development of better “noise” filters.

What I can say with confidence is that these innovations have already successfully facilitated the creation of information sharing mediums that will continue to exponentially increase our society’s growth curve.

Centuries ago the privileged class were the only ones who could readily access the thoughts and writings of current and historical thinkers. Information was largely passed by word of mouth and diffusion was a slow arduous process. Luther posted his 95 Theses on the door of the church – the modern day equivalent of a web page in kind with no where near the power in reality.

The invention of the printing press allowed for the mass dissemination of thought but the process was still limited by literacy rates, financial realities and the hardships inherent to making a living back them that left little free time for such pursuits.

The tools of social networking will continue to change the way we share information and debate ideas – I am not sure any of us can truly fathom where we will be in 25 years. It is definitely an exciting time to be alive.