I really like this quote about writing (the context is apps that are popping up to help writers concentrate in small increments):
If you think you’ve got writers’ block after 45 seconds of not writing, you don’t need an app, you need someone gently to tell you that you should consider the possibility that writing is not just about writing, it’s also (and maybe mainly) about the space in between the writing, when nothing seems to be happening, or random stuff is having an incoherent party inside your head. Almost always, you do eventually start to write, and it seems that you’ve been considering after all. It’s not as comfy as writing a thousand words in half an hour, but it seems to work OK, so long as you think of it as part of a process of writing rather than writer’s block.
[Via The Awl]
Pando Daily has a good piece about the great promise, and ultimate disappointment, of widgets. It’s good to go back and reflect on a thing they everyone was going to go one way and ended up going another:
Even Valley sage Marc Andreessen* told BusinessWeek in 2007, “The big widgets have the potential to become the new networks.” And I don’t mean to pick on Andreessen — Quincy Smith and Meg Whitman are both quoted in that article too, as is Vinod Khosla who said, “Widgets are a fundamentally important idea. I believe it has the potential to create big billion-dollar winners.” The smartest people in the Valley had plenty of company on this one.
This is a cross-post from the Percolate blog. I try not to do this too often, but when it seems like it will be worth sharing I’ll go for it. If it’s annoying let me know and I’ll stop.
We talk about the idea that you must consume content to create content a lot around here, and I wanted to share a little anecdote that I’ve been using in presentations lately.
When Twitter first launched the big joke was that it was a place where people shared what they had for breakfast. Twitter fought tooth and nail against this idea, trying to explain that the service was actually much more serious than that.
But it’s not.
And that’s not a bad thing.
The way I see it, Twitter is just a big platform of what we had for breakfast. Except it’s not food, it’s what we ate on the web. A large proportion of Tweets have a link in them and those links are to whatever that person consumed moments before. It might be a Huffington Post article for breakfast or a YouTube video for lunch, but it’s still just what we ate. We are turning consumption into production.
My friend Grant McCracken wrote about social as exhaust data a few years ago and I think that’s a really nice way to think about it. Essentially what we’re seeing is a digested view into the lives of people and (increasingly) brands. Their social footprint is just that: a footprint. It’s the thing they leave behind after they take a step.
Slate offers up one of the most important advances in psychology in recent memory: Muppet typing. Essentially, the theory says that everyone is either a chaos Muppet (Cookie, Animal, etc.) or an order Muppet (Bert, Kermit, Sam the Eagle, etc.). It’s genius. An excerpt:
Think about your basic Muppet workplaces: Be it “Pigs in Space,” Oscar’s garbage can, or producing a hit Broadway show in 19 hours, it’s always crucial to get the ratio of Order-to-Chaos exactly right. One possible explanation for the blossoming dysfunctionality of the current Supreme Court is that the Order Muppets have all but taken over. With exception of Justices Breyer and Antonin Scalia, the Order Muppets are running the show completely. (The jury is still out on whether Elena Kagan may prove a Chaos Muppet.) Remember the old rule of thumb: Too many Order Muppets means no cookies for anyone.
This is sort of interesting. Gizmodo is paying $20 per-photo for new pictures of Mark Zuckerberg (and asking some real questions about privacy):
For someone who doesn’t believe in privacy, Mark Zuckerberg is awfully guarded. He has made Facebook public by default, and yet his own public posts are few, far-between, and tend towards the anodyne. Facebook’s share-everything CEO even went so far as to keep his recent wedding a secret from his own friends, presumably to avoid public scrutiny. For all his bluster about public sharing, Zuckerberg reveals very little of himself. That needs to change.
Thank goodness someone explained to everyone why tweeting how much you’d pay for HBO Go is a useless exercise:
Think about it: Every time someone signs up for cable or satellite service, one of the inevitable perks is a free six- or 12-month subscription to HBO. And those free subscriptions are rarely, if ever, cancelled once the trial period ends.
What would happen if HBO no longer had the pay TV industry’s marketing team propping it up all the time? The results would be disastrous, and there’s no way that HBO could make up in online volume the number of subscribers it would lose from cable. Which is why, even though some users would actually pay more for access to HBO GO without all the other cable channels, you won’t see it show up as a standalone service anytime soon.
What’s more, I find the whole attitude that HBO must be stupid to not offer this to be the most obnoxious part. Are we really to believe that no one inside HBO has considered this? There are a lot of complexities to any market and the reason a company isn’t doing something that seems obvious is hardly ever because they haven’t thought of it. Or, if you don’t believe me, listen to what Dan Frommer has to say.
And actually, whenever I read anything about this topic I think back to this piece from 2007 by Joe Nocera about a la carte cable.
Ha. I love this story of a Nook publisher accidentally replacing every instance of the word “kindle” in their Nook edition of War and Peace with the word “nook”:
The Nook version of War and Peace had changed every instance of “kindle” or “kindled” into “Nook” and “Nookd,” not just on Philip’s copy, but on ours too.
The Superior Formatting Publishing version isn’t a Barnes and Noble book, so this isn’t the work of a rogue Nook marketer from B&N. Rather, it’s likely that Superior Formatting Publishing ported its Kindle version of War and Peace over to the Nook — doing a search and replace to make sure that any Kindle references they’d inserted, such as in the advertising at the end of the book about their fine Kindle products, were simply changed to Nook.
Four years ago (wow, that’s insane), I launched Brand Tags with a short little blog post on this site. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
In lieu of actually writing something interesting (which I haven’t done in a while), I’ve decided to release a 70% done project. It’s called Brand Tags and the idea is simple: You tag brands with the first thing that comes to mind. The idea came to me as I was working on my Brand vs. Utility presentation a few months ago. The thinking went something like this: If brands exist as the sum of all thoughts in someone’s head, then if you ask a bunch of people what a brand is and make a tag cloud, you should have a pretty accurate look at what the brand represents.
What happened after was all a bit of a whirlwind. There are about 30 comments on that post and the experiment ended up getting a lot of press (including an NPR interview, which is still the coolest media moment I’ve ever had). It was exciting and amazing and taught me lots about building a product and how people think about brands.
Two years later things had died down pretty significantly, partly out of my own interest waning and partly out of my inability to keep the scale of responses high without a steady supply of press. At that time I was approached by Ari Jacoby, who was working on a new company called Solve Media, which asked consumers to type in a brand message instead of a bunch of squigly letters in a CAPTCHA. Solve was interested in buying brand tags and was excited about offering up the tagging input across the web as part of it’s CAPTCHA program. I was excited to see my baby get a new life (and, obviously, to also get some money for what I had built).
We struck a deal and I became a shareholder in Solve. I also got some more confidence in my bank account, eventually leading me to make the leap to startup life and Percolate.
I say all that because Solve Media just announced the deal as well as their relaunch of the product today:
Enter Solve, which took some time to think about the best implementation of Brand Tags and then started building up the database of brand descriptions by rolling out this type of Captcha to 0.25% of its Captcha inventory — enough to generate tens of thousands of user-generated responses about a brand a day, Mr. Jacoby said. “We can get an unusually sample size overnight,” he said. The premise of Brand Tags is that a consumer’s perception of a brand is in fact reality, and one that could help measure the effectiveness of brand advertising online.
I’m excited to see something I built continue to grow on its own. I’m also excited that they finally got around to building the number one most requested feature: Export a tag cloud as an image for a PowerPoint presentation.
Almost three years ago I wrote a little aside in a blog post about subscriptions about how I wished that I could subscribe to my favorite label’s releases for the year. The label I had in my mind was Morr Music and the service didn’t exist yet.
Now, a few years later, the fine folks at Ghostly have built Drip.fm, a service that allows labels to distribute music to fans who can subscribe to receive all releases. I’ve been a fan since they launched and was incredibly excited to get an email this morning saying they’ve added Morr Music.
It’s fun when these things happen.
An aside in the book I’m reading sparked a thought I figured might be worth sharing. First, the snippet:
From our e-mail providers to our mobile-phone carriers, most companies’ business models are too lucrative to risk by mishandling our personal information and angering the consumer. So it is safe to say that despite the many potential risks represented by the volumes of data available, our past is relatively well safeguarded.
Which reminded me a lot of economic definition of brand. Here’s The Economist’s dictionary of terms on the meaning of brand:
Many economists regard brands as a good thing, however. A brand provides a guarantee of reliability and quality. Consumer trust is the basis of all brand values. So companies that own the brands have an immense incentive to work to retain that trust. Brands have value only where consumers have choice. The arrival of foreign brands, and the emergence of domestic brands, in former communist and other poorer countries points to an increase in competition from which consumers gain. Because a strong brand often requires expensive advertising and good marketing, it can raise both price and barriers to entry. But not to insurperable levels: brands fade as tastes change; if quality is not maintained, neither is the brand.
A brand is a promise: The more valuable it is, the less a company can afford it to be broken.
I wonder, though, whether that’s as true now as it was in earlier times. The example I’ve heard most for thinking of brands in this is not killing your customers. You pay more for a Pepsi than some random house brand because you know it won’t be poisoned (you also know it will always taste the same). But something seems to be changing, especially with digital brands. Maybe it’s that there’s more of them or maybe we have far lower expectations, but I feel like large brands frequently have data breaches or other terrible things and we forgive them in a way that doesn’t really jibe with the two paragraphs above.
If we don’t hold our brands responsible, the very meaning of brand changes. Part of it is that it’s easier to show outrage than it ever was, so when people get up in arms about Facebook’s latest privacy change I suspect it’s not real. Part of it may be the insanity of the news cycle: TJ Maxx loses millions of credit cards and its only a big deal for a day. But none of it explains how a bunch of banks that nearly sunk the economy are able to bounce back (except, maybe, regular brand laws don’t apply to oligopolies).
No matter what, something is different and its important that we understand what it means.
Paul Krugman wrote an interesting little post on the use of language by liberals and conservatives over the last few years. His basic argument is that while conservatives complained of “political correctness” from liberals, they’ve now taken on the strategy to a frightening degree: “Thus, even talking about ‘the wealthy’ brings angry denunciations; we’re supposed to call them ‘job creators’. Even talking about inequality is ‘class warfare’.”
It’s an interesting way to think about it, but it’s not actually what I wanted to share. He ends the post with this story of how science fiction worked in the Soviet Union:
The author — if anyone remembers where this came from — noted that most science fiction is about one of two thoughts: “if only”, or “if this goes on”. Both were subversive, from the Soviet point of view: the first implied that things could be better, the second that there was something wrong with the way things are. So stories had to be written about “if only this goes on”, extolling the wonders of being wonderful Soviets.
[Editor's Note: Prepare for some jumping between thoughts here.]
First off, I’m trying to blog more, which you’ll be able to tell by the fact I’ve written a few things over the last few days. Whether this actually stays consistent only time will tell.
Second (and actual point of this post) thing, I want to connect a few pieces together about video games I’ve run in to. I don’t have answers, but I think it’s interesting. So here it goes.
Nicholas Carr linked to a scathing review of the effects of casual/social games and gamification by Rob Horning:
Gamification is awful for many reasons, not least in the way it seeks to transform us into atomized laboratory rats, reduce us to the sum total of our incentivized behaviors. But it also increases the pressure to make all game playing occur within spaces subject to capture; it seeks to supply the incentives to make games not about relaxation and escape and social connection but about data generation. The networked mediation of games — in other words, playing them on your phone or through Facebook — undermines the function of games in organizing face-to-face social time, guaranteeing presence in an unobtrusive way. Instead we typically take our turn in mediated games on our time and play multiple games at once, to cater to our convenience and our desire to be winning at least one of them.
Which reminded me a lot of this article from late last year about Cow Clicker, a satire of games like Farmville that against the designer Ian Bogost’s hopes actually became popular itself. Here’s how Cow Clicker worked:
The rules were simple to the point of absurdity: There was a picture of a cow, which players were allowed to click once every six hours. Each time they did, they received one point, called a click. Players could invite as many as eight friends to join their “pasture”; whenever anyone within the pasture clicked their cow, they all received a click. A leaderboard tracked the game’s most prodigious clickers. Players could purchase in-game currency, called mooney, which they could use to buy more cows or circumvent the time restriction. In true FarmVille fashion, whenever a player clicked a cow, an announcement—”I’m clicking a cow“—appeared on their Facebook newsfeed.
And what happened next:
And then something surprising happened: Cow Clicker caught fire. The inherent virality of the game mechanics Bogost had mimicked, combined with the publicity, helped spread it well beyond its initial audience of game-industry insiders. Bogost watched in surprise and with a bit of alarm as the number of players grew consistently, from 5,000 soon after launch to 20,000 a few weeks later and then to 50,000 by early September. And not all of those people appeared to be in on the joke. The game received its fair share of five-star and one-star reviews from players who, respectively, appreciated the gag or simply thought the game was stupid. But what was startling was the occasional middling review from someone who treated Cow Clicker not as an acid commentary but as just another social game. “OK, not great though,” one earnest example read.
Which brings me to this snippet from a pretty good Atlantic profile of video game designer Jonathan Blow:
As a developer whose independent success has emancipated him from the grip of the monolithic game corporations, Blow makes a habit of lobbing rhetorical hand grenades at the industry. He has famously branded so-called social games like FarmVille “evil” because their whole raison d’être is to maximize corporate profits by getting players to check in obsessively and buy useless in-game items. (In one talk, Blow managed to compare FarmVille’s developers to muggers, alcoholic-enablers, Bernie Madoff, and brain-colonizing ant parasites.) Once, during an online discussion about the virtues of short game-playing experiences, Blow wrote, “Gamers seem to praise games for being addicting, but doesn’t that feel a bit like Stockholm syndrome?” His entire public demeanor forms a challenge to the genre’s intellectual laziness.
Now I’m not sure how I feel about any of this really. I’ve found myself trapped by games, unable to put down the controller until my hands were so sore I was worried about doing permanent damage. I’m not proud of the fact that I was totally obsessed with Ski Safari (I’ve almost broken the habit). I think it’s good that there is another side to the endless games are great conversation (other than the side that says the people who talk about gamification are dumb). Not sure I have more of an answer than that at the moment.
One more thing from the article about Blow before I’m done. I particularly liked this explanation of how video games are really like movies. We frequently talk about how when a new medium is created the first thing people try to do is recreate the old medium. It’s logical and the examples people trot out (first TV broadcast was radio in front of the camera), it’s never really well explained. Thought this was pretty good:
Blow’s refusal to explain the meaning of his games, after all, stems from a profound respect for his art. Ever since modern technology first made sophisticated video games possible, developers have assumed that the artistic fate of the video game is to become “film with interactivity”—game-play interwoven with scenes based on the vernacular of movies. And not just any movies. “The de facto reference for a video game is a shitty action movie,” Blow said during a conversation in Chris Hecker’s dining room one sunny afternoon. “You’re not trying to make a game like Citizen Kane; you’re trying to make Bad Boys 2.” But questions of movie taste notwithstanding, the notion that gaming would even attempt to ape film troubles Blow. As Hecker explained it: “Look, film didn’t get to be film by trying to be theater. First, they had to figure out the things they could do that theater couldn’t, like moving the camera around and editing out of sequence—and only then did film come into its own.” This was why Citizen Kane did so much to put filmmaking on the map: not simply because it was well made, but because it provided a rich experience that no other medium before it could have provided.
I’ll leave you with that. Lots of thoughts about video games. No answers.
Yesterday I wrote about David Grann’s amazing New Yorker essay on William Morgan, an American revolutionary in Cuba. While I was reading I remembered thinking to myself, “that’s a great sentence, I should blog that,” but then I couldn’t find it again when I finished (I should have just underlined it in the magazine). Anyway, it came back to me last night and I wrote myself a note (only to not be able to find that … can’t figure out which of my three different self-organization systems I sent it to). On rummaging around I just found it agin. (Italics are mine to denote the sentence I’m particularly fond of.)
Hoover and his men tried to detect a hidden design in the data they were collecting. They were witnessing history without the clarity of hindsight or narrative, and it was like peering through a windshield lashed with rain. As Hoover confronted the gaps in his knowledge, he became more and more obsessed with Morgan. A former fire-eater at the circus! Hoover hounded his evidence men to “expedite” their inquiries, homing in on Morgan’s ties to Dominick Bartone. The mobster, whom the bureau classified as “armed and dangerous,” had recently been arrested with his associates at Miami International Airport, where they had been caught loading a plane with thousands of pounds of weapons—a shipment apparently destined for mercenaries and Cuban exiles being trained in the Dominican Republic.
Also, since writing yesterday’s post I was informed that David Grann also wrote the amazing Guatemala murder article from the New Yorker last year (which I included in my top longform of 2011) as well as one of the most fun books I’ve read in a long time: Lost City of Z. He also has a new book out called The Devil and Sherlock Holmes and my fine friends over at Longform.org have compiled a reading list of his finest writing. Awesome awesome awesome.
Loved this first paragraph of William Gibson’s explanation of what drew him to science fiction:
Some of my earliest memories are of science fiction. Not of prose fiction, or of film, but of the cultural and industrial semiotics of the American nineteen-fifties: the interplanetarily themed chrome trim on my father’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88; the sturdy injection-molded styrene spacemen on the counter at Woolworth’s (their mode of manufacture more predictive than their subject, as it turned out); the gloriously baroque Atomic Disintegrator cap pistol (Etsy currently has one on offer, in “decent vintage” condition, for two hundred and fifty dollars); Chesley Bonestell’s moodily thrilling illustrations for Willy Ley’s book “The Conquest of Space.” They were all special to me, these things, and I remember my mother remarking on this to her friends. Not that I was very unusual in my obsession. The zeitgeist was chewy with space-flavored nuggets, morsels of futuristic design, precursors of a Tomorrow whose confident glow was visible beyond the horizon of all that was less wonderful, provided one had eyes to see it.
Was poking around my Kindle highlights (looking to see if there was a way to export them easily) and I ran across a quote from Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s biography “I Am Zlatan”. I was going to post that and then I thought, maybe I should just post lots of sports stuff in one big post, so that’s what I’m doing. No rhyme or reason here, just some interesting sports-related stuff I’ve run into lately.
First the quote from Zlatan on a player’s relationship with their team:
The management owned my flesh and bones, in a sense. A footballer at my level is a bit like an orange. The club squeezes it until there’s no juice left, and then it’s time to sell the guy on. That might sound harsh, but that’s how it is. It’s part of the game. We’re owned by the club, and we’re not there to improve our health; we’re there to win, and sometimes even the doctors don’t know where they stand. Should they view the players as patients or as products in the team? After all, they’re not working in a general hospital, they’re part of the team. And then you’ve got yourself. You can speak up. You can even scream, this isn’t working. I’m in too much pain. Nobody knows your body better than you yourself.
Everything from Grantland has been amazing lately. I think that’s the best site going on the web right now. It houses my favorite sportswriter, Brian Phillips (if you haven’t read it, I can’t recommend his ~100 part series of his Football Manager escapades), everything else is generally excellent, and I read the funniest thing I’ve read in awhile there recently. Here’s Bill Simmons on Dexter Pittman’s flagrant foul at the end of Miami/Indiana game 5 (here’s the video in case you missed it):
Dexter: “Yeah, that!”
LeBron: “I saw it, thanks for that. You’re probably getting suspended, though.”
Dexter: “Yeah, but he’ll never give you the choke sign again, that’s for sure! I SHOWED HIM!”
LeBron: “You sure did, Darius.”
LeBron: “I mean Dexter.”
Dexter: “If you want, I could try to run him over in the parking lot as he’s walking to the Pacers’ bus.”
LeBron: “No, I think we’re cool.”
Dexter: “You want to grab something to eat?”
LeBron: “I can’t, I made plans.”
Dexter: “Want to play video games sometime?”
LeBron: “I don’t really play video games anymore.”
Dexter: “Well, if you ever want to hang, lemme know.”
LeBron: “Sure thing, Darius.”
In other NBA-related reading, Wages of Wins, which tries to put some science behind the ranking of players, has been excellent throughout the playoffs. Here’s how they explained Lebron’s play in case you were curious:
A superstar gives your team a five point edge being on the court. With this scale in hand let’s point something out. LeBron James has played 10 playoff games so far this season. In 4 of them, he’s put up a PoP of +10!
Lebron is playing twice as good as a superstar in the playoffs. That’s mind boggling. Oh, and before I finish the basketball section, the New Yorker wrote a little about former Knick, Latrell Spreewell.
On to soccer, put this on Tumblr earlier, but Michael Bradley’s goal against Scotland was magical. If you missed the insane last day of Premier League soccer in the UK, I highly recommend reading 200 Percent’s recap.
And since I’m writing about sports, if you’ve never read it, go back and read David Foster Wallace’s “profile” of Roger Federer from 2006. It’s magic.
That’s all, have a good Memorial Day.
Not sure what to say about this VERY long New Yorker article about William Morgan, an American solider in the Cuban revolution, other than it’s incredibly detailed a well-written. Give yourself plenty of time to get through it, though, as it’s a good 20 pages long. Here’s a quick paragraph to give you a taste:
Menoyo cursed under his breath as both sides began shooting. Bullets split trees in half, and a bitter-tasting fog of smoke drifted over the mountainside. The thunderous sounds of the guns made it nearly impossible to communicate. A Batista soldier was hit in the shoulder, a scarlet stain seeping through his uniform, and he tumbled down the mountain like a boulder. The commander of the Army patrol retrieved the wounded soldier and, along with the rest of his men, retreated into the wilderness, leaving a trail of blood.
I haven’t written a ton about starting Percolate, partly because I don’t want this to become a place where I just promote what I’m up to and partly because I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a lot of time to write (as I’m guessing you’ve noticed).
Well, now I’m on a train and I forgot my Verizon card at my last meeting and I decided it would be a good chance to get some things down. These are a bunch of random thoughts, as much for my own safekeeping as sharing.
Before I start, a bit of an update on Percolate: We have 15 people, our own office and a healthy roster of Fortune 500 clients. James (my co-founder) and I started the company last January (2011). Alright, onto the thoughts …
One of the funny things about starting a company (and growing it) is the milestones you set for yourself (or discover as you go). There’s the obvious ones (first employee, first client, first check in the bank), but then there’s the less obvious ones like first office (alright, maybe that’s an obvious one) and first employee who relocated to come work for you (we passed that one recently). Every time we hit one of these it’s a moment to reflect and think about how crazy the whole process of starting a company really is.
I’ve written this before, but it bears repeating. I can’t imagine EVER starting a company without a co-founder. I can’t recommend it highly enough to anyone thinking about being an entrepreneur. As far as choosing your co-founder I think there are a bunch of factors that has led to a really strong relationship between James and myself, including: A lot of respect for each other, clear roles (but also enough respect that when we move outside those roles it’s accepted) and an ability to disagree and be stronger for it (I wrote a short post about this but I think it’s hugely important, if you can’t argue productively with your co-founder, you shouldn’t start a company with them). There are lots of others, but those top my list.
There is a fundamental difference between being a person running a company and being an employee. As the one in charge your singular goal is to keep the company evolving (at least it’s true of a technology startup). Stasis equals death. You want your company to look totally different tomorrow than it does today. If you’re an emplooyee, you often want the opposite: You like where you came to work and you want that company to stay the same. I’m not sure how to resolve this disconnect and I never recognized it until starting Percolate.
Recruiting, Marketing & Press
All three of these happen all the time. They don’t ever stop and we’re going to make sure they remain that way even when the team performing these roles moves past just James and myself.
A Little Disagree Is a Good Thing
Teams shouldn’t always agree about everything. Having different perspectives is ultimately what’s going to force things to be stronger. Understanding the roles different folks on the team play (and helping them understand those roles) is really important.
I never did a whole lot of managing before I got to Percolate. I thought it was pretty fine to let people do their job and support them when they needed it. James introduced a bunch of ideas to me around being more active and it’s a strategy we’ve been trying to live as much as possible at Percolate. We set quarterly goals with each employee and meet at the end of the three months to grade them together. We have weekly meetings and do monthly surveys of employee satisfaction. None of this stuff is perfect and hopefully it will all evolve (especially as we continue to grow), but it has really helped me understand the value of a more active management approach.
I’m sure there’s lots more, but that’s what’s coming to mind right now. Hope this is somewhat helpful/interesting.
This post is the intersection of a few different things I’ve been thinking about lately. First is Percolate. Part of the process of introducing the company to new people is frequently recounting the story of where the product came from. James and I have probably sent each other a thousand different articles back and forth and I asked him recently for his list of top articles that really inspired his thinking in the space. The second thing is Robin Sloan’s Fish which is all about the difference between liking and loving content. It made me think about the list of the content and marketing-related articles I’ve read that I come back to frequently. This is that list. Some of these are newer and may not hold the test of time, but most of them are things I’ve come back to (at least in conversation) about once a month since I’ve read them (they are distributed over the last 10 years).
Without any further ado, here’s my list:
Stock & Flow
Not specifically about marketing, but it’s all about content. Stock and flow is how we’ve taken to thinking about content at Percolate and this is really where that idea came from. I’ve written a few things inspired by the idea and use it frequently to explain how brands should think about content (and why Percolate exists).
Many Lightweight Interactions
This is the most recent article of the bunch and comes by way of Paul Adams, who works in the product team at Facebook. It was a really nice way to explain a lot of the stuff I’ve been thinking and talking about with clients over the last five years. Specifically it talks about how the web (and specifically social) offer brands an opportunity to move from a world of few heavyweight interactions (stock in Robin’s parlance) to many lightweight interactions (flow). The one thing I’d add is that I think the real opportunity is to take the many lightweight interactions and use them to understand what works and inform the occasional heavyweight interactions brands need to succeed.
Who’s the Boss?
This was written by a friend of mine 10 years ago. It’s short, but the core point is that brand’s live in people’s heads. This was what inspired Brand Tags and has colored lots of my thinking about how brands behave.
Why Gawker is Moving Beyond the Blog
Not specifically about marketing, but Denton’s explanation of why he’s moved from the classic blog format is a great explanation of how content works on the web.
How Social Networks Work
Another slightly older one, this was the first time I had read someone talked about the idea of social as exhaust data (basically our digital breadcrumbs), which seemed like a really good way to think about it (and helped explain why brands struggled). Lately I’ve been using this to help explain why brands struggle in social: Exhaust data is a very human thing. You need to consume in order to create this trail and most brands don’t do that.
How Owned Media Changed the Game
From Ted McConnel who used to be head of digital at P&G. I really liked this quote: “Recently, in a room full of advertising brain trustees, one executive said, ‘The ‘new creative’ might be an ecosystem of content.’ Brilliant. The brand lives in the connections, the juxtapositions, the inferences, the feeling of reciprocity.” This was one of those articles that really wrapped up a bunch of stuff I had been thinking about. It’s nice when that happens.
That’s it for me. What would you add? What am I forgetting?
This is a cross-post from the Percolate Blog. I thought you all might enjoy reading it here as well.
Let me get something out of the way before we get started: In case you haven’t heard, Facebook is going to IPO this week.
Okay, seriously, all this IPO talk has driven people to dive into Facebook’s business model and lots of folks are coming up with doubts. As Peter Kafka points out, even Facebook has its doubts, mentioning as much in their IPO filing: “We believe that most advertisers are still learning and experimenting with the best ways to leverage Facebook to create more social and valuable ads.”
But what does that mean really? And what’s the opportunity? And, most importantly in many people’s eyes, does Facebook really have the opportunity to be a bigger company than Google?
While I don’t know the precise answers to those questions, I do have lots of opinions and since it happens to be Internet Week in NYC, I’ve been having these conversations a lot (mostly on panels). The bulk of the argument against Facebook revolves around their lack of “intent” data. This, of course, is what Google has in bulk and is the reason they are a multi-billion dollar business. Being able to target people at specific points in the purchase process changes the way marketing works. It allows advertisers to do something that was all but impossible (you could buy in-store and outdoor around stores, but that’s a whole lot less efficient). This is an amazing thing for marketers and Google’s market cap reflects it.
But if you ask most advertisers why they spend millions (and sometimes billions) on traditional ads, it’s not to harvest people who intend to buy, it’s to create demand: continuing to grow a business requires continuing to bring in new customers constantly. However it makes you feel, most ads exist to remind you that you need something new. That shoe company with billboard isn’t trying to get you to buy their shoes over a competitor, they’re trying to remind you that you need new shoes and, they hope, when you walk into the store you’ll spring for their brand.
That’s where brands spend real dollars. When startups show off “the chart” (you know, the one with the gap on time spent versus ad spend), they are looking at the effect of digital platforms not having a good answer to intent creation.
That, I believe, is where the opportunity for social is. We’re not there yet, but the promise is that you can use your understanding of a user’s interests to present them with messages that let them know about things they want before they want them. If Facebook figures this out it will be a bigger company than Google.
So how does content fit in?
Using the traditional purchase funnel, I think you still have a gap between awareness and intent. Once someone knows about your brand or product, how do you create need? One really good way of doing that is to remind them you exist (a large portion of CPG ad spend is used for just this). The way to remind people you exist is to create content they’ll see. To create content they’ll see on Facebook you need to a) be engaging enough that it builds organic activity and pushes beyond the base distribution you get through EdgeRank or b) buy Reach Generator. The two big goals (awareness and intent creation) have paid actions associated with them in Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr. If these companies continue to build on these ideas and find better ways to target users based on their interests they will be solving a real problem for advertisers, something that hasn’t really been done on the web since paid search in the early 2000s.
Of course, there are lots of ifs here. The products are not quite there yet (targeting, for instance, is still largely based on social connections instead of interest connections), but I think these platforms will get there and I think they’ll succeed.
This story of NBA player JaVale McGee pretending to have bought a pet platypus (two of them, actually, but I don’t know the plural for platypus) is pretty amazing. The gist is that he was tired of the way the media was treating him, so he Tweeted saying he had “just copped a pet platypus” and then posted a picture forty minutes later of two hands holding a platypus duo (like how I’m avoiding that word?). Grantland explains what happened next:
After alerting the world of his new “pets,” JaVale went on with his evening and following morning, but the MEDIA did not. Stories were written about JaVale, talking about his odd acquisitions that he apparently just copped. Articles by “reporters” and “journalists” claimed that, in classic JaVale fashion, he had made an interesting platypus investment, but the “reporters” and “journalists” who wrote these stories never consulted the platypus buyer in question.
The next day he called them out for not having called or even Googled (it’s the top image result). Good on JaVale McGee.
Here’s the image in question:
This is for everyone that says Super Bowl ads don’t work. From Pando Daily’s article on GoDaddy:
Those ads unquestionably worked. They ran the first one in 2004, with no idea if it’d be brilliant or a colossal waste of money. But the company was paying for it out of cash flow, not venture capital, so why not? Go Daddy had 16 percent marketshare at that point, and the week after the ad, it jumped to 25 percent — and stayed there until the next year. The next Super Bowl ad got it to 28 percent share and the next one got it to 32 percent share. Even when one of the racy ads was preempted by the station, the numbers just kept growing.
I’ve always suspected this, but never had the numbers.
After reading about Apple iOS VP Scott Forstall selling off almost $40 million in shares I was curious to learn more about him. I found this BsuienssWeek profile from last October that had an interesting tidbit about the Apple ecosystem:
Yet even critics don’t deny his accomplishments or ability to troubleshoot. Before the introduction of the iPhone, Forstall supported Jobs’s view that Apple didn’t need to create an ecosystem of third-party developers. Back then they figured the device would stand out for combining a phone with an iPod plus a superfast browser. For the most popular activities—watching YouTube videos, for example—Forstall’s team would simply partner with market leaders such as Google (GOOG) to create apps built specifically for the iPhone.
That worldview changed fast, as consumers began tweaking their iPhones to run unauthorized apps from hundreds of developers inspired by the new device. Forstall oversaw the creation of a software developer’s kit for programmers to build iPhone apps as well as an App Store within iTunes. Forstall’s flexibility impressed even his rivals. “Scott’s a pretty amazing guy,” says Vic Gundotra, a senior vice-president at Google. “In terms of running an operating system team, he’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”
Forgot that the ecosystem wasn’t there from the start.
The data here is sort of interesting, but I’m not sure I buy the premise:
Ask Americans if they are willing to spend more to buy American-made products, and nearly half say they are often willing to do this. But in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, the country where a product is made trails price, quality, and even convenience, as an important factor in consumer decision-making. The public gives even less importance to a product’s brand, its impact on the environment, or the political leanings of the company that produces it.
Basically it breaks down that 76 percent say the price of the product is extremely important, 85 percent say quality is extremely important and only 31 percent say the brand is extremely important. I think the price thing is probably right, quality sounds like something people like to talk themselves into (if we cared that much then why do we buy so much Ikea furniture?) and brand seems like a classic case of people not understanding their own motivations. Sure, it might not seem like it, but when someone walks down the aisle and buys Crest instead of store-brand they’re choosing brand over quality and price and probably not even thinking about it. In fact, to most people I’d guess that brand equals quality.
[via Marginal Revolution]
I love asking people who are really passionate about something to talk about the person or thing they hold up as best. Ask a guitarist, for instance, who the best guitarist of all time was and you’ll get a thoughtful (and probably surprising) explanation and insight into what one artist looks for in another.
Anyway, it was a pleasure to read Roger Ebert explain his 10 greatest films of all time. This is someone who has spent his whole life thinking about a topic and his reasoning behind each choice is deep (outside his odd pick of Tree of Life at the end). I like his explanation of Raging Bull over Taxi Driver for Scorsese:
“Citizen Kane” speaks for itself. “2001: A Space Odyssey” is likewise a stand-along monument, a great visionary leap, unsurpassed in its vision of man and the universe. It was a statement that came at a time which now looks something like the peak of humanity’s technological optimism. Many would choose “Taxi Driver” as Scorsese’s greatest film, but I believe “Raging Bull” is his best and most personal, a film he says in some ways saved his life. It is the greatest cinematic expression of the torture of jealousy–his “Othello.”
This is important: How much gold would you actually need to be able to dive into your gold vault like Scrooge McDuck?
In most money circles (insider tip: “money circles” is a term used by only the most elite investors), wealth is measured exclusively by how closely one can recreate this famed animation. It has come to represent success in America and anything less than doing the backstroke amongst a sea of Earth’s rarest metal should be considered an abject failure. A main problem of this measure, however, is that there is no agreed-upon Scrooge McDuck quantity of gold. In order to give the young investor a goal to shoot for, and to clear up this age-old question once and for all, the following is a precise judgment of exactly how money you need to be successful.
I’ve gotten in some conversations recently about whether you should outsource PR early in a company’s life. My take is no. We’ve kept PR in-house except for a bit of outside counsel from friends. (After all, what’s the point of having brilliant friends if you’re not going to ask them for advice?) I’m not really sure how to do it any other way, as the company and product are constantly shifting and the thought of having to keep someone else on top of that and expect them to be able to pitch it seems crazy. Anyway, seems as though Chris Dixon agrees:
A fundamental principle of business is that you do things in house that you think can give you a competitive advantage and outsource things that you don’t. At an early-stage technology company this means you do in house: product design, software and/or hardware development, PR, recruiting, and customer relations/community management. Ideally, most of these activities are led by founders. You should outsource legal, accounting, website hosting, website analytics etc. (Unless you are starting a company where one of those activities can give you a competitive advantage, e.g. a securities trading startup would need to have in-house legal).
The Times had a great article about a matzo company called Streits that has been in business since the 1916 and hasn’t changed a thing about how they work. What’s especially interesting is why matzo is a tough business for your average food company to get into:
So it’s actually the big snack brands that are stuck. To get in the matzo game, they would have to make a huge investment in new machinery, Jewish law expertise and worker training. Alternately, they could make a nonkosher flatbread knockoff and lose out on that significant kosher-loving base. In either case, Manischewitz would have to become a huge business before it attracted any real competition, and by then the company would be so rich that it probably wouldn’t mind.
Nice post over at the @dripfm blog outlining the cover design process for the latest Shigeto release.
Totally ridiculous Tumblr meme for today: “Capybaras that look like Rafael Nadal”
My favorite Gawker headline of the day: “RIP Texts From Hillary, 2012-2012″
Apparently there’s a kindergarten teacher in TriBeCa who closes each day with a tweet she composes with the class. The whole story is nice, but I’m especially fond of the explanations of Twitter that end the story:
“To me, Twitter is like the ideal thing for 5-year-olds because it is so short,” she said. “It makes them think about their day and kind of summarize what they’ve done during the day; whereas a lot of times kids will go home and Mom and Dad will say, ‘What did you do today?’ And they’re like, ‘I don’t know.’”
Explaining what Twitter is was a little tricky, she said. But there was a handy analogy. Every weekend, one student takes home a stuffed animal frog and a journal. They take pictures and write about what they’re doing to share with the rest of the class.
“So when I introduced Twitter, I said you guys are doing this with Froggie on the weekend, and so we’re going to let your parents know what we’re doing in class a few times a week,” she said.
Oh @buzzfeed, you never cease to amaze: “33 Animals Who Are Extremely Disappointed In You” cc/ @leilafern
Nice little interview with @rickwebb about tech, economics and advertising.
testing with image
ereading ereading ereading
I’ve been telling people a lot lately that I think the most important lesson I’ve learned in my first year of having a startup is have a co-founder you can argue productively with and now it’s in print. I gave an interview with Fast Company in anticipation of the Innovation Uncensored event I’m speaking at and has this to answer to the question “If you could share only one thing about starting a company, what would it be?”
Other than “It’s really hard,” I would say, choose your cofounder wisely. Lots of people say that, but I don’t think many people give specific criteria. In the year of Percolate’s existence I think the single most important thing has been the ability of James and myself to have constructive arguments. We can go at it about the product or company and come out on the other end with a solution we both completely believe in. I don’t think the company would still be around if we weren’t able to do that or if one of us left the conversation in a tizzy and didn’t speak for the next week. You can’t take these things personally, we are both arguing from a place of passion and deep desire for the company to succeed. We have the same purpose and vision, and like any two people we disagree on occasion about the specific details of execution. That’s healthy and normal and actually very positive. If you don’t think you can argue with your cofounder you shouldn’t start a company together.
I’ve learned a lot more, but I think this lesson doesn’t get mentioned often enough.
The folks at Made by Many are some of my favorite agency folks around. They’re smart and testing different ways of doing things. Anyway, at SXSW they made a little app called Picle. It did pretty well and now they’re going to keep making it. Something about the way they’ve presented the thinking around the paths the app can take feel really simple and right:
So now that we have that initial spike of users there will be an inevitable dip, downloads have dropped off a little since we arrived back, but we have broken the 45,000 download mark. According to Stuart’s graph the app can go 2 ways.
1. We can trundle along steadily making changes in the app improving the user experience and making the whole thing a lot more polished. However, this route is doomed to fail, while the experience may get better the inability to attract new users and expose the app to a new audience will result in Picle fading away into the digital ether. This scenario is represented in the rather upsetting looking line A.
2. We stabilise the app and greatly improve the sharing features so that Picle is introduced to new audiences and users. Represented by line B.
I thought this was a really interesting way to look at free agency in the NFL from Grantlant:
The bigger problem is the idea that upgrading at that position, or in that facet of the game, requires a team to throw money at acquiring a talented player, even if it means that the team overspends in the process. Teams approach the problem of having below-average output at a position by saying, “We need to upgrade to something better here, even if it costs us too much.” Instead, they should approach it from the equally compelling, alternative viewpoint of, “We’re already so bad here that we can’t be much worse next season, so upgrading to a superior player is incredibly easy!” Rather than seeing the free-agent pool as being full of players who would provide superior production to the guys on your roster, bad organizations insist on picking one player from that pool and spending more money than they should to obtain an upgrade they can get from just about anyone.
I know you’re not all football fans, but it’s an interesting way to think about how business is run generally (I’m sure there’s a behavioral economics fallacy for this).
I love this answer from Poke founder Nik Roope on what designers can bring to organizations:
Businesses are built on concepts. Ideas structured to extract or create value in some way. These ideas, famously penned on napkins (although more likely Evernote theses days) are by their nature abstract and intellectual. “Design” takes a central role in the step from the intellectual to the manifest and when the process is working this isn’t a verbatim translation, it’s an active process that structures, orders, tunes the components into a compelling working system. Broad-minded designers with solid structural sensibilities are thus critical for success.
All week I’ve been meaning to weigh in on the curation debate (David Carr, Matt Langer, Marco Arment, Matthew Ingram), but I’ve been busy and Percolate released its own take on the subject in the form of a video with some of our favorite web curators.
Okay, let me start at the top: Semantics. Matt Langer rightly points out the word curation is not being used correctly:
First, let’s just get clear on the terminology here: “Curation” is an act performed by people with PhDs in art history; the business in which we’re all engaged when we’re tossing links around on the internet is simple “sharing.” And some of us are very good at that! (At least if we accept “very good” to mean “has a large audience.”)
Early last year I agreed. But then I realized how boring and unproductive most semantic arguments were. Or as Maria Popova said last June:
Like any appropriated buzzword, the term “curation” has become nearly vacant of meaning. But, until we come up with a better one, it remains the semantic placeholder that best captures the central paradigm of Twitter as a conduit of discovery and direction for what is meaningful, interesting and relevant in the world.
I loved the idea of a semantic placeholder then, and I still do. If you’re going to wade into the semantic debate you need a better answer and editor isn’t it. For better or worse we are using curator to mean something different than it used to mean and, at least for now, that seems fine. As long as we all know what we’re talking about (the selection of internet things) then the word seems okay, let’s not hide behind the definition.
And before I continue, one more thing: For what it’s worth I define curation as people choosing things and aggregation as computers choosing things.
Great. Now back to the more important stuff. A lot of this conversation was kicked off by the Curator’s Code, which aims to encourage people to share the source of their information with some special symbols. Lots of folks, including Marco from Instapaper jumped on the idea as stupid and unsustainable and maybe it is. I think everyone involved would agree it’s not the perfect solution to the problem, but I do think it opened up an important conversation (I wasn’t involved, but I know the folks who are). How we credit one another on the web is an issue we’ve been working on forever and, as a few of the blog posts on the topic point out, the good news is that the hyperlink is the most efficient:
And we already have a tool for providing credit to the original source: It’s called the hyperlink. Plenty of people don’t use the hyperlink as much as they should (including mainstream media sources such as the New York Times, although Executive Editor Jill Abramson said at SXSW that this is going to change) while others misuse and abuse them. But used properly, they serve the purpose of providing credit quite well. How to use them properly, of course — especially for journalistic purposes — is another whole can of worms, as Felix Salmon of Reuters and others have noted. And when it comes to curation and aggregation, it seems as though curation is what people call it when they like it, and aggregation is what they call it when they don’t.
But it’s not quite good enough, and this is where I start to take issue with a few different things a few different people said. What I just did there is use a hyperlink to credit something I didn’t write. Except you probably didn’t mouse over the hyperlink and because it was in there I didn’t need to write that Matthew Ingram from GigaOm was responsible for those sentences. While I think it’s important to credit sources of information, I think the bigger thing to think about is how we’re crediting the original sources of content.
Which is why I took the most issue with Marco’s stance. Not because I disagreed with him (“The proper place for ethics and codes is in ensuring that a reasonable number of people go to the source instead of just reading your rehash.”), but because Instapaper represents one of the current dangers in lack of credit. While it doesn’t relate exactly to the question the Curator’s Code is addressing, it is part of the broader conversation we should be having: Who is getting credit when you consume a great piece of content?
After a long argument with Thierry Blancpain on Twitter I finally came to the question which seems to sit at the heart of the matter to me: Who gets credit when you read something awesome in Instapaper? Does it go to the publisher of the content or does it go to Instapaper. I know for myself (and the informal poll of friends I asked the question to), the answer is the latter. I don’t know the source of most of the content I consume in Instapaper. Sure I put it there when I hit the button, but when I consume it the source is entirely stripped away. I was talking to the publisher of a major magazine this week about the issue and the question I asked is, “if you’re losing the advertising and the branding, is there any purpose to letting your content live there?”
This isn’t to point the finger solely at Instapaper, I think this is true of almost all the platforms on the web. If all the incentive is towards sharing and all the credit goes to sharers, what will happen to creation? (I don’t really think it will go away, but I do think it creates a dangerous precedent.) One of the things I think is great about the Longform iPad app is that it connects me with the publishers of content. One day when they offer subscriptions (which I assume they will) I’d happily pay to keep getting my 3,000 word Grantland stories as I now know the true value (and I never forget it, because the publisher is always right next to the content). (Admittedly, the curators on the app pose a more complicated issue.)
I think part of it is that publishers are going to have to start carrying more branding in the stories. I’m not sure what this means, but if you’re reading something from The Atlantic, say, maybe they remind you throughout that this is from The Atlantic. It’s not ideal, but again, I think if publishers aren’t getting advertising revenue or branding credit with their stories there is no reason for them to support their travels around the web. I also think metadata comes into play, and while I don’t know what the best answer is quite yet, I think it’s important to start encouraging the display of more information about original sources on stories (again, not sure what that looks like, but I’ve been turning it over in my head).
This whole issue is obviously something I’m thinking a lot about at Percolate. I believe brands should be the best behaved of the bunch. I also believe brands have a responsibility to be both curators and creators: To increase the pool of original quality content on the web. No one is to blame for all this stuff, but we are all responsible to make sure that it’s solved before it’s too late.
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