Welcome to the bloggy home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Percolate and general internet tinkerer. This site is about media, culture, technology, and randomness. It's been around since 2004 (I'm pretty sure). Feel free to get in touch. Get in touch.

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On Facebook, Brands and Reach

I was going to write something in response to the post about Mark Cuban leaving Facebook for MySpace (he doesn’t like that you have to pay to reach 100% of your audience), but Dalton Caldwell beat me to the punch with a well-put take:

We can expect to see Facebook deemphasizing traditional advertising units in favor of promoted news stories in your stream. The reason is that the very best advertising is content. Blurring the lines between advertising and content is one of the most ambitious goals a marketer could have.
Bringing earnings expectations into this, the key to Facebook “fixing” their mobile advertising problem is not to create a new ad-unit that performs better on mobile. Rather, it is for them to sell the placement of stories in the omnipresent single column newsfeed. If they are able to nail end-to-end promoted stories system, then their current monetization issues on mobile disappear.

The only thing I’d add to this (which I tweeted yesterday) is why would brands be treated differently than people on Facebook? If any of us post something to FB it will only reach a portion of our friends, so why should a brand be able to reach 100% of their fans? It’s a filtered platform and that’s what makes it different than Twitter and Tumblr.

November 14, 2012 // This post is about: ,

The More You Send, The More You Receive

Jeff Weiner, CEO of LinkedIn, seems like a really smart guy. The NYTimes has a nice little interview with him that includes a couple really great nuggets about leadership. I especially liked his take on email, though:

Like any other tool, e-mail is what you make it . It’s an incredible tool of productivity, collaboration and knowledge-sharing for me. That’s not to say I haven’t struggled with it like everybody else. But one thing I realized is that if you want to reduce the amount of e-mail in your in-box, it’s actually very simple: you need to send fewer e-mails. I know it’s kind of a self-evident truth. Because every time you send an e-mail, what’s going to happen? It’s going to trigger a response, and then you’re going to have to respond to that response, and then they’re going to add some people on the “cc” line, and then those people are going to respond. You have to respond to those people, and someone’s going to misinterpret something. That’s going to start a telephone game, and then you’re going to have to clarify that stuff. Then you have someone in a time zone who didn’t get the clarification, so you’re going to have to clarify that clarification.

November 11, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,

What Made Nate Silver so Popular?

Felix Salmon gives his take on what really made Nate Silver such a phenomenom: First, he can explain complicated math simply and second, he gave people fodder for conversation. Felix explains:

The thing that Silver and the Obama campaign have in common, then, is that they used their databases to tell stories. Or, more to the point, their databases and models were used so that Americans could tell stories to each other. Silver’s site became a virtual watercooler, especially towards the end of the campaign — a place where people would gather to talk about what was possible and what was likely. Nate’s voice helped to guide the discussions, but the real reason that he got such astonishing traffic was not that people wanted to read what he was writing, so much as that people were using his model as a framework within which to hold their own idiosyncratic discussions.

Now I’m not sure that this is really unique. People consume, at least in part, to talk about what they read. This is especially true in the realm of politics as evidenced by the nonstop conversation over the last three months. But I still think Felix is very right and it’s interesting to think about the role of statistics here. Are statistics actually better conversational fodder than punditry because they still allow the reader to make observations and decisions? Not sure, but I like the thought.

November 8, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,

Why Sponsor NASCAR?

I’m going to write about NASCAR and marketing, if you don’t care about either of those things, you can quit reading now. I’m writing this for three reasons:

  1. I’m a big NASCAR fan (it’s more than just going around in circles, I’m happy to explain it sometime)
  2. I spent some time working with a NASCAR team and learned a lot about how the business side of the sport operates
  3. The New York Times had a story yesterday about how the NBA can learn something from NASCAR in regards to it’s thought about adding sponsors to jerseys. This article almost entirely missed the real point of NASCAR sponsorships. (I can’t say I find this shocking as NASCAR is hardly the number one beat for the Times.)

For some reason the article focused on how sponsors can affect the behavior of the athletes. This is sort of interesting, but pretty far from the real story of NASCAR sponsorships. While the business of NASCAR is struggling for a bunch of reasons (financial meltdown, arms race in technology raising the cost of fielding competitive teams, more competition than ever for ad dollars), what makes it work has not changed. When a brand buys into a NASCAR sponsorship (which goes for ~$20 million for a full season), they are buying two big things: Loyalty and activation opportunities.

Let’s start with loyalty. This is what the article really misses. When brands sponsor NASCAR they get a real understanding from the fans that they are responsible for the car on the track. The drivers get it, the teams get and the fans get it. This is hugely different from slapping your logo on something (whether it’s soccer where it’s displayed in giant form on the player’s belly or basketball, where they seem to be thinking about some little sponsorship patch). People in those sports think the sponsor is responsible for the team in the same way no one will ever walk into a Brooklyn Nets game and say “thank you Barclays for making this possible.”

The numbers in NASCAR back this up. I used to have them, but the league and teams generally trot around a number of 80%+ loyalty of a fan to its driver’s sponsor. If Jimmie Johnson is your guy you go to Lowe’s not Home Depot. That’s just how it works.

Okay, onto activation. Take a look at the official sponsors of NASCAR teams and you see a few different kinds of companies: Car-related companies (NAPA, Shell, Mobil 1), CPG (Budweiser, Mars, Miller Lite) and a lot of retail/franchise businesses (Burger King, Target, GEICO, Farmers Insurance, Home Depot, Lowes, Office Depot). The first set is obvious, the average NASCAR fan likes cars and car-related stuff. The second is about audience as NASCAR skews heavily male and sometimes guys are hard to reach. The last, though, is the most interesting to me.

What all these companies have in common is lots of employees (you could throw FedEx in this group too and UPS was a long-time sponsor of the sport). One of the more interesting things about how brands actually utilize their sponsorship is that they do fully integrated program where they use a sponsorship to reach not just consumers, but also employees. Target, Home Depot and Lowes have 900,000 combined employees (365, 331 and 204). That’s a lot of people to keep happy. One of the ways they do it is give them something to root for. It’s not shocking, or even all that interesting, it just sort of makes sense and means that the investment is offset into a few different departments.

Anyway, I don’t have a real conclusion to all this, just felt like writing a little bit about what I know about NASCAR. Hopefully it was relatively interesting.

October 22, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

Everything you ever wanted to know about pallets

I don’t know what it says about me, but I’m a sucker for thousand-word stories on things like shipping pallets. Luckily for me, Slate has gone ahead and written one (or rather they wrote one back in August). Here’s a little taste:

Pallet history is both humble and dramatic. As Pallet Enterprise (“For 30 years the leading pallet and sawmill magazine”) recounts, pallets grew out of simple wooden “skids”, which had been used to help transport goods from shore to ship and were, essentially, pallets without a bottom set of boards, hand-loaded by longshoremen and then, typically, hoisted by winch into a ship’s cargo hold. Both skids and pallets allowed shippers to “unitize” goods, with clear efficiency benefits: “According to an article in a 1931 railway trade magazine, three days were required to unload a boxcar containing 13,000 cases of unpalletized canned goods. When the same amount of goods was loaded into the boxcar on pallets or skids, the identical task took only four hours.”

If that doesn’t make you want to read it, I don’t know what will.

October 22, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,

How Lance Happened

I’ve been a little obsessed with this Lance Armstrong story over the past few months. I devoured The Secret Race and have been reading everything I can since. With today’s announcement that Armstrong will be stripped of his Tour wins I’m sure we’ll see another round. The two questions I was left with through all my reading have been: First, what long-term effects do these drugs have on a person? (For those that haven’t dug deep, most of the doping revolves around EPO which, in my non-medical understanding, raises your blood oxygen level.) Second, how did it all happen? The latter question is a common one after a house of cards crumbled (how many financial meltdown books and stories did we read).

While lots of people have gone through how it happened from an athlete perspective, it’s interesting to read this piece by Steve Madden, former editor of Bicycling Magazine, on how he was complicit in the whole thing. Here’s a snippet:

Armstrong exerted a Corleone-like influence in the cycling industry. Through his various sponsorship and endorsement deals, he could make an advertiser disappear from our pages with the same flick of an elbow that one rider uses to silently tell another to pass him. Helmets, sunglasses, wheels, bikes, all of these companies’ ads were the lifeblood of the magazine, the one that paid my salary and that of my staff. If we couldn’t make money during the boom years, when could we? Besides, dirty or not, it was a thrill to watch a cyclist, one of us, assume what we all knew was the rightful place among the sports world’s elite. Cycling is populated with misfits and loners. Very few of us sat at the cool kids’ table in the high school cafeteria, and none of us was a homecoming king or queen. And all of a sudden, there’s Lance, Sportsman of the Year on the cover of Sports Illustrated, hanging with Bono, dating Sheryl Crow and having a building named for him at Nike headquarters. A cyclist! One of us leg-shaving geeks, right up there with Michael Jordan. Finally! Now our sport would break out!

October 22, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,

No One Ever Bought Something on an Elevator

A small but important distinction from Seth Godin:

The best elevator pitch doesn’t pitch your project. It pitches the meeting about your project. The best elevator pitch is true, stunning, brief and it leaves the listener eager (no, desperate) to hear the rest of it. It’s not a practiced, polished turd of prose that pleases everyone on the board and your marketing team, it’s a little fractal of the entire story, something real.

Well put.

October 22, 2012 // This post is about: , ,

Helping People Discover

I’ve been saying the ability to build awareness is the biggest strength of Facebook (and more broadly social). Intent is great and Google has built an incredible advertising machine, but most brands need to create intent, not harvest it. Interesting to see that Fab agrees with me:

Forbes says retail site Fab it’s spending $25 million in Facebook ads this year.  CEO Jason Goldberg is adamant on his company’s “digital ads” preference according to Forbes. “Facebook ads are  more effective than Google search or display ads, because Google ads are based on intent, while Fab is designed for people to discover new items they aren’t searching for. Fab is designed to be a site people sign up for and browse around and eventually make purchases, Goldberg says.”

October 19, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

Nobody Goes Online Anymore

AllThingsD has an interesting little story about some recent Forrester research on internet usage. The gist is that Forrester asked people how much time they spend online and the number went down from 2011 instead of up. This would be shocking if it were true, but it’s not, and presents an interesting case of the problem with self-reporting in research. The article sums it up like this:

“Despite the fact that they always have connected devices and are always online, they don’t really realize they’re online,” said Forrester analyst Gina Sverdlov. “They’re using Google Maps or checking in on Facebook, but that’s not considered online because it has become such a part of everyday life.”

It’s actually amazing to me we don’t spend more time talking about the issues with self-reporting because this stuff happens all the time. People classically overreport the good things about themselves and underreport the bad stuff (if you compared the number of New Yorkers who say they read the times with the traffic/newspaper sales something doesn’t add up). On top of that, though, we ask seemingly innocuous questions that actually turn out to be confusing for regular folks (I don’t know how I’d answer how much time I spend “using” the internet either).

There is something important here as the web continues to shift to an ambient medium that is just tied into our lives. I think for those of us that have been living online for awhile now it’s no surprise, but it’s interesting to see others catching up to that way of thinking.

October 18, 2012 // This post is about: , ,

Stalked Redux

A few years ago I had a story written about me. The premise was a journalist went and did a bunch of research about me and then approached me with all she had collected to get my reaction. Unfortunately, the publication she wrote it in is now defunct and so she reposted it over at Forbes today with the following intro:

I wrote this magazine piece back in 2009 when I was first delving into privacy issues in the digital age. It was published in 2010 in the Assembly Journal. However, a Twitter user recently pointed out to me that the piece is no longer online… which is rather sad for a piece about online privacy. “Confessions of an Online Stalker” was the headline my editors chose. I would have named it “Confessions of a Digital Lurker.” Here it is in all of its dated glory.

At the time I actually wrote a response to her piece which was also published in the magazine, and thus is also now missing from the web. Since Kashmir, the author, has reposted her piece I thought it might also be a good idea to repost my response:

The last issue of the magazine featured a piece titled Confessions of an Online Stalker. Its author, Kashmir Hill, “stalked” me, collecting all the information publicly available on the web about my life and presenting me with my dossier over a cup of coffee in Soho. Included were some basic facts (age and address), interests (most-listened to songs and books on my Amazon wish-list) and the occasional tidbit that was unknown to me (the value of my parents’ house, for instance).

When I was asked to write a response, I wasn’t sure one was warranted. The article actually captures my reaction fairly well. I wasn’t all that surprised about any of the information the author dug up, as I could identify the source of almost all her data points. And while it certainly is a bit uncomfortable to see them (or hear them) together, given the motive of the exercise, it was not all that frightening. But there is a bit of context I’d like to add: it’s the sort of story that raw data doesn’t always tell.

I work and live on the web. I play with just about every new site I can get my hands on and post a fair amount of information that I don’t consider to be particularly personal about myself. I started a blog six years ago because I was writing for a magazine and found I had more to say than could fit in my 2,500-word monthly limit. I explored the medium and posted things that I now look back on and smack myself in the head over because of their asininity. But back then, as well as now, my job was to understand, or at least to have an opinion on, the state of digital media, on how and why people use the web.

But all of that sounds much more clinical than the reality of the situation. It’s been my opinion for some time that by putting things out into the world for public view, I’ve made my life more interesting (mostly by the friends that content has connected me to). In fact, I met my wife because of my blog. Let me explain.

On July 12, 2006 I wrote an entry asking if anyone from my blog world wanted to meet up in New York and have coffee. I got one response from a guy named Piers who ran (and still runs) a trend blog called PSFK. From there we developed an idea for a coffee meetup we decided to call likemind. About a month later, after holding two likeminds, a blogger in London named Russell Davies wrote a post praising the idea. In the comments to that post, a woman named Johanna mentioned that she was moving to New York City and was excited to go to likemind. Attached to her comment was her url, which I followed to an email address that I used to welcome her to the city and invite her to likemind. Three months later, when I was on the hunt for a new job, I mentioned it to Johanna, who had since moved north, attended a few likeminds and become a friend. She suggested that I come speak to the folks at the company she worked for: Naked Communications, a marketing strategy firm that was started in London. I went for it and two months later (it’s February, 2007 at this point) I announced I was joining the company as a strategist. I became friends with, and later started dating, Leila Fernandes, another strategist at the company. Two months ago we were married in Queens. Johanna helped us celebrate.

All of that is a long way of saying I see a lot of value in the sharing of information online. I am not in the camp that believes technology is pulling us apart, but rather that it offers us never-before-possible opportunities to come together and meet people you’d otherwise never have a chance to meet. I also don’t reside on the side that argues privacy is dead. While the author was able to collect a lot of information on me, there wasn’t much in there I hadn’t chosen to post myself with an understanding of the implications (not to mention the vast majority of it could have been collected in the pre-web days, albeit in a much more time-consuming manner).

One of my favorite digital thinkers, Danah Boyd, recently had this to say on the subject:

Privacy isn’t a technological binary that you turn off and on. Privacy is about having control of a situation. It’s about controlling what information flows where and adjusting measures of trust when things flow in unexpected ways. It’s about creating certainty so that we can act appropriately. People still care about privacy because they care about control. Sure, many teens repeatedly tell me “public by default, private when necessary” but this doesn’t suggest that privacy is declining; it suggests that publicity has value and, more importantly, that folks are very conscious about when something is private and want it to remain so. When the default is private, you have to think about making something public. When the default is public, you become very aware of privacy. And thus, I would suspect, people are more conscious of privacy now than ever. Because not everyone wants to share everything to everyone else all the time.

The control Boyd was referring to is probably slightly easier for me than most. When something happens like Facebook’s latest changes to their privacy settings, about thirty of the hundreds of blogs and other new sources I subscribe to write in-depth stories on the implications. Within hours of the changes I had been to the new settings page and tweaked everything to my liking, including deciding to keep certain information out of the public eye. I recognize this is not the norm, but it’s this kind of awareness that shapes my views on the sharing of information.

At the end of the day a breach of privacy requires some reasonable expectation that something would be kept private. Not only did I not have that expectation, but for much of the information I put on the web I hope for exactly the opposite.

October 8, 2012 // This post is about: , ,

On NFL Films, The Sabols and War

I could have easily read another 10,000 words on Ed & Steve Sabol and the legacy they’ve created in NFL films. The Atlantic had a really nice profile of how the company came to be and ultimately what it meant to (and how it changed) the game titled “The Taught America How to Watch Football“.  Go read the whole thing, but in the meantime, here are two nuggets I found especially interesting. First, on how recording the game changed it:

There’s a degree of Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle in all this: by observing the game, the Sabols changed it. Their movies taught a generation of kids who became players how to behave onscreen. It made them self-conscious. “I remember the first player who looked into the lens and said ‘Hi, Mom.’ I thought it was the end of everything,” Steve told me. “ ‘We can’t capture it anymore. The players are thinking about us as much as we’re thinking about them.’ But I was wrong. In the end, the performance became another part of the game.” If you want to understand football, don’t look at Jim Brown or John Elway or Tom Brady, Steve explained. Look at Homer Jones, a receiver for the Giants in the 1960s. Players used to hand the ball to the referee after scoring, or toss it to the fans. Jones, wanting to distinguish himself, whipped it into the turf instead. The first spike. You can go from there to Billy “White Shoes” Johnson’s end-zone dance, Ickey Woods’s shuffle, Terrell Owens’s Sharpie, Rob Gronkowski’s antics. In the modern game, the camera is the 12th man, another participant in the unfolding drama.

Next, a theory on why football ultimately surpassed baseball as America’s sport (this one comes in the conclusion):

Why did football surpass baseball? Because football is perfect for the TV screen, which is actually shaped like a football field; because football is at once the most intellectual and the most brutal game in the world, in which the coaches think while the players bleed; because we love to see people knocked silly. But also, perhaps even primarily, because football mints the kind of uniquely vivid images that the Sabols could spin, over and over, into a Kip­ling poem about war.

October 6, 2012 // This post is about: , , , , ,

Hungry Hungry Hippos: The Movie

Back in April we got into a conversation around the office about the possibility of a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie. This, of course, was a joke …

Until it wasn’t:

The L.A. Times has reported that Hasbro, the toy company that specializes in spawning movies based on its products, has partnered with an independent production company called Emmett/Furla to turn three of its diversions into films: Hungry Hungry Hippos, Monopoly and Action Man. Monopoly has been in the works for a while, and Action Man sort of sounds like a movie, or at least no more ridiculous than “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” But Hungry Hungry Hippos? What could the plot possibly be, and how will it not dovetail with the parody trailers for a Hungry Hungry Hippos movie that already exist on YouTube?

October 6, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,

The Economics of Games

Two interesting nuggets in Ezra Klein’s story about studying economics in video games. First, a question I’ve asked myself many times about Facebook and currency:

“Just for example,” Castronova says, “Facebook has an entire currency system that isn’t taxed or regulated. At what point does that threaten what the Federal Reserve does?”

Next it’s a broader point about what effect video games have on the economy-at-large:

There’s also a question of whether actions in online worlds count as real-life economic activity. “Say someone is playing Eve Online for a whole week and not providing services in real life,” Guðmundsson says. “That would hurt GDP [the measure of real-life economic growth], but it would increase the Gross User Product in the virtual world. So did overall value creation really decline?”

September 30, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

Did blowing on your Nintendo game actually help?

Mental Floss answers the most important question of our time: Does blowing in your Nintendo game actually help?

The answer: No. It actually can hurt the game and cause the connections to rust. So how, then, did blowing in your game spread? Their experts weigh in:

It was very much a hive-mind kind of thing, something that all kids did, and many still do on modern cartridge based systems. Prior to the NES I don’t recall people blowing into Atari or any other cartridge-based hardware that predated the NES (though that likely spoke to the general reliability of that hardware versus the dreaded front-loading Nintendo 72 Pin connectors). I suppose it has a lot to do with the placebo effect. US NES hardware required, on most games, optimal connection across up to 72 pins as well as communication with a security lock-out chip. The theory that ‘dust’ could be a legitimate inhibitor and that ‘blowing it out’ was the solution, still sounds silly to me when I say it out loud.

[Via Reverend Dave]

September 24, 2012 // This post is about: ,

Focus on the road not the wall

I was recently rereading Ben Horowitz’s advice for managing your own psychology as a CEO and I especially liked this nugget:

When they train racecar drivers, one of the first lessons is when you are going around a curve at 200 MPH, do not focus on the wall; focus on the road. If you focus on the wall, you will drive right into it. If you focus on the road, you will follow the road. Running a company is like that. There are always a thousand things that can go wrong and sink the ship. If you focus too much on them, you will drive yourself nuts and likely capsize your company. Focus on where you are going rather than on what you hope to avoid.

September 24, 2012 // This post is about: ,

Williams x 2

Brian Phillips (of Football Manager fame) has a good piece over at Grantland about the Williams sisters’ impact on tennis. I thought this observation about their matches against each other was especially interesting:

There was another aspect to my Venus love, however: the family-psychology trap. When the sisters started playing each other in majors — they met in four straight Grand Slam finals between 2002 and 2003, the only time two women have done that in the Open Era — the Williamses gave a lot of weirdly unselfconscious interviews in which they talked openly about how Serena, as the youngest, had always been the princess of the family, and how, growing up, it had always been Venus’s job to make sure Serena was OK. (Venus is 15 months older.) The now-adult Williamses all somehow seemed to broadcast that not only was this still the case, it was, moreover, totally aboveboard and natural. And you could see it, I thought, in the awkward, occasionally unnerving matches the sisters played against each other. Serena spent those matches looking like she uncomplicatedly wanted to win. Venus spent them looking trapped in some excruciating psycho-emotional cross-current between wanting to win and wanting Serena to be happy. When Serena won, she would celebrate. When Venus won, she would kind of half-celebrate and half-console Serena. This middle-child plight of Venus’s, so ingrained that she wasn’t even fully aware of it, struck me as wickedly unjust. I wanted her to break out of the trap, crush Serena 6-1 6-2, and smile so wide the seasons changed.

September 13, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

What’s College Worth?

Felix makes some interesting points on the value of a college education in response to a recent Newsweek piece. As more and more people question the value, I’ve been wondering about where they’re getting their math from on the fact that a degree is not worth it anymore. Felix responds:

But the math is complicated: the only thing which has been rising faster than college tuition costs is the wage premium that college graduates receive over those without a degree. A degree is becoming more important, not less, in our digital economy. And so while the cost of going to college is rising, the cost of not going to college is, arguably, rising even faster.

September 11, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,

What if everyone on earth jumped at once?

A little Friday fun: The long answer to what would happen if everyone on the planet jumped at the same time. XKCD has a special take and chooses Rhode Island as the location:

A cell phone comes out of a pocket. Within seconds, the rest of the world’s five billion phones follow. All of them—even those compatible with the region’s towers—are displaying some version of “NO SIGNAL”. The cell networks have all collapsed under the unprecedented load. 

Outside Rhode Island, abandoned machinery begins grinding to a halt.

I’ll let you read the rest.

September 7, 2012 // This post is about: , ,

Surface versus iPad

The most interesting part of this interview with Horace of Asymco about the Surface is his take on the difference between how Apple and Microsoft view tablets:

I have some guesses but I don’t think it’s something that is defensible. Too many things can change. Fundamentally I believe Microsoft sees the tablet as a PC and intends to migrate a substantial portion of would-be PC customers to tablet forms. If they are successful then they preserve the existing PC user base and allow it to grow a bit.

In contrast Apple sees the iPad as a new type of device that is used for things not directly related to PC style computing. In that sense the iPad competes with PC non-consumption. It means people may own both a PC and an iPad and some will own only an iPad. The iPad will expand the market while taking share from the PC. Windows tablets will try to hold the Windows share steady.

September 3, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

Facebook, Zuckerberg and Brand Advertising (Again)

My problem with this “should Zuckerberg be CEO” story (beyond the fact I think he should) is that there’s only one real reason given and it doesn’t even belong to the author, but instead to Reuters blogger John Abell: “Facebook needs its spiritual leader and chief innovator in a hoodie. But it doesn’t need him as CEO, placating investors in a collared shirt.” Do we really believe Facebook’s stock is sliding because Zuckerberg is spending too much time worrying about investors?

For what it’s worth (and it’s probably not worth much), my feeling on Facebook is that it’s still early and that a) they’re not yet where they need to be with their business (let’s remember the company is only around 10 years old) and b) the market is so caught up with Google and “intent” that they’re still not seeing the bigger opportunity with brand advertising (I wrote a bunch about this right around the IPO). Facebook is still a gamble, but even they’d admit that. They believe (and need to convince the market) that they have the best years ahead of them and that they plan to fully realize the giant (and unprecedented) opportunity staring them in the face.

September 3, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

Desire Path Highlighting

I’ve written about desire paths a bunch of times in the past. They’re those extra trodden lines between two points that, despite not being paved, are clearly the most used way to get from point a to point b. Anyway, looks like Huffington Post has taken the idea of desire paths and built a little site around it. The gist is that they record every time someone highlights a passage on the site and then when something breaks a threshold it makes it to HuffPost Highlights. The actual results on the page are a bit of a mixed bag, as quotes out of context can be a bit odd, but generally it’s a really neat idea and experiment (it’s on the labs section of the site). Poynter has a nice explanation.

September 2, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

Technology or Gesture?

Douglas Rushkoff asks some interesting questions about the lengths we’re going in the patent battle between Apple and the rest of the industry:

But when it comes to gestures, such as the now ubiquitous “pinch and zoom” technology through which users stretch or shrink pictures and text, well, that no longer feels quite the same. They are gestures that may have begun on the device, but which have become internalized, human movements. When my daughter was three I used to watch her attempt to enact those same swipes and stretches on the television screen – a phenomenon so prevalent that many television dealers now keep a supply of Windex handy to clean their giant flat screens of children’s fingerprints on a regular basis.

September 2, 2012 // This post is about: , , , , , ,

Percolate Brand Strategist (plus Other Jobs)

[Editor’s Note: I try not to do these often, but since lots of you are from in and around the marketing industry I thought I’d post this job here as well.]

We’re hiring a brand strategist at Percolate (amongst other positions). The role isn’t to be a planner in the way you would be in an agency, but rather to take those same skills and help onboard clients, help them understand content opportunities/how to use Percolate best and help build out products that can help systematize parts of the brand’s content strategy. Basically we’re looking for someone who really understands how brands work, isn’t afraid to go in front of a client and present and has a mind for making products (which is essentially about looking at what you’re doing by hand and thinking about how to translate that into something that can be done repeatedly by computers).

This is a pretty good job for someone who has worked at an agency and wants to go try something different. I don’t want someone so senior that they’ve forgotten how to dig in and actually do work (not that there’s anything wrong with that, but we’ve all run into those folks and they’re not so helpful to have around). It’s a fulltime gig. I’d say the salary is mid-level, but it also includes equity (like all jobs at Percolate).

While I’m here and talking about jobs I should also mention that we’re looking for a few other positions as well and if you recommend someone for any of these and they get hired I’ll buy you an iPad (this is a NoahBrier.com offer only, so make sure you mention it):

  • Frontend developer (jr.): We’re looking for a second frontend developer to join the team. Someone who really knows their way around javascript, html and css.
  • Backend developer: If you know someone who writes good code we want to talk to them. We do our stuff in Python, but if they’re awesome we’ll talk.
  • Sales: We’re looking for people who can go in and help us tell the story of Percolate and really help us sell. We’re building an awesome team and a great culture around sales. I need to write a whole blog post about this, but watching the sales team build out their processes is a pretty amazing thing.

If any of this sounds like you (or someone you know) please hit me up either on my contact page or via jobs@percolate.com.

June 21, 2012 // This post is about: ,

Blog to Read, Not to Write

So apparently Jonah Lehrer plagiarize himself (or something like that). I’ve read a bit about it (not enough to have an opinion), but of course Felix Salmon has and takes the opportunity to dive into a comment from Josh Levin at Slate that Lehrer’s Frontal Cortex blog (one of my favorites) is to blame. The argument, essentially, is that if you’re “an idea man” like Lehrer a blog places too much stress on content creation.

Felix, as is frequently the case, disagrees: “Lehrer shouldn’t shut down Frontal Cortex; he should simply change it to become a real blog. And if he does that, he’s likely to find that blogs in fact are wonderful tools for generating ideas, rather than being places where your precious store of ideas gets used up in record-quick time.” What’s more, he dives in on a few suggestions for what to do with the blog and in turn makes some really interesting comments about blogging generally. I especially like his first point:

Firstly, think of it as reading, rather than writing. Lehrer is a wide-ranging polymath: he is sent, and stumbles across, all manner of interesting things every day. Right now, I suspect, he files those things away somewhere and wonders whether one day he might be able to use them for another Big Idea piece. Make the blog the place where you file them away. Those posts can be much shorter than the things Lehrer’s writing right now: basically, just an excited “hey look at this”, with maybe a short description of why it’s interesting. It’s OK if the meat of what you’re blogging is elsewhere, rather than on your own blog. In fact, that’s kind of the whole point.

I always thought of this blog as a thing I use to think out loud. It doesn’t overwhelm me because it helps me think through ideas (and in turn create new ones).

June 20, 2012 // This post is about: , , , , ,

New Surface

I’m assuming you’ve heard this, but Microsoft announced a new tablet they’ve developed the other day and it has lots of people talking. Anyway, I had one thought I wanted to share, which is roughly based around this quote from The Verge:

There is a gray area that exists for me with the iPad. I love using it to read, to browse the web, to share content, to occasionally create content. But there is a moment when I have to put the iPad down and grab my laptop. I travel with both. I keep both nearby when I’m at home. And I think this is true for a lot of people (it’s certainly true for a lot of people I know in the tech press).

Basically what I find most interesting about Surface is that it seems to be a nothing-to-lost move and exactly the sort of thing Apple wouldn’t do. By that I mean Apple created a new computing category with the iPad: It put a computer in a place (bed or couch) that it never really existed before. This wasn’t a replacement device, it was additive. I, like many I know, use both an iPad and a laptop and Apple’s laptop business is doing pretty well for them. Surface tries to imagine a future where there is just one. It’s not to say it will happen, but it feels like something Apple wouldn’t do and for that I applaud them.

June 20, 2012 // This post is about: , , , , , ,

Clutch Free Throws

Bill Barnwell weighs in on the finals and the debate around “clutch” free throw shooting:

The natural argument against that math is that the Finals represent a clutch situation where regular-season statistics don’t apply. Well, that’s a testable hypothesis! As it turns out, the Finals don’t really represent some magic world where free throws become more difficult. From 1986 through 2011, the teams that made the NBA Finals shot 74.9 percent from the stripe during the regular season, and then shot 73.8 percent on free throws during the Finals themselves. If you can convince yourself that one free throw in a hundred represents teams wilting under pressure, go nuts.

June 19, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,

The Space Between Writing

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]

June 15, 2012 // This post is about: ,

Wither Widget

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.

June 13, 2012 // This post is about: , ,

What Should I Tweet About?

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.

June 13, 2012 // This post is about: ,

Muppet Typing

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.

[Via @Hannahmiet]

June 12, 2012 // This post is about: , ,

Photos of Zuck

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.

June 7, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

When Subscription Isn’t an Option

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.

June 6, 2012 // This post is about: , , , , ,

You Got Nookd

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.

June 6, 2012 // This post is about: , , ,

Brand Tags Update

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.

June 5, 2012 // This post is about: , ,

Subscribing to Music

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.

June 1, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,

The Safety of Brands

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.

May 31, 2012 // This post is about: ,

Politically Correct

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.

May 29, 2012 // This post is about: , , , ,

Thoughts on Games

[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.

May 28, 2012 // This post is about: , , , , ,