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.
Felix Salmon has an excellent piece breaking down the whole Mike Daisey/This American Life thing and what it really means. Included is this quote from Rebecca Hamilton, author of Fighting for Darfur:
To build a mass movement quickly, it helps to have an over-simplified, emotive narrative with a single demand. It also helps to tells people that by doing easy tasks – sharing a link on Facebook, buying a bracelet — they can save lives. Central to the formula is that the agency of local actors gets downplayed to hype up the importance of action by outsiders. But all those ingredients inevitably lead to eventual failure when the simple solutions can’t fix the complex reality. The movement walks away, disillusioned. And in the meantime untold resources have been expended on solutions that have been out of step with what local activists need.
The story of Fabrice Muamba from yesterday is hard to imagine. A professional football (the English kind) player had a heart attack during the game. The facts themselves are pretty crazy, but this article does a great job giving the broader context to what happened around the story:
Many said yesterday evening that football becomes irrelevant in such circumstances. This is partially true, but doesn’t tell the complete story of last night. When something such as this happens, the match that is taking place ceases to be of much importance, of course. The game, however, to the extent that “football” exists as an entity in and of itself, certainly doesn’t become irrelevant, and this much was demonstrated by the messages of support and concern that we saw last night. Football frequently seems to exist in a bubble, isolated and insulated from the outside world. When the full horror that real world can occasionally offer came calling last night, though, its humanity shone through. Considering what happened at White Hart Lane last night, it’s a tiny consolation. But a tiny consolation is better than no consolation at all.
This is a really interesting way to think about the power of Facebook:
Google could still put ads in front of more people than Facebook, but Facebook knows so much more about those people. Advertisers and publishers cherish this kind of personal information, so much so that they are willing to put the Facebook brand before their own. Exhibit A: www.facebook.com/nike, a company with the power and clout of Nike putting their own brand after Facebook’s? No company has ever done that for Google and Google took it personally.
The rest of the article is worth a read as well. It’s a former Google engineer explaining why he left and what’s changed inside the organization in the last two years with the transition to social.
When Piers Fawkes and I started likemind a few years ago it was on a bit of a whim, but it came to represent something we both really believed in: Starting to take online relationships offline. likemind was a place where people from the internet could meet and share ideas over a cup of coffee. As crazy as it is, that was five years ago and obviously quite a bit has happened in the meantime.
Over the last year or so likemind has lapsed a bit. Like any community it requires tending and life got in the way. But looking back, there was something bigger: There was just less need for a shared space for meeting internet people. Not that it isn’t important, but rather that it feels like everywhere is now that place.
So Piers and I sat down and talked about what happens next. What does the next five years of likemind look like? Is there even a next five years of likemind?
To answer the second question first: Yes, we both believe in the power of likemind. While there are many places to meet folks, we need more that aren’t explicitly about networking and instead are just about the sharing of ideas between interesting people. The thing that’s amazing about likemind is its self-selection. While we never defined what it meant, we always got the right people, all around the world.
So with that decided we talked about what we felt was missing and the answer we landed on was intersections. While there are countless meetups and conferences around the world, there are two few that do everything they can to bring people from different places together for conversations. Specifically, the the industries that we focus on – technology, creativity, media – seem to have diffused at exactly the time they should be coming together. We’re spending more and more time talking to the people who work on the things we work on at exactly the time we should talking to everyone else.
So that’s what we want to make likemind about. Call it likemind: The sequel. The mission is to give people from these different places a space to share ideas. Let’s make it happen.
I’m doing this “virtual panel” about content over at the new FastCo Create site. The first round is up (I’ll update this post as it goes up) and here’s a quick excerpt from my answer about what brands need to know about content:
I’m not actually sure that creating editorial content is all that different than creating promotional content, at least on a high level. Advertising is a process of combining brand outputs (look, feel, voice) with cultural inputs (insights, trends, etc.) and creating a piece of communication. The shift I see taking place is that the traditional processes around creating content for a world of campaigns break-down in a real-time content creation environment: Brands and agencies aren’t currently set up to consume culture as it happens, which is what media organizations do. I think this is a big shift we’ll start to see inside brands over the coming years. It’s not that they’ll try to model themselves on media organizations, but rather, they’re going to rearrange themselves around real-time consumption of content, data, analytics and anything else they can get their hands on to help make decision and communicate better.
I’ve thought lots about the topic of teaching code since I taught myself a few years ago. My thesis, which still stands, is that the best way to teach people who want to make things to write code is not to teach them about the details, but instead to help them make things. Some of the points in this article about how nobody wants to learn to program pretty much nails it:
But for the casually interested or schoolchildren with several activities competing for their attention, programming concepts like variables and loops and data types aren’t interesting in themselves. They don’t want to learn how to program just for the sake of programming. They don’t want to learn about algorithm complexity or implicit casting. They want to make Super Mario or Twitter or Angry Birds.
I’m also particularly fond of this bit on how new coders are plagiarists:
It’s okay if they don’t completely understand how a program works after they’ve played with it a little. Very few ideas are completely original. The more material you give your students to plagiarize, the wider the range of derivative works they’ll make from them.
If you’re a football fan (American that is), you’ve been following the bounty story about how the Saints were paying out when one player injured an opposing player. Anyway, I’ve been paying attention to the debate with moderate interesting, but I really liked this point about the whole debate from my friend Jeff over at Da Bears Blog:
Here is my big problem with the Saints bounty story. A year ago, during labor negotiations, the players preached solidarity. They preached they were a single organism and ownership was out to limit to their economic intake during their short-term NFL tenures. They were against the 18-game schedule for health reasons and never allowed the issue to be put on the table. They are still against rigid HGH testing and many believe it is because players depend on HGH for muscle regeneration. (Being that football is just 300-pound guys hitting each other repeatedly, I get it.) Now we find out that 1 of the 32 teams was benefitting economically from sending players to the sideline. Not just quarterbacks, either. This was tight ends and linemen and backups. Guys who play less than five years on average in the league. If you knocked ANY player out of a game, you were worthy of a bonus. I don’t get on the moral high horse with these types of issues. But if the Bears had done this I would be incredibly embarrassed.
Rei Inamoto, who’s in charge of creative at the agency AKQA, has an interesting piece on how agencies need to act more like startups. While I don’t agree with everything in there, I have always been interested by the relationship between the advertising and startup world described by Cindy Gallop:
This contradiction, and this identity crisis, however, doesn’t just exist within the ad industry. Gallop points out a core contradiction inherent in the startup space: just about everyone in the tech world hates ad people’s guts. They all believe that advertising is a very bad thing and that ad people are very bad people. Yet, their entire business model in many tech ventures is built around advertising. Take Facebook, for example. The bulk of its $3.7 billion revenue comes from advertising. Google, a company that shunned advertising for many years, built its business around advertising.
In this interview with News.me, Evan Williams wonders why there aren’t better tools to surface old content:
One thing that I find missing is discovery of non-new content. The web is completely oriented around new-thing-on-top. Our brains are also wired to get a rush from novelty. But most “news” we read really doesn’t matter. And a much smaller percentage of the information I actually care about or would find useful was produced in the last few hours than my reading patterns reflect.
I’m definitely with him on that. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a bit with Percolate and was actually having a conversation about last night at dinner (specifically, why do old things resurface on Reddit?).
Apparently Bloomberg’s styleguide banned the word “but” from its stories:
Seth Mnookin’s piece on Bloomberg News, in this month’s Vanity Fair, quotes from the company’s stylebook, “The Bloomberg Way,” saying that Bloomberg banned the word “but” from its stories because it required readers “to deal with conflicting ideas in the same sentence.” It’s a little hard to tell from the context whether this rule is still in effect or not, but (there I go again) I can guarantee I will now be looking for “but”s or “however”s in every Bloomberg story I read.
The new Readability iOS app looks beautiful and all, but the big feature I keep waiting for is the ability to highlight things and save them to some sort of archive. I understand it would be a pain-in-the-ass because of the offline mode and all that jazz, but isn’t that the thing you most want to do when you’re reading really interesting stuff (to me, highlights is the real killer feature of the Kindle). Does this exist and I just don’t know about it?
A thought-provoking piece on just how unequal technology distribution is across gender lines. A snippet:
This may sound like bitching, and of course in some sense it is. But it began to occur to me that the tech I was using was incredibly gendered. In the “male” sphere, of professional operations, offices, corporations, pop culture, businesses, the available technology was extremely high-level, better than anywhere I’d yet lived. In the “female” sphere, the home, domestic duties, daily chores, cleaning, heating, anything inside the walls of a house, it was on a level my grandmother would find familiar.
« Older posts | Newer posts »