Welcome to the home of Noah Brier. I'm the co-founder of Variance and general internet tinkerer. Most of my writing these days is happening over at Why is this interesting?, a daily email full of interesting stuff. This site has been around since 2004. Feel free to get in touch. Good places to get started are my Framework of the Day posts or my favorite books and podcasts. Get in touch.

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Best Marketing Practices

I’m reading The Cluetrain Manifesto at the moment and I ran into something I just had to post. (I know I’m a few years behind on the book, so forgive me if this has already been said. Or, for that matter, is said later in the chapter.)

In Doc Searls’ chapter “Markets Are Conversation,” he writes:

So the customers who once looked you in the eye while hefting your wares in the market were transformed into consumers. In the words of industry analyst Jerry Michalski, a consumer was no more than “a gullet whose only purpose in life is to gulp products and crap cash.” Power swung so decisively to the supply side that “market” became a verb: something you do to customers.

That got me thinking (as most of the book does), and I came up with this:

The best kind of marketing is the kind you do with customers, not to them.

It’s hardly revolutionary in the context of the rest of the book, but I haven’t read it in those words, and they seemed very appropriate. That why companies are embracing viral marketing and should be doing the same with blogs: both make customers a part of the marketing process. You’re not talking to them (or at them), you’re talking with them.

I wrote about this a lot in my “Buzz Giant Poster Boy” story.

While I’m here, let me give everyone the links to my other American Demographics stories, should any of you be interested:

“Move Over, Prime Time” (July/August, 2004) is about an emerging at-work daypart online.

“This Way App” (September, 2004) is about RSS and its marketing ramifications.

“Coming of Age” (November, 2004) is about mobile technology and its effects on youth culture.


December 22, 2004

Blog Stress

This site has brought me a fair amount of stress over the last 24 hours. Following the advice of Six Apart, I installed Movable Type 3.14. The upgrade was not a very big deal, it was really just a matter of overwriting a few files on my server and running an upgrade script. Of course, the transition wasn’t as smooth as I would have liked. When I tried to sign back in, I was greeted with a long error that included lots of words I didn’t understand (well, I guess I understood the words, just not the context). So, after punching a few things I posted a question on the Movable Type forum with my error and began my wait. After about 24 hours no one had gotten back to me and I was starting to get worried. While I had backed up all my entries, I still had very little desire to have to reinstall the entire piece of software. Anyway, after I got tired of waiting I decided to start searching around Google for similar errors (there was nothing exactly matching mine). On one webpage someone mentioned that a file might be corrupt. So, as a shot in the dark, I re-downloaded MT 3.14 and overwrote the CMS.pm file.

And that was all it took.

One stupid file had to be uploaded again.

As I wrote on the Movable Type forum, it just proved that in the end, I am dumb.

It’s sometimes amazing how the simplest answer is often the last we think of.

December 22, 2004

Trendspotting: Fake Holidays

Has anyone noticed a new trend in The New York Times in the last few weeks? It seems that the Times has taken quite a liking to made up holidays/traditions. First it was last week’s article “Twice the Annoyance, but a Tradition Emerges,” about The OC’s Chrismukkah celebration. Next it was an article on Festivus, the holiday everyone believes was made up by Seinfeld (the title of that one was “Fooey to the World: Festivus Is Come”). Then, yesterday, The Times threw us another bone (pun intended), with “Today He Is a Dog; Acually, He Always Was,” about 13-year-old wheaten terrier named Admiral Rufus K. Boom’s “bark mitzah.”

Religious fundamentalists must be up in arms. But I wonder if this is this a sign of something bigger? The Festivus article is the most serious of the three and includes this bit of history:

The holiday evolved during the 1970’s, when the elder Mr. O’Keefe began doing research for his book “Stolen Lightning” (Vintage 1983), a work of sociology that explores the ways people use cults, astrology and the paranormal as a defense against social pressures.

Festivus, with classic rituals like familial gatherings, totemic-but-mysterious objects and respect for ancestors, slouched forth from this milieu. “In the background was Durkheim’s `Elementary Forms of Religious Life,’ ” Mr. O’Keefe recalled, “saying that religion is the unconscious projection of the group. And then the American philosopher Josiah Royce: religion is the worship of the beloved community.”

So are all these holidays reactions to mainstream religion? Chrismukkah grew out of a need for Seth Cohen on The OC to deal with having one Jewish and one Christian parent during the holidays. What he did was create his own holiday with bits and pieces from the other two. In doing so, he made a holiday that would most likely be disregarded by both religions. However, the holiday does bring to the forefront how children deal with their parents religion (especially when it’s different). It’s hard to imagine that this kind of interpretation would have been allowed fifty years ago (for that matter, I would imagine there were many fewer inter-faith marriages at that time). So as religious and racial lines continue to be blurred are we re-creating pseudo-religious traditions to deal with our shifting identities?

Much of what all these so-called traditions are about is bringing people together. In a country where religion has become such a point of contention, maybe there’s a need to create new traditions that exist outside those traditional boundaries so that we can interact without the prejudices that have become associated with religious identities (thanks primarily to fundamentalists). It’s kind of a fun and interesting idea.

What is also interesting is that in one way or another all these holidays remind us of our consumerism. Festivus throws away the traditional Christmas tree and decorations for a metal pole. Chrismukkah is Seth’s super-holiday that allows him to get all the presents of both (eight days of one present and one day of many presents). The “bark mitzvah,” while a joke, was a response to the rampant showoffism in Jewish culture (I don’t know what word goes there), that can be seen in real Bar Mitzvahs. Mark Nadler, whose dog was honored, saw the chance to make a statement.

Mr. Nadler, who had his bar mitzvah years ago, said he was not unfamiliar with entertaining at bar mitzvahs at “high holy places like the Hard Rock Cafe.” They sometimes seemed to be expensive productions that helped parents raise their social radar rather than sacred coming-of-age ceremonies for 13-year-olds. So Mr. Nadler thought he would give a bar mitzvah for his wheaten terrier and watch the eyebrows rise.

People are reacting to the fact that religions have all been taken over by their marketing possibilities. It’s hard for Hallmark to take over a holiday where the only decoration is a metal pole (though Home Depot has some branding opportunities).

In the end, these traditions are fun responses to mainstream religion and it will be interesting to see if any of them become anything more in the future.

It’s also completely possible that there’s too little real news going on during the holiday season so The New York Times chose to fill their pages with articles about fake holidays.

December 21, 2004

Request for My RSS Readers

For those of you that read my web page via RSS and actually, anyone who knows what RSS is, I have two questions.

1. Would you mind if I switched my feed to Feedburner? Would it bug you to have to change the feed address in your aggregator? Would you stay subscribed? I would still post on the regular feeds as well, it’s just I’m really curious about just how many RSS subscribers I have (all I know is that there are eight on Bloglines).

2. What do people think of the pulldown menu on the RSS feed button on the right side of the page? Is it worthwhile? Has anyone actually used it? I’m thinking of getting rid of it, but can’t decide. A little feedback would be great. If you could leave a comment or email me at nb@noahbrier.com, I’d appreciate.

Please at least one person leave a comment on this, I hate to beg, but this post will be pretty sad if it’s left naked in the comments section. Thanks!

December 21, 2004