Sunday, February 27, 2005

Direct Email vs. RSS feeds as marketing tool

Excellent scare-article from Pheedo (disclaimer: I know Bill Flitter and spoke to his Blogging Group in the East Bay last month.)

In it he outlines why direct email marketing has become increasingly inefficient and why RSS newsletters are the answer.

There's a lot of good info in this post, particularly in linking you to other, length and serious examinations of the issues.

I would only add one word of caution (again) to those who would have you kill email and adopt RSS-only marketing efforts: according to Pew only 5% of US online users currently use RSS aggregators.

That's still really small. I have no doubt the number will grow can't deny the simplicity and convenience of using such aggregation applications.

So, by all means, start an RSS program now...but take a couple of deep breaths before you decide it can replace any email marketing or newsletters you have.

Friday, February 25, 2005

UPDATED: Who Pulled the Wool Over Whose Eyes Here?

Marketing Vox points me to this PR Week article reporting that after about a week has withdrawn from being the sponsor of Gawker Media's new travel blog, Gridskipper.

CheapTickets' spokesperson was quoted as saying:

"...upon content review we thought it best to pull our ads at this time"

NIck Denton, Gawker Media Man was quoted as saying:

"We'd rather lose the occasional advertiser than the character that attracts the audience in the first place. If an advertiser wants a safe environment, there are thousands of tired media outlets to choose from."

So I'm asking: who's zooming who, here?

Did CheapTickets really not check out any of the Gawker Media properties before signing on? Did Gawker Media really not feel like making sure they understood the tone and voice they would put forth in GridSkipper? How stupid are the CheapTickets people anyway?

Or, here's a thought...did CheapTickets and Gawker Media decide to pull of this little stunt to get tons of media coverage for both of their companies?

Perhaps CheapTickets wants to target the powerful evangelical segment by appearing upright and uptight. Perhaps Gawker Media wanted to get a little more buzz out there to the handful of people who love snark and sass and weren't already reading GridSkipper. And it worked: I just subscribed to GridSkipper. Yeah, yeah I heard about it when it launched, but this story was the first thing that actually drove me to go to the site. And then I liked what I saw, just like I like Gawker.

Call me a conspiracy theorist if you like, but it seems so much easier to believe there was a plan, than to believe that two companies could go into a business deal with that much shortsightedness.

UPDATE: Apparently I am just far too cynical...or perhaps I am just stupid to miss an opportunity to kiss one of the BlogElite's butt.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

HP blogs!

OK, let's calm down a little...we're not talking the most wildly exciting stuff on earth, but they are definitely plunging in with gusto.

They've got three Executive and six technical blogs up so far. I hate to mention it, but there are no Queen Bee bloggers, it's all men. None of these have very many posts in them yet, so it will be interesting to see how they keep it up for the long haul. But obviously I certainly hope they do.

And although I dissed the "heat" of their content in my very first sentence, I actually find Rich Marcello's blog to be almost poetic while talking business. He's definitely got some writing talent.

They do provide multiple syndication options, as well as Trackbacks and Permalinks. I just hope they get some guts and add comments.

Now, the link is pretty scary-looking, and I found this through a blog somewhere, although I am unable to remember where, so I decided to see how easy it would be to find this from the HP home page.

Not. Easy. At. All.

Sure, if you wimp out and go right for the search box and enter "blogs", you'll find them. But just by clicking around? Impossible. And if you don't list blogs on this page, then where would you list them?

Come on,'ve got the blogs. Don't be afraid to get bloggy with it!

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Some terrific meetings with companies about blogs

Lately I've had lots of interesting and hopefully productive meetings with PR firms and companies trying to decide how exactly to get themselves blogging.

The thing they have in common: they know they want to be there. They know they need to be there. But wisely, they're realizing that how they blog has to meet individual company goals...not some blogging definition dreamed up by bloggers somewhere.

These companies run the gamut from consumer device companies to software companies to non-high tech companies too. It shouldn't be too shocking though. Who would have thought theatre companies would have seen the value of blogs and gone for it as 42nd St. Moon and Foothill Music Theatre have?

Most of what I've been talking about...i can't talk about.

But I'm hoping a lot of new things come together in the near future, and then, don't you worry, I'll be talking your ear off!

Recap of my Stanford talk from one of the attendees.

One of the fellows, Steven Ketchpel did a quite thorough recap of my presentation to the Reuters Digital Vision Fellowship program at Stanford U. last week.

In fact if you review his entire blog he's been quite faithful about recording the speakers they get, and it's a varied and interesting bunch.

Steven does reference perhaps the biggest unanswered question from the presentation, which was about intellectual property?

Do you own your content if you use a hosted service? Are they obligated to turn it over to you, if they should fold? [Obviously we should all be making back-ups...let me get right on that!] Do you own the comments that people post on your blog, or do they? I don't know the answers. But I think that as an industry we don't really know the answers. As Steven brought up, some of the blog services have in the Service Agreements clauses about owning content. But as I brought up: there's a question over whether that would ever hold up in a court of law if it came right down to it.

I guess I should start following some law blogs, and I may start with this one, since my friend Lisa Stone writes for it.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

The latest extended Silicon Veggie, Santa Cruz style

Can be found here.

Topic: what does it mean to be categorized as an "ethical" vegetarian?

Will probably have to check out AdTech this year

Having always been on the product side of marketing, I'm not exactly a PR/advertising maven. And I've never been to AdTech.

But my focus on blogging has necessarily driven me more towards the communications part of marketing. Rick Bruner recently posted on the upcoming show in San Francisco and piqued my interest by noting there would be three, count'em three, sessions around the blogs and kindred topics.

To be honest, most of the conference schedule makes my eyes glaze over and my head hurt (although that could just be the massive allergy attack I'm having today...damn you rain and sunshine!!!)

See I'm going to confess that I have the product person's slight disdain for the other side of marketing. I know, I know, it's totally unfair, especially given my usual pleas for kindness and understanding for all marketers. But product marketers see themselves as finding out what customers need and making sure it's delivered to them, and product marketers do often see MarCom types as doing what other functions think all of marketing does: adding artificiality to the process. Reviewing the session descriptions it makes the act of helping to connect customers with solutions to their problems seem so inorganic.

Oh, and the $1000 price tag isn't exactly making me love it either. I know some consultants who spend large portions of their lives going to conferences. I don't know how they manage it time-wise, sanity-wise and money-wise.

So, I'm still pondering...but there are definitely some hooks for me.

Monday, February 21, 2005

02/20/05: Berkely CyberSalon on IPTV

I recently met Sylvia Paull and was fascinated by what a connector she seems to be. She runs all sorts of regular get-togethers for those interested in culture and technology (and I hear she's a part-time matchmaker too!)

This Sunday I went to my first Berkeley CyberSalon with my S.O. and my pal Elle.

Let me just warn you not to use Yahoo Maps for the directions because they sucked. We got lost (none of us being East Bay Aficianados) and ended up having to call Cingular's information number to get directions.

Once we actually found the Hillside Club we found a room that was already filling pretty quickly. Sylvia herself said she had predicted the evening's topic would attract a large crowd.

The topic: Internet TV
The panel:
-Moderator Jeff Ubois, all-around techno-dude with a special interest in archiving the ephemeral...television programming.
-Brad Horowitz of Yahoo
-Mr. Kim Spencer of LinkTV
-Janet Gardner of perspective Media (can't seem ot find a URL)
-Wendy Seltzer from the EFF

Jeff started out by giving an overview pointing out that television programming was ephemeral (love that word) but that Internet re-viewing of certain telecasts (the Jon Stewart "Crossfire" appearance being a recent example) were outpacing initial viewership on TV. Jeff is clearly a big fan of technology and channels that will allow new creators of media and new distribution channels for those creators and claims that traditional media isn't happy about it.

I would have to say that I doubt they're overly concerned about 1000 people with camcorders (even if they should be.) I would guess they're simply concerned that Internet distribution channels are ripe for piracy and illegal dissemination of the programming they put the money up front to produce. Here's the thing: I understand and even sympathize with that concern. When people start talking to me about some utopia where there will be a million available programs for every niche from every kind of producer, I tend to think about, oh I don't know: reality.

Like the fact that there are already hundreds of channels, most of them crap.

Like the fact the TV production takes funding. Sure, maybe not as much funding as most movies/TV shows end up taking...but money from somewhere. All those grand stories about indie film producers who make something on a shoestring budget...and then it makes millions of dollar...well, those filmmakers mortgaged their homes and maxed out their credit cards to do it. And it's the lucky few who get a real payback.

But I digress.

The most interesting thing Horowitz discussed was the new video search tool Yahoo launched this week. Unlike Google's video search tool, which just brings yo links to transcriptions of shows that are on video somewhere, Yahoo will actually link you to the video itself. I think it's kind of amusing that they're not going to concern themselves with whether the sites they link to have a legal right to show that video. I mean, wasn't that Napster's original argument...that it wasn't responsible for the links it brought you and what was available there?

Spencer then delivered a commercial for his programming site, calling it an outlet for progressive and international programming. Right now it's available both via DirecTV and streaming on the Internet...streaming not downloadable I believe.

Gardner was basically playing to a hostile crowd, and she didn't help herself by relying on a couple of really patronizing and simplistic schticks to make her point:

Schtick #1: All those poor "Gilligan's Island" actors who didn't get a share of syndication rights...isn't it terrible they can't get a shot at money from Internet distribution too?

As if the big media companies that are Gardner's clients would just hand out money from Internet deals to those poor schmos if they didn't have a contract for it. Not without a court order, baby. What a lame attempt to get us on your side!

Schtick #2: Oh, don't you worry your pretty little heads about the Broadcast Flag being transmitted with digital content. It's only 2 bits we're talking about after all. I'm sorry exactly how is the number of bits relevant to an argument over what those bits do?

The Broadcast Flag brouhaha actually came up during Seltzer's talk.

And Seltzer failed to help the audience relate to how the Broadcast Flag deal would actually impact the average everyday consumer. As my S.O. pointed makes people wanting to use their own content on their own devices criminals.

And as I'll point out, in a society that prizes mobility and freedom, it curtails both. Why exactly shouldn't a business man transfer 2 movies from his TiVo to his laptop before a business trip (whether from a premium paid service or free over-the-air service) and be free to watch them on the plane, or by hooking up a cable to his hotel TV?

This is not about protecting intellectual property or copyright. This is about protecting the revenues of PPV service providers!

I found fascinating the very last question (or rather, comment) from the crowd. Sylvia called on a young "hacker" in the crowd, and he, wise beyond his years, said "don't we already watch way too much TV?" This kid was saying hey, maybe we have to get out there and experience the world a little more, not be stuck in front of a screen of any kind! Sound familiar? It's exactly the point I brought up at the last Mobile Mondays meeting.

Here's Sylvia's own wrap-up of the evening.

Can't wait to see what topic will be addressed at next month's meeting!

Here's the panel:

Here's the crowd:

Creative Customer Communication

There's a little online e-commerce site that could that I'd like to share with you.

It's called CDBaby. I forget how I first came upon them, but they sell CDs from lots of independent artists and labels. I heard about this live special CD that Thomas Dolby recorded in honor of his 40th birthday, and it was only available on CDBaby.

After I bought it they sent me the funniest order confirmation email I have ever received. Oh, how I wish I had it still archived. They described how they lovingly shipped my CD, and called me their new favorite customer ever for whom they had a big party. It went on in that vein and was definitely very amusing. Made me remember them, I can tell you that.

Well, recently I received another email from them, and it goes something like this:

Subject Line: CD Baby Loves Elisa

Email Body:
It's been a long time since our big "Customer of the Year" party at CD Baby. (Remember all that, last time you bought a CD? Oh man,that was fun! Your picture is still on our wall.) Since then, we've added some GREAT new albums I think you'll like:

The rest of it is fairly standard links to various sections of their site. but the point is that it once again drew me to their site.

You should check out CDBaby. They even have a tool to recommend artists that are like artists you enter that you already like.

Check them out, so they'll love you too.

(PS-I am NOT a CDBABY affiliate. I just really find their customer communication style fun and unique.)

Saturday, February 19, 2005

The DEFINITION of : getting ahead of oneself

You gotta forgive marketers sometimes. They live by hyperbole sometimes. We're all industry leaders. We are the best, the most, the nth degree. But sometimes it gets a tiny bit laughable.

Like when I read a headline like: "Bye Bye Email?"

Since they're asking the question, I'll just answer it: um, no.

The article is referencing a recent session at the Blog Business Summit where it was suggested that RSS was "rapidly replacing" emails, and that "email marketing is dead."

Yes, I believe this sounds familiar: blogs are murderous creatures responsible for the death of old media, PR, journalism, and now email marketing.

Can I just be a kill-joy and remind everyone that the most up-to-date stats figure that only about 5% of online user use RSS?

I more than agree that email marketing has a lot of challenges...from overzealous spam filters, to lower and lower open rates. But you gotta be crazy if you kill any other marketing tool at this moment in the time-space continuum just because you appreciate the beauty of RSS.

Take a step back, a deep breath and a hard look at transitioning your marketing mix, not replacing it.

This week's Site of the Week

And now for something completely as masterpiece of the American musical theatre.

Often, not always, my Sites of the Week are sites that give you cool things to do on the web, This week's Site of the Week is the web site for my client, Foothill Music Theatre, and my goal in choosing it is to tell you about something cool you can log off an do in the real least if you live in the Bay Area.

Go see Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" in the intimate surroundings of client Foothill Music Theatre's Foothill Playhouse.

"Sweeney" is a true masterpiece, with an unbelievable and powerful score. Of all the many, many shows I have seen in my theatre-going life, from Broadway to high school auditoriums, the first time I saw "Sweeney Todd", 25 years ago, still ranks as the best theatrical experience of my life.

Don't miss your chance.

Check out my Site of the Week. and then go buy yourself some tickets.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

People don't get "Marketing", and that gives us all bad reps.

As a marketer I often bemoan the reputation marketing has for not being trustworthy or authentic. Just read this post from NY Times Technology writer, David Pogue, expressing a moderate amount of surprise that a company's PR rep was actually honest with him. How sad really. And when people aren't imagining all marketing types as skeevy, scummy liars, they're imagining them as minimally useful. And that's because a lot of people, even corporate types who should know better, don't really get the various segments of the Marketing function.

At one point in my career I had to give a presentation to my direct boss, the VP, and his direct boss, the acting COO, on what Marketing did, because the VP was a PR guy and the COO was a technical guy. How did those two end up being the chain of commend for a product management and marketing organization? Can you say "Re-org"? Can you say "5th Re-org in about a year"? They were basically the last guys left!

I recently read this article on MarketingProfs that, if nothing else, absolutely accurately nails why Marketing is so rarely successful in high tech organizations. The fact is Marketing can be broken into multiple distinct categories, and it's going to be rare to find one or even two people who will excel at each category, yet no company will invest to hire an expert in each category. So you get a bunch of people desperately trying to multi-task across tasks where their skills have little chance of fitting all of those tasks well.

The first segment of Marketing is: Product Management
This is generally an "inbound" role...working with engineering. But even this function really covers two distinct disciplines:

1. Product Definition: It is really Product Management that is tasked with understanding the market picture...from macro to micro...and helping R&D use that information to develop the right product at the right time. Understanding the customer; understanding the competition; understanding the technology. Tall order, no?
2. Product Delivery: The Product Manager also gets turned into Project Manager extraordinaire when it comes to launching a product. Harnessing all of the other cross-functional team members, making sure everyone brings in their deliverables on schedule and with the right level of quality. And that includes working with the highly technical to the not-so technical as you drive a product through the alpha and beta and launch phases. Communication, leadership, motivation, attention to detail...maybe even some BusDev if your product is only part of a partnership chain.

The second segment of Marketing is: Product Marketing
And how many companies do you know where they simply have one PM who is meant to do both product management and product marketing? I'll answer: most of them.

But Product Marketing is generally an "outbound" role...working with MarCom, sales, customers etc. Product Marketing gets saddled with tons of deliverables...content for collateral, and presentations, and sales trainings, and the web site, and RFPs and trade show get the idea. But the people Product Marketing communicates to and for is very different from the people Product Management communicates to and for.

Yet, you so often see one person responsible for every bit of all of the above. It's a recipe for confused customers or frustrated engineers, frankly.

The third segment of Marketing is: Marketing Communication
This is where you find PR and event planning and branding and often web stuff and usually collateral stuff. This is often where you need the person with the eye and the ear. What looks good? What sounds good?

And where in all of these segments do you make room for:

Strategic Marketing
Technical Marketing
Marketing Engineering


You begin to see why Marketing feels under-appreciated and misunderstood, right?

NOw, just add this to the mix:

Marketing can't control the hands-on execution of the product design/development or the hands-on manufacturing of said product...they're not coding; they're not building.

Marketing can't control the hands-on sales of the product. They simply don't close the deal.

They're just in the middle trying to keep all those balls in the air, trying to make all those internal and external customers happy, and trying to avoid being called liars along the way!

Find a marketing person and give them a hug today. They need it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Lessons from "The Apprentice"

So, I don't watch "The Apprentice." I cannot stand Donald Trump to be honest. To me he's just a loudmouth blowhard who has made money despite bankrupting companies repeatedly. Smart guy only bankrupts the companies that are public, though, so the shareholders bear the brunt.

I have begun reading, however, the weekly recap of the lessons to be elarned from "The Apprentice", found at the HireDiversity site. Here's this week's lessons.

The lessons I like this week? (Bearing in mind that I have no idea if those lessons were really imparted by the show...I didn't watch it I just read this recap!):

Good behaviors:

-Protecting and supporting your team.

My take: The worst boss I ever had stole credit when things were well and blamed his team when things went poorly. The worst executive I ever worked under refused to hire the best and brightest people because he always needed to be the smartest guy in the room. But I walked away from those experiences learning that choosing a great team reflects well on you. and supporting and promoting your team also reflects well on you, while simultaneously generating loyalty from your team.

-Don't reward bad behavior

My take: Apparently in the context of this episode neither team did well, so both teams paid a price. But I also find this concept reflects how I feel about politics. So many people voted for the devil they knew. So many people don't want to reject the policy they know is bad if they can't be guaranteed something better will replace it. I actually think that's self-defeating. Sometimes you can fire a bad performer without having a replacement or without a guarantee that the replacement will be able to turn things around. but you gotta stop the guy driving you off the cliff.

Bad Behaviors:

-Lots of stuff about how you can't lead if you won't delegate, if you're threatened by your team, if really just want slaves, not contributors.

My take: see my comments on the bad bosses/executives I've observed. 'nuff said.

i may not watch the show. But I do enjoy the recap.

Local marketing colleague featured in CSM article about Career change after 50...but it could just as easily be my story

Minna Vallentine is a well-connected, greatly experienced marketing professional who got laid off and found re-entering the job market no easy task.

I met Minna when I used to attend weekly networking meetings of the C6 Sales & Marketing Special Interest Group (SIG.) She was smart; she knew people; she had an amazing CV. Whart could possibly be the issue?

Well, she was laid off during the worst of the downturn. And then once things start picking up it looks like you've been out so long. And she was fairly senior level...and there are simply fewer senior level jobs out there. Lastly she was a woman over 50 years old. And as Ronni Bennett can attest, that doesn't help.

The Christian Science Monitor recently did an article on career changes in your 50s, and Minna is heavily featured.

She was certainly talking about this avocation of literacy and reading training in our networking meetings, but if I'm not remembering wrong, I think she still assumed for quite some time that she would go back to a "real" job at some point.

Well, much like my detour into being the Queen Bee of Worker Bees, sometimes when you get an idea that you're passionate about, really fascinated by...that idea should be explored...could it be your vocation? Should it be?

Minna answered, as I did, "yes."

I'm glad to see she pursued that passion. Great article.

Speaking at Stanford this afternoon

A couple of weeks ago I went to a backchannel networking dinner in SF where I met a slew of interesting, intelligent and interconnected people.

While there, I spent some of the time talking to Stu Gannes, the gentleman who runs the Digital Vision Fellowship at Stanford University. We talked about technology, particularly the power of blogging. And we agreed it would be great to continue the conversation some time over lunch.

So, we set up to meet today to continue that conversation over on campus.

I'll first give my presentation on "Blogging for the Enterprise" (the one I did at EBIG in January.) Then we'll have plenty of time for Q&A and discussion.

Apparently it's open to the public, so if you missed it at the EBIG meeting last month, come on over to Stanford and see it there!

Here's their site where you can get the details.

Speaking at Stanford this afternoon

A couple of weeks ago I went to a backchannel networking dinner in SF where I met a slew of interesting, intelligent and interconnected people.

While there, I spent some of the time talking to Stu Gannes, the gentleman who runs the Digital Vision Fellowship at Stanford University. We talked about technology, particularly the power of blogging. And we agreed it would be great to continue the conversation some time over lunch.

So, we set up to meet today to continue that conversation over on campus.

I'll first give my presentation on "Blogging for the Enterprise" (the one I did at EBIG in January.) Then we'll have plenty of time for Q&A and discussion.

Apparently it's open to the public, so if you missed it at the EBIG meeting last month, come on over to Stanford and see it there!

Here's their site where you can get the details.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Linking is just a new form of networking

I've mentioned the Butts in the Seats Blog before. And he's mentioned me before.

Now he's starting to notice that my links are bringing him some traffic. And the more traffic he gets, from all sources, the more probability someone will find him that needs him.

And that's just a different form of networking. As I said in an earlier post: very few steps in one's life and career path happen in a people vacuum.

But, and here's the point: it also serves to remind us that the links you point to reflect on you.

It would do neither me nor my linkee much good if I drove people to click though to a link that was of no interest whatsoever to them.

At this blog I link to marketing blogs and some arts blogs.

At my Santa Clara County Democratic Party blog, I link to political blogs.

I save the links to more personal "life blogs" for the blog roll over at my Personal Blog.

I want to be considered a source for useful information and connections, not just some random link whore (to be perfectly blunt.)

Maybe it's a little slower way to amass the links, but I think long-term, it's more efficient.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

2 more NewComm Forum Recaps

Recap of Andy Lark's Keynote Speech

Recap of the panel on Blogging and how it Impacts Branding

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Marketing Guru Seth Godin's recipe for Success

Seth Godin, he of Purple Cow fame, offers up his 10 ingredients in the recipe for success for an online business.

Some of these rules are pure, unadulterated common sense for any business, any where...from brick & mortar shops, to online, to services, enterprise, to a pure commoditized widget play. Like what?

Like: Keep your promises.

Like: Execution, execution, execution.

Like: Decide what you don't do!

Frankly this last may be my favorite. I have rarely seen companies I've worked with fail because they attempt too is always that they try to do too much.

Maybe a lot of Seth's list will seem obvious to you. But if it's so obvious why do so few companies manage to check off all of the items on the list?

Scoble at SJSU: How Blogging Will Change Communications

Robert Scoble, Microsoft's "Chief Humanizing Officer" according to the Economist, spoke at our mutual alma mater, SJSU, Thursday afternoon. The talk took place at the huge, beautiful new Martin Luther King Jr. Library, that is both the university's and the public's library in downtown San Jose. The Library sits right next to Hugh Gillis Hall, which houses the Theatre Arts Department, and so pretty much housed me for four years. I'm desperately trying to remember what was there before the library and can't!

I graduated from SJSU nearly 20 years ago, and I haven't been on campus in nearly a decade, so the difference...not only on campus itself, but in the blocks immediately surrounding campus, is pretty stunning. Here's a picture of the Library:

Since I didn't attend Blog Business Summit in Seattle last month, I thought I'd traipse down to SJSU and check out Scoble's talk. Plus there was a Geek Dinner that evening.

My first thought in looking around the room at the dozens of students assembled was: why are they all taking notes in a paper notebook, just like me? Seriously, isn't this generation supposed to be "always on"? (Actually, my first thought was "My God, they're so young...I was surely not that young when I was in college!")

On to Scoble's Talk

Robert started with a Brief History of Scoble, most of which I wasn't too aware of. And them moved on, in somewhat rambling fashion, to make some key points both about blogging and about personal paths. Here is what I gleaned:

1. Relationships still rule
I wholeheartedly agree with Robert that in the end it is the relationships you build and maintain, starting as early as you can, that tend to drive each step of your personal life path. The connections can be direct and strong, or they can be one or two steps removed, but very few moves in life occur in a people vacuum.

And "relationships" can also apply to your relationships to events or topics...because...

2. Passion and Authority make for successful blogs
If you follow particular topics, events, technologies etc. you can become a niche expert in them, and your blog will benefit from the strong relationship you have to the topics about which you write.

it's an interesting question really. One I should think about in relation to my Personal Blog. In that blog I write about everything that interests me...which encompasses a lot, from the arts to technology to politics to animal rights to random musings about any old thing. Does that help my blog appeal to more readers...the something for everyone philosophy? Or does it overwhelm and put off readers...who'd rather go to sites that talk about one thing and one thing well? Don't know. not sure I care, since that blog is, after all, by its very nature...personal.

3. Blogs compress news cycles, and PR cycles.
9/11 was a watershed moment, as was the Tsunami. Suddenly the man on the street's commentary wasn't being edited by a mainstream media outlet, but was right out there for anyone to read. Suddenly a bad customer experience can be spread around before a PR department has any chance to quell the disturbance. How can it be dealt with? Only by paying as much attention to the blogosphere and its buzz as you do to Wall Street and its buzz.

4. Blogs don't have to "kill" anything, but they will change the way traditional functions are performed.
From higher education to journalism to PR, blogging technology has the potential to radically change how those functions are performed. When it comes to the latter two, I think they already are...and they have great potential to do so on the first, education.

Robert did list his "5 things that distinguish blogs":

1. Easy to Publish...which democratizes the spread of information
2. Discoverability
3. Linking Behavior
4. Permalinking (again, this is about ease...ease of sharing in this case.)
5. Syndication...which makes it extremely efficientto track many, many sources.

I will note that these 5 things are sort of technical in nature, and don't address what is distinctive about blogs from a content point of view. [My opinion: the informal and immediate nature of blog content makes blog content seem more authentic to consumers who have become increasingly cynical about what emits from our media outlets, our politicians, our corproate offices.]

I will also give Robert one unsolicited piece of public speaking advice: let people finish their questions and make sure you understand what they're asking, not what you want to answer. Two examples:

1. Someone asked if blogging was a fad. Robert noted that blogging would survive because nothing was better at delivering "Google juice." I thought that was a really limited view of why blogging would survive. [I, in fact, think that blogs are a subset of web sites, and eventually most web sites will become more bloggy in blogs won't just survive, they'll evolve to be the dominant style-guide!]

I asked a question. My question was intended to be: "Since Google is perfectly able to manipulate how they assign Google juice, as evidenced recently by the no-follow tag, then isn't citing Google juice as the reason blogs will survive too limited and assigning all control over blog value to this one company and its proprietary algorithms?"

Robert heard the words "no-follow" and started explaining why no-follow is good and giving useful examples. I tried at first to interject, but he was off and running. First of all, I doubt most people in that room had any idea what he was talking abut, as he didn't first explain no-follow, but it also simply wasn't my question.

2. Steve Sloan, one of the event organizers, asked a question about searching podcasts and Vlogs. I think (and someone else can correct me if I'm wrong) that Sloan was pointing out that you can't search within an audio or video feed, like you can with text. And that that limitation would constrain the usability/popularity of such feeds until some method was determined to do so. Robert didn't let the final words come out of Sloan's mouth and interpreted it to be about whether such non-text-oriented blogs are as Googlicious as traditional blogs.

I would have loved to hear him answer what I think the question was meant to be, because I do find that to be a downside to audio/video entries...they're often minutes long, and I shy away from committing my time to that.

Bottom line: Robert is brimming with passion for what he does, and his brain is likely overflowing with ideas and opinions about a movement that he is definitely at the forefront of. I have no doubt he intrigued or inspired or encouraged many of the students in that room. I think the more he zooms out, focusing less on the technical nitty-gritty and more on what that technology enables, the better this kind of presentation of his will become.

There was also a Geek Dinner that evening...wrap up is here at my Personal Blog.

2 pictures of Scoble from the event:

Setting Up:

An impressionistic (read: blurry) shot of the man speaking:

Friday, February 11, 2005

Latest offer from a Worker Bees client: Brian Dennehy live and in person!

Brian Dennehy is coming to town, starring for two weeks only in "Trumbo" at the Post Street Theatre in San Francisco.

Dalton Trumbo was an acclaimed Hollywood screenwriter who ended up part of the infamous "Hollywood Ten", blacklisted as a result of the activities of Joseph McCarthy.

"Trumbo" is his story...witty, sharp, incisive...and still plenty relevant. In fact these days "Trumbo" is really a cautionary tale.

The show runs for two weeks only, from March 8th-March 20th.

Go to this special web page to get the promotion code to receive $5 off every ticket (about 10% off) for 7 of the performances. You'll also find the link to the online box office or the phone number if you prefer to speak with a live person.

I'm excited that film icon and Tony-winner Dennehy is going to be in such a cool new play in a relatively small space. I'll see you there Opening Weekend!

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

02/07/05: Mobile Mondays

Attended my first Mobile Monday meeting Monday night. Really appreciated going to a techno-geeky-networking meeting that was actually in Silicon Valley, rather than San Francisco or the East Bay!

There was quite a crowd...this shot was taken before it started, and probably at least 20 more people showed up and hovered against the walls around the room:

There were 4 speakers. you can read their bios at the Mobile Monday site; I'm just going to briefly talk about what they talked about.

Speaker #1: Marc Davis from UC Berkeley

Marc leads a program that wants to explore how to help the average media consumer become a media producer. What does that mean exactly? Finding ways to simplify the annotation, usability and sharing of personalized media, such as photos. Once you take a can it be nearly automated to identify that picture and share it? The ultimate vision of UCB's Mobile Media Metadata project is that there is a remote server correlating your picture taking with other picture taking that has been conducted in the same place at the same time and correlating where and how you usually take pictures with who you usually send them to. Someone in the audience did bring up privacy and anonymity, which I also thought was a thorny issue. Hey, maybe I don't want some server tracking where and when I take pictures and who I share it with! But then again, as with all of the services discussed, it's an opt-in program, right? The danger is only that people don't understand exactly what the ramifications of their opting in are.

Speaker #2: Anita Wilhelm from Caterpillar Mobile

Anita, AKA MobileGirl, is a former student of Marc's. She and another alum formed Caterpillar, a company that developing community games for mobile platforms.

I must say she identified to a 't' the current problems I have with my cameraphone, including:
-Can't get the images out
-Networks (and picture transmittals) fail without any feedback

She described games, like photo challenges, that you can play with your cameraphone, along with your network of friends with cameraphones. She said their focus group surveys indicated it was "addictive" and that it "altered their perception" of the world around them. It did sound kind of fun, but it also raised a lot of questions in my mind, like:

-She mentioned maintaining a repository of the photos taken and annotated during the games played. To whose benefit is that? She mentioned using it for databases for other games, and for search enhancement, but don't you own a photo if you take it? Why should this company have some huge database of annotated photos at its disposal. You might think "no biggie" and sign away your rights to photos taken and cached using their s/w, but how would you feel if your photo started showing up on billboards all over town in some advertisement?

-Addictive, eh? LIke we all need more things to keep us obsessed with our devices and what they can do. I don't know about you, but I already am constantly on the edge of information and technology overload.

-As for the "altered perception": I really wonder if such cross network group interaction will take people away from the actual world around them and keep them in a smaller, more insular world that is only populated by those they already know. But here's an example. After 9/11, being alone in NYC and unable to call any of my friends who actually lived there, I ended up interacting with strangers. For example I stood in line to get cancelled seats for "The Producers" for five hours one day. By the end of that five hours I ended up going to dinner with 9 other people I met in line. People from all over the world...each a fellow stranded traveler. If I had been busily communicating with a bunch of people I already knew, I would have missed out on that interaction. And it wouldn't have been tragic, but it would have been a shame.

I asked Anita a question along those limiting our spare minutes of life to only dealing with virtual people we already know, are we missing out on living the life that is right there in front of us? And Anita...mobilegirl that she is...looked at me like she had no idea what I was talking about! She didn't think any of their focus group felt like they weren't living life. No, says I (to myself) but they might not be living the most fulfilling life!

Speaker #3: Alan Moskowitz from MobiTV

MobiTV acquires and distributes content to mobile devices by partnering with both content providers and cellular service providers. And part of their special sauce is transcoding the streams to be appropriate for mobile device viewing, and adding metadata.

Their service is theoretically an easy sell because people simply "get" TV. It's just like watching the 20 most popular channels at home. The huge bonus for the service providers is that it requires the subscriber to purchase the data service offering of the cell provider. Those services have not enjoyed the kind of take-rates that, I think, everyone assumed they would. So, it's a huge benny to the SPs to sell those services, data services, just so folks can watch video.

Once again I found myself torn between, "gee, that's cool" and "what the hell is humanity doing to itself with all this stuff?"

Seriously, when are people supposed to think?

Or imagine? Or ruminate?

I don't just think this about cell phone apps...I've had the same thoughts about DVD players in mini-van backseats.

I remember when I was a kid we drove down to see my grandparents every Sunday...from Millbrae to Menlo, and later from Sunnyvale to Menlo. Maybe half an hour.

At night when we drove home, with everyone mostly too tired to talk, I would stare out the window at the rolling hills along 280 and daydream. All sorts of things. Or I'd stare at people in the other cars and imagine their lives. Can I give you the quantifiable positive result of such dreaming? Not really, but it still seems kind of important.

When are today's kids doing that?

Speaker #4: Ted Shelton from Orb networks

Orb's value prop is not just that you can watch TV via their service, but all of "your" content.

Again, sounds theoretically way cool.

It raised lots of questions for me about DRM and copyright and programmer requirements. And about exactly how they claim they can use your computer to transcode encrypted video content for appropriate viewing on a mobile device. What do the specs on that computer need to be? Because I doubt my poor overloaded iMac can handle much. HBO, for example...not only is it a premium service, but it has strict requirements about how much compression the operators can apply to the programming. it used to be a lower limit of about 5 MBPS as I recall. You're telling me my computer can transcode it down to acceptable levels for my device? Or are you telling me my computer sends that video to the cloud and Orb's network is transcoding it somewhere in the cloud?

Either way, I have lots of questions about the load. Server load, processor load, pipeline load. That load is somewhere. And is that load scalable?

At least with MobiTV, they are the content distributor, and they are distributing it already transcoded...and have the authorization from the content providers to do so.

Maybe it was Shelton's constant MobiTV bashing that makes me cynical about what he was saying...I think he could have laid off a little bit. There's room in this community to give buzz to both services. Don't hit me over the head with your big club, OK?

Anyway, cool evening. Learned a lot. And it should come in handy for me soon, I hope. (Still can't say why.)

Thanks to Mike and the rest of the Mobile Monday crew.

My other pictures from the event are here:

The Marketing Value (Not the Ethics) of Fake Blogs

You might recall the "Lincoln Fry" McDonalds commercials during the Super Bowl. Or you might not. I didn't find them to be either memorably good or memorably lame.

Seems McDonalds created a blog to accompany these commercials, complete with comments, trackbacks and multiple posts. Seems the blog is fake. Fake because it purports to be written by the couple who found the Lincoln Fry and plan to auction it off.

The blogosphere has been in a tizzy about it this week, with most bloggers crying "Shame!"

Today, however, I read a post by fellow NewComm Forum attendee Andy Lark, who thinks the uproar is a little overblown.

Now, I posted over at my personal blog about the whole ethics discussion, closing with the following:

"Now, ethics are ethics. Creating a fake blog to raise donations for a fake child with leukemia is unethical. It's unethical via email. It's unethical via a TV ad. It's unethical door-to-door.

And bad marketing is bad marketing. The question, to me, is whether this fake blog will actually serve to help McDonalds achieve any tangible marketing goals. And whether the long-term distrust that McDonalds may create is worth the short term buzz. That, to me, is the interesting question here.

And now I'd like to think about that question: was this good marketing.

On the plus side:

-You can't deny McDonalds got some buzz off of this, even if it was mostly negative buzz. But you've got a lot of people talking about them this week. And who usually talks about McDonalds?

-If anyone actually bothers to click through to the Lincoln Fry web site and then the Lincoln Fry auction, they will find that first of all the web site is clearly denoted to be a McDonalds site, and even better that there is an auction going on for the prop used in the commercials, with proceeds benefitting Ronald McDonald House...a worthy charity.

On the minus side:

-So, they're pimping a misshapen french fry...exactly how does this make me want to eat their food? In other words I find something incongruous between the goal: to get people eating food, and the delivery mechanism...featuring an anomalous example of that food.

-The goal was to get better Google juice? Really? Because people don't think of McDonalds when they think fast food? Somehow I always think of Google juice goals and online buzz campaigns in general to be most (not only) useful when you want to build awareness and compete with those larger companies that have more immediate name recognition. Nobody already has better name recognition, I would guess, than McDonalds...down to the recognition of their golden arches logo.

-That issue of trust and bad buzz offsetting the buzz to begin with. Now one could argue that having a bunch of bloggers mad at you is not too terrifying to a fast food company. A consumer electronics company or software company? Yeah...this would be a serious blunder. McDonalds? Not convinced. But making this poor, fake attempt at blogging is going to hamper anyone giving any amount of love to any future attempts they might make to use blogging in a really productive way.

What way would that be?

Well, I wish McDonalds had started a blog when "SuperSize Me" came out. Have one of their staff nutritionists write it. Talk about the evolution of McDonalds over time to include healthier options, more environmentally-friendly packaging, focus on charitable endowments etc. Or have someone eat there for 30 days straight, but do it with health in mind and see how they do. More like the Stonyfield Farms model of blogging. Giving up trying to be so hip and cool and instead becoming real.

BTW: I'm no McDonalds fan...I'm a vegetarian, so I haven't eaten there in eons...I'm just thinking about how they could use blogging in a positive fashion.

I have to come down on the side of believing that this little Lincoln Fry-gate will have little positive marketing impact for McDonalds, especially looking beyond this week of buzz peak.

Monday, February 07, 2005

More from the NewComm Forum Blog University

It's been slow-going writing my recaps because so many other things are going on, but here are two more recaps:

A Recap of the 'Building Online Communities' session is here.

A recap of the Day One post-sessions networking is here.

Friday, February 04, 2005

This Week's Site of the Week

This week the Site of the Week feature on my Worker Bees web site is

Topix is a great news compilation site, and it's particularly useful for its localization capabilities.

Sure it can be like GoogleNews, helping you find news categorized by key words. but it can also help you find news categorized by by my very own zip code.

Now I get local news, local weather, even local ads. It's pretty cool.

And the NY Times must think so too, since they're paying big bucks to have advertising rights on Topix.

What? A print newspaper and online news site having a symbiotic and synergistic relationship?

You mean everything online does not indicate the imminent death of everything offline? Shocking!

Rant for the Day: Overture ad services (and people who don't read my mind)

Seriously if you can get away with just using Google, I would!

I have had troubles with Overture as a search engine advertising service from the start. their interface is klunky and about as non-intuitive as I've ever seen. Their customer service is slow and the opposite of proactive. The ad service is less flexible and less customizable.

Why use them at all? Well, AOL and Yahoo are the next most-used search engines behind Google, and used more dominantly by residential consumers, as opposed to people at work. Since I'm advertising theatre,it seems like people might be searching for that kind of personal entertainment planning information at home more often than work.

Also, Overture is still damn cheap. You can get most keywords for less than 20 cents (at least the ones in my area, and I grant I are not overwhelmed by other theatre companies using search ads.)

I recently had an issue with both Google and Overture. Google and I resolved it in three days. Overture and I were still working on it three weeks later.

But I thought I'd give it one more try. Within 24 hours I'm trapped by their inflexible system. See, unlike Google, Overture holds your ads while a human being checks them for editorial fitness. Google lets you start advertising right away, with the caveat that they may subsequently shut an ad down if their editorial folks reject it.

But while Overture is reviewing your ads...which can take several days, you can't touch those ads. Even to correct a typo.

See, I've been working with a web designer to create my custom landing pages for my ads (you all do know that's an absolute necessity, right?) You can't have an ad send someone to a generic web page; it has to send them to a page that speaks specifically to the offer your ad was making.

Now, I checked with this web designer...the URL he gave me was going to stay the same, right? Even though I had a couple of corrections I wanted him to make, right? "Yeah, that's the one."

So I went ahead and set up all my Overture ads to make sure that we could get the program up and running as quickly as possible. But, the URL he gave me wasn't the final one. The URL changed. I understand why (something boring about frames...I don't want to get into it) which is exactly why I had checked that we wouldn't have that problem.

Now I sit there with a couple of dozen "pending" ads in Overture that I know will be declined because the URL won't work. Yet I cannot go in and edit the URL. And I cannot set up a bunch of new ads with the right URL because they will be rejected as "duplicate." So here I sit twiddling my thumbs, and I'll be twiddling them again when I re-submit new ads after I get the ad rejection I know is coming.

The lesson: well, mostly that Overture is very user-unfriendly.

But also that you can never be too clear when your communication is only in email.

I shouldn't have asked, "Are you saying this URL is the final one, or are you saying there will be a new URL once the changes are done?" [To which web guy's response was, "that's the one."]

Sure, it seems pretty clear to me. BUT, imagine if I had said:

"If you tell me this is the final URL I am going to go ahead and start setting up the entire program with that URL now, and once I do, it will cause a lot of delay and bounceback if the URL changes in any way, possibly delaying the ad kick-off for days. That being said: should I use this URL or not?"

Point? If there is one, you need to answer the question "What's the biggie?"

I will simply close by telling you that for my Google program I just went in and changed the URLs in about 2 minutes. No fuss. No muss.

Now, if my Gmail wasn't completely acting up for no good reason, I might be feeling all Googley-eyed over Google today!

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

This month's Silicon Veggie column

I visit steakhouses, if you can believe it.

Read all about it here.

Do we need a Professional Bloggers Association?

Several weeks back I had a long chat with Radiant Marketing's Paul Chaney about the Professional Bloggers Association he is spearheading.

Since then I have also seen a post or two deriding the idea.

I've been thinking about it and think there is a value to an Association, although the conversation I had with Paul doesn't map 100% to the content that ended up making it to the PBA web site.

First, I think it's great that they're defining prospective "professional bloggers" as something beyond popular bloggers who want to make some cash off of ads. Rather they mention those who are paid to blog for businesses, who consult about blogging ,and who provide tools for bloggers.

And let me say, yet again, that there are business ethics and journalistic ethics and those should apply no matter the medium.

When I spoke with Paul we discussed four primary uses for a professional bloggers' (and indeed any profession's) trade association:

1. Networking
2. Guidelines
3. Education
4. Promotion

All of these seem useful and some of them seem needed.

Unfortunately, they've now defined "setting ethical standards" as one of the Association's purposes. I've expressed myself on the topic of a Blog Ethics Committee before (here's a hint...I'm agin' it.) I don't mind setting "best practices." Just don't create any phoney-baloney seal of approval, OK?

I've also said before that blogging can be part of a business, and so treating it like a business for people who plan to do business that way is a highly reasonable idea. But this requires us all to remember that blogs do not represent one monolithic kind of content. Blogging is a tool and a technology, even a channel if you prefer. What's in the blog defines what it is and what guidelines it needs to follow.

So, I say go for it. I say I'll probably join. And maybe I'll even get more out of it than I've gotten out of many of the other Associations I have joined in my life! (But, as is usually true, I would imagine you get out what you put in, and I've never been a big Association giver...maybe I'll try it this time around!)

If I seem to be ignoring an email from you, please re-send!

I can't explain exactly why, because it has to do with a new client I can't talk about yet, but if you've sent me an email in the last few days that I seem to be rudely ignoring, you may want to re-send. I accidentally deleted my inbox!

There were only about 40 emails in it, because I'm an obsessive filer, and I've remembered what about 15 of those were. But I'm drawing a blank on the rest.

Silly, silly me. No biscuit.

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