I start off this show with a track by Pablo Roma. Dynamic Illusion did three remixes of this track and this one is my favorite. I can’t get enough of this down-tempo-esque highly produced stuff. From there we transfer to a song by Snake Sedrick – this particular track is the flip-side of Inbreak, which you may have heard in one of my mixes from earlier this year. Hybrid remixes Shifter and Carvell, Quivver points at the clock, Dousk’s classic remix of Tilt, Kasey Taylor’s new pummeling “Coconuts”, Medway and Sven remixed by the Flash Brothers, and as promised my Ulrich Schnauss remix. One of my all-time favorite Way Out West tracks, “Secret,” finishes it off. Enjoy!
Pablo Roma – Sad Flowers (Dynamic Illusion Intro mix) [FeralCode Records]
My first weblog was on the Victoria Freenet in 1995. It was a date-listed series of entries with an archive page and then some other resources on some other pages. It wasn’t a great website by any stretch of the imagination, but that concept of a steadily updated page with entries with some other resources was enough for the Victoria Telecommunity Network to give me their first (and only as far as I know) best website award for that year. It was very maintenance heavy and as a result, entries were short and relatively boring with the maintenance being a subject of many posts. My two thoughts were: this was too much work and is no longer interesting. I stopped after a couple years. I was not to be proto-blogging material.
I took a 4 year break and returned when a friend introduced me to some new software named Movable Type. It was called a “personal publishing system.” It addressed several of the issues I had with maintaining a dynamic online presence, many of which were technical. Ultimately what you need to know is that it became easy and fun instead of tedious hard work.
Before I get into some of my observations, I don’t want this to come across as a stab at businesses or educational institutions that are trying to get into blogging. It’s something as plain as a pencil and it can be for everyone, if it is approached in the correct way. I believe that blogging as a technology has already integrated itself into larger software, and people don’t find the concept all that compelling by itself. It used to be a big deal to know how to do this – now it’s not. We are way past the point of being amazed that you can do it – now we want to know what it is that you have to say.
Types of successful blogs
There are a few different types of blogs that I have seen become successful:
Personal – anyone who has a perspective can share it on their personal blog. It might not have anything to do with current events or things relevant to anyone but themselves and their own lives. That’s fine. A lot of these are private, and then they’re called journals – such as any private blog on livejournal.com
Subject driven – Much like Theme driven, but broader, less creative, and can relate to real news on a subject. Sites like Engadget, DPreview and Techcrunch fit into this category.
Expert or authoritarian – This is like the personal blog since it is centered around a person, but where the emphasis is on perspective, the subject is usually external or gives insight into a person or occupation you might not otherwise know much about, but might be curious about. Yule Heibel, Dave Winer, Malcolm Gladwell are examples of this kind of blog.
Ah – you say – where are photoblogs? To me, that is a supertype along with the hideously named “vlog” (video blog). Any of the above can be photoblogs or vlogs – meaning they are photo driven in addition to or instead of the written word. The “resource” blogs bow out at this point – you can’t download an audio sample or photoshop brush from a photo, or at least not intuitively. At their barest, photoblogs are updated galleries, organized and archived by date. When tied together with something else, they both become part of a larger commentary and effect that commentary and vice versa.
I am certain there are many other types, but these are the four most prominent kinds that I have seen. What is common in all of these scenarios is that the impetus belongs to the writer, and it is their own initiative that finds them on the web. They all have something to share – knowledge, perspective, news, humor, commentary, ideas, Illustrator brushes or other digital resources.
When it comes to corporate application for blogs, sometimes people find themselves thrust in front of a publishing system and they’re not exactly sure what to say. Same with educational blogs – why are we talking, and what on earth are we supposed to say? Educational institutions are telling people that they have to blog simply because its part of social media, which is a big deal. Corporations are very guilty of playing “me too!” when it comes to blogs.
Frankly, not everyone is ready to grab the microphone and make a speech. How interesting can a blog that is written simply to be a blog possibly be? At best it is an exercise in typing and using the internet in a general sense. Inspirations and insights are not commonly found in such scenarios. This is like wearing a swimsuit to the swimming pool, flapping your arms around but never really “swimming.” Remember your purpose.
Lets pretend that you are in accounting at a Pipe manufacturing company. Your CEO has just gone to a CEO conference and has come back, hearing that blogs are “really great.” On top of that, the rival Piping business has a blog. He/She has heard of your skills with computers. The CEO requests that, since you are good with computers and software, you need to start a Pipe Engineering blog. Great news, except that your background is not in piping – you are an accountant. You know the idea is a good one, but you aren’t so sure that they’ve got the right person for it.
What will happen to you is a sequence of:
not knowing what to say
creative paralysis from not wanting to say the wrong thing
at worst, a blow to the reputation of the company through possible published misinformation
This was a bad idea, and in these situations it is appropriate to say “No, I don’t know the subject well enough. This will effect our reputation in a neutral way at best and a negative way at worst.” Your perspective is always important, but it has to be truthfully relevant. In these situations it is definitely worth finding the right person to do the writing – someone with expertise in the given field of the business who has reasonable writing skills, and who isn’t afraid of working with a communications manager to collaborate on messaging. Sometimes this may even be the CEO, like the case is with Marriott. Perhaps you can simply collaborate with a pipe engineer.
Read between the bloglines
Lets say you are a student and you’ve been told to blog. My first suggestion to these folks is: do it from your own perspective. Do not pretend to be someone other than who you are unless that is the theme of your blog. Role-playing on a public space is just weird unless you’ve spent some good time in drama class, and unless you’re completely comfortable with the idea, you will have trouble taking your insights and translating them into something that you think this character would say. No one is interested in internet posturing – there are countless forums for that where you can safely become a face in a crowd.
The reasons why people read blogs are numerous and varied, but the at the top of the list for reasons usually lays a common one: people are reading your blog because they want to know what you think. You can’t always predict who is going to find you or you perspective interesting, and frankly this idea may intimidate or simply not interest people. That is fine. It’s only when you are interested in putting your own thoughts out there and opening them up to others that you’ll find the exercise at all fruitful. The comments should always be gravy at first – that is, to say, don’t count on anyone to comment for gratification. A lot of the time, you will get what you give. The key here is to jump into the pool and delve into a subject or event that interests you, and hold back only where it is common-sense to do so.
If you have no idea why you are blogging, here are a couple suggestions as to how to make things a bit more interesting for yourself while you are writing:
Be yourself and speak your mind
Write about something you are good at, or something that you are confident about
Remember what matters to you and use it as inspiration
Ask questions that you don’t know the answers to – this will serve both as an invitation for comments, and also as a lead for a future blog post
Reference things that you want people to know about
When you talk about the news, say what it means to you
By matter-of-course your reader will also find things more interesting just because things are filtered through your lens. Remember, for some reason, they have come to read your thoughts so you should brush the hair off your face and look them in the eye.
So for anyone that’s actually made it this far, I have two questions for you that I can’t answer on my own:
Those who know me know that I like tech, but I don’t talk about it a whole lot on the ol’ blog. So, today, I am.
One of the topics that has caught my mind lately is the challenge of mobile optics for the big software+tech companies. Specifically I am referring to Google, Apple, Sony and Microsoft. The reason why I mention these four companies is because of some interrelationships that the four of them are exercising, some in different ways than others. For the sake of making a point, I am writing this with the knowledge I currently have, and not doing additional research so I can make a fair observation on each company’s marketing reach from my current point of view as a consumer. I am not attempting to be objective, and I will not be comparing spec sheets.
Who is making your phone?
Google has something in beta called Android. I do not know a whole lot about it. What I do know is that no one is talking about it except for some tech people, and that is that. I am sure it will be impressive, but Google has some work to do on user interfaces if they want to compete with the mobile devices out there today. The good news for Google is that everyone already trusts them. The bad news for Google is that they may have missed the boat on this one.
There were rumors that Google and Apple were collaborating on a phone to replace the initial model of the iPhone, but that did not happen. Instead, Apple released the iPhone 3G and launched it world wide. To say the least, it is known that Apple makes the iPhone. Google’s “Android” operating system for mobile devices is .. well, it has made some news of its own.
I have a Sony Ericsson phone, but it feels very disconnected from everything that goes on. The screen is tiny, the browser is a bit of a joke, and I am not using it for anything other than phoning. That is fine, that’s what I bought it for. However, there is no future for phones like this compared to the other devices out there. There is a games store, but the games are very small and pathetic. It’s a good medium for some of the console classics, but that may be because the phone has similar processing powers to the original Nintendo. Maybe a little more (to play MP3’s). I don’t know if Sony has a competitor to the iPhone – if they do, nobody has mentioned it to me. Ok, in the middle of writing this, it turns out they’ve just announced one called XPERIA X1 – but it’s not on the market yet.
Microsoft has a Mobile platform called Windows Mobile. I know that it exists because I have seen a few people using HTC mobile devices, and Windows Mobile is what it runs. I do not know if Microsoft makes any mobile devices of their own with that operating system on it. They make two button mice though.
Microsoft Office is successful due to the ubiquity factor – that is, to say, since it is already everywhere, people want it. Everyone knows what it is, everyone hates it, but everyone uses it anyway because of that. Thats the power of ubiquity. But it is not the only choice.
Apple has a suite called iWork. Hardly anyone I know uses it for anything besides presentations, where they use Keynote. Keynote is a fancy version of Powerpoint and it’s what Steve Jobs uses during his, you guessed it, Keynote presentations. Usually you find out about new iProducts via a Keynote presentation, or the media (who tell you about those new products) finds out this way.
Sony, well – again, if they have something, nobody talks about it. They make pocketable radios – fair enough. Perhaps they’ll make a comeback here.
Google is making the most interesting progress in this department. Google Docs is easily the most modern office suite out there, with multi-user documents being a core strength. Also a strength: Portability. Google Docs operates entirely in the web browser, and your documents are stored on Googles own ultra-fast and ubiquitous hard drive space, for free. Collaborating? Look no further. First of all, the one copy that you allow others to edit (by invitation) can be opened by several authors at once, and it will lock paragraphs or cells of a document or spreadsheet so that you can all actively contribute. No sending around old versions, or having 100 different file names and wondering which one is newest, or if two people have been editing the newest version on their own – it’s all centralized on Google Documents. This is a big deal if you’ve ever worked in group environments. I know you’re sick of seeing file names like “Education Report (Revised) FINAL [Edit 5] Dec 30th.doc”. Move on from the madness, divorce yourself from Microsoft Office. Changes are tracked by user and you can go back in the history of the documents at any time. For group projects, Google Documents can not be beat. This is destined to be a Microsoft Office killer.
Sony’s marketing has pretty much always been the same – premium product offering like Apple, but completely different approach. Sony’s marketing right now is exactly what Apple’s was before the first iMac, and that was a long time ago. “We’re cool, you’re cool, this is sophisticated, and you will be too once you own one.” That seems to work for them, so I’ll leave it at that.
The Apple campaigns are an example of the power of marketing. Apple understands how to manufacture desire and you only need to look at their cheapest product to understand this. The iPod Shuffle does very little, but it does it with style and extreme simplicity. Apple’s elegant products are being matched by elegantly clever commercials, and the simplicity of both is causing people to really get it. The second part of this advertising is their Switch to Mac (from PC) commercials, which are also being received fairly well. This has bothered some people, and I am sure not the least of which is Microsoft.
Microsoft is the proud owner of an optics problem. What does that mean? It means that Microsoft owns 100% of the fact that people do not trust them – so much, that a lot of folks, when prompted to do critical system updates, will not allow them, because they think Microsoft might mess up their computer. Probably not far from the truth in some circumstances, but nonetheless Microsoft has felt the need to reconnect with their market. To do this, they have the amazingly uncharismatic Bill Gates star in a commercial with Jerry Seinfeld. I have no doubt that the intention is to rebuild familiarity, which is one of the building blocks of trust. This is what they came up with, as of two weeks ago:
If Bill Gates is what everyone perceives to be the face of Microsoft (and it is, regardless of his off-payroll status), then this is not a very endearing move on Microsoft’s part. They did a second commercial with Seinfeld and Gates, but I’ll leave it out. It was four and a half minutes long and I have no idea where they thought they were going to air it. As you may have heard, Microsoft has decided to scrap the Seinfeld commercials and are going to move more directly towards Apple’s campaign by hiring someone who looks a lot like someone from the Apple commercials. Well, Windows Vista is a rather poor rip off of Mac OS X, so at least they’re being consistent with their inspiration. You would think they would have learned their lesson with the response to Vista, though.
I find it genuinely puzzling that Microsoft initially used Bill Gates to personify Microsoft. He is not likable, and there was no evident synergy with Seinfeld. He is the face, but he is not a marketing campaign, nor is he capable of being a part of one. Apple’s man is Steve Jobs, and although his used socks have more charisma than Bill Gates on his wedding day, Apple doesn’t put Steve in the commercials. Apple does not have a problem with trust or a desperate need to connect, because they are already connected. Microsoft has their back up against the wall, and that could be why they dropped $10 million on Seinfeld for some commercials that they didn’t even end up using. Their image is in trouble and these floated commercials did not help. We did get a funny Penny Arcade out of it though. Thanks to Adam for the link.
Google’s advertising is themselves. They’re in the dictionary, look ’em up. Their strategy is to innovate and not be evil. It is working, and people like them as a result. This matters when people are deciding where to store their email, pictures, files etc.
Calendars, Email, etc
The stuff we would probably prefer to do without, but would be a colossal mess if we didn’t have: Email and Calendars.
Apple has a very slick app called iCal. If you have seen this or used it, you also now know how to use Google Calendar. The two are practically identical except Google Calendar is on the web, so you can access it from any computer and also update it from anywhere. iCal requires a paid “Mobile Me” account (formerly known as .mac) for synchronization between devices. Mobile Me is a subscription based service, meaning you pay and you get some services which seem like they should be free. To me, this seems like a lost opportunity – we have superior alternatives (Google Calendar) so why make us pay for something that isn’t as ubiquitous? That is how Apple lost me on their iCal and I switched to Google Calendar a couple years ago. Apple’s “Mail” is not a bad program, but the spam filter needs some serious work. It was smart for the first couple years but then spammers got smarter, and the filter didn’t. Return to sender.
Google has gmail – and it rocks just as much as you’ve heard it does. You don’t have to delete anything, the spam filter is tight, integration with Google Calendar is smooth, labeling and multiple mailboxes are supported, and it’s on the web, so again you can check from anywhere and you are not tied down to your computer, nor are you taking up space on your computer or slowing it down. It’s all stored on the Google cloud – a vast network of computers and storage space that is shared and continually built up.
Microsoft’s flagship email client is Outlook. Not a big surprise there – it’s as old as the wood paneling on the walls in your parents basement. Outlook has a calendar, it’s fine for what it does and probably suits the needs of most people who don’t feel like looking any further than what is provided to them. It is, however, a clunky piece of software that you’d never choose if you actually gave it some thought. It is the Big Mac on a menu of fine Italian food that you’re too embarrassed to try and pronounce, but you really should try. The new version of Outlook actually uses Microsoft Word’s incomplete, non-standard HTML rendering engine. It doesn’t support full CSS, so that means emails you receive, such as newsletters from any professional association you might be a part of, will not appear correctly. Things like margins and background images will be absent, and it is a step back into the mid-nineties so far as technology goes. You can do better than this.
Sony has some sort of calendar on my Sony Ericsson phone, but it doesn’t synchronize with iCal or Google Calendar, and I refuse to install outlook on any of my home computers so I don’t know about that. The interface is small and the screen on the phone is too small to be of much use when it comes to a table-based layout like a calendar.
Instead of trying to use my Sony Ericsson phone calendar, I use the iCal on my iPod Touch. The iCal is a native app for the iPod Touch/iPhone, and I prefer to use it over the web interface for Google Calendar on small screens. You can sync your iCal with your Google Calendar via NuevaSync – a third party app that gets Apple and Google to play nice together. How sweet it is – another thanks to Adam for passing this on. The funny thing here is that NuevaSync uses a Microsoft Exchange server to make them all work together. Data portability moves in mysterious ways. Apple’s iPod Touch/iPhone also allows you to set up your Gmail account directly as an IMAP account on your hand-held device, allowing you to respond and read messages directly on the server through a very slick interface. I like it when these devices and services play nice together. Sony could take some notes here.
When will the pace slow down?
If you are the type that likes to wait until things settle down into more concrete forms before you get into something, the bad news is that it wont. Technology is a constantly evolving arena and that means that you will be seeing new items and advances all the time. The good news is that competition between companies is strong, and that means that these businesses are spending lots of money on matching features from others and innovating. This healthy competition means that the consumer is left with superior products for their dollar, and better choices all around as a result.
How do you destroy a great idea? The first step is to share it with everyone. Don’t believe me? Be the first person to clap along in time at a concert. People who know how to join in will do so, and likely in time. Quickly this will spread throughout the audience until everyone wants to get in on the action. It will not take long to hear that entire second separate group clapping out of time, and then the third group who doesn’t have a notion of tempo or time signature joins in and it’s all over. The end of the breakdown better be up by this time, or the song better be over, because this is just applause at this point, not an addition to the music.
I am sure, right now, you are thinking – how can someone be so stuck up about clapping at a concert? It’s the idea which is important to me, and it is one of the fastest examples of initial influence, an action spreading, and what market saturation could mean for a given product. Although out of time clapping peeves me, it is merely an observation I must make because I am also a musician and as such it is impossible to ignore.
People take ideas and apply them in their own ways, for better or for worse.
A little aside about those who start the clapping rhythm at concerts – these are the people who are willing to take a chance to spread an idea because they know it will work. When it comes to marketing, it takes the same kind of confidence and timing to know when an idea is appropriate and how it will catch on to achieve a certain effect. Not everyone leads.
Speaking of following
On Sunday, the Governor General of Canada dissolved parliament and a federal election has been called for October 14th. I am not sure about you, but after watching the Americans wind up over the last year with nominations and competition within each party, it scarcely seems like we know our candidates in comparison. I hear a few suggestions to turn off CNN or to stop looking at international media so that we can concentrate on our own election, but I think an important question at this point is how much time do we need to get to know our choices? in 2006 we had an 8 week campaign, which was referred to as one of the longest campaigns in history. October 14th will be the 3rd election we’ve had in 4 years. It would appear we are rapidly making decisions about the leadership of our country but they’re clearly able to stick. Perhaps we should be slowing down?
Right – so in that capacity, our last (and current?) government legislated a further away election time. That time was supposed to be Fall 2009 according to the new law. This has been ignored somehow, and I wonder what it means to communicate something as law and then, while still in government, be the first to break that law. I find it confusing to say the least. What does legislation even mean?
I have brought up more questions than answers here because I don’t know the answers, or I used to think I knew the answers, but recent events have caused me to question what I have been taught in law class.
Back to the point – following. There has been much speculation that the current government wanted to renew its leadership before the influence from the south would effect Canadian’s voting. Sound ridiculous? See here, here, and most prominently here. This kind of sweeping influence is not imaginary, yet it will extend to everyone’s imagination when they think of the future of our country. That is powerful stuff right there, so how do you harness it? Well, if you are aligned with the emerging influence, you wait and gain power in the process. If you are not aligned wit the emerging power, you act hastily and call a premature election to pre-empt the spilling of a different way of thinking.
Time to market
On Sunday, the announcement to dissolve parliament was made. The same day, the highway boulevards were pummeled with red, green, orange and blue signs. In a 35 day campaign, losing even a day of time means wasting 3% of a marketing budget from the time coverage basis. Campaigning isn’t cheap, so getting the most bang for your buck means maximizing up-time for advertising material. It doesn’t matter if you want to wait a bit, the call has been made for a federal election on October 14th.
The various parties are not messing around with this. They would be fools to – the hands have been dealt. So how far ahead of the announcement did they know about this? I suspect that since they have been a part of the legislature, they must have suspected all along that confidence would fail it. The writing was probably on the wall for a long time. They were ready to go.
Are we ready to go?
From my events planning point of view, 5 weeks is barely enough time to promote a small concert, but yet we say it’s enough to plan the future leaders of Canada. How can this be? From my experience, people need more time to get to know their choices, to learn the issues being championed, and dare I say, be inspired.
The politicians of Canada have a big job ahead of them, a job that relies completely on their ability to communicate with all eligible voters in Canada, and possibly other places as well – as we’ve seen Obama campaign as remotely as Berlin, Germany. It will be fascinating to see how it is managed, and what the communication ambitions of our future leaders might be.