A really excellent column (as usual) from Ezra Klein that references the interview with Gawker’s staff person in charge of finding viral content and ponders what going viral means for “traditional” media. Or more accurately: how can the trend of going viral help out traditional media?
I especially love the four points he brings up later in the column, which I’ve reworded here to make them a bit more applicable to non-profits:
Traffic from the social web can be far more than you imagine if you focus on social traffic rather than just pointing social at your already-existing content.
Specifically writing for social traffic is a skill that people can learn.
Don’t focus only on page views to the detriment of creating quality content. The page views are just the beginning.
Find ways of making your non-social content more appealing on social networks. In other words, don’t just post the link and hope for it to take off.
The number of people in (for lack of a better term) email marketing who are wringing their hands about the Gmail’s new tab system—especially the dreaded “Promotions” tab—are far outnumbered by the people who say they aren’t worried about it at all. The drop in open rate has been tiny, they’ll say.
I am worried about open and click rates from Gmail users in the long term, though, but not because email is being sorted into tabs. That feature itself is actually really useful, and I’ve been using a version of it for years, filtering email into labels and skipping the inbox. That system has worked well for me, doing exactly what Gmail is now trying to do for everyone: keeping your inbox as a place that’s only for the email you want to see now.
My problem with the new Gmail tabs is the read count. It appears just underneath the tab—“3 New”, in a shiny, colored highlight—but once you click on the tab, it disappears. So if you don’t read the email right then, your notification that you have unread email is gone.
I really think this will lead to a dramatic increase in the number of people who have inboxes with hundreds or even thousands of unread messages, because unless they’re reading those emails right away, there’s no nag for them to go back and look; no bold number reminding them that they have email to read. They won’t even unsubscribe. They’ll just let their unread email sit, because it won’t ever bother them again.
There’s a lot of terms that indicate productivity dead-ends, but the latest that I’ve been trying to get rid of in my speech is “we need to”. While, yes, it is a term that’s often used when coming up with an idea that you want someone else to do the work on, what really bugs me about it is its lack of specificity. Who needs to do this? What are the steps involved? How are we going to get it done? It’s a phrase that keeps project managing from happening.
True, we can't trust Google not to yank Keep away from us, but does it matter?
All over the place this morning, there’s been a common refrain about yesterday’s launch of Google Keep, the GOOG’s Evernote clone: Why should we trust Google not to yank it out from under us once we start using it? One of my favorite quotes was one that referred to last week’s shutdown of beloved Reader and posited: “It seems fairly bizarre to violate users’ trust so much, and then days later ask for it right back.”
I read these articles nodding in agreement, but then it occurred to me: so what if Google pulls Keep from us?
As they showed with Reader, Google is really good about making sure you can export your data. So even if you use Keep, you won’t lose your posts.
But more than that, this is a free service which is really convenient and could potentially make you more productive (or at least mean that you don’t forget stuff), but it’s far from vital. And while Reader was extremely useful (and vital for quite a few people) and it was very frustrating to get such a great product and then lose it on a corporate whim, it was, like Keep, still just a free service that was nice to use and little more.
It’s not that I don’t agree that we shouldn’t be wary of every shiny new product that Google tries to convince us to use, or that we shouldn’t be more wary with every product they take away from us, but let’s put it in perspective. If you started using Keep and then they shut it down, it would be nothing more than a disappointment, not an emotionally scarring event or an act of betrayal.
Pay software vs free software has absolutely nothing to do with the death of Google Reader
Yesterday, I had a good Twitter debate with Farhad Manjoo spurred by his assertion that the lesson of the demise of Google Reader is that “if you want software to last, you should pay for it.” Manjoo wasn’t the first person I’d heard say that same thing yesterday in all the talk about the demise of Google Reader, and the notion just doesn’t make any sense.
For starters, there’s the obvious: we never had a chance to directly pay for Google Reader. In fact, we don’t even have the chance to pay for Flipboard or Feedly or Bloglines or Hivemined. This argument only works for companies that have either a donation process or a pay version.
But secondly, this argument comes in the wake of a service—GoToCamera—that I’d been paying for for two years emailing me to tell me that they’d be shutting down in two weeks. In short: paying for something doesn’t do anything to ensure its stability.
Majoo’s second argument is that “you should make sure [services] have a biz model”. But why? As users of the product, we’re consumers. It’s investors that need to know what the business model is. Consumers use a product because it’s useful. Asking us to consider the business model of every new product we use is flat-out ridiculous.
More importantly is that if we only used products whose business models were clear, why would any of us ever have used Twitter? Or Tumblr or Posterous or any service whose only business model is “get tons of users and then start selling advertising”? And again, just because a product has a clear business model doesn’t make it any safer to use. Plenty of products shut down because they can’t sell enough, and just because you bought some doesn’t ensure their survival any more than if you use a free product whose long-term business goals aren’t clear.
Ultimately, to say those people who are sad (and angry) to see the end of Reader should have paid for it is an exercise in wanting to feel superior. Not only does it have zero bearing on the end of Google Reader, but the reaction is nothing more than that: a reaction. No matter how upset people are, it’s no more than if their favorite restaurant closed or a company stopped making their favorite product. You know…things people buy?
Thoughts on the demise of Google Reader and decline of RSS
My friend Chris said he was looking forward to the book I’m going to write on how Google mismanaged Reader. I’m looking forward to it, too. It’ll be a real thrill to read since I’m not planning on writing it.
My first (and, so far, lasting) thought on Google’s condemnation of Reader to Google Death Row (beta) is that it makes sense for them, business-wise, for the same reason that Twitter is getting rid of it’s desktop Tweetdeck app (among other things). They have a finite number of developers and they want to concentrate those developer’s efforts.
In Google’s case, they want to concentrate their efforts on Google+. There’s no doubt in my mind that Reader’s demise has nothing to do with the size or habits of it’s user base, and everything to do with Google wanting to minimize the number of places besides Plus that people can look at links. Now, we all know that they’re crazy for thinking that the boneheaded interface of Plus is a substitute for Reader. Or for anything. But it’s obvious that the GOOG is determined to have you use Plus, dammit.
The other factor that I’m guessing is going into Reader is that, judging from the various RSS readers that I’ve seen over the years, from Bloglines to Hivemined, is that RSS readers are not easy to develop and seem to be a real PITA to maintain. Not that Google can’t manage it, but why put all the work into editing and maintaining software that’s only diverting your audience from your flagship product?
It’s all those working parts, development and maintenance that’s caused the downhill popularity (and the never-arriving mainstream popularity) of RSS in general. Feeds aren’t easy to create if you don’t have a system that makes them for you, they render in readers inconsistently, they’re difficult to get even marginally reliable analytics for, and they’re one more part of your site that you have to chase after. In short, RSS feeds from a site owner’s/business perspective: harder to maintain than social media feed with hard-to-see ROI. Is it any wonder more sites are letting their RSS feeds rot away?
It’s even worse from a user’s perspective. Yes, many of us have worked our content-consuming web lives around RSS for years, but have you ever tried to explain it to someone? “It’s like subscribing to a magazine! Well, you have to find the feed. If the site doesn’t put up the link, then you have to find the feed discovery icon in the browser bar (if your browser supports that). If it doesn’t give you the option to choose one of dozens of feed readers (you have to use a feed reader…pick one), then you have to copy-and-paste the link and then put it into your feed reader. And if the site doesn’t properly maintain the feed, then…tough luck?”
RSS always desperately needed someone to come up with an easy way to subscribe; something like the Facebook like button where you can simply subscribe to an RSS feed; something where we could quit calling them “feeds” and have it be a clear subscription. And something that was extremely easy for site owners to provide for their customers and had a clear business use. But that never happened. So site owners AND consumers slowly quit using it.
Back to the original question, though: I think that Google’s mismanagement came not in the direct decisions regarding Reader, but in the mismanagement of Google Buzz and Google+.
In Buzz, they had the perfect social network. Yes, seriously. The concept was simple and easy: take your blogs and shared articles and put them in a feed with the ability to post a status. But then they forced it into gmail and forced your friends/connections. The same concept into a standalone app with individual friend selection would have been a fantastic social network.
In Plus, they’ve pushed a flawed concept (Circles) and a terrible design in which a single story will take the entire screen real-estate and tried to make it be all things. If, from the very start, they had just kept Reader sharing exactly as it was, except that your shares showed up to Circles that you decide on, it would have made Plus rich with content and conversation. But instead, they’ve shut down the interactive site that lots of people use in an attempt to get us to use another interactive site that’s a different thing altogether.
Since Reader’s sharing was shut down, I’ve turned much more to Twitter (and more specifically, the columns of Tweetdeck). It’s not a great place for conversation and debate, but it’s the best place for curated articles from the connections that I choose, and that’s what I always loved about Reader.
“Workers were abusing the policy on working from home, the former employee said. “There was a ton of flexibility, and I remember several times going to ask my manager a question — and he was nowhere to be found.”—
This is a really important angle around the story of Yahoo forcing all its workers to come into the office. Again, I love the flexibility of being able to work from home, but there are communication problems (not to mention productivity problems) that have to be addressed in order to have quality remote collaboration. If they’re not addressed, working remotely will be unproductive.
Yahoo isn't wrong to make people stop working from home
To put it lightly, the news that Yahoo is requiring all of its telecommuting employees to start coming into the office was not taken well by the tech-osphere (is that a thing?). This post (by the makers of a virtual-collaboration software, not coincidentally) reckons Yahoo will start losing employees to it because they’re not as desirable a place to work as Google or Apple. Enh. Maybe.
But while I consider my ability to work a day a week from home to be a huge perk of my current job, I also think that there’s a lot that gets lost when people work from home all the time. Most of what gets lost is what Yahoo says they’re trying to improve: communication and collaboration. Quick conversations and, maybe more importantly, casual conversations that turn into work ideas are infinitely better when everyone’s in the office. Email, IM and Google Hangouts are great, but it’s much harder to have informal and quick conversations, and the more formal conversations take much longer to have when typing everything out and waiting for responses.
I think it’s still possible to be highly productive with a team when working from home. But in-person collaboration is much quicker and more effective, and pretending that emails, IMs and video conferencing can totally bridge that gap is just not right.
Considering that Yahoo is trying to rebuild their company, I don’t blame them one bit for telling people that if they want to be part of the team, they’ll need to physically be part of the team.
“Once you start to think of mistakes as deterministic rather than random, as caused by "bugs" (incorrect understanding or incorrect procedures) rather than random inaccuracy, a curious thing happens," she writes. "You stop thinking of people as ‘stupid.’”—
I love this quote. As pessimistic and cranky as I can be, I truly believe thinking that anyone is “stupid” is always a dead end and a sign that you’ve quit thinking of ways to improve. The answer to problems lie as much (if not more) in changing the processes rather than changing thepeople.
Idea: a site that pronounces other sources trustworthy or not
While I love living in a time when so much information is available, it’s hard to avoid the ugly fact that lies—both biased and satirical—are often (usually?) presented in exactly the same way as absolute source. We should be living in a time where facts vastly outweigh biases and lies, and yet we see that’s far from true.
So it’d be great to have a site that takes a “citation needed”-like eye to the internet and gives a reference point for which sites are worth taking as actual news and information and which aren’t. If you read some unbelievable-sounding article somewhere (like some of the Onion and Daily Currant articles that get passed around as true), you could either go to this reference site (or even have a plugin that will display whether the site is trustworthy as news), you can know whether this it’s a site you could trust.
The upside is that we move more people towards the kind of trustworthy information that we get on Wikipedia, doling out badges to those sites that prove themselves as fact-checking, reliable sources. The downside is that it would need a literal translation of what is trustworthy, and the site owners would have to be trustworthy and unbiased themselves.
And, of course, people would have to actually use it.
“Apple’s stock began to swoon in after-hours trading, and today it’s down 12 percent. Commentators are saying that Apple has “hit a wall,” that it is “slowing down,” that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of Apple’s “magic.” All of that is totally bogus.”—
Apple defenders always obsess over the profits and stock prices, and while Majoo’s article here acknowledges in the very last sentence that Apple needs to do a little more than just make money to prove its post-Jobs worth, this is another lack of acknowledgement that Apple has spent the last year being wholly underwhelming:
iTunes 11 was a big misstep that fixed nothing and broke several things.
The iPad mini was one of the first times we’ve seen Apple clamoring to answer its competitors rather than the other way around.
The iPhone 5 was an even smaller step up from the 4s than the 4s was from the 4, suggesting Apple is no longer capable of delivering big when they promise big.
I’m not saying that Apple is going to go bust or anything, and they’ll still have at least several more years of sick profitability, but as many people have pointed out recently, Google is the tortoise to Apple’s hare. Their iPhone apps are better than Apple’s and the Android share is growing, and even if their two breakthrough products—Glass and self-driving cars—aren’t much more than things to keep us excited, they’re keeping us excited. Apple is not. And isn’t that more than enough for us to wonder if Apple is no longer capable of being the exciting, leading company that made so many of us pay for those “premium products”?
I love this. There’s a tendency to believe that a visual problem (or perceived problem) with a website requires a redesign to fix, and then going through a long, complicated, expensive process that usually doesn’t solve the problems. It’s like not liking the paint color on your walls so you demolish the whole house. It’s done entirely because people can’t think of anything except “Redesign!” It’s almost always a mistake.
I’ve seen a lot of rules and tips on effective meeting habits, but I think this list might be one of my favorites. A few thoughts:
Rule zero is crucial, but difficult to manage in the real world. And as much as I would love to abide by rule eight a lot more (calling people on the other rules), it’s much easier said than done to tell other people that the meetings they call aren’t worthwhile.
Rule one is wonderful, but nearly impossible to really do. People schedule meetings as a way to block off time from the other tasks that they have to do as a way to signal to others that they’re unavailable, not to mention as a way to remind them of the meeting. So having a bunch of one-minute meetings on your calendar really isn’t doable. What I’d suggest instead is that the person who calls the meeting needs to be the person who calls the meeting over, and they need to be good about keeping the meeting only as long as it needs to be.
I love number five as much as I hate those meetings that are just passing around some info. Information should be kept in centralized places where all people involved can access it, not just spouted out in (usually unnecessary) meetings where the information can be easily forgotten or later refuted.
Number seven is just as important: a meeting that doesn’t end with action items and/or next steps is a meeting that might as well have not even have happened.
One more to add: any necessary regularly-scheduled status meetings should be future tense (“I will be working on…”) instead of past (“Last week, I did…”).
There’s a lot to hate about Google Plus. Google has been ridiculously pushy about a product that offers very little that other products don’t. The design is poor—one post with a couple comments takes up the entire real estate—and the mobile app pushes an “immersive” experience, as though that’s what we really needed. Circles are high-maintenance and the wrong way to go about content management and Google is pushing us all do to more: more people in your circles, follow more people and brands, join more communities. MORE.
But there is one good thing about Google+, and that’s that it acts as the glue between all Google products, most notably your contacts, where your address book is updated with the people who are in your circles. Even if the social side of Google+ fails, that connection is still highly valuable, and it’s important that people both keep their information current and that they expose it to at least their Friends circle.
Of course, this is what a lot of the initial arguments in favor of Google+ put forward: that it’s not a social network, but a way to link everything together. That doesn’t account for why Google has been so forceful with the social aspects of Plus, though. If it’s not a social network—if it’s not a Facebook clone—then why are they launching communities, Pages, and pushing us to put more people into our circles?
Here’s to hoping that they’ll continue to make the contact aspect even more useful, even if they don’t do the same for the social parts.
The dumbest part of this article is this quote: “Less than half of visits to nytimes.com start on the homepage.” If any page of your site got slightly less than half of visits, you would consider that one of the most vital pages of your site. So if the homepage isn’t completely dominating, that means it’s “dead”? No. Obviously.
This article posits that the home page is now a “brand billboard”, which is approaching it from far too much of a marketing perspective. The home page is a starting page. This is where people who are interested in you generally go first. Yes, it’s vitally important to optimize deeper pages for those who land on it, but that’s for people looking for (or being directed to) somewhere specific. The landing page is for people who are asking you what all you have to offer. Does that really sound like something that should die off? No. It should be made as useful as possible.
Fascinating article on the change in habits (mostly US but also worldwide) of beverage consumption. In short, Americans are drinking more wine and more water (bottled, unfortunately), but there were a few things here that stuck out:
"Seventeen years ago, liquor consumption hit a 40-year low, so the industry tried something new. They advertised.”
I suppose that it shouldn’t be too surprising to see advertising in action, but…it’s still surprising. There’s a temptation, even among some marketers, to believe that people already know about the product and that something as simple as putting out ads wouldn’t make a difference. It does.
"The middle-class brands are getting crushed, and the high-end is running away with all the income."
Alcohol as an indicator of the American economy?
"Some of the same trends Americans are running away from — an unhealthy obsession with soda and cheap beer, for example — the rest of the world is running toward."
Are we really seeing trends in how countries progress through economic growth? As though these other countries are going through their teen years and America is starting to think about retirement?
“I’m not exactly a stranger to technology, but at a certain point, this stops being fun. Really what I want to do with this site is publish my writing and photography. As far as I’m concerned, the technology should stay out of the way. As much as I want to be a control freak and build my own platform to my heart’s content, I would rather write and photograph than be a system administrator.”—
Great post (with some quality software recommendations) that hits the nail on the head about how I feel about tech: I’m curious about it and love exploring, but when it more maintenance than creation, it’s no longer useful to me.
“The new features are built on the belief that sharing purchases matters more than sharing mere interest in music. A purchase signals a level of interest that’s much greater than the interest that goes into a stream or a like. Anybody can listen to music these days, but not just anybody will actually part with money for it.”—
A couple of months ago, Gmail created some new search operators that allow you to find emails that are older than x number of days or weeks. I was thrilled to read this, assuming that it would mean I could get the feature of Gmail that I’d long been hoping for: a filter that automatically archives old messages from my inbox, meaning that I would no longer have to go through my old email and archive it manually.
Unfortunately, that still doesn’t work. You can create a filter with the new search operators, but since filters (apparently) only work on incoming email, your filter just sits there, doing nothing.
But I did find a way to combine these new search operators with the Quick Links lab feature to at least make it easier to archive older read messages in my inbox. Here’s the recipe:
Turn on Quick Links if you haven’t already (go to Settings, then click Labs, then search for Quick Links and enable them and click Save).
In the Gmail search box at the top, type in this search term: in:inbox is:read older_than:14d
In the Quick Links area, click “Add Quick Link”, which will create a new entry for you and will allow you to give it a title (I called mine “Old Inbox Messages”).
Once you’ve done that, archiving older inbox messages is as simple as opening up the Quick Links box, clicking on “Old Inbox Messages”, clicking the checkbox up at the top to select all messages that match that search and then archiving them. Yes it would be nice to have it be automatic, but this is still a lot better.
Also: I also created an Unread Messages Quick Link (“is:unread”), which can be really handy when getting back from a vacation and going through all the email that’s piled up in all your different folders.
I have really mixed feelings on this heavily-shared thought from Anil Dash.
On one hand, I find myself constantly wishing that more things—especially processes at work—were more like Twitter: feeds of small amounts of information that update throughout the day.
I also think that he hits on a way of thinking that I was converted to a few years ago and feel very strongly about now: that verbal explanation of statistics and trends is vital to the understanding of charts-and-graphs reports, and that reports should never stand alone without explanation.
But I think that visualizations of data are extremely important to understanding what’s going on, and shouldn’t be relegated to being “behind disclosure buttons”.
Also, he seems to have never seen the Intelligence Reports feature of Google Analytics. And if Google Analytics is “totally inscrutable”, then he isn’t asking the right questions of it.
“But honestly — how could anyone, in this age of hyper-privacy-awareness, think that he could get away with such an inflammatory choice of words? Who could possibly have missed the probability of “misinterpretation”? What kind of reaction did he expect?”—
"All of the company’s new features work toward the goal of making music discovery easy. But should it be? And if something lands in your lap is it really discovered?” asks Gray.
Yes. Emphatically, and to both questions.
Chris nails it here. How many times has music discovery happened when you get in a friend’s car or go over to their house and wind up hearing new music that you love? That’s just as much landing in your lap as anything on the internet.
The original article's swipe at Justin Beiber's recommendations is really dumb. The best kind of music discovery is recommendations by someone you trust. And isn't an artist whose music you love someone you trust?
Is the end of free Google Apps the end of free Google?
Last week, I got an email for all of the domains that I own and have Google Apps set up for:
Starting today, we’re no longer accepting new sign-ups for the free version of Google Apps (the version you’re currently using). Because you’re already a customer, this change has no impact on your service, and you can continue to use Google Apps for free
Not a big deal to me. I can still use all the email addresses that I had set up and the few Google Apps that I used. But it does mean that if I (or anyone else) sets up a new domain with Google, you don’t automatically get to use Google Apps for free, even in a limited sense.
It strikes me that this could be something even bigger, though. While Google has come up with pay versions of already existing products, is this the first time that they’ve removed all free versions of a product? Is this a new page turning for Google where not everything that they create will be available for free?
So what does it look like when shutting it off? The answer surprised me. I thought maybe I was addicted and that it would be a very hard experience, but it wasn’t. It was, however, a very educational experience.
A really interesting writeup on the positive life changes that quitting Twitter can bring. While I agree that Twitter can be a barrage of bad news or even just news that it’s necessary to turn off every now and then for your own sanity, I think that the same thing can be said for, say, following the news.
Maybe the answer here is to only look at Twitter during certain times of the day rather than having it as a constant connection. But that’s a whole other issue…
iTunes Up Next is just iTunes DJ minus all the good parts
You’ll probably read a lot of writeups about the failings of iTunes 11, but I feel pretty confident that you won’t read (m)any others that complain about the replacing of the iTunes DJ with the Up Next feature.
I loved iTunes DJ. I started out wondering what the hell it could possibly be used for, like everyone else. But I came to realize it was the best way to listen to music on shuffle. I had control of what was coming up, I could throw a full album or a song in there at the beginning or the end, and best of all, I could poke around the rest of my iTunes library without disrupting the flow of songs I had in the queue.
I was pretty shattered when I saw that iTunes DJ had been removed in 11, but I gave it a chance anyway. Maybe the new “Up Next” feature was just DJ with a different name?
It is not. It’s harder to control, it’s harder to start, it’s much more disruptive when you want to switch from one playlist to another (DJ would let you play out a song before switching to the new playlist), it doesn’t allow you to throw in a podcast episode into the playlist like iTunes DJ did, it doesn’t let you see the full song and file detail in the list of upcoming songs, and it’s much easier to throw your upcoming songs out of whack, suddenly seeing a single song that’s getting ready to play rather than the playlist you were expecting.
Another strike for Apple. If I didn’t love their OS so much (or at least prefer it much more than Windows), I’d swear off their products.
If I was as good about writing here as I should be, I’d have an arsenal of posts on the flaws of Google+. Now, I actually kind of like Google+ and feel that it still has potential in spite of the fact that its foundation—Circles—is about as wrongheaded as a social media network’s foundation can be.
But one of the biggest flaws of Google+ that I keep coming back to (because I keep wondering if it could be true alternative to Facebook) is how they’ve marketed it, where marketing = how they suggest it could be used.
In a word, Google thinks you should approach G+ always thinking MORE. Add more people to your circles. Add entire circlesto your circles. Put huge images in your post so that you create an immersive experience on the mobile app.
This might work for Google (though it also sounds a little desperate), but one of the biggest causes of death of social media networks is when you’re following too many people and you can’t keep up anymore. Google is taking that common cause of death and marketing it as the way of life on Google+.
After years (seriously: years) of playing around with to-do apps, I’ve finally found a couple that are well-worthwhile (and recommended), one of which I use for personal shopping lists and the other I use at work.
Wunderlist I had constantly been looking for a task app where my wife and I could just keep a simple, shared list for the ever-exciting grocery list, and this fits the bill, being both iOS and Android compatible. It’s made it easy: one of us heads to the store and the other one adds items to the list while the shopper is on the way over.
Todoist I read an article somewhere (don’t make me go find the link) about splitting to-do lists into separate lists for today, tomorrow and long-term and then moving things as necessary. As someone who has constantly struggled with overly-long to-do lists, this seemed like a great organizational idea, but as with the grocery list, I could never find an app up to the, er, task. I didn’t want to get my personal Wunderlists mixed up with my professional, so I was looking for something else. I gave Todoist a try and am really happy with it. It has a beautifully basic design, a nice iPhone app, and the ability to drag and drop from one list to another was a must that it delivered very nicely on.
“As with many of the features and services Apple has touted in the past, Passbook sounded great in theory. In practice, though, Apple’s rollout of Passbook has been the quietest and most low-key since the company announced Ping—and we all know what happened to that.”—
This article presents Passbook as though its biggest flaw is that vendors haven’t adopted it enough. But have you tried it? To call it unintuitive would be generous. I started using it as someone who was honestly interested in what it was and how it could work, and I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that Passbook is an interface for individual company’s apps that…are grouped together by Passbook? Made operational by Passbook? What the hell is Passbook?!
If those of us inclined to try it out because of our tech curiousness, just imagine someone who went with Apple because “it just works”.
I can’t be the only one thinking that post-Jobs Apple is becoming exactly the company that naysayers predicted post-Jobs Apple would be.
"Email is miserable as collaborative tool." Depressingly true.
"The inbox is essentially a dead-end". While email is still a good tool for archiving (which this article misses), it’s a bunch of little walled gardens, often leaving out the people that should be involved and involving people who shouldn’t be (though you could say the same thing about Google+…and I have).
"Knowledge gets trapped in the inbox." Also depressingly true. If people spent half as much time writing documentation in centralized, accessible places as they did writing emails, we would have an incredible knowledge base.
"Email is a time killer". I think it would be more accurate to say that email is a time killer because it’s a crutch. Sometimes, long emails do need to be written, but just as often, people spend way too long writing and reading emails when a personal conversation or phone call could get it done in a fraction of the time.
Why I think it’s wrong:
Let’s get this out of the way: it’s an ad for Hootsuite.
It misses that email’s simplicity is why so many people use it. It’s all fine and well to suggest using “collaborative tools”, but they all require a change of habit, which is much harder than a lot of people think. Email and it’s resemblance to all other types of written communication is much simpler to grasp for people of all ages. That’s not to say that we should stick with email because it’s easier, but rather that email is valuable for its ease and simplicity of use.
Speaking of age, the chart is ridiculous. Once again, teens don’t use email because they don’t have to. Put them in an office setting, where they need to communicate in greater detail, and they will use whatever communication tools they need to, including email.
This article is ignorant of (maybe willfully) the study (PDF) done by ExactTarget’s Subscribers, Fans & Followers that shows that people of all ages (yes, including teens) drastically prefer email when being communicated to by companies; that no matter how much they use texting and social media personally, they still prefer email for more formal communications.
A couple of years ago, I was at a conference and when I resurfaced and started looking at Twitter and Google Reader (ah, those were the days) again, I found that everyone was talking about Derek Jeter and Christine O’Donnell. But no matter where I looked, all I could find was opinions, jokes and follow up news and couldn’t for the life of me find out what Derek Jeter did or why everyone was suddenly talking about Christine O’Donnell.
It was around then that I realized there was a desperate need in the news world for a place you could turn to that focused on the basics of a story; a first stop for news before you went back to the opinion, snark and follow-ups that define the news on Twitter, Google News and newspaper’s websites.
That place might just be here with yesterday’s launch of Circa, an iPhone app that sticks to the facts, summing up news stories in paragraph-sized bites with updates added as the story is updated. That is, it looks to combine the browsability of Twitter with the facts of Wikipedia and the reporting of a newspaper.
It seems a little odd that they chose to make this only an iPhone app rather than a site, but my guess is that they didn’t want to compete with the larger news sites like Google news. It’s a risky move, but one that could pay off.
Yahoo's amazing presentation of data...for fantasy football
In all my years (say that last bit in a old-man-reflecting voice) of sending out analytics reports, one of the most important constants is that the written analysis of the stats is more important and informative than the presentation of the stats themselves. The problem is, reports of numbers and charts are easier and quicker to run automatically, and writing up your findings, while worth it for the insight it brings, takes time.
So I was massively impressed to find that, of all places, Yahoo Fantasy Football has automatically-generated game recaps that read as though they were written by a person. Here’s an example from the company that created it. It’s not just a simple plugging in of numbers into a boilerplate recap, but is a narrative based entirely on the statistics from the game.
The dark side of this is that it makes you wonder how many articles are being written by this same technology. Probably not many at the moment, but in the future…?
This tweet struck me really hard (and apparently I wasn’t alone, because it’s been RTed almost 4,000 times). As much as I love Twitter, it’s a constant frustration that you can find plenty of people making snarky jokes about a subject or commenting or posting other articles, but you have to turn to other sources (hello, Google News) to actually find out what happened. Maybe I just need to follow more of the “breaking news”-type Twitter accounts…
It’s an interesting phenomenon that we all assume that everyone’s already heard the basic news stories and we should just move on to our comments about them. Is it because our lives really move that quickly now? Or is it because we’re insecure about being the ones to report the news that everyone already knows?
The story at the end of this article about Marissa Mayer pushing the production team reminds me of another, likely apocryphal, story that I’ve always liked:
The CEO of an electronics company was scheduled to be shown a new video camera (or camcorder if you feel like being nostalgic) that was going to be on the cutting edge of small video cameras and had the strange request to have a bucket of water on hand for the showing. When the production team handed him the camera, he dunked it in the bucket of water and said, “There’s air bubbles coming out of it. That means there space inside of it. Make it smaller.” And they did.
Whether it’s true or not, I’ve always liked the moral of the story: sometimes you need to irrationally ask for the seemingly impossible or just at least demand that the people who work for your push themselves to create the absolute best thing they possibly can. Especially in the world of non-profit communications, I’ve seen that very often, the way big things happen is that there’s someone demanding that they happen, and not for any solid reasons, but just because the person in charge demands it.
Why I think it's a must to include your LinkedIn profile on a résumé
Yesterday, I posted a status on Twitter that asked (pleaded, really) people applying for jobs to include their LinkedIn profiles along with their resumes, and this tweet had a couple people wondering why I would want that. So, I figured I’d give a little more explanation in a forum that allowed for a little more (a lot more) explication than Twitter and start it off—as is my style—with a story/analogy that seems to have no relation to the topic at hand.
Back in the days when MySpace ruled, we all still hated it, but for music geeks it was actually a godsend. Official band sites were trainwreck sites, where it was too difficult to find even the simplest information like show dates or something to listen to through all the unnecessary Flash and hidden, mouseover navigation. But if you went to the bands’ MySpace pages, you knew exactly where the music was, where the tour dates were and how they’d be formatted, where the basic info about each band was, etc. It standardized those things you needed from a band and did away with the inconsistencies and pretensions of the official sites.
This is how I feel about LinkedIn profiles vs résumés. Paper, PDF or (worst case) Word résumés are massively inconsistent, usually way too long, still usually have an objective section, and have widely varying layouts. If I have to go through a stack of resumes in one sitting, I find I first have to acclimate myself to the format and styling of each individual résumé before I can really start to take in what they’re trying to tell me.
That’s not the case with a LinkedIn profile, where I know exactly where to find everything I’m looking for: experience, specialties, recommendations. Plus, the section that shows what groups they’ve joined and their status updates/tweets indicate their true interests vs what they’ve chosen to highlight in their résumés.
In short, I find that a decently-maintained LinkedIn profile to be much more useful and informational than most of the résumés I receive. Plus, if social media is going to be any part of the job, I don’t think it’s too much to expect them to be on the social media network devoted to jobs.
It's obvious that the fake Chick-fil-a-defending Facebook posts were not the work of PR
By now, you’ve seen the (non-)story going around about the conversation on Chick-fil-a’s Facebook page where a defender of Chick-fil-a was caught using a stock image photo as their profile picture, meaning that it was a good guess that it was a totally fake account.
What was a bad guess, though, is that the fake Facebook account was run by Chick-fil-a’s PR as a way of trying to spread lies. I’ve been truly amazed by how many people believe that this is the case when it’s obviously not.
If those responses from Abby Farle were from a PR firm, they’re absolute geniuses AND complete morons. Not that I would put it past a PR firm to be dumb enough to use a stock photo as a fake profile picture, but to do that and figure out that they should write the reply without capitalization, almost no punctuation, end the first comment with “John 3:16”, AND—the pièce de résistance—ending the second comment with “derr”. That’s a combination of cunning and carelessness that is nearly impossible.
Look, we’ve all seen fake PR responses before. If those responses really had come from PR, they may still have had the stock photo and name, but it would have looked something more like this:
You’re wrong, Chris. The toys were recalled weeks ago. Check your facts.
…and then would have just said variations on the same thing. Until they got busted for using a stock photo and being totally wrong, that is.
Look at the second comment by “Abby”. What PR firm would have tried to cut down this argument by trying to say “my friend was in one three weeks ago and there weren’t any toys”? The worst PR firm in the world, that’s who; one so bad that their answer to the question “what demographic would most project the status of a factual smackdown” would be “high school kids”.
I’m no defender of Chick-fil-a. I don’t even like their food much (though I am very pro-pickles-on-chicken-sandwiches). But it’s obvious that this fake account was the work of an individual, not-very-bright defender of Chick-fil-a and the company’s politics and not some slick PR professional trying to pull one over on us.
A very interesting response to the purchase of Sparrow by Google. I’ve never bought the “you are the product” argument—it’s a pretty ridiculous jump to imply that if you use a free software, you become what’s bought and sold as though you have no choice—but I like the response to it: pay for the products you like to support them rather than assuming that all software will come to you for free. This tweet (and this post) show the understandable disappointment of those that believed this theory. And while I don’t share their belief in free software, I do share their disappointment.
Cubby is a pretty good backup solution, but could be better
Backing up the stuff on your computer is something that there’s still not a great solution for. You can backup to an external hard drive using something like Apple’s Time Machine, but that only protects you in case of a hard drive failure, and not for things like theft or fire. You can use an online backup plan like Mozy or Carbonite, but those are slow to initially upload, are an ongoing cost, and worst of all, if you ever needed to backup, it’s another expense and takes a long time.
A good solution is CrashPlan, which has an online component like Mozy and Carbonite, but it has another, free solution: you can backup from a hard drive in one place to a hard drive in another. It takes out the slowness of the initial upload in that you can just load up one drive at home and then give it to a friend or set it up on your work computer, and then it only has to upload new files, rather than everything.
The ideal, of course, is folder backup solutions like Dropbox or Google Drive. But their free plans are way too small for a total backup solution, and their large scale plans are way too expensive.
All this to say that I was excited by the prospect of Cubby, a combination of Dropbox and Crashplan. They give you 5 GB of online storage (which is better than Dropbox), but make it easy to set up a CrashPlan-like solution of syncing multiple hard drives in multiple places. It seemed like the perfect plan, and I bought a new hard drive
and took my old drive with all its files to work and set it up to sync with Cubby.
Besides a little bit of confusion setting up the sync, there was just one thing that stands in the way of this being a great solution: both hard drives have to be online at the same time, meaning I need to remember to leave my home computer on when I go to work, so it’s far from the set-up-and-forget solution I was looking for. Not only does it mean that I need to constantly remember the backup process, but it also means that my files aren’t always backed up, which is what any of us look for in a backup solution, right?
There’s just one little thing that could make it great: that little 5 GB of free space that you get with Cubby, just sitting there unused (for me). Why not allow a setting that lets Cubby to use this space as an intermediary between the two hard drives? I work at home, the files are backed up on the 5 GBs of space, and then I can turn off my home computer and when I get to work, it takes the files from the online space and syncs them with the hard drive at work. With that in place, it would be the best possible solution until the folder backup solutions come way down in price…
By the way, I have five invitations to Cubby. If you’re interested, drop me a line at this domain name at gmail.
How to see if Google Analytics events are firing with Chrome Developer Tools
If you’re using Google Analytics and are using the events tracking, you’ve probably spent a decent amount of time clicking on your links and then waiting for them to show up in your reports. But there’s a way to use developer tools to see if the events are firing correctly as you’re clicking the link.
I found this article that shows how to do it in Firebug, but Firebug in Chrome really stinks, so here’s how to do it using Chrome:
Open Chrome’s Developer Tools (wrench icon -> Tools -> Developer tools, or ctrl+shift+I).
Click the Network tab in Developer Tools
Click on the action that you have events tracking set up on.
Find the _utm.gif that will show up in the left column of Developer Tools that should have loaded when you clicked the action that you’re tracking with events. (note: I usually find it’s easier to find if you clear out this screen—with the clear button just below the left side—before you click on your action)
In the Headers tab on the right, you’ll see the request URL. Look for the utme variable that will show if the event fired properly, and that will show the category, action and label of the event.
For example, to track a click on a mail to link, here’s what the variable looks like for me: &utme=5(email*send*rdossinger%40example.com), showing the category ‘email’, the action ‘send’ and the label of my email address. It’s working!
Why Facebook thought they could remove the email address that you’d chosen to display before and replace it with an email address that you’d likely never even considered using can only be the result of one of three kinds of thinking in the marketing meetings:
panic (“We’ve GOT to make people use every feature NOW!”)
extreme arrogance (“So what if they get mad? Where are they going to go, Google Plus?”)
Another nominee for the Great For Brands, Bad For Users award is this move by Facebook to have mobile apps (only mobile?) be able to link the Like action in their app to Like in Facebook, meaning clicking on a Like button that looks nothing like the Facebook app will put the story on your News Feed. Hope you like surprises!
I’ve always felt as though Facebook has been relatively good at resisting base impulses to give both users and brands exactly what they want just to build traffic (MySpace being the worst offender of this), but its these kinds of moves that betray a greed for more traffic at the expense of making user experience and privacy settings clear and understandable.
“Part of the blame for the awful state of affairs that White and Lowery are arguing over goes to the record industry itself, which slept as technology changed, then responded with lawsuits against Napster and luckless downloaders rather than finding a way to accommodate new appetites and new capacities.”—
I was already loving this article before I noticed that the link on the words “contrarian buzz” led to my article. But this really is a great piece; a nice rumination on the questions around the state of the industry. The bottom line is truly that there are no answers, easy or otherwise, which is partly why Lowrey’s piece bugged me so much.
There's nothing wrong with not owning the music you listen to
There’s been a lot of sharing of this article where David Lowery (of Cracker and Camper Van Beethoven fame) responds to a NPR intern who wrote about barely have bought any music at all. The Lowery article has been eating away at me, because arguments like that drive me absolutely insane. Its a noble argument, but logically wrong.
First and most importantly, digital music files are simply not comparable to physical records. It’s a concept that’s hard to wrap your head around, but digital media has no apt comparison. We’ve never dealt with this in human history: a product whose inventory is infinite and has nothing physical to change hands.
I think it can be best summed up with an argument I saw recently that was responding to a campaign against digital piracy that asked “You wouldn’t steal a car, would you?”, to which the response came, “If I could make an exact copy of the car without doing any damage or changing ownership of the original, I probably would.”
Think about it: up until the digital age, the concept of “stealing” was always clear. There is a physical piece of property, and stealing it means removing the ownership from one person and giving it to another. In the digital age, both people have ownership of it. It is not in any way “looting”, as Lowrey claims in his terrible analogy of a town called “the ‘Net”. Copying files is not the same as stealing. It’s not the same as anything. It’s something that requires a completely new way of thinking, and connecting it to past methods is futile.
Secondly, musicians and labels charge for recordings because they can, not because it’s ethically right to charge for it. When recorded music first started, it made logical sense to sell it, because it was a physical product that cost money to record and produce. It was very simple: if you wanted to listen to a song whenever you wanted, you had to pay for it. That is why people purchased albums, not because they made a clear choice to support art with their dollars and this is a value that today’s digital culture has devalued.
This is essentially what Emily White was getting at: she hasn’t bought much music because she hasn’t needed to. Music is all around her and easy to grab from multiple different places. Like a lot of digital consumers, it’s not that she’s making a conscious choice away from digital music stores, but rather than she very rarely has to make that conscious decision. Music is just everywhere now, not just at record stores.
We buy (or download) music for one reason: because we want to hear it. We bought LPs and CDs because that’s the way that we could hear it. We share files and fire up bittorrent because that’s the way we can hear it. You might choose buying over file sharing because you like the idea of some money going to the artist, but you’re not buying it because you want to support the artist. It’s a small distinction, but an important one.
Thirdly, non-official channels offer a better product. White talks about how she wants “convenience” (a poor choice of words), and Lowrey jumps on that with “how hard is it to enter a password?” But what White means is that people are going to gravitate to whatever gives them what they want. She dreams of the ability to have her entire library on Spotify (and Lowrey completely misses that White’s ideal is a legal method that pays artists), because that’s the place where she most wants to listen to music. But she can’t have everything that she wants on Spotify, because like all the services and stores, it’s bound by legal agreements that keep her from truly having the music experience she wants. File sharing has none of those boundaries.
The vast majority of file sharers are not greedy pirates who laugh in the face of the poor artists who are just trying to make a decent living. Music is something that they at least enjoy and maybe even love, but they just want to hear it. That’s it. So they go where the music is, and file sharing—with its lack of release days; its wide variety of formats and bitrates; its lack of concept of “out of print” or “not available in your country”—offers the best and easiest solution.
Finally, musicians are not owed a living from their music. Musicians making money off of recordings (which, by the way, they still do) was a great time, but it’s nothing but a business model, not artistic justice.
This argument was brilliantly put by a man who’s as great of a thinker as he is a musician, Brian Eno:
I think records were just a little bubble through time and those who made a living from them for a while were lucky. There is no reason why anyone should have made so much money from selling records except that everything was right for this period of time. I always knew it would run out sooner or later. It couldn’t last, and now it’s running out. I don’t particularly care that it is and like the way things are going. The record age was just a blip. Sorry mate – history’s moving along.
It’s wonderful that people were not just able to make money, but it was that way because the product was physical and clear cut: some thing to buy. It isn’t anymore, and we owe it to ourselves to get our heads around the new world and think of new ways to support artists, rather than insisting people do things in the way we’re used to and understand.
Ultimately, Lowrey’s arguments (echoed by the dozens of people who have shared his article with hearty agreement) are as hurtful to musicians as any file sharing. The conversations need to be around how we can keep art as a viable career, not how we can keep things the way they were.
Facebook's creepy news feed insertions are a privacy annoyance but a usability nightmare
I’ve been really annoyed lately at Facebook’s algorithm showing my comments on statuses and photos to friends of mine who aren’t friends with the original posters. I’m not entirely sure how to turn it off, but it seems that in the “Timeline and Tagging” section of the privacy settings, and change “Who can see what others post on your timeline?” to just be “Friends”. I also notice in the “Custom” section of that dropdown, there’s a checkbox for “Friends of those tagged” under “Make this visible to”. Which is all not just confusing, but unclear about what it actually does.
But we’ve had this conversation before, right? The problem with Facebook’s privacy is not even necessarily what they show, but that it’s never clear what they’re going to show to others and when. If I select the huge “Friends” button on the default privacy settings, I expect it’s only the people I’m friends with who are going to see it, not that it’s mostly friends who see it but sometimes other people might see it, depending on what it is and who’s tagged in it.
I actually don’t have much of a problem with a lot of my life being public. But I just want to know what’s going out and when and to who. I know that Facebook (and Google) thrive on people keeping public lives on the internet, but they need to do what Twitter does and keep it clear. Give us a good reason to share to more than just our friends, but don’t trick us into doing it.
This should be no surprise, and yet, I’m sure it will be to people. There’s a tendency to assume that people young enough to have had the internet and cell phones for their whole life would naturally be more savvy with it, but that forgets that youth is still youth. Comfort with the internet doesn’t mean that 15-year-olds now suddenly make much smarter decisions than their counterparts of 30 years ago. People always have and always will learn safety and security through experience. Passwords are no exception.
My story of how Angie's List handed over my contact info to an angry vendor
I used to wonder why reviews on Angie’s List were almost all overwhelming positive straight A reviews. After writing my first review, I now know: Angie’s List gives vendors the information they need to harass people who don’t give them good enough reviews.
The story as brief as I can keep it: I called a locksmith that I found through Angie’s List a few weeks ago to have the locks on my newly-purchased house rekeyed. When the locksmiths got there, they said that the locks that I had were low quality and suggested I replace them. I took their word for it and had them replaced with the supposedly-higher quality locks, but it made me less than happy, because it meant I ended up spending twice as much as I thought I was going to.
I hadn’t written any reviews on Angie’s List before, but I kept getting emails from them prompting me to write reviews and even got a phone call from them. So I figured I’d finally write a review of this locksmith. I gave them all As except for one B on pricing, mentioning that, while I felt that the locksmiths were being straight with me, it made me feel like I’d been upsold.
Now, while I was happy with the service, I gave them this slight blemish on the review for two reasons:
Because ever since joining Angie’s List, it annoyed me that almost all of the reviews were straight-A reviews, which is basically worthless. Surely there was SOMEthing that was less than perfect.
I was writing the review for other users, and I felt that people calling this locksmith for rekeying should be prepared to potentially spend more money. Maybe it’s a good thing to get advice on what to do about your locks, but it’s still something that I felt worthwhile passing on.
The day after writing the review, I get a call on my cellphone from the owner of the locksmith company. The fact that he would call me about the review was unsettling enough, but he kept talking about how they would never “upsell” someone and while they appreciated the good review, they felt that it was unrepresentative of their company. He wouldn’t let me get a word in edgewise, talking over my attempts to clear up what I meant and getting increasingly agitated. When I finally got a word in, I told him that I had written the review for other users and thought they might find that helpful. He repeated his rant and so I hung up on him.
I was pretty rattled and really angry. If he was this worked up over an almost-perfect review, what would he have done with bad reviews? And these guys are locksmiths! They not only know where I live, they know how to get in my house!
I immediately wrote to Angie’s List, asking them “How did this vendor even get my contact information? Is that something that they can get through Angie’s List?”
Just after I sent the email, I figured that what must have happened is that the vendor was able to piece it together: he looked at the date the service was provided, looked at his records and figured out that it was me. Surely Angie’s List wouldn’t give him my contact info, right? Wrong. This was the email I got back from them (emphasis mine):
Reports may not be submitted anonymously. This is one of the many steps we take to ensure the authenticity and honesty of the feedback we post. When a member shares their service experience with us, the report becomes accessible to all members in their chapter. However, we only share the member’s name and address with the service provider if they request it.
They ONLY share the name and address?! Why should they be sharing anything at all? I’m fine if they let the vendors respond online, but they should not be providing anything about me to vendors. I understand the necessity of requiring that reviews have a date the service was performed on, but why make that exact date public? And I get why a review site would need to verify that an individual is who they say they are, but why is there any need at all to share that with vendors?
Even beyond the lack of security and privacy you have on Angie’s List, this makes the review part of their site totally worthless. I don’t want my information to be shared with vendors, so I won’t be writing any more reviews. And why would anyone?