Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Much Maligned Press Release

Everyone loves to beat on the press release, from comedians to corporate executives, yet we all use them. The debate over the Social Media News Release is just one more step in this ever-evolving debate.

My thoughts on this are over on the Schwartz Crossroads blog. Take a look.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Beating PR People and Getting PR Value

Beating on PR people seems to have become a sport. Chris Anderson's rant is only the latest in a long list of bloggers complaining about the emails they get from the clueless PR people who send out scads of useless pitches .

Most of the complaining I hear comes from bloggers who, until they put out a blog, had never seen this side of the industry. Though, quite a bit comes from reporters who routinely echo the same refrain: why don't PR people read what I write before sending me a pitch?

I also get a lot of lousy pitches, some from people who show up on Chris' short list, but so what? Every once in a while I hear about something interesting. Though, I must admit, NO ONE has tried to engage me in any meaningful conversation.

Why are PR people such easy targets? I believe this is because PR does, in many ways, operate in the shadows. Whenever I try to tell someone what I do they give me a funny look, not because they don't understand it, but because I don't appear to do anything at all. I don't write the articles that appear, I don't produce the products I pitch, but I just tell reporters the stories and get THEM to write something. The key question they never get around to asking is "don't the reporters FIND the stories?" It's a tough for a general news consumer to understand that reporters find stories, but some stories are sent to them. It means admitting that not everything they read was collected as expected.

On the other side, you never read an article that says "I got a call from a PR person telling me about this story." The source is usually left unknown. Frankly, if I do my job well, you never should know that I exist, you should just hear about my client and all the great things they do.

So, if people know we exist but don't fully understand what we do, and we continue to operate in the shadows, then we're easy targets. I mean, who really loses other than the PR people? The members of the press look good, as if they would much rather be out doing REAL reporting than dealing with our annoying email, the general audience feels as if they've gained some insight, and PR people are still going to pitch Chris Anderson because, well, he's got a pretty good audience.

The irony of this Anderson flap is that he's done some amazing PR for a client of my agency (though, not one of my own). He loves Cloudmark Desktop so much, that not only does he talk about it on his blog, but he started this whole thing by trying to emulate the collaborative nature of the product. Going beyond that, he's talking about the product in almost every interview he's done, even

Can you imagine trying to pitch an email Spam tool to Of course not, no PR person would ever do it, unless they had a great story to go along with it. Yet, there it is, messaging in tact, from the Editor-in-Chief of WIRED.

The lesson? It's not just about pitching bloggers, it's about impressing them in such a way that they want to write.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Podcamp Boston

I'm not a podcaster, though I am an old radio guy. So that gave me an interesting perspective on some of the things I heard at Podcamp Boston this weekend.

Regardless, John Federico gave a good talk toward the end of day 1 on podcast measurement in which he basically calls for some standardization to help the industry earn some credibility. Essentially what he's asking for is a way to anonymously track listenership, including playback data. That is, how much of a given podcast did someone hear?

He's asking for something that the broadcast industry has been dying to have for as long as there has been measurement. Though, he rightfully pointed out that new media, such as podcasts, have a tougher hill to climb, since they are unproven. TV, for example, can exist with woefully inadequate measurement because it's always been done that way and the advertising industry has learned to accept it.

Isabel Hilborn over at MarketHum did a pair of very good sessions, probably the best that I attended. The first focused on defining social media and contained an excellent case study on how her company created a group blog for one of their clients. Without going into to much detail, MarketHum essentially took the custom publishing model and applied it to blogging, resulting in some great SEO value as well as marketing value. They did this by taking bloggers who were already writing on a given topic and then hiring them to write on a topic blog, while also giving them complete editorial freedom.

Isabel's second session looked at marketing mistakes and how Web 2.0 tools enhance those mistakes. For example, how companies with lousy customer service are often called on that by bloggers who point it out. But what made the discussion interesting was the fact that the crowed became very interested in picking some of these apart and discussing where these were true mistakes or just perceived mistakes because the voices of the offended were so loud.

In any case, a good event and one worth attending. I got to meet some interesting people and hear some interesting thoughts.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Framingham Fight on Free Speech

There's an interesting fight brewing in Framingham that has implications well beyond the town borders. The Southern Middlesex Opportunity Council has filed suit in federal court against several individuals, saying that there is a coordinated effort to keep certain social services out of the town.

Regardless of whether this is true, one part of the lawsuit is rather disturbing. Among the names of the defendants are a couple of private citizens who spoke out on privately-run electronic forums. Being someone who runs such a forum, this has me a little concerned.

I haven't read the emails and posts, so I can't say whether the speech was hateful or otherwise, but if the SMOC is accusing the town of this kind of coordinated effort, does it have the right to rope in citizens who speak out on the subject?

The editorial board of the Metro West Daily News doesn't think so:

The inclusion of private citizens in this suit is even more regrettable. Yes, some of the comments posted on Web sites and included in e-mails are inflammatory, hateful, or inaccurate. But we don't need the First Amendment to protect speech that gets no one mad; if speech that offends a powerful organization isn't protected, no one's speech is really free.
You may want to read the articles covering the topic. The first one is here, and the one focused on the electronic message board is here. You may also want to check out the Framingham Neighbors discussion board.

Certainly something worth watching.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Tech Blogging Event

This is a cross post of something that also appears on the Schwartz Crossroads Blog, where I am also a contributor.

I'm tired of going to events in which someone stands up and says "So, can you tell me what exactly defines a blog?"

Yes, this is an important question for someone just coming to the table, but many of us are well beyond that and the discussion is now about more high-level topics, such as "how are the current crop of blogs affecting coverage?" and "how can bloggers, reporters and PR people work together?"

That's what last night's great event at the Cambridge Innovation Center was all about. Scott Kirsner put together a great group of panelists, including Bijan Sabet, venture capitalist at Spark Capital; Barbara Heffner of CHEN PR; Don Dodge, director of business development at Microsoft; Jimmy Guterman, editor of Release 2.0 and blogger at O'Reilly Radar; Scott Kirsner, who writes the Boston Globe "Innovation Economy" column; and Nabeel Hyatt, CEO of Conduit Labs. Both Schwartz Communications and CHEN PR sponsored the event, as well as Morse Barnes-Brown & Pendleton and the Cambridge Innovation Center.

The panel was just a start, as I was charged with running around the room to bring in discussion from others attending the event. Dan Bricklin has a few pictures as well as the full podcast up, so rather than me running through the whole thing, go and have a listen.

Discussion items included:

  • Why do you blog?
  • What is your most popular post?
  • How addicted are you to statistics?
  • Where do journalistic ethics come into play?
  • What does blogging do for your business?
  • How do you maintain an authentic voice?
  • How do people who cannot write well engage in this environment?
  • What role do edited blogs (like this one) have both in the corporation and in the blogosphere in general?
  • Can you do a "news" announcement only through social media?

Don Dodge shared great pieces of advice--both of which I violated on my various blogs--that he received from Robert Scoble.

First: include your own name in the name of the blog. Of my personal blogs only two have any part of my name involved, the Tanoblog and Tanophoto. And second: include your picture. While my picture is on my Schwartz bio, it is not on my Media Metamorphosis page, which may be why Paul Gillin didn't include my name in his roundup of the event.

I also enjoyed the discussion on edited blogs, in which Nabeel noted how the corporate blog at Conduit is, in fact, edited. The point is to have a common voice and to acknowledge that the company must come first, in this context. But also it's because there are people within the organization who have great thoughts when they're standing at the whiteboard, but do not have the ability to express themselves in writing. In this case the editing process is not about sanitizing the content, but about saying to those who are more self-conscious, "hey, we've got your back."

I found the ethics discussion to be among the most interesting and will be writing more on that later. But let me just share this from Don Dodge on conflict of interest: "No conflict, no interest."

On a personal note, I got a chance to meet David Laubner, who writes the excellent 93South blog, one I've been reading for some time.

In all, a great discussion of some of the primary issues facing modern tech journalism. I'm sure there will be more discussion on the various Boston-based tech blogs, but the podcast is probably the most complete recounting of the event. Though, not everyone identified themselves before speaking, so it sometimes be tough to follow.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Big Names, Big Guns, Big Potatoes

When my wife and I started talking about adoption, we looked around at the books for kids and realized that none spoke to our sons. Many books focused on bringing home a baby, and many focused on bringing home an adopted baby, but few looked at the idea of having a set of biological siblings and bringing in a third. Also, most of the books that focused on bringing home an adopted child tended to have, as a character, an adopted older sibling. But in our house (and many others that we know) this just isn't the case.

So I wrote one myself. My sons liked it OK, but they really would have preferred if it were illustrated. I'm a lousy artist, so I didn't attempt it. I also thought about getting an artist friend of mine to illustrate it.

Then I had the idea of getting it published. My friends gave it uniformly good feedback, and I'd been reading these horrible children's books written by celebrity authors, so I figured a book that tapped into the adoption market would work. As I read I found out that I shouldn't have it illustrated but let the publishers handle that.

I called a friend who HAD published a work for this very audience. Her immediate reaction was that getting published at this point was nearly impossible unless you already had some celebrity status. She was in the process of working on her second book and had run into difficulty, even though her first was a bestseller.

That's why I'm finding the flap over Jessica Seinfeld's children's recipe book so fascinating. In both the Wall Street Journal story and the New York Times story, the publishers admit that they met with the author specifically because of her name. The same publisher had shortly before rejected a book by a relative unknown that is, according to many, remarkably similar. They both take healthier foods, like sweet potatoes and squash, and mix them in with brownies and mac and cheese. That book eventually got published, but that author hasn't been invited on Oprah or anything like that.

I don't think this is an isolated incident. The fact is, the creative media process in the old-school manner is broken. Seinfeld got heard because she's Jerry Seinfeld's wife and she had a good agent, which she got because she's, um... well... a Seinfeld. This is the same reason why Jamie Lee Curtis has a line of children's books. Is she that talented that the publishers just HAD to have her writing?

But I'm also thinking about a quote I heard from an industry executive dismissing the need for consumer generated content, suggesting that there is only so much talent out there and the rest is crap (I can't find the quote).

Yes, there is a lot of crap. And yes, it would be great if those arbiters of taste got it right. But too often they don't, so we need another outlet.

Still, if anyone wants to help me publish my story, give it a read. Even if you don't, go ahead and read it to your kids. Someone should enjoy it.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Creationists vs. Consumerists

Antonio Rodriguez has an interesting post about creating and consuming content and asking the basic question of whether all content is worth creating or whether some is just cyber-junk and should be cleaned out.

Go ahead, read the post, then come back... I'll wait.

OK. Antonio is an intelligent guy and very good at reading what's coming. But his argument is flawed from the start, since he assumes creating and consuming content are absolutes. That is, that all content is created for all consumers. It isn't. Especially in the modern social media world.

I started my family blog to reach an audience of six: my parents, in-laws and brother and sister-in-law. If anyone else wanted to read, that's fine, but not my intent. Just because something is open to the greater world doesn't mean it's intended for anyone and everyone.

Does that mean it's junk and should be cleaned out? Not at all, it just means people who don't care shouldn't bother reading it. As things get easier more people will publish, though not all of this content will be published publicly, some will only have private distributions.

The question isn't about what's worth publishing and what's not, it's about how to get content from the person creating it to the right consumer.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Save the Date: October 23

On the evening of October 23 you'll find me at the Cambridge Innovation Center in Kendall Square attending the "Tech Blogs" conversation. Details are below, but be sure to RSVP. Space is limited.

If anyone wants to grab a drink afterward, let me know.

Tech Blogs: How are Blogs Changing the Way Technology is Covered?

Entrepreneurs, CEOs, VCs, journalists, and PR professionals are increasingly cranking out blogs, podcasts, and video dispatches. How does this change the way the tech sector gets covered? What does it mean for CEOs trying to get their stories out, PR firms trying to get coverage for their clients, VC firms touting their investments, journalists trying to cover important news, and customers tracking the market? (Not to mention the relationships between all of these players.)

We'll bring together representatives from all four camps for a wide-ranging conversation (definitely *not* a panel) about the way blogs are changing the game in the tech world.

Participants will include:

Networking begins at 6:30, conversation from 7-8, more networking afterward. Refreshments will be provided.

This gathering is sponsored by Cambridge Innovation Center, CHEN PR, and Morse, Barnes-Brown & Pendleton.

Space is limited, so please RSVP only if you plan on being there.

Friday, October 05, 2007

CEO Blogging: Yes or No?

I thought this discussion was pretty much over, but at a recent Social Media Club event that I was unable to attend, Larry Weber told the assembled that CEOs shouldn't blog.

Now, Larry is far more experienced than I am and has a couple of successful companies under his belt. Plus, he's advisor to any of a number of organizations. All that being said, he's wrong, sort of.

Though, I will give Larry credit for being consistent. As Scott Kirsner points out, Larry doesn't have a blog despite writing a book on how to effectively use social media. Though, since he doesn't think CEOs should be blogging in the first place, the fact that he doesn't have one is in line with his core message.

Larry's basic point is that CEOs are boring and blogging should come from the trenches. On this he's partially right: blogging should come from those who are bit more exciting. But that doesn't mean it should be banned from the corporate suite. In fact, there are many CEO blogs that are worth reading, even when they're no longer CEOs. Really, if you're looking for a blogger it's not about their position, it's about what they have to say. If the CEO has strong opinions, is a strong writer and has a strong vision for the company, then that's your blogger. But if someone else has the power to convey a the core message, maybe the CTO, then that person should be blogging.

Still, Larry rightfully points out that there are any one of a number of pitfalls for the CEO blogger, but if the takeaway is for a CEO not to blog, then it's wrong.

The fact is this, someone in the organization is going to be blogging, sanctioned or not. If you're going to have a corporate blog, it may as well be someone who knows the company well.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Stretching the Medium

Many people, my wife included, reject comics or animated cartoons as kid-stuff. And while shows like The Simpsons and The Family Guy have challenged that notion pretty well, the comics pages remain the domain of Garfield.

The first comic I know to truly try to change that was Doonesbury, which has been a constant companion of mine since Gary Trudeau relaunched the strip in the 1980s after a 5 year hiatus. Even in high school I remember friends (usually those with a more conservative political bent) arguing that the strip was misplaced on the comic pages and should instead be labeled as editorial.

Others have come along to push the notion of storytelling a bit. For Better or For Worse is a great example, in which the characters grow and change, giving it almost a soap opera feel (that comic is also on its way to dealing with the death of a major character). This is very different from the Peanuts, in which characters stayed unchanged by time for nearly 3 generations.

Today, Tom Batiuk killed off Lisa Moore in Funky Winkerbean (a good story on it is here.). I've been reading the comic for a while. I came back to it a couple of years ago to find that the characters had aged and were taking on more interesting rolls. In fact, they were all around my age, starting families and dealing with their own demons. Lisa had been a pregnant teen who gave up her child for adoption, married, had a baby and had been once a breast cancer survivor.

But this week the cancer took her in, what I think was a rather touching series of panels. A lot of people don't agree. A lot of comments out there criticize Batiuk for taking the fun out of the funnies, or just doing a lousy job.

They have to recognize that the form does not drive the content. Just because a story is told in a few drawn panels does not mean it can't provoke feelings, emotions or thoughts. Comics are a form of communication, and just because we've come to expect them to be humorous, doesn't mean we need to tie them to that.

The same goes for any medium.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Who's the Top?

Whenever I talk with a PR person about new media the same question comes up: how do I figure out what are the top blogs? Sometimes they get more specific in asking for the top blogs in a specific area, but no matter how many times I try to point out that there are several ways to cut this, people still want numbers. I try to focus people on the site's community and readership, intelligence of the discussions, the author's credibility and whether the topic is relevant to whatever is you're doing. It's a more complex way of looking at the issue, but also very effective.

I've long been critical of the idea that links determine much of anything, partially because they don't measure readers but also because they assume that readership equals active participation from other blogs. Shel Israel has made the point that if you have a blog with no links and three readers, it comes up as unimportant in the blogging world, but if those three readers include President Bush and his Chief of Staff, then it's rather influential.

I also believe that as blogs and other social media services move more mainstream in their consumption, the readership levels will go up while participation levels may remain steady. My family blog remains well-read, but doesn't have much by way of links or comments, that's because it appeals to an audience that would much rather read than discuss.

Then there is the idea that you can pay for links, a practice that TechCrunch calls out when it writes about Techmeme's Leaderboard list as a direct competitor to Technorati's last major stronghold.

No list is perfect, but at least Techmeme offers a major alternative and one that will evolve over time. I'm looking forward to watching it.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ghost Blogging

The subject of "Ghost Blogging" just won't go away and I'm debating whether this is a battle worth fighting.

There are many companies out there that want a blog, but just don't want to commit the time and resources to doing it, so instead of saying "this isn't for us," they want to bring in a ghost blogger in order to do the job for the CEO or some other overworked executive who received the mandate "get us a blog!"

The pro argument goes something like this: CEOs don't write their speeches, they don't write their op-ed pieces, they don't write the bylined articles in their name, why should blogging be any different? Over on the side of the communications companies that want to provide this service is the argument that in most cases they're already doing the research and writing the bylined articles, what's it to write a few blog posts too? Oh, and there's money to be made.

Those against have a basic argument: blogs are about transparency and having insight into a corporate executive. It's impossible for someone else to get into that voice and BE that person.

Christopher Barger, director of GM Global Communications Technology made an interesting point in an interview I listened to recently: people accept that op-eds and speeches aren't written by the person listed on the byline, but that hasn't worked, so as communicators we need to do something different.

It's a fair point. Though, I feel like most people DO think that the person whose name is on the op-ed actually wrote it, or at least had a lot to do with its creation (and yes, I've written a few of those). Frankly, it's the communicators who accept the falsehoods as truth.

So if you take Barger's argument to its conclusion, then by ghost blogging, are we just going to kill another avenue to the customer? Will people learn to distrust blogs as well? Or, are people already distrustful of anything coming out of a corporate entity, so then does it really matter?

And is the next step "ghost tweeting?"

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Private Lives in the Public Age

Remember "The Truman Show"? That was the Jim Carey movie in which the main character, Truman's entire life was played out on TV. At the time people thought it was a little extreme.

But today a lot of us are playing that out in one way or another by putting more of our lives online. You can read my resume over on LinkedIn, or read this blog to find out about my media work, then scoot over to the Tanoblog to find out out my family and maybe check out a few of my pictures.

But all this openness has its limits. My blogging on my family blog has curtailed as my kids get older, and I don't put many photographs of my own face out there.

While catching up on some podcasts recently I heard Shel Holtz answer critics who said he didn't give enough of his reasons for leaving crayon. His response was simple: his personal reasons for leaving the company are, well, personal, and they're no one else's business. His readers, of course, felt a sense of entitlement to hear more about his life since he puts so much out there.

That's the catch. How do you share what you want with whom you want without sharing too much with too many? Vox and Tabblo offer some options for this by providing privacy controls and letting authors choose who sees what content, but it goes beyond blogging and photo sharing.

I was discussing this issue with a relatively young reporter at a top business publication when the discussion turned to Facebook and how she can't differentiate who sees what. She started working with Facebook in college, but as the site moves away from being just about personal connections and develops more as a business networking platform, she wants some way to keep her worlds separate but still use the service and all it offers. In other words, she wants to keep her college pictures and stories private, but make elements such as her professional connections and achievements public.

Facebook is quickly becoming an interesting social networking platform and one that could, very well, become a standard for companies looking to add a social networking component to their services. But, I still have stories and pictures that I only want to share with close friends, and other things that I'm happy to share with the world. I need a way to control that.

To survive, Facebook is going to have to find a way to address this issue, or someone else will come along who can.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Elite or Mainstream?

Flickr is as de regueur as you get when it comes to Web 2.0 technologies. At this point, if you're in the blogging world it's assumed that you have an active Flickr account, or at least understand how to use one.

So during a recent conversation with the CEO of a Web 2.0 property aimed at a local audience, I was pretty surprised when he mentioned that he didn't have immediate plans to work directly with Flickr. He pointed out that most of his target audience used more mainstream services, like Shutterfly. After thinking about it for a minute, this made complete sense. When my friends send me pictures of their kids, it's NEVER through Flickr, but it's always through Kodak or something like that. Though, I really wish they'd use Tabblo, it's so much easier to view 30 slightly different pictures of a kid in a single frame than having to page through them one-by-one.

Being a boastful dad as well as a bit of a shutterbug, you'd think that I'd be a regular Flickr user. I have an account, but don't really dabble too much. Though, I have been known to use Tabblo to share with smaller audiences. Tabblo used to be a client and I continue to use the service because it's easier to share with controlled audiences, like my parents or my son's baseball team.

In fact, many times I have tried to get readers of to post pictures from around the city on Flickr or Tabblo and have never received much of a response. I talk with these people on the soccer sidelines and at school events. These are people who already read blogs, they're lawyers, doctors, financial executives, technology experts and VCs. They all have digital cameras, many have DSLRs and nearly every one has a Blackberry and/or cameraphone. Yet, they're not about to share those photos on Flickr.

Back to the CEO from above, he noted that Flickr tends to be a young, urban crowd when he's going for the parental, suburban crowd. I guess it's possible that as the urbanites age and move out to places like Newton, they'll take their Flickr accounts. Or maybe those accounts will end up collecting dust once the kids come.

So when people ask about Web 3.0, they're a little ahead of themselves. We still have a lot of work to do in order to make Web 2.0 a reality with mainstream America.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Redefining Competition

I know I haven't posted in a very long time. There are some good reasons for this, but I'm not going to go into them now. I have been continuing my work over at and also doing more new media work at Schwartz, but as for writing about media, I've held off.

But recently I had a situation that I thought others could learn from and it falls under the heading of "competition."

During a recent launch my team and I reached out to both Scott Kirsner of the Boston Globe as well as to Wade Roush at the relatively new site (if you aren't reading Xconomy, you should be). Our feeling was that while both have similar missions, Xconomy has a much smaller audience and wouldn't be much of a competitor to the Globe. In fact, I felt the site was probably still flying under the radar of the Globe, as it measured its tenure in weeks rather than decades. Probably something the editors were reading and watching, but not something they'd consider a direct competitor.

I was wrong.

Kirsner informed us that yes, Xconomy was competition for him and because the client appeared first there, in a long and detailed profile, he wouldn't do something similar in the Globe. He did interview the client and quoted the CEO in a different piece, but wasn't going to do more than that.

On the one hand, this showed the fledgling Xconomy a lot of respect, since Kirsner went so far as to praise the reporters and the work. But it also taught me something else about competition: it's not about the readers, it's about the mission.

Even more, it's about the mission of particular reporters and columnists. So it's not about whether the Globe thinks Xconomy is a competitor, it's about whether Kirsner believes it. Since he has his own blog and video segments in addition to his Sunday Globe column, this makes sense.

It just hadn't occurred to me before.

But just because they're competitive doesn't mean they don't acknowledge the other's work. Krisner has linked to Xconomy stories on his own blog to give a background, so it really comes down to "coopitition" and how the stories move forward.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

High Definition Mistakes

I'm going to refrain from a cute headline using "Digg" in some trite way.

In any case, if you're not up on the story of Digg and the HD-DVD stuff, you can find that in a bunch of other places. But here is just a little of my own analysis.

First, over on the BusinessWeek Tech blog Rob Hof tries to argue that this is a test of Web 2.0. He's wrong (though, he is correct that it's a test of Digg). Even if Digg gets sued out of existence something else will crop up in its place and that's the true power of Web 2.0. A number of sites are already trying to out-Digg Digg, so that is almost guaranteed. Over on ZDNet, Steve O'Hear tries to make the argument that Digg messed this one up big-time from a PR perspective, suggesting that the executives (Read: Kevin Rose) should have just stated the reason why the information was pulled down and that would have not lead to much. He's partially right.

Meanwhile, back on, Cliff Edwards points out that the AACS licensing body messed up by sending around notices "asking" that information be pulled down. They did, in effect, draw more attention to something they could have let die. They're not the only group that does this.

In any case, the real lesson here is that DRM encryption is going to be an arms race and those playing in the sandbox better get used to it. Hackers WILL try to find a way to break just about everything that comes up and then they WILL spread the word.

After all, sharing and collaborating on information is what Web 2.0 is all about.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Does anyone think this stuff through?

Today I got a new LG cell phone. For the 20 minutes I've used it I like it. I know people rave about all the features of cell phones, but for me it's basically just a phone that I can use to call my wife and say "do I need to get a kid before I come home from work?"

This one has all sorts of neat features (like a music player that I can guarantee I'll never use) and Bluetooth. I figured I'd get a Bluetooth headset to go with my Bluetooth enabled phone. In fact, I thought I may as well get the LG version just so it all matches and works together well.

So I charge my phone, set it up and then open the headset. That needs charging too, which is fine. But then I noticed that the charger for my LG headset, which is sold alongside my LG phone, is a different size. So I can't interchange them. Meaning that when I'm mobile, which is, after all, what a mobile phone is all about, I must carry TWO chargers. Also, these chargers are positioned perfectly to take up extra space on a powerstrip. So on the strip my wife and I use to charge our various phones and MP3 players I get to use one less plug.

Thanks LG. Great phone, but you really need to think this stuff through a little better. Why can't everyone just get along and standardize on the small USB slot for power?

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Building the Community

I was talking to Doug Haslam the other day about the idea that in this blogging world people are talking to themselves. That is, the same group of people keep talking to the same group, we all nod in agreement then go off in our lives and try to convince others. And we can't figure out why the others "don't get it." His idea stemmed from a Chris Brogan post on the topic.

A key problem is the currency of the link. Because links are what make a blog rise in the search engine stats links become (over) valued. So we need to talk with ourselves in order to make ourselves important to the god that is Google.

But if we ignore Google (and Technorati and just about every other search engine out there) and start to look at what we have around us, things get more interesting. When Kristine and I started one of the first things we did was to tell our neighbors. We also sent emails around on our school mailing lists, so we brought in parents. We weren't looking for bloggers, we wanted members of the community. We did a little by way of traditional blogger marketing (writing on our own blogs, sending to Universal Hub, etc.) but we didn't go digging for links that would drive our rankings.

Things built over time and they continue to do so. Yes, links from other blogs do drive traffic, but most of our traffic remains organic. Without the community we're nothing. I don't care if anyone in Newton reads blogs, I just care that they care about Newton. Nothing else really matters. In fact, when Newton recently found itself among the "bloggiest" communities, Boston Globe Cyberscenes reporter Ralph Ranalli joked that we did so without much help from his column (we love you anyway, Ralph... we're happy you're a reader and sometime contributor).

So, let's extend this into the business world. When we talk about social networking we keep thinking in terms of technology. Yes, technology makes this easier but think about a user group. People attend user group meetings not only to learn about the latest a company has to offer, but also to network with their colleagues. The major change is that technology lets this networking happen at any time and from any location, not just every December in Vegas.

Yes, we need to stop talking to ourselves, but more importantly we need to stop thinking in terms of "online communities" and start thinking in terms of "communities that can benefit from the technology."

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Gettin' Bloggie With It

Outside.In gave Newton the #4 slot on it's Bloggiest Neighborhoods list, beating out places like Watertown, Mass.; Harlem; and Potrero Hill in San Francisco. I'm not sure what it means, but it's nice that our 85,000 person community is recognized in some technological way.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Pitching, Bad Pitching and Blogger Griping

Every once in a while I read bloggers complaining about PR people.

OK.... more than every once in a while. Probably about once a week. The latest is on the Church of the Customer blog, which starts out by saying not to pitch reporters and then falls back a bit encouraging PR people (and their customers) to cultivate relationships instead.

This is, of course, sound advice. It is also how things SHOULD be done across the board. In PR we're taught from the start to read our assigned publications, learn the reporters, talk with them and only call/email/IM when we have something worth sending. The issue isn't what PR SHOULD be, it's what PR is, meaning all this bitching and moaning is about a lot of bad PR, not PR in general.

But in the Church post is this:

PR companies could actually become more strategic service providers by helping their clients cultivate relationships with existing, well-connected customers. Appeal to the people who already love your clients and foster those relationships.
(I'm really trying not to take an overly snarky attitude on this one.) OF COURSE we do that! We can't do our jobs without having our clients' customers work with us. But the reality is, especially for smaller companies, customers don't always want to talk. Different companies have different reasons. I've had situations in which my client would be competing with a small part of Microsoft and the customer wouldn't go into a public forum and say "this is great!" since it could hurt their contract deals with Redmond. In other cases the deals are relatively small for the size of the customer, so they just don't feel it's important enough to discuss.

In other cases it's a pure marketing issue. While it may be great exposure for my client to get on a technology-focused blog or in a similar publication, their customer may only care about reaching teenagers, aged 12 to 18. Those audiences don't often mix, so the customer doesn't see it as worth their time to get on the phone and talk.

It's fine to toss off comments like "PR should build relationships" or "make your customers work for you," but giving solid advice on how to do that is a different story.

When I work with junior members of my teams I will often assign a large list of publications, bloggers and podcasters, then tell them to focus most of their attention on a much smaller and more strategic list. On the large list they are responsible for keeping track and getting coverage, but the smaller list are those publications they should "own." After a few months on the account they should be at the point that the blogger/podcaster/reporter calls US for information.

That means talking to these people on a regular basis, not just when we put out a release but sometimes calling to say "what are you working on?" Sometimes it's directing them to other people in the agency (or even outside the agency) who can help with their reporting. When you become a trusted part of the reporting process, only then do you have a truly working relationship.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Doing Journalism in a Social World

From a journalistic point of view, using FaceBook and MySpace to find friends of victims of the Virginia Tech shootings makes complete sense. In fact, it's good, solid journalistic practice.

Granted, no one likes to talk with friends of victims and ask them their feelings at that moment, but it comes with the job of being a reporter. Some journalists may handle it better than others, and I've heard stories recently of students complaining that they're being overused by the media. And I'm sure they probably are.

But Dan Kennedy is right when he disagrees with FaceBook's objection that the site is being used for this purpose. It's not different than when a local TV crew descends on a neighborhood after a shooting and starts knocking on doors to find friends of a victim. The only difference is that social networking makes this all a little easier.

NPR's also ran a decent story on the same issue.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

So Chuck Walks into a Bar.....

Tonight I went to a local bar to meet with Rick Burnes of Faneuil Media, a local company that helps media properties do location-based reporting.

So I sit at the bar a little past 6:30 and brush off the bartender, saying that I'm waiting for someone. Two young women are at the corner to my right and on the other side, diagonally across from me, is a man eating dinner drinking a beer. I look around the bar a few times, take in some conversation (one young woman was complaining that she had to get up really early, like at 6:30) and the guy eating dinner looked at me, it seemed like he was also looking for someone.

"Are you Rick Burnes?" I asked.

"Yes," he said. So we shook hands and exchanged pleasantries. We then grabbed a table and I ordered a burger and a beer. Now that we were meeting I thought I should get something to eat as well. I was, after all, pretty hungry.

But as soon as the conversation started I regretted ordering the burger. This guy was just odd. He'd say something quickly, then eat. We had awkward silences and he'd say things like "I believe that timing is everything." Not overly insightful.

When the two girls left the bar he turned around completely and conspicuously to watch them. Very strange.

I tried asking about his background and got other puzzling responses. When I asked about his journalism background he said he'd only done it for a few months after college. Not what I was expecting. I began to wonder if I could get my burger to go. I really didn't want to be sitting across the table with this guy for very long, let alone for dinner.

But when I asked specifcally about Faneuil Media media, a question met with a quizzical look by the guy at my table, the guy who had come in at the bar a few minutes earlier turned in recognition.

I'd been meeting with the wrong guy.

Not Rick stood up and apologized, "I'm glad it's you," he said to Real Rick. "This stuff was going over my head." He then muttered something about how he was supposed to meet someone there as well which is why he was confused. An obvious lie since he left a few minutes later.

Real Rick and I agreed that it was all a bit odd. The conversation with Rick was, as I'd expected, much more interesting. He is interested in community journalism and therefore very interested in what we are doing at His company is actually doing some interesting stuff. His basic attitude is that software development can also be journalism. Progressive thinking.

And when it was all said and done, I didn't regret ordering the burger.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Moving Beyond Communications

The concept of micro finance fascinates me. The basic idea is that by using the same tools that make open source and Web distributed communications possible, everyone with money can become a lender and anyone can become a borrower.

Steve Hamm points to Kiva, which is a site that lets people in the US and other moneyed western nations provide loans to entrepreneurs in developing nations. So an entrepreneur puts up their pitch and then a person such as myself reads it and decides how much money to provide. Of course, I wouldn't be the only person loaning money, so while I may only put in $25, someone else may put up $100 or $50. Eventually the entrepreneur will get the capital they need and then start paying back the loan. And if that person defaults, each one of us is out the few bucks, but if the person pays back the loan everyone makes a little money.

Another site like this geared at Americans is Prosper. I found people on there looking for loans for everything from home improvements to adoption.

Personally, I haven't yet put my money where the need is, but I'd like to soon. I love it when these tools move beyond simple communication and start to change lives.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Whose Copyright is it Anyway?

I've read a bit of buzz about the fact that the NFL asked YouTube to take down the NFL copyright notice that Law Professor Wendy Seltzer put online for her copyright class. When I first read some of the coverage, like the story on AOL, I thought she'd put it up there as an example.

But Seltzer actually put it out as a sort of honey pot. In her first post on the subject she noted that she was, in effect, testing the voracity of the NFL's legal bots.

The whole case is interesting nonetheless and is worth a read on her blog. But it also brings out an interesting point in regards to copyright law in a grassroots world. What are your rights? My wife is a lawyer, so if anything comes into our house that looks vaguely legal she gives it a look. If it goes beyond her knowledge she has a support group of lawyers she can call on to give it a read.

But if I didn't have her and I received a legal note from YouTube telling me that my video was being taken down, what are my rights? What if I was entirely in the right (like making a parody) but didn't know it? How could I get the legal backing, support and knowledge to know that I'm not wrong?

Seltzer says this about counter-notifications, which are part of the legal process should you be asked to take something off of YouTube and believe you are within your rights to keep it up:

[W]e see many DMCA takedowns, some right and some wrong, but very few counter-notifications. Part of the problem is that the counter-notifier has to swear to much more than the original notifier. While NFL merely had to affirm that it was or was authorized to act on behalf of a rights-holder to take-down, I had to affirm in response that I had "good faith belief that the material was removed or disabled as a result of mistake or misidentification of the material to be removed or disabled." A non-lawyer might be chilled from making that statement, under penalty of perjury, even with a strong good faith belief.
I'm sure in most cases, if the case became large enough the EFF would pick it up, but I also know people who have had such cases and chose not to pursue them. Not because they thought they were wrong, but because the hassle involved would hurt them emotionally and perhaps professionally for a long time.

So, what is a social media maven to do? First, don't be scared when you get a legal notice. Ask around, use the blogging world. There are resources to help, including the EFF and blogging law professors. Don't be scared to ask for help.

At the same time, don't copy and use copyrighted material at will. Intellectual property is, in the end, property. Not everything is free for the taking.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tellme like it is

My very first client at Schwartz was in the voice recognition space. Like a lot of companies from the age of the bubble, they had great technology and a lot of money that they blew through. I remember walking into their office and seeing the company logo stitched into a carpet that sat in front of the reception desk. I have no idea if the VCs authorized that purchase.

In any case, while this company targeted itself at telecommunications companies and large enterprises, another similar company had a more consumer-friendly model. Tellme launched with a consumer service that let you get the weather, news, sports scores and a few other things.
Both companies talked about the idea of "Dial tone 2.0." The basic concept was that instead of picking up your phone and hearing the familiar dial tone, you hear a voice saying "who do you want to call?" And instead of pushing buttons, you just give it a name or a series of numbers and POOF, the person is on the other line.

Never mind that dial tone 2.0 is actually the one we have now and dial tone 1.0 was the original operator who connected you to a person when you gave her that person's name. So the next dial tone would actually be like the first dial tone only without actual people.

In any case, my client fizzled (later selling its technology to a wireless carrier) and after the dotcom bust Tellme stopped updating its service so regularly. I remember calling it during a golf outing in September 2001 to get news updates. I also used it for New York Jets scores through the winter. But when the updating stopped, so did my usage.

Over the next few years Tellme changed its strategy from a consumer-facing service to one aimed at call centers. I recognized the sounds when I called certain companies. Today, as Microsoft added Tellme to its arsenal, Rob Hof at BusinessWeek had a great blog entry outlining how he'd talked to the company and even visited them at least once. In fact, he liked the technology a lot, but just couldn't find the story.

This happens a lot in PR. You get in front of the right people, give them as much positioning and as many stories as you can, but sometimes it just doesn't feel right to them. There isn't much you can do but keep trying.

But while Rob didn't see the story many other publications did. I remember reading huge profiles of the founders and of the company. So even without the hit in BusinessWeek Tellme still managed the $800 million deal.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

YouTube, Viacom and the Billion Dollar Hammer

Viacom is taking out the hammer and going after YouTube for $1 billion. I know the blogging folks are going to jump all over this saying this like "doesn't Viacom like the free exposure?"

The dirty little secret of YouTube is that much of its content isn't so much "user-generated" as it's "user-posted." Yes, there is a ton of user-generated content out there, but it's also where we all go to see the Saturday Night Live skit we missed when we fell asleep too early (because some of us have 3 kids and can't be up until 1am on a Saturday anymore... though I don't know anyone like that, nope... not me).

Also, consider that as Google looks to start actually making money on its investment it is, of course, looking to advertising. So if YouTube starts putting ads on its contributed site content, and some of that content belongs to other companies, like Viacom or GE, isn't it a case of YouTube getting something for nothing?

I also wonder how much of YouTube's success actually comes from the failure of video search. Every once in a while a company comes along that claims it's going to revolutionize video search. But that just never happens, searching video isn't easy. So people go where the video is and the video is at YouTube, complete with tags and handy comments from others telling you what's cool and what isn't. It's a big TV Guide for the Internet.

Maybe if YouTube did what it's parent does, by directing people to Web sites where the content owners can still own that content and sell ads on it (or make money any way they see fit) then there wouldn't be so much yelling.

But then YouTube wouldn't be YouTube.

Oh, and as a side note, Google's market cap is at $139.8 billion, while Viacom is at $27.6 billion.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Playing Fast and Loose with Trade Show Press Lists

Part of a good media relations program is trade show support in which we obtain the press list provided by the show organizers and start calling. Reporters often find this annoying, especially when PR people call with no real news and just offering up interviews with executives.

But the fact is, trade shows (popular and successful shows) are often the only time people from the company you're representing and beat reporters will be in the same city. That means it's one of the few times a CEO can sit down, face-to-face with a key reporter and make a personal connection. From the media relations perspective this is something you don't want to give up.

Today I received a list from a relatively well-known and respected show in the telecommunications field. In glancing at the names I noticed one reporter who I know is on leave from his publication, along with an odd-looking email address. I contacted the reporter to ask if he was back on the job and if he planned on attending the conference. Not only is he on leave through the summer, but he had never even heard of the show and had no intention of attending.

Was this just wishful thinking on behalf of the show organizers? Was it outright lying?

In the past I've seen trade show lists that included names of reporters who attended last year but hadn't signed up for the current year. Still other reporters don't even bother registering as "press" for fear of getting the phone calls mentioned above.

This raises some serious issues in my head. First, many of my clients look at a press list as they send it off to me and say something like "hey, this looks pretty good." They see big industry names and often assume it'll be a no-brainer to book meetings. That's a challenge I can handle. But when the show organizers have completely lied about who is attending, it's giving paying exhibitors the wrong impression about the importance of the show. Sure, they can invite all the press they want, but suggesting that reporters from such places at Forbes, BusinessWeek and The Economist are planning to attend, when the only reporters actually showing up are from small trade publications sends the wrong impression.

I also wonder what advantages reporters get from registering as press at such events. And now with just about every attendee with a laptop and a wireless connection as a potential blogger and podcaster, should they all be registered as press?

The trade show industry is having trouble, we all know that, but are they hurting themselves even more by putting out "press lists" that aren't worth their weight? Are they crossing an ethical line? Or am I just making too much out of too little?

Monday, March 05, 2007

Exciting Shift

Something wonderful happened today on The Garden City: the people took over.

A challenge that I've always felt with blogging is how to get the community engaged. I can write interesting and provocative things on this blog until my fingers bleed, but at the end of the day it's still MY blog, it doesn't belong to anyone else. I am the ultimate arbiter of the direction, the topics and what appears on the main page. Despite the discussion that does go on, this remains a "one-to-many" experience.

But over on the Garden City, things are a little different. I never wanted it to be "Chuck's Blog" or "Kristine's blog" and I find myself cringing when people refer to it as such in conversations. It's about the people and the power they have to share information with their neighbors.

Today three different people created posts, one announcing a meeting and two others asking questions about the city. The best part? The community responded, providing insight and information!

Yes, I know that if you give people the power they'll use it, it's just so satisfying to plant a seed and then see it grow.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

How many social networking sites can we truly use?

A point Jon Udell made the the MIT Forum has rattled in my head for the past few weeks. He talked about "Social Media Fatigue" to which an audience member responded that he believes people have a tolerance for memberships in about 5 social networking sites.

Since each one requires a username and password, I can understand that. I mean, how many different sites can a person really join and become an active participant in?

So now what? The technology is interesting and the benefits pretty awesome, but a community is only as good as its members. Enter Yahoo (and Google). Your Flickr ID is now a Yahoo ID. Your Blogger ID is now your Gmail address. In other words, by using just two IDs you get a lot of access. You have access to Yahoo Groups, Google Groups, Blogger, Yahoo 360, Flickr, YouTube and who knows what else that comes down the pike. So, what's next? Well, why not start selling access to the community? In a sense, create a federated identity process. Yes, these groups will still need to gather their own data and information, but once someone is logged into Yahoo or Gmail they should also be logged into your site.

Of course, there is also OpenID, something that Simon Wilson has been writing and speaking about.

Yes, I know browsers store a lot of this information so no, I don't need to log into the New York Times, Boston Globe and Tabblo (client) each time I visit, but what is something happens to my browser? What if I'm using another browser at a friend's house? or maybe I'm accessing from some other site? How many IDs should I be expected to remember?

And yes, I know life will be better once we all have digital signatures on smart card chips that we can access through our local computers, but the day we have those never seems to come, so we can't plan on having those in the short-term. For now, it seems, just about everyone has either a Yahoo ID or Gmail address, so we may as well accept it, use it and just be happy.

Then we can join more than 5 social networking groups. Well, in theory anyway. Even if I am a member, how active can I truly be? Can I take part on a regular basis? How much participation is enough to be a member of the community? I don't think I've bought something on eBay in quite a while, but I have been running regular searches and may have bid on a few things. How much participation is enough?

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Can you package lightening?

I spent Wednesday sitting in the Colonnade Hotel at the MIT Enterprise Forum hearing about the “Brave New Web.” I heard a lot of interesting things and a lot that just didn’t make sense.

I’m not going to try and wrap the whole thing up here, just go through a few of my thoughts. Other people do that better than I. More a stream of consciousness.

One blogger I read noted that they didn’t get much more out of the forum than they would from reading a day’s worth of blog posts. Maybe, but I met a lot of nice people as well who are doing some interesting things.

Overall I came away with the impression that people are trying to package lightening.

In a morning discussion about venture capital in Boston (as opposed to San Francisco) someone suggested that Boston needed more home run hits, the major billion dollar IPOs and deals that would act as halos for the rest of the city. But that suggests deals such as Google’s purchase of YouTube are the norm rather than flukes.

A number of people focused on the fact that good content would rise to the top, pointing to such Web phenomena as and various popular YouTube videos.

All these things are nice, but you can hardly stake a marketing strategy on hitting the right blend of comedy and allure. That’s kind of like trying to predict the next big tabloid story. You just can’t do it.

All that said, it’s obvious that the key to a lot of marketing in this “brave new world” lies in passion. It’s not something you can fake but something you have to feel. It’s also what truly comes across in a blog or podcast. It’s also not something that everyone can convey. I met plenty of people who were well spoken, good looking and educated, yet never came across very well on TV. I also met their doppelganger.

The same thing exists online. You have people who can use these tools properly and those who can’t. The trick for entrepreneurs is finding someone to help them lean how to use these tools to translate passion into a marketing advantage.

I also came away wanting to see what’s coming next. A number of companies see social networking as an end into and of itself. But Jon Udell did talk about the idea of the inevitable “social networking fatigue” that has come up recently. The more interesting companies will not just rely on social networking itself to hook up friends with other friends so they can party, but will enable business and commerce.

At least, that’s my take.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Local politics meets social media

This following is an oped I wrote for the Newton TAB. You can find it there, if you like.

Blogs are changing city politics

During the 2004 presidential elections, the foundation of modern politics changed. Until then, candidates spoke to the electorate through major media players and the people acted mostly as consumers, taking in what they’d learned through newspaper, radio and TV, and then casting ballots. A few individuals were lucky enough to ask the candidates questions, but for the most part, reporters asked the questions, the public heard the answers.

But then bloggers came onto the scene. Individuals armed with nothing more than a computer, Internet access, a free site and some ideas found they could reach millions of readers. Even better, their readers could answer back, asking questions and helping drive the discussions. The people took control of the political process.

Candidates had no choice but to take note and take part in the conversation. Two years later, the bloggers played key roles in helping Ned Lamont win the Democratic nod in Connecticut and in helping Deval Patrick ride the grassroots wave to Beacon Hill.

But here in Newton, politics kept its traditional bent with a couple of major news sources acting as the primary way to reach the people.

That is, until the fight over Newton North.

The Yes supporters in last week’s ballot question election ran a traditional campaign with its political machine in full force. The list of big-name endorsers took up an entire page of a slick mailing sent to residents around the city. The printing, mailing, lawn signs and automated calls were all paid for with donations running close to $50,000.

On the other side were a group of residents fighting with just a few donated dollars, some lawn signs, postcards and their own convictions.

Yet they managed 41 percent of the final vote. How?

Like the national stage, Newton-based blogs are reshaping the local landscape. Until about a year ago, most of the local blogs were written by individuals about their daily lives. You could read about what happened in my house, or about local restaurants, or about any of a number of other local families and residents. Mostly these were fun diversions and ruminations on life.

But then Kristine Munroe and I launched Around the same time, the TAB launched its own blog and Sean Roche used his little corner of cyberspace to focus on the issues surrounding Newton’s Streets and Sidewalks. Paul Levy opened up the process behind the Newton Blue Ribbon Commission by blogging about meetings and asking for local input.

During the site plan debate, these blogs became important resources for people looking for information. Even more, they became a place where people looking to ask questions could have them answered. Members of the Board of Aldermen, including Amy Sangiolo, Ken Parker and Leslie Burg, took part, as did other people with stakes in the outcome. People asked questions, they argued, they engaged in a political discourse and, most importantly, they learned. Levy used his blog to give citizens a look at a draft of the Blue Ribbon Commission report well before the election, something that would not have been possible before.

The people of Newton discovered that they do, in fact, have a voice. They can drive the news coverage and ask questions. What’s more, they can do so in a way that fits into their busy lives. As a parent of three children, I know I don’t often have time to attend the various city meetings, but through the blogging world, I now have access to elected officials. I can ask them questions and get answers. Even better, others can join in the conversation and we can all learn together.

Would the No side have won on Jan. 23 with a little more money? Would the Yes side have won 80 percent of the vote if they’d been involved online? There is no way to know for sure, but I’m certain many based their decisions thanks to the information they learned while taking part.

This past week, Gov. Deval Patrick started his own podcast as a way to speak directly to the voters, bypassing the traditional go-between of the state’s media. He’s also talked of starting a blog where people can comment on various issues. When government converses directly with the people it can only get better.

During the Newton North debate, a few key voices remained silent: those of Newton North Now and of the mayor’s office. I understand that both of those groups actively decided not to participate in the blogs, and it’s a shame. Jeremy Solomon, the mayor’s director of policy and communications, tells me that city employees cannot participate in blogs and other social media by rule. It’s unfortunate, because that means the people cannot easily converse with those who make the decisions.

It’s an isolated fantastical attitude that will have a tough time surviving the new local reality.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

When colors talk: how newspaper graphics color meaning

This is a cross post from something I originally wrote for

The concept of the Red State and the Blue State remains one of the enduring legacies of the 2000 election. The major networks colored their maps to tell viewers how each state voted, since the country faced a growing divisiveness in its politics.

States that voted for Republican George Bush were turned red, while those pulling for Democrat Al Gore turned blue. And so the legend began, culminating in such use of the colors on political blogs like the conservative Red State and liberal Blue Mass Group.

So I was a little annoyed when I clicked over to the map the Newton Tab had created to demonstrate how different wards in the city voted in the election on Newton North*. Those few wards that voted "no" turned red, the others turned blue. The implication was clear: vote against the school and you're conservative. In a city that traditionally tilts as liberally as Newton it struck me as a little odd.

Tab Editor Greg Reibman tells me the map offered some valuable information, since it is interesting to see how the city voted as you moved around, with the south side mostly voting against the site plan. He also said that someone suggested turning the "no" tiling wards blue and the "yes" wards orange, the colors of the lawn signs.

Not a bad suggestion.

But my bigger problem is in coloring the wards in any full color. The fact is, was a "one person, one vote" kind of election. Unlike the Presidential race we didn't elect representatives to then do our voting for us. Not all the delegates from ward 3 would be voting "yes." But if we wanted to study how the geography affected the vote perhaps gradual shading would have been more telling.

In fact, after the 2004 election I started seeing national maps that to the red/blue data to new heights, showing how the country was more purple. Massachusetts leaned more to a bluish purple, while many southern states looked more reddish, but the point was pretty clear.

The point of the Tab's map was not.

*On January 23rd the city voted on whether to accept a site plan for the new high school. The vote took place because a group of citizens received enough signatures to force a vote on a plan originally approved by the city's Board of Aldermen. The city approved the site plan 8531 to 6038

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Blogging ROI

Charlene Li of Forrester has released the latest report on the ROI of Blogging. Her post is an interesting read and I'm not going to recap it entirely here. You should read it for yourself. Also, check out the excerpt itself if you're interested in buying the research.

Tools like this should help in the effort to get more executives involved in social media. Even though the report focuses on blogging, my guess is that you could apply the same model technique to other open communications tactics like podcasting, wikis, forums, video blogging and perhaps even Second Life.

But I wonder about the case study chosen to accompany the report: GM's Fast Lane.

While it's a great blog and a great example of how to use blogs effectively to reach out to customers, it's also one that has been examined extensively. Also, GM is unique in that it was one of the first, and largest, companies to start blogging. Something that directly contributed to the high level of associated press coverage, which, of course, is a factor in ROI.

I haven't read the case study, so this isn't a critique on the work done or what is says, but more just of the choice.

I would be very interested to see a few different social media examples from smaller and more diverse companies. It's one thing to reach out to a broad consumer audience, it's something else to reach a smaller niche audience effectively. It's also interesting to see how a blog became an effective PR tool in a crowded market like, say, a Web 2.0 company that is trying to break through. Or maybe how a food products group used a social media to build a distribution community.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I normally don't do this... but

I took this little online survey as a diversion. It's about my accent, which I have worked very hard to suppress over the years.

But I can't be denied, I am who I am. Since I grew up on the border of New York and New Jersey, "North Jersey" would be most accurate.

What American accent do you have?
Your Result: The Northeast

Judging by how you talk you are probably from north Jersey, New York City, Connecticut or Rhode Island. Chances are, if you are from New York City (and not those other places) people would probably be able to tell if they actually heard you speak.


The Inland North

The Midland


The South

The West

North Central

What American accent do you have?
Quiz Created on GoToQuiz

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Blurring the line between distribution and competition

An interesting article in yesterday's New York Times talked about the arrest of a producer of "mixed tapes." That is, a DJ who puts together mixes of different pieces from different rap artists and then sells those through vendors.

I didn't realize the extent to which these played a role in the rap and hip hop communities, but according to the article this is a vital part of the viral marketing employed by many record labels.

The article is worth a read. But it also brings to the forefront an increasingly touchy issue: where does a distribution channel and and competition begin? Back when I bought vinyl records and dropped a few of my favorite songs onto an analog cassette for friends, the record industry never blinked an eye. But now that I can share more of my music library more easily, the record companies want it stopped.

The same goes for the news industry. The other day I heard a Boston Globe editor talk about how the bloggers help the Globe get news distributed, since most point back to articles (just as I did for the Times in this entry). He's right.

But I wonder what happens when certain blogs raise in stature. I edit a "Placeblog" called The Garden City, which has picked up quite a bit of interest lately given a local election about building a new high school. The local paper also has a blog, but it doesn't have the same number of contributors, though it often has more reporting behind it. We link to each other's stories, but are we, at some level, in competition? Where is that line?

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Does the ethics change with the price tag?

Dan Shaugnessy came to visit our office one day and waxed poetic about Fenway Park and what it means to bring his children there.

I'm sure it's romantic to a guy who doesn't need to pay for it. For a father of five sitting out in the bleachers, Fenway Park means about $250 for roughly 3 hours of entertainment. That's a lot out of the family budget. But Shaugnessy gets in for free, has no trouble parking and can even get his kids some autographs. Such is the advantage of being a sports reporter.

How different would sports reporting be if each reporter had to pay for a ticket? Let's assume $20 for a ticket (below market rate) and that the reporter attends 60 home games. That's $1200 worth of baseball for one season. That also doesn't include spring training, road games or any other expenses (such as food) that the team may pick up.

It's accepted that such jobs as sports reporters and movie reviewers come with that main perk, something that can be worth quite a bit of money when extended over a year or a whole career. As readers we don't question it, nor do we demand that every review come with a disclaimer that says "movies are free for the reviewers" or "this sports reporter didn't pay for his seat, and ate at the buffet supplied by the team. They served shrimp."

So when I hear an argument about the fact that Microsoft supplied $2500 laptops to bloggers, asking nothing in return, and some of the bloggers did not initially disclose that they received those laptops from Microsoft, I give a big shrug. It's not that I think this is the right thing to do, I don't. But I can't really get all excited by it either. (A good source for articles on the topic is here.)

Yes, it would be ideal for the bloggers to have paid for the goods or not accepted them at all. At the very least they should disclose the goods that were were received. And frankly, Microsoft should have followed the traditional protocol used when giving out review hardware and asked for it to be sent back.

Still I agree mostly with Neville Hobson who calls this a "PR cock-up." This is a tempest in a teapot. Bloggers are not journalists, but they are people with an audience. Over time, those that are ethical will maintain their audience and their street cred, while those that aren't will lose both.

But I still wonder, does it matter that the laptop cost $2500? Does it matter that a movie ticket is $8 or $10? Does the price tag change the ethical consideration? When I choose a movie both my time and my money are worth something, I want to see a movie that is worth both. Is it a rental or a theater experience?

Is Vista really worth the money? Are the features just OK? Who gave the information for the review?