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?