Web 3.0

Last one from the old blog:

The web wasn’t for everyone when it started. It was one way communication. You went to a company’s website and that provided you information. You couldn’t talk back in any meaningful way (unless you were in an AOL chatroom – and that could end up getting you sent straight to jail). Being overly simplistic, that was Web 1.0.

Then came high speed Internet. And social networking sites. And blogging. And micro-blogging (Twitter). And sharing applications. This gave individuals a voice. Instead of consuming content from an entity, you could read what your friends posted. Think you’re smarter and more interesting than your friends? Well, then post whatever you want. Everyone became a publisher and you could rely on your friends and people you trust to put interesting things on the web or point you towards what you would be interested in. This was the democratization of the internet. Being overly simplistic, this was Web 2.0.

Now we’re in an interesting new phase. Those companies and businesses that dominated web 1.0? Well, they’re trying to find a foothold in this brave new world. Who cares what Ford has to tell you about its cars when you can use the internet and your social graph to get information that you trust about the new Ford Focus. Here’s the rub – in the Web 3.0 world, businesses need to become your friend. They need to be part of your social graph. If not, they’re playing catch up. I’ve heard some businesses reject Twitter because it is “off-brand.” That’s nonsense and it’s bad business. If your customers are on Twitter or any other social site they are or might be talking about you. And you need to be an active participant in that conversation. We’ve reached that point where brands and companies need to have personalities. And if they don’t craft them, then they are subject to how people perceive them. This is the Web 3.0 world. Companies figuring out how to become part of your social graph.

The beauty about this new world though is that the companies have to cater to you. And the effective ones do. They know that they need to engage and be honest and be out there. That’s what people appreciate right now.

My friend, Jim Weber, has a company that knows how to do this. He runs Lost Lettermen, a site dedicated to college sports that initially grew out of a desire to find out what happened to college stars of yesterday (seriously, never play the “where did they go to school?” game with Jim. He’s the king). Anyway, Lost Lettermen has a Twitter account. And it’s great. Not everything it links to is Lost Lettermen content. But that’s besides the point. Jim posts anything and everything that he finds interesting about college sports. He’s essentially a curator for important college sports news.  And because he’s been effective at doing this I rely on the Lost Lettermen Twitter feed to find out what’s going on with college sports. He’s expanded a niche site into something broader by using social media.

Basically, tweet or die.

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Mindset Matters

One more from the old blog.  My friend Rick Desai re-posted this on his blog – Just Rick – a very well written and thoughtful site on a variety of issues including startups and social media (among other things).

I spend a lot of time thinking about my thoughts.

It’s a weird habit but an important one for me.

Mindset matters.

David Foster Wallace gave a commencement speech at Kenyon College. You can find it here. The point of the speech is that life in the real world is hard. And it is hard because it is boring and mundane and it invites, and practically begs, you to become lazy in how you approach living. You start to see things in a certain light and pretty soon it’s hard for you to be convinced that there is any other way to understand or explain the world. This stubbornness isn’t your fault. We’re practically wired that way. He describes it so eloquently:

Here is just one example of the total wrongness of something I tend to be automatically sure of: everything in my own immediate experience supports my deep belief that I am the absolute centre of the universe; the realest, most vivid and important person in existence. We rarely think about this sort of natural, basic self-centredness because it’s so socially repulsive. But it’s pretty much the same for all of us. It is our default setting, hard-wired into our boards at birth. Think about it: there is no experience you have had that you are not the absolute centre of. The world as you experience it is there in front of YOU or behind YOU, to the left or right of YOU, on YOUR TV or YOUR monitor. And so on. Other people’s thoughts and feelings have to be communicated to you somehow, but your own are so immediate, urgent, real.

Pretty gloomy for a commencement address, right?

But he says so much more and what he says has so much hope. Wallace says that the whole point of a liberal arts education is not to teach you how to think, but to teach you that you have control over how and what you think about — “It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience.” I think he’s asking that you take the time to observe the world around you and challenge yourself to view it from as many perspectives as possible. It’s that observation and challenging that keeps life fresh.

I think about this speech often; in fact, it’s the most important thing I’ve ever read (Omar from the Wire said, “A man’s gotta have a code.” His was not murdering anyone that pays taxes – only criminals and drug dealers. I think Wallace’s speech is my code. It’s aims at a decidedly lower (or, actually, higher) target). If you’re starting a business or choosing a career or simply existing as a human being, I think its lessons can help you. The fact is that your personality and who you are (and by extension, everything you create) does not magically form itself – you have to be an active participant in it. You can’t just say “I’m open-minded” and magically be open-minded. Just saying that your business is “open” or “risk-taking,” doesn’t make it so. You have to go all in and commit yourself. That’s the only way.

I also recently read a book called How Disruption Brought Order. Written by the head of TBWA\Chiat\Day (one of the most highly respected ad agencies in the world), it’s ostensibly a book about the creative strategy that the company has used to become successful. That strategy is Disruption. The quick explanation is that when asked to help position a brand, the company 1) identifies the existing conventions that have created the status quo (i.e. the existing wisdom), 2) comes up with an approach that can challenge those conventions, and implements that approach with 3) a clear vision of where they want the brand to go.

Reading about the concept, I realized that it stretches far beyond advertising. The author notes that you can have disruptive business models (Napster) and disruptive products (the iPod). But this is really a way of thinking. And it’s something that I’m going to try and embrace in my life too. I’ve started to give myself monthly challenges to break out of my normal routine (vegetarian in December, drink only water in January, wake up earlier and be productive in February, blog every day in April). But on a smaller level (and a more time consuming one), I’ve tried to be an active thinker about the people around me – it’s more time consuming and, like Wallace says, it’s a counter to the default setting of focusing on yourself. You have to force yourself to go against the natural instinct to coast along.

You have to think.

Simplify

Some content from my old site.  Thought it would be useful to have everything in one place:

Words are important.  They help you describe your thoughts to other people.  And, as your 9th grade English teach told you, big words aren’t necessarily impressive.  They don’t equal big thoughts.  Burn your thesaurus!!

This V.S. Naipaul guidance is incredibly useful and I think most people would benefit from heeding his advice:

1. Do not write long sentences. A sentence should not have more than ten or twelve words.

2. Each sentence should make a clear statement. It should add to the statement that went before. A good paragraph is a series of clear, linked statements.

3. Do not use big words. If your computer tells you that your average word is more than five letters long, there is something wrong. The use of small words compels you to think about what you are writing. Even difficult ideas can be broken down into small words.

4. Never use words whose meaning you are not sure of. If you break this rule you should look for other work.

5. The beginner should avoid using adjectives, except those of colour, size and number. Use as few adverbs as possible.

6. Avoid the abstract. Always go for the concrete.

7. Every day, for six months at least, practice writing in this way. Small words; short, clear, concrete sentences. It may be awkward, but it’s training you in the use of language. It may even be getting rid of the bad language habits you picked up at the university. You may go beyond these rules after you have thoroughly understood and mastered them.

I think the first four points are touchstones that everyone should rely on.  Simple thoughts are the most powerful and memorable.  If a reader has to work to understand a sentence, she’s unlikely to remember its point.  Using simple words and short sentences also forces you to understand your message.  Instead of making your writing sound impressive, work on crafting an impressive idea that shines through without pomp and flowery language.  The rules destroy your ability to hide your confusion with misdirection.  If you understand your message, you should be able to communicate it quickly and simply.

Read any Cormac McCarthy or Kurt Vonnegut.  They are perfect examples of powerful writers that uses simple sentences and words to convey powerful messages.  (Note:  I don’t think that this point in any way contradicts my ongoing love for David Foster Wallace’s writing.  DFW was a writer who understood and valued the importance of words.  He was aware of the impact that they have on emotion and thought processes.  So when he strung together paragraph long sentences, he was doing it for a reason.  I think his writing actually is the perfect metaphor for how the current information glut affects our minds.)

I also think that with the flood of information in today’s world where everyone is a publisher, simple messages are the most powerful.  When everyone is yelling across a variety of different platforms, a simple message helps you stand out.  And a simple message communicated across those various platforms has an incredibly powerful effect.  Fledgling entrepreneurs, job applicants, established companies – they all need to focus on short, powerful messages that stick in someone’s mind with minimal effort.

And, re-reading this post, I’ve realized I’ve broken a majority of the rules.

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Check yourself.

Many Americans poured out into the streets on Sunday night to celebrate the death of Osama Bin Laden.  Tweets, Facebook pages, blog posts – they exploded with sentiments of relief and joy at the news of Bin Laden’s demise.

Then came the inevitable counterpoint to those sentiments.  In our social world, there’s a huge incentive to be first to post an on-point quote or link that touches on a current topic.  Many people chose to put up a quote attributed to Martin Luther King:

I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy.

Now, I don’t really care whether you agree or disagree with the quote.  Reasonable minds can have varying opinions on what it means and whether it applies to Osama Bin Laden.  The interesting point is that this quote became the comeback de jour for people who disapproved of the impromptu celebrations and joyous postings regarding the news.  The more interesting point is that this quote isn’t Martin Luther King Junior’s – it’s just one woman’s interpretation of an MLK quote that got mingled together and misattributed.

So, within about 24 hours, we had one quote catch fire and spread throughout the world, followed by people researching and finding out that the quote was incorrect.  Both correct and incorrect information travel fast nowadays.  The great thing is that the internet is the ultimate fact-checker.  Fact-checking is essentially crowd sourced to social network users who care enough to investigate further.  As a result, if you post something on a network today, especially something that is topical and could catch on, you better be sure it’s right.  Because that first impression gets amplified exponentially once it gets sent around.

Some may think that this just creates a lot of noise, but I believe that people are in tune enough to sift through everything and come to their own conclusion.  The fact-checking component really amazes me.  Truth (or some variation of it) is only a few clicks away (so you can’t get away with saying, for example, that abortion services are 90% of what Planned Parent does without people calling bull).

Here’s the kicker to this whole discussion.  Along with the quasi-MLK quote that floated around the internet, there was an alleged Mark Twain quote of a decidedly lighter nature and wholly different viewpoint that also made the rounds:

I’ve never wished a man dead, but I have read some obituaries with great pleasure.

And, guess what?  Twain never said that.  Clarence Darrow did.  And it’s not even an exact quote.

Two diametrically opposed quotes.  Two misattributions.  Beautiful, no?

Blawgs?

May 4, 2011 1 comment

I think that the economic downturn over the past few years has made everyone hungrier.  Employees, businesses, investors – there’s a feeling in the air that you really have to get out there and attack the market if you’re going to succeed in any meaningful way.  For a while, there was a sense that business would come to you – that the good times would just continue rolling, that the bubble wouldn’t burst.  This is certainly what happened with big law firms built on a billable hour system that needed to be fed at all costs (but that’s a whole different story).  Anyway, when the recession hit, money dried up.

Now we’re rebuilding.  People looking for jobs have to find interesting ways to market themselves.  A resume and cover letter don’t get it done any more.  You have to network and, luckily, there are a million tools to help you do that.  Google search people you’re interested in, find them on Twitter or LinkedIn, start your own blog and/or tweet your own thoughts – it’s basically easy to show and prove.  You just have to put the work in.  And this isn’t just limited to people.  Businesses should have to work hard too.

Startups need to be active in all these various forms of media in order to get their name out there.  Hopefully you reach enough people and tip and people start talking about you.  Investors start talking about you.

Smart investors also do the same thing.  Signaling is important, so the smart investors advertise who they are working with, who they are investing in, what they think are the good ideas on the market right now.  That type of information flow attracts people with good ideas.

It seems to be the big established businesses that are slower to show their hunger.  Maybe its because institutional inertia makes it harder to adapt to the changing communications landscape.

Specifically, I don’t know why law firms don’t do a better job marketing themselves.  If I ran a firm, I’d be out front on social media to try and distinguish myself from competitors.  But there seems to be a hesitance about selling firm services.  Maybe its fear of running afoul of attorney advertising laws.  Maybe its a fear of putting things in writing and having people follow your advice.  But there are disclaimers that protect you from that.  And if there’s one thing that lawyers are good at it is writing for disclaimers. Maybe firms don’t see much marginal utility in entering this space – but then again, it doesn’t take that much effort to write up a couple of blog posts and run a respectable Twitter feed.  Maybe it’s the thought that legal issues are too complex and intricate to explain in a  blog post.  That’s also wrong.  If anything, we should be simplifying issues for people.

Again, this all comes down to signaling.  I think every firm should have a blog.  Tout the victories of your clients.  Talk about their business (the non-confidential and privileged stuff, of course).  Discuss recent developments.  Provide a few simple how-to’s (with disclaimers that people should actually consult an attorney for real legal advice).  Show people that you’re out there and involved.  Put something free out and you’ll be paid back ten-fold down the road.  Content shouldn’t be a problem and it can easily go beyond a “News” section on the front of the website.  Assign two attorneys in each group responsibility for blog posts on a rotating basis.  There are lots of groups.  Lots of issues.  Lots of ideas.

Some firms do an excellent job at this.  Twitter feeds, topical blogs…and, I bet, they drum up business.  There has to be some return on it.  And, at the very worst, you give your junior attorneys a forum to write our their thoughts on important issues.  With some guidance, this is a winning situation.

All News Travels Fast

May 3, 2011 1 comment

My mom called me on the morning of September 11, 2001.  She told me that I had to turn on the television because someone had flown a plane into the World Trade Center.  Looking back now, I can’t remember if was before or after the second plane hit.  Either way, I watched CNN for a few minutes and left for my Econ discussion because it wasn’t clear at that point what exactly was going on.  Had my dad not been watching tv and called my mom and she called me, who knows how long it would have been before I found out what was going on.

My mom called me at 11:15 last night to tell me to turn on the television.  This time I was way ahead of her.  News about Osama bin Laden’s death hit Twitter about two hours before President Obama gave his address to the nation.  And because I compulsively check my Twitter feed, I knew about the news as soon as everyone else did.

The way this news traveled was fascinating.  The official Twitter stats note that there was a sustained output of over 3000 tweets per second.  More important than this though was the fact that the story was broken via Twitter.  I know that most news is broken on Twitter nowadays for efficiency’s sake  – but that news is broken by official news agencies.  This news was broken by Keith Urbahn (Donald Rumsfeld’s current chief of staff; not to be confused with Nicole Kidman’s husband) after he got a tip from a mainstream media source.  Think about that for a second.  One person with connections broke the story on Twitter.  This has huge implications.  Become a respected source of information on something and you can send out a piece of information that spreads like wildfire (granted, this was news on the more interesting side…for the whole world).

Another interesting point here is that even though I heard about the news on Twitter, my next reaction was to turn on the television and flip through the cable news networks.  Twitter wasn’t a substitute for other forms of media – it was just the impetus for me to go to them.  Over the next few days, it will also be the way that I read analysis on issues stemming from yesterday’s news  And this analysis is curated because it’s brought to me by people that I find interesting and respect enough to follow on my Twitter feed.  Ultimately, it’s a tool that content providers should really embrace to spread their content with a minimal amount of effort.

I think the last interesting point here is that the actual military operation was live tweeted by someone in Pakistan who had no clue what he was witnessing.  Not sure that there’s a real takeaway from that point – it’s just really interesting.

And, of course, major congratulations to the Obama administration for seeing this through.  Loved this tweet (in our political climate, I think it might be more important to be solutions based than idea driven…but Obama is undoubtedly a man with many ideas):

Also love that the White House released this picture:

________________

I’m still trying to get a good grasp on the importance of what happened yesterday.  When the attacks happened, I was a college sophomore living in Ann Arbor watching footage of the devastation in New York on my television.  Now I live in New York City – only 5 blocks away from the World Trade Center – and watch the new towers being built at an astonishing pace every day.  Oddly enough, my wife and I walked past the World Trade Center site on a whim on Sunday afternoon, 6 hours before Obama addressed the nation.  Funny how things work.

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Thoughts and Things

April 27, 2011 1 comment

Well, here I am.  Moved over to a format more suited for long-form thoughts.  Bionic Knee is still alive and I’ll be using that to post odds and ends and the minutae that occupy my brain on a daily basis.

But I’ll be using this dedicated space to explore some thoughts in a more expansive way.  My March monthly challenge has inspired me to keep blogging, but without the urgency of requiring myself to post every day (or close to every day).  I realized that instead of just passively consuming all of the information from my RSS and Twitter feeds, it’s more fun to get involved and inject my own thoughts into the discussion (although, sometimes blogging feels like yelling into the abyss…if no one reads a blog, is it really a blog?).

You can expect to find a lot of things here.  Some thoughts will be correct, some will be incorrect, but they will all be honest efforts by me to understand topics that interest me.  Hopefully, I’ll have something unique to add to the discussion and, at the very least, I’ll pass along links to people who do have unique and interesting takes on a varied range of topics.

The goals here are simple.  Become a better writer.  Find interesting things to talk about.  Get people to read the site so that it evolves into more of a discussion and less of a journal.  In thinking of a title for the blog, I asked for some opinions and the first question everyone asked was, “Well, what’s the blog going to be about?”  Tough question.  It’s going to be about my brain and the thoughts that go through it.  Pretty broad subject matter.  Social media, the internet, hip hop, the NBA, Michigan Football, New York, Detroit, literature, The Wire and Friday Night Lights, communication, and connections.  Big thoughts and little thoughts.  That’ll all be here – more or less.

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