More YouTube fun – two of my favorite songs.

Is there anyone comparable in the singer/songwriter category these days (pun not intended)?

Shopping with Trackbacks

July 31, 2007

I think I would like it if retail sites had trackbacks on their products, so that you could see who linked to them and talked about them.  For instance, if you were looking at an interesting pair of shoes on Nordstrom you could check what the fashion bloggers were saying about them.  I know plenty of retailers already allow for user reviews, and judging by the amount of negative reviews on some sites, they don’t necessarily filter out the bad ones.  Trackbacks could be another way for them to listen to their customers.

Of course, this would be difficult to implement, and some items would have pages and pages of trackbacks (iphone, anyone?), and not everyone who writes about a product on their blog includes a link back to the source.  Also, some products are sold on multiple websites, so you wouldn’t necessarily get the whole conversation.  Still, I think it could be cool.

After all, I know that I’m much more likely to talk about a product on my blog than to write a review on a site.  In addition, many bloggers are very savvy and passionate about their topic area – wouldn’t you trust say, a tech blogger’s opinion on the latest shiny object more so than a random website review?  Bloggers are typically a little more accountable than an anonymous person writing a review as well. 

Yes, I know you can search for something on Technorati or Google Blogsearch or whatever, but I’m willing to bet most consumers are a little lazy in that regard and like things to all be on the same page.  It might help keep them on the retailer’s website too.

Does this already exist somewhere and I’m just being a dimwit? 

Speaking of cool things that retail websites do, I wish that more stores would get on Nordstrom’s bandwagon and start publishing RSS feeds of their new stuff, but I tend to use that as more of a tool to find stuff to write about (I write for a lot of fashion/lifestyle type publications) than to actually shop, so maybe that’s not quite as beneficial for them (although you could also argue that featuring a particular item in a positive light is probably more beneficial for them than me just buying it and not telling anyone). 

Cross-posted on my fashion blog.

On a completely unrelated note, RIP Bill Walsh.  Whether or not you were a fan of the teams he coach, you have to admit that he was a brilliant football strategist (and overall smart – I didn’t know that he had taught at the Stanford School of Business – thanks Wikipedia).  Look at this cool chart of his influence

I was discussing personal branding today (okay, ranting about how the buzzwords used by personal advocates irritate me, but most buzzwords are kind of meaningless at the core, aren’t they?  They’re a good way for people to sound like they know what they are talking about without actually saying anything at all).  It’s related to one of my projects – I’m trying to figure out a way to write about branding without sounding like a corporate stooge.   

Or maybe I just hate the word “brand”.  It seems so bland and impersonal.

Oh, I understand the point and the benefits of branding and creating a personal brand.  We’re all special and unique snowflakes just like everyone else, so we have to differentiate ourselves to prospective employers, clients, customers, etc. somehow.  In which case, it is valuable to pinpoint your unique charactersistics and know exactly what you have to offer.

Maybe it’s the concept of whittling your personality down to a few sound bites that bugs me so much.  After all, people are much more complex than a shortlist of abilities and character traits.  Much of the personal branding conversation and branding advocates reminds me of productizing people, and that also irritates me.  People are not consumer goods.*

Wait, I think I’ve figured out why it is that some of the “personal branders” irk me.  I’ve noticed that many of the people who make a conscious effort to brand themselves focus so heavily on their message and their presentation that they forget they are human beings.  Yes, their “brands” are great, but the human being loses.  Packaging is important, but in the end, it’s what you actually do – what you accomplish, what you create that counts. 

Focus on being remarkable, on being an awesome, skilled person, on creating quality and adding value to the lives of others.  I think that too much focus on branding kills genuine human interaction, warmth, personality, passion and all the other wonderful things that make people completely unlike products.

I’ve read numerous posts and articles stating that web 2.0 and social media networks (insert techie buzzword of your choice here) make personal branding even more necessary than ever, that we can be all be micro-celebrities in our respective niches.  And again I’ll say yes, of course it’s important to differentiate yourself, but shouldn’t branding be more organic?  Can’t people tell when something is borne out of a marketing strategy or genuine, honest passion? 

I’d like to think that most people are pretty savvy and intuitive about such things – we know when we’re being sold something, and honestly, I feel that much of the personal branding literature focuses on creating a slick package instead of defining individuality.

*Yes, there are celebrities and others who make their living by selling a persona, who in a sense, are products.  But there’s a difference between that persona – their product – and the actual human being behind it.  Many personal branding advocates neglect to mention this part – your public image versus your private side.  In an ideal world, we could all just be ourselves and not have to worry about offending anyone, but that’s hardly reality.  After all, how others perceive us does matter, and some level of branding is helpful when it comes to presenting ourselves to others.  Let’s just not get too caught up in it.

Happy Birthday to Me!

July 27, 2007

Tomorrow is my birthday (I’ll be 24), and I plan to celebrate by eating delicious but fattening food and drinking delicious but fattening beer.  Hey, I might as well indulge before my metabolism drops off. 

On an unrelated note – Who in their right mind would consider USC to be the greatest college football team of all time?  Yes, they’re a current powerhouse, but the greatest ever?  Maybe if you only look at the past decade or so of college football.  I know that we Domers like to hate on USC and that Notre Dame football sort of fails right now, but seriously, when it comes to down to history, legend, and yes, statistics, USC is not the greatest of all time.  This doesn’t just apply to ND-USC, but Michigan, Alabama, Texas, Ole Miss, and many, many more all have much more storied programs than USC. 

Anyways, there are only 34 more days until college football season starts – this makes me happy.  Expect a few more obnoxiously optimistic posts on the state of the Fighting Irish, but I’ll try to keep the football talk here to a minimum.

Job of the Future?

July 26, 2007

Much of the talk about web 2.0 and social networking and blah blah shiny shiny seems to neglect the key component of a social site – the people (or maybe I’m reading the wrong news sources, in which case, I’d welcome recommendations).  After all, any social network’s real power lies in its members and the way they use it, not the number of cool apps and widgets available.

I’m not talking just about numbers, either, although the sheer number of users is one to measure a site’s worth.  I think we all know that it is equally important to pay attention to how often members log in and how much time they spend on the site, because how many people create profiles and abandon them after a short time because they weren’t getting enough out of it, or the site just ceased to hold their interests?  This even goes true for blogs – there are eleventy billion blogs on the web, but how many of them have been updated this week?  This month, even?

Yes, this is somehow related to the “Jobs of the Future: Online Community Organizer” concept I mentioned in my last post.  It goes to follow that in order to make a social site stand out and be successful, some kind of draw besides the latest and greatest technology is necessary.  After all, great tech will attract the bleeding edge techie geeks, but they’re a real fickle bunch. 

The real reason most people join any kind of social networking site is because they get something out of it, whether it’s being able to keep up with their friends’ lives, network with potential colleagues/employers, or just communicate with like-minded people.  There is also the subset that joins to promote something they are selling, but that’s getting dangerously close to spamming (and in some cases, it is spamming), and I’ve always advised friends and clients to participate as a human being first, and as a marketer second.  For the love of god, separate yourself from your brand for a minute and stop looking at members of a network just as potential cash cows. 

But I digress.  So how do networks differentiate themselves?  Why are some forums and sites ridiculously active while others languish in e-scurity?  (It’s my blog, I can make up words if I want to.)  Having some great leaders – whether they are early adopters who pull others in by making it cool, or community organizers who make everyone feel welcome, answer questions, and generally moderate the discussion (e.g. keep out the trolls and spammers). 

Yes, some moderation can be done digitally, like spam filtering.  But I think it’s probably necessary to have some human eyeballs involved, if only to remove blatant rule breakers – for instance, people who post porn and other obscene content on sites that want to be G-rated – yes, there is porn on the net, but if a site owner wants to keep it family-friendly or hell, just work-safe, that’s within their rights too.  (I’m not advocating censorship here, because even the First Amendment has exceptions (e.g. no slander or libel, no obscenities (read: porn) in an inappropriate context – that kind of thing). 

Having someone around to answer questions, make newbies feel welcome, and promote conversations, and keep everyone informed of important changes, news, etc. could be a differentiator between a network that dissolves into a slush pool of spam or one that thrives.  Perhaps they could even pull people in by becoming a sort of community evangelist.

I don’t want to delve too far into the whole freedom of speech as it applies to the web thing, but I do think that if the creators/owners of a networking site, forum, community (insert social media entity of your choice), want to create rules and regulations for the users of the site, they’re probably within their rights.  Also, the majority rules – if most of a site’s members don’t want to allow a certain topic or type of speech, chances are they’ll get their way or leave the community.

However, some communities end up being most self-policing, but that doesn’t totally eliminate the need .  Craigslist is probably one of the better-known examples – users can flag messages they feel are inappropriate, and a certain number of flags will get the item taken down.  However, people can still petition the actual humans behind the site if they feel they were flagged unfairly, and those humans are still necessary to create the regulations, organize the categories, and generally adjust to changes based on what users want, overall trends, and what-have-you.  There’s still something of a community organizer aspect to what they do, even if that is not their sole job. 

I’ll close with a quote from the Clay Shirky document that I mentioned in my last post,

“The people using your software, even if you own it and pay for it, have rights and will behave as if they have rights. And if you abrogate those rights, you’ll hear about it very quickly.

That’s part of the problem that the John Hegel theory of community — community leads to content, which leads to commerce — never worked. Because lo and behold, no matter who came onto the Clairol chat boards, they sometimes wanted to talk about things that weren’t Clairol products.

“But we paid for this! This is the Clairol site!” Doesn’t matter. The users are there for one another. They may be there on hardware and software paid for by you, but the users are there for one another.”

Cause really, it comes down to people communicating with each other – an organizer just gets the conversation going and helps keep it interesting.

Virtual Society

July 24, 2007

I found this essay A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy by Clay Shirky via the Gaping Void this morning -granted, it’s from 2003, but it’s still pretty relevant to one of today’s hot topics, social media. 

Clay’s thoughts on the more sociological aspects of social media (as opposed the technical – whoa-new-shiny-object-here! coverage that seems to make up the majority of social media news, posts, and articles) and creating new social software were especially interesting to me because I work with a company that’s developing new social platforms, and also in relation to this Seth Godin post “Jobs of the Future, #1: Online Community Organizer“, which focuses on the people that make up social media networks, and in particular, the leaders that draw them there. 

More thoughts on virtual communities, their parallels in real life, and online leadership, early adopters, and related topics later.

Last week, I wrote a post referencing this essay on Web Worker Daily by Ryan Healy of Employee Evolution, and in the past few days, there’s been quite a conversation going on in the comments (that’s one sign of an interesting article – the comment section is lively and long). 

There seems to be two mindsets towards my generation’s demands for the workplace – one that says we’re a bunch of entitled brats who ask for way too much without having proved themselves, and one that is very “right on, man, you totally get it.  I want to escape the cube farm and work for a company that gets it too.”

Of course, I don’t think either group is 100% right.  I’ve read plenty of pessimistic posts and articles about how Gen Y is going to screw everything up because we don’t understand the value of hard work, we can’t focus on anything, and we’re a bunch of celebrity-obsessed dimwits who only care about owning the latest status symbols.  These are usually the same people who think that the web is somehow evil (do they realize how amusing it is that they are using the internet to bitch and moan about how it’s destroying our culture?).  However, I also think that some of the Gen Yers have to realize that if we want to make these kind of demands of our employers, we had better prove ourselves first.

I’m not talking about all that paying-your-dues stuff.  The kind of jobs that require people to toil in obscurity for years, sometimes suffering the wrath of an obnoxious boss, for the small possibility of someday getting recognized for their hard work hold little appeal.  I think that’s one thing that truly is different about my generation – we’re confident in our abilities, we’re used to quick gratification and we want to see our contributions make an impact right out of the gate.  We’re special, damn it, and employers should recognize that*.

Of course, I have a bit of a skewed view on all this because I’ve actually never had a typical full-time job – I’ve been freelancing since I graduated (by choice – I doubt there’s a single job out there that combines my different interests and abilities, and allows me to work on such a wide variety of projects, and lets me do everything on my own schedule, working from anywhere I want as long as I make my deadlines). 

Therefore, I had my own “right on, dude!” moment when I read this comment: “So, let me get this straight. You want a position where you don’t have to show up for work, doesn’t have any set title, and pays you while you save your best stuff for your start up company.  That’s called freelancing. And you know what, you are more then welcome to do it. Just don’t expect a steady check, insurance, or benefits and you’ll get along just great.”

Yes, there is a tradeoff between freedom and stability (this is probably easier to do when you’re young and have no dependents), but I tend to think it’s worth it.  Besides, I can work with the people I genuinely like, and I get to pursue all sorts of interesting avenues and opportunities.  Yes, there’s that whole regular paycheck thing, but if you’re any good at what you do (and decent at marketing yourself), finding regular, quality clients is not impossible.  Also, I tend to enjoy the hustle and the challenge of finding creative, interesting solutions to problems.

In fact, I’m beginning to think there is bigger evolution going on in the workplace.  It’s not just about Gen Y, but an overall shift to allowing employees more freedom and autonomy.  People are not defining themselves by their jobs to the extent that they used to – blame Gen Y, blame the web, blame whatever.  Regardless where the fault lies, the times, they are a-changin.  Just look at the huge popularity enjoyed by the 4 Hour Work Week, for instance.  A entire community is growing around lifestyle design and the basic concept that work doesn’t have to be the sole focus of your life.

*Actually, considering the changes that are going to take place in the workforce as the Boomers retire, companies are going to have to look to Gen Y for manpower, whether they like it or not.

Like most other bloggers, I’m a big fan of subscribing to feeds – it saves a lot of time because you don’t have to visit each blog, you don’t have to wait for sites to load (there are actually a few blogs that I will only read in feed-form because they have so many graphics/images/ads that the actual content takes eons to appear), and it’s really the easiest way to keep up with tons of different blogs. 

The problem is that you lose out on reading the comments if you stick with just the feeds, and sometimes, the comments and responses are the most interesting or entertaining part of the whole post.  Much of the time, I end up going to the actual blog to read the comments and perhaps add my own.  Of course, lots of sites also let you subscribe to the comment feed (for instance, the Gawker Media blog network) too, but isn’t that getting a little excessive? 

So what’s your opinion?  Are you one of those readers who only reads the plain feeds, or do you include the comments when you can, or do you just go to each site?  Or do you prefer a mix, like me?  I’m not even going to get into bloggers who don’t publish a full feed, that’s just irritating.  I clearly don’t mind going to the individual site if I want to check out the comments or write one, but don’t make me do it (this especially applies to the previously mention ad-laden slow to load blogs). 

On a semi-related note, does anyone else dislike it when bloggers have a “subscribe to my feed” button at the end of every single post?  Is it that hard to figure out how to do it?  For some reason the social media buttons – “digg this”, “add to del.icio.us”, etc. don’t annoy me nearly as much, but I still think they are a little unnecessary.  Chances are, if your readers are familar with feeds or social bookmarking, they know how to save, stumble, tag, digg, or suscribe to your site.