Women and Travel

November 30, 2007

Stop what you are doing and go read this brilliant article by Emily Hansen at Brave New Traveler right now.

It is great – and good reading for anyone, male or female, with trepidations about travel.


Kiva Rocks

November 28, 2007

You’ve probably heard of Kiva by now – the microloan site that lets anyone become a lender, but if you haven’t, Stanford Magazine has an excellent article about the non-profit and it’s history.  A choice quote:

“As CNN noted in a report last year, “If you’ve got 25 bucks, a PC and a PayPal account, you’ve now got the wherewithal to be an international financier.” When you press the “pay” button, the site rolls over to PayPal—just as eBay does—and you never have to open your checkbook or wallet.”

However, entrepreneurs can also learn from Kiva, as Guy Kawasaki says.  Check out his “Six Lessons of Kiva“.

It’s kind of fitting that Kiva’s popping up on the media radar again right about holiday shopping season – perhaps we should encourage each other to become “international micro-financiers” instead of or along with splurging on gifts.

So when Miss Teen South Carolina talked about Americans needing more maps, people mocked her and well, you probably know what a viral sensation that video clip became.  But although she wasn’t the most articulate speaker ever, she was kind of right – most Americans probably can’t find “the Iraq” on a map anyways.

While knowing the capital of Azerbaijan probably isn’t very important to most peoples’ daily lives, a certain amount of awareness of the world around you is; it’s not about simply memorizing facts – having an understanding of the world and its varied cultures is key to becoming a well-rounded, open-minded person.  After all, people tend to fear what they don’t understand and all that.

Getting to the point – the very existence of this geography series in the Chicago Tribune is telling, and a little sad*.  I guess it’s better than nothing, however.


*By the way, I got all the questions right – but I’m a nerd when it comes to such things.  I even won the National Geography Bee in elementary school (in fact, I remember that the winning answer was “the former nation of Czechoslovakia”, but I have no idea what the question was).

**Perhaps the Geosense game should be publicized more – it’s a great way to kill a couple spare minutes and you learn geography as you go.  If any of you play, my name on there is Jazspin.

Cutting Out The Middleman….

November 20, 2007

The LA Times describes some potential positives that could come out of the writer’s strike (besides more money/respect for the writers, of course). 

“Hollywood is a town awash in hyphenates. TV is loaded with writer-producers. The movie biz is full of writer-directors. There’s even a legion of actor-filmmakers like Clint Eastwood and George Clooney. But as the writers strike enters its third week, I think the future belongs to a tantalizing new hyphenate: the writer-entrepreneur.”

After all, it’s already been established that the web is unlocking doors that traditional media has barred when it comes to publishing, so it only goes to follow that other forms follow – like the Hollywood studio system.

“The studios have got to be hoping that this idea about being entrepreneurs doesn’t sweep over the TV show runners, because once you start seeing really good production values on the Internet, I mean, what does Larry David really need HBO for? This is all everybody is talking about on the line. They’re not talking about healthcare. They’re going, ‘Wow, is there a different way to get our movies and TV shows made?’ “

The article goes on to explain why the strike is just a symptom of a larger problem – the entertainment game is permanently changing:

“Even if the strike is settled soon, dramatic change is coming. As more outside money pours into Hollywood and as our computers begin to merge with our TV sets, the studios will have less control over content than ever…
…Whoever enters the fray will still need writers to create this new content. So writers should keep their eyes on the prize. Getting a few more pennies of digital loot is just a beginning, not an end. The ultimate goal should be finding ways to own a piece of your own work.”

Writers, aspiring writers, and other artistic types should pay attention – especially when it comes to owning rights or partial rights to your creative output. 

Quick hit: this thought-provoking post by Read Write Web examines the state of the blogosphere and asks readers why they blog – I started to write a response and then figured it might be better off as a blog post.

First of all, I think that blogging is starting to reach a level of mainstream acceptance – there are always going to be media types and others who disparage bloggers, but as a whole, people are reading blogs (even if they don’t realize it) and many people, from professionals of all types to dedicated citizen journalists, have blogs.  The concept of a blog as a self-promotional or marketing tool has also gained a certain amount of acceptance.  However, blogging is definitely not the hot new web thing anymore – and that’s okay.  After all, at the most basic level, it’s just a content management system (albeit one that search engines happen to like), and one that that I believe will be considered a basic component of the media some day.

Why do I blog?  Mainly, it’s to communicate and share my ideas with people around the world (and if it happens to lead to some freelance work, all the better).  Also, I like having a record of what I was thinking at a given point in time – it’s interesting to look back on.  And last but certainly not least, I keep a blog because it introduces me to new people and writers through comments, trackbacks, blogrolls, links, and various other webby connections. 

Touchdown Jesus Wept

November 11, 2007

Could Notre Dame football get any more dismal?  Technically, they could, by losing their last two games.  It seems that the fight has gone out of the Irish this season.  I wonder if it makes me a bad alum if I sort of hope that they do lose, the powers that be at ND buy out Weis’s contract, and they hire some nobody who returns them to glory.  It could be like Rudy, but with coaches!

Many, many web 2.0-type companies and startups seem to be depending on the support of advertisers as a major source of revenue.*  While users get their platforms, apps, and services for free, the site is peppered with ads that the vast majority of people ignore.  As a whole, we the people of the web have gotten awfully good at tuning out ads. 

Seth Godin brought up Hotmail today (which may be out of vogue in Silicon Valley, but here in the heartland it is alive and well, surprisingly enough.  Of course, there are also still paying AOL subscribers here too.  But I digress.) when discussing Facebook’s advertising problem – basically, no matter how focused the ad campaigns are, Facebook’s users are there for the people, not the stuff.  They haven’t given permission to be marketed too yet.  This problem applies to many sites and social networks that are planning to sell ads.

There is an industry where advertisers not only have permission, people look forward to their next campaign – fashion, especially high end, big name fashion.  In what other form of media are the ads considered part of the reason to buy something as a opposed to a negative adds nothing to the overall value?  For the unfamiliar – many people buy the great big September and March issues of Vogue, Elle, and the like in order to check out all the new ad campaigns from the major labels. 

Not only have these individuals given the marketers permission, they are paying for the priviledge.  In fact, some of these ads were so controversial and provocative, they’ve earned their place in the pantheon of iconic cultural imagery (as you might guess, some of the images at this link are not safe for work due to the artistic sort of nudity). 

Like many other forms of marketing, fashion companies are trying to sell a fantasy.  However, how many of them manage to do it so well?  Ads from Yves St. Laurent, Chanel, Missoni, etc. are just as artistic as an editorial in many cases.  Hell, whole websites and discussion boards are devoted to them, they are shot by some of the world’s premiere photographers and feature top models and actresses.

To bring it back to the web, how can companies and websites use advertising or marketing in a way that it adds value and encourages discussion instead of simply sitting off to the side and cluttering up the screen?  Since advertising is pretty much a given in our lives, both on and offline, how can we make it better?  And of course, how can marketers/advertisers participate in the conversation in a positive way, a way that improves both the “stuff” being sold and the public’s understanding of it?

I don’t think that ads always have to be the enemy or a necessary evil – but they need to improve.  Perhaps other industries should take a glossy page from the fashion world’s book – ads don’t need to be overt or blaring as long as they tell a unique story and make the viewer want to know more; and instead of hanging out on the fringes of the conversation waiting for someone to notice, maybe it’s time to join it.

*I’m not going to get into to the fact that there can’t possibly be enough ad dollars to support all the forms of media that currently depend on it – that’s a subject for another post.

The Writer’s Strike

November 5, 2007

Is it evil that I’m glad about the Hollywood writers strike?  Although we might miss out on new episodes of the Daily Show and such, anything that gets writers in general more respect is A-Okay with me, and after all, without the writers, most TV shows wouldn’t even exist.  Perhaps it’s time to remind people that Jon Stewart, as brilliant as he is, is not the sole genius behind his show; also, popular dramas like CSI and Lost didn’t just spring up out of out of the minds of cast and directors.  Somebody wrote all those lines and created those plots (hint: it wasn’t the much more highly paid actors).

In case you’re unfamiliar, the reason why writers are striking is because while they’ve been negotiating for ages over proper payment and residuals for new media writing (think DVDs, internet downloads, etc.), the studios and networks haven’t been able to agree on these issues.  As Gawker says, the rage of the creative underclass finally boiled over.  So what does this mean for the average viewer?  More reruns, reality TV (ahh, horrors!) and possibly imports of British shows (which might not be that bad). 

Besides, maybe it’ll remind people in general that quality writers are essential to a great product- Hollywood isn’t the only place that tends to forgot their importance (cough, cough, magazine publishers and website owners, cough*).  In the mean time, and we can always turn off the television and (gasp!) read a book or engage in some of entertainment that isn’t entirely passive.  Or you can check out an insider’s point of view on the Artful Writer, a blog penned by two screen writers, Craig Mazin and Ted Elliot.

Hey, maybe all those striking writers will start blogs and we’ll have all sorts of new and interesting websites and content to read.  After all, while striking is almost always a last resort, perhaps while they’re doing it, the smartest writers might figure out how to beat the Man (big television media) at his own game.  Either way, it is clearly a critical time in the industry and whatever decisions are reached will have a lasting impact on the way that the media, or at the very least Hollywood, works. 

 *I’m not referring to any of my current clients, they are all fabulous.