Monthly Archives: July 2007

Back on the Grid

We just got back from a family vacation, where my ability to “stay connected” to the online world was limited.  I felt the pull to check email twice a day, and did take a couple of business related calls, but for the most part, I was basically disconnected from the online world.

This let me change my focus from myself and the New Media world to that of the Real World.  And guess what?  There’s lots of off-line stuff that does just fine without an online presence.  It’s also hard to make a compelling argument that online would help their businesses enough to make it worth their while.

For example, while I booked our whale watching tickets online, it was just as easy to book a second trip in person at the booth on the wharf.  I don’t even think the fishing boat we went on had an online presence.  The little fudge shops probably could send some product out in the mail, but it’s smelling it being made that makes the difference.  The t-shirt shops, the small unique gift stores- all of these places succeed not only by the foot traffic in their summer communities, but by the concept of Souvenirs.

Souvenir comes from the french word that means “to remember”.   I found that many of the things I bought while on vacation fell into this category.  Whether it was local specialties I can’t get at home, unique items I liked and have a use for (like the Butter Boy butter holder for corn on the cob), art, or things that just caught my eye, all will remind me of this trip when I see them.  They become souvenirs by where they were acquired, not just by whether they have the place of origin emblazoned on them or not.

The specialness comes from being at the source- at the location.  It comes from eating Portuguese Kale Soup, the same or even better that I remember eating as a kid.  It’s eating fresh fish and seafood, or grabbing a great ice cream from a small shop that churns its own.

As an adult, I like the challenge of hunting hunt down the “right” recipe for a local specialty, and then trying to find a decent source for linguica or chorico near home. (It turns out the best places that make it are all near New Bedford, MA- mail order and internet will help me here.)  And then whether it will taste the same, without the sounds and smells of the Lobster Pot in the background.

It’s the specialness and unique nature of Cape Cod that keeps us coming back time and again.  Things change, but they remain enough the same to charm us all over again, as we discover the new while traveling down those old nostalgic memory lanes.

This experience has me thinking more about what we create in the online world.  How do we create something that will keep people coming back, time and again?  How do we create an impression, a memory, and experience, that will make an impact and make us memorable and remarkable, as Seth Godin often puts it?  Can we create souvenirs that people want to take and keep with them, as memories to cherish?  Can we create media that people will want to consume themselves more than once?  How do we make something worthy of remembering?

New Media events like PodCamp create this same sort of special experience like vacation spots- this sense of time and place that cut a deep groove in our memories.  We get excited about meeting our colleagues in person,  and this becomes coupled with the mementos- t-shirts, ideas, and other physical things that remind us of our experience and make it live again.

Each new PodCamp or New Media playdate is  unique.  It’s not like renting the same house year after year at a favorite vacation spot.  Yet as time passes, I think it will become more like an annual convention, where we will all meet, swap stories, and make plans for the next event, when we can again meet and bond.

Why is this So Important?

Because it is the real world experience.  PodCamp and other New Media conferences bring the virtual alive and that’s what matters.  The ability to meet someone, size them up, and make actual contact is what creates the long term impact and the excitement. This is why going to PodCamp is important, whether you think you are going to learn something or not.  If you don’t go, you don’t know what you’ll miss.  And what you’ll miss most is the experience and “souvenirs” of all sorts that you’ll collect while you’re there.

And let’s face it- I’d much rather my children had memories of the fun times together, than not, even if they are associated with a silly snowglobe or t-shirt.   These are the things that will make the memories real again.

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Teaching, New Media Evangelism and Community

I was speaking to my friend Linda the other day, and we started talking about all the people who still aren’t sure what a podcast is.   I had this experience earlier in the week, wehn I presented the podcasts we were creating for residents to the new doctors themselves.  Out of 18 medical residents- that’s trainee doctors, about 28 to 30 years old on average- only three of them already owned ipods and only 2 knew, or admitted to knowing, what a podcast was.  They certainly understand internet radio, and digital audio, but didn’t get RSS and online subscriptions.  And these are people with plenty of education, but perhaps not plenty of time- a great audience for podcasts of all sorts.

We’ve been talking to people about “breaking out of the echo chamber” and “stop playing inside baseball” in our internet new media community, but how does that happen?

Linda stated the people we REALLY have to connect with are not just the guys in the Apple Store, but the guys hawking mp3 players at Circuit City and Best Buy.  We need to make sure they let their customers know about all the free content available,  and how easily accessible it is.  Maybe we need to offer to teach free classes on discovering podcasts at CompUSA or the local electronics store, or even Music shop where musicians buy their gear.  Maybe we need to hand out CD’s with samples of our favorite podcasts at the train station.  We need to become apostles, or evangelists and bring the message out in unexpected ways.  Like community service, in a  way.

We need to spread the message and I think we need to do it with some haste.  The frontier is expanding, but manyof the initial explorers are getting ready to give up.  I’ve seen some long time podcasters recently go into podfade.  I’ve seen others  struggling with the question of What’s Next on the agenda.  I know we aren’t patient with the status quo, but it’s still taking a while for the main stream to catch up with where we are on this frontier.

All along the frontier in the American West, little towns popped up and became trading posts.  Small communities of people who plantd their flags in the sand and decided to stay and rest a bit, and then, gradually, moved in, forming larger groups and towns.  Some of those towns became terrific cities; other have gradually died away as interstates or time itself passed them by.

I think the frontier and evangelist approach- taking it on as our individual and collective responsibility to spread the word is what will lead to the creation of cities.  Without increasing the community of producers and listeners, with fresh blood and fresh ideas, we are doomed to gradually fade away or be passed by.

Defining the groups and communities that will grow and succeed is easier than trying to predict which ones will draw the most “new residents”.

What do you think of the grass roots evangelism idea?  How do you think people would react to being handed a CD of podcasts- business shows, education shows, music shows, etc. randomly at a train station or on the street?  What about a DVD of some of the greatest video content available?   Is this worth an experiment at a Podcamp?  I think it’d be interesting to try it, and maybe film the project as well.    How do people react?  Do we give them a k7 number, email address or the like to give us feedback?

Anyone want to play along?   Any takers?  Let me know and maybe we’ll give it a whirl in September.

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Shifting Frames of Reference

There are times in your life when events cause you to shift the way you view things. You see something from a new angle, or through a new lens, and it looks completely different. It was pointed out to me yesterday that New Media has done this to me, yet again. My world view has changed, casting light onto why some people don’t seem to “get” this space.

When I went to law school, they told us they would teach us to think in a totally new way. It’s true. Law school not only provides you the rules to the game- how laws shape our Country and Society- but also shows you a way to approach problems that may not occur to others. (For all of you potential law students out there- when you read a case, follow the money trail. People only sue each other over money, 98% of the time, in civil actions- the other 2% is revenge.)

When my husband tells me about a difficult case at work, my instant thought is what went wrong; is there anyone to blame; who is responsible if there is anyone to blame; and what can be done to remedy the situation. [What Lawyers would call Duty/Breach/Cause/Damages- the formula for a torts case.]

It’s triage and legal transactional analysis. We take apart stories and lay down the facts, like individual bricks, and reconstruct the facts to support a particular point of view. We use law and previous cases as the supporting evidence for our version of things. We try to convince others that we’re right. Stories are no longer just entertaining tales, they’re cases; your decision to do A or B is considered in a larger picture that evaluates risk and long term outcomes. You start to think defensively and conservatively. It becomes your knee-jerk response.

In new media, our world view changes dramatically from what it was beforehand, just like law school. The “rules” about what you can or cannot do are largely thrown out the window. When I was asked about my five year plan, I just giggled-Podcasting and blogging are not that old, and change so fast- how can you plan that far in advance? And what’s happened in the past year has been so remarkable, it’s easy to give up planning for the seat of the pants, let’s see what happens approach. But does that make sense in the real world?

If I step back into the old world, or the legal world, the advice I would dole out to clients might involve things like “five year plans”, where you want to be and how to achieve those goals. I would never think of advising a client to wing it, not worry about revenue or ROI and just go for it, yet that’s exactly what I seem to accept and advocate on some level every day in new media.

My husband pointed out to me that lots of people still see life as being rule driven. They want tangible metrics. Support. Evidence. Case Studies. They want the water pre-tested and want safety. They are less than willing to put a lot on the line to make something happen, and are always concerned about blow-back. This is why they may bite at low-cost new media solutions, but may shiver a bit at larger financial commitments, because there’s little proof that this works, despite the fact that we all “know” how engaged our audience is, or how wonderful we all feel when our audience engages, writes, calls and participates in our experiments in new media.

But in New Media, we tend to swing for the fences, take chances, and not worry to much about what happens if it doesn’t work out. We simply brush ourselves off and try the next thing. People are investing themselves in many projects, not just one. They are patient in figuring out which ones will pan out and which ones won’t. All the eggs are not in one basket. But doesn’t this also mean we are all playing the game with a certain amount of clammy hands and lack of focus? Does it mean we are unable to commit to one thing and see it through to the end, but instead are trying to hang on to everything at once? The same concepts that leaves you holding nothing in the end in the Real World?

Since we are transparent, to different degrees, about almost everything, the investment we are asking people to make is in trust and in us. If something is going pear shaped, we want to collaborate to make it better. We tell people the good and the bad. We don’t paint a monochromatic picture of the world. We paint in bright colors, ugly colors- all the colors available to us. And what’s weird, is we don’t even think about the risk.

So many people I know in life are risk adverse. By contrast, people in new media tend to be risk takers, testers, experimenters. The Explorers on the Frontier, as one presenter put it at Podcasters Across Borders. They approach a problem asking what can they learn from this challenge, rather than “What can I milk from this project?” Sure, people are looking for economic gain as well, but I find a general lack of rapacious capitalism and more interest in connecting, communicating and education.

The clash of cultures is difficult. When people revert to the “play it safe” and “cautious” mode, I do understand, but I now tend to think that approach is ultimately silly and too conservative. I’m trying to play without a net as much as possible, and I’m gradually becoming comfortable with it, but I am also worried about the results if I fall, because it’s going to be a heck of a lot more painful than when the security measures were in place.

It’s like safety and success are on the same kind of continuum that time and money are on. The Time-money continuum says that you can “buy” time by outsourcing things you need to do, but it’s gonna cost you. Likewise, you can save money by doing it yourself, but it’s going take your time. We’ve decided to outsource mowing the lawn for example- it’s worth the $35 a week for the time and effort we save doing it ourselves. We don’t outsource the mulching, on the other hand, because we can do it way cheaper than it costs to have it done, and we kinda like it at this point, anyway.

The safety- success thing is similar. You can invest your money in a guaranteed, insured savings account, but you’ll never make much money at those interest rates. You can put your money into mutual funds- better return sometimes; returns aren’t guaranteed; or buy one stock with the same money- putting all your eggs in one basket. The benefits can be great with the greater risk you take; however, you are risking much more if it doesn’t pan out. If you’re not vigilant and watching, and know when to divest or move assets or the like, you can lose huge. But you can win huge, too. (We’ll leave the Stock Market is Las Vegas speech for another day.)

I am still conservative in many ways. I send my kids to normal schools. I am deeply concerned about the quality of their education. I invest my money conservatively and for growth. I’m married to a great man. I put my family first. We drive practical cars. We live in the suburbs. Boring. Safe. Conservative.

Yet, when it comes to my on-line life, I feel uninhibited by the same real world rules of caution. I engage in social networks. I have a podcast. I have friends all over the US, many of whom I would not hesitate to have over to the house for dinner on a moment’s notice. I go to conferences hundreds of miles from home, alone, with little fear that it will be anything other than wonderful. I am no longer my safe, conservative, suburban self.

Maybe this is what Chris Brogan and Chris Penn really mean by becoming a Super Hero. (Links are to their posts on SuperHero- go check ’em out) We end up with our private lives, where we can be our mild mannered selves, and then we have alter-egos in the online world, where we can do remarkable things and take risks that look positively insane to others.

I think the key to long term success, however, is merging these two world views. Let’s take risks, but decide that new does not always mean better. (Pownce is pretty, but is it fundamentally better than Twitter? The jury’s still out on this one.) Is it better to go it alone on a project, or team up with others? (Time-Money and safety-success)

I think we all need sidekicks; we all need Super Hero support (with apologies to Sky High). We can get a lot more done by pooling resources and connecting even divergent communities than going it alone in the wilderness. But it means being willing to share and to risk things, and even possibly risk not benefitting directly from “your ideas”. And I am surprisingly okay with that. Contributing to the overall success is as important to me as any potential financial gain- I can’t execute on all my ideas, and better to have my dreams come true, even if not compensated directly, than see them die on the vine.

In the end, I do feel like I have two identities, two shifting frames of reference or focus in my life. They still make me a whole person- I just have to be able to make sure I can have both selves live compatibly without diverging permanently from each other. That’s the Super Hero power we’ll all need for the next few years.

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Consolidating Social Media

Last year, at PodCamp Boston, Chris Brogan was playing with what Citizen Journalism meant, and how to create channels of meaningful content. He founded Grasshopper New Media, and it has some great channels of content, run by intelligent and dedicated people, all working for passion over profit.

At PodCamp, I learned how important it was to add a blog into my repertoire of new media skills. Since the web and search engines are driven by text and those boolean searches I first encountered in law school, having a text based format to any audio or visual media will make it easier to find. Now, three separate blog projects later, I feel I am doing more writing now than I ever did when I was working on my book project pretty much full time. The heart of the blogs is not only self-expression, it’s also about trying to build a community around a subject matter as broad as parenting, or as narrow as learning disabilities.

Then came my next step-reading and commenting on blogs. Then I started joining communities like MySpace, FaceBook, and Twitter. Now Pownce.

Lynette Radio posted about Social Media overload recently. I agree. There’s simply too many things on my “should do” list regarding optimizing the ability to be seen on the web, to make it seem possible to ever get truly optimized. It’s a continual struggle not only to keep up with all these services, but to keep up with friends and family in real life. And I’m also finding I’m talking to the same core group of friends through all these channels, and haven’t yet really experienced much of a spreading out or connection to new people. It’s really just become a way to keep track of my friends and virtual colleagues over time and space.

I’ve been a part of a couple of parenting social media communities, including Maya’s Mom, Minti, and the Parents magazine social media site. I contribute from time to time to Gather. Some of these communities seem vibrant; others are dull. One was just infected by a troll festival. I receive newsletters and feeds from several sources. I’ve joined groups started by some of my friends. Oh yeah, and I’m speaking at BlogPhiladelphia and am lead organizer of PodCamp Philly.

Chris Brogan talks about extending the conversation and getting outside of the New Media fishbowl. I find I meet the best people at events like Podcasters Across Borders or at PodCamp- people I might have heard of online, but after sharing a cup of coffee, we become real friends, no longer limited to the virtual world. Yet how can I keep up with all of these people all the time? The answer is a simple- you can’t.

This means the continual partial attention disease will start to take hold, unless you learn to turn some of these things off.  You’re going to have to decide which channels to pay attention to more than others.

You’re going to have to make choices about your level of involvement in some communities, and decide which are most valuable to you than others.  The bottom line-  We have to make choices about where to spend the limited resources of our attention.

This means setting a few goals and working towards them incrementally, rather than just going with the flow/drinking from the social media firehose.

This means evaluating where your time and energy add value and where it is just another piece of information to deal with, for you and for others.

The bottom line is that for me, I would rather have close friends that I know, like, respect and can call on when needed, than an infinite number of acquaintences.  I like knowing about lots of people, but I value knowing a few very well even more.

What do you think?  Where is all this social media stuff going?   When is it just more distractions and less “optimization” of your life?

Maybe Julien knows. If you do, Jules, or anyone else- please share.  We need all the help we can get!

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Why a Positive Attitude Matters

Yesterday, a series of things happened that bummed me out.  A few friends came to the rescue, and by this morning, the energy is back and all is well with the world.  Just like the research says, a good night’s sleep can change everything.  It made me think about how important those little boosts we get from friends are.

I know some people who have a very pessimistic and down attitude about everything.  They are the people who seem to never have a nice thing to say about anything.  More than snarky, they are just wet blankets.  They can’t stand you being happy, and are the first ones to announce bad news and spread their evil tempers around- not unlike Dementors in the Harry Potter books.  These people seem to thrive on drama, and only seem happy when something is going to heck in a handbasket.

Positive people, on the other hand, have the opposite effect.  While they might try overly hard to cheer you up when you’re in a bad mood, or say things like “It’ll be better soon”, just when you’re not sure this is what you need to hear- they’re probably right.  And by being positive rather than dumping fuel on your “poor me” fire, they encourage you do what needs to be done.  Stand up, put on those big person pants, and get back in the game.

And sure enough, a day ends, another begins, and the tide begins to turn in your favor.  Things do start to improve.  You get a note or email from friends, and understand the set backs are only temporary, and often for the best.  Many a hidden blessing is found in what seems like bad news at first.

There’s a ton of science behind why bad moods are catching; the rise in cortisol levels in your body; the rise in stress and how this seems to flow down hill through processes ranging from  kicking the dog syndrome, also known as transference or displaced aggression, and projection, where you displace your own fears, worries and concerns on another.  It turns out part of it might be evolutionarily beneficial.  When you’re concerned or worried, the rest of the “tribe” should be able to sense this and decide whether or not those concerns deserve further investigation, especially if you’re concerned about that predator just over the hill.

While recent studies show bad moods may make you a better witness to details,  it doesn’t make them any more fun.  Mystery moods may be linked to reaching or not reaching unconscious goals, and this certainly can explain some of my mood shifts as well.

But all in all, I much prefer people who are upbeat and silver-lining types.  Not irrationally so, but those who are willing to say- hey look, we can do this, take my hand and let’s go have some fun!  These are friends both in need and in deed.  So thank you to all my tweeps and everyone who gave me a boost when life gave me some lemons.  The Lemonade truck showed up this morning, and life continues unabated.

Thanks again!

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The Constitution – It’s more than just an Inconvenient Truth

When I went to law school, my relationship to the Constitution of The United States changed forever. For me, the Constitution became equivalent to biblical scripture for others. It was the foundation of our society, the laws which we created to make sure we lived together peacefully, the document that that guided justice throughout this land. (*play cheesy patriotic music in the background here*) It helped me form beliefs in what the United States is and can be. It has a “sacred text” feel to it for me, and it’s not something I appreciate others using as toilet paper or the butt of bad jokes. Them’s fighting words.

So, needless to say, the recent three card monty our Vice President has been playing with the balance of power in the government drives me insane.

I’ll admit that I have been turning off the news frequently, because whenever another story come on about the Justice Department debacle, the polticization of every thing in DC under this current administration comes out, it makes me crazy. I can feel my blood pressure escalating and I want to scream. Yet, up until today, I’ve held my tounge, so to speak. I haven’t wanted to weigh in because I wasn’t sure once it started, I could stop, or be rational because this issue is very emotional to me.

Ok- so rant is forthcoming- you’ve been fairly warned….

The Constitution was designed to separate us from the English, where the Divine Right of power and government is God given to the Royalty.  This means Gordon Brown, while taking over as Prime Minister, still has to seek Her Majesty’s permission to form a government.  Quaint, but it still means the Queen holds the cards- while she may never choose to do so, what would happen if she refused to give permission?

In this Country, our forfathers were fed up with one person holding all the cards.  Of rules and decisions subject to the arbitrary fiat of one person- the monarch.   That’s why they created the structure of government we have.  Three branches, all equal in power, serving as checks and balances against one another.  It’s worked great up until recently.

I heard an interview the other day on Fresh Air where an author was discussing how the Vice President was a strong believer in an Imperial Presidency.  He wants the President to be the King, and he wants to be the Prime Minister.  Well, now all the silliness going on in Washington makes sense.  Our President has been the figure head of State, and the VP has been the Prime Minister.

The problem with this is that as a result, the VP doesn’t believe that the executive branch is subject to the rule of law under the judicial or legislative branches.  He thinks as VP, he sits in both the legislative and executive branches of the government, so he can cherry pick his powers and responsibility off the limbs as he sees fit- like a kid sitting in a peach tree and selecting only his favorites to gorge down, with juice dripping off his chin.

I find this utterly appalling.  This is sacrilege to the Constitution, and if memory serves, both he and The President took a solemn oath to uphold the Constitution of the United States when they were inaugurated.  The Constitution, as I stated earlier, is like a sacred text to this Country, and having anExecutive branch who is treating it as nothing more than a mere inconvenience is something we have got to stop taking lying down.

It is unbelieveable to me that we would allow a President to face impeachment over a marital indiscretion, yet we would allow the current President and Vice President to continually violate their oaths of office to uphold the Constitution as written, not as they think they can circumvent it.  I know, we’re all trying to concentrate n the political campaign, and hope the rest of this goes away as soon as possible.  Yet they are continuing to damage the separation of powers that is pivotal to the design of our government; they are setting precedent for future presidents, and if we don’t make vociferous objections to this now, I am not sure what’s going to be left.

I am sure writing this means that the CIA and FBI are going to put me on their “To Watch” list – and guess what- Fine With Me.  I may be a mother in the suburbs, and no one probably cares too much about what I have to say on this issue anyway.  But as someone who has been to law school, as someone who has been taught to defend the rights of others, even if we don’t agree with them personally, I have to say soemthing.

I am a First Amendment absolutist.  Yes, there are time, place and manner restrictions on free speech.  And as appalling as I find racists, the ingnorant, the merely silly, I would defend the right of their free speech to the end.  While I  might not agree with the ideas, our Country was founded on the principals that we all had a right to voice our opinions, however right or wrong they are.  And that includes the current Executive Branch of Government.  But they also took an oath of Office to uphold my rights to do the same thing.  I’d like to hold them to that promise.

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