Sips from the Firehose

Mar 04

Gaming Twitter Follower Counts Makes You a Dick

Posted: under Blogging, Lemmings, Sip With Caution.
Tags: , ,

The “Follow/Unfollow Dance” builds your lists … but to what end?

Social media whiz & Cheesehead Homie Erik Johnson writes powerfully about his experience with one of his intellectual idols. Viz:

Every school had one. The kid who pretended to be your friend just to get something he wanted from you and then acted like you’d never met. The user. Not the model you would build a business around and certainly not the model for a business social media strategy.

If you’ve been paying attention to the growing phenomenon on Twitter of people who want to bill themselves as thought leaders & social media experts following you & then unfollowing you a few weeks later after snookering you into believing there is a mutual interest, this sad saga will seem very familiar. I’m having my own issue with it myself – I’ve noted that a lot of the people that I follow don’t seem to actually be interested in connecting with me, other than to connect. I don’t get any follow-up conversation out of the connection.

I’ll admit it. I’m not as diligent as I should be in following/unfollowing and tracking everything that’s going on in the social sphere. Been spending a lot of time on content creation the past few months – writing books, creating lesson plans, wireframing sites, handling social media for other people … so yeah, mea culpa.

I turned to JustUnfollow to see if this would help.

JustUnfollow home page

JustUnfollow purports to help you keep track of whether or not you’re being gamed … and perhaps even to start gaming the system yourself (Not Recommended). I am dismayed, but not surprised, that services like this are becoming common & in-demand.

The service generates a DM that you can customize to say thanks to the people that follow you. It’s kinda filled up my DM column with these messages. As you can see, I tried to make the “Thanks” message a little less boilerplate sounding.

JustUnfollow DM in Tweetdeck

I get a steady stream of notifications as to who has followed me in Tweetdeck. This is handy, as the notifications often wind up in my spam folder in Mail. However, this is still something of an impersonal-feeling process, mostly because I’ve been slacking off on actually connecting with those who connect with me. My bad, people.

I had kinda hoped that this service would run in the background and keep some kind of order to my Twitter feed. And then, I got this little notification:

Alan Rosenblatt @DrDigiPol

Apparently, I’ve been rude. Didn’t realize that I was doing so. I was buried under book deadlines, designing a multi-platform site for a client, and teaching a class. Still, I was negligent and I got called on it. Worse, it seems the solution I tried to impose has actually done the opposite from my intentions.

It appears that in trying to set up a system by which I rewarded people with at least a DM for following me, I somehow stumbled into a situation where that DM is seen as the very thing that I was trying to avoid. I probably need to go in and tweak the settings on JustUnfollow to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Also, I should probably use JustUnfollow to see if there is some chicanery going on with my Follow/Unfollow stats. I’m interested in connecting with journalists and New Media thinkers, to widen the variety and depth of the info-flow that I expose myself to.

However, I still struggle with taming the torrent. And yeah, I know that is ironic, given the stated mission of this blog. But The situation is not being helped by the amount of “Hey, are you really paying attention to me?” messages coming at me, especially when compared to the “Social Media Users” that are trying to get me roped into following them, just so they can boost their own Klout score.

Here’s what I wrote as a comment on Erik’s blog. And yes, I do recommend that you follow him.

Unfortunately, I am locked in exactly this kind of dance myself on social media. As the number of Twitter followers you have starts to become a real badge denoting authenticity and authority, the incentives are there to “game the system.” I’ve tried to restrict my Twitter feed to only people that I actually can pay attention to; when in the early days, I went nuts and got up into the thousands, my feed was streaming so fast that I couldn’t actually get any value out of it. Which brought my efforts to the equivalent of spitting into a vast, anonymous torrent. I’ve got quite enough of that trying to engage in the blogosphere, thank you very much.

Whenever I see Twitter accounts with 40,000 followers and 40,000 following – well, I know that the person has devoted significant time to building a list and a presence. But it makes me wonder – will they actually respond to an attempt at conversation? Can they? Is it even possible with the flow from 40K people coming through HootSuite/Tweetdeck? I couldn’t do it with 1500.

And if the point of social media isn’t to actually have a conversation with people about something of mutual value … then what’s the damn point, anyway? Just start graffiti’ing up billboards and save the rest of us from the tricks and games, already.

At this point, I’d have to give JustUnfollow a Sip With Caution rating:

Sips from the Firehose two shotglasses

Sip With Caution

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Jan 18

Circuit City Bankruptcy – Shopaholic Feeding Frenzy

Posted: under Lemmings.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Optimism or Greed?

For the last couple of months, I’ve been hearing financial experts mutter about “frustrated money sitting on the sidelines, waiting to get back into the game.”   I was not convinced – most of the market behavior since the banks started melting down, has been sheer monkey-screeching panic.

And then, I saw this (click to blow up to full size – it is about 6000 pixels wide, so you’re gonna get the full panoramic effect)

Apparently, these people were under the impression that the store was "giving away" free plasma TVs.

Apparently, these people were under the impression that the store was "giving away" free plasma TVs.

I stitched this together in Photoshop CS3 (thanks for the review copy, Adobe!), which is why there’s a bifurcated car in the middle foreground.  Still, I kinda like the effect.

Now, either the pundits were right, and there is tremendous pent-up consumer buying demand … or the impending inauguration of Barack Obama has made sudden optimists out of the justifiably depressed residents of gritty South La Cienaga …

…or some of these knuckleheads didn’t really read the Saturday LA Times story all that closely.  Look folks, the discounts right now are at – what? – maybe 10%?  You can do better than that shopping online.  The 90% off sales aren’t gonna kick in until March, when they’re pretty much yanking up the carpet pad & selling it.  But you couldn’t tell that to the people anxiously waiting in line, some of whom told me that they were there because they had heard that Circuit City was going out of business and they were having to “give” their merch away.

Nothing like a chance to screw the other guy when he’s down, to bring out the avaricious nature of the average Americano.  I guess the economy can’t be doing that bad … or maybe, as a people, we are still addicted to the greedy, consumerist lifestyle, and the much-vaunted “New Frugality” is a thin, thin veneer on a generation of people still stuck in instant gratification mode.  I wonder if the “Going Out of Business” sale is actually just a really clever marketing trick. It’s been the best driver of foot traffic into the stores that I’ve seen lately.


It seems some of the commenters on the LA Times site have finally clued in.

I was at the CC in Santa Monica today and it was busy but the “discounts” were the same ones that have been there since after Christmas. I spoke to an employee and he told me that the liquidators had not come to their store yet to flag merchandise for further discounts. Wait a little longer, folks…

This is all starting to remind me of the sleazy hi-fi store that polluted the airwaves in my hometown when I was growing up.  Every week for eight years, you’d hear his bleating voice on Z-100 radio: “Lost our lease! Everything has to go! Going out of business!”  And yet … somehow he hung in there, month after month, year after year.  Well, until he got caught shipping weed across country in hollowed-out stereo speakers…

I do find it heartening that many of the commenters are referring to the price-check power offered by the internet.  The more consumers are armed with the power to fact-check advertiser claims, the more they will be able to spurn the scammers.

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Sep 10

Quick Hits: Old Media Loses Trust in France, OC Register May Go Tabloid and Google Only Spys On You For Nine Months Now

Posted: under Blogging, Digital Migration, google, journalism, Lemmings, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Still up in lovely Point Reyes, decompessing and re-imagining our web presence, so the output here has been seriously cramped.  However, these three little items just beg for notice.

1. We’ve all seen the “MSM sucks, don’t believe what it says” meme gain strength the last few years, flourishing in the fertile soil of talk hate radio hosts, and migrating over to the Kos/Firedoglake end of the spectrum.  Meanwhile, in the developing world countries that I’ve worked in the last few years, the people react with puzzled frowns to the thought that anyone ever would have any sort of uncritical trust in Big Media.  Well, according to the Highway Africa media conference, the 3rd world on the way up countries are starting to really dig the idea of citizen journalists.  Which makes sense, because they have the sad history of governments/revolutionaries, as their first act, seizing the TV/radio stations and firebombing the presses.


the power of citizen journalism, in its objective and independent approach, is not to be underestimated.

need occasions where the actor in society gives us a very good insight
on what is going in communities, where journalists cannot be found. 

2.  Responding to “catastrophic” circulation and ad revenue projections, the OC Register, long known as the dysfunctional family of California journalism (i.e. everyone knows Weird Old Uncle Floyd is not to be trusted around children, but nobody talks about it), is reportedly studying the idea, with intentions of perhaps forming a blue-ribbon committee that will issue non-binding recommendations, of maybe perhaps justalittle changing their format from broadsheet to tabloid.

Will wonders never cease?

Other cost-cutting measure being
considered from the team reviews are Monday and Tuesday papers with
fewer pages and self-service advertising options. Horne also says the
paper may cut back on the number of distribution centers it operates,
noting that it recently reduced the outlets from seven to six.

“Studying it and doing it may be two different
things,” Horne stressed about the tabloid change and other moves.
“Every newspaper needs to study driving down costs

3.  And last, for everyone out there who is concerned over those searches that were done … late at night … after a few beers … y’know, just for a hoot … that could be traced back to their IP address … 

…well, you only have to worry for nine months rather than 18.  As part of their “Pay no attention to the all-seeing man behind the curtain” campaign, Google is reducing the latency of their caches of your searches.  They are also supposedly working to “anonymize” the userinfo, although how that’s supposed to help when all Google search&response data goes thru the big computers at the NSA anyway is beyond me.

(Note to all NSA, FBI, ATF & IRS functionaries now tracking me: Just joking. Heh. Really.  I have nothing to hide.  I’m happy that the government is vigilant against evildoers of all stripes, foreign and domestic. Go Team America!)

Nicole Wong, Google’s deputy general counsel, told a meeting of
computer industry privacy experts at Microsoft Corp’s Silicon Valley
offices that her company planned to “anonymize” the computer addresses
of its users more quickly.

“We’re significantly shortening our previous 18-month retention
policy to address regulatory concerns and to take another step to
improve privacy for our users,” Google officials said in a blog post
released Monday night.


….until a year-and-a-half ago, Google had kept personally identifiable
information about its Web users on company computers for an indefinite
amount of time.

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Jul 18

Curmudgeon: It’s What’s For Dinner

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, Lemmings, new media, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , ,

More articles about the noxious effect of curmudgeons on the newspaper industry. This meme has really taken off in the last couple of weeks; I sense a great deal of pent-up frustration on both sides of this ideological debate. If this were an ABC Afterschool Special, the solution would come when both sides reach a crisis point where they realize that the other side isn’t all wrong, and at about minute :58, we’d have a wide-angle of the warring camps laughing and hugging it out.

I’m not sure that kind of cliched happy ending is possible, or even desireable here.

Vickey Williams of the Readership Institute tries to come up with the “Can’t we all just get along?” moment
in a recent blog post, first defending the Millennials:

The bad press turned nasty with the recent release of a book by Emory
Professor Mark Bauerlein speculating that this could be the Dumbest Generation.

I think there’s much more to this generation, and that they can offer
traditional news organizations invaluable help as they try, in chaotic
times, to invent the future. The question is, will existing newspaper
culture let them?

And then, to be even-handed, wags a finger in the Millennials’ direction, basically advising them to work with the clueless old coots in the newsroom, in some Digital-to-Deadtree intellectual barter system, wherein the plugged-in 1337 kidz teach gramps how to use Twitter in exchange for the key to bribing Sgt. Schulz with some strudel to bring in the big story that blows the lid off this here town…

Partner with a younger staffer for mutual benefit: In every newsroom
I’ve been in, veterans said they have certain skills knowledge that
goes untapped – often in topics where younger staff, when polled, said
they want help. Tips on storytelling in trade for a Twitter orientation? It could work.


Maybe my early career experiences have too strongly soured me on the toxic effects of the newsroom sourpusses. But I spent way too long a time at the mercy of some deeply damaged individuals who had inhuman drive and persistence – but used it to claw their way to a position where they could drain their radiators all over everyone and everything they came into contact with. I’ve walked dogs with weak bladders & overactive territorial imperatives that peed on less landscape than those curmudgeons. Every new idea of expression of belief in New Media … splat. Mocked, run down, soaked in cynicism and discarded as being not worth the time, and doomed to fail.

Jeff Jarvis over at Buzzmachine points out
that not all salty old newshounds are clueless about technology (I sense a harrumph from the greybearded pundit), nor are all apple-cheeked interns free from the instinct to protect tradition at all costs. OK, fine, perhaps the blanket generalizations are not warranted, and yeah, I’m sure there are always exceptions to the rules everywhere. But Christ, can’t we just try to get away from the Old Media thinking that we have to try to do a he-said she-said on every contentious issue? Isn’t that one of the things that’s brought us to this situation in the first place – wishy-washiness?

I have to agree with both of them on their core premise, though – they both point out how the time is past that the newspaper industry could afford to coddle the voices crying out against real, core, fundamental, daring changes. Of insisting on the half-hearted half-measures as a means of mollifying the curmudgeons. Of reflexive caution, playing it safe, trying to be prudent.

We’ve come to the part of the movie where the hero is pointing out to the frightened civilians that there is no alternative to crossing the rickety rope bridge over the crevasse, because everything on that side of the gorge is on fire/blown up/overrun by bloodthirsty Martians. In the next year, papers will either start to invest in really radical re-inventions of themselves, or they will gutter out into messy puddles like a bunch of burnt-out candles. Candles that once proudly provided illumination to their communities … existing only as twice-weekly direct-mail supermarket flyers and loose agglomerations of desperately underpaid semi-pro bloggers.

In my consulting work, I’ve seen newsrooms completely at war with each other. Newsrooms where the mossbacked conservatives hold up their years of service holding others accountable for their actions – as reasons that they should be exempt from the changes sweeping the industry. I’ve tried to control meetings where the New and Old Media stood on either side of the room, hurling insults at each other, screaming and shouting out charges and counter-charges, trying to pin the blame for failures on the other faction(s).

Such newsrooms are not happy places. And yeah, given the options available to content producers with multimedia expertise, this kind of warring over very basic concepts is indeed chasing away the very people that the industry needs most if it is to survive.

Convergence is no longer optional.

The curmudgeons – and maybe we should come up with some other appropriate terminology – cannot be allowed to take this entire industry down with them – no “Media empire makes a good shroud.”

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Jul 16

What Automakers (and Newspapers?) Can Learn from the iPhone

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, Lemmings, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , ,

This is going to have to be another “quick hit” because I’m struggling with Premiere Pro’s shakiness on the Mac platform – and yeah, I know, I should be using Final Cut Pro, but I’m trying to once again use myself as a guinea pig to see what problems crop up when you try to migrate footage from one platform to another. Which is not without its little surprises.

Anyway, I like to keep an eye on what advertisers are saying, and this little article in AdAge caught my eye: it’s ostensibly about what the auto industry can learn from how Apple has revitalized its brand with the iPhone and other portable gadgets in recent years. Check out these grafs:

Functionality: Auto execs pondering how to replicate the iPhone’s commercial and cultural success would be wise to note that the iPhone is not simply a marketing phenomenon. The iPhone is a breakthrough product. It revolutionized the mobile phone business through design, features and functionality.

One way for auto companies to create breakthrough products may be to begin thinking like a consumer-electronics brand. Technology brands are the new car. Throughout the last century, the automobile stood for freedom, mobility and joy. Cars represented modern life at its best. Today that role is served by each new smart phone, gaming system, wafer-thin laptop or home theater that joyfully proclaims that the present is better than the past. An automaker should commit to creating a truly modern car, a car that democratizes the latest technologies; a car that liberates us from tired compromises by proving that design and performance go hand in hand with safety and environmental responsibility; a car that is an extension of the personal technologies we use to make our lives more efficient, organized and entertaining. Create a car that joyfully proclaims that today is better than yesterday.

I think you see where I’m going with this already. Both the auto industry and the newspaper industry are in dire straits these days because they stubbornly cling to the products and business models that made them so much money for so long. And instead of really re-tooling to confront the threats that they’ve long been warned were coming, both industries still seem mired in pointing fingers at the competition – the Big 3 automakers and their fans once again bitching about competition from Japan, and newspapers having hissy fits about Google and blaming Craigslist for the imminent collapse of Western Civilization As We Know It.

The article goes on to tout Apple’s limiting supply and thus creating demand – the way that the Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii did – which really doesn’t apply to newspapers. But the bit on coming up with new distribution models … now THAT is a fat pitch right down the strike zone.

And I especially like the recognition that the iPhone is a product that looks towards the future; that rejects “tired compromises.” I think that a lot of the pessimism and anger in the newsrooms has leaked over and tainted the news coverage. One of the places where this might be happening is in the news about the economy. I’m not saying that everything is wine & roses out there – I’ll leave that to Phil Gramm – but perhaps when you look around the newsroom and see nothing but empty desks and sad, echoing offices full of junked-out computer equipment, it becomes easier to believe that the entire economy is in in rock-bottom shitsville.

Apple was in similar straits about 10 years ago. They had to take money from Microsoft (i.e. The Evil Empire) just to survive. They were irrelevant, except to a hard core of graphic designers and photographers, and their notebooks kept catching on fire. They came up with the iPod and the entire music business was changed forever.

There are proposals out there for what newspapers could do. What they could become.

The U.S. is not yet ready to adopt some of the things that I’ve seen working elsewhere. Things that could cause the kind of “buzz” and speculation here about what newspapers are doing. That would bring back that “give ’em hell” sense of daring that is sadly missing from Big Corporate America.

In about a year, after the election-year ad spike really bottoms out, newspapers may just be desperate enough to try these radical re-thinkings of their core products and business methods. I just hope by that time, it is still possible to turn this industry around.

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Jul 07

OK, this is just uncalled-for

Posted: under Digital Migration, journalism, Lemmings, Newspaper Deathwatch, Newspapers.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Buried at the end of this Reuters piece about how there aren’t many analysts bothering to report on the newspaper industry, comes this jewel of a quote:

As for the sell-side, the analysts who remain — such as Goldman Sachs analyst Peter Appert — often cover other sectors that command more investor attention.

“If I covered only the newspaper industry, first of all I would have been fired a long time ago; secondly, I would have had to kill myself,” Appert said.

Part of me wonders if this is sound strategery – if there is no demand for a product, why continue to produce it? But the other part keeps whispering that some of the smartest investors always take the contrarian view. When they see the mass of groupthinking lemmings all hurtling in one direction (say, away from newspapers), they bide their time and step in and snarf up the companies for rock-bottom prices. When things start to turn around, they are there on the ground floor, and see great returns (see: the real estate investors who bought in the early 90s, when the market was moribund, oil speculators who bought when the prices were around $20 a barrel, etc.)

Then again, the whole newspaper industry could be utterly and completely doomed, and anyone sinking money into it is just “catching a falling knife” in the investor parlance.

So yeah, lemmings – heed the words of the know-it-alls at Merrill Lynch, who think newspapers have no future whatsoever. (Hey, weren’t these the guys who said Enron and subprime mortgages were rock-solid?) Panic and dump your properties. You shouldn’t be trying to run them anyway.

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