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Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Yesterday, I signed up for Foursquare, the location service, or whatever it is. Officially, I don't get it. I do a little bit, but am doubtful of its overall heft.

From what I glean, it is a game, somewhat, but also a tool to find people you know. You use the service to announce where you are, though not really.

It listed a number of points near me. I clicked on those places and received credit and points for being there. I did it from the chair I am sitting in now. So that’s a bit of a fake.

It is Twitterish, but connected to places. Think of sitting at a restaurant and “Hang on while I post to Foursquare about this place.” That could be obnoxious, but so is the ubiquitous cell phone.

Foursquare has earned a lot of buzz, and it has pocketed real VC money, but is this thing going to fly? I do not see how, but I am no seer.

Foursquare was popular at the South by Southwest conference. A meet up service at a meet up: that will work. I wonder how much of the excitement is that localized? Is there room in West Virginia for this?

Buzz is a flutter. It makes the world glow and prospects loom. Maybe Foursquare will provide return for investors. The challenge is to see the whole machine and not just the noise it makes. I will continue with Foursquare for a while but do not feel commitment in the offing. Do you think it will last?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Smart Phone

The slippery slope invited me to get a new phone. Verizon offered me a freebie if I would stay with the service. No particular complaints with Verizon service, unlike all the talk I hear about AT&T, so I signed up for a Blackberry Curve.

A whole new gizmo.

My previous cell phone was a phone. You could text, take pictures, sort of maintain a calendar, but it was either laborious to do so, or sub par. I rarely used it for anything but calls. This Blackberry was made for these tasks. I am learning to perform them.

I have yet to reach wizard status in keyboard proficiency—some muscle memory gains still  remain for me—but I can now produce a message without typos.

I can send those messages, and pictures, to Facebook and Twitter. Immediacy is fun. The camera aint bad. Just yesterday I took this picture and uploaded it while out walking:


I have gingerly approached apps. Here we reach an area of resistance. I do not want to pay.

I have never made a purchase from the iTunes store. This is not Ludd talking, This is the guy who does not want to go all spendy with digital wonder. Talk about slippery slope.

The iPod, the Kindle, and now smart phone apps siphon money from your credit card as quick as envy. That anytime urge can be requited with alacrity. I do not want to join that. Such purchases that I make shall be done after cool contemplation.

And though the iPhone looks sweet, I am glad I got a Blackberry. Apple’s penchant for highlighted design at times seems misplaced. The efficiency with which the iPod click-wheel, for instance, moves, triggers unnerving increases in volume. It’s a cool toy, and it is just a wee bit stupid.

Armed with a new ringtone, “Voodoo Chile”, from the essential Blackberry site Crackberry, I am ready to move forward into the 21st century.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Fake Bus Stop

According to a note at Kottke.org here, a nursing home in Germany has placed a fake bus stop out front, to capture wandering Alzheimer’s patients. These patients almost entirely lack short term memory, but retain enough long term memory to recognize a bus stop as the possibility to get back home. The idea sounds nice, and I hope that it works.

I mention the fake bus stop here because it calls to mind the idea of recognition. Not to liken customers to Alzheimer’s patients, but it is true that the customer’s needs should be foremost in marketing thinking.

For Alzheimer’s patients, the world no longer looks familiar. My father suffered dementia late in life, which from my lay perspective differs little from Alzheimer’s. For his last years of life, the home he lived in for 25 years no longer seemed familiar, and he wanted to go to his home on Fresh Pond Avenue. He had left that home a lifetime ago.

Product knowledge varies widely among customers. Some approach products with highly refined critical acumen. Others simply see the most expensive or the most renowned as the best choice for their needs. You can try to educate but you cannot force critical understanding on people.

Instead, rely on what your customers will recognize. If technical data fail to impress, accept that your customer must hear another approach.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Goof for Google is a Goof for Microsoft

Windows Secrets has an article here concerning Microsoft’s effort to share your personal information with Windows Live. Google Buzz backfired with similar methodology, a lack of initial opt in. Do you think Microsoft will be luckier?

Data mining has become spectacularly important nowadays. So many companies tempt us with goodies just so we will ‘share’ (though we may not always realize it) certain personal information. I am reminded of the cartoon by James Thurber in which a doctor says to a bedridden person, “I don’t think of you as my patient, I think of you as my meat”. My merest interest  is a commodity for our friends at Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and all the others.

Okay, I get that part. And I am willing to accept a certain amount of discomfort for what these companies offer me. I just don’t understand how tone deaf these companies can be. Microsoft mimics Google almost exactly by opening our private relationships to the public. Maybe they’re in collusion, just wearing us down.

Just a side observation but neither Google  or Microsoft has yet to show any marked aptitude towards social anything. I do not predict this latest effort of Microsoft will change my thinking.

The Art of Seduction

The title is from a post by Seth Grodin, here. The first sentence reads: “Carole Mallory was Norman Mailer's mistress.”. Okay, I’m seduced. Norman Mailer + mistress = intrigue.

Unfortunately, that sentence is a throwaway. Grodin does not expand on the Mallory/Mailer relationship. Instead, he weakly links this ‘seduction’ to the point that marketers try to seduce. I expected more from Grodin than this prestidigitation.

Grodin states that Mallory seduced Mailer, which I file under assumption. It is not common knowledge and smells more like Grodin’s underlying attitude. He does not back up the statement or expatiate, so the value of it lies only in underwhelming intrigue

This post has nothing to do with Mallory and Mailer. His attitude in fact impinges on his point. The seduction of this blog post bears no intrinsic basis to his intent. That sort of cheat wears thin. Readers recognize when they have been taken.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Breaking News:The Internet was Invented Last Night!

Last night, while you slept, various entrepreneurs, tech geeks, and visionaries invented the Internet. They produced something you should have been dreaming about. They made a useful tool for business and marketing communications. You are going to want to get up to speed with it.

Even though you were not involved in the invention of the Internet, those who were kindly left room for you to “do your own thing”. If you have a product or service to offer, or if you have customers or clients, the Internet can help you stay in touch with these essential people. Businesses staying in touch with their customers is a good thing.

The Internet offers different ways of connecting with your customers. For instance, something called email. Through mysterious means involving electrons or whatever, you can send electronic messages to people. Email is a quick and efficient ways to communicate with your customers. Give it a try.

The tubes of the Internet let you easily and effectively show people what you offer. You can write stuff, present pictures, music, and movies, anything that will attract customers and that you deem appropriate. It is all very exciting in a science fictiony way.

You can also integrate your business socially with the public using what are called social networks. But why would you want to do that?

Value accrues from establishing a stronger connection with your clientele and customers. Social networks let you speak to their enthusiasm. You do so by sharing your own enthusiasm and  knowledge. Millions of people use such networks as Facebook and Twitter. Not only will you connect with customers, but they will spread the word, too. That is social networking.

This fancy new thing, the Internet, shows a lot of potential. It  will probably catch on. Though you are late out of the block, you can still help grow your business by making use of this great new communication tool. Get in on the excitement while it lasts!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Search Engine Disoptimization

A couple of questions:

Are you satisfied with the Internet searches that you do? Me neither. For whom does a search engine optimization serve? Not those of us using these tools to search.

I rarely look beyond the first page of a search. Beyond that, the optimized crap sites beat off any usefulness that one might find.

The gaming of search engines will change because search engines will change. It is not in the interest of Google, Bing, et al. to send searchers to optimized sites that lack useful or original content. We search because we want content not keywords.

Search engines will catch up to the current spamming protocol, and a new gaming cycle will begin. Until then, it behooves those of us who add to the Internet’s inexhaustible content to play nice. Let us produce good content, and leave the gaming to a minimum.

Good content is directed, logical, and clear. To produce that can be our Grail. Optimization that diminishes content diminishes the message! Providing searchers with value is the message. Trapping unwary surfers is not.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Apple Jam

Antenna problems with Apple’s iPhone 4 produced an unusually strong backlash. The echo chamber of fans and rabid press make interpreting recent events difficult, but safe to say that Apple flubbed the sitch to some extent.

Apple reacted slowly to the problem, that is, to the complaint of dropped calls. The company neglected to come forward quickly to confirm that a problem exists, or at least that they heard the complaints and were taking them seriously. That lack of response allowed speculation to grow.

Ars Technica quotes Steve Jobs about the iPhone drama:

Haven't we earned the credibility and trust from some of the press to give us a little bit of the benefit of the doubt, of our motivations, the fact that we're confident and will solve these problems?

No! It does not work that way. The press is supposed to ask questions. And the more questions left unanswered by Apple, the more agitation that will show in the press. Let Apple and its prepositional phrases take care of public reassurance.

Google’s misstep with Buzz bugged me because it suggested something institutional about the company, thus the product. This current brouhaha likewise gives me a bad feeling about Apple. Such bad feelings keep customers away, they really do.

Has the game changed with Apple now so large?

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Working with SMEs

Writing often presents the challenge of translating Subject Matter Experts. By this I mean bringing their expertise to those of less, or no, expertise in the subject. Such writing is a matter of simplifying, clarifying, and making accessible.

The writer performs this task first by asking questions until the subject is understood. One does not become an expert that way. The expert’s commitment differs from the writer’s. The writer learns the salient points of the subject then delivers those salients to the reader.

To perform this translation properly, the writer must:

  1. Avoid jargon. Jargon, here, consists of specialized terms, acronyms, and other terms unfamiliar to the general public. When jargon is unavoidable, as will happen, the writer must carefully define the term. Otherwise, the reader will feel excluded from understanding.
  2. Identify what’s important. This means understanding the aims and audience of the material being written. For instance, to teach someone how to use a computer application, one need not understand how the electrons dash about in the chips. The writer writes within the grasp of the intended audience.
  3. Make the subject local. The writer must relate the subject to the reader. The reader always thinks, what’s in it for me? If the writer cannot make that evident, the reader will lose interest.

I interviewed numerous Subject Matter Experts in the wine business: winery owners, winemakers, and winery reps. I discovered that winemakers from one region were often quite ignorant of other regions. California wineries might compare their wines to those from the Rhône Valley in France. The wines could be fine and delicious but the resemblance to those Rhône wines could best be described as promotional. One must not presume the breadth of expertise but instead ascertain for oneself.

The simpler and more direct the language, the clearer the writing.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Writing Craft

We all assume that we can write. We believe that our thoughts transfer to the reader perfectly. We learned writing in school. It is second nature for us.

In truth, writing is an acquired skill. How did we acquire it? Through rigidly specific drills and writing exercises, with an overlay of confusing grammatical exegesis. Schools prepare us to write for school situations, not real world ones.

To write well in the real world requires active study and practice. Business letters, application documentation, ad copy: whatever sort of writing you need to do, you must practice. This practice entails identifying strong examples of this writing and studying the mechanics.

Application documentation, for instance, demands clear direction and logical, simple steps. Ad copy needs to develop reader interest and a call to action. In all writing, understanding one’s aims and one’s audience are both paramount.

Do not assume that your writing conveys what you think. Intention ≠ accomplishment. This leads to Part 2 of writing well: reading well.

Words are the tools of writing. read your own work doubtfully. You invest in it, and that investment can skew your perception. Ponder these questions:

  • Are your words accurate?
  • Is your intention met?
  • Have you written enough or too much?
  • Is the tone appropriate?
  • Are you mimicking received forms?

Be honest in answering these questions. The more that you can remove claptrap, and emphasize your intentions, the better your writing will  be.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dimensions of a Blonde Joke

This post begins with a joke that I heard long ago. Blondes are the butt of it, but that barely figures in the interest of the joke for me. Here is the joke:

A blonde was walking along until she came to a river. She wanted to cross the river but no boat or bridge was available for her. Just then, she saw a blonde on the far riverbank. The first blonde called over to the second, “How can I get to the other side?” The second blonde shouts back a reply: “You are already on the other side!”

Don’t get caught in stereotypes here. This joke is less about dumb blondes than you might expect. Rather, it concerns language, perspective, and context.

The language that the first blonde used seems clear enough. Her mistake lies in how the word other relies on context. Don’t feel superior, you have committed similar errors.

Had the first blonde said your side, the joke would not exist. The second blonde inhabited a different context than the first. From her perspective, where the first blonde stood was the other side. I explain this because the ostensible humor of a blonde joke is a red herring. That stereotype conceals an important message in the joke.

To communicate well depends on rigor. One must understand one’s own context and perspective, and that of the audience with whom one communicates. Failing that, one falls into the trap of stereotypes. And that is no joke. To communicate well takes serious attention and mindfulness, but we can do it.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Top 6 Best Worst Business Practices

In no particular order, they’re all great!

  1. Be dismissive. Everyone loves to have their concerns brushed aside. Reply to a customer’s complaint with a simple “yeah, yeah…”. The customer will see that you mean business and will be suitably chastened. Works every time.
  2. Trust your enthusiasm. Since you willingly spend $100 for a bottle of wine or $1000 for a laptop, your customer would naturally be pleased to do likewise.
  3. Let your opinion reign supreme. You have been in the business a long time and you know what is best for your customer.
  4. Don’t let customers distract you. Customers are usually well-meaning but does it always have to be all about them?
  5. Overpromise. A promise is a commitment. To overpromise is to make extra commitment. Who can complain about that?
  6. Underperform. The reasoning behind this corollary to #5 should be obvious: it leaves the customer wanting more.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

I want an iPhone

Here is a link to a Youtube video that is NOT appropriate for work, due to language. I link to it because it typifies certain attitudes prevalent in business. If you choose not to follow the link, here is the gist:

A customer comes to a store and asks for the new iPhone 4G. The store rep says they are currently out, but offers similar alternatives. The customer will hear nothing of alternatives but fixedly desires an iPhone 4G. The store rep repeatedly attempts to reason with the customer, explaining how the alternatives could be preferable to the iPhone 4G, but the situation devolves to profanity-laden dismissal of the customer (hence my warning).

I often saw situations similar to this in the wine business. Not to the degree of profanity, but certainly to the point of frustration. Customers would be focused on a certain product. If that proved unavailable, the customer would hear no alternatives. As a retailer, one wants to provide an alternative. You can only tell such a customer so much, however. They are caught in an enthusiasm.

We all fall for enthusiasm, or hype. It is not logical, but it happens. Even among diehard fans, the iPhone has its issues. Dropped calls, lack of cut-and-paste, lack of turn-by-turn GPS, and antenna issues have all been cited over the years. Even as fans complain about these issues, they remain loyal to the iPhone.These issues simply are not deal killers.

Getting one’s back up over a customer’s loyal preferences serves nothing but to widen the divide. In the wine business, we did blind tastings. These often led to surprises and revelations for consumers, when some well known wine does poorly or little known one wins tasters’ preference. Even with such ‘proof’, many people remained loyal to their initial preference. It is not logical but there you are. Emotion often prevails.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Ways to Shake up Your Writing

I read somewhere that The Grateful Dead decided to shake things up when making their first studio album in years, In the Dark. One idea: turn off all studio lights while recording. According to bassist Phil Lesh, results weren’t so good. Still, there’s a useful bottom line here. Find a way to surprise yourself when your writing struggles.in the dark

Sometimes, you just have to kick out the jams. I have tried all the following tricks, as part of a study in process. They seem to change my approach, which in turn changes my writing. Mileage may vary.

  1. Use pen or pencil if you usually use a computer; use a computer if you usually use pen or pencil. OR try a typewriter! I am pretty certain that you access different parts of the brain by this change.
  2. Change  location. If you normally use a desktop,  switch to a laptop and go somewhere. Or borrow someone’s system, or use the library computer. You surroundings make a difference.
  3. Write with your off hand. Yes, this is awkward  but it slows  you way down. This immerses you in each word. Again, I believe you access different parts of the brain (where different ideas may lurk).
  4. Even a different word processor can give you a fresh outlook. Different tools bring different results.

I play Free cell  a lot. Look at the game: sorting card decks by suit and by alternating colors. I feel that playing the game places my mind in a logical, patient framework that seems conducive to a writing mindset. It may only be a trick but try it. Better yet, try accepting the struggle as part of the process.

Writer’s Block 101

Yesterday, I linked to Thoughtwrestling's tips to beat writer’s block. Of course the only cure for not writing is to write, as the post reminds us. That IS the cure.

It proves helpful, however, to consider the wherefore of blocks. What holds you back from producing what you need to produce? Here are some questions to ask.

  1. Are you clear about your aims?
  2. Are you competing or comparing yourself to some model of production or effect?
  3. Are you functioning in the present or lost in the future?
  4. Are you functioning in the present or lost in the past?

Do you see what these questions imply?

One develops blocks when the act of writing becomes controlled by outside forces. Let’s look at the above questions.

Question 1. Your goal might be to produce a 500 word piece, or get something done by Tuesday. These goals differ greatly from the plan of writing a cogent piece on a particular subject about which you feel strongly and have researched deeply. This is labor of little excitement. No wonder you flail. Jump into the subject, not the result.

Question 2: You might be comparing yourself to some other writer. The Anxiety of Influence, as critic Harold Bloom had it. That anxiety can be positive if it thrusts you towards your own original expression. The more that you are pulled to that model—which is ultimately foreign to you—the more the task becomes impossible.

Question 3: The goal of your writing is the writing itself! That is, not to sound mysterious, the concise and logical thought connection of your piece. Your mission lies there. When you start tussling with the imaginary reception of your work, you lose impetus. You have to trust your methods and ability, not your hopes.

Question 4: Past successes distract. They cause you to repeat earlier successes. Alas, that bird has flown. Find a new bird.

Beating a writer’s block is as simple as Thoughtwrestling makes it. Just keep writing.