Thursday, December 3, 2009

Web 2.0 Expo: Thinking Visually: The Value of Geting Visual in Social Business by David Armano

The third talk I attended on Tuesday November 17 at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City was David Armano’s “Thinking Visually: The Value of Geting Visual In Social Business.” (Armano is the principal of the Dachis Group, consultants in social networking.)

Here are his slides - they're necessary to refer to for my summary, since his point is that visuals can greatly assist putting ideas across:

I saw Armano's presentation at last year's Expo:

In my summaries last year I think I did a disservice to both David Armano and Brian Solis (who spoke last year, and whom Armano mentioned). It's difficult to convey certain ideas in words when what you're trying to convey is the usefulness of imagery. I think a number of us chuckled this year during Armano's talk when he told us that visual design was really simple - he made is sound like all you have to do is make a couple of strokes and voila! An image.

But people like Armano and Solis don't realize that they're visually talented. (I consider myself musically gifted and know few people understand music the way musicians do. I believe this is true also with those devoted to graphic arts.) So Armano (and Solis) tend to underplay the effort involved in creating images, and, perhaps, sometimes don't have the full vocabulary to convey in words the power of visuals (their mode of communication is visual). Despite their facility at creating images, the uninitiated should never think that it is simple - it isn't, and I feel most of us would do well to not bother with learning design, but leave to people who have a life-long need to express themselves visually (i.e. graphic artists).

So on to the summary. Armano warned that his talk was not specifically about social media but that is overlaps with it.

He started with a Chinese proverb, which could stand in part for what Web 2.0 is about:

Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember;
involve me and I’ll understand.

Involving users is more than just showing things. Armano showed a visualization of the effect of social networks, first shown on his blog:

Small and large ripples are visualized, spreading out to reach and overlap one another.

Gets to the issue of the visualization of paid digital media vs. earned digital media

The attention of consumers is shifted to networks and streams.

Image of the “wheel of marketing misfortune” very nice

He cited the book Made To Stick (by Dan Heath and Chip Heath) which is about ideas that can are retained in the mind. Most people find visuals a valuable complementary aid to understanding abstract ideas. Think for moment: Which of your five senses would you fear losing most? A majority of people respond with their sight.

He then showed us several minutes of a video he liked very much: History of the Internet, which uses PICOL (PIctorial COmmunication Language) icons to convey history with an elegant simplicity:

What it takes to get visual with the 4 Ms:

  • Metaphor - finding a convincing correspondence between word and image
  • Model - (for developing experiences) (one can combine: metaphor and model)
  • Mindmap - to get all ideas mapped out
  • Manifest - take something complex and make it simple

Six steps for getting visual:

1. Empathize: see the world as a child, asking fundamental questions: observe - ask - explore

2. Memorize: commit thoughts to memory - putting anything on paper is a path to memorization

3. Analyze: take a step back

4. Synthesize: filter the signal from noise

5: Visualize: see it, then do it

6: Materialize: make it tangible, make it stick

Combing that with the four Cs of community: Content, Contest, Connectivity, Continuity.

Two examples/case studies:

1. How to visualize a "dynamic signal"? What does a signal look like? Sample images taken from Google. Then making it stick: keep the image simple. [slides 34-39]

2. What about "hiveminded"? What does the word suggest? A collective consciousness - a swarm of bees. What makes a hive? Bees...hive...honeycombs - these ideas suggest a hexagonal design - reducing a hive to one honeycomb. The end result visualizes a swarm of signals on a hive. [slides 40-47 ]

Armano went on to remind us that however creative, these visuals are for the purpose of social marketing. He suggested a checklist for making your coentent more visual and said that you need to use your brain and eye in thinking about web content.

Why is visual content useful?

  • It gets peoples' attention quickly
  • It helps us to learn faster and more effectively
  • It lets people do their own thinking
  • It helps us tell stories

Here is some reading to help you get started:

Envisioning Information by Edward R. Tufte

Selling to the VP of NO by Dave Gray

Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability by Steve Krug (no. 1 of user experience books)

The Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam

Monday, November 30, 2009

Web 2.0 Expo: Kristina Halvorson: Content First

Kristina Halvorson [Picture taken from Flickr - not from Web 2.0 Expo]

The first talk I attended at the Web 2.0 Expo was “Content First: Why Content Strategy Will Save the Web” by Kristina Halvorson, of She is author of Content Strategy For The Web. Her presentation strongly underscored her belief that content is the major part of the web and that people involved with the web need to have conversation on content strategy (i.e. to recognize its primacy).

Her slide presentation (which can be read alongside my summary) is here:

[It should be remembered that the words that follow should not be taken literally as Halvorson's words, but my transcription of her talk, which may not accurately reflect its content.]

She began with a quote from Walter Landor (the “grandfather” of branding) who defined a brand:

“A brand is a promise. By identifying and authenticating a product or service it delivers a pledge of satisfaction and quality.”
A brand tells its audience they will be satisfied. Examples: the Gerber baby: it gives you a sense of safety and security. Another quote (from The Brand Bubble By John Gerzema and Ed Lebar):

“Brands are now used more than they are preferred...Functional benefits and relevance now outweigh the intangible and emotional allure of a brand.”

In other words, customers own the brand. For example, equals “safety and security.” We’re not going to see it in a product, but rather on websites. We consume content offline. When we're relaxed and focused it is easier for us to take in information.

When consumers are online, they’re engaged but also distracted by numerous activities. Online, we don't just see or read about brands, we USE them.

So why is our online content generally bad? Why can't we create content that is meaningful and enjoyable?

Ultimately, content matters. According to Jesse James Garrett in his book The Elements of User Experience:

“The single most important thing most web sites can offer to their users is content that those users will find valuable.”

But we marginalize content. Content is often last thing to be considered or delivered when creating websites. This is affirmed by blog entry “The Cure for Content-Delay Syndrome” by Pepi Ronalds, appearing on website “A List Apart” <>. is a website designed to help understand careers and opportunities. They provide an ideal of web office structure. Ten years ago there was no content manager as part of the web design team. Neither was there a SEO (search engine optimization) specialist or a usability specialist.

Back then, web teams spoke about general things but not about web content. It used to be that the copywriter was brought in towards the mid or later stages of web site design. But copywriting is based too much on the old model of writer, editor, proof reader, reviser, etc. How did we get there?

Richard Saul Wurman (the founder of the idiom Information Architecture) wrote:

“I thought the explosion of data needed architecture, needed a series of systems, needed systemic design, a series of performance criteria to measure it.”

Influential books: Edward R. Tufte, Envisioning Information; and Jesse James Garrett, Elements of User Experience. He lays out the problem of content within the user experience.

Content is not a feature. It's messy and complex -- an ever-evolving thing that can turn into a monster. In their book Web Redesign 2.0, Kelly Goto and Emily Cotler say the way to deal with web content is to “accept it, plan for it, charge for it.” Halvorson disagrees.

Halvorson’s idea: you need to have a content strategy - something which plans for the creation, publication, and governance of useful usable content.

Content can be: text, data, video, audio. But the major hurdle of all of these is text (including text that you see and that which you don’t see [i.e. metadata]). Strategy is a plan for obtaining a specific goal or result.

Content strategy helps us understand context of content – what, why, how, for whom, by whom, with what, when, where, how often, what next, etc.

A negative example: website of Quicken: designed not for or about the user, but is about selling Quicken. Compare that to: -- a personal finance site. Note the emblazoned banner: “the best (free) way to manage your money.” This website is not about, but about the user. It is a website whose design is based on user's fears and desires. We didn't come to this website to learn about Mint. We came to fix our financial life. Secondary to that is using Mint.

If you fail to consider user goals in seeking your business objectives, you won’t deliver useful content. If you can align user goals with your business objectives you’ll strike the right balance.

Three examples of companies that deliver useful content and do it well:

1. REI (cold weather clothing and gear): They provide a library of articles (texts and videos) that help all levels of visitors. There are 100-200 original articles by staff members (not aggregated from other sources) targeted to specific activities. They've invested in an in-house editorial team.

2. Room & Board : On their website they don’t just tell you about the furniture, but have interview with their artisans. They let you behind the scenes to show you how these artisans have created the furniture. (This helps the user to establish a connection with the products.)

3. Ford Models . Their YouTube channel brings users “backstage” where they have interviews with models and designers. Studio artists and models deliver real-world tips and tricks about makeup, hair, and taking care of oneself. So it brings people not just backstage but delivers useful information to users (and potential models and Ford candidates). They simply asked: “What do girls want?” to determine how they should model their website.


How does content strategy work? There are four parts:

Plan. Create. Deliver. Govern.



  • What do we have?
  • What are we trying to do?
  • What do our content ecosystems look like? (all factors that have impact on living thing of content)
  • What are our opportunities, risks, and success metrics? (SEO) - How are you going to measure success? (fixing content is not a measure of success – you must measure how success is made)

Your content is organized by a content inventory. This inventory only identifies content and a few notes. It is a quantitative audit by which you obtain:

  • measurable project outcomes.
  • content recommendations for your project:
  • What do our content ecosystems look like?
  • What are our opportunities, risks, and success metrics? Consider external and internal factors.
  • The Plan:

Your plan should form a continuous circle of learning / creation / examination, or Create, Deliver, Govern.

This is the mantra of social media: you must be ready to stay engaged. No longer can you create content and then leave it to dry out, age, and spoil.

What do you get? Multiple benefits: better user experience, great brand consistency, new operational efficiencies, better risk management, improved SEO, and more effective personalization and targeting.

How can you start?

Currently we think of content as the responsibility of a writer. But it requires more functions. We need to recognize content as a complex thing and the responsibility of many. Marketing tasks in all their variety are activities which can be considered content. We must have processes in place that recognize the web as an eco system.

In closing Halvorson admonished us:

You are a publisher - treat your content as a critical business asset.

No matter how you get your content onto the web – by email, Twitter, IM, etc. – you are publishing content to the web. Recognize yourself as a publisher.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Web 2.0 Expo: Some thoughts

I enjoyed this year's Web 2.0 Expo more than I thought I would. I was concerned that it might be a repetition of last year’s. Fortunately I was wrong. Some of the speakers were the same, but (from what I could see) they offered new views on a variety of issues.

Before I provide summaries of the individuals sessions I attended, I’ll offer some general comments about the Web 2.0 Expo in New York City.

Last year, overhearing talk in between sessions, it seemed that one of the most pressing concerns was how to monetize the Internet and social media, and determining ROI (return on investment). This year, though ROI was still on people’s minds, its concern seemed to be much more muted (based on my sense that there were fewer hard business types present). Rather, I sensed that the geeks who had entered the business world had come to the expo to reinvigorate their love and fascination of computers and the Internet. They came to explore new ideas and keep track of what they could bring back to the office or file away for later use.

The keynotes last year seemed to me rather perfunctory, whereas this year many were a highlight of the event. I first saw Baratunde Thurston portray @the_swine_flu back at IgniteNYC on June 1, 2009. Even then he had the audience howling with laughter. This time he spoke on hashtags in Twitter, but I was amazed at the way he delivered his speech. It wasn’t a speech: it was a dialogue with the audience. As an occasional stand-up comedian (and an editor for The Onion), he knew he had to get the audience right away. He succeeded, making his presentation among the most memorable presentation of the entire Expo. It is a model for all future presentations.

The sleeper for me was Beth Noveck, Deputy Chief Technology Officer For Open Government at the White House. Noveck spent over about 35 minutes in conversation with Tim O’Reilly, discussing the President’s Open Government Initiative. She described a direction for openness in the White House that would foster greater participation (and therefore activism) in political life. One of the first advantages of openness was making sure that no lobbyists would enter those who advise the president – and having the list of official visitors made public was a step to making sure no lobbyists would appear. She also singled out Manor, Texas, a town of 5,800 people, for the superlative efforts they’re doing to create a transparent government on a town level. You could feel the audience breathing “wow!” as she held them in attention, describing what they hope to achieve, including influencing other branches of government to be as open.

Much has already been written about – and by - Danah Boyd, her keynote speech, and the phenomenon of “tweckling” (an amalgam of Twitter and heckling). In brief, saddled with an unexpected and difficult situation for presenting her paper, Boyd was unaware that the Twitter feed being projected behind her began to comment negatively on her presentation, even to becoming derogatory. To be sure, even if the audience was correct in suggesting that she was reading her paper too fast, the nastiness was uncalled for and not constructive.

As ugly as it was, the situation suggested that the typical academic talk – of standing and delivering your totally prepared paper – is now a thing of the past. Today we're at Presentation 2.0: You must establish a relationship with and engage your audience. Do not depend on content alone to do that for you. Of course, attendees were spoiled by Thurston’s presentation – he spent a good five minutes warming us up, getting our attention, and establishing a memorable exchange with us even before he began sharing content. [Side note: When Michael Stephens (instructor at the Graduate School of Library Information Science at Dominican University) addressed staff at the New York Public Library, he began at the back of the auditorium, slowly making his way to the front, while asking short questions and getting answers. He was working the crowd.] This kind of Presentation 2.0 – which is as much performance as presentation – is now going to be necessary when conveying information to an audience, particularly if there are distractions such as slides, or simultaneous Twitter feeds (even if they are not projected, many conferences now have a backchannel, so it's not going to go away).

Despite the many good sessions I attended (summaries of which I hope to post soon), what I felt missing from the Expo were more opportunities for networking. In this day and age where the Internet enables quick and usually free dissemination, there has been much talk questioning the need for traditional conferences, when presenters could simply post their talks online.

Therefore attendance at a conference needs to emphasize the attributes beyond the papers, and that is usually networking. There is a need for more social interaction. There were a few opporunities: lunch time (often less than an hour), and pre-meeting coffee and tea in he lounge area:

Last year (which I sensed had significantly more attendees), one lunch allowed people to group themselves based on interest. I reported on sitting at a table labeled Museum 2.1 and discovering interesting people. It would have been a good idea to have this option available for all lunches. Instead, we were left to seek out others with similar interests on Twitter - not an efficient method of networking when you're with hundreds of people.

I was happy to have suggested and created an archive of tweets for the Expo - many thanks to Twapper Keeper. Even a staff member of O'Reilly thanked me. Access the archive here (Over 12,000 tweets as of the morning of November 25.)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Art Encourages an Enthusiam for Learning

I don't often quote people without adding something original. But a two-year-old article from the newsletter of the Council on the Arts and Humanities for Staten Island has stayed with me which I'd like to reproduce - if only for my own use. The original is here on page 9:

The author, Carolyn Corbo of Public School 50 directs this (apparently) towards parents of young children. But I feel there's much to be learned even for adults in these 10 maxims. For librarians - or advertisers, or anyone for that matter - the key is getting the individual engaged. This is more possible in a non-judgmental environment where art is exercised ("arts" is not restricted to graphic arts).

It also challenges what I feel is a very American notion (and erroneous one): that "arts" or "entertainment" are an add-on that can easily be jettisoned or placed on a very low priority in times of economic or other difficulties. If arts lead to all the things Corbo suggests, then they are as important as any other subject or occupation for psychological health and communication.

Here is Carolyn Corbo's:

Art Encourages an Enthusiasm for Learning
The Importance of Art Education for Every Child

  1. Art develops fine motor skills when we use a scissor or thread a needle.
  2. Art develops organizational skills, the 'how to', step-by-step in making a weaving, building an armature or painting.
  3. Art making promotes critical thinking--your children look closely at great works of art, analyze and make inference about what they see. We learn about people from distant lands, different cultures and traditions.
  4. Art making promotes independent thinking. Your children make decisions about what colors to make, shapes to cut, how to change their work.
  5. Art reaches children of all learning styles--it levels the playing field.
  6. Art making promotes focus and attention to detail. Even the most active children are engaged when painting a picture or making a sculpture.
  7. Art nutures the spirit and stimulates the imagination.
  8. Art builds self-esteem.
  9. Art making provides our children an opportunity to express their feelings and ideas about their world.
  10. Art making is process oriented where children explore different art mediums. Children are encourages to take risks, think for themselves and become problem solvers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Michael Tushman's SLA talk on change management

On March 23, 2009, the New York Chapter of the Special Libraries Association (SLA) hosted Michael L. Tushman, professor at the Harvard Business School, in a talk on "How Should We Manage Change in the 21st Century?" Held in the JP Morgan Chase Conference Center (top floor), the setting offered some stunning views from downtown Manhattan (Liberty Island to the left, Ellis Island to the right):
Tushman's area of research is on technology, innovation, teams, change. He hoped to dwell on the role of the library and information in innovation and change. His PowerPoint is on the SLA NY Chapter website.
He started with a list of private and public firms, small and large and asked: what's the unifying theme among them? (Slides 2-3 of his PowerPoint.)

Some responses: they were firms that dealt with technology and technological change, and most had issues of growth. Many are great organizations that died; some came back. Changes occurred in markets and customer requirements.

Other commonalities: most companies had a near monopoly. They used technology for either growth or rebirth. It's a pattern for successful firms. Tushman mentioned that he'd been looking at such firms for a while, to help understand and build ideas on how and why organizations evolve over time. Then he helps companies to understand those ideas.

Why is it that great organizations almost always fail when the world shifts? (And right now we're in the middle of one of these "world shifts.") Why in such situations do leaders become losers?

Response: they don't see what's happening in front of them. Example: Wang Laboratories didn't believe the personal computer would be a threat. Incumbents - almost always - don't believe in the change. Why is that?

Emotions, fear of loss, - what do they fear loosing? Power? Money? Status? It's arrogance, and an inability to see objectively. It can happen when change is too rapid, and when one is too complacent.

Who's responsible for this kind of failure? The CEO? The board? Top management team? Organizational culture?

Let's take the story of the Swiss watch industry. (PowerPoint slide 4.) There was a pattern of continual decline of numbers of companies and number of watches being made, gradually being overtaken by Japanese watchmakers.

Then Tushman introduced the concepts: Incremental change, architectural change, and radical change (or discontinuous change).

In 1970 the Swiss were no. 1 watchmakers. But quartz watch movement represented for Swiss a discontinuous change. Who would be a customer of a mechanical Swiss watch in 1970? The high-end customer. But a quartz watch is for everyone - it's inexpensive and accurate. Swiss makers actually made quartz movement, but the heads of Swiss companies ignored that information until 1980 when they were practically bankrupt. So they developed Swatch in 1981 as a response to the new forces. They had the technology in 1970, but ignored it until they went bankrupt. (Usually firms wait until they're broke before they take drastic steps to innovate.) Also a similar thing happened with the American tire industry: demand for belted tires sunk while radial increased. (PowerPoint slide 5.)

Slide 6 shows the evolution of the Disk Drive industry: 146 firms founded; 125 were failures. As disc drives get physically smaller (
an architectural innovation - going from larger sizes to 8 inch, 5.25 inch, 3.5 inch, etc.) different customers shop for different companies. Firms which lead in one format generally don't lead in the next.

What it takes to exploit your existing business gets in the way of exploration. What we're (at Harvard) trying to do is build businesses that can both exploit what they do (and are good at) and explore for the future.

The problem is that the more you exploit today, the less good you are at exploring tomorrow. Tushman tries to help organizations to do that, but the problem is that they're contradictory forces.

We have a wonderful executive program at the Harvard Business School. Eight weeks, full room and board (and of course 6 superb faculty members) for which we charge $60,000. We hold it twice a year. We're enormously proud of it.

What are the technological challenges that business schools face? What is threatening our world? The answer: online distributed executive education. Who is the leader? University of Phoenix. HBS's way is based on face-to-face interactions. Online courses is an entirely different way of distributing content through the web. Instead of $60,000 a year, they charge just several hundred dollars. So what are schools thinking? They're thinking: "Such online programs wouldn't attract our customers." But over the course of time, such programs are going to get better and will gradually siphon off students from Ivy-league schools.

Look at the Sears building. The company built (what was then) the tallest building in the world. That says something about how they perceived themselves. They're in Chicago. Look at the horizon in Bentonville, Arkansas (beginning of Walmart, Inc.). At first Sears had cornered the city market, and Walmart had the rural areas. By distributing so many catalogs, Sears didn't encourage the country folks to visit the city. All of a sudden, Walmart opens in Chicago - and that spells the end of Sears.

This pathology is deep. The better you are in the short-term, the worse off you'll be in the long-term. It strikes the best people in the top rooms. This issue of cultural lock-in, blindness -- leaders don't see the changing world - this imbalance between the short term and the long term. These are brilliant executives who catch a disease: they're believe their great (an invincible). When they start to fail, they almost always need an outside agent to come in and "lead a revolution" in the corporation. (examples: IBM.)

A happy story: The Ball Corporation (slide 13). They've continuously followed both paths of exploit and explore simultaneously, and have been able to grow and change with the times. When asked what is the company's identity, the CEO responded: we're a container corporation. That "vision" has enabled them to pursue various avenues for development while maintaining their identity.

Note that this is not just incremental change, but incremental change and incremental revolution. What doesn't change is their identity: who they are.

That's one of the key ideas resulting from the research we've done: an over-arching frame (or vision), innovation streams, punctuated change, and an organizational design that permits exploration.

Punctuating change: the only way to get the future - revolutions, incremental change, and revolutions again. Revolution: when the whole organization is turned upside down. Strategy, structure, people, processes all shift at the same time.

Culture of an organization: values, norms, the climate. The social structure. Who is responsible for this organization - who makes it go? People not with formal power but with informal power. They are the nodes of the social network. The coalition of power brokers.

Tushman recalls a client who had formal power, but not social power. Whenever you try to implement change, you need a coaltion from the leader, his team, and those within the social network. You need that if you want to move into the future.

The architecture to exploit people, processes, and structure is different from the architecture needed to explore. Tushman used the word ambidexterity: an organization that can have completely different cultures, completely different competencies,
completely different structures, completely different processes.

The challenge: to build an organization that both lives in the past and lives in the future simultaneously. It's a contradiction; Tushman asks senior leaders to host that contradiction: to honor the past while at the same time create a new culture. That is a managerial feat: to live in both worlds.

Imagine you're in Rochester, NY in the 1970s, and you hear of digital imaging. What would be the reaction? As it happened, a librarian in the audience was there at the time and she described the reaction to digital imaging as: arrogance, indignation, and fear.

To conclude, Tushman cites the company Toyota as profiled in the book "Extreme Toyota." His summary: They live in "a state of disequalibrium where radical contradictions coexist, propelling Toyota away from its comfort zone and creating healthy tension and instability within the organization." They are a world of internal paradox - a state of equilibrium and disequilibrium simultaneously.

He then showed this image:
He concluded by noting that the role of leaders is to build organization that can go "there" (where the signpost above points). When someone pointed out to him that the image sends a mixed message, Tushman responded "Yes! Exactly right! Exploit and explore." It requires two completely different organizations, a contradiction that the leadership team must embrace. You want the punctuated change in the exploratory culture, and incremental change in the exploitative culture.

That's his idea: this notion of end capabilities, streams of innovation, the role of the senior team exploiting and exploring, and building multiple and inconsistent cultures that are held together by this notion of identity.

The event broke up as evening settled on Manhattan:

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Personal websites - forever?

I had known Dan Kliman a number of years.  I never met him, but knew him from an email list, Facebook, and perhaps some other social networking sites.

Then I heard the terrible news:  Dan died mysteriously in November 2008.  He was 38.

I waited for Facebook to remove his page.  But of course they didn't:  No one told them he was gone, and even if they had, Facebook would probably not remove it unless the owner told them.  (Yahoo had a similar policy:  Even if you were accidentally locked out of logging in to your profile, the profile would remain, although I suspect Yahoo's recent change to personal profiles might have eliminated many of those orphan profiles.)

So at least on Facebook, Dan "lives" on.

Since genealogy is one of my hobbies.  I was struck by the similarity of gravestones to web pages.  A gravestone functions not only as the marker for a decedent, but as a brief opportunity for them or their family to provide a few words of identity ("Susan Smith, born...died..."), of relationships ("Beloved mother, sister..."), and the occasional summary phrase ("She was a friend to animals and men" was what I recently saw on a gravestone).

Does the web have a corollary to a gravestone - a permanent marker to an individual?

The vestiges we see on Facebook have no guarantee of permanency.  Presumably, in a few years' time, Facebook (like Yahoo has apparently done) will decide it needs to clear up some of the space alloted to profiles not logged in recently, and clear them out.

I don't think there is a permanent online graveyard.  Like cemeteries, the owners of such a site would need to montetize the investment (many older cemeteries in New York City have cleared away gardening and now use the land for interments, in part to raise their assets).  And their mission statement would need to guarantee that successive owners/investors maintain the site in perpetuity.

Perpetuity.  In the web's fast-moving and fast-developing world, that seems almost like an imposssibiliy.  So it'll be interesting to see if anyone comes up with a graveyard for the web.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

IgniteNYC, February 23, 2009

The latest Ignite NYC was held on February 23rd at the Santos Party House a few blocks south of Canal Street (the center of New York City's Chinatown). Santos Party House is a small disco-like space, much smaller and less comfortable than Webster Hall (the site of a previous meeting).

There were only a few chairs available, and since the bar was in the same space, the rumbling of conversation was loud and intruded upon what came from the stage.

The first item was scheduled for 7:30 but began 10 minutes late. It was "Know Your Meme" a simulation of a TV game show which, in 20 questions to contestants on stage, was supposed to provide a history of Internet technology. It went on for an hour and it was terrible! It was not well rehearsed, not well delivered (they seemed to be talking to themselves and had no interest in being heard by the audience nor capturing the audience's attention), and it was amazingly stupid. Seeing it as a colossal waste of time, a number of people left. Memo to IgniteNYC and O'Reilly folks: NEVER DO THAT AGAIN!!

The main part of the program was scheduled for 8:30 but didn't going until after 9 PM, no explanations or anything. It made me and the audience somewhat irritable. Finally they began.

The format of Ignite is based on Pecha Kucha - 5 minute talks with PowerPoint presentations. Based on presenters' experience, there are two kinds of talks. Some are just a single idea, fleshed out with details. It's like a topic sentence followed by details. Those tend to be less interesting than those that try to give a cause-and-effect presentation (problem --> solution) which for me presents more immediacy. There was a mixture of both.

Michael Galbart's "Images On the Internets Seem Realer Than They Are" fell into the first group: a one-point talk about the frequency of altered images found on the Internet. His point was that Internet images seem more real than they are due to the ubiquity of Photoshop and similar programs that facilitate altering images. It's a good assumption that the majority of images you see on the net (even from news organizations) are altered, even if only slightly. The problem is that some images become fixed in the mind whether truthful or not, e.g. the photo of Sarah Palin's head grafted on to a swimmer wearing a US flag bikini and carrying a gun - apparently an image that has been seen by many as being "real."

These cloning techniques have now become part of main and popular culture. The photograph released by Iran showing 4 missles being launched simultaneously was a fake - it was really only one with the others being replicated. The image of President Bush's talk to the army - where you saw a sea of faces in the audience. Really they were just duplications of the same group of faces. (One clue for revealing crowd is to look carefully at the eyes - to see if they are all facing the same or different directions.) All magazine covers are Photoshoped.

What do we learn? That all images on the net are fake (e.g. Godzilla being attacked by a house cat). It becomes a lesson in trust - we begin to suspect everything.

So beware of fake images!

Next up was Jaki Levy's "How to Screw up Your Reputation Or the Reputation of Your Company Online." He spoke about PR mistakes and their resultant nightmares. Motrin: a bad TV commercial led mothers to protest. The company didn't respond to criticism (or praise). Their unresponsiveness was the path to ruining their reputation. Another road to ruin: Ask a question to which you already know the answer -- people will lambaste you. Wal-Mart: They want to show how college students should arrange their dorms. But students weren't interested - they already know how they want their dorms arranged. Another point: If you ask, you have to be prepared for all kinds of responses. When you ask dumb questions, expect dumb answer. Another way: call yourself a social media expert. Experts are deadly. Lying is deadly. Don't underestimate audience: they're smarter than you think. Be clear about your motives.

Karen Sandler's "Unchain My Heart" had no PowerPoint presentation on purpose. She went with OpenOffice, the open-source software. She confessed that she has an enlarged heart, meaning that she can die suddenly. So she has defibrilator, which she said was "like fairy godmother in heart looking after you." Being a geek, she asked for code to this medical device, but the company refused, telling her it was proprietary. So here she is with software that could potentially save or destroy her life - and it can't be studied by anyone. That lack of transparency makes it unsafe. Fortunately she came across a group that hacked the device, and found that it's data was not encrypted. In fact, the defibrilator could cause shocks which could be life-threatening. Fortunately, being a lawyer enabled her to confront the company on some of these issues - particular concerning transparency.

But the message is that doctors have to think about the devices they prescribe and whether they're really safe. They need to not ever take things for granted and need to know what these devices are about. We need to insist that people are safe on all levels. We need a free and open code.

Dennis Crowley presented "The Crowley Family vs. Family Feud: How You Too Can Win Fame and Fortune in LA." Dennis is the co-founder of Four Square - a redesigned Family Feud. His talk was how to get on a TV quiz show. How do you train? You become obsessive. You Tivo all shows and study them. Get a quiz book. Get into the mindset. Set up family tournaments for each other. Watch episodes on YouTube. You'll note: The best answers are the most obvious. Round numbers are your friends. Never pass. When they talk about "random people," what they really mean is "random people in L.A." His episode will be aired March 4.

Alex Bisceglie presented "DataVisualization: Muppet Fur Coats." It's about visualization (whether it's called data visualization or informaiton visualization) - translating data into comprehendible images. Without it, what can one make of the information that bombards us every day? Visualization helps us to navigate life. Visualization is how we help vet our presidential candidates (think of the various graphs and pie charts during the election season). It's how we encounter our social networks. It helps us understand the net. The main guideline is to keep visuals simple, otherwise they won't provide content.

Alex then showed various samples of visualization. A kindergardener's visualization: vampire electronics.

Then some bad examples. They take away from content because they're too busy. Keep it simple! He can't repeat this adage enough. Trends in data visualization come and go within a single year.

Information visualization is not art. You can't get data out of art, which tends to be much more complex. Again: Keep it simple.

Jonathan Kahan's "Cutting Edge Technology: The Samurai Sword" picked up on the previous talk's adage to "keep it simple" by using the metaphor of a katana (a samurai sword). Originally having a straight shaft, the katana was later modified to be slightly curved, which increased the sword's efficiency in being able to cut through most anything. (His PowerPoint presentation had numerous film stills featuring Toshiro Mifune and few with Tom Cruise.)

Jooyoung Oh spoke about "Unemployment 101." She left her job of 5 years. Updating her Facebook status was like breaking up with a boyfriend. At first you don't want to tell your parents, and you buy drinks for your friends. Cute, amusing, not to much to say, and a message that everyone feared but fear wanted to hear.

Similar was Naveen Selvadurai's "In Case of Fire, Break Glass." He spoke about his unfortunate experience of having a fire in his building and gave many tips on what to avoid and to be aware of in case there is a fire. Somewhat humorous.

Britta Riley spoke about "R&D-I-Y" or research and develop it yourself. I forget the details but it had to do with filtration of urine into drinking water. Rather than do all the work, her project enabled people to do it themselves. When people heard of this project they wanted to get involved. But they felt they needed to ask permission. Britta and her colleagues realized that crowdsourcing was how the project got going. It has to be a real sharing of ideas - wikis and instructables are not enough. One has to build the continuum of work already started.

Scott Rafer spoke about "An Overnight Success in Just 15 Years." He seemed to have great ideas but introduced them too early, such as the camera phone in 1997, and blogsearch. His goal was to find that one-hit-wonder. All it takes is once. Be late, then, you'll be boring. There are zillions of things to do and find out - just look at directories of hot spots in NYC. There are always crazy startups - why not you? The secret is to hit that one thing, and then you'll be invulnerable.

Noah B. Zerkin spoke on "Near Future Augmented Reality Systems." It was hard to understand and was about the fusion of virtual and physical worlds. (I think he made a pun on his name "Noah Zark - sounds like Noah's Ark.)

[By this time my patience and attention to the proceedings were dropping off, so I just too notes on snippets. Apologies for the more discursive narrative.]

Cory Forsyth spoke on using telephony in unique ways, or "How to Piss Off the FCC."

Ed Purver's "A Show of Hands" humorously demonstrated that direction in life is not always good.

Andrew Hoppin's talk "NASA 2.0" was actually good. He mused on the possibility of Web 2.0 techniques being applied to the space agency. For background, he pointed out that NASA was at its best when it had a specific goal of getting a man on the moon. After that achievement, having a lack of clear goals, they seem to have been less stellar.

Hoppin proposed new leadership for the agency. They should ask what works outside the fence? Perhaps "open-space events" attended by many people from which they could achieve crowdsourcing of ideas and possibly research and resources. It would be a participatory exploration. But they must change their culture and infrastructure to one that welcomes collaboration and increases participation.

Hoppin then riffed on various ideas. NASA could mix reality events and cultivate remote participation. "Open space" events. They should participate in outside communities, such as the monthly Hackathon in Silicon Valley. They could support existing communities. As a result of being open, they would receive accolades. It might be more of a challenge to provide ROI (return on investment), and to face internal challenges. But ultimately it could result in a change of culture within the organization, and result in community building, outreach, and awareness.

Space exploration would become less "owned" by NASA and would be shared with people.

Jen Bekman spoke on "Overcrowded." Deceptively, she appeared to begin with a negative attitude: How crowdsourcing is ruining everything. Look at the poor reputation of Wikipedia. Look at the multitude of sunset photographs on Flickr. What's the point of so much?

As it turned out, she was building up to a plug: She has an art gallery that has displayed art using the prodigious images of sunsets from Flickr. So go visit.

David Steele Overholt's talk was named after his website, Fail Often. There are so many constraints that we face every day: lack of time, goals, and contracts. The point is produce consistently, to do something everyday and not be afraid to fail. He suggested adding a single picture to your Flickr collection. There would be no wrong or right way. Just do it.

Rob Seward, the final speaker, seemed to be well-known among the crowd. His talk, "The Collective Unconscious of 1980s Florida," spoke about word association test at a Florida university. When he was age 9 he would look up dirty words in the dictionary. He'd find them, but the dictionary would never tell why the words are dirty. Presumably this was intended to explain that he's long had an interest in words and what people mak of them.

He presented a metaphor of an iceberg: there's a little at the top but the bulk is submerged, going to the bottom. That was a way to introduce his interest in words that give rise to unusual associations among people at the University of Florida. (i.e. analogies, for example: cheeleader :: whore, and democrate :: asshole).

I'm so late in posting this blog entry that I don't recall the details of the talk, but the research results is all at his website: He actually looks like a creative person and I'm sorry this didn't come out during his talk.

All together it was a mixed bag. For my taste, there was too much that was amusing without providing much substance, and there were too many talks that were more like navel-gazing. But it was good to hear the beat of Sillicon Alley even if it was soaked in beer.

[All my pics from the event: ]