In which I muse about the future of the Net

Some European journalists recently asked me a different set of great questions, this time about where the Net might be headed. The questions and answers are posted online here.

Being a bit too modest to quote myself here, I’ll just recommend you head over and read the piece in full.

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In which I answer Andrius’s 12 (excellent) Questions

We talk a bunch about openness and transparency, but I don’t know anyone who walks that talk more than my friend Andrius Kulikauskas. Andrius lives in Vilnius, Lithuania, and runs the Minciu Sodas (Orchard of Thoughts) Lab from there.

He recently asked me his 12 Questions for Us to Know Each Other, which are thoughtful like the Proust Questionnaire, but more spiritual. I really enjoyed our interview.

Here’s a link to the video with my answers to all the the questions (the video quality is poor, so think of this as a podcast.)

Andrius’s 12 Questions are short and simple, but I really appreciated his amplifications on each. Here they are:

1) What do you care about?
More specifically: How would you introduce yourself to a person who is interested in you but knows nothing about you?

2) Do you care about thinking?
More specifically:  What are ways that your values clash and how do you resolve them?

3) What do you value?
More specifically: What is your deepest value in life which includes all of your other values?

4) What do you seek to know?
More specifically: What is a question that you don’t know the answer to, but wish to answer? (There may be several.)

5) What do you wish to achieve?
More specifically: Your “endeavors”.

6) Would you think out loud?
More specifically: What part of your thinking might you share freely, openly, in the Public Domain?

7) Where do you think best?
More specifically: How do you think best? What is your preferred way of thinking?

8) What is your dream in life?
More specifically: What would you wish for, especially what role would you like to play in life, if there were no obstacles?

9) How can we help each other?
More specifically: What kind of help would you like to give to others? and get from others?

10) What do you truly know about?
More specifically: What matters do you think yourself an authority on?

11) What lessons can you share?
More specifically: What are some concrete ideas / patterns / questions that you wish to contribute to our culture?

12) What do you know of God?
More specifically: What do you infer or suppose about how this world is set up, how it works?

Andrius also posted my answers separately to YouTube (to obey their 10 minute limit). The first one is here.

I’d love to see anyone else’s answers. Post away!

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Motorbike stolen; answers to “Thumper”

On April Fool’s Day, I noticed the disappearance of my beloved bike, a 1989 Honda GB500 TT (Tourist Trophy) that I’d bought used in 1998. I had seen it the night before, parked as usual parallel to the curb outside our flat on Church Street (in San Francisco).

Maybe, I thought, it’s an April Fools prank. But a couple of days went by and Thumper didn’t rematerialize.

So I’m posting a picture of the victim and will tweet and blog about it in the hope that someone will spot Thumper. Here’s the last image I got of him:


Assuming bike thieves don’t read too many blogs, I’ll point out Thumper’s real distinguishing mark: the seat isn’t the stock GB500 seat (which you see in the nicer bike in the background), but rather an aftermarket seat with yellow piping I had just bought and installed. For confirmation, the last numbers of Thumper’s license are 341.

If you sight him, please drop me a line.

By the way, single-cylinder, four-stroke bikes are called “thumpers” because they have a bit more vibration than multi-cylinder bikes. But I liked the image of the rabbit.

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At last: a decent, simple vector graphics tool

I’ve long whined about the lack of simple drawing tools, blaming Adobe for vacuuming up all the simple tools so that we might all buy its Illustrator offering — a piece of software I will never learn to use.

Google’s been improving its Apps suite steadily. It just separated the drawing tool from the others, meaning you can use it on its own, not just within Docs, Spreadsheets or Presents. The drawing tools are simple and sweet. I drew a quick illustration to embed here:

I’ve tried all sorts of other programs, but remained unsatisfied. Now I’m almost satisfied: It would be nice if they added linkiness to the drawings.

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Thriving in the Relationship Economy

This morning I gave a new talk with a tool that I hadn’t used before: Prezi. I’ll ruminate on my experience with the tool some other time.

My talk has the same title as this blog post. Here’s the Prezi file I spoke from (the link is only good through Oct. 21, when Prezi will remove it).

I’m currently in the mode of improving that talk, then I’ll record a screencast talking through it and share that. In the meantime, I’d love your comments.

Posted in change, My Projects, Perspectives | Tagged | 1 Comment

On Ada Lovelace Day, many inspirations

Suw Charman-Anderson has provoked a wonderful outpouring of appreciation today for pioneers in technology (broadly defined) who have two X chromosomes. You can find details of this great idea at

I’d like to honor several women’s contributions. All of them inspire me.

Nicole Lazzaro not only designs emotion into games and offers useful models like her 4 Fun Keys, she also is incredibly generous with her time and thoughts. Sometimes that means hosting an afternoon playing the Cash Flow Game (wish I’d played that four times when I was a teenager!), other times it means listening and offering feedback on career ideas. Oh, and she’s an incredible photographer.

Mary Hodder may not have all the answers, but she asks great questions, and she has great perspective, all of which she demonstrated on a recent podcast she did with me about whether there’s a big collapse coming. After consulting to Technorati and other techie firms, Mary launched her own startup. Mary’s always looking to make sure women are represented properly at tech conferences, and she won’t mince words about it. Right on.

Kaliya Hamlin is just a few years ahead of the rest of us. As IdentityWoman, she is helping several identity management communities move forward; as an open space facilitator, she is helping groups understand that self-organization actually works. I remember the first conversation I had with her, when she pulled book after book out of her backpack, much in the style of the people who used to cram phone booths or VW bugs decades ago. Yet the books she pulled out were mostly books I’d not hear of, and all of them were interesting.

Jill Bolte Taylor‘s TED talk, My Stroke of Insight, still reverberates for me. It has many high points, but for me the peaks are when this wonderful neuroanatomist’s arm disappears into her bathroom wall, when she realizes that her left hemisphere is this chatty presence (that she doesn’t miss at all when it shuts out) and when she relates her experience of universal oneness — of bliss. I’ve heard her book about the incident is fantastic.

Esther Dyson has laser focus, breadth of insight and enough playfulness to take a turn at perhaps being a cosmonaut. She was also my mentor for five and a half years, giving me all sorts of leeway to find interesting things to write about, then holding my feet to the fire of practicality and profitability, where being “innovative” just isn’t interesting enough. Thank you, Esther!

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On blind friending

This is the era of “friending” through online social networks. Some people have already done so much friending that they’re fed up. Their online social networks are full up, thank you.

Some people are just climbing in, and are busy forging new contacts. I’m very puzzled by those who seem to try to connect promiscuously or randomly, with no feel for what’s going on in the space (and also no obvious role as a spammer or overzealous commercial come-on).

For example, I just got (yet another) bare Facebook friend request from someone with whom I have only one weak connection. I sent him this Facebook message:

Hi [name],

I don’t think we know one another, and I’m wondering how you expect people to want to “friend” you online. Your picture is fuzzy and distant. Your public profile shows pretty much nothing. And your friend request on Facebook has no personal message. No curiosity, no generosity, no friendship.

This is a social medium. I have a feeling you’re very interesting, but no incentive to connect with you beyond my tiny positive instinct.

Best regards,

When people put a little effort into the “friending” gesture, I often connect with them. Calling out a shared interest, performing even a small act of bravery or generosity, asking a relevant question — all these things build immediate ties.

For people with open, descriptive profiles on Facebook and LinkedIn, public Twitter feeds and other kinds of information visible in the world, their door is pretty much open. But it’s polite to knock, or to inquire within, or to leave a virtual gift on the step outside.

Posted in networks, tech | 2 Comments

My road-trip mix tape

brand new friend by lloyd cole

the perfect driving tune

carmina burana by orff

wheel. of. fortune!!!

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The Law of Convenience

(I first published this page back in August 2002.)

Friction keeps us from doing things we might otherwise really want to do, such as writing a handwritten note to a friend or donating money to people whose work we admire. The causes can be quite complex, such as the bookkeeping, auditing and disclosure that assures us that donated funds really get to their intended recipients, but it’s the other extreme that is remarkable:  Even simple impediments can become insurmountable obstacles.

If it’s hard to park at a downtown store, you might go to a shopping center a little farther away, or be interested in home-delivered groceries. If an online service won’t store your ID and password, even for valid security reasons, and requires you to type in twenty characters, you won’t be eager to use it. It doesn’t take that much friction to cause a problem. Even one extra step can have as significant an effect as twenty.

Businesses constantly test this Law, and our patience, to make money. Ticketmaster hates deep linking because it wants to be sure its visitors go through several pages of ads before they get to the information they want. That’s why so many sites have those pesky pop-up ads on every page. That’s why TV networks feared TV remote controls early on. The work of getting up to change channels was turned into a flick of the thumb, and suddenly viewers were far more likely to switch programs or skip around during ad breaks.

The Law of Convenience is simple.

Every additional step that stands between people’s desires and the fulfillment of those desires greatly decreases the likelihood that they will undertake the activity.

The Law has wide applicability. It’s not just about product or service design, its obvious applications, but also about business models and sales strategies.

It’s also less about laziness than about habits and memory. Reducing the number of steps it takes to do something makes the entire activity more efficient and more likely to become a habit. But first you have to know that it exists at all, which can be a huge barrier.

Not many people know that you can change the default home page on your browser (call it the Law of Defaults, a corollary of the Law of Convenience). Fewer still know how to, even though it is easy. It can also be done by a computer program, so some Websites ask whether you want to make them your home page, knowing that people who say yes by mistake may not know how to reverse their decision later.

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What should Obama do to help Africa?

At the IDLO Microfinance Project workshop in Dar es Salaam, I asked the 25 collected participants to blog, email or otherwise tell us what are the most powerful things Obama might do to help Africa.

From Stella Odife of the Women’s Organization for Gender Issues in Abuja, Nigeria, the first (fabulous) answer:

“Set up a ‘genuine’ African Court to try corrupt leaders in Africa. Punish any Western, European, Asian or Arab country that allows ill-gotten wealth to be kept in their country. Once this is done, you will find more development and less migration out of the African Continent. That would ease off the pressure in countries like the USA ad UK, suffering the upsurge of immigrants seeking means of livelihood in these countries.”

You can email Stella here and follow our tweets from this event here.

Posted in change, travel | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

A Microsoft ad I love (who knew? it’s not Seinfeld)

Via Chris Carfi and Twitter, just saw a lovely skit that Microsoft’s ad network people created: “Advertiser vs. Consumer.”

The point that advertisers have no clue about actually conversing is sweetly made. Whether Microsoft’s ad people can actually do better than this caricature suggests remains an open question.

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No more buffing the corporate veneer: time to pierce it

Old-school branding and public relations are all about creating magical, memorable brands, unifying the enterprise’s many operations under that brand banner, then making sure nothing besmirches that image.

Think of that old-fashioned brand image as a beautiful burled veneer covering the corporate facade. It must be kept pristine and shiny. Whenever anything threatens it, the public relations group’s function is to clean it up. In quiet times, to buff it to a sharp polish.

Not anymore.

I just reposted a lost 2004 essay called “public relationships,” in which I lauded Robert Scoble for singlehandedly punching holes through Microsoft’s carefully mis-managed corporate veneer.

Now many companies are beginning to figure out how to reach through that corporate image to connect with outside publics. It’s messy, but very productive. It’s also having a lot of effect on brands.

What exactly is a brand that depends on a lot of individuals kind of free-wheeling it out there? How do they appear as a brand? What unifies them? Who owns the brand?

We’ll explore some of these questions Tuesday, in next week’s Yi-Tan call, with our guest Kevin Clark.

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Public Relationships (an open letter to PR agencies – repost)

I originally posted this to my Blogger site — the site that vanished mysteriously some time back. It’s not showing up on Google, so I thought I’d repost:

Thursday, August 12, 2004
Public Relationships (an open letter to PR agencies)

articles I read this morning reminded me of an old idea.

Among my peers, the PR industry is regarded with considerable skepticism, to put it mildly. In my time with New Science Associates and writing Esther’s newsletter, I appreciated most of the PR professionals I dealt with. I had no misconceptions about how they went about their business or how they prepped their clients for meetings with me (“mention online communities, he loves them!”), but I found the relationships mutually beneficial overall.

For example, one of my practices was to end all briefings with the question, “what can I answer for you?,” after I had offered the best feedback I could during the briefings, which I treated as mini consulting sessions. I found that the best PR people figured this out and used me often as a sounding board. They got early pitch advice (“we’re 20 slides into your pitch and I have no idea what you do; there’s a problem here”) and I got to see things in earlier stages, blunders still included. I wasn’t in any rush to scoop anyone, so they didn’t get bad press from these mistakes.

Fast-forward almost a decade, during which I’ve spent considerable time pondering the word “consumer” and its many implications. Along that path, I learned more about the checkered history of PR, but I also started thinking about potential paths out of our consumer-capitalist trap. In that spirit, I present the following suggestion to corporate executives who deal with Public Relations:

What if your Public Relations department became the Public Relationships department? What if its new mission were to help individuals and groups inside your company form better authentic relationships with their various publics outside?

To do this, your PR team would improve disclosure, increase transparency, train everyone, seek opportunities, make introductions and then get out of the way. They would be open-communication consultants, looking for places where your company is screwing up by behaving in less-than-credible ways, and helping heal the problems rather than buff them up and spin outsiders.

Be prepared for plenty of justifiable skepticism from the outside. Your PR executives may currently have little credibility outside, even if they have been practicing their trade with great integrity.

That doesn’t mean they can’t get to work inside your company. Many PR practitioners already emphasize building relationships between their key staff and members of the press and analysts. I’m suggesting they go much further, that they become internal activists for transparency and relationship-building at all levels.

This may sound impossible, or at least improbable. It may also sound easy to game. I can see many a rebranding effort (come see our new Public Relationships department!) without the requisite rethinking and tearing apart that I believe is necessary. This is not easy.

Or is it? In some sense, what Scoble is doing for Microsoft with Channel 9 is in this direction.

Goodness knows that Waggener Edstrom, Microsoft’s eternal PR company, has done absolutely nothing to defend or improve the company’s reputation over these many controversial years. Or maybe it has, and things would be worse.

Maybe the big question is whether and how PR departments and agencies can become credible Public Relationships specialists.

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