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15Dec/092

Entrepreneurship Social-Media and Skeptics Oh My! (Prt. 3)

This is the final part of a three part series I wrote in 2008. It was my take on the developing web 2.0 landscape. Now that the fall semester has come to a close, I'll be able to dedicate a little more mindshare to this website. I want to put a capstone on this, revisited, 3 part series and this year by offering my thoughts on a book I read about a month ago - Guy Kawasaki's Rules For Revolutionaries. I offered some brief thoughts over on my "short-form" tumblr blog, but I really want to expand on those thoughts here. Check back within the next week or two for that.

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In my last post on this subject, I spoke to the benefits I've experienced thus far with social-media, where I think social-media is heading, and how social-media is all in all a good thing. I'm going to try to address some of the concerns present with current day social-media as I see them and also try to cover some of the criticisms skeptics have raised pertaining to social-media and maybe a rebuttal to them.

Time to wrap this thing up.

The Skeptics

The internet, since its inception, has been criticized for its lack of credibility and rightly so; the internet and its predecessor has been a hotbed of piracy, copy write infringement, porn, and all things sinister and evil. Services such as Apple TV, Netflix, and iTunes have only been around for a few years and those services have only recently become widely accepted mediums for utilizing the internet as a legal source of media. The long and skinny of it is that the internet is still a very unrefined place - the wild wild west of our generation.

There is no clear model of how to generate revenue from the internet; although many have profited greatly from the internet thus far, those successes are few and far between and there are no clear answers why some have succeeded and others have failed miserably. Furthermore, there is no sign of what will and won't work in the future of the internet. We're all pulling at straws, hoping that something sticks and this is the very reason there are so many skeptics of web 2.0.

In the past, the most effective way to make money on the web was through banner ads. But banner ads have been just a piss poor attempt at digitizing traditional advertising formats, producing abysmal performance per dollar spend in comparison to their traditional counterparts. Furthermore, it's been argued that people don't want to be marketed to while online - that they want to get in and get out and move on while surfing the web. Others claim social-networking is superficial, too time consuming, dilutes your personal brand, and is no replacement for face to face contact

I can't help but think of Guy Kawasaki when discussing this topic because he seems to have been on the forefront of some of the trends brought on by the internet, if not create some trends, but I asked my business formation professor about what he thought of him (since he referenced him in one of his lecture notes) and my professor had one simple question: What successful ventures has he created or financed?

The question floored me to an extent, mostly because of the sheer simplicity of it. He had a way of cutting straight to the chase in his lecture style and he definitely delivered in this razor sharp questioning. He continued (and I'm paraphrasing here):

He [Guy Kawasaki] seems to have written some books on the subject of business formation and have had some success there, but be careful about what you read and really vet your sources because anyone can write anything they want, especially on the internet. Look into what they have actually accomplished and always take everything with a grain of salt.

Fairly basic advice, but for some reason it really resonated for me: So I asked myself "I like Guy Kawasaki, what ventures of his do I know of that have been wildly successful?" Well, I can't really say for sure. I can only assume his "Alignment of Interests" section on his blog indicates some of the ventures he's involved in and that his venture capital firm Garage Tech has a pretty impressive portfolio of companies listed (at least I'm impressed by the fact that one of my favorite finance sites, Motley Fool, is listed).

Like I said before, I came across an article in the WSJ about Penelope Trunk and through her blog found out about Guy Kawasaki, then alltop, then all kinds of super relevant and informative blogs and people like Zen Habits, Unclutterer, Life Hacker, Chris Brogan, Problogger and on and on. I kind of got so enthralled in all this new and intriguing information, I think I kind of lost a little bit of my analytical and usually skeptical approach to new or untested information. Once you start clicking through a lot of these links, you'll notice that a lot of information will end up getting reused and recycled in a flurry of almost circle jerk proportions - not necessarily a bad thing in its own right when the information is relevant, useful, and legitimate. But very dangerous when one blogger makes baseless claims that get substantiated by multiple bloggers who may find that stance convenient to what ever world view they promote. Copyblogger speaks to the "circle-jerk" nature of bloggrolling I'm referring to here as a barrier to success for social-media as a means of revenue generation.

One of my close friends is very much anti social-networking. The irony here is that he's a programmer who spent a significant amount of time in the bay area during the mid to late nineties who worked with a lot of start ups (even to the level of being the CTO for one). His gripe? He wants to spend less time on the internet not more. He shares the sentiments of social-networking being too much of a time commitment for little personal gain. He also argues that every time he logs onto what little sites he's a member of (a fairly infrequent occurrence), one site falls out of light in favor of another. There's really no keeping up with who uses what site and to what end, leaving you with a disconnected network of friends in different circles spread throughout the internet.

Look, I get it... I get that the "true" utility of social-media has yet to be defined, I get that no one wants to be pitched wares by their "friends" every time they log-in and check their messages, I get that legitimacy is in question every time you open google reader to check out what's happening in the your world, I really do. But look, there is a new landscape out there, and I'm not talking about technology, I'm talking about new attitudes to and expectations of the internet.

Web 1.0 didn't look any different from web 2.0 (well, maybe there were less annoyingly flashy websites in web 1.0), no one really knew what to do with it or what to think of it. We were still used to very limited sources of news and opinion at that time, and for that reason, those sources had to be highly scrutinized, editorialized, and legitimized through a systematic source of checks and balances. That process lead to a centralized monopoly of information providers simply out of the necessity to develop and maintain the resources needed to maintain the infrastructure of information. Web 2.0 isn't about new internet technologies, it's about new ways of generating and processing information, it's about new attitudes towards an open channel of information that democratizes our most precious asset - knowledge.

13Nov/092

Entrepreneurship Social-Media and Skeptics Oh My! (Prt. 2)

This is part 2 of a 3 part series that I originally posted in 2008. I'm revisiting this series because I feel like I've come a long way since originally drafting these ideas and so has the web 2.0 landscape. I'm using this to reaccess whether my ideas may have been right or wrong and to further refine my hypotheses about this dynamic market.

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I think I ended cutting the last bit a little short because my brain tends to start running in circles the more I think about something. I'll try to tighten up any loose ends as I continue on to part 2 of this 3 part series.

Social-Media (Web 2.0?)

The first thing that I should say on this topic is that none of what is considered Web 2.0 is really very new. Blogging (writing crap and digitally publishing it) has been around for ages, same with web forums, and a slew of other internet technologies that have been widely accessible and used for nearly a decade. Hell, if we want to step out of the context of the internet, move over youtube, public access tv has been around since at least the 80's. But I'll get into this in more detail in part 3 of this series. Just know that I've considered these concepts as we continue along. Shall we?

There are two main points I want to address (not that I won't tangent off into more, but these are the main 2). First, and in my opinion, anyone who takes the time to create a blog should, at the bear minimum, put some thought into their role as a content creator on the internets, if not speak directly to it on their blog. There's a lot of clutter on the internet and people should put a little consideration as to whether or not their contributions add more clutter, or actually add useful information (a point I really want to drive home, another time). Otherwise one can get stuck at point 2 of the "blog life cycle," where you end up just regurgitating tired revelations over and over again.

Second, as an early "millennial," I grew up with an Apple IIe in my classroom in elementary school (number crunchers and oregon trail FTW), remember getting our first PC at home which was a big deal, remember getting our first CD-ROM drive and installing it ourselves (again, this was a big deal in the early 90's), and I remember using BBS's before the internet. Long story short, I've spent most of my life around computers and depending on them, but I also remember a time when I didn't have that sort of relationship... a simpler time, if you will.

I'm by no means an early adopter (this blog is proof of that), but I tend to stay ahead of trends and I think I have an eye for visionary ideas when I see them. But I remember reluctantly signing up for hot-or-not when my friend hassled me until I did, I always hated that site and its entire concept but it was a primer for sites like friendster which I also reluctantly signed up for back in 2003 when that same friend kept on pestering me to sign up. That was back when I was in L.A. for an internship and didn't really know that many people, that was also when I saw the value in social-media for the first time. If you've ever lived in a city like L.A., you know that you meet people left and right like crazy because everyone is so friendly (or fake for those that don't like L.A., I don't believe it though) and because everyone is so social (ie parties, a lot). You would meet all these people at a party for a fleeting moment and then you'd log into friendster (and later myspace when friendsters servers couldn't take the traffic and all around sucked at that time) find those people through your one or two friends who introduced you and bam! - you had this huge network of people who you found a real connection with and created real relationships with when, in the past, you would have one evening of drunken fun and never even remember their names ever again. I've still got really good friends that I keep up with to this day through that medium.

Fast forward to 2008 and now we all have a profile on over a dozen websites: friendster, myspace, facebook, delicious, flickr, linkedin, digg, twitter, and on and on and on. Privacy and secrecy is basically a thing of the past, we're all connected, and connected in very intimate ways. But what does this all mean, and what does it/can it do for you? Well, it doesn't mean a whole lot... yet.

The way to make money on the internet is not an exact science today; this is still the wild frontier. But as we become more connected, we're going to see more relevant content on the web. For instance, I've been reading a lot of blogs on alltop (an aggregation of blogs across an array of topics that I came across from reading one of the creator's blogs). I was specifically reading a lot of blogs under the topic of design when I kept on finding a bunch of clothing brands and other nick-knacks that I really liked. I think I ended up spending a couple hundred bucks on stuff that month. The point is that the more you know about your market (segment, niche, etc.), the better you can service that market through your offerings whether product or service. Furthermore, the socially connected web is a lot more informal and personal, so you don't feel like a lemming targeted by corporate America to exploit because the product or service being marketed towards you is something that might be passed on by a friend who thought it would be a good fit for you based on a conversation you were just having vs. the "spray and pray" method of putting a bunch of corny ads all over the place a hoping someone actually buys.

Another trend I've been noticing is that people are beginning to shy away from the mega sites like ebay and taking their business to more community based sites like etsy for buying and selling stuff like trinkets and crafts because they are better served by that medium because they are more closely connected (and because people are sick of getting scammed). I think you're going to continue to see smaller web-based communities pop up to fill the gaps where the original mega sites like ebay and amazon left off, but you're going to see this trend across the board whether you're buying products and services or just looking for relevant information.

But as many of you know, not everyone sees things things this way. Stay tuned for part 3 as I cover the skeptics and their criticisms of this web 2.0 craze.

2Mar/093

Education, Experience, or Expertise?

The Case For Education:

As you may or may not know, I’m in the process of getting my MBA. I have an epic love/hate relationship with school and I have only had a brief two years in life (between undergrad & grad school) where school wasn’t an overbearing and all consuming portion of my life. The short and skinny of it though, is that I genuinely appreciate school, education, and academics. This is a far cry from my brother who has struggled with school his entire life. His is the classic case of “too smart for his own good,” where he ended up going through three different high-schools before graduating, and getting generally shitty grades and pissing off as many teachers as possible.

My brother’s take is obviously more extreme than my own, but somehow I think we end up with the same conclusion. Signing up for a “program” and executing it isn’t enough. I thankfully ended up getting interesting classes this semester. The one that is most closely aligned with my interests and the general direction of this blog is brand management. The marketing staff at Carlson is fairly highly regarded (close associations with Target, Best Buy, IBM, et al), but I highly doubt my professors are very active on facebook , myspace, twitter, linkedin, and the like. Web 2.0’s impact on the field of marketing and brand management is dynamic and is in constant flux.  These areas can't be taught in an academic setting, you have to live (or die) by the sword.  You have to get in the shit (so to speak).

So Then, Experience is Most Important, Right?

Well, not exactly.

Jon Gordon recently made a call for a national tweetout, his reasons are perspective, my reasons are more focused on having all of the people who consider themselves to be marketing experts and Web 2.0 gurus shut their damn trap for 2 seconds while I try to have conversations with my friends and family. Yes, I'm being somewhat of a hypocrite since I really enjoy marketing (and particulary branding) right now, but sometimes it's frustrating that every time you write something in 140 characters or less, you may have to be mindful of the potential impact on your personal brand.  Bullocks! [/rant]

But seriously, I do enjoy the fact that I’m participating in a lot of these new venues. It is still unclear how the facebooks & twitters of the world will generate revenue, but it is clear that the world of marketing will coalesce around these Web 2.0 properties in one form or another. So, education clearly isn't enough, and participating in some of these websites (phenomenons?) helps to understand the momentum of a lot of the unfolding Web 2.0 services.  But just because you dance in the mud a little here and there, doesn't mean your contribution is moving us forward as a society, or that you are becoming an expert on the matter.

Jonathan Rosenberg recently posted an email originally addressed to fellow googlers on the google blog that really resonated with me:

"Of course, the greatest user experience is pretty useless if there's nothing good to read, a truism that applies not just to newspapers but to the web in general. Just like a newspaper needs great reporters, the web needs experts. When it comes to information, not all of it is created equal and the web's future depends on attracting the best of it. There are millions of people in the world who are truly experts in their fields — scientists, scholars, artists, engineers, architects — but a great majority of them are too busy being experts in their fields to become experts in ours. They have a lot to say but no time to say it."

I think it's no secret that my blog is completely anemic in the updates department.  Not to whine or anything,  but my life schedule is completely insane.  This semester has been super crazy.  I travel every week for work, consulting clients who have serious levels of anxiety (is there such a thing as an ERP implementation where the client isn't riffe with anxiety?  If so, I wan't that project!).  Meanwhile, I spend Saturdays at school from 8am to 4pm. And somewhere in there, I have to spend time with my partner of 4 years (just celebrated!), do laundry, pack, and leave again.

So How Do You Develop Expertise?

Honestly, I can't tell you from where I'm sitting, but an ungodly number of bloggers will try.  This post was originally going to be about education, then it morphed into experience, then into expertise, then I realized I couldn't really separate them as discreet topics to blog about.  My suspicion is that it takes not only a combination of education and experience, but also a certain amount drive and perseverance.  But more importantly, it isn't anything that can be absorbed through a 1000 word blog post and that you should be quite skeptical of anyone trying to sell you that kool-aid.