Did the Washington Post Express Just Trash Muriel Bowser?

Today I’m walking into the Metro and the Washington Express guy hands me the paper. I’ve been picking it up for crossword-related reasons lately. I start reading the front as part of my commute; standing in train with people crowding in.

Imagine my surprise at seeing the complete trashing of Muriel Bowser. I’m not particularly a fan, but I did think she was a legitimate candidate. Why would the Express devote their front page to saying she was not ready to be mayor? I read down the page and finally get to the small text at the bottom: “paid for by Vince Gray 2014.”

Once before I stopped reading the Express because they sold the front cover from time to time. But at least they normally did so in a way that you could tell it was an ad. Today’s issue starts with the Express masthead, a teaser to a sports story, then flows down to the large picture of Muriel along with the text. If you are extremely attentive, there is a small word “advertisment” about the rest of the cover. I doubt many people noticed. So it seems that Vince Gray bought more than a prominent ad, he essentially purchased the front page and the reputation of the Washington Post Express. Which is sad.

Divinely Inspired Start-Ups: Why Amy’s Baking Company Hits Home

Small businesses, start-ups, and entrepreneurial projects are launched on a vision. Depending on your religious preferences, that vision might come from God, or from so deep inside your own soul that it makes little difference.

In case you missed the Amy’s Baking Company debacle that started on Kitchen Nightmare’s and spread across the Internet, here are a couple ways to catch up. Here’s the original episode. This article provides a pretty good overview, as does this one. Wikipedia has a page on it here.

Most articles and commentators seem to take the view that Amy and Samy are completely psychotic, and the reason they are so popular is that we all like watching a trainwreck. Another explanation for the resonance this episode created online was the tip issue, and the outrage over the treatment of the servers.

All of that is true, but I don’t think it explains why this debacle hit home. What’s telling is the heavy involvement of communities like Reddit, places that are overlap significantly with the start-up/entrepreneurial community. I think we are fascinated because many of the lessons are specific to our world.

Amy had a vision, she felt it was from God. Others doubted her vision, but she had one person who celebrated it, supported it, and defended it against the critics. Between them, the created this solipsistic world in which God’s vision for baked goods manifested, while on the outside haters, bloggers, and bad Yelp reviewers circled the impenetrable wall, spraying it with graffiti.

But either God lost control, or the Amy/Samy continuum forgot an important ingredient.

Humility.

I talked to some start-up people who have experienced success about their visions.

Sean Perkins of Mobility Labs explained that he started his business because he wanted to help small business find a roadmap through the tangle of technology possibilities. He envisioned mobile platforms as the most important emerging field, and it was also one that he found fascinating.

Ben Cohen, of TheDailyBanter, was eating a bowl of cornflakes when he thought being the next American media mogul sounded sweet. Why not him, he thought. His vision was to build a network of like-minded sites.

Jason Connell, of Ignited Leadership had a vision that he could really help people by training them to lead.

All three have found their way to success, but each had to pivot along the way. Pivoting is the act of realizing your vision and reality don’t match up, but instead of giving up, you change your vision. It requires a measure of humility.

Sean reports that: “Mobile technology fascinated me, but clients wanted me to do web development. I could keep selling something that people weren’t necessarily buying, or transition to something, I didn’t know as much about, but that was definitely a need. The new field still met my main criteria, I was helping small businesses make sense of technology.”

Ben found that, instead of creating a loose network of like-minded websites, he needed to control the brand and platform himself. But this still led him to the core of his vision, “It’s all about conversation, interactivity, opening up platforms to regular people.”

Jason explained that the reality was 100% different than his vision. He had to fight for every client, and it took him a lot longer than he expected.

Humility allows us to understand that reality is different than our vision, no matter how divinely inspired the vision may be. But entrepreneurs are sometimes afraid of humility because we need spend so much time finding confidence.

We are often told about Steve Jobs.

Steve Jobs, it is said, had the confidence to stick to his vision without reference to what people said they wanted. His great innovations were devices that we didn’t know we wanted, until he showed us. He is an example of confidence in a vision without much feedback.

But Steve Jobs did know how to pivot. In fact, he was famous for it. This Fast Company article covers it pretty well. The essence is that Steve Jobs, after being forced out of Apple, started his own company NeXt, which completely failed. But Jobs figured out how to find something of value in the ruins, and changed his emphasis.

 

Collaborative Space is the Best Space

For over a year now, I have been running my business out of the Affinity Lab, a collaborative workspace on U Street in DC. During this time, I’ve come to believe that collaborative work environments are the future.

For some perspective, I came to Affinity after leaving one of the most toxic work environments I’ve ever experienced. Bad management promoted mediocrity with little opportunity for true excellence or advancement. But much as I despise what that place was becoming, I realized that there are much healthier companies out there that would still drive me crazy.

The truth is that the structure of the large organization, with heavy-handed HR departments and territorial knowledge silos, is a dinosaur. Evolution has moved on, providing us with much better, easily accessed tools for collaboration, information gathering, and self-administration. Some people will prefer the structured environment and predictability of the older, larger organizations, but the other advantages that these huge groups once had: access to related skill-sets, mentoring, information, and just the pure social element that goes with working in an office, are all now found somewhere else.

Update: Where to Find the Good Stuff

Recently I have been kind of inactive here, as well as on some of my other blogs. The issue has been how I define myself personally and professionally. It’s somewhat blurred, because what I do professionally springs from my personal fascination with information, communications, and how that happens online.

In the past, I’ve posted a lot of material on this website about professional topics, such as SEO, web content strategy, and Gov2.0. While I may continue to post general articles on those topics here, the more specific, how-to articles will be over on my business website: boltdigitalstrategies.com. On the other hand, particularly philosophical/political pieces will be found over on thesnarkhunter.com. Everything in the middle will, or should end up here.

Websites that Alarm Us Over Data Gathering Gather Data

I looked at some websites that have recently run stories about the issue to see if they were aware of the problem. For instance Business Insider ran an article titled: “This Is How Facebook Is Tracking Your Internet Activity” and MSNBC reported on “Who’s watching you online? FTC pushes ‘Do Not Track’ plan.”

There is a browser extension tool you can use to see who is getting information from particular websites you visit, called Collusion. You can look in your Chrome or Firefox extension store and find it. Naturally, before you plug it in, you have to give IT permission to access your data:

After installing it, the number of sites asking for information quickly grew from:

To

After only a few stops.

Going back to the two articles mentioned, the BusinessInsider graph looks like:

While the MSNBC article page, as it warns you about people tracking, is sending information to all of these places:

 

Picking Apart The Idiotic Ramblings of the NRA

Wayne LaPierre said that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” He suggests that if guns are used to protect the President, we should use them to protect our children.

Skipping over the obvious–that there is only one President and we spend a huge amount of money protecting him–here is the actual record of what protects our head of state.

When Andrew Jackson was assaulted by a man with two pistols, he beat they guy down with his cane. Teddy Roosevelt was saved from a bullet by his 50 page campaign speech. The attacker was disarmed and captured. The gunmen who shot at Gerald Ford (twice), Ronald Reagan, and Bill Clinton were all subdued physically–not by gunfire. The one case where guns were used to protect a President was when two men attacked Harry Truman. Two police returned fire. One policeman was killed, the other wounded.

Then there are the many threats that did not get to the point of shots being fired at the President that were foiled by investigations and arrests.

I’m not saying we should disarm the Secret Service. I’m just saying their guns are only a small part of what they do to protect the President. They are very highly trained and there are a lot of them.

Changes in Disaster Communications: My Personal Experience

This write-up is part of the latest BDS Notes newsletter. You can subscribe here, and get the full issue, as well as future issues.

October 1989 Earthquake in San Francisco. I was at the UCSB student newspaper. Many UCSB students, including many on our staff, were from the bay area. All night we worked the phones—frequently down and pulled news off the wires. We put together an edition for that morning that covered the event, won awards, and was a primary source of information.

August 1990 Iraq invaded Kuwait, and I had in-laws living in the country. CNN was now the center-point, and we stared at it while calling over and over for that one time when we could actually get a phone line into the country, or at least into Jordan.

September 2001 Living in DC, the first news I got was a call to my cell phone to check up on my. Information was scarce The news stations were stunned–playing  the same images over and over. Many news websites went down under the heavy traffic load.Email lists that normally discussed Internet marketing, emerging technology, and online copyright, were the best source of connection and information.

October 2007 Southern California was overrun with wildfires. I helped people I knew in the affected search for information. User-generated resources, including quickly updated maps proved to be the best sources.

August 2011 The DC earthquake shook the building I was in for over a minute. As it shook, I was on  the phone, sending email, and checking both Twitter and Facebook. Within minutes we knew where it was centered, how big it was, and had some idea of the damage. Then we evacuated the building to find that cell service was out—and we were suddenly in the dark.

November 2012 Hurricane Sandy was all over social media before it hit. Facebook was where I found out how people I knew were faring, both in DC and in the more heavily hit areas during the storm and during the recovery.

How Social Media Has Changed Campaigns: It’s Not Just Tactics

There is no doubt that social media had a huge impact on the recent elections. In 2008, there were about 1.5 million election-related tweets. In 2012, there were 31 million. The population of people using social media has changed since that time as well. In 2008, much of social media was dominated by younger demographics. Now it reflects the population as a whole. More than half this population engaged in some sort of election-related social media behavior. [reported by panelists from Twitter and Pew]

But it’s not enough to look at these changes and talk about social media as just a new platform. Social media is not a change in technology, it is a change in how people communicate. This change has to be reflected in how candidates behave, not just online but everywhere.

The Failed Etch-a-Sketch

When Romney’s campaign advisor Eric Fehrnstrom  told CNN that Romney could hit a reset button between the primary and the general election “kind of like an Etch-a-Sketch,” he wasn’t saying anything all that novel. Appealing to a motivated base during a primary then moving towards the center in a general election is the way things have been done. Reagan famously engaged the religious right during his primaries, recruiting foot-soldiers that worked tirelessly for him even though he moved towards the middle when he hit the national stage.

Romney went far to prove his conservative credentials during the primary, probably something he had to do to win the nomination. But social media remembers.

Social media is sometimes characterized as transient and superficial. But there are many deep places in social media, small often tenuous networks that rise up and relate to each other over a specific event or topic. These groups pass information back and forth, reinforce beliefs, and keep anger alive long after most people would let it go. Everything Romney said, all the contacts he made with the more right wing elements, all the things they did became part of the ongoing cataloging and re-cycling activity of these smaller communities that formed over Facebook and Twitter. When the election moved back into the public eye, these people were able to flood the field with their collective product. Perhaps nobody changed their opinion, but people stayed mad and were far more likely to go out and vote.

These ad hoc groups are often very thinly connected, but they form quickly and are not going away. They will exist on both sides of any debate, and in the future candidates on any side can assume that the magic etch-a-sketch between primary and general is broken. Some part of social media remembers. If there is any systematic advantage, it would probably go to incumbents.

Mud Sticks

Bill Clinton may be the most popular ex-president, but if social media had been around when he first ran for president, there’s no way he would have been elected.  The various scandals hovering over him at the time of the election in 1992 included “Troopergate,” Paula Jones, and the Whitewater affair. Many of these finally made it into the public conscience after the election in 1993. However, as the Trayvon Martin case made clear, social media can make something into a story long before the mainstream media takes interest.

But it 1992 it was possible, as James Carville put it, to contain “bimbo eruptions.”

Romney never had the big scandals, but the stories about bullying a man in college, who later turned out to be gay, and the self-revealed story about strapping the family dog to the roof were constantly passed back and forth across social networks. More to the point, candidates who made off-handedly offensive comments about rape, disability, or insulted veterans paid for those comments. Not only were the comments kept fresh, they were spread nationally in ways that sparked contributions from all over to their opponents.

This new tendency of mud to stick on a candidate more quickly, and for far longer will also persist. Managing negative stories that are spreading via social media cannot be done with the old methods that kept things out of the mainstream press for as long as possible.

The First Meme President

Aside from specific methods and tactics, there is one way that Obama has been successful in the world of social media that seems to consistently work in his favor. Roosevelt was the first president to reach out through the radio, and the television cameras loved Kennedy. Internet memes may be as important as either of those mediums, and memes love Obama. For more on that topic, check out this article from Mercury News.

Dan Jeffers is the owner of Bolt Digital Strategies, and blogs at DanJeffers.com.

 

Is Yahoo! Done?

Way back before Google was fun, Yahoo! was actually fun. It was a directory, and there were directories with Yahoo! of all kind of things. Like Supermodels. Yahoo! made some dumb decisions. Instead of trying to be a core part of the Internet, Yahoo! elected to create a “portal.” People would somehow come “into” Yahoo!, they would become Yahoo! users, and could be sold to Yahoo! advertisers. Even though Yahoo! was, in some ways, more innovative than Google, the bad decisions ran deeper. Yahoo! fell to number two, then number three.

Then Yahoo! become fun to watch. A board of directors that was more like a clown car–bringing in the dynamic Carol Bartz, then firing her–it was a show. But we mostly hoped it would survive.

Not now, though

Yahoo! is, by all accounts, going down the patent-troll path. People have made money doing that, but no company has followed that road (that I’m aware of) and wound up being a successful, legitimate business.

The Tech press isn’t even bothering with fake-neutral reporting

Wired is highlighting a much-quoted story by Andy Baio, a former Yahoo! engineer, who regrets ever helping Yahoo! building a patent portfolio, which the engineers thought was for defensive purposes.

TechCrunch runs down the specific “patents,” pointing out how vague and ridiculous they are.

AVC (A Venture Capitalist) calls the patents “a crock of shit.”

Gizmodo runs several stories, one of which says Yahoo! is out to burn down the Web.

Even the more neutral mainstream press notes that Yahoo! is filing now because Facebook, in getting ready for the IPO, is most vulnerable. Nobody suggests that the patents are valid.

Mark Cuban says he hopes Yahoo will crush Facebook. Which seems slightly pro-Yahoo, until you realize that he’s hoping that the sheer insanity of that outcome would cause consumers to rise up and tear down the patent system. So less positive.

What Yahoo! Has Traded Away is Their Brand

The people who are still aware of, and somewhat sympathetic to Yahoo! are in this tech community. Either as participants, or at least frequent readers. There was a reservoir of good will towards Yahoo!, whatever its flaws. But my read is that this well just ran dry. If Yahoo! is seriously trying to re-position itself, or any of its properties, it will face derision and doubt. Whether it wins this suit or not. SCO suffered for it’s patent trolling behavior, but that was before social media really raised the level of transparency. Yahoo! will be more permanently marked. The only thing it will have left, after this, is more patent trolling.

Don’t Delete Your Google History

Unless you really, really want to.

Coffee Shops That Know Me

There are two kinds of business transactions in a coffee shop. One is the arm’s length: “what would you like sir?” The other is “hey ____, good to see you. Do you want the usual? How’s your dad doing?”

I like both. Some people only like one or the other. Everyone who has come to terms with gmail’s trade-off has, to some extent, accepted the second model.

So Why Get All Upset?

If the hype is any indication, Google has jumped to the dark side with a complete conversion to total evil:

Worst Headline: “‘Google privacy policy: 7 in 8 users are ignorant’”

Says the Times of India. If you haven’t read it, you must be ignorant. So listen to our alarmist headlines instead! Actually, I read it and you’re not missing much. In fact, most people who’ve read are probably about as ignorant as most people who haven’t.

Almost nothing changed. There is some scrubbing, and unifying policies makes things simpler.

But There Is That Cross-Sharing Thing

The sticking point for some people, and a potentially legitimate complaint, is the non-optional cross-sharing of information. Even though you’ve signed a bunch of individual TOSs that let various platforms track what you do, maybe you didn’t want them sharing. Kind of reasonable, given that not everyone realizes that, say, YouTube is part of the Google empire.

If you are the kind of privacy person who is okay with gmail, but finds this to be too much, you probably should protest the change. Personally, I’m just surprised they took this long to get around to it. I would rather have better-tailored results, so I won’t be pausing, deleting, or whatever, my search history.

Also, You Can Totally Opt Out

I have about five gmail accounts. Not all are linked to anything, but I could set up a profile under each one, and use just those services that I want related under a particular profile. In fact, if I had a real need to keep my Flickr away from my Google+, I would probably do that anyway. It’s too easy to cross things up when you don’t have to log out and log in again. But then, I sometimes leave the ice cream in the refrigerator.

Free Stuff Is Good: But Somebody Has to Pay

Google isn’t the only thing you get for free. Many startups count on ads, often using Google’s AdSense or Amazon affiliate programs to provide revenue. From bloggers to tech innovators, these people need some way to pay the rent while the build better mousetraps. Online pay-per-click has made it easy for them to incorporate advertising into their online products and websites.

You know who else is making money from this system? Almost every online alarmist website in the collage above. Here are some ads, which are on the same pages as those alarming articles:

Privacy is a Serious Issue

The last thing we need to do is send huge companies apparently random signals about what we really want. If we scream about a better-unified privacy policy, they’ll stop doing that. If we go nuts over this kind of algorithmic sharing, they won’t take us seriously when we need to stop the next, actual threat. You only have so much complaint capital.