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Creating Power

July 30, 2008 — 10 Comments

Terry McBride thought he could lie. Two Valleywag posts,a investigative piece on Silicon Alley Insider, the front page of digg and twenty or twenty five thousand people later, he’s not exactly getting away with it. And it all stems from the fact that I noticed the discrepancy – that not only were his assumptions wrong but he’d been dishonest about the conclusions – and emailed it to the right people.

Just a few years ago, it was totally possible for an executive to ignorantly pontificate to the press without anyone but the people around him knowing the truth. I don’t think that’s true anymore. In this case, he first inflated the number of video views Avril had, incorporated ones that count for the label not the artist, multiplied it by an implausible CPM, assumed 100% inventory fill, and then claimed to be waiting a check that he knew wasn’t coming. He thought it would go unnoticed. Now, I promise you this incident will get played back to me by a third party.

Which is amazing, frankly. Even though I’m factually right and am basing my opinion off the data I assembled for way bigger acts, who am I? If Terry McBride showed up for a meeting where I worked, I’d do all the research but I wouldn’t have been allowed in. Or if I was, because someone insisted that I be there, he’d ignore everything I said.

Think about it this way: Yesterday, for less than $4, some guy managed to make a total mockery of the business strategy of Colombia Records and they have no idea what to do about it. And he did it from a tiny blog. Try to reverse, how much would they have to spend and waste and stress about to have to respond?

THAT is the sort of power you can leverage if you use new media correctly.

How You Do It:

Forget Ego

I could have written it here and a couple people would have seen it. Instead, I gave the scoop to someone else, stoked the flames and let it go where it could. And with the exception of this post, I’m not getting any of the credit.

Work on the stuff you like (not what you’re supposed to like)

I only know the YouTube partner channels backwards and forwards because I thought they were interesting and taught myself everything I could. I learned most of it by representing a kid (for free) who’s video I really liked. I don’t just randomly go around correcting mistakes and emailing people – I do it for stuff that gets me excited. That’s enough.

Know who to talk to

As you read authors and discover new sites, you should try to get a sense of what appeals to each writer. I knew that Valleywag was the right place to start – that they like to call people out – and that I’d have to reveal too much about myself and my sources for a site like Techcrunch or Matt Ingram. Plus, I like Valleywag and was looking for an excuse to email them anyway. In other words, lay the groundwork.

Understand luck

More than anything, it’s a crap shoot. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had bigger scoops, cooler angles and better sources but seen it go nowhere. You have no idea how your email is going to catch someone or what kind of newsday your up against. That means you have to be doing this all the time, try to be clever and hope to get lucky.

If you think of a new media presence as something like a bank account – assets that include your profiles, contacts, track record, fans, resources – then this is just one way to make a deposit. It’s something you can keep and use again later. I don’t want to say that it’s easy, but think about it, with one email about a post that showed up in my RSS reader, I managed to call out one of the biggest managers in music, in front of everybody. And I didn’t do it with anything that you don’t have access to.

Permission to Learn New Things

July 28, 2008 — 4 Comments

“One day, I met with a researcher in a coffee shop. Language was a problem but he spoke more English than I did Japanese. I had just been to the bookstore and was lugging a stack of books on highly advanced computer-science topics. It was all Greek to me but I figured something might rub off. Suddenly the guy asks me “Who gives you permission to read those books?”

I was stunned. Bowled over. Did his puzzlement reflect some sort of cultural difference? I didn’t think so. It struck me that this fellow was just being more honest and direct than an American might be. He was articulating what many people in today’s world seem to assume: that official authorization is required to learn new things. I thought about this deeply and I’m thinking about it still.

Who gives us permission to explore our world? The question implies that the world in fact belongs to someone else. Who gives us permission to communicate what we’ve experienced, what we believe, what we’ve discovered of that for ourselves? Right then and there, in that chance encounter in some random Tokyo coffee shop, I gave myself blanket permission: to be curious, to learn, to speak, to write.” The Cluetrain Manifesto, Christopher Locke


July 24, 2008 — 13 Comments

Seneca had this thing where once a month he would practice poverty. He’d scale down his diet, sleep on the floor and stay away from business. Like a solider who performs maneuvers in times of peace, he said, you should practice misfortune in times of fortune. The idea being that fear is mostly bred from unfamiliarity and unfamiliarity is easily fixed.

Think about your reaction to getting fired right now, unexpectedly. It’s one of those nervous, churning feelings that pump through your system. Back up 10 minutes and you witness something horrifying and quit on the spot out of principle. How different are those feelings? But it’s the essentially the same result: you not working there anymore.

Let’s not kidd ourselves, there is more to good and bad than just perception. It’s not honest to pretend like you have total control over your emotions. We scientifically do not. You do, however, have the ability to create perspective. Almost nothing takes away your ability to inject that into the situation. So use it.

If you’re someone who is inside their head a lot like me, it’s really easy to forget that everything almost always ends up okay. It’s depressing and an anxious way to live. It sucks. If you can realize – try and picture – that the very worse thing that could possibly happen is _____ and be fine with it, then the pressure disappears.

The Fear is something that you opt-in to. Seneca’s lesson is just one way to opt out.

How Not to Think About New Media

July 23, 2008 — 4 Comments

Here are two examples of exactly how NOT to think about new media:

Violet Blue files restraining order on Wikipedia Vandal Goes out Business (with a staff of 15 people)

If you take Tyler Cowen’s parking ticket parable totally of context, it makes sense here. He said that government diplomats (when they had blanket immunity) from countries with illegitimate governments received exponentially more parking violations than their colleagues from democracies and republics. The thinking is that if you got your position from somebody who killed their predecessor, you don’t really have all that much respect for “the rules.”

All this is pretty typical for how people think (and fail) online: They don’t legitimize “context creators” enough to bother learning how they work. Stuck in a distribution paradigm, they assume the burden of discovery is on the customer. Lastly, they can’t keep overhead low enough to compete with people who do it for fun. Why? Because their whole careers have been about exploiting distribution monopolies and exclusive access to the press.

That’s exactly how NOT to think about new media. Regardless of how you go where you are (or how you plan on getting there), the people that made “the rules” now have an enormous amount of influence. And you don’t have any leverage over them. Wikipedia is the number 1 place for finding information about bands, above Myspace and their own homepages. You better fucking learn the rules.

BlueCollar didn’t do it. “What could be so hard about making a website?” So they hired 15 people, filled it with the stuff not good enough for TV and figured people would like it. To their credit, that’s a working strategy in the rest of the entertainment industry. When distribution is a limited, 90% of success to getting distributed. But it’s like they didn’t even both to realize that NO OTHER site has that kind of payroll. It’s actually even more embarrassing for Violent Blue. She doesn’t have a generation of tradition to hide behind.

It’s way easier to figure out the rules and their loopholes than to get mad and act like your above them. That’s what Seth was saying, the web doesn’t care.

The wrong way to think about new media is “how can I get it to do what I want?” The right way, just like Alinsky was saying, is to think “How can I work within the system to accomplish what I want to accomplish?”

That gives you one crucial task: Figure out how the system works.

What I’m Reading

July 21, 2008 — 7 Comments

The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash: My Life, My Beats by Grandmaster Flash (not everybody famous deserves a memoir)

Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture by Joseph Heath (nice counter to Klein. adbusters having a shoe is the most hypocritical thing I have ever heard)

Winning at Retail: Developing a Sustained Model for Retail Success by Willard N. Ander (basically a book about being “the best in the world“)

The Classical World: An Epic History from Homer to Hadrian by Robin Lane Fox (really long but really good. solidifies a lot of what I read in primary texts but didn’t understand)

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days by Jessica Livingston (the Steve Wozniak one and the one from the guy that started Gmail are the best)

A Short of History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (still above my level but I like it)

When Humans Extend Rights to Nonhumans (NYT) is really creepy and almost a word for word recreation of a scenario I remember Richard Dawkins writing about in one of his books.

This is me and I also agree with all the tips here.