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.

You’d Think…

July 17, 2008 — 34 Comments

You’d think that if by the time you were 21, you’d worked for four New York Times’ bestselling authors, helped sign one of the biggest bands in the world with the digital strategy you laid out, a major player in Hollywood had asked you to leave school to work for him, made enough money to totally support yourself, talked daily with the CEO of a publicly traded company and if sometimes if you decided to really push your luck, you could call up the greatest strategist since Machiavelli for advice, that maybe your parents would have done more than just “come to terms” with the person that you are.

You think maybe you wouldn’t be so angry. That you wouldn’t have to be so quick to turn on people before they turned on you. You’d think that veering slightly from the routine (10-2am daily, 20 miles a week minimum, 2.5 books) might be a source of anything other than anxiety. You’d hope to hell that the high of fitting in double days would last more than a few weeks.

Me: I think I know why I’m so depressed today.

Gf: Why?

Me: Nobody validated me.

Gf: That’s not very good reason to be depressed is it?

I doubt you’d ever say that. And mean it. And know exactly when you’re due for a crash…the day after something good happens. You wouldn’t ever think you find yourself at the top of the stairs to your girlfriend’s apartment and wonder why you did any of it at all.

But here you are.

It will never be enough. May I never be complete. You never fill that hole. Not this way. So if more is not the answer, where does that leave you?

“You’ve wandered all over and finally realized that you never found what you were after: how to live. Not in syllogisms, not in money, or fame, or self-indulgence. Nowhere.

Then where is it to be found?

Through first principles. Those to do with good and evil. That nothing is good except what leads to fairness, and self-control and courage and free will. And nothing bad except what does the opposite.

Meditations, Marcus Aurelius

Community Organizing

July 16, 2008 — 6 Comments

I heard plans from a management company to start a joint venture with a publicity firm that will “run” the online presences of their clients. They were going to be “community managers”. It’s going to fail, horribly. Why? Because community organizing doesn’t scale. It can’t be faked.

But say for a minute that you were a manager that this whole internet thing just happened to, what would you do?

You’d probably set up a Myspace profile, a Facebook fan page and grab some domain like You’d make them all exactly the same, pay a designer way more than necessary and fill it with crappy flash animation. Then these people would come pitch their company to you and you’d said yes because you have no sense of brand or integrity. Hey, you’ve been hearing the word “widget” a lot so you’d score on of those too. Lastly, you’d totally ignore all Social side of social networking by keeping the artist away from their own tools and leave 100% of all comments, emails and remixes totally unanswered. It would all be worth about nothing.

So, fortunately, you’re not one of those people and you should pretty much do the opposite of that. Don’t set up a blog and pretend that you have 5,000 readers who hang on your every word. Don’t make a twitter account that you use solely to spam people with. Work in the communities that you care about. If the email you receive is a function of how much you send, then you should probably start sending some unsolicited emails. You should skip Linkedin entirely because nobody gives a shit.

When Alinsky wrote about social change, he said it required a community organizer who knew the terrain better than a good general. He didn’t say to hire a corporate shill to come in and do it for you. He said it needed someone passionately knew the intricacies of the cause, someone to knew enough about weakness and strength to use jujitsu against more powerful organizations.

The reason community organizing is hard to scale is that a publicist is never as passionate about you as you are. Their incentives are all aligned to the low-hanging fruit. That leaves the task up to you. I’m the perfect organizer for my cause (me). Unless you’re a trainwreck, it’s the same for you. In the end, creating a new media presence is about doing the stuff that you like, not what you’re supposed to like.

Giving Up The Ghost

July 14, 2008 — 5 Comments

One of the strategies Tucker laid out for the movie campaign was to take all the money you’d normally spend on billboards and TV commercials and spend it on blogs or private websites. It’s brilliant really. Umair just wrote a paper on it – he’s giving the money to the people who create context.

Before that happens, I’m using the same concept for a different company. As I was dictating an order to the product placement guy, I was stressing to him how important it was that he send it out exactly as I’d specified – just what the person ordered. The sizes. Arrival date.

Then it hit me, that’s really fucking boring. So I scratched it. I said get most of the order right and have fun with the rest. He’s sending people stuff they couldn’t possibly wear or books they’ll never read. Total freedom to do whatever he wanted. Maybe though, if it goes like I plan, they’ll give the extra to somebody else or tell their friends about it. At least now its something interesting.

Doing the same with advertising. My first instinct was to use the ads that perform best. If you’re going to be buying advertising, you’d use the ones that convert right? But I was thinking about the wrong customer. So we’re using the controversial stuff. The ones that make an impression on the people we’re trying to impress. Everybody else is irrelevant. Ads ones that will get angry emails or double takes or laughs. I’m linking some to Wikipedia pages. Some to negative articles. Things that they don’t even sell any more. I was thinking about buying a bunch of inventory and filling it with white space.

Sometimes I don’t get things Tucker says. Occasionally, it actively impedes what he’s working to accomplish. But I’m starting to understand that hey, maybe that’s why people can’t stop talking about him. That’s what I was trying to say about emails. Don’t bother people with your Furthermores and Sincerelys and At Your Earliest Conveniences. It’s not real. It doesn’t mean anything. Who.cares.

The advertising campaign is working. I built a Rolodex from nothing inside of a month. Other sites are starting to write about the ads they’ve noticed on their competitors. People are coming back to me asking for leaks or more stuff. I’m not joking, it was ‘account error’ cheap and only just starting to build on itself.

Whatever though, right? It’s a tactic that will eventually see diminishing returns. That’s not the point. I think it’s really easy, especially with the perception that school and business writers give, to think in these nice but boring boxes. It’s why eccentric people confound the establishment. Their flaws were supposed to keep them from succeeding. No – that’s why they’re interesting.

You can give up the ghost of perfection, of creating a plan that works for everybody and then following it exactly. You can. (I’m trying.) Think about your heart rate increasing but everything slowing down. What kind of freedom would that give you? Might be more fun too.