Putting It On Goal

A good friend of mine and co-founder of  CaptainU sent a video along this morning that reminded me of a concept I learned from playing certain sports – most notably soccer and (during a few years in Tulsa) roller hockey.

In those sports, where both sides are shooting at a goal and much of your success is governed by the positioning of players and the angles of the field/rink, you’ll often hear team members encouraging each other to put the ball or the puck “on goal.” Putting it on goal is basically taking a shot at the goal where, if it was unblocked, it would go in, even if there are visible obstructions (like the goalie).

The reason you want to put it on goal a lot is that you really don’t know what will happen. The puck might ricochet, the ball might take a weird bounce, and the goalie might just miss it. The goalie might go to the ground to block your shot and a teammate might get an open look on the rebound. The more attempts you make, the more chances you have that something will break in your favor. But if you dribble the ball or control the puck around the perimeter and never take a shot (because you’re waiting for the perfect look), you have no chance.

As the video shows below, even the most ridiculous attempts lead to success sometimes. But you’ll only know one way or another if you try. And try again. And try again.


Content: You Get What You Pay For

hulu-logoToday the news came out that Hulu, the excellent service where people can watch high quality network TV for free over the Internet (and was advertised during the most recent Superbowl), plans to start charging subscription fees in 2010.

As I write this, the often-expletive-ridden outrage of Hulu loyalists is being expressed all over Twitter, many people talking about how the service will suffer its demise by 2011, or that one of the best sites on the Internet is now ruined. I can’t remember whether it was my Mom, who always says “you get what you pay for,” or whether it’s all of the economics classes I’ve taken, but somewhere along the line I started to understand that nothing good is created for free. Therefore someone has to pay for it.

I understand that a Hulugoer might be outraged that they haven’t been charged, and now they are going to be. That’s a marketing issue. It would be like a credit card offering 0% interest and then just jacking rates up after 6 months to 30% without warning you when you sign up (which they do, of course, albeit in the fine print). But the fact that you would get all this good stuff served over a single high-performance streaming website for free indefinitely?

It’s hard because we haven’t had to pay before. TV was ad-supported, but now the vast majority of households skip ads via DVR and advertisers are finding many alternative marketing channels (like online word-of-mouth) to promote themselves. Ad revenue continues to drift downward as a result, and networks need to find a new model.

Beyond that, the era of socially acceptable piracy is in many ways still upon us. Many of us just expect the music, movies, or TV to be free because it is on Bit Torrent or in pockets of places online where it is being offered in a sponsored fashion (e.g. a free song to get you to try a new band). Torrenting content is illegal, and you are stealing from its creator. I used to Napster with the best of them in late 90’s (even while I worked at a software company that had to litigate for illegal use once or twice) and I have come to terms with this. I hope that eventually everyone else will too. Also, promotional content for free really is a privilege, not a right.

Finally, and probably the deepest problem in the enraged Hulugoer’s psyche is that many of them haven’t experienced trying to make a go of it as a professional musician, writer, or moviemaker. I think many people envision the creative process as a stroke of inspiration that strikes our best creatives during the 4-5 hours they work every day in between the times they are wooing the opposite sex or trying recreational drugs. The reality is that creating excellent content consistently, like any other profession, is an insane amount of work. The top creators of content, like top athletes or top investors, often have given up all other aspects of life to dedicate themselves to it.

One thing I like about blogging (in general) is that it gives people a taste of that. Merely producing enough content to keep people’s interest from week to week when blogging is an effort. Layer on top of that that the content has to be consistently GOOD, and you’ve got even more effort involved. Add to that that any blog with significant audience takes at least a couple years to get traction, and you’ve got a serious level of dedication required to get to the end result. Ninety-nine percent of new accounts on WordPress will never get there, this one included!

So good for you Hulu, I hope you succeed in getting a decent subscriber base. I think you will, but it will likely only be by offering shows that are not on “ad-supported” network TV. While the charade that your old model is still working continues, you will find it difficult to really fire up another one with the same content. But if it means less Reality TV and higher production value on the paid service, it’d be great to have an option for my buck to add to HBO.

The secret to musical mastery: women

This post is to celebrate the lead-up to South by Southwest, one of the best music events on the planet.

billyandchristieWomen are responsible for the vast majority of music ever created. Either they were creating it themselves, or they were inspiring young men to do the same.

Most women are shocked by this revelation. “You mean all men learn to play guitar in order to increase their chance of scoring?”


“But they say it’s because it speaks to their soul.”

They’re lying.

There are two reasons why wooing the ladies is the main reason men gravitate toward musicianship. First, it works. I could go into why I think it works but it really doesn’t matter. The supporting data are overwhelming. Second, learning to play an instrument is difficult. After a few weeks, it seems like you’ll never get to any level of proficiency. Without the promise of a woman’s attention dangling out there, most men give up. Of course, the promise of a woman’s attention motivates a great deal of what we men do (working out, making money, etc.).

I’ve been a musician my whole life, and I do love music for reasons that have nothing to do with getting lucky. But those reasons came later, way after I started learning how to play. Even in 5th grade, where I changed from piano to saxophone, I did it to play an instrument that was “cooler.” This is really just a fifth-grader’s way of identifying a more girl-friendly strategy before he’s even figured out that he likes girls.

The problem is that most men fail to acknowledge the real reason why they should learn to play an instrument, even to themselves. As a result, they don’t optimize their approach to get the results they are after. This can lead to things like playing the oboe. No one ever got a date by playing the oboe. Sorry.

Men, it’s at this point that you need to look at yourselves in the mirror and be honest. Music is a wonderful, beautiful, artistic thing, but if you really want to become a good musician you need to focus on the possibility of one thing: groupies.

As in the earlier oboe-playing example, the point where most guys go astray is the point of instrument choice. If you choose a bad instrument, the ladies will ignore your efforts and you will quickly stop playing. You might even wonder why those harp lessons never stuck. But really, you were done before you started.

So to help you, I have included below a list of what I consider are the ten best instruments to woo the ladies – gathered from years of observing their effectiveness. You can play any of them, based on your personal taste and the type of women that interest you, but I wouldn’t stray too far from this list.

1. Guitar – A good guitar player is like superman, from the arena stage to the campfire. There is a reason why “Guitar Hero” is one of the most popular video games of all time.

2. Vocals – A man that can sing well can speak in ways the rest of us can’t. He also carries his instrument with him wherever he goes. The only reason he isn’t number 1 is because he doesn’t have the mystique of the guitar player (If you need to understand this dynamic better, see Cameron Crowe’s seminal movie Almost Famous).

3. Drums – The drummer is the working man of the rock band, the captain of the rhythm section. As such, even though he is further from the women in the front row than other musicians, the fact that he lays down the beats means his connection with them is more primal. Women will sometimes walk right past the lead guitarist and front man to talk to the drummer right after a show. Laying down the beat lays down the groundwork.

4. Bass Guitar / Stand-up Bass – In certain instances the man on bass can hop over the drummer, but in most cases bass guitar offers the least opportunity for expressiveness in terms of your traditional rock band instruments. But it’s still a powerful combination of rhythm and proximity to the audience. A Stand-Up Bass can earn you a little extra mojo if you work in a few full spins.

5. Piano / Keyboards – Piano is, in my opinion, the most legitimately romantic instrument behind vocals. This is why the hair bands of the 80’s, who were the least coy about their motivations for picking up instruments, would occasionally roll out a piano ballad to further their efforts (See “Something to Believe In”, Poison, 1990).

6. Saxophone – When I throw sax out there, most people think Kenny G. Stop it. This is not the sax I’m talking about. Sax is #6 for one reason, and that’s jazz. The jazz saxophone is the closest instrument to the human voice, and can nearly match its expressiveness. The weakness for the sax, as with other wind instruments, is that you cannot roll a combo with instrument+vocals. (For good sax, see Michael Brecker)

Before I go on, that’s an important note about instruments 1-5 above. Instruments like bass guitar or piano can shoot to the top of the list when paired with vocals. This is the only way a guy who looks like Billy Joel could marry Christie Brinkley (and he’s now married to 28-year-old Katie Lee – no judging, how you wield the power is your choice).

7. Trumpet – Ok, trumpet is a little bit of a stretch at #7 but I put it in not only because it’s another great jazz solo instrument, but also because it’s arguably the manliest instrument in the symphony orchestra (I know I’m reaching, but in the same room with men playing bassoon and viola, this guy is a rock star).

8. Violin / Fiddle – Violin is another cross-over instrument, because although it’s the prima donna of the symphony, it’s a great solo instrument for country/western/bluegrass/celtic. Unfortunately, fiddle-style violin just isn’t that sexy in most cases. But you can’t say Charlie Daniels didn’t considerably increase his luck every time he rolled out “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” (1979)

9. Trombone – Trombone brings it in at #9, as it too can be a powerful jazz or orchestral instrument. Though it’s a little pokier than its brass cousin the trumpet, it makes up for it a bit with deeper, manlier timbre.

10. Bagpipes – I personally think women get freaky when they hear the bagpipes. But I might be alone in this opinion. I mean, they play the bagpipes before Irish battles and at the funerals of policemen and firemen, for pete’s sake. This is a much better choice if you are looking for something non-traditional than say, the dreaded accordion.

So men, I hope my list will help you budding musicians out there in the early choices that can mean the difference between virtuosity and obscurity. And if you try them all and find that you have no musical talent whatsoever, remember that you can always grow a mustache.

Why Twitter Matters

Twitter LogoWhen I heard of and experienced Twitter at South by Southwest Interactive 2007, I groaned. Wow, another way for people to waste time online, I thought.

Twitter, for the uninitiated, is an online messaging service that allows you to broadcast short, 140 character updates (termed “tweets”) to a waiting audience of other users who are also posting updates. The updates are meant to be “what you are doing” at that moment, but really contain all types of short-form content that are as diverse as the users who write them. On Twitter, though, you select the people whose updates you follow, building an aggregated “twitterstream” of the people who matter to you. Similarly people may or may not follow your updates.

I finally started using Twitter a couple of months ago when I saw that it was not, in fact, merely a diversion for internet geeks (in my defense, there are many out there). It has staying power. What I noticed, once I started to use it, is that hidden in Twitter’s simplicity lies a game-changing adjustment in social communications that could end up reinventing the way we do a lot of things in our personal lives and in business. That’s quite a bold statement, so bear with me.

Back in my days as a software developer I worked for a company who did and still does publish a suite of sophisticated tools for managing the business flow of a commodities trading business. Along this business flow we had organized the software into many parts that matched the real-world process. The contracts subsystem would allow users to enter buy/sell agreements, the distribution subsystem then allowed them to match those agreements to the required physical distribution, and so forth into invoicing and accounting.

One of the big issues we contended with early on was the communication between the subsystems. The activities of one always affected another, so when something changed in one domain the others had to be alerted in real time. This was a painful process to code. Which other subsystems needed to be alerted of what, and when? It was even more painful to maintain as the system grew and evolved new capabilities.

In response to this issue, our team rewrote the messaging architecture to what in programming circles is referred to as a publish:subscribe model. This model created a virtual broadcast system where every subsystem would publish its activities (um, “what it was doing”) to the entire system and the other subsystems could choose what messages to pay attention to and which ones to ignore.

This approach was far superior, for many reasons. Here are my top three:

Transparency is rewarded.

First, the higher number of status messages developers published to the broadcast system, the more they were rewarded by not having to worry about what other systems might need. This allowed for a high degree of transparency within the system about what every part was up to at any period of time. This became very helpful for troubleshooting and performance tuning (oversight) of the entire software package.

Autonomy = efficiency

Not having to worry about communicating to other specific subsystems allowed developers to have more autonomy and focus on the more important work of making their specific piece of the system work better and faster. It saved time, and money.

Spontaneous innovation happens.

Availability of more activity information than you think you need leads to creative thinking about how you might actually be able to use the extra stuff. Early into the publish:subscribe model we found developers using information in unexpected ways to make their particular domain more powerful and useful.

So you might be able to see where I’m going with this. Twitter is the publish:subscribe model applied to personal instant messaging. As a result, it is superior to the other existing tools (basically any other IM client), which are based on the de facto one-to-one messaging model – for the reasons I mentioned above. In the Twitter world each person is like a miniature subsystem, broadcasting information it thinks the world might be interested in. And others listen, selectively.

The important thing in understanding Twitter’s importance is to focus on certain contexts for Twitter, not on the platform itself. Without context the tool does seem frivolous. Unless you are a researcher you wouldn’t care about listening to the global twitterstream. It would be an overwhelming torrent of which you might find a miniscule percentage relevant to you.

It’s also important to note that the default approach – to subscribe to your friends – is actually one of the less useful applications of Twitter. I love my friends, but many of them just aren’t doing things minute-to-minute that are of any relevance to me. Personal details for the purpose of friendship don’t usually require instantaneous communication (unless you like to stalk your friends), which is why social networking websites and one-to-one IM work just fine for those purposes – not to mention old-fashioned and still far superior technologies like using a phone or (gasp) actually spending time together. Plus, real friendship is forged and bolstered by the slow-moving plate tectonics of our lives, over the long term – not by the daily humdrum of changing moods and insignificant occurrences.

The best application I see is actually at the workplace, or really any club or organization that has to get things done. In the same way that my old company’s system had parts, so organizations have departments, and departments have people. People at work benefit greatly from timely transparency with each other. The more autonomy every department/person can have, the more resources it/he/she can focus on the appointed task. And the creativity that leads to broader capabilities and innovation is fueled by an understanding of what others are thinking and doing.

So Twitter-like technologies might allow workplaces to function more efficiently and creatively, but why am I making the wild claim that it will reinvent the way we do things? Well, if you had an internal Twitter and a profile page to post longer documents, photos, and files at the office, would you even need email? How often does a lack of transparency, either intended or unintended, hinder your group accomplishment? Think about it.

Would you need a boss? Would your boss really need a boss? Would you ever need to have a meeting? Or would, through Twitter, the organization be able to function more democratically, instantaneously solving problems? Given a couple of “elected” leaders and judges, could organizations become almost completely flat and dispense with the immense overhead of traditional command-and-control management? Consider it.

What if you injected the twittering of your customers into the mental collective? Could your whole organization provide customer service? Could getting your product or service to market become extremely agile, taking input from your body of customers in near real-time?

How we do business in the future (Enterprise 2.0?) could be radically changed, in a way that makes us all more productive, and more satisfied, all because of a little website cutely named Twitter.

UPDATE: Strangely, Max Kalehoff published a good post with exactly the same title as mine, on the same day. Not implying any shenanigans, our posts are very different. Just saying it must mean that a lot of people are figuring out that Twitter “matters.”

The moment of discovery

Walk the LineOne of main reasons I like to watch biopic movies about bands or musicians is because I like to see two scenes that are always part of those movies – the scenes that have to do with discovery.

The first scene is the part of the story where someone first listens to the music and realizes “damn, this is good.” It’s that scene in Walk the Line where the producer first hears Johnny Cash play, or when Ray Charles finally gets to take centerstage in the movie Ray. It usually takes place in a smoky club or a tiny, ramshackle recording studio. It’s that first intimate moment of virtuosity and greatness. The best biopics usually place that as the first time the viewer gets to see a full performance as well, so as you watch you share in the wonder of the first person who discovers a future legend. It’s the best expression of the importance of music to the listener.

The second scene is the part of the story where the public-at-large first listens and realizes “damn, this is good.” One of my favorite movie scenes in this category is in the cheesy-but-lovable That Thing You Do, where the band (The Oneders) first gets played on local radio (in the 1950’s, mind you). All of the band members are going about their normal non-rock-star lives in town, cleaning shop floors or running errands, and suddenly their song crackles to life on the radio. They all drop what they’re doing, drive and run to the drummer’s parents’ appliance store where they turn every radio in the place on and dance wildly in collective victory. It’s not an intimate type of discovery, but it does mean they have found an audience and now have that ability to finally afford to do what they love for a living. It’s the best expression of the importance of music to the musician.

The interesting thing about discovery is how it has changed. Now that first intimate moment might happen in a lonely, out-of-the-way website or MySpace page. The second moment, when an act hits it big, might happen on YouTube when a homemade music video “goes viral” or when a big brand like Apple picks up your song for a commercial spot. Where the first and second moment might have been a couple of years and hundreds of thousands in marketing dollars apart a decade ago, now they might be a week to a couple of months apart as friends share with friends and everyone from ad execs to label execs comb social sharing sites looking for the next big thing.

Also, the idea of where that discovery might lead has changed. Of course you will still have your big success stories – the U2’s, Coldplays, Kanyes, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. But the internet has given birth to a musician middle class, where artists distribute cheaply, find fanbases all over the world efficiently, play more, smaller gigs and publicize them to local fans easily. A musician can make a good living as a mid-sized band without ever needing to really hit it big 1950’s style. And there is more variety and inspiration for all of us.

Some people say that the internet is killing the music industry. Yes, the economics that depend on mass physical distribution and mass marketing are going the way of the dinosaur. But the economics that depend on those magical moments of discovery, and the best expression of what is important to listener and important to musician, are thriving in ways they never did before.

Wicksite: Other writings from across the web

Once upon a timeI realized recently that I had just passed the one-year anniversary of my first blog post, a day that will go down in history I tell you! That first post was for my previous company closerlook, on their Work + Play blog. I enjoyed it enough that a few months later, I started this one.

Most of the time I’m writing for other blogs along with wicksite, most of them associated with my current or past employers. Alas, the hazards of working for someone else for a living. Here is where else you can find me, and a comprehensive list of posts from other sources up until now. This is a big dump of links, going forward I’ll try to cross-post or link out as I write them.

The Engaged Consumer (Powered’s corporate blog) – We just recently started this blog, and so far, so good.

Five lessons from social marketing disasters (March 12, 2008)

Social networking vs. social commerce (February 22, 2008)

Outspend or outteach? (February 15, 2008)

The new focus groups: social networks (February 1, 2008)

The two voices of social commerce (December 14, 2007)

Work + Play (closerlook’s corporate blog) – We started the blog in March of 2007, and I left in September to move to Austin. It’s a great blog at a great company!

It’s no fun to be alone! (August 7, 2007)

Gmail goes viral with “behind-the-scenes” video (August 3, 2007)

Firing a customer? Are you crazy? (July 12, 2007)

Keeping the questions golden (July 3, 2007)

Paying something for nothing (June 22, 2007)

Viral campaign freaking my mind (May 30, 2007)

Seth Godin and The Dip (May 22, 2007)

The strategy disconnect (April 28, 2007)

Now I finally know what Kurt Cobain was singing (April 26, 2007)

Saying “I do” to your customers (April 11, 2007)

Gimme some IMAX (April 7, 2007)

The trap of “what clients want” (April 6, 2007)

A song heard round the world (April 2, 2007)

Starbucks speaks its own language (March 30, 2007)

SxSW 2008: A Second Skin and one bad Otis

Not a whole lot happens on the Friday night leading into South by Southwest, the town just warms up a bit with a few events as visitors trickle into town, check into their hotels, and pick up their badges. The one part of the festival that really hits the ground running is the Film section, which had a full lineup of screenings last night, many of which were world premieres.

I was excited to jump on the some of those. Though I’m a huge movie watcher I’ve attended very few first-time screenings. In particular, I had spotted a documentary that was premiering called Second Skin. It has been getting some buzz and sounded interesting. The movie focuses on a number of gamers who spend a huge amount of their time playing massively multiplayer online role playing games like World of Warcraft and Everquest, and the effect that their hobby/addiction has on their personal lives.

SxSW 2008 Second Skin Premiere

Second Skin was very good. It followed three fascinating storylines, all of which showed the powerful influence that these virtual identities can have – both positively and negatively – on the gamers the filmmakers followed for over a year. Some interesting food for thought, particular the diverse reasons why people retreat to online worlds and prefer to be there.

Otis Movie CoverAfter such a good first foray into the film festival, I decided to stay out even later and go for the double feature. Otis, which is directed by the same guy who did Mulholland Drive and features such recognizable actors as Kevin Pollak, was premiering at midnight at the Alamo Ritz downtown.

What I got for my late night was, and there is just no other way to put it . . . an exceptionally bad movie. I had flashbacks to when I went and saw the Bruce Willis bomb Hudson Hawk in the theaters back in the mid-90s. It was seat-squirming, eye-rubbing-in-disbelief,

thought-seriously-about-leaving-early-in-full-view-of-the-film’s-cast-and-crew terrible. It didn’t work on any level. It was supposed to be a black comedy, and ambitiously tried to take on kidnapping, serial killing, and rape as fodder for comedy. Poor writing, poor directing, poor acting, and a terrible B-movie-sounding soundtrack worked together to make me wish I was sleeping soundly at home. The only reason Hudson Hawk remains at the top of my list of worst movies I’ve ever seen in a theater is because of its musical numbers.

So SxSW is a mixed bag so far . . . but today the Interactive portion starts. Should be some good things coming . . .

Back to blogging . . . from South by Southwest

Meet me at SxSWHello everyone, after a couple months off I am back to the blog with a vengeance. Why? Because this coming week is South by Southwest!

It’s my first year to actually live in Austin for the massive conference that is really three conferences in one, each with a different creative focus: Interactive, Film, and Music. Altogether it stretches out from March 8th through the 16th, and it is jam-packed with way too much to get done.

But I am going to do my best – in order to get the full experience (I only did Interactive last year), I ponied up for all three pieces of the event this year. So I plan to share those experiences here as much as I can. Talk to you again soon.

Bookcrossing and shopdropping: real world social media

BookshelfOver the holidays I picked up on an NY Times article that talks about the practice of “shopdropping,” which seems to always spike during the holidays. Shopdropping is when people bring something into a retail establishment and add it to the inventory, intending to pass it off as a legitimate product. Motives range from the self-promotional (a musician or author adding their stuff to a shelf in a record or book store) to the political (activists leaving toys or shirts promoting their philosophy).

Today I found an item on bookcrossing, which is another “stuff left behind” practice where people leave a book they have read in a random location and then promote the location of the recently “released” book on various bookcrossing websites (the most popular of which is bookcrossing.com). When people see a released book near them they race out to “catch” it. It’s lending library meets scavenger hunt.

What struck me about both of these trends is the cultural change that underpins them – a change that seems at the very least reflected in the way the web is developing. On the web people used to be just be surfing the wave, now they are the wave – making real contributions to what the internet is through social media. And whether the web caused it or is just part of it, I think people are looking around at their lives in the physical world and starting to think about a store shelf, a retail space, or a book in a different way. The question is no longer what can I find here for me? It’s what can I add to this?

I think there are business opportunities here. Retail businesses that increasingly focus themselves on a consumer’s desire to not just be a consumer, but also to be a contributor, could find themselves with many more, and more loyal, customers.