What’s the opposite of 9/11?: The Power of Shared Experience

This post is inspired by the film “Seven Days in September,” available via Netflix or on YouTube in 10 minute chunks. It’s a very difficult but worthwhile watch.

On September 11th, I lived on Bond Street, which is a few miles from what later became known as Ground Zero.

Top-right is Home and work, Bottom-left is WTC site
Top-right is Home and work, Bottom-left is WTC site

Needless to say, I was front-and-center for the raw emotion, shock and pain in the immediate aftermath. Plenty has been said on every scale about that part.

What was maybe a little less focused-on was New Yorkers immediate response to each other.

There has always been an underlying sense of camraderie between the people who manage to make it work living here, even through our brusqueness, seeming indifference and occasional shouting matches with cabbies.  I’ve always been proud to call myself a native New Yorker.  What came out in the weeks and months after the event was a bubbling to the surface of the connections that had previously been understood but not acted upon.  People everywhere were actively connecting with each other through this new ‘safe space’ that made it okay.

While that safe space has receded somewhat in the months and years following, I think any New Yorker would agree the city has increased the conscious level of connection between its citizens, which is a positive effect of an otherwise horrendous event.

Watching this movie made me start to think about the safe space that was created, and the value that it brought to the community.  What can each of us do to create a shared experience and a safe space to connect?

One of the best micro-examples of what I’m talking about appears in a segment of the Jimmy Fallon show they call “Shared Experiences,” in which Jimmy, The Roots, the guests and the studio audience all share in something silly (like wearing Slankets, or crazy sunglasses).  It may seem like just a bit, but by including everyone in a single act, intimate connections are made, people are valued and we are all left with more of a sense of unity than we started out with.

One of the true tests of the net effects of so-called Social Media and new tools like Facebook, Twitter, and the internet as a whole will be when we create a measurable effect on the circumstances by which we all identify with each other as part of a community, a city, a country, a planet, a species.  That’s when we will truly be changing the world.

And thats when the terrorists lose.

What do you mean, I actually have to do my job?: Why the media industries need to STFU and GBTW.

This post is inspired by the MediaHacks podcast, where Hugh McGuire relayed the story/opinion that Encyclopaedia companies were up in arms over Wikipedia, by claiming that Wikipedia was going to kill the business for Britannica, etc.  Hugh, rightly so, called them out on this being a load of crap.  What it DOES do, however, is force Britannica to up their game and really put some thought into what their core value is (is it books? is it making people look smart to their friends by having encyclopaedia in their house?  Is it as an heirloom? is it actually the information) and adjust their business model accordingly.

Media companies by and large have become complacent and lazy, believing their own hype, and (most importantly) believing that they are the only ones who can affect the market for what they’re selling and how.

This particular combination of traits, combined with a healthy disinterest and sometimes even contempt for their customer base (“look what we made them buy AGAIN”) has lead to panic and frequent legal action when the paradigm has shifted via external means.  For example (and this will be the only time I pick on the music industry specifically):

Home taping is killing music
Home taping is killing music

Similarly, when the VCR was starting to become widely available, then head of the MPAA Jack Valenti gave this testimony before Congress ((via Mark Reeder and Slashdot))

“‘I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.’ Jack Valenti said this in 1982 in testimony to the House of Representatives on why the VCR should be illegal. He also called the VCR an “avalanche” and a “tidal wave”, and said it would make the film industry “bleed and bleed and hemorrhage”.

..and of course by 1999, the $16 billion home video industry represented 55% of studios’ domestic revenues, while box office revenues were 22% ((via Video Software Dealers Association via allbusiness.com))

What we’ve seen time and time again is that every time there’s a disruption, media companies first response is to scream bloody murder, try to “unring the bell” of whatever new disruption has caught them off guard (whether it’s Napster, the Kindle, Twitter, BitTorrent, Bloggers covering political events), send lawyers after them and basically do everything an autistic child does when confronted with change they don’t like..

I’m here to say here and now:  Shut the %^#& up and Get Back To Work.

Each of the examples mentioned above were opportunities for each industry to take a close look at themselves and see what their core value was, identify and address consumer needs, and use 21st (and late 20th) century tools to work both harder AND smarter.   Each sector could’ve reinvented itself in the mold of JetBlue, who defines itself repeatedly as “a customer-service company that happens to fly airplanes” ((via WSJ Classroom)).  Instead what has happened in the last 10 years is basically “We know best.  Trust us.” and a lot of head-in-the-sand nonsense.

What’s sad is that companies lack of willingness to take ideas from outside themselves, inability to adjust in a meaningful way to the flattening of the information/access/publishing/sharing curve, and continued hubris in the face of ever-declining revenues has failed to register at the upper echelons of these companies in any meaningful way, and instead has lead to arguments like the one posed by The Authors Guild in opposition to Kindle 2’s new text-to-speech renderer, which allows Kindle owners to hear a mechanized voice ‘reading’ Kindle-purchased books.

“Bundling e-books and audio books has been discussed for a long time in the industry. It’s a good idea, but it shouldn’t be accomplished by fiat by an e-book distributor,”. “They don’t have the right to read a book out loud,” said Paul Aiken, executive director of the Authors Guild. “That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.” ((via WSJ and eweek.com))

…as if the market for Patrick Stewart reading Dickens would suddenly shrivel and die because a speech algorithm could also pronounce ‘Bob Cratchit’.  As if the publishing industry has done anything to futher the audiobook side of things (free podcasts of the first chapters of classic works and upcoming titles? no.  Including download cards in hardcover editions? no.).  In fact, the only thing book publishers have done in the audio space is to give control over and license all their content to…guess what, a third-party distributor, audible.com!

This all goes back to my original point about companies being LAZY (note that I do not mean that the people within them do not work hard).  The same tired interruption-based campaigns that used to work due to lack of alternate options are retreaded over and over for the same tired variations on products, with encouragement to “think outside the box” …but not too far outside, not if it conflicts with the business model.  Metrics are hard-won and not truly analyzed.  Scapegoating abounds.

Discovering, encouraging and empowering an audience is hard work.  The tools for doing this are just beginning to realize themselves.  Now is the time for bold experimentation, not for complaining when the old ways of gaining an audience cease to be effective.  Seth Godin priced the eBook for his “Tribes” book at 99 cents, and now it’s the most downloaded eBook in the history of eBooks.  This isn’t rocket science.

It’s unfortunate that so many skilled, forward-thinking people have been laid off due to the inability of industries to change course.

So, I say unto thee:  Shut The F$%^ Up and Get Back To Work .  Hire a person, heck hire a team of people who can implement a system to figure out what the scary people out there (you know, the people that pay your salaries with their disposable income) expect from you, what they want, what would make them happy.  Listen to the results.  Change the course of your industry’s future.  Your whole reason for existing is to make customers happy.  Your whole reason for existing is to make customers happy. And it’s really not that hard!  If you have lots of VPs who sit around in meetings, fire some of them.  Take the money from their salaries and hire smart people who know how to mine the internet world for actionable information.  Start from the very beginning, see what pisses people off about your company, and fix it.  See what people like about what you do, expand upon it. Time is running out.

You say people are stealing your content, that new technologies will ruin your business, that they must be stopped or DRMed or lobbied against or sued or region-locked or put in jail (seriously?).  I say “figure out a way to listen and get relevant again” or, more succinctly… STFU and GBTW.

Streaming Music Services :: iTunes as XHTML + CSS :: HTML

Rhapsody and other streaming services have always had a bit of a hurdle to overcome. The majority of the market owns iPods, and a slew of bad marketing in the beginning leading to the typical response of “Well, I don’t want to rent music, I want to own it!” What they have not effectively communicated is that what you’re paying for isn’t the ability to rent music, it’s access to the cloud of several million songs with no barrier to experience any of them. I could technically listen to 30 full days worth of music for the same $10 that would get me ONE album on iTunes. Trying to sell this idea to iTunes users used to the STORE paradigm ( (e.g. go somewhere, pick your music, pay for it, listen) vs SERVICE paradigm (pay up front to get access) when it comes to consuming music has been quite a challenge, and Apple certainly isn’t going to make it easier (that is, until the inevitable iTunes Music Rental Model).

I started this blog post with the intention of writing about why Rhapsody and Napster have had a hard time breaking through into the iTunes-dominated marketplace, but about halfway through a point dawned on me that maybe even the ppl at those companies haven’t thought about.

Streaming services are the “functionality” side to music blogs “content” side.

iTunes has been successful because their interface is built around editorial picks, and generally stuff that will direct you to a particular album/video/movie/podcast/etc.Streaming services have never been particularly strong in this area, mostly as a function of the lack of a barrier to “just play anything”. Drawing focus to particular items in their available catalog is counter to the whole point of the experience.

However, there are places online that are very strong in drawing focus at particular items within their enormous catalog: Music Blogs. There are thousands of people who are interested enough in music and what’s going on to dedicate significant time and resources toward filtering content for other people.

If Rhapsody were to position itself as “the music blogger’s best friend” or “no post is complete without a RhapLink”, or something about “the flipside of the coin”, I think their overall listenership/usage would go up.

There are two particular tribes that should be pointed toward streaming services:

  1. Music geeks with a wide-ranging knowledge of different genres and know what they want to listen to at any one point but don’t want to lug their collection around with them
  2. People interested in learning about music from external sources (blogs, last.fm, hypemachine, friends, etc) and then reaping the rewards

As a P.S. One of the big frustrations for streaming service users is the inability for Last.Fm to track their listens. Listening to a song over Rhapsody ends up not ‘counting’ as much as from CD or a file. It turns out theres a quick and free DLL plugin called ScrobRhapsody that will connect your Rhapsody client to your Last.Fm software

For an interesting alternate take on this, check out what Bob Leftsetz had to say about Rhapsody needing to pitch itself as a luxury item.

Restrictions are the new freedom: Web 3.0, Twitter and Setting Limits

(yes I know, quite an ambitious title)

What if Facebook only allowed you 75 friends?

Headcorn station in NThe continued rise of Twitter.com has been attributed to many things by many people. Beyond the ambient intimacy, portability, business uses, networking, simplicity, etc, is one thing that may not have been blogged about quite as much: In a bandwidth-is-cheap storage-is-cheap development-is-cheap world, setting limits can create freedom.

Twitter.com limits all conversation atoms (a unit of measure for posts, replies, direct messages) to 140 characters. That’s it. No exceptions. This forces atoms to be succinct, without artifice or flowery stuff or suckuptitude or any of that capital-m-Marketing that more freedom allows.

Turns out that setting limits is a pretty effective way to get people to say what they want to say and then sit back. I’d be very interested to see what effect putting the 10 minute time limit on YouTube videos did for overall creativity, usage, and density of videos created over time. (paging Mediaeater, can Trendrr demonstrate that).

Being social network fatigued as I am (seriously, if one more site asks me to enter my email address, then upload a photo, then shout at my gmail contacts, I’m quitting the internets.), I hope this trend will expand. Another site that is doing something interesting with this paradigm is 12seconds.tv, which is exactly what it sounds like: Create and share videos, each limited to 12 seconds. From their FAQ:

Why only 12 seconds
Because anything longer is boring. The scientists here at the 12seconds dodecaplex have conducted countless hours of research to determine the precise amount of time it takes for boredom or apathy to set in during typical Internet video viewing. Our patent pending Electro-Tear-Duct Prongers have determined that exactly 12 seconds of video is the ideal amount of time to keep anything interesting.

Note to people with pre-existing sites:Imposing limits where users are USING a particular feature set is a BAD IDEA. Don’t do it, and if you do, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

So there you have it, sports fans. If you’re thinking of launching a new site with community function or content creation abilities, maybe you should think about using a limit as a feature.