Things I Don't Understand

Just a few things I don’t understand:

  • Why are 90% of beauty salons named with a pun? (“Shear Energy.” “The Mane Event.”)
  • Why do real estate and insurance agents have their photos on their business cards, when it actually makes them seem less trustworthy?
  • Why do bureaucrats (and people who aspire to bureaucratism) say “at this time?” What is that supposed to mean?

What don’t you understand?

Chronicle: Follow These People. Me: Too Long.

Andrea Jarrell pointed out an interesting article recently in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It’s a list of ten people to follow on Twitter, but it also includes some interesting discussion of what Twitter is and how you might use it. It’s geared toward academics — people who often live and interact in pages rather than sentences.

The piece includes this sentence:

With Twitter, no update can be longer than 140 characters, which, to give you a sense of that limit, is the precise length of this sentence.

It’s meant to be an example of how tough it might be to live in a 140-character box. My immediate response: that sentence is too long.

Later in the article, the list of people to follow comes along, and each one gets a name, a link, a sample Twitter update, and then between one and three paragraphs of description.

Again, I thought: too long. Just give me the list.

At first I thought this negative reaction to the article might have something to do with being corrupted by all this immediate-communication technology. I’ve been altered and can’t manage a sustained argument anymore. Fast food only, please. But I don’t think that’s true. (I know it’s not true. I write pieces that include sustained arguments and nuance for a living.)

Instead, I think it’s because, when I happened on the article, I was in burst-mode and wanted to grab information in bite-size chunks. However, since the article is not aimed at someone like me, but at a different kind of audience, there are certain conventions it must follow. It’s got to be sensitive to the reader.

The author of the piece is a Twitter user and presumably has similar sensibilities to other Twitter users. That is, shrt is gd. But, in essentially writing a travel piece, telling digital foreigners about a new land, the author admirably adopted the conventions and norms of his audience.

Interesting: In conveying the utility of Twitter, you’ve got to step completely out of its bounds.

Or just start using it and see what happens.

P.S. Bet u want list. Here:

  1. @PRsarahevansSarah Evans, director of public relations at Elgin Community College
  2. @jayrosen_nyuJay Rosen, associate professor of journalism at New York University
  3. @hrheingoldHoward Rheingold, a lecturer at the University of California at Berkeley
  4. @amandafrenchAmanda French, an assistant research scholar and digital-curriculum specialist at NYU
  5. @academicdaveDavid Parry, an assistant professor of emerging media and communications at the University of Texas at Dallas
  6. @dancohenDan Cohen, director of the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University
  7. @paullevPaul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University
  8. @mcleodScott McLeod, an associate professor at Iowa State University and director of the university’s Center for the Advanced Study of Technology Leadership in Education
  9. @mweschMichael L. Wesch, an assistant professor of cultural anthropology at Kansas State University
  10. @presidentgeeGordon Gee, president of Ohio State University

What Will We Say About Now?

My friend Peter Levine, in an article that examines ways to look at the question of “whether President Obama is trying to do too much too fast,” mentions an analogy Bill Galston makes to Jimmy Carter’s early days in office.

In Peter’s view, those days are not at all comparable to where we are now. In making his case, Peter encapsulates the overal shift rightward that was occurring as the 70’s ended as well as I have seen anyone:

[T]he Zeitgeist was against poor old Jimmy Carter, as we can tell now that the Owl of Minerva has taken flight. Most of the industrialized countries moved substantially right after 1970. Liberals had already enacted the popular parts of the welfare state. They had consolidated prosperity for a majority of their populations, who were decreasingly generous toward the remaining poor. Keynsian policy couldn’t seem to handle stagflation. Liberal coalitions had shattered on the shoals of controversial social issues. Conservatives offered law-and-order and lower taxes, and that was a winning package. The only reason Carter was elected was that Richard Nixon had administered a deadly wound to his own party that took eight years to heal. It was hardly time for an ambitious liberal agenda.

What interests me is Peter’s perspective on that pivotal time, and the language he uses, spoken with the benefit of hindsight.

It seems evident that we are now in a similar shift, only moving the other way. When we look back, fifteen years and more later, what kind of language will we use? What tectonic factors will be relevant, and which will be just static?

That, of course, is a thought experiment and unanswerable. But it is worth thinking about, if only to gain perspective on the now.

Run A Local Newspaper?

Yesterday two things converged that really got me thinking about localism.

First, I published my analysis of Rockville Central’s reader survey. It was my first chance to see what the readers of my hyperlocal news site really thought about my volunteer work over the last eighteen months or so. It was very gratifying, and at the end I wrote: “[It is] clear that many, many of you who took the time to respond see Rockville Central as ‘yours.’ That means so much and I will always try to respect that.”

Second, I ran across a fascinating tips-from-the-trenches piece on what it’s like to take over and run a local newspaper. This piece included a great sidebar:

You Want To Buy A Weekly?

Find an owner/operator who is retiring. Don’t worry about quality. You can improve the content and revenue yourself. 

Financing was tough before the credit crunch, and it’s next to impossible now. So you may have to do an owner-financed deal or pay for this out of your own pocket. The price of a paper depends on its annual revenue, so if you’re looking for a deal, think small and rural.

Pack a lunch. You won’t have the time or the money to eat out for the first few months. (Perhaps years.)
 
Consider your business skills. You can create great journalism, but do you know how to run a circulation program and print labels? Keep track of ads and expenses? You have to take a hundred bags and bins to the post office — who will do that? 

Be humble. Readers don’t care if you won Pulitzer or interviewed governors. They care about their community, whether you make it better and whether you spell their name correctly.

Be true to yourself. This is tough. You’re running a business and you’re a valuable member of the community, but you have to uphold your core values.

All sounds very much like the advice I gave anyone thinking of starting their own community news blog!

It’s all got me thinking: Is it time to develop a real business model for Rockville Central, and embed it even further as a local institution?

What’s Your Rhythm?

I recently had an exchange with a friend during which I recalled that at different periods, his energy level on certain issues seemed to go up and down.

 Sine Wave

Sine Wave

That got me to thinking about my own energy and attention levels. I have long been aware that my effectiveness and energy follow a pretty strong sine wave. It’s not as severe as a bipolar thing — just a sine wave. Sometimes I am way engaged and on top of it . . . othertimes it is a struggle to mark even administrative work off of my to-do list.

No surprise there. I suppose everyone goes in the same sorts of sine waves. But then I got to thinking about the period of my particular wave. I think it is about fifteen days from zero to zero.

In other words, If I start the month at zero (or “neutral”), I’m likely to have a peak of energy around the 7th, get back to “neutral” around the 15th, and then be in the dumps around the 21st.

In my experience, the peak time can be pretty awesome and include prodigious creativity, indeed the whole upper third of that part of the curve is cool. The lower third of the “down” curve is not exactly torture — but I am in trouble if there is something I need to really push on at that time. I get things done, but it is hard to do my best work.

(I know this is similar to biorhythms, but I do not know enough about that to render an opinion. I am just going on my own observations, and leaving the whys for another time.)

All this makes me think a few things:

  1. It would be worthwhile to test this and catalog it. Give myself a “score” every day in terms of energy and effectiveness level, and track that for a couple of months. That will show me (a) whether the hypothesis is right; and (b) what my period is.
  2. If I do have such a sine wave, it might be a good idea to predict the peaks and valleys and jigger my work schedule accordingly. 
  3. I assume other people have such a wave — what is their periodicity? If I can figure that out for colleagues, I can more effectively work with them (in the same way that it is helpful to know my own and others’ Myers-Briggs temperaments). 

What’s your rhythm? How do you know?

Revise Your Goals

Beth Kanter had a great post a while back that rounds up a number of bits and pieces of advice for nonprofits interested in using social media.

My favorite graf:

The economic crisis has changed the external environment. So, it is important to think about that as part of considering how you need to revise your goals. The tools are changing, so if you’ve settled into one way of using a particular social media tool or set of tools, don’t set yourself on automatic pilot. Are you using the social media tools most efficiently and effectively given the environment, the changes in the tools, and your goals?

What a thought . . . fine tune strategy as you go.

How often do we really do that?

Tweet Guy Jason DeRusha, A Co-Creator

There are insurgent personalities throughout media, pushing and prodding it ahead to the future. WCCO’s Jason DeRusha is one of them.

In this interview, he discusses an important aspect of what people’s relationships with institutions are becoming:

I’ve been experimenting with posting my good questions on my blog and inviting people to answer them, to share their thoughts and help me tell the story before it goes on TV. The old model is to put stuff up after it was on TV and get comments on it. But to me, that’s no good—I need people’s help before I do the story on the air.

This turns the newsanchor-viewer relationship both on its head and inside-out.

First of all, the most important person here is the viewer, who is giving material to the news reporter. (In traditional models, after the reporter has “newsgathered,” his main job is to tell people what he or she knows.)

Second of all, and more important, this model has different people involved. The news reporter and the viewer are co-creators. They both come up with what is going to count as “news.”

Read the whole interview, which is very cool. And you may want to take a peek at his blog to see how it works in practice.