The usual suspects.

I was on a panel today about the how New Media can improve communication among municipalities and neighborhood and community organizations. The other member of the panel was the Chief Administrative Officer of the city or Waterloo, Canada. We discussed the ways the city communicates and ways they might improve that communication.

What I noticed though was the audience. The usual suspects. I knew pretty much everyone of the attendees because they are the same folks who are involved in the myriad volunteer organizations that make the city run. I belong to several myself, and I was invited to speak because I knew the folks who were organizing the event.

So how exactly do you inspire new people to throw their hats into the ring? To get involved?

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What have I been up to?

I haven’t been writing much lately because I’ve been working on a few things. The new version of Bleezer is almost ready. And there are a few other toys I’ve been working on. But by far the coolest thing was something that I was under complete non-disclosure for. But now that it’s been officially announced I can talk about it.

Disney has just announced the Disney Mix Stick with Disney MixIt! technology:

Disney’s all-new "MixIt!" technology makes personalized playlists as simple as the click of a button. Based on patented technology from MusicIP, "MixIt!" uses a powerful algorithm to profile the sound of a listener’s music. While listening to a song on the Disney Mix Stick or Mix Max, a user can simply click the "MixIt!" button to instantly create a playlist of similar sounding songs. Because "MixIt!" is based on the sound of a listener’s music rather than its genre, it can create unique and often surprising playlists on-the-fly that pull from across the user’s entire music collection. "MixIt!" also lets users scan through their music library just as they might scan through radio stations to quickly find a song they like.

My job was to create the tools to process the music and make it mixable, so simply that kids and even their parents could use it. And to make it look just like a Disney product.

I’ve always been a huge Disney fan, and this was one of the coolest things I’ve ever worked on. MusicIP even gets their own button on the Mix Stick, one of Mickey’s ears.You can read more about it at Hear Here.

Once you’ve tried this you’re going to wish your iPod had the same technology.

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Losing control.

At some point we seem to have lost control of technology, and let it control us. We’ve already seen a crack-like addiction to devices like the BlackBerry, the pressing need to answer a ringing cell phone, and the explosion of email.

Now an article in the Los Angeles Times suggests that we even feel guilty for not watching television shows that we’ve TiVo’d:

In other words, if you already feel guilty about your piles of unread Sunday newspapers and New Yorker magazines, there’s a new form of self-loathing: TiVo tyranny. Ever since I got a DVR system, my television has become a source of dread. No longer a symbol of slothful refuge wherein I can while away a few hours watching whatever dreck happens to be on, it is now a taskmaster. My life is not only cluttered with unanswered e-mails, unreturned phone calls and unfinished novels but entire seasons of television shows I feel I should watch but haven’t and probably never will.

The purpose of technology should be to make our lives easier; not to create new ways to control us. The suggestion that we should feel guilty if we don’t watch a show or return an email suggests that we lack the willpower to control our own lives.

I love TiVo as a repository for stuff to watch when there is nothing decent on, which is often. It gives me the power to have decent television available when I want it. Before TiVo we used to record shows on a VCR, and just finding them on the tape was such a problem we often didn’t bother. TiVo solved that problem, and suggests other shows that we might enjoy.

I’ve always considered myself a television addict, but I probably watch less television now because I refuse to subject myself to the kind of trash that’s on these days. TiVo lets me pick and choose what I want when I want. And if I don’t watch I certainly don’t feel guilty about it.

I also don’t feel guilty if I don’t answer my cell phone, or if I don’t return an email the exact moment I get it.

Tip of the hat to Furdlog.

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The New York Times cares.

I subscribe to the paper version of the New York Times. Yes I’m still a member of that ever shrinking group.

Last Sunday I didn’t receive my Sunday New York Times. It was never delivered. So I contacted Customer Care at the New York Times via email.

This is the official answer I received from the New York Times regarding their failure to deliver the paper I had already paid for:

Thank you for your communication with The New York Times. In response to your inquiry, we can certainly request for a back copy to be mailed to you,however, there would be a fee for this service.

No offer to provide the paper they owe me. Or to reimburse me. Just a sucks to be you message.

And these are the people that want us to pay for their newspaper?

Understanding ROI.

I often see the term ROI, or return on investment, thrown about pretty casually without a clear understanding of what it means. And then I saw this post by Robert Scoble, who has often claimed that ROI isn’t important, where he compares two videos and asks which one has better ROI. And then he makes this comment in the comment section:

The more interesting question is “would they have the same ROI even if they had the same cost?”

First of all, if they had the same cost, the ROI would only be the same if they had the same return.

But there’s the rub. It seems that many people, including Robert perhaps, misunderstand what the return is. I’m fairly certain that both AMD and Adobe believe that the return is the number and value of sales they make, not how many people view their video.

And these are also companies with vastly different markets. Adobe needs to convince a customer to spend $500 on a piece of software, or perhaps a corporation to but a few copies. AMD is trying to convince a hardware OEM to bet the farm on their components, in a relationship that might be worth millions. While a million dollars spent on a website might be overkill, a short video shot in a afternoon probably won’t do it either.

But at some point, perhaps a quarter or two out, these companies can trace their sales to their videos or other sales tools to determine the ROI of those tools, as any good marketing department should.

Even in television, the only time viewership matters is in determining ad rates. But Budweiser wouldn’t be advertising during the Superbowl if they didn’t see a sales increase as a result.

Three business days.

Lately I’ve noticed that when I call a Customer Service department and nobody is available, I’m told to leave a message, and told that they will return my call within three business days. Now this might be a Canadian thing, because I’ve noticed it when I call Canadian companies, and it seems to be happening more frequently.

So imagine how this makes me the customer feel. These are companies from whom I have purchased a product or service, but my business isn’t important enough to call back the next day. I’m not even important enough to call back two days later. No, my business is so meaningless to them that they’ll get back to me three whole business days later.

The latest incident was that my Sunday New York Times was not delivered. Their Canadian delivery partner, The Globe and Mail, was the party that was going to make me wait three days. Now you would think that a newspaper would actually be concerned about losing a customer but apparently not.

I had similar problems with my local paper, The Record, and it actually took a call to the publisher to get them fixed. Yet after a single followup call I’ve heard nothing.

It isn’t just newspapers though. It’s other kinds of companies too. But from now on when I hear someone will get back to me in three business days, I’ll just take that as an indication that they don’t really want my business. And I’ll look elsewhere.

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How did it come to this?

Bill Hewlett and David Packard built an incredible company. I’ve used their equipment in several diverse industries for as long as I can remember.

Though it isn’t the same company it used to be, and their products do not exhibit the quality they once did, I just don’t understand how it could come to this:

On Tuesday, Attorney General Bill Lockyer said he already had enough evidence to charge HP insiders and the private investigators who impersonated board members and journalists in order to access logs of their personal phone calls.

Is it really possible that the HP folks involved believed that they were protecting shareholder value? Was there any limit to what they would have done?

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The PR blogosphere.

While I can barely manage on coherent thought each day, Kent Newsome seems to have several, and they are always great. But this is the best one I’ve read so far:

The blogosphere is boring me lately, so I need to make some adjustments. I need to find a more conversational blogosphere.

[...]

I’m weary of hearing people who have done everything they can do to raise their profile in the blogosphere proclaim that they don’t care about traffic. Let some of those folks talk to themselves for about a week and see how they feel. It’s perfectly OK to raise your image and try to become influential among the hundreds of people who care what a blogger thinks. But it is hypocritical on its face to then turn around and say traffic (the blogosphere’s attention equivalent) isn’t important to you.

I started blogging entirely to become rich and famous, but fame and fortune seems to have eluded me, so I just blog for the enjoyment, and for the ability to remember neat stuff. When I started it was great to find new ideas on different topics each and every day. But it seems to have become more and more of an echo chamber. A couple of days ago it was Facebook, then HP spying yesterday, and today it is Amazon Unbox.

It’s like newspapers printing press releases, just a big PR execcise – pushing information at me without too much real analysis.

As Kent says, where is the conversation, the discussion about things? And not just the latest new technology today either.

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You have earn attention.

Ken Camp notes an article about continuous partial attention:

During the presentations the faces of at least half the crowd were lit with the spooky reflection of the laptops open before them. Those without computers would periodically bow their heads to the palmtop shrine of the BlackBerry. Every speaker was competing with the distractions of e-mail, instant messaging, Web surfing, online bill paying, blogging and an Internet chat “back channel” where conferencees supplied snarky commentary on the speakers.

The article refers to "cognitive fatigue of knowledge workers" but paying attention to all of these channels is still a personal choice.

But really, when was the last time a speaker or their presentation was compelling enough to make you ignore everything else?

Speakers need to work to earn my attention. It isn’t enough to just stand there and regurgitate information.

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It’s about time.

With Mark Evans once again graciously including Bleezer in his Blog Publishing Tool Round-Up, and pointing out its no frills nature, it’s about time that I get a new version together. Indeed, I’ve been working on this version for about six months now, but after all, it is a one person venture. I’m not a big company like Qumana – even if theye have two people they have me beat, and they do have a nice product.

I use Bleezer for everything I post, and I’ve added a lot of stuff that I wanted myself. So I’m my own customer, and I’m never really happy with the product, which is why it has taken so long. There is a lot of new stuff, the most obvious of which is a completely new layout and WYSIWYG editing, courtesy of an open source editor called Kafenio, which I’m not completely happy with yet.

There is also support for categories (which is giving me a little user interface trouble right now), direct image uploading to your blog when you insert an image, direct link posting to del.icio.us, and stuff like that. I’ll get a complete list together in the next couple of days.

And even with a bunch of new stuff there is still a ton of new things that I still want to add, some of which may show up partly done here and there. Sorry for the wait.

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