Archive for August, 2009

The price of my content

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

Budaeli used to have ads. There was a Google Adwords strip and a selection of products from Amazon.com along the side of every page. Then I read a rant by someone (who I doubt even knows I exist, let along been to this site) about personal blogs having ads. His argument was along the lines of “if you’re maintaining the site for your own enjoyment, and not for some business, don’t insult your visitors by showing them ads.” I don’t agree with the argument entirely: sometimes you need ads to help pay for maintaining the site (never mind that there are plenty of free hosting services available now that offer advanced features). But that was when I decided to pull ads off my site, without thinking about it much. I wasn’t making anywhere near enough from the ads to even warrant a payment from either Google or Amazon.com, so the loss in revenue wasn’t equal to the increase in aesthetics gained by their absence.

This means I’m giving away my content. For free. On top of that, I’m not too concerned about being compensated for what I’ve published. The copyright to my words is still mine, but I won’t be too alarmed if someone copies my work (with attribution, of course) or creates any derivative works (say they take my Culture Engines idea and make it into something else). Part of it is because I don’t want to spend the time enforcing a restrictive copyright, and part of it is because my thoughts are mostly derivative.

The reason I’m publishing my work online for free is because it would cost me too much to make readers pay.

What I mean by that is my audience would shrink to a statistical zero if I made people pay to read this site. Unless I reblog the content elsewhere, the cost to read is only visiting this site or reading the RSS feed.

I would love to be able to charge more for my content, because it would give me a greater incentive to write. As it stands now, I only write when I feel like it, and just accept that the value of my work is nothing more than the pieces of my thoughts that end up stuck in my reader’s thoughts. It’s an inefficiency that I hope someone solves soon. The current methods of incentives for writers have been made outdated by the web’s method of publishing, and there’s no guarantee that they will survive long enough for a replacement.

So, thanks for reading, whoever you may be.

(Inspired by “Please Excuse Our Inefficiently High-Quality Blogging”)

The fetishism of books

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009

We’re entering a period of information upheaval. The methods of storing, retrieving, and managing information are finally catching up to the available technology. With our collective knowledge and literature available to anyone with an internet connection, there is bound to be a flowering of scientific and artistic thought.

But we’re collectively stumbling with transitioning the technology and user interface of books.

This is important because books have grown up with our civilization to become the foundation of our complex society and advanced technology. We are all trained from an early age to harness the power of the knowledge locked up in those bundles of paper. Books define the concept of information management to such an extant that it’s unconsciously shaped the semiotics of our modern web-based system of knowledge storage.

We’ve been able to ignore the outdated book-based management system until very recently. The Amazon Kindle became the first ebook reader that married the long-form book format to the advantages of the internet and cheap storage. Now you can download a book directly to your Kindle, and store a full library in about the same space as a typical topical nonfiction.

The adoption of ebook readers has been slowed by people who feel they prefer old fashioned books to their new digital brethren. Despite the arguments, I don’t think this has anything to do with the comparative advantages of a dead tree book (no need to recharge, self-referential interface, leafability) – rather it has to do with our primal urge to hoard and the symbol of the book for knowledge. We feel safer with a physical representation of the printed word than one which disappears when the electricity stops.

This fetishism may be a good thing.

The length of the content inside books is determined by the technology itself. Authors are driven to flesh out a work to fit a standard size rather than match the minimal length that the subject matter really requires. The best example of this are business and self-help books: most of these could be cut down to have or even a quarter of the length and still get the message across – but the economics of publishing encourages writers of these works to expand their writing to book length, thus diluting the knowledge. This is why websites covering the same topics are so popular: they aren’t restricted to expanding the verbiage for reasons not related to the content.

By delaying the movement to a stable economic model for publishing knowledge online because some people still prefer paper books, we could hasten a change to short-form knowledge that better suits the technology with the added incentive of being easier to understand. A stable economic model is important because content creators need an incentive other than personal fulfillment. Right now most content online is supported by ads, while paid content is shunned. Until we come up with a method to financially support content, the evolution of information technology will stall. To see how hard of a problem this is, check out the Xanadu project*.

The process of evolving fiction to a non-book format is harder because fiction elicits a deeper emotional feeling in the reader.  The novel, for example, developed because it was the perfect fit for the age of the printing press: works were book-length, and authors were keen to make their stories longer, deeper, and richer. Currently the interfaces for reading anything longer than, say, 12,000 words induce eye-strain or lead the reader to distraction. We still need the book metaphor for an enjoyable experience. Short stories are different because of their length.

Right now we’re collectively working out how to order our written knowledge to take advantage of the new forms of transmission and storage. The web and ebooks may not be the future; however the system of web metaphors has been successfully used and improved upon for the last 20 years, so this may be it. The great thing about this process is that it’s done unconsciously by readers and writers, in the same way that language evolves and works itself out (which is changing because of the new information technology too).

What I’m getting at is that how we store and retrieve our collective knowledge is changing, and the outcome depends on the technology, how we structure the information, and how we incentivize its creation and distribution. To put this in perspective of the last revolution in information technology: Gutenberg hasn’t invented the printing press yet**.

*The most fascinating part of the Xanadu story is that it partly inspired Tim Berners-Lee in creating the World Wide Web, but he wanted information to be free…and was pragmatic enough to create a technology that’s ‘good enough’ to use within months.

**Eurocentric, I know, but Western Civilization was better at harnessing the power of the printing press than the Chinese.

Play marketing

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

The barrier of entry to making and sharing creative projects is so low today that there is an explosion of people entertaining themselves and their friends with things they’ve made. For some people it replaces most of the time they used to spend watching television, movies, or reading books. They still consume those things, if only because those are considered something akin to ‘high art’ and serves to define the things they make. Sometimes they’ll even borrow bits and pieces from, say, a TV show and add it to whatever they’re making.

This creator culture making serious ripples that may break out into the mainstream and become a dominant form of entertainment. I’ve already talked about the Favrd Crowd, a group of very funny and creative people busy entertaining themselves instead of letting others in mass media do it for them. Often times they will take a little piece of something else and add it to something new, or morph a phrase or meme into countless variations*, usually to hilarious effect.

We (for I consider myself a part of the Favrd Crowd) aren’t the only ones building a community out of making and sharing things online. Other groups have been started or will start that only serve to entertain its members. Some are based around books or movies (Harry Potter fans), fantasy sports, videos, or simply who can make the most offensive thing possible (4chan which, like it or not, exerts a major influence on the creativity of others online).

These online communities will only grow and spread over the next few years, and they will become more important to the daily entertainment of millions of people. People who are smart, creative, and who very likely have disposable income (or strive for disposable income).

See where I’m going with this?

As long as companies respect the intelligence of these people, it is possible to market your product and use the structure of the community to spread your message to others who are mere spectators.

For lack of a better term, I call this play marketing. Create advertising that encourages people to riff and evolve the idea into a meme that is fun for the consumer, but spreadable and effective. The big caveat is respect: respect the audience and respect the product. Any lack of authenticity will be quickly found and the campaign will be in the audience’s hands, and they won’t be very nice.

*The memes of the Favrd Crowd are very ephemeral and die out after a few days, save for a few particularly clever phrases or concepts. This makes it hard to archive and find link to examples. I’ll try to collect some examples from Twiter and Tumblr that demonstrate the creativity of this group. For examples of funny tweets that aren’t necessarily memes, check out Twitter Wit, which compiles some of the funniest tweets of the Favrd Crowd and others.

How to market to the largest group of people with disposable income, 2009 edition

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Okay, listen up. This is now how to get the attention of people that have the money to spend on whatever they’re selling. Technically this is a very shitty economy, but not everyone is hurting, and those who have cut back still want cool things. In fact, for the kind of people you wan to sell your products to, the amount of their income they spend on necessities is obscenely low by historical standards.

That’s a good thing. So how do you get them to spend their disposable income on your product or service?

Here’s what you do. Keep in mind this is ‘big picture’ stuff:

  1. Create a product that is useful or ingenious. That’s the easy part.
  2. Make it either easy to use or intuitive. Pay very close attention to the user experience, because everyone has more to do and needs their tools efficient and friendly.
  3. The branding abstracts the product into an easy-to-comprehend symbol. People need visual symbols to help identify complex concepts.If you can’t do this with your product, either go back to step one or sell the product to non-consumers (businesses, government, etc.).
  4. Focus all of your attention on internet marketing. Now this is a little tricky. Here are some guidelines for marketing online:
    1. Be honest about what your product does.
    2. Make the juiciest pieces of marketing open-ended to encourage play. Let your potential market play with your ads: let them make fun of your product, incorporate your advertising into whatever their working on. Trust me, the people most receptive to your product (and the ones most likely to spread the word for you) are smart and creative and will mess with your messaging anyway. By giving them permission you increase your chances of reception. (More on this part later).
    3. You can forget about viral marketing. Ideas will spread if you have a great product. So spend money on that and not on making sure your marketing will spread fast. Besides, most viral marketing putters out after a few days, and everyone knows when viral ad is manufactured and not something genuinely compelling.
  5. Design the best customer service program you can afford, and implement something better. Your product will fail, and your customers deserve the best treatment you can give. No amount of skimping is allowed. Plus, people will talk about your customer service, even if it’s good but especially if it’s bad.

Yeah yeah, I know all about this. You don’t have to tell me,” you might say. Or that Seth Godin covers these points over and over on his blog and in his books.

That’s true. This is basic stuff. But modern corporations aren’t designed to take care of the basic stuff, and human nature makes us want to look further, to the problems and worries those bigger and more successful than us should worry about.

Consider these points where you can start. There are lots of details that you’ll need to figure out, such as how to make your internet marketing as efficient as possible to be shared, or the hard work required to pull off a successful customer service program. But there’s no hope for you if you can’t figure out the basics.

[Note: slightly edited to remove the most blatantly douchey passages.]

There is no time

Friday, August 7th, 2009

We all have a specific amount of time while alive to do all the things we want to do and be all the things we want to be. The time we’re given isn’t short, though it may end abruptly. However, no matter how long you may have to live, the uncertainty of it ending should be enough of an incentive to make the most of the time we’re given.

Therefore, do not waste time by not pursuing the things you want to do and be. If you have even the slightest inkling of something you could be doing, go out and do it. Even the act of working on the things to reach that goal are better than merely dwelling on what may happen. So, go ask that girl out*, build that website, see that city, ski down that mountain, write that book, record that album, accomplish those goals you promised you’d do before you die.

If you need a more eloquent way of explaining this point about living, read Seneca’s letter “On The Shortness of Life” (Here’s a nicely-highlighted version by Timothy Ferriss).

If there is something you’ve been putting off doing for whatever reason, try doing it right now. Regret comes from what wasn’t attempted, not what was tried.

(I’m writing this post not because I’m an expert on the topic or that I’m following the advice at all, but because I’m trying to understand its implications myself.)

*Trust me, it sounds better this way than trying to be gender-inclusive.

Projectrd

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

I made a little site to make it easy to find side projects of those in the so-called Favrd Crowd. Things like podcasts, web applications, real applications, themed blogs, etc.

I call it Projectrd. It’s nothing more than a single html page that lists every side project of all the Favrd and Tumblr users I could find in about an hour.

If you want to add your project to the site, send an email to projectrd@budaeli.com with the name, a link to the site, and the Twitter or Tumblr accounts of the people involved and I’ll update the page. Use the same email if you want your project removed.

Projectrd is only a proof of concept. I’m probably not going to maintain it for very long. If you want to make a directory of your own let me know and I’ll link to it on the site. Hell, use the same name if you want (there’s a sleazy website using that domain though).

Also, I’m aware of the awfulness of the name. It’s worse if you pronounce ‘projectrd’ like Merlin Mann pronounces ‘Favrd.’

(reposted from…somewhere else)

Update: Projectrd has closed. All the links have been changed to an archive of the site and projectrd@budaeli.com no longer works.

If you’re going to read a self-help book, make it an old one

Monday, August 3rd, 2009

Behind every change in technology, social rules, and history are the same basic struggles that every human in the last 10,000 years has had to endure. And someone smarter than us saw that and wrote down the best way to make it through, by their own experiences and mistakes. They wanted, just like we want, for the children to have it easier.

In the company of the wise men and women were people who claimed to have that knowledge, or had ulterior motives, or just wanted to profit. It still happens today, and gives the self-help industry a bad name.

But because every new human goes through the same motions of life, collectively we catch on to when we’re being fed bad advice. And so we keep coming back to the books containing true wisdom. Smart publishers see this and keep those books in print. Silently, unconsciously, we weed out the filler.

If you need a written guide to life, read something that’s old and still has an audience.

Any rule on how old is arbitrary, but if it helps I suggest reading books written earlier than 200 years ago. If you need further help, here are two books I suggest:

  1. The Way to Wealth by Benjamin Franklin
  2. The Art of Worldly Wisdom by Baltasar Gracián

One advantage of old books is that you can find them free online (like here and here).

I picked those two books because I place great value on brevity and because they keep religious matters to a minimum.

But book wisdom isn’t as useful as that passed on by a living breathing human with personal experience. That’s why I’m only telling you where you might find advice, as I am lacking the requisite experience and wisdom. Think of these books as catch-up, for those of us not lucky enough to have a mentor early in life*.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get a mentor now at whatever stage of life you’ve reached.

*I was a lucky, though squandered it some. One of my role models growing up was a scoutmaster who got involved because of his son but stayed to help other boys learn how to free-thinking, motivated adults. He was a successful businessman who always carried himself with dignity and authenticity. The biggest lesson he taught was how he taught: he led his life the way he wanted us to lead our lives: with honesty, compassion for others, and an eye on the next foothold (it also helped that we had the Scout’s Law**). And this is where I mention that I’m an Eagle Scout, and damn proud of it.

**Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.