This semester… Monday, Aug 7 2006 

This semester has gone by so fast. I can’t believe we have only three more classes left. This class has been very interesting and I have learned some exciting new things. The most important thing I learned this semester is the power of the blogosphere. It seems like an entirely different world that I had absolutely no knowledge about until I enrolled in this class.

Blogging takes dedication. It is definitely feeding a passion. I agree with the argument that has been made by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel in their book Naked Conversations, as well as others, that when an individual makes the decision to blog, he/she should write about what they know and care about. A person’s passion shows through their writing. I can personally attest to this because I have noticed that my postings are much better when I am writing about a subject that I have experience and interest in.

I learned really fast how open the blogosphere can be when I received my first comment from Buzz Bruggeman who I mentioned in one of my first postings about We the Media. It was exciting to see that Nicco (my professor) is not the only person, other than me, reading my blog. I was also suprised to see that Shel Israel posted a comment in response to my posting about the Cluetrain Manifesto. It shows that he practices what he preaches.

Another important topic we covered this semester is the emergence of OpenSource software. Although the Cathedral and the Bazaar was one of the readings I enjoyed the least, I think the principles that he mentioned were essential to understanding the thought behind this sort of software. For example, Eric Raymond argued that it’s important to treat users as co-developers because “given enough eyeballs, all bugs become shallow.” I think that this can be applied to any business situation, which I believe is part of Scoble and Israel’s argument about the importance of businesses becoming transparent and holding conversations with their clientele. Consumers, if given the chance, can offer valuable information.

The emergence of OpenSource and Web 2.0 applications prove that technology is always evolving. This is a good thing for those who embrace this evolution because it can make our daily task’s easier and more exciting. I will be interested to see what happens with blogging in the next few years. Only time will tell if it is something that is here to stay and that will transform the way businesses interact with their customers or if it is just a bunch of hype. I believe the former will happen, but who knows?

Web 2.0 Monday, Jul 31 2006 

I must admit that I was so confused about what Web 2.0 actually meant before I read Tim O’Reilly’s report, What is Web 2.0. I’m still confused! It’s difficult to sum up the meaning of Web 2.0. However, O’Reilly’s method of comparing what he believes are Web 2.0 applications to Web 1.0 applications makes the concept a little easier to understand, but still left me confused. Although, I am not all that tech savy, so some of these things tend to go over my head.

My understanding of Web 2.0 is that it refers to applications that allow consumers to become more than just users of the application, but also co-developers. O’Reilly’s description of Web 2.0 is similar to Eric Raymond’s analysis of open-source software in the Cathedral and the Bazaar. The difference is that Web 2.0 applications are not always open-source software, but the principles are the same; release early and often, and treat users as co-developers. Web 2.0 means not having to wait for a release date for an update version of an application, and users acting as publishers by blogging and posting information to sites such as Wikipedia. The applications that are genuinely Web 2.0 allows the user to do all these things.

I can understand why writers like Paul Boutin are skeptical about this new phrase and believe that it is nothing but a “tech buzzword.” Boutin makes a powerful argument when he states that people are using Web 2.0 to mean different things and this makes it hard to understand what it really means. It would be helpful if someone can sum up its meaning in one sentence (that is not in tech-speak and actually makes sense).

The confusion and lack of cohesiveness among users of the term, takes away from the fact that it is used to describe software applications that are changing the way individuals use the Internet and other technology. For this reason, I think Web 2.0 is more than a buzzword. It represents how technology is evolving and allowing the user to participate in the process. O’Reilly argued:

The world of Web 2.0 is also the world of what Dan Gillmor calls We the Media a world in which the former audience, not a few people in a back room, decides what’s important.

The Cluetrain Manifesto Sunday, Jul 30 2006 

In the Cluetrain Manifesto, Rick Levine, Christopher Locke, Doc Searls and David Weinberger discussed their belief that the rise in popularity of the Internet shows that individuals are desperately seeking the return of the “human voice.” They described the Web as “a global set of conversations – people talking together, in their own voices about what they care about.” The Internet makes it possible for individuals around the world to connect and talk about things they believe are important. The authors argued that this medium is allowing markets to get smarter and requires companies to respond to concerns raised by these markets at a faster pace. Companies are successful when they tear down their firewalls and allow employees to communicate with consumers. The authors argued:

Corporate firewalls have kept smart employees in and smart markets out. It’s going to cause real pain to tear those walls down. But the result will be a new kind of conversation. And it will be the most exciting conversation business has ever engaged in.

They believe that “markets are conversations” and businesses will benefit tremendously by joining the conversation. They urge, however, that these conversations have to be genuine. The authors argued, “conversations among human beings sound human. They are conducted in a human voice.” Consumers are tired of “corporate speak” in which company websites look like an online version of the company’s brochure. In Chapter two, Weinberger argued that our voice is important because it is a part of who we are and expresses our thoughts and feelings. He argued, “it gives style and shape to content.” Therefore, if companies are constantly censoring what their employees say, the end result is a one-way conversation in which the consumer is speaking but the company is not giving a real response.

The authors made very strong arguments in this book. The Saturn newsgroup example given in Chapter three shows how fast a conversation among consumers can spread and what happens when an employee is allowed to speak openly. Although I don’t think this employee was given permission to speak on behalf of Saturn, the information he provided was valuable and may have, to a certain extent, saved Saturn’s reputation. This example proves the point the authors made about the benefits to be derived from a company joining the conversation. I strongly agree with the authors’ argument that “a critical aspect of success with large numbers of customers lies in listening to them. It’s not enough for employees to talk.” How can a company know what their consumers want if they are not willing to listen?

Some of the arguments made in this book are consistent with the arguments made by Robert Scoble and Shel Israel in Naked Conversations. For example, in Cluetrain Manifesto, the authors stated, “in most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.” Scoble and Israel argued that the future success of PR lies in their ability to let go of the traditional command-and-control school of communication and subscribe to the listen-and-participate form of communication. This means that companies should stop trying to control the conversation and learn to listen to their consumers and participate by allowing their employees to give unfiltered responses.

In Chapter three, Rick Levine discussed Sun’s experience with launching the Java Developer Connection Web site which was to provide technical support to the Java developer community. He stated:

We now have a free site with question-and-answer forums where developers answer each other directly. We added a tap into Sun’s Java software bug database and provided a means for developers to add their own notes and work-arounds to our bug information, as well as vote for the bugs they wanted us to fix soonest.

This is an example of the argument Eric Raymond made in The Cathedral and the Bazaar. Raymond stated, “treating your users as co-developers is your least-hassle route to rapid code improvement and effective debugging.” This is yet another example of how companies can benefit by allowing their consumers open access to their products.

Second Life Tuesday, Jul 25 2006 

Second Life (SL) is a 3-D virtual world that allows users to participate in this world by creating an avatar, which is a virtual representation of the user. This avatar has humanoid features that the user can customize. The most important part of SL is that user create their own content/objects and can retain the intellectual property rights for the content they create.If the user obtains a Premium membeship plan, he/she will earn $500 per week in Linden dollars (SL currency) and has the ability to own land. Users with a basic account cannot own land but can rent from other users. SL members can convert their “Linden dollars” to real U.S. currency. For example, the avatar named Anshe Chung created a land development business that has earned her $250,000 in U.S. currency.

Some have argued that the time spent in this virtual world, is time individuals can spend being more productive in other areas of their lives, such as work. However, I believe that participating in this economy can give users ideas that can be applied to the real world. For example, one SL member was able to sell his virtual world game, Tringo, to a company called Donnerwood Media, that will make this game available on Game Boy Advance and cell phones. Therefore, people are finding opportunities that may not have been available to them had they not participated in this virtual world.

There is also the argument that virtual worlds can promote anti-social behavior. I disagree. Virtual worlds such as SL represent another form of social networking. Individuals from across the country can communicate with one another in this world via instant messaging. This gives individuals the opportunity to interact with individuals that they may not normally interact with even if it is through a made up avatar.

Although I have never been one to be interested in virtual worlds or video games, I think programs such as SL can have positive outcomes for its users. I believe that it can give individuals an outlet to express their creativity. As stated above, many people have profited from the use of SL and have been able to make real money by showcasing their creativity.

Mobile Phones Monday, Jul 24 2006 

In March 2006, the Pew Research Center and Pew Internet & American Life Project conducted a telephone survey to determine how Americans use cell phones. An October 2004, Pew Research Center study revealed that 66% of all Americans own cell phones. Not surprisingly, they found that young adults, between ages 18 and 29 are more likely to use extra features, such as personalization and text messaging, on their cell phones.

Although 74% of those interviewed admitted that they have used their cell phone in emergency situations, 29% said they could live without their cell phone. In addition, 55% said they would not give up their landline and go completely wireless. In fact, those who said they were more likely to give up their landlines were “disproportionately male, under the age 30, nonwhite, and from households with modest amounts of income (earning less than $30,000).” This is not surprising given the fact that it can be costly to maintain both a cell phone and landline.

Here are some other interesting findings:

  • 86% of cell users report being irritated at least occasionally by loud and annoying cell users who conduct their calls in public places.
  • 24% of cell-using adults report they often feel they have to answer their cell phones even when it interrupts a meeting or a meal.
  • 22% believe that too many people try to get in touch with them because others know they have a cell phone.
  • 52% say they keep their cell phone on all the time and 81% of cell users say the device is always on.
  • 21% of cell owners say they are not always truthful about exactly where they are when they are on their cell phone.

I can relate to all of the above statements. My friends have accused me of being a slave to my cell phone. It’s a problem because I usually answer my calls. When I don’t answer or return my calls within a certain time frame, people begin to worry or become suspicious. Unfortunately, I am one of those people who feel obligated to answer, even during the most inconvenient times. If I don’t answer my mother’s phone call, I have to hear her complain about how I am avoiding her. I am also guilty of always leaving my cell phone on.  My excuse is, “what if its an emergency?”.  For these reasons, I believe that cell phones are a blessing and a curse. They are a blessing in emergency situations or when you want to be available, and a curse when you want to be left alone.

Although I have been accused of being addicted to my cell phone, I still have a landline (which I hardly ever use).  I guess it’s because I am nervous about being completely dependent upon my cell phone.  There are times when I do not get reception in my apartment, or that I need to charge my cell phone’s battery.  For these times, I want to know that I have a back-up in the event that I really need to place a call.

Command-and-Control vs. Listen-and-Participate Monday, Jul 17 2006 

In my previous post about Naked Conversations, I mentioned two schools of PR that Scoble and Israel believe are in practice today. One is the command-and-control school in which PR professionals believe that they should keep communicating they way they have been and perhaps add a little spin to make the company look better. The second school, which is also referred to as the new school, subscribes to a listen-and-participate philosophy. Those PR professionals who follow this philosophy believe in taking a conversational approach by listening and responding to consumers’ needs.

Jeff Jarvis has a great post that demonstrates these two schools of communication. Amanda Chapel, a PR professional gets into a heated debate with Jarvis regarding his previous post about his dissatisfaction with Dell. Amanda’s arguments are basically consistent with the command-and-control school of communication. She argues:

He (Michael Dell) should care about a good product and an identified market. That does NOT necessarily mean individual customers… You have one vote. I suggest you don’t buy Dell. Period. Anything more than that is an attempt to hold Dell and its shareholder hostage. We don’t owe you anything!

Why care about individual customers? Well, I think this is obvious, individual customers together equal a collective of customers, which then equals Dell’s meal ticket. It’s scary to think that this woman is a PR professional giving advice to corporations. Amanda goes on to argue that:

You (Jeff Jarvis) grossly overestimate the value of the customer relationship. Excuse me, businesses don’t really want “relationships” with their customers. It’s too expensive, it’s too messy and the return is nominal at best. Not even the most prolific hooker wants a personal relationship. Our job is to provide needs/wants/desires and then present clients with something special. If I did my homework, I will be rewarded; if not, I will be punished. The money is on the dresser. End of transaction.

OUCH!!! To some extent, Amanda has a point. Businesses should not be concerned about building a personal relationship with customers. They should be more concerned about building a business relationship. Today is my birthday. If I had a Dell Computer (which after reading this I am glad I don’t!!), I would not care if they called to wish me a happy birthday. However, I would care if a Dell representative cared about my issue with its product when I call it’s technical support line. See the difference? If Dell is the type of company that believes the transaction is over once the money is paid and the product leaves the store, then I will think twice about recommending a Dell computer to my mother.

Dell has a potential blog swarm on its hands. Richard Edelman weighed in on Jarvis’ issues with Dell on his blog. Apparently, in a previous posting, an intern from GCI (a PR firm representing Dell) took a few stabs at Jarvis for his views on Dell. Edelman argued:

This arrogant and ill informed foray into the blogosphere only hurts those of us trying to move beyond hack flackery and into substantive dialogue that respects opposing views and gives consumers all the facts.

Amen. Maybe Dell should be an Edelman client :-)

Hugh Hewitt says… “BLOG!” Sunday, Jul 16 2006 

According to Hugh Hewitt, author of BLOG, every organization, fortune 500 company, entrepreneur, book publisher and sports fan should leap into the blogosphere. That is if they hope to be successful and expand their reach to consumers. He believes that there are many benefits to be derived from joining the conversation.

Hewitt argued that it is important for organizations to “establish a defense” and be prepared for a blog swarm. A blog swarm is what happens when negative news regarding an organization, or one of it’s agents, spreads across the blogosphere. Having a plan in place to deal with this sort of situation is crucial because of the growing influence of bloggers. Hewitt explained that CBS’ is one organization that has suffered devastation from a blog swarm by not being prepared and “its viewership crashed in the aftermath of Rathergate.” Hewitt argued that a comprehensive blog swarm plan should contain three elements:

  1. Chain of Command. This basically outlines who is in charge if a disaster situation occurs;
  2. An organization policy on
  3. Transparency. When a blog swarm hits, the organization should offer as much information as possible and avoid being defensive.

Blogging is essential to building buzz about you, your product and/or your organization. Hewitt argued that by using blogs to place advertisements, organizations can ensure that their product is targeted to a specific audience. Further, blog ads tend to be inexpensive. Organizations can also start their own blogs and build their credibility as an authority in a specific area while drawing attention to their company. Hewitt argued that it’s never too late to start a blog and join the conversation. Further, individuals should not feel intimidated by the technology aspect of the blogosphere. Blogging tools have made maintenance simple for those who may be technologically challenged. The important part is to get started!

This book was well written and an interesting read. The chapters “establishing a defense” and “getting started: the technology” were particularly insightful because he listed elements important to building a defense against blog swarms and on having a successful blog. His use of analogy to explain how an organization’s preparedness plan to deal with blog swarms is as important as having a natural disaster preparedness plan was very effective. He argued, “the earthquake may never happen. The hurricane may never arrive. But if either does, you will be glad you built a code.”

Many of the arguments Hewitt made in this book are consistent with the arguments Scoble and Israel made in Naked Conversations. For example, the authors of both books would argue that transparency is essential for corporations who blog, especially in a crisis situation. This element is important because openness helps the corporation build credibility. In addition, all would be in agreement that a successful blogger should, “have a memorable name, read a bunch of blogs before getting started, keep it simple and focused, post often, link freely, and be generous in praise and attribution.”

Wearable Computing? Tuesday, Jul 11 2006 

According to Tim O’Reilly, the National Science Foundation (NSF), has approved a grant to investigate the software infrastructure necessary to support wearable computing.  What is wearable computing?  According to MIT:

Wearable computing hopes to shatter the myth of how a computer should be used.  A person’s computer should be worn, much as eyeglasses or clothing are worn, and interact with the user based on the context of the situation.  With heads-up displays, unobtrusive input devices, personal wireless local area networks, and a host of other context sensing communication tools, the wearable computer can act as an intelligent assistant, whether through a Rememberance Agent, augmented reality or intellectual collectives.

What an amazing concept!  Could this mean the end of the need for a post-it note?  I usually find the post-it useless for the purpose of reminding me to do something because I have to remember to look at it.  This wearable computing idea is great for someone like me who is experiencing rapid memory loss at a shockingly young age.  Besides, I think we can all use an intelligent assistant from time to time.  The best part is you don’t have to worry about this assistant talking back or complaining :-)

Fair Use Landmark Case Monday, Jul 10 2006 

On June 12, 2006, the Stanford Center for Internet and Society’s Fair Use Project announced that they will be defending Carol Shloss in a law suit filed against the Estate of James Joyce. Shloss is a Joycean scholar who published Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake, which discusses the relationship between James Joyce and his daughter, Lucia and the influence this relationship had over his “acclaimed work of literature, Finnegans Wake.” In this case, Shloss is seeking the right to use “quotations from published and unpublished materials relating to James Joyce on a scholarly website about him.”

The lawsuit alleges that the Estate is notorious for filing suits against individuals who use Joyce’s work. A Stanford Law School press release states:

The lawsuit states that the Estate sued sponsors of a global Internet webcast reading of Ulysses that took place on Bloomsday 1998; that event was sponsored by the Prime Minister, the President, and other politicians in the Republic of Ireland. Further, the lawsuit contends that although the Estate does not hold copyright over medical records of Lucia Joyce and many letters relating to her, it has consistently leveraged the threat of denying permission to use James Joyce’s work if material relating to Lucia Joyce – of which the Estate does not approve – is published.

How ridiculous is this? The Fair Use section of the U.S. Copyright Act states that one of the factors to be considered “when determining whether the use of a work in any particular case is a fair use” is whether the purpose of use if for commercial or nonprofit educational purposes.” This case is considered to be a landmark case that will have significant implications for those in the academic field. Lawrence Lessig, the lead attorney for Shloss in this case, argued:

Her work is not the kind that copyright law seeks to prohibit. Instead it is the kind of scholarly, critical work that is protected, and that should always be protected, by fair use. We seek a clear statement from the court that such academic use of copyrighted materials is protected under fair use.

I can understand why copyright holders would want to protect their work from individuals who are only seeking commercial gain through the use of their material. I cannot understand, however, why they would fight against scholars’ use of this material. While the former is used for personal gain, the latter seeks to educate and inform the public. These Estates and their agents should be honored by the fact that renowned scholars, such as Shloss, are providing information that will further the public’s understanding of classic works of literature, art, and so forth. Scholars should be able to produce their work without the fear of being sued by Estates who interpret the law too narrowly.

Naked Conversations Saturday, Jul 8 2006 

In their book Naked Conversations, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel discussed their belief that blogs have helped transform the way businesses communicate with their clientele for the better. The practice of blogging allows businesses to become what the authors call “transparent” and gives consumers a different perspective of the company. By being more open and turning away from the traditional practice of keeping everything confidential, these companies are building their credibility among consumers.

Why the title Naked Conversations? Scoble and Israel explained:

If you came here expecting to see a couple of middle-aged white guys talking in the nude, you’ve come to the wrong book. This one’s about a revolution that is transforming the way businesses and customers communicate with each other. It’s about stripping out all the crap that gets in the way of understanding and trust between them. Mostly it’s about blogging, the most powerful tool so far in this revolution.

This is a great synopsis of the book. The authors discussed how blogging can help big corporations, small businesses, consultants and publicists connect with their clientele. Blogging gives big corporations the ability to have what the authors call “direct access” to their audience. They describe it as a great way to ensure that a company’s message is distributed properly. The authors give the example of how many executives may find themselves granting interviews to the press only to find that their words have been twisted in some fashion and the true intent of their message has been lost. If the executive has a blog, they can use it to convey their message in the way it was intended.

Scoble and Israel argued that those corporations that blog are viewed more favorably by the public. They argued that before Microsoft became open to blogging, they were viewed by the public as the “Evil Empire” but now the company has “experienced a vast softening of its image.” Overall, the company has received more favorable media coverage and a boost in employee morale which has “helped the company’s ability to attract new talent.”

Blogging, Scoble and Israel argued, can help small businesses by extending their reach to an audience they may not otherwise know they exist. The give the example of a tailor in London, Thomas Mahon, who enjoyed in increase in his clientele because he used blogging to connect with his customers. The authors explain that his business has been built on word of mouth. He went from selling a couple of suits each time he visited Manhattan to selling over 20 suits. Blogging gave Mahon a global reach that he would not have been able to obtain without spending big bucks to market his company.

This book is valuable tool for individuals who are interested in knowing how blogging is effecting communication among businesses and the public. The authors give such a powerful argument for why blogging is beneficial to not only corporations, but consultants and PR professionals that is it hard to think of reasons why it wouldn’t be beneficial. They write this book in the same manner they recommend individuals blog, open and balanced. Although they may not agree with someone’s point of view, they state that persons point of view and politely state why they disagree. I believe this is important because, as the authors mention in the book, it helps build credibility. If an individuals feels someone is open to their point of view, then they may be more willing to listen to that person’s perspective. This makes the dialogue interesting and productive.

I found the chapter on “Survival of the Publicists” particularly interesting. The authors made strong points regarding how the traditional command-and-control school of communication in the PR practice is facing “a change-or-perish challenge.” Scoble and Israel argued:

The command-and-control school of communications has been successful doing what it does for more than 50 years. Its practitioners still get press coverage. They are happily hacking their way through their jungles. They see customers don’t believe what they are being told and editors don’t write what’s in the release. The esteem of corporate spokespeople is at a low point.

This passage appealed to me because it reminded me of my first PR course. The professor called a couple of students to re-enact a situation involving a reporter and a spokesperson. I remember the professor raving about what a great job the spokesperson did as I sat there thinking, “is he crazy? I didn’t believe a word she just said!” This proves that sometimes the only people that believe what those in the PR profession are doing is so great are those who are in the professional themselves. Well, that only works if they are trying to convince each other.

The authors’ view of the importance of blogging for businesses is consistent with the argument Dan Gillmor presented in We the Media. The authors (of both books) have argued that participating in this practice is essential to building credibility among consumers. While Dan Gillmor focused more on blogging’s effect on journalism, some of the same principles apply to the way businesses interact with their consumers. The main principle is to pay attention to the public and be as open as possible. With the invention of the blogosphere, it’s impossible to ignore a situation so corporations and journalist shouldn’t even try.

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