Archive Page 2

30
Jan
09

Who’s Missing From Forbes’ Web Celebs

Yesterday, Forbes posted “The Web Celeb 25,” including a list of near misses (my bff Chris Brogan for one) and others who had dropped off the list. According to the authors, here’s how the list was created:

To generate the Web Celebs ranking, we first defined a “Web celebrity” as a person famous primarily for creating or appearing in Internet-based content and for being highly recognizable to a Web-based audience. That definition excludes people who were significantly famous before they hit the Web–like author and pundit Arianna Huffington–and leaves us with a pool of people whose fame depends on the Internet.

Next, we created a candidate list of over 250 Internet personalities. Each candidate was ranked in five areas: Web references as calculated by Google; traffic ranking of their homepages as calculated by Alexa; Technorati rank of their primary Web sites or blogs, TV and radio mentions and press clips compiled from Factiva; and number of followers on microblogging site Twitter. We gave extra weight to results from Alexa, Google and Factiva. All five categories were totaled to produce a final score, and sorted to arrive at our rankings.

That list of 25 ended up including one woman, Heather Armstrong. Women who just missed the list or dropped off it included Gina Trapani, Xeni Jardin, and Kathy Sierra. Where the hell are all the women?

First and foremost, the authors used a clearly defined and objective process for selecting the peeps on their list. Second, I don’t perceive any active role of sexism. However, I’m left scratching my head over why so few women made the numbers cut. So much so, it woke me up at 5:30 this morning.

Having no wish to spend the time double checking Forbes‘ numbers (and doubting there’s anything wrong with them), I’m left with my theories about the dearth of women on the list due to the numbers game.

Women Do Things in Groups on the Web

BlogHer comes to mind as one the largest such groups to combine the efforts of women on the web. When things are done as a group, singling out any one individual for recognition becomes tricky because how do you weigh impact, especially in a large, active community? It’s sometimes easier to measure in offline communities when women can run for PTA president (huge job by the way…do you know how much fundraising they do?) or other public offices.

Women Pick Unsexy Niches

Shiny gadgets can be seen as infinitely more attractive than the day-to-day details of being a mom. Women also show a willingness to talk about things our other halves can be less comfortable with (note: I don’t say always): emotions, relationships, personal introspection, etc.

While I don’t agree with everything she does, I’ve been a little surprised at the flak Penelope Trunk gets for her openness about all aspects of her life and not just running a startup. We devour celebrity gossip but wag our fingers at individuals sharing personal details? Seems contradictory to me.

Women Run Things vs. Star in Them

It’s a common enough saying, “behind every great man, is a great woman.” Not to imply that the men who made the list aren’t great in their own right, but I suspect several wouldn’t be there if they didn’t have the help of women to run day-to-day things. Robert Scoble has always been very open about his appreciation for Maryam, his wife, who blogs, too.

Whether it’s wives, girlfriends, or mothers, women often end up in the nonglamourous roles, leaving little time for stardom. The same is true for women in business. Sometimes we end up managing the details to make sure the bigger picture happens.

Measuring By Numbers Creates a Gap

I could go on with the list, but the point would be the same: measuring exclusively by numbers creates a gap. Perez Hilton took top honors this year on the web celeb list. Forbes noted that a new post appears every 12.5 seconds and his site attracts 4.8 million viewers a month. I’m curious though, how much of his content do you think will matter in six months or even a year?

I don’t believe the core of this argument is about men versus women, but rather about how we place value on what people do. Yes, the ability to generate money matters from a survival standpoint, and numbers help determine the potential money generation. However, as recent market events have shown, numbers can be twisted, hiding the reality. Don’t we stand to benefit if we can look beyond the numbers?

29
Jan
09

A Bailout from Hypocrisy

The hypocrisy of Senator Christopher Dodd amazes me. Why?

The president joined politicians such as Senator Christopher Dodd, who today called for using “every possible legal means to get the money back.” The bonus pool for 2008 by New York City financial companies was the sixth-largest ever amid record losses in the securities industry, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a report yesterday. (link)

So what’s the big deal?

It’s been over seven months since it was revealed that Senate Banking Committee chairman Christopher Dodd (D., Conn.) got a sweetheart deal on his Washington, D.C., townhouse directly from Angelo Mozilo, the CEO of troubled subprime-mortgage lender Countrywide Financial. Participating in the “Friends of Angelo” program saved Dodd about $75,000 on his mortgage, and raised more than a few eyebrows about whether Dodd should be accepting such hefty gifts from entities he’s tasked with overseeing and regulating. (link)

To be clear, Dodd wants all those naughty Wall Street peeps to give back their bonuse, but I see nothing in the news about him offering to make up the $75,000 break he received from a company involved directly in the current economic mess.

I believe we should be asking hard questions asked about Wall Street bonuses paid out in 2008, particularly if they were paid with tax dollars. However, I find it tacky that one individual who is doing so sees nothing wrong with receiving what amounts to a questionable bonus.

If we’re truly suffering from a “crisis of confidence,” according to Dodd, then how do his actions help counteract that confidence? Don’t talk to me about how Wall Street should behave when it’s still unclear whether your hands are any cleaner.

Change Congress Makes Sense

Dodd’s case is neither unusual nor limited to either political party. What makes this situation so frustrating is the lack of transparency. One of the reasons I’m enchanted (yes, enchanted) with Larry Lessig’s Change Congress movement is it’s position “that politicians should work for the people, not special interests.” You can’t get much more transparent. Even more powerful is its acknowledgment that the system itself has to be reformed in order for change to happen.

Currently, Change Congress is calling for a donor strike and they’ve hit the $500,000 mark:

“I’m pledging not to donate to any federal candidate unless they support legislation making congressional elections citizen-funded, not special-interest funded.”

This language gives me confidence in the potential for my government to be better than it is today. Dodd calling for “every possible legal means” does not instill confidence because his actions bely the words. Whether you agree with President Obama’s agenda, one piece that we can all get behind, regardless of affiliation, is that things need to change. What are you doing to effect that change?

26
Jan
09

Using A Fork to Eat Soup

Snow RemovalLiving in a snowy state, I’m all too familiar with snow removal. This morning at 3:45 a.m. I had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand my city’s snow removal operation. Two road graders removed the bulk of the snow in the road. That’s when the entertainment began, and I got a well-deserved reminder that we don’t always use our tools wisely.

Two backhoes were moving steadily down the street. As they got closer, I realized they were clearing snow piles from driveways created by the road graders. The first backhoe turned into the driveway with its bucket upside down then dragged the snow backwards. This movement was repeated twice, creating a row of snow out in the road, which required an additional forward scoop or two by a backhoe to finish clearing the driveway.

As I watched these two backhoes, it became clear that neither was responsible for a particular action. One backhoe randomly performed one or both actions before moving on to the next driveway. Instead of backhoe #1 doing the initial removal with backhoe #2 doing the final clearing, the process appeared random and inefficient with each driver doing whatever struck his fancy.

Getting Stuck

This behavior highlights our very human tendency to get stuck in a habit, despite the options we have available. Much of our decision-making isn’t necessarily driven by what makes sense but by what we’re used to, even ignoring the potential of the tools we have at our disposal.  The comparison seems ludicrous, but imagine trying to eat soup with a fork in spite of a spoon sitting next to the bowl. That’s what some of our behavior looks like.

It even affects the way we use language. I’ve mentioned it before, but I still find it frustrating when people look at me oddly for using my full vocabulary. I try to take into account my audience and judge what words are best suited for the situation, but there are still times that I get grief for using “big” words. If a better word exists to describe something, doesn’t it make sense to use that word?

You Have to Look Past the Obvious

Despite the existence of an assembly line organization in meat slaughtering, it didn’t automatically replicate in other industries. Henry Ford saw the potential for improved efficiency and implemented the system in his factories, helping lower the overall cost of automobile production. Since then, other industries have implemented assembly lines, giving it little thought. However, it took one person in the beginning to see the potential application in another setting before assembly lines became a common practice. The same things happens with other good ideas or tools.

Thomas J. Watson, IBM’s chairman of the board during the first half of the 20th century, had the confidence to state, “I think there’s a world market for about five computers.” Luckily for Apple, Dell, HP, IBM, et. al., he was wrong (I have five in my possession at the moment). The things we can do now with the computers were only a dream when the first machine was built. Imagine what will be possible in 10 or 20 years. Again, such progress takes someone looking past the status quo and understanding the potential.

Doing More than Talking

We’ve been mired in talk of Web 2.0 for years, with a sprinkling of Web 3.0 beginning to enter conversations, and I’m not sure we’ve learned the lesson of Web 1.0: whatever the iteration, what matters more is what you do with the tools. Like my early morning snow crew, we stick with the tried, whether or not it’s really true. For me, this discussion is less about changing and more about trying. There’s no requirement that one must change if another option is available, but it seems silly to dismiss the option without fully understanding what’s available.

Image courtesy of Urban Eyes on Flickr.

22
Jan
09

Taking Shots at America’s Banker

As I’m fond of saying, words have power. Today, Timothy Geithner, the nominee for Treasury Secretary, proved as much in his written testimony with a direct shot at China.

“President Obama backed by the conclusions of a broad range of economists believes that China is manipulating its currency,” Geithner wrote. That stopped short of a charge that China is manipulating its currency intentionally to gain an unfair trade advantage, as the 1988 trade law requires for an official citation of “manipulation,” which in turn would trigger a United States diplomatic effort to get China to let the value of its currency, the yuan, rise. (link)

James Fallows of The Atlantic provides a succinct explanation for the potential issues surrounding this stated position. The one that sticks out to me highlights the risk of such pointed language:

Do we think that the Chinese authorities who have put some $2 trillion into US assets will respond blandly to being labeled manipulators — or to a policy that would effectively devalue the investments they’ve already made here? If Americans think that, they’re naive–in my view, based on this interview with a man at the center of Chinese decision making. (link)

Here’s where my interest lies…we have yet to see a firm economic plan from the United States government so why the strong language aimed at America’s favorite banker? I claim no expertise in foreign currency matters, but I do wonder, like Mr. Fallows, why Geithner elected to use such blunt language for something that’s been a tricky diplomacy dance for years.

While I might wish otherwise, China plays a large role in American piggy banks. What happens to our economic recovery if China decides to stop the flow of money? Think about it in the most basic of terms. If a child mouths off to a parent, odds of her continuing to receive a weekly allowance plummets. While America isn’t exactly a child, it is in a position of being reliant on another entity who has power in the relationship.

Addressing China and Chinese policy that impacts American policy is a valid role for government officials. I can only hope that in coming months said officials will show more common sense in their efforts and words.

16
Jan
09

The Value of a Vow

Vows, oaths, contracts…all are standard ways to indicate that we promise certain things. How seriously do you take your commitments? Unbeknownst to me, courtesy of Women’s Health, I discovered that respect for vows is even less than I thought. In this case, the discussion involved vows of the marital variety:

With the U.S. divorce rate hovering around 50 percent, it’s not unreasonable to assume that half the husbands in America will be back on the market eventually. And a number of studies have shown that about half of all married men and women have cheated.

These stats may explain why we no longer instantly brand any and all mate poachers as devil spawn and why so many women are willing to compromise other people’s commitments. As a culture, we understand that relationships are complicated and change over time. “We no longer expect most marriages to last a lifetime,” Kirshenbaum says, “so when a woman gets involved with a married man or vice versa, it doesn’t shock us the way it used to.” We almost expect it.

I’m curious…do you think that the ability to keep (or not) marital vows is an indication of one’s ability to keep other commitments? The same question could be asked about any type of commitment. For instance, if a doctor can’t stick to her Hippocratic Oath, does it carry implications in other areas of her life?

Vows, oaths, and whatnot are all words. It requires the intent of the individual to give them any power. So what do we give up when we betray those commitments?

09
Jan
09

Happy Ex-Customers

The web abounds with stories about unpleasant customer service experiences. In the context of today’s economy, customer service is more important than ever, even when dealing with a customer who wants to leave one’s service for another. Admittedly, making it easy for a customer to leave you for a competitor seems counterintuitive.

However, in both of my recent customer service boondoggles, my original reasons for moving weren’t due to unhappiness with the service itself.  Since both companies chose to act the jilted lover, I’ve gone from being a positive reviewer to a disgruntled, almost-former customer. Prior to my poor experiences, there was every reason to think that some day I might use these companies again.

Protecting You As An Excuse

I appreciate as much as the next person companies who protect my interests and any investments I’ve made in their services. However, when that protection is used, a layer at a time, to hinder a switch between services, it looks less like the company is protecting me and more like it’s protecting its interests.

In this particular instance, I was attempting to consolidate my domain names with one registrar. As I followed the necessary steps, I kept going back and forth between the FAQs, looking for details on completing the transfer. Over the next three days, I discovered three different things I needed to do before a valid transfer could be completed. Every time I did a search in the FAQs, I never found a single entry for domain transfer that listed all of the three things I was told needed to happen.

Made Up Answers

I’d much rather a customer service rep said, “I don’t know, but let me find out,” versus making up an answer. A larger provider recently bought my local carrier, which has resulted in a number of policy changes, including the necessity of signing a new contract. I’d considered switching to another carrier, but decided to see if the new owner was worth working with. Unfortunately, each visit to the store produced a different rep with a different story about the policy changes and plan options.

Even more frustrating, requests to speak to either a manager or a more senior rep were ignored. Recently, I learned of an acquaintance with a business plan who received a $7,000+ text message bill because they had unknowingly lost their unlimited texting when they signed the new contract. Resolving the issue required a call to the corporate offices and the approval of a VP. Combined with my recent experience, I’ve lost any interest in remaining with this carrier, and other options are being considered.

Happy Ex-Customers

I haven’t mentioned the names of the two (well-known) companies for the reason I see no need to give them free, albeit bad, press. These experiences have shown me that while the end result of me switching services stays the same, there was no requirement that I also end up loathing the companies. The good customer service stories are out there. Companies know how they should behave. The only question is whether or not they choose to.

05
Jan
09

A Bookish Resolution

2235761852_124c18bec1_mI have a thing for books and most anything related to places that hold books…book stores, libraries, shelves, etc. My heart holds a special place for the library of my youth (i.e. the library before computers and Internet). Watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s reminded me of this affection as I watched Holly and Fred search for his book in the card catalog (starting at about 1:40). There was something so grown up about pulling out those little drawers, flipping cards, and searching the shelves for the neatly typed titles.

My love affair with books and all things bookish makes it difficult for me to comprehend a world that seems disinterested in books. From Adrian Hon via  Rachel Clarke I learned how grim the book reading landscape is:

40% of people in the US (and 34% in the UK) do not read books any more. They may surf the web, or the read the occasional newspaper, but they do not read more than one book (fiction or non-fiction) in a year.

The closer you look at the statistics, the more depressing it gets. In the US, only 47% of adults read a work of literature – and I don’t mean Shakespeare, I mean any novel, short story, play or poem – in 2006.

Adrian does an excellent job of explaining the larger issues related to the reading decline. I encourage you to read his full post. For my part, I’ve decided to be more public about my book reading. My interest is less in doing a book review per se, but more about demonstrating how much of my thinking is impacted by what I read.

To start, I have 1,638 books in my personal collection. Of that number, I feel comfortable saying I’ve read about 75-80%. On average, I go through 4-5 books per week, less if my reading is for research/study versus pleasure. Throughout the coming year, I’ll share as appropriate (some of my reading selections are more mind candy than mind challenging) the books and the ideas they contain that make me think. Yes, there are a great many blogs and online writers who fire the imagination, but I never would have started blogging if I hadn’t been reading great books that got me thinking in the first place.

My goal isn’t to rank the value of any creative source but rather to point out the necessity of pulling from all possible sources. Given that my posts tend to be lengthier, I suspect many of my readers will appreciate my New Year’s wish that you’ll enjoy book-filled weeks and months to come.

Image courtesy of Paxsimius.




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