Searching for the Moon

Shannon Clark's rambles and conversations on food, geeks, San Francisco and occasionally economics

Archive for the ‘networks’ Category

Review – The Impact Equation by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith

Posted by shannonclark on October 12, 2012

Reading The Impact Equation at Blue Bottle Mint Plaza in San Francisco

Do you know how to make an impact? How to get heard? How to have your ideas shared with the world and have an impact?

My friend Chris Brogan along with his co-author Julien Smith have a new book, The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?, which will be published on Oct 25th, 2012. They sent me a preview copy and over the past couple of weeks I have been reading it at cafes and on the muni here in San Francisco. My copy is already dog eared and flagged with post-its for easy reference back to key points in the book.

TLDR review – pre-order this book and read it

First a few disclosures and admissions. One, Chris Brogan is a friend – not an old “grew up” with friend, but not just someone whom I follow on social media channels, he’s someone whom I have met in person many times and whom I knew years ago before he had books published and a speaking schedule that takes him around the world. Two, I haven’t (yet) read Trust Agents which is Chris and Julien’s earlier book. My stack of books to be read – for fun and for business including far too many by folks I know has been large and growing over the past few years and somehow I haven’t gotten to Trust Agents yet. Three, many of the people they write about in this new book (and I suspect in their previous book) are people I know friends from here in San Francisco and from the larger tech/social media/blog/podcasting world. Four, I don’t have the 1000’s of readers/followers/listeners of folks like Chris and Julien but I am as they say “a degree away” from many people who do – folks with millions of followers and a high impact on the world.

With all of that disclosed up front I have been inspired not just to write this review but to rethink a bunch of my personal projects (including this blog) and over the next few weeks and months I anticipate making many personal and professional changes inspired in no small part by the ideas of The Impact Equation. I can’t summarize their book in a few short paragraphs but I will summarize a few of their early and key points and discuss how I plan on addressing them.

To start with the equation itself (quoting from the pre-release copy but I assume this key part won’t change in the final print edition):

Impact = C x (R + E + A + T + E)

Yes, that is, not surprisingly, the simple yet key fact that to have impact now (and in the past) you have to create – frequently, often and well. The full equation defines each part and the book illustrates each aspect of the equation. Contrast – a new idea has to familiar yet different enough to be noticed. Reach – the number of people you can get connected to your ideas. Exposure – how often do you connect with the people you can reach. Articulation – being understood and clear in communicating your idea. Trust – the subject of their previous book but still not entirely figured out – but why will people listen to you? And finally Echo – the feeling of connection that great ideas and impactful people create.

Fairly simple, fairly memorable yet also complex enough to warrant a full book (and I’m sure many more talks and presentations in the future for Chris and Julien).

On a person level my biggest takeaways from the book is a reminder to get myself back into the ongoing, frequent content creation business – that if I want to grow my own personal impact I need to create more content, more often, and more thoughtfully. Furthermore I need to think about this whether I’m going to continue being an independent consultant or if I join a larger organization. That while I may have some impact in my tweets, comments, email list participation and even events that I create if I were more thoughtful about my online (and offline) activities I could have a much greater impact on the world. With more thoughtful (and literally more frequent) effort I can have a far larger impact on the world than i do today. That I can take the conversations I have one-on-one today and still have that impact but also bring it to a far wider audience.

For some of this I will have to get out of my comfort zone – write more content, experiment with new formats for myself (video? audio?) and generate this content far more frequently than I have been for the past few years.

In each of the chapters of The Impact Equation Chris and Julien cover a mix of specific tactics (and the occasional exercise to get you thinking) as well as stories that illustrate their key ideas. Some of these stories are from business people they have met others are illustrated with celebrities they admire. But in every chapter they also focus on asking you to think about how this applies to yourself – how would you evaluate yourself on this dimension of their equation. I think most of these chapters and the book over all are compelling but not every chapter is equally strong.

The initial chapters on Ideas – on Contrast and Articulation are very good and have a lot of useful exercises for everyone. In particular they have a lot of great exercises around how to evaluate your own ideas and how to communicate them clearly.

The middle chapters on Platforms – on Reach and Exposure – however are a bit weaker. In particular I think the chapter on Exposure is the weakest chapter in the book. In part this is because Exposure is in no small part outside of your direct control. They talk in this chapter about the exposure that someone like Jimmy Fallon has from his tv show but they also talk about the impact of frequency on your exposure but the links and what will work best for most people is not entirely clear from this chapter (and it is perhaps not an easy thing to answer). They have a lot of great questions and a few answers but this chapter left me a bit unsatisfied. Yes, participating in the communities you want to reach is great advice (it is what I tell my clients in fact) but it takes more than just that to get great exposure of your ideas.

The final chapters on Network – on Trust and Echo, Echo – are perhaps surprisingly among the shortest in the book. The chapter on Trust is a revisit (per what they wrote, I haven’t yet read Trust Agents) of the topic of their earlier collaboration. The chapter on Echo (Echo, Echo) is nearly the end of the book and very important but also fairly short. It is about how your ideas resonant and connect. Very important but I think if they could have gone a bit deeper here the whole book would have “echoed” for me even more strongly. But that said they make some really important points in this last chapter leading to the conclusion of the book.

Overall as I said above my recommendation is that you go out and buy this book – in fact that you go preorder it now to be among the first to read it. I hope for my friend’s sake that it is a huge hit and given the quality of the content I’m sure it will be a successful book. More importantly on a personal front it has many parts that I will be using myself to make changes in the coming weeks to my own professional habits and practices and online (and offline) content.

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Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, networks, podcasts, reading, reviews, working | Tagged: , , , | 3 Comments »

Thoughts from The Future of Money 2011 in San Francisco

Posted by shannonclark on February 28, 2011

All day I will be attending the great Future of Money conference organized by my friend Brian Zisk. I have attended his previous conferences and am looking forward to today’s conference. I will update this post over the course of the day with some of my thoughts and reactions to the speakers and to conversations with my fellow attendees.

My interest in this conference is around my past studies of economics – how are the innovations happening in the payments and financial transactions spaces around the world illustrating (or perhaps not) my thoughts about how all of economics are networks. I have written about this in the past (though not much recently) a few of my past posts which are worth a reread are:

Stop complaining about capitalism and make it your bitch

$4.09 gasoline and other walking tales

The value of used a networked economics perspective

Startupcamp day 1 notes from my session on economic networks

 

Posted in economics, internet, networks | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Seven questions/ideas for Ping – Apple’s new music social network

Posted by shannonclark on September 2, 2010

Here is a post I sent to the Pho-List, a semi-private mailing list for people in/interested in the digital music space. As Ping & Apple is of wider interest than just industry types I am posting my seven questions/ideas here on my blog. I welcome your feedback, answers or further suggestions.

I think the really interesting stuff will be when we learn whether additional parties will be able to participate in Ping or on the Apple TV.

A few examples to illustrate what I mean.

1) will ticket services that are not Livenation/ticketmaster be able to work with Ping? If so musicians and fans win. If not Ping will lack smaller venues  and any major shows not at Livenation venues.

2) will services such as the BBC’s iPlayer (which they have made some announcements about offering outside of the UK – and slight hints that even non-UK citizens might have a means of paying for access) or similar streaming services from other global networks integrate with the Apple TV? As a US based fan of Doctor Who if this allowed me to legally view HD Doctor Who (and other BBC series) I would buy the Apple TV & pay a monthly subscription in a heartbeat. (BBC America isn’t available in HD on Comcast here in SF)

3) Will artists have a means of offering full streams of select tracks or full videos on their Ping pages as they already do on MySpace Music and on their own websites.

4) a Facebook friends invite feature was announced for Ping but will this integration be deeper? (ie linking/using music, tv and film “likes” on Facebook; connecting a facebook fan page to the musician’s ping profile etc) and will other networks also be connected to (for example will there be a myspace integration)

5) will there be an API to allow developers to build tools to help musicians and/or labels manage their Ping presence? Will this allow for cross promotion of more than just livenation venue event tickets? For example – merch, physical music such as LP’s, fan clubs, kickstarter like pre-sale offers for new works, iPhone/iPad applications etc. Will an artist be able to cross-promote for example linking to TV series or films using the artists work (or in some cases where the artist is acting)

6) how well integrated will individual artists and the group(s) they perform with be on Ping? I don’t know if there is an easy answer but countless artists across all genres perform with different groups – a fan of the artist or one group should, you would think, have an  easy way to discover these other groups.

7) will Ping and iTunes more broadly better support musical genres currently poorly represented on iTunes. Personally I’m thinking about Opera and a classical music – genres where iTunes has limited offerings. But there is a wider global array of genres and regions where iTunes (at least in the US) carries few artists.

Posted in internet, iTunes, mac, music, networks | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

13 questions for Twitter and the Library of Congress

Posted by shannonclark on April 15, 2010

Earlier this week Twitter announced that they had donated a copy of their entire corpus dating back to the first Tweet to the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress tweeted the announcement and wrote about it on the LOC Blog. Historians, social scientists and many many other researchers will soon (if access if made available) have access to a truly unique corpus of data on a global scale about individual expression, reactions to real time events and much more. Yet there are a lot of questions and nuances.
A few that come immediately to mind.
  1. How are deleted accounts handled – both from the past and into the future? (As a historian I think they should – though this may be controversial – continue to be archived and preserved as part of a moment in time)
  2. Is it noted when an account changed ownership? (ie was established and then in the future was either lapsed and taken by another party once Twitter released it or was perhaps due to a court order transfered to another person – for example if it was deemed to have been infringing someone’s trademark
  3. Are accounts which are set private part of this corpus of data? Their announcement notes that this was a donation of “public tweets” but what about accounts whose status has changed over time? Are tweets which were made when an account was set private – but which was later set public noted as having been sent when the account was private? Or conversely are public tweets preserved if they were public when they were sent even if the account is later reset to be private?
  4. Does the corpus include the changelog of each account? ie could the “following” and “followers” of a given account be recreated at a particular point in time & later analyzed for changes over time (who someone was following / who was following them is not a minor matter at all for a lot of academic research questions – even just historical interest
  5. Are spammer accounts which were created & detected & deleted part of this corpus? On the one hand their presence would complicate a lot of academic studies (they would inflate a lot of studies – since many spammers spammed via retweets etc) but on the other hand studying false positives and relative ratios of “spammer” accounts to “real” accounts would be pretty interesting to study – especially as Twitter’s ability to detect spammers got better it would be useful to revisit moments in time (such as @aplusk & @cnn’s race to 1M followers) to analyze what percentage of their “followers” were spammers, what percentage were accounts that hadn’t yet & didn’t into the future see much usage etc.
  6. Will the corpus include Direct Messages? (which are private) but which are still pretty crucial historical documents in many cases. The DM’s to public officials for example could be arguably already required to be publicly disclosed.
  7. Will the corpus include elements of Twitter which are no longer part of Twitter (for example people’s Track settings
  8. Will there be an attempt by Twitter (or by the Library of Congress) to pull an Internet Archive move (or partner with them) to resolve:
    1. Links to images, videos, music and other media?
    2. URL resolution (both archive what the state of the page was when it was tweeted out – which may now be impossible to replicate) and especially at least resolving (when still possible) what a shortened URL resolves to
  9. Will the corpus include people’s Avatar images (which have in many cases changed over time), their bios, URL’s, Locations and Twitter website background and other settings? (not just private/public but have they linked a phone number to their account? have they set anyone whom they are following to be delivered via SMS etc)
  10. Will it archive Lists from the point when they were introduced? (and with Lists will it track how those lists were created over time?)
  11. Will the corpus include noting which accounts were blocking other accounts? (and when Twitter rolled it out when accounts were marked as being spam). In some cases people who were not spammers were marked as spam by a few users – I’m sure – and in some cases may have been flagged and later reinstated – will the corpus track stuff such as that?)
  12. As Twitter added features (and changed others) will the corpus reflect those changes? (Retweets for example and more recently a lot of changes around Geo data and very soon a whole lot more meta data for every Tweet)
  13. Will the corpus attempt to reflect other public faces of Twitter? For example logs of searches which people performed on Twitter or Who was on the “Suggested User List” at a given point in time or what was shown to users at “trending topics” over time – etc.
Lots of questions – but mostly I’m very excited.

I hope that beyond preserving what is, I think we can all agree, a very real historical (and ongoing) document. I hope that this move is just the first of many – this archive should be widely available at least to be preserved for the future and it should, I hope, be made available to lots of academic researchers in the near future.

In their announcement Twitter notes that there will be a 6 month delay in what is available, which I think is unfortunate, and they are restricting it to “non-commercial researchers” which I think is also unfortunate as the line between commercial and non-commercial is never entirely clear. I also believe that there are many non-obvious uses for this corpus of data in a wide array of research fields beyond serving as a historical document, this corpus could help many fields of study such as linguistics, AI research and much more.

Posted in futureculture, internet, networks | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Curate for me – an idea for a simple web service

Posted by shannonclark on February 19, 2010

As always, I am posting this business idea publicly and “as-is”. Feel free to build it. If you do and want to give me credit that would be greatly appreciated – if you want me to be involved I would likely be willing to be and am always happy to talk further. But I’m not going to sue you if you run with this idea and build something that makes the web better.

Yesterday my friend Marshall Kirkpatrick tweeted about how few pages views a post on Read WRite Web about Google Maps in Africa had gotten. This post in turn sparked a discussion this morning on Google Buzz.

In that discussion I suggested the following:

I’ve been thinking a lot about how to filter content – tweets, blog posts and more. I don’t want “the most popular” (or the most retweeted etc) – that’s the stuff I’m most likely to have already seen, already heard about. Instead I want some way to see what people who’s opinions and views I care about think is the most important stuff they have created recently (and this also includes companies and brands – if I’ve chosen to pay direct attention to them – for example following Ford & Scott Monty on Twitter).

So that is my idea.

Create a very simple web site & service which would build two very simple sets of services.

Service 1 – Very simple tools for people to curate their own content & republish it into a consolidated feed

Service 2 – Very simple tools for people to link up who they follow (across many other services) to these new, curated feeds.

One key to this service would be that it has some real constraints built into it – restrictions that help force people into making real curatorial decisions about what amongst a bunch of content they have created it worthy of making this “must-see” list. I don’t know what the right constraints are – but I’d guess they are something like limiting people to less than 5 items a day (perhaps fewer).

Another key would be to make the process of using this service simple yet not too simple. Again the idea here isn’t to be an automated, full feed of everything you generate but to represent real thought & effort, real decisions about what is truly most important, most worth people seeing & noting even if it isn’t what is “popular” (or most retweeted, linked to by others etc).

Other constraints such as expiration of content might be helpful and important in keeping this service limited to just the most important stuff, just the really useful & interesting items (though I’d also keep this history of what you thought was important at various points in time as I think that too would be really useful and interesting to study).

To launch this it could probably be a web service with linked Oauth (Twitter OAuth, Facebook Connect, perhaps Google’s stuff as well). Ideally the interface would make it really easy for someone to login, see their content from many services and filter upon that content to just the content they most want to highlight to others.

The site/service would grow organically as people then promoted their new, filtered feeds/page out to their current followers across many services (and on their blogs etc). These feeds of “the best, must-see stuff” would make very natural widgets to be embedded across the web in many ways (on people’s blogs & personal websites, in their profiles in Facebook or LinkedIn etc).

I do not know if this service would have a real business model (I have some ideas but I’m not certain). Nor am I sure if it would meet a large demand or need – but I know that I, for one, would really like to see what a bunch of people who I care about, who I deeply respect and am very interested in, would think is the most important stuff at the moment. It might not be what I would think is the most important – but that is the point.

I want to learn what I have been missing, what my friends (and companies I care about) are most passionate about at the moment.

From businesses this might be deals of the day or it might be Haitian relief efforts. From my friends it might be their pending wedding, new job, a great post they wrote or a fantastic deal they found.

It doesn’t have to be web-centric either. My friend Alex Steffen tweeted earlier today about the magazines he bought at the newsstand to read this weekend. That is the stuff that really does interest me (see my post on my Media diet in 2010)

I’m happy if my friends and businesses I choose to follow use this for commercial purposes.

If they start to spam this service I have a simple way to stop that spam, I can choose to unfollow them.

The service should have a “block” or “mute” option unique to the service and could also suggest that you mute/unfollow/unfriend those people on other services where you were already following them (i.e. the services you used to authenticate and link to this new service).

So who wants to help me build this into a real service?

Posted in geeks, internet, networks | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

What do you actually use your computers to do?

Posted by shannonclark on February 1, 2010

Last night I wrote about why I think the iPad will be a great device for content creation – and included a number of potential million dollar plus ideas.

Today as I read a bunch of blogs and articles covering the iPad I am struck by how many people who are objecting to the iPad or predicting that it will fail seem to have some idea of computer usage which differs, dramatically so, from how I have used my computers for the past decade and very much from how I use my computers today.

The image that people have of “using” a computer seems to involve lots of overlapping processes, deep customization of the system and a variety of applications running which all push the limits of the system.

My reality?

I usually have one application running on my computers – a browser. On my tablet I currently use Google Chrome as my primary browser (not least of which because it doesn’t have lots of extensions and thus loads quickly and smoothly).

Recently I have been using Mindjet’s MindManager (I have the old 7.0 version installed here) which I enjoy but really only barely use, mostly I use it to capture all my various ongoing projects, to-do lists and the like (in short as my electronic GTD system).

Occasionally I use an IM application, mostly Google gchat – which I could just about as easily just use from within the browser, though I do appreciate the occasional notifications that pop up about new messages in my primary inbox. Though since I have at least three main email addresses and only get notifications for one email address and then only for my inbox and not for the many important messages I get but autofilter into various labels, the utility of this notification service is minimal at best.

And when I sync my iPod and iPhone I fire up iTunes – but since my library is vastly larger than my laptop’s HD, doing so requires that I attach an external HD to my system for the syncing to work. I use a wide array of complex smart playlists to result in every device I own and sync getting exactly the content I want to reside on that particular device – which always includes the latest podcasts I have downloaded as well as any other new content I have recently added to my iTunes library (so if I buy new content, rip a CD or download legal digital content it will get onto my music player automatically and be added to the primary playlists I use to select what to listen to during my walks, waits for buses and other podcast listening opportunities during the day.

But that is about all the applications i use on a regular basis. Sure, I have some compilers installed on my laptop, the full MSFT Office suite and much more but the reality is that I almost never need to run any of these applications. And when I do other than looking up information in my browser from time to time, I rarely need to have multiple applications open at the same time – for one my screen resolution though good for a laptop is still so low that I almost always run every app I use in full window mode.

Perhaps I am missing something major about how people use their computers today – some suite of applications that everyone other than me uses – but I don’t think this is the case.

A few possibilities.

  1. Photo & Video editing. My digital camera died a few months ago and I have yet to replace it (need a camera but don’t have the spare funds to buy one at the moment) so I don’t do a lot of photo and no video editing. But there are some great online alternatives to applications such as Photoshop. Aviary is my personal favorite – they offer a wide range of image and vector art online editing tools along with even some music editing tools. Adobe even offers an iPhone application for Photo editing (limited but
  2. Games. I don’t have powerful enough video cards in either of my computers to do much gaming (definitely not in my tablet, my iMac could handle a bit more though there are far fewer MacOS games to select amongst). But PC gaming is and likely will remain a big deal. But so too is gaming on the iPhone and in the future on the iPad and I suspect very rapidly the iPad will attract games that may be better in many ways (or at least very uniquely different) than games not just on PC’s but even against games on any of the major game console systems. I predict that the iPad will be a gaming platform as big, perhaps bigger, than the current game consoles (not their portable game systems which the iPhone already is a potent competitor to but also the main game consoles – Wii, Playstation3 and Xbox360)
  3. Personal Finance. Here in the US we have started to shift into preparing for Tax season shortly. I know in the past many years I have used TurboTax in some form to help prepare my taxes and that many friends run software such as Quickbooks for their family finances or small business finances. That said, there is a reason why Intuit bought Mint last year. Finance software including tax preparation and small (and large) business bookkeeping is rapidly moving from local computers to web/cloud delivered products.
  4. Customized “run the business” applications. These vary by business but think the Point of Sale systems in a retail shop or restaurant. Even here, however, with the rise of platforms such as Square there are many opportunities for many retail transactions to move to the cloud & mobile applications.

So what uses of your personal or business computers have I missed?

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, internet, mac, microsoft, mobile, networks, tablet pc, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , , , | 1 Comment »

first look to the future – my hopes for 2010

Posted by shannonclark on December 30, 2009

Over the next few days I will likely post a flurry of posts here and on Slow Brand (where I just posted 2500+ words on why 2010 is a great year for print). Some will be looking forward, others will be thinking about the past year (and decade) but to start here are my hopes for 2010.

These are not resolutions, nor are they in any particular order. Some are small, some are pretty major.

  • see my niece who was born in Dec. This will probably mean taking a trip to NYC early in 2010 and, I hope, getting in a habit of more frequent visits to one of my favorite cities. Though my niece is just recently born, I want to be an engaged and active uncle. As she grows up I hope I can be a great uncle (and spoil her just a bit)
  • travel outside of the US. In 2009 I didn’t travel all that much, a few trips early in the year, but not many after. In 2010 I hope to spend time outside of the US, see the changing world. Hopefully this will include many countries and many types of travel – professional and personal.
  • the return of Chuck to TV (well the Web in my case). My girlfriend’s “tv boyfriend” is Chuck. I’m okay with this. And yes, our shared love of this show says a great deal about our relationship. I’m a geek but so, in many ways, is she.
  • the end of David Tennant’s run on Doctor Who and the beginning of Matt Smith’s run. I’m a huge Doctor Who fan but never thought it would return to the TV, the past 5 years have been enhanced greatly by the return of Doctor Who to TV as well as the great spin-off series. I’ve loved David Tennant’s Doctor but I really look forward to what Steven Moffat does as the new show runner and I trust that I’ll love the new Doctor. My Decembers for the past few years have been made better by the Christmas Specials and this year my New Year’s Weekend as well.
  • SXSW. Every year since I moved out to the Bay Area I have attended SXSW staying for a few more days each year. In 2010 I hope to stay for even more of SXSW Music (and hope to convince my girlfriend to attend with me hopefully she will be working for a company by then which might send her to SXSW…)
  • A MeshWalk at Social Media Week San Francisco (Feb 1st). I will be organizing a MeshWalk here in San Francisco on Feb 1st as part of the larger Social Media Week activities in San Francisco. The format will be a Social Media Crawl – we will range between a number of businesses with offices in San Francisco in/around SOMA who will have open houses, demonstrations and drinks. Should be an amazing way to start a busy and great Social Media Week here in San Francisco.
  • MeshForum 2010. My hope is to pull together a full, multiple day MeshForum conference in 2010, probably in the late Spring in/around the Bay Area. It has been too many years since I last held a full MeshForum and the focus on the interdisciplinary study of Networks is even more important now than ever before.
  • Raising money for a new, social media related venture. I have been immersed in Social Media for a very long time, running an online game with 1000’s of players from my college dorm room in 1991, being active in USENET in the early 1990’s and on the web in many incarnations and forms ever since. As 2010 starts I am actively engaged in raising an early stage/angel round to fund a social media related venture. Watch my blogs for more details and updates but suffice it say that the focus will be on topics I have been writing about for years – the importance of Curation as the future of Media.

Of course if you are interested in supporting any of my ventures, especially the last three above contact me directly. Especially if your company is interested in sponsoring one or more of these events and online activities.

I also know a number of ventures, of many different scales, who are always looking for additional sponsors and creative advertisers, in 2010 I expect I will be connecting great advertisers and sponsors to amazing, unique and fantastic publishers online and offline.

Politically I have long been a strong supporter of Barack Obama and though some are disappointed in his 2009, I am not. He has achieved a great deal of what I expected and hoped he would, along with the support of his fantastic appointees. In 2010 I am eagerly awaiting still more achievements from the first great administration of my lifetime. Starting early in 2010 with, I hope, the passage of Health Care Reform which will have an immediate and important impact on the quality of my life.

I have a pre-existing condition (Asthma and related allergies and allergy caused conditions) which combined with looking at individual not group coverage would, currently, make getting high quality, affordable health insurance nearly impossible. With the passage of #HCR I should be able to get far more affordable coverage of a far higher quality w/o restrictions for my pre-existing conditions (which I should note are not expensive to treat and keep under control but do require annual expenditures for emergency inhalers and the like).

But more than any of these admittedly wide-ranging looks and hopes for 2010 my biggest one is stay worthy of the love of my girlfriend who has been, by leaps and bounds, the best part of 2009 by far.

I hope you have a great 2010 and look forward to reading about what you are looking forward to – whether big or small.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, geeks, meshforum, meshwalk, networks, personal, politics, San Francisco, venture capital, web2.0, working | Tagged: , , | 2 Comments »

The big tables in the cafe principle

Posted by shannonclark on October 22, 2009

This afternoon I had the pleasure of attending Lunch For Good here in San Francisco, organized by my friend Chris Heuer, the lunch gathered around 50 people together for a tasty meal and serious conversation about how to inspire critical thinking.

At my table as part of our conversation I mentioned my “big tables” principle in evaluating cafes as part of our conversation about groups and spaces. At the table the pet owners were all sharing how much enjoyment they get from talking with fellow dog owners at dog parks. I mentioned that I could never even be in such a space, couldn’t ever own pets of any type.

If you are wonder, no I don’t hate animals, I’m just seriously allergic, so allergic that I stop breathing and have asthma attacks along with concurrent serious skin rashes, red eyes and stuffed sinuses. For a short time I can take some allergy medicines and endure brief exposure, but I refuse to take medicine every day of my life just to live with a pet – and furthermore such prolonged exposure to both the medicine (which does have very real side effects) and to the pet dander which has extreme impact on my well being is not conducive to my overall health.

My point in bringing this up is that while the interactions between pet owners are fantastic and it is great that such spaces spark interactions between folks who might not otherwise meet (though likely they share some common interests and traits since they have chosen to live in a near geographic area) such spaces are not, in fact, truly universal, there are folks, such as myself, who not only are unlikely to be at such a dog park my in fact be completely unable to enter such a space.

We then started talking about online spaces and communities and here I brought the discussion back to physical spaces. Cafes are often cited as spaces where strangers can meet, interact and get to know each other. However as a frequent cafe denizen (I’ve been working from cafes since the early 1990’s) I have observed that there are simple steps a cafe can do that dramatically change how the cafe functions as a social space.

Hence my “big tables” principle.

The bigger the tables in a cafe the more social interactions between strangers are likely.

My ideal cafe has tables big enough for two people to work on laptops comfortably while simultaneously having a plate of food, a coffee and some books or other materials open in front of them. Such large tables usually can readily accommodate more than two people and easily inspire ad hoc conversations and interactions between strangers – starting with the simple question ‘do you mind if I share your table” but often ending up with philosophical discussions.

Today, however, in the era when many folks, myself included as I write this post from a cafe in the West Portal seated on a couch (by myself)  frequently shut out the world via listening to headphones as we work, a cafe needs to take further steps to truly inspire people to converse with each other, to actually create a space where social interactions happen.

A few steps I have observed that help.

  1. Watching the volume of the music including any live performers to be quiet enough to enable comfortable conversations. A quiet cafe without any background music however isn’t ideal as people will turn to their own soundtracks. But a cafe with pounding music makes it hard to converse even with friends
  2. Regular events which help spark conversations and interactions. One cafe here in San Francisco (On the Corner) has a weekly games night sponsored by a nearby games shop. Such events give strangers a reason to do more than just talk in passing with each other. Other cafes have regular art openings, cuppings of coffee or other events which help inspire people to interact.
  3. Sociable staff. This is simple but friendly, sociable staff at a cafe will spark conversations with strangers and regulars alike (and help make strangers into regulars). In turn these conversations will then often offer reasons and entrypoints for strangers to interact with each other. Some cafes (and other spaces) take this to an extreme but generally speaking friendly, outgoing staff help create a space where people get a bit out of themselves and interact with others.
  4. Hours that encourage social interactions. Cafes that are open late inspire people (often but not always) to linger and hangout, to use the cafe as an alternative to other evening entertainment options such as bars or nightclubs. One of the more social cafes I have spent time in here in San Francisco is, in fact, a Starbucks. However it is also open 24hrs a day six days a week. Being located near to universities it is full of students studying and interacting with each other until the early hours of the morning.

What lessons can be drawn from such cafes (and other spaces) for online businesses seeking to spark conversations and interactions?

  1. The design details matter a great deal. Small, tiny tables in a cafe or a web design that emphasizes an individual experience will lead to individuals being alone in that space.
  2. Small gestures can inspire and spark interactions. Many of the cafes that most impress me, where I most quickly feel comfortable and at home are cafes where the staff take a simple step of learning my name from the first time I am there – and not just to call out my order but to greet me by name as they interact with me.
  3. Hours and patterns matter.Yes, the web is a global usually open 24hrs a day space but even online most successful communities and sites find rhythms and schedules to fall into. Here on my personal blog I fail in this regard, I do not post nearly enough. In contrast many of my favorite blogs have gotten into a pattern of one or more “open threads” posted every day specifically to create spaces for readers to converse with each other. These posts, in turn, supported by a regular pattern of other posts (the frequency and form of which differ by the blog). Cafes with short hours cater to one audience, cafes with longer hours open later reach a different group.

How do you judge a space? Whether online or offline what about a space inspires you to join it, to engage with the people who might share it with you?

Posted in customer service, digital bedouin, geeks, networks, personal, working | Tagged: , , | 4 Comments »

Social game ideas – open ended, multi-sponsor ARGs

Posted by shannonclark on June 27, 2009

My background in games and the current state of things

I have been a game player since my grandfather taught me to play chess at the age of 4. In my youth I played AD&D, Shadowrun and many other role playing games – usually at the DM. At my high school there were a bunch of us who played all types of games on a regular basis, we played many boardgames after school, had AD&D campaigns including one we ran at times over lunch in the cafeteria and were regulars at the local games shops.

In fact the father of one of my high school classmates was a professional game designer at the time for Mayfair Games where he lead the development of many classic board games, games such as Cosmic Encounters. A number of us, myself included, occasionally were drafted as gametesters for new board games.

At the local games shop, a massive, custom designed building built by a serious historical minatures gamer, we would spend hours many evenings and weekends playing a wide range of games, including historical minatures, roleplaying games and all types of boardgames.

I always assumed that I would stay playing games on a highly regular basis when I entered college but that didn’t happen, somehow I didn’t stay as active a game player, though I did play the occasional game of chess and lots of card games with friends.

In the 90’s I spent many years as literally a professional Magic the Gathering player and dealer, in one year I earned over $40,000 trading pieces of cardboard and won prizes valued into well over $5,000 in many tournements which I often won or placed very highly. Friends of mine were even better, winning at a global level and traveling around the world to play Magic the Gathering (and winning well over $10k from some tournements in the process). I quite my regular job at the time when I realized I could make far more money in a few hours than I would earn in days.

A bit later I also became active in a range of Live Action Role Playing games, mostly around White Wolf’s World of Darkness game. The game I played started in the mid-90’s in Chicago, grew rapidly to include nearly 100 games in cities all around the world all sharing a common set of rules and world and which allowed players to play their characters from one city at the games held in other cities. As a result players could and did interact across continents (friends of mine went to Brazil to play the game) and there were games happening multiple times every week near to Chicago.

It was  great fun – immersive and engaging. While we did play in spaces we reserved just for ourselves (we would contribute to rent spacees from time to time) we also played in the midst of other events – often in nightclubs, once very memorably at the Chicago Museum of Modern Art when they stayed open for 24hrs to celebrate the Summer Solstice. Playing in the midst of 100’s or even 1000’s of people who were not playing the game added layers to the interactions and was extremely fun.

In the past few years Alternative Reality Games (ARGs) have become increasingly popular and successful, though with some notable caveats. Most, though not all, have been run as commercial promotions for a specific event or product – very often a movie or TV series. Currently the upcoming movie District 9 for example is running an ARG where you can play either a human or an alien in the world of the movie.

The model of ARG’s has become in some ways fairly formalized. They start with a series of clues usually embedded inside of something in mass release – billboards & posters, movie trailers, occasionally other forms of advertising. The clues in these ads, often a phone number or a web URL lead a player to signup to the ARG. From there a series of clues lead to other sites or phone numbers often with embeded small games or challenges.

Over time additional clues are released which further the ARG’s storyline. For most ARG’s the model has become a bit of a funnel, with fewer and fewer players continuing as the puzzles are released, usually these ARG’s lead up to a final end clue and often the players who figure it out in time arrive at an event or get a prize of some form (a sneak preview of a movie for example as well as other gifts & prizes). Then often the ARG comes to an end as the movie or TV show is released (or the season ends in the case of ARG’s such as Lost’s or Fringe’s where there were clues embedded inside of each episode).

These games are effective ways of engaging and building fans for a new media property but they have many unfortunate side effects of this model.

  1. They generally are less and less engaging for new players as they grow in complexity – sure most of the time players set up Wiki’s or other sites to explain what is known so far, but as the game goes on it becomes less compelling for new players – and once the final reward is given out it often is far less interesting to new players (and even existing players may cease engagement)
  2. While some ARGs have included a wide degree of player driven content & storytelling, for most there is a very heavyhand of the ARG designers at work in telling the story and though players can visit many parts & sites in any order they want there tends to be a very linear path of the story being told by the nature of new clues being released on a specific timetable.
  3. A few ARGs have had occasional “real world” events but the global distribution of most media for the most part means that most ARGs now primarily employ mass media & the Internet for the game play (also often voicemail/800 numbers for some parts and frequently SMS messages to players).

A few weeks ago a variation of a type of game which has been popular for a few years inside of social networks such as Facebook was released on top of Twitter – Spymaster – these games build upon usually preexisting social elements and relationships to form part of the game play. In the case of Spymaster your twitter followers become the size of your “spy ring” and you gain game play advantages by having more of your followers also playing Spymaster (they become “spymasters” in your “spy ring” and give you game bonuses).

Add in the fact that social tools such as Twitter (or Facebook) have many ways for you to communicate with people – and the games take advantage of these tools to send out messages about your game play activity to your social network (with your permission) and not surprisingly these games can and do often experience rapid, exponential growth as large networks of friends all start playing.

However while fun games such as SpyMaster or the multiple Mafia based games on Facebook (and in those cases now also with iPhone apps) suffer from (but also benefit from) a fairly simple game play and room for interactions between players. They offer only relatively limited sets of actions, have constraints on what you can do in a given period of time, and allow for only a handful of direct in game ways to interact with other players. Though often players evolve ways alongside of the formal game play elements to interact. In the case of SpyMaster many players have set up Twitter accounts only focused on playing Spymaster and have builtup networks of followers with whom they coordinate in game actions and for strong in game cliques.

I play Spymaster and enjoy it, though it is a relatively lightweight game, so I only play for a few minutes most days, if that. They haven’t yet settled on a business model, but it should be noted that some of the Mafia games on Facebook are already part of game companies rumored to be rapidly approaching over $100M/year in revenues, primarily through the same of virtual currencies to game players to use to enhance their game experiences.

A few players of SpyMaster are starting to expand the game via sites such as SpyMasterFans. There they are forming groups, sharing ideas & insights into the game, challenging each other to new interactions etc.

You may have noted that in my recounting of my own game playing background, I have not mentioned a lot of computer gaming. In the early 1990’s I ran a Muck (think an all text based version of Second Life) but I never got into computer gaming very much. So I haven’t played, though I do follow, the rise of social computer games. At present there are two very important models of social computer games.

  1. Massively Multiplayer Online Games (mmog’s) most famously World of Warcraft (or WOW) but also dozens of other games from companies around the world. There are three primary models of MMOG’s – subscription (usually with regular expansion packs as well) – this is WOW’s model and is the most common, free to play but game and expansions needed (Guild Wars is one of the few that use this model) and the newest model free to play including the software but virtual goods & items available for purchase (Sony’s Free Realms uses this model though subscriptions are available with additional benefits).
  2. Server based games. Increasingly console games as well as many PC games have multiplayer options and game companies are now often offering services that both run server instances and help players find other players to play against. Microsoft’s Xbox live for the XBox 360 and Valve’s Steam service for PC games are two examples of these game services. Often a fee is required for membership (for XBox live) and in most cases the games have to be purchased to play them.

There are many further nuances to computer and console games. For this post the most crucial of which is the number of players they are designed to facilate interactions amongst and the length of that interactions. Console games often are limited to a relatively small number of players competing against each other (4 vs 4) which can be over the Internet or over a local area network. MMOG’s differ in how many players they handle interactions amonst – many have multiple “servers” which are different instances of the world and which may have slightly different game rules, meaning that in most cases players on one server do not interact with players on another so they are limited to the number of players who choose to play on a given server. Some games are designed to encourage cooperative play where players cooperate together to achieve game goals (WOW has quests that can involve 40 or more players from a single Guild working together). Many games also have elements of player vs player interactions where players fight directly against other players – depending on the game this could occur anywhere in the game world (on a given PvP server) or in many games may be limited to a specific area of the game.

Some ideas for the future – open ended, multi-sponsor ARGs of a new form

While I know that computer and console games have many incredible aspects offering amazing graphics and game play capabilities they also have in-built limitations. Even with voicechat which is increasingly an important part of the player to player interactions in many games playing such games is limited to players who have the required equipment and financial resources to buy the necessary games & game subscriptions.

So here are a few ideas I have for where social games could go in addition the ongoing evolution of computer & console games.

Instead of an ARG which is sponsored by a single media property – and which is thus usually tied to the world of that particular movie or tv show (or less often an artist such as NIN) I would suggest a game with the following models & business elements.

  • A combination of lightweight, easy to adopt technologies AND frequent, multi-city live interactions & events. Neither element would be necessary to enjoy the other but if you used both your game play enjoyment would be enhanced.
  • The technologies could leverage and be built upon existing social tools such as Facebook or Twitter but would likely have a website and perhaps mobile applications as well
  • Much of the world and game interactions would be driven by the players with a light touch of the people designing and running the game – they would mostly design the world & backstory and would occasionally facilitate in game activities and elements, but the game would be designed for the players themselves to evolve the plots & ongoing stories.
  • In place of a single sponsor driving the event to a particular end point the game would have sponsors that come and go and which interact with the game in a variety of ways – I could see some sponsors embedding story from the game into their media (tv shows perhaps even movies) while others would provide real items and help support game related events in the “real” world (as well as having in game repurcussions). These interactions could at times be lightweight – having characters from the game (probably mostly actual player’s creations) who appear in the background of a movie – say as items in a newspaper story – this would I think be a lot of fun for players – and great marketing for those movies or tv shows.
  • The game would be designed to allow for new players to join at any time and for players to play at a wide range of play cycles – some playing daily while others playing only a few times a month or taking a summer off and resuming months later. This takes careful game design to balance and to give everyone a lot to do without the game becoming boring for anyone – but it suggests that for the most part these games would only have light elements of “levels” or the like but heavy elements of role playing and interaction. Though there could also be puzzles and cooperative quests so players uncomfortable with heavy roleplaying could ease into participating in the game as well and be rewarded for that interaction.
  • The business model could include clues & game elements embedded in physical items (t-shirts, trading cards, books, comic, digital downloads of many forms etc) which is a model that other similar in some ways games have already used quite successfully. Some of these products could be from sponsors who not only embed game elements in something they sell but also support the game finacially & through promotional efforts.

So that is the basic ideas – I haven’t yet designed an entire game example just started thinking about this, if it sounds like fun (or if you know of examples I should take a look at) please leave comments or contact me privately.

Posted in Entrepreneurship, futureculture, geeks, meshwalk, mobile, networks, personal, web2.0 | 10 Comments »

Radio Schedules 2.0 at Startup Weekend San Francisco 2009

Posted by shannonclark on April 4, 2009

Back in Dec I posted about Radio Stations 2.0, an idea I had for a return of great radio schedules, updated and enhanced for the 21st century. My post attracted some great feedback and some comments as well as backchannel reactions. I placed my ideas out in public under a bit of a CC license and encouraged anyone to implement them (though I requested at least some attribution).

Friday night after the fantastic Web 2.0 Expo I arrived late to Startup Weekend San Francisco which this time is organized by many fantistic people (and friends of mine). As people went around the room offering up their pitches to the crowd (and to the panel of VC/angel investors who were offering feedback on the form of the pitches) I decided that I would offer a pitch myself.

So I remembered my Radio Stations 2.0 idea, since it is an idea I have already shared publicly, I don’t mind sharing it again, and there is the chance that by doing so at Startup Weekend (and of course following up with a great deal of work most likely) I may be able to inspire enough help from others to make it a reality!

I’ve updated my original post with some more analysis of the competitive landscape (in the comments). In the rest of this post I will set out our goals, targets and next steps for this weekend. Hopefully we will be able to cobble together something working by Sunday evening (and continue to refine it further after that).

Basic Idea

Finding radio content whether in a rental car in a new city, on a mobile device or at your desktop is frustrating. Radio Schedules 2.0 is a simple, lightweight, API driven directory of terrestrial, satellite and Internet radio shows. The API will allow for both write & read functionality and likely will be combined with a wiki(like) set of data (station ranges & descriptions, show descriptions etc)

Competitive Landscape:

Since RadioTime does exist (and is a commerical entity already) we are going to look carefully at what we can (and should) do to be different, lightweight, and add real value as a competitor (in some ways) or perhpas even as a complementary service in other ways.

Other competition includes PublicRadioFan.com which lists most public radio stations from around the world (with Internet presenses) and a project started in 2003 (and put on hold in 2003) do something similar.

Steps for the weekend

  1. Define a simple data structure(s) to store the data we gather. Of particular note this will likely include a geographic focused set of data – station data driven by actual tower locations & signal reach. Potentially this could include variations by time of day & date especially the case for AM radio in the Midwestern US. It will also include a temporal set of data – shows on a given station aired (or scheduled to be aired) at specific times.
  2. Design our data to build up over time – i.e. not just “what is on now” or “what is scheduled to air next” but also “what just aired” or “What was on this morning during my commute…”
  3. From the beginning expect to build & deploy on servers located in the Cloud. This means evaluating Rackspace, GoGrid, Amazon’s Web Services as well as others.
  4. Design for a data-driven business model. Perhaps surprisingly a great deal of this design will be involved in streamlining and simplifying what data we need to collect & store from people. But by design this will include storing a great deal of log data & anticipating using such data extensively.
  5. Stay and work openly. I will likely update my blog with one or more posts of our progress as it happens this weekend – probably including some calls for help in specific areas.

Current design thoughts (very early, very rough)

  • Stations – are associated with One or more “dial” positions For terrestrial radio this is the dial number (or numbers in cases of stations with multiple towers). Have a related schedule (or schedules in a few rare cases). Associated with a bunch of data about the station (probably in a wikilike manner that allows for versions)
  • Schedules – related to a station (rarely but occasionally multiple different stations). Composed of many “shows” and a true temporal dataset (with start & end times, times normalized to a single timezone) may occasionally also have further details in a wiki (but less often, though “source of data” will be tracked – could be API calls, could be web crawl)
  • Shows – A unit of a schedule, but shows can have a meaning by themselves (syndication). May have further data in the wiki.

When a request comes into the system that request MAY have the following:

  • a geographic location (which in turn implies an likely interest in Terrestrial radio schedules)
  • a range of time (blank may imply “right now”)

At some future point the system may do more with who makes the request (individual web user, individual web user w/tracking cookies, API called etc.). The system may also do some matching/recommendations (using Last.fm profile info or the like as a starting point) but that’s probably not in the first release.

Technology thoughts

  • Start with standards – ideally calendar data will be available in an iCalendar form, via standard means of access. Where microformats make sense we should use them to semantically market up pages we generate (ideally this happens in the background so if a given page is editable ala a wiki the microformats are applied on top of that where they apply)
  • Design for API use – ideally this means even for our own interfaces we use the SAME API’s we make available for third-party use. This then forces us to make the API’s simple and as stable as possible (we may of course use white-lists in the future to rate throttle some API access). It should also facilitate the use of other web standards – for example since we are starting from the beginning there is no reason we shouldn’t start using OpenID/OAuth instead of implementing our own Identity systems.
  • Focus on simplicity – there are many directions we could go and we will want to explore how best to compete (or not) with RadioTime. Almost certainly our best approach is to keep it simple, do something exceptionally well and iterate.

Posted in digital bedouin, Entrepreneurship, geeks, internet, mobile, music, networks, personal, startupcamp, web2.0 | 2 Comments »