Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Accidental spammer?

Just days after New Zealand launched it's anti-spam law, I get this email:(...followed by a huge list of USB Flash Drives with photos - amounting to 77kb)

I cannot believe this. I can count on one hand the number of times I've received spam-like email from within New Zealand, but really, the timing for this is perfect - if IDL wants to cop a huge fine.

I'm guessing that this is accidental rather than deliberate spam, so I did something unusual: replied.


Are you really sure you want to send this email, just as the anti-spam law has been passed? http://www.antispam.govt.nz/

1) I can't remember explicitly giving you permission to email me, and you haven't reminded me in the email
2) You haven't provided an easy way to unsubscribe

...both factors which could land you in huge trouble.

I recommend you first of all stop this campaign, and don't send out any more emails like this. Secondly, I recommend you start building an opt-in database. It also wouldn't hurt to join the Marketing Association (www.marketing.org.nz).

On a related note, I'll be speaking tomorrow at the Marketing Association's Practical Email Marketing workshop tomorrow. Looking forward to help people do the opposite of this email!

Is LinkedIn still okay?

Several times in the last week or so, I've heard people talk about the shortcomings of LinkedIn. Personally I've found it tremendously useful and efficient, but Jack Yan has a good point in his post, LinkedIn needs more.

"LinkedIn does not really reflect the roundedness of an individual, and business connections are best formed with people with whom you have some non-business commonality.
People are almost forced to become more human in Facebook if they frequent it."

Therein lies the strength and weakness of Facebook compared with LinkedIn. Which one you prefer reflects your philosophy of doing business. Some people wish to separate business and the rest of life, others, as Jack points out, wish to do business with whole people.

While it's possible to show a bit of your humanity on your LinkedIn profile (plus a link to your blog, which I always check on people's profiles), Facebook gives you more of an integrated package.

Monday, 27 August 2007

Web Strategy: The Three Spheres of Web Strategy (and the skills required)

Web Strategy: The Three Spheres of Web Strategy (and the skills required)

(Posted simply because I thought it was a good link and needed to put it somewhere I'd notice. Please enjoy!)

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Chuck Palahniuk interview (link)

Robber's Dog's Blog posts an interview with Chuck Palahniuk. Name sound familiar? He's the guy who wrote the novel Fight Club.

Quote: He hangs out in public places as he writes (hospital waiting rooms etc) so he has a resource of gestures and natural drama always to draw from.

Cool. JK Rowling writes in cafes as well!

Where is Skype's humanity?

PR 2.0 - Silicon Valley
gives a fantastic review of the brouhaha (or is that a kerfuffle) around Skype's response to its outage last week.

Outages will happen (although hopefully not so dramatic!) but it's in the crisis that we the customers know if that company gives a monkey's. The odds are stacked against any kind of company, because in the back of our minds - even if we run a business ourselves - there's that voice saying "All corporates are bastards."

Interestingly, even though I'm a Skype customer, I had no communication from Skype about the outage. I heard about it entirely through Twitter and other people's blogs.

Skype - and most other companies - need to learn how to write like a human. This is a mindset as much as a skill. My favourite quote from Skype (second hand, through someone else's blog) is

"We would like to point out that very few technologies or communications networks today are guaranteed to operate without interruptions."

Well thanks for reassuring us. We really, really needed to be reminded of that part of the service agreement.

But service agreement clauses are the domain of the coward. They're the letter of the law, but what about the language of the heart? It sounds soft and a little crazy, but that's the stuff that really has an impact on the bottom line.

And because Skype was down, the Skype team was reduced to using the most basic form of communication - words.

Do your words show you give a monkey's?

Looking forward to hearing what Shel and Neville have to say on this.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Book Review: Das Kapital - A Biography

I've got mixed feelings about Karl Marx.

I know him as the alleged father of an ideology that has resulted in more deaths in history than those rendered in the name of religion - a grisly toll which continues to rise today.

I also know him as a denouncer of religion and, together with Freud and Darwin, one of the gods academia chose to replace anything that looked remotely like God.

I've come up against this dogmatic reverence for Marx in, of all places, a book on creative writing. It wasn't so much Marx that annoyed me, it was more the insidious way the author had used Marx, Freud, Foucalt et al to politicise the creative process - a process which I believe to be one of the most creative forces on earth.

So there's potentially a lot to dislike about Marx, judging by his self-proclaimed followers. But there are always two sides to the story; that's why I read Karl Marx's Das Kapital - A Biography.

Karl Marx's Das Kapital (Ten Books That Changed the World S.)

I also read it because it's part of the Books that Shook the World series, books that offer an accessible “way in” to some of the world's most influential ideas. So far I've read about Plato's Republic, The Q'uran, Thomas Paine's "Rights of Man" and Darwin's Origin of Species. They've not only been excellent history lessons; they've also offered fascinating insights into how ideas take hold and spread.

Das Kapital: A Biography comprises three long chapters, gestation, birth and afterlife. It's far from comprehensive, but perfect for a reader like me who is vaguely familiar with economic issues (though not formally educated in economics) and also relatively up-to-speed with history.

Francis Wheen, the author, paints a picture of a brilliant man driven by his search for underlying truth, but also easily distracted by petty rivalries, and terrible with deadlines (as many great writers seem to be - much to my relief!). What's really interesting is that Marx saw Das Kapital as much as a literary work as a political or economic treatise. In fact this is the book's overall point of view, drawing on quotes from the minority of scholars who recognised this aspect of Marx's intentions.

The first two chapters tell the story of the book's conception and birth, including the muted response when it was published in 1867. The biggest problem was, people couldn't figure out what the hell it was about. This touches on some important issues for any writer - Marx's collaborator Engels tried to persuade him to break down (or break up?) the information into more manageable chunks to reach a wider audience, but,

“'How could you leave the outward structure of the book in its present form!' Engels asked despairingly after seeing the final proofs. 'The fourth chapter is almost 200 pages long and only has four sub-sections...Furthermore, the train of thought is constantly interrupted by illustrations, and the point to be illustrated is never summarised after the illustration, so that one is forever plunging straight from the illustration of one point into the exposition of another point. It is dreadfully tiring, and confusing too.'”

Usability again!

The final chapter then looks at Marx's legacy, as carried forth by George Bernard Shaw, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Tse-Tung, modern academics ... and then it gets really interesting. While Wheen notes that failure of communism in the Soviet Union, and that fact that most ostensibly Marxist countries in the 20th century weren't industrialised nations (the kind Marx said were the only kind ready for a communist revolution), there is a note of hope at the end that really has me thinking. Wheen quotes a number of fairly pro-capitalist authors who reassess Marx's work, going back to what he really said, rather than what others have derived from his “gothic novel” that was Das Kapital.

The book ends - and I hope I'm not spoiling it for anyone - with a theme of revisitation:

“Far from being buried under the rubble of the Berlin Wall, Marx may only now be emerging in his true significance. He could yet become the most influential thinker of the twenty-first century.”

Certainly makes me want to learn more - about Marx, about other economists (my next book to read is Little Book of Big Ideas: Economics) and about emerging models of the way business works - models that more closely match the reality we live in.

Saturday, 18 August 2007

So many days, so little blogging...

Apologies for my recent silence. I've still been busy on Twitter and Facebook; I kind of like how easy it is to microblog.

Before a quick roundup of news from my front porch, a few thoughts on usability and word of mouth.

Jeremiah Owyang reports Facebook's amazing numbers. Meanwhile in NZ, well-funded Ferrit's traffic still trails Trademe, the corporate-owned startup that still acts like a startup, particularly in the restraint shown with marketing and advertising (ie they don't advertise at all).

As I slog away at re-doing my company website (that's the old one) I think of how many little details make up the overall user experience of a site. There's a lot to think about, but those little things make a huge difference.

So when we think of Trademe and Facebook attracting huge numbers, I believe it's because they've taken the dollars they could invest in advertising and promotion, and ploughed them into the invisible, but far more important area of usability.

The temptation is to think these sites were done on the cheap, because they don't have the usual ostentatious corporate expenses. But as I'm discovering with my own site and my involvement in Looksy.org, usability takes time and headspace, and that costs some sort of money. Even if that money is opportunity cost.

For Looksy.org, we've been trying to do something completely different - which, as we've discovered, is very time-consuming, particularly when we all have quite intense day jobs. Because we're looking at the new all the time, it's taken me quite some time to remember some of the blindingly obvious aspects of the old that I've heretofore (love that word) forgotten - such as an easy way to contact us!

Meanwhile, for the SimonYoungWriters.com redesign, I've been blessed to have some great advice from David Young (no relation), who pointed me to WordPress as a CMS.

Then, in my search for a web designer familiar with WordPress themes, I discovered John Lewis had just - I dunno what the phrase is, got WordPressganged? Taken up the press? ... anyway, he had switched to WordPress a few months back. So he's done an excellent WP theme for my new site (coming soon, have patience).

The longest part of the journey is writing the copy. Actually there was also the information architecture. It is all legitimately part of my role as a web copywriter, but it is amazingly time-consuming, particularly when it's my own business. Hard to get perspective, y'know.

But Marie is helping no end. She's not a writer - yet - but after reading Persuasive Online Copywritingshe has been a fantastic coach as I get out of writing business articles mode, and get back into poet-artist-make-you-think-guy - my native mode.

I also got interviewed on the subject of writing like a human being by Anna Farmery this Wednesday just gone. Anna is great to listen to and just as great to be interviewed by. Stay tuned for that!


In other news, this week's share market hiccup reminded us all that good times do not last forever. Jason Calacanis believes it might be a taste of things to come for the tech sector.

It's uncomfortable, but has the ring of truth. I started in business at the same time as the last tech crash (launched my first website in April 2000), and I knew nothing about business then. Ignorance (and still having a day job, albeit at a non-profit organisation) was bliss.

Now I'm a bit more informed, and have a bit more on the line. But a key thing that's different this time compared with 2000 is the social networking scene. I know that some companies that are part of the environment may disappear in the coming months. But the people behind them won't (we hope!). Now is a good time to read stuff like Getting Things Done, so we can make the most of relationships, and the technology that enables worldwide relationships, without losing out on vital productivity.

Thursday, 2 August 2007

Hear the Generation C podcast

After many months of talking about and thinking about doing a podcast, I and my Looksy.org buddies have created a podcast.

For best results, subscribe to the podcast (if you're using iTunes, click here). You'll hear the progress of the world's first consumer-generated documentary, as well as meet some fascinating folks from the world of generation C and business.

Any technical problems let us know in the column or send an e to discover@looksy.org. This is most definitely a work in progress.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007