Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Monday, 29 October 2007

Why I'm not at Podcamp Boston

1. Because Podcamp Boston is in the United States and I'm in New Zealand, and that's a lot of miles and a lot of dollars.

2. (kind of) because I don't have to be there. Not that I wouldn't like to be there in the best possible world, but the great thing about a group of podcasters is that they eat their own dogfood. There's a Google group, some tools, a blog, tons of photos, and a steady stream of Twitter tweets. (If you're on Twitter and set up through your phone or IM, just tell it to "track pod". Alternatively, just follow Len Edgerley's excellent coverage and follow all the links.)

It's just like being there ... except for the being there part. The information is free and freely distributed, the real value is in the face-to-face contact with your peers. Ah well, maybe next time.

What's great about an unconference like Podcamp is that it hits the mark - people really get to learn what they want to know. I've been noticing for a number of years there's always a large range of knowledge in any crowd - some will be absolute beginners, others will be expert in some niche area, others will be confident all-rounders.

I wonder, though, if the most absolute beginners are missing out because the unconference format is so unfamiliar. I guess that's where the mainstream media still comes in - as a valuable, trusted, curated conduit to the possibly quite scary flood of info out there.

Monday, 22 October 2007

Evan Almighty review - a God who's safe to like

Like most of New Zealand, I took some time away from the computer today and spent some quality time with Marie - including a trip to the movies. We saw Evan Almighty.

I'd heard some pretty iffy reviews, but a comedy seemed the best on offer. (Doesn't say much about what's on at the theatre! The Kingdom wasn't on until late tonight... )

We laughed - and also, surprisingly, felt closer to God. Although the film was generic enough to be spiritually acceptable to people of many faiths (although less generic than Bruce Almighty), it also seemed pretty compatible with the mainstream, fairly orthodox (I guess) Christian faith Marie and I call our own.

Some of my favourite moments:
  • God (Morgan Freeman) appearing to Evan's wife Joan as a waiter, with the name tag "Al Mighty" - smart. What he said to her was just inspiring.
  • A smarmy journalist asking Evan (Steve Carrell) cynically why God would call him. Evan's answer: "He's called all of us." Yes!
  • Evan's little shrug of the shoulders as he holds up his staff and the animals board the ark. He says, without words, "Hey, I have no idea how this is happening. I'm just doing what I do - and this stuff happens!"
I was pleasantly surprised by Steve Carrell's acting. As another reviewer commented, he has a gift for doing "frustrated", but he also has a gift for doing very sincere people caught up in circumstances beyond themselves. That's a sentiment we need to see because, a) a lot of us feel the same way, and b) it gives us hope.

Morgan Freeman was great, as he was in Bruce Almighty. He combines seeming omnipotence with homespun friendliness - which I imagine is not an easy task.

On a theological and philosophical level, I'm reminded of the writings of Adrian Plass, particularly his "controversial" statement that "God is nice and he likes us" ... which is somehow better than we could imagine.

It also reminds me of a conversation heard on The God Journey podcast a few weeks ago. The guys were talking about two Gods: the mean God and the nice God. We desire the nice God, but secretly fear the truth is he's the mean God.

From memory, the conversation went something like this:

So this guy, he tells me he's sticking with the mean God, because he's covering his bases. See, if God is actually nice, but I'm following the mean God, the nice God won't mind. But if God is actually mean, and I'm following the nice God - I'm in big trouble!

So I said to him, would the mean God go to the cross for you? Instinctively, without thinking, he said no. What does that tell you about the mean God?

Finally, this reminded me of the best things I enjoyed about A Generous Orthodoxy, as well as the mystic poetry combined with deep Biblical teaching combined with folk and celtic music that is the catalogue of Michael Card.

Always good to be reminded of something I already knew. Marie and I went and talked to God for quite a bit after seeing this comedy. Who'd have thought.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Why is war so popular?

I have had a fantastic day. It started with a trip to the $1 book sale, where Marie, my mum and I picked up some books on everything from organisational studies to beauty tips to Golda Meir's autobiography to a book about a lion tamer. Good stuff, and a good price!

Later we went to the mall and met Marie's mum and sister. Girl time! So I took the only reasonable course of action - said, "You'll find me in the bookshop" and spent hours reading captions of pictures.

It's interesting what you find interesting and absorbing when you relax. I gravitate to history.

Particularly, I looked at Alan Greenspan's new book, which has a humility of spirit about it that I like. Then I went on to New Zealand history, and found a lot of excellent photos that just summed up moments in our history. These are often familiar images to me, but they fascinate me still.

Then I started to tap a deep vein of war literature, particularly the world wars. This was in the New Zealand section, not the military history section. It was fascinating.

I don't know why, but I find it endlessly fascinating to contemplate the almost senseless bloodbath that was the century in which I was born. To look at the Nazis, to think of how much hope they must have initially offered to their people. To look at the beginning of the holocaust and see the depravity we can all sink to when evil attitudes and behaviour become normal. To look at Stalin and see ambition and drive gone far, far astray. To look at the British and think, yes, the British Empire did a lot of evil in its heyday and it deserved to fade into obscurity, but that at the same time Churchill was so right, that was their ... our ... finest hour. To look at New Zealand's history and think what a confused route we have taken, how there are no good guys and bad guys, but there are good and bad motives.

I guess it was a deep afternoon. And then I topped it off by buying some music - Bob Dylan's "The Times they are a-changing", "Slow Train Coming" and, to make sure I didn't get too serious... Sly and the Family Stone's Greatest Hits!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

What is marketing?

That's the big question I re-examine in the November issue of NZMarketing - can hardly wait! :)

It's also a question being asked in the UK, as Simon Wakeman reported on his blog. Having just finished the article on service-dominant logic, I couldn't resist chipping in:

Here’s a nice concise [definition] from Vargo and Lusch, the guys who brought us Service-Dominant logic of marketing:

“To collaborate with customers and partners to create and sustain value.”

It’s not a thorough definition, but one that seems to catch the zeitgeist of marketing thinking at the moment. I think?

I've just now seen a follow-up comment from Andrew Wake, where he says, among other things, "Simon Young’s offering seems far more succinct."

Blush. Thanks! But I can't take credit; that pithy definition was lifted from one of the many papers written by Professors Vargo and Lusch.

But thanks anyway!

(While you're waiting to discover the future of marketing, read up about licensing your ideas.)

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

How easy do you make it to downgrade? (Aka 37Signals, you suck)

"Everyone" knows customer experience is really important, that negative word of mouth spreads faster than positive, that happy customers stay longer and spend more. So companies make it easy to do business with them.

How about the other way around? When you want to downgrade or leave a company, how easy is it? I recently tried to downgrade my accounts with LinkedIn and Highrise HQ.

With LinkedIn, it was a breeze once I emailed support asking "how do I downgrade?". To some that might be good enough, but I'm used to automation here ... this is web 2.0, right? The great usability that helps me upgrade smoothly should also be there to help me downgrade smoothly.

It's slightly more complicated with Highrise HQ, the CRM application from 37Signals. It's a powerful product, and on the face of it, it's easy to both upgrade and downgrade.

Trouble is, I want to downgrade but I have file attachments. If there's files in my account, I can't downgrade. So I emailed support:

Hi guys,

I'd like to downgrade my account to a free one but I can't because there are files. But I don't need those files. However I can't find how to delete all those attachments so I can revert to free.

Can you help?

Their reply:

Hi Simon,

There is no central file location, so you'll need to delete them from
the contacts and cases you've uploaded file to.

You've got to be kidding me. Because Highrise HQ can't handle HTML email, every email that has automatically forwarded to HighriseHQ has come through as a MIME attachment.

That means I could probably spend all day deleting files one by one, and still not be finished.

That's no fun. C'mon 37Signals, you guys do great software, how about making this task a little easier for me - and other customers who want to downgrade now (perhaps to upgrade later, you never know!)

Update: At last night's Ecademy Auckland group I heard that Google AdWords is another service that doesn't let you downgrade once you upgrade. Bad, naughty, evil Google!

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Gaming and your business - new post at iJump

I've just posted at iJump about a neat set of conversations I had today around:
  • gaming
  • customer engagement
  • long term business relationships
  • fun and humanity in your business
  • intellectual property licensing
There'll be more in my monthly online marketing column in NZMarketing Magazine, due out at the beginning of November.

What's iJump? You'll just have to find out, won't you!

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Second Life products - fake or virtual? (Is there a difference?)

A geeky start to last night's presentation to the Certificate of Direct Marketing students at the Marketing Association: I took their photo.

(Well, two photos - my MacBook Pro doesn't have a wide-angle lens.)

We talked about what is becoming my usual schtick:
  • blogs are changing the world, but not for the reasons you may think
  • yes, some blogs punch above their weight, but more importantly...
  • the live web is changing the way humans process information
(For that slide I had a video of We Feel Fine as the background ... hypnotic, compelling!)

Afterwards we had a bit of a tour around Second Life, courtesy of my avatar Gerontius Wunderlich.

When I explain that people buy and sell in this virtual economy, I always get someone asking, "why would people buy something that's fake?"

It's a question that goes right to the heart of our perception of value. Is it fake, or is it virtual?

For instance, we watched a couple of people having a dance-off outside the ALM Cyberchurch. Suddenly one of them started throwing off bright shiny lights. Oohs and aahs from the audience.

"That's what people will pay for," I said.

Is it tangible? No. Does that flash of light belong to that individual? Yes. Is it valuable to them? Yes, because it makes them (or their avatar) look cool in front of their friends (or potential friends).

Fake? Or Virtual? It may seem like mere playing with words, but there's more to it.

If you want to go way too deep into this conversation, start with the presentation we saw at Auckland University's CODE last month on "Time, Space, Consciousness and a Second Life". I never knew (and still don't really) about "vitalism and post-structuralism as a counter-metanarrative to the traditional logic of reductive scientific materialism".

After that presentation, Marie and I wandered back to the office, pausing to touch a tree in Albert Park and say to each other, "How do you know this tree is real?" It really does your head in, this philosophy/virtuality stuff. But it is fun.

Sunday, 7 October 2007

This video should play in every church

Spotted on ThinkChristian.

While I think it's absolutely worthwhile for Christians to get out and about a bit, and see how others perceive them, it's also good for "the other side" to examine some of their own prejudices.

Case in point: Dr Dave came across someone at the APA get-together recently who was looking into the prejudices of researchers when they labelled as "homophobic" those who believe homosexual behaviour is morally wrong. Believing a behaviour is wrong is not the same as believing the person who does the behaviour is inferior or less than human. But don't get me started on that...

Another great example of inter-confessional learning I stumbled upon today is Revolution in Jesusland, a fascinating look into the evangelical Christian subculture by Zack Exley, a political progressive. Refreshing, thought-provoking. Thanks to David Weinberger for pointing it up on his blog.

Notice what I'm saying ... It's not just great that Zack is saying nice things about the church, but that he's really listening to what's being said. A little more of that from the church, and maybe as a society America could really get somewhere!

Meanwhile, in New Zealand... ? Hmmm.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Facebook is better than OldFriends

OldFriends is the New Zealand version of the incredibly popular Classmates.com, and both of them offer the ability to reconnect with old school friends, or acquaintances, or crushes, or whatever.

When I first discovered OldFriends quite a few years ago, it was so exciting. I was able to reconnect with people! But after a few emails and promising to "keep in touch" with people - nothing. We all get busy, and there's usually no compelling reason to keep in touch, unless you work in the same industry or have friends in common.

That's why Facebook is so cool. While editing my profile, I added my high school (Avondale College 1993, FYI) and discovered I could search for others in the same year. Because I didn't go to uni I lost touch with a lot of folks from school, so it was really cool to get in touch with people.

So I've already had one person accept my friend request, and it's so cool to know I don't have to come up with a big long email message about how has life been since school, etc, etc... we'll get to know each other again just by being on Facebook.

There's something in that about how our concepts of social-ness (sociality?) are changing. But I don't know what that something is right now.

Monday, 1 October 2007

Coathangers, open source and the individual

Last week, these coathangers spoke to me.

They said, "We don't trust you."

Not at all like the friendly coathangers at Booklovers Bed & Breakfast, where you'll find the kind of coathangers you could easily stow in your luggage.

But you wouldn't steal coathangers from Booklovers (at least most wouldn't) because you'd be stealing direct from Jane Tolerton. And even those who steal from faceless corporations will think twice before taking from another individual.

It got me thinking about how brands relate to people, and how ultimately we're all brands and all individuals, and how the zeitgeist of the early 21st century is swinging right back towards to the individual, as found in community.

My thoughts were further consolidated in an engrossing conversation with Sigund Magnusson, cofounder of Silverstripe, a company that open sourced their CMS software earlier this year.

In brief (it was a long conversation), open source is not so much about free software as it is about recognising individual contributions. (There was more - just keep your eyes peeled on the Idealog.co.nz site - but that was a key message I got from the conversation).

And because we're less likely to steal from someone we know, open source is theoretically free for the taking, but our desire to relate to one another in community means we want to give credit where credit is due - whether that credit is cash or just acknowledgement.

It's a line of thought I'm probably going to pursue in future blog posts. Stay tuned.