Happy Memorial Day

I'm honoring the sacrifice of our soldiers the good old-fashioned way today: something dead warmed by charcoal fire, a steamer pot full of something in a shell, and good friends on the back yard deck.

I'm also going to re-hash something I post frequently: American flag etiquette. We see it broken all the time, even by people who honestly do love our country. They hang flags off their houses all day every day – you're supposed to have a special light to fly it at night, and an exemption to fly it in the rain. We see athletes with flags on their uniforms frequently. That's also a no-no.

Here's something I wrote last year for syracuse.com.

Putting roller derby in the context of life

I wrote an entry a few days ago on the Assault City vs Roc City roller derby bout on May 15. It elicited such a warm response from Crazy Diamond, who handles Assault City's PR, that I asked if I could post it here. These are her words, unedited. —JS

I work in a nearly all-male environment and it's great to be involved with something that is for women, by women and about women. Sometimes I am in awe when I think about our team and what we have managed to do both on and off the track in a little more than two years. We all use our particular skills to benefit the team. I'm in marketing for my day job, so I do PR and media. Our treasurer is a bookkeeper by day. Everyone brings something to the table. Male involvement is limited to support roles, such as refs and non skating officials. This is not be construed at all that we are man-haters or anything like that. The dynamic when it's just women is simply different. Our husbands, boyfriends, whomever - who we refer to as our "widows," are our biggest fans. We cannot do what we do without their support because derby is such a big time commitment. And our widows all get an unofficial derby name too!

Through derby, I'm meeting women I wouldn't otherwise in my daily life. We're a pretty eclectic bunch, but we all count each other as derby sisters. And despite what often happens when you get a bunch of women (especially strong, driven women) together, we don't have a lot of drama. The environment is very supportive and I feel like I have a whole network of people I could rely on if I was in a bad way somehow. People on the team have found each other jobs, attended each other's weddings, thrown baby showers, whatever. We've helped each other through divorces, moves, all kinds of stuff. The support is on and off the track. It extends to other teams as well. If a derby girl visits from out of town, we get an email or call asking if she can attend a practice. High-powered teams hold clinics to assist newer skaters in their development. People send money or gifts when a player is injured.

And thank you for bringing up the role of women in sports and all the shit, as you put it, that's out there. There are a handful of men's derby leagues, but it's almost exclusively a women's sport. There aren't many you can say this about. No worries about the men getting top billing. People seem more fascinated by women playing derby than men. However, many people don't take it seriously as a sport or mistakenly assume it's fake, and the derby of yesterday perpetuates this myth. You've been there - you've seen how physical and athletic it is and you know it's not fake. We train really hard and I would challenge any nay-sayer to get through a practice with us. I consider myself an athlete and want to be regarded as such. Yet I've done press and been told ON THE RADIO that my derby name sounds like a stripper name and I feel that mentality marginalizes us as athletes. (The derby name provides anonymity to otherwise normal people; I would be inhibited if my real name was in programs and on the websites and airwaves. There are fans with screws loose out there.) Yes, we wear fishnets and cute outfits; that's just derby style. But you can be strong and sexy at the same time; be an athlete and feminine; look hot while kicking some ass. If you don't care about looking hot, then just go kick some ass and that's totally fine and really more important at the end of the day anyway.

We are evolving into a force that rivals most other local semi-pro sports teams, in my opinion, in terms of our reach, organziation, and economic impact. We rent facilities, have partners/sponsors, sell team merchandise, spend money locally to promote and put on our events, etc. And we do this for fun, not for money or as jobs. All funds go back to the team for development or to charity. Being able to help the community in which we live through our charitable works is just the icing on the cake of all of this. Our next bout benefits the Galisano Children's Hospital.

Sorry to drone on... Obviously, I have strong feelings for this sport and I work tirelessly to promote it and my team. I'm just glad to see someone pick up on the things that are the best and most unique elements of derby, rather than just another simplistic piece about being a housewife by day and derby girl by night, as though we all live some kind of Clark Kent/Superman existence.

Sorting out 140conf


Yep, that's my to-do list. Thanks, Jeff Pulver.

My Twitter friends are aware of this, but I spent a couple of days this past week in New York City for the 140 Character Conference (140conf). I didn't tweet much from the conference – only those things that really inspired me – instead, I took good old-fashioned notes on good old-fashioned paper. [Full Twitter coverage is here.] That photo above is me organizing my notes before jumping on the train back up to Syracuse. The piece of paper with all the scribbling? That's my to-do list.

Here's the deal with 140conf. It happens in four or five cities each year (well, this is the second year). It's the concept of Jeff Pulver, who is more or less responsible for making Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) technology widespread (if you're reading this, you're aware of VOIP, even if you've never heard of it – it's what Vonage uses, and if you're using Time Warner Cable or another cable service for your telephone, you're using VOIP).

Unlike academic or industry conferences where you have either a person who speaks for 45 minutes or a panel that runs for an hour, this is bang-bang stuff. Most individuals had 10 minutes; a few had 15. Panels lasted 20 minutes. In all, there were about 150 people speaking in two days. The audience already understands the tools and understands why you'd use them; there's no need to do that part of it.

There will be much blogging about the current and future of things in the coming weeks, but I wanted to get started by mentioning some of the people I met and some of the things I have on my list to check out. Supposedly videos of all the presentations are over here, but I'm having trouble loading them. Hopefully I'll be able to get them up on the screen as I go to blog them.

Anyhow, I met Evan Blackford, who is a super-nice and creative guy. We had a mediocre Middle Eastern lunch (Effy's does a nice coffee, though – definitely went back the second morning). I met Cecily Kellogg of Uppercase Woman, who seems to be a lot of fun in addition to being insightful. I'll be checking out and reviewing her blog.

I met David Hendricks and Eric Oldfield of an emerging advertising system called LiveIntent, as well as Andy Oterson, co-founder of eatbytweet, something I will definitely be looking at in the coming week.

I also met Melinda Emerson, a small business coach who runs a weekly Twitter chat – some of you will know her as @SmallBizLady.

I had lunch with a bunch of Gen Y rockstars, including, among others, David Spinks of Scribnia and #u30pro, Sarah Cooley of Postling, and musician Peter Marinari.

I also got to spend some time with old friends in the city, including one who recently started a new production house called Omega Darling.

Coming up on the blog will most definitely be items about Epic Change, Twitter and education, comments, news and more. I also owe Jeffrey Hayzlett (Chief Marketing Officer at Kodak) a donation to the American Heart Association in exchange for the copy of The Mirror Test.

Eating your words: NutellaFest 2010 raises money for St. Baldrick’s

It started off innocently enough.

He of course meant the Italian hazelnut spread Nutella, but you get the picture. Thing is, Matt said that while drinking Nutella hot chocolate, a pretty mild combination.

Frank called him on it.

Well, we'll see.

So Frank offered to put up $10 for the Josh's Beard project (fighting childhood cancer) if Matt ate meatballs (plural) with Nutella on them.

Matt was thinking sure, we'll have spaghetti and meatballs and I'll put some Nutella on a couple. But then Todd upped the ante.

Tracy, Amanda and Dan also jumped on board for donations.

Here are Tracy's posts:

» The preview
» The proof

And here's the video:

Moving your offline community online

Do you have a passionate engaged community? Maybe you meet in person once a month, have incredible get-togethers with powerful energy surrounding something you're all very interested in.

How do you know when it's time to move such a community online? For many organizations, the time comes when one or more of the following is true:

  • Your members need online tools to communicate more easily and more frequently than they meet in person
  • You're ready to reach out and expand your community
  • You want to connect to other communities in other geographic locations
  • Your members want an outlet to do something more

Once you have the online tools in place – blogs, Twitter, Facebook – you can't just sit and hope people will use it.

Blogs

Let's say you have five people with varying passions. Ask them to each write once a week – and assign a day. Teach them the software, and explain to them how to schedule an entry so that they could churn out two, three or more at a time.

Have them check and respond to their comments regularly, and have them comment on each other's entries. My new favorite phrase, courtesy of Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, is "yes and." If they don't know what to say about each others' posts, have them start with, "yes, and then..." That's how ideas grow, and next time they see each other (because you're maintaining the community offline as well), if they forget what they were talking about, there's a record of it.

Twitter

Follow a few people here and there, in your field. Tweet about what you do, but don't go overboard. Connect with people, but only after you've been reading them long enough to understand what they tweet about and how you can help them. Retweet at will, but only those tweets that are in line with your organization's focus.

For every reference you make to your own website, make at least three to other people's or organizations' websites.

Keep your following to followers ratio low. Try not to let it get to more than 3:2 until you get 150 followers, and once you hit that level, work toward having more followers than people you're following. You'll still benefit from others' wisdom, but your organization appears more professional.

Facebook

Don't hit your Facebook page more than once or twice a day -- probably no more than seven or eight times a week. Monitor comments, respond to them, and pay attention to what your fans are saying.

Twitterductions

If memory serves, the following people were at Thursday night's Syracuse tweetup. If I missed you (and I likely will miss someone), @ me and I'll get you on the list post-haste. If you're on MySpace, friend our hosts, Recess Coffee.

@beaslee (Nicole)
@billpfohl (Bill)
@bradfordmorse (Bradford)
@bradintheam (Brad)
@burrito19 (Beth)
@dagsly (Frank)
@Gaelen2 (Pat)
@itsahero (Rachel)
@JayClewis (Jay)
@Jill_HW (Jill, with Tom)
@JoshShear (Josh)
@kelvinringold (Kelvin)
@kitschqueen (Susan, with Jason)
@Mitch_M (Mitch)
@paddyshaughn (Patrick)
@philatsun (Phil)
@samskelton (Sam)
@tdog4494 (Tim)
@toddengel (Todd)
@tracytilly (Tracy)

Redesigning newspapers


Take five minutes to watch this presentation. Thanks to Susan Hall (Twitter) for passing it along.

First let me say that that newspaper is gorgeous. Decorate-your-wall gorgeous. And if you transfer those infographics to the web, they'd kill on digg. And yes, I'd probably buy it with some sort of consistency, because I like pretty things.

I wrote about 2,000 words about why I think this wouldn't work in the U.S., focusing on the fact that people who read newspapers like to read stories and people who write newspaper stories like having a place to show off their writing and more and more, the stories in this paper are being told with photos and graphics.

But I realized as I was writing, it's fairly obvious that readers don't enjoy reading quite as much as writers enjoy writing. So the fact that there might be no more than 200 words on a front page or 500 words in any interior spread isn't a problem for me.

I do, however, think it has a magazine-like quality that makes it less attractive as a daily news source and more appealing as something to look at slowly throughout the day or week. It makes me want to admire the artwork, not find out what's going on at school board meetings – I think I'd be distracted from the news.

But then, maybe that's just me. I like news, and I like the written word. Perhaps people would get more out of bigger graphics and shorter stories, though – USA Today has done very well on that model, and it's not a paper I pick up at all, which means I likely wouldn't be the target audience for something like this.

What do you think?

Link exchange? How about better SEO?

I won't lecture you on link exchanges and search engine optimization. Instead, I'll tell you one way to fish for more work (and possibly end the link exchange requests).

I received this email the other day:

Dear Webmaster,

We sell health products at [a vitamin site] and are interested in exchanging links with your website.

Regards,

[person's name]

This email is NOT sp/\m. It only ever gets sent to each website once. If this is not the case please let me know.

Rather than deleting it, I decided to write back.

Hi [Name],

The new social web is adamantly against link exchanges, so much so that search engines like Google and Bing recognize link swaps that don't appear to make sense (e.g., I don't write about vitamins, supplements, or even health with the rare exception, so why would we link to each other?) – and worse, they penalize sites for such exchanges, sometimes even de-listing them entirely.

I am available to help better optimize your site for search engines and improve the usability on your site, if you are in need of such services. Please see this page for a description of what I do and a current portfolio.

Best,
Josh

I'll let you know if they take me up on the offer. Cuz that'd actually be pretty cool.

On innovation, with Tom Kelley of IDEO

Tom Kelley, co-founder of design firm IDEO and author of The Art of Innovation (2001) and The Ten Faces of Innovation (2005), spoke in Syracuse January 12 as part of the Famous Entrepreneurs Series. Here are some take-aways.

About IDEO

IDEO began as David Kelley Design (after Tom's brother), and was a group of engineers when David asked Tom to join the team. IDEO was formed in 1991, and has designed products that are both physical and conceptual for a lot of companies you've heard of. They're responsible for the fact that kids' toothbrushes have fat handles, which they designed for Oral B, and Bank of America's checking account that rounds up to the nearest dollar on purchases and sends the change into your savings account was their idea as well.

Using IDEO's design, Oral B became the top-selling kids' toothbrush in the world for the next 18 months (when everybody started selling the wide-handled ones), and in the first year of the Keep the Change campaign, Bank of America opened 2.1 million new accounts, 700,000 of them for people who had never banked with the company before.

IDEO also designed the Apple mouse and the Palm V.

On innovation

Kelley focused on innovation. Everybody's for it, he said, but in your day-to-day worklife, it can usually wait until tomorrow, because you've got other things on your mind (like deadlines and sales quotas). Here is an example of why that's not OK.

In the 1960s, 100% of the passenger car tires in the U.S. were manufactured in the Akron, Ohio, area by a handful of companies. Minor innovations would appear every few years (new tread patterns, etc.), but nothing major. Then some upstart French company developed something called the radial tire. People in Akron laughed. Now, everyone has radial tires on their cars and roughly 0% of the passenger car tires in the U.S. are manufactured in Akron.

That's right, 100% to 0% in fewer than 50 years.

Interbrand's Top 20 brands in 2009 featured five brands that weren't in the Top 20 in 2001 – that's 25% turnover in 8 years – Google, BMW, Louis Vuitton, Samsung and Apple. (See source PDF, page 12.)

So the answer is yes, you have to innovate. And in a flat world – that is, a world where you compete globally and have to deal with factors like big differences in labor and materials cost – you have to do it quickly if you want to stay ahead in the game.

In 2001, you would never have even thought to look at a Samsung TV unless the price point against a Sony was the most important thing to you. Now, Samsung outsells Sony in consumer electronics. Who missed the innovation boat?

The Ten Faces of Innovation

Kelley didn't learn until after he wrote The Ten Faces of Innovation that we're good at remembering 7 items, plus or minus 2. So he doesn't talk about all ten, since everyone will forget all of them. He breaks the ten roles people play in innovation into three categories: learning personas, organizing personas and building personas.

Learning personas: These are anthropologists, experimenters and cross-polinators. They're the people who observe and learn what people need, the people who try stuff and learn from mistakes, and the people who combine ideas that are already out there with new ideas.

: These are hurdlers, collaborators and directors. They're people who may not be the fastest, but they’re the most efficient (most Olympic hurdlers don't run significantly faster without the hurdles), people who work with others, and people who position other people to be the stars (think about movie directors – they rarely appear on screen, rather they help actors to be great at their jobs).

Building personas: These are experience architects, set designers, caregivers and storytellers. They're the people who put all the pieces together, put the people who propel innovation in a good space, anticipate and help fill customer needs, and evangelize how the whole process comes together.

Kelley focused on two of these personas: anthropologists and experience architects.

Anthropologists

Kelley is the first to admit that when anthropology PhDs started showing up on the payroll, he didn't get it. There were a lot of them, and he didn't get it for a couple of years. "We have engineers who are developing laptops that don’t break when you drop them four feet onto concrete, and these people go out and watch kids fish and take pictures?" he asked.

He's come around 180 degrees, he says. It's when you go out and watch people that you figure out what they need.

The kids' toothbrush I mentioned in the first section? Anthropologists went out and saw that kids' toothbrushes were really just smaller versions of adults' toothbrushes. But adults brush their teeth with their fingertips – they have the manual dexterity – while kids hold toothbrushes in their fists. That's why they needed fatter handles.

Bank of America's Keep the Change account came about because IDEO anthropologists went into the field and discovered that people were writing checks to round numbers – for example, if your electric bill came to $56.24, you wrote a check for $57 so you could do easier math. Lots of people were doing this, and lots of people thought they were the only ones doing it. So they devised this system where if you paid that $56.24 on your debit card, $57 came out and you wound up with an extra 76 cents in your savings account.

The key is this: you have to go out and observe to figure out what people need.

Experience Designers

These are the people who create an overall experience. Kelley uses a sushi restaurant as an example. Your food is only part of the experience. There's the presentation – especially important in sushi – and then there's not only your table/counter service for beverages and the like, but you actually get to interact with the chef, whose preparation becomes a performance.

In terms of a website, visitors create some of their own experience: we can't influence their physical surroundings, the noise level in their room, the size of the screen, the weather, etc. But we can set up a website experience in such a way that they can get our content (the primary reason they come) in as pleasant a way as possible. [Kelley didn't mention Steve Krug's book Don’t Make Me Think, but I'd highly recommend it.]

Your Customers

Your current customers can help you innovate in baby steps, but they're never going to tell you the next giant leap – you have to figure that out for yourself. For example, let's say you make VCRs, and you ask your customers what they want. They say, "we want it to rewind much faster so we can just bring the tape right back to Bliockbuster."

So you go back to your development team and they say, "Sure, we can do that," and next year at the Consumer Electronics Show you arrive with a table showing off the fastest rewinding VCR in the history of the world.

And then you look over at the next table and see a DVD player – no rewinding at all, and the discs even take up less space than videotapes.

Your customers can tell you how to improve your existing product a bit at a time, sure, but if you really want to innovate, you need to get out there and see what people need.

Suggested Reading

» Previous speaker at FES, Chris Hughes of Facebook

{ purpose }

there are few things that look so forlorn when not fulfilling their purpose as swings. an empty swing, whether still or moving on a breeze or the momentum of only recent abandonment, is incomplete and can only wait for its complement.

when people go unfulfilled, they either fake fulfillment, convincing themselves or others. when puppies feel unfulfilled, they try to find a human or toy to fill in the spaces.

swings just wait.

labor day is the unofficial end of summer. the leaves are changing in central new york. the mornings are chilly. autumn is coming on quickly. more and more swings will spend more and more time unfulfilled.

when a swing is fulfilling its purpose, it helps a person accomplish things. long looks at the sky, long looks at the ground. the freedom of movement. defeating gravity, if only for moments at a time.

swings often rest above soft ground, and so, when still, are forced to stare at the footprints of the last person to walk away until the next person comes.

won't someone please think of the swings?

photo credit