Thanks, Biz, But I Don't Need To Know What's On Your Mind

Published in Online Spin, November 21 2014

It’s Twitter founder Biz Stone’s latest venture: Super, an app designed to let people speak their minds.

“It’s loud, it’s bright, and we think you’ll dig it,” they say in the FAQ. It is, of course, well-designed. It’s got Bill Murray on the homepage, which is almost unfairly awesome. There’s a virtual certainty that Super will gain some measure of success, depending largely on how you define such things.

The bigger question, however, is potentially more profound: Do we really need more people speaking their minds? Do we need more opinions on Kim Kardashian’s rear end or Renee Zellweger’s new front end? Isn’t it true that what we really need is more people listening?

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Face-To-Face Still King For Relationship-Building

Published in Online Spin, November 7 2014

My friend Hieronymus (not his real name) is kind of a hot shot. At the moment, he’s working on pulling together an international conference for youth involvement in disaster risk reduction and response. He has a team of 40 helping him. They are in 16 different countries. He is pulling his hair out.

It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to understand why; under any circumstances, a team of 40 would be difficult to manage. The standard calculation for number of communication channels in a team is n times n-1 divided by 2, meaning that there are potentially 780 ways the people on Hieronymus’ team can communicate with each other. 780 possibilities for confusion. 780 opportunities for things to be misinterpreted.

A Few Philosophical Observations On The Digital Age

Published in Online Spin, October 31 2014

Have you checked in somewhere today? I’m guessing you haven’t. Five years ago, my Twitter feed was rife with people unlocking this badge and becoming Mayor of that coffee shop. Today, nothing. And so it wasn’t surprising to read VentureBeat’s coverage of Foursquare’s “controversial” relaunch – which, VB tells us, is "not looking good.”

Even more important than the decline of the check-in, though, is the fundamental question: Who cares? Aside from the founders. And the investors. And the staff. And the families of those three groups.

The Nature Of Advertising Heralds Its Own Implosion

Published in Online Spin, October 24 2014

Long-time readers of this column may recall I run TEDxChristchurch, an annual event which is barreling down on me for next Saturday. I am neck-deep in speaker rehearsals, volunteer briefings, name tags and goody bags. I am also neck-deep in ideas. As one of our speaker coaches so eloquently put it, sometimes I feel like my brain is leaking out of my ears.


One of our speakers in particular has that effect: Jenni Adams, an astroparticlephysicist who is studying extra-galactic neutrinos as part of the Ice Cube project in Antarctica. These elementary particles have no charge, and as a result see the universe as mostly empty space, hurtling through stars, planets, and people as if they were nothing, exerting no gravitational pull and immune to the gravitational pull of the objects it passes.

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What City-Making Can Teach Google About The Way Our Brains Work

Published in Online Spin, October 17 2014

I live in a city that has been almost entirely destroyed by earthquakes. I’m not being hyperbolic, either: over 70% of the footprint of central Christchurch either collapsed in the 2011 shakes, or has been or needs to be demolished as a result of quake damage.

As a result, pretty much the entire city (population roughly 400,000) has become active in conversations they might never otherwise have contemplated, questions like: What should our transportation system look like? How do we make our streets friendlier to pedestrians? What kind of tradeoffs are we prepared to make between the cost of building and the cost of poor quality?

Personally, I’ve become deeply interested in the work of urbanists like Jane Jacobs, Peter Calthorpe, and Brent Toderian. And one of the things these and others like them understand profoundly is that it is the volume and quality of the human interactions that distinguish successful cities from unsuccessful ones.

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Mark Sagar, Andy Serkis Prompt Questions About Ethics Of Virtual Reality

Published in Online Spin, November 14 2014

“I’m just going to step over here, where she can’t see me,” says Mark Sagar, walking off to the side of the stage. “Now it’s like I’ve abandoned her.” On the big screen, the baby starts to look around, worry growing on her chubby face. After a few moments, her eyes fill with tears. 700 people emit a spontaneous, “Awww!” Mark jumps back into frame. “Don’t worry, darling! I’m here. Everything’s OK.” The baby calms down.

Mark, who has won two Scientific and Technical Academy Awards, addresses the crowd. “We can measure all kinds of interactions. Like, I can check what happens if I dial up her dopamine levels. This is like giving the baby cocaine.” She begins to blink rapidly. Her pupils dilate. There’s an uneasy murmur in the crowd.

The Changing Face of Democracy In The Digital Age

Published in Online Spin, October 10 2014

Two years ago in this column, I wrote about billionaire Russian entrepreneur Evgeny Kaspersky and his concerns about democracy in the age of the Digital Native.

To quote myself paraphrasing Kaspersky: “…[O]ne task that we really should be able to accomplish online is voting. But the security specifications for voting are significantly higher than those for Twitter, and if we can’t meet those specs -- and, as of now, we can’t -- there's not much point in allowing it to happen online. If you think elections can be bought now, just wait until they can be hacked; a vulnerable e-democracy is not far removed from no democracy at all. The alternative, that we stick with an analog voting system (or at least an in-person one), produces an equally volatile scenario: that ‘official’ elections engage only the dinosaurs, and that everyone born after the year 2000 unhooks from the framework. It’s not hard to imagine younger voters, in 10 or 20 years’ time, looking at you incredulously: ‘You want me to stand in line? And show physical identification? Are you serious?’”

The Future Of Engagement: What Customers Want Is Invisible To The Eye

Published in Online Spin, October 3 2014

In 1961, Ray Kroc bought a small restaurant chain from the McDonald brothers. The rest, as they say, is history: the exponential expansion, the investments in real estate that made the parent company so financially successful, the rigid systems and processes — including forced revolution of the potato-growing industry — that ensure every Mickey D’s French fry from Finland to Fiji tastes identical.
The idea that consistency and scalability through systems and technology are the foundational pillars of a global franchise is everywhere. From Henry Ford to Walt Disney, from H&M to Home Depot, the Western commercial landscape has become dominated by this type of factory-produced, churned-out offering.

If Your CMO Is Not On Social Media, Find A New CMO

Published in Online Spin, September 26 2014

Last week, my MediaPost colleague Catharine Taylor wrote a post wondering why CMOs aren’t that social. In response, anotherMediaPost colleague, Maarten Albarda, suggested that nobody cares, that it doesn’t matter whether CMOs are on social media, and who can even name the Starbucks CMO, anyway?

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years on the Internet, it’s that if two people are disagreeing online, the most productive course of action is to wade right in with your own overblown opinion. So here I am.

Everything is Now Your Responsibility

Published in Online Spin, September 19 2014

For the past three years, I’ve been attending an annual unconference here in New Zealand: an event with no pre-set agenda, no keynote speakers, no topics declared in advance. It is entirely designed by its attendees. On arrival, the walls are covered with gridded sheets of paper indicating available rooms and session times; when we’re given the cue by the organizer, we run a kind of organic, self-determining scrum, putting Post-its on the wall to co-create the schedule.

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