The Message in the Cryptex

Different venues, different audiences, but the same query: Six times in as many months, I stood in front of a group asking (perhaps demanding) that I answer the same question. Audiences can be scary — and the question pointed to the heart of the matter.

In each case, I had been invited —and cheerfully agreed — to talk about web 2.0 and online networks, these new fangled “social” technologies. But, the audiences wanted brass tacks — my academic musings and observations from on high were not enough. The crowd was hungry. They wanted the secret answer.

Folks listened patiently — but only up to a point. I, no doubt, had waxed idiotically on about social technologies being “messy, fast, and casual” — generally ill suited to any sort of organizational context. They are designed to be “personal.” They don’t adapt well to the organizational context, and I don’t think they ever will.

To that, well… I’ve always felt Marion Barry, the former Washington DC mayor, put it eloquently (in three little words): “Get over it.” The fact of the matter is, with social media, an organization no longer can speak with a single voice, or deliver a single message. We need to get over it. It’s all about one-to-one personal communications, only it’s one-to-one with thousands or hundreds of thousands, of people. Sounding silly, I’ve said that since the ‘net began and it’s truer today than ever.

But, such answers have not been enough for hungry audiences, waving netbooks, iPhones, torches and pitchforks.

Folks know there is a secret; what’s worse, they want the secret. They’re unabashed. After all, Obama’s campaign had proven it, right? The virtual cat was out of the digital bag, and it was time for me to come clean. (Pitchforks and torches not withstanding —obviously, I’ve a bit of a love-hate relationship with these presentation things.)

The question on the lips and placards of the angry villagers, the Question with a capital “Q”, is simple: “How can we raise money with these new social networking things?”

I suppose I could blame Election ’08 — specifically Barack Obama — for setting the stage. His campaign’s success was evident. They had raised money, apparently with online social networks. They had also rewritten the rules of politics, and perhaps changed the world forever.

Unfortunately, the answer is not so simple. Moreover, deep down inside, that question is tinged with an underlying belief, a belief that more “friends,” more “followers” equals $uccess. (That’s bull, by the way, pure and simple.)

Nevertheless, nonprofits are nonplussed; they want to raise money with Facebook, or Twitter, or whatever. In the end, it’s the ends. It’s dollars, not donuts, not even the euphemistic “constituent building.” It’s about money, filthy lucre— and deep down inside they know that they’re missing the boat. (So, it’s damn the Tweets, and full speed ahead.)

This belief persists, despite the facts. The facts are clear: social networks are much better “friend raisers” than they’ll ever be “fund raisers.” But, believe is difficult to fight, logically or otherwise. Social networks are the big thing, like direct mail, or telephones, or fax, or email before them. (And, like those that have come before, we are rapidly filling up web 2.0 with random streams of amazing stupidity – but that’s another discussion.)

The “Social Networks = $uccess” belief is ubiquitous. Recently, I reviewed more than 90 grant applications, proposals focused on the intersection of jazz and technology, a far cry from my typical business. However, the same threads were there — a remarkable and overwhelming percentage cited the same holy trinity: Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. I read it so often I started to refer to it by acronym (FYT — pronounced Pffufft).

‘Till now, I’ve had no ready answer for the Question. Nothing I say seems to satisfy — folks want the secret code.

Lean in a little closer. Today I’m going to tell you that answer.

Here it is: the secret decoder ring, the magic ingredient, the answer to the Question of how to raise money with online social networks. Ready?

Continue reading The Message in the Cryptex

Get Thee Behind Me, Disco Duck!

I hate splash pages. I hate being held hostage. The topic came up recently on the “Information Systems Forum” listserv. It’s a listserv of diverse participants, gracefully managed by the indefatigable Deborah Elizabeth Finn.

The question was: “Are splash pages effective.” I thought about it for a few days and I posted a response. Michael Gilbert (who I think of as my own personal Perry White) suggested I repost my response here, on the Diner. (I think he’s worried that I haven’t posted much stuff in the last few months. Not to worry Michael, it was just a dry spell caused by excessive time travel.)

On this particular list, the recent conversations have drifted into the rights and wrongs of collecting (and using) personal information (like one’s birthday) for fundraising, and, more recently, the efficacy of “splash” pages — especially by nonprofits. While musing over the thread, I was reminded by an early example — a pre-internet example — of an attempt to hold an audience hostage.

You’ll find my original post below, (slightly edited and embellished to make me look more thoughtful):

Continue reading Get Thee Behind Me, Disco Duck!

The Secret Chord

It happens with an eerie regularity.  I hear a song, one of uncanny depth and beauty; something that just reaches down and twists at my heartstrings.  Intrigued, I will Google a smattering of half-heard lyrics, seeking to discover a new artist.  Instead, I discover a familiar name, Leonard Cohen. It’s a strange consistency — one that has been with me from 15 to 50.

It’s a consistency that caused me to preorder, unheard, his latest CD:  “Leonard Cohen – Live in London — July 17th, 2008.”  It arrived a few weeks ago.

Let me say, unabashed, this man is a poet, masterful, unmatched, unequaled. But it’s no “big girl’s blouse” type poetry. Rather it’s the soul of a man. It’s raw, and masculine, sensual and sexual; carnal and biblical. If his voice were any deeper it would measure on the Richter scale.  Like a rockslide of passion, gravelly and rich, aged and tempered like leather in smoke, dipped in raw emotion, the words of Leonard Cohen caress the ragged edge of love and passion and age and youth.  Continue reading The Secret Chord

Free Beer, SharePoint, and an April Fool

I thought it was a joke. Who could blame me? After all, the announcement began: “Starting on April 1, 2009…” Then again, Microsoft usually ain’t one to make “April Fool’s” jokes.

I read the announcement again. I clicked the buttons. The download started. I double-checked the URL — “Perhaps it was a fancy phishing scheme,” I thought to myself. “Better check.” “Free” often means free trouble.

I Googled. I got half-a-dozen links. I clicked the Wikipedia entry. It said: “SharePoint Designer 2007 is available as license-restricted freeware.

Hey, if Wikipedia says so, it’s got to be true, right?

Here’s the scoop, the lowdown, the straight poop: Continue reading Free Beer, SharePoint, and an April Fool

Trilateral Symmetry

I’ve been using a dual-monitor setup since before before. In fact, I can’t remember (and can’t imagine) not having two monitors in front of me. My office setup is currently two 20-inch 16:9 LCD flat panels. It’s amazing what you can artfully stuff on that sort of screen-space. I’m here to say that it ain’t uppity opulence — it’s productivity enhancement, and damn handy too. For example, with two monitors:

  • You can chop-and-paste from one monitor to the other, keeping a browser open on one monitor for… uhm… err… research and your Great American Novel front and center on the other.
  • You can set different resolutions on different monitors. This lets you quickly see through other eyes, a handy thing when designing web pages, especially if you have a penchant for extra-large (or extra small) fonts. Guilty, I am. I often forget that some people like their icons larger than a pinhead and text measured in multiple microns.
  • You can run multiple flavors of browser — IE, Firefox, and Safari, maybe Opera just for grins — simultaneously making sure that nothing looks right on any of them regardless of what you do.
  • Finally, for the A.D.D. amongst us, you can while away your day, in manifold multitasking, with more stuff in your face — calendar, email, task list, Facebook, ESPN and CNN, three or four or five or ten browser windows, slash-dot, iTunes, and a copy of the DMCA (just in case).

Continue reading Trilateral Symmetry