Wednesday, December 16, 2009

In-Office Out-of-Office Replies

Have you been getting a lot of e-mail lately, responding to your e-mail, telling you how often the recipient answers their e-mail?

You know, the mails that say: Dear Colleague, [polite explanation] I am checking and responding to my mail twice daily. [more polite explanation]. If you need urgent assistance [contact someone else/text me]. [yadda yadda yadda] Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness. [additional politeness to cover for my telling you to sod off] Sincerely, [sig]

To avoid being accused of plagiarism, I acknowledge that this text is copied from The 4-Hour Workweek. Also, to be perfectly fair, Tim Ferris isn't completely to blame. Eben Pagan also deserves credit for these increasingly common autoresponders.

So, let me get this straight: you are making better use of your time by sending me extra mail to read? Hey, thanks, man. At the very least you could make it 1 sentence instead of 3 friggin paragraphs.

I'm not saying I don't understand. All I'm saying is "DUH." I know the difference between e-mail and instant messaging or SMS/text messages.

It is true that since the advent of the Blackberry, some people do have an e-mail infusion and answer at every hour of the day and night. For those people, the only cure is twitter. For the rest of us, the default is that Instant messages require Instant answers, and e-mail doesn't.

For those of you who work with colleagues who think that e-mail is an instant gratification machine, let me offer at tip to counter Tim and Eben. My tip is: don't send an autoresponder or any response until that time of day when you answer mail. People will get used to it, and if they complain, deal with them on an individual basis. Spare the other 90% of us your long-winded autoresponders.

Thank you for understanding this move to more efficiency and effectiveness.
It will help us to serve you better.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Down and Out(sourced)

This is a modification of a post I made to Digital Eve Israel (the women's high-tech networking group), following a posting by one of the members who was looking to outsource some writing to India. A number of respondents tried to explain that outsourcing to another country when our compatriots have the skills and it would be better for our economy to keep the jobs here.

Following is my response.

Many responses to the post on outsourcing to India have been defensive and talked about "doing the Right thing" and outsourcing locally. Some of the posts have hinted or stated that the Indian writers are not as good as local writers. To my mind, this kind of post is akin to killing the messenger.

Let's face it: some jobs are particularly susceptible to offshoring. In particular, if you are outsourced or freelanced already, you can bet that offshoring is a natural progression from what you are doing. Writing is definitely one of those jobs.

You can argue about the quality. I believe that if you are one of the top people in your field, you won't be terribly threatened by the offshore market. How do you know you are one of the top people? You know you are the top in your field if you are charging more than 25% above the average. If you are thinking those expensive guys are a rip-off, you aren't the top in your field. Sorry.

So, assuming you are an average freelance writer, it is inevitable that offshore writers will eventually be able to offer similar services for a better price. That's a fact. It isn't good or bad, and it isn't good or bad for a company to pay less for the same service. It's just the way things will go. If you are angry about that, great. Anger can be a call to action.

The call to action is to give a good, hard look at your career going forward. If it seems that you are in a job that can be offshored, create a strategy so you won't be out of work in 5 years. It might be re-training to a different job. It might be training Indians to do your job and then being their agent in Israel. It might be opening your own business on the Internet. Hope isn't a plan. Arguing that it shouldn't be this way isn't a plan.

My basic belief is that the way commerce works is that there is work for everyone. I also have a basic belief that most of us can find a satisfying and meaningful job, or at least something that they don't hate. I'm not saying most of the world can find that kind of job, but if you are reading this blog, you are in the category of people who has a choice in the kind of employment you can find. You are in the category of people who could start their own business if they chose to do so. There really is enough to go around, but it won't happen when we are guarding ourselves and defending against what is "out there". It will happen when we create value in the world.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just Remembered my Right Hand

Though I've been involved in politics and community action for many years, I haven't been at a real protest since I was in college. At the last protest I participated, in the late eighties, I came to the conclusion that protests have two possible outcomes: (1) nothing or (2) people get beat up. I haven't seen much to convince me otherwise in the last 20 years.

I didn't think twice about attending last night's rally (Hebrew), after one of the congregants at my synagogue was arrested at the Western Wall. When my daughter heard there was a protest, she also immediately exclaimed "We should go to that!"

Of course, that was after several failed attempts to explain to her why Nofrat had been arrested. "Wait. I don't understand. What did she do wrong?" asked Maya. As far as my kids are concerned, there is nothing exceptional or even mildly interesting about a woman reading a Torah scroll or wearing a prayer shawl.

At shul this Saturday, one of the congregants pointed out to me that this was precisely the problem. "We are raising a generation that doesn't think there is anything wrong with that. That's precisely what scares the ultra-orthodox." Certainly, that's at least part of the truth. Certainly, a number of non-orthodox movements are growing in Israel, and that does appear as a threat to the ultra-orthodox, and some of the orthodox movements.

What do I mean by "threat". I mean money. Big Money. Marriage, divorce, burials, jobs in the municipalities and government, tax breaks, government-allocated lands, grants and scholarships for education, and the Western Wall (among other tourist attractions). This is big money.

I don't want to go too much into my religious beliefs, but it is beyond offensive that in Israel, Jews do not have freedom of religion. Our congregation has a couple of dozen rabbis who can not perform a marriage or memorial ceremony in this country. Being persecuted for religion in our own country is too horrific for me to even think about, so I didn't think, and just took my kids up to Jerusalem, despite all I know about protests, and went to one.

It was a great protest, too. It was early enough in the evening for the kids to hang out and participate. There were a couple of thousand people, which felt like (and was) a victory. Our friends from the congregation came, so the kids felt like it was fun, and I felt it was secure. Nobody got beat up, not by the police and not by opposition protesters.

At the end of the day, I don't know how much came of it. At the very least, it gave my kids the feeling that we were doing something for what we believe in. And we got t-shirts. I like to think about how many more lawyers the Conservative and Reform movement have than the ultra-orthodox movement. I like to think that will make some difference.

The real difference will be made on the ground, though. When people get together and say they just won't stand for religious oppression of Jews by Jews in the Jewish land, it will stop. When we demand that the religious sites and institutions serve us all equally, it will happen. This is just a start, but it's a good start, a strong start, and a start that will lead to a future of religious tolerance for all of us.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Get on Board: The Greatest Marketing Challenge

Last February, I got a mail in my inbox from Internet marketer/guru Eben Pagan (yeah, it's a weird link, but that's Eben), which said, "The "hardest" marketing challenge in the world". Now, Eben is an internet marketing guru and I've never met him, but he definitely sends me more e-mail than any of my friends. So I don't read them all. But this one I couldn't resist. This is the interview I heard (click it if you are still interested after reading the rest).

And so it started that I got involved in volunteering for P:5Y, one of the most amazing organizations I've ever joined. (Yeah, I know this is not the hottest web site, I'll get to that later.) It's amazing because the volunteers, mostly, are people who heard about it the same way I did, which means they are marketeers and business people. Even the ones who are historically peace activists (and there are very few) have their own internet businesses on the side. In other words, unlike other volunteer organizations I've been part of, this one takes on challenges like a business, like there's a deadline.

The founders asked themselves, what if we treated Peace like a business? What if we defined the problem, put together strategy and tactics, found out why the competitors didn't succeed, and set a deadline. They wrote plan. They published a book. Although the subtitle is Give Peace a Deadline, What Ordinary People can do to Cause World Peace in 5 Years, I have not met one ordinary person since joining the organization.

Now, we've had a lot of stops and starts, just like any new organization, and the web site doesn't look so great. The teams are functioning without all the tools we said we'd have running a few months ago, etc. But the strangest thing is happening.

About 2 weeks ago I realized that when they wrote the book, they said that in the first year we would go from 17 armed conflicts to 14 armed conflicts world wide. We are 9 months in. There are 15 conflicts as of this writing. I don't have a great explanation for that, but it's kind of cool.

I'm asking for your help. Let me tell you what you get, or at least what I got, and then I'll tell you how to join. The first thing you get is that you really are working on the world's greatest marketing challenge and the world's most urgent problem. That should be obvious, so if that sounds fun for you, wait, there's more! You get:
  • Professional value in idea exchange and networking: you'll be on teams with high-level professionals
  • A reason to get up every morning: you'll regularly have inspiring and high-level conversations with intelligent and thoughtful people, not pie-in-the sky dreamers
  • Fun and responsibility together: you'll be held accountable for what you say you'll do on these teams and you'll have access to mutual advice and coaching with your buddies on the teams
  • Friends: I've met some incredible people I know will be in my life for many years
OK, now join. Just drop me a line at, and I'll tell you what teams are forming and put you on one with other really cool people. The obvious urgent needs are a web site team (HELP! URGENT!) and a team to end 1 more conflict by February 15 2010 (also HELP! URGENT!) We have a Global Peace Treaty team with attorneys on it, and a Peace Commerce team with businesspeople on it -- something for everyone.

If you are skeptical, that's OK, join anyway. One thing I learned from roller-blading is that if you get a critical mass of people, and that's only about 40 people, and you do something kind of crazy, like skate through a downtown metropolis, the thing you are doing doesn't seem crazy.

I guarantee you that you won't feel like you wasted time on this project, and I guarantee that you won't feel crazy after the first 2 weeks. If you are, hey, quit.

So write me, at, and retweet or FB this blog so other people can do the same. Get on Board.

Note, I'm a volunteer and I don't answer P:5Y mail when I'm at work, so it might take a few days for me to get back to you.

Friday, November 13, 2009

That Syching Feeling

I'm sitting next to a dear friend of mine at a dinner event, and he says "You were late, so I called you, but you didn't answer."

"Do you have my new number?" I ask.

He shoots me a dirty look.

"Wait, I'll call you and you'll get it on your screen." I open the address book on the phone, only to find that his number isn't there. "Um, could you call me?"

He shoots me an even dirtier look. "This is looking really bad for you," he says.

Later in the week when my kids wanted to call my brother-in-law to wish him a happy birthday, I found out I didn't have my sister's phone number either.

I got a new job about a month ago, which meant I changed computers, cell phones, and Outlook/mail servers. (Fortunately, my personal e-mail never changes, so 90% of my contacts can always find me by e-mail and the other 10% know how to use Google.)

I exported my my Outlook contacts, Gmail contacts, etc. I synched up my phone and my GoogleCalendar. Miraculously, 2 weeks into the job, Plaxo offered me a free trial of Premium membership, so I was all set up for synchronization and duplicate elimination. This was going to be easy.

And it was, it was really easy. There were only two problems:
  1. The technology didn't work properly.
  2. For a change of phone number, you need a "push" technology, not a "pull".
Let me first say a thing about the technology that didn't work. I have nothing against Plaxo, but let me just state a general rule to any company. If you are planning to charge for a "premium" service, the service should actually work. Fortunately I got 30 days free, but seeing as it not only didn't work properly, but also caused damage, free turned out pretty expensive for me. Oh, and I can't cancel the trial except by calling them by phone during California business hours, which I most certainly will, and it will cost them more money than just letting me do it by Internet. I guess they figure they'll get more money from people who can't bother to call than it will cost them to answer the phones for people who do call. I don't have much to say about ethics on this one, but it's still a poor business practice to do something with the potential to piss people off. They might blog about it.

Back to my story.

I synched Plaxo with my Outlook, and then I used Plaxo's functionality for removing duplicates. (Actually, this was after trying Outlook's functionality for removing duplicates, which was really, really lame.) At first, I started using the manual functionality, but by the time I was up to 23 of 1156 duplicates, I thought it was impractical, and trusted the Plaxo functionality. Needless to say, I lost plenty of data this way. I don't know whether it was the sync or the dupe, but one way or another, information disappeared. (Yes, I have backups, if I want to return to the universe of 1156 duplicates.)

BTW, I am skipping a discussion of the miseries of incompatible file imports, etc., with Outlook because I assume you all know that it's par for the course. Apparently, if you are technical enough to know there is an "import/export" function in your mail app, you are technical enough not to be upset with a bit of fiddling with csv, pst and xls files. I'm willing to put up with a lot of scrap as long as in the end, my contacts are synched.

You'd think that contact synch would be easy to figure out. For any company doing contact sync, let me tell you a secret. This is a big secret, so you are going to owe me for this.

People's name are not unique identifiers. People's e-mail addresses and mobile phone numbers are unique identifiers.

Given this, it should be friggin easy to do a contact merge. Really. Yes, some people have more than 1 e-mail address. Yes, often I have the cell phone number stored in my cell phone and the e-mail address stored in my gmail account, and sometimes there is no overlap, so let me tell you another secret. Again, this is a big secret, so you are going to owe me for this one too.

If you are a social networking site, you don't need to ask me the correct e-mail address and mobile phone number, because you are probably more accurate than my address book. (Yes, I know there are privacy issues, but if I am linked/connected/friended with them, it's legit for you to just update the proper name. That's why I joined Plaxo and connected with people there in the first place.)

So, once you know these two big secrets, a computer program, especially a social networking site computer program, should be much smarter than I am when it comes to duplicate contact resolution. From the 23 contacts I did manually, I can confirm that the program behind Plaxo is worse than my brain is at duplicate contact resolution. Listen, Plaxo, you have great ideas of what we want from Plaxo. Close to perfect ideas, I would say. The execution falls way short.

Ok, that's my sinking feeling about synching. I want to have a quick discussion of the largest part of the puzzle that is missing, which is push technology to send out important new information.

Now, I have a lot of announcement technologies to publish my new phone number. I'm not a very secretive person. After all, my job is to be the company spokesperson, which means my cell phone is published on company press releases. Still, I'm not actually going to tweet it. I did update LinkedIn, Plaxo and FB profiles, and announce on FB and twitter that I have changed phone numbers, so if you are my contact, you can find it.

Still, these are basically pull technologies. Either you noticed or you didn't. More than half of my RL contacts are not connected to me through any online social network.

Ok, so next, I started sending out e-mails to say I'd changed my information. Now that you know how many duplicate contacts I have, you can imagine how many actual contacts I have. Also, Gmail hasn't saved all of them as friends. Some of the people I write to most are not in my address book there. (AAAAAH, how did this happen? What kind of feature is this?) I didn't know this when I started, either. And, of course, there are limits on how many e-mails you can send in bulk, both in terms of spam blocking, and in terms of patience in clicking boxes. I guess you could just do "all", but in most people's cases, that doesn't make real sense. Not all of my buddies from every group list I belong to need to get this notification.

Over the course of a few days, I got up to R. So if your name starts with R-Z, or you are listed in my address book in Hebrew, and you didn't get an update yet, sorry. Maybe I'll get to it. Maybe not. And then I have to go back and go through the contacts that Gmail didn't add to my address book and send to those ones. And then there are the people who aren't on my e-mail list, like the parents of all my kids' friends. I could SMS them, but again, with the number of people I know, that's both expensive and time-consuming. Mostly time-consuming, to tell the truth. I'd be willing to pay twenty bucks for it.

Technologically, it's not problematic to create this functionality. Spammers use it all the time. Normal people, however, can't. It would even be easy to provide this as a one-time service when you get a new phone number. I'd be willing to pay for that. Sounds like it is time to call my cell phone provider and ask them if they can do that for me. I'll let you know how that goes next week.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Cybermom and the Eyes on the Back of the Head

1 Farmville Gift request.
"Who could be sending me a gift request at 3 in the afternoon?" (Nevermind that I'm on FB at work.)
Tevel Rachmany has sent you a violet hay bale.
(Opening up text chat in FB) "You are supposed to be doing homework, not playing Farmville!"
Tevel Rachmany is offline.
"That was too easy. I wonder when they'll figure out they can block me."

Or when they'll start reading my blog. For now, they think it's reasonable that I have their passwords, because I always have had them, and of course, just in case they want me to harvest their crops for them after I've sent them up to bed. They won't give one another the passwords, though, because they might spend Farm dollars. Or because each one has a certain amount of time on their personal login on the computer. They are clear that I can parentally block out Farmville, too (I {heart} Mac).

The kids' friending habits are interesting. They are clear that they shouldn't friend strangers, so when my high school friends wanted to friend them for Farmville purposes, they turned down the invitation until I gave explicit permission. (Yay!) Tevel doesn't accept friendship requests from the girls in his class. "They aren't my friends," he says. Maya is a little older, so she friends boys in her grade.

I don't friend the kids' friends, but as I am a Farmville champ, quite a number of them friend me, and I (obviously) accept those requests. Nothing like knowing what your pre-adolescent kids' class is doing. I also make sure that Farmville gifts go to the kids first (sorry adult FV neighbors.)

Tevel has a special name (it means "Universe"), so occasionally someone else named Tevel will friend him because of the common name. If the person looks normal, I allow him to friend them and I let them know he is a kid so they shouldn't send anything inappropriate. Mostly they are teenagers themselves. And some Tevels play Farmville, yay! Maya never gets other Mayas friending her for the name, since it's so common.

For now, I have the privilege of seeing what they do online and who their friends are. For them, it's just a fact of life that Mom knows what you are doing online. It's just a fact of life that you can IM mom at any time of the day or night. I think they know that other people's moms aren't as wired, but maybe they don't. Maybe it's all part of the knowledge that your mom has eyes on the back of her head.

As a parent, it means I have information other parents don't, and I don't hesitate to share anything that seems useful. The kids' crushes are probably none of my business, but some of their online and texting habits have had me calling other parents. Interesting discussions have ensued, about whether it is OK for them to play poker if it's just with virtual chips and not real money. Unfortunately, I'm starting to feel I need to sign up for Zynga Poker to find out. Hopefully it's not as addictive as Farmville.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Weekend Networking

Way back when formal networking events were just getting started here in Israel, and I was a lowly technical writer, I attended an event of the Israel Technical Writers' Association. I remember a bit of tension there, where we were talking about business objectives and why we needed to boost membership, and at one point, Mark Levinson, the head of the organization at the time said "There's nothing wrong with just wanting to make friends." The tension disappeared.

I do a lot of networking. I recently identified networking as one of my most leveraged activities, in terms of the long-term results I get in my life. It also turns out that one of my long-term (and short-term) goals is to have lots of friends, so that's not a surprise, but even if taken just in business terms, networking is up there near the top. It's not surprising. Business is about people. Getting anything done is about people. Knowing, helping, and having good relations with people is how things work. I think of networking as the oil that keeps the machinery of the world going.

I do so much networking that this blog is almost all about networking.

So if I tell you that I went to the best networking event of my life last weekend, you know it was something special.

I spent my weekend at the Kellogg Connect International EMBA event in Eilat. This was a weekend event at a nice hotel, and I was pretty sure I was going to have to wear the hot-shot pose all weekend long and "do the networking thing". To my complete delight, the event was totally casual, the people were warm and caring, and no poses were attempted.

We are talking about some of the most successful business people in Israel, and a few very successful ones from Europe and Canada here. The Kellogg International Executive MBA is the top ranked program in the world. We could easily have pulled out poses -- we've got lots of them. It just didn't happen.

The weekend started off with the obligatory fascinating lecture on Thursday night, but from there on in, it was all leisure. Boat rides, water sports, lots of eating, a fair amount of drinking, and just the right balance of organized activities versus free time. Unlike most networking events, there was no need to "work the room" since we spent a whole weekend together, and there was a natural flow of people and a natural flow of conversation.

OK, so some of our conversation might seem a little weird to normal people. When we talked about movies, we talked about box office numbers and marketing campaigns, and when we talked about restaurants we talked about the challenges of the food business. For us that was the most interesting and comfortable way to address those topics. YMMV.

The bottom line, as with any networking event, was the people. I could talk about how they were all top executives and smart people and how we all made concrete business connections, because all of that's true, but it would be missing the point.

You know, most of us have limited vacation time without the kids and limited vacation funds. You don't normally take a day off from work, ditch the kids for the weekend, and spend time in a resort town with a bunch of strangers.

I can't express in words how easygoing, open, fun, and caring each and every person was on that weekend. There wasn't a moment I felt out of place -- it was just a great weekend with people I was happy to spend my vacation with. Not a shark in the bunch. I don't even think the scuba divers saw a shark the whole time.

Note: This is an exclusive annual or semi-annual event only for EMBA Kellogg or Kellogg IEMBA graduates. It's a great model to copy if you have the right kind of group, but I can't get you an invite. Unless you become my boyfriend, and I do have an opening for that position at this time. If you are a Kellogg EMBA grad, feel free to contact me and we'll get you on the mailing list for the next event in March.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Genius of Farmville

I feel kind of stupid, blogging about Farmville. It's not like you don't know, I mean, it's all over my Facebook profile. I'd like to say that I am doing it for the kids, but I think we all know that it's like watching SpongeBob. It might start by being something you do with the kids, but not really. You know you really wanted to do it yourself.

As the Farmville craze started, I knew this was something I needed to stay away from. People were posting their achievements on Farmville on their FB profiles in the middle of the day. My thoughts were, "Ok, you are playing this game. We all play games at work sometimes, but don't you have the common sense not to post your achievements where your workmates can see them?" Or, "Great, you play a game, but don't you want to keep it a secret."

This is part of the genius of Farmville and its genre of games. Your friends get benefits when you publish your achievements. So you are a good citizen and you publish. So far so good.

Actually, I did protest when my kids asked me to join, but I didn't protest too much. And of course, once I had joined, I had to be "better" at it than the kids. And of course, I had to get "better" status than my friends, either. I couldn't be stuck down at level 5 when I have friends at level 35. Level 35, man, I don't want to think about the time invested to get to that level. (I gotta find some way to do that, I can't have people being "better" than I am...)

Of all the online games I see my kids playing, though, I have to admit that Farmville is one of the better ones, really. You plant different crops. Different crops have different costs and different payoffs and different ripening times. I found some nice spreadsheets online that someone had done with all the ROIs for all the crops. I showed them to the kids, and we actually have discussions about what is the most worthwhile thing to do with the space.

Eventually, you figure out that the percentage of profit doesn't matter, because money stops being an issue, and the actual scarcity is space on your farm and time that you have to invest on the crop. The spreadsheets can also help you calculate that, because they tell you how much space your crops take up. You can also have trees and animals on that same space. Different animals have different yields and take up different amount of space... you get the idea. It's actually not bad, if you are going to waste your time on something. Which, apparently, I am.

The other thing that I find useful as a learning exercise is the whole thing about how you handle your money. Generally speaking, you only get more money by investing it. The bank doesn't give you interest. These days, that's a fine lesson for my kids -- invest the money because it's useless just sitting there. Despite that, my daughter would rather have lots of money spare in the bank. She has a kind of a fear of spending it. So that's another thing that we can talk about and get some insight.

The second interesting thing is how I am behaving with money at the higher levels of the game, when I really have more money than it is possible to invest (because land becomes a scarcity, so you can't invest any more). I've found my spending habits interesting to observe. Even when I think I want to save for the big thing, I figure, eh, it doesn't matter, I am going to earn more (true on the game, less true in life). When I have nothing I want to buy, I probably fool around and go shopping anyway, because, whatever, it's fun, you know. In this particular case, it's not real money, but it is real time. It's also just interesting to observe myself when it's not real money and say, OK, I get how easy it is to just buy stuff because the money is in your pocket. So that's been a good exercise in awareness for me.

The best thing for me about Farmville is that there is only so much you can play it. Crops take hours or days to mature, so I make sure to plant things that take a couple of days to grow, so I won't spend all my time on the stupid game. Lord knows I'm capable of it, so I like that built-in protection of having to wait. The kids, meanwhile, have installed a bunch of other games to fill up their time, but they're kids, and it's their job to play games. I think I know myself well enough to stay away from the temptation to try the next new thing.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Because I Need the Eggs

Today's post isn't about community or networking, but it's a good story anyway.

I needed some eggs, but mostly, I thought it was a good way to get out of the house and do something mildly interesting with my son, so we walked about 10 minutes across the fields to the place with the "fresh eggs" sign out. Although I definitely live in suburbia, there are still some fields left. And although I usually get free range eggs, I figured we'd learn something (like why I usually get free range eggs.)

"Do you want to go see the henhouse?" I asked Tevel when we got there. We don't actually have appropriate vocabulary for the hangar-like buildings that now pass as henhouses.

"I don't care," he said.

As we approached the hangar, the, um, farmer (more lack of vocabulary) approached us and explained that we can't actually see anything, because it's a controlled environment, and the wall flaps are now down because the air conditioner is working.

Farmer Eitan gave us a fantastic explanation of how it works, too. You see, the food is all weighed so they know how much comes in, and around 2 in the afternoon they start to collect the eggs. There's no way to know what hen is laying which egg, or if one of them isn't. They just live in the hangar for 2 years, getting their food and laying their eggs, and then they are sent off to become shnitzel.

He used to sell the guano to the farmers in the area, but now they won't pay for it. They prefer to use chemicals because they are just mixed in the irrigation system, so it's much more consistent and easier to distribute. He's grateful that the farmer on the neighboring land is willing to take the guano for free. That farmer, he said, gets a better yield than the other guys, but he doesn't turn over crops as quickly . He also makes more money by putting the crops in a refrigeration system and selling them when the prices go up, while the other farmers are in a hurry to sell since they have payments to make on loans and land, etc. The neighboring farmer has more invested, gets his fertilizer for free, and takes his time to get better crops and a better price, and is doing very well financially compared to the other guys who are just scraping by. The guano parable, in and of itself, is a telling story about farming and business in general.

"How many chickens are there?" I asked.


Ninety thousand. If you saw this place, you would never guess he could fit that many hens in those two buildings. They are big buildings, but still. Ninety Thousand. "They're bigger in America," says Tevel.

We got our tray of eggs and started back home to make egg salad for tomorrow's pot luck.

"What did you think," I asked Tevel.

"I dunno."

I dunno either.

Reference for the title of today's post, from Woody Allen's Annie Hall: It was great seeing Annie again and I realized what a terrific person she was and how much fun it was just knowing her and I thought of that old joke, you know, the, this, this guy goes to a psychiatrist and says, 'Doc, uh, my brother's crazy, he thinks he's a chicken,' and uh, the doctor says, 'well why don't you turn him in?' And the guy says, 'I would, but I need the eggs.' Well, I guess that's pretty much now how I feel about relationships. You know, they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd and, but uh, I guess we keep going through it...because...most of us need the eggs.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Way of All Things

I wouldn't say I enjoy funerals, even if I did, but I consider them an opportunity. They are an opportunity to reflect, to learn, and to grow.

I've been to quite a few funerals this year, and will probably continue to do so, not just because I have a lot of friends, or because I'm a particular age, but mainly because I belong to several social and community circles.

Funerals are the ultimate reflection of community. They are never pre-scheduled, frequently at inconvenient hours, announced almost exclusively by word of mouth, and the person being honored often can't ensure that certain guests get the invitation. Despite all of this, universally, and miraculously, almost everyone seems to get enough notice and attend the event.

Funeral attendance is a telling reflection of a person's life and social status. The largest funeral I attended was of a woman who was a fairly well-known figure in her community. When her husband passed, a year later, his was a tenth of the size. Clearly, if the order had been reversed, things would have looked quite different. Funerals for the young are always crowded with peers and parents' friends. Once you pass the age of 90, even your younger friends may not be around to see you off.

What I have learned, above all, is that funerals are truly about community. The attendance at your funeral reflects directly the attendance in your life.

If you have lived your life, as most of us do, as an individual, you belong to two main community groups: your family and your work communities. Typically your friends are individuals, or a loosely-connected group.

By nature, we feel alone much of the time, even when we are surrounded by people. Think of yourself at any type of social event. There you are, surrounded by people. Either you have found the group of people you know and will stick to for most of the event, or you are doing your best to make conversation with new people, or debating whether you should go say hi to that person you think you know from somewhere... you get the picture. This is how our lives look most of the time. We are surrounded by people, yet our individual life seems to be flowing in its own solitary direction.

By being active in an organized community, we can ease the feeling of being alone. For me, that community is at my synagogue, Hod v'Hadar, a place where you have the feeling of togetherness. Most of the funerals I go to, in fact, are for members or relations of the people in that community. It's not spoken and not questioned. We simply attend all of one another's life cycle events. I can't think of any other place I've been where the community is so solid and so simple.

To tell the truth, it took me quite a while to accept this. Today, we have very few structures that are permanent in our life, and so few communities that support us unquestioningly. It's astonishing, really. I wonder how much life used to be like that, when we lived in small communities, that we simply had to accept everyone in the community, go to all events, and support one another however we could. It seems the more we have materially, the less we connect.

It's telling that this level of support happens in a framework where there is a specified structure for face-to-face meeting at a minimum of once a week. It's hard to imagine any online community with this kind of commitment. Indeed, it's quite clear to me that even my most intimate online friends are not likely to be in a physical position to attend my funeral. Most of my online friends wouldn't even relate to who my family is, if one of those people should go the way of all things.

In short, there's not a day that goes by that I am not grateful for the real-life community I have in my congregation. As well-connected as I may be, and as many close friends as I may have, there is simply nothing to compare with a community with norms and rituals set up to accept, support and handle the inevitable ebb and flow of life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

After the Holidays

Those of you who know me personally know that I've been looking for a new job. The company I was working for had to cut back dramatically, you know the story. (Director or VP Marketing, for those of you who are hiring or know of openings.)

If you live in Israel, you also know that the holidays are upon us. They started last week, and they end in mid-October. And everyone knows that last month was August.

While I've been looking for a job, one of the phrases I've heard from people is that "things will pick up after the holidays". Let me be more specific. The people I've heard that most from are job seekers and placement agencies, not companies.

For all of you "After the Holidays" people, I have to wonder, is that how you run your business? Or your life? Just to put that in tangible terms, if you are an "After the Holidays" type, this is how your calendar year looks, if you live in my country:
  • January (minus the first week, rest of the world still on holiday)
  • February
  • March
  • After the holidays
  • May
  • June
  • After August
  • After the holidays
  • November
  • After the holidays in the rest of the world.
If you are an individual, you also have events like ""After the kids settle in their new school," and "After my mortgage is paid", etc. Businesses also have things like "After the big trade show," and "After so-and-so gets back from overseas." It's easy to see how at least half of your time can get wasted by "after..."

News flash: customers aren't waiting for your holidays to buy products or get their existing products serviced. The love of your life isn't waiting until your mole has been removed to go out and date other people. Your kids grow at the same rate regardless of the calendar date.

Successful companies aren't waiting until "after" to do their business. If they need to fill a position, they start advertising for the position. I've had interviews in August. I've had interviews right smack in the middle of the holidays. And this week it I got it: these are the kinds of places I want to work. Places where when they need to fill a position, they do it. They work around this guy's flights and that guy's vacation, and this holiday and that event. What needs to get done gets done, without excuses, and without delay. Without "after".

Look at your own life. How often do you find yourself saying "After..." or "Someday..."? Look at the price you are paying for waiting. And then, get off your rear, and do it. Today.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Unaffiliated: Why I'm not an affliliate marketer (and probably will never be)

I took some time over the summer to learn about Internet Marketing through something called the Thirty Day Challenge. It was a low-pressure but time-consuming course (offered free in August) that teaches you to make your first dollar on the Internet. I have to admit that I didn't finish the entire course, though I did a good part of it, and I didn't make my first dollar yet.

I learned a lot about Internet marketing, and much of the content is definitely applicable to what I do as a regular marketer. In general, it was also fun.

The two main takeaways I got were: (a) Affiliate Marketing is a real job, not some scam; and (b) Affiliate Marketing is not for me.

Just like any kind of marketing, your job as an affiliate marketer is to get people to know about and buy stuff. I think affiliate marketing is actually a lot tougher than regular marketing, because of the massive competition. The bottom line is that you are selling stuff that is already out there to customers who are probably looking for that stuff, and they could find it through you or through other means. If you aren't totally on it, some other affiliate marketer is going to be on it, and that customer will buy the stuff without your getting a cut. Or if they click through on your site, and then they decide to buy a different model, you don't get a cut.

It's pretty brutal. There are some ways to make good money on affiliate marketing, but you have to know what you are doing and have an advantage over the masses.

But that's not the main reason I don't really connect with the idea of affiliate marketing. The main reason I don't connect is because it doesn't appear to me as something adding real value to the world. Again, no offense if you are in this field and you love it or are doing well at it. But for me, affiliate marketing is fundamentally reallocation rather than creation.

I recently saw an online video of a talk by Umair Haque discussing "perceived value". Perceived value is what we learn about in business school, and it revolves around the idea that if a product is perceived to have value over a competitive product, that is worth money. In other words, you pay more money for a can of Coca-cola than a can of no-name-cola, because you perceive these to have value. Haque says, fundamentally, that perceived value isn't value. In other words, if all you are doing is putting a fancy label on it, you aren't creating anything of value in the world.

I'd go even further and say that a can of cola has no value at all, or negative value, if your health is considered.

Haque actually postulates that businesses that don't add real value will fail. I'm not sure I believe that, though I would certainly like to.

At any rate, when it comes to affiliate marketing, I just don't think that my blogging about the awesomeness of flea jump-ropes and pointing you to the site to buy them is really adding value in the world. You might all value my opinion. You might find it slightly easier to find the right flea jump-rope for you. Probably not. Probably it would have more value on the Amazon review for flea jump-ropes rather than on my blog where I get a percentage for pointing you to Amazon.

I do believe that there are zillions of products that can be created and marketed through the Internet. Creating a new product that answers a real need -- that's where value is. If you can create a better flea jump-rope, because you are the expert on flea jumping, you should create the product, not plug a different product. That is a contribution to the world.

When I was doing the course, one of the guys on my team said "It is everyone's dream to have their own product and sell it through the Internet." He said that as if: we are doing affiliate marketing because creating your own product is harder. He might be right, too. In any case, if that's your dream, that's what you should be doing, not something that appears easy and, at the end of the day, doesn't add real value to anyone.

So that's my take on affiliate marketing .Again, no offense to anyone, and I'd be glad to hear your comments below.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Spooky Spokeo

It was only a matter of time before all you had to do was know someone's email address and you could find out all about them in one click. Recently Guy Kawasaki posted a blog on a new service, Spokeo, that ostensibly does just that.

The idea is, you put in an e-mail address and the service calls up all the social networks and finds the person in those networks. You can it out (with limited info) for free here. The price for the full service is reasonable: just $2.95 a month.

Unfortunately, it works rather poorly. I don't want to be harsh on the Spokeo Folkeo, but I am totally on all the social networks and they didn't even get my name right. I mean, my e-mail adddress is rebecca@ and they still didn't get my first name right. (They got my son's name with all my info, actually.) There's no place to fix this. Even when I fixed it on the original site where I had that name listed, they didn't update. BTW, the site they are considering authority is Flickr. Not Yahoo, even. Flickr. Now on the upside, if your priority is photographs of people, maybe Flickr is a good authority. Still, I don't think that most people would associate the words "authority" with the site "Flickr".

Further, they don't check the social networks very well. They found me on 5 social networks, when I know I am registered on 15 and use 6 of them regularly. I don't have a grasp of exactly what technical challenges are involved in this implementation, but it doesn't seem too difficult to check for me in the network using my e-mail address. OTOH, if you don't actually know my name, and you are searching by name, that could be an obstacle.

I checked Spokeo for a few of my friends and colleagues, and found similarly disappointing results. For a few extremely well-networked people, the results seemed fairly good. It's hard for me to say, because one of my social-networking friends came up with participating in 9 networks. I am "friends" with him on 6 or 7, so I can't make an assessment if 9 is good coverage for him, but I suspect not.

I won't comment on the fact that Spokeo doesn't have all of the major social networks listed. This is a new product, and I'm sure with time they will get additional sites searched. However, considering they are already charging a monthly fee, I'd expect the engine to work better at least on the sites they claim to cover. Still, I think the general business model is sound and I am looking forward to seeing them with a more mature product in the future.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

One Thing They Haven't Changed Yet

It's never nighttime on the Starship Enterprise. They very rarely beam themselves onto a planet's surface to find it's the dead of night and everyone's sleeping. Come to think of it, who are the people on the other shifts, and why isn't the First Officer the one to man the ship when the Captain is sleeping? ...

2:35 am. Laptop boots but Skype still churning, nothing seems to be online. In that half-funk between sleep and psyching yourself into presentation mode, I hobble over to the router. No blinking lights. Pick up the phone. No phone line.

On the one hand, you can't really blame the ISP for choosing 2 am as a good time to do standard maintenance. On the other hand, I'm supposed to be speaking to Tokyo, Sydney and Mumbai at 3 am.

Fast forward 20 minutes, an all-night coffee shop, after ordering some decaf to pay my rent, hooked in with my laptop, earphones and mic.

"We're getting a little background noise," says our host in the US.

"I'm having a few technical difficulties, sorry I can't do much about that," I answer. I've asked the waitresses to turn down the background music, but there's not much I can do about the coffee grinder and putting up the chairs to mop the floors.

While I narrate, my colleague shows the demo from his laptop, in his home, 30 kilometers from my coffee shop. The host in the States and some unknown people in the Far East ask questions, and 40 minutes later we're through. It went well.

Looking 2 tables over, I wonder about the lone geek with his laptop. What's his excuse at 4 am? I go home.

The host has thanked us several times for being flexible for the international sales meetings. We tell her this is infinitely better than having to fly to other time zones.

Truthfully, there really is very little in life that beats international web or video conferences for just general coolness. There's something about having 20 people from 12 countries in a virtual room together, speaking to one another and asking questions. You'd think by now the cool would have worn out, but no matter how many times I do these calls, it just cools me out all over again...

On Starship Enterprise, nobody seems to think it's even the least bit cool to talk to beings from different planets or to just beam yourself around.

When someone teleports in, the host never says: "How is your spacelag? Gosh, what time IS it on your planet?". Of course, the answer would be something like "It's 37 minues past the hour, " because on any given planet, it's every hour, but it's the same minute, everywhere, except in those weirdo time zones that are half-hours. Or where they don't have minutes.

Nobody wears a watch in space, because there's no time of day. Indeed, there's no standard length of day. You have to start wondering what kinds of work shifts they have to work out, with all kinds of different beings whose bodies are adapted to different sleep patterns. I'd be really surpised if any other planet came up with a standard of 60 minutes in an hour and 24 hours in a day...

Anyway, even if I can't time-shift, I can sleep-shift, and I can location-shift. Thank goodness for all-night coffee shops.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Here a tweet, there a tweet.

I have to confess, I'm a sporadic tweeter. Some days I'll be on twitter regularly, reading all your tweets, and tweeting a bit on my own. Some days I'll just follow a few people. Most days, to be perfectly honest, I just can't be bothered.

It's easier to admit this behavior because it's quite obvious at this point that many people are occasional tweeters. You see it all the time, a sudden spurt of 5 or 10 tweets in a day, then for a week, nothing.

Or then there are the occasional tweeters, who put up a tweet every week or two. I'd ask what the point of that is, but actually, those are people I probably will never un-follow, since they are no trouble.

In fact, I don't see myself changing my habits any time soon. When I am on twitter, it's on days when I don't have a lot to do, and it's nice to see what the latest geek-speak is.

The true mystery is that even when I've been off for a couple of weeks, I don't get that feeling like I "missed" something important and can't follow the new conversation. On the other hand, I feel like when I am reading the tweets, I am getting information I needed. Truly mysterious.

I suppose it's no different than what Yossi Vardi discovered with ICQ: being in communication is a basic human need. Wherever the conversation is, it brings us human value to be part of it. Apparently, the business value is secondary, and comes mainly as part of the "being in communication" rather than some specific tweets that you just can't miss.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Annual FB Birthday Report

As another birthday passes me by, I am overjoyed to report that. like last year, I got lots of birthday greetings. Unlike last year, I really know almost all of the people who greeted me on FB or by email. I didn't get even one birthday tweet, which I also consider "in good taste". Twitter doesn't seem the right forum to get or give birthday greetings.

Two main trends appeared this year. One is that I got fewer greetings. I don't know about you, but as I have more and more friends and contacts, it becomes more difficult to check in and birthday greet everyone every day. So I definitely got fewer greetings than last year, but the ones I got were a bit more meaningful, that is, from people that I feel more warmth towards.

The other change noted was that social networking, for some people, has become a substitute for real relationships. I saw a griping youtube clip on this a couple of years ago, saying that FB is for people who don't want to talk to you. In other words, if I don't want to talk to you, I can send you a Hatching Egg or an e-card, and I got out of my obligation to actually speak to you on my birthday.

I am sure lots of people wanted to talk to me and just couldn't get through because my phone was busy talking to the people who did get through. Almost all of my good friends had the good taste to actually call. Those who didn't probably forgot my birthday, which in my book, is totally cool. I don't usually tell anyone my birthday either, so if you don't pay attention to Plaxo or Facebook, I expect you to forget.

Unfortunately, in a few cases, this year, I definitely identified a few cases of people who left two-word wall postings because they were too cheap, too busy, or just didn't want to call. I'm not really insulted by that. It's just a trend, from my perspective, towards people becoming further from the people that they had originally intended to be closer to.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Baggage Check

I sent my daughter, aged 10, to the US to visit her grandparents. On the way back, she goes through the usual routine.

First the security officer asks her if she prefers Hebrew or English. She says she doesn't care, so he asks her in Hebrew, "Who packed your bags?"

"What?" He repeats the question in English, but she still gives him a look like: "What?" Grandma explains they packed together.

"Did anyone give you anything to bring back with you?" (She's just spent 3 weeks with grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins.)


And so it goes. Apparently she did manage to pass security despite the suspicious gifts of girly toys, clothing, Webkinz, and Hershey's shower gel (don't ask).

I guess, at the end, she understood why she was asked those silly questions. I wonder how many times it will take before she figures it out and does the same as all of the rest of us. That is, if asked if anyone gave her anything, she'll say "No", irregardless of how many presents were showered on her by grandparents.

Come to think of it, shouldn't it arouse suspicions when someone travels to family and tells security that nobody gave them anything to bring back? What kind of cheap family do you have? You came all the way out here and they didn't give you ANYTHING?

How about over Christmas break? If you traveled somewhere for Christmas, and you tell the security guy that nobody gave you anything to bring back, shouldn't that arouse suspicion? Shouldn't you be immediately detained for resisting the authorities?

It's time we put an end to this rampant lawlessness. From now on, when we get to the airport, we should give detailed lists of each and every person who gave us something and what they gave us. If we all join the truthfulness campain, we could probably increase the required personnel by 20%, doing our part to combat global unemployment.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A tweet on twitter

I had my Tweetdeck open one morning, and it was making those faint tweeting sounds, as it is wont to do. My son walks in the room and says "What's that sound?"

"It's Twitter," I answered.

"It's annoying."

Amazing how an 8-year-old can sum up my Twitter experience in just 14 characters.

Monday, June 22, 2009


The first time I read about someone giving up their RSS feeds for Twitter feeds was about a month ago. I recovered from the shock quickly, but am not likely to make the move. Ever.

Twitter is an instant-gratification machine. No doubt, I have found articles and information on Twitter before it appears on RSS, and I've gotten info I would have not found otherwise. However, the main drawback of Twitter is that it's happening NOW. If I have a busy day and want to catch up, Twitter simply is not going to offer me a solution. If I want to catch up on just what's important to me, again, Twitter and its accompanying clients are inadequate.

RSS feeds are far superior for batch-mode newsing. I've got the key information under more than one category (tag) so I can quickly see what I've missed. RSS automatically displays at a glance what I usually read and what I usually ignore (427 unread posts -- obviously something I don't care much about).

And threading, where would I be without threading? On Twitter, of course.

Other than my personal preference, though, I have to ask myself what it means when so many people are talking about Twitter as an alternative to other news sources. Truthfully, if you are more than 200 tweets behind, you aren't going to catch up on your tweets. In other words, if you sleep or have meetings, you start to fall behind. If you don't tweet on the sabbath (hey, some of us don't), you miss information.

One issue with this is what it means culturally, when you have a group of people who basically have committed themselves to almost-constant connectivity. On top of that, it's non-threaded connectivity. This marks a major change in attention span. Firstly, if it's not happening now, it's not happening. Secondly, if you are online in this way, you are constantly dealing with interruption. Any task that requires more than half an hour of concentration is a challenge.

In other words, you are wasting a tremendous amount of time. I've seen a lot of apologists about how Twitter is useful for business, and how twitterers are more effective, etc. I don't find that particularly likely.

The main issue, in my eyes, is what something like Twitter does to the culture. What does it do for the culture when you need to be updated all the time, and anything that happened over 2 hours ago is passe? What does it mean that if you go to sleep, you are missing several hours of your important updates? Moreover, how can you enjoy anything when you need constant update?

I use twitter, a couple of minutes a day, usually, and definitely no more than half an hour a day. Let my friends say I'm old-fashioned or out-of-date. Me and my RSS will just have to live with it.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

@shidurey vs. @ynet_co_il

Firstly, my apologies that this post is not in Hebrew. If the title caught your eye, it's a sign that Hebrew is probably your native language, but it's not mine. Take my word for it that you'd rather read my English than my Hebrew.

Secondly, I want to clarify that I am very fond of @yosit and @liorz. Their broadcasts are fun, smart, sometimes silly, and surprisingly entertaining. If anything, the experimental broadcasts prove that being real and having a compelling personality holds an audience regardless of the value of the content.

Still, the @shidurey vs. @ynet_co_il challenge is just a bit sillier than usual, so I felt compelled to comment.

Background: Yosi and Lior decided that they can get more followers @shidurey than @ynet_co_il. @shidurey, so far, doesn't broadcast much of anything other than news on this silly competition. @ynet_co_il is a bot put up by someone anonymous, to tweet the feed from, the top news site in Israel. @ynet_co_il in fact says he/she/it isn't associated with ynet, so when you get to the profile, your inclination to follow the feed immediately dissipates. @shidurey, otoh, is friendly and funny and says it's run by some real people.

@shidurey passed its competition a day or two ago, and now has almost 800 users and @ynet_co_il has over 600. The race is apparently to 1000.

I started searching around and found some interesting tidbits, in no particular order:

  • @ynet_co_il came alive and encouraged people to follow it, claiming that bots have feelings too.
  • @nana10News, @nrgnews and @newsfromisrael are plugging for @ynet_co_il but even combined they have fewer followers than I do.
  • In general, news sites in Israel don't have impressive followings. Haaretz (in English) has over 1300.
  • It's unclear whether ynet knows this is going on, because their search engine is pitiful, but from browsing the site, it appears they are oblivious.

On the one hand, it seems like an unfair fight: A twitter ID with nothing to say against the top news feed.

On the other hand, it seems like an unfair fight: Two lovable guys with huge followings against a poorly-marketed bot whose feed is coming from an oblivious host.

Obviously, all of the parties benefit by getting increased followers.

Bottom line, as usual, is that this won't prove anything, but I think we are all having fun in the meanwhile.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Peace by Any Other Name

Before you read this post, you need to promise not to think "yeah, right" until you've given it a few minutes of thought. I got an email from one of the lists I subscribed to describing "The Greatest Marketing Challenge of All Time." Admittedly, my first reaction was "Yeah, right." But then I listened to the interview and decided it was worth my time, and it's worth yours, too.

The challenge, if you haven't heard, is world peace in 5 years. The first thing I heard in the interview that convinced me it was possible was that these people actually created a definition of "peace" that was measurable. They also set up a deadline and wrote a business plan and workbook. In other words, they are looking at world peace as a business venture.

I didn't have to think about why they perceived peace as a business venture, because they laid it out clearly. By and large, almost all business benefits from peace. In other words, peace has monetary value, so it makes sense to perceive it not only as a humanitarian venture, but as a business venture.

In a nutshell, that's why I think that this particular marketing challenge has a chance of success. Even if it doesn't, the people putting this venture together strike me as the kind of people I could learn from; the kind of people I'd be glad to spend my spare time with. And they just might achieve their goal.

What are you waiting for? Join now.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Why 25 Things

If I had a nickel for every chain letter I hadn't responded to or passed on, I'd be better able to handle this recession. Still, I can't resist Facebook 25 Things. I read them, and I've even written one. Despite some sarcastic press coverage (more sarcasm), 25 things is indicative of how we've reconnected with one another.

Suddenly, I have connectivity with friends from high school, old companies, college, and random events. On the one hand, I don't have time to renew all those old friendships on a one-on-one basis. There are a few gems there, for sure, but actually I don't want to write a personal note to everyone who links, fbs, ff, tweets, or plaxes me. And although my LinkedIn and FB profiles provide some information about me, it's somewhat limited. 25 things provides an opportunity for me to say a few things which give some insight on where I am in life and what my personality is like.

Although the objective is differerent, in some ways it's correlary to the LinkedIn recommendations. Rather than the dry description, you get a bit of color by reading what people say about one another. In LinkedIn, the purpose is to know whether you want to do business with someone. In FB the purpose is to know whether you want to really spend the time to go further in the friendship.

I'm curious to see how this will affect things like high school reunions or first business meetings. Before showing up, you can go through someone's profile online, and start from a different point in the conversation. At my last HS reunion, I literally had no recollection of some people who I'd been friends with (maybe that should be one of my 25 things). This time, I"ll know everyone! Already I do show up in business meetings knowing more about my colleagues than ever before. Too bad most people keep their FB profiles hidden from the general public. I guess they still believe in privacy.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

My Facebook Inbox

Looking over my shoulder, Maya glances at the number of unread messages in my Facebook Inbox. "How do you have so many?" she asks. "Those aren't real messages from people." I say. And they aren't. As far as I am concerned, FB Inbox is not a real inbox.

I have two real inboxes: my personal gmail box ( is Gmail) and my work mailbox which sits somewhere on the servers in my office where people named Alex can find it.

FB as it is designed now can never be a real mailbox for the following reasons:
  • No forwarding of messages.
  • No filing, tagging or archiving of messages.
  • No searching messages or senders.
  • No saving, backup or export of messages.
As far as I am concerned, the bottom line of this is that my messages in FB belong to FB, not to me. I'm pretty sure FB feels the same, considering the lighthanded way they can choose to simply discontinue their service at any time and you have no way to protect yourself by using an export or backup function. You can't even export your contacts.

I know some people use FB for real and even business/professional messages. I don't get it, but it's their funeral. I use my FB mailbox as a toy. My Inbox has invitations to events, messages from groups and fan pages, etc. Every now and again a friend writes me on my FB inbox, and I almost always answer them using my gmail account, so I have a gmail record and they will start using real mail to speak to me.

The main advantage of FB is you can send mail to anyone, even people you don't know. The main disadvantage of FB is anyone, even people you don't know, can send mail to you. I have found numerous business contacts through FB, and I have not sent them business email through that methodology. Either I come up with their business email legitimately (pretty easy to do, actually), or I don't write. As far as I am concerned, people are on FB for fun, and the last thing they want is to have people accosting them at the playground to do business. My FB inbox is just a playground. If you want to be serious with me, find me somewhere else.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Why would anyone watch me?

It suddenly hit me how bizarre the discussion on privacy is, after reading a blog by Steve Smith on how delighted he is that he's finally getting targeted advertising.

Regardless of where you stand on the privacy issue, the fact is that a great deal is known about us. Our browsers and web sites track where we've been (though our ISPs are forbidden from doing so). Our credit card companies know where we've been or what we've bought. Our supermarkets and pharmacies, if we have a frequent-buyer card, know to a high level of granularity exactly what we've bought. Our cell phones know where we are located, so in theory, our cell phone company knows at a minimum where we've been roaming to, but also in theory, who our friends are and how long we spend talking with them. Our employers can track our computer activity and know what we did on our computer all day long.

All of the above is for people who don't use things like Twitter, Facebook, Pandora, Skype, Plaxo, or instant messaging. If you use any of those, in theory, someone knows a lot more. In that case, potentially, anyone could know who your friends or colleagues are, what music you like, what parties you go to, and what you ate for breakfast this morning.

For most of us, that's at least a bit disturbing. For many of us, it's even intrusive or creepy. Most of us don't want to think too much about what could be done with that level of information, if it indeed could be made sense of (not trivial at all).

The sad, indeed, pathetic, part is that the only thing our society can think of to do with all that data is to sell us more stuff. Most of the privacy debate revolves around varying levels of outrage of what corporations are going to do with that data, what they are going to advertise to us, and how intrusive they will be in their marketing efforts. Now, I don't know about you, but I have a feeling I will be seing more, not less advertising in the future, and if it's going to be brash, at least let it be for feminine hygiene products and not for prostate treatments. (Either you agree with me on that one or feel just the opposite, as the case may be.) If it's not going to brash, let it be about ice cream and not cars (again, your taste may vary).

But back to my point.

What does it say about us that the only thing we can think of to do with personal data is to monetize it? Some of us are aware of how to use that data for the greater good, but at best, the implementaitons are marginal.

What does it say about us that our opposition to using personal data is revolved around corporations wanting to monetize it? Some of us are aware it could be used to really harm us or for our government (or someone else's government) to keep tabs on us, and we certainly oppose that, but it isn't the dominant conversation.

Yes, it is frightening that corporations own so much information about me personally.
But to me, it's even more frightening that we are living in a society where the primary, if not only, meaure of the worth of anything is in dollars.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

War and Social Networking

I'm sure most of you have noticed that I've been living in a war zone for the last 3 weeks. Personally, the effects aren't major; the war is a hundred miles south of me and it's more-or-less business as usual in my life. I'm not going to write about that. As usual, what I'm going to write about is social media.

Some of my colleagues have made huge efforts to support Israel through various online media. I assume the other side also has its supporters doing the same, obviously not from the Gaza strip, because getting online is a problem, but they have their supporters outside the strip. I've gotten email from various international charities supporting humanitarian efforts, as well.

Before I go into the war specifically, let me be clear that social media and the internet have made an enormous contribution to the non-profit world and to do-gooders everywhere. The most obvious and successful examples are Kiva and One, but there are many, many more. I do not for a moment place doubt on the power of the digital media.

However, the digital and social media world isn't going to win the war. It isn't going to impact the war. It doesn't matter one byte, and these are the reasons:

  1. War consists of things like killing people and destroying stuff. Your blog and youtube video are all nice, but they will neither destroy more stuff nor prevent stuff from being destroyed.

  2. Your blog and youtube video aren't going to change anyone's opinion. That includes this blog. The sides are so far apart, and almost everyone following the news on this subject has an opinion already, so forget it. If you like watching videos of soldiers either helping or shooting guys on the other side, you will find videos to your taste. If you don't want to hear the other side's opinion (the most likely scenario), you won't watch those videos.

  3. It could be argued that being bombarded with this much media desensitizes us to it. I don't know about that, but personally it just makes me sick, so I avoid it.

  4. I know this will shock everyone (not!) but you know those online polls asking whether you support Israel or the Palestinians? They don't actually influence the results. They don't actually influence international opinion either. The only thing they represent is how fast Jews can pass along email as opposed to how fast Arabs can pass along email. Since I think we all know the answer to that question, you don't have to feel any obligation to cast your vote in those anymore.

  5. And finally, the reason that social media won't win the war is that the concept of winning the war is an oxymoron. It just isn't conceivable to me that killing people and destroying stuff is "winning". I mean, it's measurable, and that's all good and fine, and we definitely got a higher "score" on destroying stuff, but what kind of "win" is that? We're going to end up paying for putting it back together, directly or indirectly, so it's a little ridiculous.

  6. Moreover, the huge amount of media attention is counterproductive, in particular to Israel. Israel is constantly complaining how it gets the short end of the stick, how it is accused unfairly of atrocities, etc. Ya know, it would help if we would just shut our traps for a while. The more we talk, the more we get other people to talk about it. We say "when x country committed worse crimes, nobody said anything..." Yeah, because they knew how to shut their traps. We just can't shut up, and then we complain how the world looks at us with a magnifying glass. Honestly, keeping our traps shut would serve us a lot better than trying to win a war of words. Nobody can measure that, anyway.

It's been common knowledge for a long time that this kind of war doesn't solve anything. The conflict will be resolved through negotiation, if at all. Meanwhile, the debates in the social media are counter productive. It really doesn't matter who is right, or who is horrid, who is generous, who is winning, or who did what to whom first. It happens to matter who is dead and what is destroyed, because the more dead and the more destroyed, the less chance to reach a compromise both sides can live with. It also matters that we spend our time accusing others and justifying ourselves instead of working towards something productive.

I'm not saying the other side is right. I'm saying, it doesn't matter who is right because we are both losing and we are using old-fashioned metrics to try and prove that we aren't.

It's about time we took responsibility for our words and actions in the social media, and stopped thinking in terms of "winning the war of words". It's completely irrelevant. Save your breath and your bytes and start thinking of how to say, do, and post something that could bring about a solution in the future rather than describe misdeeds of the past.

Thursday, January 8, 2009


It's been a long time since I blogged, for two main reasons:

  • I have a new job at a cool startup and it's keeping me busy.
  • I have given some thought about where I want this blog to go, and it wasn't clear to me yet.

While the state of social media is still of some interest, at this point it's way overblogged. Anyone following the blogs of Chris Brogan or Jeff Pulver will get that they have started to run a bit thin on material that specifically talks about social networking. Like any technology, at first there were lots of new and cool things happening, and now it's just kind of a part of life.
Also, regarding social media, I use it more and more as part of my daily life. As a marketing tool, it's unbelievably effective in getting me where I want to go. However, I am not at liberty to talk too much about what I am doing at my company, at least not on a weekly basis.
So, the blog is going to morph a bit.
First of all, I'll add a bit more about my personal life and adventures, including my personal use of social media and some of the fun stuff I get to do in my job. Secondly, I'll talk about marketing in general, and social media and community will be part of that.
Secondly, I am writing the company blog at AdsVantage. Since the company is in the area of ratings and advertising, it should be of interest to those of you who are following me because I talk about marketing. For those of you who are following me because I have a sense of humor, you may be out of luck. Or not. For those of you who just like me, the intention is that this blog will be a bit more fun and a bit less business, and that I will continue to update every week.
And for those of you who are concerned about "the situation": I am safe, life is pretty much business as usual, and there is some chance I will blog about it in the coming week.