When Theories Change and Crash

A great friend reminded me last night of this passage in The Grapes of Wrath. He brought it up in the context of an awful personal situation, but the passage — and the book — seem resonant in the time we're all living through.

For man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe,
grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, emerges
ahead of his accomplishments. This you may say of man — when theories
change and crash, when schools, philosophies, when narrow dark alleys
of thought, national, religious, economic, grow and disintegrate, man
reaches, stumbles forward, painfully, mistakenly sometimes. Having
stepped forward, he may slip back, but only half a step, never the full
step back. This you may say and know it and know it. This you may know
when the bombs plummet out of the black planes on the market place,
when prisoners are stuck like pigs, when the crushed bodies drain
filthily in the dust. You may know it in this way. If the step were not
being taken, if the stumbling-forward ache were not alive, the bombs
would not fall, the throats would not be cut. Fear the time when the
bombs stop falling while the bombers live—for every bomb is proof that
the spirit has not died. And fear the time when the strikes stop while
the great owners live—for every little beaten strike is proof that the
step is being taken. And this you can know—fear the time when Manself
will not suffer and die for a concept, for this one quality is the
foundation of Manself, and this one quality is man, distinctive in the

I was able to find this passage thanks to Wikiquote.

Why I Speak Up

I published this video hesitantly yesterday.

and I had a great conversation, but I wasn't thrilled with the
production job I did. It came out too dark, and the framing was poor.

I pushed aside my worries and published it because I've learned that
pleasant surprises — opportunities to connect or to learn — come from
speaking up.

And that's exactly what happened this time.

Mike Weber
, the owner of CMR Studios, a video production company in Tampa, left this comment on the post:

You provide great information and advice with these interviews. But I
would like to suggest a bit of technical advice for your videos to make
them even better.

First lower the camera so it's a face-on view
rather than looking down on your subjects. It will allow for you to
reduce the vacant headroom space. The camera should be like another
person in the room. Someone part of the conversation wouldn' stand,
they'd have a seat to listen in. This perspective also gives more
authority to the speaker. (It's part of the psychology of what viewers
see.) Look at any national TV interview to see what I mean.

use the on camera microphone. Get wireless microphones or at least a
microphone that you can position closer to the interview. It will get
rid of that hollow sound and background noise distractions.

the white balance on the camera (pull out your instruction manual)
Office lighting is bad for cameras, but you can adjust the camera so
that it isn't yellow or green. Better yet, get three of your own
inexpensive lights to set up and have complete control. (Google "three
point lighting" )

Adding these technical touches will enhance your online image and show viewers that you are as professional as your advice. 

So instead of of worrying about my video production problems on my own, I got an expert to weight in and help me fix them.

That's why I tweet, that's why I blog and that's why I wish I did both more.

Willful Ignorance

Clay Shirky: "By the turn of the century, anyone who didn't understand that the
business model for newspapers was a wasting asset was caught up in
nothing other than willful ignorance, so secure in their faith in the
permanence of their business that they assumed that those glaciers
would politely swerve at the last minute, which minute is looking
increasingly like now."

The Irrational Exuberance of Web 2.0? Advertising.

In the bubble that is now deflating, there was both rational and irrational exuberance.

Exuberance related to the social web was rational. If you don't believe
it, go to Washington on Jan. 20. Our new tools to connect are changing
the way we live.

Advertising-related exuberance was irrational. Far too many companies
were launched with unrealistic assumptions about the size of the online
advertising market. (I was certainly an offending party.) New ad
networks like AdSense made it possible to think of revenue as a
constant that you plug into your product after it generates traffic.

Now two problems with that approach are clear:

1. The advertising market became oversupplied. Lots of new social
networks and tools were selling undifferentiated inventory, so
advertisers were able to drive the price of that inventory down.

2. Demand for advertising decreased. As inventory available to advertisers increased,
its effectiveness as a marketing channel decreased. When media
consumers were captive audiences, advertising worked. Now that
consumers have choices, it's less effective. It's mostly irrelevant, or
an interruption.

You can see these dynamics at work on both Facebook and YouTube.
Facebook is still struggling to find an advertising revenue model that
. It has an enormous supply of ads, but can't charge much for them
because consumers ignore them. Online video sites like YouTube have a similar problem.

There are wonderfully stupid things being done to try to solve these problems — and wonderfully smart things — but nothing will fully reverse the declining effectiveness of online advertising. It will persist in more relevant, targeted
formats (I don't agree that it is "now dead"), but it is fading
from the center of the online marketing world.

As Dave Winer puts it,
advertising is just information, and there are now far more efficient ways to collect information.

Photo: tylerc on flickr

Here’s What Openness Means

The flat, green line below represents devices authorized to use licensed spectrum; the purple line represents devices for unlicensed spectrum.


Via Fred Wilson:

"my partner Brad called this 'one of the best proof points that decentralized innovation trumps centralized innovation'"

And Tom Evslin:

"Note the flat line of devices being invented to use the licensed
frequencies vs. the explosion of devices including WiFi, Bluetooth, and
many other technologies we now take for granted in the unlicensed

The innovation leads not only to new devices but also very low
prices and brand new services and products like WiFi hotspots and
Bluetooth cars.

The need for over-the-air broadband and expanded cell service
is greatest in rural areas where there also happens to be the greatest
amount of unused former TV spectrum. But there is a significant amount
of white space available in every market including major cities – note
the 22 channels in LA. That's important because it means that devices
and services designed for the white spaces will have a national market
which includes urban areas.

If Horace Greeley were alive today, he'd say "Go unlicensed, young people, go unlicensed." The opportunity is priceless."

Change.gov: Released Early, Hopefully Often

Picture 12

Barack has already launched a transition website, Change.gov.

As Jeremiah Owyang put it on Twitter, "Our president has a blog."

What a change.

Here's what's best about Change.gov: There's a lot missing.
The blog only has one post, the Share Your Story page is a lame
form, the content is thin, and a lot of social features are missing.

This is a good sign — it means the Obama team lives by the
release early and often credo.

They're acting like a startup, not a
lumbering 20th-century corporation. They're comfortable on the web, and they realize that it's better to
have something up that gathers data and feedback
than to be silent.

Can There Be Beauty in Business Content?

One of the open secrets of HubSpot's success is its focus on content.
We create lots of blog posts, white papers, videos and webinars that
filter across the internet and drive people back to our site, building
our brand, our leads and our sales.


We are not alone. Businesses everywhere are beginning to create
content. They're circumventing traditional media, publishing content
that helps them get found.

This is an excellent development. It's a more efficient, democratic way
of communicating with customers. Forget advertising, forget PR.
Businesses tell their own stories now.

Yet one question knaws at me: Can there be beauty in business content?

In traditional content, beauty is excellence.

Radiohead gives beautiful live performances.  Stanley Kubrick created
beautiful movies. Paul Krugman writes beautiful columns. This is the
type of work musicians, film makers and columnists aspire to.

Should business content creators aspire to the same type of beauty?
It's hard to imagine that with a business' pressures of time, volume
and purpose it could achieve such excellence — except that if business
content doesn't aim for excellence, it is doomed to be inferior, to be
bereft of beauty.

Can this be?

I think we need to change the unit of analysis.

For traditional content creators, beauty lies in the content itself.
The beauty of Radiohead's live performance is in the departures from
the recorded music, the excellence of
execution, the scale of the work, the visual electricity and the
artistry with which it's all woven together.

Whole Foods also produces beautiful content, but the beauty isn't in
the content itself — it's in the way the content reflects the

This video about a grass-fed beef farmer in Georgia is nice, but not amazing in and of itself. What is amazing is the way it
reflects Whole Foods' business — the fact that they support
independent farmers with grants, their emphasis on locally grown food
and their work to inform consumers about the origins of their food.

Whole Foods' content is beautiful becuase it authentically
captures the beauty its business. That should be the ideal for business

Photo: Radiohead in Milan by redbanshee