Saturday, February 19, 2005

Amateur Disneyworld reports are accidentally illuminating

Well, congratulate me - I just spent the morning reading a dozen amateur travelogues concerning Disneyworld, posted by the always-bubbling members of, a popular clearinghouse for Disney rumors and discussions. And why did I read a dozen amateur travelogues concerning Disneyworld this morning? Er, because it's cold here in Chicago, and I'm broke, and really had nothing better to do with my time, sadly enough.

The fascinating thing about these travelogues, I think, is how each of them describes in almost magical terms these deeply unique experiences the traveler had...which happens to be, for the most part, word-for-word copies of what each of the other travelers are saying in their own reports. It's amazing, I think, how Disney has managed to pull this off - to run what is perhaps the most automated, no-surprise vacation resort in human experience, yet have most of their customers walk away raving about the unique, personalized experience they had. Say what you will, but Disney is still the undisputed king of delivering magical experiences, which is what's made Disneyworld what it is, and such a continually surreal place, and a place still obsessively loved by tens of thousands. You know, even if none of them can admit that all those other visitors are having essentially the same experience as them, no matter how many identical travelogues are posted to a page.

Friday, February 18, 2005

Virtual book tours gaining in well they should

Another online 'blogozine' (Small Business Trends, in this case) is joining a virtual book-tour circuit, which reminded me that I've been wanting to talk about this at my main journal - consider this a short treatment on the subject, to remind me to write a longer one this weekend.

The idea's real simple: like a physical book tour, an author gets booked to appear at a series of literary websites during a specific span of time. These sites will do different things to mark your visit, depending on how sophisticated their own technology is - anything from an internet interview (via email or chat), to a guest post, to a phone interview for later podcast. You stitch a wide range of well-known literary websites together for such a tour, both bookstore eCommerce sites and fan blogs, so that for example 14 such 'appearances' in 14 days would count as a full tour, with you actually reaching the same amount of new potential readers as a full physical tour would've garnered, for only a fraction of the cost.

This is such a fantastic idea, for both underground authors and bloggers, for so many reasons. Obviously, for example, such a 'tour' gives a broke writer the same power to reach new readers as usually only a marketing juggernaut like James Patterson would, all while basically staying at home the entire time and not spending an extra cent on such a tour (but quite a bit of time - the author in question should be ready to devote four or five hours a day if taking on such a tour, I think).

But equally important, and maybe easy to forget, it would give all these bloggers something to actually write about, and new content to produce, instead of the usual "I'm quoting someone who's quoting someone who's quoting this syndicated article" entries that fill up so many of them. Ever since getting my Bloglines account up and running, I've quickly become a fan of several people out there who have sometimes really interesting things to say about literature, but too often have nothing new to say, but rather are synposizing and linking to other things they find (much like this [metafeed] of mine). If you get these amateur essaysists, reviewers and interviewers on one of these 'virtual book-tour circuits,' where once every week a different author comes by and conducts an online interview, I bet you'd see a flowering of thoughtful, in-depth discussions of the arts on the web, like dozens of little Paris Reviews floating around, which would be infinitely more interesting than Seth linking to Jane who linked to Marc who linked to Marianne who linked to a comment at Bookslut that someone made yesterday. Anyway, more on this in my main journal, Monday.

Key to discouraging online scams: voicemail?

Wired News has an intteresting article today (link goes to the text-only version) about a company called WholeSecurity, who has come up with an intriguing solution for discouraging scam artists on the web; at the end of signing up for a new online registration, instead of being instructed to reply to a final email (which after all, can be automated just like any other online activity), users are required to call a phone number and leave a short voicemail to orally confirm. Not only does the process throw a level of non-automation into the process, it also discourages scam artists from even completing the transaction; most of them, after all, don't want to have recordings of their actual voices on file, or caller-ID records of where they called from.

Pretty smart! I tell ya, I'd happily call a phone number at the end of an online registration process, and leave a short voicemail, if it meant eliminating most of the spammers and automated repliers that come along with a cool website. It just proves something again that I often say at my main journal - no matter how sophisticated the technology, oftentimes it is surprisingly traditional things that lead to innovations with them.

Fast Company on Amtrak, PBS

Fast Company has ssome interesting thoughts today concerning Amtrak, a recent topic of conversation at my main journal. They tie it into the recent problems at PBS as well, and bring up some intriguing questions regarding a unique American phenomenom - that of supposedly private companies which nonetheless serve the public good and rely on government subsidies to stay in business. America never has been quite comforable with anything smacking of socialism, which is why you see the creation of such things as Amtrak and PBS to begin with; we recognize that these things need to exist, and that they need government money to stay afloat, but prefer to pretend in our minds that they're private companies that live and die by their own success.

FC makes a good point in their article, which is that part of the reason Amtrak has not been able to compete with low-budget airlines is that they offer nothing worthy of competition. (Install some bullet trains, they argue, like the ICEs in Germany, and especially concentrate them on popular regional routes, and then maybe you'd see some actual competition.) That's something important to remember about Amtrak, I think, when first tempted to simply shrug your shoulders and go, "Airlines are destined to kill rail service;" in a lot of European countries, where rail is run as an actual effective alternative to planes (especially in our Homeland-Security, three-damn-hours-in-line-at-the-airport days), rail is thriving in a way people weren't expecting. The same could happen here in the US, too, if we took the time and money to build something that was actually as effective as hopping on a Southwest flight from Chicago to St. Louis..

Copy editors blog too, you know

Did you know that the Christian Science Monitor's lead copy editor has her own weekly column? It's delivered blog-style, as is a number of other web-exclusive columns written by in-house staff members, which I think is so incredibly smart of CSM to do - it taps into a rich pool of very smart people at the company, some of which just happen to not be full-time writers, while allowing the office staff to have a bit of creativity at a job that mostly involves tedium. Plus, it produces all this online-exclusive content essentially for free, which keeps someone like me coming back on a regular basis and checking out the online ads associated with each.

Anyway, her latest entry went up today, and is as entertaining as always; this week's column focuses on the modern usage of such terms as 'icon,' 'logo' and 'poster child,' and historically examines where each term originated. The best thing about this blog is its conversational tone - admittedly a subject that could be about as pretentious as possible if done wrong, Ms. Walker instead makes grammar feel breezy and light, like getting drunk with one of those cool geeky English teachers and having a fascinating conversation about language around a pub table.

New York Times Buys

The New York Times had an article today about the New York Times purchasing the popular 'amateur expert' site for around US$450 million. Surrealism aside over a news organization reporting on itself, it does raise an interesting question - of what a place with the resources like the NYT could do with a site with all the different resources of It'd be interesting if the company tried to tie the content of both more naturally into each other online. For those keeping track, by the way, that's a rough $200 million Primedia ate, from their approximate $650 million they originally paid for during the crazy dot-com years.

London chases 2012 Olympic dream

In today's International Herald-Tribune: an article detailing all the resouces London is willing to pour into getting the 2012 Olympic bid. I always love seeing cities go after ridiculously big, very traditional goals. I've always thought that Chicago, for example, where I live, should host a modern world's fair, even though a lot of people have said that globalization and the internet have killed the need for them anymore; the sheer audacity of even seriously wanting to do one would say cool things about our city, I think, much like the cool things it says about London that they seriously want to get an Olympics bid.