Friday, February 25, 2005

Rick Steves: Why, you dirty little bird!

From, a hipster travel blog: Travel host Rick Steves' bulletin board for nude beaches. For those who don't know, on top of being a connoisseur of public nudity, Steves is also a proponent of marijuana legalization, and is a major annual contributor to NORML. And you just thought he was some stuffy middle-aged PBS host!

Podcasting is about to get a whole lot easier

Evan Williams, one of the original inventors of Blogger, has decided to take on a new project: podcasting. His upcoming Odeo will apparently combine the power of existing podcasting with the ease and coolness of something like the Blogger interface (I assume, anyway - Blogger, in fact, has one of the easiest, coolest interfaces in the history of the web, which is what made it so popular in the first place).

As someone who's recently started a podcast myself, and has been going crazy reading the decidedly user-unfriendly instructions at sites like iPodder, I highly look forward to upcoming developments at Odeo. If you sign up for Odeo right now, by the way, you're entered into a drawing for a free iPod. (Thanks to Steve Rubel at Micro Persuasion for pointing this out.)

What older people want from advertising: A primer

David Wolfe, author of the blog "Ageless Marketing," has been running an excellent series of essays this week concerning the differences between the young and the middle-aged when it comes to what appeals to them in marketing campaigns. Part 6 of the series is up today, for example, and details something I've talked about at my main journal in the past - how the customer experience changes with age, so that the emphasis is more on enhancing one's emotional life, rather than the simple pursuit of owning more things. The entire series has been fascinating, and is highly recommended for small-business owners who are primarily targeting an older customer base.

Jeez, no wonder nobody uses libraries anymore

Michael Gorman, president-elect of the American Library Association, recently penned an essay for the ALA website that rips not only into bloggers but also Google's plan to digitize millions of scholarly texts. Among the laughably xenophobic quotes in the essay:

"Hailed as the ultimate example of information retrieval, Google is, in fact, the device that gives you thousands of 'hits' (which may or may not be relevant) in no very useful order."


"Speed is of the essence to the Google boosters, just as it is to consumers of fast 'food,' but, as with fast food, rubbish is rubbish, no matter how speedily it is delivered."


"...the thing to do with a scholarly book is to read it, preferably not on a screen." [Note: no reason given why reading a book on paper is inherently more useful than on a computer screen.]

Oh, and:

"It is obvious that the Blog People read what they want to read rather than what is in front of them.... I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts."

And finally:

"If a fraction of [Google fans] were devoted to buying books... the effort would be of far more use to humanity and society."

Apparently, Mr. Gorman is not actually against the proliferation and dissemination of information in our society - he just wants it to continue to be done via paper, and for some unexplained reason sees the digitization of text as the fourth sign of the Apocalypse. As long as people like this are in charge of our nation's libraries, our nation's libraries will continue to become nothing but more and more irrelevant to our everyday lives. Tech-friendly librarians, I urge you to get this guy to stop being your official mouthpiece. (Thanks to for pointing this out.)

New travel site for international slackers

There's a new site that just opened called, which seems to be expressly designed for globe-trotting backpackers who don't have a website of their own. The site allows travellers to keep an online diary of their adventures, and also provides such cool features as a map showing all the places you've visited (marked with big red dots), a way of describing what order you visited these places (along with what's coming next), and even graphs compiling such statistics as what percentage of the planet you've now seen with your own eyes. I haven't used it myself, but from the front page it looks perfect for all those hostel-skippers who don't want to bother running their own website. (Thanks to for pointing this out.)

Self-publishing author: "Publicity is the hardest part"

Small Business Trends has a guest essay today by Wayne McVicker, self-publishing author of Starting Something, a guide (and cautionary tale) for entrepreneurs. As I've often talked about in my own journal, McVicker reveals that it's not the actual publishing of the book that is most difficult, but rather how to gain publicity for the book when you don't have a major publishing company's PR department to back it. He offers several pieces of advice that even underground artists can learn from, such as not hiring an outside PR firm, and submitting your book for every award for which you possibly can. There's some good solid advice here in this article, for fellow self-publishers who are just starting the process.

Trackback feature added today

I've just added a "trackback" feature to [metafeed] today, for those who use such a thing. For those who don't know, trackbacking is a type of automated software that allows people to let me know when they've linked to my entries, and that actually generates a synopsis of their own related entry that runs at the bottom of mine, along with a link that let readers hop right over to that other blog. It's a fairly complicated process, and not for beginners nor the weak of heart; users of MovableType (including Typepad) have it as an automated part of their blogs, but for others it needs to be set up by hand. I recommend going to to start learning about the process; they're a website that offers free trackbacking services for those who are not on MovableType-powered blogs. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Haloscan is the service I use as well, for my own blog.) For those who wish to use the trackback feature of [metafeed], simply click on the "trackback" button that appears at the bottom of any given entry; doing so will bring up the proper URL for pinging.

(Update, 2 pm: Working! Ping to your heart's content!)

Thursday, February 24, 2005

"The Daily Feed" for February 24

this is an audio post - click to play

TODAY: Sony's new videogame lets players order a pizza - no, not a virtual one, a real one - and have it delivered to their home while they're actually playing. What's next in the world of paid product endorsements?

CLICKABLE LINKS to sites mentioned in today's "Feed:" USA Today's article on Everquest II, the game's official website, an examination of Geritol's role in the 1950s quiz-show scandals.

CORRECTION in today's "Feed:" Geritol was the sponsor of the show "Twenty-One," not "The $64,000 Question." My apologies for the error.

"The Daily Feed" is an NPR-style audio monologue, two to five minutes in length, that I record each day from my cellphone. Simply click on the above link to download the MP3 file to your computer, then to your favorite listening device.

Big Tiki USB Flash Drive

From the "so cool I simply had to mention it" file: A portable USB drive that looks like a Tiki statue. (Thanks, Gizmodo!)

Consumers increasingly rejecting bundled purchases

Fast Company has an interesting article today on the growing trend of consumers to reject bundled offers from companies (that is, where many different products or services are offered for a single price) and to instead pick and choose the individual things they want, in the 'a la carte' style. One of the points the article makes is that it's becoming rapidly easier for consumers to purchase things online that cost only a tiny bit of money - think of 99-cent songs at Apple's website, for a good example.

This taps into the theory of 'micropayments' that's been discussed among underground artists for several years now, first proposed by cartoonist Scott McCloud - that is, instead of a daily cartoonist selling her work to a newspaper, which then charges readers 50 cents a day to read it, the cartoonist instead sell the cartoons directly to her readers via the internet, for five cents a day or whatever. It's an intriguing idea, but has always been hampered by a simple fact - that with the money credit-card companies charge to verify an individual transaction, artists end up losing almost a dollar in operational costs every time they gain five cents in micropayment revenue. Now that micropayments are starting to catch on in other, more mainstream industries, and credit-card verifiers are lowering their per-transaction fees, perhaps it's time for underground artists to revisit this concept.

Conservative pitbulls: "You're next, old people!"

The International Herald-Tribune has an article today about USA Next, a conservative attack group that is partly made up of the same people who engineered the "Swift Vets and POWs for Truth" campaign that destroyed John Kerry's presidential campaign last year. The group has recently started running ads attacking the American Association for Retired People, who oppose Bush's plan for overhauling Social Security; the ads, which run at conservative publication American Spectator's website, claim that the organization supports same-sex marriage, even though the group has never officially taken a position on the subject one way or another. And even lovelier, the ad itself shows an American soldier with a bix 'X' drawn on him, next to a photo of two gay men french-kissing.

Coming next year: the secret tax-and-spend agenda of puppies and babies!

Marketing Wars, Part VI: Revenge of the Pissed-Off Consumers

From the supplemental blog of radio station WFMU: Piss off telemarketers by acting like a retarded kid. (Another common technique I've heard of is to place an air horn or whistle next to one's phone, and simply blow as loud as one can until the telemarketer hangs up.)

The entry itself is funny in a very guilty, sick way, but brings up a larger issue worth discussing - namely, the growing trend among consumers to not wait for Congress to regulate telemarketing, but to instead take matters into their own hands, vigilante-style. I admit, I've gotten so angry at telemarketers before, I've contemplated starting a website featuring their names, photos and addresses, and encouraging sociopathic random citizens to go out and kill them. What does it say about your company when your customers are harboring such violent fantasies, or devising such elaborate plots to get back at you, like the scheme highlighted at WFMU's blog? Is this really the way you want to do business? Is this really the relationship you want to have with your customers?

As traditional advertising becomes more and more ineffective in our modern world, and the din of unwanted marketing grows louder and louder, this issue is going to become of more relevance than ever before. Businesses should really start thinking about the validity of cold-call telemarketing, before someone actually does start up a "kill these people" website concerning them.

Shameless self-promotion, part 407

Scott Esposito of the popular literary blog "Conversational Reading" recently conducted an extensive interview with me, covering a whole range of subjects - my travel books, the relationship I have with my readers, the future of blogging and a lot more. The interview went so long, in fact, that he's split it into two parts; part 1 just went up today. Hope you like it!

Here's your latte - watch out for that bomb

From the Milken Institute, a popular economic think-tank: an electronic paper on the challenges Israeli small businesses face. God, I'm trying to open a small business here in Chicago right now, and the process is already driving me crazy; could you even imagine the added pressure of random customers being suicide bombers? (Thanks to the blog Small Business Trends for pointing this out.)

"The Wicker Park Tribune," coming soon to a website near you

Columnist Steve Outing of the journal Editor & Publisher has a rational and well-thought-out argument today concerning the topic of "citizen journalism" - that is, of recruiting non-journalists to produce some of the news a traditional journalism outlet releases to the public. He makes a lot of really good points in the article that I won't bother rehashing; what I did want to mention, though, is that it's gotten my mind thinking about the concept of adding special sections to a traditional newspaper, based on tiny topics or neighborhoods that the newspaper would not normally be able to afford to cover.

Take Chicago, for example, which has something like 150 different neighborhoods, each of them significantly different than the others. What if the Chicago Tribune set up 150 new sections of their website, each of them covering merely one neighborhood in the city, with citizens of that neighborhood in charge of submitting news articles and a Tribune editor overseeing it all, making sure that the items pass the minimum of journalistic muster? It would in effect create a tiny little newspaper just for those couple of hundred people in that neighborhood (but one with the reliability of a mainstream news organization), with news items they may passionately care about that the rest of the world could care less about - a new bar opening in the neighborhood, someone getting mugged on a specific streetcorner, etc. It's an incredibly intriguing idea, and one I think worth looking into more. interviews founder of Craigslist

For any of you fellow Craigslist junkies who have ever been curious, has an interview with Craig Newmark, its founder. (The interview's about a month old; I just came across it myself today.) My favorite quote: "The fundamental question for any human is how much money do you need to make. I've stepped away from many tens of millions of dollars. My brother thinks I'm nuts." Right on, Craig!

Creating pronounciation guides for made-up words

The New York Times has a really entertaining article this week about Paul Topping of Recorded Books, perhaps the world's only full-time pronounciation expert for audio-book companies. The article's fascinating enough when it comes to subjects from the real world, like guides to Native American tribes, and the company's recent recording of the Bible (where over 2,000 terms were researched for their proper pronounciation). But the article also details the struggles of doing audio versions of science-fiction and fantasy novels - in particular, the massive undertaking that went into the recent recording of the "Dune" series, so that as much as possible it adhered to the wishes of its author, the late Frank Herbert. Fascinating reading for anyone interested in language.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"The Daily Feed" for February 23

this is an audio post - click to play

TODAY: The recent hacking of Paris Hilton's Sidekick has unearthed a startling secret - Paris Hilton actually uses her Sidekick! A few thoughts on what this might mean for future celebrity product endorsements.

CLICKABLE LINKS to sites mentioned in today's "Feed:" T-Mobile, Gawker's collection of Paris Hilton's hard-drive contents.

"The Daily Feed" is an NPR-style audio monologue, two to five minutes in length, that I record each day from my cellphone. Simply click on the above link to download the MP3 file to your computer, then to your favorite listening device.

Is IM killing language? Depends on who you ask

Wired News has an unsurprisingly fascinating article today (link goes to text-only version), covering this year's meeting of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science in Washington DC. The theme of this year's conference was how such technology as IM and blogging is changing the linguistics of how humans communicate; among the presenters the article features was professor David Crystal, discussing the history of such tech-inspired linguistic changes, and researcher Naomi Baron, who recently completed an extensive study of how college students use instant messengering in their daily lives.

The article brings up a good point, that we tend to forget about in our modern age - that before the popular rise of telephones, conventional society tended to differentiate between the language used for writing and the language used for talking. When this boundary first started breaking down back then, not only because of phones but also from the increasing popularity of the telegraph, traditionalists once again decried the death of "traditional" English; without this intermingling between high and low language, however, we would've never had the works of such authors as Hemingway, Steinbeck and Vonnegut, and certainly not the popularity of pleasure-reading among the general public that we do now. Not to mention, Ms. Baron's research points to a surprising conclusion - that far from remaining the truncated shorthand most high-school IM conversations constitute, IM chats between college students become more and more expressive, and closer to closer to "traditional" English, the older the students get. These are both important points to contemplate, I think, before simply assuming that emoticons are going to bring about the downfall of society.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Attention, Google - the honeymoon is over

CNET News has an article today about Google's new controversial Autolink feature. It's a part of the free downloadable Google Toolbar that's become insanely popular of late, and what it does is basically  looks at the content of whatever page you're on, and then adds its own proprietary links and information when it deems it appropriate. So, if it catches a street address on a web page, for example, it will automatically add a link to Google Maps to it; if it catches the ISBN  number of a book, it will turn the number into a clickable link for that book over at Amazon.

The morality over adding new content to existing web pages, without that author's permission, is at the center of the heated arguments going on in the blogosphere this week over the issue. What's interesting, though, is how many hardcore online people are using this issue as a way to viciously turn on Google, when these same people were the ones evangelicizing the place just a few years ago, making it the megasuccess it now is. "Oh, that's just great," will go a typical comment found around the web this week. "Not even a year since they've gone public, and Google's already turning into one of those companies I despise."

Customer loyalty among hardcore geeks, techies and nerds is even more fickle than with the rest of the population, which is pretty damn fickle to begin with, and a lot of companies I think forget this when they make their first online ventures. Or, maybe it's not that they forget it, but they just don't understand the nature of such people to begin with. As such things as XML, Wiki and open-source programming prove, many of these people finesse a love for radical politics as well as a love for technology, especially when it comes to such subjects as information-gathering, intellectual property, the rights of artists, and the role commerce plays in all of these. (It's no coincidence that many of the industry's current leaders were active in the 1980s punk movement, with its ideals of "doing it yourself" and that "information yearns to be free.")

Such people tend to make a clear division between companies who are simply getting ahead through hard work, cool features and honest communication, and companies who exploit the weaknesses of human nature in order to generate as much revenue as humanly possible (like our tendency to gravitate towards the companies who provide the most convenient options in our lives, no matter how much the options suck or how badly the companies treat their customers [i.e. the "Starbucks Syndrome"]). This is what's allowed Google to remain on the good side of these people for so long,  despite all the mainstream successes they've been having: "Sure," a typical hardcore geek might say, "Google has more money than God by now, but they legitimately deserve that money. They respect their customers, never try to pull over fast ones, and actually build things that really are that good." It's not how much money a company makes that determines how such people feel about them, like I think a lot of marketers and other professional business people assume; it's how the company makes its money, and how they treat their customers in the pursuit of this money. The gloves are now off for Google, now that they've done something these people consider unethical for the first time. I doubt that the company will ever get back that evangelical love from these hardcore techies again.

Meanwhile, Microsoft employee Robert Scoble, via a comment at PR  blogger Steve Rubel's website, confirmed that Google's Autolink technology was in fact invented by Jeff Reynar, a former Microserf himself who invented that company's SmartTags protocol half a decade ago. (Mr. Scoble has offered his own opinion on the subject as well, over at his own blog.) SmartTags was Microsoft's attempt to do this exact same thing - that is, to scan webpages and add proprietary content to them without the author's permission. Microsoft ended up abandoning the protocol a year later, though, for the exact reasons that people are howling about on the blogosphere this week concerning Google. Considering what a smart company Google usually is, I'm surprised that they didn't see this as the cautionary tale it is.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

"The Daily Feed" for February 20

this is an audio post - click to play

TODAY: A few thoughts on viral marketing, and the eventual backlash it will be creating just a few years from now.

CLICKABLE LINKS to sites mentioned in today's "Feed:" NYT article; Burger King's "Subservient Chicken" campaign; Frito-Lay's "inNw" campaign; Brawny's "Innocent Escapes" campaign; Robert Scoble's thoughts on viral marketing; Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

"The Daily Feed" is an NPR-style audio monologue, two to five minutes in length, that I record each day from my cellphone. Simply click on the above link to download the MP3 file to your computer, then to your favorite listening device.

Journalism payola scandal just gets worse and worse

From the New York Times: A reminder that six 'journalists' have been revealed now as accepting money from the Bush administration, in return for writing about specific subjects from a conservative standpoint, and presenting it to the public as objective news. Jeez, is it any wonder that public disgust for the journalism industry is at an all-time high? Let's not forget, as recently as a hundred years ago the industry wasn't taken seriously by anyone - it was only by adopting a rigid ethical code (like writing stories from an objective standpoint, confirming stories through three unrelated sources, etc), and then sticking by that code for decades, that journalism was able to pull itself out of its 'yellow' years and finally become something that millions of people could reliably count on to be the "objective truth." Increased violations of this ethical code, like what we've been seeing recently, could easily turn journalism back into what it was in the 1800s - that is, something read mostly for entertainment purposes, and certainly not something you would ever count on to be an objective, reliable account of a situation. It'll be interesting, I think, to see how the journalism industry responds to these recent crises, and whether they'll actually manage to salvage the good reputation it took them nearly a century to create in the first place.

'Narnia' proving tricky indeed for Disney

Did you hear? Disney's doing a live-action/CGI hybrid production of CS Lewis' beloved The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe...and if it's a success, they're thinking of taking on the entire seven-book series. The New York Times has an interesting article today on the inherent difficulties Disney faces with such a project, mostly centered around the fact that the 'Narnia' books push a not-so-subtle Christian agenda. Should Disney embrace this inherent Christian metaphor, and risk pissing off every single audience member who's not a conservative Christian? Or should they omit all references to Christian mysticism (thereby effectively rewriting the entire end of the book), and risk pissing off not only Christians but also the millions of obsessive fans of the book who already exist? And most importantly, do we really want to see Disney take yet another classic piece of literature and wrangle it into a sugary-sweet mess, just to have the Disney version become so popular that the original version is eventually forgotten?

The NYT rightly points out that this wouldn't be nearly as big an issue for a traditional movie company; it's that Disney uses these movies as a springboard for hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of merchandise that makes it especially tricky in this particular case. And let's not forget, we're only talking about the first book here, which has some of the subtlest Christian references of the entire series. What happens when Disney gets to the seventh Narnia book, The Last Battle, which pushes an Apocalyptic Christian agenda so overtly that it even made the 12-year-old me uncomfortable when I first read it? It'd be the equivalent of doing a cuddly, cartoon-infested, musical version of Left Behind...which, by any opinion you want to take, would not be good for Disney at all.

'Mask 2' director: No, seriously, I didn't do it for the paycheck!

From the San Francisco Chronicle: Director insists 'Mask 2' is not a crass studio attempt to cash in on the goodwill of the first movie. Oh, would you shut up, already?