Reports of Sears Demise Might be Premature
TWICE, the publication of record for the consumer electronics industry, likes to crunch sales data and publish top retailers in a variety of different verticals. Last week they got around to major appliance retailers and I was surprised to see how the top ten broke down:
Sears, Lowe's, Home Depot, Best Buy, h.h. gregg, Walmart, P. C. Richard & Son, BrandsMart USA, Conn's and Target.
It's no surprise that Lowe's and Home Depot are both in the top three but a company that's a powerhouse in consumer electronics is barely in the top 20: Amazon.com. But Sears? At #1? In fact, Sears had $7.15 billion in sales last year across only 852 stores. That puts them at $83 million/store. At number two, Lowe's sold $5.2 billion against 1715 stores, a far, far lower average of only $3.0 millon/store. Home Depot's number drops even further, with an average of only $1.8 million / store.
Get down to Amazon and, of course, the per-store sales are different because they're an online-only company, but across the entire business, they sold $89 million in appliances. That's a long journey up to topple Sears. In fact, it's only barely better than any individual Sears store, and there are 852 stores.
Perhaps the other surprise on the list is Best Buy. Within the top five, and their primary branding is for consumer electronics and entertainment. In fact, my most recent visit to a Best Buy revealed a tiny line of major appliances, but apparently enough to generate $1.8 billion in sales in 2012.
I bought my last major appliances at Home Depot. How about you, where do your majaps - major appliances - come from?
Vincent Wright's Guide for Dealing with Tough Situations
My friend Vincent Wright shared some good ideas about how to deal with challenges. He's talking general success rules, but you can recast them to focus specifically on business too...
I know that a lot of us are going through very tough times with our businesses, our careers, our families etc. so, I'd like to share with you something which I wrote so that I could succinctly, repeatedly, and successfully do those things I need to do to get myself correctly reoriented towards getting back on track with "success":
Wright Hand Rules For Success
Rule #1: FACE the problem... No one on Earth can claim to be successful without facing problems. Facing problems is an ESSENTIAL part of success. It is THE FIRST STEP to your success
Rule #2: FIND your strength... Every living person seeking success has strength...But, power not found is power not available. Finding your power reduces the fear of facing your problems
Rule #3: FOCUS your time... How can you possibly succeed without time? Time management helps you more accurately use your strength. Think about it - what power do you have that is not dependent upon time? Without time management, even strong people seem weak. Focus your time to feel your power, to feel your strength, to Keep STRONG!
Rule #4: FREE yourself from bad habits by PLANNING. Planning keeps you in contact with your power. That's the whole purpose of planning. Bad habits are those things which pull you away from your power, away from your FOCUS. There is no greater solution to bad habits than PLANNING. REMEMBER THIS: Planning is about your FREEDOM
Rule #5: FEEL your heart in your plan... If you can't FEEL your plans leading you to success, you'll not likely put those plans into action... No one can succeed without FEELING that they are going to succeed. Success is not an accident. Success doesn't sneak up on you. It's anticipatory - IF you can FEEL your heart in your plan and IF you can feel your hand doing the things in your plan, IF you can FEEL your heart and your hand working TOGETHER, you WILL succeed...
Tip: These rules aren't meant to be just read once and forgotten. Vincent and I both encourage you to check out his Web site Brandergy.com site.
Eminent Domain and The Revitalization of Neighborhoods
You need merely drive by Twin Peaks Mall in Longmont, Colorado to realize that it's dead. Dead as in could be the setting for a zombie apocalypse movie dead. There's still a movie theater, one restaurant and a chain store -- Dillard's -- but it's a mall without any tenants and the parking lot's empty. 900 spots, 30 cars. It's not pretty.
Most people drive by and shrug. Businesses fail. Not all shopping malls are successful and it's true that the developments on the other side of the street the Mall's on are all doing well, with a Home Depot, a Super Target, a Sprouts market, and many more box stores and chains finding business is just fine.
But the problem for the city of Longmont is that there's no tax revenue coming from a huge parcel of land in a prime spot, the southern tip of town where it's an easy fifteen minute drive from Boulder and parts south.
After years of negotiating with different developers, Longmont was happy to announce a deal with NewMark Merrill Mountain States, a deal that, with substantial tax credits and other incentives, would help the company raze and completely reinvent the Twin Peaks Mall (probably under a new name).
Except for one little problem.
Turns out that Arkansas-based Dillard's doesn't want to move and they don't want to be part of an open-air mall. They don't want to shut down, they don't want to sell. They have dug in their heels and are insisting that their lease gives them the right to stay put, even as the rest of the mall collapse into ruin.
And so after over a year of negotiating, the city of Longmont has pulled out the big guns, the law that helps highways widen and has a long history: eminent domain.
In essence, it means that the city can override leases, can override property ownership and force the owner to sell to the city at a "fair market value", disagreement be damned.
For the record, the developer had already offered a generous $3.5mil for the 94,000sf building and surrounding area.
Study the expansion of America and there are two concepts that come up again and again: eminent domain and manifest destiny. The former is how they rationalized taking land from the natives with either no compensation or very minimal compensation, and the latter explained that it was, in essence, God's will that we expand ever further.
And so the expansion of the American West has come back to Longmont Colorado, by way of a failed shopping mall and a new developer.
And in this case I think Dillard's was wrong. The mall has died and even if their store is doing well, it's clearly time for some new thinking, for a major change in Twin Peaks Mall to help the community, the other businesses and the city.
Website optimization for mobile devices
The online world is going mobile and small screens are increasingly coming to represent big business.
"Roughly one in seven searches, even in the smaller categories, are happening on a mobile phone, but how many of you are putting one seventh of your resources into mobile?" asked Google's Head of Mobile Advertising Jason Spero.
According to Google, mobile searches have recently quadrupled in the US and it's a pattern that's being seen throughout the world. Many commentators suggest that mobile searches will overtake static searches overall by 2015 but in India and China mobile already leads the way, according to StatCounter's global statistics. In many emerging markets, mobile phones and other devices provide an alternative where reliable and affordable static connections might not be readily available. Even as the broadband infrastructure in these nations catches up, Internet habits that have become deeply ingrained are unlikely to be shaken off.
A recent report by the China Internet Network Information Center (CINIC) explains:
"Mobile phones are a cheaper and more convenient way to access the internet for [residents in] China's vast rural areas and for the enormous migrant population...The emergence of smartphones under 1,000 yuan [$157] sharply lowered the threshold for using the devices and encouraged average mobile phone users to become mobile web surfers."
The increasing worldwide prevalence of mobile Internet usage provides a compelling reason why you should be optimizing for mobile devices. Next comes the question of how.
Keep it simple
The way people consume information on mobile devices is different to static desktop computers and laptops. The size of the screen, the differing interface and processing power and page loading times must all be addressed when optimizing for mobile devices.
The most important rule of thumb is to keep things as simple and streamlined as possible. You should still maintain a recognisable brand identity. A visitor to both your mobile site and your regular site should recognise familiar elements but on your mobile site it should be trimmed back to achieve maximum functionality. People do increasingly casually surf via mobile devices but they tend to want the most important aspects and information on a site to be clearly and simply presented.
Visual design and navigation
Clear simple designs usually work best. Single columns sized to fit the relevant screen prevent the visitor from having to scroll sideways, which can be a pain if you're trying to find a specific piece of information on a mobile site. The use of clean white space can be a good way to present information but content should in any case be clear and easy to find, read and navigate.
Navigation is another hugely important aspect. Visitors are less likely to make numerous clicks on a mobile device, especially if there's an issue with page loading times. Try to make sure your most important information and functions are available on the landing page and that other important content is available in a minimum of further steps.
Tablets can be easier to physically navigate than smartphones, but on any mobile device the way people access and enter information differs from the way they would use a desktop. If the main input device is a person's finger this can be far less accurate and controllable than a mouse pointer, especially on a small screen. Try to avoid clickable text links, images and small 'hotspots' in favour of clearly marked buttons. Similarly, drop-down menus that allow you to choose from a range of options are generally better than blank fields for the visitor to enter text. Where the visitor does have to enter text (such as entering personal information when making a purchase) make the input fields as clear and simple as possible.
The majority of mobile surfers expect load times on their smartphone to be the same or only slightly slower than their desktop. Almost half of users say they would wait for ten seconds or less before abandoning a site and trying somewhere else.
Flashy graphics and animations that might look great on a desktop might not have the same effect in the condensed space of a smartphone, and will also be likely to substantially increase load times. Too much Flash can be very system intensive and it's also worth remembering that Apple products (which account for around 30% of the market) famously don't support Flash.
As with your content, take a long hard look at your images and decide if they're really necessary. Embedded audio and video can present another issue and it's often better not to have media that plays automatically as soon as you open the page.
It all comes back to keeping things simple and giving your visitors a clean, useful and enjoyable experience that they will hopefully want to repeat.
About the author
Christian Arno is the founder and Managing Director of global translation company Lingo24, Inc. Launched in 2001, Lingo24, Inc. employs some 4,000 professional freelance translators covering a hundred different language combinations. Follow Christian on Twitter: @Lingo24chr.
How to Work a Tradeshow Booth at CESI just got back from the huge Consumer Electronics Show and one thing really stood out in my (rather exhausted) mind as I explored the almost two million square feet of exhibit space: some companies have no idea how to work a tradeshow booth. And the worst offenders were the smaller companies. Not good.
Whether booth staff were chatting up friends to the exclusion of booth visitors, being completely clueless how to interact with working press, completely sidetracked by the flashy show in the adjacent booth or exhausted from long travel, it was an all-too-common problem for me to walk into a booth and be ignored. Which leads to the question: why bother having the booth at all?
To be fair, smaller companies usually shanghai their entire staff to "man the booth" and many people have no experience at a busy tradeshow, and no time to explore and see what's cool and interesting (not to mention to explore what competitors are doing), so distractions are inevitable. But ignoring potential customers, potential distributors, potential mentions in the press because your pal from high school stopped by and you want to find out about your old sweetheart? That's just poor training. Instead: "here's my number, let's grab a drink after I'm done working the booth". Easy.
Also, have an elevator pitch ready. You know, the snappy 30 second response to "what's it do?" or "why is it better than the competitors?". Because there's nothing that saps interest faster than when someone asks about your product or service and you, um, well, y'know, it's a complicated space and what we're, well, it's hard to explain, let me get the boss... yikes.
Be prepared too: If you're working a tradeshow and someone from the media comes up and asks a question like "so what's the coolest product you have?" or "what makes you better than X, Y or Z?" take a deep breath and answer thoughtfully. Most professional journalists have learned that when time is of the essence (after all, there were over 3,000 exhibitors at CES) it's most efficient to start with the key question. Don't be put off, just answer it smartly. And it's okay to laugh or respond humorously, as long as you keep in mind that they're just doing their job.
Also, lots of bloggers and journalists want to walk away with something more than a flimsy business card that looks like it was printed that morning in the hotel lobby. If we ask for a product sample or review unit or similar, don't say "a what? um, we don't give away our product." as one exhibitor said to me in an offended manner, but instead either have some extra products (which significantly increase your chance of being written up) or at least say "you bet. we don't have any extras at the show but if you have a card, I'll get it to the right person". Even if -- shhhh -- your intention is to just ignore their request.
At the end of the day, trade show attendees are just looking both for information and respect. Just keep that in mind when the next one comes up to you in your own company's booth and asks something you're not expecting, or interrupts while you and your colleagues are laughing about a drunken exploit from the night before. Easy, right?
How iPhone GPS tagging revealed John McAfee's hideoutI've been following the sad story of former anti-virus expert John McAfee, who created a successful software company, sold it, and did what a lot of us tech types joke about: moved to an exotic locale -- in this case Belize -- and built a fancy estate there.
Problem is, John's also gone a bit wiggy with all that time in Belize, and he's now a fugitive on the run, trying to avoid Belize detectives who are convinced he either knows a whole lot about the murder of his neighbor (who had been complaining about John's pack of guard dogs for months) or is possibly the murderer himself. He is, as they say, "a person of interest."
In response, John split. He just vanished. And then he's been blogging about being a guy on the run, saying essentially that he's too smart for the cops and they'll never find him. Coupled with his reputed paranoia and love of conspiracies, I have visions of a real life Jerry Fletcher (Mel Gibson) from the film Conspiracy Theory, actually.
What tripped him up was when he invited a journalist to meet with him and they promptly posted a photo of John in hiding with the subtle and nuanced caption "We are with John McAfee right now, suckers."
Problem was, they hadn't turned off geolocation tagging on their iPhone camera app and it took just a moment or two for a hacker to grab the photo, extract the lat/long info and identify John as being in Guatemala, just north of the Belize border.
Heck, you could just download the photo, add it to iPhoto or Aperture, then open up map view to see where it was taken. Or you can convert the info to something Google Maps friendly -- +15° 39' 29.4, -88° 59' 31.8 -- and find out John's at the Restaurante Ranchon Mary in Rio Dulce, Guatemala.
So here's my handy tip for John and other scofflaws: Next time you're on the lam and want to pose for photos for the paparazzi, can I just recommend you read my article on how to disable GPS geolocation tagging on iPhones, so you can ensure that they won't blow your cover?
See also "witness protection program".
And I also predict we'll see this hacking exploit showing up in a TV thriller or movie within 12 months.
Sex: A Surprising Factor that Affects ProductivityLelo recently released some really interesting statistics about workplace productivity and how rather surprising factors - like frequency of intimacy with a partner - can affect both job satisfaction and productivity. If you don't know who Lelo is, they sell products that help have more satisfying intimate experiences (is that sufficiently droll?), so they have a bit of a, um, vested interest in the subject, but still, the stats are interesting.
For example, more than 50% of American workers feel underpaid and that (though how they calculate this I'm not sure) a healthy sex life can produce up to 31% greater productivity, 37% higher sales success and 3x greater creativity.
My guess: it's actually correlational not causal data that's the basis for these particular numbers. That is, people who are more productive are also more sexually active, though it is questionable whether one produces the other rather than that both are characteristics of certain personality types. See what I mean?
Another factor that the Lelo stats consider is the hormone called oxytocin, the presence of which is what helps some people deal with stress calmly while others who lack the hormone in sufficient amount get super-stressed, angry and have heart attacks and other health problems. As they point out, it only takes 20 seconds of intimacy - even just a long hug or kiss - for oxytocin to start kicking in. When's the last time you had a 20 second hug?
I'll wrap up here by including the entire infographic for your reading pleasure. It is interesting to consider non-work factors that can affect productivity and job satisfaction, even if it's not always the case that a company can do something about individual employee personal life...
The Greatest Leaps in TechnologyMy friend Marcia has an interesting article up on the Inside Scoop blog at Intel, entitled Ultrabook: Top 12 Greatest Leaps in Technology, in which she takes a stab at identifying the greatest leaps in technology in the current era. I can't let that one go without adding my two cents, so... let's have a look!
First off, she identifies Automated Teller Machines (more commonly known as "ATMs") as a milestone, and I agree to some extent, but to me it's a milestone in the rise of robots, of specialized machines that are really good at a single task but useless otherwise. If you want to have easier access to your banking, to your money, if you want to avoid talking to a human and deposit a check or withdraw money at 4am? No worries.
Given the ability to have a cashier charge an additional $20, $40 or more to your existing transaction at a supermarket and then give you the difference in cash, it seems probable to me that in the next decade we'll see ATM machines from banks phase out and be replaced by the computerized checkout systems that are common in most modern supermarkets. With 24hr access and considerably better security, why not deposit your paycheck and get $100 back for a weekend at Safeway while picking up your groceries?
Next technological leap: Air Travel. This one I agree has definitely changed our planet, though I'll suggest that the most profound transportation in the history of mankind was actually steam engine-powered trains. The issue to me is access to the transportation, and trains have always been egalitarian in a way that air travel never was. A poor family could never fly coast-to-coast even 40 years ago, but a train ride from Mississippi to Maryland in third class? A chance to change your world.
The limiting factor on all modes of transportation is the infrastructure needed, and while it is tempting to assume that the thousands of miles of rail is more expensive than building airports and an air transportation management system, I think that's false. If nothing else, airplanes cost a whole heck of a lot more than even a fleet of trains, and passenger trains are actually relatively inexpensive: a bunch of benches in a wooden box with wheels. Add an additional 50 person capacity to a train? No problem. Add it to a modern airplane? That's a ten million or more upgrade to your fleet, with new support infrastructure.
The third technology leap Marcia identifies is Cell Phones, and I'll agree with her on that one. You need simply look at third world nations without major legacy telecom infrastructure, nations that are jumping directly into mobile and highly fluid telecom services to realize that the way we communicate -- and share data! -- has irrevocably changed. Then again, look at teens and 20-somethings to see how their mobile devices have become the lifeblood of their social networks. Without texting, without Facebook status updates, without Instagram, how would their friends and family know what they were doing?
Cellphones also represent a more insidious technology in a way that ATM machines and air travel don't: cellphones track your time, your location, your activity and your social networks (don't believe me? Think about the fact that your phone can geolocate you down to a few feet. And can also do so for every other cellphone on the network. Don't you think it'd be easy to correlate data and figure out who went to that big rave last Saturday night?)
It's the bane of our information age: information itself is neutral, but we typically only consider it for its positive uses. Heck, I use and like FourSquare, constantly telling my circle of friends where I am throughout the day. But there's a dark side to these utilities, one that seems far distant in our free society, but it's worth observing that while cellphones are a profound technological innovation that has changed the very fabric of society, it's not necessarily for the better. And when I watch my kids text each other instead of trying to meet face to face with their friends, well, projecting that trend forward 20 years isn't a pretty sight.
In any case, an interesting article that sparked some interesting discussion. I'm looking forward to the next installment, and suggest that it could include precise time measurement, sound recording, photography, penicillin, Enovid (birth control pills) and lithium batteries, among others.
But that's my list. What would you identify as one of the dozen most profound technological inventions of human history?
Recommend an affiliate or Internet marketing training program?
I received an interesting letter via a colleague on Facebook:
Hi Dave! I've been following you for a couple years and I've always been interested in online business but until now haven't been ready to make the commitment. Now that I have the time and resources I wanted to ask your advice for either a course or training I can sign up to learn starting up an online business. I think I would be most interested in learning affiliate or product creation. Can you make a recommendation on where I should go?
This is a bit of a tricky question because I have a number of friends and colleagues in this space, some of whom have packages and training courses that they sell. Still, to me the question is always about the "replicability" of their offering, and it's why I stopped hawking my own "make money blogging" courses at conferences too: if you can't duplicate it, it's not worth buying.
Here's what I decided to say in my response:
Nice to hear from you. Not sure how I can help as I think that the majority (to say the least) of what's out there in terms of internet marketing and online marketing training is a scam and consists of someone who has "stumbled across a secret formula" that turns out not to be easily duplicated, though they're happy to sell you their $999, $1999, whatever training course and coaching calls.
One thought, though: join meetup.com and search through it to see what kind of internet and marketing meetings happen in your area. You'll meet folk and won't have to pay $$ to do so.
Wasn't sure how that would be received because, well, isn't this guy asking me to help him attain his dream and here I am shooting down most of the squadron before we even go further on what exactly he wants?
Not so! Here's his response:
Wow thanks Dave! What you advise is exactly why I asked you. I don't want to be swindled and I thought of spending about that much on learning how this online marketing works. Your advice just saved me 2k. Can I just write you a check for half that? Thank you again.
I opted not to take his $1000, though it's tempting, but what I do want to ask all of you faithful readers is: what's your take on how to learn marketing, internet marketing, affiliate marketing, etc? Are there reputable programs and instructors out there, or is it so polluted with scams and hustles that it's better to keep your day job? (just kidding about that last bit!)
Twitter is down! Now what?This morning Twitter is apparently offline, and in the flurry of panicked messages I saw on Facebook about the problem, one stuck out, from my friend Monika Runstrom. I asked her to elaborate on her thoughts regarding what to do when Twitter's offline and here's what she came up with...
Twitter is down....Now what?
This is a question that I haven't had to ask myself in...years! I kind of forgot about the days when the Twitter Fail Whale made appearances often. And yet, here I am in 2012, completely surprised that I do not have a way to connect with my followers.
Now to be fair, I actually hadn't realized Twitter was down until a friend G-chatted me and asked if I could tweet, because he couldn't. It wasn't until that moment that I suddenly had SO much that needed to be said...Immediately.
Since that moment, I have done the same thing that many others did: turned to Facebook to update my status to let the world know that I was aware that Twitter was, in fact, down. I have read through all my friend's status updates from the past 3 days, updated my Facebook profile photo, and started adding more photos to my Pinterest food board.
With so many other social networks to turn to, I am at a loss which to turn to!
On Facebook I could:
· Go through my privacy settings
· Clean up and manage my subscriptions
· Unlike some of the brands I have liked due to work
On Pinterest I could:
· Create more organized boards
· Follow creative people and pin projects I will never attempt
On Google+ I could:
· Actually log in and poke around
· Create a hangout with friends
· Add people to cirlces
· Post something about Twitter being down and ask if anyone knows why
On my blog:
· Queue up some posts
· Work on formatting
· Update Wordpress
· Attempt to get to inbox zero
· Unsubscribe from the million Group-esque sites that I never open
All in all, I guess I should start being productive instead of hitting refresh on Twitter until something loads. Or maybe I'll just keep pushing "reload"...
What do you do when Twitter goes down?
Monika Runstrom is a lover of music & concerts, blogger (@theindiebitches), tech junkie, drinker of beer, wine and whiskey (not usually at once) & Account Manager at @theblogfrog.
The Philosophy of Social Media: Give, don't TakeI talk to a lot of people about how to work in the brave new world of social media. Unlike the world of Don Draper and his compatriots on Mad Men, where companies told us consumers what to think and how to talk about brands and products, we're in an era where that paradigm has been spun 180-degrees, stood on its head, and now the message comes from the consumer and is fed back up to the business, like it or not.
I've been in the business for over thirty years now, and remember companies like the late great Kodak being incredibly obsessive about their logo having just the right color of orange in print ads and other companies obsessing over typefaces and whether we acknowledged their trademarks each and every time we wrote about them.
Things have changed. Has your thinking?
To really get how to be successful in the world of social media, a world where your customer has a louder voice than you do, you have to really take something to heart, something that's inspired by John F. Kennedy, former president of the United States and a pretty shrewd operator all around. You've probably heard his quote. He said:
Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.
In case you haven't heard it, here, enjoy his stirring inaugural address from Jan 20, 1961:
What's so important about this particular line in a speech? Because Kennedy totally nailed social media.
To be successful in social media, to be popular on Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, etc, you need to be constantly asking yourself the following:
What can I do for my customers?
Instead, too many people focus on the wrong questions, "how can I sell stuff?" or, more bluntly, "how can I get money out of your wallet?"
If you sell bicycles, for example, your blog, your Facebook fan page, should be full of handy tips that will help bicyclists save a few bucks on repairs, find out about cool new trails, learn about training tips, and even gain some smarts about teaching children how to ride. Are we selling anything here? Not yet.
The most essential part of being successful as an online business is building trust, and you can't do that without helping your customers be happy and successful. They're not stupid, however, they realize that you're a bike shop and you stay in business by selling bikes. But that doesn't mean that every communication they get from you, every update on your fan page needs to be about a new product or service. Blech.
An anecdote to illustrate: I noticed a leak under my kitchen sink one Sunday afternoon so I pulled out the yellow pages (yes, antiquated print) and looked up plumbers. I called up one place and was immediately told about the extra emergency weekend fee associated with someone coming out to see what was going on. Okay. Another spent the time telling me how busy they were and that perhaps we could schedule someone to show up Monday morning.
The third company I called, however, had a different approach. The answering service listened to my description and asked "can I have you check a few things real quick before we schedule anyone to come out to your place?" She then detailed a few simple diagnostics to try and one of them identified the problem -- a nut had come loose and needed to be tightened -- which I then fixed and solved the problem, no plumber needed. Her response: "great! glad I could help!"
My response? I circled their business in the yellow pages, with a vow to call them when I had need of a plumber in the future.
Do you see what they did? They trained their people to solve the customer's problem not sell their services. Smart. Very smart.
In the future, that's going to be the only way to stay in business. If you don't think so, just watch. The companies that are all about the hard sell, the ones with the miserable reputations, like car salesmen and insurance salesmen -- are going to die in the field, as more and more people savvy that there are smarter, less frustrating and insulting ways to do business. Hence powerhouse companies like Geico that advertise to get you to their Web site, not to get you to schedule someone to visit and hard sell you insurance.
If you're doing things right, old school folk will keep asking you "why are you giving it away?" and "what does that have to do with what we're selling?".
Those questions mean you're on the right track.
If you're truly dedicated to a healthy, engaged dialog with your marketplace -- including customers, potential customers and people who will never buy your product or service -- then you'll gain a strong reputation and will then be able to reap the benefit.
Trust me on this. And do it.
The New Reality for Journalists: Continuing EducationA guest post from Sherri Vasquez, host of Latin View on Colorado Public Television.
Gone are the days when news reporters were regarded as professional journalists, government watchdogs, and the guardians of public interest. In today's fast-changing world of new media technologies, news organizations want web developers, videographers, and social media marketers who can report.
A Denver television station recently posted a job opening for a multi-media producer, saying journalism degree "preferred" but web publishing and streaming required.
So if you suffered through college courses on journalism ethics and law to earn a degree, toss it on the shelf and enroll in some quick classes on web writing and publishing, shooting and editing video, and distributing news on a growing number of social media sites.
Newspapers, which often had guilds akin to unions, frowned on reporters performing tasks other than writing and editing. Like the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, many died a slow death over the years as the World Wide Web gained ground in distributing news and collecting ad revenue.
Some print journalists went on to earn advanced degrees in other fields like marketing communications, but again the web changed the way the profession operates, leaving old-school marketers with obsolete master's degrees struggling to learn technical skills today's teens take for granted.
Now it seems anyone with a cell phone can call oneself a news photographer and reporter. Webcams can even turn an average citizen into a news anchor.
But old newshounds take heart, because there is always a need for good reporting based on facts, research and solid writing. Almost anyone can write their thoughts and post it on the web, but not everyone can be an online journalist.
And since everyone seems to be marketing something on social media these days, take a few classes in web marketing and social media and start marketing your experience and expertise as a credible and respected news professional.
While adding web, video and social media skills may seem sufficient for the new world of news media, consider taking some classes on the Spanish language and diverse Hispanic cultures. Just this week ABC News announced it is partnering with Univision to launch a 24-hour cable news channel aimed at U.S. Hispanics.
Interview with a rare languages translator: David Leoney
Out of the blue, I received a query from David asking if it'd be okay if he translated my article on how to write spam assassin rules into Estonian. I said 'sure' and he did the translation -- spam assassin help in Estonian -- but I was curious about his experience as a freelance technical translator. Hence this interview...
Q: Tell us a bit about you, David. Where do you live? Where are you going to school and what languages do you speak?
I live in Italy and also here have my school at the university. I speak Italian, Spanish and Catalan.
Q: You focus on technical translations. Is that easier or harder than translating news stories, novels or other writing?
Actually, I do not focus on technical translation. I deal with all types of translations. I would like to say that there is no more difficult or easier translations. All of them are interesting for me.
Q: What do you like about translations?
Doing translations on different topics I always learn something new. I often have to check notions and facts in the online encyclopedia that broadens my mind.
Q: When you encounter a word or phrase that isn't in the target language, what's your typical solution? Do you just leave the word in its original form and quote it?
When I meet a notion with no equivalent in target language I try to explain it or give appropriate equivalent with reference and explanation.
Q: You're part of a project that focuses on translating material into rare European languages like Romanian, Catalan, Armenian, Ukranina and Belorussian. Why? What's the goal and what about it appeals to you?
Exactly this languages are difficult to find on the internet. Readers of the blog suffer from lack of information in native languages. That is why we are there to help.
Q: You say that translations are a "hobby" for you. What's your professional goal once you finish at University?
I study philology and when I graduate from the university i plan to do researches in the domain.
Thanks for the interesting info, David!
Kickstarter and Interactive eBooks, An Interview with Donny ClaxtonI've known Donny since we met at a men's conference a few years ago in Atlanta, and when he shared with me that he was working on an interactive book around the history of Machu Picchu, I was so interested, I asked if I could interview him. This is the result.
Q: You're launching a new type of interactive book with your kickstarter project on Machu Picchu. What's your inspiration for this?
What excites me the most is an image of a darkened kid's room at night with a pup tent set up in the middle of the room. On the cover of the tent are patterns of pyramids, Stonehenge, menhirs, and TheWondersExpedition.com's logo of course, but inside the tent, instead of seeing the beams of a flashlight dancing about, you see the rectangular light of an iPad moving around. And as the camera peers in closer, you see a Dad's silhouette. He's finishing up and says, "And that's Machu Picchu, one of the new Seven Wonders of the World!" And next to him, a little head moves to look at him and his DAUGHTER says, "Daddy, that was great! When can we go back?" And dad replies, "How about tomorrow night? Sis."
It's the potential for that kind of interaction between dads and their kids that really excites me the most. Of course, dads are going to go re-read and dig deeper into the levels of the book than the kids, but it can become such a great tool for parent-child learning and nightly bed time stories.
Q: Why Machu Picchu, of all the places in the world to choose?
There's the business answer--The Google traffic about the site is incredible each month from all over the world. There's a demand to know more about this incredible site. And because it is so fragile and relatively remote, it's hard to get to and not something everyone can afford on a budget these days. This is a viable solution that meets such demands.
Then there's the more passionate answer--Machu Picchu now is regarded as one of the "new Seven Wonders of the World." 2012 marks the 100 year anniversary of its "re-discovery" by American Archeologist Hiram Bingham. And then it is really a fascinating place that helps all of us in our search for answers to what was life like for our ancient ancestors, what did they know, and how could they do things we'd have a hard time replicating today. There's just an innate curiosity people have about Machu Picchu and we are trying to help them find some answers.
Q: When you compare an interactive book, which is expensive to create, with a photo book a la "A Day In The Life", there's a clear trade-off between production cost. Why did you choose interactive?
We chose Interactive Books for the iPad because they clearly are the platform that offers the greatest experience to readers who want to feel like they're there. And for those who go, they'll even be able to take their iPad and point it at points at the site and use it as a tour guide instead of those old $9.99 headphones and a cassette recorder. Is it going to cost a little more than normal? Maybe, but there are only 2,500 people a day the Peruvian government will even let tour the site because of the impact foot traffic is having on it. We think it's worth it to put together this real-life, virtual experience for the benefit of 'children' of all ages who will be able to tour the site, again, even if they never get to go in person.
Q: While there are a number of different computing platforms for an interactive book, the iPad tablet is a clear market leader. Are you just focusing on producing an interactive title for the iPad, or will you support Android, Windows 8 tablet, etc?
With 52 million iPads sold, it's clearly a business decision at this point to focus on where the greatest market is. However, we know that there are other developments coming a long and we are waiting for Android and Microsoft to come forward with software alternatives that also will allow us to bring this experience to their platforms. But for now, we're focusing on developing the best product possible and the most bells and whistles possible for the Interactive Book for the iPad..
Q: What's next for Wonder Expeditions after Machu Picchu?
Already in product is Dr. Mark Van Stones' 2012: Science and Prophecy of the Ancient Maya, a book already in print and in an e-pub format, but we know, already half-way through its conversion into an Interactive Book, once its out readers will look at the three alternative formats and clearly see there's only one they want to read. We are hoping to have Dr. Van Stone's book out in mid-Summer as interest in whether or not we're all going to die on Dec. 21, 2012 escalates. Next month in Memphis at the Society of American Archeologists, we're getting the forward shot with one of Dr. Van Stone's mentors and one of the original professors who started the whole 2012 meme to begin with. Not to mention some other great scholars.
But after Machu Picchu we are planning to do books right out of the shoot on Stonehenge, The Colosseum in Rome, The Great Wall of China, and the Pyramids of Giza. Two weeks ago we sent our first crew to Chaco Canyon New Mexico to begin work on an Interactive Book on the Anasazi Indians. It's just fascinating where all this project will take us.
And on our Website, TheWondersExpedition.com we're already loading up cool content about some of these places around the world. Coming soon will be a Webinar series where anyone can sign up and talk to some of the world's prime scholars on these sites and topics and learn what you cannot learn from watching a crazy show like Ancient Aliens.
Q: Switching gears, you're seeking funding through Kickstarter. Tell us briefly what Kickstarter is, how it works, and why you choose that avenue to fund the project?
Kickstarter is a crowd-source fundraising site. You develop a fund-raising goal, add descriptions of what your project is about, do a video to support your effort and then spend the next 30-60 grueling days expanding your social circles and networks and asking, encouraging and convincing people that you have a great project that will come to be, only, and only if, you reach your funding goal. Nearly 50 percent of all projects get funded. The trick is to be in the group who does....
When people back the campaign, they also get a commitment for some cool stuff from the project's organizers. For instance, for $25 a person is going to get their name at the back of our book, but also get to interact with us as we do the project and actually get a vote on one of the three final cover options for the book so they have some buy in and satisfaction for hopefully having made a difference. They'll also get a copy of the book. Good stuff.
Q: What's your experience with Kickstarted at this point just a few days into your project being publicly available?
We started yesterday, a Thursday and wanted to make sure we were in the game before payday of March 2012. Things were slow yesterday but we've had a good morning on a Friday and are excited about having things ready to tickle people's interest when they return to work Monday. This is a lot of work and it's not easy. Asking people to fund a project, particularly a new type of project and one that's going to largely happen in a foreign country on another continent is a little daunting. But it has to be done if we're going to be successful. Every person we can reach directly or through the networks of others, is a potential backer who will put us that much closer to our goal. The short answer is I'm scared to death!
Q: I have to ask this, where does the target funds of $57,766 come from? What are we paying for?
As in all things, nothing ever is free. Five percent of what we raise is going to Kickstarter.com, that's their bid. Another 5 percent goes to Amazon for a transactional fee. The rest of the funding goes to help cover the costs of sending a four or five-person crew to Peru for a week and dodge the rains, other tourists, the bugs and did I mention SNAKES?! (We hear it's the 12-inch gray ones that are the worst!) Like I said before, going to Machu Picchu isn't inexpensive and it's part of the reason most people never will get to go there in the first place.
There also will be production costs, like you have to get permits from the Peruvian government to use "professional lenses" to shoot. And then there are costs for ISBN listings, equipment rentals, shipping and even to pay for some of the cool swag we will send out as rewards for backing the program. That all gets factored in with the cost of the project.
It's not an easy thing to make all this come together. And rather than going to a Venture Capitalist who is going to want to take a chunk of the company, this helps us prove our worthiness so that hopefully other funding possibilities will come about.
Chance #2 for you to hop over to Kickstarter to help Donny with this cool project...
Q: Finally, tell us a bit about yourself, Donny, and what's brought you to this unusual project.
I've been in public relations for about 25 years and worked for two Alabama governors, served as the communications director for Dallas schools, and done corporate PR for ExxonMobil, but nothing in that time has excited me like the opportunities The Wonders Expedition presents. Before leaving corporate PR, I had gotten really big into social media and blogging. Traditional PR firms don't understand the power and impact they have. Or didn't then.
The Wonders Expedition began back in July when I literally asked myself, "What the Hell is Stonehenge doing up there all by itself?" I then began to pull the GPS coordinates of more than 250 sites around the globe and started to see some remarkable patterns. Nonetheless, a study of these sites brought a realization that most people never will be able to visit them in person and there is so much mystery and curiosity about them. So we found a way to give people a real-life experience of these places, even if they can't go there in person. With these Interactive Books for the iPad, and soon, other mobile devices, it's going to provide an incredible experience. By the way, I sound found out that Stonehenge isn't in any way "all by itself." There are hundreds of sites all over Great Britain like it in many, many ways.
It is the potential to help bring parts of the world to those who might otherwise miss it that excites me and gets me up every morning. I'm working on this project from about 6 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. daily. My three daughters went to Poverty Point, in Louisiana for December Solstice. We had the most incredible time learning and finding out things like the Native American Indians were building mounds in Louisiana BEFORE the Egyptians were building the pyramids two degrees to the south and 7,000 miles to the east. The mystery just keeps my fires burning.
How to moderate a great panel discussionI'm going to be moderating a panel discussion at the Dad 2.0 Summit entitled Show 'Em You Mean Business and as part of preparing for the panel, I've been thinking about what makes a really great panel discussion at a conference and what, by contrast, produces one that's a boring snoozefest where people are all quickly distracted by their smartphones and the free coffee in the lobby.
The result are my recommendations based on moderating and participating in dozens and dozens of panels at a wide variety of business and technical conferences.
Disagree with each other!
This first recommendation I have for panelists might sound odd, but if you've ever attended a roundtable-style discussion you'll know what I mean. Look at it this way: is there anything more boring than "I agree with Sue." or "I have nothing to add"?
Obviously, it's not a reality show, we don't need to artificially add drama and conflict, but if one of the other panelists says something that's not consistent with your own view or perspective, call them out on it and have an animated discussion -- or even an argument -- about the topic. It'll instantly wake people up and enliven the discussion.
When you're not speaking, remain interested and alert.
Look at the photo above. Do the other panelists look like they're interested in what the speaker is sharing with the audience? Yeah, not so much. And if the panelists are bored and zoning out, how can you expect the audience to remain alert and attentive?
I realize this can be a challenge if everyone on the panel agrees with each other. I mean, when one panelist is just droning on for five minutes about how wonderful their product is it's astonishingly difficult not to drift, drift, drift away. But think about the audience. Aren't they in the same boat? So interrupt!
Or, better, prep the moderator to be comfortable interrupting, challenging points, or even teasing the panelists about sales pitches (a total no-no) or other information that's uninteresting.
Which reminds me of the next point...
Never pitch from the stage.
I don't care if you're the moderator or a panelist, it's incredibly rare for someone to attend a panel discussion at a conference and want to hear a sales pitch. Maybe one out of a hundred. Maybe less. Whatever the case, I always warn panelists that they darn well better not pitch their company or service and if I do find that they're selling from the stage, I will interrupt them and move the topic along. It's really one of the worst sins a panel can commit and in my opinion that's one of the greatest challenges of the moderator, to keep things fresh, lively and non-commercial.
And speaking of the moderator, I'll also say that I think they should play a pivotal role in the success of a panel and I definitely see myself as the director of the panel, with no compunction about interrupting, changing the direction of the conversation, bringing up new topics and even adding my own opinion or insight on a topic. Moderators shouldn't be timekeepers, they should be an integral part of the conversation, chosen because they're also subject-matter experts.
Have fun on stage.
This is the panel version of my public speaking mantra that an audience takes away the energy that the person or people on stage has while speaking. If you're all boring, if you're all reserved, if you're too serious, then the panel will be a drag and people will remember it as heavy and self-important. Have some fun, share a joke, or gently tease each other and each time the audience laughs you've opened them up just a bit more to actually getting the message and gaining some value from their attendance. And isn't that the goal?
Look at the photo above. Don't you want to know what just transpired to cause them to laugh so openly and enthusiastically?
None of the above should negate that the best panels are those where the panelists have met beforehand, have discussed the topic and how they want to approach it, and understand each other's position and expertise. Ideally, panelists should also have sent pithy questions to the moderator beforehand, so that if there's a lull in the conversation new topics can be introduced in a smart and thoughtful way.
I enjoy both being on panels and moderating panels, and have experienced quite a variety of discussion panels and roundtable chats from the audience perspective too. It's not hard to make them great conversations of experts with input and commentary from the audience, but it's not magic. Some preparation, some understanding of each other's perspective, and a little sense of humor can go a long way to ensuring that your panel stands out as a highlight of the conference or workshop.
Chevy, Ford, 2012 and Blunt Superbowl AdvertsJust watched Superbowl XLVI and really enjoyed the game. Tense, surprisingly close, and a match that could have switched on that final "Hail Mary" pass. How can you not enjoy that?
In addition I also watch the Superbowl to enjoy the advertisements and really liked the Walking Dead-esque post-apocalyptic ad from Chevrolet that suggested only people with their heavy-duty Silverado trucks would survive the apocalypse, not people with Ford trucks.
Haven't seen the ad, officially known as the Chevy 2012 Apocalypse Video? Here's an embed:
What makes this Chevy Silverado 2012 Apocalypse Video so interesting is the back story: It appears that somehow Ford saw the advertisement and sent Chevy a Cease & Desist letter, insisting that the company not air the spot. They obviously did.
In fact, the Yahoo Autos blog Motoramic reported that: "Chevrolet says Ford sent a cease and desist letter, demanding the spot showing Silverado owners munching Twinkies and mourning the non-survival of their Ford-owning buddy. A source familiar with the dispute says Ford also called on NBC to pull the $7 million, one-minute air time."
Of course, General Motors executives say that they simply have the best, most dependable trucks. Chief Marketing Officer Joel Ewanick has a funny quip, actually: "We can wait until the world ends, and if we need to, we will apologize," Ewanick said in a statement. "In the meantime, people who are really worried about the Mayan calendar coming true should buy a Silverado right away."
Generally I prefer advertisements that promote and highlight the features of their own product rather than slamming their competitors -- a sentiment that's even more true with political ads! -- but in this case I'll cut Chevy some slack. It's a funny spot and quite effective. Ford clearly needs to one-up the company if it feels shortchanged, not bring lawyers into the mix.
HP markets to stereotypes? Ugh.I realize that as a dad blogger -- see GoFatherhood for my dad blog -- I get on a lot of mailing lists that are really more aimed at mom or mommy bloggers because, well, most of us Dads don't blog about parenting, we blog about work, tech or our other passions. Mars, Venus, all that. So I'm no stranger to getting press releases and media queries that begin "Dear Mom" or "As a Mom..."
Still, as a former employee of Hewlett-Packard, I cringed when I received this promotion from the team at Porter Novelli PR for the HP SmartPrint system:
Recipe? Do "busy moms" only print things related to their children's activities? Are we in the 50s? Oh, and I'm pretty sure I'm not a busy mom, now that I think about it.
Okay, a wordy and confusing explanation of what they're talking about, but not a bad little utility that can remove all the adverts and superfluous content on the page prior to printing, but what galls me the most is this following paragraph:
Notice the glitch in this release too: It's written for "busy moms" who presumably have nothing better to do than "print a recipe" for the school bake sale, but it still has such insider industry jargon as "use cases". If you're a busy mom, would you know what that means? Or just toss it?
Here's the worst part of this PR query misfire: the same message could have easily been better crafted, not offended the vast majority of women who have a professional side as well as a busy mom side, who have enough smarts to figure things out, and could have avoided opaque jargon.
For example, "You're not the only one who hates printing, whether it's a recipe for the school bake sale, notes from a book club meeting or travel documents, just to find over half the printout is ads and other irrelevant content! That's why we at the HP SmartPrint team created..."
What do you think? Example of a poorly written and targeted PR effort, or am I just too touchy this morning?
Tip: There's an Art to Formatting a Press ReleaseAs we close in on the huge Consumer Electronics Show (still almost a month away) I am now getting 10-20 emails a day from PR agencies and publicists, inviting me to attend various events, come to parties, meet with executives, and schedule time to stop by one or another of the over 2000 vendors that are going to be at the show. Helpful, but overwhelming.
What it also highlights, however, is the difference between a PR agency that understands the reality of a busy journalist and those that exist rather for their own self-aggrandizement perhaps as much as for promoting their client.
Case in point, the press release from Sword Girls about their new beta release, from Michael Meyers Public Relations. My "press release" folder on Gmail has over 2100 releases tucked away for later reference, and coupled with the tsunami of CES releases, well, there's really no justification for this:
It's small but you can easily see that when I received this release, I had to actually scroll down in Gmail to get to the release itself, there was so much information about the PR agency included on the top. I appreciate your zeal, Michael, but surely the Facebook button to "like" the release is less important than actually showing me the release itself?
I might be nit-picking here, but if you're in the media, you know what I mean: here's a situation where a company has spent some coin hiring and working with a PR agency and they probably have no idea that the agency's approach and release formatting is getting in the way of their success. Did I actually read the release? No. No pictures, having to scroll downward, it takes a few more neurons that I am willing to allocate to an unknown company. Is that harsh? Probably. But when I'm filtering through 25 or more releases received each day (that'll jump up to a few hundred / day in January during CES) that's my reality.
Do you receive press releases? Do you ever look at how they're formatting and laid out? What are your best recommendations for making them interesting, engaging and effective?
What's the future of laptop PCs versus tablets?
I received the following question from a reader and it started me thinking....
With the recent popularity of tablets, do you think in the near future tablets will replace netbooks or stay as a substitute? If you think tablets and netbooks are going to continue competing against one another, do you think the demand for netbooks will decline but not perish? Thanks!
He raises an interesting question, but I'm going to expand it just a bit to ask an even bigger question: Are tablet computers going to eclipse and ultimately replace laptop computers in the marketplace?
I have the most popular devices -- two laptops (one Mac, one PC) and two tablets (an iPad 2 and an Android-powered Kindle Fire) -- so I can start by discussing my own experience. With both a Mac and PC, I definitely spend more time on the Macintosh side. Less viruses and a more aesthetically pleasing user experience works for me.
On the tablet side, it's a bit more complicated because I'm more of an information producer than consumer, and I believe that in their current instantiation, tablets are optimal for consuming data, not creating it. As a result, I find that I use my iPad for reading ebooks (though I just got the new Umberto Eco novel, so I'll be switching to paper for a while to enjoy the full kinesthetic experience) and for entertainment, especially on airplane flights.
The Kindle Fire is still so new that I'm trying to figure out what it offers over and above a great form factor with its crystal-clear 7-inch screen and low price tag. Kindles are still optimal for digital books and magazines, and I'm working out how to get my own movies, music, and reference PDFs onto the device.
When I watch people coming out of the Apple Store, there are at least as many MacBook Air buyers as iPad buyers, another data point.
Television and radio are all about consumption. The Internet and our always-on world is just as much about publishing and production, however, and that plays a major part in this discussion.
Facebook reports over 250 million photos are uploaded each day. Tapping in a sentence or two is no problem, but anything longer and you're moving into the gray area of adding a wireless keyboard to your tablet or mobile device. Isn't it then essentially a laptop?
I believe that we're heading towards a hybrid world where the average user will have a tablet computer, either running iOS or Android, that will neatly slip into a case that includes more storage, additional ports and a keyboard. We'll have a second 'travel' case that's slim and offers additional battery power. Between the two we'll have a tablet that's also a laptop, the best of both worlds.
Data security and the CLEAR airport security card
As regular readers know, I wrote a blog post a week or so ago about applying for a CLEAR card [see Biometrics and my application for the CLEAR card] and in that writeup I had one big question: with all the biometric data collected, how does the company ensure that it's safe and secure?
I just got an update from CLEAR Vice President Mark Neirick addressing my security concerns. Here's what he says:
CLEAR recognizes that with the information provided by its members comes the expectation and trust that CLEAR will appropriately protect it. A key difference between the current system and that of the previous Verified Identity Pass system is that personal data is not distributed to remote systems such as kiosks or mobile systems.
CLEAR encrypts all data in transmission to ensure security in transit. CLEAR uses a variety of security protocols and procedures to secure the data collected including: AES 256, virtual private networks, SFTP, SSL, and TLS. In many cases these protocols and procedures are combined for even higher levels of protection.
Our secure data center uses extensive physical and logical security protections including access control, personnel screening, video surveillance, intrusion detection, and others. The data stored on the CLEARcard is encrypted with 2 separate security keys. The fingerprints and iris images collected are converted to templates prior to being stored on the CLEARcard. These templates can be used for positive matching against the original biometric but cannot be used to reverse engineer the source biometric.
Other than our technical security standards, tools, and procedures, the CLEAR privacy and security policies help ensure the integrity of the information we collect and protect. These policies include screening requirements for key employees and contractors, data management policies, and mandatory training all focused on ensuring the highest levels of protection for our member's data.
Is it sufficient? I will say that it's something that the company needs to address head on. Responses to my previous article about CLEAR demonstrate clearly that people are leery of trading their personal data - particularly biometric data -- against the convenience of passing through airport security more rapidly.
What do you think? Is this response from Mark sufficient to alleviate your anxieties in this regard?
Biometrics and my application for the CLEAR card
It's not often a company goes bankrupt and comes back from the dead as a better, smarter firm. Seems like companies are more often built on the rubble of previous ventures instead. The airport express security program CLEAR is a notable counterexample, with its database of Transportation Security Administration-approved biometrics that let them whisk you through the airport security lines. With over 200,000 paying members, the first generation of CLEAR just up and declared bankruptcy one day and shut down, leaving a lot of frustrated, disappointed users: no-one got a dime back.
Fast forward a few years and the company has been relaunched under a new management team and the first thing that they did was to extend every previous CLEAR subscriber membership in the new program for the time they had left originally. Without charge. Nice. Smart way to build instant customer loyalty.
When they approached me a few weeks ago and offered a one-year membership in the CLEAR program, I read about the program and decided to sign up. I don't fly that often by myself -- if you travel with others and they don't have CLEAR, well, they'll end up in the slow lane while you zip through. Not a way to keep friends and definitely not an option with children involved -- but still, I love the idea so I signed up!
Data. Lots of Data
I knew in advance that I had to bring my passport, current drivers license, and be ready to have my fingerprints and eyes scanned. They collect all the data digitally, so the CLEAR enrollment kiosk is really a wonder of compact tech, with an iris scanner, camera, fingerprint scanner and document scanner, along with a mag card reader, keyboard and big display screen. Quite the gizmo!
That took me a bit by surprise too. I thought that my passport would be used to verify my ID, not actually scanned and parsed. To give you a sense of how sophisticated their system is, the first time we went through the application process, I signed up as "Dave" Taylor and when my passport was scanned, it failed to verify because it lists me as "David" Taylor. Right. We backed up, revised it to "David" and it worked properly. Cool.
Then it was time for my fingerprints to be collected...
I had to then enter my social security number, which they used to immediately pull my credit report and quiz me on background data only I'd know, like previous street addresses. Creepy to suddenly have my street address from twelve years ago pop up on their screen, but I've seen this sort of credit history quiz verification system before and passed the test, fortunately. If you have a bad memory, you could have a problem with this, I suppose.
The Great Iris Scan
The last step of the process was to scan my irises (iri?) and that was surprisingly easy: a glass panel at (adult) eye level on the kiosk, about 8" wide had the eye imaging device and all I had to do was slowly move forward and backward until a small green dot appeared in my face's reflection on the glass. Moments later we were looking at my irises:
Apparently, there are more personally identifying points on your iris than there are on your fingers, so an iris scan is actually a better way to establish identity. After seeing the film Minority Report, however, I worry about unexpected workarounds. :-)
That was it. Data collected. I'll get my CLEAR card in the mail, with all my biometrics encrypted in the chip buried within the card.
How is it encoded? "It's all ones and zeroes" the gal working at the kiosk explained. Uh, yeah, so's everything else. Still, as I pointed out to them, CLEAR now has an extraordinary wealth of data on me, more than just about anyone else, including the US Government, between my birthday, SSN, fingerprints, iris scans, and travel history. That's slightly alarming from a Big Brother perspective, but understanding how they secure and keep this data safe is a separate discussion, one that I'll have with their security team, and report back.
Meanwhile, I can't wait to get my card and try it, preferably on a day when the airport's crazy busy.
Curious about CLEAR? If you sign up using my referrer code, you'll get an additional month of membership free. Why not give it a shot, particularly if you're a frequent traveller? Here's the link: Sign up for CLEAR today.
Note: at this moment in time, CLEAR is only available at the Denver International and Orlando airports. There are a lot more airports that they're in negotiations with, and the buzz online is that next up are (hopefully) Washington DC, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Don't quote me on that, though.
Top Tips for Coping With Fear of Public Speaking
A friend of mine who is scheduled to give the opening talk at a major conference later this week posted on Facebook that she's both excited and nervous about her talk. Nothing unusual, of course, and her anxiety is certainly understandable: fear of public speaking is the #1 anxiety in the general population.
In that regard, I've been lucky in that I've been speaking from podiums and stages for decades now and when I first realized how much I enjoyed the limelight, I studied top professional public speakers to learn what made them tick, what made them engaging, fun and interesting. The two main people I watched, over and over again, in case you're curious, were Tom Peters and Tony Robbins. Both are just dynamite on stage. But why? That's what I figured out...
Entertain, then Teach
The first thing I realized is that as someone on stage, I need to be interesting. No, more than interesting, I need to be an entertainer, a performer. I mean, I'm on stage, I'm performing. Not in the monkey and organ grinder sense (hopefully!) but still, the best speakers are people who keep your attention and find that marvelous mix of fun, entertaining and informative.
There are some speakers who have the opposite problem too, of course. They're all entertainment, often the "bad boy" persona on stage, but afterwards you realize that they didn't actually have anything of value to share. Not uncommon for keynote and paid speakers, unfortunately, so it's really a mix that you need to try and attain. But to assume that you're speaking at a professional conference or event and therefore you don't need to do anything other than share your research data or case studies in a dry monotone. Well. It already sounds boring, doesn't it?
I once spoke at the Modern Language Association Convention and was the odd man out. I didn't stand in front of the room and read a prepared paper, word for word, without looking up or even taking a breath. I actually engaged my audience and made eye contact, shared humorous asides, and had a bit of fun with my session. They didn't know what to to make of it. Me? I never went back. Yikes.
Prepare. And Relax
Two of the best things you can do to get ready for a speech or other presentation are to spend the time preparing your material. It's a very, very rare person who can give an extemporaneous talk and not fall flat. Those people you see doing it on TV and at major events? Yeah, they have speeches they've studied, often for weeks, prior to stepping onto the stage.
In that same vein, don't over-prepare. Practice your talk for a few colleagues or in front of a mirror? Could be a good idea, especially if you're not good at pacing yourself. But doing that a dozen times or more? You'll just get paranoid and more anxious, not less. Ditto slides. Revise them once or twice, but if you're spending hours and hours on your deck, you're putting your attention into the wrong thing.
Once you've gotten to a good spot, take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Exercise. Have sex. Whatever. Just breath out and relax. You're going to do fine.
Everyone Loves You
I don't speak at political rallies, so this next part might be skewed, but in my experience, it's always true that every single person in the audience wants you to be awesome. They don't want to nit-pick, they don't want to be critical, they want to find your talk fascinating, thought-provoking and entertaining.
That's reassuring, isn't it?
I think the fear of public speaking is closely tied to a fear of looking stupid or being embarrassed, but if you envision that everyone wants you to succeed, not fail, then you realize that you're going to be speaking to a supportive audience that will forgive just about anything -- including speech impediments, coughing fits, stumbling when you're walking on stage, accidentally smacking the microphone, or even -- in one notable experience I witnessed -- walking on stage with a glass of wine and then promptly spilling it all over yourself. Really, as long as you keep calm and have a sense of humor, it's just about impossible to alienate an audience if you actually have something worth saying.
You're Already Entertaining and Informative
You wouldn't be invited to speak at a conference or trade show if you weren't already considered someone smart, savvy and blessed with good communication skills. Really. Walking on stage doesn't take that away from you, and I know, I've run all-day workshops for 500+ people.
Here's an exercise that'll convince you that you're ready: think about the last time you were hanging out with your buddies, your mates, your colleagues and everyone was paying attention to you, smiling and nodding as you talked. Got that? Now capture that relaxed sensation and stick it in your pocket. Then pull it out just before you walk on stage.
Big Stage, Little Person
One more thought about how to do well speaking on stage: be bigger than life. Whether it's a small room with thirty people or a large stage and seating for a thousand, you need to be bigger, bolder and more enthused than you'd be if we were sitting across from each other at the local Starbucks and chatting.
Imagine you're in the back of the room. Hold up your fingers and measure. The speaker's no bigger than your thumb or smartphone screen. Yeah, it's called perspective, I know. But it's important, because if you want to really hold your audience and have them listen to every word you utter, you need to capture and keep their attention.
It's like when movies first started, because there was no sound and the projection systems were crummy, actors had very exaggerated movements and gestures. Turns out that works really well on stage. Even with sound.
Relax and Have Fun
Most of all, my key advice to any public speaker is always the same: relax, relax, relax and have fun on stage. Really. It's fun to be on stage.
You'll do GREAT!
Join me for a Facebook & Social Media Marketing workshop
I'm excited to let you know about a really cool workshop that my friend Andrea Vahl and I are doing in a few weeks focused almost exclusively on Facebook marketing. You might recognize Andrea's name, she's not only one of the co-authors of the just release Facebook Marketing for Dummies, but she's also known for her shrill alter-ego Grandma Mary and her entertaining video interviews.
Here's just a subset of what you'll learn in our workshop:
When? October 18th, 2011.
Piqued your interest? We also have early bird registration if you act quickly. Details, sign up, maps, and much more can be found here: Facebook and Social Media Marketing workshop.
Hope you can join us, I know I'm excited to spend a day working with Andrea and learning from her!
Smart: Visa's new Online Shopping Card
There I was queued up to buy stuff at the local King Sooper supermarket when I realized that the card I was looking at in a plastic box wasn't a gift card but something rather more interesting:
Visa Corporation is finally figuring out that our collective anxiety about shopping online, identity theft, theft of credit and card balance, etc, can be tapped from a business perspective and has introduced their Visa Online Shopping Card.
Smarter yet, it's a debit card which means that even if someone does steal the card number and CVV number the maximum charge they can run up is only as much as you actually have in that account's balance.
I'm actually a big fan of debit cards anyway, because having credit cards that are limited to money on hand means you can't get into debt. In my opinion there are too many people that live with so much debt that they end up working and earning money to service their debt (e.g., pay interest and fees) rather than saving or actually buying the stuff they want. In my wallet is one credit card and one debit card, the latter of which I use far more often. That, however, is probably a different topic.
Back to the Online Shopping Card!
What's interesting to me is that your credit card, Visa or MasterCard, already has guarantees against online fraud. In Visa's Zero Liability promise, for example, the company assures you:
Shop worry-free at millions of merchants: You can use your card to shop with confidence. That's because Visa protects your card information 24/7 and you won't be held liable for unauthorized purchases made with your card or account information.Nonetheless the fact that we consumers are worried about online fraud and liability -- and we clearly are -- is reason enough to justify the release of the Visa Online Shopping Debit Card. It's smart and if you're worried, why not pick one up? For a one-time fee of $4.95, it's a smart way to manage things, and 10x if you have a parent or child who is profligate in their online spending.
And if you're a marketing person like me, marvel at how Visa can simultaneously have a Zero Liability promise to its customers and still figure out a way to generate additional corporate revenue based on the very same customer fear. That's just good marketing.
Social media really does matter to SEO
I'm fascinated to find that a Web site that my friend Christian Toto (film critic at What Would Toto Watch) and I (under the aegis of my Dave On Film blog) are building out and experimenting with has pulled directly into the #1 slot on Google for our catch phrase, yet it has no incoming links other than a post on Facebook and another on Google Plus.
Here's the Google search result for the phrase "dinner with a critic":
I realize that it's a perfect match for our domain name (which is, ingeniously enough, DinnerWithaCritic.com) but that wouldn't explain moving into the #1 position on a search that has 13.1 million results. Is it because I'm logged in to Google? No, I had a number of other people do the same search and report the same #1 match.
Think about it: there are no incoming links for this site, I've never submitted it with Google, and a week ago it was available for registration. I post a note on Facebook with the clickable URL and another on Google Plus similar, and less than 48 hours later it's top 'o the charts on the search for dinner with a critic.
Now tell me again why you think that social media isn't relevant to search results placement?
Notifications on Google Plus are broken
In the last few weeks, I've grown to really enjoy working with Google Plus, the search engine giant's second attempt (third attempt?) at a social network to rival Facebook. Clean, elegant, responsive and fast for people to engage, I'm liking it more than Facebook in a lot of ways.
Except that Google hasn't really though through the entire issue of how to share with a user who is following them, and it means I'm not paying attention to people who I really do want to have a symmetric relationship with on the service.
That's the big difference between G+ and FB: Google Plus is asymmetric, meaning that you can follow me (in the Google Plus world it's referred to as "circling" because you add someone to one or more of your follow circles) without me having to follow you back. On Facebook every relationship is symmetric: we can't be friends unless we both green light it. Huge difference and one that I really like, actually.
Except now I find that 300-400 people each day are "circling" me and I have no idea who the majority of them are because there's just insufficient information from Google shown about how we're connected, if at all.
Here's what I mean:
You can see four people shown here, one of whom has their name in Chinese, three of whom in English. But who are they? Do we know each other? Have we connected or followed each other on a different social service? Do they have a Web site that points to my online content?
The pop-up I am showing for John Yaeger is an improvement because it shows the number of people we have in common (e.g. that both of us have circled). That's social proof, and that's darn helpful as a first step. In fact, it's that "people in common" count that I'd like to see next to each and every person so I can quickly scan and say "ah, 17 in common, what's the story with this otherwise unrecognized name?"
But there's a deeper issue here. Google owns the search engine space and has rich, deep and sophisticated profiles on each of us, profiles that include our interconnectedness. Why isn't that data included here somehow so that I can have a quick visual clue who has circled me that I should be paying attention to versus those that are followers or just building up big circles but that, realistically, probably won't make it into my Friends circle?
Imagine if G+ was using predictive analysis behind the scenes and that it had a five star scale next to each name that offered a quick clue about who it believed I was most likely to circle up? Or maybe just added a star or slightly changed the background color of the box that included people that have a non-zero "people in common" list? (better, let me have a slider so I can say the minimum for them to be highlighted is X people, not just 1).
There's more to be done with Google Plus for sure, and this is one area that's increasingly failing for me. What's in the cards, G+ team?
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