Hat tip to Marnie Webb for pointing to this pithy summary by Troy Angringon of what's happening as we move from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. I'll condense it further below, but you really should read the whole thing, particularly because he wraps up with a hilarious 17-step approach to websites that begins as follows:
Next up in the series of Three Question Interviews is Stowe Boyd, President and COO of Corante, as well as a regular blogger at Corante's Get Real. Stowe and Hylton Jolliffe, the CEO and Founder of Corante, were recently named to the AO/Technorati Open Media 100. (I'm a little skeptical of lists like this, but Stowe, Hylton and their colleagues at Corante deserve the honor--there's something worth reading there every day, and they're launching new blogs all the time.)
1) Corante is described as "the world's first blog media company." As everyone else in the media world is rushing into the blogosphere, is this a sustainable means of differentiation for you, or will your corporate identity have to evolve?
I guess I have already shifted my description of Corante -- 'a social media company focused on thought leadership in high tech and science and their impact on business and society -- so, yes, we will have to push onto other differentiation.
2) In addition to your work managing and writing for Corante, you also consult to organizations interested in starting blogs. What's the biggest mistake you see organizations making in this process?
Starting the writing without first reading. We need to start on 'the good foot' -- connection to a community of interested participants in the ongoing conversation about whatever topic. It could take months to get fully 'read in' on that discussion, and most companies aren't willing to wait, to get into the mix. So, they start writing, and are amazed that they have no readers, no connection.
3) You've maintained the personal blog that used to serve as home base for your consulting work. What role does that blog fulfill for you now?
A Working Model is my personal blog, now, where i write about stuff that doesn't fit at Get Real, like politics, popular culture, and karate.
Bonus Personal Question: You just earned your provisional black belt in Shito Ryu Karate. What got you involved in karate in the first place?
I decided that it was dumb to bring my kids to the class and sit there reading a book, so I signed up. My kids dropped out (although my older son, Keenan, is back, now) but I kept with it. Its a great physical discipline, and good for the head: very different from what I do for a living. Its also very social, since you are learning with and through the actions of many folks in the class. I recently won a push up contest with some teenagers, and I am 52 in September, so the benefits are really obvious.
Grant McCracken is one of my absolute favorite bloggers. His site declares, "This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology and Economics," but even that broad mandate doesn't do justice to the full range of topics he tackles. He typically writes an essay each day, and his work is notable for its depth and thoughtfulness--qualities often lacking in the blogosphere. His readers are equally thoughtful, and his comments section is outstanding--Grant usually jumps into the fray as well. Here's Three Questions with Grant:
1) You've consulted to corporations and taught at Harvard Business School, but you're an anthropologist by training. (Having spent my previous career in nonprofits, I found my own experience in business school to be profoundly dislocating at times.) What's most interesting to you about contemporary business culture?
I guess the $64,000 question for me is what happens to business culture as it speeds up and becomes more dynamic. I think the ordinary business is going to have to act a lot like the most daring business today. I don't think anthropology has ever seen a culture that looks like this. Should be interesting.
2) You just published a new book, Culture and Consumption II. (It wasn't available on Amazon until yesterday or I'd have read it by now.) What effect do you hope it has on your readers?
Culture and Consumption II is a chance to get at the anthro and econ thing in a more systematic way instead of the "short order stuff" I am doing on the blog. I hope the whole thing will look a little less implausible.
3) I particularly enjoy your style of blogging: one extended post, focusing on a single topic, almost every day. Was this style a conscious choice for you?
I don't know where the format come from. I think I think in essays and doing more than one seemed like too much work. Essay, minimum unit. Essay, maximum unit.
Bonus Personal Question: I notice that Chuck Klosterman's on your current reading list. Who's your favorite heavy metal band?
I am not really a heavy metal fan. But I love Klosterman. What a talent!
Today I'm kicking off something new: the Three Question Interview (Hat tip to Peter King for the idea.) First up is Darrel Rhea, Principal and CEO of Cheskin, the market research, design and branding consulting firm founded by Louis Cheskin in 1946, and a guy with a refreshingly dark sense of humor:
1) You wrote recently that "Business demand for design innovation is getting hotter every day," and noted that BusinessWeek had declared design "to be the critical competency for business and the primary tool of business growth." But I still come across many people--and not just techies; marketers, too!--who think of design as so much superficial "eye candy." What's your reaction when you encounter this attitude?
I’m pretty good at offering them a measured, controlled response that makes the case for the value and contribution of design. After all, the evidence and the business rationale are quite compelling.
But my emotional response is quite different. I have to repress my desire to pull out my designer club (sleek, well-balanced, brushed stainless, with soft black rubberized grips) and give them a self-righteous clubbing while screaming "Where have you been for the last 25 years? …you idiot!" I have learned that this approach is rarely successful, it gets blood stains on my designer shirts, and that the rational appeal wins more converts in the long run. Seriously, it is up to us to educate those who are not yet aware of the benefits provided by design, and to demonstrate the value of our perspective, skill set and tools. If we can’t help them to see it, then we aren’t as credible as we think we are.
2) In March, 2003, Denise Klarquist wrote, "TED 2003 gave us a feast for thought, including the motivation to begin our own blog. Welcome to the inside track of what we think about. At this point we're not guaranteeing a regular torrent of information, but there's no doubt that there'll be quite a few pearls. And controversy of course. Stay tuned." With nearly 30 months of organizational blogging under your belt, what's the most valuable thing you've learned from the experience?"
Blogging connects you and your organization to the world in a way that is tangibly different from other forms of communication. Revealing yourself engages you in a broader discourse; you become a participant in the world in a different way. It is a subtle attitudinal change that has us show up as more responsible citizens.
The other thing is being humbled by the power of words. While they can enlighten and inspire, the same words can offend. Blogs are personal, yet quite public when thousands read them. Again, it forces us to be responsible for the “listening" of others.
3) Your company bio describes you as "a pioneer in incorporating market research into the brand design and product development process." Malcolm Gladwell's "Blink" poses some stiff challenges to traditional market research techniques, and Gladwell has said that he feels focus groups are "a tax on revolutionary ideas." Is Gladwell right, and if so, how should market research evolve in response?
Market research has already evolved beyond where Malcolm is talking about it. Focus groups are an easy target because they are misused and over used. There will be 950,000 focus groups conducted in the world this year, and yes, some real atrocities will result from some misapplications of a perfectly good methodology. But that is only one method used in research, and there are plenty of others that do a great job of informing designers and the design process. We have been making speeches about this since the early 80’s.
Malcolm doesn’t pose a stiff challenge to traditional techniques; he posed a challenge to the mindless application of one specific technique by clients who demand focus groups and an industry of researchers who don’t know better. We evolved a highly sophisticated design research practice decades ago, using ethnography and a host of other tools proven to be effective and fully endorsed by design innovators.
You don’t use focus groups to evaluate revolutionary ideas. They can provide context for them, they can facilitate the generation of them. This is old news now getting broad exposure, but better late than never. That’s Gladwell’s welcomed contribution.
Jakob Nielsen's latest Alertbox explores the two sides of usability: empiricism (i.e. "conclusions and recommendations grounded in what is empirically observed in the real world) and ideology (i.e. "the belief in a certain specialized type of human rights"). He stresses that both sides play an important role:
As a user advocate, you need both perspectives: usability as empiricism and usability as ideology. Each perspective requires a particular approach.
When taking the empirical approach, you must be unyielding and always report the truth, no matter how unpopular. If something works easily, say so. If something will cause users to leave, say so. The only way to improve quality is to base decisions on the facts, and others on your team should know these facts.
In contrast, when viewing usability as an ideology, you must be willing to compromise. Sometimes decisions must be made that will lower the design's usability quality, either because of limited time and budget or because of trade-offs with other desirable qualities.
I agree wholeheartedly, but I'm particularly fascinated by the idea of the Human Rights of Users, which Nielsen enumerates:
Seth Goldstein has finally concluded his epic series of essays on Media Futures. I summarized Seth's five-part analytical structure (Automata, Algorithm, APIs, Alchemy, Arbitrage) and briefly excerpted his first seven essays a few weeks ago. The eighth and ninth essays don't lend themselves to pithy reduction, so extended excerpts follow below, and I encourage you to read them both in full:
Rich Brooks at Flyte New Media has a great primer on How to Plan, Build and Promote Your Business Blog. Aimed at an audience that's entirely unfamiliar with blogs, Rich's presentation is a very clear, concise orientation on what blogs are, how they differ from traditional sites, their "anatomy," how to get started, and why they're relevant to businesses.
I was reminded of this story by a funny post of Dr. Frank's:
On my only trip to Paris, five years ago, my wife and I were in a full Metro car when two men started arguing. We don't speak French, so all we could do was observe them and our fellow passengers. The argument began to grow heated, and the atmosphere in the subway car grew tense as everyone strenuously tried to ignore the fighting men and pretend that nothing unusual was happening. The argument built to a crescendo of shouting and pushing, the other passengers were mortified, the tension seemed unbearable, when suddenly--Pop!--the men stopped fighting, turned to their fellow passengers and addressed us all, and revealed that they were actually performance artists and that this was a piece of street theater. (At least that's what we gathered.) The crowd's relief was palpable, and they burst into applause. Then the performers passed the hat--with great success--and got off at the next stop. I've never seen anything like it, and I can't imagine an "act" like that working here in the States, although I'm not sure what that says about the differences between American and French culture (and subway systems).
The Web’s lesson is that we have to let go, to exert as little control as necessary. What are the fewest necessary rules that we can provide to shape the experience? Where do people, tools, and content come together? How do we let go in a way that’s meaningful and relevant to our business?
...Relinquishing control is a scary prospect because it diminishes certainty. With control comes predictable outcomes that you can bank on. But in this increasingly complex, messy, and option-filled world, we must acknowledge that our customers hold the reins. Attempts to control their experience will lead to abandonment for the less onerous alternative. What we can do is provide the best tools and content that they can fit into their lives, and their ways.
Blogs fit perfectly into this new, uncontrolled management model. People at all levels of an organization have the ability to speak directly to each other, to management, to customers and to competitors. No one's staying "on message," and a lot of dirty laundry is getting exposed. It's enough to give a traditional, top-down, command-and-control manager a heart attack.
But it's also a much more effective way of sharing information, of learning from customers and other stakeholders, and of engaging them in the organization's success. Perhaps a better understanding of the opportunities that are created by letting go will help organizations overcome their fear of blogging.