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We are Media

If you are not working on your skills in communication—or mentoring others like your kids, staff, spouse and colleagues so their skills improve—you should probably quit now and get a job with zero human interaction.

Why? Because right now being media literate is not just the skill to critically thinking about the media you’re consuming, but today (and going forward) media literacy will be primarily how good you are at discovering great content from others; aggregating it in a way for you to keep it handy; and curating that content so you’ll be able to deliver the essence of your pitch, argument, point of view, opinion, set of facts, or whatever needs to be communicated to one or more human beings.

I’ve always loved an audience, starting from the time I was a little kid. The photo above is of my older sister Nancy and I hamming it up for my Mom so that she could have a photo with us incredibly enthused by this magnificent gift (cool…but not magnificent). I remember charging other kids admission for shows, being the emcee, and loving it.

In fact, I began blogging in 2004 and podcasting in 2005 to scratch that itch. I had A LOT to learn about being an effective writer, all about microphone technique, and how to pull together a show others would find interesting and worth their time to give it a listen. Having done some on-camera work I was comfortable with that, though never felt compelled to do much of that other than inside the occasional screencast with me introducing the content with a brief talking head introduction.

Though I was teased good-naturedly by other executives when I ran strategic alliances at Lawson Software about my podcast specifically (and one exec played mine before a big meeting started and got lots of chuckles from others in attendance), I’ve since coached and mentored several of them on how to effectively leverage video, podcasting, blogging and social media in general.

What I find is those who cannot effectively communicate with media are already at a distinct disadvantage in the marketplace, especially if one is in a leadership position or aspires to become a leader. One woman I know was so nervous about “being seen” that she would dig her fingernails in to her palms so that the pain would keep her focused on the interview and not how she felt! Kudos to her for sticking with it as she’s incredibly comfortable now being interviewed on TV, via webcasts and on podcasts. These skills she honed in a year and is still surprised today how her communicating with new media has become such an imperative in her job in marketing and her focus on social media.

NOT becoming media literate with creating content will be (and maybe already is) as important a skill as knowing how to use a computer is for most jobs today. If you’re not literate, people will automatically assume that “you don’t get it” and are somehow a bit of a dolt, not savvy and clearly behind the times.

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Will Your Photos & Digital Media Survive?

Doug and Alice Lamb in 1950

My father-in-law’s passing this month has seen my wife (and her six sisters) realizing that there might be only one of a specific family photo. Since my bride had built a collage of photos when she was a young girl living at home, I offered to scan and retouch them so everyone could have a copy.

The issue? There are hundreds more where those came from and how do we create them digitally so 50, 100 or more years from now some offspring of ours can even see them?

Most of us have hundreds (if not thousands or like me, 20,000+) digital photos sitting on hard drives, at Flickr, or on some old and obsolete media? In my home office closet I have Syquest, Jaz, Zip, Mac OS 7 formatted CD’s, DOS CDs, and other media I can’t read NOW…and it’s been less than 15 years. My grandchildren or great-grandchildren will pick up a Jaz cartridge and say, “What the heck is this!?!” Viewing the photos on that cartridge? Not a chance.

But it gets worse since most of the digital media we’re creating today may not survive the media it’s on, let alone if it’s in a proprietary format. [Read more...]

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My 1st Podcast: Conjuring Mr. X

It seems like a lifetime ago, but in May of 2005 there was thing called “podcasting” that was still quite new and I decided to fulfill a passion I’d had since interviewing at Brown Institute (now Brown College) more than two decades prior for their program in radio & TV broadcasting. I never followed up on that passion since I was working my way through the University of Minnesota toward a business degree and my tuition, books, room and board for a year at the “U” was $1,000 less than one year at Brown….and that was a grand I just didn’t have at the time nor was I willing to give up my studies at that major university.

Deciding to break in to podcasting and dabble on the side while running strategic alliances at Lawson Software as its VP, I’d purchased a good microphone, computer interface and software and gave it a go that April of 2005.

My first effort was this story reading for my son and daughter and I published it on the web in May of 2005, complete with sound effects. Perhaps it’s the spooky, hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-your-neck subject matter or that it’s only 3.5 minutes long, but there have been nearly 10,000 downloads of this short story reading with the inevitable spikes in downloads around Halloween.

Give a listen…but do so only in the daylight or with others if it’s nighttime.

Download the show “Conjuring Mr. X”

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Flash is a Reality, is HTML5 Only a Promise?

rockemsockemThere is a debate underway over the proprietary nature of Adobe’s Flash vs. the open standard, HTML5 (see, “HTML5: Could it kill Flash and Silverlight“). On the one side, Adobe has positioned their platform as being quite open and yet proprietary enough to “provide everything you need to create and deliver the most compelling applications, content, and video to the widest possible audience“. HTML5 is an open standard that will, in part, deliver audio, video and interactivity and is a specification which promises to deliver the core functionality of Flash.

Adobe’s John Dowdell (JD) had an interesting post about this debate and reinforced Adobe’s positioning that their approach with Flash is rich, robust and focused on the delivery outcomes customers want and that HTML5 is immature and, as Adobe’s CEO pointed out on their analyst call, “…it might be a decade before HTML 5 sees standardization across the number of browsers…“. Wow…talk about an insertion of major FUD in to the analyst call.

What strikes me about this entire discourse is the words of Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen, who I heard giving a talk at an open source conference several years ago. Describing the phases any new or disruptive technology goes through (and specifically open source) is first it’s “crappy” — and no incumbent pays attention to it — then it’s “less crappy” — and early adopters take to it — and when it’s “good enough” the tipping point occurs and it’s widely adopted.

One could argue that HTML5 is in the crappy-about-to-be-less-crappy phase and Adobe isn’t paying much attention since publicly they don’t perceive it as much of a threat (except Google and Apple are behind it 100%), but I think it matters less “when” HTML5 appears (and what the adoption curve looks like), or even a “proprietary vs. open source” argument. I think what matters is which vendor of tools is going to embrace the standard and empower the ecosystem. [Read more...]

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Broadband Providers: “Let’s cut ‘em off at the pass!”

Even the most naive and casual observer can see that the threat from services like Hulu; both Apple’s TV and movie offerings within iTunes; Joost; and the accelerating number of media center software offerings (providing access to ANY video on the internet), pose a huge threat to the cable companies and other broadband providers.

They are all clearly trying to get out ahead of the user market (and the maturity of video provider business models as well as the open source media center software) and put caps in place before wider adoption occurs.

As a tail-end baby boomer with enough of a geek nature to be involved far too deeply in the ‘net, web and social media in my business, I realize I’m atypical within my demographic on how I, and as a result my family, use our Comcast broadband connection. With Comcast’s 50mbps down/10mbps up DOCSIS 3 setup in my office (Note: we were one of two companies in their Minnesota rollout of this new technology) and 16mbps down/2mbps up at home, I’m dealing daily in video, photos, moving around large Zip files, screensharing, personal publishing, and numerous other online activities. These activities are mission critical to our small business, my wife’s and my client interactions, as well as family activities and connecting with others.

Comcast, one of the largest providers in this space, directly affects all aspects of our digital lives. With my family and my current and increasing use of the internet for an every expanding array of online activities (Skype calling; my son’s video gaming; Flickr and Vimeo for photo/video sharing; online backup of our computers; use of our new Mac mini media center), we are certain to end up violating Comcast’s draconian 250GB bandwidth caps (er, I mean, Network Management Policy).

The kicker? According to Comcast’s executive escalation group, I can’t even pay them more for higher tiers of service with no cap or, as one representative told me in March, “…the cap is the cap, regardless of the tier of service.

Did you know that, in Comcast’s case, they can simply cut you off for exceeding that 250GB cap with no warning and that their promised metering tools are still missing in action?

Then I read this recently about Time Warner’s laughingly low caps and realized that, if Time Warner gains traction with this approach, Comcast will follow suit and we’ll all have to watch and do whatever these providers allow us to do online.

[Read more...]

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Memories in Your Browser: Southdale Center, Edina MN

Southdale Center, 1956. Edina, Minnesota. “Interior Garden Court with stairway to upper
level in Southdale Regional Shopping Center, the first enclosed shopping mall.

Color transparency by Grey Villet, Life magazine photo archive (click for larger view)

One of the fun sites I follow in my RSS reader is Shorpy’s Historical Photographs. Several images come through each day, and I often click “full size” to view ones that intrigue me. When I saw this one above, a flood of memories came back and this is one reason why I’m increasingly loving how more and more of our books, videos, and other content is being digitized, indexed and available to us at-our-fingertips.

These memories are bitter-sweet right now as we find ourselves in a time of economic meltdown. The optimism of the 1950′s, and the emergence of more efficient capitalism (e.g., advertising mediums, rating systems like Nielsen, national retail chains), helped create a time when building an enclosed, climate controlled shopping mall made it much more pleasant in harsh climates like those here in Minnesota, and obviously created a more efficient and often used place to buy goods.

Though this photo was taken before I was a year old, Southdale shopping mall has played an integral part in my life. Dozens of trips each year were made to shop and buy (though often we had to shop in less expensive stores elsewhere) and I have so many recollections both good and bad that I had to do this post.

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Lessons From Our First “Social Media” President

The enormity of the shift that occurred last night is still sinking in. Feeling the spirit of millions that have been moved and are primed to tap into vision and get behind this new leader was certainly profound. Ironically, it wasn’t until I saw a man in a live TV shot last night whom I’ve had zero affinity for in the past — the Reverend Jesse Jackson — shedding tears in Chicago’s Grant Park in the midst of tens of thousands of others, did it sink in how amazing this was for the African-American community.

Not that I’ve been unaware of Obama’s black 50%, but it’s been totally irrelevant since I, like more of us than ever before, realize that we’re all connected and in this together. What’s mattered to me is his vision, my belief in his intention for change, his certain inclusion of everyone, a refreshing intelligence, and the world-class thought leaders he’s already brought close to him as he crafts strategy.

What will be hyper-analyzed over the next several months, however, is that the Obama campaign leveraged the internet, tapped into the social media zeitgeist, and engaged with people in ways never before possible (and because so many of us are already connected with social media), and there are key lessons here for every company, organization, movement or individual wanting to sell, build brands, move an agenda forward, or build an ecosystem.

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iTunes & The Paradox of iPhone App Choice

In a book that I read two years ago, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, psychology professor Barry Schwartz’ premise is that in today’s producing and consuming world, too many choices do the opposite of what you might think (that a staggering array of choices in every category would actually meet everyone’s needs and increase consumption) but rather that too many choices created a paralysis in people about making a decision and decreased consumption! (You can watch him explain the essence of his premise in this 19 minute July 2005 TED video).

In this post at GigaOM, 7 Real Reasons Why iPhone is a Smash Hit, Om Malik mentions this statistic (in bold) which I wasn’t aware of, “Apple says that in 102 days since the iPhone Apps store opened, nearly 200 million iPhone apps have been downloaded. There are about 5,500 apps available on the iPhone Apps store.

Sigh….5,500! I get weary even thinking about trying to sift through that many applications!

My personal paradox (and a problem experienced by developers I know as they try to sell their apps), when I’m seeking an app in the Photography category, for example, it isn’t the information presented for me to determine the value of the 114 iPhone apps available in that category, but rather it’s the laborious and time consuming way I have to click through iTunes and view each one, trying to make a decision about buying it by looking at a few screenshots or jumping out to the developer website in order to get more info.

After my initial enthusiasm with the explosion of apps for the iPhone and buying a bunch and downloading numerous free ones, I’ve found myself paralyzed with the volume of apps. But it’s the crappy and sloooow shopping experience (whether it’s in the somewhat slow iTunes browsing or the horrendously slow App Store browsing on the iPhone itself) that’s my biggest issue so guess what? My purchasing of apps has slowed way, way down (as has my browsing for and downloading free apps).

Apple’s iTunes shopping experience is pretty bad overall, whether it’s buying music, movies, TV shows or iPhone apps, or the one that has agitated me for a couple of years, subscribing to free podcasts (and with ~25,000 of them, finding good or new ones is too daunting to bother). There is just too much content and it’s too difficult and time consuming to make a choice.

Time to overhaul iTunes, Apple, and give us a Genius on steroids for iPhone apps.

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Moodle Makes Its Mark

Today’s accelerating adoption of open source software (OSS), and the shift from desktop to web applications increasingly built on top of OSS, is being embraced by individuals, the non-profit sector, small, midsize, and even enterprise businesses.

As more of us get connected via the internet and through web applications, seek ways to make our collaboration more powerful, shift our old serial and linear processes to ones that are parallel and associative, OSS is a key building block of internet and web technologies and applications. OSS is also gaining momentum globally and affecting all industries and institutions, even educational ones.

That said, educational institutions often lag the private sector in adopting new technologies until proven, especially the Kindergarten through senior high school (K-12) levels. K-12 is often seen as risk-averse and needing clarity about the efficacy and pedagogy of using any particular technology. It must be proven and the benefits to learning and student achievement crystal clear before any technology is implemented, especially OSS.

On the flip side, higher education is a hotbed of OSS use and many projects have origins in colleges and universities. One could argue that our public institutions taking risks, researching new possibilities, and pushing against the membrane of the future is at least as important as their educational mission and has contributed code and thought leadership in OSS.

Though I’ve been aware of the OSS learning management system called “Moodle” (Modular Object-Oriented Dynamic Learning Environment) for some time, I was both delighted at what I discovered at the U of MN and surprised (stunned might be the better word) by its adoption within Eden Prairie schools where my son attends high school.

There are lessons in this story for all of us about how two very different educational organizations recognized that collaboration, human connection, and the move to parallel and associative learning is at the core of education going forward, and took calculated risk with the OSS Moodle to meet new needs.

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Will Comcast crush internet innovation?

If you’ve been following the story about net neutrality, Comcast’s games with bandwidth throttling and the FCC rebuke of these practices, then you’ll really want to know about Comcast’s decision to place a 250GB per month ‘cap’ on your use of bandwidth.

My favorite blog that discusses this issue, Om Malik’s GigaOM, had these two posts that are a must-read if you care at all about this issue:

a) 5 Questions About Comcast’s New Bandwidth Throttling Plan by Stacey Higginbotham

b) Memo To Comcast: Show Us the Meter for Metered Broadband by Om Malik

While I completely understand that Comcast has a business to run, shareholders to please and profits to make, it is also crystal clear to even a casual observer that they now hold too much power in residential broadband.  [Read more...]