Are you suffering from attention overload?

In my work it’s imperative I stay abreast of new technologies, approaches and how social media startups are figuring out how to increase our capability to connect to one another in more interesting and meaningful ways.

But how many places can we focus our attention?

I blog. Follow and skim 138 blogs and dozens of news feeds in Google Reader. Deal with dozens of emails per day. Scan Techmeme and Blogrunner. Post and follow people on Twitter and now Pownce. Barely use Facebook but feel compelled since so many people I know are using it. Just joined Seesmic (in private alpha) which is a social network for participatory video (see what your friends post, you can post, and a ‘conversation’ can carry forward). Scroll through Digg‘s feed and often click on an article.

Oh….and I have work to do for my clients and business!

Since one my strengths is “input” (collecting information is something I love to do), I thought my scattered focus and partial attention was atypical until I talked to dozens of other people. Nearly everyone I talk to is feeling the effects of traditional media clamoring for our attention, more coverage and news with less analysis than ever before, and thousands of new media methods (some which I mentioned above) that are connecting us in ways that making it very challenging to think, mull it over and breathe.

Many business leaders feel that this continuous partial attention is a Millenials or kids phenomena, but my own anecdotal research shows that this is increasingly cutting across all age groups, demographics and cultures (Linda Stone has the seminal thoughts on the topic).

Anyone with a computer and internet connection is now a mini-media mogul since it’s trivial to publish, create radio and TV (even live streams ala uStream, Qik, Stickam), deliver screencasts and learning content, and stake a claim in the micro-blogging arena (e.g., Twitter, Pownce) and snag followers tuning into your thought stream.

With all of these sources coming at us (or those we choose feeling compelled or pressured to stay abreast of their content) while we pay continuous partial attention to each, what happens to these attention traffic jams in our brains? How can we discern what is worthy of our attention since not all of it is?

So many podcasts…so little time

On a conference call yesterday with a client we were discussing the many forms of new media (e.g., blogging, podcasting, vlogging) they might use and I was asked point-blank, “So Steve, you had a nice podcast. If podcasting is so great, why did you stop?

I did the obligatory humma-humma dance and recovered by stating that it no longer met my communication goals. Totally true, but it made me step back and ponder a bit more deeply about why I stopped.

Part of the reason was lukewarm feedback. Though I had a few dozen hardcore fans (many of whom were vocal and emailed me often), my base of podcast listeners pales in comparison to my blog efforts and audience size. My monetary return on investment for blogging is huge (many clients come to me specifically due to my blog) compared to primarily personal satisfaction I felt with podcasting which was nice, but the few hour investment of time to perform, edit and deliver a podcast wasn’t worth the effort.

The other reason?

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Molding and Shaping Perception in an Internet Age

My daughter had a college paper to do and ended up doing it on, “Old and New Media Influence on Anti-American Sentiment“.

What was fascinating was to read this report (PDF) from May, 2007 entitled, “The Communication of Anti-Americanism: Media Influence and Anti-American Sentiment” by the Department of Communications at Cornell University and see that this massive research study focused on traditional media and completely left out new media!

They examined all sorts of statistics and variables in the report: country, age, income, media habits, and much more. The problem in leaving out new media is that  most people under 30 have radically reduced their consumption of old media and instead are having their perceptions molded and shaped by exposure to all sorts of opinions and alternative new media forms.

Her argument was that negative perceptions of America were being molded and shaped by all media, not just traditional media. In an age when many globally are eschewing broadcast media for social network’s, YouTube, SMS, blogs, and shows like The Daily Show or even Al Jazeera offerings, there is no doubt that any thoughtful consideration and examination of public opinion and cross-cultural perception must include new media forms.

As I wrote this looking at that goofy picture of Ze Frank (which must frighten children and small animals), I thought about how tough it would’ve been for Nazi propaganda minister, Joseph Goebbel‘s, to have done what he did for perception-controlling had the Internet existed in the 1930’s.

Storytelling: The way people remember

It was a dark and stormy night. The wind was howling and rain was coming down in sheets out my home office window. Dressed in sweats with the furnace on as temperatures dipped into the 40’s, I sat before the glow of my flat panel display and read articles that were coming through in my RSS aggregator, content to be indoors absorbing new material and exploring new business models on the internet. What I didn’t know was that this activity — which pleased me since it fits perfectly my strengths of gathering input and learning — was going to present me with a surprise…one that may make you sit straight up in your chair as you realize the same thing I did.

OK….that one paragraph told you a story. You learned what I did last evening, what two of my top five strengths are, and that I learned something surprising on the internet. It also left you (hopefully) with a cliffhanger incentive to continue reading this post.

No one is certain when language first appeared or when human knowledge truly began capturing that knowledge through writing, but one thing is certain: humans have developed a profound capacity for learning, storing and retrieving stories.

I came to the surprise (that a company had built a business model around storytelling and is delivering it via the ‘net) through Australia-based Anecdote. The company, 50 Lessons, is based in the UK and they’ve coupled storytelling with Internet video and created an offering that captures lessons from top business leaders:

Experience is the best teacher — people have learned through stories for centuries.

Fifty Lessons is the world’s leading digital video business library. Using the power of storytelling, our mission is to equip next-generation leaders with the experience and wisdom of the most respected and influential business leaders in the world.

We serve corporations, government agencies, academic institutions, small to medium-sized businesses and individual professionals, to help them suceed in an increasingly complex business landscape.

To date, over one hundred and fifty of the world’s foremost business leaders have participated. Their contributions are housed in a fully indexed digital library of over five hundred short videos.

This content is published in multiple languages in both digital and traditional formats, including internet, print, broadcast, and audio and can be experienced on devices such as PCs, Mobile Telephones, iPods and Handhelds.

Fifty Lessons content is distributed globally by our partners, who include Harvard Business School Publishing, Vangent and Sun 3C Media in China.

This is big company, enterprise stuff and they sell access to these top global leaders geared to organization-wide access. What about small-to-midsize businesses or individuals?

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NetRadio’s 1995 debut in Minneapolis

If you weren’t deeply immersed in the Internet’s early days as I was, it’s hard to remember the pain, the obstacles and the now almost quaint state-of-the-art in 1995.

It was that year in November that NetRadio made its debut here in Minneapolis and is an invention and milestone that needs to be lauded and remembered. Invented by Scott Bourne and Scot McCombs (more here), NetRadio used RealAudio‘s first player and server technology to run. A former Authorware (now part of Adobe) colleague of mine, Rob Griggs, was an early investor and co-founder and he invited me to the offices you’ll see in the video below (via TWiT) to see their new radio offering streaming over the Internet.

At the time I was impressed and could easily visualize the possibilities, but also knew in every cell of my being how long it would take before this was anything more than cool and a novelty. In fact, my belief as to one, key cause of the dotcom crash was that there was a HUGE amount of Web content pouring into the top of the funnel (i.e., being served) and most of us were sipping through the tiny hole at the bottom of the funnel (i.e., with dial-up 56k modems) and there was no way rich media of any kind — including low audio quality radio — would yet flourish over copper wires for quite some time.

In 1995 there were, as the video points out, roughly “110,000 Web sites” and that NetRadio received “about 25,000 Web visitors in the first few days“. Impressive at the time, but so was the Model T in 1908.

TalkShoe adds VoIP with ShoePhone

Want to see, experience and understand a phenomenal way to extend your company, personal or other value proposition online? Then you owe it to yourself to spend a bit of time at TalkShoe and understand the implications of what they’ve just released with free and easy voice (VoIP) capability with TalkShoe called ShoePhone.

Their press release says in part, “ShoePhone is an easy to use service for unlimited group calling with anyone, anywhere, anytime. Up to 250 people can participate in a live call (which TalkShoe calls Talkcastsâ„¢), and 1,000s more can listen to the simultaneous live Internet audio stream. Users can also simultaneously text-chat, and Talkcasts can be recorded and stored on TalkShoe’s website for later listening and podcasting. Talkcasts can be done instantly, or scheduled in advance. ShoePhone is Free to use.

ShoePhone uses voice-over-IP (VoIP) technology to create calls. However, unlike other VoIP services, ShoePhone users can connect with other ShoePhone users as well as to people using standard telephones, mobile phones, other VoIP services such as Skype, and 3rd party VoIP clients such as SJphone and Gizmo. This is because ShoePhone is based on a telco-grade conferencing system unlike other server-based VoIP-only services which have limited conferencing capabilities.”

After I pinged famed Internet radio guy Doug Kaye earlier this year he forwarded my note about high quality call-in recording solutions with VoIP to Dave Nelsen, the CEO of TalkShoe. Nelsen immediately jumped in with their solutions, indicated that (what now has become ShoePhone) VoIP solutions I needed would be coming this year which I expected would be December! How’s THAT for underpromising and overdelivering.

I’ve listened and participated in shows and played with the TalkSho system myself. Though embracing an online system was something I was reluctant to do since I want complete control over the recording, the show itself (using a conferencing service) and so on, I’ve been hunting for a high quality, easy to use, free-for-my-listeners solution that gives them lots of different ways to call in and either listen to or participate in a show…and be of high quality. TalkShoe has delivered.

Hey Borsch, are there any downsides that you’ve discovered?

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Recording iChat or Skype on the Macintosh

As a fair weather participant in PodcastMN — a Minnesota-based group of podcasters — I answered a question on the listserv today about Skype or iChat recording that I realized would make a good post others might find useful and yes, this is Mac-centric since I no longer use a PC except when needed via Parallels.

I’ve used both Skype and iChat extensively for interview or conferencing/project scenarios and have recorded them both (even using their respective video capabilities…but that’s another post topic). Two ways I’ve found to be optimal for audio recording:

1) The easy way is with Audio Hijack Pro (AHP) or Wiretap. I’ve had the best success with AHP so that is my recommendation. They have set up a no-brainer quick Skype or iChat recording function and have detailed a how-to on their web site (and you can also download a demo so you can try it out first).

There are other software solutions (like CallRecorder) but they’re limited and you won’t be able to grow with them as you get better. The kicker with AHP is that as you grow and become more sophisticated in what you want to accomplish, the software has deep and highly functional capabilities that you can spend hours playing with to get a more perfect sound and geek-out with routing audio signals!

2) Setting up a “mix minus” from your mixer or Firewire/USB box so that you can record the iChatters or Skypers on one channel and you on the other channel so you can fix any problems or normalize audio levels in post production. My preference is to record *both* an internal recording on my Mac with AHP *and* a backup recording out to my M-Audio Microtrack to make certain I’ve captured it and there are no hiccups. Saved my bacon twice when doing sessions for one of my clients earlier this year.

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CTD for August 28, 2007

You probably didn’t notice, but I’d taken a hiatus from podcasting since last March. Then this summer a business opportunity provided an imperative to no longer outsource our audio production so I went on a hunt for some new audio gear that would provide me with a world-class, broadcast quality sound.

I found it in the Shure SM7B, the Digidesign MBox2 Pro (includes Pro Tools) and the iZotope Ozone 3 set of plugins — but not after an angst ridden adventure with a bunch of different types of gear!

Download the podcast

What if a 1% increase in broadband penetration equaled 300,000 jobs?

Often I take Robert X. Cringely‘s columns with a grain-of-salt, but this one entitled, “Game Over: The U.S. is unlikely to ever regain its broadband leadership” really hit me since I make my living on Internet-centric management consulting and view broadband as the key enabler of business going forward. Cringely’s article is an important one to read if you care about US competitiveness in the future.

Back in the mid-1990’s I had an ISDN line with a whopping 128kbps access for $69 per month. Incredibly fast at the time, I even considered their bonded option for 256kbps (well over $100 per month) but I wanted to stay married. Today I have 8mbps per second downstream and 768kbps upstream for essentially the same price.

I have friends in San Francisco with 10mbps symmetrical (both upload and download) for under $100 a month. Others using Verizon’s fiber (FIOS) and getting 15mbps down, 2mbps up for $50 per month.

But Cringely talks about the 100mbps speeds in Japan, others have complained about them being ahead of us too and the OECD’s April, 2007 report (which showed the US at 25th in global broadband penetration and speed) is open to debate. So is it important for us to have competitiveness in broadband speeds and why aren’t we — the inventor and creator of the Internet — in the world’s leading position for broadband speed and penetration?

When you think about the relative sizes of countries vs. US states, you begin to get a feel for the enormity of the problem. Japan is roughly the size of Montana, for example, and (as of 2001), 79% of the population lived in urban areas with ~20% in Tokyo alone. That makes it considerably easier to provide a high speed broadband infrastructure for the overwhelming majority of Japanese. It’s a lot tougher to do so across the vast geography that is the United States.

The stakes are too high, however, to NOT solve this accelerating need for true broadband. ArsTechnica has a good article on House Democrats and discussions about ‘true’ broadband. I’m not even going to get into the lobbying and politics of broadband, telephony and wireless, but suffice to say there are alot of complexities on why we’re NOT the world’s leader. What most discussions don’t focus on, however, is that broadband is viewed as a driver of gross domestic product (GDP) output and we need to be accelerating the Internet — both in speed and penetration — now.

What if a 1% increase in broadband penetration equaled 300,000 jobs? Read on for a very interesting set of data…

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Communication breakthroughs…

With free time this weekend to explore online, I was able to perform a cursory examination of the landscape of breakthrough communications providers in telephony, web conferencing and streaming video (the last one I’ll discuss in this post). Certainly not a comprehensive analysis by any means, but it gave me a good sense of where we are and what needs to yet happen.

As you can see from this screenshot from one of my non-public ‘test’ blogs, I was goofin’ around and testing streaming video offerings from Stickam and uStream. The former has been around awhile longer so I like their technology better and it works great, but they’re targeting a young, social network crowd and positioning streaming as a way to connect with one another. Cool but not yet useful for business purposes (yeah…I care about the social stuff but we need commerce too!).

uStream is certainly driving toward a more serious technology user — and people that are interested in delivering value of some sort with shows and connecting with an audience — so it suits my needs, those of my clients, and just about everyone else I know that is in business, education or an organization of some sort….but can it or any of these shows deliver?

Listening (and once watching a uStream streaming video) Leo Laporte of TechTV and now TwIT fame, he’d talked with the founders of uStream (on Net@Nite with Amber Macarthur) about one of his shows which he had streamed live. He had just over 4,000 viewers and the server blew up. The uStream team is remedying that problem but this brings up my #1 issue: to be serious contenders, these communications technologies must scale.

I’ve brought up scale over-n-over again on this blog and I know that streaming video is really hard and the bandwidth needed is expensive. What if a hot ‘show’ is streamed on Stickam or uStream and has even 1% of the disappearing network TV show audience (37.5 million viewers in the US in March for broadcast networks), there is NO way that any of these lower end solutions would be up to the task of streaming to an audience of 375,000 people…let alone millions.

When individuals, companies or organizations start down a path of choosing superior communication technologies, they are placing a bet. I view many solutions — Skype, Stickam, uStream, and many Web 2.0 solutions — are bleeding edge and not a safe bet. That said, I’m experiencing many solutions myself and know exactly what I (and many of my clients) want but believe that we’re not quite there yet…

…but man, are we close.