Jed Cohen

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Archive for September, 2009

Virtual Internships in the Wall Street Journal

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I was quoted (dare I say featured?) in an article in the Wall Street Journal about virtual internships yesterday.  It mentions my experiences working as a virtual intern for both Careerealism and Squidoo.  Both have been amazing experiences that have taught me quite a bit and also put me in touch with a whole bunch of people across the globe.

More on my overall thoughts on virtual internships later; just wanted to post this for now.

Written by Jed

September 30th, 2009 at 10:22 am

Scientific Fascinations

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There are certain physical responses to stimuli that fascinate me.  I suppose it’s in part because I studied science for so long (at one point I wanted to be a biochemist).  Mostly it’s because I think these particular sequences of cause and effect are, in a way, elegant.  Here are a few examples.

  • The contraction and expansion of the pupil in response to sudden changes of light.  I find the movement of a camera’s entrance pupil to be equally fascinating, which makes sense as one was modeled on the other.
  • The absorption of liquid via capillary action.  Dip the corner of a tissue/towel/anything absorbent and capillary action will pull the liquid up into areas of the material that aren’t in direct contact with the liquid.
  • The concept that what I eat can impact my brain chemistry.  Imagine eating chocolate.  Your taste buds send sensory data to your brain, which releases serotonin and all sorts of other chemicals that leave you with a pleasurable feeling.  I think of this occurring, and I imagine flashes of colored light happening in my head representing the various neurotransmitters being released.

How about you?  Do you have anything you’d add to this list?

Written by Jed

September 25th, 2009 at 4:20 pm

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Competencies and Feedback

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We all have things we’re good at.  And, well, we all have things we’re not so good at.  And one of the things that I think I (and probably you) struggle with is talking about these competencies.  After all, we don’t want to sound like we’re perfect, but we also don’t want to sound like we’re completely flawed.  It’s a fine line to walk.

Which is why having a common language to discuss core competencies can be a good thing.  Using the same languages allows individuals to better communicate the nebulous ideas that make up “what we’re good at” to other people.  And really, we have to do this all of the time.  If you have a corporate-type job, chances are you have to have a yearly performance review.  If you’re interviewing, then you’re probably answering that question about what your weaknesses are quite frequently (and no, working too hard does not count).  If you’re a company, then you have to communicate your strengths to your potential clients.  And so on.

Now around this time of the year, I’d normally be heading back to school.  Instead, I’ve graduated and entered the “real world.”  I don’t think I’m that different a person than I was three or six months ago; I like to think that I’ve worked to improve myself, picked up one or two new skills, and have overall made a positive change.  But it’s hard to tell without feedback.

In science, feedback occurs when the results of a system loop back into itself and lead to some kind of effect upon the system.  In the case of our actions though, feedback rarely comes from within.  Instead, we filter through social signals, body language, and conversations, looking for data that we can use as feedback, and then react appropriately.  When you think about it, this often doesn’t work too well; people aren’t always the best at saying what they mean to communicate.  It also makes it difficult to provide yourself with feedback (or at least I find it so).  After all, the biological definition of feedback takes place in a closed system; our interactions with others take place in the public domain.  So it’s a little bit harder.

Why am I writing about core competencies and feedback?  I wish I had a single reason to share with you.  I don’t.  It’s a mess of self-reflection, changing events, interactions with others, and more.  Ultimately, I’m left with two questions:

What am I good at?

What am I known for?

I have some thoughts on this.  I’m not ready to share them, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be.  But in the meantime, I’m working on developing the framework necessary to communicate the answers to others.

And I’m always looking for (constructive) feedback.  So if you have some, please, share.  It’s a gift, and one I’d greatly appreciate.

Written by Jed

September 24th, 2009 at 12:37 am

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Threadsy

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I wish I could go to more social media events/conferences/festivals/whatever.  Sadly, my schedule is a bit tight, and I don’t live on the west coast.

I stumbled across Threadsy via Twitter (the opening comment makes sense when you consider that Threadsy launched at Techcruch 50).  Anyway, it looks interesting, and I signed up for a beta invite.  Then, because they asked, I started filling out their survey.  In addition to the usual demographic information, they asked “How would you improve email, Twitter, or Facebook?”

Before I post my response, I should note that I don’t have access to Threadsy now.  And I didn’t write this post because I want an invite faster.  Don’t get me wrong, I do want to try it out, but I wrote this post because they made me think.  So way to go them – in my eyes, that’s as important as providing a service I’ll actually use.

Now here’s my response to their survey question:

I think Threadsy is a good way to start. With the rise of Twitter clients (especially those that can integrate with other services), we now have an expectation that not everyone will view social media content the same way – that way being through the service’s website. Opening up the data stream across platforms and allowing third party applications to access, sort, and analyze it can help to increase the signal to noise ratio, and make sure that we’re seeing content we actually want to see.

I suppose this mirrors the original development of e-mail clients, especially when you consider that they often include additional features beyond that of what e-mail services provide (like better spam filtering).

This said, it’s interesting to note that nothing above truly changes the concept of e-mail – although that may be just what it needs considering that it’s been around since the 1970s. And if I knew how to completely revamp e-mail, well, I’d probably be off trying to do it.

So yeah.  That’s what popped into my brain in response to their question (and I didn’t even go into Google Wave).  I’m still thinking about this, but I’m also curious – how would you make e-mail better?

Written by Jed

September 16th, 2009 at 10:06 am

Microsyntax

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Note: I’ve updated this post with a few new thoughts on some recent changes to Facebook.  Check out the end if you’ve already read this.

As far as I can remember, the first time I heard the word “microsyntax” was at The 140 Characters Conference (#140conf) during a talk by Stowe Boyd.  Among other things, Stowe writes/runs Microsyntax.org, which proposes and tracks new forms of microsyntax.  Examples:

  • The hashtag – using #word as a way to track a topic
  • The retweet – sharing a tweet from someone else using either RT @user or (via @user)
  • CoTags – marking who wrote a tweet using ^AB, where AB are the writer’s initials

All of these are focused on Twitter, yes.  I suppose that’s what happens when you only have 140 characters to work with – you start to invent shorthand for various grammatical constructs.  There are three things that I’ve been thinking about lately (not related to any specific platform):

  1. The development, mainstream adoption, and evolution of microsyntax tells you something about the network in which it is used.  I’m thinking primarily that it means that there is a large enough (semi-cohesive) community willing to embrace a standardized form of communication.  I suppose that the development and evolution of these elements also provide for a way to study a medium’s network and determine the flow of ideas and influence.
  2. Mainstream adoption of a microsyntax allows for its modification by the platform.  I’m thinking here of the change that Twitter made to the way @replies work.  If you’re not aware, you only see people’s replies to users you also follow, whereas a while back you had the option of seeing every tweet a user sent.  That’s why some users put a period in front of reply tweets, or shift the username of the person they’re replying to to the end of the tweet.  Veronica Wei Sopher has a great explanation of the change and how it impacts you, if you want to read more.  There’s also Twitter’s upcoming formal adoption of the retweet and alteration of the concept.
  3. Perhaps most importantly, it becomes the responsibility of users to learn current microsyntax.  Like verbal language, microsyntax can change; that said, it happens a lot faster due to the connective, real time nature of the Internet.  I’m surprised at how many Twitter users regularly forget to change their tweets as a result of the change to @replies; they forget that a lot of their tweets that they intend for many users are in fact seen by just a few.  It then becomes our responsibility to understand and properly use different microsyntaxes so that we can better engage with the community and accurately portray our thoughts to the public.

What might this mean for you?

Here’s what I think:

If you’re a user, try and follow the ways in which microsyntax changes over the course of your time on a particular platform.  Or create your own – it may just evolve into the next big thing on the platform you use.

If you’re a platform, try and listen to your users (which you probably should be doing anyway).  When they create a new syntax, consider adopting it and developing it in a way you feel is consistent with the overall principles of your service.  Or don’t and allow the community to manage it; it’s one more choice evolving social networks must make as they grow.

Update:

(9.10.09 11:10 PM)

Something related happened that I can write about!

Facebook added @mentions to status updates today.  Pretty cool, and I think an interesting example of how the development of microsyntax is not focused on a single platform.  Instead, it’s about creating standards that allow users to communicate clearly, regardless of where they’re actually communicating.  Think about the other standards you interact with when you use the web – domain names, programming languages, UI/UX, and so on (never mind the hardware standards in your computer).  Are any of those so open to modification by us, the end users?  Not so much.  Which is why I think the opportunity to create standards of communication like microsyntax is so unique – it is perhaps one of the few chances the general community has to shape the social web of tomorrow.

Written by Jed

September 8th, 2009 at 11:17 am

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Squidoo, Followers or Friends, and Twitter on the TV

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So this is the first of my experimental series of mini-posts; just a few thoughts on some things I’ve come across recently.  As/if I write more detailed entries, I’ll insert links.

Squidoo Internship

Remember that Squidoo internship I wrote about a little while ago?  Happy to say that I was selected for it and have been working on it for the last few weeks or so.  There’s five of us; we’re a mixture of experienced Squidoo lensmasters, bloggers, left- and right-brainers.  We’re putting together a few different things now, and while they’re still in the planning phase, stay tuned!  I personally find what we’re doing is really exciting, the people I work with are incredibly engaging and remarkable, and I’m looking forward to seeing our efforts grow over the course of the next month and a half (the internship ends mid-October).

Followers versus Friends

Brazen Careerist has chosen a follower model for their (somewhat) new social network.   Instead of becoming “friends” with someone, you become their fan, and as a result all of their activity across the site is added to your feed.  It’s an interesting choice, and one that many new social networks must make.  In a follower model, you may end up with all sorts of skewed network dynamics (some might say weak ties if they span interest groups) due to the single sided nature of the relationships.  On the other hand, you have the reciprocity principle driving people to follow back and complete the two way relationship – something that defeats the point of establishing a one-way relationship network.  Brazen Careerist is not LinkedIn, and it of course serves a different function.  But I wonder how Brazen Careerist’s network will grow given this one-way relationship, and what we will be able to learn from comparing it to LinkedIn.

Fringe “Tweet-peat”

I watched the “Tweet-peat” of Fringe on Fox last night (I happen to like the show), and it’s an interesting concept.  They had a number of producers and cast members responding to viewer questions and providing thoughts throughout the show, which they both broadcast on @FRINGEonFOX and over the airing of the episode on the TV.  It’s an interesting blending of new media and old.  I’ve seen this done before, like with Current TV’s election coverage, but it’s nice to see the larger networks hopping on the bandwagon.  One thing though: they only broadcast the tweets of the producers and cast on the TV, so it was like listening to half a conversation.  It would have been much better had they put the questions and answers up, so we could follow along.  Or better yet, they could also have had a streaming version of the episode so we wouldn’t have to watch two screens to get the whole picture – it was a bit distracting.  There’s another tweet-peat tonight of Glee, which I actually don’t plan on watching, but I wonder if they’ll take the lessons they learned from last night and apply them tonight.

Written by Jed

September 4th, 2009 at 12:05 pm

A Different Strategy is Required

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I wrote a post a little while ago about how I was going through a period of social media fatigue.  It kind of faded into the background a bit, but ever since then I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to engage with others online.

We do this in a variety of ways.  Some of us form deep personal relationships.  Others joke and play.  Still others network on a purely business level.  We all choose different ways to join the digital community.

I joined Facebook (five years ago!) to keep in touch with high school friends as we all spread out to varying colleges.  I joined Twitter (it’s already been over a year) first because a variety of friends were on it and then because of all the interesting people I could follow.  I joined LinkedIn because that’s what you do for business networking (not going to lie – still don’t know what I’m doing there).  I joined a host of other networks that I don’t even use (just in case I want to some day).

And then there’s this blog.

It’s a bit weird to consider writing a blog as a form of engagement, in that it is kind of a one way form of communication.  After all, I moderate the comments, I write the entries, I control how my posts are distributed to the public.  But the fact of the matter is that I release this blog out into the world for others to read.  And I read the blogs of others.  In a manner of speaking it’s a two way network, because what I don’t control is what you think of me (and what I think of you).

I originally created this blog in part because I wanted to express my opinions.  Because I wanted to control what people would see when they Google me.  And because it’s kind of what you expect from Gen Y-er who is interested in social media.

What does this mean exactly?

Looking back at my usage of this blog and other social media networks, I’ve decided that a change is in order.  Here’s three things I hope to do:

  • Stop following people on Twitter just because I like the idea of following them.  More often than not I end up skipping over/missing their tweets anyway.  Why do I follow a ton of internet marketers and graphic designers when I am interested in the fields but not involved in them?
  • Explore new networks.  Brazen Careerist recently relaunched their site to incorporate more social networking features.  I’m not sure if I’ll use it yet, but I should at least invest time in the network to see if I like it.  As new networks launch (and old ones evolve), I would like to alter the way I use them to match.
  • Make a commitment to this blog.  Even if few people read it, this is still my own little corner of the Vox Populi.  My own place to express my thoughts and figure out what works for me in the digital space.

So?

Over the next few weeks, I’m going to try to experiment.  I’ll be starting by posting short commentaries about a few things at the same time.  Chances are some of these will be revisited when I write full entries, but most things will probably start as these “seed” posts.  You can think of it as something between the 140 characters of Twitter and the paragraphs of more traditional entries.

First up?  Probably a thought or two on the new Brazen Careerist, plus a look at the difference between reciprocal and one way relationships in social networking communities.  Check back soon.

Written by Jed

September 2nd, 2009 at 7:16 am