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Airplane Mode

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Aaron Koblin - Flight Patterns

As I write this I’m sitting in an airplane, flying across the country. I can’t help but think of William Gibson’s novel Pattern Recognition, in which the coolhunting main character, Cayce Pollard, expresses that jet travel causes one’s soul to be left behind, connected by a thin wire. What you experience then then is caused by your soul floating behind you, slowly being pulled back to your body. It’s a poetic image for me, imagining all those strings in the air, although one Gibson expresses much better in text than I do.

As is required, my cell phone and iPad are in airplane mode. I’m cut off from the world (so I’ll be off the airplane by the time you’re reading this). Yes, this flight has WiFi, but I’ve chosen not to use it. It’s an interesting parallel to early last week, when airplane mode wasn’t optional for me.

You see, Huricane Irene hit New York a week or so ago, and thousands of people lost power for some time. Thankfully, I wasn’t among them. No, I had lights and computers and hot water, but my cable service was offline for four days. It’s an odd state – you know when your power is out that you’re not going to be able to watch TV, surf the web, or use your home phone (if you have VoIP service). But when you can turn on your TV or join your home WiFi network with no issues but not actually go anywhere, it’s disconcerting. And when you combine that with disruptions in cellular service (both data and voice), it left my household cut off from the world.

The area I live in was lucky – we didn’t have to evacuate and didn’t appear to suffer any permanent damage. We didn’t need to call emergency services or anything like that. So the biggest impact from the outage was to our routine. No TV. No tweeting. No access to the world beyond my house. Real first world problems, right?

So of course we were fine. I reread some books (including Pattern Recognition). Played a few Xbox games. But it was weird. I generally watch TV during breakfast. I couldn’t do that, and the silence seemed to almost be a tangible thing. I would be reading a passage in a book and want to check something online and not be able to.

And that’s really the scary part. For four days I was cut off from a resource that I use on a daily basis to supplement my knowledge. A kind of exo-brain I can scan through to become acquainted with a subject, even if that knowledge only sticks with me for a little while. On a plane you expect it. Some even embrace the lack of connectivity – precious time where the office can’t reach them. But at home, where you’re surrounded by your belongings, I found it disconcerting to be offline for such a length of time.

Wouldn’t you?

Written by Jed

September 9th, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Squaring Mobile Payments

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There’s a good chance you’ve heard of Square before. It’s the newest venture from Jack Dorsey, one of the co-founders of Twitter. The idea behind Square is pretty simple. Download an app for your mobile phone, and you can charge credit cards just about anywhere, with the only charge being a per-transaction fee. Square can also send you a tiny little credit card reader (for free), which reduces the transaction fee as it lowers the chance of fraud.

Pretty cool, right? Square’s been up and running for just about six months, but only recently became able to fulfill requests for readers en masse. The end result of Square is in a sense the democratization of credit card payments; anyone can use their credit card to pay for just about anything anywhere, with little to no hassle.

This is actually pretty similar to a system that’s been in use for a few years in Kenya called M-PESA (the m stands for mobile and pesa is Swahili for money). M-PESA allows individuals to transfer money and mobile phone minutes from one user to another, with little to no interaction with a traditional bank. As a result, financial transactions become location independent and easy to accomplish, since the system can piggyback upon existing mobile networks.

Using mobile phones as a payment device isn’t all that new though. In the U.S. they’ve been used to purchase ringtones and the like for some time, and they’ve acted as complete mobile payment solutions abroad for years. But what’s great about Square is that it could potentially open up the purchasing power of the U.S. consumer credit system to everyone – from independent artists to tiny companies to international charities.

Brings new meaning to the phrase “accepted everywhere,” doesn’t it?

Written by Jed

June 24th, 2010 at 8:24 pm

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Noise in the Internet Era

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The act of communication can be broken down into just a few simple steps:

  • You have a thought and turn it into a message.
  • You send that message out through some kind of medium.
  • I receive that message and assign it some kind of meaning.

It’s a pretty simple process, and one we’ve managed to complete successfully for at least the last 2000 years. And it can also be applied to the Internet as this model doesn’t require two way communication. That said, there are a few differences.

There’s way more noise here.

Photo by David Sim

How many e-mails do you get a day (including spam)? How many tweets are in your stream? Facebook updates? FriendFeed posts? RSS entries? We’re surrounded by so much information on the Internet it’s almost incomprehensible. Some of it is useful. Some of it is junk.

If you’re consuming content, you get to be the judge of what is helpful and what is pointless; the more time you spend on something, the less it’s noise and the more it’s a message.

If you’re creating content, most of it is noise. Noise you have to cut through to accurately convey your message to your intended recipients.

We all try our best at this, and it’s more important for some than others. For marketers, it’s a do or die kind of thing – greater signal to noise ratio means greater chance of conversion into buyers/subscribers/promoters. For friends, it’s not quite as big of a deal.  Still, the digital landscape is awfully cluttered, isn’t it?

We want to be heard.

Ironically, the act of self-promotion produces more noise that others will attempt to cut through (because your message is noise for them). So we do what we can to keep the eyeballs on us. One of the tricks is emotional investment – if you can instill in people a sense of concern, or interest, or desire to know what comes next, they’ll be more likely to spend their own energy seeking you out. Another is to have novel, groundbreaking content that people simply. must. see. A third is to present it in some way they haven’t seen before, whether through video, audio, augmented reality, or whatever the next big medium/fad is.

Of course, these are just a few ways to make your signal stand about above the noise, and they may or may not work for you. But there are times when I can’t help but ask – do we all need to take a step back? Do we need to let the noise wash over us to understand what’s going on now and in turn understand what we have to do next? Or do we just need to keep on pressing forward, shouting out into the noise, letting our voices join the ever growing din?

I think maybe the answer is somewhere in between. I’m really curious to find out.  How about you?

Written by Jed

December 30th, 2009 at 9:48 pm

Emoticons – Online Body Language?

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Emoticon Pumpkin

Photo by Neal Gills (via Flickr).

Chances are you’ve used some variant of that pumpkin’s symbol somewhere.  It could have been in an e-mail, a text message, or a tweet.  Maybe it was to a friend, a relative, or someone you’ve never even met.  Perhaps you were surprised, or happy, or just plain confused.

When you think about it, text based communication online is lacking quite a bit compared to person-to-person interactions.  Perhaps the most significant  difference is body language.  There is quite a bit of contention about how much communication is nonverbal, and it certainly depends upon the circumstances of the situation as to whether you’re going to trust someone’s words, tone, or body language more.  But the bottom line is that in most forms of digital communication we don’t even have the option of using the extra data that tone or facial expressions provide.  We’ve got to go on text alone.

And let’s face it, the written word isn’t always crystal clear (consider the case of Roger Casement, who may or may not have been hanged because of a comma).  So oftentimes we can be left in the dark about the writer’s state of mind – they may despise you or think you’re the best thing since sliced bread.  No way to tell.

Well that’s not entirely true.  When you think about it, we can use text based representations of emotions like emoticons and emoji as a substitute for nonverbal communication when we’re online.  They can provide us with at least a hint of a person’s mood or intended tone in a quick and dirty fashion.  Sure, they may not necessarily be appropriate for the corporate world (yet), but they’re great for two friends talking.  And with over four billion people across the world connected to both one another and the web via cell phones, these icons may just represent one way to overcome some of the language barriers that separate us all.

And that’s kind of cool, don’t you think? 😛

Written by Jed

December 14th, 2009 at 11:02 am

Posted in internet

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Syndication

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Shortly after I first started blogging, I started broadcasting my content to a variety of websites. Because I figured, why not? The costs of setting up syndication are low. Most blogging tools have RSS built in, and a lot of websites accept RSS feeds. StumbleUpon and Technorati are two examples of what I’m talking about here.

Then there’s the sites that contain some kind of profile but also allow for sharing content – generally through some kind of “widget.” LinkedIn, Brazen Careerist, and Careerealism’s private Ning network all fall under this category (we can analyze why these are all career focused later). Here too the initial costs are low, so why not set up syndication? Especially in light of the fact that many people already have profiles on at least one or two websites with this feature.

The third kind of syndication is link sharing websites. Digg, Delicious, and so on. These require slightly more effort in terms of setting up individual links to individual content. Which changes the dynamic a bit; as an example, Digg requires that the community like what you’ve submitted in order to give it any kind of recognition.

And let’s not start on ways to share your contributions from one network to another automatically.  While you can easily share content across platforms this way, you can also blur the lines between what you keep public and what you keep private.

Are more places to go for the same content ideal?  Perhaps not.  There is a balance, I think, between promotion and overextension.  I believe that brands should customize their message to the platform they’re using; why don’t I do that?  I suppose that part of it is because of my desire to reserve my username across a variety of sites – if I’m setting up an account, why not take a minute to add a link here or there?

Will I change how I (don’t) use the sites I’ve listed above now that I’ve written this?  Probably not.  Perhaps there is some kind of opt-in/opt-out psychology at work here.  Or maybe I just don’t want to mess with something that isn’t broken.

Written by Jed

October 20th, 2009 at 9:15 am

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

I am the Long Tail

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You may have heard of the long tail.  It’s one of those Internet buzzwords, but if you haven’t, here’s Chris Anderson’s original Wired article on it.  Here’s a quick description: the cost of storing and distributing small quantities of a variety of slightly popular goods becomes economically feasible thanks to the larger audience the internet provides.  If a retailer were to stock these same products on their shelves, they would not be able to sell through their inventory because their shoppers are bound by the need to physically travel to the store to purchase the item.  Some say the long tail is dead.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  Regardless, the mathematics behind the long tail (the Pareto principle) apply to a variety of circumstances and phenomena.

Including this blog.

How so?  Well, I imagine that the Pareto principle (or the 80/20 rule, or the law of the vital few, or whatever else you call it) applies to Internet traffic too.  Think about it.  If you run a website, how many visitors do you get?  And how many do you think the most popular websites in your field get?  If the 80/20 rule holds true here, then statistically speaking you probably fall within the 80% of the Internet that provides only 20% of the total web traffic.  But chances are there are a few sites within your field that dominate over the rest, at least traffic wise.

Let’s use my blog, this website, as an example.  Here’s my Google Analytics statistics from July 1st to today:

Google Analytics Statistics

I also had 395 visitors when this blog was hosted on WordPress.com, and most of those were from one post – Twitter, the Psychology of Reciprocity, and Self-Reinforcing Micro-Networks.

Anyway, it’s safe to sat that this is not one of the most visited sites on the web (even if we exclude porn and spam).  I’m okay with this.  Here’s why:

I am not here to tell you how to do whatever it is that you do.

I’m much more interested in having a conversation with you than telling you to do things the way I like to do them.  I want to create content that you find “valuable,” that makes you think or exposes you to something you haven’t heard about before.  Yes, I do try to be timely and interesting and witty while doing this, but I truly hope that I do not come off as preachy.  I am not an expert.  I truly hope that you do not get the impression that I’m trying to be one.

I don’t promote this blog very much.

Okay, so this is related to the point above.  I use some simple WordPress SEO, I tweet about my posts, and I have set up accounts on StumbleUponTechnorati, and so on, but I don’t spend hours trying to increase the number of eyeballs that take in the content here.  I’d like to think that you like what I write, and I hope you leave a comment with your thoughts, but I’m not going to freak out if only eight people read this post.  Sure I have Google Analytics enabled, but that’s because it appeals to my scientific data geek side, not because I run marketing campaigns designed to increase traffic.

I’m not here to make money.

Seriously.  There are no ads or sponsors on this website.  I’m doing this because I want to experiment and learn what works for me, not because I’m expecting to make money.  Maybe one day, but not today.  (In the meantime, at least I’ve got that whole “personal branding” thing covered).

So what’s the point again?

This post was supposed to be about web traffic, not an explanation for why I blog or a justification for why I’m okay that only a few people read this thing.  I was going to make a point about how the Internet allows me to find an audience for my writing (and the writing of others) that traditional media would not be able to.  And I was going to discuss how we shouldn’t necessarily expect the proportions of the 80/20 rule to change.  That just because the Internet is the “great equalizer” doesn’t mean that the majority of people won’t still read the same content, especially in light of the low time investment involved in surfing the web (aka if you don’t like something you close the browser window).

Obviously that didn’t happen.  Sorry about that.  Maybe another post?

In the meantime, let me leave you with this:

Justine Ezarik, aka iJustine, describes herself as “the Internet.”  To give you a frame of reference, Alexa gives her websitetraffic rank of 48,998, while this blog is ranked 3,586,457.  So if Justine is the Internet, I guess that makes me the long tail.  And maybe you too.

Written by Jed

August 18th, 2009 at 9:28 am

Google’s Own Area Code?

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I got into Google Voice today.  For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, Google Voice is a kind of free super phone service.  You sign up, get a number, and can forward calls to that number to your work, cell, or home phone.  You can program in rules to follow (like if it is 8a-5p, forward to work, 5p-9p forward to cell, and 9p-8a forward to home).  Your voicemails are transcripted and indexable, and you can listen in on them as they’re being recorded.  You can also, you know, call people on it.

Anyway, the first thing you do upon opening your Google Voice account is select a number:

Google Voice Signup

I haven’t moved pass this step.

Why?

Because I’m not sure what area code I want to use.  In order to set this up, Google – okay, it was really GrandCentral, which Google purchased – obtained a whole slew of phone numbers in almost every area code in the country.  But they don’t restrict you to selecting the area code you live in when you sign up.  Right now I live in New York.  But I want to move to California.  Should I choose New York because that’s where I live now?  But when I move, won’t that be confusing to people I give that number to?  What happens if I select an area code in California but don’t end up moving there?  For that matter, I could pretend I’m based in Alaska, Nebraska, or Texas – three states I’ve never visited!  It could get pretty confusing if everyone starts choosing the area code they want instead of the one they live in…..

Yes, Google does let you change your number later (it’s $10).  But the whole idea of Google Voice is that the number follows you from place to place.  So why am I forced into choosing an area code, which inherently locks me into coming from one location?  I think this is an opportunity to improve on the service.  According to Wikipedia, there are several area codes not in use.  Why can’t Google Voice be assigned an area code?  After all, it’s entirely a virtual service, and as such is not bound by location (no idea what this would entail, but as I don’t work for Google, I don’t have to worry about the paperwork – I can just write what I want and they can choose whether or not to listen).

In the meantime, I suppose I’ll have to choose a number and stick with it for a while.  Do you think that Google Voice should have its own area code?  Did you put any thought into selecting your number?  Or do you think that telephones are so 20th century, and video conferencing/instant messaging/twittering is the way to keep in touch?  Leave a comment – I’m curious!

Written by Jed

July 28th, 2009 at 6:39 pm

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