the onion

Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #190

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, Solve For Interesting, the author of Complete Web Monitoring, Managing Bandwidth: Deploying QOS in Enterprise Networks and Lean Analytics), Hugh McGuire (PressBooks, LibriVox, iambik and co-author of Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto) and I decided that every week the three of us are going to share one link for one another (for a total of six links) that each individual feels the other person “must see”.

Check out these six links that we’re recommending to one another:

  • Should A Robot Decide When To Kill? – The Verge. “I grew up reading Asimov‘s Laws of Robotics. Turns out that wasn’t escapism — it was just preparation. This rather chilling Verge piece on DARPA‘s autonomous soldiers paint a robotized future as inevitable. ‘Either we’re going to decide not to do this, and have an international agreement not to do it, or it’s going to happen.’ Rather than ‘A robot must not harm a human’ we get the more loophole-ready, ‘A robot must always follow a human operator’s intent, for example, while simultaneously guarding against any failure that could cause an operator to lose control.’  Yikes.” (Alistair for Hugh).
  • Here’s the leaked Uber email to drivers, showing it’s finally taking background checks seriously – Pando Daily. “One of the biggest economic shifts this century comes from the removal of the friction that justifies middlemen. From travel agencies to parking meters, everything’s going digital. AirBnB, Uber, Lyft, even white-label airlines are getting in on the action. The honeymoon, however, may be over. Nearly every one of them is under scrutiny for predatory pricing, liability claims, and mis-set expectations. P2P rideshare startup Lyft recently announced insurance, but the real story is Uber, which sent a letter to drivers about background checks. Up next? I’m betting it’s unionization. What’s good for the management goose is good for the employee gander.” (Alistair for Mitch).
  • Our quantum problem – Aeon Magazine. “The head-scratching problems with Quantum Theory.” (Hugh for Alistair).
  • Spotify: how a busy songwriter you’ve never heard of makes it work for him – The Guardian. “Want to hear a song about mayonnaise? Or, Brisbane? Or, door-handles? Matt Farley churns them out at an amazing pace, and puts them all on Spotify. I originally heard about Matt Farley on the podcast TLDR.” (Hugh for Mitch).
  • What Brands in Sochi Are Doing for Security May Surprise You – AdWeek. “Part of the advertising business is schmoozing clients. That’s a lie. It’s a big part of every business. So, when the Olympics roll around, brands see an amazing opportunity to really work their networks and lock in some solid business opportunities while taking in the event, wining, dining and who knows what else? The problem is that some places aren’t that safe. There has been lots of concern over the safety at the winter Olympics. It’s not something you read about often, but this is what brands are doing to ensure that their guests have a blast… in a different kind of way.” (Mitch for Alistair).
  • Please Click On Our Website’s Banner Ads – The Onion. “This is one of those pieces that is so funny because of how true and sad it is. It’s from The Onion, so you know it’s satire of the highest form. It’s also true for just about any traditional publisher pimping for clicks, while trying to amp up their banner advertising inventory. Special thanks to Michael Lautman for shooting it my way on Twitter.” (Mitch for Hugh).

Now it’s your turn: in the comment section below pick one thing that you saw this week that inspired you and share it.


7 Reasons Why Marketers Should Be Twerking Miley Cyrus

Talk about a whole bunch of keywords in a headline that I never thought that I would ever write. But, here we are!

When cultural moments like Miley Cyrus at the Video Music Awards happen, we can’t help but stop and take a look. It’s the classic rubber neck syndrome, where we all, collectively, slow down to get a glimpse of the accident. It’s probably not the best part of the human condition, but it is who we are. We’ve taking rubber necking to a whole new level when you implicate social media into the mix. Now, we’re not just stopping to watch the madness and talking about it at the water cooler the next day, but we’re living it, sharing it, reporting on it and commenting on it like never before.

Media feeds the beast.

The Onion beat me to it. The satirical website had one of the most insightful (and hilarious) posts about the fiasco that points to the reality of what these types of events means to brands and marketers. And, make no mistake about it, brands, marketers and media entities jump all over this sort of stuff because it moves the needle. The article was titled, Let Me Explain Why Miley Cyrus’ VMA Performance Was Our Top Story This Morning, as a mock op-ed piece from the Managing Editor of Most will simply read this piece and laugh, but it has all of the major points about why moments like this get the kind of coverage that they do – particularly in this day and age when traditional media outlets are doing anything and everything to generate advertising revenue, and the wall between editorial and advertising is blurring faster than you can say: native advertising. You can read the article to get the humor, but here is a rundown of why marketers should be twerking Miley Cyrus:

  1. If the headline is salacious, consumers will click on the site and drive up Web traffic.
  2. When Web traffic jumps, publishers have impressive Web analytics to share with their boss… and with the advertisers.
  3. Once the story gets some traffic, spin-off articles happen (like 15 other Music Video Awards Embarrassments, and the like), these bump up the numbers even more.
  4. Digital editorial teams then turn these popular articles into slideshows (consumers love clicking on pictures). As the mock-article points out: “We also throw in a slideshow called ‘Evolution of Miley,’ which, for those of you who don’t know, is just a way for you to mindlessly click through 13 more photos of Miley Cyrus. And if we get 500,000 of you to do that, well, 500,000 multiplied by 13 means we can get 6.5 million page views on that slideshow alone. Throw in another slideshow titled ’6 ‘don’t miss’ VMA moments,’ and it’s starting to look like a pretty goddamned good Monday, numbers-wise.” Again, this is a satirical piece, but it’s one those, “it’s funny because it’s true” kind of things.
  5. One publishers have some articles rolling and slideshows that consumers are mindlessly clicking through, publishers will then create quick, cheap and dirty highlight videos and more, with experts discussing the performance or whatever. These video have pre and post roll advertising and some of them have sponsorship and product placement within the clips. More advertising. More traffic. More revenue.
  6. If consumers are spending all of this time with this type of content, media publishers have ammunition to tell brands and media agencies about how engaged and how much time their consumers spend on their property in comparison to others. Along with that, the bounce rate decreases (the amount of people who look at a page, but click on nothing else). These are prime metrics that enable publishers to command a higher advertising rate.
  7. We like to share. Once consumers watch this content, spend time with it, maybe even comment on it, they may be inclined to share it across their own social networks. From blogs to Twitter and Facebook and beyond. This propagates the content, drives more attention, amplifies it and builds the media brand. Yes, once a consumer shares it, they are complicit in helping the media entity to grow and to charge more to the advertisers.

So, in the end, everybody should read this fake op-ed piece in The Onion and realize that it’s probably the most accurate story about publishing, content and the state of digital advertising than any research report you are bound to come across.


Don’t #Unplug From Technology

Don’t blame technology for our unhealthy relationship with it.

Grazing the magazine newsstand on my flight to NYC last week, I was thrilled to see that the latest edition of Fast Company was on sale. I was even more excited to see Baratunde Thurston on the cover. Most people knew Thurston as the director of digital for The Onion. He then moved on to become a bestselling author (How To Be Black), a well recognized speaker, a a regular contributor at Fast Company and much more. In short, he was riding the wave of his digital connectedness upriver into global success, while developing a personal brand to be reckon with (over 140,000 followers on Twitter, multiple appearances in mainstream media and more). My heart sunk when I saw the name of the cover story: #Unplug – My Life Was So Crazy, I Disconnected For 25 Days. You Should Too. Next up: the siren-ringing sounds of your life as it comes crashing to a halt. There is a simple truth here that people don’t want to admit: it’s not the technology and all of this inter-connectedness that is the problem… it’s us.

Unplugging may make your misery worse.

How many notifications do you have set up in your life? Think about your smartphone. When does it notify you of anything? A voice call? A text message? A voicemail message? An update from Facebook? A direct message from Twitter? When you have a scheduled appointment? When someone would like to set-up an appointment? A notification that a meeting is about to happen? A warning that your flight may be delayed? What about your computer? A new email? An incoming Skype chat? A request to connect via Google Hangouts? A reminder that your favorite blogger on Huffington Post has just published a new piece? A special price for that hotel you were hoping to stay at? The lists, pings rings, beeps, buzzers and more could go on and on. Lately, Thurston isn’t the only one talking about a more regimented social media and technology diet. The enthusiasm that many people are expressing to create these digital bankruptcies shore up to a bigger problem: finding a healthy balance in our lives.

Don’t blame the potato chips. 

Thurston and others who have recently talked about their inability to keep up with the influx of digital inputs (Chris Brogan and Seth Godin have frequently discussed these issues) could be missing the bigger point: this is the inevitable outcome of success. If you do everything right in terms of building a platform or something that people want to pay attention to, you will never be prepared or able to deal with that success. The same is often the case for brands who are looking to hit viral gold. More often than not, they are not prepared and flounder when it actually works. It is very hard to scale a personality. In short, we become victims of our success. No one is going to cry for Thurston, Godin, Brogan, me or you. Let our biggest problems in life be that we can’t keep up with all of the people who want to consume our media and connect with us. Let our email become one big, unwinnable, game of Tetris where all we’re doing is moving those messages from the inbox to a folder while attempting to respond, only to have that inbox continually increase at a faster and faster click, until: game over.

How to take your life back (without unplugging).

People are often shocked when they spend any amount of time with me in my protein form. My smartphone, laptop and tablet have zero notifications. Zero. There is only one notification set and that is a customized vibration tone on my iPhone for when my spouse calls and/or texts me. That’s it. Otherwise, I look at my devices when I have a moment. Seems simple enough? It is. Over time (and I have been using these technology from very nascent stages), those who connect with me no longer have expectations of an immediate response. The goal is simple: never put yourself in Thurston’s position so that your life requires a moment to unplug. Instead of letting the technology and their notifications manage you, start managing your technology and notifications.

The results will stun you.

You won’t find me thumbing the iPhone while pushing my kids on the swing at the park, because there is nothing notifying me of any sort of message. So, unless I take a break on the park bench and decide to pick up the device on my own accord, I don’t have to play life judge and figure out if an email is more important than the swing-set. This is key: notifications are ambiguous. They no longer tell you what’s important, they simply inform you that there is something new to look at. Like the Pavlovian creatures that we are, we just can’t help but take a peek at what the message could mean. Over time, this conditioning has jaded our judgment and confused the importance of our work. Many people attack the last message that came in rather than the important ones. Many people attack the messages that are quick to respond to and wait for more time in their day to attack to the ones that require more work. All of this isn’t technology’s fault. All of this is our fault, because we’re allowing the technology to manage us, instead of the other way around.

Take a break.

Instead of taking a break for any period of time, start deactivating your notifications. Block off specific moments in the day when you will check your social feeds (Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc…). Decide how much time you’re going to allocate to responding to email messages. A lot of the email back and forth can be solved with a thirty-second phone call, but we’ve conditioned ourselves to engage in a week-long email chain that looks more like a game of badminton than resolving a work-related issue. Agree that before you make a grab for any device, you will proactively define if what you’re doing in the here-and-now is more substantive than what may be on the digital screen in your pocket. See, if you unplug, you will eventually plug back in. What you’re plugging back into isn’t technology. You’re plugging back into bad habits. These habits were facilitated by how technology works, but they don’t have to be that way. The next time that you’re thinking about unplugging from it all, take a step back and ask yourself what, exactly, you’re unplugging from and how you can best manage the process? The vast majority of us will never have as much attention as Baratunde Thurston. The vast majority of us aren’t as gainfully engaged with all of these digital channels and social networks as Baratunde Thurston. Still, all of us can do a much better job at turning off the beeps, blips, lights, vibrations and ringers in our lives.

That act alone has nothing to to with unplugging, but everything to do with plugging into what is most important in our lives.

The above posting is my twice-monthly column for The Huffington Post. I cross-post it here with all the links and tags for your reading pleasure, but you can check out the original version online here:


Six Links Worthy Of Your Attention #86

Is there one link, story, picture or thought that you saw online this week that you think somebody you know must see?

My friends: Alistair Croll (BitCurrent, Year One Labs, GigaOM, Human 2.0, the author of Complete Web Monitoring and Managing Bandwid…