Thursday, September 6

Killing Digital Heroes: NBC Universal


“Unfortunately, Amazon Unbox videos and the Amazon Unbox video player are not compatible with Apple/MacIntosh hardware and computer systems.” – Amazon.com

And as Amazon goes, so goes NBC Universal’s ability to put top-selling shows like Heroes and The Office into the hands of iTunes consumers. The losers, undoubtedly, will be consumers in what some are calling one of NBCU’s worst decisions since it entered the digital media arena.

According to Apple, NBCU had reportedly sought more copy-protection controls as well as more pricing flexibility. Apple said that NBCU had asked for “more than double the wholesale price for each NBC TV episode,” which would have resulted in a $4.99 per episode price. The episodes are now listed on Amazon for $1.99.

“With the addition of NBC Universal TV content to Amazon Unbox, fans now have the ultimate convenience for enjoying their favorite shows whenever or wherever they want,” said Jean-Briac Perrette, president of digital distribution for NBCU, neglecting to mention that only Amazon Unbox customers (which exclude Apple portable media owners) will benefit from this convenience.

The post-negotiation public debate being played out between Apple and NBCU reinforces an increased trend toward companies airing disagreements in public, knowing that if the media does not pick it up, then high profile bloggers will.

“What they’re going to have to realize is that out of all the dozens of shows available out there, most people only want the four or five most popular shows,” James McQuivey, an analyst at Forrester Research, said (as highlighted on Terry Heaton’s blog). “And if those aren’t there, those consumers are just going to walk away.”

McQuivey is right. As much as I like Amazon, I won’t have a choice when it comes to Unbox video player. Since we work on Macs, play on Macs, and own iPods, NBCU’s decision is clear: if we miss a broadcast, our only option is to watch something else. How’s that for content protection?

Apple seems to be doing its fair share to protect NBCU content as well. Apple decided it will no longer sell new NBC shows, including those that will premiere next month. Fortunately, iTunes has other shows to consider, including those that might distract the fans of Heroes and The Office.

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Wednesday, September 5

Targeting Nomads: Social Networks


“MySpace, Facebook, LinkedIN: Social networking is probably the biggest change in how people use the web. With nearly 100M visitors there is something going on here, yet it hasn’t taken off behind the firewall.” — Paul Pedrazzi, OracleAppsLab

Pedrazzi is not alone in wondering just what social networks might do for business. Geoff Livingston, on his new Now Is Gone book blog, noted that Facebook doesn’t build communities as much it reconnects existing relationships. Michel Fortin concludes “it's not a viable marketing tool. At least, not for me.”

So why all the hype? Enough hype that the Trade Union Congress (TUC) in Britain felt the need to issue a release defending worker on-the-job access to social networking sites. That eight percent of businesses report they are actually afraid of employee backlash if they ban social networks. That some claim social networks are an integral ingredient in our cyberspace environment.

Social networks present a viable and worthwhile consideration for any social media mix, but they do not seem well suited to support a sustainable communication strategy or meaningful content. More often than not, they are consumer-generated content billboards for traditional and new media (blogs) hoping to capture online nomads as they wander their way to watering holes for individual conservations, gossip, fun, and games.

Sure, a few have worthwhile applications like the questions/answers at LinkedIn or BlogCatalog discussions, which do lend well to creating a sense of community. Open niche networks like RecrutingBlogs.com work well too.

These examples aside, social networks seem best suited to be what early blogs hoped to be — a place for individuals to connect and have two-way conversations when they aren’t trying to out-scoop each other on finding new online content to talk about. There is nothing wrong with that.

Yet, sooner or later, the mad rush for numbers will be over and people will stand around asking themselves did I invest all this time in the right social network? Probably not.

It makes sense for me as someone engaged in social media to check out all the new applications that are readily and frequently available (about 100 times more than most social media gurus actually write about). But if it wasn’t for this reason, I think I might have a different message all together … call me when the nomadic online wandering is over and I’ll bring by a house-warming gift.

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Tuesday, September 4

Exploring Social Media: Semi-Public Youth

“… just as science reveals how crucially important nourishing relationships are, human connections seem increasingly under siege. Social corruption has many faces.” — Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence

When most people think of consequences associated to youth and social media (MySpace, Facebook, and blogs), the first thought that comes to mind is sexual predators infiltrating the Web. Yet, most consequences seem more subtle, despite growing out of a spoof about society’s fascination with addictive behaviors.

Sure, Dr. Ivan Goldberg may have coined the phrase “Internet Addiction Disorder” as satire but other researchers like clinical psychologist Kimberly Young, Psy.D. used it to set a new pace in launching exploratory studies that looked at online addiction (read a sum up here). In one such study, she concluded as many as 396 of the 496 Internet users could be classified as dependent.

More recently however, John Grohol, Psy.D. pointed out that most of these studies are less than reliable. In fact, many skew toward proving a threat to modern society. And others, such as the impact of Internet harassment, seem too thin to draw any real conclusions.

So maybe we need better questions: What are the long-term personal ramifications of participation in these networks, particularly among youth, as Marc Aniballi, managing director at Crack Method, offered up to me on Linkedin as one question we don't ask enough about social media.

Although I am not deep enough into the book Social Intelligence to provide a proper review, I do believe Goleman has set the stage to answer questions like the one proposed by Aniballi. Some paraphrased highlights from the book include: substituting daily interactions with online activities may not provide children enough experience to cope with face-to-face interactions; constant digital connectivity may inadvertently disconnect them from the world around them; greater connections may provide more forums to justify anti-social behavior rather than reinforce moral values being taught at home; and emotional outbursts online that may spill over into their surrounding environment.

They are interesting observations. They make me wonder if some answers are right under our noses. Maybe Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and Jason Wahler have the answers.

All of them were subjected to an inordinate amount of adult content and choices, a displaced sense of self-worth as it is based on public input, a disproportionate amount of public critique and ridicule, an inappropriately high level of aggressive public outbursts, and a general disconnect from interacting with the world around them; experiences that are indicative of social networks and the Internet.

So where does that leave us? As much as I would like to say that the solution is simply better educating youth before giving them the freedom to engage in social media, I sometimes wonder if most adults understand that one of the personal and professional consequences of engagement means becoming a semi-public or public figure. Nonetheless, here are three observations that youth might benefit from before becoming more immersed in social media:

Balance. Social media is best used to augment education, expand social networks, and create conversations. It was never meant to replace them or infringe upon them. Forget friend counts and get out more.

Responsibility. Written communication has significantly more impact than verbal communication. It is often permanent. Despite this, social media dramas are generally more inflammatory than in-person disagreements and discussions. Diffuse it instead of lending to it by insulating yourself against becoming emotionally engaged. In most cases, name callers say more about themselves than the person they attack. In some cases, they aren’t even real people.

Selectivity. Unless we can look at the world as disconnected observers, information can and will influence our behavior. It pays to be selective in what we expose ourselves to, how we interpret that information, and to take care not to project it into our own lives.

To be clear, I think social media is one of the finest communication tools available for any number of individual and business applications. However, the Internet is much like the world: you can find what you look for. So what are you looking for? And your kids?

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Monday, September 3

Staking Claims: Social Media Borg


The most humorous aspect of staking claims in social media recently came to me from a post made by Jeremy Langhans at RecruitingBlogs.com. It was a sum up of a Pete Cashmore quip about Facebook.

“In light of recent controversies over who exactly invented Facebook, I think now is the time to come clean: I did. Not Mark Zuckerberg, not the ConnectU folks and certainly not the latest claimant to the idea: Aaron Greenspan … I was considering a way to include high school or college photographs in a printed book, and came up with a concept I called Faces Book.”

I saw it again at Geoff Livingston’s Now Is Gone blog as Steven E. Streight attempted to set our discussion — when flogs might work and when they might not — straight. The statements rang loudly, perhaps with a hint of seriousness.

“The core values of blogging, as set by the early bloggers from 1992 to 2004, include Transparency, Authenticity, Passion, Integrity … CEOs and others can have pro writers polish up their blog posts, or suggest topics, even write a few sample posts to get them going … The peer to peer recommendation system of the Trust Web will fall apart when fake blogs, phony Twitter accounts, and PayPerPost type blog whoring invade our realm.”

In other words, sorry but that ground was covered. Please refer to the social media rulebook that it is littered about the Internet in random posts and discussions and cite the appropriate sources.

WARNING. New discussion is futile. You must assimilate.

And yet again by Shel Holtz when he shared his bad pitch experience. Don’t get me wrong, it was a pretty awful pitch from the Washington D.C.-based Adfero Group. It began “I wanted to let you know about an innovative new PR tactic that the readers of the “Shel Holz” blog might find interesting.” (Their misspelling, not mine.)

But then, even Holtz digresses a bit into borg speak while discussing what the Adfero Group calls a new PR tactic: “Funny. That sounds just like the social media press release format I’ve been touting for, what, a year? The same concept that has a home on the web and a working group. It was introduced by SHIFT Communications well over a year ago in response to an appeal by journalist Tom Foremski.”

Yeah, I remember that. I called it a buffet template, meaning no offense to Todd Defren. As I pointed out then, at least Defren had the good sense to do something when everyone else was dragging their respective professional heels. But back then, credit was less important than building upon the social media framework so more people would take it seriously. But now that we have established social media as viable communication tool, and some newcomers are starting to make their own paths, times have changed. Didn’t you get the memo?

WARNING. New tactics are futile. You must assimilate.

Humility. That is one term that the early adapters forget to include in the core values drafted in 1992 to 2004. As professional communicators or others shaping social media, we might remember that much of our early work will go unnoticed by the greater body of people who will eventually employ it in some fashion.

What do I mean? Well, as much as Holtz seemed to chastise the Adfero Group for not knowing the history of social media before making wild claims (and they were wild), nowhere on Holtz’s blog will you find any reference to Jorn Barger or Brian Redman, who were among the earliest bloggers.

For that matter, maybe I should lay some early claim too. I had a daily news update in the 1990s to augment a bi-monthly print and online publication. Does that count too? Technically speaking, minus comments, it was a blog. Or maybe my regular forum postings on AOL before that, as AOL was one of the first social networks (despite everyone claiming social networks are somehow new). No, I'm not that presumptuous. Besides, I have better ideas to hang my hat on.

Funny. There always seems to be predecessors to the predecessors and we all might be well served to remember that. In fact, sometimes similar ideas come from different places with the originator having no knowledge of what the others might be doing. Sometimes they are borrowed upon and made better. Sometimes borrowers give credit. Sometimes they do not. Sometimes they don't even know to do it.

Usually, but not always, the only reason early concepts are stolen away is because the original idea didn’t stick well enough to hold. But that’s the price of progress. I’m so sorry, but nobody really owns social media or the concepts that are being tried and tested here. Much like some caveman’s family isn’t getting paid royalties for the invention and application of the wheel.

To be clear, I’m not against Zuckerberg, Greenspan, Streight, or Holtz reminding us that little pieces of this and that were developed by others first. That’s admirable.

What I am less comfortable with is beating down new ideas and discussions for want of territorial superiority and forced assimilation. When the collective starts doing that, maybe it's time to remember that there is a whole big world out there beyond the insulated cube one can create online. Or, in other words, social media experts invited the world to participate; don't be disappointed if they accept the invitation as explorers and not as loyal subjects.

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Sunday, September 2

Writing Fan Fiction: Nick Lysne


On Friday, we announced the winners of an unofficial Expanded Universe Short Story Competition fan fiction contest to promote Jericho for the fans, expand its universe (outside of the town where it largely takes place on television), and demonstrate the possibilities of its rich story line. Today, we’re proud to present the work of Nick Lysne, also known as Redzephyr at Jericho Rally Point. We Hope you enjoy. And congratulations to Nick Lysne!

Checkmate by Nick Lysne

Under heavy pressure, the knight was forced to pull back behind the defensive line of infantrymen, mere pawns of the kingdom. He had been making progress, but that was put to an end with the introduction of the queen.

The bishops kept a narrow-eyed watch, ready always to intercept any threat to their king. One of the towers had fallen moments ago, and the entire offense had shuddered, pushed back.

Cam pursed his lips, his fingers still resting atop the retreating knight. His eyes swept across the board as he considered his options and those of his opponent. He would be safe for now. His hand left the white knight.

"Almost had you," Hermon chuckled with a kind smile adorning his old man's wrinkled face as he too surveyed the board.

Cam grinned. "Almost."

Hermon advanced one of his pawns in support of his other forces.

"You know, I'm really glad you all showed up, Cameron," he paused, taking a sip of his tea. "I've not had this much fun since before the Day! Hell, it was some time before ... and now Julia has someone to play with, too. Things were getting tough for her."

"Come on, Hermon... You're the one doing us a favor!"

The white queen advanced two spaces.

It had been a couple of months since the Day. Cam had been lucky; his family and most of his friends had not.

If the bombs had gone off even twelve hours earlier, he would have shared their fate. He had begun to think of his survival as a complete and total miracle, despite being non-religious.

The day before, he had been out of state, picking up his long awaited prize from eBay: a military surplus Humvee. It had cost him about twenty grand, and he could barely afford it. But Cam had always wanted a real one — none of that glamorized civilian stuff. When he returned to the apartment, he had been greeted by his friend Mike, and Mike's daughter, Natalie.

The old man shook his head and shifted one of his knights to the side.

"It's nothing, honestly. We have more than enough."

The television had gone out first. And it was when Cam had gone to turn it back on, he saw the cloud, far in the distance. He realized it would take much more than a another push of a button to make his TV work again. Natalie, barely eight years old, was very curious about the big, bright spectacle out the window. Mike had been unable to find adequate words to explain it to her. He hadn't been able to explain it to himself.

"We can't stay here forever, though," Cam said, taking a pawn and covering his attacking bishop with his remaining rook. Hermon took the bishop anyway, sacrificing a rook.

"There are a few places you could try that aren't that far away."

After a tense conversation, they had taken as much as they could carry from Cam's apartment. His rifles, handguns, ammunition, food, clothing, blankets. All of it was stowed in the back of the Humvee before they locked up and headed to Mike's own apartment.

"There's Jericho if you continue north."

Cam tilted his head. "Jericho?"

Collecting what else they could fit, they had hit the roads and started on their way. The plan had been to check on family and friends, starting with the closest ones.

"Julia and I made the trip up a few weeks ago ... they're hanging on pretty well, from what I could see."

It took longer than they wanted, running into traffic jams and roadblocks. Over the course of the next several days, conditions spiraled away from the shrinking number of police and mobilized guardsmen. Cam and Mike both had had to shoot bandits; lucky to avoid being shot themselves.

Hermon pushed forward in an aggressive strike that cost Cam dearly.

"Hah!"

"Damn!" Cam laughed. "Would they take us? Jericho, I mean."

After almost two months, they began to get desperate. They were lucky enough to find an abandoned house with a large fuel tank and extra gas cans. They stocked the Humvee again. It had served them faithfully, running long after most other vehicles failed. Running after taking a few bullets for them.

"But with that new mayor, I'm not so sure," Hermon frowned, continuing his attack. "Check."

Cam's heart fell. He was almost hopeful for all Hermon’s talk. He moved his king out of danger, but lost his second bishop for it.
They had been starving when they found the house, nestled in a thicket of trees. It was off the road by a good margin, and one could not actually spot it from there.

It was the aroma of baking bread that had caught their attention next. And Natalie, being the child she was, went right up to the door and knocked.

Their concern for her turned out to be needless. Hermon, a baker by trade, and his granddaughter, Julia, wouldn’t harm anyone.

Hermon sprung his trap.

"Don't worry. You go on and you ask for Johnston Green, and tell him you're my friend. He'll help you. Also, check."

Cam moved his king once more, but he could see that it was too late to save the fleeing monarch.

The old man offered a toothy grin. "Checkmate."

Disclaimer: "Jericho and its related characters are the property of CBS Paramount Television Network and Junction Entertainment. This contest is solely for entertainment purposes. Neither Nick Lysne, Richard Becker, nor Copywrite, Ink. is affiliated with CBS or Junction Entertainment.

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Saturday, September 1

Missing Targets: Jericho's Tactical Overload

Not all Jericho viewers are created equal.

Some fans will spend hours over at CBS Jericho every day. Some enjoy a few minutes a week. Some will never go there at all, preferring any number of forum-based social networks instead. And others, once the show was brought back from cancellation, are simply content to sit on the sidelines until the first episode of a short season 2 unfolds on their television, TiVo, or DVR.

“I was one of the first people to send nuts, well before the efforts were centralized,” one fan told me. “But I’m not really interested in becoming involved in a Jericho group or reading about production. I’m especially not interested in social media dramas.”

Even here, some read our weekly foray into the communication aspects of this case study every week (some of those have no intent of watching the show); some have become daily readers; and others are content to read someone else’s take on whatever we might happen to write about.

It all works for me. But not all of it seems to work for Myles McNutt, author of Cultural Learnings, who offered up his “No Holds Barred” post that claimed there are too many blogs about Jericho.

Close, but not close enough to hit the mark. Still, I don’t fault McNutt for his analysis; he’s pretty sharp on his television critiques, a little less so on social media.

For his evidence, he pointed to Jane Sweat’s THREE Jericho blogs (his emphasis, not mine), saying “while each has some good content, it seems as if they all serve the same basic purpose: promoting Jericho,” he wrote. On closer inspection, each blog has details make all the difference.

Without question, Jericho Monster, is about capturing new viewers while providing original content to the fans. Recently, most of the content has centered on interviews with fans, bloggers, cast members and crew. One of her other blogs, JerichoCentral, tends to lean toward educating fans with news you can use, ranging from how to Digg a Jericho story to promoting the inside scoop from the CBS Jericho site. The third, Arabelle’s Alley, includes information on Jericho, but is more free-spirited, investigative, and broad ranged in terms of what it covers.

From a social media perspective, Sweat has smartly divided her content into specialized niches to better serve unique audiences. It's true. While there is some crossover, each audience is unique. I know because analytics on our blog tell me where Jericho fans come from. Add to her blog efforts, an apparent willingness to her team-up with several other blogs like Jericho On CBS or her participation on the various fan boards like Jericho Rally Point or Radio Free Jericho, and others. All of these, by the way, are different.

That's not to say McNutt is not alone in his assessment. On several occasions, I’ve read active fans on the Jericho CBS forum discuss how centralizing efforts on the network’s site might make sense. But yet, that doesn’t make any sense at all. Why?

Because not all Jericho viewers are created equal, but they all have equal value.

The truth is that many viewers, non-viewers, and even fans will never visit the CBS Jericho site. On the contrary, if they are to be nurtured, they have to be nurtured off the network site by dedicated people who manage bulletin boards, forums, and blogs, with each location gaining 50, 500, or even 5,000 new viewers to become interested in the show. Each one of them also serves as an important promotional outlet for CBS, promoting announcements like the upcoming chat with Dan Shotz next week.

Of course, this is not to say that McNutt is wrong. He is close.

You see, as the conflict caused by the cancellation has waned, some have noted that active fan participation has fallen off. And for some, less visitors means attempting to corral those who are left rather than enticing new viewers like we did with a contest. In other words, some have taken to cannibalizing original content of other blogs and then competing with them by duplicating their ideas. It makes you wonder … what good is a duplicated fan interview on the CBS Jericho site when the only people who will read it are existing die-hard fans?

And this, it seems to me, is where McNutt comes close. If there are any failings with the fan base, it is because they still have not structured a suitable central location to tie everything together. Don’t get me wrong, it was not for lack of trying to launch a fan representative central body. It just did not work. Fortunately, however, there could exist a contingency plan if CBS thinks strategy instead of tactically.

The CBS Jericho Fan Central Blog could reset its objective to round up and promote off-site fan efforts (as opposed to on-site forum discussions) rather than competing over same content (eg. duplicating fan interviews). The CBS Jericho Fan Central Blog might also work with off-site fans to nurture better off-site content instead duplicating these fans' best efforts.

The result would provide for the one-stop shop that is needed, allow CBS site fans to see what off-site fans are doing to round up new and future viewers (with links if you want to know more), and ensure network news like the chat sessions gets out to the public rather than being tied to a site that, frankly, non-viewers are not going to visit. It is not all that far off from what I hoped a central representative fan group might do, but didn’t.

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