Archives for the month of: January, 2009

According to MinOnline, a little noticed phenomenon began to coalesce last year. While everyone was watching social networking and video sites soaring in popularity — Internet Audio was quietly taking off too.

It may be one of the Big Things of 2009 — indeed, it may already be. Says Arbitron: 33 million Americans listen to Internet radio each week. Among at-work listeners, Internet use went from 12% to 20%. And among college graduates, 30% of all radio listening is over the pipes.
It makes sense. Sites like Pandora and allow listeners to tailor their experience and — more important — share favorites and playlists with ease. As people in general demand more and more customization from their organizational and institutional relationships, it boggles my mind that anyone still puts up with broadcast at all.
From the article:

Why is the rise and success of Internet radio important to publishers? On several grounds. First, this is what your prize in-office users are doing with much of their day. Finding ways to weave into one of the things they most enjoy about broadband should be a no-brainer for any veteran Web content provider. If you think they like social networks and video, then wait until you see how much users love their Pandora. The average session time is three hours. Also, Web radio is an enormously robust channel for audio programming, including podcasts. Services like, for instance, let users find and save popular podcasts into their libraries for later playback as a channel.

More to the point, however, streaming audio represents a massively popular mode of online behavior that invites a range of publisher partnerships: branded audio channels or “editor’s choice” channels, for instance. Why shouldn’t an online site offer an audio feed of its editor’s Web radio channel or channels created by that issue’s featured celebrities? What would an Utne radio channel sound like, or a BHG or High Times channel, for that matter? Lifestyle, art, regional and certainly music publications all aggregate taste groups that likely share musical or even talk radio preferences. Web radio listeners already swap their music channels in much the same way the rest of us trade and share article links in social media. Audio is the next content type users will want to coalesce around and share. This is a Web trend in the making that Web publishers should not take lightly.

As I tweeted a few days ago, the rise of Internet radio seems to me to spell game over for satellite. SiriusXM recently got a reprieve from having their stock delisted from NASDAQ, but how do they stay afloat over the long term?

Through a circuitous route, I got to thinking about experts.

Seems a Ketchum PR man who’s billed as a social media expert was on his way to present on social media (natch) to a key client, FedEx, at their headquarters in Memphis. Upon landing, he tweeted: “True confession but I’m in one of those towns where I scratch my head and say, ‘I would die if I had to live here.'” This got FedEx folks mad, which got lots of people interested and a fracas enused.

Folks in the communications world are still talking about the boneheaded tweet, pointing out that even in the world of social media, basic rules need to be followed.

(A long time ago, I learned that when making a call on a client, you wait until you are well out of the building and on the way back, in the car, to discuss any aspect of the meeting with your colleagues. Not in the elevator, not in the hallway, not in the bathroom. This is the 21st century example of that dictum.)

Other commnications pros are jeering, pointing out that this social media gaffe was by a social media “expert.” One person pointed out that, at the time of The Bad Tweet, he had just about 1,000 followers (which is a lot but not rockstar status). How is this guy an “expert?” they are saying.

That’s a fair questions but I would flip it on its side: Are there experts in social media? 

Dave Fleet says he used to think it silly to talk about experts in social media — but now he sees the usefulness of it. The area has grown up enough for there to be experts. Another person says, however, that calling someone an expert in social media is “like saying you’re an email expert.”

But, there are experts in email, making lots of money. Some of them do good work, others are all sound and fury. It’s probably the same in social media. The fundamental question is not how big your follower litst is, or whether people see you as an “influencer” or “collaborator” (though those can be markers). The question, as one commenter at David Fleet’s article says, is: “Can you help me make some money?” 

We’re seeing “old” and “new” rub up against one another, “big” and “little”, “social” and “push.” Some rules are changing, and even older rules are becoming yet more important. But one — results matter — remains.

Andrea Jarrell pointed out to me that, according to Inside Higher Ed, Brandeis University is selling all of the art it owns

Says the article:
“These are extraordinary times,” said a statement from Jehuda Reinharz, the university’s president. “We cannot control or fix the nation’s economic problems. We can only do what we have been entrusted to do — act responsibly with the best interests of our students and their futures foremost in mind.” The university’s statement pledged continued support for teaching the arts, and for the liberal arts, and said that the decision was part of “an emerging new vision for the university aimed at streamlining it for the future while bolstering its focus on undergraduates, the liberal arts and research.”

Last week, the Brandeis faculty agreed to create a special committee to review the curriculum. Among plans being discussed are adding business or engineering programs and finding a way to simultaneously expand undergraduate enrollment while shrinking the faculty. University administrators have also floated the idea of replacing all existing majors and minors with new “meta-majors,” a term whose definition is hard to pin down even among those who have discussed it. Many faculty members have said that they will never go for the abandonment of traditional disciplines, and many have derided that idea as simply cover for eliminating positions and departments.

Two points, related.

First, it is interesting to note that no institution really is safe — even ones that exist within other institutions. In today’s climate, all organizations are subject to breakup and no organization is guaranteed permanence. Higher education is an area (like primary education) that has been stretched by the transformational forces in society but so far has sidestepped the revolution going on all around us. For the most part, colleges and universities still look like colleges and universities. But for how long? How much of that stability is just momentum? (So, for example, looking just at the art museum issue: Why should a college be home to the best art museum in New England? Why shouldn’t such a museum be standalone?)
Second, the challenge Brandeis is facing is quite literally to do more with less. That is going to take equally revolutionary thinking. You can’t just wring more out of people, you’ve got to restructure the way the  work gets done. I happen to think this “meta major” business sounds like a bunch of bogus claptrap. However, it’s worth asking: What is a “major?” Why do we have them? How are they best taught?

It’s may also be worth asking: Why is there tenure? Should there be required minimum teaching skills in order to actually get up in front of students? Why does all this have to take place in a location?

I got to thinking recently about a time I spent a half day observing a visioning exercise. I was excited, at first, to have the opportunity to learn a thing or two. The people leading the session have worked with lots of civic groups and local governments over the years.

I saw, though, that at the end of the session few participants were any closer to a real vision than when they began. Why? Because, while the facilitators did all the steps by the book, they were not attentive to what was happening in the room. People had tuned out, so everything was a”going through the motions” exercise.

The consultants had fallen into a trap I can really sympathize with (since I do presentations myself, and it’s happened to me): they’d lost the room and couldn’t quite get it back. So they fell back on their slide deck and just got through it.

This got me wondering about how often  such sessions unfold this way. How well are civic engagement consultants really doing their job? Because, while process is important — how things get executed is equally (if not more) important.

For many people in the civic sector, this is not necessarily welcome news, because execution of small group discussions can be a definite bottleneck. Some might even object that with the right process or approach, the skill of the person in the room should not matter. But, in my experience, the skills of the person in front of the room do matter.

(Just as important is a good match between the task and skills — is it a conversation, a speech, a workshop, a focus group? Not everyone has the right skills for each.)

The good news is that such skills can be taught and improved. But It can be painful. I say this from experience. It takes the oppenness to hear negative feedback without dismissing its source, the courage to fail publicly, and the perseverence to try again.

I found this to be a useful research report from the Pew Center For The People And The Press:

“As Barack Obama takes office, the public’s focus is overwhelmingly on domestic policy concerns – particularly the economy. Strengthening the nation’s economy and improving the job situation stand at the top of the public’s list of domestic priorities for 2009. Meanwhile, the priority placed on issues such as the environment, crime, illegal immigration and even reducing health care costs has fallen off from a year ago. . . .

“Of the 20 issues people were asked to rate in both January 2008 and January 2009, five have slipped significantly in importance as attention to the economy has surged. Protecting the environment fell the most precipitously – just 41% rate this as a top priority today, down from 56% a year ago. The percentage rating illegal immigration as a top priority has fallen from 51% to 41% over the past year, and reducing crime has fallen by a similar amount (from 54% to 46%). And while reducing health care costs remains a top priority to 59% of Americans, this is down 10-points from 69% one year ago.”

Also of interest: Dealing with global warming, last on the list, at just 30%. What a difference a year makes.

Through my friend Cynthia Cotte Griffiths, I discovered a great way to put together a vision to guide oneself.

Just in time, too! Most years I spend New Year’s Day writing out my goals for the coming year. This year, for some reason, I did not do that and I have been hankering to get to it. However, I have felt for some time now that my efforts in this regard have been too clever and cerebral — I would create these interlocking systems that, come April, were unworkable.

But my friend pointed me to Cindy Ronzoni’s “vision board” idea. This is really just a posterboard with a bunch of photos or drawings on it, a lot like the collages my daughter often makes. The images are meant to evoke things you want to do in the coming year.

This is obviously not rocket science, but it’s a useful way of looking at the task. Even more useful, though, is a set of questions to ask myself in order to generate the vision board.

Here they are:

  • Where would you like to vacation this year?
  • What inspires you?
  • What would you like to learn this year?
  • If you want to change jobs this year, where would you like to work?
  • What are some of your passions?
  • What have you always wanted to do?
  • Who inspires you?
  • What “words” reflect who you are?
  • Do you want to exercise more or change your diet?
  • What goals do you have for work?
  • What financial goals do you have?
  • Do you want to volunteer and if so where?
  • What colors depict you or designs?
  • What kind of relationships would you like?
  • Is there an item you’d like to buy yourself?
  • Are there any fears that you would like to overcome?
  • Any groups you want to join?
  • Any events to attend this year?

I love these, because they are so concrete and not airy-fairy.

Now I just have to answer them!

Thanks, Cindy.

Yesterday, on his first full day in office, President Obama issued a memorandum (one of just three that day) that is required reading for people in the civic participation field. Thanks to Joe Goldman and Sandy Heierbacher for pointing it out.

Notwithstanding some of my earlier concerns with government involvement having the potential to distort civic engagement, this is a very positive step in comparison to previous administrations’ understanding of the public’s role in our American experiment in self-rule.
See especially the third and fourth paragraphs.

Here it is in its entirety:


SUBJECT: Transparency and Open Government

My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.

Government should be transparent. Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their Government is doing. Information maintained by the Federal Government is a national asset. My Administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use. Executive departments and agencies should harness new technologies to put information about their operations and decisions online and readily available to the public. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public feedback to identify information of greatest use to the public.

Government should be participatory. Public engagement enhances the Government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions. Knowledge is widely dispersed in society, and public officials benefit from having access to that dispersed knowledge. Executive departments and agencies should offer Americans increased opportunities to participate in policymaking and to provide their Government with the benefits of their collective expertise and information. Executive departments and agencies should also solicit public input on how we can increase and improve opportunities for public participation in Government.

Government should be collaborative. Collaboration actively engages Americans in the work of their Government. Executive departments and agencies should use innovative tools, methods, and systems to cooperate among themselves, across all levels of Government, and with nonprofit organizations, businesses, and individuals in the private sector. Executive departments and agencies should solicit public feedback to assess and improve their level of collaboration and to identify new opportunities for cooperation.

I direct the Chief Technology Officer, in coordination with the Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Administrator of General Services, to coordinate the development by appropriate executive departments and agencies, within 120 days, of recommendations for an Open Government Directive, to be issued by the Director of OMB, that instructs executive departments and agencies to take specific actions implementing the principles set forth in this memorandum. The independent agencies should comply with the Open Government Directive.

This memorandum is not intended to, and does not, create any right or benefit, substantive or procedural, enforceable at law or in equity by a party against the United States, its departments, agencies, or entities, its officers, employees, or agents, or any other person.

This memorandum shall be published in the Federal Register.


Through one of my Twitter contacts, I ran across an interesting article by Jyri Engeström about why some social networks work and others don’t. It has to do with the presence — or lack — of an “object.” In this case, that means a reason to connect with others.

One example is Flickr, which has made photographs a reason to interact.

The fancy name for this is “object-centered sociality.” It provides a good way to think about what new social network applications might look like, and what might enable them.

For instance, Engeström says:

Take the notion of place, for example. Annotating places is a new practice for which there is clearly a need, but for which there is no successful service at the moment because the technology for capturing one’s location is not quite yet cheap enough, reliable enough, and easy enough to use. In other words, to get a ‘Flickr for maps‘ we first need a ‘digital camera for location.’ Approaching sociality as object-centered is to suggest that when it becomes easy to create digital instances of the object, the online services for networking on, through, and around that object will emerge too.

My new Blackberry Storm has GPS, and I would be very interested in a social networking service that uses location to identify nearby friends. But GPS is too much of a battery-suck and too few of my actual friends use it on a routine basis.

Notwithstanding that, I am definitely not alone in watching location as a possible Next Big Thing.

It is interesting to note that the article dates from 2005 — yet is still current.

My friend John Creighton and I have been thinking together about what it might mean for education to become far more “student centered – a trend that has already begun. Education is one of those areas that so far has been sheltered from some of the more turbulent changes taking place in society. But we think that may soon change.

It will be important, in that context, for people who care about civic life to have an understanding of what these changes will mean for public life in general. What civic norms will be created? What expectations? How might public life benefit? How might it be made more difficult? What unforeseen side effects might there be?

Here is a brief piece we wrote (John did most of the writing) recently setting up this question:

The 25-year debate about the quality of public education in the United States has brought about marginal changes in how we deliver education in this country:

  • Families have a few more choices about where to send their children to school
  • We pay more attention to education standards than we have in the past
  • Most schools and school districts are working to maximize instruction quality and time

However, the way the nation’s schools are organized has remained largely the same for the last half century. This is true both for public and private schools. American schools continue to be mostly institution-centric, place-based hierarchies. Indeed, public education has been one of the few areas that has remained immune to the new realities emerging across the globe.

The lack of change is about to change and it is important to try to understand the civic consequences of it.

There are three forces at work that make a deep change in public education a distinct possibility:

First, demographic shifts have brought new expectations for all institutions. Post-GenXer’s (incoming parents of school age children) have very different expectations for how they relate to organizations, both public and private — they expect deeply personalized products, action-oriented or participatory experiences, and an explicit role in the relationship. They expect their experiences with organizations to focus on them, not on the needs of the institution. This is most clear in the private sphere but it is driving even more powerful change in the public sphere. Personal choice is becoming non-negotiable. Research suggests that there is a growing political consensus to support personalized education, too.

Second, the physical world is enabling and driving change. The infrastructure is taking shape and increasingly in use to support these new expectations – cheap mobile communications devices, individual citizens with easy and deep access to technology (across the economic spectrum) and growing networks of people and organizations that span time and geography. It is now possible for students and educators to be connected in ways previously unimagined.

Third, educational policy is already responding to the new reality. Curricula are housed online and delivered electronically. Educators are increasingly digitally fluent and have coalesced into robust social networks. Liberalization of charter school laws makes personalized instruction and “designer” schools feasible. State laws are already facilitating online public education (in Florida, in fact, the laws require it).

It is not hard to imagine that the future of public education will be dominated by personalized learning and student-centric (rather than institution-centric) schools that are neither entirely place-based nor time-fixed.

This is not a story about “the new economy” or “advanced technology.” It is a story about an already-changed world that is dragging all institutions along with it.

Of critical importance, in this landscape, is to develop an understanding of what effects this transformation of a central civic institution will have for civic, community and democratic life. Those interested in self-rule in communities will need to try to understand the types of questions and challenges communities (and the nation) will confront as public education adapts to a new generation of Americans.

Ever since I was quoted as saying something along the lines of “there’s a lot of stuff out there” in an interview with the Toledo Blade, I have been aware of the usual policy of cleaning up quotations from interviews to best represent what the subject was saying. We all pepper our speech with ums and uhs, employ false starts at the beginnings of sentences, and speak in comma splices. (That’s a photo of me during the interview, I believe.)

Typically, journalists will clean up such things to make sentences coherent.One consequence is that you can usually tell when an editor or reporter does not like someone: their quotes are verbatim. While he does indeed use many malapropisms, I believe President Bush was on the receiving end of this. The glee with which people portrayed him as dumb seemed matched only by the enthusiasm newspapers had for printing verbatim remarks.

Another person who has recently been on the receiving end of this is Caroline Kennedy, who has unfairly been portrayed as the Queen Of You Know. While she may indeed use the phrase a bit often, her newspaper quotes are clearly unvarnished. Here is an interesting discussion of this, comparing Kennedy’s treatment with treatment of then-president-elect Obama.

Ends the piece:

Why the apparent double standard? During the interview, it seems, Kennedy annoyed the reporters by dismissing one of their questions: “Have you guys ever thought about writing for, like, a woman’s magazine or something?” Perhaps, like, the verbatim transcription was, you know, uh, payback.