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Monthly Archives: June 2008

7 new losing wars

Government’s love losing. That’s the only way to explain the constant addition of Wars on _______ they keep launching. There’s the War on Poverty, War on Drugs, War on Terrorism, and the still ramping up War on Piracy which might soon be the legal responsibility of the executive branch. Since we have so much time and money to waste, I wanted to suggest some other wars that need to be fought. I’m sure with enough resources, we can wins these in a few hundred years.

7. Software bugs

An exciting new problems arrives, you install in, and quickly boot it up only to find out you have to type upside down to make it work. Publishers race their products to market with the piece of mind they can release patches at any time to fix bugs. It’s much more profitable to let other people pay to be your quality assurance team rather than pay one yourself.

Estimated cost to fight: $5 billion/year

Length of war: 75 years when computers become smart enough to conquer the world, but crashes after an automatic Windows update

6. Bathroom graffiti

The obsolete business model for dating services needs to be replaced by superior technology. Writing girl’s phone numbers or pictures of penises should be kept in controlled, safe environments like the World Wide Web. The last thing anyone wants to think about in the bathroom is how cool Dan is.

Estimated cost to fight: $200 million/year

Length of war: 50 years when we discover a safe way to hold it in

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Geek-Out Moment: Sephiroth kills Aeris

Video games changes when Final Fantasy VII came to Playstations around the world. But Final Fantasy VII changed when Aeris died. One of the story’s main characters, you controlled Aeris for a third of the game when the villain, Sephiroth, stabbed her through the back. Aeris’ death impacted gamers so, many have theorized there was a way to bring her back, search for secrets in the game. But no, she really died. Us gamers don’t really know how to deal with grief.

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Geek-Out Moment: Sidekick fantasies

One of the most popular trends during the Golden Age of comics was giving superheroes a teenage sidekick. This appealed to the youthful readers who dreamed of being superheroes themselves. Robin, Batman’s sidekick, became the most popular and only one to last past the fifties, let alone until the present. The relationship of Batman and Robin set the cliché of superhero sidekicks that went on to be imitated and spoofed in hundreds of sources. Almost all superheroes during the 40’s and 50’s had sidekicks. Robin inspired the trend what became a staple in the medium.

Geek-Out Moment: Welcome to the World Wide Web

Most people found the internet an amazing communication tool to keep in touch with friends. But geeks saw something even better. We could share trivia and rumors about Star Wars and comic books. The technical early adopters took breaks from creating text-based DOS games to become the first mainstream groups on the internet, creating fan sites for every random alien race before Fortune 500 companies even know what the world wide web was. And to get the money churn, geeks were ready to consume all the porn their little 14k modems could handle (that was a lot back in the day). What were your first experiences on the internet like?

Geek-Out Moment: Nintendo vs. Sega

mario_sonic Nintendo rejuvenated and dominated the video game industry for years until upstart Sega joined the fray. A vicious yet entertaining console war emerged, a war of mascots, controller layout, and blood censorship. The result broke friendships and drew lines in the playground as fanboys chose one side or the other. Sega eventually dropped out of the console market (so sad) and has no become buddy buddy with Nintendo, bringing their riveting relationship to a happy place where Mario and Sonic can play together…mostly by beating each other up.

Geek-Out Moment: Harry Potter release nights

From Robert Dumas on Flickr Midnight openings were long the exclusive event for blockbuster movies and Rocky Horror reruns. But a certain boy wizard allowed children of all ages to stay up late reading. The juggernaut of the book world, Harry Potter garnered international attention on the day of each new book’s release. Book stores planned parties with costumes, decorations, reading parties, and lots of ringing registers for kids (and adults) to share in their passion. Star Wars fans and comic book geeks have made the midnight movie a staple of their summer nights, but Harry Potter introduced a new generation to the nightlife and how cool, and welcoming, it can be.

Geek-Out Moment: Bond, James Bond

bond_james_bond James Bond enjoyed a healthy career in literature, content with his cult following debonair dreaming fan base. But 1962 launched a new era of stardom when Dr. No brought 007 to the big screen. Sean Connery perfected the arrogant, womanizing secret agent with suave good looks and manly chest hair. Best of all was the accent – the perfect voice still imitated when anyone says those immortal words: “Bond, James Bond.”

Links are more valuable than publicity (Updated)

The old guard of media have years of status and experience that make them seem more important. The Associated Press’ recent hoopla over links to its articles shows a disconnect from the old guard to the web world. Start-ups dream of getting some New York Times coverage because that would just set them up for success, but they ignore an article in TechCrunch or popular story on Digg might be more valuable.

Martin Varsavsky wrote for the Huffington Post about publicity his company Fon was getting. The New York Times featured him and his company on the cover of the Sunday business section followed by an article in Forbes magazine. But his website only saw 200 new uniques. A popular post on Digg netted him 50,000 uniques.

Varsavsky recognizes the benefits of print media – more resources, physical product, and established reputation. “Paper is more credible than pixels” he says. But if its traffic you need, old media won’t help you.

The Associated Press reminded me of this issue because, even as it whined about other websites sending it free publicity, the A.P. refused to link to other websites. It had no problem quoting them and saying the name of the blog, but wouldn’t include links to the quoted blog. The New York Times has recently started adding links, mostly to their blog and not their articles. Other mainstream media sites leave you the impression there’s nothing else on the web. Even new media companies like IMDB.com won’t provide links to sources, even when quoting them directly.

The issue is these links are incredibly valuable. The major tech blogs and aggregators, TechCrunch, Gigaom, Slashdot, and Digg to name a few, can bring a website down because of all the traffic they send. And once that traffic is on your site, it’s your job to keep them there. 2.3 million people read the Sunday times, but it’s a lot harder to get them to sign online and go to a website. With a link provided, you just click. Easy, no effort, effective.

Mainstream media needs to join the link culture. Linking to other sites isn’t just polite. Many sites (like Prodigeek) show links to sites linking to them. I’ve gotten reliable traffic from several blogs and that traffic inspires me to link to them more. Moreover, I don’t like to link to websites that don’t link at all (unless they’re the original source). I’d prefer to send traffic to other blogs who share in the link culture than news sites that don’t. And companies that are hostile to the link culture get blacklisted.

For companies trying to monetize their website, whether through sales, advertising, or something else, need to put their PR where the traffic is. That means publicize on the TechCrunches and Gigaoms and taste makers of your industry. The credible that comes from a Times article sounds nice, but it isn’t helping you meet traffic goals. As companies (hopefully) recognize this, blogs and websites will gain credibility as they become the next-generation of king-makers, discovering the next Googles, Microsofts, and Facebooks while the mainstream media plays catch up. Mainstream media needs to join the link culture (which includes not suing websites) or get left out and left behind.

Updated 6/24 1:37p.m. – I just read a great post by Chris Brogan on this same subject, noting how the Boston Globe wrote out the link to his blog on their website and newspaper, but didn’t link to it.

Geek-Out Moment: The Parrot Sketch

The British fellows of Monty Python enjoyed exploring ways to annoy and irritate people. One of their best and most famous attempts was the Dead Parrot Sketch. John Cleese plays a customer who purchased a parrot from Michael Palin’s pet shop only to realize the parrot was sold to him dead. Cleese, with a rising temper and increasing shrillness, tries to get his money back as the shopkeeper denies the parrot’s mortality, preferring to think it’s “just resting.” The sketch has become a classic of Monty Python, repeated to the point where Cleese himself said: “I get fed up with it. Repetition kills everything.” Maybe it’s just resting.

Wikipedia entry scoops NBC; NBC not happy

Last week I wrote about an unknown user who first reported Tim Russert’s death on Wikipedia. That “junior-level employee” worked for the Internet Broadcasting Systems who provides web services to NBC affiliates, has been suspended (earlier reports said fired, but NBC disputes this) for updating the Wikipedia page. The employee thought the information was public record.

Henry Blodget of Silicon Alley Insider wrote:

It’s one thing for a news organization to decide to delay reporting news of a staffer’s death out of deference to his or her family (this makes sense). It’s another for the organization to expect other organizations to follow the same policy. And it is yet another thing for someone to deliberately strike accurate facts from a collective record to appease an upset client, which is what someone at IBS apparently did.

The world has changed in last 15 years, and the genie isn’t going back in the bottle. If NBC wants to maintain its tradition with respect to staffers’ deaths, that’s fine. In the meantime, it should recognize that its chances of controlling a story this big are–and should be–infinitesimal and that “citizen journalism” has long since gone mainstream. If the employee at IBS who updated the Wikipedia entry did not learn of it via a confidential NBC communication, moreover, NBC and IBS owe him or her an apology and a job.(Emphasis his)

As Mathew Ingram writes “The lesson is that as long as there is news, people will try to share it. (Note: The NYT story says that NBC tried to hold back the news).”

As I said last week, Wikipedia provided rapid information while NBC took 40 minutes after Wikipedia to report Russert’s death. Information thanks to the internet moves faster. NBC can try to keep its exclusive stories, but it can’t be surprised if some younger, sprier website scoops it.