Coffee House Poetry

June 10, 2010

Maureen Johnson’s Manifesto, “I Am Not A Brand!”

Filed under: Controversies, Featured, Reviews — Tags: , , , — JavaElemental @ 10:58 am

Go read Maureen Johnson’s Manifesto. Do it right now. It’s amazing, and brilliant. Check this quote out:

Just to be clear on this thing I am not, maybe I should define my understanding of personal branding. A personal brand is a little package you make of yourself so you can put yourself on the shelf in the marketplace and people will know what to expect or look for when they come to buy you. For example, Coke is a brand. [...]

I am not saying that it is a bad or dishonest thing to try to sell your work. It is not. What I am saying is that I am tired of the rush to commodify everything, to turn everything into products, including people. I don’t want a brand, because a brand limits me. A brand says I will churn out the same thing over and over. Which I won’t, because I am weird.

Marketers, advertisers, and public relations people have always done things a certain way. They dress their product and/or message up in a pretty package, and then they cram it in your face. They assault you with it, until you’re saturated by their message and you go buy their product or start loving their celebrity in the desperate hope of shutting them the hell up.

When the Internet went mainstream, all of these advertisers, PR folks, and marketers hit the ‘Net, and by and large, most of them went about their trade in exactly the same manner as they had out in the “real world.” They dressed their package up and shoved it down your throat, thinking that because this method had always worked on radio, on TV, in magazines and newspapers and on billboards and whatnot, that it would work on the Internet.

Ladies and gentlemen, it just doesn’t. The Internet just doesn’t work that way.

The default attitude of any savvy ‘Net surfer towards anything on the Internet is skepticism. The Internet is full of scams and scammers, trojans and malware and assholes trying to take advantage of ignorant people. Because there’s so much garbage out there, sprinkled in amongst the jewels, most of us who spend any time on the ‘Net are wary and dubious about everything we see. Hence the constant cries of “‘Shopped!” or “Fake!” in most comments sections.

Because we doubt everything we see, you can’t just make up a pretty package, unfurl a giant banner announcing “OMG WE RULE!!” on your website, and expect that to work. It’s not going to. We’re going to laugh at you. We don’t believe you. Everyone says they rule on the Internet.

If you want us to like you, first, you have to give us a reason. Believe it or not, the Internet is a meritocracy. You have to establish your credibility. You have to prove you’re funny, knowledgeable, trustworthy, whatever. You can’t just announce that you’re awesome; you have to prove that you are.

The old school methods of marketing and PR don’t work on the Internet. The Internet is about connections and conversations. It’s about relationships, friendships. As Maureen Johnson says:

The internet is made of people. People matter. This includes you. Stop trying to sell everything about yourself to everyone. Don’t just hammer away and repeat and talk at people—talk TO people. It’s organic.

People keep talking about “branding” yourself on the Internet. You have to promote your brand. You have to get your brand out there. Use the social media to push your brand. Good Christ, y’all. We aren’t brands, we’re human fucking beings. Don’t we already get treated like numbers often enough in life? Do we have to bring that attitude to the ‘Net, too? Fuck.

(Image from Maureen Johnson’s Amazon Author Page.)

May 26, 2010

Media & Society: A Review of Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do?

Filed under: Class Work, Reviews — Tags: , , — JavaElemental @ 11:33 pm

Dude, have you read this book yet? Why not? It’s awesome! No, really. Go read it. Right now. I’ll wait.

Done yet? No? Oh, sorry. Yeah, I know, I thought that bit was a little crazy, too, but keep reading. He makes a good case for it.

Done now? Brilliant. Let’s talk about it.

Three Main Points

Jeff Jarvis‘ book is jam-packed full of fantastic ideas and wild new notions about life and business in the Internet age. I considered myself reasonably Internet- and Google-savvy before reading it, and even so, my mind was blown by some of the ideas Jarvis proposes. It’s a whole new way to think about the Internet, particularly for folks in my age group. (Thirtyish, if you must know.)

There are three main points that I took away from reading this book. Okay, well, actually, there are dozens of main points I took away from this book, several of which I’ve already put into practice, but I’m doing this thing for one of my college classes, and my instructor wants three. So:

  • Free is a business model.
  • Be a platform.
  • Small is the new big.

Google has roughly a million excellent products, and by the time you finish reading this sentence, they’ll have added ten more to their beta-testing labs. And they offer all these services to you, free of charge. Despite that, Google makes mad cash every single second of the day.

Jarvis proposes that by following Google’s lead, other businesses can also make mad cash, by giving stuff away for free. Google makes money by offering awesome services for free, asking only in return that you share some information about yourself, via your Internet search habits, so they can serve you ads for things that you might be interested in.

Jarvis states, “Free is impossible to compete against. The most efficient marketplace is a free marketplace. Money gets in the way.”

Consider these examples: Spybot S&D, a free spyware remover, and one of the best in the business. It’s not only my go-to tool for spyware removal, it’s everyone’s. According to WebTrafficSpy.com, Spybot’s main website averages almost thirty thousand visits a day. The folks behind Spybot run their organization on donations and paid upgrades to the programs they offer for free.

Or how about David Wellington, who started by posting his novel in serial format on his website, completely free, and leveraged his popularity into several book deals, and just branched out into comic books.

Or there’s the fascinating movie, The Man From Earth. When the film debuted, it flopped. Then, pirates got a hold of it and uploaded it to different file sharing sites. People watched it for free, loved it, and gave it glowing reviews on sites like Amazon.com, and sales of the movie soared. The producers even thanked pirates for torrenting their film!

The days when businesses could hoard their products and force people to cough up wads of cash for those products are coming to an end. Everything is free somewhere on the Internet. Jarvis’ advice is to embrace this change and leverage it to your advantage, like Google has.

The way Google accomplished this was by being a platform for their users. Jarvis exhorts other businesses to do the same:

A platform enables. It helps others build value. Any company can be a platform. (…) Platforms help users create products, businesses, communities, and networks of their own. If it is open and collaborative, those users may in turn add value to the platforms …

Google has dozens of platforms, for all of its enterprises. In everything Google does, it encourages its users to collaborate, communicate, leave feedback, get involved. When a user becomes involved in a product, they invest emotionally in that product. Once they’re invested, and as long as you continue to treat them well, they become advocates for your platform.

Facebook and Twitter are two examples of platforms, but so are Amazon, a platform for selling goods, iUniverse, a platform for publishing books, and CafePress, a platform for making and selling personalized merchandise. Jarvis suggests that you don’t necessarily need to be an online business to be a platform, either. He points out Home Depot as an example of a real world platform. They help their customers find the right products to build, renovate, and decorate their homes, do carpentry, and lots more, and they even offer free (or very cheap) regular classes and seminars on site to teach their customers how to do various things.

One of the ways you make your platform useful and viable, and attract interest in it, is by catering to the niche market. Jarvis argues that “small is the new big.” He says that, while “big” isn’t going away anytime soon (judging by giant superstores like Walmart, or Google itself), thanks to the Internet, it’s now possible for just about anyone to cheaply start a business catering to a niche market, and succeed.

Consider success stories like Etsy.com, which offers crafters a specialized marketplace from which to sell their goods, or BookMooch, an incredibly popular little website that caters to people who like to read. It’s a free service that acts as a platform for readers to meet each other and trade books they’re done reading. It’s now possible to turn any specialized hobby into an enterprise, and because of the way Google works, the more specific your niche, the better you’ll do.

This is just a sample of some of the theories and ideas Jarvis put into his book. He has a real talent for not only spotting a burgeoning trend, but explaining it easily and in an interesting and entertaining way.

Two Impacts Google Has Had On My Life

I have no graceful segue for this. Moving right along …

My Jim told me once about his idea of “heaven.” He said, back when he was just a kid, he thought Heaven would be a place where all the information and knowledge he could possibly ever want would be instantly available to him. And then he grew up, and there was Google.

I literally do not know what I would do if I didn’t have the Internet. I have, at my fingertips, the sum knowledge of the human race, all thanks to Google. If I want to know something, I only have to ask, and Google will tell me. If I want to know anything, Google can tell me.

For example, awhile back, I needed to do some research on firearms and ammunition, for our book. I went straight to Google, and in mere moments, had everything I needed to know right at my fingertips. Whenever I’m making a post at my website about a controversy or current event, I like to use as many reputable sources as possible, and Google provides them. When I needed to do some product research about what kind of car I wanted to buy, Google helped me out. When it comes to information, Google has my back.

And, as a result, I barely know how a library or encyclopedia works anymore. On the rare occasions I have to look something up in a book, it’s an immensely frustrating process, particularly if the book doesn’t have a decent index. It can take whole minutes to find the page I’m looking for! Migawd, how did we ever manage to cope without Google to tell us everything instantly? Seriously, I can’t even remember the last time I went to a library to look something up. I’m not entirely sure I’d know how.

Do I Agree With Jarvis & WWGD?

Definitely. The world is absolutely, utterly different than it was even five years ago, let alone when I was a kid. Google’s impact has been profound.

If you want to start a free, easy blog, you go to Blogger. If you want to watch some videos, you head to Youtube. Need an RSS aggregater? Google Reader. Need to put a document up for other people to see and use? Google Docs. Want to chat, voice chat, or video chat? Google does all three, right from your gmail account. And speaking of which, hands down, best email account I’ve ever had? Gmail. I never get spam. Need to get somewhere? Google maps.

Is there a single pie in the world Google doesn’t have a finger into?

Google has taken over the advertising world. Google is the best and most popular search engine. Google does everything. With Google, you can do just about anything, for free, and well. Their business transparency and code of ethics has fundamentally changed what we expect to see out of a large business.

By way of comparison, look at Walmart, and everything they do that draws the ire of the public. They’re secretive. They’re unfair to their employees, particularly their female employees. They run small, locally-owned stores out of business. They sell products made with child/slave labor, unrepentantly. They sell a lot of poor quality products.

This is the exact opposite of everything Google does. Google is transparent and open about the vast majority of their business. They follow a largely admirable code of ethics. They spoil their employees rotten. They facilitate the success of small businesses. We love Google. And because we love Google, and the way Google does business, we expect the same behavior out of all the other businesses. When those other big businesses fail to measure up, we make them suffer.

Online.

Using Google’s platforms.

Man, we better hope Google sticks with that “Don’t be evil” thing of theirs.

Google’s Effect on Media

Two words for you: advertising and journalism. And the two are even correlated. Because Google has taken over the advertising world, advertising sales for newspapers have dropped. Because newspapers have fewer advertisers, their profits have fallen drastically. (Well, Google had a little help from Craigslist, but still …) Because their profits have fallen, newspapers around the country are downsizing or shutting down completely. And since 94% percent of original reporting comes from newspapers, journalism in general is suffering.

And that’s not to mention all the ad agencies who are suffering, because they can’t keep up with Google’s simple, non-intrusive, permission-based advertising.

Thanks, Google.

But maybe we shouldn’t be quite so hasty in condemning Google for its successes.

Thanks to Google’s free service platforms, anyone can start a newspaper, now. Take Talking Points Memo for an example. TPM started as a blog run by Josh Marshall, and expanded into a great newspaper that operates entirely online. Granted, Marshall didn’t do it with Google, but he could have. And for free.

Newspapers originated as little partisan papers run by guys with an agenda and access to a printing press. The only difference between those original papers and us bloggers is that we don’t need the printing press.

Journalism won’t collapse, but it is going to change, and I think bloggers are going to lead the way. It’ll be completely different, and probably based more in opinion, with obvious agendas and axes to grind, but it’ll be journalism, and it’ll be all over the place. And furthermore, it’ll be interactive, involving video, polls, thriving communities of commenters, collaborators, live chats, live-blogging and tweeting of events, and things we can’t even imagine yet. And since the Internet is everywhere these days, public personalities like politicians, celebrities, corporations, events, and so on, won’t be able to escape the literal legions of “citizen journalists.” Sneer at the term all you want, but it’s the wave of the future.

Surprises in WWGD?

It was less the raw information in What Would Google Do? that surprised me, and more the way Jeff Jarvis knitted it all together and showed me the bigger picture. There wasn’t much in the book I hadn’t at least heard of, but this was the first time I’d encountered all that information stitched together, and considered the implications.

And the implications are profound. We are in the midst of a sea change in our culture, thanks to the Internet, and the way Google does business. Our paradigm is shifting without a clutch (to borrow from Dilbert), and it’s going to strip the gears of our society. Some of the great edifices of the pre-Internet days are going to fail, and spectacularly, and a lot of people will panic as they see that happening. We’re going to hear a whole lot of “The sky is falling! The sky is falling!” from every quarter, but the people screaming it will be the people who couldn’t adapt with the times.

I think the future is going to be absolutely amazing. We won’t even recognize ourselves in ten years.

Final Verdict

Jeff Jarvis’ What Would Google Do? is an excellent, entertaining, informative, and eye-opening read. I’ve already been recommending the book to several people. Jarvis puts forth some really fascinating ideas, and offers a lot of suggestions for ways businesses might adapt to this new paradigm. Some of these ideas sound hare-brained at first, but I think Jarvis is on to something. Something big.

Listen, just go get the book and read it. You’ll thank me for it.

May 24, 2010

Lost, The End: Series Finale (Spoilerrific!)

Filed under: Featured, Reviews — Tags: , , , — JavaElemental @ 2:19 pm

I’m happy with it. Why? I said I wanted only one thing out of this show: “Kate. Dead. Deliver me that, and I won’t have a bad thing to say about this series.”

Although … I kind of lied about that “won’t have a bad thing to say” bit. Yeah, sorry.

My biggest gripe with this show is sloppy writing. You can’t spend six years introducing major mysteries and enigmas, and then get lazy at the end of the run and say, “Eh, screw it. We’re not dealing with it.” Nor can you turn around and start introducing MacGuffins and deus ex machinas in the last four episodes to answer the spare handful of loose ends you felt like tying up. That’s sloppy, and lazy.

I’d like to say that some of this isn’t the writers’ faults. For example, there’s Walt. The writers went ahead and built a major plot around this kid and his “special powers” or whatever it was supposed to be, and then Malcom David Kelley had the audacity to go and get his puberty on between seasons. So, while in Lost time it had only been, like, a second between the end of one season and the beginning of the next, in real time it had been long enough that the kid sprouted several inches and looked totally different. So, the writers had to cut him and his plotline loose. That happens, and I understand that. But

Why then bring “older Walt” back for a cameo in, what, season three? John Locke sees him while he’s lying in the mass Dharma grave. What on Earth was the point of doing that? It accomplished nothing, went nowhere. For that matter, did the writers not realize that kids Malcom’s age do the whole “puberty” thing on a fairly predictable basis? Shouldn’t that have been accounted for while dreaming up plots for the series? Failing that, could they not have come up with some sort of decent ending for the Walt plot besides tiptoeing quietly away from it and hoping their viewers wouldn’t notice?

Or how about the Island’s fertility issues? I know I’m not the only one harping about that, but that was a really big part of the first three seasons. That was the reason, apparently, why the Others commenced to screwing with the Survivors in the first place. Or at least, that’s the way it looked to me. That’s why they stole Claire, and sent Juliet to the survivor camp, so she could keep an eye on Sun, and so on, and so forth. Hell, that’s why they went and got Juliet in the first place. Those fertility issues were built up to be a big damn deal. And then, apparently, the writers had a fit of the ADD and said “Hell with it, we’re bored, let’s do something else.”

Along with the fertility issues, what about that vaccine the Others had Claire and Desmond taking? What was all that about? And what the hell was up with the “Sickness?” They never did explain what was going on there. They were just all like, “Yeah, so Claire and Sayid are crazy now. Why? Um … look! Polar bears!” And the writers sprint off while we’re not looking.

Meanwhile, what was the point of the whole time travel plotline, again? We were led to believe that the point of that was to drop that bomb, which then created the so-called “flash-sideways” alternate reality. Juliet died to help create that “alternate reality.” Then, at the end of the show, we discover that our happy-ending alternate reality turned out to be the afterlife’s waiting room. Which made Juliet’s death utterly meaningless, and the entirety of the time traveling plot totally fucking pointless. Did the writers actually go to all that narrative effort, and waste a whole season, just to set up a pathetic “gotcha”-style ending? “Bet ya didn’t see that coming!”

You’re right, I didn’t. I was totally expecting an ending that made some goddamn sense.

And speaking of the ending … so, was Jacob lying about that whole “trying to redeem the Man in Black” speech he gave Richard in “Ab Aeterno?” Because nothing we saw Jacob do, or encourage anyone else to do, seemed to have anything to do with any sort of redemption, or changing of his brother’s mind, opinions, ways, etc.

On the topic of Jacob and his nameless brother, there, what was up with booting the brother into the glowing Tunnel O’ Love and turning him into the smoke monster, anyway? If that’s what happened, and, according to the show, it is, then how did that action result in the Man in Black managing to leave a corpse behind for Jacob to set up with their “mother” in that cave? If Jacob’s brother actually was Smoky the Monster, then Jacob shouldn’t have been able to kill him.

(The Internet theory of the moment, by the way, is that Jacob’s brother never was Smoky. Smoky was trapped in the glowy tunnel, and released when Jacob pitched his brother down there. The nameless brother came out of the tunnel in the same spot Jack later did, and then wandered off, killed “mother,” and got killed himself, leaving the smoke monster to roam free. That seems a hell of a lot more likely than Jacob’s brother and Smoky being one and the same, to me. Another good Internet theory is that Jacob and the Man in Black’s adoptive mother was a smoke monster, as well. That’s how she killed that village, and filled in the donkey wheel pit all by herself. Maybe she wasn’t actually the prior protector. Maybe the prior protector of the Island went down that tunnel, thus freeing the smoke monster, while dying down there herself. That explains the mystery skeleton we saw in the tunnel. Smoky comes out, takes on Mother’s shape and memories, and gets on with the kid raising. later on, when Jacob pitches his brother down there, Mother becomes mortal again, like Flocke did after Desmond went down, and so on, and so forth. I think this idea has some merit. Anyway …)

And about that tunnel … was that supposed to be the “magic box” Ben Linus was known to prattle on about occasionally? And if so, how did he know to go prattling on about it? Did Smoky spill the beans about it? Oh, and by the way — how in the hell did Locke’s dad ever get on the island? Did the Tunnel O’ Love cough him up? Did the Others go get him? What?

None of this damn show made any damn sense at all. It was sloppy writing, lazy writing. There were plot holes the size of Mac trucks. I kind of think the writers have just been fucking with us for the last six years. But seriously, I do kind of think that the writers couldn’t decide if they were telling us a sci-fi story or a supernatural story for those first few seasons.

All that having been said, I enjoyed the two-and-a-half hour grand finale well enough, for what it was. The acting was good, the dialogue was good, there was action, and adventure, and the reunions in the “flash-sideways” reality were quite satisfying, particularly Sawyer and Juliet’s. That ham-handed ending with Christian Shepard was pretty sucktacular, but all told, I wasn’t expecting much better than that. Over all, Lost was a tolerable show with occasionally entertaining and interesting moments, more notable for the community it helped build and inspire than for the show itself.

(Image from here.)

May 19, 2010

Lost

Filed under: Controversies, Reviews — Tags: , , , , , — JavaElemental @ 9:42 pm

Migawd, people, we’re nearly to the end of this miserable mess of a show, and after six long, confusing, nonsensical seasons, I want only one thing out of this show: Kate. Dead. Deliver me that, and I won’t have a bad thing to say about this series.

I’m sorry. I hate that woman more every time I see her. I hate her with the fire of a thousand suns. I’ve hated her from the split second she started pulling that two-timing couldn’t-pick-a-man BS back in, like, season one, with Sawyer and Jack.

So, spoilers. Of course, I was two episodes back due to Mike being here on vacation, so this probably isn’t all that spoilery.

Part one, “Across the Sea,” the episode with Baby Man in Black and Baby Jacob, and the glowing yellow tunnel of mystical bullshit. No, really. Glowing yellow tunnel. Heart of the island. Needs protecting. Gawd, that’s lame. I can’t believe I sat through six seasons to get all this metaphysical crap. Do you have any idea how happy I would have been to get a sci-fi ending to this story? Man, I was so rooting for nanobots. But no, happy shiny Tunnel O’ Love, instead.

Vozzek69 of DarkUFO has a kick-ass recap of this episode. He also has some really interesting theories about the Smoke Monster based on this episode. Vozzek60 has been doing killer recaps for quite awhile. I really enjoy his insights.

Part two, “What They Died For,” was quite a bit better, by comparison, because we got to see Ben Linus getting up to his old conniving self. And if you think Linus isn’t gaming Smokie six ways to Sunday, you haven’t been paying attention the last few seasons. That man is never without a plan. Actually, I’m reasonably sure Linus is the kind of guy who actually has about fifteen plans, covering any eventuality, and he just sits back around step three of each plan and waits to see which way the situation breaks.

If I were on the island, I would so be on Ben’s side.

This episode was also fantastic for Jacob’s line to Kate, “It’s just a chalk line on a cave wall. The job’s yours if you want it, Kate.”

Thank-you. I was reasonably sure those cross-outs were a red herring.

And, finally, about Smokie … so … the MiB got shoved into the Tunnel O’ Love. And turned into the Smoke Monster? But still left behind a corpse? But … what about all the other dead folks on the island? Christian Shepard? Alex? Claudia? Isabella? WTF, mate. If Vozzek’s right (and I’m going to assume you read his recap, by the way), and the Smoke Monster was Jacob and MiB’s mother, then was Claudia actually Mom/Smokie as another dead person? You know, when Claudia appeared to Baby MiB and led him off and so forth. Or was Claudia just a ghost? Or, wait … maybe it was …

Oh, for fucksake. Seriously, Lost, you better get us an answer as to what’s up with all the dead folks and visions, or I’m going to be really irate.

And what’s with young Jacob still running around while dead Jacob’s ghost is out and about? I mean, for real, W. T. F.

This show makes no damn sense whatsoever. The series finale on Sunday had better be pure refined brilliant, is all I’m saying.

PS: I also want to know what in the hell ever happened to Vincent.

(Image from here.)

April 6, 2010

Random Notes

Filed under: Politics, Real Life, Reviews — Tags: , , , — JavaElemental @ 12:05 am

Migawd, no one told me school was going to be all this work. Now I’m glad I don’t have a “real” job at the moment. I’d never be able to keep up. Hell, I’m having a tough time keeping up with just the writing jobs! Of course, it doesn’t help that the fellow is bombarding me with more work than I actually signed up to do. I mean, I’m getting paid for it and all, it’s just he only advertised for, like, three to five assignments a day, and I’ve been getting 12 to 14 a day. Ack.

Wait. I just mathed. That pays bills. No shit, y’all. Okay, I’ll stop bitching, now.

Anyways, moving right along:

  • Jennifer’s Body: Surprisingly good. I didn’t think it would be, but it was actually a pretty decent movie. Megan Fox is Megan Fox, but she plays a good high school snot of a demon possessed cheerleader. Amanda Seyfried did a great job, as did Johnny Simmons as Chip, Needy’s boyfriend, and Kyle Gallner as Colin the gothbear. It was funny and scary and a bit gory — definitely worth watching!
  • I’m reading What Would Google Do?, by Jeff Jarvis, for my Media and Society class, and it’s really good. The guy is spot on in his analysis of Google, both in their business strategies and their impact on the Internet and society. It’s well written and entertaining to read, as well. Worth picking up.
  • I went to an all-day workshop at the Benton Center, called “Fooling Around With Words” on Saturday, and it was pretty much a waste of time. I was disappointed. The way the description for the event was written, I’d thought it was a writing workshop for, you know, writers. Turned out that most of the workshop attendees were twenty years older than me, and hobbyists. I took a dialogue class in the morning that was just sad. Sad as in, the teacher didn’t know what the hell she was doing, and the books she presented as her published works were actually self-published, and first draft quality at best. I’m not going to knock self-publishing, since that’s probably the route we’ll end up taking, but damn, these books were bad. And the dialogue was awful. The second class was better, all about organizing your novel, but it wasn’t anything particularly useful to me. Also, I think me and my horror/urban fantasy type novel scared everyone. Everyone else was doing high fantasy, chick lit, and historical biographies. I’m writing bullet-ridden, gore-soaked urban fantasy and my protagonist is a murderous, soul-sucking sociopath. I didn’t really fit in with the crowd, y’know?
  • Is anyone else sick of hearing this Republican “I don’t like the health care bill because I don’t want my money going to help lazy welfare queens squirt out more babies for free” argument? It’s insulting. I’ve worked hard my whole life, dammit, and I’ve never had a job that gave me health insurance. At least, not health insurance that was worth spending money on. To the people making that argument, from the bottom of my heart, fuck you. Fuck you lots.

And on that note, it’s time for bed.

(Image from here.)

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