Curation: Necessary Yet Broken

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Curation is necessary. But it’s also broken, very broken.

Please let me know if you don’t see this post on Facebook -oh wait – you couldn’t possibly tell me if you saw this because you didn’t see it. Facebook does its own curating of content from your friends and family – I could tell that this was going on over the course of time but now its gotten ridiculous – I now ordinarily miss things people who are important to me send, and my stream is full of junk – mostly ads. It takes time to scroll through the crap to get to the good stuff – and even when I see the good stuff I only seems to get a small taste of it. Makes me think of World Of Warcraft in some sense – the gamemakers purposely force you to wait periods of time before things happen in order to force you to use the product longer – I’d be very surprised if the same isn’t going on with Facebook, Twitter and most other firehoses of data.

I understand – curation is a necessary process in order to surface the most relevant information – there is no way people have the time to sift through everything coming at them in order to get at what they want. But like what’s happened with Google’s dominance and the loss of  the long tail, the same thing is happening with our social feeds.

While curation can be algorithm based, people based or a combination of both, what is happening to our social feeds is the same thing that happened to the long tail – since most people interface to the world via a small cluster of sites – and all of those sites use these algorithms – most of what we see is algorithm based. And its my supposition that these algorithms have been tweaked in order to produce the most revenue, as opposed to provide the most relevant results. In this way – curation is broken. We aren’t getting what’s relevant to us – we have to search and search to find the relevant stuff – and if this keeps going, eventually we will be back to the same hierarchical model, even for social feeds. The internet is in grave danger of shutting off all access to all of the creativity which made it an awesome place in the first place.

The other day, I was looking at a post I had made about my latest fiction novel. Beside the like button was a button I’d never seen before – “Promote” – I’d seen this for other things, but not near a post before. I clicked on it and a modal window came up. The wording was very interesting:

Promote an Important Post

Now you can promote this post to move it higher in friends’ news feeds and help them notice it. Any post that you pay to promote will be marked as Sponsored

Total: $6.99 USD

Yep – Facebook is extorting cash from me in order to post a post of mine on my friends timelines. I guess that unless I spend $7, my post will be relegated to the backwaters of Facebook, never to be seen by anyone. Is there an “Invite To Like” feature…?

Remember all of those people who exhort that you should be active on social media in order to build customers for your business? That social media is a free way to build and advertise your business? Forget it. Fairly soon, if not already, you’ll need to pay the cabal of internet fronting sites a fee just to allow people to see your personal message – not just marketing your site.

This is, of course, a nightmare to startups and other firms attempting to gain some kind of traction. The chances that someone will see your message are diminishing rapidly. There was a day, once, when you could set up a blog or a website, be reached via a search engine, and could build your audience. Nowadays, both algo based and human curation conspires to keep those companies out of the public eye.

And human curation, in some cases, is no better. There are plenty of places where startups and new businesses are featured, and in some cases, being listed on those sites is a make or break for those businesses. Alas, you can’t just apply for your startup to be listed on some of these sites – the curators of the sites sometimes don’t even accept submissions for possible inclusion – in their judgement, unless they personally stumble across a site, or a friend suggests it – it can never get into the inner circle for consideration. Your typical startup needs all of the promotion it can get in order to help gain users and traction – and once again these gatekeepers feel that their judgement is superior to others.

Being exclusive is great, unless you are the excluded. There is nothing more disheartening to a startup than being told that “due to the curators wanting to maintain the quality of the site, we’ll let you know if we let you in” – and then never hearing from them again. It’s like the internet has become high school again, with certain cliques letting only the cool kids in. Everyone else is left out in the cold.  Even if you have an awesome idea – if they decide that you don’t rate – you don’t rate.

So what is the answer? Well, I see a few things happening:

  1. People are going to start to get fed up with the results that they are getting – possibly enough to leave Facebook for something else – but what. Teens are already bailing in a big way – I’ll bet that relevance ending up in the reason list along with not wanting to hang with the parents.
  2. Facebook will need to improve relevance in order to keep people
  3. Third party interfaces to social platforms will gain more prominence as they pull together more relevant social feeds than the sites themselves
  4. New curation methodologies will start to show up – we can’t just go on the way we are now.

The important and interesting stuff used to be hard to find. For a while there, it was a lot easier to find. And now, its getting hard to find again – but this time – its our choice to do something about it – we have the people and the tech and the communications networks to properly surface the most relevant stuff – we just aren’t doing it yet.

Talk about another “next hot space”…

 

How to Create A New Logo For Your Company In 10 Minutes For $0

Just like to reveal our new corporate logo:

hflogo200x200

 

Yep – that’s right – our new corporate logo for our firm hellofuture. Pretty cool, eh?

So you wonder – how can I get as cool a logo as that? Well its very simple. It literally took me about 5 minutes to think it through and maybe another 5 minutes to develop. Here’s how I did it.

  1. Think about your company and what it does. hellofuture welcomes the future in a happy, positive way, with a hearty hello! – note the exclamation point.
  2. What do we welcome? Well, the future of course. We don’t shy away from change. In face, we EMBRACE change! – And where is this future? Well, its in front of us, or that > way…
  3. So, if you take the end of the “hello!” which is the exclamation mark and the > representing the future, you get !>
  4. Which looks OK, but not amazing. So I loaded up my trusty old standby graphics app, Paint Shop Pro 8, which I’ve used since, like forever. I also downloaded a snappy font from dafont.
  5. Also, I selected two colors (#C63E40  and #4863A0) which recur in most of my work, in order to tie it all together.
  6. Finally, in order to point the arrow up – I mean who wants an arrow to be pointed straight or down? – I turned the whole shebang counterclockwise 30 degrees.
  7. I stepped back and looked at my handiwork. Not bad at all

Of course the first thing my partner said was “well, now you will have to reprint all of your business cards” To which I said, “ah no, that’s ok” I like my business cards exactly the way they are. And if you’ve seen them you know they are pretty memorable…

card

Course, if you don’t think you can do it on your own, I highly recommend fiverr for work like this. You can get some pretty decent stuff for $5.

A Week Of Ultra Productivity

Infinity-Time1

Time Keeps On Slipping, Slipping, Slipping Into The Future

Recently I’ve read a number of articles on productivity, success and tracking – probably triggered by my new years resolution to pack more into each day. To that end – I’m going to attempt an “experiment in ultraproductivity” – over the next week – starting now I will:

  1. track every waking moment – using Timesheet, a time tracking app on my Galaxy S4
  2. spend time at the end of each day assessing the day and tracking wasted time
  3. develop a plan to refine the next day’s activities
  4. continue to refine the process over the week

Kind of like applying an Agile process to my life. Instead of a daily standup at the start of the day, its more of a daily lie down at the end of the day…

Some of the things I’m going to try:

  1. Getting up early – I’m going to shoot for 5am, which is tough for me as I’m a real night owl
  2. Exercise first thing – I have a FitBit on the Ultivator, so I need to hit my step goals otherwise I’m going to get penalized, so I need to hit that
  3. Write some fiction for at least one hour – I’ve got Precog in the Kindle store and on its way in paperback, so I need to start on the 2nd book in the series, Telekin.
  4. Write a blog post – like this one
  5. Fill up my Buffer every day with new stuff
  6. Spend time connecting with people via social networks – Facebook, LinkedIn etc…

All before breakfast.

Part of this was inspired by Ramit Sethi, a guy who alternatively annoys me and gets me motivated. He is currently selling a package of “productivity hacks” for some dumb amount of money, supposedly collecting a number of these productivity tips into one package. More power to him, but I’m cheap and I figure I’ve got enough experience to come up with my own set of hacks. I’ve applied all of this in varying ways over time – but this time I’m going to apply them all at once – and with any luck, by the end of the week, have a finely honed and ultraproductive process in place. Then maybe I’ll sell it for big bucks too.

Oh, BTW, I noticed that all of those folks who get up early never tell you when they go to bed. Do you imagine that High Powered Executive Who Gets Up At 4am To Conquer The World is in his jammies and under the covers by 9pm in order to get a good nights sleep? What is he, a kid?

Let me know if you have any “productivity hacks” that you personally use to pack more into each day below – would love to hear from you…

Work. Repeat. Win.

Repeat After Me

Repeat After Me

I’ve been reading a lot lately about how some startups get started and find traction I’ve been seeing some interesting patterns – namely one which seems to work in almost all cases, and that is simply repeating your message over and over and over until you get noticed.

Works for almost anything. If you blog, just blog like crazy and you will eventually get noticed. If you are an author, write and publish like crazy and eventually you will get noticed. If you are a musician, write, record and publish songs like crazy and you will get noticed. Just produce like crazy, and you will get noticed.

Famous blogger I know actually teaches a class where he says “just keep on blogging and eventually you’ll get noticed”.

The writers at a independent publishing house called Realm & Sands have put out a book called Write. Publish. Repeat. , where one of the key lessons they teach is: just keep writing. Produce like stink, get a ton of books out there, and eventually you will get noticed.

There is a little computer repair business near here called Cheap Squad who got customers by one of their founders posting their service on Craigslist 30 times a day! – after a while they got noticed.

I read in The Science of Marketing that there is really no such thing as over-tweeting. People who tweet more get seen more. And repeating the same or a similar tweet is actually a good idea, since some of your followers may have missed it at some point.

Of course, you old-line marketers out there will just say “but Chris, this is nothing new. Is what advertising is all about. If people see your message often enough and long enough, you will get customers” this is true. However, it used to be $$$ in order to get your message out. Now its free or cheap. Just requires labor. And if you produce content, no matter what kind of content it is, all you have to do is keep on producing it.

Moral: Work. Repeat. Win.

Not Everyone Is On The Net…

Oh Noes - How Can We Survive?

Oh Noes – How Can We Survive?

Back during the 2008 presidential campaign, I did a very short stint going door-to-door for Ron Paul (almost every house we hit they said “great ideas, but he will never win” – I always thought it was strange that that statement implies that people should vote for whoever they think will win instead of who they really feel is the right person) and I found out a very interesting fact, yes, even is what you’d think is super high tech Silicon Valley, a lot of people didn’t have internet, or they didn’t use internet for their news and entertainment. My compatriots knew this and had a DVD of Ron Paul’s speeches made up as a leave behind for those people.

Fast forward to today and you’re an independent media entrepreneur who’s got a Kickstarter campaign for a movie. The whole thing went really well, you’ve shot and edited and put the thing together and now you have to deliver a ton load of movies to your supporters. How do you do it? Well, its doubtful that they’d appreciate having to download it and get it somehow onto their TVs distributing over the internet – its not so easy and limiting your audience if you distribute via iTunes or Netflix. So what do you do?

You use something like DVD Replication by Idea Replication to press a create a pile of DVD’s, which you then mail to your supporters. Even with the tech we all have today – the best way to get big media to anyone is on DVD – this is until we finally have fiber and a billion gigabits every day to every home. Which will happen, but is still a few years away. Can’t wait, if you ask me.

For Those Who Bail From The Valley…

Home Page On the Range

Home Page On the Range

There’s plenty of people I know – usually some of my more radical libertarian and pacifist friends – who want to just get away from it all and live a much simpler existence, away from the craziness which is Silicon Valley. After all, even tiny houses are over half a million bucks here, and apartment rent is crazy expensive. You first notice that when most people drive around in nice cars, but live in tiny little shacks.

Plus, a lot of them have fairly secure jobs and/or are independent consultants who can telecommute. A few of them have even decided to move out of the country to Barcelona, or even Thailand, since they really can work from anywhere.

Some of the others I know sold their homes here and decided to move into the middle of the country, specifically remote locations where they can still get a big house and/or a lot of land – which they feel is great for their quality of life. However, they still need to be connected to the world – and in a lot of these more rural places, its difficult to get decent high speed internet – which of course is essential for these remote teleworkers – no internet connection – no work.

There is an option – a high speed satellite internet service through something like http://calera.biz, something even I pondered living here once when I realized that when my AT&T service went down for a few days my only options were that or Xfinity, neither of which I’m really happy with. I remember when these services used to be a lot slower than wired internet, but it looks like they’ve really kicked up the speed. In fact, next time I’m looking at switching I might give these guys a try, after all being a satellite service, they pretty much work anywhere. 

Yep, even surrounded by cows.

This has been a sponsored post for Calera.

3 Ways To Screw Up A Startup

We're Going To Need A Bigger Screwdriver

We’re Going To Need A Bigger Screwdriver

Now, be honest, how many of you have done one (or all) of these?

  1. Just come up with an awesome new idea in the shower, code it and launch it. You have no idea if anyone is interested in your idea – you have no idea if the idea is any good – but since you’re a kick ass coder and you have some spare time between gigs – you just code it and get it out there…
  2. You launch your idea and then sit back and wait for immediate, intense success. You have delusions that you’ll be as successful as Instagram, day one. On day two you start ceaselessly tweeting and facebooking all of your friends trying to get them to use your product. No one visits your website or even responds to your posts. Some of your friends even defriend you – wondering why they friended you in the first place.
  3. After having your site up for a week – you shut the site down – calling it a massive failure and tell yourself that you are never going to put yourself through that torture again.

There are plenty of really, really great ideas. Of course, there are only so many ideas which people are really interested in. I think some famous talking head on Fox News once said that people aren’t really all that interested in politics – sex, love, money, food are all way more important – so if your shower idea doesn’t address one of those up front – are you really sure that its got legs? Maybe no one but you cares about solving this problem. Not a basis for a breakout business.

If you build it – they won’t come. As someone I respect once said – The Universe Doesn’t Give A Flying F**k About You – even though coming up with the idea and coding the idea SEEM like 99% of the battle – its really only 1% – getting the word out about your product is really 99% of the battle. And just bugging your Twitter followers and Facebook friends won’t usually cut it – unless your friends list includes some top tech bloggers – even then they’ve been inundated with stuff. Think actors and producers in Hollywood having scripts thrown at them. These guys get it all the time.

And finally – it always takes longer than you think. Instant, overnight success is very rare – despite the hype you hear. The above actually happened to me. My partner at the time told me to take the site down a week – yup a week – after launch – because it wasn’t getting any traction. Of course, we hadn’t done anything to help bring the site traction during that period either – except for maybe a tweet and a Facebook post or two.

To CES, Or Not To CES…

Soon To Be Common Practice, Meeting Yourself At A Trade Show

Coming Soon: Meeting Yourself At A Trade Show

That is the question – to suffer the slings and arrows of being involved in a overwhelming sea of new products with a zillion others, or to just say no and attempt to build your audience in other ways.

If you ask me – CES has really morphed into the “one tech show to rule them all” – in the absence of Comdex (which if you ask me, used to be the one show when it came to products like this) – if you can classify an “app” as “electronics”. Which apparently, you can.

Its funny – I was always under the impression that with things moving the way they are on the internet, that trade shows would just be a thing of the past. With the vast array of communications technologies that we have, do we really need to ever meet face to face? Ah, but there is nothing like real face to face contact – we have yet to figure that out – until of course we have life size android versions of ourselves which can mimic every aspect and nuance of our body language and are mostly pre-programmed to act like us and shun other androids of people we don’t like. But until then, there is nothing like the face to face contact.

I use business cards from moo.com, you know those little thin cards? I have a pic of my eyes on one side and on the other side my contact information. Every time I give out one of those cards I get a great reaction – like “Cool card!” and “I have to get me one of those too!”. The other day I was at a networking event and I gave out the cards and got the same reaction. but I also got one more. He said: “How are those working for you? Are they getting you any more business?”

Of course I’d never thought of that. Outside the “cool” factor – I’m guessing that they were memorable – I’m not sure they actually translate to more business in and of themselves. The more business just comes out of following up. You can make that initial contact with a plain old card – that’s not what brings you more business. The business comes out of that continuing contact. But if you make that contact in the first place, whether with a cool card or not, then it wont matter at all. So yes, CES if you can.

Mark it down for next year if you didn’t go this year. But, Chris, you say, what if I don’t have anything I can talk about there then? A year could be 3-4 startups from now! Trust me, you will.

As I said before, the road to success requires luck, the only thing you can do about it is to expose yourself and your ideas to as many people as you can. You never know who will pick it up or when your idea will take flight. 

It might be a depressing thought – but when it comes to success, and dating, and business – its a numbers game – you have to communicate your message to as many people as you can afford to – both time and money – and see who picks up. And always, ALWAYS, follow up. With everyone.

Latest Weekend Project: The Ultivator : No Pain, No Gain

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Happy 2014 all!

Both my wife and I love our Fitbit trackers, but both of us find them a bit wanting in the motivational department.

A few weeks ago we were talking about the reasons most people don’t stick with an exercise program is usually due to the lack of real and proper, serious motivation. People just won’t make changes to their lives unless they receive a huge positive OR negative stimulus. For example, an obese person could visit the doctor yearly and be told that he needs to lose weight but never actually does it. Only if he survives a near fatal heart attack might he actually make the lifestyle changes in order to live longer.

Since a huge negative stimulus (having a heart attack) has been proven to get more people off their butts than a positive stimulus (wearing nicer clothes, being noticed by the opposite sex etc) we came up with the Ultimate Motivator – aka the Ultivator.

The idea is simple: You set a goal. If you meet that goal, you don’t get penalized. If you don’t meet that goal, then you do. I whipped it together in a weekend in Rails and Bootstrap. It might not look too good, but I think it suffices as a great example of MVP.

Right now it supports only Fitbit trackers, but I will be adding more trackers as well as more goals as I get feedback. The process is simple, you provide:

  1. The goal you wish to hit: we WERE going to make these extra hard, but we figured that people have all different levels that they’d like to reach and so we left this open. A step goal for the month.
  2. The charity you’d like your “penalty” to go to. We give the brunt of the charge to a charity of your choice, so even if you don’t make your goal, at least someone you like benefits
  3. The amount you’d like to contribute, pro-rated to how well you do: for example, let’s say you pledge $500 and make it half way to your goal, we only charge you $250. Make it all the way you pay a tiny admin fee.

The site sends an email with the users status daily so that they can keep abreast of their progress – it looks like this:

email

Let me know what you all think. Over the next little while, I’ll come back to the Ultivator and talk a bit about some of the other inspiration I had for this project – a little thing a few folks ripped out in 20 minutes called http://producthunt.co

This is pure MVP IMHO, there are a lot more things I’d like to add, such as the ability to track other things other than steps, but this is a good start.

Check it out here: ultivator.com