Earth Day and the March for Science–because there is no Planet B

Tyson is right: we wouldn’t have all the things we enjoy today, from Fords to iPhones to the interwebs, without science.

That requires respecting the foundations that gave us science, math and the tech we rely upon today. And it means respecting scientists. Because they are under attack on a number of fronts, including Soviet-style misinformation and propaganda campaigns.

This is why people are marching for science today.

Scientists around the world, I salute you and the work you do.

Bonus: my favorite marching sign.

 

Why the world needs newspapers more than ever

Man with newspaper

Man with newspaper

Today’s world runs on ideas, spread by the Series of Tubes–and those ideas are made of words.

At the foundation of this pyramid of words and ideas sits an endangered species: newspapers.

Television, radio, blogs and half the interwebs wouldn’t function if they couldn’t crib from papers of news, where the whole food web of information starts.

Don’t believe me? Watch this bit from John Oliver, who shows that while it’s easy and amusing to make fun of something for 10 seconds (John Stewart and every late night talk show host), it takes serious skill to dive deep into important issues without losing your audience. The man is brilliant.

I got started at papers, back when they were financially healthy and the web didn’t really exist. So this hits me in the gut. Continue reading “Why the world needs newspapers more than ever”

The one little thing that made Hong Kong’s protests so big

Hong Kong democracy protests are called the Umbrella Revolution after citizens brought umbrellas to ward off tear gas and pepper spray. Flickr photo by james jJ8246
Long protester in Hong Kong takes part in the Umbrella Revolution. Flickr photo by Doctor Ho.
A protester in Hong Kong takes part in the Umbrella Revolution. Flickr photo by Doctor Ho.

Images are more powerful than words.

That’s why the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong became global news. When somebody says “What’s happening in Hong Kong?” you don’t picture crowds of people with signs, which could be a protest in Manhattan or Mumbai.

You picture umbrellas.

Maybe one umbrella, like the photo above. Or thousands of umbrella.

But you see umbrellas, and they mean something, because it’s what protesters are using ward off tear gas and pepper spray while they march for free and open elections, like they were promised.

Right there, the terms of the debate are framed. You sympathize with the protesters, who are organized and determinedly non-violent. Students taking part are doing their homework and picking up trash from the street.

Citizens might have used something else, say garbage bags, to protect themselves from tear gas and mace. It wouldn’t be the same.

The simple, common umbrella is a powerful symbol and tool. It’s not fancy. It’s not expensive. Everybody, rich or poor, has an umbrella.

You don’t need to join a political group. All you have to do is grab an umbrella from your hallway closet and walk outside. People around the world, folks who don’t speak the language or understand Hong Kong history and politics, they all the message.

Continue reading “The one little thing that made Hong Kong’s protests so big”

‘Native advertising’ disguised as news: miracle money or menace to journalism?

media strategy saturday meme

You have to feel for journalists and publishers, since everybody else insists on (a) swiping content from newspapers and magazines, (b) “aggregating” all that content on the Series of Tubes before (c) having your hot startup get bought out by Silicon Valley for $300 million while (d) the journalists who created all that content get pink slips.

So yeah, any form of advertising that’s bringing money to print is a godsend.

HOWEVER: John Oliver is right when he goes off about “native advertising,” a new twist on an old concept. Instead of having news, then ads, why not knock down those walls and make the ads look just like news?

I still believe that real ads in real newspapers and magazine are far more effective than banner ads on the web. Also, this trend can’t last forever. John Oliver is right about somebody having to create all this content, and get paid for it. The trouble is how easy newspapers and magazines made it to either read the stories for free — most paywalls are a joke — or “aggregate” the stories online with no consequences.

Either way, John the Oliver is proving that you can go on deep, 11-minute comedy rants that actually educate people, about serious topics, while making them laugh. Lectures are boring. Mockery is the greatest weapon.

Introducing the iWatch, which will change the world FOREVER

media strategy saturday meme

Here it is, the latest mind-blowing invention from Apple via a leaked video from sources in Silicon Valley that I can’t reveal.

Sorry. Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent.

Now, that’s funny, mostly because there’s a ton of truth packed in with the sarcasm.

And the trend in the other direction, toward massive phones that don’t fit in your pocket, monstrous phone-tablets offspring called phablets by People Who Are Terrible At Naming Things — well, that’s just as bad as the iWatch.

Gadgets should be simple. Do one thing and do it well, or do lots of things well but make it convenient.

I own a few watches and stopped wearing them years ago, not because they broke, or the batteries ran out, but because there’s a phone on my Samsung Galaxy, a clock on my PC at work, another clock in my car, clocks on the wall. How many clocks do I need?

And I don’t need a tiny screen on my wrist when there’s a big screen on my desk, a good-sized screen on my phone, a Nook in my messenger bag (call it a murse, I don’t care, I can take it) and an iPad sitting around home somewhere that nobody uses. After a certain point, you can only use so many screens, sync so many devices and update the stupid things so many times. Honestly, why does iTunes need to download another update every two weeks? The last time it updated, iTunes conveniently forget all my song ratings and such. Call it an undocumented feature.

What part of modern technology (a) makes you all happy, like GPS meaning we don’t get lost anymore, or (b) annoys you to no end? Tell me. Just don’t leave me a voice mail about it. Hate ’em. Won’t listen.

What words get shared on social media – and what doesn’t?

media strategy saturday meme

ublicity and marketing, including social media, is like the Wild West.

Just about anybody can call themselves a Social Media Ninja (although they shouldn’t) and get away with it, especially if they used the right jargon. Crazy ideas don’t sound crazy when nobody really knows anything in this new frontier.

Social media is still related to publicity and marketing, and even in that old business, the saying was, “Half of all advertising gets wasted. But nobody knows what half.”

Although there’s certainly good practice and bad ideas, there’s always been more art than science to the field. You can’t predict what will work or say, “We’re going to make this viral” and have it happen. Doesn’t work that way.

PETA does it best: they assume most things will fail, which is true. They swing for the fences and try all sorts of wild ideas and PR stunts, because 99 of them can flop if only one of them goes viral. PETA knows you can’t plan viral.

Now, I like the art AND the science, the theory and the practice. You can’t run everything by the numbers, because good numbers are hard to find, and it’s expensive, and you surely can’t run a bunch of numbers and say, “See? This thing will blow up because, you know, science.” Doesn’t work. But you can, and should, grab data where possible and use that to point in the right direction.

So it gave me great joy to see Neil the Patel come through with another great infographic about which words get shared on social media — the Book of Face, the Twitter, Goople+ and even that thing called LinkedIn — and which words get buried. Useful stuff.

The Surprising Words That Get Content Shared on Social Media

Improve your blog’s bounce rate and such

media strategy saturday meme

I do this blog for fun, not for monies. HOWEVER: even casual bloggers probably want to make their bloggity blog more popular, and get more viewers.

Want to make your blog better and more popular? Neil Patel of Quicksprout is your man.

He’s brilliant. And he made this handy infographic on improving your website’s stickiness.

Check him out if you’re serious about page views and such. I make the same (zero!) whether this silly blog gets 5,932,023,727,099,131,827 hits a day or the only guy reading it is some bored dude in a research station in Antarctica, so bounce rates aren’t my thing. But I know many writers work crazy hard on their blogs and blog-like substances, and what Neil does for free, and for his clients, is packed full of Smart.

How to Decrease Your Bounce Rate

Watch this rare and beautiful graduation speech – DO IT NOW

writing meme spiderman dear diary

Most graduation or commencement speeches put the B in Boring and fall into three categories: (1) standard “go change the world!” blah-blah you’ve heard 20 times before, (2) people trying to be very Deep, and Meaningful, but are mostly Confusing as they push their personal pet thing and (3) speakers trying to be funny when they have no experience or business being funny, ever, if their life depended upon it.

This man avoids all of those pitfalls.

It doesn’t hurt that he’s actually funny, and that he used to write speeches for some woman named Hillary and some dude named Barack.

For the actual words, or as many as exist on the Series of Tubes, here’s a link to the main body of text from the speech in The Atlantic.

Also: We need a similar magazine on the West Coast full of such smart things about literature and politics and life. I say we call it The Pacific.

Also-also: Hat tip to my speechwriter buddy Jen Waldref (on the Twitter: @olywordsmith) for sending this my way. Jen, you rock.

Also-cubed: If you know of an epically bad graduation speech, I’d love to see the text or YouTube clip.

Happy birthday to the Twitter!

A nice little video about the evolution of the Twitter, which is 6.942 bazillion times better than the Book of Face, which will one day go the way of MySpace — and not even powers of Justin the Timberlake will be able to save Zuckerberg’s baby.

I’d throw another “which” in there, but it’d just be piling on.

Also: What is the ONE THING you would delete about the Twitter, aside from nuking direct messages from orbit?

Also-also: What is the ONE THING you would add to the Twitter?

3 ways to change the digital world FOREVER

media strategy saturday meme

It is official: social media now dominates the Series of Tubes.

Every year, these smart people produce a slick video about the interwebs, and this year’s video is especially good and interesting.

Now, having filled your brain with facts and numbers and industrial euro-pop dance music, WHAT DO WE DO?

Simple. We change the world.

Change # 1: One Contact Thing to rule them all

So you’ve got contacts in your gmail at home and Outlook at work, Twitter lists of followers and all kinds of Facebook friends, Tumblr buddies and Pinterest pals and a dozen other things.

It is an unholy mess.

Blessed be the app that gives us One Contact Thing, a single shebang with the magical powers to organize all your contacts, from all those stupid platforms, in one tidy place. The power will be unthinkable.

This means ending the nonsense about Instagram not talking to Twitter because she saw him flirting with Google or whatever. And yes, we need it to be easy and quick and on our phones. Because I’m not firing up the PC every time I need to look up a phone number or Twitter handle.

Whoever does this first — Apple, Google, Microsoft, some dude in his basement coding the app in his pajamas — will rule the interwebs forever and ever.

Change # 2: Obliterate voice mail and switch to texting

Am I saying we should take voice mail behind the barn and shoot it? No. I’m saying take it behind the barn, hang it, set it on fire, THEN shoot it.

Nobody likes voice mail. Nobody.

Don’t call my cell phone and make me dial up voice mail, punch in a password I keep forgetting, then listen for two minutes. Especially when 99.99 percent of all voice mail messages are things you can sum up in a short text like, “Phone tag, you’re it” or “Pick up some milk, yo” or “I’m a reclusive billionaire with $400 million sitting around, and instead of handing it to Karl Rove, who I wouldn’t trust at this point to run a successful race for student body president at Willapa Valley Junior High, I’d like some return on my investment.”

Send a text, people. College kids these days don’t even use email anymore. They think email is so 1994.

If it’s too complicated for a text, send an email.

If you really hate me, send a voice mail. Make it long. Don’t leave your number or email — assume that I’ve memorized it. And then when I call back, make sure you don’t answer your phone so I can start the whole thing rolling with a voice mail of my own.

Therefore, we will nuke voice mail from orbit, and the world will rejoice.

Change # 3: Real photos, good bios and no anonymous trolls

Twitter, Facebook and every other social media shebang is full of photos and bios of people that may be human, and might be young or old, male or female, con artist or genius.

You can’t tell, though, because (a) their profile photo is a shot of a cat, Yoda holding a lightsaber or a pile of leaves, (b) their Twittter handle is @jkringer392 and (c) their bio is a train wreck of obscure references to Star Trek fan fiction and such. I have seen all of these things and more. Who will pay for my therapy?

Related post: 30 achy breaky Twitter mistakeys

There are plenty of places for anonymous folks to say whatever they like. Sites like reddit will always be around. Have at it.

HOWEVER: papers of news, TV stations and serious blogs need to stop feeding the trolls by letting TrailerParkNinja and TexasMustSecede2016! dominate the comment sections with anonymous spam and hateful, nonsense. So let’s cut back on that by requiring commenters to use real photos and bios. Want to spew? Go spew in Anonymous Land.

If you’re going to be on the Series of Tubes, and want to be taken Seriously, you need a Serious photo — of you, not your cat — and a real bio. Period.

Long ago, only famous people needed public relations folks, who made sure actors, authors and other celebrities had good mug shots and nice bios. Today, everybody is online. Your photo, bio and name are what people see first. But average people don’t have a publicist. They’re flying in the dark with a blindfold, and yeah, it shows.  

Wonder why you aren’t getting many followers on Twitter or hits to your blog? Take a look at your photo and bio.

Trying to get a job / book deal / punk rock music contract? Take a hard look at what people see, in the first five seconds, when they check you out on Twitter and the Book of Face and such.

People don’t make a decision about you after reading your short stories or listening to three mp3s of sample songs on your blog. They glance at your photo and decide, in half a second, whether to interact with you or never give you a second thought. They do this all the time, in a hurry. Ten people just followed you on Twitter, and you follow back or not, clicking away with your mousity mouse, no-no-yes-no-yes-yes-no. You don’t ponder these decisions, right? Bam. So make it easy on people by taking it seriously. I’m talking to you, Miss Duckface, who shot your profile photo in the bathroom mirror using an iPhone.

People need a place –a Profile Doctor–to get easy and quick help with this sort of thing, without putting a public relations firm on retainer.