Thursday, November 17, 2005

Newspapers Continue to lose Readers


I had read something about this the other day, and given that I blog, it really did not strike a chord (especially since the report came out after the Forbes "Attack of the Blogosphere" piece). Being the wired city that I live in, the 16% drop in circulation for the San Francisco Chronicle was the highest among the big 20.

I have probably picked up a daily 4 times in the past 2 years, and that was only in airports. This morning I noticed something strange while getting onto the Metro in D.C. which made me search out this report. There was a man standing next to the entrance of the Braddock Road station handing out newspapers and over half the people taking them. It turns out this is a new effort by the Washington Post to regain some of the 4% readership it lost. I don't have time to research this further, but if anyone knows more details, please post a comment.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Crossing boundaries, breaking down silos

Those of you have known me for a while have heard this probably way too often, but it really bears repeating (at least until the whole world embraces this seemingly simple truth). A friend (sorry I cant remember who) pointed me to Jack Welch being a big proponent of this, even to the point of crediting the success of GE to his efforts towards cross-boundary collaboration. Sitting here with my friend Coleman in DC just now, this subject came up again. He wanted to know if I had a quote to cite, to which I replied, hold on a second, lets find it - all you need to know is how to search (to his point, most people dont, which is one of the ideas behind TagSpaces) Anyway, for those of you who want to see cited proof, here is what Jack Welch had to say in a letter to GE shareholders (found here as #1 search on Google for my query)
"Boundaryless behavior is the soul of today's GE.... People seem compelled to build layers and walls between themselves and others....These walls cramp people, inhibit creativity, waste time, restrict vision, smother dreams, and above all, slow things down.... The challenge is to chip away at and eventually break down these walls and barriers, both among ourselves and between ourselves and the outside world."

- Jack Welch, Former CEO Letter To GE Shareholders

Cool eh? Turns out I am not just making this up. This is one of the reasons I think BrainJams and my new idea for the format will be so successfull.

Monday, November 14, 2005

New Idea for format of BrainJams3Dec2005

If it were not so difficult for the different types of people I hope to bring together, I would make the event more of a BarCamp weekend unconference in order to fit in everything I have in mind, but that is not what I want BrainJams to be about. We want to help support BarCamp by leading more people to join that event, but I think it is really a different audience we have in mind with some beneficial overlap. Since we only have less then 8 hours, here is what I would like to propose we do instead of what I suggested earlier.

900am - Arrive at SRI, Register, make name badges, drink some coffee and speak to your friends/associates.

930am - General Session / Introductions / Overview

945am - BrainJams Session 1

I had envisioned the "BrainJams" concept itself to be a knowledge networking equivalent of speed dating, but after speaking to Christopher Allen at Web2.1, decided to take his advice and style them more along the lines of a "Knowledge Cafe". This time out, in thinking about the bigger picture and my original intention I want to organize everyone into groups of 12 and have everyone spend about 5 minutes sitting down, one on one and talking about their passions and projects (preferrably not with people you already know). As with speed dating, everyone will have a little book within which to take notes (more on this later). It is perhaps logistically challenging, but in contrast to most networking events where the people you meet is largely based on levels of fame and/or external appearances, this will be out of attendees control during the session with the hopes of expanding people's horizons.

1100am - BrainJams Session 2

Same as above with a different group of people - this way you should get to know what 23 other people are doing and learn from them so they can help you with what you are doing!

1215pm - Lunch

We are trying hard to provide lunch for everyone, but really need many more Patrons to step forward in order to make this happen. At the moment, MindJet has stepped up with $250 towards lunch and we have $100 each from TechCrunch and Pandora which will go towards snacks and refreshments.

100pm - Teen Panel moderated by Noah Kagan

While the topic of the day is still a bit up in the air and will ultimately be decided by Noah and the teenagers he recruits, I would really like to see this as a discussion with them about how they use social networking services, how they blog and what communities they belong to. Though Tara will be at Les Blogs in Paris, I know her heart will still be in attendance for this one.

200pm / 230pm / 300pm / 330pm - Open, user lead sessions on how people use Web 2.0 tools

(OK, I cringe every time I type that dreaded word, but until a viable, widely understood replacement for referencing the meme, we are all stuck with it)

So the idea here is to have people choose from multiple sessions with projectors (3 will be available at the moment, but there is room for a 4th if someone can bring one for the day) where the topics will be along the lines of:

How to Blog - How to read blogs - How to manage subscriptions - How to do a job search - How to start a community - How to find people, places and things - How to plan and promote an event - How to take and share photos - How to tag things - How to build the brand called You - and similar themes I hope people will suggest.

Each session will have a Jam Leader and a Podcaster/Vlogger who will help facilitate the conversation and keep it on track, but this is not about company demos - this is about real people sharing knowledge about which tools they use to do things and how they use them. It is a chance for new comers and everyday people to learn from the "powerusers" and other real people just like them. It is a chance for people to suggest new ideas for making the tools more useful. It is a chance for us to begin gathering stories of how people actually use the tools many of us are building. This is really drive by conversations at IIW2005 with Mary Ruddy, numerous conversations at TagCamp and many other events I have attended.

410pm - Closing general session to wrap up the day and talk about what comes next

430pm - Day ends

445pm-700pm - BrainOff after party

The location is still being finalized and we are still looking for a Patron to sponsor the party - if no one steps forward we will have a cash-bar somewhere near the SRI campus, most likely the British Bankers Club

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Please check in on the WIKI and let us know if you are planning on attending.


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Rethinking BrainJams and the focus of the event

Seems like it always happens like this, but after talking with several different people and thinking about it some more, I have a new idea for what we can do on Saturday 3Dec2005. I think this one will stick too. Before I get into it in detail though, first let me say thanks to David Gutelius, Michael Arrington, Alicia Preston, Tara Hunt, Andy Kaufman, Enric, Chris Messina, Noah Kagan, Nial Kennedy, Nivi, Chris Pirillo, Brian Shields, Christopher Allen, Brian Sullivan, Kaliya and of course the wonderful, blogging addicted Kristie Wells. Talking with all of these people and so many more has really helped me clarify the format quite a bit and reading David's post form last week really cemented it in my mind.

To be honest, I never was in love with the idea behind "Anger is a better emotion than worry..." but I did love that phrase and do believe that people are more easily motivated to find a solution about something that angers them. Personally, I just don't like that emotion all to much (who does?) and strive more towards peace and happiness.

A lesson here is that when you are thinking in the open commons, you are bound to say or feel something that you will later want to revise. The good news is that the type of event we are doing with BrainJams allows for this sort of major overhaul that would not be possible with a traditional conference. As Christopher Allen pointed out to me at Web2.1, the idea I have for BrainJams is really based on an "Open Space" principle - an idea that has been used by the knowledge management community for years (though I honestly was not aware of it when thinking about this idea). This means we can change the "organizing principle" of the event several more times before the event, even up to the day it happens (though I really don't want to do that).

While we talked about the Web 2.0/Social Media/Open Web issues being central to the success of the Web2.1 event, I really wanted the events to be more than that - I want them to be catalysts for socioeconomic change by crossing traditional boundaries and smashing long standing silos by sharing knowledge and forming new relationships. As Alicia points out the technology is at the core of what we do and what we talk about most, and indeed was going to be the focus of the events we do locally. So perhaps it is best to just accept that as the focus and stop trying to make it more complicated than that as I occasionally do. (side note: despite what Mike was saying to me the other night at the Laughing Squid party, this is a capitalist idea with potential social, intellectual AND financial gains for participants)

The fact that I wanted it to be more than technology was a key aspect of why I was originally thinking about the day in 2 parts, talking about problems in the morning and then talking about solutions in the afternoon. To a certain extent this can still be a part of our gathering, but need not be the sole focus. The space is big enough to do the problem/solution track and to embrace this new idea and even perhaps setup for a mini HyperCamp styled blogging station. In the end though, it will all be up to the participants, so please blog about your feelings on this and let us know.

So in the end, what this means is that the day is about people first, and how they use technology second. If we really want to make this shift happen - we need to stop thinking about users and start talking about people, even if the distinction adds some complexity to how we create things.

More on the proposed agenda in a moment...

American Airlines Rocks

In stark contrast to my experience with US Airways on Friday, American Airline really understands what customer service is all about. Since I used to only fly American, perhaps that is why I was so frustrated with the people at US Airways the other day. I have to fly to DC this week as I mentioned, but Kristie and I also have a flight to Miami on FRI where we will spend the weekend visiting my grandfather and friends (yes, South Beach on SAT night till 5am, but let me get to the point here)

Now that my meeting is THUR afternoon in DC, I don't want to be flying back across the country on TH night only to leave for Miami on FR morning. But since the ticket we have is international, I realized that I would never make it to Jamaica if I missed the opening leg of the flight. So I got on the phone with American Airline's customer service. When the agent initially looked up alternatives to rebooking the flight through DC onto Miami on FR, the initial cost was $1,800 (approx $1,400 more than original ticket, plus the $100 change fee). WOAH! Way too much, I thought I might not be able to make it work.

But get this, she says to me "Hold on for a moment while I take this upstairs to see what they can do." I did not even need to ask, she did not try to get me to buy that $1,800 ticket or anything. While waiting on hold, she checked back in with me every minute or so to let me know she was still waiting to get this resolved and to reassure me someone was working on it. How cool and nice of her - am so bummed I did not get her name.

After about 4 minutes or so (yes that is right, 4 minutes, not 40), she came back on the phone with me and told me they would be able to change my itinerary around and it would only cost $350 for the 2 new legs plus the standard change fee - this is actually less than what I had priced it at online for the same flights for SFO-DCA-MIA. I gave her my credit card and everything was done in less than 15 minutes!

Almost forgot one of the best parts - a real pet peeve I have is when entering my customer data for the CSR's (or when they take it over the phone) most companies do not pass this to the next person providing service. American did just that. I verbally gave their computer voice input system my frequent flyer number, which was handed to the first rep and then on to the international desk. When she answered, she new my name and my number, making the whole thing that much easier.

What more can I say except American Airlines rocks and will always be my carrier of choice.

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