Archive for March 2010

Five questions about building community with Chris Blizzard of Mozilla


I’ve always been a fan of the Mozilla Foundation, and not just because of the Firefox web browser. As catalyst for some of the great communities in the open source world, Mozilla is something of a recipe factory for what to do right when it comes to building community. As it turns out, Mozilla’s Director of Developer Relations, Chris Blizzard, is a long time friend of mine.

In fact, this is not the first time I’ve interviewed him– my first Blizzard interview experience was back in 2002 when Mozilla 1.0 came out and he and I both worked for Red Hat.

I spent some time with Chris to discuss his experiences and learn more about community-building the Mozilla way.

1. When I first met you ten years ago, you were a Red Hat employee with a day job keeping the redhat.com website up and running, and, even then, you were hacking on Mozilla for fun in your spare time. Now you run developer relations for Mozilla, and you’ve had some other amazing experiences, including working on the One Laptop Per Child project, along the way.

It strikes me that you are a great case study of someone who has achieved success in the meritocracy of open source by doing good work. Knowing what you know now, if you were starting from ground zero as a community contributor, how would you get started?

That’s kind of a tough question because I don’t have that perspective anymore. I know too much about how these communities operate to be able to answer that with the fresh face of someone new to a project. But, honestly, I think that that if I were to guess I would say find something that you’re passionate about and just start working on it. My own case is instructive.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Can truly great design be done the open source way?


A few weeks ago, I wrote an article about Apple and open innovation. The discussion in the comments about Apple’s success, despite their non-openness, was pretty interesting. Greg DeKoenigsberg started things off with this salvo:

“No community could build something as gorgeous as the iPhone; it requires the singular vision of a beautiful fascist, and the resources of a gigantic company, and a world full of users who would happily trade simplicity and certainty for the ability to tinker.”

I think few people would argue that one of Apple’s greatest strengths is their amazingly consistent, and consistently beautiful, design work. And when I say design, I mean both “little d design” (their stuff looks awesome) and “big D Design” (their systems, processes, and experiences are expertly rendered).

From a design perspective, Apple has figured out how to make lightning strike in the same place over and over again.

Today, I want to ask a question that I’ve been thinking about for a long time:

Can truly great design be done the open source way?

Meaning, can a group of people designing collaboratively, out in the open, ever do the kind of consistently beautiful design work that Apple does? Or is Greg right, that “no community could build something as gorgeous as the iPhone”?

Both of my partners at New Kind, David Burney and Matt Muñoz, are designers by background. Both of them have significant open source experience (David spent almost 5 years as the VP of Communications at Red Hat, Matt worked on many Red Hat projects, including designing the Fedora logo), so the three of us have talked about this subject many times before.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

A modest proposal to save The New York Times


I love The New York Times, the best newspaper in the world. There is no greater pleasure than sitting out on the patio on a Sunday morning, reading The New York Times, and learning.

I stress the word learning because there are so few places left in our world where true discovery happens. Most of the time, marketers, computers, and even our friends are showing us more of what we already know we like, rather than introducing us to things we have never seen or heard of before.

In the pages of The New York Times, I can be introduced to people, places, events, ideas I would have never found on my own. Every day I read The Times I learn something new. The paper expands my understanding of the world rather than reflecting back to me the understanding I already have.

This is an incredibly valuable service. It is a service that very few media companies in the world still provide (my local paper, the Raleigh News and Observer, rarely does these days, sadly).

Yet, the ongoing conversation about how to solve the financial issues of The New York Times revolves around fixing the business model for newspapers. Most experts say the model is fundamentally broken, and a report released last week by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism doesn’t have a lot of good news for the future of journalism as a whole.

From my vantage point, the answer to fixing The New York Times will not come from exploring a revolutionary business model. It will come from a revolutionary brand, culture, and community model. Let me explain.

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Brand positioning tip #9: A brand mantra is not a tagline


In Brand Positioning Tip #3, I introduced the concept of the brand mantra. The term was originally coined by Scott Bedbury during his time at Nike, and it refers to a short 3-5 word phrase created to capture the very essence of the brand’s meaning.

Was I supposed to Just Do It or embody Authentic Athletic Performance? I'm not sure. I'll just cross the finish line instead.

Usually a brand mantra includes or hints at some of the points of difference discovered during the brand positioning exercise (learn more about points of difference here). The most famous example of a brand mantra is from Bedbury’s Nike project, where the team coined the brand mantra Authentic Athletic Performance.

The most important thing to understand about brand mantras is that they are not designed to be externally facing slogans or taglines. Case in point— unless you’ve heard the Nike brand mantra story before, you’ve probably never seen the phrase Authentic Athletic Performance associated with Nike in advertising. Usually you will see an external manifestation of it, Just Do It being the prime example.

This is where most well-meaning brand mantra projects go bad. When brainstorming possible brand mantras, it is important for your team to be very clear that they are not writing advertising copy or taglines for external use. There is no quicker path to an inauthentic brand mantra than heading too quickly toward the language of advertising or marketing.

A brand mantra should resonate internally first. The mantra you chose should reflect the core values, mission, and culture of the company while also staying true to the brand positioning (if this is difficult, you’ve got bigger problems, because it may mean your culture and your brand are out of alignment).

The most powerful brand mantras become part of the DNA of the organization, and are used to guide everyday decisions about strategy, user experience, voice, and a host of other things. The mantra becomes a touchstone that is returned to over and over again— especially when decisions start getting tough.

Once you’ve settled on your brand mantra and tested it internally to ensure it resonates, you can finally start working on taglines. Again, think of a tagline as an external manifestation of the brand mantra— written in a language that will resonate with your target customer instead of your co-workers.

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Is Jaron Lanier just a hater, or should we be paying attention?


Last week, my friend Greg DeKoenigsberg posted an article about Jaron Lanier’s negative comments regarding open textbooks. At almost very same time, I happened to stumble upon an article Jaron wrote back in 2006 criticizing Wikipedia.

The common theme is Jaron taking issue with what he calls “online collectivism,” “the hive mind,” and even “digital Maoism” (ouch!). You might call this same concept “crowdsourcing” or “the wisdom of crowds.” It’s all in the eye of the beholder, but the guy clearly does not have much love for wikis or the works of collective wisdom they create.

So I had to ask myself: Why so negative, Jaron?

Is Jaron really a hater of free culture, as Greg claims in his article? Is he an enemy of the open source way? Or is he just a smart dude warning us about the risks of taking the wisdom-of-crowds concept too far?

You Are Not A GadgetFortunately for us, Jaron published a book earlier this year entitled You Are Not A Gadget. So I took a few hours and read it last week to see if I could answer some of these questions.

At times, the book is scary smart, with precise analysis from a man who clearly questions everything, and is in a better intellectual position to do so than most (the section on social media and its redefinition of friendship is especially interesting).

At other times it read like a college philosophy term paper. And occassionally, especially toward then end, it devolved into nearly unintelligeble (at least by me) ravings about things like “postsymbolic communication” and “bachelardian neoteny” (Michael Agger’s review in Slate calls him out for this too).

But wait! Right near the beginning of the book, I found this paragraph:

“Emphasizing the crowd means deemphasizing individual humans in the design of society, and when you ask people not to be people, they revert to bad, moblike behaviors.”

Hey… I kinda agree with that…

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

The Wikimedia Foundation: doing strategic planning the open source way


Earlier this week I wrote a post about some of the cultural challenges Wikipedia is facing as its contribution rate has slowed. The comments you made were fantastic, including one by Dr. Ed H Chi (the PARC scientist who published the study I referred to in the post) linking to a prototype dashboard his team created to showcase who is editing each Wikipedia page (totally fascinating—you have to go try it!)

Another interesting comment was made by my good friend Paul Salazar, who pointed us to this page where the Wikimedia Foundation (the parent organization that runs Wikipedia, among other projects) is showcasing their exhaustive, happening-as-we-speak strategic planning process in all of its transparent, open glory.

From the main page, you can read the entire strategy memo that was presented to the Wikimedia Foundation board just last month. The memo itself is stunningly smart. Google must have thought so too, because they made a $2 million donation to the Wikimedia Foundation, announced a few weeks ago.

But it doesn’t stop at high-level strategy for the eyes of muckety-mucks. From this page you can find proposals (hundreds were submitted, and just like on Wikipedia, anyone could contribute), background research, and task forces that have come together to discuss some of the major strategic challenges outlined in the initial strategic plan.

[Read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Love, hate, and the Wikipedia contributor culture problem


Last fall, a group of researchers at the Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) released a study showing an abrupt leveling off in the number of editors and edits to Wikipedia, starting in about 2007.

There is a great summation of the findings in a set of posts by Dr. Ed H Chi, Lead Scientist at the PARC Augmented Social Cognition group here, here, here, and here.

I’ve been thinking a lot over the past few months about what might be causing the slowing rate of contributions, as have many others. I particularly liked Niel Robertson’s post last week on the Enterprise Irregulars site.

Niel’s thesis is that Wikipedia has failed to continue to develop innovative ways to motivate its community, falling behind as other communities and companies have implemented more creative new techniques. Niel goes on to identify seven types of motivation for crowdsourcing (yes, I still dislike that word) efforts, of which he says Wikipedia is only using a couple.

I think he is on to something. But Wikipedia is operating at a scale that dwarfs almost every other crowdsourcing effort in history. It takes a massive bureaucracy of editors and administrators to keep the whole thing going.

And if traditional bureaucracies (like those in governments and large companies) tend to stifle innovation, what happens in a bureaucracy where the bureaucrats aren’t getting paid and aren’t getting any recognition for their efforts?

From my point of view, this is Wikipedia’s next great challenge:

How does it convince the world to love and recognize its contributors?

[Read the rest of this article on opensource.com]

Democracy: a reason for communications and HR folks to party together


I recently finished the new book Digital Strategies for Powerful Corporate Communications, by Paul Argenti and Courtney Barnes. I must admit, I’m allergic to many Web 2.0 books. This book does have some of that social media handbook feel, but I was excited about it because co-author Paul Argenti, a professor of communications at Dartmouth, is someone whose ideas about communications have really influenced my thinking over the past few years.

Paul was one of the masterminds behind The Authentic Enterprise, a whitepaper that may be one of the most compelling looks into the future of the communications field I have ever seen. I’ve written about it previously here, here, and here.

The following paragraph highlights the point of view from which this book approaches digital communications strategy:

“The business of managing relationships– and therefore, business itself– has changed dramatically in the last decade. Stakeholder empowerment, as it’s come to be known, has shifted the corporate hierarchy of influence from the hands of elite business executives to those of their once-passive audiences, including employees, consumers, media, and investors.”

This paragraph does a nice job illustrating what we might define as the democratization of corporate communications.

—–
Democratization of Corporate Communications:
Any
person communicating about any company at any time.
—–

A company’s own communications professionals can no longer expect to be the only communicators of the brand message. Employees are communicators. Customers are communicators. Even former employees and former customers can now communicate on behalf of brands. Scary stuff or exciting stuff, depending on who you are.

One of the things I really liked about this book is that it has an entire chapter highlighting a favorite subject of mine: the need for closer ties between the human resources and communications function. Why? Simple:

In a world where everyone is a communications person, everyone needs to be on brand.

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Five questions about the future of music with David Pakman


Traditional media companies are in big trouble. You may have noticed. You know who else has noticed? David Pakman, currently a partner at the prestigious Venrock venture capital firm. You may also know David as the former CEO of eMusic—a fairly disruptive media company in its own right. David has over 300,000 Twitter followers and regularly blogs here about the “undoing of big media.”

Today, we ask him five questions about where the future of music intersects with the open source way.

1. One of the beautiful things about the open source software revolution is it lowered the barrier to entry for developers who wanted to create useful software. Meaning, without going to fancy schools or working for big Silicon Valley tech companies, people in any part of the world with any level of experience could contribute, and if their code was good, they were in. Is the barrier to entry for artists trying to make it in the music industry getting lower too? It sure doesn’t feel like it sometimes.

I think the barrier to entry to write or make music has always been pretty low. Provided you can learn how to play an instrument, you can write songs. The encroachment of technology into every facet of music making has lowered this barrier even further. An entire album can be recorded at great quality in a basement with a Mac and some bundled software. DJ equipment isn’t even needed anymore — you can do it all on your Mac.

The challenges have always been around marketing and distribution, and the internet changed all that. Anyone can launch a site or a myspace page and offer downloads of their music. In 2008, more than 38,000 new records were released. This was the most ever.

Becoming commercially successful by selling music or touring has never been harder, and that is because fewer people are buying music and consumers have more entertainment choices than ever before. So while it’s easier to make music, it’s harder to make a living making music.

[read the rest of this post on opensource.com]

Hey, I Wrote a Book!

The Ad-Free Brand: Secrets to Building Successful Brands in a Digital World

Available now in print and electronic versions.

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