Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Tue 11 May 2010 11:28 pm   //   Posted in: Media, Technology, TV commericals

Notes on impatience

We can find anything we want on the Internet. The other day, I had an old advertising jingle stuck in my head that I remembered from childhood. (“You’ve got a lot to do before lunch!”) It took me about 10 minutes to find a YouTube video of the 1992 Cheerios commercial it came from.


Tue 11 May 2010 8:37 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

Four mysteries of social media

“I didn’t know what Facebook was. And now that I do know what it is, I have to say it sounds like a huge waste of time.” — Betty White on SNL

This is a time of fear, promise, and fidgety energy. Everyone who does what I do (marketing copywriting) is swimming in all of that as we adapt to social media.

The biggest challenge? Getting good information. Pragmatically, I need to connect with real people, not shout to a room of empty chairs or dumb robots. How do I figure out what to do?

For starters, by listening to social media experts. But here we have a big problem. Everyone with expertise in social media is also invested in it. If you’re in the business of promoting Google Buzz consultancy services, of course you’re going to rave about the tremendous potential of Google Buzz. When you’re talking about Twitter on Twitter, volume and repetition are as good as authority. And in this climate (here’s where the fear factor comes into play), any experts who betray a hint of skepticism are swiftly marginalized by their fellow social media leaders.

Those of us surveying this scene from a distance—ie., who embrace social media but don’t list it as a skill on our LinkedIn profiles—sometimes want to throw our hands up in frustration. Since I can’t count on self-styled social media experts for independent advice, I have to do research on my own. My counterparts in marketing departments everywhere are doing the same.


Fri 9 Apr 2010 7:15 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

Two articles every writer should read

A newspaper editor friend recently asked me for advice on keeping up with the latest online jargon.

First, I suggested he use the phrase “location-based social networking” at every opportunity. And second, I recommended he read two articles. Here are links to the two articles and why I recommended each one. (more…)

Mon 5 Apr 2010 7:55 am   //   Posted in: Technology

What this web site looked like in 1997

Time to take a nostalgia trip! I thought it would be interesting to re-post the first web site I ever built. Back in 1995, I had an extremely basic America Online home page. Alas, those files were lost long ago on the hard drive of my dad’s 486 Pentium. However, I do have copies of almost everything from August 1997 onward.

Here’s what my site looked like in August 1997.

And here’s my site in August 1998.


Wed 10 Mar 2010 9:35 pm   //   Posted in: No right to be good, Technology

Good as new

Here’s one of the greatest success stories in technology: The HP 12C financial calculator. It was introduced in 1981 and is still selling. After a generation of seismic advancements in technology, this weird horizontal calculator has kept its edge. It costs $70 and people still buy it.

Name something else battery-powered that hasn’t changed since 1981. I’ve got nothing. Blackberries and iPhones seldom last two years before better ones come out, yet this calculator could bury us all. Now I don’t work in finance and I’m far from an expert in calculators, so I can’t explain in detail what’s so amazing about this device. But I know calculators are a competitive space. This one’s success can’t just be an accident of history or the result of marketing. It’s adoption isn’t a requirement; surely there are other calculators that fit with today’s business conventions.

It could only have survived this long by being good. Good enough to be deeply loved by exactly the right customers. The HP 12C designers nailed it. They achieved something unheard of in technology: perfection. If we’re lucky, once in our lifetimes we’ll work on a team that does that.

Tue 2 Mar 2010 6:50 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

Robots talking to robots

I’m beginning to wonder how many of the words I see every day are written by robots.

  • There’s stuff like Demand Media’s eHow, where articles are carefully engineered to produce as much incoming search engine traffic as possible for as little expense as possible. It’s about serving customer needs, kind of, but only in so far as a customer is a disembodied server request generated by Google’s software.
  • Facebook ads target us based on demographics, preferences and keywords. These ads make sense in theory, but in practice seem oddly tone-deaf and unambitious, as if they were written by interns, or maybe children. Or algorithms.
  • Twitter is overrun by robots programmed to follow and unfollow people and retweet posts based on predictable user behaviors. It’s so easy to do you wouldn’t believe it.
  • Online display advertising is falling victim to oversupply and automation — a combination that’s driving prices down so fast that even a Huffington Post exec was quoted on the record sounding scared.
  • Blogging has evolved from a fun hobby into a precise science of writing lists optimized for search engines and social media propagation—a.k.a. linkbait. Old-fashioned notions of quality and clarity of writing, design craftsmanship, and copyright ownership have been squeezed out of the equation as too inefficient.

If Internet media is a pure democracy, it follows that content creators must be evaluated by output volume and popularity. If you’re a writer, artist, musician, or filmmaker, this might sound like a dystopian nightmare. I am here to tell you: Do not despair.


Wed 17 Feb 2010 9:00 am   //   Posted in: Technology

It’s 2010, and the future is… databases.

Hoverboards have yet to materialize. Space travel is on the outs. Virtual reality, holograms and video phones have failed to impress. You call this 2010?! It’s like the future we were promised never arrived. So what do we have? The fruitful evolution of something utterly boring but immensely useful. Databases.

Databases used to be ponderous and difficult, and had to be accessed with extreme efficiency in mind. Remember the early days of computerized library card catalogs? How slow they were? Now think of all the computing power Facebook expends making sure our updates automatically refresh on our screens. The jump from early databases to realtime social networks is a modern wonder, like trading up from a bicycle to a battleship.

Server farms host giant databases that update instantly and replicate constantly, and that can handle as many queries as all humanity can throw at them. They move massive amounts of data using hardware and software designed to be light, cheap, fast, modular, open and scalable. So much information, organized and dispensed more quickly than a human mind can think to ask for it. Through these technologies we have Google, Facebook, Twitter, Bing, YouTube, Flickr, not to mention the networks that power our telephones and our financial system.

Ten or 15 years ago, I don’t remember anybody predicting that massive databases would be the future of computing. Maybe they did, but we simply ignored them because the idea is so boring and hard to explain. Yet here we are, and we’re just getting started. Programmers and engineers everywhere are working to take all these database components and snap them together. Where are the sources of real-time data? How can you collect and organize that data? What two pieces of data become shockingly useful when married together? How do we make 2 + 2 = 16? If you have an idea, buy a book, learn a coding language and get started. For the first time, there’s computing power to spare.

Mon 15 Feb 2010 8:00 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

The dawn of professional gossip

Consider Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and (as of last week) Google Buzz. Time-wasters, to be sure. But recently, they’ve become a vital part of participation in many work communities. They’re how people keep up with the important personalities in their field—colleagues, competitors and trendsetters. This use—as an online, social component of business—is new. It is distinct from the more popular uses of social networks, like chatting with friends, posting personal photos, playing games and sharing funny videos. This is about work. We need a name for this.

Professional gossip – Real-time information about people in your field, transmitted through online social networks.

In some ways, gossip should be approached with caution. Things can go negative fast and unexpectedly. (Witness yesterday’s bizarre Twitter fight between Sarah Silverman and Steve Case!) There’s a lot of noise and few good ways to filter it. Often we would be better advised to do the work rather than gab about the work we’re doing.

But on balance, gossip is good. People just starting out in a field can follow a few good feeds and gain insight from experts. Actionable business intelligence spreads fast—and the most important facts spread fastest. No longer must ideas simmer for months before bubbling up through the trade press and conferences; they can can be defined, refined and debated as urgently as necessary. And, conveniently, social networks let you curate your own professional gossip channel. This gives you power to influence what other people in your work community are talking about. Given time to build up contacts and clout, you can set the agenda and shape how your peers perceive your business.

We’re all new at this. We’re going to discover some weird things as we blaze this trail. Let’s make it fun!

Thu 11 Feb 2010 8:00 pm   //   Posted in: Technology

Six personal rules of Twitter

Here are some personal guidelines I follow when tweeting at @daryllang:

1. Don’t tweet about Twitter.

Did the first people with typewriters pound out story after story about typewriters?

2. Always build up. Never tear down.

Tweet about things you like, rather than complain about modern life’s myriad inconveniences.

This corresponds to one my personal rules of blogging: Before you hit publish, imagine the person you would least want to read the post reading it back to you aloud, slowly, with a tone of deep disappointment. This check has spared me a lot of trouble.

Related: A worst-case-scenario story about what happens when you whine on Twitter.

3. Tweet like you talk.

You can assume Twitter users come with some basic specialized knowledge — they understand RT means it’s a pickup of somebody else’s tweet, and that the symbols @ and # summon special Twitter functions. But beyond that, Twitter users are real humans who want real human thoughts, not a string of machine-readable code.

4. Only one idea per tweet.

They used to teach us to write one idea per paragraph. (Remember paragraphs?) It’s tempting to try to convey about five thoughts in 140 characters. It’s better to simmer down, wait a few minutes, settle on the one best idea, and tweet only that.

5. Delete bad tweets.

This medium is so ethereal that nobody expects (nor wants) a perfect permanent record of your tweets. If you feel regret, learn new information that changes your opinion, or think of a more effective way to say something, go fix it! You’re the boss of Twitter, Twitter is not the boss of you. And if you ever feel otherwise, take a moment to re-center.

6. Never call yourself a Twitter expert.

It takes 10 years to become an expert in something. Twitter is less than five years old.

Note: I realize that by tweeting a link to this post, I have broken rule number 1. So, um, I hereby grant you permission to break these rules. Whatever!

Tue 26 Jan 2010 7:36 am   //   Posted in: Media, Technology

Face the music

OK, I admit it, I’m psyched about the Apple announcement tomorrow. And I don’t even work in print any more.

Spend any time with people who do and you can feel the excitement like static electricity. Newspapers, magazines and book publishers almost universally expect Apple to announce a new hand-held computer tomorrow that will breathe life into their ailing businesses.

  • Carr: “The tablet represents an opportunity to renew the romance between printed material and consumer.”
  • The Journal: “With the new tablet device that is debuting next week, Apple Inc. Chief Executive Steve Jobs is betting he can reshape businesses like textbooks, newspapers and television much the way his iPod revamped the music industry…”
  • The Times: “With the widely anticipated introduction of a tablet computer at an event here on Wednesday morning, Apple may be giving the media industry a kind of time machine — a chance to undo mistakes of the past.”

Consensus seems to be that the Apple gizmo will do for print what the iPod did for music! How’d that work out?