Jan 30, 2010

The iPhone, The Kindle App & Me

In the swirl of debate around the iPad, one of the things I kept reading from iPaddies was that it was "impossible to read books on an iPhone."

And so I feel compelled to point out that's just not true.

I've been reading books on my iPhone for the past six months, using the Kindle app and it's been a very positive experience. I'm reading a lot more in total, able to read in a lot more situations and I'm reading things I might not have tackled previously due to their sheer volume. That's 32 books in total, ranging from history books like Harrison Salisbury's 900 Days, The Siege of Leningrad to business books like Gary Vaynerchuk's Crush It! to novels like the (excellent) City of Thieves by David Benioff and Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese. (And yes, reading City of Thieves did indeed lead me to the Salisbury book.)

I did not expect to like reading books on an iPhone. In fact, I'd probably have bet a four-figure sum of money that I'd hate it. But Random House was giving away some books for free, one of which was Whiskey Rebels by David Liss, a book I'd been meaning to read anyway, so I figured I'd give it a try.

I was hooked. Here's why
  • I always have my book with me. No more realizing I left it on the nightstand or on my desk.
  • It's easy to take it out in situations where a full-on book would be unwieldy- e.g. standing on line in a store.
  • It's one less thing to have to carry around
  • I can read at night without having to keep a lamp on and waking up my wife.
  • The app always opens up to the exact page I was at - no forgetting the bookmark and trying to remember what page I was on.
  • The only negative - frequent page turning - is not so negative when you read in small chunks of time - I actually feel like I'm making progress, even if all I've read are four iPhone sized pages. And even when I do read for an hour or two, it's not really bothersome and most times I'm not aware of it.
  • Finding my place again if I skip forward or backward is a bit tricky, but mostly involves remembering what # on the slider bar I was at. More cumbersome than sticking my finger on the page in an actual book, but a minor hassle nonetheless.
  • Kindle samples. Amazon often gives you the first chapter or so to read as a "sample." At which point you can decide if you want to continue and buy the book or just move on.
But of all the above, I'd have to say that the two key pluses were "one less thing to carry around" and "it's always with me." 

PS: Whispersync is one of the sillier tech names out there - it's not like syncing is particularly noisy or anything.

If you're blogger or podcaster, you can enter the Hive Awards for just $29!!
Final deadline has been extended to February 15th and the show will be at SXSWi in Austin!  ENTER HERE

Jan 27, 2010

The Obligatory iPad Post

I’ll keep this short and sweet.

Yeah, it’s cool and it’d be fun to have one.

Sort of the way it’d be fun to have a Lamborghini or some other essentially useless Italian sportscar.

For most of the trumpeted uses of the iPad, it all comes down to one basic question: why would I want to do that on a really great small(ish) screen (that doesn't fit into my pocket the way my iPhone can) when I can do it on a really great big screen?


Keynote is trying enough on my 13-inch MacBook screen (compared to the usual 24 inch monitor I use) why would I want to work with it on a smaller screen?

Video? Have you ever tried to watch anything longer than a YouTube clip on a hand-held device? Can you say “neck pain” or “hand cramp”?

Photos. If I’m serious about them, I’ll want a big screen to do graphics. And if I’m showing someone my vacation photos, the iPhone is just fine.

Newspapers and magazines will look better on the iPad, but I’m not sure that usage alone will convince most of us to part with $500-800.

Ditto iBooks. I have been reading books on my iPhone for the past 6 months and I’m very happy with the experience (though I didn’t initially think I would be.) What’s more, I actually find I’m reading a whole lot more. Mostly because the iPhone is always with me. Whereas the iPad is just one more device to schlep around.

There’s nothing wrong with the iPad - I’m sure each and every experience on there is well-designed and delightful to use. It’s just that it doesn’t fulfill a need the way the iPod and iPhone did. Both those devices did things that were instantly recognizable as “Yes! I’ve been wishing I could do that for the longest time!” moments.

The iPad is cool, but Jobs did not offer up that “ah-hah” moment today, the one that lets people say “of course I need this.”

Maybe they will in time, but not yet. Which is not to say I won’t be keeping my eye on how iPad usage develops as people actually begin to play with it, but for right now, I’m choosing to be a not-so-early adopter.

PS: Am I the only one who thought it was weird that Jobs' spreadsheet example involved someone obsessively keeping stats on an 8 year old soccer team? I coach youth sports teams enough to know that's sort of creepy.

PPS: Don't forget to enter the Hive Awards for the Unsung Heroes of the Internet

Jan 26, 2010

Hive Awards Updates and A Treat

I have admittedly been bad about the frequency of my updates here this month - busy trying to get the Hive Awards off the ground.

Speaking of which, I just wanted to give you a recap and some details:

Call for Entries ends 1.31 2.15, so ENTER NOW

The show itself will be held as a part of SXSW Interactive

When: Friday, March 12th @ 8PM
Where: Red 7, 611 East 7th Street, off Red River Road (Bing map here)

Microsoft Bing is now one of our sponsors - look for more announcements on that front shortly.

And now for the treat: former SNL cast member Rachel Dratch ("Debby Downer" and others) and comedian Billy Eichner put together this spoof of Jay-Z & Alicia Keys' "Empire State of Mind." I try and keep the personal off this blog, but this hit home: this is where I grew up, went to high school, etc. I can pretty much tell you where every shot was taken. And while it's particularly funny if you grew up surrounded by "lots of women with fur and diet pills" and attended dozens of themed bar and bat mitzvahs, I am assured by friends who didn't that, like Seinfeld, the humor is pretty much universal.


Best viewed full screen mode (just click the four-arrow icon)

PS: I contacted Eichner to request a downloadable copy and tell him how much I enjoyed the video - we exchanged a couple of emails and he's a very nice guy. You can follow him on Twitter too and find out where he's playing.

PPS: You can follow the Hive Awards on Twitter too-- and DON'T FORGET TO ENTER

Jan 21, 2010

Social Media Week

Social Media Week is going to be held the first week of February in Toronto, Sao Paulo, San Francisco, New York, London and Berlin.

I am on the Advisory Board for the New York event and there are going to be a whole lot of great sessions, panels, parties and whatnot.

But you won't be able to go to any of them unless you register now, which you can do at http://socialmediaweek.org/

Toby Daniels has done an outstanding job of coordinating all this and getting all the pieces in place and recruiting some top notch talent to appear.

See you there!

Jan 18, 2010

It’s Not The Medium, It’s The Money

The other day I was talking with a friend who was once very involved with the ad business until he found more lucrative pastures and went his merry way. We were talking about how much the business had changed since the early 90s and he voiced a question I’ve heard asked a lot recently both inside and outside the ad industry: why are clients still spending millions of dollars making TV commercials.

Like most intelligent people, my friend understood why a company would need to have some sort of TV presence: millions of people watch TV, it’s an effective way to reach certain audiences, not everyone owns and uses a DVR, etc. and so forth.

What baffled him instead was why so many clients continued to spend such a large percentage of their budget producing said TV commercials. The multimillion dollar budgets, the month-long trips to exotic locations, the millions spent on special effects... that’s all still there. And while there’s admittedly less of it than there was in say 1987, it hasn’t disappeared as quickly as a pure business analysis would demand.

For to restate what has (for many of us) become obvious, TV has become just one of the many places a consumer may see a brand’s message, the reach is nowhere near as broad as it was in the days of three networks, achieving the degree of frequency and ubiquity possible in the pre-internet days is all put impossible and the number of people who do own and use DVRs to fast-forward through TV commercials is increasing daily.

Despite this, many companies continue to spend vast sums of money producing TV commercials, an action with numerous repercussions. The primary one being that the TV commercial becomes the centerpiece of their marketing campaign and time and money is not spent on other programs that might actually increase sales more effectively, e.g product design, customer service, R&D.

The blame here falls pretty heavily on the marketing departments of the companies in question. Ad agencies don’t help, but for the most part, they’re just enablers. (And who can blame them? The profits from a big budget TV shoot are still pretty sweet and as much as certain members of the creative community would like to pretend otherwise, in the absence of wealthy corporate patrons, ad agencies still need to turn a profit.)

Which is why there’s a whole lot of head-scratching these days about why the same company that will put up a hue and cry about spending $30,000 for a Facebook program will gladly (and rapidly) spend twice that amount to fly a TV commercial director and his entourage to Istanbul (first class) or reshoot 2 not-very-critical seconds of a 30 second TV commercial just to make sure the grass is the exact right shade of green. (I am not exaggerating here. The amount of money spent on shooting TV commercials is truly mind-boggling, even more so when you factor in the many millions that large packaged goods companies still spend on testing and re-testing these commercials before they go into full production.)

And while attention to detail is a glorious thing, there’s a point at which it veers towards insanity. The insanity in the marketing community seems to be a result of fear and stagnation more than anything else. Fear, because marketing jobs seem to be even more tenuous than advertising jobs (if such a thing were possible) and stagnation, because right now, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of reward for shaking things up.

I say “right now” because this too will change. Perhaps not fast enough for some companies, but for others, the ideal marketing person is going to be someone who’s spent time at companies who “get it,” someone who realizes that the millions that were once lavished on television production are better spent on things like experience design (there’s a reason Lee Clow called the Apple Store “the best ad Apple ever did”) or the sort of Zapposesque customer service that builds DWOM (digital word of mouth).

That’s the sort of person who’ll be running most large marketing departments ten years from now. They will be the “Marketing General Contractor” I described in a post I wrote last summer. And they will smile at the old-fashioned notion that shooting a TV commercial requires a year’s worth of testing and planning, lavish lunches at Nobu and the expenditure of 70% of their annual budget.

Jan 14, 2010

Is "Post-Posting" Cheating?

Put this up on my Posterous site, but thought that Toad Stool readers who haven't seen the light yet and become Facebook fans might want to weigh in:

Is checking in after the fact on a location-based service like FourSquare cheating?

Jan 12, 2010


The dream is getting more and more real.

We've worked out a deal with SXSW Interactive to make the Hive Awards a part of the festival. So we will be down in Austin with our very first show ever on Friday, March 12th at 8 PM. (Still working on the "where" details.)

Texas-sized props to Hugh Forrest of SXSW for making this happen, to Katie King for answering all my "but wait, what about...." type questions and Lisa Owens for helping us find the right location.

We are absolutely thrilled to be a part of the most important tech event on earth, and even more thrilled that so many of our fans and supporters will be there to help us celebrate.

Details to come as to venue, presenters, etc.


Jan 5, 2010

Multimedia Madness

In a recent piece on the ephemeral iTablet, the New York Times’ David Carr seeks to revive the MultiMedia Myth. You know, the old canard that says that people want to jump back and forth between words and video while they’re reading.

That was the whole premise behind CD-ROMs and we know how that ended up.

Now of course there are situations where “multimedia” works well. Instructional material (e.g. How To Do A Sit-Up, How To Retile A Bathtub, How To Roast A Chicken) and breaking news stories come to mind.

But for most everything else, reading is a completely different activity than watching.

First off, we read in very different places and frames of mind than we watch. Take silence, for instance. There’s a reason “talking websites” are viewed with disdain. We often read in places where we can enjoy the silence (or the background music) or where we don’t want to cut ourselves off entirely from the world around us (via headphones) as we do with video and audio.

Carr cites being able to bring the iTablet to bed to read a magazine and then being able to click on a video of one of the photos. All well and good if you live alone, but if there’s someone else in the bed with you, a video blaring away on your iTablet is pretty annoying.

Our frame of mind is different when we read too. Even if it’s a magazine article, reading happens at one’s own pace. You can daydream, project, fantasize, question, imagine. And then pick up where you left off. That’s something you really can’t do with video since daydreaming isn’t the sort of planned activity that would let you hit the pause button at the exact right moment.

Reading lets us project ourselves onto a scene. Video lets us see how someone else imagined that scene. Both valid, but different enough that we rarely want them happening in the same place.

Finally, there’s the ability to skim. If I’m reading something, I can scan the page and make a pretty quick determination of whether it’s relevant or not. Something I can’t do with a video.

There are lots of reasons a tablet-like magazine reader with the ability to display incredible photos would be a good idea.

The ability to transform those photos into video isn’t one of them.