Stewart Brand and the Pace Layer Model

Update: The full audio of the talk is now up on the Long Now blog.

I had the good fortune to see Stewart Brand speak the other night with futurist Paul Saffo as moderator at the The Interval, a bar/salon built by The Long Now Foundation. Brand edited the original Whole Earth Catalog (which Steve Jobs famously called, “Google in paperback form”), founded The Well which pre-dated (and set the tone for) internet newsgroups, and weaved his life in amongst Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and the Haight-Ashbury scene in the 1960s. I am a huge fan of Stewart’s philosophy and knew this would be a special talk. I was not disappointed.

Stewart Brand & the Pace Layer Model

“What does this even mean?”

So posted my neighbor in response to my Facebook posting of the diagram above.  I would describe it as a rubric to apply to the way change happens over time.  There is a natural order to systems where some elements move faster than others. This fractal pattern of fast & slow is repeated in all things, best described in Stewart’s book, Clock Of The Long Now

Consider, for example, a coniferous forest. The hierarchy in scale of pine needle, tree crown, patch, stand, whole forest, and biome is also a time hierarchy. The needle changes within a year, the tree crown over several years, the patch over many decades, the stand over a couple of centuries, the forest over a thousand years, and the biome over ten thousand years. The range of what the needle may do is constrained by the tree crown, which is constrained by the patch and stand, which are controlled by the forest, which is controlled by the biome. Nevertheless, innovation percolates throughout the system via evolutionary competition among lineages of individual trees dealing with the stresses of crowding, parasites, predation, and weather.

This model of thinking can be applied to all systems, natural and man made, and is useful to understand inter-dependencies. The model first came together in another book by Stewart, How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built

Pace Layering

Stewart noted that different layers in a building had different rates of change. The furniture (stuff) gets re-arranged freely while other layers such as the structure or skin are much less malleable. The most immutable is the site which is the plot of land upon which a building is standing, in cities bounded by streets and sight lines.

Huge skyscrapers dance to the choreography of (a city) street plan.

Besides rate of change, there are other properties of the layers of the model as you progress from the outside in,

Outer Inner
Fast Slow
Learn Remember
Propose Dispose
Absorb shock Integrate shock
Discontinuous Continuous
Innovation Constraint
Revolution Consistency
Gets Attention Has Power

The interplay between each layer in the model, the “slip zones” is where, as Stewart says, “all the action is.” The outer layers move more rapidly than the inner ones but each ring is not independent. There is tension of one upon the other so that something like fashion, which wiggles back and forth, revisiting and revising itself over time influences the other. As one ring moves, there is a viscosity between each layer and there is a tension that pulls and pushes neighboring layers so that changes in fashion lead to changes in commerce which then influences the infrastructure necessary to support that commerce and so on.

Pace Layering

When the tension becomes too great, we get “slippage” that must be absorbed to prevent the system from breaking apart. Like tectonic plates along a fault line, if one layer gets too out of sync with another, the shock from rapid movement of a layer causes ripple effects felt throughout the system. Healthy systems can incrementally absorb movements at their own speed. Those that cannot, because of inflexibility, crack and break as a result of the stress. If a government cannot adjust, it will ultimately be overthrown. If commercial pressures  in pursuit of ever greater profits outstrip the ethics of a culture, that too may break apart a system.

The 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco impacted the insurance industry that was not prepared to underwrite damage on such a large scale. This led directly to the financial panic of 1907. This is an example of a rapid movement in nature impacting commerce which required later adjustments to infrastructure and governance after the fact to address the new, post-earthquake reality.

Jupiter

Another way to visualize the Pace Layer model is by looking at the rings of Jupiter. Each ring moves at a different rate and the “shear” on the boundaries of each layer causes the turbulence seen above. Stewart calls these boundaries areas of “productive turbulence” rich in innovation and evolutionary change, similar to the tidal zones of the ocean side.

The intersection of change in these zones gives birth to our greatest ideas. The combination of the counter-culture movement of the Sixties with the convergence of technical advancements made available by the space race in Silicon Valley gave us the internet.

When the Pace Layer model is applied to our world today, Stewart argues that some forces such as technology have permeated each layer to the point where they act as “gravity” pulling layers along and keeping them in sync. The trend in wearable computing are very much in the fashion layer and demands and constraints there are driving commerce to keep up. New infrastructure is required to support new devices such as Apple’s iWatch (think beacons) and debates about data privacy are driving debates in our governance. The impact of everyone sharing location are forcing us to re-think our cultural norms. Will the culture of selfies and “competitive happiness” of status updates from Facebook here to stay or will there be a backlash?

Concepts such as Democracy and Capitalism are accelerators. The transparencies of  these methods of organization help transmit information quickly from one layer to the next. Think of them as catalysts that help the slower layers to move in sync with the others, preventing the need for large adjustments of the slower layers which inevitably cause shocks to the system.

Stewart added that the layers also act as filters which sift ideas from the outside layers. His example was that both hula hoops and jogging were born in the same Summer but only one survived to have broader impacts to the inner layers. Jogging begat an appreciation for exercise which drove new industries in commerce, infrastructure changed to allow for jogging paths as an important part of city development and so on.

As a parting thought, Stewart Brand left us all with some homework.

Identify a global issue/challenge foremost on your mind…

Now ask yourself:

  1. Out of which pace layer did it emerge?
  2. In which pace layer are its impacts most felt?
  3. From which pace layer is a solution most likely to emerge?

Consider the time dimension for each of 1 – 3:

  1. How long did it take for the issue to emerge?
  2. How long will it take to resolve?

The challenge proposed was global warming. While changes to the upper layers in fashion and commerce have impacted nature, the feedback from the planet in the form of super storms and long term droughts are now being felt with increasing frequency. Will the upper layers be able to absorb these changes or can changes in the governance layer lessen the impact and put in place laws and infrastructure that can reign in the onward momentum of the upper layers?

One challenge before us is that our existing structures of governance are limited by geography. Local, State and Federal governments are coming together to address climate change but to impact changes as deep as the global climate change, a new form of global governance may be necessary, one that has the teeth to make and enforce global policy changes. If not, we may be in for a rough ride and can expect multiple shocks to the system.

Lane Becker on Get Satisfaction, the Help Tab, and Code for America

Lane Becker is an optimist. He was co-author of a NY Times best seller Get Lucky and his twitter bio says, “You’re pretty.”

I got to know Lane during the early days of blogging and he was one of those ever-cheerful folks that helpfully pointed out the way forward,  never talking down at you or taking privilege from his influence in the community. A true community builder, he lead by inclusion. Get Satisfaction, the distributed support network he built with Thor Muller was a reflection of his spirit.

Many aspects of the service were cutting edge and advanced concepts we take for grated today. I invited Lane to speak at the third segment of the Better Builder’s Bureau to talk about the early days and over the course of an hour he weaves a tale of Web 2.0 history that takes you right back to those times where,

  1. SaaS was not a thing
  2. Social Businesses didn’t exist
  3. Web sites were a series of static pages, not interactive “apps”

So sit back and relax and take a trip back and remember what it was like back in 2007.

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

Highlights/Notes

3:00
You just have to be slightly ahead of the curve to succeed, “Silicon Valley is about the relentless present. The goal is to be right, right now.” People who are too far off in the future are often failures. It’s as much about timing as everything else.

4:30
OED entry for the word “blog” and the story around its genesis.

8:00
Valleyschwag, “e-commerce as performance art.”

11:00
Flashlight forums and “beam shots” as the model of an engaged online community that is independent of a company.  The existence of these communities convinced Lane that there was a business around community sites around company products, “stuff could be a thing that connected people.”

12:30
Questions, Problems, Ideas, and Praise
Get Satisfaction as a place for a broader conversation, one that not only includes a channel for problem resolution but also hosts threads about ideas and praise. Customer Service without companies.

16:00
Google Alerts hack that got them the attention of every single marketing executive, “we had accidentally created a direct line to every marketing person on the planet around the problems with their product that were key and important for them in that moment. This turns out to be key in the growth of our organization.”

27:00
Help tab came out of a specific set of circumstances. Product Managers are the ones that can synthesize multiple inputs and create features as solutions for these situations. How do we solve the problem of how to “get on every page” while still staying true to the product’s personality and soul. A good PM has a gut instinct for the “system” that lies underneath the UI & UX of their product.

34:00
Good guerrilla marketing does not equal a good business plan. Lane wishes he had just written a better help ticket system. That would have given him the runway to innovate. The future markets very well but the present sells.

“We were directionally right but specifically wrong.” Social did change business. It is reality today but the specific Get Satisfaction solution “bounced off the answer but it wasn’t the answer”

40:00
Code for America
No tensions around advertising. You don’t need to sell a government service.
This allows you to make wildly different choices in product design.
No need for customer growth, city governments can tell you where everyone lives and how to get in touch with them. More important is to reach and get responses from the population. You cannot have a target market and optimize just for that.

47:00
Government policy is waterfall development. All the arguement comes up front. What would it look like if they went agile, that power and authority comes from execution, not elective office or budget.

52:50
City of Oakland Record Trac shows speed and status of Public Information requests. By making public each department’s response time public the service has worked so well that each department uses Record Track instead of internal channels. The project was so successful that Code for America is spinning Record Trac off as a separate company.

I no longer have a role at Gigaom

Last week certainly was interesting. On Wednesday morning I was abruptly informed that, along with my VP and two engineers, that our services were no longer needed at Gigaom.

While unravelling my personal social profiles from the various company pages I had set up for Gigaom, it was Facebook’s robotic bit of micro-copy that really brought it home, “You no longer have a role on Gigaom.” Harsh.

No Role at Gigaom

Japanese has this wonderful phrase, iro iro (いろいろ) which means roughly, “lots of things that I’d rather not go into now but feel free to ask me over drinks” and I’ll leave it at that. Nothing dramatic, just a sudden shift of course that made it clear that it was time to move on. I’ll leave it at that.

I had a great run at Gigaom and I thank Daniel Raffel for the introduction and Paul Walborsky and Om Malik for their support while working there.  I joined when Gigaom was a collection of blogs with a nascent premium subscription business. Gigaom Research is now a major driver of revenue. As a Product Manager and later Director of Product the team tackled a number of projects of which I’m proud.

  • acquired and integrated paidcontent.org
  • redesigned Gigaom, Gigaom Research, and Gigaom Events as responsive
  • replaced the e-commerce back end
  • redesigned the gigaom.com post page and front page (twice)
  • rolled out a major re-brand across all properties
  • re-configured the Gigaom Research subscriber acquisition funnel
  • launched Analyst Connect, a simple way to connect to Gigaom Research analysts
  • launched Data Connect, a charts-centric view into Gigaom Research
  • launched Gigaom Search, a faceted search engine across the 15 year archive
  • launched Gigaom Alerts, a free tag-based notification service

In addition to the projects above, I am also pleased with my contribution to setting up how the Product Team is run. As the company grew through the critical 50 employee mark where unstructured cross-department communications begin to break down, the daily stand-up, weekly Dev Diary, Friday Show-and-Tell presentation, and quarterly Product Roadmaps all played an important role in keeping things on track. The methodology was simple and I think that’s what led to its success.

The engineers greased communication even further by migrating off our group Skype chat into HipChat rooms with integrations into GitHub and a script that could spawn a Google Hangouts on demand. We even had a Sonos-driven alarm that would play Bob Marley’s Get Up, Stand Up on queue to remind us all when it was time for our daily check-in. Sometimes it’s the little things.

It’s always bittersweet to leave a place of employment, like the breakup of a band. There’s a lot of talent there and I’ll miss working with them. I will also personally miss the vortex of activity that comes with working at an organization that takes in the news of the day and validates, organizes, and distributes it back to its readers.

Gigaom is a premium content business with increasingly valuable content and services made available to customers at its higher tier customers. I often tell people that the most valuable content is in the internal Gigaom newsfeeds, the price of which is full time employment. As of now, I am unsubscribed.

Yosemite

Happy 2015!

I’m coming off a longish Winter break where I did pretty much nothing. It felt good to relax and lounge about, recharging. It was delicious not have much of anything planned except spend time with the family and read the occasional book.

I posted Yosemite part one but now that part two is out, it’s worth embedding both videos below. From the filmmaker’s description, the two videos are the culmination of,

A 200+ mile backpacking experience through Yosemite National Park captured by Colin Delehanty and Sheldon Neill. This project was filmed over the course of 10 months. We spent a combined 45 days in the park capturing the images in this video.

As we prepare for the week ahead, it helps to breath deep and think of a greater beauty.

Yosemite HD

Yosemite HD II

You can read more about Project Yosemite and the equipment used to capture these images on their website.

Yosemite will always hold a place in my heart as a special place. I was fortunate enough to take my parents to visit when they were here last year.

Yosemite Valley

Christmas Eve 2014

Ian as Santa

Thompson Avenue was it’s usual carnival of lights this year as the neighborhood lit itself up and residents prepared to greet the thousands of people that came to walk our street, see the lighting displays, and of course visit with Santa.

Each December, all of the dudes on the block volunteer to play Santa Claus for an evening or two between December 6th and 23rd. It’s always fun to hear what the little ones want for Christmas. Hightlights this year were”

  • the boy who wanted a tuba (I made a deal with him to play it when his parents are asleep in the morning)
  • the girl who, amidst a long list of video games wanted a book of poetry
  • the little girl who whispered to me before she left, “Why do people still fight wars?”

Merry Christmas everyone.

Christmas Tree Lane #hyperlapse

A video posted by Ian Kennedy (@everwas) on

Shift Media 2014

shift-media-2014

Quick notes from yesterday’s Bold Italic Shift Digital Media Conference which was held at The Chapel in the Mission district of San Francisco yesterday.

The venue and format were perfect. $85 for a half day session of talks in an intimate nightclub off of Valencia Street. Tickets were sold out and the attendees came from across the digital media spectrum, from publishers to advertisers, which made for great side conversations. The Bold Italic, is a San Francisco “hyperlocal” site funded by Gannett, that has acted as an experimental lab of sorts for it’s parent company and this was one of their bigger events, designed to position them as a digital media innovator.

The Chapel

Matt Galligan from cir.ca was first up.

I’ve seen him speak before (my write-up about cir.ca) but he always has new observations to share about the media business.

Brand loyalty to media companies is gone. A show of hands revealed that most people do not remember where they heard about the news they read that day underlining the point that, in a world where distribution costs next to nothing, attention is what is most costly. The undercurrent in this talk and others that followed was that the social networks of the day are the new gate keepers to what gets read.

Fox News at one end of the political spectrum and MSNBC on the other are no different from Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm in that they pander to their audiences’ selected interests and are responsible, to a certain extent, for the polarization we see in society today. Matt sees a need for an editorial viewpoint to tell the most important stories of the day which may come outside your chosen interests.

It’s a great time to be a media startup (“news is sexy again”) but there’s  a danger in either being too driven by either an editorial or distribution-focused strategy. A successful company needs to have a “true North” point of view  in order to succeed. In his view, Vice News is successful because it has a very clear point of view so its viewers can put the stories in context. Buzzfeed, in Matt’s view, is a bit lost because it is too optimized for social distribution and no one is sure of it’s point of view.

When asked about what he would do if he was put in charge of The New York Times, Matt said he was surprised to see a recent job posting for a “Print Editor” which, to him, signaled a recognition of the difference in the print medium from others. He went on to say that rather than originating stories for print that the Times should flip the hierarchy around writing for Mobile, followed by Web, and finally for Print at the end of the chain.

Matt’s parting words was that we should all glance at the Wikipedia entry for Yellow Journalism to give perspective to the current rash of deceptive, linkbait headlines and where this trend could ultimately be taking us.

Jessica Saia of The Bold Italic was next with a talk about how to make good viral content with “visual satire.”

She gave us a peak into the brilliance of TBI’s creative genius and shared several of their more successful riffs on popular journalistic genres.

Corner Stourmet pokes fun at gourmet food photography (Jessica’s roommate is a photographer) by using ingredients from her local corner store which resulted in sharable works of art such as the Frito Scoop Amuse Bouche.

Amuse Bouche

Another is their Actual Food Porn piece which was engineered to jump on to the #foodporn hashtag train. Do/Don’t/Oh God Please Don’t pushes the norms of the standard fashion magazine column while the Kid Food Reviews bring the brutal honesty of 4-year olds to the restaurant critic genre (TBI’s review of The French Laundry is their most successful post ever).

Kid Food Reviews

Each of The Bold Italic’s satire pieces takes a cliche and twists it into a caricature of itself designed to lead to that, “OMG, have you seen this?” moment driving its readers to share and introduce them to new audiences.

Greg Isenberg of 5by gave a talk about making successful viral videos.

He shared a stat that 1 out 3 millennials do not watch television. Not broadcast, not cable, just YouTube and other online video. With unlimited space, imagination is your only barrier.

A couple of pointers,

  1. Assume your audience has the attention span of an “espresso-fueled fruit fly” which means your cuts need to be quick. What’s important is velocity, not length.
  2. You need “lighter fluid” to get things going. Sharing stats on the Double Rainbow video Greg pointed out that even though the video was posted in January 2010, it wasn’t until Jimmy Kimmel put his spotlight on it on in July that it really took off.
Lexi Nisita, Social Media Director at Refinery 29 spoke about the dangers of “lab-created” viral

Truly viral content shares certain elements which signal authenticity. It’s usually “low budget, grass roots, and gritty.”

Lexi pointed to Random Acts of Pasta as an example of a viral video which positioned Olive Garden so well that many thought it was a clever way for the company to get media coverage during the Thanksgiving holiday (according to the company, it was not).

Before Refinery 29 decides to work with a brand on a social media campaign, they use a rubric to gauge its effectiveness.

Identity – does it make the person sharing the content look good or feel smart. Does it enhance their identity?

Life Improving – does it act as a gift? If shared, will it impart knowledge? The example here being a blow dryer company sharing top tips in a blog post as something one person can forward to another.

Heart-Pounding Emotion – does it provoke either “righteous anger,” tears of laughter, or nostalgia. All are powerful drivers of sharing behavior.

Bobbie Johnson, Senior Editor at Medium held an Ask Me Anything session where he took questions from the audience.

Medium is both a platform and a publisher. Not a surprise is Medium is the combination of both Blogger (tools) and Twitter (distribution). Both companies that Medium’s founder, Ev Williams, founded.

While Buzzfeed and others like it are enjoying incredible valuations, they are built on the promise of continued success from their native advertising programs. In Bobbie’s words, “the leaves will be pulled away” from this business as there is only so much sponsored content that you can put into the mix before it collapses from its own weight.

News on mobile devices is still primarily, “lumps of text” and needs to evolve to take advantage of the platform. It is still very early days and a challenge that Medium is very interested in solving.

Medium wants to be a platform where brands engage alongside content producers as equals. They want to be youtube.com for writing. A place you go to view collections of content from all ends of the publisher-advertiser spectrum. To this point, when asked if Medium would share revenues with content creators on the site, Bobbie replied that if they did not, “they’d be doing it wrong.”

When asked (by yours truly) if Medium would allow for domain-mapping that would allow brands and publishers to run Medium sites within their own domain, he said that it was a top priority for the company but that they wanted to take their time to do it in a way that would not take away from the network and community effects that they currently enjoy on Medium. I look forward to learning more.

The next session was a panel discussion on native advertising.

It was unfortunate that only the business side of publishing was represented, none of the panelists (except the moderator, Jennifer Maerz, editor at The Bold Italic) serve in an editorial role.

Everyone was surprised to hear results from a Quartz survey shared by Ryan that found 80% of C-level executives are interested and read branded content. CEOs want to hear what their competition, customers and partners have to say (and how they say it), not only what the media has to say about them. This was a unique insight that made me think deeper about the value of sponsored content.

When asked who creates branded content the answers were across the board. Some publications, such as The Bold Italic, have editorial do double-duty and write pieces that get the “sponsored” label (Bobbie Johnson mentioned he used to do this at the Guardian. They were called Advertising Supplements). Other publications have a group that reports into advertising that works with brands to create content. On the other side, some of the larger brands create their own content and work with publishers to distribute it. Finally, MediaCo sits in between. Their parent is a PR firm but their team has a journalistic background and works with brands to create and distribute content that will be compelling and effective.

I was surprised how much sponsored content runs on Quartz. It’s an important part of their business and allows for them to cut back on the number of banner ads they have to run to support their business. During the session, Ryan mentioned that Quartz has a rule to show no more than one sponsored post on the waterfall for every three “news” posts which seems a lot.

Matt Kaye brought up the insight that as more viewership moves to mobile, the more important it is to have sponsored posts that are relevant and interesting to read.

After the break there was a short dialog between Sherine Kazim and JP Stallard about personalization.

The two were debating cookies and other tracking mechanisms as it relates to advertising which they view as creepy, (“I strongly dislike being a product.” said JP) Unfortunately the debate was stuck talking about advertising and did not bring in the benefits of personalization as it relates to publishing. Some of the most interesting work in media is around implicit personalization based on reading behavior and how it can enhance your reading experience.

The next session brought together several user research experts to talk about Reader Behavior: Motivations, Trends & Insights

Larkin Brown User Research at Pinterest
Stephanie Carter Experience Research at Facebook
Bethany Pickard User Experience at Google
Ximena Vengoechea Full Cycle Research at LinkedIn

The final panel  of the day started off unexpectedly with the moderator reading from a passage and spending a long time introducing each panelist and asking several favorite/least favorite questions that brought out some strange answers but did a lot to warm up the room and get bring out the personalities of the panelists.

Several people noticed that it was an entire panel of women which is something several people said to me throughout the day. It was certainly a nice change to see so many women on stage and in the audience and I commend The Bold Italic for bringing together a healthy mix. It made for a better conference.

While many topics were covered, my notes were on the various tips and tricks the researchers used when in the field.

Stephanie spoke about her time at The New York Times when they used Food (farmer’s market grazer or fast food?) or Social Status (arm candy or committed?) as metaphors useful for grouping personas. These methods abstracted the descriptions a level so that they did not fall into a particular demographic group which is limiting when, particularly when looking at reading habits. Different age groups would sometimes share behaviors.

Bethany had an interesting point that when navigating online content there is no sense of how much you are missing. With a physical object such as a book or a newspaper you have visual cues that tell you if you’ve skipped a section but in the online world of the endless scroll, there is no “end.”

At one point there was as discussion of “trusted sources” and someone mentioned that its useful to think of such a source as a pathway to more quality content. I share this viewpoint in that links on a site should be treated as a curated collection and cannot always be trusted to third party widgets driven by an algorithm.

Someone in the audience asked how to collect user research without a dedicated user research team. Each panel member had their own tricks which included:

Bring in two people and observe the first person describe their experience to their partner. These secondary observations can uncover non-obvious aspects of your product that are suppressed in one-on-one interactions.

Camp out at a coffee shop, make friends with the barrista. Tell them that you will offer to buy coffee for anyone who will spend time with you on user research.

Repeat the last word someone says to you with a question mark as a way to continue the dialog. When someone states that, “I then copy/paste and send an email,” you then repeat, “Email?” to uncover motivations.

The final talk of the day was a discussion between Mat Honan and Clara Jeffery about Mat’s upcoming piece for Wired on the Future of Media.

Joel Johnson from Gawker was originally supposed to appear but recent news kept him from keeping his date so Clara stepped in to take his place.

Mat had news of his own to share and announced that he was taking over as Buzzfeed’s Silicon Valley bureau chief and that they would be building up their editorial team here.

Both Mat and Clara had interesting things to say about the readership on their perspective sites.

Wired’s readers are still primarily desktop. There was an audible gasp in the audience. While most tech news web sites have crossed over and have more mobile readers, the grand-daddy tech site of them all still had more desktop readers than mobile. Not only that, if I heard correctly, he also said that many of them still come in via the front page! Old habits die hard I guess.

Riffing a little on why he found Buzzfeed attractive, Mat said it was because they had figured out social better than any other publisher and were thus well-positioned for the future. This lead Clara to say,

A question back from Mat pondered a future where stories live as sharable units on their own, within social media feeds, independent of their site. Some good food for thought in that nugget there.

While Mat views traditional, attention-stealing advertising as “threatening” his views of native advertising are more nuanced. I believe he sees the convergence of editorial and revenue as a trend to get ahead of and he views Buzzfeed as ahead of the game here. I look forward to reading his Wired piece in January. He assured the audience that he only started seriously talking about moving from Wired to Buzzfeed after the story was filed.

Clara shared that Mother Jones burst back onto the scene with it’s blockbuster scoop of Mitt Romney’s 47% video clip. Thankfully they had just completed an overhaul of their infrastructure so their site stayed up despite the deluge of new traffic but the interesting thing is that following that spike many of the new readers stuck around and they are still enjoying more than double the traffic when compared to before the Mitt Romney story. She did not get around to revealing how those new readers were converted to return visitors.

If you’ve read this far I applaud your stamina! These notes are my way of thinking out loud and crystallizing my learnings in a way that I can refer to them in the future. Feel free to share your own thoughts  in the comments below.

Short Term vs. Long Term Metrics

Silicon Valley has replaced Wall Street as the preferred destination of fresh graduates. The pursuit of short term wealth on Wall Street in the 80s is replaced with other short term data points which, when pursued with a singular focus, can skew one’s moral compass.

“If Google’s primary weapons are relevancy and speed, then Uber’s are cost and speed.” What I didn’t say: They are fairly similar in their inability to deal with consumers at a human level. That is the challenge of our times.

– Om Malik, Technology and the Moral Dimension

In this data-driven world we must keep in mind what is being measured and remember that organizations instinctively optimize for those metrics. During this Thanksgiving break, think of alternative, long term metrics such as Lifetime Customer Value, Renewal Rates, and Net Promoter Score as important KPIs for your business’ success in the long term.

Contextual Dissonance

Contextual Dissonance – When clearly commercial content is offered during a time when I’m not in commercial mode, it just feels off.

John Battelle nails that feeling you get when you notice a brand trying a bit too hard to insert themselves into a conversation. To advertise at scale on the web brands resort to algorithms. But trying to algorithmically insert an ad unit into a newsfeed [rarely] [ever] [works].

Conversations require you to listen and respond. If you aren’t really listening, you’re just talking at someone. That is the value of a media property, they aggregate an audience around a topic and host the tone and theme of that conversation. Because they play the host, they are that much better able to match the advertiser to their audience.

This matchmaking is why advertising on a media property is so much more effective than on a social media site. For several years the conversation has moved away from media sites to social media sites and the advertisers followed. But I feel the pendulum is swinging back the other way as brands realize that they are more effective in getting their message across on media sites which share their audience and interests.

This is not to say advertising on social media sites is in danger. There will always be room for diversions of entertaining snippets sprinkled throughout. But substantive marketing pieces that inform engaged readers will only work on vertically-focused media sites.

Comanche, the new kid in town

Photo by Onne Van Der Wal
Photo by Onne Van Der Wal

In the world of sailing, the big boats are the Super Maxi class ocean-going racers. Netscape billionaire Jim Clark has commissioned Comanche, a 100 foot vessel that only a nautical architect with unlimited resources could dream up.

Comanche

Built in Maine for a cool $1.4 billion, it is currently on a ship enroute to Australia where it will compete in the SOLAS Big Boat Challenge in Sydney Harbour on December 9th, followed by the Rolex Sydney to Hobart race after Christmas.

Designed to win races and break records, it boasts an 11,000 square feet spinnaker.

h/t to my colleague Eli who sails the San Francisco Bay