Vinod Khosla, the prominent venture capitalist who has been investing hundreds of millions of his own dollars in green technology companies for the last several years, will now invest other people’s money, too.
Khosla Ventures, the firm he founded in 2004 after leaving Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, is announcing on Tuesday that it has raised $1.1 billion in two funds that will invest in green technology and information technology start-ups.
This is the largest amount raised by a venture capital firm since 2007 and the largest first-time fund raised since 1999, according to the National Venture Capital Association.
In a recent Congressional hearing where venture capitalist Trevor Loy explained this to our elected officials, Senator Jim Bunning of Kentucky apparently told Loy that he didn't believe him that VCs invest in private companies rather than companies likely to be rated by the various ratings agencies.... And, yet, these are the folks writing the regulations. This is why some of us get nervous about gov't regulations. Yes, in an ideal world, perfectly knowledgeable regulators might possibly be able to divinely create regulations that work. But that's not what we have.
To put things in perspective, the size of the entire venture capital industry is about $30 billion — not nearly enough to affect the banking system. If that were the case, Bernie Madoff would have been able to wreak extreme amounts of systemic financial damage (rather than personal or institutional), seeing as how his infamous Ponzi scheme was more than twice that size ($65 billion) after accounting for fabricated gains.
With that $30 billion, however, the venture capital industry has created untold amounts of private and, yes, public wealth.
In terms that our politicians can comprehend: By attempting to regulate something that 1) doesn't need it, 2) doesn't deserve it, and 3) legislators are apparently incapable of understanding, we'll never get the next generation of those Internet tubes!
Here is the full text of Mr. Loy's testimony to Congress:
For one thing, it's unclear how the FTC reconciles the delivery of this seminar with its self-stated mandate of working "for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them." Lacking a "Ministry of Information" in the U.S. I suppose this had to be filed somewhere.
For another... Any media outlet that lets in the government, in any form, loses a proportionate share of its credibility. At that point, you might as well call it a "newsletter" or, less charitably, "propaganda."
The First Amendment implications, of course, are staggering.
Few government intrusions into our lives have ever been rolled back. This is real, and it starts as innocuously as this.
In the Treasury financial reform proposal, who comes in for more regulatory retooling: Fannie Mae, or your average 14-man venture capital shop? If you said venture capital, you understand why one of America’s greatest competitive advantages is now at risk in Washington.
It's clear to me that government isn't interested in solving problems but, rather, interested in "problems" it can "solve."
The U.S. Marine Corps has banned Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and other social media sites from its networks, effective immediately.
“These internet sites in general are a proven haven for malicious actors and content and are particularly high risk due to information exposure, user generated content and targeting by adversaries,” reads a Marine Corps order, issued Monday. “The very nature of SNS [social network sites] creates a larger attack and exploitation window, exposes unnecessary information to adversaries and provides an easy conduit for information leakage that puts OPSEC [operational security], COMSEC [communications security], [and] personnel… at an elevated risk of compromise."
In any event, writer Noah Shachtman (whom I've followed ever since my agency-side days working for SRI) is quick to point out that "many within the Pentagon's highest ranks find value in the Web 2.0 tools." Fair 'nuff. At that level in the military, they've probably earned it.
That said... Am I the only one who shudders to think that "OPSEC" or "COMSEC" can be meaningfully foiled by... Facebook?
I've always found it well-designed and comprehensive, though something has always bugged me about it. The other day, I figured out what it was.
Somewhat incredibly, it ignores the number-one rule that all combat pilots must follow: "Lose Sight, Lose the Fight."
The flaw is in the little box at the lower right-hand corner.
INFLUENCE: Focus on the most used sites related to the Air Force.
Seems narrow to me. For example, let's imagine that, say, and influencer like Robert Scoble is talking with a buddy in the Air Force. One day over coffee, the buddy says that the plane he flew in Iraq had an intermittent issue where the readouts would blink for no good reason when he crossed 10,000 feet. Let's also say this friend implied that his plane wasn't the only one to exhibit this non-fatal, but ultimately disconcerting, behavior.
Let's then imagine that the influencer is later inspired to write about software quality and (presumably with his friend's permission and guarantee of anonymity) brings up the story of his friend's in-flight readout problem. The predictable number of links, comments, and "likes" ensue.
At that moment, an influencer who is hardly a "most used [site] related to the Air Force" just became very important.
And it falls outside the scope of the chart, at least until an Air-Force-related site picks it up. By then, it would be too late.
Recognizing that online interactions are "rich and complex" (as an acquaintance and former RAND analyst would say), one realizes that no flowchart will catch every or even most situations.
That said, this part strikes me as pretty severe, and certainly misses a core tenet of combat pilot philosophy.
From peHUB about video processor startup Novafora folding yesterday:
"'VC appetite has really dried up for later-stage semiconductor companies,' says a former Novafora executive, reached at his home this morning. 'They all want to do social networking and things like that.'"
Sure, you want to go where the money is and where a quick exit can be had, but isn't that how you got into that whole mess in 2001?
NB: If we don't invest in keeping pace with Moore's Treadmill, the next-generation social network, entertainment device, toaster, or garage door opener simply won't happen.
As I told a colleague some years ago: "Dot-coms make headlines. Well and good. But science makes history."
However unlikely its reimplementation, Battle adds that the Fairness Doctrine – even if applied only to now-conservative-dominated talk radio – could benefit the PR sector.
If the measure were to gain passage, PR firms could, in theory, demand airtime for their clients, he says.
“In a sense, it could be a boon for the PR industry,” he says, “because any time Rush Limbaugh [or a liberal host] makes an argument that goes against the message or mission of a client, [a PR pro] could call up with the law on [his or her] side and demand an opportunity to put the client's views forward.”
I imagine that this news whipped around some agency email lists with blind enthusiasm. I also really hope no working PR practitioners actually take this stercoraceous nonsense seriously.
For those who don't know, the Fairness Doctrine (which I have previously mentioned) came into being during a time in American broadcasting when available spectrum — and, therefore, variety in broadcast content — was meager. Thus, rules had to be put in place to ensure that the airwaves, considered a public trust, would carry all major viewpoints of a particular issue. (This is very different from the equal time rule, which is only relevant during a campaign, or the personal attack rule, which only applies to when someone is attacked on-air.)
Today, we don't have that problem. In fact, I argue we have the opposite problem — no one in America ever has to consume content they're likely to disagree with. (That's a debate for another time.)
Suffice to say, the Fairness Doctrine has been dead since 1987. Newly empowered congressional Democrats, however, seek to resurrect it.
There are various reasons why the Fairness Doctrine is a bad idea, to say nothing of its possible use as a PR tactic:
Technology has made the spectrum-scarcity argument absolutely moot, and I know that I probably don't have to go into too much detail with my readers on this point.
The Fairness Doctrine is 100% unconstitutional, as it creates a First-Amendment-violating environment of "prior restraint." In other words, a broadcaster would be reluctant to tackle any issue worth discussing for fear of triggering the Fairness Doctrine. In such a media environment, no one wins. (For more on prior restraint, review Near v. Minnesota, Austin v. Keefe, U.S. v. Progressive, The New York Times Co. v. United States, et al. I'm not a lawyer, but I nevertheless find media law fascinating.)
Enforcing "fairness" is simply not the government's job, justice is. Few people understand the difference between the two. Life, unfortunately, is inherently unfair. (And there's no Santa Claus either.)
This is little more than a "Hush Rush [Limbaugh]" idea, pure and simple. It has nothing to do with "fairness" so much as silencing the harshest public critics of the current legislative majority and the executive branch. I'm not terribly fond of Rush, to tell you the truth, but he got to where he is through his own hard work, his knowledge of his audience, and his deep confidence in what he believes. Agree with his views or not, he certainly doesn't deserve to be punished for them. In any case, the net effect of forcing a Fairness Doctrine on "El Rushbo" would have the net effect of shutting down his program. The Democrats must know that using the Fairness Doctrine to silence a leading conservative voice evokes that scene in Star Wars when Darth Vader kills Obi-Wan Kenobi: "If you strike me down I will become more powerful than you can possible imagine."
Sure, enterprises like Air America struggle to gain an interested listenership. Why? Because no one is interested in what they say or how they say it. That's fine. There are plenty of other places where someone can obtain left-leaning opinion commentary, and most don't rely on an executive's highly placed spouse, either.
Most certainly, some outlets would love the reinstatement of a Fairness Doctrine. However, using the Fairness Doctrine to achieve a PR goal is for PR folks who don't know how to change minds, but do know how to run to daddy.
In any event, PR people need to always think in terms of chess, not checkers. So, best-case scenario, say you're successful in using the Fairness Doctrine to get your client time on the airwaves. Exactly what do you think it does to your client's credibility if the only way it could get its message out is through bureaucracy and procedure?
I can hear it now:
You're listening to WANK-AM, newstalk 790. Last week, we received a Fairness Doctrine notice from the FCC's Ministry Of Fairness. So, today, we have to bring on Mike Romaneger...
I don't want to live in that media environment.
And I definitely don't want the public relations industry to be even partially responsible.
It’s possible that a David Geffen, Michael Bloomberg, or Carlos Slim would purchase The Times as a trophy property and spare the company some of this pain. Even Rupert Murdoch, after overpaying wildly for The Wall Street Journal, seems to be tempted by the prospect of adding The Times to his portfolio.
Having A "Message" Is Fine, It's "Messaging" That Sucks
In PR 2.0 circles, it has long been hip to say that there is no place in modern communications for a company with "messages" and that any company with "messages" is somehow lost in the digital weeds. A PR person who says otherwise is derided as a knuckle-dragging troglodyte while the supremely useless you-don't-get-it crowd gleefully jumps in and piles on.
I disagree with the premise that messages are necessarily dead. This was a fallacy that was allowed to progress because the some PR folks were too busy ingratiating themselves with a small set of influencers to think the issues and distinctions through.
If your company doesn't have a "message" — a set of clear ideas that codify how it sees itself, its industry, and the world at large — then why the hell does it even exist, let alone communicate?
Frankly, a distinction needs to be made.
Messages aren't dead. In fact, in an age when meaning is more important than ever, I argue that that having a message or clear set thereof is vital and necessary.
It's "messaging" that's dead, defined as the development and cloying repetition of corporatespeak statements devoid of meaning, rendered in a language that no one uses, delivered without the benefit of listening first, and presented in venues and contexts where they are clearly inappropriate.
A communications environment where a company needn't have a "message" would be great for lazy communicators who don't want to be bothered with the qualitative measurement of the success or failure of their programs. At that point, "just having a mostly positive conversation" is considered "success".
I should hope that, as a profession, we can do better.
Now, only a fool would expect that online communities would ever speak "on-message". Only an irresponsible communicator who is unfamiliar with how online communities operate would set that as an objective.
However, we're in the business of making a persuasive case on behalf of clients — helping companies, organizations, and even individuals to convince other individuals and third parties of a particular vision or point of view.
That's a "message".
How the message is conveyed — either by entertaining one-off YouTube video or sustained, mutually beneficial conversation with online communities over a period of time — is a lengthy discussion for another time. The fact is that a company should have a message, or risk irrelevance.
The first few years of my PR career in Silicon Valley were marked by a singular frustration — most PR professionals did not aspire to be, nor were they particularly expected to be, as driven to innovate in their own field as their clients were in theirs.
"Just get into the Journal," seemed the dictum. "Everything else is secondary."
For a number of reasons so tangential to this story as to be distracting, the advent of social media is what kept me in public relations at a point in 2001 when I asked myself "Is this all that there is?" Years later, I'm glad to see there's a lot more. A hell of a lot more.
For what it's worth, 2009 will be the year when real innovation starts to come back into PR — not in the relatively cosmetic form of press releases gussied up in Web 2.0 regalia and such, but fundamental changes in how the art of communications is applied day-to-day. Some of these changes won't be all that sexy. Most of them will be perhaps only operational in nature. However, they will be no less important.
I won't venture into trying to predict the innovations themselves but, rather, discuss the emerging conditions that make them possible.
CBS’s 'The Early Show' included a statement in its Dec. 18 report on the Big 3 bailout from 'auto industry analyst,' Dan McGinn. Letting the massive car companies fail 'would be like 10 Katrinas hitting America at the same time,' McGinn asserted. 'The American public understands that.'
What the report didn’t say is that McGinn is also an adviser to General Motors. Furthermore, TMG Strategies the public relations firm McGinn heads, lists GM as a client. McGinn has been making the case for an auto bailout in many news stories and issuing some compelling statements on behalf of his client.
You'd think media organizations would know the difference before booking such a guest.
And, yet, nothing from the you-don't-get-it crowd!
I guess there's just too much else to be angry about... I'm sure we'll see a post soon about the growing horror (shock!) of corporate blogs that don't allow comments, or companies who don't follow as many people who follow them on Twitter.
Seems that TechCrunch's Michael Arrington dealt with a few bad flacks who were dishonest about embargoes. His solution: Be dishonest right back!
I've never been dishonest about an embargo and, in fact, I've always had a deep respect for what asking a journalist for such an agreement entails. I've also been smart enough to actually, oh I dunno, develop real relationships with the media and influencer communities to determine who is and is not an embargo risk! (A concept that you spray-and-pray PR folk have yet to grasp.)
The point that TechCrunch and most of its fawners don't understand about embargoes is that they don't matter as much as they used to.
As Stern offers:
Some blogs like the embargo as it allows them to look like a news-breaking organization. The truth is, any exclusive that goes up on any blog, I can have a better post written about the story in 5 minutes.
The early bird sometimes might get the worm, but it's the second mouse that always gets the cheese.
I while ago, I was having lunch with my friend "Bart" whose supervisor "James" had left the firm he worked for at the time. Naturally, this meant that Bart had to take on some of his former boss's responsibilities — some considerable shoes to fill.
James was a leader in this company's online communications strategy, not just because of his considerable technical knowledge but, rather, the instincts he developed over a period of time.
During one of the necessary transition meetings, Bart had a meeting with James' former boss.
"The thing is about James was," the boss said. "He was just too much of a purist."
Considering Bart and James were pretty much parallel philosophically, this wasn't such good news for my friend. Bart would leave the firm soon afterward.
Since Bart told me this story, I've been asking myself, "What did James' former boss mean?"
It occurs to me that there are some folks within the marketing profession who are dismissed as "purists" when they confront supervisors or clients with the basic rules of how online communities operate. Typically, this purist is challenged by someone who feels — and is indeed quite desperate to believe — that there is nothing that he or she needs to learn.
Far from being simply naive, these purists respect the nature of online communities and are smart enough to know that companies can't merely "activate" those communities on a campaign-by-campaign basis to achieve a short-term marketing needs. The long-term potential out of the short-term gain you sought but never got is squandered.
These purists have enough experience to see that the best engagements are ones where objective value meets mutual benefit.
Go ahead... Ignore that purist. Keep telling yourself and your boss that you have an "online community strategy" when you really just spam bloggers under the faux nobility of "reaching out" to them. The competitors who listen to the counselor that offers a strong, intellectually honest basis for online counsel will have more sustainable and compelling success.
Ultimately, those purists will be counted on to do the right thing, and the agencies and companies they work for will greatly benefit in the long term.
The only time a "purist" gets in the way is when he or she loses sight of the companies they represent or forgets who signs his or her check. Such folks become much more interested in becoming advocates for the groups or individuals they seek to influence. Noble-sounding, but dangerous. Neither Bart nor James, of course, fall into this trap.
Again... Mutual benefit. Objective value.
The purist may not tell you want you want to hear, but the good PR folks — digital or otherwise — have the stones to give that "there ain't no Santa Claus" kind of bad news.
NYT Profile On Jolie's Media Management Shows PR Profession Has A Long Way To Go
I'm still not sure whether The New York Times was repulsed or intrigued by the fact that that Angelina Jolie exhibits greater media savvy than the average Hollywood type, taking more than 1,500 words to tell its very literate readership what it already intuitively (or explicitly) knows about celebrity PR.
Where The Old Gray Lady sees a "carefully orchestrated image", I see a very smart woman who has a greater level of media savvy than the average actor or actress. Like Princess Di, Jolie also knows that she can channel interest in her celebrity life to bring attention to the topics and world issues she cares about.
Putting aside for the moment that the article puts "celebrity magazines" and "strict journalistic standards" in the same sentence, and appears to give more credence to anonymous sources than quoted ones, it clearly aims to portray anyone who manages their media presence as manipulative in the extreme. (While putting onerous conditions on coverage does smack of a certain arrogance, the most egregious examples are quite easily explained away in this piece, somewhat contradicting the slant of the headline and the lead paragraphs.)
It might raise almost as many questions as putting... Umm... Angelina Jolie and Princess Di in the same sentence, but I digress.
In the popular imagination, it's clear that anyone who manages how he, she, or his/her company is portrayed in the media must be some kind of Svengali... As cynical as Aaron Eckhardt in Thank You For Smoking, as vapid as Colin Farrell in Phone Booth, despicable as Tony Curtis in Sweet Smell Of Success, or as even as promiscuous as Samantha in Sex In The City. In any case, such a person must be worthy of examination.
Or... Such a person exhibits a new standard of self-comportment and care in an always-on, media-saturated, 90-second-news-cycle world.
Again, it will be a long time before PR can cast off its pejorative connotations.
Auburn University'sRobert French is to be congratulated for what he's accomplished with PROpenMic. In just six months, the site stacks up quite favorably in every measure to the likes of myragan.com (the closest thing I can compare it to) and even some other well-known PR-focused sites.
I'll let Robert's analysis speak for itself. For my part, there are a number of lessons for all PR practitioners here, both new and experienced.
First, no Web 2.0 app has a "sweat equity" plugin. If you're not willing to put some serious hours and effort into building a useful digital watering hole, then it's probably a wasteful exercise.
Second, PROpenMic was a site that truly filled a need — a place where students, faculty, and practitioners can interact on a level playing field. If you don't have that — something either new, highly focused, or dramatically better — then there's not much you can do.
Third, if you want a community like this to be successful, you have to enforce some rules. Robert has been great in terms of making sure that hucksters, fakesters, and poachers are kept in line.
Fourth, you have to roll out the red carpet. It's the rare newcomer that doesn't get a personal welcome from Robert on their profile page. That means Robert has probably written more than 2,300 such welcomes in six months. My Ask Phil group is just north of 120 members and I'll occasionally miss some. (Nothing personal.)
In short, building a successful online community (however you define "success") is not merely a technical issue of plugging one widget into another widget and tagging the blood-vessel-bursting bejeezus out of it. Those that think so richly deserve failure.
So there's a lot that we can all learn from Robert's example. I strongly encourage readers (especially students and faculty) to join PROpenMic and learn from (and through) this resource.
It's been a number of weeks since I attended the excellent first and (I sincerely hope) annual BlogIndiana conference at IUPUI. Here are some thoughts I came away with.
First, I want you to sit down. Relax. Pour yourself some Stormhoek. Breathe. What I'm about to say might give you a bit of a shock: A serious Web-2.0-focused conference actually took place last month wherein 1) the keynote slot was not occupied by someone with the same four case studies and a lame book to sell, 2) there was no inane sniping with other conference organizers, and 3) I'm quite certain no one said "Web 2.0" once.
Second, when you get to hear the perspectives of a blogger whose primary interest, and that of his or her readers, is Korean restaurants in the northwest counties of Indiana, you're reminded that that's what "social media" is all about — passion, insight, and a willingness to share — not celebrity and, in the words of William S. Burroughs, "getting there firstest with the brownest nose". Note: Just because someone in the Technorati 500 is on your radar and might even know your name doesn't mean you understand social media.
Third, I was particularly inspired by Tom Britt's talk. Tom publishes local Web portals for the community around Geist Reservoir and surroundingareas. He's hit upon a perfect combination of how print (Yes, print! To heck with you and the Kindle you rode in on!) and the Web work in concert to serve hyperlocal needs.
Fourth and finally, you owe it to yourself as a public relations professional and a digital citizen to go to smaller conferences like this with a geographical or topical focus. I can probably count on one hand the number of reasonably well-known social-media-savvy PR folks who make it a point to go to conferences as a regular attendee — where they've not been invited to speak! Many in that line of work only go to conferences where they've been placed on the agenda.
NB: That kind of intellectual dishonesty will kill this business.
And by "this business", I don't mean "social media consulting".
Minor Linux Victory: Getting Amazon MP3 Client To Work in Kubuntu "Hardy Heron" 8.04
Hey... Gotta take these victories where I can get 'em, right?
I'd been having problems getting the GDebi package installer to install AmazonMP3's download client for Ubuntu Linux. Doesn't sound like much, but it's the only way you can take advantage of the whole-album discounts that AmazonMP3 offers. Otherwise, you have to buy the tracks individually.
The package has some dependencies, which the software helpfully tells you. However, it leads you to believe that the dependencies would be satisfied by the installation process.
So, I went to the command line using "dpkg -i". Proof-positive that, no, the dependencies weren't installed and, therefore, the installation would break before completion. Command-line access is absolutely necessary in these situations, I've found.
Fortunately, all of the necessary packages upon which the Amazon client depends are in the repositories. Installation via Adept fixed that.
I then double-clicked on the installation package that Amazon supplied. Still no joy — the software wasn't appearing in my "Start > Internet" menu.
Back to the command line: "sudo dpkg -i amazonmp3.deb" later and...
This was probably the longest impulse buy I've ever experienced but, now, I now have Pantera's greatest hits. Fortunately for my wife, I have headphones.
If you don't care about Linux, this probably went over your head. If you care a lot, you might find my solution mind-numbingly inane. In any case, a Google search for the problem I was having showed that plenty of people had the issue I was experiencing, but few published an answer. So, here's mine.
...are not being paid by, nor billing any time to the state for this intiative. Basically, and this may sound goofy, we wanted to do a long ride, and because John and I are AARP-eligible, wanted something without too many menacing hills. That folks, sums up riding in Illinois pretty well.
I've been dancing a little jig here on the 32nd floor with the flurry of news coming out of the SEC lately.
First, there was the interpretive guidance that the SEC issued last month. Though it wasn't in any way the press-release-killing, just-throw-it-on-the-web, Webdork free-for-all that the wild-eyed webtista crowd seemed to think it was, it was a highly encouraging step.
Now, I just finished watching the webcast whereby the SEC unveiled IDEA — “Interactive Data Electronic Applications”.
Essentially, this goes way beyond the simple filing of forms and will allow users to use metadata to see the relationships between filings and other important business data.
I'm not going to fritter too many of my thoughts about this development here — this guy pays for those — but suffice to say that this is a very exciting time to be looking at how business communication will be changing.
The business owner did her homework on the company, read about other people's bad experiences, and even discovered a subterranean Better Business Bureau rating. And, by the way, the PBS FAQ itself mentions that it has no relationship whatsoever with the production company.
For exposing this, the Florida company is suing her for $20 million — an amount that the business owner most certainly does not have.
Spent the last half of last week talking to financial communications and investor relations experts about the long-overdue admission from the SEC that, ya know, publication on a company Web site can in fact be "disclosure".
Come on in, oh weary, creaky, rusty, seventy-four-year-old regulatory giant, too content for too long with wielding blunt instruments intended to restrain John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan... The water is... Well... The water has been here for almost two decades or nearly a quarter of your lifespan.
It always struck me as funny that the SEC seemed to consider the Web (read: one of the world's most open, pervasive forms of communication) as actually less a forum for "fair disclosure" than, say, the wires.
The reactions online have ranged fromthoughtful to amusing. (The rhetorical arc of the TechCrunch piece is more or less "The press release is dead! Long live the social media press release!" You find yourself humming "The Battle Hymn Of The Republic" about two-thirds of the way through.)
I'm paying closer attention to XBRL and related initiatives. In fact, look for standards and practices for how a company might use its Web site for material disclosure. (You can't tell me that the SEC is going to let companies slap together a "social media newsroom" any old way and have it pass muster.)
There's certainly a lot to learn from Robert Scoble's post about the insular, echo-chamber failings of the technology blogging community.
That said, I think that Scoble's problem isn't so much that the glass is half-full or half-empty. I just think his glass has been too small.
I can't help but think that Scoble's frustrations come from the fact that tech blogging's anointed leaders really missed the point in the first place.
Just like the dot-boom of 1999, the loudest voices in tech have allowed the term "technology" has been conflated with "Web stuff". Sell babyclothes? Fine. Sell babyclothes using a social network? Stratospheric valuation estimates abound.
Now, as before, real innovation goes largely ignored by the Web 2.0 crowd. As I told one of the heads of the consumer marketing group at a former agency some years ago, "Dot-coms make headlines. Science makes history."
He laments the he's "done too much of the 'business talk' and not enough of the 'let’s discover something that’ll improve our lives together' talk." Economics 101 tells you that the latter necessarily inspires the former and vice versa. It's awfully tough to have a meaningful discussion of one without the other in tech. Silicon Valley, at its best, is the most dramatic proof of this. A flying robotic caipirinha-maker would certainly "make my life easier", but I just don't see Sand Hill Road ponying up the dough.
It's always fascinated me that people know the names Thomas Edison and Henry Ford, but give blank stares at mention of Robert Noyce and Jack Kilby. The two men invented the integrated circuit "separately together" — Noyce at Fairchild Semiconductor, Kilby at Texas Instruments — and are pretty much responsible for damn near everything you currently enjoy that has an antenna or wire coming out of it.
It's a shame that we don't lionize inventors the way we used to decades ago. However, if pressed, I'll admit that interest in Dean Kamen's work comes close.
While on vacation, I've been devouring books about the history of microelectronics. I just polished off T.R. Reid's The Chip, about the work of Noyce and Kilby. Just before, I finished Broken Genius about William Shockley, the co-inventor of the transistor whose ill-considered passion for eugenics eventually overshadowed his fundamentally groundbreaking work.
Perhaps we live in different times. To illustrate, I offer this passage from The Chip, about when Diane Sawyer interviewed Jack Kilby after his induction into the Inventors Hall Of Fame:
"I mean, if you have to think of one thing that kept the United States at the forefront of technology," Sawyer said, "it was really your invention." Kilby paused, stewing it over. "Well, I hadn't thought of it in those terms," he said quietly. "Have you made money from this invention?" Sawyer asked. "Some, yeah," Kilby replied. Things were just starting to get interesting when Sawyer got a signal from the director: time to move on. She turned quickly to the camera and said, "Coming up in a moment, Dr. Jerry Brodie on how to handle the death of a pet." Jack Kilby's moment in the sun was over.
I often have a strong negative reaction when a business leader talks about "giving back" to a community. This tacitly assumes that achieving business success means that something must be "taken away" from that community. Further, it downplays the value that a successful business offers in terms of jobs, government revenue, increased prosperity, and so on. This attitude, in turn, plants the seeds for confiscatory, redistributionist tax policies, unnecessary regulation, and so on.
Consider this, though: I consistently avail myself of the donated efforts of open-source programmers around the world. At home, I run Kubuntu 7.108.04, compiz-fusion, OpenOffice, GIMP, and a host of other applications developed in the free-as-in-speech-and-beer universe.
And I, for one, am not a programmer. Further, my perso-professional priorities pretty much preclude me from taking a lot of time to learn. (Time spent learning, say, C++, could instead be put to learning Portuguese, which I so desperately need as I write this from my wife's grandparents' house in Rio.)
So, how does a non-programmer contribute back to open source? Here are some ideas.
Marketing/evangelism: This is, quite simply, not an option for me at this point in my life. Not a matter for discussion or debate.
Testing: I'm torn on this topic. On one level, it's not only quite exciting to be testing fresh software, but proper testing is an exceedingly important part of a project's success. However, a lot of the time, I'm working on stuff that simply won't tolerate a memory allocation error or buffer overflow as just-one-of-those-things.
Documentation: This is a part of the volunteer effort that I think makes the most sense for me. I'm a decent writer, I think, and open-source efforts can always use better documentation.
So, I guess I should look for an open-source project to contribute documentation to. Watch this space for more.
As many who know me have heard by now, I harbor a somewhat strong dislike for marketing books. This aversion started around 1995, when I was first exposed to the genre, and has only softened occasionally since. (The most recent concession: Matt Mason's excellent The Pirate's Dilemma, after enjoying a speech by the author at a client event.)
That's not to say that I somehow believe such works don't have value. It's just that I prefer to obtain inspiration from other corners. Often, I hope that I can move forward by going back, "fishing where the fishermen ain't" as I've alluded to before.
(I should say at this point that I prefer the less-pejorative connotation of "rhetoric" as "the art and, to some degree, science of persuasion".
Unfortunately, the term has been somewhat sullied, with most believing it to solely mean intellectually dishonest, jingoistic, podium-pounding oratory.)
While I haven't studied the art of rhetoric with sustained academic rigor, it occurs to me that many commonly taught models of argument — if any are taught at all — suffer from a fatal flaw: they don't anticipate that your audience might talk back!
This I find to be a strength of how Toulmin looks at argument — a far cry from the insular "Socrates is a man / All men are mortal / Socrates is a mortal" logic. Arguably, Toulmin appeared to have dissected some element of the Conversation Economy long before the Web or the modern computer, to say nothing of Web 2.0.
Toulmin's The Uses Of Argument (first printing: 1958) is a dense but rewarding read. The meat of the work is in Chapter III, which begins:
An argument is like an organism. it has both a gross, anatomical structure and a finer, as-it-were physiological one.
He next outlines a simple-yet-comprehensive framework for constructing an argument:
Claim: What is it that you set out to prove?
Data: What material supports this claim?
Warrants: What makes the data at all true to the claim?
Backing: What gives the warrant any authority at all?
Rebuttal: What might the reasonable person counter with? How might you respond?
Sure, one might say that reading these marketing books is my responsibility as a professional communicator. After all, one must keep up-to-date in one's field and be able to communicate in the latest metaphors that field's participants develop.
The fact is, though, that enough of you read these books and, in so doing, have become my "information processing nodes" for that content as you blog, discuss, Twitter, incorporate invoke, and reference such works. I hope, perhaps, that I've kept things in symbiotic balance by, in turn, processing a book you haven't read in some small way.
So, I'm saying this: By examining what makes for a truly persuasive argument in today's world, we can once again focus on mastering chess instead of trying to be the best at checkers. The basics are decades-to-centuries old. Perhaps in adapting them, we'll find new truths.
Great article in The Economist (sub req'd when archived) on current trends in terms of how folks get to the CEO chair. The report cites a variety of studies.
The value of company loyalty: "Lifers" in America and Europe take 22 years and 24 years, respectively, to get to the CEO position, whereas "Hoppers" who bounce around between four or more firms take 26 years.
Reflecting faster times: In 1980, it took an average of 28 years to reach the top spot. In 2001, it's been compressed to 24. Average time in each interim position is four years, with the number of interim positions going from six to five.
Easier on our side of the pond: 26% of Americans are "lifers", versus 18% in Europe. CEO turnover is higher in Europe (17.6%) versus US (15%) and Japan (10%). Most interestingly: 37% of the European CEO turnover was due to firings, versus 27% in US and 12% in Japan. The cited cause: Shareholder activism.
Of course, there's an inherent flaw in the wrap-up of these various studies: As our European CEO David Brain once told our U.S. leadership "There's no such country as 'Europe'." Comparing "America" to "Europe" seems kind of funny, on the face of it.
That said, if it feels like modern business is getting faster and faster, you need only look as far as the compressed career path.
Cynics might say that, with a progressively shorter path to the top, leadership quality diminishes. There may be some truth to that. I choose to believe, though, that leaders learn more in a shorter amount of time.
As many of you know, I make it a personal policy to always make time for students. I call it the "Dimebag Darrell Rule", in honor of the late Pantera/Damageplan guitarist whose Rule-Number-One was (I'm paraphrasing) "Make time for the folks who came to see you, no matter how tired you are at the end of the show."
(Well... He also recommended taking acid for long bus trips, but we won't take it that far...)
Anyway, this all means that I'll happily volunteer to help if your assignment or project requires you to interview a PR professional, survey him/her, ask him/her to fill out a questionnaire, etc.
As the end of the school year nears, the number of these requests predictably increases. Well and good — it's to be expected. However, an increasing number of these student requests are around 24-48 hours ahead of the students' deadline. That won't do either of us any good.
So, here are some basic ground rules:
I intend to give priority to PROpenMic members. If you're not a member, join.
If I don't have at least 10 days before you need my input, it probably isn't going to happen. I typically hit this kind of thing on a weekend. It's in both of our best interests that I be allowed time to deliver a quality response.
If the questions require essay-length answers, I'm not likely to get it done. Besides which, it just looks like you want me to write your assignment for you.
Sometimes, my workload just simply precludes participation. Please don't take it personally. I'll do my absolute best to tell you this right up front if I think this is going to be the case, rather than leave you totally hanging.
THIS ONE IS THE MOST IMPORTANT! My answers will likely point you in other research directions, or I might refer you to another PR pro for additional information and context. Please don't be upset if I add a good chunk to your workload.
With those reasonable guidelines in mind, I'm happy to help.
In my opinion, the invention of the integrated circuit is at least as groundbreaking as that of the radio or telegraph. However, I suspect that these names are passed up in communications history course because they are what many would call "technology history" not "communications history".
For more than just the very minor paternal reasons, I can tell you that it was a greatNewComm Forum this year. (I'm a founding fellow of the nonprofit that puts on the forum, SNCR, though I only have a very small role in the conference itself.) This year's Forum was light-years ahead of the conference-sprawl that was 2007's event in Las Vegas. Smaller group, far greater impact, passion, and thoughtfulness.
For me, it started on Tuesday with a great group of folks who attended my Tuesday workshop. Then I got to seethefolksthatItypicallygettoseeonly a couple of times a year. Even met some folks for thefirsttime whom I have followed online. And, of course, there were the attendees, coming from all kinds of professions and exhibiting varying levels of new-media experience.
But it's time for some tough love here, gang.
Our priorities are way screwed up.
There's no other way to put it. We're staring through the hole and missing the doughnut.
It started when I was walking to the bathroom and passed a conference-goer I had met at the cocktail reception the night before.
"So, what presentation did you just get out of?" I asked.
"Oh, it was a presentation on the Social Media Release," he offers somewhat breathlessly. "Standing room only."
This exchange resulted in:
Now, I'm typically the kind of guy who resists making value judgments, but our professional heads are in a truly strange place when:
Presentations about more-or-less easy-lift changes to the basic tools of our profession, such as the Social Media Release (SMR), receive standing-room-only attention, while...
Presentations about the fundamental, critical issues that matter most to our business go very nearly ignored.
Exhibit A:Elizabeth Fletcher's presentation on net neutrality had but three attendees — me, my wife, and one other. Arguably, this issue is one of the most important ones affecting communicators in the U.S. For all that, if you added up all the people in that room, we wouldn't even have had a basketball team.
Exhibit B:John Yunker of Byte Level Research delivered his analysis on trends in Web site language strategies, taking a look at what languages are enjoying spikes in deployment on multinational sites and why.
You simply can't convince me that the 250+ attendees were already so familiar with the details of the net neutrality debate — and it is a debate, keep in mind — that the discussion we had would've bored or insulted.
And what about global trends in corporate Web site localization and translation? The Web's Anglo-centricity isn't going to last forever, people. We should consider ourselves lucky, for now, that the domain name system works on Roman characters and that it relies on TLDs like ".com" rather than "". Sooner or later, that's going to change.
I'm not writing this to pick on Todd Defren and Maggie Fox, who delivered the social media release presentation. Personally, I think any attempt to improve or modernize the press release is a good thing.
Furthermore, there were most certainly other provocative presentations going on at the same time as Elizabeth's and John's. I certainly wouldn't fault anyone who was intrigued by presentations entitled "How To Measure Progress & Success In Business Communities" by Francois Gossieaux, or "The Changing Face Of Journalism In A New Media World" by Tom Foremski, Steve Lubetkin, and Andria Carter. Even with so many multitaskers in one place, one can only see so many presentations in two days when there are five tracks.
But, c'mon... Out of 250 professional communicators, three cared about net neutrality? Web localization and language trends and strategies mattered to four people?
We need to look hard at our priorities as public relations professionals. Otherwise, we truly deserve what even our most uninformed critics throw at us.
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