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#Unplug: Why I Choose To Have One Analog Day Per Week

Just about every week, for one day, typically Saturday, I put away my phone, my iPad, and don’t sit in front of my computer. Sometimes I check my phone in bed when I first wake up, but then that’s it.

This simple act is remarkably freeing. If I’m alone, I can truly let my mind wander about how to spend my day. Do I want to cook a big breakfast? Read magazines all day? (I’m a bit of a print-magazine hoarder. I even listen to Monocle’s The Stack, a radio show all about print magazines.) Binge-watch a TV show season? Go for a three- or four-hour walk without checking my watch? On any given analog day, I’ll do any one of these things and more. I’m not so fanatical that I won’t turn on a TV or use my iPod, but I don’t do anything that involves digital communication, barring something pressing like texting someone about already-scheduled plans, or calling my mother back.

Unplugging also allows me to recharge my batteries from the previous week. Typically, weeks are full of meetings, emails, and responsibilities. It’s really hard for me to relax within that environment. I don’t know about everyone else, but it’s hard for me to switch back and forth between work and play. At any given time, I’m pretty much in one of those modes until I get so tired that I collapse. As a bit of a quiet introvert I really need significant downtime between the last time you saw me and the next time you see me “up” at an event or a meeting. Lots of people think I’m extroverted, but I’m really just an extroverted introvert, and when you don’t see me I’m probably walking alone in Rock Creek Park with my headphones and sunglasses and ball cap on, ignoring everyone.

Finally, these analog sessions are when I typically get my good ideas. It might be an idea for a blog post, or something that “pops” in a magazine article I’m reading, or an insight that helps me with a project in the upcoming week. But despite the fact that I was working on all of those things the workweek previous, I get many of the insights precisely when I’m not working on them, or thinking about them, when my mind is relaxed. I carry around a small notebook and pen where ever I go (typically a Field Notes these days; I also have an all-weather “Rite in the Rain” red pen I bring with me when I’m outdoors).

The hyper-connected Baratunde Thurston famously wrote about how he unplugged for 25 days following his book tour. If you can get past the feature-article length writing, the narcissism of describing every detail of his detox, and the ridiculousness of some of his advice (”schedule a vacation” or “alert your colleagues” is not exactly cutting-edge advice specific to a digital detox), it’s a valuable article because if you’re like many people and you feel trapped by all your devices and push notifications and social channels, Thurston tells you that it’s actually “okay” to leave that for a while.

For me, I’ve never been too hung up on explaining why it took me an extra day or so to get back to people. Especially on the weekend. You know what? I just simply didn’t see your text to me at 9pm on Saturday night or your email request from late-Friday afternoon. I didn’t care to. Now it’s Sunday and I’ll take a look and get back to you. Perhaps not everyone can get away with going analog exactly the way I do it, but I’m sure that if you want to you can come up with your own variation.

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Twitter’s Nonsensical Onboarding Process Suggests Tech Companies Should Hire Some Professional Behaviorists

Owen Williams wrote an insightful post called “Signing up for a new Twitter account shows why the company is struggling to grow” that’s a must-read whether you’re a social media enthusiast, a digital marketer, or a tech startup investor. He breaks down the process of signing up for a new Twitter account on desktop and mobile in explicit detail, and in effect shows how ineffective or even somewhat bizarre some of the on-boarding choices are.

I won’t recap the process because Owen did such an awesome job — just read his article and check out the screenshots. But it’s clear that whatever all the employees of Twitter are doing, very few are thinking about the first experience a new user has with their brand.

Like Owen, I’ve been using Twitter since 2008. I have tweeted more than 50,000 times (!), gained over 30,000 followers, and overall I have gotten tremendous personal value from it in the form of new connections, readers, feedback, offers, new friends, and more. Twitter is unquestionably valuable if you go through the journey of reading about it, experimenting with it, optimizing it, and using it constantly. The people who gain the most from it are continuous learners with a lifehacking mentality.

Unfortunately for Twitter, it’s not just a cool “community service” for super-enthusiasts like Owen and I who want to find out where Gary Vaynerchuk is hanging out at SXSW anymore. It could have been. It could have become an open source resource. It could have become a non-profit to help the world communicate. It could have been any number of things.

But. Twitter’s leaders and investors made the decision to be a “real” company, to sell ads to major corporations and do major collaborations with entities like the World Cup and the White House, and to become a publicly-traded corporation that needs to grow and add value for shareholders. With those choices come new responsibilities, among them getting more people to join and use their platform and like it. But user growth isn’t nearly what it could be. And its greatest “innovations” like @ replies and #hashtags were invented by users, not Twitter employees.

The irony is that new accounts can actually have huge value to users very quickly if done right. For all my tweets and followers and consistency over six years, I am getting way, way less engagement on my @cheeky_geeky account than I used to in 2008 or 2009. (Around the end of 2008, I was one of the top 100 most-followed people on Twitter, and one of the top 50 most retweeted users.) Right now, I’m probably at an all time low. The community and its users have changed. The rules have changed. Now, I’m not running a business through my personal account and I’m happy with what it is. But people are finding things less, clicking through less, retweeting less.

But. But. I have another account. A semi-secret account. It’s only about one topic, a very niche topic, something I want to do more about with in the future. And what’s amazing about that account is that I follow and am followed by only people who are super-enthusiasts about this little topic and there’s a ton of engagement. I can leave and come back two weeks later with one tweet and I’ll see, say, 6 high-quality re-tweets and comments (I only have about 200 followers). These are the kind of people who would click through and read something at high rates, or participate in a Kickstarter on my niche topic, or buy something about the topic from me.

Because I’ve been using Twitter so long and work in tech and media and know a bunch about the space, I have some natural advantages when it comes up to launching a social media play on a niche topic. What Twitter needs to figure out is how to on-board a tech-naive high school kid, or a retiree, or a newly unemployed person to do the same thing.

As a person whose background is in the behavioral sciences, one thing that’s always surprised me is the lack of behaviorists, sociologists, psychologists, anthropologists, and the like at tech companies and consulting firms who claim to care about influence, user engagement, social interaction and so on. What do you think influence and social interaction and stuff is? It’s just people interacting with each other. It turns out there are lots of scientists who know a lot about that.

Sure, code is important. Designers are important. MBA’s are important. But it seems like if companies like Twitter that depend on positive user experiences, habitual use of product, and user interactions which add value want to grow and thrive, they might consider devoting more resources to actually studying the “human terrain” of people and how and why they behave the way they do.

Tangentially related: ‘A Dark Room’, the incredibly engaging, best-selling iPhone game that no one can entirely explain.

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Mark Drapeau Launches Publicyte, a Digital Magazine About Innovation for Civic Good


This past Tuesday, I launched Publicyte, a digital magazine published by Microsoft about the people, places, and technologies driving civic innovation. I’ll be the editor-in-chief of the publication, and we’ll have writers from all kinds of interesting backgrounds. It’s part of my work at our new Office of Civic Innovation, based in Microsoft’s US Public Sector group. Check out the site and let me know what you think: http://publicyte.com
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The Non-Profit Urban Mega-Bookstore

Saw some people lamenting the closing of Borders stores seemingly everywhere. Yeah, it’s sad. But why can’t someone(s) start a non-profit which takes donations, sells coffee, and offers services like mentorship to run awesome urban bookstores? Amazon, Borders, Barnes & Noble, mom-and-pop – they won’t do it. Maybe you should do it.
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SECTOR: PUBLIC – A New Site About Technology For Public Good

Last week, during the Mashable / 92Y / UN Foundation “Social Good Summit” in New York, I launched a new website called SECTOR: PUBLIC.  The focus of this blog is on leading the conversation about innovative social change via technology’s influence on the public sector, public service, and public good.
 
From my “Letter from the Editor“:

Right now, three entities contributing to the public good – citizens, the public sector, and private businesses – are incredibly dependent on each other. Citizens need support from government and the broader public sector, and jobs from businesses.  The public sector needs the support of the private sector through products and services, and needs input, ideas, and other contributions from its citizens.  And private sector organizations increasingly seek to stand for something more than merely selling products – they seek to help the public sector and contribute to citizens’ well-being.

SECTOR: PUBLIC lives where these three entities meet.  If necessity is the mother of invention, there has been no period in our lifetimes during which technological innovation is able to have such a great impact on civic progress.  Every day at SECTOR: PUBLIC, we will discuss cutting-edge technology, share public sector stories, and provide thought leadership about how American progress and public good are being both disrupted and benefited by the rapid innovation era we are living through.

Check out a well-received initial post about “Open Government Entrepreneurship” and read our “Geek 2 Chic” interview with the innovative CEO of iStrategyLabs, Peter Corbett.
 
I hope that many of you find my new website about public sector and public service stories involving technology useful and interesting!
 
You can subscribe to SECTOR: PUBLIC by email or RSS, and follow the Twitter feed at http://twitter.com/sectorpublic.  Learn more about our goals for the site in this Federal News Radio interview.
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Government 2.0: The Newest Reality of New Media

New media has knocked on the doors of the White House and the rest of the U.S. government twice in the last week or so, but it looks like no one is answering (so to speak).
 
First, a partial two minute 45 second video of USDA political appointee Shirley Sherrod giving an NAACP speech was posted by influential blogger (Who some people in the media still claimed not to know? Please. He's like the new Howard Stern.) Andrew Breitbart, which led to a knee-jerk reaction to it, and her subsequent firing. No need to rehash precisely what the video content was. But post-firing, the entire video came out, and as it turns out she was saying precisely the opposite of what the edited video made it seem like she was saying… because it was out of content.
 
Breitbart is blamed.
 
Second, the "whistle-blower" site called WikiLeaks has posted what it claims are tens of thousands of authentic Afghanistan war documents.  White House national security advisor James Jones "strongly condems" this action and complains that the website did not make efforts to contact the government before posting.
 
WikiLeaks is blamed.
 
These examples are not necessarily highly unique, but they are recent and back to back.  What's common between them is that (1) someone published information, (2) everyone affected is surprised, (3) the publisher is blamed.  What's interesting is that (1) is obvious, (2) is outdated, and (3) does no good.
 
I don't want to call him out in case he disagrees with this, but a wise Department of Defense person commonly says that the new media environment is "not a fortress to defend, but rather a field to maneuver within."  I think he is right.  Yet, despite some progress towards "open government" or "government 2.0" and an increased use of and reliance on new forms of media (check out DoD's new Social Media Hub), most leaders seem to not completely grasp its impact on the world around them.
 
The world has changed.  Everyone is a publisher and they do not adhere to journalistic standards and other quaint attitudes and rule sets and guidelines.  I am not making a value judgement here about what either Breitbart nor WikiLeaks do or did; however, people in the government – not to mention every other person in the civilized world – need to come to terms with the fact that they will do it and will not stop doing it.
 
The real question is not how to get back at them, nor how to stop them, nor how to regulate them, nor how to control information better, nor any one of a number of other issues that seem to get debated.  Those issues are largely irrelevant because they involve "defending the fortress" of information.  The issues that are relevant are those that involve "maneuver within the environment" of constantly published digital information. 
 
The true essence of "open government" is not adopting new tools, nor collaborating better, nor even providing better services to citizens.  That's all important.  But the true essence of open government is adopting a workplace culture that accepts the changed environment of media and adapts to it.  
 
Getting a Twitter account, a blog, and a Facebook fan page is not the end of the race. It's the starter's pistol. It's not graduation – it's the first day of class.
 

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Online Priorities: Blog Traffic vs. Community Building

As I get ready to launch a new website, I've been thinking about what my priorities are with it, and how to measure if I'm accomplishing what I want to accomplish.  And so, one issue I've been thinking about is whether measuring things like blog hits or unique visitors or time spent on site is important (regardless of community), or if providing value to a community of people I help to build is the most important (regardless of size).
 
I tend to lean heavily towards the idea of building a meaningful community that I provide value to, and get value out of, online and off.  And while, of course, I'll run some analytics to see how I'm doing (I'd be sad if my posts got like, less than 100 hits or something), I'm not really concerned with pageviews.  What I really want are new community connections, invites to events where my presence could be useful, and emails where people thank me for consistently producing the website.  On some level, sure, 10,000 readers are better than 1000, and 1000 is better than 100.  But don't I want to get them organically rather than through some form of artificial insemination?  I think, yes.
 
Look, if your business model is to build a blog that gets lots of pageviews, and that in turn allows you to sell ads, I think that's fine.  I don't even have a problem with getting those pageviews at any cost.  But I think a lot of people are going about that wrong, tactically.  So, here's my advice for pumping up those pageviews and really building a highly trafficked web property.  Ready?
 
(1) Delete your current blog. It's really not worth the effort.
(2) Start a free blog using Blogger or something.
(3) Search Flickr for photos that are legal to use via Creative Commons.
          (3b) Make sure those photos are of beautiful people.
(4) Add some personalization using free photo editing software.
          (4b) Be creative with lolcat captions ("I POKE U LONG TIEM") or funny mustaches.
(5) Post photos relentlessly.
(6) Get to know everyone doing the same thing and link it all up.
(7) Measure pageviews and sell ads for lubricants and dirty movies.
(8) Count your cash on your brand new yacht.
 
Operating costs = $0 / year
Time spent working = 4 hours / week (Tim Ferriss would be so proud)
Estimated earnings = $1,000,000 / year
 
If you think this is silly, well, maybe it is.  But when it comes down to it, if the thing you care the most about, if the thing you are most competitive about, is eyeballs viewing your page, why spend time interviewing people at events or researching technology trends or giving opinions about sports?  I could beat you out in a tenth of the time with out-of-focus bikini shots that someone else took with a kiddie camera.
 
Oh wait – you want to do something meaningful? That's cool. Then don't worry about the pageviews and uniques and ad rates and all the rest of it.  Worry about great content that builds a community you can activate.  I know people who can declare a meetup and fill a huge restaurant with people on a few day's notice. I know people who can turn a city topsy-turvy with a festival.  Can you activate your community to do useful and interesting things, or just game them into clicking on links?
 
I guess the real question you have to ask yourself is, What business are you in?
 

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Entrepreneurial Lessons From Investor Michael Burry

Few people saw the gigantic housing/financial crisis coming, but independent investor Michael Burry did – back in 2005.  Terrific author Michael Lewis (Liar's Poker and others) has an excerpt from his new book The Big Short in a recent issue of Vanity Fair, called Betting on the Blind Side (double meaning, gotta read it) which is very interesting in itself.  But I took a few lessons from it that I think are useful to businesspeople, startup founders,a nd technologists. Here are a few of my thoughts.
 
Don't be afraid to be different, or original: Burry grew up different; he lost an eye and had a fake one. He was also later diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. He acted differently, he thought differently. He used that to take an original course in life, and make original, insightful investment decisions, even when his investors didn't necessarily believe in what he was doing.
 
Make a change to something you're passionate about: Burry started his career as a medical doctor, but it bored him. He learned about investing in stocks on the side and got interested in computers. That led to some investing, and also some blogging, and that eventually led to him leaving his Stanford residency to start a hudge fund in his home.
 
Give valuable gifts and you shall receive them: When he was a doctor, he would blog about value investing and trades he was making or thinking about… and bigger fish were reading his blog and making money off his ideas. But when Burry started Scion (his fund), his first investor was his biggest fan – a big fish in New York. That's how he made his first million.
 
Don't stop believing: In 2005, Burry started moving a lot of his investing interest from stocks to credit-default swaps on mortgage-backed securities. When many of his advisors became aware of this, they weren't happy and wanted explanations, and even their money back. Burry defended his idea and told them to hang on until 2007, when he made $100 million personally and $750 million for his investors.
 
Be happy with yourself: After the bubble burst, a lot of things changed in investing and in life. Burry made a big profit, auctioned off the rest of positions to banks, liquidated and then closed up shop to concentrate on his personal life. He ditched his unhappy (enriched) clients, pulled away from the big (unwise) banks, and continues to do is own thing, which presumably pleases him.
 

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It’s About Trust: Thoughts on Location-Based Services, Especially FourSquare

People in the blogosphere are very interested, and even congratulatory, on location-based service FourSquare's new round of venture funding, to the tune of $20 million. I've used the technology, it's very interesting. It was even "fun" for a time, which I think is important for building communities. And I've seen a lot of new friends and acquaintances checking it out.
 
But I also have no choice but to wonder – where is it going? In general, the fun aspects of the service – badges and points – are worth nothing, and when they are, there is often confusion about them – for example, numerous blog posts written by people unable to get Starbucks freebies.
 
In order for this – free stuff for checking in, basically – to work, there needs to be coordination and trust among four groups of people. Namely, (1) the geo-services company, (2) the users, (3) business owners and managers, and (4) line staff. I have personally seen a number of disconnects in which (for example) a manager advertises a special for being Mayor and a waitress has no idea what you're talking about.
 
I commented as much on ReadWriteWeb's article about FourSquare and its funding, which San Francisco Chronicle writer Nick Saint seems to have taken a bit out of context. But what I wrote is true: I was a bit excited about the company personally, tried reaching out to do something work-related with Microsoft and their publi sector business and had trouble connecting with anyone, and then became a bit dejected.
 
Far from what Nick Saint wrote, I don't think FourSquare will "fail" (I never wrote that), but I do think there's a fairly narrow discussion happening in the whole "geo-app" space. I don't necessarily see why FourSquare or Gowalla or even Facebook will necessarily be the market leader. People generally speak of these three as if they're predertermined.
 
That's based on the geo-app environment not changing. But it could change very easily. It goes back to trust – who do you trust for local information as an average consumer or user? Something like FourSquare or Gowalla? Or what about something like Yelp (which is now sometimes discussed)?
 
Let's take this a step further. What other location-based services do you broadly use? Maybe it's EveryBlock + MSNBC. Maybe it's OpenTable. Maybe it's CraigsList. There are probably a dozen or more similar sites that you trust, use, and that contain geo-information about businesses and other locations.
 
I look forward to seeing a lot more in this exciting location-based services space. From my personal vantage point, I think this: Deploying the app and making it cool isn't the real challenge. Building trust among the userbase is.
 

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Government 2.0 Movement Seemingly Passes By Twitter, Inc.

A recent story, titled "Twitter to hire White House liaison to help policymakers 'tweet more effectively'" reported that Twitter, Inc. of California plans to hire its first employee outside headquarters – in Washington, DC.  Great idea, except that the position seems like something useful from one or two years ago.
 
From the Telegraph UK:

The company, which has yet to employ anyone outside of San Francisco, is looking for someone to be the “closest point of contact with a variety of important people and organisations looking to get the most out of Twitter on both strategic and highly tactical levels”, according to the job advert.

The ‘Government Liaison’ will be responsible for helping Twitter understand what it can do “to better serve candidates and policymakers across party and geographical lines”. They will also “support policymakers use of Twitter to help them communicate and interact with their constituents and the world” and help set the culture and approach of a “fledgling public policy department”.

Twitter, Inc. needs a dose of reality here. Besides people like me who were using Twitter and other tools in and near government two years ago and more, there are now countless consultants working inside the Beltway to develop and carry out plans for using the service in combination with other tools for diverse government missions ranging for public affairs to military recruiting to national security. And while savvy senior leaders may certainly meet with someone from Twitter, they certainly don't really need Twitter's help to figure out how to use it for diplomatic relations; sorry, the State Department is better at using new media in a holistic manner than any group I know.

This appears like a company out of touch, hopping on a bandwagon. Good luck with this initiative Twitter Inc., but in all honesty, one person in DC to "advise policymakers on tactical issues" is trivial, and the help is really not needed. (Ironically, the leaders of Twitter are not the best at tactically using Twitter to help their company communicate with stakeholders … I'd rather see someone like Guy Kawasaki advising government public affairs on creatively communicating.) On the policy side with regard to telecommunications or privacy or related issues, it is not obvious that Twitter is as big of a player as say, Facebook. I'm curious to see who gets this job and how they make the most of it, but if I were Twitter, I'd get a better feel for Washington DC and then rewrite and advertise this six months from now.
 
What Twitter Inc. line employees really need to do is show up and participate and get some ground truth. I recently attended the wonderful Gov 2.0 Expo (in… wait for it… DC) and Personal Democracy Forum (in Manhattan, not exactly a hardship assignment) events, where people from Twitter could have mixed and mingled and listened and learned. Maybe I'm wrong but I don't think anyone from Twitter attended. They must have been busy writing an uninformed job description from a San Francisco ivory tower.
 
Twitter's chairman Jack Dorsey is perhaps the single employee most in touch with Washington, DC.  As I type this he's in town, at least partly for a political fundraiser last night that used his innovative new device, Square (side note: I think Square is revolutionary and totally underappreciated as yet), and he among other things has participated in some work with the State Department and spoke at the Government 2.0 Summit last September. If nothing else, his advice might be more valuable at headquarters than people think.

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