Paco Underhill ownz the mall


Two comments about Paco Underhill:

– he totally OWNS the niche of explaining why we seem like disturbed toddlers and frightened rabbits when out shopping, and:
– he has WICKED media skills considering that he seems to be afflicted with a strong stutter. You should wish you could pull off a performance this polished and useful.

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Victor Gruen and the Mall


Didja hear? The traditional enclosed mall is in decline. Apparently, someone told The Economist, because they’ve run a long piece on the original enclosed mall, Southdale Mall in Minnesota.

In Rise and Fall Of the Shopping Mall, we get the magazine’s well-written and comprehensive look at mall culture – especially as it developed under the imagination of Victor Gruen, Southdale’s architect.

“Gruen got an extraordinary number of things right first time. He built a sloping road around the perimeter of the mall, so that half of the shoppers entered on the ground floor and half on the first floor—something that became a standard feature of malls.

Southdale’s balconies were low, so that shoppers could see the shops on the floor above or below them. The car park had animal signs to help shoppers remember the way back to their vehicles.

It was as though Orville and Wilbur Wright had not just discovered powered flight but had built a plane with tray tables and a duty-free service.

I thought that analogy was worth a mention, but there has been much more written about Gruen and his impact on the culture of North America. Ten years ago, the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages wrote about the “Gruen effect” and the “mauling of America.”
In a 1957 interview with the New Yorker, Gruen recognized that urban populations need common spaces (the precursor to the “third place”?) – and also fingered merchants as the guiding force in the development of North American culture.

… Mr. Gruen grumbled that “planning” has become a dirty word in this country. “Almost as bad as if Lenin had invented it,” he said. “The fact is no city was ever planned enough. Planned and replanned. Here in New York, we’re like a big family that’s all dressed up with no place to go. Wherever we turn, it’s jostle and bustle and frayed nerves and bad tempers.

In Detroit, six or seven thousand people make their way to Northland on Sunday afternoons. The stores are closed, so what are they doing there? Looking for open space. They window-shop and stroll through the gardens and sit on benches and soak up the sun and enjoy the fountains and sculpture.

What Northland teaches us is this—that it’s the merchants who will save our urban civilization. ‘Planning’ isn’t a dirty word to them; good planning means good business. Besides, any improvements they make are tax-deductible. Sometimes self-interest has remarkable spiritual consequences. As art patrons, merchants can be to our time what the Church and the nobility were to the Middle Ages.”

Well, fifty years on I would be willing to debate the value and quality that a merchant-based culture has brought to our society. I guess that’s what being po-po-mo is all about.

Ten years ago, the Minneapolis/St. Paul City Pages touched on the “Gruen effect” and the “mauling of America.”

In practical terms, it seems that quite a few cities commissioned Gruen to design new urban centres, but only cherry-picked his designs for pedestrian malls for actual construction:

“…Kalamazoo, however, adopted only the pedestrian mall from all the recommendations of the plan, as many other cities would do with their Gruen plans. Fresno, California would build a downtown pedestrian mall in 1964, based on a 1958 Gruen plan; Honolulu, Hawaii would also convert two blocks into a pedestrian mall in 1969, three years after commissioning a Gruen plan.”

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about Gruen three years ago (which I blogged about).
There’s also a book about the man, and how about an academic analysis of his work: “Victor Gruen and the Construction of Cold War Utopias“?

[tags] Victor Gruen, Southdale Mall, suburbia, pedestrian mall, retail, mall [/tags]

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A small blunder colours FEMA crisis communications


Remember the faux news conference put on by FEMA last month to brief about the response to the California wildfires?

The Department of Homeland Security has completed an “internal investigation,” and some people have fallen under the bus.

Apparently, some poor decisions were taken in deciding to hold a news conference at short notice, then, when reporters could not make it in time, have agency communications staff substitute for reporters by lobbing questions at the Deputy Administrator.

“Much like in an airline crash or automobile accident that was reconstructed, there were several different points leading up to the press conference where, had a single decision been made differently, the event itself could have been averted,” [DHS spokesperson Russ] Knocke said Thursday (AP, via TPM)

Wow. We get a pretty clear impression of what Knocke thinks of how the news conference rolled out. All it needs is a soundtrack. And Gil Grissom.

There have been repurcussions. The man who was FEMA’s press secretary (read his Potomac Flacks profile) will be working for a public relations agency in Utah (For those of you keeping track at home, that’s Washington to Utah in three weeks). The Director of External Relations had been scheduled to take up a new job with Office of the Director of National Intelligence. That job fell through.

There’s a couple of hints in the AP story that the FEMA staffers fell victim, in part, to a predetermined PR strategy and poor communications between the press shops at FEMA and DHS:

  • DHS had asked the agency to hold a press conference before the DHS Secretary and the FEMA Administrator landed in California that day; and
  • FEMA’s press secretary had sent an email to his boss and the DHS official responsible for communications, asking for more time – but only 43 minutes before the scheduled start of the news conference.

In the end, the comms shop had about 75 minutes to put the news conference together. Which makes you wonder why they didn’t just allow callers on the teleconference call to ask questions.

The Director of External Relations has begun to speak up in his own defense, particularly in PRWeek. PRWatch provides some other comments from him, which unfortunately don’t sound very convincing.

And, to top it off, the FEMA Administrator seems to imply that the career civil servants could have prevented their bosses from pursuing this course of action:

“Those are career people. They should have stepped up and said something, they really should have. But their bosses said ‘Do this,’ and they did it — some reluctantly, but there’s no excuses for that,” Paulison said. He called the impact on FEMA’s credibility “devastating.” (Washington Post)

This is what happens when you try to throw a media briefing together very quickly – and execute your strategy rather strangely. Unfortunately, the execution has coloured our impression of FEMA’s attempts to get information about the California wildfires out quickly.

And that hits to the heart of effective crisis communications.
[tags] FEMA, puppet theatre, DHS [/tags]

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Small thoughts


Kevin Smith, in Toronto to “whore out” his new book, thinks Canada’s retail sector is bush league:

“…Yet for all his affection for this country (“I dig the socialized medicine and the crime statistics”) and his Canadian pals (including Jim Jackman, former producer of DeGrassi: The Next Generation) , he’ll never live here, thanks to its anemic retail sector.

“You want to choose from 30 different kinds of peanut butter, you get your ass to America,” he writes. “You want to decide between, say, three? Oh, Canada … . When I hit the food store, I need variety, bitch.” … (Globe and Mail)

On a sliding scale from “spawn of Satan” to “merely incompetent and possible malicious” – where do Google and Microsoft fit in? It’s an over-the-top comparison, but it’s amusing.

“… The new, perhaps-even-creepier model for world industrial domination is one where Google will amass a vast and detailed up-to-the-moment chronicle of customers’ innermost thoughts. Producers won’t need to profit by force-feeding narrowed product choices onto customers via industrial might a la Microsoft. That’s because sellers will know consumers psychology so intimately that they will be able to efficiently trick them into buying the worthless junk.

In cold war terms, Microsoft is 1970s Soviet bread lines. Google is the KGB propaganda and spying machine...” (San Francisco Weekly)

We’re forever searching for a way to effectively communicate the relative risks of an activity. What about the clear contrasts presented in a Risk Characterization Theatre data map?

200 characters – a book full of SMS messages sent by Australians. (Get Shouty)

Me, quoted.

[tags] Kevin Smith, Clerks, Google, Microsoft, consumer psychology, behavioural marketing [/tags]

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Small business marketing and the ass kicking machine


Really. An impressive ass kicking machine. On Craigslist. With a picture.
At the tail end of the description, the machine’s master craftsman has thrown in this pitch:

“Oh and If you need any remodeling done I have 10+ years experience and my own tools.”

There you go: the key to success as a small business. In a field with many similar competitors, identify a quality that separates your services from the pack and promote that quality. Make it real for the consumer.
Here in Canada, we have a guy who has built a reputation as an expert in ass kicking AND renovation: Mike Holmes.

[tags] renovation, ass kicking, promotion, Mike Holmes [/tags]

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The mall’s role in American culture


The blogging world is full of niches. Public relations blogs are one tiny niche. Another even smaller grouping is mall bloggers. The leading mall blogs are featured in Retail Traffic this month. Here’s my list:

  • Malls of America is a multimedia blast into the past, with a fond eye for the postcard views of 60’s design and the overhyped promise of technology.
  • DeadMalls popped up on my handheld during a shopping trip to Syracuse. It was of no help in finding hollister, though.
  • the BoxTank – a more considered examination of the role of malls and big box stores in the suburban environment, but seems to be dead
  • Roadside Architecture – an attempt to document all those “did you see that” locations along the highway. Dinosaurs, 50’s bus stops, diners …

That’s blogs about malls, written by fans. As opposed to blogs written for malls, by consultants – like the poor Oakland Mall Blog. A post every quarter that reads like promotional copy, and a contact address that has a different name to that listed under “author.”

Underserved niche: I’m surprised no-one has set up a blog for mall walkers. There’s a consumer market, property nuisance, neighbourhood watch, and liability lawsuit waiting to happen, all in one group.

I also like the “closed for business – abandoned shops/stores” group on flickr.

[tags] mall, retail, shopping [/tags]

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Revisiting Mall Santas


Black Friday is barely a week away. Bill payments are being postponed, credit card limits are being extended, payday loans are being struck. Eternal optimists are saying “I just need to get to the airport an hour before the flight on Wednesday,” and families in Buffalo are actually making plans for Thanksgiving – despite the snow delays they see year after year.

Up here in Canada, the Christmas decorations started appearing up on November 1. Santa has already shown up in some malls – accompanied by a new young marketing helper – the Fairy Princess. Talk about a May/December romance! Mall managers have a hard time picking out their seasonal mirth and good cheer employees:

“…The magnates of commerce and industry do not hand out mall Santa sinecures to reward model citizens. I was not hired for that job in Alameda because I was a well-adjusted, upwardly mobile young professional. I was a fuck-up. I had made poor life choices. I was a loser.

I lived in squalor. I was fired from shitty jobs. I moved around a lot. I slept on couches. I once woke up with my head in a cat litter box. I hitchhiked. I grew partial to fortified wines. My high-school graduating class had voted me “Most Likely to Succeed.” …

…There were people, cruel people, who sometimes made comments about Santa’s scrawny legs. I had two stock responses to this taunt: 1) Santa practices Tae Bo (Santa would demonstrate), or 2) Santa takes Metabolife (Santa would point to the Metabolife cart in the mall). Neither of these stock responses squelched the occasional nasty remark that Santa was a crackhead.” (Travis Dunn, Baltimore City Paper)

Looking for a laugh and some insight on seasonal promotions? Try a sample of some of my previous posts on Santa and Christmas:

[tags] black Friday, Santa, Christmas, holidays, mall promotion [/tags]

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Yahoo to offer MovableType for Small Business


Coming this week: Yahoo will include MovableType with Yahoo Small Business Web Hosting accounts. (The link will work once the announcement is made)

A step up from crappy Blogger sites for small businesses (nothing like having paid ads for competitors on your blog/website), this is one of those incremental steps to getting blogging accepted by mainstream business executives and eventually supported by the big consulting firms, like I argued last month.

Technorati: Yahoo MT small business blogging MovableType

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Blogs, malls and holiday co-op advertising


Anyone know of a mall property that’s using blogs to support its holiday co-op advertising?

It seems like such a simple concept to me: inexpensive and easy-to-use software, local or enterprise installation, single or multiple authors, and easily customizable templates.

It would be a low-cost solution for independent malls, regional concerns and national REITs.

And it could easily be worked into the existing co-op advertising program – with the added benefit that store operators that didn’t want to chip in pricing cuts or discount coupons could still be featured in brand-building articles.

A blog would also provide a flexible community relations tool for the mall manager. Charity promotional campaigns? On-site fundraisers? Local events? All could find prominent placement in a well-designed template.

Best of all? The mall’s underpaid marketing assistant would find a mall blog easy to administer.

Technorati: marketing advertising co-op community relations

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Small business isn’t totally sold on e-commerce in Canada


A limited survey conducted for UPS Canada reveals that small businesses are nervous about their ability to succeed in an e-enabled environment. Ipsos-Reid surveyed and analyzed the responses of 400 small business owners/managers:

Generally, small enterprises do not seem very well prepared for e-business. Less than one-fifth (17%) feel they are adequately funded to support developments in this area, and only 29% believe they have an adequate technical platform in place to support e-business. Finally, just 28% think their employees have a clear understanding of the potential for business through this channel.

I was going to make a sarcastic comment about the observation that “four in ten (37%) owners/managers feel that the Internet will have little or no impact on their business over the next 3-5 years,” but I couldn’t actually imagine a business that would not be affected by e-commerce over the next five years.

Shoe shops, used book stores, holistic health boutiques, stamp dealers and maple syrup manufacturers: they’re all on the web or reachable by email.

Who are these 37%? I guess parking lot attendants, construction site lunch trucks, and roofers might be counted.

Those who do imagine impacts were most likely to mention marketing and company exposure (18%), communicating with customers and clients (13%), and growth in sales and profits (10%).

This information would indicate there’s a real opportunity to provide personalized IT infrastructure and advice to a large number of small businesses – an opportunity that could be well exploited by an international organization that has established relationships with small business and can pull in corporate resources to provide reliable and local IT products and advice.

Damn – that would be an opportunity for FedEx/Kinkos. Sorry UPS.

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New Data on the Call of the Mall


If the claims being made by the Simon Property Group are true, there are some signficant experiential marketing opportunities being missed across the United States. Simon is involved in 247 shopping malls across 37 states, and is making some pretty hefty claims as the result of its new Arbitron “Simon Malls Shopper Profile“. This from the press release:

Americans are five times more likely to visit a Simon Mall than to attend a ticketed sporting event, including Major League baseball, NFL football, NBA basketball, NHL hockey, NASCAR, Major League soccer, NCAA events, major tennis events and the PGA combined.

There are some other startling claims, that should probably be taken with a grain of salt:

  • Simons one-month reach exceeds national newspaper weekly reach.

  • Simons net reach is comparable to, or exceeds, major weekly national magazines.
  • Of course, some of the results do seem self-evident:

  • Teens and 18-24 year olds are more likely to make their purchasing decisions while at the mall while older shoppers tend to decide before they get to the mall. (see So Your Daughter’s a Mall Rat)

  • 72% of Simon M1s distinctly recall seeing mall advertising in the corridors.
  • 75% of Simon M1s are aware of audio in the corridors and walkways and awareness of signage is high.
  • Four out of five Simon Shoppers would find a kiosk with sales and promotional literature to be useful.

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  • Shopping malls – delivery systems for lipstick


    Victor Gruen was the designer of the first modern enclosed shopping mall, Southdale, outside Minneapolis (the original news release can be found here). Malcolm Gladwell has profiled the architect and his impact on North American consumer culture in the most recent New Yorker.

    Fifty years ago, Victor Gruen designed a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant shopping complex with a garden court under a skylightand today virtually every regional shopping center in America is a fully enclosed, introverted, multitiered, double-anchor-tenant complex with a garden court under a skylight. Victor Gruen didnt design a building; he designed an archetype.

    I know I’ve been a little mall-centric this week. The places just fascinate me – espcially since I live a stereotypical suburban life, and must recount my weekend activities by listing my visits to the stores, theatres and services only found in nearby malls.

    … well-run department stores are the engines of malls. They have powerful brand names, advertise heavily, and carry extensive cosmetics lines (shopping malls are, at bottom, delivery systems for lipstick)all of which generate enormous shopping traffic. The point of a mallthe reason so many stores are clustered together in one buildingis to allow smaller, less powerful retailers to share in that traffic. A shopping center is an exercise in coperative capitalism. It is considered successful (and the mall owner makes the most money) when the maximum number of department-store customers are lured into the mall.

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    How to sell “Call of the Mall”


    Paco Underhill’s been working hard to promote his new book, “Call of the Mall.” He’s been popping up in local features across the US and Canada. Just try looking at this list of placements. His secret? Making his story, his book and his work relevant to local audiences. In Toronto, he took reporters from two separate papers on tours of area malls to make his point. (Here’s the Toronto Star: the National Post makes you pay).

    Oh – and he reinforces his local message by sucking up to the reporter and the town, BIG time.

    “One of the things that’s extremely attractive about Toronto is that it’s one of the most cosmopolitan, multi-ethnic communities in the world,” he pointed out as soon as he walked through the main entrance. “This is not common in America at all. Toronto and Vancouver are very special. If you go to Chinatown in New York City you won’t find something like this.”

    So, that’s cool. We’re one up on New York.”

    In LA, he “… took a break from promoting his newest volume … to amble around Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, Calif., pointing out merchandising gimmicks and blunders.”

    What about the Mall of America? It’s “just the ordinary done at a huge scale. They need to go back to the drawing board and do what every mall across the country needs to do: transition from landlord to place maker.”

    In San Francisco? He “… appears more excited to be in the Stonestown Galleria than one might expect, given the amount of time he already spends in shopping malls.” Stunning, considering how many malls he’s visited on this promotion tour!

    Underhill’s PR advantage lays in the very nature of his work: shopping is an experience shared by every man, woman and child, from every region and every demographic group. Whether it’s a holiday from reality or simply a chore, we all have opinions about shopping and how it can be improved.

    His book promotion tour makes it obvious Underhill knows how to customize his story to fit the local environment – and how to develop the hook to ensure a nice long local story. Most of the articles referenced here are over a thousand words.

    Envirosell, the consulting company that profits from all this research, has a website similarly designed to drive consumers and potential customers to the specific analysis and information, not general corporate bumpf. The site is full of case studys, recent articles featuring Underhill, pointers to upcoming seminars, and descriptions of ongoing research.

    But what are some of the lessons learned from his study of malls? As he told the Toronto Star, “one of the ironies of our shopping culture is that most stores and malls are owned and run and designed by men, and yet we somehow expect women to shop there,” says Underhill. So I wanted to know how malls would look if they were designed and built by women. “They would have better bathrooms. They would have change rooms that made sense. They would have more benches for parking the husband or boyfriend.”

    The New York Observer had a more realistic take: “It helps that Mr. Underhill understands the absurdity of his job: “No wonder we look at the mallat the ambition of it, at the reality, at that already obese teenager stuffing her jaw with a drooling Cinnabonand we cant help but wonder: Is this the best we could do?” Unfortunately, he weighs down his narrative with clunky dialogue that distracts from the flow of interesting information. He also constantly reminds us that hes writing mostly for his potential consulting customersthe Gaps and Starbucks of the world. (This criticism was also leveled five years ago against his first book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping.)”

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    Is Smaller Really Better?


    Pop! Pr invented the “Arnold Effect” the other day, characterizing how the Schwarzenegger team concentrated their campaign efforts at influencing local and regional papers. According to Jeremy, small and medium-sized PR shops will profit in 2004 as clients find that, sometimes, large PR outfits lose sight of the trees for the forest.

    Small to medium sized firms are better suited to local, grass roots campaigns, as they are more apt to look at the larger picture and realize that it’s not just about the large hits, but about messaging and wider range of the public. Hence, they work with the smaller, local media.

    By working with smaller firms, clients can profit from greater attention from the principals, more detailed knowledge of local and regional issues, closer relationships with local media, and a willingness to include innovative and individual tactics in campaigns.

    There are some parallels in comments Martin Sorrell of WPP made in a recent PRWeek: More focus, less dilution. More specialization. I still think if we know more about a topic, we will succeed. I think it’s organization. Having fewer, better people at the top, and bringing in better young people who can do the implementation and learn the business over time. Well, except for the small and medium-sized part.

    But the new focus on individual attention isn’t limited to the PR industry. Over at Saatchi, Kevin Dundas is emphasizing the breadth of their work and expertise: “We have gone through the phase of being an advertising agency. That’s gone. More and more, we have become an ideas company.” Unfortunately, his strategy is anchored by the concept of account planning – whose emphasis on testing and data often seems like creativity for quants.

    Is there a happy median – for the holding companies? Can they have their shareholder capitalization cake and eat it too? Boy Meets Girl S&J is going to try. The new London shop was formed by an alliance between an Interpublic network and the mutineering ex-founders from London’s well-reviewed St. Luke’s.

    “Advertising can only do a number of things,” [Managing Director David] Pemsel explains. “In the past it has ignored other activities such as direct marketing, PR and design. And, for all the current talk of integration, I have failed to come across anyone genuinely able to create ideas and articulate them well through any form of communication. That’s the Boy Meets Girl vision.”

    Despite the rush to “customization” by the holding companies and larger agencies, there are opportunities for small and mid-sized PR firms. You only have to look at how advertisers are examining how marketing, advertising and PR tactics can be used to communicate with the hispanic and “brown pound” markets.

    And, as PR WEEK cautions this week: But as the number of Hispanics increases, so do the complexity of the demographic and the nuances of the culture. Hispanics present scary territory for many corporations: a consumer that cannot be ignored but is often not well understood by those spending the marketing dollars – making a more inclusive ‘urban’ approach an attractive, less threatening option.

    And this presents an opportunity for well-informed small and mid-sized agencies.

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    On Open Data, the Domesday Book and public policy


    Published on the Policy By The Numbers blog:

    As an open data and open government advocate, I get drawn into conversations with developers, dataset owners and bureaucrats about the difficulty in identifying, cleaning and then publishing datasets in the open. As a historian, I know that half the challenge in good economic history is identifying the appropriate data sources.

    Nine hundred and twenty six years ago, William the Conqueror ordered a thorough survey of the property and economy of his recently acquired British Islands. Teams of commissioners visited 13,000 villages, towns and estates and interviewed up to 62,000 witnesses. Their work produced the data that has become known as the Domesday Book.

    This data proved critical for developing strategy in the new Norman Court. Facing civil unrest and foreign invasion, the Court needed an accurate count of the financial and human capital available while evaluating their economic, political and military options.

    Although there had been previous surveys, inquests and local roll-taking elsewhere in Europe, the Domesday Book looms as a landmark in data collection and analysis in the West. It provides a snapshot of the wealth, land holdings, animal population, household possessions and feudal relationships among the gentry and nobility in William’s kingdom. Really, it’s a record of how the 1% rolled a thousand years ago.

    Collecting the data was not an easy process. In fact, the standards for data collection were constantly evolving as the survey was conducted; agricultural, economic and seigneurial data sources had not been combined before; the process of reviewing and correcting data was initially quite cumbersome; and the final product was still the product of a particularly focused and determined individual.

    Today, technology has made the collection of social, economic and simply transactional data far simpler, but we haven’t really begun to systematically explore how these volumes of data can help governments and communities address their fundamental public policy challenges. Much of the initiative around open data has been the result of the energetic efforts of a small number of innovators and their supporters. Open data is still largely characterized by the small scale project with localized relevance.

    Which makes the Open Domesday project a wonderful link between the past and present. Thanks to academics at the University of Hull and Anna Powell-Smith, an open data volunteer, the data from the Domesday Book has been translated for the technology age. Open Domesday lets the ordinary web surfer sort through this historic data by location, name or by reference to the book itself. The results are overlaid on contemporary maps of Great Britain. The ability to easily drill through centuries of history and reveal data about a community, a family or a region like this is stunning. Data collected ages ago continues to deliver results and insight.

    The lasting impact of the Domesday book is often fresh in my mind when I think about the open data initiatives being launched around the world. The capacity to liberate and share data is only just beginning to affect our relationship with the government and with our communities. With every new collaboration, whether at a local level, with the World Bank, the United Nations or through the Open Government Partnership, we can imagine open data achieving scale and an impact similar to that of the Domesday Book in its time.


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    Joining the Advisory Panel on Open Government


    Yesterday, I had the privilege of participating in the first meeting of the Advisory Panel on Open Government, a group of industry, government, media and open policy experts interested in the application of open government, open information and open data principles by the Government of Canada. While the group is still coalescing, the general ambition is to provide some sober second thought and add critical insight to the open government plans being developed by the Government of Canada.

    The Panel is chaired by Tony Clement, the President of the Treasury Board, and includes a number of Canadian and international participants with extensive experience in open government and open data issues. I’ve taken the liberty of copying David Eave’s list of participants and their related Twitter handles:

    Bernard Courtois, Past President & CEO, Information Technology Association of Canada (ITAC)

    Robert Herjavec, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, The Herjavec Group

    Alexander B. Howard, Government 2.0 Correspondent, O’Reilly Media

    Thomas ‘Tom’ Jenkins, Head of the Canadian Digital Media Network and Executive Chairman and Chief Strategy Officer, OpenText Corporation

    Vivek Kundra, Executive Vice President of Emerging Markets,

    Herb Lainchbury, Chief Technology Officer, MD Databank Corp.

    Colin McKay, Public Policy Manager (Canada), Google

    Toby Mendel, Executive Director, Centre for Law and Democracy

    Alex Miller, President and Founder, ESRI Canada

    Marie-Lucie Morin, Executive Director for Canada, Ireland and the Caribbean, The World Bank

    Dr. Rufus Pollock, Co-Founder and Director, Open Knowledge Foundation

    Dr. Teresa Scassa, Vice-Dean of Research and Professor of Law, University of Ottawa

    I expect to draw in the larger open government community – who are numerous, energetic and truly innovative – through discussion, invitation and maybe even some small sponsored events.

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    Location – tell me my current obsession


    Lately, I’ve been zoning in on books that discuss location – whether through wayfinding, past experience in urban and wild settings, the development of innate navigational skills, or novel treatements of life in particular locations. Here’s a sampling from my recent bookshelf:

    Where am I?Colin Ellard

    ” … Two things seem to be universal in wayfaring cultures like the Inuit and the Australian Aborigines. One of them is that they’ve honed this exquisite eye for detail that we don’t have. The other thing that these cultures do is use narrative and story. The best example of all is these song lines in Aborigines – what they’re doing is they are making an explicit connection between their creation, the creation of everything, and the shape and size of the landscape. They’re using song lines as a kind of navigational aid, but at the same time there’s this spiritual connection to place …” (Globe and Mail)

    Retrofitting SuburbiaEllen Dunham-Jones and June Williamson

    ” … But we found, over and over in interviews, people being really sad when their mall had died. “I had my prom in that mall,” they’d say. They attribute the mall with a lot of bonding, a lot of time growing up—they really loved their malls. When it died, the first reaction was: Let’s find a developer to fix our mall. Most people didn’t want a downtown-type structure, they just wanted their mall back. It takes a paradigm shift, like the example of Belmar (see pictures at right).

    Belmar was built five miles outside of Denver, and originally had no desire to be urban at all. But by the time the mall died, the surrounding suburban community of Lakewood, Colo., had become the fourth-largest municipality in the state. They had put in a library and a city hall, but it was set up like a strip mall. They eventually found a developer for the property who said “I won’t redevelop the mall, but I’ll give you a town center.” It took a while, but they bought in, completel …” (Popular Mechanics)

    StripmallingJon Paul Fiorentino

    ” … Jonny lives and works in a strip mall in Suburban Winnipeg. For some people, this would be exciting and fulfilling enough …”

    Personal Space: the behavioral basis of designRobert Sommer

    Before “getting up in your grill,” there was “personal space.” This is the original work, which drawn from initial insight found at a psychiatric hospital in Saskatchewan.

    Hollywood in the Neighborhood – Kathryn H. Fuller-Seeley, ed

    How Hollywood and the new breed of popular entertainment – movies – arrived in the heartland, and the effect this had on the community.

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    Storage units: A moment in transition


    One observation about storage units: they can appear anywhere. Alongside rail yards, behind motels, cleverly disguised as yet another building in a suburban office park, wedged in the strangest shaped lots.

    This Sunday’s NYT Magazine discusses the link between self-storage units and the culture of consumption.

    ” … The truth is, there is no typical storage customer. As facilities crowded into the landscape, storage units became incubators for small businesses and artisans; warehouses for pharmaceutical reps, eBay merchants or landscapers. One unit at Statewide, the Doparts told me, functions as a kind of regional distribution center for Little Debbie cakes. I met a few homeless renters, who sometimes choose to pay to put a roof over their possessions instead of their own heads (living in units is not allowed); I met working-class renters using units as closets and safe-deposit boxes while serially couch-surfing or living in multifamily homes. I heard of a martial-arts instructor in Hawaii who trained clients in his unit, and a group of husbands in New England who watch sports in one on weekends. More than one operator told me they have a unit where, every morning, the renter goes in dressed as a man and comes out as a woman …”

    in the NYT Magazine, The Self-Storage Self

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    Orwell on Consumer Culture


    ” … It used to interest me to see the brutal cynicism with which Christian sentiment is exploited. The touts from the Christmas card firms used to come around with their catalogues as early as June. A phrase from one of their invoices sticks in my memory. It was: ‘2 doz. Infant Jesus with rabbits.” … ”

    ” … [Being a bookseller] is a human trade which is not capable of being vulgarized beyond a certain point. The combines can never squeeze the small independent bookseller out of existence as they have squeezed the grocer and the milkman …”

    – “Bookshop Memories,” 1936, George Orwell

    Ah, the comfort and security that used to accompany topical expertise and local presence. And then someone had to go and invent punchcards, databases, and recommendation engines.

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    a cheeseburger of shame


    ” … A fast-food cheeseburger is like a drunken assignation with a stranger met at a wedding reception: momentarily delectable but often leading to shame, nausea, and possibly even health issues …”

    – The Boston Phoenix discusses a flat patty available at a mini-mall food court near Harvard Square.

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    Two Tone design you can wear


    Fred Perry Special Edition shirts

    Twenty-six years ago, there were some fairly clear-cut fashion choices to be made by the average high school student. Preppie, rocker, punk, townie, slob, nerd, idiosyncratic yet creative soul, mod, skinhead, loner, doper, music obsessive, new romantic, dealer, kid from the backwoods of Northern Ontario, artist and normal tormented teenager. You could find some Euro douches. There were even a few vegans, but our classmates tended to suspect they were actually witches.

    In many ways, we were actually living Pretty in Pink – the Molly Ringwald/Jon Cryer Fred Perry paean to awkward relationships and extreme economic differences.  Among the mods, we went to tremendous lengths to dress like our fathers did – in 1968. Among our cultural touchstones were a number of English brand names including Fred Perry, the venerable English tennis supplier, sportswear manufacturer Lonsdale, and several smaller designers.

    This from mod/ska stalwarts the Specials’ own anniversary site:

    ” …First, they looked fucking great. If you weren’t there, Britain was transformed into a mail order version of The Wailin Wailers album cover almost overnight, though it probably didn’t know it at the time. Before the birth of the woeful sports casual, the working class dressed up for the weekend and the easily attainable and striking evocation of mid 60’s Jamaica was too irresistible for those who found punk’s sartorial alienation just that bit too alienating ..”

    How did a bunch of teenagers from Ottawa pick up on the music varieties, cultural signals and fashion markers that helped to define the second wave of mod? Bootlegged concert tapes (still have some in my basement), copies of British magazines like The Face, gigs by local mod, ska, Northern Soul and 60s R&B bands, the rare video of old Ready, Steady, Go! or Top of the Pops appearances, and an s*load of  British and Canadian ‘zines.

    In June, Fred Perry will be releasing three new styles in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the arrival of two tone band The Specials (if you’re under the age of 30, you probably know them from their collaboration with Lilly Allen). That’s the bespoke logo over there – the longstanding crown of laurel leaves, but rendered in both white and black, as well as a underlying two tone patter.

    Fred Perry has set up a site to take advance orders for the shirts – and its design mimics the clear sans serif text, open layout and tonal clarity of late 70s and early 80s two tone records. It even looks like it was ripped from a zine!

    (Don’t tell anyone, but the same design firm that drew up the Fred Perry ecommerce site designed this and The Specials’ anniversary site. The Specials even have a blog!)

    For more on the two tone design that characterized releases from the Specials and the Beat, Marco on the Bass has tracked down some interviews with two who brought together the look: Jerry Dammers and David Storey.

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    My new site and synergies of my job


    My day job involves a very interesting balance between two distinct functions: research and public education.

    To many working in the public sector, there is a very clear line dividing these two roles.

    In research, the organization attempts to examine an issue of some importance, identify options that may want to be explored by the organization, conduct research largely in secret (there’s a reason why the Treasury Board had to mandate that government-funded public opini0n research be released to the public) and then set out some possible policy approaches to addressing the issue.

    Public education? Many consider this function to be the loose-lipped and overly indiscreet part of the organization. The bar hopper. The close talker. The desperate car salesman of the public service.

    Luckily for me, a small organization finds it more efficient – and more productive – to try and tap outside resources in most circumstances. You’ve conducted a multi-national survey on the policy implications of X? Great. One more thing I don’t have to commission. Your area of academic specialization is remarkably similar to a subject we have become deeply interested in? Fantastic! Can we invite you up for a day of consultations and maybe a public discussion?

    The research conducted by our organization can be opportunistic. We have an institutionalized willingness to hear out and even incorporate outside opinion into our research process, especially when there are dozens of specialists honing in on very defined areas of expertise in privacy and data protection.

    Many of these specialists also invest a lot of time and effort in communicating their work – whether through meetings of their professional associations, by publishing their academic or legal research, speaking to public meetings or through loud (or quiet) activism.

    What does this mean? Sometimes, my roles as researcher and educator meet – even amplify each other. Amplification doesn’t necessarily mean the goals of our work meet, but there are enough synergies and benefits to be shared.

    This leads me to our latest research project ( – a collection of essays discussing deep packet inspection (DPI). As we were beginning to research DPI as a privacy issue last summer, we recognized that there are many, many sides to the issue and to the application of the technology – each with its own proponent and each with its own school of thought and support.

    Instead of preparing a summary of the issue, or commissioning contrasting research papers, we decided to take two separate tacks:

    • build a collection of varying points of view on DPI, solicited from experts from as many fields as possible; and
    • providing those with a professional or private interest in the issue with an opportunity to comment and provide additional resources on DPI and its implications.

    This is the result:


    That’s right. It’s an online publication designed to offer an opportunity for the new spirit of collaboration and cooperation to take hold – in a constructive way. It also happens to incorporate now common social media elements.

    It’s not a social media project looking for a convenient home. It’s a practical and reasoned application of innovative public education tools to a real research need.

    And I hope it works.

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    New York’s Coke Tax


    ” … Pragmatically speaking, if we imposed a tax on the 50 billion places now hawking small plates, handcrafted artisanal cocktails with antique bitters, house-cured salumi, and featuring servers who call the customer “dude” or “bro” while texting on their cell phones, we could probably put enough dough in the state till to end obesity for generations …”

    Gabrielle Hamilton, a NewYork chef, commenting on the proposal to tax non-diet soft drinks in New York City.

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    I think Macy’s is trying to put the moves on me!


    “The mall is the stalwart spouse that hasn’t learned any new moves in a decade.”

    (New York Times, “Our Love Affair With Malls Is On The Rocks“)

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    Monkey Metrics


    The Santa Ana city zoo has a problem. It was built on land donated by a city founder, on the condition the zoo have 50 monkeys on site at all times. Problem is, sometimes monkeys slip off this mortal coil. This from the Los Angeles Times:

    ” … “You can’t just go to Monkeys-R-Us or EBay to get monkeys,” said Kent Yamaguchi, interim director at the city zoo. …”

    ” … A prominent lawyer and land baron, Prentice kept monkeys and a gibbon in his 16-room mansion nearby, giving them such unfettered reign that he had trouble holding on to housekeepers. The home site is now an Elks Lodge. …”

    ” … “While we were dipping down below that number, Yamaguchi said, “we knew there were two in the oven.” …”

    ” … As of this week, exactly 50 monkeys reside at the zoo, among them howler monkeys, spider monkeys, an emperor tamarin sporting a long, white handlebar mustache, and a Pygmy marmoset, one of the world’s smallest monkeys, weighing in at only a quarter of a pound. …”

    ” … And, [the family’s] attorney has cautioned, the family will not accept any substitutes; “any form of lemurs or apes are not monkeys under any zoological definition.” …”

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    Social media impulses vs. eConsultation control


    Remember I said I was working on a couple of papers? Here’s one of them. I think you can recognize my themes, writing style and opinions – although they usually aren’t edited for publication.

    “… In this comment, I argue that there is a growing role or the ordinary citizen — whether acting individually or in concert — in framing how specific public policy ssues are perceived and interpreted among a politically attuned and engaged online audience.

    Online technologies are helping to build civic awareness among itizens — there is evidence that a growing number of itizens are expressing their political and policy preferences through such online tools as forums, blogs, wikis, social networking sites, e-consultations and even the comment fields of large-circulation newspapers.

    Importantly for policy-makers, a small but incredibly dedicated group of online commentators and rapporteurs is influencing the public perception of public policy issues through its activities …”

    Peters, Joseph, and Manon Abud. 2008.
    E-Consultation: Enabling Democracy between Elections
    With comments by Kathleen McNutt and Colin McKay.
    Choices 15 (1).

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    Well, I’m only Amish at home


    ” … Many Amish have dealt with the collision of modern business technology and old world values by keeping their home and work lives completely separate. Though they still drive horses and buggies, remain off the power grid and wear simple, handmade clothing, some are using computers and power tools and talking on cellphones at their jobs.

    Mr. Swaffer, of Keim, said that several Amish employees walk around the mill with Bluetooth cellphones in their ears, but the phones are owned by Keim and the workers shut them off when they leave work. “You won’t likely see someone on a horse and buggy talking on a cellphone,” he added. …”

    – from a New York Times article on how the Amish are building successful businesses in partnership with non-Amish entrepreneurs.

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    Adaptive design for bad drivers


    Spotted in the 16ieme arrondissement – a design adaptation meant to protect this car from the close parking and bad driving of fellow Parisians. That’s a mint Mini. Tied to the back bumper? Two hard plastic bumpers normally found hanging off the gunwales of small boats.

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    Sound in public spaces: the Strasbourg Tram


    There are many positive qualities to the tram system in Strasbourg: new trams, wide windows, efficient and predictable schedules, broad green tramways and a simple fare structure.

    More remarkable, however, is the inspired effort to weave the network into the spirit of the community.

    Artists were commissioned to create static and multimedia installations that warmed the relationship between an infrastructure project and the Strasbourgoeis: custom tickets for the “A” line, stations as a subtle artistic canvas, intentionally manipulated compasses scattered along the system, art incorporated into beams and columns, and a charming and lighthearted project to humanize the otherwise mechanistic station announcements.

    Rodolphe Burger, a French composer and musician, created Vox Populi – a series of interstitial melodies, backing tracks and station announcements which were completely enchanting during my stay in Strasbourg this week.

    There is little more surprising than hearing a small melody, performed by the Conservatoire de Strasbourg, precede a small child announcing the upcoming stop for La Cour européenne des droits de l’Homme – an institution that defends the rights of young and old throughout Europe.

    As Burger told an interviewer in 2001, a hundred people from 4 to 82 recorded station names and standard safety and information messages::

    “… Plus de cent personnes ont été enregistrées, pour introduire le maximum de variation dans les voix, les timbres, les accents, etc …

    Quand un supporter annonce le stade de la Meinau, quand un professeur célèbre annonce « Université », quand un habitant du quartier de l’Elsau annonce le terminus en poussant une sorte de cri de joie, quand une interprète anglophone du Conseil de l’Europe bute sur la station
    « Alt Winmarick », s’excuse (là, apparemment, d’après les échos que j’en ai, lorsque cette annonce tombe, c’est l’hilarité générale dans la rame), etc …”

    Burger also referred to the influence of singing and chanting traditions among the Aborigines of Australia and the Navajos of North America – where direction and instruction were communicated through tone, rhythm and personal voice.

    “… Ça me fait penser au Chant des pistes de Chatwin, dans lequel il explique comment, chez les aborigènes, la carte et le chant sont liés. C’est présent aussi chez les Navajos. Les chants sont des chemins dans un paysage …”

    The key is to create intertwining narratives and story lines, preventing each trip from becoming a routine and numbing experience framed by monotone announcements and mechanical chimes. It certainly works, as I noticed the distinct voices and musical combinations when arriving at each station on the “B” and “E” lines.

    While I didn’t have the time – or the inspiration – to look for the other artistic elements on the line, a different report emphasized how the various projects worked together:

    ” … Il faudrait aussi évoquer les projets affectant l’ensemble de la ligne B : les dessins d’Alain Séchas dans les caissons lumineux des colonnes des stations, les boussoles de Jean-Marie Krauth incrustées dans le sol des vingt-quatre stations et le traitement de l’ambiance sonore des rames par Rodolphe Burger …” (Vacarme)

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    The bourgeoisie attends the art faire


    It has to be a tough day, sitting in a folding lawn chair in a public square, a dozen or your artworks displayed on easels or pedestals around you.

    Which is why I feel for the forty-odd artists packing the Place Broglie in Strasbourg this Sunday.

    Because the people walking this square have distinctly bourgeois tastes, and they’re letting it show.

    Now, I am the last person to claim authority, taste or style when it comes to art.

    But even I can tell that most of the people here are drawn by the physical qualities of some pieces of art, not their inspiration, their execution or presentation.

    What do I mean? They’re shopping for art that will fill a space and impress their friends.

    That means a big crowd around the lady who applies photoshop filters to her photos of lone wolves on the horizon, or a fishing shack on a beach. That her photos are mounted in a relatively popular 1:6 proportion doesn’t hurt either.

    Ditto for the graffiti artist actually creating near-photo portraits right here on the sidewalk.

    “Oh this? The artists also did the “screw authority” tag under the A70 autoroute. He’s authentic in his passion.”

    Or the “abstract” painter who layers textures and paint mediums in distinctly angular patterns – a style first popularized by Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson

    Strangely, the Keith Haring rip-offs aren’t moving, and the startlingly good pop art isn’t drawing a crowd at all.

    And forget anything that shows a touch of anger or anguish. The lady with the angry nude watercolours is having an exceptionally cold reception.

    Thankfully, the guy trying to move rough charcoal sketches of naked ladies isn’t getting much slack either.

    It is depressing, though, to see artists producing more and more of their work in tryptchs or series of small postcard-sized images, to suit the suburban sensibilities of sidewalk art browsers.

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    The secret to vinyl is in the labelling


    All this blah blah blah about the relative strength of vinyl sales (following on the heels of several month’s worth of reports about the impending collapse of independent and chain record stores) occasionally focuses on the hard – and creative – work of band members, friends, hangers-on and small label owners to promote their music.

    Such is the case of Seventh Rule Recordings, a Chicago outfit that works to win listeners for “brutally punishing underground metal”.

    “We just don’t believe in just putting out shit like let’s get it done as fast as we can,” [Cara Flaster, cofounder] explains. “That’s so gross. I don’t care if we put out ten records—they gotta look good.”

    Those who pick up early editions of Seventh Rule vinyl will find that the dedication to aesthetics goes deeper than the cover. A 200-copy edition of Intimacy, for instance, is being pressed on white vinyl splattered, spin art-style, with cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to match the cover. Eighty-four copies—the “nuclear” edition of the record—comes on black vinyl bisected by a vivid band of yellow.

    Scott admits that special limited edition releases help pressure hardcore record collectors to buy—and buy early—but he and Cara are also motivated by their own geeky allegiance to vinyl …” (Chicago Reader)

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    Improve your work with Primetime TV


    I’ve decided to improve my life at work. Not by increasing my productivity. Not by chasing down new opportunities. Certainly not by replacing my Bob and Doug MacKenzie action figures.

    Instead, I’m going to begin assuming qualities and mannerisms normally seen from primetime television characters:

    1. when presented with a problem, I’ll tilt my head 45 degrees, look at the ground, and take off my sunglasses
    2. if something seems evidently contradictory, I’ll do a double take, look you right in the eyes, and go “huuuuhhh?”
    3. I’m going to mark off a corner of the conference room and use it as my own personal confessional
    4. how about introducing an amusing and quirky sidekick with an eccentric professional specialty into our circle of friends at work?
    5. forbid that the topmost button on any shirt or blouse be buttoned up
    6. poor performance review? welcome to exile island – the photocopier room
    7. begin carrying all my pens and notebooks in an aluminum briefcase. Before beginning a meeting, I’ll pull on a pair of latex surgical gloves, kneel down, and ask “what do we have here?”
    8. speed up corporate audits by introducing an 80 year-old British self-taught private investigator to the process
    9. replace every mid-level manager with a gruff yet attractive former Marine who starred in an 80s summer teen movie
    10. find a sassy wife that is disproportionately attractive and a better friend to my colleagues than me
    11. get a 60″ interactive whiteboard, like CNN’s John King
    12. introduce the tribal ‘do rag as a corporate promotional item
    13. weld the doors shut on all cars in the corporate fleet
    14. when all seems doomed, introduce Heather Locklear, John Larroquette or TedMcGinley into the mix

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    This bike goes to eleven


    Back in university, there were two or three guys whose most prominent piece of furniture was a giant black performance speaker – the sort of three foot by five foot box normally carted around in the back of a Ford Econoline van, the sort of thing that needed a strong professional amp.

    Usually, these guys didn’t even play an instrument or belong to a band – they had made a significant investment in audio equipment so that they could be “da man” when it came time to set up a house party.

    “Jesus! Look at the size of that speaker! They’ll hear the music down the street! You da man!”

    Made in Queens is the story of a group of young Trinidadian men who wheel around their Queens neighbourhood on BMX bikes – jacked to the max with those old school speakers and decks.

    “In this age of obsessive video sharing and social networking, nearly every action is designed and packaged for public consumption. Especially with young people,” says co-director Joe Stevens. “The immed­iate charm of Nick and his crew is that they’re the exact opposite of all that. There is nothing calculated or self-conscious about who they are. They’re just a group of friends doing some­thing to challenge themselves and have some laughs. It’s a story which would have never come from kids who were born here.”

    Here’s the trailer:

    h/t Creative Review blog

    [tags] Made in Queens, amps [/tags]

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    Is a Bad Blog Better than No Blog?


    Let’s assume you work for a government body that is deeply involved in highly contentious issues – issues that are very interesting (and frustrating) to communities both online and offline. Let’s also assume that your organization has very little chance of changing the fundamental policies and procedures that frame these issues in the public’s eyes.

    In other words, you’re largely a punching bag, buffeted by public opinion, proposals and criticism from activists and civil society groups, and general incredulity from the public. Is it worth developing a proactive social media program? It’s always worthwhile to put passive social media measures into place – extensive monitoring of the conversations and debates taking place online, the measurement of shifting opinion and perception among your various communities, perhaps some element of limited participation in comment fields and on discussion boards.

    But is it worth the effort to launch a blog or similar long term initiative if your comment fields will get filled with criticism, claims that your social media work is simply parroting or reinforcing your traditional media work, or growing references to critical reports, video clips and commentary that undermines the very point you were trying to make (see this post from the Transportation Safety Administration blog post where they try to explain the relatively small numbers of people actually stopped by no-fly lists)?

    What if your efforts to keep comment fields relevant and abuse-free means you effectively build in discontinuity into your so-called “conversation”? Take, for example, the purgatory established for non-serious comments on the UK Identity and Passport Service consultation blog, Or the cutting criticism found at the foot of the launch posting for the same site?

    What’s the real question when considering your options? Is your organization ready to take a beating in the name of consultation, openness and conversation? After all, if your daily business is to argue the benefits of an unpopular policy or program, do you have the tools, the staff or even the operational flexibility to reflect and absorb any of the criticism or constructive commentary you are sure to receive as part of a social media campaign?

    Or should your approach to social media be more self serving? Forget all those promises of access, change, conversation, progress and participative government touted by aspirational and inspirational social media consultants – why not just create a blog and accompanying campaign as part of an effort to engage your critics on as many battlefields as possible?

    After all, you can’t rebut the argument if you don’t even have a ticket to the debate.

    In some cases, it may be useful for a government organization to create a blog and implement other social media tactics to argue their side – even if the readers and commenters will have no hope of effecting any change AT ALL.

    The key, as always, is use the tool effectively and understand the terrain upon which you have chosen to engage your enemy. It’s go big or go home. It’s time to break out of your institutional language, your ingrained reticence to confront opposition and your dependence upon senior administrators to speak on behalf of the organization. That’s probably why the TSA blog recently called out all its lurkers – the large majority of the 4000 unique readers per week* that the TSA blog receives – to submit questions to be answered in coming weeks.

    It’s almost the Rocky School of Social Media (trademark pending) – when faced with overwhelming odds, continue to engage your opponent, seek out their weak spots, and hope that the more supportive members of the general public help push you through to the end. Paint the benefits of your issue in the most positive light possible, and simply be seen engaging your detractors.

    After all, if they’re going to criticize you anyway, why not draw them to a site where you control the colour scheme and the blogroll?

    *there’s a metric for you – compare your uniques and comment traffic to that of the TSA blog, which is undoubtedly a lightning rod for criticism on public policy issues.

    *cross-posted from*

    [tags] govt 2.0, egovernment, corporate blog, government blog [/tags]

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    For your next team building exercise


    You’ve been there. You’ve got a small budget but you want big impact for your next team building exercise. You need a motivational speaker that will make a big impression and possibly knock their socks off.

    Well, do I have a deal for you.

    “… King Kong Bundy, the 400-pound behemoth known for once breaking a midget wrestler’s back. Flying Bundy in and putting him up at the La Quinta will cost $1,600 …” (Cleveland Scene)

    Of course, that cost is just to fly the man in to make a celebrity appearance a minor league wrestling event in Ohio. The speech might be extra.

    On a personal note, King Kong Bundy and Hulk Hogan were the two wrestlers I always chose when playing the stand-up arcade game Wrestlemania. And, for your viewing pleasure, the Bundy/Hogan cage match from Wrestlemania 2 (with the added pleasure of over-the-top colour from Jesse “the body” Ventura.

    [tags] King Kong Bundy, team building, teambuilding, motivational speaker, speaker [/tags]

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    Spinal Tap Teaches You To Set Up a Social Media Agency


    • Pick An Unusual Name – hyphens, adverbs and acronyms will always make you seem smarter and better qualified.

    “David St. Hubbins … I must admit I’ve never heard anybody with that name.
    It’s an unusual name, well, he was an unusual saint, he’s not a very well known saint.
    What was he the saint of?
    He was the patron saint of quality footwear.”

    • Never Explain Why Your Staff Are Leaving – the only value your agency will bring to the table is in the assumed experience of your team. If they’re jumping ship, think up a better excuse or the business will crash.

    “You know, several, you know, dozens of people spontaneously combust each year. It’s just not really widely reported.”

    • Suck Every Ounce of Credibility From Each One Of Your Engagements – it’s not really a secret, but social media gigs are not the largest piece of the pie. Each and every one of your projects must be coloured, magnified, even exaggerated to imply that your agency continues to grow – in revenues, in influence and in market share.

    “I’ve told them a hundred times: put ‘Spinal Tap’ first and ‘Puppet Show’ last.”

    • Exaggerate The Impact Of Your Tools – social media is the solution to all of the marketing world’s problems, will being communities together and will wash the stink of countless poor business decisions from your client.

    “Why don’t you just make ten louder and make ten be the top number and make that a little louder?

    [pause] These go to eleven.”

    • Attack Your Detractors – inevitably, you will be criticized for your work, for parroting the propaganda of other social media acolytes or for being the groomsman on the social media bandwagon. Stay firm in your convictions, and your knowledge that you have a three year lease on the office.

    “This tasteless cover is a good indication of the lack of musical invention within. The musical growth of this band cannot even be charted. They are treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry.”

    That’s just nitpicking, isn’t it?”

    • Don’t Let History, Experience Or The Blunt Force Of Reality Dampen Your Spirits – there are naysayers out there. Even three years into what we continue to argue is a fundamental shift in the economic and social fabric of at least 5% of the world’s economy, we are continually asked to justify the social media spend. Just push through and keep selling the story.

    “In ancient times, hundreds of years before the dawn of history, an ancient race of people… the Druids. No one knows who they were or what they were doing… “

    • Learn to Work A Room – Like A Bus Station Hooker – as a small agency in a world dominated by multi-nationals, look for every opportunity to differentiate yourself and promote your skills. Jump at every chance to “promote your brand” and sell your particular brand of social media expertise. Work the conference circuit so aggressively it seems like you’ve forgotten where you actually call home.


    [tags] social media agency, business development, Spinal Tap, conference, speaker, Nigel Tufnel [/tags]

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    Where the recession begins to hit home


    Yeah, yeah. High fuel prices. Rising cost of bread. Over priced tomatos. Despite all this, the looming recession hadn’t significantly affected my lifestyle – until now.

    My Chinese takeout restaurant has switched to a smaller clamshell for its “two items with noodles” special. And dropped one of the two types of hot sauce.

    That there’s a price increase, folks.

    I can feel it in my gut.

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    Ideas that seemed smart at the time


    Airlines, in a desperate attempt to remain profitable, are considering incremental charges and fees for services once considered routine. Like checking your bags before boarding your flight.

    ” … J. Scott Kirby, president of US Airways, said that passengers would prefer to pay for the features they actually used. Historically, he said, all passengers paid for checking bags even when they did not bring luggage, because a charge for transporting them was built into the ticket price.

    Now, he said, “those who want the infrastructure to check bags, will check bags; those that don’t, won’t pay for them.” (NYT)

    I hope airlines are building in the infrastructure for passengers who will choose to carry-on their luggage. Faced with an economic disincentive, passengers are bound to opt for the haul and stow – which may be a problem considering most airlines are also moving to smaller regional and commuter jets on most domestic flights.

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    Brand loyalty that leads to smuggling


    Hoooo eeeeee! There’s some bootleggin’ going on! The fine folks of Dublin, Texas stil make Dr. Pepper with cane sugar – the only bottler in the United States to continue producing the quirky drink this way.

    Problem is, their distributions rights are limited to the 40 miles around the plant.

    We all know what that means – the locals are moving crate after crate out of the bottling plant, selling it bottle by bottle in corner stores and gas stations.

    It’s like Smokey and the Bandit, but at a much smaller scale.

    20 cases per individual, only available at the plant. And $7.89 for a six-pack of 8 ounce bottles.

    “Hey! You lookin? You lookin for a snoot-full of the earthy aroma, the tangy yet fizzy bite of an old-fashioned soft drink? Just come back here, and bring your money with you.”

    More details at the Dallas Observer.

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    It pays to know who you know


    Whaddya know. You can still make money off old school ties and inside information – in the United Kingdom:

    “… We test the hypothesis that analysts’ school ties to senior officers impart comparative information advantages in the production of analyst research. We find evidence that analysts outperform on their stock recommendations when they have an educational link to the company.

    A simple portfolio strategy of going long the buy recommendations with school ties and going short buy recommendations without ties earns returns of 5.40% per year.

    We test whether Regulation FD, targeted at impeding selective disclosure, constrained the use of direct access to senior management. We find a large effect: pre-Reg FD the return premium from school ties was 8.16% per year, while post-Reg FD the return premium is nearly zero and insignificant.

    In contrast, in an environment that did not change selective disclosure regulation (the UK), the analyst school-tie premium has remained large and significant over the entire sample period.”

    Sell Side School Ties by Andrea Frazzini, Christopher Malloy, Lauren Cohen, NBER Working Paper No. 13973

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    Balloons theme by