Are you a writer or a brand?

Are you a writer or are you a brand?

Earlier this week, I wrote about my absence from twitter this month, digging into the “why” of my sudden drop off, after having become a somewhat regular “tweeter.”

Similarly, I was looking at my writing production this month and how it appears to have dropped precipitously. Reflecting on it, as well as some other reading and listening I’ve done in recent weeks, triggers several observations.

It’s not that my total production has dropped off that much; it’s just that I’ve posted a bit more frequently to other blogs, some of which have been internal and/or private. So, for example, I posted in the 2.0 Adoption Community a couple of times, nGenera’s Wikinomics blog a couple of times, on my GovLoop blog, and my “FreshTech Friday” column in Austin Startup.

The reason I post in other blogs is partly because I tend to apply a different editorial focus for each, whether the blog requires it or not. It’s also because, in theory, it widens the audience of people with whom I’m in conversation. However, it’s also occurred to me that it has the potential to diminish one’s “personal brand,” if done without more thought.

I suppose at first blush, this would seem counterintuitive, because you would think that a wider audience from articles posted across multiple blogs and online publications would enhance your brand. But, in an era where the NY Times recently reported the trend where “nearly everyone will publish” eventually, one has to manage your published brand, if you desire a degree of reach and attention from your work.

Wired magazine suggested just how little the value of an undifferentiated writing is worth in this month’s issue, where they dissect at a high level the process of DemandMedia’s automated search/video advertising operation. The pay for headline and article writing is pennies – reflecting the dramatic effect of writer wages arbitrage, at least in one particular niche.

Now, look at the other extreme, illustrated in the same issue of Wired, in the “Mob Rules” article, where the inflection point for Twitter’s explosion in unique visitors aligns with the Ashton Kutcher versus CNN race to a million followers. Now, there’s the power of a personal brand, even when thumbed out in 140-character bursts of celebrity stream of consciousness.

The good news seems to be, if you manage your writing and your brand carefully, it’s worth increasingly more to those that want to leverage it. NPR started a series about information privacy this week, but dug into an interesting sidebar about information as currency. Alessandro Acquisti, an economist at Carnegie Mellon University, says in the report that personal information is almost a kind of currency — something people spend. And, I would offer, accrue if you focus on the brand.

I explored this subject a bit in one of my posts on FreshTech Friday a year ago this time, called “Make ‘Em Pay.” And, I still think there is potential for people to better control their personal information and, even moreso, their opinions and observations – something like or, if you will.

We’ll see. In the meantime, time for me to go re-read Sean’s and Alex’s “Brand Communities” research report, which came out earlier this summer. Go grab a copy of the digest, yourself, from nGenera’s website.

Social media MIA

I just noticed last night that I’ve been MIA, i.e., “missing in action,” from twitter for nearly 3 weeks, now, and have hardly noticed!

As I was reflecting on why I had gone for such a long stretch before realizing it, I was reminded of a recent chat with my good friend, Gordon Montgomery. Besides being among the best user experience (U/X) experts I have ever worked with, Gordon is a very astute observer of trends where technology and society intersect.

During our recent chat, to paraphrase a point he was making, Gordon said far too many people – including reporters, analysts, and other trend watchers – tend to overly focus on the “media” part of “social media” while all but ignoring the “social” part of the phrase. In other words, the primary point of social media is to enrich the human social interaction, for those times when we do physically come into contact with one another. In fact, Gordon argued, social media is at its best when it facilitates bringing people together in more meaningful, productive, physical (as opposed to virtual or digital) situations.

So, that key business meeting amongst representatives of different partnering organizations, that gathering of moms & dads of regional girl scouts organizations, that happy hour meet-up or tweet-up of like-minded inventors and entrepreneurs, from 20-to-50 somethings – all are good examples of social media serving its prime directive.

And, when I reflected on my 3-week twitter absence, indeed my direct in-person interactions were way up beyond the normal day-to-day individual and group business meetings, with some of the larger highlights including:

  • I started participating in a 5-week workplace ministries workshop at our church;
  • I took on an assignment to launch a fledgling development effort for a fascinating new sustainability effort that could have a big impact on innovation, called the GreenXchange;
  • I attended the wedding of only the third of many nephews and nieces that are starting to come of age, which turned into a big extended weekend family reunion;
  • I served as a judge for the 3rd annual Clean Energy Venture Summit; and
  • I helped get my parents further situated in Austin, after moving here recently.

Oh and to top it off, I was sick for two work days (a fairly rare occasion) with what I’ve deduced may have been a “light” version of the flu, I hope!

So, upon reflection, the “social” part of life sort of took over, without need of the “media” part. And, I’ll have to confess, I didn’t miss it that much. If anything, life seemed a little less frenetic and a little stressful than it used to be…and that seems to me to be an outcome we can all appreciate.

Adventures in Tablet’ing

Continuing a theme from recent weeks, I thought I’d share my personal experience using a tablet computer when I read an article in the NY Times yesterday entitled “Just a Touch Away, the Elusive Tablet PC.

Just like with the Netbook and Kindle – both of which I have owned, albeit briefly – I’m a tablet owner, although in this case a long-time one. I first purchased a tablet in 2003. It was a 1st generation Motion Computing flagship product. My business partner at the time and I bought two of them because we thought that the pen-based tablet form factor would be novel and prove efficient in our work, providing high-end usability studies for clients’ software and hardware products.

While there were a number of tablets to choose from and Motion’s model wasn’t the cheapest, David Altounian, one of the co-founders of Motion Computing, is a friend and we felt good about buying the technology from and supporting an Austin-based start-up. We were excited when the units arrived and immediately started to plot how to apply them to our work.

Motion Computing tabletHowever, it never really happened. Although they were among the lightest of the pack, in terms of their weight vs. power, the tablets were heavy and cumbersome to carry around by hand. And without ready-to-go forms for us to use for our note-taking, it was laborious taking hand-written notes, ladened with the usual hand-writing errors that were laborious to go back and correct.

Of course, we could capture free-style notes “as is” using a scratch pad program. But that proved impractical, since the majority of our work required that source material be readily available in word processing form so that we could incorporate the data into final reports. Instead, the tablets pretty quickly became premium-priced laptops.

Nonetheless, when I left the firm after a couple years, I bought out one of the tablets and took it with me for the pure convenience of avoiding having to transfer all of my business and personal data to another computer and go through learning a new system’s set-up. But, in personal use, rather than a laptop, the tablet fairly quickly became a home-based, back-up desktop PC.

Why? Some of the reasons are outlined in a follow-up BITS blog post that the Times also published entitled “Why Have Tablets Flopped?” But, my #1 reason, is usability: as a free-standing category, the device is simply lacks the usability of most people seek from their work or personal technlogy devices every day.

I agree with the line of thinking that being able to effortlessly switch from operating your laptop to a tablet and back is really just a feature (perhaps modestly premium-priced) of future laptop-sized, form factor PCs. In the meantime, as with any new technology, try before you buy!

Augmented reality; litigated virtuality

I am fascinated by the progressive blurring of the physical and virtual worlds. Not to veer off into metaphysics and spirituality, but as cognitive science and computing technology advance, we take baby steps closer everyday to the Matrix.

Until then, new devices, development tools, and applications are rapidly coming to market that allow us to operate with a conscious duality in our physical and virtual worlds. Addressing the virtual of these dual worlds, not long ago I posted about the amount of activity and funding this year for development platforms and virtual environments in “Talk to the (Digital) Hand.”

Likewise, at the Austin Game Developer’s conference last week, I took a moment to mingle at the closing party and got a brief primer of the story of BigWorld Technology, which is a turnkey platform provider for virtual world and MMOG creators. While the U.S. matters, they are seeing phenomenal upside in Asia-Pacific markets. Expect this investment activity to continue, becoming more and more mainstream focused.

A few additional observations of note:

First, at the O’Reilly Government 2.0 Summit and Expo, one of the presenters, Rob Rhyne, spoke on the subject of “mobile augmented reality for local government.” Perhaps light on details, but you can get a feel for his talking points in the presentation deck.

In a nutshell, imagine if you could see computer-generated information overpaying what you are physically experiencing (seeing, hearing, etc.), that is driven by data about your surroundings. An example might be viewing the outside of a skyscraper, via your iPhone display, and, as you move it around, seeing labels geospatially appear on the building indicating where the coffee shops, pharmacies, and shipping locations are.

SexGen RrugAt nGenera, our Wikinomics team has been writing about augmented reality for more than a year. And, we agree with Rob that civic applications for augmented reality have the potential to really highlight the power of Gov 2.0.

Meanwhile, the complexities of the real world continue to seep into the virtual world. It was intriguing to recently read about the makers of Second Life – Linden Lab – being targeted in a sex-code lawsuit in federal court. The crux of the lawsuit is that it claims Linden looks the other way, while virtual residents rip off the plaintiff’s “SexGen” product line, which enables consenting avatars to engage in virtual sex acts.

According to the Wired story, the lawsuit appears to mark the first time Linden Lab operators been sued by an in-world (i.e., Second Life) merchant for alleged real-world copyright and trademark infringement. There’s real money at stake here, when you consider that Second Life reported resident-to-resident purchases of $120 million in Q1 2009 alone (!), with Piper Jaffrey predicting purchases to exceed $600 million for the year.

As I said at the outset, I think it will be fascinating to see how these many, different developments play out and how our legal, moral, and civic institutions respond and perhaps (wishful thinking) anticipate an existence where our real and virtual selves are at work and play, simultaneously, 24 x 7.