And A Benevolent Dictator At That

Will writes:

“when i’m boss of the universe . . .

Two words I’d like to remove from the Universe:

deets – The word is “Details,” not “deets.” “deet” is an important ingredient in insect repellent.

peeped – Did you look at it? Then you saw it. You did not “peep” it. And your friends? They are your friends. They are not your “peeps.” Your “peeps” are tasty little marshmallow chunks, shaped like birds and covered with enough sugar to give you type 2 diabetes after one box. They are especially tasty if you let them reach the perfect point of almost-too-stale before eating them.”

Heh. (And any post with Peeps in it is all right with me.)

Lame, But Lame

In a post entitled “Lame, But Smart,” Nick Carr writes:

“On the other hand, I think it provides a fair overview of the various ways that corporate bloggers can get their companies into hot water – even without meaning to. Corporate blogs are corporate speech; there’s no way around that.”

He then goes to reprint a list of the “legal risks inherent in employee blogging.” This list includes things such as:

  • Defamation and Privacy Torts. Companies may be held liable if their employees post content to the corporate blog that defames or invades the privacy of third parties.

  • Intellectual Property Infringement. Posts that include a third party’s intellectual property, such as copyrighted material or trademarks, may expose the company to liability for infringement.
  • Gun-Jumping. While a company is in registration, statements made on a company blog “hyping” the company could be deemed a prohibited offer of the company’s securities, in violation of federal securities laws.

Nick, corporate speech is corporate speech, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter if it’s on a blog or not. It could be in email. It could be in a memo. It could be in a public, oral presentation done by the CEO. When Salesforce.com’s IPO got pushed back (multiple times, if memory serves), it was due to statements that Marc Benioff made in the press and in public, not in a blog. Tying the points above to blogging is a red herring; it’s off-base and sensationalist.

A professional, acting in a sensible manner, will avoid the “risks of blogging” in the exact same way he or she would when speaking at a conference, or when speaking to a reporter, or when creating a document. Singling out the points above as “risks of blogging” is unneccessarily focusing on the medium; the real issue is in the message.

Congrats To Coghead On Their First Round Funding

FINALLY can talk about this.

Paul McNamara, Greg Olsen and the rest of the team have had a big day. (Paul and Greg are the ones who generated the “Going Bedouin” concept that’s been buzzing around the last few weeks.) Big news today on two fronts:

1) They announced the new name of their company: Coghead. Love it? Hate it? Tell ‘em here.

2) Coghead has announced $3.2 million in first round funding from El Dorado Ventures.

Congrats again, guys! Check out their new site here.

Bill Brantley Groks Haystack

Bill Brantley writes:

“I was first lured to Cerado’s site by their “Web 2.0 or Star Wars Quiz” which challenges you to determine if a term is a Web 2.0 concept or a Star Wars character. Anyway, I clicked on their Haystack link which appears to be a MySpace for business folks. Now, it took me a couple of reads to understand the concept but what I think you do is you register your organization and have members of your organization create profiles. Then you can find other similarly-minded folks in other organizations and voila – instant business networking. Each profile links to the person’s blog (if they have one) and the profiles are tagged which enhances the chances of finding a good match.”

Bill…Yes! (Only thing I’d add to that off-the-cuff is that there are a bunch of other use cases as well.)

Read more here.

It Looks Like Moore’s Law Applies To Personal Hygiene, Too

The Economist writes: “It took a leisurely 70 years after King Gillette invented the safety razor for someone to come up with the idea that twin blades might be—or, at least sell—better. Since then, the pace of change has accelerated, as blade after blade has been added to razors in an attempt to tech-up the “shaving experience”.

For the most cynical shavers, this evolution is mere marketing. Twin blades seemed plausible. Three were a bit unlikely. Four, ridiculous. And five seems beyond the pale.”

Read the whole thing here.

(hat tip: Mike Yamamoto)

On Disclosure, Transparency and Ethics

We started out talking about cell phones, and somehow have ended up at the foundations of right and wrong. NetworkWorld’s Paul McNamara writes about Sprint’s promotion originally discussed here.

McNamara:“Sprint didn’t ask me to be an ambassador. Perhaps that’s because my blog is new. Or maybe the company is savvy enough to realize that professional journalist-bloggers operate under ethical restrictions that generally preclude accepting freebies. (Or maybe it’s the fact that my blog is, ahem, relatively undiscovered.)
Whatever the reason, it was never going to be.

But reading the posts written by Carfi and Dowdell did get me to thinking: Might it be time to rethink those ethical restrictions that would have forced me to decline the invitation Sprint never offered? I mean Carfi demonstrated quite emphatically that a credible voice cannot be bought for the price of a free cell phone.

Shouldn’t professional journalists be afforded the same benefit of the doubt by their bosses and readers?

The mere suggestion will be considered heresy by many a journalist — and they’ll have a good case. After all, credibility is everything in this business and we have enough challenges maintaining it without adding on another.”

Here’s my disclosure: I strongly feel that, ultimately, these issues fall to the individual. A typical code of ethics (here’s a snippet from the New York Times) states:

“Staff members and those on assignment for us may not accept anything that could be construed as a payment for favorable coverage or for avoiding unfavorable coverage. They may not accept gifts, tickets, discounts, reimbursements or other benefits from individuals or organizations covered (or likely to be covered) by their newsroom. Gifts should be returned with a polite explanation; perishable gifts may instead be given to charity, also with a note to the donor. In either case the objective of the note is, in all politeness, to discourage future gifts.”

The Times assumes that neutrality can’t be maintained. Or, perhaps more correctly, it feels that readers may assume that any good words (or the lack of bad words) are a result of a perquisite, and not the true feelings of the writer.

Perhaps it is time for this thinking to evolve a bit. We all have printing presses now, and every one of us has a point of view that is colored by our experiences. That is a fact. In some cases, those experiences are geographic and cultural; they are the experiences of the environments in which we live. In other cases, those experiences are interpersonal; they are the results of shared time with friends and colleagues, or perhaps a debate with someone with whom we disagree. What if, instead of trying to achieve objectivity (which is a fool’s errand), we instead disclose the items that we realize are forming the bases of our opinions?

Jay Rosen writes:

“I used to teach that the ethics of journalism, American-style, could be found in the codes, practices and rule-governed behavior that our press lived by. Now I think you have to start further back, with beliefs way more fundamental than: “avoid conflicts of interest in reporting the news.” If you teach journalism ethics too near the surface of the practice, you end up with superficial journalists.

The ethics of journalism begin with propositions like: the world is basically intelligible if we have accurate reports about it; public opinion exists and ought to be listened to; through the observation of events we can grasp patterns and causes underneath them; the circle of people who know how things work should be enlarged; there is something called “the public record” and news adds itself meaningfully to it; more information is good for it leads to greater awareness, which is also good; stories about strangers have morals and we need to hear them, and so on. These are the ethics I would teach first.”

and David Weinberger expounds:

“Is there something we can meaningfully refer to as “the public record,” as Jay says?

The Public Record (caps, singular and definite article) has become A Record Filtered by the Incumbents. We now also have a public space that is self-documenting. Now that there are also public records — plural, lower case and indefinite — The Public Record has become less authoritative, and, we hope, less authoritarian.”

It is now trivially easy for anyone — journalist, blogger, customer, neighbor — to document their experiences in words, pictures and video. There are public records and The Public Record (which can be self-correcting).

So the question: Do disclosure and transparency and personal reputation make up the foundations of a set of “new ethics” that are coming into being?

[Update: Elizabeth Albrycht is poking at a different side of this today as well, in Transparency and Possibility. And John T. Unger pushes things way ahead in the comments below.]

Sprint, You’re Off To A Rough Start

Total time wasted so far: 90 minutes driving, 45 waiting = 2 hours, 15 minutes

So, I got a phone as part of the Sprint Ambassador Program (disclosure: Sprint says that they’ll also pay all mobile charges for six months as part of the program) . Went to the Sprint store in Palo Alto to get it activated. Here’s what went down:

  • I ask to activate the new phone I just received. It’s already activated. Ok, that’s good.

  • I ask to have my existing Sprint phone # moved over to the new phone. The folks at the Sprint store can’t do it (as helpful as they were trying to be). They tell me to call the Sprint toll-free number. I call from the new phone. The helpful customer service rep says, “I need to call you back, I can’t do it while you’re on this phone.” Ok, the Sprint guys slide their store phone across the counter to me, I give the CSR the number, and wait for her to call. Five minutes pass; the “new” phone is playing hold music in my ear. She comes back on the original line, sheepish: “I tried calling the store you’re at, got stuck in the voice-response tree, and now I’m on hold.” Strike one.
  • The reps at the store also tell me that if I want to transfer the phone #s in my address book from the old phone to the new phone, it’s going to cost me $15. Strike two.
  • The helpful CSR says to call back into Sprint corporate from the land line, and tell whomever answers that I need to do an “ESN transfer” and that whomever answers can help. I hang up the new phone, and dial in on the land line. Surlycrankyrep (SCR) answers.
  • I explain to SCR that I’m simply trying to move my phone number from my old phone to the new phone. “That’ll be $18 to do an ESN transfer.” Huh? Ok. Fine. Whatever. Go ahead and do it. Ten minutes pass. “The new phone already has an account associated with it.” Ok, so? “So I can’t transfer the number.” Ok, what is the account that’s associated with it? “I don’t know.” I explain that I received the phone as part of the Ambassador program, and I haven’t a clue what ‘account’ it might be associated with. She says to send an email to the address on the letter I received from Sprint, but she’ll also try to check what can be done. Then I go onto hold. And hold. And hold. Ten more minutes pass.

I finally hang up the line (where SCR left me hanging), and go have lunch with the kids, who’ve been waiting patiently down the block while this has transpired. I’ve wasted a good chunk of my Saturday. I don’t have time for this. The new phone sits mutely mocking me.

Sprint, your move.

[UPDATE 1: 2:28pm]

Received an actual email from an actual Sprint human being (“Rose”) within 30 minutes of the above post. Will be posting more on this as the problems get resolved.

[UPDATE 2: 7:30am, next day]

So, kudos to “Rose” for doing what she said she’d do, and in a timely manner. Points granted there. However, c’mon Sprint. Here’s the option that’s been given:

“Christopher,

There’s not really a way to use your old phone number for only inbound calls. It would probably be best to share the Ambassador phone number with the people you most talk to. You could use the Call Forwarding feature – but in my opinion – it’s quite costly. It’s available on every Sprint plan (which I’m assuming you use Sprint as a carrier) at $.20/per minute. That means that it would charge you for every minute you are on a call that was forwarded from your old phone.

Depending on what manufacturer your old phone is can determine how to get your contacts into the Ambassador phone. Most phones (even if they don’t have Bluetooth) have a way to link your phone to your computer and through software provided by the manufacturer allow you to download the contacts to the computer. Once it is on the computer, you can use the Ambassador phone’s Bluetooth capabilities to upload the contacts to your phone, one at a time. The $15 is an up front service charge if you go to the store and have a sales representative do this for you, but it still depends on what brand your old phone is as certain brands do not have this functionality.

At the end of the six month period, we would be happy to re-activate your phone with your old number and a plan/term agreement of your choice.”

Guess I mothball the phone for six months.

Sprint, where’s the clue? Did anyone think through this? Per John’s point in the comments below, it certainly appears that ::internal:: issues within the Sprint organization have stymied what could have been a really worthwhile promotion. Think about this from the customer’s perspective, would ya? When the options to the customer are either (a) carry two phones and have two numbers or (b) get charged $0.20 a MINUTE to use the “free” phone with your old number, it seems kind of pointless.

Cybersalon Wrapup

Berkeley CybersalonI left last night’s Berkeley Cybersalon scratching my head a bit. Is this conversation really still going on? Are we still having the “journalism vs. blogging” argument?

Some still are.

Probably the best way to set up the evening is to quote from moderator Andrew Keen’s article from The Standard back in February. The piece can be distilled down to a single quote: “Without an elite mainstream media, we will lose our memory for things learnt, read, experienced, or heard.”

Oh really?

Speaking with Andrew one-on-one and at some length after the session, he is a very reasonable person. Yet, the conversation still was peppered with these sweeping pronouncements without backup. There was another question that was asked, in context of the “anarachy” of citizen/customer driven interactions through blogs and podcasts that blew my mind. Andrew: “When has there ever been a case of anarchy that produced something worthwhile?”

How about the Internet, Mr. Keen?

Others had similar thoughts:

Scott Rosenberg:

“What is the value in sharing experiences?” Keen asked at one point, with a touch of disdain in his voice — as if he wanted to say to the entire universe of millions of bloggers, “I grow weary of your scribblings.” My jaw dropped. Isn’t “sharing experiences” the root of literature, the heart of conversation, a primal impulse of our humanity? Who would sneer at it?

At the heart of Keen’s complaint and others like it is an outmoded habit of thought: an assumption that every blogger seeks and might be owed the same mass-scale readership that old-fashioned media have always commanded. But it just doesn’t work that way. Publishing is no longer a scarce resource (as Tim Bishop well put it). The blogger who is telling the story of her final exam or his fraying marriage or her trouble with her two-year old? None of them cares whether Keen reads them, and they certainly don’t expect him to. Their “shared experiences” don’t diminish the opportunities for the kind of “expert journalism” that Keen values. He can keep patronizing the “elite talents.” I will, too — I want to read John Markoff and bloggers.”

Steve Gillmor:

“But my misgivings aside, I found myself stunned by the comments–and more, the body language, of several women, including Lisa Stone and particularly someone whose name I did not retain who will have to let us know more about her when she publishes an external blog. She spoke the KM-speak of a corporate tactician, and Lisa the data side of a partnership with Jory Desjardins’ color commentary. The something I learned was that however I can accomplish it, I need to factor this energy in to the moment we are experiencing in the birth of the network.

I enjoyed meeting the moderator, Andrew Keen several weeks ago before he strapped on his Bill O’Reilly pose, and amused myself watching John Markoff struggle through what he called afterwords “a trip to the dentist,” and found the The Panelist Who Came to Dither a good mind terribly wasted. But thanks to Lisa and friends I found the event not strange as Scott reported but a telling signal that maybe just maybe the next time we have this conversation we can pick up where this one ended, in the streets at the intersection of What used to be and What might be.”

Tim Bishop:

“I don’t think that Keen’s argument holds water, and it seems like a red herring at best — complaining about digital media and the democratization of the means of production is like complaining about the effect of the advent of the steam engine on horses, or parents complaining about the music their children listen to, but Scott Rosenberg, who in my personal encounters with him has always seemed extremely level headed, stood up and gave a great and impassioned defense of the need for and value of self-expression, both as the fulfillment of human need that is valuable for itself, and as the motivation for everything from technological progress to great literature. It was a great mini-speech that I can’t do justice to here, not having an article to crib from, but that moved me and brought a round of applause from the audience.”

(A few photos here.)

[Update: Tara and FactoryJoe weigh in as well.]