A Mantra For Online Advertising And Life: Don't Be Clever

Published in Online Spin, August 29 2014

I travel a lot, OK? And, back in the day, I used to try to be clever. Traveling from New Zealand to Denver, I would book the international portion of my flight on Air Tahiti Nui via Papeete, Tahiti. The LA-Denver leg would be a one-way on Delta through Orbitz, and going back would be on United from Denver to San Francisco to LA, where I would reunite with my Air Tahiti Nui flight.

This arrangement may sound complicated, but it let me save tens, maybe even **twenties** of dollars. And in return, when I needed to unexpectedly delay my flight home for family reasons, I had to make multiple phone calls, spend multiple hours listening to smooth jazz waiting for my “turn in the queue,” and pay multiple $150 change fees.

So, yes, I learned the hard way: don’t be clever. Book with one airline. Nonstop flights. Single itinerary. No messing around.

Kim Dotcom's Kiwi Political Party Could Herald Seismic Shift In Global Politics

Published in Online Spin, August 22 2014

Without trying to be insulting, I’m guessing you don’t follow the politics of New Zealand all that closely. John Oliver may have captured your attention last month with is delightful profile of Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, but you probably haven’t spared much thought for the Antipodes since then.

Yet it’s worth paying attention to the currently unfolding New Zealand election. Beyond the center-right National Party and the center-left Labour Party, beyond the Greens and the Conservatives, a new party is emerging -- the Internet Party -- and it may herald a fundamental shift in politics as we know it.

On the surface, the Internet Party sounds like it’s come straight off an episode of Punk’d.

Online Journalism Has A Behavioral Science Problem

Published in Online Spin, August 15 2014

When it comes to climate change, our biggest problem isn’t the science. It is ourselves.

(Don’t worry, I’ll get to the online journalism shortly.)

Five years ago, I had the privilege of training with Al Gore as a Climate Project Ambassador. We studied the data. We learned about the modeling. We got drilled on public speaking techniques. And yet, despite the hundreds of thousands of people who care deeply about what’s happening to our planet and recognize fully that we can’t continue the way we’re going, we still seem to be a long way from any kind of real solution.

The reasons for this have nothing to do with consensus of the scientific community, and everything to do with our extreme limitations as human beings. We are asking people to change behavior (one of the hardest things to do), based on a large-scale, abstract, far-away problem, on which our individual effort will have minimum impact and from which our individual effort will receive minimal feedback.

Free Web Access Comes At A Price

Published in Online Spin, August 8 2014

I remember the first account we had with a video rental store. My mom’s boyfriend had bought us a VHS player and paid the initiation fee -- I think it was $300 -- that would allow us to rent movies (for which we also paid). Having the account was an incredible luxury. Not everyone could afford it.

Soon enough, though, the movie rental people figured out there was more money to be made in, well, renting movies than in membership fees. I was pretty young at the time, but I imagine the math went something like this: We can get 50 people to pay a $300 signup fee and rent 10 movies each for $10, or we can get 500 people to pay no signup fee and rent 10 movies each for $10.

Learning More About The Internet Could Take All The Fun Out Of It

Published in Online Spin, August 1 2014

Don’t learn things.

Trust me on this one. Learning things is no fun. Once you learn, for example, that Chilean sea bass is not actually Chilean sea bass but is instead rebranded Antarctic toothfish that is being fished from the Ross Sea, which was pretty much the last pristine marine ecosystem on the planet, and where it was a top-level predator that was the linchpin to maintaining the delicate balance of that ecosystem, and whose disappearance is pretty much destroying our ability to research and understand how an intact, healthy, flourishing ecosystem actually operates… It makes it kind of hard to eat Chilean sea bass anymore.

To be fair, I had a vague idea that there were some issues in the fishing industry. But it wasn’t until I watched my friend Peter Young’s movie ”The Last Ocean” that it really hit home -- and suddenly I could no more eat sea bass than I could puppies.

One Thing Guaranteed To Increase Engagement -- But You May Not Want To Do It

Published in Online Spin, July 25 2014

My News Feed this week is drowning in posts about Israel and Palestine. Most of them tend to be in support of the latter, thanks to a largely liberal friend network and Eli Pariser’s filter bubbles. The commentary wasn’t exclusively pro-Palestinian, however; there were a few posts of Bloomberg landing at Ben-Gurion, and a clip of Bill Maher saying that Israel uses rockets to defend civilians and Hamas uses civilians to defend rockets.

What there wasn’t a whole lot of was moderation. Every post I saw labeled one side or the other “right,” and laid the behavior-change burden of responsibility squarely at the feet of the other.

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The Most Important Thing You Can Do Is Watch This Movie

Published in Online Spin, July 18 2014

Perhaps, like me, you were heartbroken at the news of Aaron Swartz’ death early last year. The 26-year-old Swartz was the co-founder of Reddit; critical to the creation of W3C, RSS, Markdown, and Creative Commons; and behind the public outcry that ultimately led to the defeat of SOPA and PIPA. He was also the subject of a federal investigation for downloading academic journal articles from JSTOR, a prosecution that carried a maximum penalty of $1 million and 35 years in prison.

Should You Be Outraged By Facebook?

Published in Online Spin, July 11 2014

Some days it’s hard to know what to be outraged by.

Take, for example, Facebook’s now-infamous manipulation of 700,000 users’ News Feeds. What say you? Outrage or no?

If you are outraged, are you more or less outraged than you were by the Hobby Lobby decision? By the bridge collapse in Brazil? By the current situation in Gaza?

When new petitions arrive from Avaaz or Change.org, do you respond --

Social Nets Blatantly Stoking The Fires Of Insecurity

Published in Online Spin, June 28 2014

This week, an all-too-close-to-the-bone video from Higton Brothers is making the rounds on my Newsfeed, ironically using Facebook to spread the message that Facebook isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In it, the protagonist’s life spirals completely out of control while his social media posts depict only awesomeness.

It’s certainly not news that sites like Facebook make us feel bad about ourselves.

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Peter Thiel And The Alternative Career Path

Published in Online Spin, June 20 2014

“The most important thing I can teach my kids,” said my friend Frank, leaning forward intently, “is to be masters of their own destinies.”

Being master of your own destiny, apparently, is the new black, with early adopters like Peter Thiel setting the tone. The Thiel Fellowship, created in 2010, gives 20 people under 20 $100,000 to drop out of college and work on their startups full-time. While the program has had its share of critics (including, not surprisingly, former Harvard President Larry Summers), it’s by no means a flop. This past December, the Wall Street Journal’s Lara Kolodny summed up the results as follows: “64 Thiel Fellows have started 67 for-profit ventures, raised $55.4 million in angel and venture funding, published two books, created 30 apps and 135 full-time jobs, and brought clean water and solar power to 6,000 Kenyans who needed it.”

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