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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The Turing Test And The Uniqueness Of Humans

Published in Online Spin, June 13 2014

There are only three things to write about this week, because, obviously, there are only three things happening in the world. Tony Stark Elon Musk gave away Tesla’s technology to the world (announced via the awesomely titled blog post, “All Our Patent Are Belong To You”). Some people are playing soccer in Brazil. And a computer program has apparently passed the Turing Test.

No doubt you are familiar with the Turing Test, the artificial intelligence challenge created in 1950 by mathematician Alan Turing that would be won when a person could not distinguish whether it was talking to a computer or a human being.

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The Best People In The World To Sell To, And The Best Thing To Sell To Them

Published in Online Spin, June 6 2014

Hey, there! What are you up to this weekend? Want to come help me move? No? Of course you don’t. Nobody likes to move. We do it because we’re forced to, because it’s less expensive than throwing everything out and buying all new stuff, because we’ve somehow grown attached to our possessions.

When you’re moving, there are a number of ways you can go about it. If you’re a minimalist, you can load all your stuff in your car, or rent a U-Haul. You can get one of those portable storage pods that can be stored somewhere before being delivered to the new location.

How To Do Facebook: A Primer

Published in Online Spin, May 30 2014

Create a Page. Add a cover image. Add a thumbnail. Add content. Ask your friends to like it. Secure your Page name.

Post often. Not too often. Post at a different time than everyone else does. Post when everyone else is online.

Have an authentic voice. Have a brand voice. Be appropriate. Don’t offend, but don’t be boring.

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I'm Just Not That Into You: The Truth About Altruism

Published in Online Spin, May 23 2014

OMG -- I’m up for a part in “Star Wars, Episode VI”I!

Before you get too excited: I’m not quite ready to draft the awards acceptance speech. For one thing, they haven’t given me the role yet. For another, it’s pretty unlikely they will give it to me -- especially considering you, your friends, your family, and pretty much everyone on the planet with 10 bucks to spare is also eligible for it.

This opportunity -- the chance to shoot a scene with J.J. Abrams for the new “Star Wars” movie -- is one of several offered by Omaze, a startup with one of the most brilliant business models I’ve seen in years.

The company works with groups like Disney, LucasFilm, Netflix, and the like to arrange once-in-a-lifetime experiences: cook with Mario Batali, hang with the cast on the set of “Orange is the New Black,” go out in Hollywood with Ben & Matt, etc. People buy entries for a chance to win these experiences, and the money goes to charity. In the case of “Star Wars,” $40 bought me four entries, and my participation helped raise funds for UNICEF Innovation Labs. Omaze itself is a for-profit company; it doesn’t charge nonprofit partners an upfront fee, but does retain a share of the net proceeds.

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The Digital Content Ecosystem Is Completely Broken

Published in Online Spin, May 16 2014

This week, I read a column about Ad Block being the new DVR. I read one about digital ad fraud, ad-supported piracy, and non-viewability. I read one about the dire outlook for the New York Times’ digital efforts, and one surmising that the end of the Times’ print edition is nigh.

The promise and the glory of digital is attribution: I know exactly where my views come from, where my clicks come from, where my sales come from. But that promise comes at a price: Maybe, just maybe, advertising was never worth what we paid for it.

So advertisers pull back. We’re not going to pour dollars down a black hole of non-viewability. The piece on ad fraud called for harsh measures and real penalties: “Advertisers and agencies should implement zero-tolerance policies and shut off services and networks completely for all future business opportunities when they have experienced fraud… Demand full refunds on campaigns, not just for the fraudulent portions. Recover fees from agencies. If you stop the flow of money, you might be surprised how fast real solutions show up.”

Don't Be Right And Don't Ask Why: Essential Ingredients For Building A Team

Published in Online Spin, May 9 2014

Imagine the following scenario: You ask someone on your team to provide you with performance data for a project he’s working on. He rolls his eyes.

Or this one: you find a huge mistake in a report that’s meant to go to the CEO. No one seems to know how it got there.

Or this one: You tell your team you want them to share any challenges with you so you can work them out together. They never do.

These are not technology problems. They are not problems of skill or of expertise. They are problems of human dynamics, and they are the biggest challenges any team will ever face.

If you’ve ever been part of a dysfunctional team, you know how horrible it is. People keep their opinions to themselves or run roughshod over others. Decisions don’t get made, or there’s no follow-through. You emerge from meetings feeling drained and ineffectual.

Life is too short for this kind of nonsense.

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White House Big Data Report Raises Questions About Kind Of World We Want To Live In

Published in Online Spin, May 2 2014

Big data is amazing.

There are big data projects in cancer research, energy use, traffic patterns, fertility treatments. The Durkheim Project, currently underway, is analyzing opt-in data, including that scraped from social media profiles, from more than 100,000 veterans to help understand predictors of suicide risk. The project builds on an earlier phase of the research, completed last year, showing that “the text-mining methods employed were statistically significant (correlations of 65% or more) in predicting suicidality on an initial data set.”

But with big data comes big responsibility, and big data’s image has been hit hard by the Snowden Effect. In January (some would say way too late), President Obama commissioned a working group to look at areas in which the use of big data might overstep its limits, to the detriment of the citizens he is elected to represent.

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Are Perverse Incentives Destroying News?

Published in Online Spin, April 25 2014

I’m sure you’ve been following the New Zealand economy extremely closely lately. Who hasn’t? Dairy is booming and billions of dollars are being spent on the rebuild of earthquake-shattered Christchurch. The financial outlook is so strong that, in March, it became the first developed nation to raise interest rates from record lows -- and it raised them again this week. It’s hard to deny that things are looking good for the tiny nation.

Hard, but not impossible. Last week, Forbes contributor and bubble-ologist Jesse Colombo wrote about New Zealand’s impending economic disaster. Interest rates are still too low, he says, and property prices too high. The finance sector represents too big a share of the economy and the country has a debt problem. Crisis looms.

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