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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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.”

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