Google: Taking the computing out of your computer. Good for Google.

Google’s increasingly clever and bold initiatives to help people cope with virtual “paperwork” underscore their brilliancy in providing a simple and highly productive computing environment that is *not very dependent* on your own computer or your own computer skills.

Google is by far the most successful of the big players in creating really simple but powerful ways to use computer power *without* messing around much with the computer. Where MS applications sit on your own PC, Google’s site on the internet servers they run and manage. It’s a black box to some extent but it ‘s a box that *works*. Problem solving for the user is simplified to maintaining an internet connection rather than worrying about configuration of programs and hardware.

Perhaps even more important than the applications is that this shifts the perspective of the company in a very powerful way. You can even see this when talking to some of the Google folks who generally are less enamored with *making computers work* as they are with *making systems work*. It’s a bit of a broad generalization but I think it’s true that culturally speaking, Microsoft and MS folks generally talk (and think) in terms of how people need to relate to the computing environment where Google folks talk and think in terms of how they can adapt the environment to meet the needs of the user.

Where MS says “hey, you need to learn to use MS Word” Google says “Hey, we need to make it really easy to do Word Processing”.

Is this obvious? Perhaps, but I think the importance of this distinction is largely lost on MS management despite the fact that most of the new hires probably understand this challenge all too well. Ironically MS is in a better position than Google to leverage the fact everybody is using MS programs now (browser, OS).

Would it be *so hard* to create powerful, socially driven and enhanced software and hardware support sytems? Not really, but I’m guessing MS is very busy trying to protect the profitable paid support systems. Also, it is hard for many people with MS cultural sensibilities to visualize details of the future where they’ll be increasingly challenged by those who want to take the computing out of the computer.

Conversational Marketing is an Oxymoron

Well, I don’t think I’m going to be invited to speak at the upcoming Conversational Marketing conference by FM. I wrote the note below to John Battelle and I think it summarizes my feelings about why I think Conversational Marketing in the current “People Ready” form diminishes things rather than enhancing them. It has also helped exposed the very elitist vision of many high level bloggers. For the new media to be successful it must be highly participatory and democratic. Despite claims supporting this notion, I’m coming to realize that few “A list” folks have much if any interest in actively engaging with topics they cannot control. This is *very* significant because control of the conversation can be a potent form of censorship, even if “anything goes” once the conversation starts. For tech stuff I think Techmeme shines as an effort to cede increased levels of control to participants more than to elites and hope this vision becomes the dominant one as the blogosphere matures.

I’m watching my favorite TV show , Charlie Rose, and noting the “sponsored by Pfizer” bits (technically PBS can’t run ads but they are effectively ads). My first thought was “hey, why am I so hard on FM when even PBS is mixing ads and conversations and they are not even a for-profit entity!”

But … upon further reflection I’d argue that the Charlie Rose PBS model is an appropriate way to involve advertisers in a conversation where People Ready was not. Of course the goal at Rose is not to have a *marketing* conversation, but I’m increasingly convinced “conversational marketing” may be an oxymoron.

I’m guessing Pfizer had *little or no input* in the topics Rose has picked for his science series, and they probably didn’t even want to – they wanted the *association* with a *real conversation* about science. Charlie drove the conversation, Pfizer gets their juice from associating with the real conversation.

Now, with People Ready the conversation was defined by FM and Microsoft marketing primarily as a marketing support vehicle rather than an investigation of topics of interest to the community. The participants were to some extent commercial “players” in the equation. With better disclosure there is no big deal about having prominent tech people talking about a Microsoft Marketing paradigm but I can’t see myself ever *choosing* to read that stuff, feeling that it will be filtered through a positive lens of an ad campaign rather than the critical lens of a real conversation.

Update:  Here is CNET’s take on the conference

People Ready for conversational marketing please disclose yourself, or better yet just go away.

OK, Tony‘s got the great analysis of the trainwreck caused by what Federated Media is calling “the birth of conversational marketing”. He’s pointed out that this is not about the integrity of the individual bloggers involved, rather the hypocrisy and most importantly the similarity to Pay Per Post. These points seem lost on the participants and some commenters like Don Dodge who seems to be suggesting that those who see this as more than a small advertising issue are “dumb as bricks”.

I have a lot of respect for John Battelle, but I’ve also noted with skepticism his enthusiasm for bringing advertisers into “the conversation“. I’m all for advertisers and I’m all for conversations but I’m very skeptical that these “conversational marketing” campaigns can avoid diminishing the participants as the “People Ready” clearly has done.

Ironically it has been the comments of the participants more than the campaign itself that have left me concerned about who I’ve been reading.    The best comments about this, by far, are coming from people like Tony and Matthew Ingram who has another post about credibility and the slippery slope of journalism becoming marketing.

Here is my comment over there:

Yes.    This story has fascinated me because among other things it has brought to light the *potential huge deficiency* of having “A list bloggers” and those who help them advertise try to rule the conversation as happened in the early stages of this fiasco.    This works in traditional media but it fails in blogs.  That’s a *very* good thing.

The defect is in spite of the fact that these folks are bright and very credible folks.  However as you note they are *at risk* of sliding down a new and very slippery slope where money trumps honest conversation.   It started to happen here and a lot of people got pissed.   (IMHO Tony Hung’s got this all exactly right).

Also interesting but not surprising is that the best commentary here is coming from people who are not the A listed deal makers of Silicon Valley.     Rather than whining about this they   should be sending a thank you note to those who are helping to keep them off that slippery slope.

Well, I hardly expect Tony or anybody to get a thank you note, partly because Mike Arrington and John Battelle have more than credibility at stake and seem to see this as an assualt on their business models.   They have a *lot* of money at stake in these things.     Big money.   Tens of millions from IPOs or corporate buyouts of their mini-media empires that are setting new standards in the industry.

Although I think they deserve fat paydays for all they’ve brought to the table, this fiasco has led me to wonder how much those paydays are starting to distort, disrupt, and potentially destroy the real kind of conversation that Tony talks about in the same way we’ve seen websites (including some of mine) distorted by money considerations trumping quality editorial and user concerns.       Katie Couric cannot responsibly address issues surrounding “huge salaries” because she’s in that game, and it has got to be harder (I’d say almost impossible) for John Battelle to criticize Microsoft if he’s about to pitch them for a million dollar “Conversational Marketing” campaign the next day.

So where does this leave us?     It’s simple:

1) Disclosure.     Screw what you have said about detractors pounding sand, Arrington – disclose your conflicts *more* or suffer the monetary consequences which I predict will be severe.

2) Democracy.        I’m replacing Searchblog (which has languished anyway while John was pitching FM) with Tony Hung and TechCruch with Matt Ingram.

3) I’ll be encouraging others to do the same.   We need new voices.   Real ones.

People Ready to shill for Microsoft are:

I’m leaving the list above blank because it is an exaggeration to impugn the integrity of the folks who participated in the Microsoft “People Ready” campaign as part of what campaign creator Federated Media is calling “the birth of conversational marketing”. But it’s not an exaggeration to suggest that something smells bad about this approach, which manages to cozy up advertisers and editorializers in a way that would make a real journalist blush. But not many participants are blushing and we’re not even seeing any clear thinking on the topic except from Om Malik.

Mike Arrington is being downright ornery, essentially arguing that it’s OK to shill as long as it’s for a lame campaign (hmmm – so it would be wrong to participate if this campaign was brilliant and clever, right?). It was his recent and very cleverly titled rant that made me realize how this “conversational marketing” is a euphemism for old style advertorial nonsense.

The good news is that this is a chance to shifting my blog focus to some of the very insightful commenters who are making a lot more sense than the elite tech group. The advent of big advertising money has been distorting the online experience and many online conversations for some time. This is a natural thing. It’s a function of our human condition and as some commenters have suggested it is naive to assume this won’t happen. But when it happens it is important to point out what is going on! Also it’s hypocritical for those participating to suggest this “campaign participation” is fundamentally different from the practice they routinely excoriate, the growing “Pay Per Post” blogging that also distorts the conversation in an attempt to raise search rankings and prominence for advertiser-driven topics. Even many commenters are missing this obvious point. No, the People Ready people are not blogging about the campaign (well, they are blogging about it *now* but not in a way MS will enjoy) however like money in politics there is generally going to be conflict of interest when you mix ad campaigns, editorial, and money.

I think what bothers me the most about all this is that based on the comments those involved are mostly angry at critics because they are stepping on a potentially lucrative revenue stream. It’s clear to me that “conversational marketing” has already distorted the dialog about good blogging practices. Microsoft’s Don Dodge is calling those of us who object to all this “dumb as bricks” just because we are simply noting the obvious – that an advertising campaign is more than just the advertisements. It is the relationship between the advertiser, the publisher, and the victims.

Whoops. I meant “the rest of us”.

Chico the Wonder Dog

Christmas 2006

Originally uploaded by JoeDuck.
Chico the Wonder Dog is a fine fellow and deserves another post, partly because he’s fallen to number two in the Google rankings for “Chico the Wonder Dog” when clearly he deserves to be number ONE for “Chico the Wonder Dog“.

The bone was a Christmas present last year but had unintended consequences. He got all paranoid and weird about guarding, but not eating, the bone. Finally I just cut it up into a bunch of smaller treats.

Blinding hypocrisy of blogging elites or just web biz as usual?

Valleywag is taking Mike Arrington, Om Malik, and John Battelle to task for allegedly doing a Federated Media version of the “pay to post” blogging these guys have been ridiculing for over a year.

I’ve noted the mild hypocrisy of PPP critics before who seem to think their very lucrative blogging efforts are free from bias while the lowly Pay per Posties should be ashamed to turn a few bucks from their own silly efforts.

I’m checking into the details of this effort now but if ValleyWag has this right then it’ll be interesting to hear from these guys about why we can still rest assured they’ll be objective and bite the hand that is now feeding them. Given their record of castigating other PPP efforts it does seem pretty blindingly hypocritical to set one up themselves.

But frankly and somewhat hypocritically myself given this post, I’d say I’m sick to death of hearing from Google, bloggers, and other ranting onliners about the lack of credibility in *others*. Anybody in *any* venture who is free from the sin of treating advertisers/allies more favorably is free to cast stones. I have no fear of ever getting hit.

Update: Gotta love the web – I’ve already heard from Federated’s Neil and John Battelle on this by email and I only posted about an hour ago here and over at ValleyWag comments. I’d like to post the thoughtful reply but I’m waiting for their permission….

Well, here’s the gist of Federated’s defense, written by Neil of Federated and posted over at CNN’s harsh critique of Federated:
In the case of this Microsoft campaign, the marketers asked if our writers would join a discussion around their “people ready” theme. Microsoft is an advertiser on our authors’ sites, but it’s paying them only based on the number of ad impressions delivered. There was no payment for joining the conversation and they were not required to do it. They’re not writing about this on their blogs, and of course several of them have been known to be pretty hard on Microsoft at times as reporters. They’re talking about the topic, and readers joined that conversation.

I’m still struggling to understand why this approach is enhancing the dialog rather than diminishing it in a way similar to how political donations distort political relationships. How can blogging’s strongest aspect – legitimate, provacative criticism of power players – come into this equation?

Federated Media explains at their blog.

Wow, Om Malik has already pulled out of the campaign. Read his explanation here.

Mike Arrington suggests it is naive to think this practice may be questionable, but his “explanation” below, and Federated’s above, left me feeling kind of intellectually abused, especially when written by people who claim a high road when criticizing others for editorial opportunism.

It isn’t a direct endorsement. Rather, it’s usually an answer to some lame slogan created by the adveriser. It makes the ad more personal and has a higher click through rate, or so we’ve been told. In the case of the Microsoft ad, we were quoted how we had become “people ready,” whatever that means. See our answer and some of the others here (I think it will be hard to find this text controversial, or anything other then extremely boring). We do these all the time…generally FM suggests some language and we approve or tweak it to make it less lame. The ads go up, we get paid.

BBC Social Media – bravo!

Look for a lot more social media journalism like this wonderful BBC experiment where a journalist is travelling Turkey to guage the pulse of things before the upcoming elections.

IMHO the BBC is the pinacle of journalistic integrity and achievement, and by any sane measure the quality of BBC reports is a devastating reflection on how superficial and downright ignorant our American TV news has become. With offices and reporters throughout the world the BBC offers a kind of fresh insight and objectivity rarely seen on our sad examples of journalism, especially the pitiful jingoistic air headed anchors on FOX News.

Bill Gates finally graduates from college

Harvard has awarded Bill Gates his degree – just a few decades since he dropped out – and he even got to deliver the commencement address this year.   An address that was brilliant and timely.

Gates called on the historic challenge to Harvard students of General Marshall who inspired students to help rebuild Europe after WWII.   Gates ambitions are even bigger – getting the best and brightest to take on the world’s most pressing challenges of poverty and health.

There is no more important message in the world today, especially as the deadly combination (literally deadly for millions of the world’s poor)  of commercial media and human superficial interests have effectively made intelligent and provocative discussion of these broad global issues rare and difficult.    Gates correctly points to the key challenge in solving global poverty – how to make fighting poverty and disease in the third world as interesting to people as innovations in technology or new provocative content in the entertainment industry.