Sunday, October 2, 2011

Memetics: Open Questions

Pioneer Glyph Universal Communication

Dawkin's initial meme concept was a suggestion -- a metaphor. It was not a theory, or even a very clear hypothesis.

It's pretty clear to most observers that something like a meme is at work in the transmission of concepts and ideas and customs from human to human. This is why so many books have been written on the subject despite the lack of any workable theory -- the author can build a case off anecdotes about ideas spreading like wildfire, make general observations about the patterns, and then wrap it up with a grandiose conclusion. In the meantime, they haven't added much of anything to the discussion.

The best Malcolm Gladwell book was not written by Malcolm Gladwell -- it's called Made to Stick, and it's written by Dan and Chip Heath. Their book is a perfect deconstruction of why authors like Gladwell and Thomas Friedman are so popular, despite being factually wrong nearly all of the time. (If you'd like to learn more, just print out their first year of Fast Company columns, which is better than their books was.)

Far from philosophy and popular science, in the field of sales persuasion, the focus is on That Which Works. Men like Ivy Lee and Edward Bernays weren't looking for the individual building blocks of idea viruses, they were looking for working techniques, the applied science of memetics.

I've really been digging the work of Edward Wilson and Wes Unruh for the past few months -- they collaborated on a dense but accessable book called The Art of Memetics. It's probably the most interesting non-fiction approach to Memetics I've found so far, and Wes is making the entire book available for free. I believe he's just past the halfway mark, so you can catch the first dozen or so chapters now.

In closing, here's my open questions:

1. What is the core component of memetic transmission? Is there one?

2. What is the smallest possible memetic unit? How short can the message be and still retain it's potency?

3. Are memes an emergent property of cultural systems? In other words, we assume memes are bottom-up, human ==> culture, but why assume that when there's just as much evidence that the opposite could be true?

4. To what extent is the meme associated with the host language? Are memes made of language, or does language exist to "carry" memes? Are English memes and Chinese memes functionally the same?

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

2011 is the Wakeup Call

"Computationally Intractable" is the catchphrase of the future. My generation is going to be defined by waking up to the fact that just about all of the huge, complex problems we're facing don't actually have solutions. The plight of the music industry is very, very small fry compared to a planet with finite resources and 7+ billion mouths to feed.

And yet, the conversation drags on. So familiar it makes me a little nauseous.

How do we fix things? How do we make it better? How do we distract ourselves from the fact we've been having the same circular conversation for a straight decade? How do we shake knowing that we'll be having that same conversation 10 years from now?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

My Last Gig: Real Estate Expert

About this time last year, I took on a job that was completely over my head: blogging about the Real Estate market, full-time.

I was working for a software company whose product was an application to automate and simplify the "Short Sale" process, which is a last-ditch alternative to foreclosure. With the economic crisis in Full Apocalypse mode and the housing industry crashing around the country, it was a heavy time to get involved. My job was to read basically everything from the Wall Street Journal to Mortgage Insider to a couple dozen blogs, and synthesize that into daily posts the highlighted What Really Mattered for our audience of Realtors and investors.

In addition to the writing itself, I also did all the formatting and image work and promoted each article over Facebook (group/fan page/CEO's personal account), Twitter, and the Real Estate social network Active Rain. It was a very full time job.

I was only overwhelmed for the first month. Thanks to the power of the internets, and about two dozen books, I was able to get up to speed pretty fast and the job became downright enjoyable. Most of the forecasts that I made turned out to be correct, which is surprisingly rare for housing economists.

The company came to an end for several reasons: a glut of competing services, legal complications to the Short Sale process, and a serious change in the Real Estate market itself as Short Sales gave way to REO and government-mandated mortgage modifications. Many of the companies we competed with have also closed up shop in the past three months.

Fortunately, I have maintained a good working relationship with the CEO and gotten several steady "Ghost-Blogging" gigs working for previous customers.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Why You Should Hire Me

Blogger for Hire | Copywriter
I'll keep it short and simple.

1. I've got serious experience. I've done entire catalogs of product descriptions, written manifestos on saving the world, created ad copy for everything from software to skincare products, and scripted email sales campaigns in about a dozen different markets now. I have a lot of years of a lot of odd jobs under my belt, and odds at least two of them are relevant to what you need today.

2. I Make Quality Product. I create strong, clear and persuasive original content. Quality content comes from quality research. Background learning is my favorite part of the job and I've become an expert at jumping headfirst into new projects. I'm fluent in Content Management and Information Architecture. I know how to break complex projects into a logical progression of simple tasks. I also know how to get those tasks done.

3. My Rates are Recession-Proof. I've been in this business long enough to know I should charge way more. I like interesting gigs, though. I like being able to work with non-profits, DIY artists, and cool startup companies. I especially like having a rotating cast of bosses and being able to learn something new every day.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Where is the Next Great Hip Hop Magazine?

A month ago, I went out to buy the Waxpoetics Hip Hop Issue. I got the last copy on the newstand at Barnes & Noble and I biked back home. I sat outside with a couple beers and I read it, word for word, cover to cover, as the sun gradually made it's way towards the horizon. It was fucking awesome.

Now, though, it's just depressing. Depressing because it's going to be at least a year before they do another Hip Hop issue, but mostly, depressing because there's nothing else that good in the meantime.

Tell me I'm wrong. Please, tell me I'm missing something, tell me I'm sleeping on some awesome hip hop magazine I should have known about the whole damn time.

I don't think I am wrong, though. I think that since Ego Trip went out of business, there really hasn't been anything close.

It's not for a lack of great writers. I have to give some serious credit here to Ivan Rott, the curator of Hip Hop is Read. Every week he does a Rap Round Table that collects a shit-ton of great pieces he's collected from these new-fangled "Blog" content distribution systems. It's awesome. It would be even more awesome if I could read it outside.

I'm betting there's also a shit-ton more quality material being written by people Ivan doesn't know about, too. The Internets...they're pretty big.

But look: Don't tell me to get a Kindle or an iPad. Dude, I work on a damn computer. For hours on end, every day. I don't want to carry one of these boxes around with me like a demon child suckling my blood out through my fucking eyeballs, you read me?

Obviously I'm a dreamer, but I AM NOT THE ONLY ONE. The simple fact Wax Poetics exists is proof positive that there's money in good writing. (Unless there's some rich parents involved I don't know about?)

Where is the next great Hip Hop magazine??

Do I have to start one?

Monday, August 31, 2009

The Realest Shit Anthony Robbins Ever Wrote

Unlimited Power

It's important to remember that emotions like depression do not happen to you. You don't "catch" depression. You create it, like every other result in your life, through specific mental and physical actions. In order to become depressed, you have to view your life in specific ways. You have to say certain things to yourself in just the right tones of voice. You have to adopt a specific posture and breathing pattern. For example, if you wish to be depressed, it helps tremendously if you collapse your shoulders and look down a lot. Speaking in a sad-sounding tone of voice and thinking of the worst-possible scenarios for your life also helps. If you throw your biochemistry into turmoil through poor diet and excessive alcohol or drug use, you assist your body in creating low blood sugar and thus virtually guarantee depression.

My point here is simply that it takes effort to create depression. It's hard work, and it requires specific types of actions. Some people have created this state so often, though, that it's easy for them to produce. In fact, often they've linked this pattern of internal communication to all kinds of external events. Some people get so many secondary gains -- attention from others, sympathy, love and so on -- that they adopt this style of communication as their natural state of living. Others have lived with it so long that it actually feels comfortable. They become identified with the state. We can, however, change our mental and physical actions and thereby immediately change our emotions and behaviors.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Terry McBride on Building Music Brands

Source: PBS MediaShift interview

Terry McBride: We've found in the digital space, that you will sell anywhere between 25% to 50% of your volume from your catalog upon release of any new albums. So you are layering intellectual property. In the digital space, where you don't need to buy shelf space, if you create the right metadata behind what you're doing, and market it in an effective way -- you're not marketing the new album, you're marketing the brand. By the time you make it to album three, you are selling as much of the catalog as the new album, but you don't have the cost with the catalog and everything starts to make sense.

So I had to get people here to believe in this, and stop people from having a heart attack over the equity we were tying up, which we had no ownership in. But proving the model that you have have an artist like State Radio, which is a great example of an artist who makes a couple hundred thousand dollars a year from intellectual property, which will help finance the next album.

Chad [Urmston of State Radio] just played to 2,800 people with a $25 ticket price in New York on the weekend. He's marketing a brand, he's not just marketing intellectual property. Now it all makes sense. He's happy, he owns his future, his audience has grown with him really well. Now everything makes sense to him, where initially he was unknown and had to work from the ground up.

The Internet marketing team and his manager did a spectacular job of understanding who his tribe is and would be. Out of the eight artist imprints that we launched, seven of them are very profitable, but it took time and selling the managers on the fact that there were no commissions to be made to a certain point. If they signed an artist to a major label there was instant commissions. And it took the lawyers years to get their heads around it because they just didn't believe in it. It's taken time, but now the managers are looking at a very steady cash flow, and the artists aren't fighting for their creative freedom but actually using their imagination -- and those are two very different things.

Q: For the marketers of music these days, how has their job changed? It used to be about talking to radio and retailers. Now is it about search engine optimization (SEO)?

McBride: Search engine optimization, the ability to write basic code, understanding how social networks and blogs work together, how to connect that interaction back to the sale of music or monetization of behavior or crowdsourcing music. It's understanding all of those things, and having a very imaginative marketing plan around the artist vs. around a product. It's really brand marketing. What are the artists' causes? Are there cause alignments? Are there other brands we can hook up with to align our causes? And if the other brand is bigger, can we give them free music and get exposure to their audience because it's like-minded tribes?"

Read More: PBS MediaShift interview

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Short History of Ending US Oil Dependence

Barack Obama ending oil dependence

"It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs"

--Barack Obama

"To keep our economy growing, we also need reliable supplies of affordable, environmentally responsible energy. Nearly four years ago, I submitted a comprehensive energy strategy that encourages conservation, alternative sources, a modernized electricity grid, and more production here at home, including safe, clean nuclear energy. My Clear Skies legislation will cut power plant pollution and improve the health of our citizens. And my budget provides strong funding for leading-edge technology -- from hydrogen-fueled cars, to clean coal, to renewable sources such as ethanol. Four years of debate is enough -- I urge Congress to pass legislation that makes America more secure and less dependent on foreign energy."

--George W. Bush

"Beginning this moment, this nation will never use more foreign oil than we did in 1977, never."

--Jimmy Carter

"We will never again permit any foreign nation to have Uncle Sam over a barrel of oil."

--Gerald Ford.

"Let this be our national goal: At the end of this decade, in the year 1980, the United States will not be dependent on any other country for the energy we need to provide our jobs, to heat our homes, and to keep our transportation moving."

--Richard Nixon

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Technoccult SEO: Veteran Wordpress Advice by Klintron

Technoccult Logo

This is a guest post from Klintron. Enjoy.

I've been blogging since the dark ages of 1999. My oldest and most popular blog is Technoccult, which I've been doing since 2001. My most important tips are non-technical and platform independent, and I'm presenting them first. The second part of this article covers WordPress tweaks and plugins, which is what Justin actually asked me to write about.

If you don't read any of the hints, just keep this in mind: Do everything you can to make reading your blog easy, and avoid annoying your readers. Write a good blog, retain your readership, and it will grow. Your readers will e-mail and IM your URL. They will link to you on their blogs. They will link to you on social media services. That's how you build traffic. Search engines are always making changes in how they rank stuff, so question SEO wizardry and focus on reader experience.

The important stuff: non-technical hints

5. Comment on relevant sites. You'll see this on pretty much every list of "how to get traffic" so I won't belabor the point, but I have "met" a bunch of cool people, including Justin, either by commenting on their sites or reading their comments on mine. Also, credit the sources of your links. I've made important connections this way too.

4. Stick with it. Most blogs are abandoned soon after creation. Supposedly, your Google Page Rank goes up naturally with age.

3. SEO people tell you to post every day because search engines like frequency. If you can post quality material every day, go for it. But the important thing for building traffic is to get people to share your content, and to do that you need to keep people reading. I unsubscribe from feeds that don't have a good signal to noise ratio, even if there are occasionally really really good posts. So you need to post on a regular basis, but never post just for the sake of posting. Even just one good post a week will put you well ahead of the curb.

2. E-mail people and ask them to link to you. You'd be surprised how well this works.

1. Write clear headlines. Make it clear what you are linking to. I can't emphasize this enough. Why is Boing Boing so popular even though you can find all their links days earlier on other sites? Because Boing Boing is remarkably easy to read. They write clear, informative headlines, include relevant excerpts from articles they link to, and always make it clear what they are linking to. No clever headlines, no "zomg best link ever" posts.

Jorn Barger of Robot Wisdom is the master of writing good headlines. Read his link blog and learn from him. He has some hints for bloggers himself

Technical Hints

* Turn on Akismet, which requires signing up for an account at Kills spam dead.

* Set your permalink structure to "date and name" or "month and name." People say this is for SEO, but most importantly it makes your URLs more useful: people can tell they are clicking on before the click.

* Make sure you include full-posts in your RSS feeds. Including only excerpts won't help your click-throughs. Seriously. But it will make it less likely that someone will read your RSS feed and share your content.

* Make the post headline the first part of the title for single pages. Example: your single post titles should be Awesome RSS Tips for Bloggers | Joe's Blog, not Joe's Blog | Awesome RSS Tips for Bloggers. This is the main "search engine optimization" thing I do. It makes it easier for someone reading a list of search engine results to see the relevancy of your post. Supposedly it will also increase your search engine placements, but like I said - search engines are fickle creatures.

This will require you to mess with the HTML of your template, and apply some knowledge from the WordPress Codex on applying the title tag correctly. Even though this functionality is now built into WordPress, you may find it easier to use the Optimal Title plugin.

* The other SEO thing I use is Google Sitemap Generator. Gets your posts indexed by Google faster.

* I use ShareThis to supposedly make it easier for people to add stuff to link sharing sites. I have no idea if this really helps, but Technoccult does get a lot of StumbleUpon and Reddit traffic.

* Install WordPress Database Backup and use it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Metcalfe's Law SEO: Networking Out of the Death Spiral

WARNING: This is one of those "weirdo" posts. Feel free to skip this.

Strategic Communication Behavioural Dynamica

A good insight in this quotation: "The power of the network increases exponentially by the number of computers connected to it. Therefore, every computer added to the network both uses it as a resource while adding resources in a spiral of increasing value and choice." *End Pizza SEO Semantic Strategy*

With a tip of the 6th Hat to my fellow power weirdos, free super-primate Tim Boucher and real-deal wizard Wes Unruh, today I'm going to provide an experimental data sculpture. This is a multi-purpose construction which serves as a portal to new idea complexes, a remix to stimulate some new connections, and part of a running conversation that most readers aren't following and wouldn't understand. Whatever you decide this is, enjoy it for that. I'm not your guide to digital business today - more like this.

A. The image you're seeing right now is one of the most perfect infographics I've seen -- an example of International Datastream Languages. Even more perfect: the image explains Metcalfe's Law.
B. I missed the Viridian Manifesto when it came out. I missed a hell of a lot, I'm only 27 after all.
C. Memetics is already a weapon - ask Strategic Communications Laboratories what The Right Message can do. Take it apart, Part One: CTRL+U and you see the Secret Language of God. Here's aPart Two.
D. Today I sat down and took an inventory of the entire Skilluminati Research site. I had 8 categories for my content, but I realized I only need three: Social Control, 5GW Project, and Future Tech. Because after all, everyone loves future tech.
E. Wes, up next I want to make the site into a straight-faced corporate consultant blog and present Skilluminati as if I've got a business consulting for DARPA.
F. 103Bees - as in ten to the power of three bees, meaning a swarm. Notable keywords include "long tail" and both "natural" and "organic" in relation to "search, engine, traffic" and it looks like their whole business model is leveraging Metcalfe.
G. ...and the coolest trick I found so far: Latent Semantic Indexing. Thanks, Wes -- this was a great resource.
H. My biggest goals right now are getting into hands-on experiments -- mostly gardening tech stuff I want to try out IRL, but also the mechanics of project planning, execution and promotion online. Doing it right, faster, is still the whole point of me, typing, still in front of this screen after these years. Let's launch bigger better memes in 2009. I want to rap with you guys about where we're overlapping.
I. "You guys" = anyone still reading this. I recently switching the settings here on Pizza SEO so that anyone can comment. Basically - if you care, I care that you care and we should be rapping.
J. Holy shit Tim! This was wicked good: American Warlordism & Neo-Feudalism
K. Best coup of the week so far: Wishtank managed to somehow land an interview with The Yes Men.
L. ...and I'm still recommending this for hungry minds: Movement as Network

Thursday, October 23, 2008

5 Words That Kill Projects: Jason Fried of 37signals

I haven't taken physical and detailed notes since I was forced to, my first year of high school. Yesterday, I took 3 pages of notes on a video from the 2008 Business of Software Conference in Boston. It was a presentation from Jason Fried of 37signals, and yeah, it was that good.

I want to pass along one of the best early riffs in his talk, about the 5 Words That Kill Projects. They are all very harmless-sounding and very common. They're also red flags, alarm bells and warning signs from the gods that your meeting and/or presentation has just taken a nosedive into an ocean of bullshit.

All humans are victims, to varying degrees, of what psychology calls cognitive biases. Fried provides a quick and potent education in how to recognize these handicaps when you're working. Here's the diagnosis:

"Need" - very seldom does "need" refer to actual necessity. It only serves to encourage lazy thinking, and distort your priorities. That is not something you want to do.

"Can't" - most of the time "can't" reflects assumptions, not data, not assessments. Most of our experience consists of mistakes, because we were less capable in the past. Now, you can.

"Easy" - Fried made a great damn point here. Not only is it usually dead wrong in reference to work -- "this should be easy, Ben" -- but it also contains hidden implications. When I tell Ben that his task is easy, I'm also saying I expect it to be done quickly -- it's easy, right? This can be a hard habit to break.

"Everyone" - mythical bullshit. "There is no average human, that's an optical illusion." Only reflects your own biases at that moment, and 60% of the time, you're wrong every time.

"Nobody" - same as above, only in Sissy-Vision. "Nobody" is where we banish work we're too lazy or scared to do.

These are my own notes from his speech, though, not verbatim vitamins. This is also only 2 minutes of the presentation: I highly recommend you clear out your digital distractions and dedicate 20 minutes to watching this. Jason Fried has a lot to teach about clarity, productivity, and how to refine your operation -- no matter what you're doing these days.

Here's that source link again.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tim O'Reilly Speaks Out: "Start Making a Real Difference"

Tim O'ReillyThe past 50 years has been a slow-motion but truly amazing design revolution. In the decades since Buckminster Fuller coined the phrase, there's been a growing chorus of dissent that's recently emerged into a conensus. From outsider critics like Adbusters to Valerie Casey's Designers Accord, designers of all persuasions and professions are talking about their obligation to the global community.

Today, it's increasingly common for designers to talk back to clients about impact, sustainability and image. Instead of taking orders in exchange for money, it's becoming a collaborative process, where designers play the role of People's Advocate. We've recently shared an essay by Russel Davies about "Urban Spam" and the blowback from invasive marketing. Now publisher/visionary Tim O'Reilly is speaking out about good technology being wasted on "mad pursuit of the buck with stupider and stupider ideas."

He is urging young entrepreneurs and engineers to stop making some of the sillier software that lets Facebook users throw virtual sheep at their friends or download virtual beer on iPhones, and instead start making a real difference in the world.

He says it's not just the right thing to do, but also the smart thing to do -- especially as the credit crunch spreads to Silicon Valley, venture financing becomes scarce and start-ups have to retrench.

O'Reilly's bottom-line advice is part of a growing trend, in the wake of an ongoing global finance crisis. Even Sequoia Capital has been changing their tune in recent weeks -- necessity is the mother of innovation. Tim O'Reilly will be presenting his call for meaningful tech at the upcoming Web 2.0 Summit, November 5-7 in San Francisco.