Vestiges of Life: Blogging and Tweeting

18 12 2010

Last week, four different people from my post-IBM world told me in person that they read my blog regularly. While tempted to reply, “do you mean that abandoned thing that’s collecting virtual dust somewhere in WordPress land?”, or “oh, you are that one weekly hit I get in the stats”, I actually feel that I’m the one missing a lot by not blogging, even if nobody else ever reads a line of it.

When I started this blog, I named it “The Bamboo Raft”, with the high hopes that the posts here would be “floating around freely through places and thoughts”. Then, as always, reality sets in, and I found myself blogging very rarely over the last 2 years. Looking back, there’s a clear pattern where the blogger in me wakes up every 6 months or so with a renewed intent of doing it more often, as you can see in “Blog, Interrupted” and “The Bamboo Raft is a submarine”. This post is probably just the latest installment of that series. In my attempt to rationalize my poor blogging and twitter efforts, I’m resorting to a common theme here at this Raft: calling Darwin to my rescue.

Darwin and gradual change
Parody of the Shepard Fairey Obama poster
by Mike Rosulek (Feb 2009)

One of the main arguments used against Darwinian evolution is that the fossil record shows no evidence of the gradual transformation that is supposed to take place according to that theory. The counter-argument, of course, is that circumstances that allow fossilization to occur are extremely rare. Thus, trying to understand the history of life on Earth based solely on the fossil record is like trying to understand the original version of “The Brothers Karamazov” when you know only a half-dozen words in Russian.

As you can see in the diagram above, the fossil record does not register every single event that took place on Earth. That’s for computer logs:


Computer logs: definitely not like the fossil record

Over the last 5 years or so, several folks referred to blogging, then Facebook, then Twitter as tools that allow people to write their autobiographies in real-time. Some people are actually very good at that. Some have even been logging actions and thoughts ages ago, using the ol’ and good pen-and-paper. Both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau kept very detailed journals that resemble to some extent Facebook status updates or tweets, and used those to feed their more formal work. I love this excerpt from “Autobiography in Real-Time: The Journals of Emerson and Thoreau”.

Emerson used his journal, as Thoreau used his, primarily as a means of facilitating more finished work. It was where he both developed ideas and stored information; it was a place where entire phrases and sentences—sometimes even entire paragraphs—were preserved until the appropriate time for their removal and transfer into essays and lectures. But that’s not to say that there aren’t moments here that are not entirely fresh. Actually, all of it’s fresh. It’s the essays that are borrowed from recyclable material, and there are, of course, plenty of readers who would prefer to receive their Emerson in this form. To call these journals unselfconscious or uninhibited would be to demonstrate a severe misunderstanding of their circumstances; but to call them spontaneous and unimpeded would not be. At their best—at their most mature and august—they are Emerson’s stated alternative to the meek young man in the library—they are “Man Thinking.” The same goes for the journals of Thoreau, too, of course. These are two men of unsurpassed perception and eloquence who made it their life’s mission to look and see, and then to record and share what it was they saw.

As I’m light-years from having “unsurpassed perception and eloquence”, my blogging and tweeting objectives had to be much more modest. Instead of running a play-by-play narrative of what I do and think, I’m settling for just capturing vestiges of life: random glimpses of what’s here, there, and everywhere. Like this Toronto scene that caught my attention Thursday morning on my way to work:

Glenn Gould statue holding a Calla Lily in front of the CBC building

Thus, I see my irregular social networking activities as the fossil record of a regular person’s real life. It’s incomplete, uneven and full of gaps, driven more by serendipity and entropy, and less than by direction and discipline. A bamboo raft may, after all, be an appropriate name for what this blog has become.





The bamboo raft is a submarine

7 06 2010

It’s been two months since my last post – here at The Bamboo Raft anyway: I have written three posts as a guest blogger at Biznology and another one internal at RBC in the meantime. Life’s been busy. It’s ironic to think that the times I don’t blog are exactly when I have most to blog about. One of my favourite cartoons from a long time ago had this couple in the top of a mountain, looking at a fantastic sunset. The husband (boyfriend maybe?), while trying to take a picture of it, was saying to his significant other: “I can’t wait to be back home, get the pictures and see how beautiful this sunset was”. I suspect that even to this day, the vast majority of the key personal milestones, achievements and failures go mostly unblogged and untweeted. Perhaps we were too occupied to bother writing about it, or things were too personal to share. In my case, I confess, it was mainly a case of just being lazy.

It’s not that that the Bamboo Raft was totally inactive. It was just submerged. The little time I spent writing in the last few weeks actually went all to this ancient form of communication called email :-P . Some of my Brazilian friends and I have this tradition before every World Cup of writing our guts out about this passion that’s football (soccer). I love doing it, but our conversations are likely too hard core for anybody else to put up with in our picky attention to details and endless debates on anything remotely related to the beautiful game. Things like:

  • How a mathematician calculates the odds for a team to win the World Cup?
  • Are lefties bad in penalty shoot-outs?
  • Does the coach really matter in a 7-game tournament?
  • What are the oddest names / nicknames in the history of World Cups?
  • Are Zinadine Zidane and Mr. Spock identical twins?
Mr. Spock and Zinadine Zidane

Mr. Spock and Zinadine Zidane

As you can see, sometimes NOT using social media may be a good thing.





Blog, Interrupted

6 12 2009

A few weeks ago, in a phone conversation with Marcelo Martins, he jokingly commented on the poor abandoned state of this blog: “the ‘Bamboo raft’ has drifted away, and is now in the middle of nowhere” :-) . Indeed.


Photo by Flickr user elieme, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic

But this silence was not due to the lack of inspiration: it was a mix of being busy, adjusting to a new work routine, and plain laziness, of course.  A year after blogging was proclaimed passé by Paul Botin, I still feel the urge to blog several times a day, even knowing that there’s a good chance that nobody is listening (or reading it). I blog, therefore I am sounds right to my ears, even in a Twitter world.

Following the lead of Bénédicte Delachanal, who’s been good in her one blog post every day quest this December, I decided to steer this raft back to the civilization (or to a handful of readers, more precisely). And seeing a new post by Jennifer Okimoto in my reader today after months of absence was just the extra push I needed :-) .

As the delusional Buzz Lightyear would say: To infinity, and beyond! (crossing fingers here hoping that all this euphoria will take me at least till the next blog post).





A Benjamin Button tale (kinda)

21 06 2009

My first three weeks at RBC were interesting and, err, intense, firehose-drinking type of intense. Due to the nature of my projects I think I won’t be able to blog much about them here, but I’m still planning to blog regularly about other random things, so stay tuned, regular readers of “The bamboo raft” (yes, I’m talking to both of you, Bernie and Bénédicte).

My plan to restart blogging this weekend practically went belly up when my Bell Sympatico service started misbehaving on Friday, with my connection dropping every few minutes or so. Blogging offline was never my forté, as I sadly admit that not having immediate access to stuff like Twitter, Wikipedia and Dictionary.com breaks my rhythm.

So let me (re)start with a post loosely themed on Father’s Day. Three weeks ago, my son found this very old photo of me, taken when I was a 4-year-old:

He looked at the picture a bit surprised, then pointed to it and said out loud: “Ootash” (that’s how he calls himself).

I tried to explain, “No, that’s daddy’s picture when he was almost your age”. He vehemently disagreed, “No, Ootash”. There was no way on Earth that I could convince him that it was not him there.

Then I showed him this picture taken during my first week at IBM, back in 1996:

- “This is also daddy, many years ago.”
- “Não.” (that’s “No”, in Portuguese)
- “Yes.”
- (laughing) “Nãããão.”
- “Then, who’s this guy?”
- “I don’t know.”

After some more digging, I found these two pictures that clearly show why my friend Alexandre Neves says that a paternity test will never be required for “Ootash” and me. The one on the left also shows that my taste in clothes has always been top-notch.

Skip three weeks now. Yesterday, I was talking to my mother in Skype and, despite the frequent disconnects, I managed to tell her the story above. When I showed her my IBM picture, she commented: “You were so thin and elegant! And where is all that hair?”

Suddenly, finding that “Dont Go Bald”, “Bald Products” and “Bald People” are all following me in Twitter didn’t feel so bad anymore. Can that Ed Ulbrich guy help me here? :-)

An almost belated Happy Father’s Day to all dads out there!





Ctrl + X and Scissors: Share, even if you think everybody knows it already

19 03 2009

Working with Bernie Michalik for a few years now, we changed our behaviour when sharing knowledge – and also other trivial things that don’t deserve to be called “knowledge”, more like gossip or useless tidbits of information. At the beginning, we would not share some tips about interesting Web 2.0 sites or piece of news because we just assumed that the other party would have heard about it already, as we both are avid consumers of new geeky stuff.

Over time, we noticed that more often than not our assumption was wrong. Even though we share quite a bit of a network and sources of information, we still find that a good deal of what one of us know is not as universally known as we expected. Coming to think of it, the most popular YouTube video of all time as of this writing is Avril Lavigne’s “Girlfriend”, with 117 million views – it just passed the long time favourite “Evolution of Dance”. Even if you consider that each view was by a different person – very unlikely by the way – that music video would have failed to reach the remaining 883,000,000 people with Internet access. I know, people could have seen it in Vimeo or Metacafe, but you catch my drift. No matter how many people know about anything, there are always more people who don’t know about it.

That’s one of the beauties of blogging or tweeting – or re-tweeting, for that matter. You share without actually knowing if people care of not, a “To Whom It May Concern” note to the world. Sometimes it’s a hit, sometimes it’s a miss. Sometimes it’s a miss that becomes a hit a few months from now, as that shared knowledge becomes digitalized and searchable.

One silly example. In the early nineties, somebody told me a handy logic behind having Ctrl + X and Ctrl + V as shortcuts for “cut” and “paste”, respectively. The letter “X” resembles an open scissor – thus “cut”, and the letter “V” is like that handwritten markup most of us use to signal an insertion point in the middle of a text – thus “paste”. Even 15 years later, there are still a fair number of people who never heard about the mnemonic aspect of those shortcuts.

The bottom line? Don’t be afraid to share what you learn. You’ll quickly find you are almost always the “second last to learn”.





ROI 2.0, Part 3: We don’t need a Social Media ROI model

19 02 2009

Malcolm Gladwell, in his hilarious TED talk on spaghetti sauce, tells the story of Howard Moskowitz’s epiphany while looking for the perfect concentration of aspartame to use in the Diet Pepsi formulation:

Howard does the experiment, and he gets the data back, and he plots it on a curve, and all of a sudden he realizes it’s not a nice bell curve. In fact, the data doesn’t make any sense. It’s a mess. It’s all over the place. (…) Why could we not make sense of this experiment with Diet Pepsi? And one day, he was sitting in a diner in White Plains (…). And suddenly, like a bolt of lightning, the answer came to him. And that is, that when they analyzed the Diet Pepsi data, they were asking the wrong question. They were looking for the perfect Pepsi, and they should have been looking for the perfect Pepsis.”

Tangent note: Most TED talks are a treat, but this one is particularly funny and thought-provoking. If you haven’t seen it yet, consider paying it a visit. If you have an iPhone or iPod Touch, you may like the TED app too!

Over the last few years, many in the Social Media space have been on a quest to find the perfect ROI model for blogs, micro-blogs, wikis, social networking, social bookmarking and other animals in the ever growing Web 2.0 zoo. You’ll see opinions ranging from “we don’t need ROI for Social Media” to “Web 2.0 has to rely on a lagging ROI” to “ROI 2.0 comes from time savings”. In a way, they are all right and all wrong at the same time. Paraphrasing Doctor Moskowitz, there is no perfect Social Media ROI model, there are only perfect Social Media ROI models.

Since 2006, I’ve been talking to several senior executives in multiple industries and across geographies about the business value of Web 2.0, and have noticed a wide range of approaches when deciding whether or not (and how much) to invest in social computing. For companies in the forefront of the social media battleground, such as newspapers, book publishers and TV channels, investing heavily in new web technologies has often been a question of survival, and decision makers had significant leeway in trying new ways of delivering their products and services, with the full blessing of their stakeholders. On the other side of the spectrum, in sectors such as financial services, social media is not yet unanimously regarded as the way to go. I’ve heard from a number of banking and insurance clients that, if Social Media advocates don’t articulate clearly the returns they are expecting to achieve, they won’t get the funds to realize their vision.

Most players in Government were also very skeptical until the Obama effect took the world by storm, creating a sense of urgency that was not as prevalent before. Since then, government agencies around the globe seem to be a bit more forgiving with high level business cases for social computing initiatives inside and outside the firewall. However, to balance things out, in most of the other industries, investments in innovation are being subject to even more scrutiny than normal due to the tough current economic environment. So, having a few ROI models in your pocket does not hurt.

The following ROI models are emerging, and we can expect a few more to appear in the near future.

1. Lagging ROI

Last year, I spoke to the CIO of a global retail chain and he had an interesting approach towards strategic investments in emerging technologies. Instead of trying to develop a standard business case based on pie-in-the-sky ROI calculations, he managed to convince the board of directors to give him more flexibility to invest in a few projects his team deemed to be essential for the long-term survival of the company. For those, he would provide after-the-fact ROI metrics, so that decision makers could assess whether to keep investing or pull the plug. He also managed expectations by saying upfront that some of those projects would fail, but doing nothing was not an option. By setting aside an innovation bucket and establishing a portfolio of parallel innovation initiatives, you can hedge your bets and improve your overall success rate.

2. Efficiency gains or cost avoidance

Many of the early Social Media ROI models are based on how much time you save by relying on social media, converting that to monetary terms based on the cost of labour. While this is certainly a valid approach, it needs to be supplemented by other sources of business value. Unless you are capable of mapping the saved minutes with other measurable outcomes derived from having more time available, the most obvious way to realize the value of being more efficient is to reduce head count, as in theory the group can do the same work as before with less people. If that’s the core of your business case justification, it may fire back in the long term, as some people may feel that the more they use social computing, the more likely it is that their department will be downsized.

3. Proxy Metrics

Some of the ROI examples in the Groundswell book and blog rely on proxy marketing metrics, i.e., what would be the corresponding cost of a conventional marketing campaign to achieve the same level of reach or awareness. For example, when calculating the ROI of an executive blog, the authors measure value by calculating the cost of advertising, PR, SEO and word-of-mouth equivalents.

4. Product/Service/Process Innovation

The value of customer or employee insights that end up generating brand new products, services and processes or improvements to existing one needs to be taken into account. Measuring the number of new features is relatively straightforward. Over time, you may want to figure out the equivalent R&D cost to get the same results.

5. Improved Conversions

Back to the Groundswell book, one of the ROI examples there shows how ratings and reviews can improve conversion rates (i.e., from all people visiting your site, how many more buy products because they trust the input from other consumers, compared to typical conversion rates).

6. Digitalization of knowledge

By having employees blogging, contributing to wikis, commenting or rating content, creating videos and podcasts, companies are essentially enabling the digitalization of knowledge. Things that used to exist only in people’s heads are now being converted to text, audio and images that are searchable and discoverable. It’s the realization of the asset that Clay Shirky calls the cognitive surplus. That was an elusive resource that didn’t have much monetary value before the surge in user-generated content. Naturally, a fair portion of that digitalized knowledge has very little business value, so you need to find metrics to determine how much of that truckload of content is actually useful. You can infer that by using cross-links, comments, ratings or even number of visits.

7. Social capital and empowerment of the workforce

There is certainly business value in having a workforce composed of well connected, well informed and motivated employees. What metrics can be used to assess the degree of connectivity/knowledge/motivation of your human resources? Several social computing tools give you indirect metrics that provide a glimpse of the metrics you can exploit. Atlas for IBM Lotus Connections, for example, gives you the ability to see how your social network evolves quarterly, and can help determining how many people are associated with some hot skill (full disclosure: I work for IBM).

As you can see in several of the emerging models listed above, there are often three types of inputs to develop ROI calculations:

  • Quantitative metrics that can be obtained directly from the system data and log files
  • Qualitative metrics that are determined using surveys, questionnaires and polls
  • Dollar multipliers that attribute arbitrary monetary value to hard to assess items such as a blog comment or an extra contact in your social network

For the monetary value, I would suggest to adopt a sensitivity analysis approach, working with conservative, average and aggressive scenarios, and adjusting them over time. Just don’t go overboard. As I stated in a previous post, there’s an ROI for calculating ROI. ROI models should be easy to understand, as decision makers will often frown upon obscure calculations that require a PhD degree in financial modeling.

In summary: we don’t need one Social Media ROI model, we need many of them. None of the ones emerging now is perfect, none will ever be. You may need to have a few in your toolkit and develop a sense of which one to use in each case.

Previous ROI entries:

ROI 2.0, Part 1: Bean counters vs Innovators – The need for a real exchange of ideas
ROI 2.0, Part 2: Storytelling and Business Cases





Web 2.0, Unplugged

10 02 2009

As previously seen in Biznology:

Reports of the demise of newspapers, radio, TV, and other traditional media have been greatly exaggerated over and over again through several decades now. But when the so-called “new media” head offline to show up in traditional media clothes, is that a step backward or is it just the natural evolution of communications?

On January 29, I was speaking at a local event in Toronto, and had the opportunity to attend a session by Evan Solomon, the co-anchor of CBC News: Sunday. It was a good talk about how the next technology revolution will play out. He pointed out that when a new technology comes, the incumbent never dies: it simply goes after deeper efficiencies. TV never killed radio broadcasting, just forced the old media to discover spaces where the new entrant would not be as efficient. Talk radio, for example, is perfect when you’re driving. Watching TV? Not so much.

Coincidentally, on my way back home I was listening to random podcasts in my overgrown playlist, and serendipity showed its face. Spark episode 64 came up, and the great Nora Young (CBC again, sorry :-D ) was interviewing Ben Terrett, one of the guys behind this:


Photo by Flickr user a.affleck, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic

It’s exactly what it looks like. They took 23 blog posts from the Internet and printed them in newspaper format. You can read more about their effort here. Here’s some excerpts from Ben’s words:

We wanted to see what things written specifically for screen felt like when they were printed out. (…) If you print it out, you can take it on the bus, you can take it into the loo, you can actually read it out. So, we thought some things needed a paper-based audience rather than a screen-based audience…The newspaper is not dying but maybe the business model is. The format is still a great way to read stuff. And it is really accessible…We wanted to see what happens if we just print some stuff from the Internet out. And then would that lead to something else?

The podcast goes ahead and mentions two other similar examples: The Printed Blog (“The Best of the Web on your Newsstand”) and Printcasting, a service that “will make it possible for anyone to create a local printable newspaper, magazine or newsletter that carries local advertising–all for free–by pulling together online content from existing sources, such as blogs, and combining it with local advertising that matches the content.”

You may also have read recently that Wikipedia may soon start offering printed books with its popular articles. The contents of the German edition seem to already be available for the PediaPress service, but as my German is as good as my Korean–i.e., non-existent–I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to do it. It’s interesting to hear from Angela Beesley Starling, chair of the Wikimedia Foundation Advisory Board, that one of the intended objectives for having a print edition is to remove the perception that a wiki-based encyclopaedia is not reliable. That’s exactly the same point that Ben made to Nora: somehow, good ol’ paper feels much more serious, important, authoritative.

In some cases, like with “The Tech Guy” talk show by online celebrity Leo Laporte, it’s even hard to tell if that is a podcast made into a radio show or the other way around. Finally, YouTube has long been rumoured to be flirting with network TV. YouTube is somehow already available on the living rooms via Apple TV or game consoles. I tested it on my Wii this week. The experience is underwhelming, but I definitely see the potential behind it.

In my last Biznology post, I mentioned that the online social media conversation was expanding and becoming increasingly fragmented. Looking at the bigger picture, it may just make sense that social media also expand to the offline side of the spectrum, so that it can extend its reach. Many people are still much more comfortable with paper, TV or radio than with the cyberspace. And there are places where quite frankly people should not take a computer anyway :-)

Coming back to Evan Solomon’s message, social media is also in a continuous search for deeper efficiencies. This may sometimes just mean reaching out to conventional media, which can expose the existing content to audiences and places that would not otherwise be touched, and also access to new marketing opportunities.





Darwin: blogging and twittering in the 19th century?

26 01 2009

The Evolution RevolutionYou will be hearing about Darwin a lot this year, as 2009 marks 200 years of his birth and 150 years of “The Origin of Species”. Regardless of what you think about Darwin the scientist, there are lots to learn from Darwin the man.

Last summer, I visited “Darwin: The Evolution Revolution” at the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto. It was the first time I saw him not as a naturalist, but as a person. You still can catch the exhibition till April 19 in the Natural History Museum in London, renamed “Darwin – Big Idea” (see the slideshow for a taste of what you’ll find there).

The handwritten notes and letters caught my attention immediately, as they ranged from the deeply scientific (the famous “I think” sketch with the evolutionary tree) to the trivial and mundane (Fanny Owen, Darwin’s first girlfriend, asking “Why did you not come home this Christmas? I suppose some dear little Beetles kept you away!”).

Almost 3 years ago, I wrote a blog post wondering what it would be like if folks like Darwin, Shakespeare and Martin Luther King had blogs. I didn’t imagine back then that Darwin actually had the next best thing available to him: a notebook, a pen, and the discipline to write almost daily about whatever crossed his mind.

Darwin left a huge written record in books, articles, notebooks and more than 14,000 letters. Looking at them, I can’t help but see the similarities with the Social Media tools we use today. See for example one of his notes aboard the Beagle:

Darwin Manuscripts

I can almost see a “Powered by WordPress.com” at the bottom of his entries :-) .

If you keep digging, you’ll find also his journal:

Darwin Manuscripts

If only he had Twitter and GPS, eh? I would follow him for sure.

Bad jokes aside, I find fascinating that you can know so much about a person who was born 200 years ago. It’s been said that “thanks to MySpace and Facebook, autobiography can happen in real time”. Darwin was doing that back in 1822 at age 12!

So, if you think you know Charles, take a look at the “10 Fun Facts About Darwin” at Neatorama.com. You’ll find that not only he described plenty of new species, he ate several of them too, including armadillos, iguanas and tortoises. And that he once wrote that a wife was “better than a dog” for companion. Not exactly the most romantic thing to say about your significant other, but geeks will always be geeks, I guess.

If you want to learn more about the man, I highly recommend BBC’s “In Our Time” Darwin series, and also Darwin’s Legacy, a lecture series from Stanford University at iTunes U. You won’t be disappointed.





Enterprise Blogging Inhibitors: writer’s block, making a fool of oneself and lack of feedback

26 01 2009

This is an updated version of a blog post I wrote for my internal IBM blog back in April 2006. It shows its age, but it may still be relevant for folks starting to blog inside the corporation.

When I ask colleagues at IBM why they don’t blog, or why they don’t blog more often, the most common answers are “I don’t have  time”, “I don’t know what to blog about” and “no one cares about my thoughts”. In a survey I ran 3 years ago, not even a single respondent mentioned writer’s block or fear of making a fool of oneself as blogging inhibitors.

Many of my fellow IBMers are quick-witted, bright and have plenty of good ideas. They are typically well-read, inquisitive and very open to hear other people’s opinions. Most of them are good writers too, and they would probably be good bloggers. However, many of them don’t blog. There’s this somehow unfounded idea that blogging is going to take a lot of time and effort. Some of them even started a blog, but stopped after a while. They got discouraged by the number of daily hits in their blogs or by the low number of comments their early posts generated or by the time they spent just to write a few paragraphs. Or they just don’t know what to write about on a frequent basis.

If any of the readers of this blog is wondering whether or not to start blogging or resume blogging inside the enterprise, here’s my take on it. Don’t forget that we are all learning, so take it with a grain of salt (as you should do with anything you read). Also, you’ll find lots of – sometimes conflicting – advice out there on how to blog effectively. Be confident that you’ll eventually find what works better for you.

  • Don’t liken enterprise blogging to writing an article for a magazine. In blogs, you can afford to disclose unpolished thoughts out there. Writing them actually may help you to structure your ideas, and sharing with others may enrich a reflection you had only as a raw piece of clay inside your brain, as others may have a common interest on the topic. So, while your post may not be getting you a Pulitzer Award any time soon, it may actually trigger a good discussion with others in your company. I see blogging more like chatting in a bar after hours (minus the drinks and the hangover) than giving a lecture to a demanding audience.
  • Approach blogging like reading and writing e-mails, with the advantage that there’s no serious harm if you skip reading some posts from time to time, and that nobody ever expects you to reply to blog entries. It’s something you do at a best effort basis. Time-box the time you spent reading and writing blogs to, say, 15 minutes a day, or 30 minutes a week. Or just harness your interstitial time, blogging whenever you have a few minutes to spare. As you get used to doing it, you’ll become more efficient. Remember, don’t approach it as one more task to squeeze into your already busy schedule. It’s a learning and networking venue where you get a lot accomplished just by dedicating 15 minutes a day to it.
  • Be aware that many in your company will consume your internal blog via an RSS reader. This means that even though people are reading your blog, the hit counter may not show that. Also, as it’s the case with most blogs, expect a very low comment-to-post ratio at least at the beginning. Some of your interesting posts will not necessarily generate any comment, even though people are paying attention. I found over the years that some of my “comment-less” posts were actually “dogeared” by some colleagues, proving that the number of comments is not necessarily an indication of whether or not readers found it relevant. Most days, like many others blog addicts, I skim through all posts in my feed reader. Whatever you write about, you’ll have the attention of a fair number of readers for at least a few moments. Therefore, make sure the title of your blog entry and its first few lines give a good idea about what you are writing about.
  • Blogging is a 2-way street. If you blog but you don’t read other people’s blogs, you may not “get” it. Reading internal and external blogs actually is crucial for you to REALLY understand why blogs are not the same as newsgroups, instant messaging or social networking web sites. As you start commenting on other people’s blogs and observing how some topics generate more interest or discussions, you’ll probably have a better understanding of the dynamics of this media. You’ll also establish your own network of bloggers who are more attuned to your own interests and area of expertise. Make sure that you reply to comments when appropriate, showing your appreciation for other people’s time and effort. It’s pretty much like going from high-school to University: it takes time to adapt to this new environment.
  • At first, you may not want to limit yourself to a single theme. Some of my favourite blogs talk about a wide variety of subjects: technology, working environment experiences, “fluffy” stuff, latest news, photography, parenthood, jokes. The proverbial writer’s block only happens if you see yourself as a writer with a theme or a deadline to meet. If the whole world is “in scope” for your blog, and you are just “chatting”, not “authoring”, you’ll probably start having a backlog of things you may want to blog about. I’m not suggesting that you blog about things that are too personal all the time, but variety is a good thing. Keep in mind the “virtual watercooler” analogy: in real offices, you do talk about things that are not strictly work-related sometimes, and that helps building rapport with your colleagues.

In my first Social Media presentation ever, back in 2006, I mentioned that Charles Darwin wondered many times if it was worth it to publish his ideas (note that some scholars dispute this as a myth):

Darwin feared putting the theory out in an incomplete form, as his ideas about evolution would be highly controversial if any attention was paid to them at all.

I keep imagining how many good ideas are left private just because people feel afraid of making a fool of themselves. As I said before, everybody has something to say, and nobody says brilliant things all the time. What if Shakespeare, Einstein, Martin Luther King, Gandhi all had blogs where they could share their reflections with others? It takes ideas to generate ideas, so just let you ideas out: many of them will probably be soon forgotten, but a few good ones may florish and persist (if you are not familiar with the concept, you may want to read about memes). Innovation is most often just a way of aggregating independent ideas into a new cohesive structure.





Blog or Twitter?

8 12 2008

I haven’t blogged for quite some time now, and even my feed reader is covered by virtual cobwebs these days. Being busy is the first excuse that comes to mind – and I’ve been insanely busy in the last few weeks – but of course you always find time to do what you love. And I do love writing and reading blog posts and comments. On the other side, I’ve been twittering quite a bit lately, resembling the character in this gaping void cartoon that Andy Piper mentioned in a recent Web 2.0 presentation of his:


by Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid

I was actually late to the Twitter party. My first tweet was dated April 16th, 2007 but I only started using it often a few months ago.

Switching completely from blogs to Twitter is very tempting. You may struggle to write a blog post from time to time, but you always have an answer to the question “What are you doing right now?”. That may result in tweets that go from mundane (“back to my dorm”), to cryptic (“VARIA: Files Antwerpen”), to bizarre (abracadabra and decaf???) to history-in-the-making, like in the Mumbai attacks. The atomic nature of Twitter holds an enormous potential that’s not fully realized yet. But does that mean that blogs are really dying?

Paul Boutin, from Valleywag, created some buzz when he wrote in the November issue of the WIRED magazine:

Thinking about launching your own blog? Here’s some friendly advice: Don’t. And if you’ve already got one, pull the plug. (…) The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.

The trend towards minimalism in communications was nicely covered by Jeremy Kaplan (Time magazine) in his befitting short article Haiku Nation. If you find 140 characters too limiting, visit smithmag’s Six-Word Memoirs and you may find that the 1120-bit ceiling for SMS is plenty. Supporting his micro-writing argument, Jeremy lists the NaNoWriMo 12-word novel challenge, the 5-word reviews blog for London musicals and plays, and the always popular 4-word film review site (the reviews on Titanic are just hilarious).

And, of course, there’s a whole series you can find in YouTube shrinking popular movies to their bare essence, such as “Rocky in 5 Seconds”:

Nobody knows for sure if blogs will follow the way of the dodo and GeoCities, or if we are just witnessing the ultra fragmentation of media channels. I expect blogs to be around for a long time, evolving with the other social media, as opposed to being replaced by them. Blogging is still my preferred way of communicating as it allows one to more effectively construct an argument and have meaningful conversations. And of course, you can tell by the length of this post that being succinct has never been my forté ;-)





Biznology: The challenges of being a guest blogger

6 08 2008

Some time ago, I volunteered as a guest blogger at Mike Moran‘s Biznology Blog. My first post was published yesterday, along with an introduction.

That post was actually due two weeks ago, but I had zero to offer by then. The major constraint in my blogging activity is to allocate time to write, but this time I was experiencing a bit of a writer’s block.

I have no shortage of things I’d like to write about in my own personal blogs, even though I’m well aware that most of those topics will go by unnoticed. That’s actually what I like about having personal blogs: I don’t feel bad even if nobody reads a post of mine there, as I ultimately use my blog as a personal reflection tool, so a long tail of one – me – is good enough for what I want to accomplish.

Writing for a group blog is a bit more challenging. I haven’t contributed to The Orange Chair blog for a long time, but my guilty feeling is somehow lessened by the fact that it’s still an experiment, a work-in-progress – at least that’s what my id tells my super-ego. Bernie, Sacha and Jen (co-bloggers at the Orange Chair) may not be as forgiving :-) .

Writing at Biznology felt different though: It introduced the fear of failure to the process. Mike Moran’s blog is well regarded in the Internet Marketing space, and somehow I felt that I had to write something at THE Mike Moran’s quality level, and naturally I couldn’t do that. After days of procrastination, I realized that this is also a learning curve, and decided to publish something that I did not find to be good, but it was a necessary stepping stone for me to get where I want to be. Take a look at it if you have some time. Hopefully I’ll get the hand of it as I go.





English or Portuguese?

8 04 2008

For I while I struggled on whether or not I should write this blog in Portuguese, as most of my friends and relatives live in Brazil. On top of that, I feel much more comfortable with my mother tongue: even after 11 years living in Canada, I still can’t claim I speak English well. My writing is not as bad, as I have more time to think it through – and google my way around what I don’t know – but I still find plenty of grammar and spelling errors whenever I read old posts of mine. Writing in English may even be perceived as a snob thing to do: who am I trying to impress, after all?

I may still change my mind, but the main reason I write this blog in English is that I don’t use it as a vehicle to communicate with my friends and relatives. As a matter of fact, I only told 2 people in Brazil so far that I actually have a new blog. The only other people that probably know about it are those who follow my rare twittering and some co-workers who read my internal blog. I decided to keep a low profile until I find my hand on what I should blog about, and also to have some meat here before announcing it to more people. Writing it in English makes it more consummable by the public at large, so for now I’ll stick with the plan.

But don’t get me wrong: I really love writing and talking in Portuguese. Doing that gives me this warm feeling of being at home no matter where I actually am: “Minha pátria é minha língua” summarizes this idea well. Furthermore, Brazilian Portuguese is a beautiful language in my naturally biased view. Rich, full of historical influences, with many peculiar sounds, and deliciously illogical.

English is more of an acquired taste, but I think now I have an admiration for it. There is a minimalist elegance in conveying a lot of ideas using so few words.

I wish I could learn Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and German. You never really think outside the box until the moment you replace the damn box. This may sound silly, but the language you use to express yourself affects your way of thinking.

However, no language can accurately express all the complexity of ideas and sensations that go through our brain. You don’t say what you think or feel, you only say what known words allow you to articulate. This gets worse when speaking a foreign language, as your vocabulary and internalization of expressions tend to limit you even further. So, I’m often left with this perception that none of the people who interact with me in English really know me. What they know is this subset of me that is externalized by my poor command of the English language.

I said this before: In Canada, we always talk about visible minorities, but very rarely we talk about audible minorities. My Asian looks play a much smaller role in my social interactions than my thick Brazilian accent. I recall watching a movie – a bad one, but with a memorable quote – where one of the characters says: “don’t think that because I speak with an accent, I think with an accent”. Recognizing this need is the first step to address it.





Busy times

16 03 2008

I haven’t blogged here for a month and a half now, so it’s time to catch up. Nothing better to kill a readership (even if that means 2 or 3 people) than abandoning your own blog for such a long time. I’ve been traveling for most of my time since January, and decided that it’s better to “write less, blog more”, but have not been very successful following my own mantra so far. This is the first of these short posts, and I’ll be writing quite a few of them in the next little while, covering some of the things I’ve been doing and thinking over the last month and a half. Stay tuned, both of you reading this blog.








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