Category Archives: Web stuff

Solutions in search of problems: A canary in the startup coalmine

One of the best things about working in the digital consulting business is being exposed to different challenges: startups, new business models, diverse industries, evolving technologies and behavioral norms. It can really be an exciting job.

Sling bits and ideas for startups long enough, though, and certain patterns start to emerge; they fall into two simple buckets for me: promising and problematic. The first bucket holds startups that have winning products or ideas that can probably get to market and have at least a chance of surviving. The second bucket lives on the other side of the tracks: startups with good ideas and smart people, but no differentiated product or market offering. Continue reading

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The Tragedy of the Comments – Part II: In search of solutions

"The same equations have the same solutions." – Richard Feynman (Physics Lectures Vol. 2, Chapter 12)

"In theory, there’s no difference between theory and practice. In practice, there is." – Yogi Berra

Bad behavior has been around in digital commons for 40 years. The fact that Anil Dash and Nick Denton talked about it this year at South by Southwest demonstrates that, despite everyone’s efforts, the problem remains unsolved. Comments (and digital commons) still suffer from trolls, snarky behavior, bozos, and a general lack of quality at scale.

In a previous post, I showed how one can create a solid analogy between the classic Tragedy of the Commons and what happens in online discussions (or in any digital commons). With this groundwork, the natural question to ask is whether we can leverage real-world solutions to help find ones in the digital world. Continue reading

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The Tragedy of the Comments – Part I: Commons in the digital world

In an interview at South by Southwest 2012, Anil Dash talked with Nick Denton about comments in the context of blogging (in particular, for large sites that get a lot of traffic). They bemoaned how the initial ideals of civil discourse in comments, of capturing the intelligence of the readership, had become a joke. Comment threads on big blogging sites inevitably devolve into a flurry of snark, diatribes and name-calling (much like they have done on discussion boards and in other online forums over the past two decades). Denton called this the "Tragedy of the comments," a tongue-in-cheek reference to the more well-known Tragedy of the commons (a theory about sharing and the allocation of scarce resources).

In an effort to combat this downward trajectory of civility, Denton announced that Gawker media was going to try an experiment, enlisting the people who start comment threads to police them (more or less – details were scarce). It’s an interesting idea, and it was a provocative discussion on the whole, but it all got me to wondering:

  1. Does the real-world Tragedy of the commons paradigm apply to "digital commons"? If so, is there anything that’s different?
  2. Can we leverage proposed solutions to the real-world commons problem in order to remedy some of the bad behavior seen online?

Continue reading

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Pinterest: The crack cocaine of digital consumption and sharing

The latest poster child for social sharing sites is Pinterest, which has seen hockey-stick growth over the past four months and is the topic du jour for discussion on tech blogs. Recent Hitwise statistics have Pinterest among the top 10 social networking sites, and other data suggests Pinterest generates referral traffic that rivals Twitter, topping YouTube, Google Plus, Reddit and LinkedIn combined. People are talking about how Pinterest may have cracked the social shopping nut that Facebook and others have been pursuing for years. Pinterest is just the shiniest example of image sharing sites; everyone seems to be jumping on this bandwagon (see Pinspire, Gentlemint and Tastespotting for the most obvious clones).

Putting aside the accolades and buzz, why are sites like Pinterest so popular? The answer to many is obvious: they’re fun and beautiful, allow you to discover new things, and connect you with people with shared interests (there’s actually a Quora thread on Pinterest growth worth reading). On top of that, they let you find and share cool stuff, beautiful images, products you might want to buy. What could be better? Continue reading

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A Digital Strategy Manifesto

"A word that can mean anything has lost its bite."
  – Richard Rumelt, "Good Strategy, Bad Strategy"

Throw a rock online these days and you’re likely to hit someone talking about some flavor of digital strategy: Web strategy, social media strategy, mobile strategy, content strategy, search strategy, hottest-topic-of-the-month strategy. You name it, and someone is writing about it, strategically. A lot of smart and experienced people are sharing good ideas on any digital topic you can imagine, often claiming to provide the strategic keys to the digital kingdom of success…But are they really talking about strategy? And if they are, how can you separate the wheat from the chaff? Continue reading

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Path: The magic of missing links

Path released their social networking application / platform back in November 2010 to a lot of buzz, followed by a collective shrug. It wasn’t really clear how to use the service, or what its value proposition was relative to the other social networks where people were already spending their time (e.g., Facebook and Twitter). In late 2011, they completely redesigned their iPhone application and expanded the number of users allowed in a given network, and things got more interesting. Usage exploded. Continue reading

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The misguided quest for the UX polymath

Experience design for the Web is all about tradeoffs: you have to balance what you can design (which is limited only by imagination) with what you can build (which is constrained based on existing technologies). This delicate dance between design and technology has existed ever since people started wanting Web pages (and experiences) to go beyond something you could create with a crayon. Branded experiences and useful applications need good interaction and information design, solid visual design, and an implementation that is faithful to both and performs well. Continue reading

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Why specific predictions about Internet business are pointless

Everyone loves making predictions, especially pundits and bloggers who need to keep cranking out ideas and content to pay the bills. Beyond this drive to publish, it’s an important part of the human condition to wonder about the future, dream of what might be, and imagine how to reap benefits from it. The beginning of each new year brings a flood of these prognostications, especially in the world of what I’ll loosely call “Internet business.” While it’s a fun exercise that makes for good reading, it’s basically pointless, in my opinion. Not only is it a waste of time, but it also gives the damaging impression that business follows a predictable set of trends, and that strategic decision-making might be guided by these predictions. It’s just not that simple. Continue reading

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Social media and the new economics of plenty


A recent Schumpeter article in The Economist lamented the “howling hurricane of noise” and “blizzard of buzz” in the world of social media (e.g., Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). The writer posits that these new modes of communication are potentially more trouble than they’re worth for companies and individuals, using the economics of scarcity as a foundation for his argument (i.e., that things derive value from their scarcity). He ultimately seems to conclude that because so much information is available through social media, it ultimately lacks value. Continue reading

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My Three Words for 2012

New Year’s resolutions are easy to create; I could write a list as long as my arm without really trying. The problem is keeping them, because there’s a big difference between a resolution and action. In fact, resolutions are often just wishes without any real resolve behind them at all. Even if there is resolve, our yearly resolutions are often tactical, goal-directed and small in scale and scope (e.g., lose the tire around the midsection). Chris Brogan has an interesting solution: ditch your resolutions and come up with three words that will serve to give you direction in the coming year, themes by which you will live your life. With these in place, do whatever it takes to make those words your reality. Continue reading

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