Archive for the ‘Internet & Business’ Category

A smart generation

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

Here’s an email exchange I had with my 23-year-old daughter that gives me a lot of hope for the future. She is working in internet marketing and full of ideas about harnessing the power of the internet for business, and she is considering an application for post-graduate study in business.

Charlotte: I was listening to NPR this morning and heard two features I thought interesting. One about a site called YouTube where people post their videos for sharing and the other about a gamers’ convention in NY where the game designers are trying to incorporate social awareness into their games. It stirred some thoughts in me that somehow, though I can’t quite articulate it, relate to what you are thinking about regarding using the internet to do business in different ways.

My sense is that your generation has an amazing opportunity to change the way a lot of things are done. The internet has freed you from some of the constraints of the that’s-the-way-it’s-always-been-done business mentality, allowing you to create new approaches. Not only new ways to reach people, but also new ways to do business (and make profit) without destroying the world in the process. It reminds me of Bill McDonough‘s book, Cradle-to-Cradle, a really interesting, highly sensible, and fairly radical approach to manufacturing (design products and industrial processes so they create no waste). I’m sure plenty of people are thinking about this from other points-of-view as well. We also went to see An Inconvenient Truth, which is definitely worth seeing, and since then I am reading and hearing lots of references to the movie and to the reality of global warming. I have a small feeling that something may be tipping in the public’s awareness of the environment (at least the educated public), but perhaps I am too hopeful.

Seems like there is a common thread to all these things, but I’m not quite sure what it is. Maybe it is connectedness. Maybe the internet has so thoroughly connected us that we’re finally beginning to realize that what happens in one place affects everywhere else and that resources aren’t finite. What you are working on is clearly based on connectedness too. Maybe the thread is creativity. Casting aside old assumptions and approaching problems from a completely new (and technologically enabled) viewpoint.

Kate: YouTube is just one of a zillion examples of social networking and self-publishing (self-proclamation?) exploding all over the internet, fueled primarily by people of my generation. The result is a LOT of garbage, but every now and then, you find the occasional individual gem. And that bit gets spread around social networks like Word-of-Mouth on speed – to the point that within a week 60% of all internet savvy 20 – 25 yr olds will have viewed the same video, read the same email, or visited the same site – to the point that the original piece of content becomes a pop cult reference. In a week! Popular culture trends change faster today that they ever have, because of the internet’s unfathomable speed of accessibility. But more importantly, with “web 2.0” programs like YouTube, Flickr, Digg, Blogger, WordPress, Photobucket, etc, that make content creation and sharing extremely easy, accessibility to internet promotion is becoming increasingly unbiased. Anyone can make a home movie, upload it, and become a popular icon in a week. Did you know that [two friends’] spoof music video to Call on Me ended up getting over 4 million hits and became a brief Asian pop cult phenomenon?

The result is that people of my generation have an over-inflated sense of self importance. With the internet as our media channel, its like everyone is the star of their own reality TV show. But at the same time, there’s a hightened sense of closeness to people who may not be physically accessible. Thanks to email, blog comments, cell phones, etc, you can get in contact with pretty much anyone you want to. And furthermore, there are people always looking to get in contact with you.

On top of HOW people are creating social networks, I’m really interested in WHAT people congregate around. The best way I can describe it is a Cult of the Ridiculous. The stuff that becomes pop-culture reference material is always the same thing: Hilarious. Debauchery, wit, silliness, and sarcasm. I love that humor is our point of commonality and not stupid humor or slapstick jokes, its always smart person humor – because my whole generation is smart.

That’s another thing! For the most part, everyone in my generation was raised to be smart, active, and in some way or another, excellent. How else did we expect to get into college? Everyone is a valedictorian, everyone is a team captain — AND right now, everyone is coming out of college with a captain’s attitude, but no one knows exactly what to do about it. It’s not like college where you go to an activities fair and pick one, and start being excellent. Most people waste a year (or several) figuring out where to be and what to do, because its not listed out for them in an orientation packet.

So… what we’ve got is:

1) Everyone is accessible
2) Information is easily shared
4) One person can start a pop-cult revolution
5) My generation is universally linked by a specific type of humor
7) My generation is smart and active, but unguided
8) At the end of the day, everyone wants an excuse to be social

So…. It seems like the potential to create change on a massive scale is huge for my generation. But people just need a little direction. Fortunately, good-will business practices, sustainability, and general humanitarian moralism are super trendy. But still, no one knows what the hell to do about it. No one wants to go door-to-door handing out fliers or any of the traditional non-profit B.S., but everyone would love to be involved, if it meant, say – getting together for an improv event, or going on a massive bar-crawl, or something that is both social and activist. You just have to look at the cost-benefit from a new perspective. Cost is about time, benefit is about sociability.

I’m feeling really good about this new generation. Pay attention, Business. The 20-somethings have a lot to teach us.

The blog experiment III

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

My blog experiment is changing. Initially, one of my main ideas was to use the blog to develop a pool of professional contacts. The thought was that I would write insightful design posts, designers would read them and comment, dialogues would ensue, and I would fill up my Rolodex. Well, I’ve been writing posts, but no-one is commenting, no dialogues are happening, and I can’t say I’ve made a single contact through this exercise. At this point, I’m thinking that blogging is not really going to be particularly useful to designers for person-to-person networking. On the other hand, I have to admit that I haven’t made much effort to visit and comment on other blogs either and, as with any networking effort, I probably need to put myself out there a little more assertively if I want better results.

Meanwhile, I signed up for Google Analytics, which tells me how many people are visiting the site, how many pages they view, and how viewers got to my site, among other things. Apparently, most of my viewers find me by clicking on a link in another design blog that has added me to its list of blogs. Interesting. So, if I’m not getting personal comments but my site is getting visited, and if most of those viewers come through other websites, then perhaps a different sort of networking is happening. Is web networking more about clicks and less about person-to-person contact? Are web-links the new business cards? There’s more to learn.

Blogging, however, can be used in other ways besides networking and this is the second avenue of experimentation that is continuing in the blog. Clearly blogs are a great way to share information. It would seem, then, that blogging would be a terrific way to store information as well. So, I’ve started a series of “Resources” posts that provide links relevant to particular topics. For example, I recently posted a list of manufacturers of indoor lamps and luminaires. While this list is not inclusive, it does gather a lot of links in one place, making it easier to search for products for a lighting project. (This and other resource lists can be found by clicking on the “Resources” category on the left of this page or by looking through the monthly indexes.) Once I have a list established, I can add or subtract entries or add comments. Eventually, I might have a good collection of resource links covering a range of topics.

Otherwise, I am still going to write about being a design student and about things that don’t particularly relate to design but that I like or find interesting. Maybe the blog will open up a new world of networking or become a virtual reference source, but even it neither of these turns out to be workable, at least it will continue to be fun!

Rollyo

Tuesday, May 9th, 2006

Trying to find the perfect product for a project takes up an immense amount of time. I suppose eventually I’ll begin to know manufacturers and their wares, but as a student, I still know very little. So, when I’ve needed to specify, say, a sidechair for a school project, I end up flipping endlessly through design magazines and Googling for “designer sidechair” or something equally vague. The magazines will provide some ideas, but not always what I have in mind, and a general web search is almost always futile.

I’ve tried to develop efficient ways to organize the products and materials I have discovered, but so far haven’t hit upon a workable solution. My little collection of catalogues and materials doesn’t even scratch the surface, and since they’re not centrally indexed, it’s back to flipping. Keeping folders or notebooks with notes or cutouts never seems to get off the ground and I can’t find anything in these collections of notes anyway. I need a way to access just the information I need, when I need it.

I may have just found a tool that might be useful: Rollyo.

Rollyo is a website that allows you to create customizable search engines. You create or “roll” your own lists (“searchrolls”) of websites you know that pertain to whatever subjects you decide to organize. Then, if you are looking for something that falls within the scope of one of your searchrolls, you can search just within your designated sites, saving you the hassle of combing through the thousands of sites you’d get in a general web search for the same thing. You can view and search other people’s searchrolls too and add their searchrolls to your collection.

You can use Rollyo even if you don’t have your own searchrolls by entering a search term on the explore page. When I plugged in “design,” I got a long list of searchrolls, most of them pertaining to web design, but a few on architectural or interior design. A general exploration of others’ searchrolls is not likely to help me find a product, but it might lead to something interesting.

I’ve just started several searchrolls – lighting, architectural hardware, wallcoverings, windows, architectural tiles, and independent living – based on ads, articles, and websites I found in a recent magazine. I also found a searchroll that someone else had created that looked interesting enough to add. As I find companies or websites that have products or information that I’d like to remember, I’ll add them to my searchrolls. Once my lists are comprehensive enough, my hope is that I will be able to find things I am looking for much faster.

This is a great use of the internet – fast access to specialized information. Rollyo could be a terrific tool for organizing a personalized product “library.”

Networked books

Tuesday, April 11th, 2006

Yesterday, publisher Farrar, Straus, and Giroux released Robert Frenay‘s new book, Pulse. The release was unique – the book was stocked in bookstores in the traditional manner, but it was also released online at www.pulsethebook.com as a “networked” book. Basically, the full text of the book will be available to read in serialized form, for free, via twice-daily blog posts. Segments will be released for the next six months – accessed directly on the website or by subscribing to receive the segments by email or RSS feeds. If you want to read the whole book right away, you still have to buy it, but the online version has lots of extras, including internal links that let you instantly find what you want within the book’s text, external links to related information so you can explore ideas in greater depth, opportunities to comment, and a locus for online discussions.

The web release and format is the brainchild of an exciting company, Names@Work. Based in New York City, Names@Work is exploring the cutting edge of internet networking and marketing. Pulse is just one of their projects. The company believes that the internet is creating a “fundamental shift” in the way companies and people connect. By harnessing the networking potential of the web, Names@Work hopes to help its clients make valuable connections.

The simplicity of this new book-release format is almost astounding. Readers get the book for free, along with opportunities to increase their knowledge through links to relevant content and discussions, and the publisher and author get the buzz the site creates. Buzz is bound to translate into increased sales. If Names@Work’s idea is right – if people find the site, like it, and talk about it – the potential exists for the book to reach millions of readers in a very short time.

Reaching a wide audience is obviously at the heart of any commercial use of the internet. What’s different about the Pulse release is that the publisher is not in your face with its commercial interests. Traditional advertising annoys me with it’s frenetic images and soundtracks, obvious exaggeration, and even outright dishonesty. I resent being manipulated to believe I need whatever is being sold. Here, clearly the publisher would like me to buy this book, but there’s no hard sell – if I get interested in the book and can’t wait 6 months for the last segment, then the chances are high that I’ll buy it. But I can make that choice without pressure and that’s refreshing.

Selling a product or service through a blog that provides value may turn out to be the next big thing. If it works for this book, how might it work in the A&E community? Might design firms offer fully indexed sites that become sources for learning? It’s food for thought.

Names@Work and FSG are onto something.

The blog experiment II

Thursday, March 9th, 2006

Not much has happened on the blog experiment front. After the December flurry of sprucing up my website and signing up for blog indexes (see my earlier post describing what I did), it’s been pretty much me writing posts and nothing else. I’ve gotten a handful of thoughtful comments on my posts and another handful of spam “comments.”

Now that school has started, finding the time to work the web by reading and commenting on others’ blogs has been difficult. Because everyone is busy, particularly designers, my guess is the long-term answer to my early question of whether blogging is a useful tool for business networking for designers (see my post posing the question) will be no. Most people don’t have time to write or read blogs and post comments often enough to create anything more than occasional and fleeting contacts. On the other hand, I’ve only been at it a couple of months – it may simply take a long time to attract readers and commentors.

I did sign up for a networking tool, LinkedIn, which sounds as if it has potential. In a nutshell, people who sign up create links with people they know who are also participating. By linking to someone, you become indirectly linked to everyone that person has links with. You can ask your contact to introduce you via the site to any of their links or their links’ contacts. In theory, by using your contacts and introductions to your contacts’ links, your potential network quickly becomes vast and you could have access to people you would never had had an opportunity to actually meet – sort of a six-degrees-of-separation idea.

Almost immediately, I discovered that one of my contacts was linked to a person I had wanted to speak with about a school project. I requested my contact to pass on an introduction to this person. My contact forwarded my request to one of his links who was to send it on to the final person, but, unfortunately, the trail ended there and I never heard from the guy I wanted to interview. If it had worked, it would have been awesome, so I think there’s potential here.

So, no revelations or conclusions as yet and the blog experiment continues. More later.

The blog experiment I

Wednesday, January 11th, 2006

One of the purposes in writing this blog is to try to create a network of contacts in the design business. If this experiment is successful, then it would suggest that the medium of blogging is useful for designers.

To create contacts, people have to read my blog, and for that to happen, I need to get my blog out there where people might find it. Here’s what I’ve done so far besides writing my own posts:

  • Added my link to a few blog directories – Technorati, Blogwise, Blogflux, and Globe of Blogs. I checked out quite a few others, but these seemed to be the most usable. Although my site won’t appear on the blog directories right away (they have to review and approve it first), I think inclusion on the sites will increase my readership. By surfing through the design-related sites in these directories, I identified a couple of blogs that were interesting. (See my Blogroll on the right).
  • Signed up to be a student blogger with the School Blog Project at Archinect. So far I’ve submitted one post and gotten some comments. I plan to chronicle my school experiences both here and at Archinect, using more of a diary approach with the Archinect posts. Check out my Archinect page here.
  • Participated in a web carnival – the Carnival of the Architects and Urbanists – by posting a comment. Web carnivals are an interesting process. More on that in a later post.
  • Posted some comments on others’ blogs. One blogger, whose site is Inhabit, sent me a very thoughtful message in return, commenting on one of my posts. So, one evening of work and I’m on at least one person’s radar screen.

Still to do – figure out how to track the number of hits on my site and get my site listed as an interesting link on other bloggers’ sites. More on this experiment in coming posts. Readers: any suggestions?

Creating blogs – how should the design profession be involved?

Friday, January 6th, 2006

My daughter Kate Zimmermann set up this website, registering my domain name, setting up an account for me with WordPress (a free blog management tool), establishing an account for me with Flickr (a free online photo management and sharing application), selecting a ready-made general page layout scheme and downloading the plug-in for it, and pulling everything together into a working website. So far, I have been fleshing out the site with my portfolio and writing, posting blogs, and doing some minor tweaking.

However, I want change a few things about the webpage’s structure so its functions better support how I want to use the site, but to do so, I have to not only brush up on my HTML, but also learn CSS and figure out how to re-code certain sections. This is fun but very time consuming and I’m not sure I’ll get it under control before I have to go back to school and homework, and no time.

What is clear, however, is that this process is far too complicated for the average person, particularly the average person who doesn’t have a lot of spare time. I’m not a programmer or a computer expert, but I’ve taken a few IT classes and am good enough at this sort of thing to be able to figure out how all these elements fit together, program improvements into the site, and troubleshoot problems.

If blogging is going to be useful to the design profession, however, the process has to either become much easier or design firms, schools, and professional organizations will need to step in to provide easy-to-join blogging services for their constituents. Perhaps they already do – this bears some further investigation.

Meanwhile, here are my initial ideas. Firms could integrate a blog component into their websites. Design schools could set up blogging opportunities in addition to simply providing students with e-mail addresses. Professional organizations could offer a blog service to their members.

If blogging turns out to be useful to designers (see my first and sixth posts), then it would be in the best interests of all these institutions to promote it. Perhaps my research and experience in developing this site will provide some convincing arguments.

Is blogging useful to designers?

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006

One of the reasons I’m interested in doing this blog is to discover how the format might be useful for interior designers. Are blogs a good networking or marketing tool? A good place to share resources? Do blogs reveal the cutting edge of design and design theory or are they simply superficial chitchat? Are current efforts to market and communicate via the net socially useful or merely schemes to make a quick buck? Will my blog persuade future employers to hire me or is it simply a convenient and entertaining way to record my thoughts for my own gratification?

Clearly the internet is changing the way business is done. Traditional ways of advertising and networking continue to be used, but my sense is that the internet holds a tremendous potential to influence business decisions and relationships. I hope to explore this potential in this blog.

So far, I’ve had no comments on my posts – not much of a surprise since I only began the blog last week. Over the coming months I plan to report the results of my exploration and hope to get some comments on how other designers or design students use blogging in their practice or study of interior design. So, what do you think?