You Will Compute on a Tablet

My husband doesn’t understand tablets. “They’re inbetween a phone and a computer. I have both of those things. Why do I need something in the middle?”

To be honest, I’ve largely agreed wtih him. Until this week, when I found myself wishing I can a tablet to read articles on while curled up in bed or on the couch. A laptop was too bulky and my Blackberry was too small; the browser’s zoom feature too cumbersome. And I really wish I had a tablet to use in the kitchen instead of cookbooks and running between my computer in the dining room and the stove when trying a new recipe. Sometimes modern life is such a bizarre blend of cutting-edge and ass-backwards.

I haven’t told him that, since there are a lot of other things we need to spend $500 on before a tablet. But I’m confident that, eventually, everyone will have a tablet in their house. It will replace most of their paper books (I’m especially excited about them replacing cookbooks! think of the beautiful images!). It will replace all their paper magazine subscriptions. It will probably replace their remote for the TV and become a remote for their living room music player.

Eventually, you’re all going to own a table and you’re going to enjoy it and find it useful. And the web will ad just accordingly. What works today will be tweaked (or scrapped) for what works on a tablet. The Gawker family of sites made the switch a few months ago. Many lamented the new design. I happened to like it, and think that is more like what websites will become.

Here’s my reasoning: Playboy did it. And as goes the porn industry, so goes the rest of the economy. Playboy’s adaptation brilliantly gets around Apple’s ban on pornographic apps, for which I applaud them. I don’t like corporations passing judgement on the content that I can and cannot view. This article emphasizes Playboy’s new site has more to do with overcoming the “inherent challenge of publishing adult content” than it does challenging the existing model of app store gatekeepers. But I posit that no, this goes a long way toward challenging that model. If all the web sites and services you want access to have exceptionally mobile friendly websites, why do they need to develop native apps for specific devices? And why should you bother browsing an app store when a quick Google search gets you what you’re looking for?

Andres Barreto, the president and cofounder of OnSwipe, a purveyor of white label solutions for iPad publishers, disagrees. “The leading sources for content discovery are search and social, and they often fall in the ranges of 60%-80% of all traffic for most publishers. You loose that in a native app,” he explains.

You are going to check Facebook and Twitter and the next brilliant social media service and click links your friends post and go to websites on your tablet computer. You won’t click those links and be directed to the app store offered by your tablet’s provider.

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Sunday Morning Musings

I put this quote from Ira Glass on the desktop of my computer screen so everytime I turn it on, and every time I close all the windows I have open for a second to get organized, I’ll see it:

“Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but its not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know how do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

But all work that anyone does is creative. There aren’t creative people and uncreative people. Humans are creative animals. So think about the work you’re doing in your life. It doesn’t matter what it is. You can apply this advice.

So far, I’ve figured out that of the most important factors in success is one’s ability to assess one’s own efforts: recognizing good work, gauging how your work compares, and then coming up with ideas to bridge the gap between your work and the standard of good you’ve set.

A general awareness, if you will, of yourself, your motivations, your efforts, and how that all fits into the big picture.

So this quote isn’t about creative people or not creative people. It’s about people who find that this awareness is too much work – cause it does require a lot of effort – and quit. They sacrifice the standards of goodness they once recognized for something else that’s closer to or at the level they are performing already. And they keep chugging along. Maybe they are happier that way, in which case, kudos to them. But I’ve seen more people who aren’t happy, but they just don’t understand why. Because they’ve sacrificed that awareness and aren’t even aware any more that they’ve cut that part out.

Assuming that everyone has that awareness to start out with, which is a topic for an entirely different Sunday morning post.

Anyway – this quote is designed to be inspiration to keep people from quitting; from cutting that awareness out even though every time they produce something, it winds up being crap. Even though they see potential, they mostly see crap and get discouraged. And it’s impossible to employ the solution to producing crap – just produce more of it and keep practicing until the crappiness dissipates and you’re left with good work that’s up to your standard – if you’re discouraged over and over again. That’s when people quit. It’s so hard. It seems impossible.

But the fact is it’s not impossible. It just requires a lot of you. Essentially, that you maintain faith in your taste. You are smart enough, you are talented enough, you are dedicated enough. You can produce good, even excellent, work. Not just that you can, but that you will. You have to believe that, have faith in that, in order to overcome all the discouragement and keep producing crap.

This is not to say that single-mindedness is some critical virtue. You still have be constantly assessing yourself and your efforts and figuring out what’s working and what’s not and adapt as you go. Maybe you’re trying to produce the wrong kind of crap. Maybe you’re systems are getting in the way.

It’s hard, man, believe me. It’s tough. It’s painful. But for me, just hearing from this guy Glass that everyone goes through this and that it took a long time for anyone to bridge that gap, even the most brilliant, successful people I can think of, is encouraging enough to ignore the pain and keep trying.


Groupon + Loopt

This was finally the week. The week of the unsubscribe. I’d spent months checking my email compulsively throughout the day to purge my inbox of newsletters I’d signed up for, advertising deals at my favorite stores, travel sites, and through club deal sites like zulily. I like to have a tidy inbox – my inbox is almost always empty and, though I tolerate a little bit of a to-do list quality for my personal email, it should still be organized. But this week, I said to myself, no more. And I unsubscribed from almost every newsletter I receive. I think Travelzoo’s weekly Top 20 deal email survived the purge, and my zulily email (since I’m still totally overwhelmed by the thought of buying baby stuff).

Again, there was no real reason for this massacre. I was simply sick of getting emails for deals I didn’t need and having to delete them. I delted my Groupon email a long time again because I was sick of saying no to stuff I wasn’t remotely interested in but was receiving just because some business in he greater Boston area had decided to have a promotion.

That’s why I wasn’t surprised to read this gossip on RWW: that Groupon’s rate of redemption by email is “shockingly, abysmally low”. Of course it is. It sounds like a good idea at the time – free stuff and outrageous discounts and you don’t even need to search for them! – but after a few weeks, you realize like I did that those deals are only marginally targeted for you.

But Groupon hooking up with Loopt is a phenomenal idea. Now, as you go about your life, you’ll be able to access deals relevant to where you are and what you’re doing. If you can turn off alerts to them and just have access when you’re sitting around with friends at a restaurant, bored, wondering if there’s something good to do around town, all the better.

I’m skeptical of location-based apps like Loopt and Foursquare (which I use occasionally but has largely lost its appeal as well) because it seems they can very easily fall into the trap of “this is cool because its new”. Groupon and other email deal sites like it teeter on that fine line too. You need layers of usefulness to survive.

What’s the relevance for small businesses? Location-based apps are part of the same phenomenon I mentioned the other day: driving business down to the local level. Small business need to take advantage of that. And the same rules apply. Just like it’s easier for the Gap to sell products to me because I’ve opted in to their marketing strategy, it’s easier for local businesses to engage with customers who are already nearby and interested in looking to try something new.

The key is balance. Groupon’s partnership with Loopt will be a great thing IF it’s not the only layer of usefulness the two apps can come up with AND if they don’t over do it. Long term customers require more than just a barrage of unappetizing options.


Web Surfers Without Borders

Remember when we “surfed” the world wide web?

This popped up on TNW this morning: China argues that the 8 New Yorkers suing it for censorship have no right, since web regulations are a sovereign issue. (Of course it was a bunch of New Yorkers.) The fact is that web regulations ARE going to become an huge international issue. They were an issue in 2001. And web regulations continue to plague companies like Amazon even between states in the US. That’s what the Internet does – challenge conventional ways of everything, including doing business, and require creative compromises.

Every business that operates online and is or plans to operate internationally needs to pay attention to this stuff in the news. This is why: an article from HBR about how Apple or Amazon could cause a war with China. China and the rest of the BRIC countries, not the mention Africa, with its rising middle class and avid mobile internet users, have costs associated with opportunities for growth and those costs are unstable governments with unpredictable attitudes toward web regulations. I don’t personally think war is looming, but international relations will certainly only be increasingly strained as countries navigate the murky waters of a global internet. They say the “wild west” phase of the web is coming to an end, but there is so much chaos yet to be unleashed.


Leading Locally

On Monday, Econsultancy released its latest UK Search Engine Marketing Benchmark Report which surveyed more than 600 client-side digital marketers and agencies and found out lots of them are focusing, or planning to focus, on locally targeted paid search and mobile search for their marketing plans. The highlights are here, and you should read them. It doesn’t matter if you’re what kind of business you are or how national, or global, your reach is. Local marketing is going to be important to you.

There are some types of businesses who should take advantage of this technology as a matter of course: retailers, entertainment venues like restaurants or clubs, and real estate are some examples. But what about something like an investment firm?

Think this one out: someone is sitting in a restaurant talking and thinking about switching investment firms. She takes out her iPad while she waits for her food to come and searches for investment companies. The search engine already ranks her results based on her preferences, including her location, so when it delivers a list of firms, it also delivers a map of her city with the locations of offices that have paid to be highlighted. Maybe one of those locations is two blocks from where she’s sitting, and she realizes it would be on her way home from work every day. Now that firm has a huge advantage.

The internet has already pushed everything down to the local level, but that pressure is only going to increase. That pressure has already, and will continue, to also wreak havoc in an industry near and dear to my heart: news. Last week, Google launched News Near You, that ReadWriteWeb said could potentially wipe out the exploding hyperlocal news segment (think Patch from AOL). SearchEngineLand reported that Google wasn’t the first to break into this segment – and might not even have the best product (yet) – but I’m confident that the most widely used search engine will become one of the most widely used resources for local news in the near future.

And perhaps the most widely used resource by consumers looking for places to spend their money.


Social Searching

People, your customers, already go to Google first to learn more about you. Part of learning more about you will be learning what other people have to say about you, especially what people they know personally where that’s applicable. Google is helping them do that. Social media was already helping them do that, but Google is gathering all that information and displaying it on one page instantly, so people, your customers, are going to form a 5-second impression of you, and decide if they want to do business with you, based on what people are saying about you.

Scary? For some. But not for business that people are saying good things about. So how do you get to be one of those businesses?

You need to be using an effective, dynamic web marketing strategy. That means you’re giving them a forum to talk about your company and your products. You’re answering questions, addressing their complaints, thanking them for their business. But as you’re doing all of those wonderful things, you still can’t control the conversation anymore. People will say bad things about your company or your products if they want to. Sometimes they won’t have any good reason for it. Customers can have bad days and be upset about things that are outside your control.

But more often they have a good reason to complain. That’s why marketing is so hard. Marketers can push out any message you want, but if it’s not true, the Internet will find out. So while you’re creating a web marketing strategy, you need to be looking within. Are the things you’re doing – selling, servicing customers, producing products – making your customers happy every day?


Lots of New Muscles

There’s been a common theme in my reading recently: everyone is trying to work their muscles, but not that kind of muscles. Their idea muscles, creativity muscles, will power muscles, and more. It think this started as a unique way of describing how everything humans want to do and be requires practice at first, and I have to say it’s caught on.

It’s an attractive analogy isn’t it? For me, it means tackling my big goals in small steps to build up my will power muscle. You wouldn’t try to bench press 100lbs cold, so why would you commit to a marathon training program if you’ve never been able to work out more than two days in a row?

Everything I read about writing falls into two camps. The first is technical advice, the sort of articles with  11 tips for writing blog posts that attract viewers or how to generate ideas. The second type of advice thinks of itself as above that and says only that good writers read a lot and write a lot – work out their reading and writing muscles, so to speak.

Essentially, writing for the web is a combination of the two approaches. Sure, I plan on reading every Neil Gaiman novel I can get my hands on in the next few weeks and I think exposing myself, at last, to his prose will be good for my writing. But even novels, these days, need to be optimized for SEO.

I kid. But think about this – I didn’t finally decide to read Neil until after studying his wife Amanda Palmer’s exceptional use of social media in her musical career. His own tweets and blog posts are not only beautiful, but well written to keep a target audience entertained and expose newbies like me to his style, to see if its something they’d be interested in.

So not only do writers for the web and web marketers and entrepreneurs like me need to work out their muscles, we need circuit training. Great, right after I cancelled my gym membership.