Taking an Inventory

I think I’m at a point where I just want to lay back and sort things out. When you look for answers you only get more questions. The key is to find the right questions. I don’t really care if everything I do is wrong in 2010. I’m just going to set some goals for consistency and nothing more. No final results or performance objectives, just focus on one thing, keep going and try ever so little to make that one little moment better than the last even if it isn’t just as long as I’m doing my best or most.

The Anatomy of Social Change in the Information Age

Technological advances radically alter dynamics of social change. The election of President Obama is a watershed moment that represents an evolution over a decade in the making. For the first time, social networks were mobilized on a scale that silenced critics of the technology’s limited utility to society or the “realness” of online social connections. Social networks redefine the whole concept of grass roots. Grass roots are no longer limited by time or location as long as there is a broad cause that can bring people together.

The biggest obstacle of utilizing web technology for social change is probably mobilization. Although this is changing, people are averse to making physical or monetary commitments to online activities. The bulk of web sites and services are designed to cater to niche markets that satisfy a specific need and most services are naturally supported by advertising that targets those markets. Social change requires a commitment on the part of participants, a dedication of resources whether it be time and/or money. It is something that can’t be done without passion.

With something like the presidential election, the whole nation’s destiny is at stake so naturally it is much more easier to build momentum and engage participants in the cause. There are definite goals (getting someone elected) and a solid deadline (election day) and numerous milestones (state primaries). In addition, the movement is happening on both the national and local level. People can get engaged with fund-raising or volunteering. Having said that, no other cause can bring so many of the elements needed to succeed at that level. What are the elements that make campaigns of social change successful online?


The internet is still a place driven by ideals, at times utopian and unrealistic. For example, despite many users being averse to spending money online for services they are just as much turned off by ads that support so-called “free” sites. The opposite side of ideals is outrage. Perceived social wrongs drive a lot of traffic, whether it’s evidence of misconduct or someone flaunting ill-gotten gains. Controversy drives people to chip in with their 2 cents and throwing links around the internet. The Obama campaign was driven not only by the ideals encapsulated in the Obama team but the collective anger at the Bush administration of the country’s economy that virtually wiped away years of solid economic growth. Underdogs are also likely to gain more support on the internet than giants (just look at Apple and Microsoft).


Novelty is a strong driver for building interest on the internet. Obama’s status as one of the first, strong black presidents no doubt contributed to a lot of initial interest in the man and what he stands for even before people became acquainted with Obama the politician. A lot of the high-traffic generating content on the web is both weird and good. Obama fulfills this brilliantly, on first look novel but the more you get to know him, you realize that he is also brilliant and more than the hype.

Rich Content

With information technology it’s hard to tie people down to any one place and force feed them information. You need a variety of content to entice people whether it’s status updates via twitter or video messages on YouTube or even memes created by passionate supporters, you need to constantly be at the forefront giving people bite-sized chunks of content they can chew on between bigger events.

Social Networking

Although there are limits to the number of people one person can interact with, utilizing public accounts and a variety of official channels on social networks is one of the best ways to make the most of this new technology. Causes give like-minded people an excuse to interact with each other in an engaging way. It also creates a powerful motivator for bringing people into the fold through the social network’s version of peer pressure. It’s amazing how many times Obama came up in a variety of ways on places like Facebook and Twitter.

But Can You Bottle It?

I suppose the single biggest question is with all the hints and case studies offered by Obama’s presidential campaign is whether you can bottle it? Packaging something like this into a coherent application would surely be a great startup idea and would also be a driver of social change (which is good for society) but could you?

The Obama Campaign Significance

Barack Obama ’s successful bid for president is probably just as significant as having our first (at least openly) multi-racial president (remember his mother is white and he only met his father once or twice). He changed the nature of campaigning for good and finally delivered on the promise of information technology driven movements. Just look at the Barack Obama web site and you not only get links to Obama information on the web but links into virtually all the popular social networks and services, each with an official Barack Obama account (including an updated CV on linkedin). On top of that the site also hosts its own little social network where you can connect with others and promote the campaign. If the Kennedy’s debate against Nixon for the Presidency on live national TV was the defining moment ushering the age of television in American politics this election was the defining moment for the role the internet and social networks are to play in elections of the future. If network television brought everything to the masses, in this election, the internet brought back grass roots to the masses.

An interesting twist in this election is not only how Obama successfully leveraged the internet for a distributed grass roots campaign but how Sarah Palin unwittingly leveraged the popularity of internet memes by offering endless material for parody and innuendo from those seeking to exploit her image.

Barack Obama’s time as a community organizer in Chicago and his standing as a virtual newcomer and outsider served him well. While Obama’s campaign proved to be a demonstration of the power of social networks in spreading the message and building momentum in disparate pockets of social connections, we will have to see how and if Obama is able to maintain a meaningful dialogue with those that put him in power through the technology he leveraged so well.

Lessons of a Working Stiff

This last month was living hell if it ever was one.  Let’s see, I’ve already racked up close to 60 hours of overtime and I still have a whole next week for more.  There were a couple days where I showed up at the office at 8AM and left 11:30PM.  Not to mention I caught two different colds for the last two weeks.  Luckily, I’ve gotten through the rough patch.  I think.  Took a look at my bank balance yesterday and was shocked but not totally surprised.  I knew it was coming as I had somehow managed to charge close to $3000 dollars to my card what with the various doodads I’ve been buying.

My goal from today is to stop drinking alcohol after getting home (after I finish that bottle of wine) and binge eating chocolate at night.  It was certainly a growing experience and I do plan to take it easy for a bit starting with a truly refreshing weekend after finally being freed from a deadline.  You don’t know how much of a relief this is.  Next week I’m going to start partying more and taking some victims with me.

Not to bore you with my boring life, here are some nice tidbits I walked away with.

Wake Up at the Same Time

I do this seven days a week.  Only on weekends I might read the paper, watch TV, or exercise then sleep a little more but never sleep past noon, it’ll screw up the rest of your week after Sunday.  Keeping a regular sleep schedule is probably one of the best things you can do for your mental health.  If you can’t wake up then it means you need to sleep earlier not wake up later.  I can measure the stress I feel based on how dreadful I feel on waking.

The more turbulent your working life, the more your other routines should remain.  For me, it was exercise in the morning.  That’s where I draw the line.  Remember, a day has 24 hours and all you’re doing is subtraction.  If you subtract too much sleep and add too much work, you die or bore others to death with your zombie state.  The good news is that even if you subtract a bit of work, nobody dies.  Trust me.  You just need to work on multiplying the time that you do indeed subtract for work.

Intensity is Good, but Not All the Time

We all need a little intensity to spice up our life.   Without a little pressure you will not grow beyond your limits and for people, limits are always fluid and flexible.  Of course, there is too much of a good thing.  There’s a fine difference between a passionate affair and a stalker.  Don’t let work be a stalker.  Even if it costs you a tiny promotion, definitely decompress after you put in a full effort.  Otherwise, your brain will probably not reap the benefits anyway.

Learn How to Turn Off Your Brain

The best way for me to relax is to either exercise or watch a movie.  I can literally feel my head spinning after some intense programming sessions.  Even after my hands stop my head keeps twirling and twirling like a broken record.  The only way to get out of that maddening loop is to shut off all the rational facilities (obviously not happening) or divert their attention.  Exercise, movie watching, and sleep are probably the only real moments for me to really get away from it all.  Wouldn’t mind reading a book but that takes effort and something I don’t want to do when I’m tired.

Things that don’t stop my brain from spinning are: video games and web surfing.  I try not to do these things as they get my brain off of work but end up keeping my brain in a semi-excited state.  Beer helps too, but for that you pay a stiff price.

It really depends on what you are into.  There are some people who do needle point or play instruments (wish I could do that).  Whatever it is, indulge in it as soon as you hit the office door.  You’ll get better sleep too.

That’s all for now.  I’m going to start looking at my options for a better way to spend the weekends other than watching movies with a glassy look in my eyes or shopping groceries.  All the productivity tips in the world can’t save you from becoming a zombie unless you get creative on the weekends.  Wish me luck.

The Icon: Bruce Lee

I was checking out a book on Bruce Lee’s martial arts legacy the other day and just couldn’t help but reflect and be inspired by the man. Although he died at a young age, he pursued martial arts with an intensity that couldn’t be matched by even serious masters at a young age.

He was the classic “warrior-philosopher” in the tradition of Miyamoto Musashi of the modern day and a rock star in the tradition of Jimi Hendrix or Jim Morrison, leaving a considerable legacy of promise and unfinished perfection. The pictures of him told an amazing story of the man, a body ripped to shreds; eyes that were painfully shy, intense, and expressive at the same time; physical fitness to utter perfection: one-thumb push-ups, impossible balance moves, and quickness.

He could be fierce as a tiger when striking an opponent while eerily cool and calm while absorbing an attack. His fighting form spoke volumes of a person obsessed with martial arts. Martial artists, bodybuilders, and athletes from all walks of life have felt his legacy. The abomination that is current Hollywood action flicks try to carry the torch with wire-action, stop-motion cameras, 360 degree panning, computer graphics, and other technological enhancements. Still, the more you chase Bruce Lee, the more you appreciate that he will never be surpassed or even replaced. His legacy is his.

I walked away from the book with lots of inspiration. I want to take physical fitness more seriously and also strive for something with more intensity, to make something mine and to leave it as a legacy.

Inspired in part by (I blatantly used the same video linked here): Paying Respects to Bruce Lee—The Original Mixed Martial Artist | dmiessler.com

It’s not who you know, it’s how many. Or is it?

They say it’s not what you know but who you know.  In social networking it seems like it’s not who you know but how many.  The most blatant example is Tom of MySpace fame must be hard to have a life when you have millions of friends in the double digits.  Whenever a new social networking site launches it’s like a land rush where everybody goes out to claim their little space.

I really haven’t seen a social networking site that handles these relationships all that great.  You either have mutual friends or one way friends or a mixture of both.  There’s really no index for quality other than the fact that it’s the people you’re messaging the most often.  The experience doesn’t really scale.

Maybe that’s the reason why these social networks do a great job of promoting minor celebrities.  It works because you have legions of admirers and fans that you can broadcast information to on upcoming shows, club appearances, etc. and not get back to each of them.  But for the average user, that really doesn’t scale.  You can’t get away with one way communication.

I actually have experience using social networking sites to build real communities.  I’ve hosted all kinds of events for the group with the largest being a party for 200 people.  The pool of registered users is around 1000 with quite a few emails that bounce.  It’s been three years and now I do absolutely no recruiting or advertising.  Why?  Because now I’m more concerned with quality.

These past couple of days I’ve been experimenting a little with MyBlogLog.  It’s still a very young service with lots of potential.  The idea of a distributed social network for bloggers is just too enticing to pass up.  Right now is the best time for experimenting because lots of people are exploring and testing what works as well.  I think the biggest thing about social networks is that early adopters get a good advantage if they work on it.

Just like my social group, building something from it’s infancy lets you cultivate your network more.  You get to play a mentoring role to newcomers and  even have more access to the great people building the service simply because you’ve stuck with it and you’ve experienced more of the system.

I’ve found that MLB’s blog communities are the real gold mine.  Your own blog communities add a layer of value that even goes beyond RSS subscribers, usually the most loyal.  Ever since implementing MLB I’ve seen comments to my blog go up quite a bit.  Maybe it’s because when they see their avatar on my widget they feel more comfortable making a comment (after all, I already know who visitied) but it’s really good.  I also feel like it’s helping to keep down random trolls from talking trash too (we’ll have to see).

However, I did get some good traffic and didn’t encounter any of the comment moderation dilemmas a lot of sites experience.   MLB’s idea to separate your blogging acquaintances from community members is a great way to add value to a typical social network.  You really don’t need that many community members to start a great dialogue with your readers.  Just explore the world around you and foster your community.