Author Archive | Julie Gomoll

Read this *bleep*ing post, *bleep* it!

punctuation symbols with red prohibitive circle and slashUsed to be, you only heard “bleeps” on TV when a network aired a movie that had PG language in the original. Lots of series get bleeped now too, because the original, uncensored version is often available elsewhere.

I don’t understand all the upset these words cause, but that’s another issue.

I get it. You don’t want little Timmy to hear grownups swear, and you don’t want delicate Susie to think that people use the awful, awful words on a regular basis.

But are these bleeps helping? When I hear one, I immediately cycle through the Seven Words You Can Never Say On TV to try to figure out what was said. So instead of hearing some frustrated cop say shit, I end up thinking “Did he say shit? Or dickhead? Or was it *gasp* the dreaded f-word”? (A word so awful we have to give it a nickname.)

Bleeps leave the interpretation open to our imaginations, which are far richer than the disallowed words.

I don’t know if anyone offended by these words actually reads this blog, but if you’re out there, tell me what you think. Are the bleeps better? If so, why?


The Frogs Are Getting Smarter

outdoor shower

My rockin’ outdoor shower

I have a sweet outdoor shower — a wonderful thing in Texas. It’s the master shower. There is only a tub in the master bath. There’s a dinky indoor shower upstairs, and it’s become a badge of honor that I’ve never used it in the 10 years I’ve lived in this house.

I absolutely love my shower. So do the frogs. They come out a minute or so after the water comes on. I’m not sure if they’re just curious about where all the wet stuff is coming from or if they’re trying to avoid all the suds. I’ve always been fond of frogs, so this doesn’t bother me one bit.

Border Collies Sadie & Kody

Sadie & Kody: uninterested in non-sheep

My two border collies, Sadie and Kody, have always peacefully coexisted with them, and in fact seem a little afraid of them. Hey, if they’re not herdable, why bother, right?

But then Tip came along. She has decided that the frogs are obviously there for her entertainment, and joins me in the shower daily, eagerly awaiting their appearance. For awhile, a frog would come out and pretty much just hang out in one corner. If I noticed it, I’d pick it up and put it out of Tip’s reach, but lately she’s been getting pretty strategic about the whole thing and usually beats me to the poor little critter.

Tip, a small brown mutt

Tip: stalker of frogs

She snatches it up and trots it out into the yard, where she tries to get it to play with her. After much batting and tossing and barking, the unfortunate frog stops moving, and Tip loses interest.

Lately though, the frogs come out and immediately scamper to safer ground, as though they know what might be in store for them. Sometimes they even succeed. So how is this happening? The ones that met their unfortunate fate at the paws of my dog couldn’t exactly send word. Do they send “Danger! Danger!” signals as they’re carried off? Have they been sending scouts to watch the action?


Some Things Shouldn’t Be Crowdsourced

Crowdsourcing: The Good

Crowdsourcing has been behind some truly great products and initiatives. Wikipedia and Linux are perhaps the best-known, and there are indeed stellar examples of the power of this model.

Other great examples include:

  • The Netflix Prize for a 10% improvement on their recommendation engine.
  • reCaptcha and their innovative use of the millions of typed words to help digitize old books.
  • Foldit invites people to play a game that ultimately results in new protein-folding strategies.
  • Microlending companies like Kiva are pooling small amounts of money and loaning it to poor business owners with enouraging results.

Opinions can do well as crowdsourced projects, although I contend people are more likely to supply them when they are bitching rather than raving. Still, reviews and other opinions certainly provide value, and I admit I readily use them when deciding on restaurants, books, and products. Companies like Yelp, Amazon, and Ebay are learning to navigate the intricacies (and legalities) of the relationships between businesses and reviews, making the content even more valuable in the process.

What do all these good examples have in common?

  1. wikipediaLogoThere is governance. Although anyone can contribute to Wikipedia, all contributors are not equal. A hierarchy of editors ensures that spam and misinformation are quickly weeded out. It’d be nice to think it’s all perfectly democratic, but it’s not, and it wouldn’t work if it were.
  2. Crowds are used to solve problems or to offer commentary, not to determine strategy or any decide critical business issues.

There’s gray area, of course. Most software developers actively solicit feedback for new features and general improvements. Notice, though, that they rarely promise the most popular suggestion will be implemented. The people responsible for the business strategy are wisely learning that what their customers want isn’t always what they need. They know better than to leave the final decisions to the public. The customer may be good-intentioned, but they just don’t know enough to always be right.

For some excellent crowdsourcing stories and analysis, be sure to read Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams.

Crowdsourcing: The Bad

Logos. I cringe every time I hear someone brag that they crowdsourced their logo. For one thing I have an intense distaste for doing work on spec. Most logo crowdsourcing sites (as well as contests) do just this — a bunch of designers create a logo for free, getting paid only if the company likes and select it. But logos are critical to the identity of a company. It’s not just a matter of what looks nice on a business card and on a website. Do you really want to entrust this critical piece of your brand to starving artists out there eager to get their hands on your $200? Pay someone what they’re worth and get it done right.

Strategy. No one knows your business as well as you. Get Satisfaction and UserVoice are great for site-based feedback and ideating. Customers and readers make suggestions and vote on their importance, and the companies do with those suggestions what they will. Austin’s own BountyStorm lets companies post questions with a bounty (usually in the $5 – $15 range) for the best idea. Some questions are perfect for this model — creative Valentine’s Day ideas, for example. Some are a bit worrisome — ideas for a first tattoo (Yikes! Isn’t that supposed to be a deeply personal decision?). And some just don’t belong there. There are a ton of people asking for business names, taglines, and marketing strategies. Do they really think they’re going to get what they need from a stranger? For $10?

Crowdsourcing SXSW: The Ugly

And now we come to the issue that drove me to write this post in the first place. Programming at paid conferences should not be crowdsourced. Not even part of it. This will be the 6th year SXSW is letting the general public vote on panels, and the 6th year that attendee complaints have swelled about the quality and selection of that programming. Lots of folks come to town and don’t even bother attending the conference, opting instead for the appropriately crowdsourced BarCamp Austin. Last year at SXSWi some really great panel ideas with excellent panelists never made the cut, while panels presented by often pathetically underprepared heavy hitters filled the schedule. The panel-picker was at least a little easier this year, with the option to vote thumbs up or down rather than assigning a number of stars as a rating.

This approach sounds really good in theory, but what ended up happening last year was would-be panelists filled our Twitter streams with panel pimping promotions and micro-celebrity popularity contests, while many deserving panelists truly working at the cutting edge of our industry were left in the dust. Bloggers with tens or hundreds of thousands of readers ready and willing to vote for their panels crowded out those doing interesting, paradigm-changing work. SXSW is too important to the industry to run it as a popularity contest.

I’m not sure what the best solution is, but I have a few ideas that would improve the SXSW experience..

  • Make it clear that there is a committee that is ultimately responsible for the programming. Not just 40% of it. All of it. There should be 2 (preferably divergent) experts in each area of content (coding, architecture, marketing, social media, business, etc.). The committee could be nominated by the public, and chosen by SXSW staff. Or nominated by staff and chosen by the public. Continue to accept panel suggestions from the public, but leave the deciding to the committee.
  • Create a SXSW advisory group committed to uncovering and featuring new voices and industry trends. Some of the A-Listers are fantastic presenters. I’m in no way saying they shouldn’t be on the schedule. But there are some amazing thinkers doing innovative work right here in Central Texas. Commit to finding them. Ask the public for suggestions of inspiring speakers they’ve seen in other settings and personally encourage them to submit a panel.



What do you think? Is it time for SXSW to change the way they manage programming? How do you think it should be done?


Clothes make the Mac

I don’t need a new Mac laptop. Ok, I admit, that’s never stopped me before. But really, the MacBook Air, stunning though it may be, is not for me. I do lust after the multitouch trackpad. I’ve been reaching to pinch my screen while viewing maps since a week after getting my iPhone. I’m ready for it. But there are too many limitations for it to be my primary computer, and I don’t want to go back to messing with keeping multiple computers in sync.

Then I saw the fabulous AirMail. Now there’s the hip yet understated MacBag. Cripes. I may have to get an Air just so I can carry it around in one of these.



Everything is Miscellaneous

EverythingismiscI’m not a particulary organized person. I can hear some guffaws in response to that understatement already. My kitchen table, more often than not, is covered with piles of books and unsorted mail, it’s true. But check out my book and CD shelves. They’re alphabetized. I may be behind in cataloging, but there is organization to be found. I do like knowing how to find things, I just can’t stick with a single methodology. As for papers, files, mail… I need things in more than one place, but the geographical limitations of my home, and the fact that I simply don’t have, or want to have, more than one copy of my stuff, rule that out as an option. Turns out what I need is the new digital disorder for things to make sense to me.

Dave Weinberger’s new book, Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder, examines my dilemma. It’s another in a growing list of fascinating, readable business books focusing on the way business is changing as result of the disruptive technologies of the internet. Weinberger is the co-author of the classic The Cluetrain Manifesto: The End of Business as Usual, which came to represent a shift in thinking of the net as just another medium to recognizing that we now have the opportunity for conversations and relationships as never before. This new offering fits nicely as a sequel to Chris Anderson’s excellent The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. The Long Tail showed us that the infinite inventory of web vendors allows for aggregate sales of minor titles can add up to profits even greater than the hits, and that in fact the days of blockbuster hits as we once defined them are gone. And for us consumers – there’s so much available, we can now find niches that cater to our specific interests. Everything is Miscellaneous explores how we’ll find those things.

Weinberger is clearly a pretty organized guy. He writes that “There isn’t a part of our homes that is truly unordered, except perhaps under our beds…” That’s kind of a reach. But his point is that we all employ various schemes to organize our physical space: spices go together, plates of a certain size go together, yet some things are ordered based on frequency of use.

Libraries have enormous problems to solve in deciding how to store things, for obvious reasons relating to physical space.

This is not a new issue, by a long shot. Over 2,000 years ago, scholars in Rome or Greece (depending on who you read) introduced the idea of alphabetization as a way to organize information. It took hundreds of years and many reinventions to stick. Alphabetization was considered an affront to god. It was argued that there is a natural organization for all knowledge, that alphabetization is unnatural. The Dewey Decimal System was the first widely-accepted method of organizing knowledge, employing a numeric categorization with alphabetization as the secondary sort. The high level sort was subject-based and reflects the sensibilities of a Christian man living in a small town in 1875. Thus, Philosophy was considered the foundation of everything, so it earned the the 100s. The system is heavily biased toward Christianity, of course, and (understandably) doesn’t even include computer science. Buddhism doesn’t get it’s own number, but phrenology does. A wholesale change of this system is unrealistic, again for physical reasons. And though it’s still in use in many places, it’s not at all helpful in the online world.

Online, we simply don’t need these rigid categorizations. We have tags now, and collaborative filtering. When I go to Amazon and look up a book, I get not only other related books in multiple categories spanning genres, I get a list of books bought by others who bought this particular book. I get my own customized organization system every time I visit.

Weinberger contends that as we move from physical to digital storage, we need to get rid of the idea that there is a right way to organize things. Rather, we need to embrace the inherent disorganization and allow people to access information in whatever way makes sense to them.

It’s an engaging read. If you liked The Long Tail, The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference, and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, you’ll like this too.

Note to self: don’t bother searching Google Images for better images for a book title with keywords like “everything” and “miscellaneous” :)

Update: Bad netiquette alert! I didn’t even provide a link to the Everything Is Miscellaneous web site! My apologies. And they were still nice enough to mention and link to this review :)


Triumph the Insult Comic Dog at the opening of a Star Wars movie

Triumph Insult Comic Dog – Star Wars Nerds Movie Premiere

It’s about 10.5 minutes long, which is frankly a little longer than my normal attention span for You Tube fluff, but I’ve watched this 3 times now, and it continues to crack me up. I’ve haven’t seen much Triumph — I imagined that he was rather mean. And I suppose some of these questions could have been construed as mean, but these nerds were seriously good sports — there’s mostly laughing, with just the right amount of obliviousness sprinkled in.

As someone who has stood in similar lines, I feel qualified to say this is hilarious :)


Be nice.