May 10th, 2009 § § permalink
Last Friday, Alex and I went to the keynote speech and alumni reception of “Blowing up the Brand“, a conference put on by our old department at NYU, partially to say hello to some old professors and bum a few free drinks from the University. The keynote, given by Rob Walker of The New York Times Magazine‘s “Consumed” column, focused on how one can, and whether one should, think of oneself as a brand. The genesis of Mr. Walker’s remarks was a question posed to him at a conference some months ago, wherein he suggested, off-handedly, that one ought to think of oneself as a brand in order to market oneself in–I think–the employment marketplace. His speech delved into the consequences of this for personal life and, to some degree, civil society in general.
However, what struck me most about the talk, was how often–especially during Q&A–the topic turned to Twitter, the social network and online communication tool du jour. Questions went something like “What do you think of x marketing campaign on Twitter?” “Can you think of any company using Twitter effectively?” “Marketing consultants say you have to be on Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter, is this true?”
The questions, and their answers, indicated a greater truth than the effectiveness of any given usage of Twitter: Nobody knows how to use Twitter. Absolutely nobody. Sure, there might be interesting individual usages of Twitter that integrate with a billboard in Times Square, or through which customer service representatives respond to complaints. But nobody has a very good idea of how one ought to use this new tool. It got me wondering: what’s different about Twitter when compared with the last big online hit, say, Facebook. My thoughts go something like this:
Twitter is searchable
This is a pretty big deal. Facebook is only searchable insofar as individual users allow you to search their names or selected metadata. Twitter is full-text indexed for all its users’ content (except those users who have closed their updates to the world). What’s more, it’s not natively categorized. Sure, there are a few attempts to get users to include metadata in their posts, like hashtags, but when posts are only 160 characters long, there’s not much space for anything other than the most distilled content you can cram into one. Twitter does make arbitrary-text searching easy and fast, though, so a given company can easy find the latest instances of “Comcast” or “Skittles”, and use that data in some other application.
Twitter is conversational
Twitter engenders public discourse in 160-byte chunks. Find a post you agree with/disagree with/love/want to roundly excoriate? Reply @to_the_user and you can, instantly, in public. The only thing is that there are no conversation threads, like on a message board, no “Reply All” as in email, just your own voice added to the multitude. Combined with searching, this is a new way to get an idea of the general zeitgeist on a particular topic.
Twitter encourages integration
Twitter feeds and searches can be exported in XML and integrated into any application you like, from the simple (witness the twitter feed on this page), to the complicated (a billboard in Times Square that responds to tweets). Facebook and MySpace don’t allow for such fast data export and re-use over their global populations of users.
Yet, with all that, there is no specific, canonical usage of Twitter. Twitter is somewhat unique in that it is simply a tool for moving data around and searching and slicing it in interesting ways, then shipping it off to be used elsewhere. On the small, user-scale, that could be a few friends talking about where they’re going for drinks via text message. On a global scale, it could be used to pin down a global conversation about a product, service, company, politician, and so on. There are no rules, just a loose framework. Every company with a marketing budget is, apparently, trying to figure out how to use the tool to its best effect, but, to date, don’t seem to have come up with a consensus. This shouldn’t be surprising; it’s like asking “how do I use the Postal Service?” You use it however it’s useful–do you want to send a package, a letter, do direct mail, register with the Selective Service, or contact a pen pal? The postal service does all of that. Twitter is just a mechanism for moving data — it can be used as effectively as one wishes. The sooner marketing consultants realize this, the better.
August 27th, 2008 § § permalink
This morning, I returned to an event that I haven’t been to in four years: the annual Part-Time Job and Internship Fair held by the NYU Career Development Center. The last time I was there, I was an eighteen-year-old college freshman, and I’d been in New York City for about 48 hours. Today, I was there as a representative of NYU ITS, searching for one or two students to serve as assistants for the coming year, and possibly beyond.
Some of what I saw this morning was impressive: newly-minted college students shaking hands with potential employers and doling out resumés on crisp paper. Just what one would expect to find at a career fair.
Sadly, those students were in the minority. A plurality of visitors to my booth wore jeans and T-shirts, and looked like they’d just rolled out of bed to come to a job fair. A fair amount of students sidled up to the table and asked, “So, do you have to know anything about computers to work for ITS?” Not even a “Hello”, or “Nice to meet you, can you tell me what ITS does?” Basic IT support may not require much in-depth technical skill, but proclaiming computer illiteracy is hardly the best opening gambit when approaching the computer department as a prospective hire. It startled me to consider how little many of these students had failed to think about their first impression for even a microsecond.
I was a college student twelve weeks ago and I know the temptation to throw on any old thing and stumble down to campus and somehow find your way into your own classroom. That’s what you do in college. But when meeting a potential employer, I managed to remember to ensure my resumé was typo-free and comb my hair before marching up to Company X and asking for a job. I don’t think I was a particularly special case, either: most of my peers, as well, seemed to grasp that asking for that job while wearing a “Shit Happens” T-Shirt is a poor choice. What happened?
If you are an NYU student looking for work in the network security field (or you know one), please, drop me a line.
May 2nd, 2008 § § permalink
After about eighteen months of preparation, research, reading, and writing, I am happy to present:
“ILOVE the iPhone: Hackers, the Internet and The Press, 2000-2008″
April 25th, 2008 § § permalink
Designer of the 1970s subway map, Maximo Vignelli, has updated his creation for an article in Men’s Vogue. I’m a big fan of geometric rail maps similar to the original iconic London Underground map, originally from the 1930s. In London, it works fabulously, since you generally don’t care about what’s above ground, you only care about the station you’re going to and the changes you need to make in order to arrive there. The Underground Map assumes that you’ve got an A-Z to handle the above-ground stuff, and just gives you the information you need. The current NYC subway map tries to cram somewhat-accurate geographical data onto the map in addition to the subway lines. The result is that neither the subway lines nor the geography are easy to read, and the map is cluttered and difficult to navigate. It’s quite hard to know the difference between the local and the express by looking at the map, for example. Vignelli’s map makes the difference clear by having a distinct colored line for each train, so everything is separate.
I did notice a few gaffes in the updated version, though. Most of them are relatively trivial; for example, it does not note that the Cortlandt St. station is closed for renovations. This one is by far my favorite, though:
Wait a minute: NYU is still in the Bronx? This map is definitely a child of the seventies!
April 10th, 2008 § § permalink
If you’ve spoken to me directly in the last week or two I’ve probably told you this already, but I’m excited to announce to the world that I’ll be rejoining the NYU Technology Security Services team full-time starting on April 15th. This is my post-graduation, real, full-time, proper, grown up job and I’m thrilled to sign there after an eighteen-month stint at NBC.
Naturally, in classic fashion there were some celebratory libations in the village with my new colleagues. We paid a visit to Little Branch, owned and operated by the creator of Milk and Honey, the hallowed, super-secret speakeasy that I’m, frankly, not nearly cool enough to have the unlisted number to, let alone actually attend. The bar is as a bar should be: smallish, dimly lit, clean, tidy, and specializing in precisely one thing: drinks. Little Branch prides itself on mixing drinks in the manner they were mixed at the time of their creation. Their menu is small, but the expertise of their staff spans decades of cocktail history, and a popular choice is to ask suggestions of the bartender or waiter, who will expertly guide your beverage choice based on your suggestion of liquor, flavor, and so on. Some noteworthy drinks from the table:
- Gordon’s Cup: Mint and Cucumber muddled with Gin, with a pinch of salt and a dash of bitters. Outstanding
- Vieux Carré: Rye, Cognac, Sweet Vermouth, Benedictine, and bitters. Rather like a Manhattan, but, well,better.
- Little Italy: Can’t quite remember. (What can I say, it was the last round.) Most likely Bourbon, Vermouth, and Cynar. Bitter as hell, but very tasty
Many thanks go to Jane and Chris for doing the necessary reconnaissance work and introducing me to this fine establishment; I can’t wait to return.