Rex Hammock's RexBlog.com http://www.rexblog.com Sat, 21 Mar 2015 16:03:16 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.1.1 Places Willie Nelson has Sung About While on the Road Again http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/21/50972 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/21/50972#comments Sat, 21 Mar 2015 16:01:11 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50972

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Willie Nelson has recorded songs about six of the eight Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) I’ve lived in. Missing: Washington, DC and the small town I lived in until age five.

The following two graphics are via the Atlantic’s CityLab.com, which also provides a Spotify playlist that will allow you to hear  most of the citified songs Willie Nelson recorded while rambling around the country.

Click/tap either graphic to enlarge them:


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On Gigaom http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/10/50953 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/10/50953#comments Tue, 10 Mar 2015 15:43:25 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50953

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On first glance. the front page of the influential tech news site, Gigaom, appears like yesterday was merely another day at the office: Coverage of the Apple Watch announcement, coverage of the upcoming SXSW Interactive. But then, in what appeared on Twitter to be a surprise to even its employees, Gigaom ceased operations with a post on its front page saying this:

Gigaom recently became unable to pay its creditors in full at this time. As a result, the company is working with its creditors that have rights to all of the company’s assets as their collateral. All operations have ceased. We do not know at this time what the lenders intend to do with the assets or if there will be any future operations using those assets. The company does not currently intend to file bankruptcy. We would like to take a moment and thank our readers and our community for supporting us all along.

Those words are painful to read. Worse than anything short of losing a loved one, I can’t imagine a greater pain than losing something that starts out as an idea, and then you carry that idea all the way to seeing it succeed as an influential and innovative product. But then, for some reason,  it doesn’t  click.

Unfortunately, I know the feeling. At some point you get over it. But then, later, you realize it never quite goes away because you see good people who do great things, and it doesn’t click.

I’ve learned along the way that it’s useless to look for exactly one factor to blame. A founder of a failed business will go through periods of blaming him- or herself. And then, they’ll blame some other factor. And  then they’ll blame everyone.

It’s one of those classic stages of grief things that, if one is to move on, ends with acceptance. And while I know it may sound like a Kelly Clarkson song, there does come a time when you realize that knowing you can survive one of the worst things you can imagine gives you power over the fear of failing.

It’s a shame it got to this point. If you read the tweets of people who were mourning its demise last night (a sample can be seen via Techmeme), you realize how much influence Gigaom has with the most influential of tech business obsessed. There was something there worth saving if the game of chicken that must have been taking place hadn’t ended in a head-on collision.

If guessing, here are some things I would likely blame. And, with no guessing, a couple of things not to blame:

Potential Things to Blame:

  • A management decision, or several management decisions, that were caused by any number of things (hubris? denial?), people or situations.
  • The over supply of news related to the same topic, a deflationary condition that results when too much media is chasing after too little news. Or, as Jeff Jarvis once said, “If you are selling a scarcity — an inventory — of any non-physical goods today, stop, turn around, and start selling value — outcomes — instead. Or you’re screwed. Apply this rule to many enterprises: advertising, media, content, information, education, consultation, and to some extent, performance.”
  • A flawed business model or a bungled execution of a good business model.
  • Bad marketing.
  • The always favorite: Timing.

Don’t blame:

  • The quality of the product and those who produced it. It doesn’t get any better than Gigaom.
  • The viability of industry vertical business media, writ large. (I feel certain there’s going to be lots of navel gazing today on this front, but such analysis is bunk. There’s too much tech content about Apple and Silicon Valley startups, yes. Way too much. But there are narrow niches in tech that get little coverage, if at all.)

Bottomline:

  • Failure sucks. The fear of failure sucks worse.

(I wrote on the topic of causes of startup failures a few months ago on SmallBuiness.com)

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Remembering Marissa Mayer’s 41 Shades of Blue http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/08/50938 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/08/50938#comments Sun, 08 Mar 2015 14:10:49 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50938

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The following is from the current Ideal Email from Hammock Inc. Read the entire idea post here: You Can’t Control How Others See 50 Shades of Blue.

Years ago, while Marissa Mayer was still at Google, an article appeared in the New York Times about the way she tested 41 shades of blue to decide which to use in a navigation bar. Many people still use that as a benchmark for the lengths a marketer should go to make sure something works.

But there’s a “rest of the story” to the 41 shades test, as shared by Douglas Bowman, Google’s first visual designer. When he left Google to become creative director at Twitter, about the same time as the Mayer feature story appeared, he observed, “I recently debated over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.”

Now that I think about it, I’ve blogged about another example of Ms. Meyer’s approach to design.

Continue reading:You Can’t Control How Others See 50 Shades of Blue

Subscribe to Hammock’s bi-weekly Idea Email: Idea Email: One Bright Idea. Every two weeks.

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A New Rule: Re-mojo Your Bike After Every Time a Car Knocks You Down http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/07/50930 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/07/50930#comments Sun, 08 Mar 2015 00:17:58 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50930

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On December 1 of last year, I was knocked down by a car’s side-view mirror while riding my bicycle home from work (and no, the car didn’t stop but a wonderful good samaritan did). While I was scratched and bruised, the major injuries were invisible: a concussion that wiped out a couple of hours of my memory and what turned out to be–although I didn’t realize it until a couple of months of denial–a chipped-off bone in my left hand that required surgery and a wire that’s still inside my left ring finger.

But enough about me.

It was my bike I was concerned about. While I’ve ridden it several times since  December 1, it just didn’t seem to have its mojo.

logoOn an amazingly warm winter Saturday a few weeks ago (right before three weeks of amazingly cold winter’s days), a riding buddy recognized that my back wheel seemed a little wobbly (like “mojo,” a technical bicycling term), so I swung by Green Fleet, my favorite urban-bike oriented bike shop in Nashville (although, we are fortunate to have lots of great bike shops in town).

Sure enough, my bike had, technically speaking, a wobbly back wheel (or, if you insist, a bent rim). In a decision to fully purge my beloved bike of all its crash-related negative vibes, I decided to go ahead and replace both wheels and get Green Fleet’s PhD of bikeology, Richard, to give it a spring tune up. (It’s like sending your bike to a spa.)

I am happy to report that today, the first nice day in several weeks to take a bike ride, I finally got to test out my newly re-mojo’d bike (in photo above) and it is great. Thank you, Austin and Richard of Green Fleet.

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About Wired.com’s New Page-Takeover Ad-Friendly Design http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/02/50911 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/03/02/50911#comments Mon, 02 Mar 2015 18:05:39 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50911

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0DyrbUu_dxsPzzfMMoG3GmWNcQ3qhST2XVvCPK9xktsMy first post about a “homepage takeover” ad was seven years ago when the Wall Street Journal (WSJ.com) and the New York Times (NYTimes.com) sites ran what I thought then (and still do) was a brilliant ad. (But I didn’t know the technique had a name like “homepage takeover.”) I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, however, as the ad didn’t just take over the page, it mingled with the page — demonstrating some witty interplay with the 2008-era conventions of a news website.
While not as witty as the Apple example that interplayed with the web page context, over the years, the “homepage takeover” has evolved in a way that I notice often (due to me visiting the site more often, not necessarily because they  do it more than others) on IMDB.com.

Spiderman-810x431Such takeover ads (not to be confused with the “interstitial” ads that cover-up the page when you visit a site, say, Forbes.com) typically are displayed as the background of the editorial content of a website.

Today, Wired.com unveiled a new design that uses  takeover ads on section landing pages–but not, as yet, on their homepage. (Click on a tab at the top of any page).

I do not believe there are any ethical issues in accepting such advertising. It is extraordinarily obvious that it’s an advertisement and I find it no more intrusive than a five minute commercial block in the middle of a broadcast channel TV show.

As a marketer, I think it’s easy to declare that a page takeover ad does what banner ads don’t: get noticed.

As a publisher, I think it’s easy to declare that it’s the only ad format that you can honestly say, “it’s not about click throughs, it’s about branding.”

As a publisher, I can say these ads are incredibly expensive to place.

As a friend to the 12 people who read this blog, I’ll say this: Wired.com’s brand and 20 years of excellent content enable them to try things that others might discover will blow up in their faces.

Wired.com’s front page and two section landing pages:

WIRED

Business___WIRED Design___WIRED

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Modern Family’s ‘Connection Lost’ Episode as Allegory http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/26/50896 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/26/50896#comments Thu, 26 Feb 2015 16:13:32 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50896

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No doubt, there are hundreds of posts this morning in which bloggers are trying to explain the top 10 this or that’s about the episode of Modern Family that aired last night (“Connection Lost,” Season 6, Episode 16).

For that reason, I haven’t read any blog posts regarding the show. If this sounds like I’m borrowing the observation of others, I’m actually not (this time, at least).

I did read one review and it was insightful (unlike this post, perhaps). It’s written by Gwen Ihnat at AV Club. She calls the episode, “A gimmicky but successful storytelling experiment.”

What you’re about to read is my observation of the show as an allegory (or parable, if you prefer).

SPOILER ALERT: I include some spoilers in this post, but I could tell you everything that happens and it wouldn’t matter.

Here are several things I won’t be writing about in this post

1. How in real life, Apple technology never works as seamlessly as portrayed on the episode. Duh, that’s why it’s called Hollywood. Also, remember ABC is owned by Disney and the show is filled with queens and princesses who all have magical powers. Claire’s power is getting Apple products to work seamlessly. There will be a ride at Disney World next year. And yes,  my use of the word queen was a shout out to Cam.

2. How it turned out to be, as the show-runner promised, NOT a “product placement” show. However, it was an entirely new paradigm: It wasn’t products placed in a TV show, it was a TV show placed inside of products.

3. How the show should be required watching for so-called usability experts who sit people in front of screens and monitor their interactions with a software interface or application or website. The show is a spot-on reflection of how no one interacts with only one application or website at a time. Layered distractions make it impossible to measure how one person interacts with one application, website, et al.

4. How actress Julie Bowen (Claire Dunphy) is brilliant. (Became a fan when she was on Boston Legal.)

5. How any mention of the show’s use of “social media” is a total miss of the point. Facebook gets a few seconds as an extra in the show. It’s about family media, not social media.

The parable of the lost connection

No, here is the observation I want to share: The episode is an allegory (or parable, if you prefer).

The truth it reveals is a good old fashion cautionary moral: Don’t let facts get in the way of truth.

Claire (representing, say, an NSA analyst, reporter, police detective or you and me) is able to piece together a trail of irrefutable facts from the types of digital flotsam and jetsam we all throw off the boat wherever we sail around online. We voluntarily allow digital devices to track our movements and private companies, the ability to monitor everything we buy and every website we visit. Not enough for the trackers? Let’s post photos and reviews and updates.  (Like on those mayhem ads.)

Yet Cliare’s (did I mention she represents a CIA analyst or you and me?) pieces these facts together and comes up with a conclusion that is impossible-to-be-anything-but-the-TRUTH…but (spoiler) it’s not.

Here is the moral of the episode: Don’t believe that facts equal truth. And come up with better passwords.w

(Photo: AVClub.com)

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Some Pinterest Users are Learning the Price of Free http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/14/50870 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/14/50870#comments Sun, 15 Feb 2015 01:30:38 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50870

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Almost three years ago, to the day, I blogged about Pinterest users (and users of other social media platforms) understanding the reality that if you use a platform controlled by someone else, you are a hamster in their cage (a metaphor I first learned from Dave Winer).

The post I wrote three years ago, “Just Because You Can Make Money From Something, Doesn’t Mean You Should, and Other Rules of the Web,” was about Pinterest being accused of “skimming links” — the practice of finding links on their platform  that go to ecommerce sites and converting those links to affiliate links in order to generate commissions from those ecommerce companies.

As I wrote then, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that practice. However, I did object to Pinterest taking the additional step of hijacking links its users had made to a user’s affiliate accounts.

At the time, when Pinterest was still on its way to world domination, the company backed off the hijacking practice, not wanting to offend all of its hamsters.

Yesterday, WSJ.com reported that Pinterest is, once again, now removing “all affiliate links.” Pinterest told WSJ.com it has been automatically removing affiliate links for years but had allowed some exceptions that were “maintaining good quality.” (By several years, they mean sometime after three years ago, as they backed off the practice of hijacking affiliate links during that earlier dust-up with users.)

Beware, those who may tweet affiliate links, or use an affiliate link when posting something on Facebook or Tumblr or Flickr, et al. Unless you control your content (say, with a blog that uses a domain name you control), you could find yourself learning the hard way why all these services you think are free, aren’t.

Suddenly, you’ll understand the hamster metaphor.

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David Carr, Appreciation from a Blogger and Fan http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/13/50860 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/13/50860#comments Fri, 13 Feb 2015 16:18:52 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50860

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This morning, there are countless remembrances of New York Times columnist David Carr, who died suddenly last night in Manhattan. Most are from the journalists with whom he worked, befriended and inspired.

While David Carr and I share a few professional friends and acquaintances, besides a couple of brief chats at SXSW functions or media conferences in New York (the kind that all blur together), I never knew him, knew him.

But this morning, I find myself feeling like I did know him in a way that long-ago bloggers (before we were told by experts that blogs were supposed to have a business model or fit into some SEO scheme) used to know one-another, especially if we blogged about overlapping topics.

So as a blogger, I go way-back with David. As a blogger, I am feeling a loss for someone I’ve admired, primarily through the tens of thousands of words he’s written that I’ve read.

In the earlier days of this blog, back when David was covering the magazine industry, I used RexBlog.com to share lots of news about magazines (circa 2003), so I linked to his stories a lot. And those times being those times, I would often add snarky comments. And once in a while he would respond.

It was not until 2009, however, when I read his memoir, The Night of the Gun, that I began to understand and appreciate Carr for more than his gifts as a reporter and columnist. It’s amazing how much can be revealed about a person’s humanity in a memoir about hitting rock-bottom from crack addiction.

And then, in 2011, the documentary, Page One: Inside the New York Times, was released.

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of the film was the professional relationship between Carr and Brian Stetler, who I’ve also blogged about since the days he was a teenager who demonstrated how to use the blogging platform to create a must-read industry trade medium.

Carr, the hard-knocks old school journalist and Stetler, the new media virtuoso, seemed at first to be an odd couple. Yet their mutual respect–something I called earlier today on Twitter, “bro-journo,” was quickly apparent to those who read and watched them (and others at the NYT) push forward with digital approaches to covering their shared media beats.

At some point, it became apparent to me that David and Brian were more alike, than different.

They were coming from two different directions, but both directions entered the Times from “the outside.” No Ivy League degrees. No years climbing ladders at a daily news paper in Kansas. Brian came to the NYT straight from a student apartment at Towson University (I blogged about how, on his first day, he had 5 by-lines) and David, a journey from such an outside place, that its residents have to be cured treated just to take the first step of any journey.

So while I didn’t know David, all that linking to words he wrote over the course of several years leaves me a little empty today. I’m saddened for his family’s loss.  And for Brian’s. And for everyone who will miss the insight and attitude that made him known to everyone who became his fan.

And for the bloggers and others who have something to say, something important to hear, but who are still outside.

RIP, @carr2n

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A Couple of Grammy Day Nashville Music Stories You May Not Know http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/08/50836 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/08/50836#comments Sun, 08 Feb 2015 15:19:24 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50836

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First, from Nashville’s public radio station, WPLN-FM, a story about United Record Pressing, LLC, the largest vinyl record-pressing plant in the country. “(We) account for about 30 to 40 percent of all vinyl records out there in stores,” says Jay Millar, United’s head of marketing,

Quote:

“United manufactures up to 40,000 records a day. Demand is so high that if you’re not already a customer, they won’t even take your order — at least until a second plant opens later this year.

“So how does a record get made? It starts with the groove.”

(Continue reading on WPLN.org…)

Second, from the Tennessean.com, a story about the origin of the mega hit song, “It’s all About the Bass.”

“In July of 2013, (Meghan) Trainor was an unknown, 19-year-old aspiring songwriter from Nantucket, Mass., recently signed to Nashville publishing company Big Yellow Dog Music. She had come to (Kevin) Kadish’s studio for their first writing session, and the two quickly bonded over a shared love of ’50s rock and doo-wop music.

“He keeps a running list of potential song titles on his laptop, and one — “All Bass, No Treble” — jumped out at her. A few minutes later, she was in the vocal booth, singing “I’m all about that bass” over and over again. Kadish quickly chimed in, “No treble!” He added an upright bass to a rough drum beat, and within minutes, the song had taken shape.

And the rest of it is history you can read about on the Tennessean’s website, Tennessean.com.

Video: It’s All About the Bass

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Idea vs. Execution http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/02/50826 http://www.rexblog.com/2015/02/02/50826#comments Tue, 03 Feb 2015 04:35:24 +0000 http://www.rexblog.com/?p=50826

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Occasionally (okay, frequently), people share with me their ideas for a new product or business. More times than not, the ideas are  clever.  But then I go all Debbie Downer1 on them and tell them that success rarely hinges on the idea. Execution, I say. It’s all about execution. And luck.

A couple of years ago, I saw this quote from Steve Jobs that he said in 1995 interview  after returning to Apple. 2

“You know, one of the things that really hurt Apple was after I left, John Sculley got a very serious disease. It’s the disease of thinking that a really great idea is 90% of the work. And if you just tell all these other people “here’s this great idea,” then of course they can go off and make it happen. And the problem with that is that there’s just a tremendous amount of craftsmanship in between a great idea and a great product.

“And as you evolve that great idea, it changes and grows. It never comes out like it starts because you learn a lot more as you get into the subtleties of it. And you also find there are tremendous tradeoffs that you have to make…..Designing a product is keeping five thousand things in your brain and fitting them all together in new and different ways to get what you want. And every day you discover something new that is a new problem or a new opportunity to fit these things together a little differently.

“And it’s that process that is the magic.”

Oh, and now, when people tell me about their idea, I suggest they go to SmallBusiness.com and search for all the articles there about product development.

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