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Who am I?

You can look at my home page for more information, but the short answer is that I'm a dilettante who likes thinking about a variety of subjects. I like to think of myself as a systems-level thinker, more concerned with the big picture than with the details. Current interests include politics, community formation, and social interface design. Plus books, of course.

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Wed, 02 Feb 2005

The Internet as a Global Brain
This is a pretty minor observation, but while reading Gonzo Marketing on BART this morning, my brain cross-pollinated some of Christopher Locke's ideas on micromarkets with the ideas of Global Brain, and realized that the World Wide Web maps very well to Howard Bloom's conception of a Global Brain.

Let's review the elements that Bloom suggests are elements of a "collective learning machine":

  1. Conformity enforcers - Google provides this functionality for the Web by making the power law explicit, where "them that has, gets"; in other words, the preeminence of popular websites is reinforced because popular websites are the top results on Google, making people more likely to visit them.
  2. Diversity generators - The Web provides this by making it so easy to start a website of one's own. Everybody can start a blog with Blogger or LiveJournal. If your ideas are interesting, people will start reading, and you can be launched up the power law curve. Look at the extraordinary rise of bloggers like Kos.
  3. Inner-judges - I think this is the flipside of starting a website. If one does not attract a sufficient audience to keep one's interest, one gives up. There are a lot of dead websites and blogs out there. What the necessary level is to sustain interest depends on the person, but if we are not getting the feedback that we desire, we give up (no, this is not a plea for readership :) ).
  4. Resource shifters - There are all sorts of tools for resource shifting on the Web, where attention is the scarce resource. From, to bloggers posting links, to passing emails around, we all tell our friends about web pages that we find interesting. The more people we tell, the more attention a web page receives, until it has risen to the top of the Google ranks, and is the new conformity.
  5. Intergroup tournaments - This is the only element of Bloom's model that doesn't fit very well. Alas.

Anyway, I thought it was interesting that tools like Google and blogging correspond so well to Bloom's model. I'm not sure it means anything, but I thought I'd share the observation.

posted at: 23:18 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /rants/socialsoftware | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

The Principles Project
I've ranted before on the importance of a clear message in politics. And that the Democrats were lacking that in the last election. It seems that I am not the only one who made that observation. A group called 2020 Democrats has started a website called The Principles Project, which is "an effort to develop a one page statement of principles that summarizes what we as progressives stand for." It's pretty interesting. They posted a draft, went through a round of revision, and are inviting comments on the second draft this week. I poked around for a bit, and added a couple comments of my own. I think it's a pretty decent stab at a coherent statement of progressive principles. I don't fully agree with it, but it's closer than anything else I've seen. So take a look and see what you think.

posted at: 23:17 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /links | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal

Gonzo Marketing, by Christopher Locke
Subtitled "Winning through Worst Practices", this book caught my eye when poking around the clearance section of a bookstore. Plus it referred to "gonzo" marketing, and since I'm a huge fan of Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalism, I picked it up.

Christopher Locke was one of the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, which I never got around to reading, but meant to. In this book, he builds on Cluetrain and tries to outline what will follow the era of mass media and mass marketing, two institutions that he claims are soon to be dead. He calls his ideas "gonzo marketing", with the conceit that, just as gonzo journalism rejected any pretense at objectivity and was all about letting loose with one's individual voice, gonzo marketing rejects any pretense at professionalism and lets loose the individual voices of people within a company.

The idea that mass media is starting to come to an end is a pretty common one these days. The internet is allowing millions of new voices to publish their own viewpoints, and the mindshare held by mass media like television and newspapers is rapidly declining. Instead, people's attention is spread over the long tail of other media, or as Locke refers to it, micromedia. Locke points out that mass marketing, with ads that appeal to the lowest common denominator, will probably not survive the death of mass media. But how can a large company advertise to the plethora of micromarkets that results? His answer is "gonzo marketing".

Unfortunately, he never really defines what he means. Building off of the Cluetrain idea that "markets are conversations", Locke believes that the best way for companies to engage their potential customers is to treat them as genuine people, rather than bovine consumers. For companies to develop an authentic voice, and engage with their audience as equals, not in the predator-prey relationship evident in such terms as targeted advertising. He has a couple examples of ways in which "gonzo marketing" might manifest itself, including underwriting of independent websites without explicit pushing of product, and fostering of communities of interest of their employees with the idea that their employees would serve as ambassadors of good will. But I thought he could have spent less time ranting, and more time developing the concepts of "gonzo marketing".

He does ask a good question, which is why "professional" is now synonymous with boring. Corporate websites don't have even an iota of personal voice in them. You can skim somebody's blog, and get a good idea of the type of person they are in a few minutes, but reading a press release is like watching paint dry. I know that part of it is the fear of legal recriminations, but it's boring. So I applaud his efforts to encourage more companies to find an authentic voice.

The other criticism I have of the book is that he attempts to write it in a "gonzo" style, which I don't think works for a book of this type. Gonzo writing works better when relating experiences, than for trying to explain ideas. To convey an idea to a reader requires constructing a good map to the world. And rambling on in a stream-of-consciousness format just makes Locke seem like he suffers from literary Tourette's. In other words, he's not a good enough writer to pull off the style and make it interesting.

One of those books that looked more interesting in the store than it does upon completion. Alas.

posted at: 23:09 by Eric Nehrlich | path: /books/nonfiction/management | permanent link to this entry | Comment on livejournal