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Saturday, March 7th, 2015

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4:39a
What you talking about?
A number of years ago, I was very pleased to have been queried about writing “a chapter” for a collection of essays that was being pulled together: Age of Conversation 3: It's Time to Get Busy! from the team of Drew McLellan and Gavin Heaton (who served as editors for this). As one might guess, this was the third in a series, but it, unfortunately appears to have been the final edition, as there was one a year from 2008-2010, but nothing since (and the URL for the series having been hijacked, or so Firefox seems to think, throwing up those warning screens when I've tried to go there of late). There is a “Note from the Editors” up front that indicated that they assembled this as a bit of an afterthought (they felt there was still “something missing” from the previous two), but it seems to me that it might have been a concept that could have had a bit more staying power.

It actually took me a very long time to connect with a copy of this … contributors didn't get anything for participating, and the cost on the book took a long time to drop anywhere significantly lower than its cover price. I had initially figured that this had come out via some print-on-demand press (notorious for not having much leeway for discounts – and no truckloads of cases to dump on the secondary market), but it appears that it came from one of those odd hybrids – a “media communications” firm (PR/Social) that has an integrated publishing arm. Frankly the model isn't a bad one … they're selling “building a market” for the title even before it comes out, which is a very sensible approach. Anyway, I stuck this on my Amazon wishlist and kept checking until somebody in the new/used vendor offered a copy at what I was willing to pay to get the minor ego boost of seeing my sterling verbiage on a single page of a $19.95 sub-200-page book. It not only took a few years for a copy to rattle through that way, it also sat around for quite a while, as my main interest in having it was my piece, and the other 180-or-so writers', not so much.

It was one of those “almost OOPS” things that got me to read this, as it had somehow not come off my Amazon wishlist when I ordered it, and I'd forgotten I had a copy when I came close to ordering it again. Fortunately, I had a ”wait a minute … didn't I see that over in that stack of books over in that other room?” moment of clarity before pulling the trigger on getting another copy. As an aside ... it's one of the downsides of my LibraryThing.com usage strategy of not logging in books that I've not as yet actually read - as I will, on rare occasion, not recall having bought something that's whiling away in some to-be-read book stack, and get an extraneous copy. Having discovered that I did, indeed, have Age of Conversation 3, I opted to give it a boost to the front of the reading line.

Now, in this series, the editors sought to get a rather wide range of material, including voices from all over the globe. As you might suspect, this resulted in a somewhat uneven mix. It's been a while, but I seem to recall that they gave us a target word count (I could have probably gone about 30% longer given the way it lays out on the page, but I think I wrote it to right at the suggested length), and asked us to pick a general topic from a list of several. I don't know if these were specifically those of the section headings, but these, under (I suppose) the general rubric of the sub-title of “It's Time to Get Busy!”, are as follows:

                  At the Coalface
                  Identities, Friends and Trusted Strangers
                  Conversational Branding
                  Measurement
                  Corporate Conversations
                  In the Boardroom
                  Innovation and Execution
                  Influence
                  Getting to Work
                  Pitching Social Media

My piece, entitled “Who Are You?” appears in the second section, and dealt with on-line identities, informed by my long involvement on BBSs, IRC, AOL Chat Rooms, the LiveJournal heyday (where I had a good half-dozen “sock puppet” accounts with their own personalities for saying the nasty stuff), and on into the much more transparent on-line identities demanded by the big dog platforms of social at present.

While I've not counted, I seem to recall reading somewhere that there are 180 pieces arrayed within those 10 topics … so there's a lot of “stuff” here, and no real “theme” aside from the general thrusts of the sections. I ended up dropping in little book markers as I read this, so I'm going to give you something of a “random sampling” of things that snagged my attention as I was going through the book.

The first tag that I have in here is also in the “Identities” section, in a piece by Emily Reed entitled “Interesting Is the New Bland” … where she looks at the balance of TMI and blandness, framed in the context of a trip through Europe with a new boyfriend – when she learned that his parents were going to be reading the intended-to-be “tell all” blog she'd envisioned … “I made the mistake that many brands make – I went generic; I went boring.” She further sorts out the approaches of “writing” vs. “dinner party chat”, one being fearless, the other, more restrained.

But the bloggers and Twitterers and brands that I love do push the comfort zone. They say things that are surprising and controversial and personal. They apply the basics of good writing to the genre.

So I'm forever bouncing in my mind between asking myself, “is this good, interesting writing?” and “Would I be embarrassed if my clients or in-laws were reading this in front of me right now?” If the answer is “yes” to the first question, I move to the second. If the answer to the second is “yes,” I hit the “save as draft” button and wait a day. Ninety percent of the time, I've gotten over myself enough to remember that, as long as I remember the public-ness, being part of the conversation is also about entertaining my fellow dinner guests.”
The next bit that caught my attention was “The Dual Life of the Flaneur” by (oddly enough) one of the series' editors, Gavin Heaton. I found it very interesting that he didn't name-check Nassim Nicholas Taleb in this, as it's been in Taleb's writing that I, and many others, first encountered the concept of the Flâneur, although he does quote Baudelaire, so perhaps he's sourcing the concept closer to the root. I found the following notable in Heaton's piece:

The transition we have seen over the last decade on the web, from static or even database driven content to social, pluralistic, real time conversations is marked not by its wavelength but by its amplitude. The digital flaneur is not interested in the spread of ideas but in their relevance. She seeks not the voices of many but the conversations of the passionate. This journey carries its destination in the heart of its interactions not in its logical end point.
Another piece (in the “Measurement” section) that I found fascinating was by New Zealander Phil Osborne, whose “The DANGER of Measurement” looks at “metricfication”, “efficiencies”, the turn-offs of the “managed relationships” inherent in CRM systems, etc. He wanders between examples of business procedures and his worries, and I'm going to be cherry-picking a bit in the following to focus on his main point:

... the existence of metrics does not change the basis of my concern. If the purpose of measuring is ultimately control, then there is a significant consequence that must be considered before adopting any metric (or measurement program). … [are we] seeking to manage conversations and social interaction? The fate of that has been revealed already (Cluetrain Manifesto anyone?). Be afraid, because I for one worry that metricfication, as currently practiced, has a limited place in a post industrial economy in which the hegemony of production is being supplanted by collaboration, co-creation and customer centricity. … Social media can easily go the same way as CRM. Be careful what you wish for.
The next is a very short piece, in the “Innovation and Execution” section, by Mark McGuinness, set up almost like a prose poem, called “New Media, Same Difference” … rather than re-type the whole thing here, I'm snagging 3 lines:

There has never been such a wealth of new creations – and never such a volume of crap.

As always, the one who succeed will be the ones who resolve this creative tension.
The ones making the remarkable things, not churning out “content”.
This certainly echoes the words of Godin, Brogan, and Stratten … where it's not about the tools, but about producing the remarkable.

Finally, from the “Influence” section, there is “The Influence of Not Being Influenced” by Amy Jussel, where she (from a non-profit's perspective), states:

With an increasingly exhausted public struggling to sift “what is real” in everything from reality shows to product placement (savvy consumers know buzz can be bought, viral can be “seeded” and vested interests can permeate citizen journalism as well as mainstream media) the open ended question we're all trying to grapple with is, “How do you monetize influence in a trust-based economy?”
I won't use the hackneyed “a” word (authenticity) or even “b” words (brand-building) even though both are essential in earning trust via reputation. I'm going to hang my hat on the “c” words of creating credibility through content while curating a conversation that adds value to the readers without the perception of asking for something in return.

Influence is not a commodity to be brokered, but rather an intimacy to be earned.
Again, there are a lot of voices in Age of Conversation 3, addressing a lot of topics. Some parts are fascinating, some parts are pretty dull, but if the above sounds of interest, you might consider picking up a copy. This is available via the on-line big boys for full retail (making me suspect that its publisher is basically a print-on-demand service), but copies have started to filter down into the used channel … at about a third of cover. And, hey, you never get tired of reading my stuff, and there's some different type of my scribblings in there!


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