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Can you help? I need web/personal stories

While I try to have at least 90% of this blog's content be something useful for you, sometimes I need your help. Like now. I'm looking for stories, photos, statistics, and--if possible--video clips, along with the permission to use them in a presentation that'll be seen by a large number of people. The overall point is to find success stories about people whose lives have been affected by the web or software apps. I'm particularly interested in places where there is an intersection between live (face-to-face) interaction and online interaction (like people who've met online then forge off-line relationships). But even purely online experiences are important to me as well.

I don't need much detail -- just the basic scenario and what it has meant to you. But I'd love love LOVE to have a few bits of video, even if it's just a few minutes you record on a web cam. (If you happen to live in the Boulder/Denver area, and are willing, we can send someone out to do a brief video/photo shoot.)

The kinds of stories I'm looking for include:

* People who've found their significant other online

* People who've found their dream pet online

* People for whom the course of their life/career direction has been dramatically changed--in a good way--as a result of something on the web or other app.

* People who've found an online community that has been extremely important in their life -- like an online support group for a medical condition, or even just a rare hobby where few people share your passion but you've found them online.

* People who've been able to travel and experience very different cultures as a result of something that happened online.

* People who've rediscovered people online who they thought they'd lost contact with, and where that relationship has become a significant part of your life.

* People who've been able to stay in contact with family members online, where it has really mattered (for example: I took a video editing lesson from a guy who lives in Colorado temporarily but his wife and young son are in New York. Each night, they have dinner "together" by sitting down at the table with their web cams on)

* anything else that might be inspirational or just plain funny that happened as a direct result of software and/or the web.

Again, you'd have to be willing to have your story and potentially photo and/or video shown publicly (not for profit of any kind). This is a project that means a great deal to me, and is intended to be used in a way that will help others. I'll share the final results with everyone.

Thanks so much, folks.

If you have something you're willing to share, please send an email to: ProjectX@wickedlysmart.com

(You're welcome to leave comments here, but the best place for me--and my daughter who is helping with this--would be the project email address.)

Posted by Kathy on February 9, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (29) | TrackBack

Don't ask employees to be passionate about the company!

Halfdayguys1
People ask me, "How can I get our employees to be passionate about the company?" Wrong question. Passion for our employer, manager, current job? Irrelevant. Passion for our profession and the kind of work we do? Crucial. If I own company FOO, I don't need employees with a passion for FOO. I want those with a passion for the work they're doing. The company should behave just like a good user interface -- support people in doing what they're trying to do, and stay the hell out of their way. Applying the employer-as-UI model, the best company is one in which the employees are so engaged in their work that the company fades into the background.

Given a choice, I would work ONLY on projects that followed the Hollywood Model, where people come together with their respective skills and talents, and DO something. Make a web app. Create a book. Build a game. Develop and deliver learning experiences. The happiest moments of my work life were on projects where we pulled all-nighters because we wanted to, not because the corporate culture said we weren't a true team-player/trooper if we didn't.

Employees shouldn't be sleeping in cubes to prove they're "passionate employees." I want to work with people who have a particular set of skills (and interests) who view themselves and one another as either professionals/craftspeople (programmers, designers, engineers, animators, editors, scientists, authors, educators, architects, entertainers, etc.) or as producers and assistant producers (the people who pull it all together, support the craftspeople, and make it happen).

[UPDATE: I do not consider "caring about the user" as separate from "our work." In other words, I consider one who is truly passionate about their work to have "the effect it has on the user" as a fundamental part of that work. A tech book author/teacher who has brilliant wordsmithing and technical breadth but no effect on the reader is not a professional. A software developer who crafts
brilliant code that doesn't include that code's effect on the user is not a professional. Part of what makes us professional/craftspeople is that we value and never forget the POINT of our work, and the point is--for most of us--what it means for the user. It's quite sad that many of our professions have rewarded work without making the user the most important attribute of how we asses that work.]

I realize these aren't mutually exclusive--one can be passionate about their employer and the work they do, but it's a matter of which one employers value. And all too often, it's the wrong one.

The simple 4-quesetion test to see if someone has a passion for their work:

* When was the last time you read a trade/professional journal or book related to your work? (can substitute "attended an industry conference or took a course")

* Name at least two of the key people in your field.

* If you had to, would you spend your own money to buy tools or other materials that would improve the quality of your work?

* If you did not do this for work, would you still do it (or something related to it) as a hobby?



DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PASSION FOR EMPLOYER, vs. PASSION FOR WORK


Passionate about the company:

* The ultimate team player who goes along with the group rather than voice dissent

* Works late nights and weekends because "everyone needs to pitch in on this project"

* Defends the company to anyone, anywhere that criticizes or questions its products, policies, or practices

* Puts responsibility to employer above responsibility to customers, without question

* Questions, but does not challenge the status quo

* Is well-liked because they do whatever is asked, enthusiastically

* Accepts (and uses) phrases like, "this is what corporate needs us to do."

* Cares a lot about his career path in the company; focused on getting management recognition.


Passionate about the work:

* Scores well on the 4-question test:
- keeps up with trade/professional journals
- knows who the key people in the industry are
- would spend his own money, if necessary, for better tools
- if they were NOT doing this as their job, they would still do something related to it as a hobby

* Works late nights when, "I'm just one-compile away from this awesome refactoring that's going to make this thing run 40% faster." In other words, they work late when they're driven by something they know they can do better on.

* Defends the quality of his own work (and, in the Hollywood Model, the work of his team).

* Puts responsibility to his own ethics and values--especially related to quality of work--over responsibility to employer.

* May not be extremely well-liked, but is highly respected and tolerated because he's known as one who, "cares deeply about doing the best possible job, and is very good at what he does." [update: the person must be liked well enough for people to want to work with him again... the Hollywood Model has a way of screening out a**holes... nobody calls them for their next project.]

* Does not accept, "this is what corporate needs us to do" when it conflicts with quality and ethics. Must be given a damn good reason why a corporate decision is worth the downsides.

* Does not care about upward mobility in the company. Cares about doing fabulous work and possibly the recognition of his peers in the industry. May stive for professional recognition.

Am I, as always, glorifying the maverick? It only looks that way if your perspective is a Big Company that puts teamwork and company loyalty above all else. In the Hollywood Model, our ability to get work--which means new projects--depends entirely on whether anyone on previous projects wants to work with us again. What you hope for--and what happens--in the Hollywood Model is that when a team is being assembled, someone says, "Hey, last time I worked on the Bar project, Roger did the graphics and he was awesome." And the assistant producer or project manager says, "What's his phone number?"

In the Hollywood Model--despite the glamorous name--whether the project is exciting or sexy has very little to do with whether we view our work together as exciting and sexy. The sound guy pushes the edge with intelligently-adaptive audio that changes subtly as the user navigates into different "places." It doesn't matter that the project is a boring bank's interactive annual report. The programmer (usually my role) builds an authoring tool to help the artists sync their work to the sound way before the engine is ready. The artists decide at the last moment that they aren't happy with something that nobody but they can see, and spend days tweaking something that they swear will have a subconscious impact (for the better) on the user.

There are plenty of companies--even big ones--who are able to foster this kind of enviornment (including some parts of Google, I've heard). And in many small start-ups there is virtually no distinction between passion for the company and passion for the work--they are, essentially, the same thing, driven by the same overall desire to succeed. The companies that have the greatest chance, in my opinion, are the ones who can hang to that. And I would start by thinking of project managers as "producers" and treating the "talent" like gold ; )

Finally, if you really want your employees to be passionate about the company, take lessons from UI and Usability: let people do what they want and need to do, and get the hell out of their way. Unfortunately, too many of our employers are like really bad software--frustrating us at every turn, behaving inconsistently, not giving us a way to learn new things and develop new, cool capabilities, etc.

Remember, when I say I have a passion for a particular piece of software, it's not really the software I'm passionate about. It's always about my passion for what the software lets me DO. Companies should work the same way. By acting like a good UI and letting employees express the passion they have for their work, you'll end up with employees who'd never consider going elsewhere.

Posted by Kathy on February 6, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (73) | TrackBack

Inspiring your user-evangelists

Outspendoroutinspire_1
In the past 30 days, did you enthusiastically recommended something--anything--to someone else? Maybe it was a new restaurant, web app, game, sport, note pad, band, indie film, car, micro-brew, lotion, operating system, environmental cause, dog food, or pillow. Chances are, you did. More than once. Our users want to recommend or (if they're passionate) evangelize things they believe in, and it's our job to give users the tools to do it. Indie bands often have "street teams" of loyal (unpaid) fans who hit the streets to post flyers, etc. Do you have an unpaid street team?

There are at least two ways to inspire evangelists: the sleazy way and the authentic way. Fortunately, the authentic, ethical way doesn't need a big budget. The sleazy, expensive, and often unethical way is to hire people to "pretend" to evangelize. There are companies that will assemble a team of faux street-teamers to spread the word, ranging from the despicable--like the sexy woman in the bar who fakes interest in a man while casually mentioning the product (without disclosing her "job") --to the less harmful but even creepier--the person who is paid to tell their friends about a product, albeit with full disclosure.

Here's the thing...

If you have to PAY people to evangelize your product or service, you probably don't have a product or service worth evangelizing.

(If it's about simply getting the word out on something too new to have customer/user evangelists, there are plenty of ways to 'seed' potential users to get the ball rolling.)

Users will want to evangelize on your behalf for two main reasons:

1) You're small--or in trouble--and they want you to succeed.
(When there's no guarantee you will) Apple was in this position at one time; I remember handing out the "50 things you can do to save the mac" handbook! This is especially true for independent bands, stores, products, restaurants, etc. but big, well-funded companies aren't immune, obviously. Non Apple-fans still marvel at why a crowd of thousands cheers so loudly when Steve Jobs shows how much money the company is making. They don't realize that all we (the faithful) see is assurance that our beloved devices will survive, new ones will be developed, and that more developers will find it worthwhile to create for this platform, etc.

2) They believe in the benefits of whatever you offer, and want others to experience that (especially their close friends and family)

How to Create Evangelists The Authentic Way

1) You have a product or service or cause that helps users learn and grow and kick ass at something.

2) You give users tools to help them evangelize.

3) You do not ever, ever, ever pay users for doing this.

Remember, even if your product has problems, you can often make up for a ton of flaws by building up the ecosystem around the product. A killer user community site. A breakthrough manual. Stunning customer support. If you're helping your users learn and grow and improve, you're inspiring them to be better and--as we know--being better at something is a lot more fun than being a frustrated newbie or mediocre just-getting-by user or participant. If you can inspire your users to learn and grow, they'll naturally want to get others to share in this experience.


Tool ideas
(most of these are dead-obvious, but all too often overlooked)

* A short, free DVD
One that isn't a sales/marketing pitch, but simply explains why the evangelizing user is so interested in getting others to see what they see. A truly passionate user would love nothing more than to be able to give someone a DVD that gets the other person to say--after watching it--"Hmmm...now I'm starting to understand why this means so much to you."

* Posters and stickers
In other words, things to spread around in public to help raise awareness. The Sticker Guy is one of many good sources for stickers. (And check out this fun Wired story about Apple stickers. I have one on my car.)

* Free tickets
The Parelli organization goes on tour across the US and gives members of their official club up to 10 free tickets so that they can bring the non-converted to experience for themselves what Parelli-folks call "the magic."

* Friends and Family nights

* Testimonials from credible people!
Is there someone trusted and respected in your domain who uses your product? Your users need to know! Our Design Patterns book had endorsements from some of the key figures in the software development world, and we've had hundreds of emails from people telling us that this was the only reason they decided to give it a try. In the Parelli world--where members of the cult (like me) are constantly battling with those who dismiss it--the endorsement by two US Olympic Equestrian medalists--Karen and David O'Connor was huge. When they made a video about it (which we have to pay for), they gave us perhaps the best possible ammunition--"Think Parelli doesn't apply to anyone except cowboys? Don't listen to me, pop this in your DVD player for a few minutes..."


* Make it REALLY obvious how users can get involved in evangelizing
For inspiration, check out:
Oxfam's What You Can Do page or Greenpeace's Get Involved page.


* Private behind-the-scenes website areas for members only
...that they can share with their friends and which highlight the real reasons your user is so passionate.


* Free tickets to learning webcasts they can give to their friends.
Not marketing webcasts... I mean actual training courses that most people have to pay for.


* Materials, support, and recognition for user group leaders.
Sun has done a lot to recognize and reward JUG (Java User Group) leaders, for example, including special meetings and receptions at conferences, and giving them special access to some key Java folks at Sun.


* Create a "Street Team", and a toolkit
Have some kind of affinity club, user group, something that users can join and become members of. And make sure that members can get an evangelism toolkit whether it's a PDF poster to download or a full-blown package in the mail with flyers, stickers, t-shirts, CDs, etc.

A great example of a very active (and apparently successful) street team are the Petal Pushers. (Click on Petal Pushers from the side menu). I encourage everyone to check it out. Another example of an indie-band-on-a-budget street team is here.

The street team is an interesting phenomenon because it is often a lot more successful for bands that aren't well known. In fact, part of the appeal to hardcore street teamer fans is that they get to be the first one in their group to have discovered the band. Being the first to tell/show something cool to a friend brings considerable social "points". I don't know much about street teams, but Skyler has been extremely active in two of them, including (a loooong time ago) the Sugarcult">Sugarcult street team. She whipped up a lot of interest in local shows, and these guys would even recognize her at events and talk to her. But once they started becoming more "known", she lost interest. But that's a whole different topic...

[Side note: There are two kinds of companies you can hire to help you (band or otherwise) create a "street team". The sleazy kind will take your money in exchange for providing you with street team "members" who may never have heard of you and don't particularly like you. The authentic kind are simply marketing/community helpers who will help you create a street team program for your existing loyal fans.


My Personal Opinion on What NOT to Do

* Do not EVER pay your members/fans/users to do this.
Limited edition t-shirts and stickers? Absolutely. Free evangelism products for friends (like the tickets and CDs) -- absolutely. But money for referrals? Never. (This is a big topic in itself that we'll save for another time)

Paying them, or even doing a "refer a friend and get YOUR next thing free..." program changes the incentive. And while it may not change the users motivation, it taints the incentive. Irrevocably, in my opinion.

If you have truly passionate users, paying them is not only not necessary, it could hurt. That doesn't mean you don't reward them, of course, there are gazillion great ways (and reasons) to reward your loyal users. But that's for their continued loyalty, support, patience, feedback, etc... not for some kind of paid referral program.

Posted by Kathy on February 6, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (21) | TrackBack

Sunday Random Bits & more creativity on speed

Sam_rpm_web_07_noborder
It's not too late to get in on: record an album in 28 days, the RPM'07 Challenge. You've got until the end of the month to do 10 songs or 35 minutes of original material. It shares the philosophy of the wildly popular nanowrimo (National Write a Novel in a Month) and the 24-hour filmmaking festival I talked about in my earlier How to make something amazing, right now (and in creativity on speed).

There's also a new book about creativity on speed (or at least on restrictions) called The Houdini Solution, by Ernie Schenk, and I really enjoyed the book. I hesitated before recommending it because as good as it is, it's kind of preaching to the choir here at this blog... making a case for constraint-based creativity isn't something most of you need to be sold on. But two things prompted me to post it anyway:

1) Even if you're already up the curve on these ideas, chances are pretty high that other people you know and work with are not. It's a great long-plane-ride book to give to others.

2) Given that I read it with the, "This is great stuff, but we already know this..." attitude, I suddenly realized that I'd dog-eared more than 20 pages. That's a lot, and I'm the mistress of dog-earing. (You might want to just skim the first 3 chapters, then start reading every word at chapter 4).

Other Somewhat Random Things

My friends over at the The Enthusiast Group know a lot about passion and community--it's what their entire business is about (check out the mountain biker's group). Very, very roughly it's kind of the Dogster of sport activities for people who have a passion for running, cycling, or climbing (hey, we're from Boulder, CO where it's a law to participate in at least one of those). These guys at the Enthusiast Group are doing a lot of things right including the tagline that we could ALL take a lesson from:

Your stories. Your photos. It's all about you and the road.

They're doing an excellent job of getting members/users involved in submitting stories, and I'm amazed at how much they've managed to do in a short time. [Disclaimer: I've advised them, but only the tiniest bit. In other words, not enough to take any credit for any of the good things they've done.] I simply reminded them to keep focused on making it about helping their users/members grow. One thing I would really like to see them add are tutorials (even just one) on how to write good stories (and take appropriate photos).

This goes for any site that depends on user-submitted stories, or even just discussion forums. For example, in the javaranch forums, there's a link from the main forum page to an article on how to ask--and answer--good questions. But in a community site where you're expecting articles and stories, anything you can do to help people improve their knowedge and skills ("Here's how to write a killer travel story!") would help everyone.

In other words, turn your "citizen"-member-users-participants into good amateur photo-journalists.

Let's see... Six Apart's Anil Dash has a fun post about tuxedo t-shirts.

Tgvthumbnail_1
Ahhhh HELP me with this easter-egg-in-a-logo that Gnome Guy Dave Neary sent to drive me nuts. I think I've got it figured out (but he had to give me a hint first), but I'm not sure. So before I ask him, I'll ask you guys. It's from the train company TGV.


Matt Heinz from Matt on Marketing pointed me to a great post on yet another thing we can learn from entertainment: the idea sandbox: elevator pitch. I recommend it!

I'm interested in getting this book: The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies by professor Scott Page, who looks like he's doing some really interesting work. (example: teaches his students about heuristics by having them play the game Rush Hour)

Vincent Flanders (who brought us Web Pages That Suck ) has a safe-for-work-and-politically-correct version for non-profits at Is my website inneffective.

Searchbots.net looks really interesting. Anybody know more about it?

I'm a little slow to getting to this (everyone has probably seen this by now), but Josh Clark (global moxie) wrote here about the "Empathy Suit" for designers.

There's a new site that could be REALLY helpful, but only if a lot more people were using it -- it's called Hallway Testing, and the idea is simple: you submit your site to ask for usability feedback, and participants can tell you what they think. I think it's great for two reasons:

1) The obvious: targeted feedback by people who aren't necessarily our users (who may not be as objective).

2) By participating as a reviewer/evaluator, you can build your skills in usability.
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Superbowl Commercials Update: for those of you who, like me, do not have television, the only downside is not seeing the superbowl commercials. So... iFilm to the rescue!

• IFILM will be live-blogging commercials during the game.

• In addition to the new 1007 ads, IFILM's archive includes Super Bowl Ads
from 2002-2007 here.

• An IFILM original remake of Miller Lite: Catfight, a Super Bowl classic.

• Uncensored, banned, behind the scenes, and alternate edits here.

• Super Bowl classics like Apple 1984 here.

• A blogger's kit with embeddable players and XML feeds here.

Have fun!

Posted by Kathy on February 4, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (15) | TrackBack