Shannon Clark

who I am, what I do, where else you can find me online and offline

A simple case which needs branding

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 11th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

A few days ago I attended part of the iPhoneDevCamp which was a fantastic event gathering together a large group of creative people and which was well supported by a range of sponsors. One of the sponsors had a small table where they were both demonstrating and selling an iPhone accessory they make, an external battery for the iPhone with a bunch of very clever additional features. It has an LED light (i.e. a fixed flash for your camera and also useful to have), is designed to work with the regular iPhone dock and chargers, has a USB passthrough to recharge other USB devices at the same time, and holds a charge sufficient to recharge the iPhone twice. All-in-all a fantastic product and though not super cheap, well worth the show special price of $75 and I’m sure lots of people will pay their higher regular price, especially when they come out with their next version for the iPhone 3G.

So what is the problem?

Note what I was unable to do in the above paragraph, I couldn’t refer to the product either by the product brand name or by the nameo of the company, neither brand is present anywhere on the product itself. Now personally when it comes to my clothing and appearance I look for items which don’t shout a company brand, I try to choose carefully those brands whom I associate with my personal image – for example I’m mostly only wearing t-shirts with logos of companies or organizations I support and in most cases really do use myself.

I could not however refer to this product or the company because though they used a very nice material to construct the product the neglected to spend the likely relatively small additional amount to embed their name &/or logos anywhere on the product. Earlier today as I used the device to recharge my iPhone which was dangerously close to running out of battery charge after a long day away from home I wanted to tell my Twitter followers about the product – but was prevented from usually doing so by this lack of branding.

So what is the moral here? Consider how your customers will use your products and without being too blatent don’t be so restrained as to make it hard for existing customers to refer others to your brands and products – indeed you want to make that process of telling people about your company and brands as easy as possible. This also suggests avoiding unpronounceable or really difficult to remember how to spell brandnames or the sometimes used avoiding a word brand at all (i.e. “the artist formerly known as Prince” who after a while decided having a name for people to refer to might afterall be useful).

Oh, what is the product and company? After a lot (and I do mean a lot of poking around and searching I found it). It is the iV from Fastmac. A great product but horrible branding (well complete lack of branding).

How the world has changed in my lifetime already

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 11th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

I was born during the last months of Richard Nixon’s administration, as a child I assumed that the world would end in my lifetime (at least humanity) probably due to an all out nuclear war between the USA and the USSR.

In high school I learned typing alternating between manual typewriters and computers (Apple II’s) and in a year long programming course actually learned Fortran including all the features leftover from the days of punchcards.

Telegrams had mostly gone away by my childhood but people still had a mix of rotary and the newer touchtone phones, long distance calls were expensive and a somewhat big deal, pagers were only for doctors (and drug dealers) and cell phones not even a term – it was “car phones” and those too were rare. Music still came on records or cassette tapes.

Before high school I remember the big deal that tape added to early personal computers (the ones before that had had nearly no way to save your work, you typed in your code each time). I learned programming theory via flowcharts on large format printouts from the courses my mom taught at the local community college. In high school the programming class was taught on a much upgraded PDP-11 which though we had terminals all throughout the school was not connected to any other network but did double at the high school library card catalog, stored on the then huge 400 MB large platters hard drives. I recall as well the transition from large floppies to small floppies to CD-ROMs. Buying a 100MB hard drive for our home was a huge investment.

Now I throw away anything smaller than 2GB when I get memory sticks free at conferences and I fully expect that my next laptop purchase may have close to 1TB of storage built-in.

As I grew up elected officials were primarily white, usually Protestant, men. To a degree that is still true here in the USA, but my home state of Illinois has elected to African American Senators in my lifetime (and I was honored to have been able to vote for both of them) and it is very like (and I certainly hope it will be the case) that Barack Obama will be elected the President of the United States later this year. And a growing number of women hold major elected offices around the country, even without the ERA ammendment (remember that?) women have made major gains during my lifetime. As the child of two generations of very successful and high achieving, college educated women I am very pleased that my generation and those after it will face a far more open world – indeed in my lifetime women have beome the majority of students in graduate school in many fields (and I think overall).

In high school I took history courses on Asia and on Russia, both were courses that had at times been relatively controversial in the school, the teacher told us stories of how he had obtained English language materials, materials which in some cases were explicitly propaganda materials from what were then seen as our enemies. As a child I recall both the scares of WWIII and of a great emphasis on WWII, I spoke with vetarens WWII and recall their stories.

While my family did not have a TV for most of my childhood I do recall when people still had, some at least, black and white TVs, when all television was over the air and cable only slowly grew popular. For a brief moment in my childhood newpapers still printed radio broadcast schedules and I grew up listening to radio dramas both broadcast over the air and on cassatte tapes which I collected. I also had a very strange clock radio (both now and even then) which would pick up the audio tracks only of TV broadcasts, so I grew up listening to Rocky & Bullwinkle as I woke up each morning, the many different characters bluring in my just waking up mind.

When I first started buying books for myself, sometime in elementary school, new paperbacks were still just a few dollars and many used bookstores would sell them for less than a dollar. Now a new mass market paperback (which as a child was pretty much all there was in paperback form) costs $7 at the low end and often far more.

And I’m probably of the last generation to remember buying gas for less than $1/gallon when I first got my license, though to be fair prices often hovered just above $1 for the most part.

Though we never visted him, my Uncle Jimmy lived in Berlin when it was still a divided city and we heard stories of his artist’s lifestyle there and I remember when the wall fell and the USSR started to breakdown and crumble, one of many major events as it would turn out in my lifetime already. As a child having grown up under the spector of the Vietnam War I somehow always assumed that the next war we would enter as a country would be the big one, WW III and would likely mean the end of everything. Instead in my lifetime we have been in three fairly major but also relatively limited in scope wars and a number of other conflicts and engagements (First Iraq War, Haiti, Panama, Rwanda, Bosnia, Afghanistan, Second Iraq War not to mention ongoing skirmishes in Colombia and President Reagan’s Contra stuff and I’m probably missing some smaller skirmishes as well). We have been a busy and all to militeristic nation even as the world has changed radically in my lifetime.

India, China, and the Soviet Bloc were all quite isolated countries as I was a child, Now the USSR is no more (the current war between Russia and Georgia which is occurring as I write this not withstanding) and though China is still “Communist” it is the third largest economy in the world and India is not far behind it. And Europe which was somewhat neglected when I was a child is a booming and strong economy with a strengthening Euro and with massive changes resulting from greater mobility and open borders internally to the EU. South Africa which was the focus of great preassure throughout my childhood also abandoned Aparthied and opened up in a far more peaceful process than most people assumed would happen. As I write this only North Korea is almost entirely isolated from the world economy, Cuba and Iran are for the most part isolated from engaging with the USA by our laws but do participate to a lesser degree with the rest of the world (and Iran in particular plays a major economic role).

Dozens of countries have emerged (or more accurately in many cases) reemerged in my lifetime and have started to make their way in a more complex global economy than the simplistic picture which was depicted in school when I was a child – the “first world/third world” split is no longer so clear or so relevant. Though the US hasn’t entirely caught up with these changes when you engage with media from outside of the US the amazing change in the globe can start to be glimpsed.

In college I was among the first people to have a computer in my dormroom connected via an ethernet connection to the Internet – i.e. an always on connection. I was on the Internet when it was still a non-commercial space, a place mostly restricted to universities where not every student had an email address or a way to connect to the Internet. I was amazed one day when I was awoken by my computer beeping at me as a result of a chat request from a student in Singapore and from my dormroom I ran an online game with 1000’s of users from three continents. An early precurser to the types of games and online interactions now seen inside of Second Life.

I started online before graphical browsers, reaching my first “webpages” via Gopher and I resisted using Netscape in favor of the faster if non-graphical Lynx browser for many years. I remember using both Yahoo and Google when they were still university research projects. In short in my adult lifetime I have witness the many evolutions of the “web” from complex and obscure academic playground to the worldwide, mass institution it is today.

I found my early jobs and apartments (and much more) via using paper classified ads in the daily newspaper and in the weekly alternative press. Something which in the past 15 years has almost entirely disappeared in much of the US and which the rise of online sites such as Craigslist and countless specialty sites (for dating for job search, for home buying and more) not to mention Ebay have changed forever. Buying a computer used to involve buying the large, multiple inch thick Computer Shopper and comparing the best packages and deals, it was a complex and difficult process. Today it remains a vastly more complex and obscure process than it should be (perhaps Apple computer excepted) but now you do that process online not via searching a paper magazine.

Speaking of print as a child I turned in hand written assignments for quite a long time. It was only into high school that computer printed papers become relatively standard and were usually printed on computer paper which would then involve seperating each page. Then laser printers became affordable and fairly common so I printed a great deal. But more recently I am far from being alone in having managed to go back to a nearly paperless lifestyle – my printer stopped working two years ago and I have yet to replace it, with the rise of always on connectivity I just keep documents online instead of printing them out and my various computer screens are now so high resolution that I read most things on the screen directly.

In summary in my still fairly short lifetime the world has changed considerably. Much of what seemed fixed, seemed certain, from the cold war to “long distance calls are expensive” has gone almost entirely away. It is both exhilerating and a bit scary at times to think about how much more the world will change in the next 30+ years, how what seems certain today will be rendered silly or foolish in the future.

I am not a Futurist but I end with a few areas I think bear a lot of thinking about.

  1. How does the use of technology keep changing when all the technical bits become nearly free and nearly endless? i.e. already storage is so vast and cheap that it is rarely wise to scrimp, computational power is likewise vast and abbundant, and while bandwith remains a bit of a bottleneck it too is rapidly beoming faster and ever more readily (and all pervasively) availalble – I read that in Japan they are starting to test wireless cell data services exponetially faster than even 3G,
  2. When the world is really all connected and living and working with each other it is vital that US shake off old stereotypes and very very broken assumptions. For example in the US it is still common to depict blond haired, blue eyed, overly buxom, fair skinned women as the physical ideal of beauty even as on a global scale by far the vast majority of the world have both a very different vision of beauty and a much wider range of physical features. The population of the planet has, I think, nearly doubled in my lifetime and the full impact of those numbers hasn’t really echoed here in the US yet. China is now over 4 times as populous as the United States and India is not far behind.
  3. Design will continue to be ever more vital and important. By this I mean that one of the amazing impacts I’ve witnessed already in my lifetime is the growing importance and pervasiveness of design in all aspects of life, as the production of physical goods becomes easier and also less constrained what differentiates goods and services is the design. As well as more of the world has a chance and opportunity to interact and to work for and with each other and as well to learn from and be influenced by each other the pace of innovation is accelerating with impacts seen even in some of man’s oldest and most basic of tasks and technologies (innovate means of moving water or of heating a cooking while burning simple and basic fuels for just two examples).

In short I have already lived in interesting times and I think we haven’t seen anything yet.

What has changed in your lifetime? What assumptions about the world did you grow up with which you might want to revist and rethink? I predict as you start to think about it you will find that it is more than you originally guessed, this list is by far not complete and I’m only in my mid-30’s.

The Communities I speak

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 10th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

A few days ago I wrote about the communities all around us as I rode the Muni back from the Farmer’s Market this afternoon I thought a lot about the Communitites I speak – i.e. those groups I can participate in, can speak the lingo, know the references, pay attention to the key events and sources.

I think there are many different ways to define community. In the past I have written about how what we pay attention to helps form and share the communitites we are a part – who we are is what we follow. And indeed this is one key aspect at least of the active, current and potential communitites we could be a part of (we might pay attention to a community without being an active part of it). But there is another key part of the puzzle – what we can “speak”.

Speaking a Community

I am gifted at being a very quick study and learner. In part because I have always been and remain to this day an avid reader of books, magazines and more so in the past then today of newspapers I have at least a passing knowledge of tons of subjects and topics. Especially today with most of the world’s knowledge at your fingertips via well crafted Google searches (plus knowing what resources to use when Google isn’t enough) I can fairly quickly come up to passing speed on nearly any topic.

But this is not fluency in a given Community, rather it is merely an ability to perhaps get a quick glimpse, to exchange a few words, perhaps to ask some smart questions and likely to learn how to learn more, which is itself often pretty vital.

However there are quite a few Communities that I do speak, communitites where even though I may not have been active in them for quite sometime I could jump right in and participate quickly. Here are a few that come to mind, I’m sure there are others and I’ll note a few special cases.

  • Chess. I learned to play chess at the age of 4 from my grandfather. In high school I was the captain of my chess team for 3 1/2 years. Since then I have read probably 100’s of chess books and though I haven’t played a serious game in a few years, a few years ago I played regularly with the serious players at North Ave Beach (and in Old Town) in Chicago, drawing or beating players up to about 2100 or so. So yes, I can “speak” chess at a serious level. In Paris a few years ago I tested this, I went to the Luxumberg Gardens where there have long been public chess boards, there I played an English Barrister who is one of the only Englishmen to practice law in France. I met him over the chess boards where Chess, more so than French was the language of choice.
  • History. Especially of the Medieval Near East. I haven’t studied this in a few years (and though it happens slowly historians do over time make progress in learning more about the past as new works are found and increasingly made more readily available via technology) but I could probably have a good conversation with any historian generally and specifically anyone who is interested in the Ottomans, Byzantines, Armenians, or to a lesser degree some aspects of English or Italian history as well as the history of the Crusades. I studied history in college in the early 90’s, so quite some time ago, but being a historian is a particular approach, a particular view and also a way of thinking – a way of taking information, often limited, and pulling it together into a cohesive narrative and story. The type of history I prefer is an archival history, a history of digging deeply into primary sources and using those sources to reveal more about the past – sometimes telling small, specific stories, sometimes piecing out a bigger picture and a greater narrative. An active historian might be more up on the latest books, the places to be published, job opportunities, but we very likely would quickly find ourselves sharing a common language, a common approach and at least some related interests.
  • Slow Food and related to this Cooking. I am a foodie both in terms of where I like to eat and what I like to cook. Again there are many people who are even more active than I, more deeply focused on food, food culture and the professional aspects of food, people who have attended culinary school, who work some part of the food industry at restaurants, magazines or other parts of the food industry. But I definitely speak the language. Doesn’t hurt that my sister’s boyfriend is a professional food critic (for the NY Times) and cookbook author, so though to my friends I may seem fairly seriously a foodie, I have a sense of what I would consider “real” foodies are like. But probably I too qualify, even if I haven’t fully found my community of fellow foodies here in San Francisco quite yet. A few friends who usually like my cooking, a few people I see at the farmer’s markets but I’m not active in the local Slow Food groups, not active in an online forum such as Chowhounds or Yelp and in short not deeply part of the food community (or more accurately many different communities) here in the Bay Area.
  • Programming. I am not an active programmer today, I haven’t written a line of code in a number of years nor do I have a degree in computer science, but I first learned to program at the age of 7, took serious programming classes in high school and a couple of classes in college and though I have only occasionally been a paid programmer, I “speak” programmer. In the late 90’s I worked for Perot Systems (yes owned by Ross Perot) mostly working for Swissbank and later UBS after they merged doing source code administration, in which role I supported over 1000 programmers around the world working as one of the people running the source code servers for those programmers and teams. I also worked with each group on building and compiling their programs. To do this did not, in fact, require that you be a programmer yourself, indeed most of my coworkers were not programmers, but I was able to speak programmer with the project leads, hold a different conversation with them than my coworkers, a conversation about programming methodologies, about language and tool selection, and about to some degree techniques. I’m a bit rusty today, haven’t been keeping up, but generally speaking I can “speak” programmer even if I’m not up on the latest languages, programming challenges, toolkits, libraries or other development tools.
  • Gaming. Today this term often refers to online, computer or console games. But though I know a lot of people who play those games fairly seriously (and some who cover the gaming industry as journalists or work in the industry) I have never been much of a computer gamer, haven’t been one since the early 90’s and I do not own a TV or any gaming consoles. But I was a serious gamer of other types of games for many, many years. In high school I played various board games and roll playing games nearly every week with a group of friends both at our homes, in the high school as part of a gaming club, and at a local games shop we all frequented. In fact one of my high school friend’s father was a game designer for Mayfair Games and we often playtested games. At that time I went to Gencon many times and I ran a lot of games there and locally. In college however though I did play card games with friends I didn’t play many board games or role playing games (though I had prior to college assumed that I would play a lot of role playing games when in college). But in the mid-90’s I supported myself for a year as a professional Magic the Gathering card dealer and player, at that time I was most definitely part of a serious community. Later in the 90’s and early part of this century I played a LARP in Chicago which was part of a very active community, a worldwide community in fact. I played in fact at one of the first games so I definitely spoke that community, but I was also not entirely of the community. Over the years I didn’t make it to every game, in this century I became very involved in starting a company and drifted away from the game. I briefly tried to reconnect with a branch of the game (which is still ongoing) here in California but didn’t fully “click”. But all that said, I certainly can and do speak Gamer – whatever the game whether paper, board, computer or console.
  • Politics. I am fairly passionate about politics, have voted in every election I was eligible to vote in, follow the campaigns and care passionately about many issues. But at the same time unlike many of my friends who are, in some cases, professionally interested in politics (among others I have friends who have run national campaigns for president, served as candidate’s CTO’s, and in some cases run for office themselves) my interest and passion is not professional. In a small way I have helped with a non-partisan public policy group, Hope Street Group whose goals and mission I fully support. But politically I am centrist of neither party. I can certainly, however, speak Politics. And at times I have even toyed with the idea that someday I might run for an office myself, albiet only when I think someone with my centrist views and aethistic leanings could stand a chance of winning (probably rules out running for any national offices in the foreseeable future).
  • Being Jewish. I am Jewish could emmigrate to Israel and would qualify – much more than the past three generations of my mother’s family have been Jewish. I grew up in a household where Yiddish words were sprinkled into conversation with some frequency (my mom’s influence). Every year as a child in our Christmas stockings my mom gave us Hanaukah Geld. But I didn’t attend Hebrew school, wasn’t Bar Mitvah’ed and if I didn’t tell you noone ever guesses that I’m Jewish – my name tends to lead people to another assumption. In fact one Jewish friend with whom I was staying in New York City once called me on a Friday night while I was in NYC and wasn’t sure if I would be comfortable meeting him at his friends whose Shabbat dinner he was enjoying, he assumed I wasn’t Jewish (if he had realized he probably would have invited me to join him earlier). But in college I taught an Israeli friend of mine how to cook Kosher (first having to help teach her how to cook) for the local Hillel Shabbat dinner. I am not religious but I do consider myself Jewish at least as an ethnic and cultural identity. At the same time to some degree I don’t fully speak “Jewish”, I was raised more as a Roman Catholic, went to a Catholic elementary school and the world around me has generally engaged with me not as someone who is Jewish so I haven’t had the experiences positive or negative that might convey. One of my most vivid memories of my childhood is a day when I realized that attending a Catholic elementary school was limiting my perspective on the world considerably. I remember thinking that everyone is Catholic – certainly that everyone I knew was. Yes, I knew that my mom wasn’t, but it was that moment when I realized the danger of being fully immersed in a community, the danger of too much of the same being all around you. I think it was the next day I started asking my parents to transfer me into the public junior high for my 7th grade a move I’m still grateful for to this day.
  • Being Roman Catholic and Irish. I was raised Roman Catholic, went to mass nearly every Sunday for most of my childhood, recieved my First Communion and went to Confession. My father was and is deeply active in his church, he gives the homilies with some frequency and is a very active member of what is a fairly atypical Roman Catholic community, a community that has mass in a school gym and has music played with guitars and where laypeople take a very active role in the service. My aunt is a Roman Catholic nun. I grew up half a continent removed from most of my aunts and uncles (who were and are mostly still back on the East Coast) but we had large family gatherings around the holidays and heard stories of what it meant to be Irish earlier in this century in the US. Stories which reinforced an identity outside of the mainstream of Protestant America (stories of “No Irish allowed” type signs and workplaces). At the same time, however I was not immersed in an Irish idenity, we didn’t learn Irish folk dancing or cook much corned beef at home (though we did eat a lot of potatoes). I also rejected the Catholic church at a very young age, I refused to be Confirmed being unwilling to publicly vow something I did not believe or would want to honor. To be Confirmed is how you join the Catholic Church as an full adult member, it is your act of publicly affirming that you believe in God (which I do not), agree with the Roman Catholic faith and will both be an active member of the Church and will raise your children as members of the Church. All of which I would not swear that I would do – not the least of which being I feel how children are to be raised should be a mutual decision by both parents – which makes it very hard for me to feel comfortable taking such a vow on my own. So while I can speak Catholic, I am not (in a very formal sense of the word) a Catholic. I’ll always be, I guess, Irish – that’s my other side of my family.
  • Web 2.0. Since moving out to the Bay Area I have become, I guess, immersed in the emerging community around Web 2.0. My friends are the bloggers covering the companies, the CEO’s, founders, programmers, and investors in Web 2.0. When I go to a conference on the topic I usually know both the organizers of the conference and a majority of the speakers. I speak “web 2.0″ with a high degree of fluency. I use many of the web 2.0 services though like everyone else I don’t use every service or have the time to try everything. I’ve covered Web 2.0 myself as a blogger for Centernetworks.
  • Business. I do not have an MBA. Though if you were to look at my bookshelves you would be forgiven for assuming that I might have one. As a child I read, at least some sections, of the Wall Street Journal from almost the time I learned to read. I have always followed the workings of business with a great deal of interest, I read a relatively large number of business books each year (increasingly books whose authors I might in fact know) and I try to stay up on the many nuances of business. However not having an MBA, not having spent much of my career working up the ranks of a large corporation (or a large services firm serving corporations) there is also a very real sense in which I do not speak Business, some nuances of relationships and interactions I simply don’t get or am at least very rusty about. I was never very good at internal company politics or at the wink and a nod aspects of how a lot of business actually occurs (over games at a golf course and the like). I’m not a member of right health or private clubs, I don’t rack up the frequent flyer miles, and I don’t go to very many business focused conferences or events. But I probably would fit in even at a very high level with people at most large corporations, I could ask the right questions, hold serious conversations, make useful contributions and introductions.
  • Social Networks. In 2004 I formed MeshForum. In 2005 and 2006 I organized a three day conference on the study of Networks both Social Networks and many other types of networks. Speakers at MeshForum included experts from the Pentagon, professors of many fields and from many different schools, entrepreneurs, investors and artists. In 2007 I held a series of smaller one day MeshWalks and I intend to hold more MeshWalks and another MeshForum in the future. As a result of my involvement in organizing MeshForum and in participating in online discussions such as the SOCNET mailing list I have become very well versed in the theory of Social Network Analysis as well as have been a student of the emerging class of web sites (and other services) around “Social Networks”. But I am not a practicing Social Network analyst, I haven’t published research and increasingly I am unable to keep up with the all too many different social networks around which people I know engage (and even less so able to track and follow the countless other networks where few if anyone I know engages). But I most definitely speak Network in all the many permutations of that word and concept. Heck, I can even hold my own in conversation with my friends who are telecomunitions policy or technology wonks. (and in my case that includes people who literally invented major pieces of our current technology stack and or who founded major companies or worked on major policy)
  • and I’m sure I am missing many other Communities I can speak to as well – science fiction fandom, art, the music industry, gay/lesbian communities (I’m most definitely straight but have many friends who are not, many of whom are very active in a range of communities around sexual orientation and idenity) and even sports fandom (the last of which is perhaps a bit of a secret even to some of my friends – for all of my life I have listened to a lot of sports talk radio at times I have followed different sports with some degree of passion – but somehow this hasn’t overlapped with my social circles much).

So what Communities do you speak?

The communities all around us

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Aug 7th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

In less than 10 minutes walking from my house are nearly a countless number of different communities, throughout the greater San Francisco and Bay Area there are thousands, probably millions more.

I have been thinking about the communities to which I belong, the communities all around me, and the online and offline implications of these communities, our changing notion of identity, and on a more personal level what all this means to what I’ll do next weekend or more long term how my life is and will be changing in the future.

In a conversation with friends a few weeks ago (and some blog posts) I noted that many people here in SF seem to be defined by a single, dominant community to which they belong – whether by virtue of sexual orientation, sexual practice/preferences, or active participation in an arts community such as Burning Man. In the Mission there are “hipsters”, down the Peninsula in Silicon Valley some are yet another part of the tech world and all around the Bay Area there are other communities – hippies (aging or youthful) in Haight-Ashbury and across the bay in Berkeley etc.

But as I was walking home from getting a late night dinner a few nights ago I started looking around my neighborhood and realized that there are literally 100’s if not 1000’s of communities just in the blocks around my house, in the businesses (and churches) and amongst the apartments and homes. Some are small communities, others are very large, many people indeed most people belong to many different communities but often will define themselves via just a few or perhaps just one.

What do I mean by “community”?

In this context I’m thinking of community as a group to which you belong, an association of people though that is clearly still very vague. Perhaps simplest is a group where people know you and very likely would help you (or you help them) because of your mutual membership in the community. Now this is not entirely complete, there are plenty of people in any given community who are clearly members of that community but who may not know each other and may not help each other if asked, but most broadly a community are people to whom you can turn to – whether for something as simple as a smile and a hello or as complex as help in a time of crisis.

A few examples of communities scattered around my neighborhood on just one street upon which I walk frequently.

  • At the bottom of the hill a large Catholic church and school. Multiple overlapping communities here – the parishoners who attend the Church and the parents, students and staff who go to the school
  • Among my neighbors on the way down the hill I see political signs (here in San Francisco primarily Obama window signs like the one in my own window) as well as flags to proclaim other associations, here in San Francisco lots of rainbow flags generally as a sign of Gay or Lesbian identity.
  • Also at the bottom of the hill are a number of restaurants and shops around each of which to a lesser or greater degree a small community has sprung up. In all cases a community of the workers of the store, but also in many cases the regular customers of the business form communities of a sort bonding with each other and with the owners and staff through frequent visits and conversations.
  • a bit further down the hill there is an Orthodox Jewish center, during high holidays I have seen it busy, many evenings I may see a small group (usually of men) inside in what I assume is Torah study. It stands out a bit in contrast to the mostly Hispanic rest of the surrounding blocks.
  • across from the Jewish center is one of the many legal marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco, I assume a community of a sort gathers there as well
  • also in my neighborhood are yoga studios, beauty salons, therapist offices, art galleries, day care centers, veterinarians, midwifes, and countless other small businesses. Around each one ore more small communities likely has formed, people who in many cases live nearby and bond with each other over shared practices, hobbies, children, religion, or other common interests.

And outside of this very local scale of relationships and communities people in most cases are also part of one or more work communities, of the extended community around schools they have attended (and/or which their children attend) and on a bigger scale still people come together around a shared support for a professional sports team (and more broadly for a shared passion for one or more speciic sports).

But why observe all this? Why take stock of the many communities around us?

Because as I started to do this I realized a couple of pretty vital things.

  1. Without intentionally meaning to I am not, in fact, part of many of these communities at all.
  2. Most of the communities people are a part of have little correspondence with anything “online” the seeming overlaps are, in fact, a different, perhaps related community
  3. All communities on or offline succeed and add value to your life in relationship to your own involvement, your awareness of them (sure a smile from the woman behind the counter is nice, better though is getting to know her by name)
  4. While there are some communities created around facts of the people involved (skin color, sexual preference, school you attended) the most meaningful are around not a noun or adjective but around verbs – around what you (the members) do. Knowing how to play chess doesn’t make you a member of a local chess playing community – playing chess with your fellow players who gather at North Ave Beach in Chicago (and in nearby cafes in the wintertime) makes you a member of that community.
  5. The communities I perceive myself as a member of very likely do not or at least not fully overlap with the communities others perceive me as a member of. And what matters most in a community is not whether you think you are a member but whether the other members of that community agree that you are – i.e. if they perceive you as a fellow member. Even in the small, adhoc communities around the businesses in my neighborhood there are these differences. I may be a semi-regular in a cafe but if I don’t take the time to get to know the staff, the owner, the other regulars then though I may be recognized as someone who has been there before, in a very real sense I am not a member of the community.

When I first got online, in 1991, I was an active member of a number of online communities. very real communities which had a more than just online impact on my life. In the two largest cases as a result of these communities I offered friends whom I had only met online a place to stay, got together with many of them in person (with many people traveling long distances for these gatherings) and many other members of these communities formed even more permanent and lasting relationships (and yes some marriages). Musual membership in an online USENET discussion board (open to anyone but the community was formed of those who participated even if just mostly as readers) or of the players of an online game rapidly expanded to a level of trust that allowed people to open up their homes to each other when travelling, to offer “real world” assistance when needed, in short to be there for each other when the need arose. All as a result of the ongoing and active and reinforcing trust built up via online participation and engagement.

In many cases this did not, in fact, at that time (1991-1994 or so) require people to post and participate entirely as their real world selves. Indeed some of the most important members of the community of one online game which I helped run refused to reveal to anyone his or her gender (instead preferring to have a gender neutral identity even while also active in relationships with others in the game). And though merely having online access in the early 90’s meant that we all shared some common traits (technical knowledge, access usually via a university) we were quite a diverse community – with people from many different generations, of many different gender and sexual identities, of quite different professional interests, and indeed very different religious and political views.

Taking stock, however, of the communities which I feel an active part of today online I see a diminution of this diversity. In many cases these are groups of people who overlap in many many ways. Sure we may all use a given technology (twitter/friendfeed for example) but in many cases we also work in the same industries, many of us are of similar ethinic backgrounds, hold relatively similar political views and in short overlap in many many ways.

I find this very unfortunate though I suspect it is a difficult trend to reverse the group forming tools online today almost always presuppose a shared engagement with one or more specific technologies/sites (Facebook vs MySpace vs Orcut vs Bebe vs Hi5 vs Topix vs Yahoo Groups etc) so the people who share your interest who also find and then participate in the same online “community” tend to overlap not only around that interest but also around a whole range of other shared traits which led them, like you, to choose the same tools and online homes.

There are some minor exceptions – communities which are online but not formed as part of another site or service but as a standalone site. In many of these cases they may attract a somewhat more diverse group of members – but only to the extent that there are both not many other alternative venues for those interests and that people from many different backgrounds are all looking for such a community.

I will be writing more on this subject in the future. Full disclosure, among the publisher clients of my advertising network, Nearness Function, is a large online network of standalone communities mostly clustered around a shared passion for a particular type of consumer electronics.

MeshWalk SF in SF – late summer/early fall 2008

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date Jul 1st, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

I am in the very, very early stages of planning the next MeshWalk. My current thought is to hold a MeshWalk SF in SF in the late summer or very early fall. The theme would be Science Fiction in SF.

Tentatively the plan would be to invite a number of science fiction and fantasy authors (and perhaps directors, writers and stars) to join a full day MeshWalk which would roam throughout San Francisco. We would visit, in a true MeshWalk fashion via a bit of a ramble, a number of locations which figured in the works they created and/or which inspired their stories. As we walked and stopped at various locations we would, as a group, film some of our conversations, with the tentative goal of creating a DVD like collection of works (i.e. extras and commentary) about the relationship of place and creative works.

In addition we might stop at place such as the Long Now Foundation, the Burning Man offices, science fiction bookstores such as Borderlands Books, local SF & Fantasy presses, geek & SF inspired area bars & nightclubs and more.

Most likely our plans would include the renting of one or more buses (perhaps Trolleys) to get us across major parts of the city so we can range father and wider than in some MeshWalks (and so the walk would be as accessible as possible, though still plan on walking 5+ miles over the course of the day).

Ideally the MeshWalk will also include breakfast, lunch (at some suitable locations) and would close with drinks and appetizers. And given the theme we would definiely include a few stops at one or more bookstores and would allow time to get signatures from the authors and creators on the MeshWalk.

Hopefully as plans come together I’ll have a few sponsors to announce to offset some (or pehraps all) of the costs of this MeshWalk. I’m also going to be trying to arrange for some very notable stops and participants (think of the two major Bay Area film studios whom I might approach… hint here at the Presideo and across the Bay….)

With enough advance planning and the right date it is quite possible this could be the biggest MeshWalk yet. Our plan and route would be designed so that we have many opportunities to mingle and talk and lots of chances to rotate from group to group so everyone would have a chance to meet and talk with the invited guests.

If you would be interested in participating, sponsoring, or helping out as a volunteer (any MeshWalk takes a lot of volunteers to pull off) please either leave a comment here or email me at Shannon DOT Clark AT gmail DOT com (substitute as appropriate).

Slowly building your (personal) brand part 1

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date May 23rd, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

a smaller dinner party at my SF apartment

I am a serious food lover, have been for many years. I am lucky to have grown up in a household where we ate dinner together as a family every night and where my first memory of dining out was when I was 3 and learned to use chopsticks at a Chinese restaurant. And while I imposed Chucky Cheese on my family on many a birthday as a child (my family has a tradition where the person celebrating his or her birthday picks where we ate dinner as a family typically dining out) my parents also exposed me and my sister to a very wide range of cuisines and flavors as we grew up.

Before we moved to Chicago I remember teaching the parents and teachers at my 2nd grade school how to make Guacamole from scratch. I was a bit precocious but as I recall it also tasted quite good the way I made it (which I had learned from my mom).

In college I threw serious dinner parties every few weeks, typically where I cooked all the main dishes, friends baked dessert, and everyone helped clean or prep. Each week I would cook a different cuisine using a mix of recipes from cookbooks and the Internet (this was pre-web, so drawn from USENET or occasionally Gopher). But at almost every meal I would also improvise, adjusting a recipe to taste or often making up an entirely new dish from the flavors of a given cuisine and ingredients I bought. I had learned to cook from a combination of observing my Mom and my Dad as they cooked (and they both cooked as I grew up) and from a few “Home Economics” courses I took in the 7th grade.

Since college I have continued to be a very serious cook and dine out a great deal. In Chicago I was a highly active poster to Chowhound (in the days before CNET purchased them and upgraded the site’s software) and then on a website friends of mine set up after being frustrated by the forum software of Chowhound, LTHForum (the name stands for a Chinese restaurant we love in Chinatown, Little Three Happiness called that because there is a second and much inferior Three Happiness restaurant right across the street). The group of us and the forum grew quickly and we not only posted about food we also gathered together on a regular basis for meals and events all through out Chicagoland.

In Chicago and especially since I moved to San Francisco I have also become quite adept at the art of organizing large group dinners. Typically I pick the restaurant and very often arrange for all of the food, often ordering everything and arranging for a family style or at least a prix fix meal to maximize everyone’s enjoyment.

Why do I mention all these details about my past and present life?

Because, and this is where it gets tricky, even with all of that which I have claimed (assuming you have read this far) you still do not have any particular reason to trust me, my suggestions, my cooking or my reviews.

Yes, I claim to be good, even an expert but that claim, by itself, no matter how often I repeat it is just words, just an unverified assertion.

In contrast for the most part anyone who has eaten at one of my dinner parties begs me for invitations to future events. People who have taken my suggestions for dinner locations and/or been to a meal I have organized, generally let me help them again in the future. To a lesser degree people who have been following me on Twitter for a long time have noticed that amongst my random rants and discussions I also twitter about food a great deal. Mini-reviews, observations about places I find, and occasionally small rants and even some raves.

With every event I organize this list of people grows, people who both trust my recommendations and in many cases refer people to me for advice and assistance.

In the next post in this serious more discussion on how to best build (or rebuild) your personal brand, especially as you also shift your job functions.

Diet Coke, “Live Positively” and subtle branding problems

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date May 20th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

Coke, Coca Cola, and diet Coke are some of the most recognizable and most valuable brands in the world.

Entire web communities invest time analyzing the subtle changes in the packaging of soda across the planet.

But even great Brands, brands which have for decades defined how to build, manage, extend, and maintain a great brand make mistakes.

Take this can of diet Coke I photographed this weekend.

Diet Coke sweating

Notice how it has the phrase “Live Positively” along the side of the can? This same phrase can also be found on the current versions of other sizes and shapes of diet Coke found here in the US at present.

I wondered, what happens when you do a Google search on the phrase “Live Positively”?

Turns out you find a mix of self help sites and for the most part, sites for people who are living with HIV. This phrase has been used for a long time now by HIV support groups here in the US and indeed around the planet.

For diet Coke it was, I think, intended as part of their packaging and branding around support for women’s health and in particular a focus on healthy hearts which is the current main focus for diet Coke’s advertising on TV.

So I went to the diet Coke home page. I thought I might find some more information on this phrase at the official site, however I was wrong. Couldn’t find it. The home page is mostly tracking codes for various scripts and a primary and almost entirely flash driven graphical site. You can view the current diet Coke TV ads, can download a few images of posters, and can get some information about the myCokeRewards program which currently includes an offer for a red designer dress which diet Coke has had made as part of their support for healthy heart awareness in women.

Reading over the site I noticed that the entire marketing and branding present in the site had a built-in assumption that anyone interested in diet Coke was a woman. So apparently a male, such as myself, was not at all the target audience for any of diet Coke’s brand messaging.

More to the point, though historically Coca Cola has built some great examples of Slow Brands, brands driven by an iconic imagery, consistent and patient messaging, and living up to and exceeding brand promises and expectations for decades upon decades, with the rise of the internet at least the diet Coke arm of Coca Cola does not appear to be getting how to invest in a brand in a digital world.

Getting back to that phrase. Though it is present on the diet Coke cans, I have not been able to find any official diet Coke presence than explains it or makes reference to the phrase. One article from the Beverage Institute mentioned a “Live Positively team” but I can’t find any other reference to the team and diet Coke on the web.

A number of bloggers have noticed the phrase on their cans and bottles of diet Coke but even these discussions are in the search engine results interleaved with other sites which were focused on HIV/AIDS but happened to also mention diet Coke on a given page.

Today any Brand should take the time to search on the other uses of messages which will be a part of your Brand messaging offline and online and see how your messaging ties into the existing uses of a given phrase. While it perhaps is not diet Coke’s intent, perhaps Coca Cola should have made some donations to and given support to some HIV/AIDS support groups around the globe perhaps as part of an overall campaign to help people, likely emphasizing women if indeed diet Coke is intended to be branded mostly for women consumers. In that case the overlapping meanings of the phrase would have echoed the Brand messaging.

As a consumer while some parts of the soda industry have remained iconic and slow, the packaging and marketing of the core products has often seemed to no longer be consistent or slow. Seemingly every time I am in supermarket today (at least here in the US) the packaging and marketing for both Coca Cola’s family of brands and Pepsi’s family of brands seems to have changed, on a nearly weekly basis.

In fact I noted that I could tell that the little corner store near my house had bought the soda they were selling a long time ago because the packaging on it contained contests which had ended months prior.

I am highlighting diet Coke here because it is an example of an iconic Brand, a great Slow Brand of the past, which I think is not entirely succeeding in the new, online driven world.

What other examples of historically great, Slow Brands, can you think of which have stumbled online?

A formula for Brands

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date May 20th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

Arthur Einstien Vice President of Marketing at Loyalty Builders

My post about What is a Brand Anyway prompted my friend Arthur Einstein to write an email to me where he took issue with the simple, and I agree it is too simple, definition that a brand is a promise.

The formula which Arthur offers in place of that simple definition is:

Your Brand = awareness + expectations + engagement + experience

Awareness is simply the knowledge that you’re there.
Expectations pretty obvious. It’s the promise you speak of.
Engagement is the quality of the interaction that turns a consumer into a customer
Experience is the customers perception of how his/her expectations have been fulfilled

(and continue to be fulfilled over time)

Arthur Einstein is the Vice President of Marketing at Loyalty Builders. He has over 30 years of experience in the marketing and advertising industry, including as an agency president.

He ended by noting that:

What’s important about this view of branding is that each of these quantities can be measured and each of them can be managed.

I agree with Arthur that his definition captures a more nuanced approach to the entirety of what a Brand is and that certainly the ability to measure is important. Though I also worry that measuring too much (and especially measuring the wrong things) can be counterproductive. What’s more, it can lead you to focus on what is easiest to measure versus what will have the largest impact over time.

And rapid measurement can lead to rapid adjustments, which is counter to my view of how a Slow Brand should approach building and enhancing their Brand.

Instead I would suggest balancing immediate measurement and reactions to those measurements with setting long term goals and then giving your planned methods time to prove themselves. Especially in todays media rich world, I argue, it takes more persistence and especially consistency to associate your brand with your messages around the brand.

What would you offer as a definition of a brand?

What is a Brand anyway?

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date May 17th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

Food dot com Shimla India

My personal and favorite definition is “A Brand is a promise”.

At the most basic level a good or service which is “branded” has an implicit promise that it is, in fact, from the owner of that brand and they (whether a company or an individual) stand behind their product. In most cases a branded good or service is also promised to be consistent, if you get the same product again it will again meet what has been promised.

This does not, however, always mean that every time you buy that product it is the same – some brands might promise uniqueness or constant variety, while also maintaining other promises – quality, taste, service, fair prices.

An error made often by companies is having a brand for which no clear promise can be ascribed. Frequently the promise is summed up in the tag phrases that accompany the Brand marketing and advertising – many companies today change these messages rapidly often using many different phrases and promises.

This is not to say that a Brand has only one promise, many brands offer a range of related promises but most great brands, Slow Brands, usually have a clear and dominant promise associated with their brand. Historically, for example, Volvo = “Safe”. Perhaps with the additional promise of “safe and a bit boring”.

And yes, this meant that Volvo’s did not tend to attract young, single males as buyers. But for Volvo’s primary audience of families (and more typically usually mothers) “safe and a bit boring” was quite compelling.

Recently a new site, Brand Tags has launched which asks people to tag with a single word or phrase a variety of brands.

Take a look at how Apple has been tagged.

Now compare that to how Dell has been tagged.

Which company would you rather be?

What is a Slow Brand?

author Posted by: ShannonBlogPosts on date May 16th, 2008 | filed Filed under: my Blogs

A Slow Brand is a brand which has been invested in over time, a brand that has made promises and kept those promises many, many times.

A Slow Brand is a confident brand sure of what it stands for as well as what is not in keeping with the brand.

Brands are a promise. Whether a personal Brand, a corporate Brand, or the Brand of an entire country, great brands stand for things, have consistency and are backed up and built up through the accumulation of messages.

Most Brands today are not Slow Brands. Companies and individuals rarely, today, invest the time it takes to have a Slow Brand. Instead many Brands change their messages and the promise of the Brand rapidly. Making different promises to different audiences in many cases and all too often using very short term measures to signal when to shift messages yet again, changing messages and promises with growing frequency.

This blog will focus on Slow Brands, what they are, on examples of Slow Brands, and on both the specific messages of individual brands and on the techniques they use online and offline to build, maintain, and enhance the value and import of their brand.

Where does the phrase originate?

The phrase “Slow Brand” is an homage to the Slow Food Movement which since 1989 has celebrated local, heritage foods and the art of eating and living a slow, thoughtful life. The transformation of regions around the world and the preservation of cultural heritages embodied in regional foods has been and is an incredible achievement. As a serious foodie, and long time fan of the Slow Food Movement, my awareness of Brands have been shaped by Slow Food. Both in my own cooking and when I dine out I now look for brands not (typically) from large international corporations, but the brands of local, slow food producers.

This blog will illustrate the concept of Slow Brand often by looking at some of these local, slow food inspired companies and individuals.

Disclosure – the business of Nearness Function, the ad network focused on Brand Advertising which Shannon Clark is a co-founder of, is helping brands invest in building their brand via the long term support and sponsorship of rich experiences and passionate communities.