The Pheonix and the Underwear: How I Spent (and then Lost) November and December

Standing on the Beach

A lot has happened since October. I went to Florida for a few weeks, and lived in a condo on the Gulf Coast. I went to Disneyworld (with the kids) for the first time and my cynicism towards Disney has abated somewhat. I saw the Space Shuttle Discovery launch from about 15 miles away. I got to brainstorm with clients at the top of the 4-Seasons hotel in downtown Chicago. I flew to Winnipeg via Air Canada on the day their computer systems were down and had to wait in line almost 2 hours to run to the plane to then sit and wait for it to be de-iced. Oh, and they lost all my luggage so I had to buy socks and underwear at the Giant Tiger. My suitcases then arrived 5 hours later.

The Internet Is My Co-PilotI gave a lecture at FITC Road Show Winnipeg on finding inspiration online called 1% – Because 99% of the Internet is S**t. I got to meet and hang out with R Blank, Josh Davis, Erik Natzke, Hoss Gifford, Robert L. Peters, Branden Hall, Derrick Ypenburg, Tim Scollick, and many others at the Kings Head Pub. I spent a few days with House of Doc before their western tour, and showed them how to use Twitter. Because of this I knew when their van broke down, and when they got caught in a blizzard. I accepted a 6 week full-time contract with idea|couture while at the same time prepared for a marathon 8 hour workshop on Exponential Brainstorming at the Rich Media Centre in Toronto. The workshop is finished, I’m wrapping up my contract, I’m finalizing invoices for the year, writing Christmas lists, and shoveling out of the biggest dump of Toronto lake-effect snow in years. Phew.

Oh, and then my 5 month old MacBook computer hard drive committed suicide by crashing the read/write arm into the magnetic platters all night long until every single shred of data was destroyed. I had planned on using Time Machine (Mac backup software) last week to back up all the work I’ve done, but I was a day too late. I shipped my crippled machine to California (during the busiest mailing season) to an Apple approved data recovery centre called DriveSavers. They reconstructed my hard drive in a clean room, but told me that the ‘click of death’ I had heard when I first noticed something was wrong had actually managed to mangle all data. All of it.

I felt like my house had burnt down.

But it was entirely my fault and entirely preventable. There was really nothing to do but accept it and move on. I just have a lot of work to do coming into the new year. I have to reconstruct everything I spent the last 2 months trying to build. But I know it will be better in the long run. And I’ll appreciate it more this time. And I’ll be copying it onto other drives this time (in triplicate).

I miss the pictures I lost the most… all the images of my kids having fun… but they’re in my memory as well. I just can’t print them or share them the same way. As luck would have it, my LAST ACT was emailing my 16 favourite kids images to Dayna to print, so I actually managed to keep 0.5% of these memories alive.

Now I’m just waiting for a new drive and using Dayna’s laptop for a week or so. It’s much like wearing someone else’s underwear: it’s great not being naked, but it still feels very uncomfortable.

AT&T Lets Their Brand Burn

AT&T DeathstarMany companies have call centres that are incapable of improvisation. They have absolutely no leeway for sympathy or compassion. No flexible imagination. The short term view is that caring costs money. If they keep the calls short, force everyone to pay what is due without exceptions, there will be a better bottom line.

At the moment AT&T has a few negative branding issues. It is embroiled in a class-action lawsuit for participating in illegal wiretapping with the NSA. They are accused of censoring politically sensitive broadcasts, like the ‘mistake’ made during a Pearl Jam concert when the sound was cut as Eddie Vedder sang, “George Bush, leave this world alone.” Even their own privacy policy (according to the San Francisco Chronicle) states, “AT&T — not customers [emphasis added] — owns customers’ confidential info and can use it ‘to protect its legitimate business interests…” The only shine on the ‘Deathstar’ (as it is sometimes referred to) is that they are the exclusive carrier of the iPhone in the United States. And look how eager programmers are to make sure each update to the iPhone is cracked and open as soon as possible to bypass the need for AT&T’s services. (see Wikipedia article for more context)

Now witness AT&T’s treatment of Matt and Danelle Azola, a couple from Ramona San Diego who return from their honeymoon to see their California house burn down in the 2007 wildfires. They call AT&T to cancel their services (since they don’t have a house, never mind a television, computer, or phone), and are asked if they managed to rescue the satellite receiver. When Danelle tells them it was destroyed in the fire with all her other worldly possessions, AT&T informs her she will be sent a $300 bill for its replacement. She pleads to a supervisor, but there was no leniency and AT&T policy is strictly enforced. The mail carrier will just have to place that AT&T bill on a smoking pile of ash where the front door used to be.


[UPDATE: One of the many drawbacks of youtube is not only the horrible quality, but of course, you can never control the reliability of the link. Sorry.]

AT&T, and let’s be honest— MOST cable/phone/internet providers— take a short-term view of their customers. There is so much churn, and so many choices, that they go for the bottom line. They outsource, they create confusing plans (and groups of bundles of plans), and they treat people like robots. It is dangerous to act this way because without loyal customers, a company is vulnerable.

AT&T had an opportunity to do something extraordinary. They had an opportunity to create some goodwill, to give these customers, who are in extenuating circumstances, an exceptional experience. Imagine if they had offered to give this couple free cellular service for a few months until they were back on their feet, as well as wave any new installation or set-up fees that might be incurred at their new location. How much would that have cost this communications giant? And would that cost not be offset by a completely reversed TV news item, where a couple extolled AT&T as the one bright light in their storm?

Instead AT&T makes sure to kick them when they are down. And that creates negative equity, bad word of mouth, and Brand Decay sets in. The Azola’s didn’t even make this video. It was created by yet another disenfranchised customer who wanted to broadcast his or her unhappiness with the brand. AT&T isn’t seeing a lot of love these days. Without treating their own paying customers with respect, without creative solutions to unique problems, it will become increasingly difficult for them to keep and acquire customers. They need to start thinking more about the long term.

Jason Theodor Talks on Social Media Today #26 – Toyota WoW, Dove Onslaught, and Radiohead In Rainbows

I have the esteemed honour of being interviewed in Social Media Today #26.

Social Media TodayI discovered the Social Media Today podcast in May of 2007 while researching the term “Social Media Optimization”, a label coined by Rohit Bhargava from Ogilvy Public Relations. He gave a good interview about the topic, and I was hooked. At the time Maggie Fox was at the helm as interviewer, but she recently passed the torch to Douglas Walker, a marketing blogger and entrepreneur among many many other things.

Last Sunday Doug interviewed me via Skype. We talked about some new viral marketing ventures, and label-less online music distribution. Here’s the SMT#26 outline:

1:04 Introduction of Jason Theodor

2:10 Discuss Dove Onslaught

10:08 Discuss Toyota World of Warcraft Viral Video

16:16 Discuss Radiohead’s Pay what you want strategy for new Album In Rainbows

21:38 So Long and Jason plugs his stuff

Doug promised to cut out all the ums and ahs and make me sound smart. I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, so let me know what you think in the comments.

Listen or download SMT#26 now!

Delicious Errors are Horribly Wrong

Most web 2.0 companies use a more colloquial language when ‘conversing’ with their visitors. From time to time their sites are upgraded or tweaked, or go down unexpectedly, and the company needs to create error messages to explain what has happened. This is often used as a (rarely seen) platform for the company to express it’s own quirky personality to its user base.

Twitter is notorious for this:
Twitter Error


YouTube does it sometimes:
YouTube Be Right Back Error

Pownce likes to be geeky about it:

Vimeo even curses the subject:
Vimeo Error Message

All of these messages are reassuring, humourous, or tell you what to do next. The tone and manner used is in keeping with the brand personality. They talk directly to the visitor and treat them like human beings. This is a welcome change from sites that issue cryptic and numbered alert pages that not even a computer can understand.

But yesterday (October 5, 2007) at 10:37am when PR maven Steve Rubel twitted that “Del.icio.us is down,” users of the Yahoo! owned bookmarking service were greeted by a disturbing message:

Apologies, it seems something is horribly wrong with our code

Horribly Delicious

I use all of these services to varying degrees, but del.icio.us is where I have put in the most work. For years now I have faithfully tagged and described 1158 pages on the internet. I use del.icio.us to track and categorize research projects, label tools, and mark future trends for reference. So when I read this my blood went cold. It looked like del.icio.us might have lost everything. It looked like the site might be terminally broken. Clicking on the ‘Return to the home page’ link exacerbated the fear by simply reloading the same error message.

Del.icio.us is slowly rolling out the new 2.0 version of their site, so it is conceivable that they might be down infrequently for maintenance. But it is another thing entirely to glibly claim that the code— the underlying framework of all our faithful taxonomy— is horribly wrong.

Yes, my reaction is exaggerated. I know the message was just a poor choice of words. But it made me feel paranoid instead of assured, which reminded me how important it is to speak to customers, consumers, users, with a consistent and authoritative voice. When there is trouble, be honest, let them know what’s going on, give them a laugh. But try not to scare them or undermine their confidence.

Because that message is your brand.

Wii Know Where You Live

Wii Remote JacketNintendo recently announced the Wii Remote Jacket, which will begin shipping with all remotes by mid-October, 2007. It is a silicone slip-cover which one cannot help but compare to a condom— especially the ridged tip. It is ugly, laughable, and will, according to some estimates, cost Nintendo 17 Million dollars. This is because they have decided to send up to 4 form-fitting sheaths directly to your door for absolutely nothing. Not even shipping costs.

According to GoNintendo, George Harrison, Sr. VP of Marketing Nintendo America had this to say about the Wii Remote rubber:

“We’re always looking for ways to improve our products and make sure everyone has a safe and fun experience. Many electronics manufacturers provide similar protective covers for [their] products.”

*COUGH*

Everyone is talking about how stupid this is, or how generous (depending on your reaction to it), but no-one has really speculated what’s in it for Nintendo.

Free Wii Remote JacketWell, it’s a simple direct marketing technique. For just under $2 a console (assuming 9.3 Million have been sold worldwide) Nintendo gets your full name, address and postal code. This up-to-date list of user data will tell the Wii creators exactly where you live, which will allow them to speculate your age, your average income, and other socio-economic data that is readily available about your neighborhood.

Next they email you Christmas & holiday offers for new accessories, games, and products they ‘know’ you’ll enjoy. This time you’ll have to pay for it, but hey, you already know how to use their online ordering service now, don’t you?

Pot of Gold at the End of Radiohead’s “In Rainbows”?

Radiohead In Rainbows Website

While the record industry continues to eat its own young by claiming in court that even the act of ripping a copy of a CD you already own is piracy, the mega-group Radiohead has cut the umbilical cord and is going it alone. No label; no music distributor; and even more brazen— no fixed cost per album.

Radiohead In Rainbows Pay What You Will

You can pre-order Radiohead’s new album, in rainbows, for as much or as little as you want to pay for it. Think about that for a second. They are offering it to a legion of fans for free. Or you can choose to place whatever value on it you wish. No Warner, or EMI, or Universal, or Capitol Records. Not even iTunes is invited to a slice of the pie. Just you, the consumer, the fan, faced with a rare honest choice: take it or pay for it. No really. It’s up to you.

Radiohead In Rainbows It’s Up To You Really

It will be available for download on October 10th, 2007. Or you can go all out and purchase the much cooler £40.00 ($80) ‘discbox’, which consists of enhanced CDs, extra tracks, vinyl, artwork and booklets. This will be shipped by December 3rd, but you will also get an invitation to download the digital formats in October. Word on the street is that discbox sales are out pacing the ‘pay what you will’ downloads.

Radiohead In Rainbows discbox

TIME writes that this may be another ‘death knell’ to the recording industry but RollingStone says Radiohead is still looking for a label to distribute a traditional CD version in 2008. (Remember, not everyone has a computer, an iPod, and a credit card.) Michael Arrington of TechCrunch weighs in to say that since the production costs of music distribution are next to zero, the rules of economics will push the price close to zero as well. There is a lively debate raging in his comments section on this topic.

Have albums become loss leaders? Is the real money in live concerts and merchandise? Prince thinks so. He gave away free copies of his new album Planet Earth in the July 15th edition of UK paper The Mail on Sunday. Columbia Records was so pissed off that they refused to distribute his album in England (the local HMVs had to stock the newspaper to appease customers). But when Prince subsequently announced 21 concert dates, they sold out immediately.

Nine Inch Nails front man Trent Reznor has been giving away his latest album Year Zero in bits and pieces, even offering re-mixable multi-tracks for fans to create their own versions. NIN planted USB keys at their own concerts with high-res versions of videos and music that hadn’t been released yet, prompting DJs to ‘unofficially’ play new singles. Reznor has called his own record label “Greedy fucking assholes” and recently told fans in Australia to “steal and steal and steal some more and give it to all your friends and keep on stealing.”

Thom Yorke, Radiohead’s lead singer, is slightly more diplomatic:

I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say ‘Fuck you’ to this decaying business model. (TIME)

Radiohead In Rainbows New Record

As historic a moment as it is, Radiohead’s new venture has not yet proven itself a success. Will fans pay for the album? How much (I paid £5.00)? Will the digital download be a wide enough distribution? Will their servers be able to handle the traffic? Will fans flock to the inevitable concert tour? Will Radiohead continue to turn a profit on their talent? The answer is most likely yes, but it will be interesting to watch this new experiment unfold.

SIDENOTE: Since there is no album art for In Rainbows as of yet (October 10, 2007) I have created a Flickr group and a Facebook group for uploading, sharing, and eventually voting on user-generated covers.

LifeFocus™ Card Sets Coming Soon

LifeFocus Card Set
I received some excellent feedback on the last iteration of LifeFocus™ Cards, and decided to simplify things quite a bit. 2 Sans Serif fonts, Trade Gothic and Avenir, are used. Arial bold and Arial Narrow can be used in a pinch with the editable PDF files to follow, just in case you don’t actually have the font. I have removed MUNDANE from the name, and replaced it with a little coloured M logo. I have removed the side-splittingly LOL funny joke about patents and pen’s not included. I have replaced the word ‘NOTES’ with a little plus sign (+). And I have removed the coloured background from the Sidebar of Time. Colour has been introduced, and will relate to the type of set offered. I hope to complete v6 sometime in the next week, but I’m about as reliable as a Microsoft operating system when it comes to launching my own projects.