It was a pretty amazing summer here on the West (best?) Coast. Below is a mostly-chronological recap of May-September. Yes, there was a lot of snow (and some ski-touring!).
I’ve spent the latter half of my career working extensively with colleagues, teams and clients across the country or around the world. Recently, it’s mostly just been myself working from Vancouver with a team based in Toronto. In other positions, I’ve worked on everything from projects with multiple teams (clients, developers, designers, sales) around the world to situations where I was part of a team collaborating with a single remote worker.
Below are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way. Some of these might be basic project management skills (and thus the responsibility of a Project Manager or Producer to know and manage), but they’re applicable to anyone working remotely or with clients/team members in a different city. Not all are applicable to every project.
Roles, Responsibilities and Resources.
At the start of the project, ensure that everyone is clear on their roles and responsibilities, including what they are expected to deliver and how. While this might not be known at the very first kick-off meeting or project, work to quickly establish it and send out a message that outlines these roles. For larger projects, or ones with two teams working together, establish a Single Point Of Contact for each team. The SPOC will be the person through which information flows and will be responsible for scheduling and keeping their team up to date.
At the same time, establish which tools or resources will be used for the project, and how they should be used. For example:
- Dictate that Google Docs should be used, and develop guidelines for naming conventions or the process by which feedback should be given (assigning issues, or via email?)
- Provide a framework for the way the team should use another file-sharing/collaboration tool such as BaseCamp
- Designate key people who have the authority to provide final approvals on key pieces of work or;
- Provide a document that defines how the team should use Slack (use of file sharing, when to use versus email)
As soon as possible, establish an Operating Rhythm. This will vary immensely depending on the project requirements, timelines and team members, but setting a regular schedule will help the team and project stay on track. Regular check-ins will also ensure that team members have a forum to ask questions or otherwise voice concerns that might be left to linger or which can cause problems down the road.
In a regular office environment, it’s easier to see when colleagues are busy/overwhelmed, or when they have capacity. When working remotely, this is often difficult to see but an established operating rhythm can identify these issues.
- While working on a Social Listening/Digital Research project for a recent client, I had a call with them every Thursday over the course of a month to highlight the work I had done, and for them to provide feedback or course correction. It was also an opportunity for me to ask any questions/request additional information from them.
- While working to do a major rebuild on our local client’s site, we needed to coordinate closely with their team in Europe. Our two teams held weekly conference calls, but knew that 24 hours prior to the call, the client team would send out an agenda and identified which of our team members needed to be there, while we provided them with a list of questions we needed answered or wanted to discuss on the call.
- While working on the launch of an overseas project, we used timezones to our advantage: 6pm conference calls for us meant that we could provide our overseas counterparts with everything they needed to workout throughout our night (their day), and that they would then have questions/updates/etc ready for us when we woke up, which we would be able to work through during our day.
Conversations are great, but at some point in the process one team is going to have to present to another. My recommendation is to use a tool called Join.me - of all the screen-sharing pieces of technology, it’s the easiest and most reliable to use. The presenter just has to download the free tool, while on the other end the team viewing the presentation only has to go to the join.me website and enter a code provided by the presenter. I strongly recommend ensuring that the presenter maintains control over what is on screen using screen-sharing tools like this, rather than the "Okay, we're on page six of the PDF - is everyone on that page?" type of calls we've all been on.
- Use the audio from phones, rather than a laptop (it often comes across broken-up/distorted).
- Ensure that the presenters/primary speakers use a headset. The sound is often better than speakerphone, and ensures they are a consistent distance from the microphone)
- Send all presentation documents in PDF after the call.
As much as everything can be done electronically via email, shared documents, instant (and non-instant) messages, a personal connection can. Whenever possible, try and make time to meet your counterparts in different areas of the world. For larger projects, the cost of travel for an in-person kick-off meeting will be offset by the bonds and relations formed during these connections, and the way that this facilitates the project going forward.
What am I missing here? What else would you add to these list of recommendations?
On Saturday a couple of friends and I did a pretty epic hike.
All in, it was an incredible hike. Ty even made the summit (J-Dub and I hung back the last little stretch because we didn't feel like scrambling) and we completed the 27.6 km and ~1700m of elevation in about 6.5 hours, getting to the car just it was getting dark at about 9pm.
According to the sidebar here on BlogCampaigning, this blog is normally about "advertising, technology, public relations, social media, video games and pretty much whatever we feel is important."
I'm in the midst of putting together a workshop for some clients based on the Google Ventures 3 Hour Brand Sprint, but felt that it didn't go into quite enough detail for some of the components.
In the process of adapting it, I came across a "Circles of Influence" exercise (in the Hyper Island Toolbox). This felt like a good start for understanding audiences, but I also wanted to extend it for the particular brand workshop I'm planning and wanted to go deeper into some details and so added on to it. (The Circles of Influence exercise itself is based on a more personal/leadership exercise by Stephen Covey)
Objective: To uncover insights about target audience influences, concerns and the role a brand/organisation/product/service may have in their life.
Time: 20-40 minutes (depending on number of people, complexity.
Note: Although this can be conducted as a stand-alone session, I think it ideally works alongside other workshop activities to help define key audiences and even (re)define what the brand/organisation/product/service actually does and why.
How It Works:
1.) The room is divided up into smaller groups (2-3), and each group is assigned a key audience (ideally, these audiences are identified and agreed upon during a previous part of the workshop).
For our example, let's pretend that the brand we're working on is a residential real estate agency, and that one of their audiences is Home Buyer in a large North American city.
2.) First, each group is asked to take out the Circles of Concern page (Worksheet I) in the PDF below. The Moderator gives them about 5 minutes to write down all the things that they think this audience might be concerned about, particularly as they relate to the brand/target and their mindset.
In the example below, I've worked with a friend of mine who is a Real Estate agent to identify some of the concerns his clients might have.
3.) Next, each group takes out the Circles of Influence page (Worksheet II) and discusses which of the items from the first worksheet ("Circle of Concern") are things that the target would have control over. These go in the inner circle of the diagram. Those that don't fit in there go in the outer circle. Again, the Moderator gives the groups about 5 minutes for this.
You can see what it looks like in our Home Buyer/Real Estate example below:
4.) Each group now takes out the Brand Influence page (Worksheet III). Once again, they transfer all the words/phrases from one sheet to another, this time from the Circle of Influence page (Worksheet II) to the Circle of Brand Influence page (Worksheet III). As they do it, they put all the issues/concerns that the brand can help with in the middle circle. The ones outside both the brand and audience's concern go in the outer circle, and the ones that the audience can influence but not the brand go in the inner circle. Again, take about 5 minutes for this. You can see our example again below:
5.) Lastly, the different groups (working on different audiences) should share their final worksheet with the rest of the group. The Moderator should guide them through the conversation, and note down any key points/insights from this, particularly where there is solid alignment from the different groups. Some questions to ask at this point:
Can we group any of these items in Brand Influence together?
Is there anything in the Circle of Concern or Circle of Influence that the brand isn't addressing? Or that competitors are?
Are there any similarities between the different audiences?
Are the items in the circle of Brand Influence truly the most important to the audience? Does this matter, based on our brand and audience?
In our hypothetical example of a First-Time Home Buyer, we might realize that although the Real Estate Agent/Agency have done a lot of work around communicating market conditions and other homes in the area, they have't done nay communicating around the actual process of buying a home or why their agents are trusted. This might lead to some interesting territories for communication that can set them apart.
Could small groups, or even a single person, arrive at a similar conclusion without this workshop, and without even the worksheets? Probably. But I also think there is value in getting a key group of people to think through some of the decisions. Hopefully, the discussion will lead to alignment between different teams and the actual role that the brand/organization/service/produce can play in the role of the lives of particular audiences. It might not lead to any new insights, but it can help fine-tune existing ones.
This is also only one component of a greater workshop/series of activities.
As I mentioned above, all parties at the workshop should come to this meeting reasonably well-prepared. In the case of client stakeholders, they probably already have a very good idea of who their audience is and some of their concerns.
In the case of agency partners attending the meeting, they should do some pre-thinking to put themselves in the mind of the different audiences and their needs/concerns.
Circles of Concern/Influence/Brand Worksheets - PDF DOWNLOAD (if you end up using these printouts, print them on large size paper. You're gonna run out of space if you only print them on 8x11).
By way of disclosure: I'm not a home buyer. I don't work with any real estate agencies as clients. And I didn't full explain the purpose of this exercise to my friend, so the answers in the example aren't super deep.
One of the reasons I moved to Vancouver was because of what surrounded the city: mountains.
Since moving here, my friend Ty has taken me under his wing and is showing me the best peaks in the area. He's also gotten me into back-country skiing (or ski-touring), and over the May long weekend we summited Mt. Baker in Washington state.
(For those that are unfamiliar with the sport of ski-touring, as I was until November last year, it's a combination of cross-country skiing and downhill skiing. To go up the hill, you put something called a "skin" on the bottom of your ski that provides you with traction (they're synthetic now, but I'm sure that back in the day they used to be actual seal skins). When you get to the top, you adjust the bindings, take off the skin and its downhill skiing.)
It was probably one of the coolest trips I've ever been on. But also one of the toughest. I'm sure that for the crew I was with, this was an easy little weekend trip into the mountains, though.
I'd like to give a HUGE thank you to Ty, Pete and Kerry for having me along on the trip. I was definitely the rookie, and there was no way I could have even considered going on the trip without them.
If you liked these photos, you might like a few other posts about hiking that I've done in the last year or so:
Tommyhoi Peak (visible from Mt. Baker)
Almost 20 years ago, I was lucky enough to spend my grade 11 year on a sailing ship. We travelled to 40+ countries over the course of the year, learning everything we could about a ship, navigation and the ocean. We sometimes spent two or more weeks at sea without seeing land or another ship (It was more White Squall than Breaker High). We crossed the Atlantic ocean. We went through the Panama Canal. We visited Easter Island. The Galapagos. We traced the routes of great explorers.
The whole trip ignited a passion for the ocean within me. It's what driven me to learn how to surf. It's why I love living so close to the water here in Vancouver now.
Part of the my interest in the ocean was directed at the majority of the traffic we saw on that trip: the massive cargo ships and oil tankers.
It's a deeper look into something I've always had questions about. What's it like for the crew to live on one of those ships? How was it changed over the years? What's going to happen in the next few years as new technology is implemented?
The episode about coffee is particularly interesting, and particularly the way that the world's love of "third wave coffee" has influenced the coffee industry, and the related shipping.
Part of what I liked about the Containers podcast was that Alex found something he was interested in, and went down a deep rabbit hole of learning more about it.
In a way it reminded of "Mother Earth Mother Board," a now-20-year-old article originally published in Wired. It's an account of the Neil Stephenson's (yes, that Neil Stephenson's) GPS-directed journey around the world as he follows the laying of the fibre-optic cable that makes up the backbone of our communications system.
Both will make you think a bit more deeply about the source of the coffee you're drinking and the data you're absorbing as you read/listen to them. Technology and global commerce are changing rapidly, but they're still built on legacy systems.
One of the things that I both love and hate about what I do is an inability to just look at some sort of communication from a company without absolutely picking it apart, and trying to reverse-engineer the brief or thinking that went into it.
On a recent Westjet flight I looked out and saw that instead of a logo, the winglet had the Westjet.com URL on it (and what I don't think is in the actual Westjet font).
West jet knows that their passengers like to take pictures out the window, and used to encourage it as part of the #WingletWednesday hashtag thing they had going on. At some point, they decided to change the lettering on their winglets to include the .com.
How conscious or planned was the decision to make this a URL instead of a logo?
How many incremental people would visit the Westjet website (and book a flight) after seeing the URL, compared to if it had only been the Westjet logo?
Is there anyone out there who wouldn't be able to figure out or find the Westjet website if it wasn't a URL? Or does having this as a URL reinforce the idea that Westjet is a modern, technology-enabled carrier for the always-connected traveller?
I want to say that there is probably no real way to measure this the value of adding a URL but that isn’t necessarily true. It's just that the cost would probably outweigh the benefit.
I didn’t lose sleep over these questions (I can barely stay awake on airplanes due to the hum of the engines and the gentle rocking of mild turbulence) but they’re the kinds of things I like to think about. Or not think about, if I’m trying to relax.
It’s been about a year since I left the comfortable confines of big agency life to move to a new city and try my hand at freelancing but I still consider myself to be in a bit of a transition period.
In this period, I’ve been having a lot of coffees with old colleagues and friends. And it’s made me think of those who have served as mentors, officially and unofficially, to me over the course of my career.
When I first moved to Toronto in 2006, I had a Masters in Arts & Media that had given me hands-on experience with blogging and all things social media, but I had no idea how that would really translate to a job (or even how to get a job!) and what the difference between working at an agency or client-side even meant. It was people like Martin Hoffman and Joseph Thornley who took time to invite me into their offices or have a coffee to explain the industry in more detail. They didn’t have jobs for me but by giving up some of their day to talk with a kid in an oversized shirt they gave me a bit of confidence and knowledge that helped me land my first real interviews and job.
In a more official capacity, the Canadian Public Relations Society partnered me with Martin Waxman as part of their mentorship program. At the time, he was the President of a PR agency in Toronto, while I was a Communications Coordinator at CNW Group. I have no doubt that Martin was incredibly busy at that time of his life (as I know he continues to be!) but he still made time to meet with me for an early morning breakfast on a monthly basis. He was always asking me questions about my own career, making me think a bit more deeply about my work and helping me navigate those first few changes in roles or companies. I haven't caught up with him as much as I'd like in the past few years, but when our schedules have overlapped that we've been in the same city it has been great to reconnect with him.
Ed Lee hired me in 2010 and has been someone I’ve always been able to turn to for advice about the office and my own career. While this was probably his literal job when I reported directly into him, he continued to be supportive of me when my path took me away from him. He’s since become someone who I still keep in touch with regularly, who is happy to answer my questions and hear my frustrations via text, who will meet me for a beer or tea when I’m in the same city as him and who I now consider a good friend.
Tim Murdoch was my lacrosse coach when I played for McGill in the early 2000s, and since that time he’s turned the team around from a Bad News Bears situation (losing games 10-0, but leading the league in penalty minutes) to multiple championships and maybe the most dominant team in the league over the past few years. This success is due to the devotion he shows his players - he’s constantly asking them to be at their absolute best. And this devotion extends to former players as well. It’s been 13 years since I graduated, but I still call him Coach and know that he’ll pick up the phone when I call whether it is to just talk about lacrosse or to get some advice on a business question.
They all have a few traits in common.
They’re patient. None of them rushed to solutions for problems or questions I had. They understood that I probably needed to work through some of the thinking on my own, and that conversations with them were a place to sound out ideas and approaches.
They’re giving. They all have lots going on in their lives. They have businesses to run. Clients Families. Hobbies. And yet they’ve all made extra time for me, and probably others as well.
They’re inquisitive. They don’t simply make recommendations or suggestions. They listen. The ask questions. They want to learn. It’s probably this nature that’s helped them get where they are today.
A few years ago I answered an email from the McGill Alumni Association asking graduates if they would be interested in being a mentor to a recent graduate or current student. I replied to express my interest in participating, and shortly after that I was matched with a young woman who was just starting her marketing career.
I was overseas while she was in Toronto, but we connected on Skype or FaceTime about once a month or so. I was impressed with the fact that she always came to our calls with some questions she wanted to ask, and I hope the answers or guidance I gave her made sense. I also learned a lot from her. Hearing things from her side, the types of concerns she had, what she was looking for, gave me a great deal of insight into the thoughts going through the heads of my own young team.
We continue to stay in touch as our careers have both moved forward and I’ve seen her grow from a dedicated but slightly cautious coordinator at a small marketing agency to a new and recent role as a Digital Planner at one of the city’s best agencies.
I hope we continue to connect and I look forward to following what I know will be a successful career for her.
Lastly, the most important mentor to me has always been my dad. He didn’t work in advertising and I’ve never met him for coffee (except for when I’m visiting him and we’re both up at 5:30am to go about our days). But he continues to be the one I can always go to for advice. Who is always willing to listen. Who is patient with me.
Thanks for your guidance throughout the years, paps.
Earlier this morning I got it into my head that i wanted to try and create a animated GIFs of a few charts, but wanted to run a test to see if I could do it.
What was surprising to me was how, despite all their hype in the ad industry, Snapchat is barely making a blip. I'm also surprised that there isn't more interest in Reddit, though that could be because it's a personal favourite site of mine, and because it also bills itself the "front page of the internet."
1.) I utilized Google Trends, and entered the names of a few different social networks (see notes below for exclusion of Facebook).
2.) I then exported a .csv file of the data
3.) I then opened this in Microsoft Excel (probably my favourite tool).
4.) I then cut the data, and selected Paste Special (Transpose) to re-paste into the Excel document with the the rows/columns reversed.
5.) I then copied this data, and pasted it into the data section of a chart in Keynote
6.) After a bit of fine-tuning with the Animate settings in Keynote and building another layer for the background, I exported the slide as a Quicktime file.
7.) Which was then converted into a .Mov file so that I could...
8.) Utilise Giphy to convert it into an animated Gif.
- I know that utilizing Google Trends data for search interest isn't the best way of gauging the popularity of particular social networks (active users, engagement, visits, etc are probably better) but it was an easy way to grab some data to practice my graph animate skills.
- I purposely didn't include Facebook in this - it was so popular that the other social networks were just flat lines along the x axis. Data selection at its finest.
I'll probably refine my process for this, and look to improve the readability/visual style of these graphs. Let me know if there any interesting data sets I can look at for my next one.
A few years ago I wrote a post titled "The Top Ten Science Fiction Books," and it's probably worth updating. I've read quite a bit since then, and while some of my favourite books haven't changed it seemed like there were a few new ones that I've been recommending to people that need to be added to the list.
I also think that, six years since the original post, Science-Fiction is more important than ever. Technology (and our reliance and use of it) is moving at an incredible pace. To me, sci-fi is the best possible way to start to understand the implications of this technology on ourselves, society, and the world. It might not necessarily answer some pressing questions of the 21st century but it gives us a framework to start thinking about them more deeply: How will climate change truly affect us? What does Artificial Intelligence mean for the concept of what it means to be human? Are humans truly unique and alone in the universe (and what are the implications for either answer)? Why is science important?
A few notes about this list
Many of the "books" listed below are actually series. I don't think it's fair to choose one book from the series, as the series will often form a full story that's worth reading.
I've also removed any sort of ranking (the previous list was 1-10), and have added some honourable (and dishonourable) mentions at the bottom without going in to too much detail.
Lastly, any list like this is going to be purely subjective. No two people will have the exact same taste in books, and my not liking a certain book says nothing about the quality of that book.
The Best Science-Fiction
The Mars Trilogy - Kim Stanley Robinson
I think I first read this trilogy when I was about 13 years old, and it made me fall in love with the potential for science. The quick plot summary is that in the mid 21st century, humans have been able to colonize Mars. The books follow the human drama, politics, relationships and science of some of the original colonists over the span of a few hundred years. Take out the science-fiction setting, and you've still got a great story of politics and drama. The space-age setting, so close to where we are now, adds a sense of optimism to the books and just makes them that much more interesting. I also don't think that you should consider yourself having finished reading the series unless you've also tacked on The Martians, Icehenge, Galileo's Drams and The Memory of Whiteness to the original Red Mars, Green Mars and Blue Mars trilogy (I still cryevery time I finish reading Blue Mars). While they aren't officially once series, they feel like they're part of the same story, taking place thousands of years apart.
House of Suns- Alastair Reynolds
Most of Alastair Reynolds' books are hard to read: the characters are unlikeable. They're frequently in pain (or inflict exquisite pain on another character). Something terrible has happened to them, and they know something else will soon happen to them. This book is no different, but at least the two main characters have each other. Campion and Purslane are two "shatterlings," near-immortal clones of a woman named Abigal Gentian, who travel the universe, having new experiences, and meeting up with their fellow shatterlings about every 200,000 years to exchange memories. The pair fall in love (a shatterling taboo) and to atone for this they try and bringHesperus, a beautiful golden robot who is one of the machine people, to their next meet-up. Not everything goes as planned, and the book throws out some big ideas on a massive, cosmic scale. It's a beautiful story, and I know I'm not the only one that loved it.
While it seems that most lists of the top science-fiction books include one of Dan Simmons' books, more often than not they include Hyperion or Songs of Kali rather than this pair. I think that part of the reason is because this two-part series is just so hard to explain. The basic plot is that the Greek and Trojan armies are re-enacting the Trojan War according to the Illiad. The big thing is that the gods themselves are real here, but rather than supernatural beings, just post-humans powered by advanced nanotechnology. You're never sure what time period this takes place in, or where, but other characters include literature-loving robots that were once sent to explore the solar system, a mysterious Odysseus, naively innocent, yet technologically advanced, future humans, and Caliban. Yes, Caliban, from Shakespeare's The Tempest. Read this pair of books if you have an interest in Greek mythology and classic literature.
Ender's Game (The Ender Quintet) - Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game is the story of one Ender Wiggin, a young boy who is recruited at an early age for 'battle school' in orbit around Earth to learn about space strategy so that Earth can defend itself from the alien 'buggers.' It is definitely a great book of a boy growing up (I think "coming of age tale" is the proper term), but also mixes a sub plot of geopolitics (previously discussed on BlogCampaigning in the post "Peter and Valentine were the original bloggers") and the morality of destroying an alien race. One of the classics, for sure, and also one of the only books on this series that is part of a larger series, but of which I'm not recommending the rest of the series. Pick this book up for the educator or young adult in your life.
Neuromancer- William Gibson
I bet that a majority of the people reading this blog have read and been influenced by Gibson's Neuromancer - I mean, come on: he's the guy credited with inventing the word 'cyberspace.' I first read it when I was in university, and pretty much couldn't put it down. Despite the fact that it is nearly 30 years old, it still reads like it was written yesterday (though the absence of mobile phones is a bit of a problem) and is a great look at what our future could still become. I see the influences of this book in all sorts of sci-fi and popular culture (The Matrix and Ghost in the Shell, for starters). Follow it up with Count zero and Mona Lisa Overdrive, the other two books in Gibson's 'Sprawl Trilogy.' I also think it is probably for the best that no one has been able to get a Neuromancer movie off the ground (try New Rose Hotel with Christopher Walken and Willem Dafoe if you're jonesing for some Gibson on the big screen. Johnny Mnemonic is also based on one of Gibson's short stories).
Starship Troopers - Robert Heinlein
As is normally the case, the book is way better than the movie. In this case, they are also totally different. The book Starship Troopers is more about responsibility and what that means to be a man. The gist of the book is that a young Johnny Ricoleaves home after graduation to join the mobile infantry, gets shipped off to boot camp, survives it and grows into his role as the leader of his own squadron of troops.
The Demolished Man - Alfred Bester
According to Wikipedia, The Demolished Man was first published in 1952-53. The story is about an incredibly wealthy and successful businessman, Ben Reich, on a future Earth where telepaths take high-paying roles as consultants and lawyers. Reich's one-minded passion to commit the perfect crime fuels the book, and the book's frantic pace makes it hard to put down and makes it feel like it was written decades after books written by Bester's contemporaries. This is the type of old-school sci-fi that influenced the cyberpunkers of the 80s.
The Culture Series - Iain Banks
As with some of the others on this list, I didn't think it was fair to pick just one book from Banks' culture series. To fully understand that incredible world of star-faring humans, you have to read the whole series. None of the books are connected enough that you have to read them in a particular order, but reading them all will give you much better idea of the world Banks has constructed. The basic premise is that race of pan-humans has reached almost technological perfection. Rather than subliming into the ether to become something like gods as other races do when they reach a similar level of technology, The Culture spends their time on massive spaceships or orbitals pursuing a hedonistic lifestyle. These orbitals and ships are sentient, as are drones, constant companions to the characters in the books. The action takes places on the fringes of The Culture, with newcomers or outsiders to the society being the main characters. On a side note, Banks' non-sci fibook The Business is also a pretty good read. For a bit of a background on The Culture, read this post on io9. I also recommend 'A Few Notes On The Culture' by Iain Banks himself.
Anathem- Neal Stephenson
This is definitely another one of those books that falls in the "I can't explain it, you just have to read it" category. The first section of the book tells the story of a planet where the keepers of knowledge and science live spartan, cloistered lives like I imagine the monks of today might, while the rest of their society lives freely and worships a variety of gods and religions. Read the book to see what happens next, and be prepared for a lot of thinking.
Remembrance of Earth's Past Trilogy - Cixin Liu
I went in to this book with low-expectations. Sure, it had rave reviews but it was originally written in Chinese and there's no way that language and cultural barrier would result in good sci-fi for my Western sensibilities. The first 1/3 of the first book (The Three Body Problem) in the trilogy reinforced my feelings: this was slow-paced, Communist science-fiction. By the time I was halfway through that book, I realized just how wrong I was. Remembrance of Earth's Past might be one of the best pieces of Science-Fiction that I have ever read. The basic plot is that in the mid to late 20th century a Chinese engineer manages to contact a distant planet, and they send a fleet to Earth that will take 500 years to arrive. Is it an invasion fleet, or are they bringing a message of peace? How Earth responds forms a majority of the book, and the chapters describing the "Dark Forest" concept of galactic living sent chills down my spine. Read this trilogy.
Seveneves - Neal Stephenson
Yeah, I know - I've already got one Neal Stephenson book in this list but he's a great writer so I'm adding another. In Seveneves, the open page describes the moon being destroyed. The rest of the book is a race as humanity tries to save itself by going to space while pieces of the moon destroy the earth. It's extra-hard science-fiction, and I once heard it described as having orbital dynamics as a character. It can also be pretty dark at times, but it's a serious page-turner.
The Science In The Capital Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
While not technically Science-Fiction (I've heard it referred to as "Climate Fiction" or "Cli-Fi"), this trilogy consisting of Forty Signs of Rain, Fifty Degrees Below Zero and Sixty Days and Counting has been hugely influential on some of the decisions about life I've made over the past few years. The story mostly follows a group of different people who are living and working in Washington, DC in the near future and amidst alarming climate change. It will (hopefully) make you look at what you can do to both improve the world around you and to live better with yourself and whatever situation you are in.
The Marrow Series - Robert Reed
An enormous, technologically advanced and incredibly old starship has been travelling around the galaxy for millennia, until it wanders through our solar system and humans hitch a ride. What follows are the stories of the people living on this planet-sized ship as it travels, and the other alien races that also live on board. Start with Marrow.
I'm not sure why I've never read any LeGuin until the last year or so, but these two books were beautiful and very well written. They're true literary pieces of science-fiction, and I'll definitely be reading more by her in the near future.
Luna: New Moon & Luna: Wolf Moon - Ian McDonald
I'm only half-way through the second book in this series, but its still a great read. Game of Thrones, but on the Moon and with family-led corporations.
Eifelheim - Michael Flynn
The plot: An alien ship crash lands in Germany during the black plague. The people in the town try and determine if they are demons, angels or men with souls like them. In the modern day, a scholar tries to determine what actually happened by reviewing ancient religious texts. Very well researched and written, short enough to enjoy on a long plane ride.
Aurora - Kim Stanley Robinson
I read Aurora at almost the same time I read Seveneves (listed above), and found them to be quite similar in the questions they raise: Can humans really survive away from Earth? If so, what are the implications? What will happen to us? Aurora mostly takes place on a generation ship on its way to a planet hundreds of years away from Earth as the ship's systems are gradually failing. While it might be a space adventure, the ship's computer is one of the best Artificial Intelligences I've encountered in fiction.
I know that Anne Leckie and the Ancillary series are darlings of the science-fiction community, but I really just couldn't get into them. The parts that weren't almost deliberately confusing felt like a ripoff of either Star Wars or The Culture.
I love most of what Alastair Reynolds writes, but I actually asked Amazon for a refund on Revengers it was so terrible. Some people like it, but it's so drastically different in tone from his other books that
What are your thoughts? What have I missed, or what else should I be reading? Leave a comment here, or hit me up on Twitter where I'm @ParkerNow
It feels like everywhere you turn these days, there’s a news story about the importance of online video.
"People Now Watch 1 Billion Hours Of YouTube Per Day" is today's top headline. But are they watching more hours of videos by choice, or because that's what social media networks, publishers and advertisers are pushing?
E-Marketer breathlessly reports that “digital video audience will grow by 8.2% in 2017” and that “62% of the world’s internet users will view digital video in 2017.”
Cisco estimates that by 2018, 69% of all web traffic will be video. And it seems like publishers think that video is the answer. More and more, I keep seeing these video slideshows (looking at you, Snopes Video, among others) that are just a more irritating way to get the same information as I might in an article.
And advertisers are stoked about online video. Recent (2016) research found that 38% of US advertisers planned to draw funds from their broadcast budget to support digital video advertising.
We're told that although Facebook is discontinuing the practice of paying publishers to create live videos, they are encouraging these same publishers to create longer videos.
Netflix saw an enormous jump in popularity this year - but they did that on a platform based on providing an ad-free experience (and which, apparently, meant they left $2 billion on the table). They are also reportedly going to be spending $6 billion/year to create new content.
And while the implication is that people are absolutely clamouring for more and more video, I think we need to read into this a bit further. The common thread of these stories is a focus on quality content.
45% of people are watching videos of six minutes or less on their mobile devices...but the flip side of that is that the majority of them are watching videos longer than six minutes.
Facebook's own shift from live-video to longer form video from publishers means that they see opportunity in the quality content space more so than than quick-hit live content (the site has seen a massive decline in public sharing/content creation from users as well).
Yes, people do want to watch online video. But they want to watch high-quality online video. They want to watch epic TV like Game of Thrones, The OA, Westworld and The Man in the High Castle (to name a few of my personal favourites). While the research is a year old (and with a younger focus not necessarily indicative of the entire population), this study that says millennials primarily want to watch TV shows, full-length movies, music videos and sports. At the very least, I'd guess that they want that studio-quality content.
If ads were so great and something users actually wanted, YouTube wouldn't be getting rid of 30s unskippable ads. And of those 1 billion hours watched per day mentioned earlier, how many of those hours are ads? How many of those are ads that are watching willingly vs unwillingly? And if those ads were really so great, would YouTube really have rolled out YouTube Red (Ad-free), or YouTube TV (that's almost exclusively quality network content)?
A few years ago I did a research project to better understand what the completion rate of some client videos was (and which videos were most likely to be completed). After going through all of the available data on video completion for both YouTube and Facebook, across about 20 different clients, I found that video length didn't matter. What mattered was the level of quality of the video. It's not surprising that the big, beautiful pieces of storytelling content were mostly likely to have the highest completion rate, while short promotional pieces (or ones that were overly commercial) had much lower completion rates.
So what does it all mean?
Video shouldn't be the default answer for every online campaign or publishing approach.
It should be a carefully considered aspect, and advertisers should ensure it's relevant to the audience and material. And if video will be produced, ensure that there is enough budget to actually produce a piece of quality content. Otherwise, you'll end up the laughing stock of the internet.
I used to write a fairly regular series of posts here called "Drone Week" that would
Anyways, with a ton of interesting news in this space, I thought I'd bring it back.
What is a drone?
I've been pretty loose with the term drone, and and I figured it would be good to dig into the etymology of it a bit. Based on the dictionary definition, a drone is specifically "remote-controlled pilotless aircraft or missile." I suppose that the usage comes from the drone in a bee colony, which is one that doesn't have stingers, doesn't gather nectar and pollen and whose job seems to be to fertilize the queen. So, basically a lazy, pacifist. Which is the exact opposite of the original drones used by the military.
So why did the military call them drones in the first place? Apparently it's because the first unmanned aircraft used for target practice was called "Queen Bee."...all the way back in 1935. Later versions were called drones...out of respect, I guess?
Still, that definition should work for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and Quadcopters.
But what about our autonomous cars and bipedal robots? Is a quadcopter that makes use of Artificial Intelligence (rather than being remote controlled) still a drone? Is a remote controlled (or RC) airplane still a drone?
I guess I might have to rename this category of posts on my site to ensure I can cover it all.
The Latest Boston Dynamics Monstrosity
Boston Dynamics has a long history of unveiling new robotic servants that fit pretty squarely in the "creepy" section of the uncanny valley, and their latest one, called "Handle" follows the same trend. Based on our definition above, it might not be considered
via the description on their video:
"Handle is a research robot that stands 6.5 ft tall, travels at 9 mph and jumps eet vertically. t uses electric power to operate both electric and hydraulic actuators, with a range of about 15 miles on one battery charge. andle uses many of the same dynamics, balance and mobile manipulation principle found in the quadruped and biped robots we build, but with only about 10 actuated joints, it is significantly less complex. Wheels are efficient on flat surfaces while legs can go almost anywhere: by combining wheels and legs Handle can have the best of both worlds."
Drones At The Movies
It will be interesting to see how drones will be portrayed in the media and movies over the next few years. Good Kill is apparently very good, and on my must-watch list, but I'm also very interested in the potential of Skywatch. It's currently in the process of being crowdfunded.
Self-driving cars have been in the news a lot lately. So much so that it's all starting to feel a bit boring, and that most of the news is about regulations rather than technological innovation.
And that's why RoboRace is so exciting - it feels like that big, next step. It feels like the video-game future I've been looking forward to. The gist of it is that RoboRace will develop a chasis, and that it will be up to teams to optimize software to make it race faster/driver better. With human lives no longer at risk during high-speed rashes (and the ensuing crashes), this might take the thrill out of watching it.
This post was written by me, Parker Mason. I'm a digital strategist who is fascinated by technology but also worried about the singularity . Get in touch with me at ParkerMason.net
I used to have a line on my resume that said I'd been blogging "since before it was cool."
I think I changed that line at one point to something about how I had been maintaining a blog for "almost a decade."
More recently, I removed reference to maintaining a blog altogether. I think I might add something back in about it, now that BlogCampaigning is officially ten years old.
And it's been a pretty amazing ten years since Espen Skoland launched a Wordpress site to share his research on the use of blogs in American political campaigns, and asked me to proofread the English on his posts.
I'm not going to go back and try and count how many posts or words I've written here in the past ten years. And I'm not going to try and add up the hours I've sat in coffee shops or late at night at work writing and re-writing posts, tweaking the CSS or trying to get a Wordpress plug-in to work. And I'm definitely not going to try and compare all those hours to the number of Unique Visitors BlogCampaigning has had in the last ten years (or, at least the last 8 years because we somehow lost the data for the first 2 years).
Instead, I'm going to reflect on the connections I've made in those ten years and what I've learned. I've got BlogCampaigning to thank for where I ended up today in my career. It paved the way to introductions, via that early blogging community, with people to get my first few jobs.
Researching and writing posts helped me understand what else was happening in the world of social media and digital communications, and BlogCampaigning became a case study library that I could refer to. I learned a little bit of HTML in school, but most of my technical knowledge of how the internet works comes from moving the original BlogCampaigning onto a self-hosted Wordpress site, customizing the CSS, dealing with (and understanding) domain name registration, updating DNS settings, managing the hosting and all the other fun stuff that comes with maintaining a website.
I thought about trying to create a snappy list like "5 Things I Learned From Blogging" but everything kept coming back to the following thought:
Learn By Doing
As much as I learned about the world of marketing, social media and the internet by writing blog posts, it was by actually working on projects for clients while at CNW Group, Maverick Public Relations and DDB that I really l learned.
I learned about the difference between the theoretical and the practical. I learned that client needs, what users want (and how they behave!) and the idealized campaign didn't all necessarily align. In fact, they rarely, if ever, did.
BlogCampaigning certainly gave me a good starting point, and back in the day it was a great way to connect with people in the industry. But writing articles about the best way to communicate online and how to a "Social Media News Release" (hey, remember those?) should be used wasn't the same as actually executing a campaign.
I'll continue to update BlogCampaigning infrequently. When I do, it will be mostly just be photos from recent trips I've been on (like this awesome hike, or this one) or a recap of something I've worked on. Like this post, they'll be reflections of the past. I'll save my forward-thinking work for clients and projects that will hopefully see the light of internet day at some point.
Thanks to my friend Tyler for taking me on an awesome hike last week.
I haven't been blogging as much lately, but I've written a couple of longer-form pieces in the last few months. Click on the images below to read them.
These photos are all from the Quamby Bluff hike in central Tasmania. It's only about 7km, but there are a lot of steep sections and there is one section that requires you to scramble up a scree slope. The hike is totally worth it, though,
If you liked these photos, you might also like photos of a few other hikes I went on:
The Listserve is an email list with about 22,000 subscribers. Everyday, one of those subscribers "Wins" it, and they get the opportunity to send an email to everyone else on the list.
The rules are simple: 600 words, max, text-only, no links. Otherwise, you can pretty much write about whatever you want.
Last week, I won the Listserve. The email I wrote is below.
When I first got the email saying I’d won The Listserve, I asked my friends in New Zealand what I should write about.
“Write about us,” Johannes said.
And so here we go.
I met Johannes, Gui, Woonie and Jim at the advertising agency we worked together at in Auckland.
On my first day of work, I was taken on a tour of the office. When we went by Jimbo and Woonie’s desks, the two of them were watching a surfing video. I asked the person giving me a tour to leave me there, and within two weeks we were out surfing the coasts of New Zealand together.
A month or so later, Gui and Johannes started working at our agency, and they joined us for surf missions.
At first, I think it was a friendship of convenience and sympathy: I didn’t have a car at the time, and the other guys saw how badly I wanted to make it out to coast to surf so they gave me a ride.
But you can only spend so many long car rides down twisty, New Zealand roads and so much time braving the icy New Zealand water with people before they became more than just work colleagues.
Some of the best days of my life were spent in those New Zealand waters with those guys.
Like the time Jimbo drove us up to Pakiri Beach and we had a section of an amazing little beach break all to ourselves.
Or the time Woonie met me up at Piha on my birthday, and I caught one of the biggest lefts of my life, then bailed on it, and came up out of the water to see Woonie laughing.
Or the time Johannes and i went down to Raglan for big, messy (but otherwise almost empty) waves for a Sunday afternoon.
Or the time four of us somehow managed to cram into Johannes’ car with our boards to surf North Piha, right next to the cliff, and I dropped in on Johannes (sorry, buddy).
Or the time Gui and I went out on the coldest day of the year and had the entire beach to ourselves. (the waves weren’t great, but it was still an amazing experience).
Or any of the other times where we paddled out into the ocean off the coast of New Zealand to watch each other catch waves, or to disappear from each other’s sights when the rip was strong.
Or the Friday nights spent talking on What’s App about where the waves were best, and how early in the morning we’d want to leave.
Or on the Monday mornings at work, when we’d talk about the waves we caught over the weekend, and would start looking at the forecast.
You can only spend so many days like that, so much time spent seeing the smile on someone’s face after they’ve caught an amazing wave, or having them see one on yours, and not consider them friends.
So there you go, Johannes. I wrote about you guys. I miss you dudes and hope we connect for a surf mission again soon.
I guess if there was a moral to this story it would be to enjoy the moment.
Or maybe that the friends you make today will be your friends for life.
Or maybe that you should just get up early to go surfing. Preferably with some good friends.
PS: Message me if you're in Sydney and want to go for a surf.
The photos above are of Haleakala, a volcano on Maui (except for the last photo, which is of the West Maui Mountains).
It's an excellent, if difficult hike. Check the weather before you go.
if you've been following my life on either Instagram or LinkedIn, you might have seen that last month I left Auckland to move to Sydney and join DDB there as a Senior Business Director.
I've never had such a hard time leaving a job as I did when I said goodbye to the team at DDB New Zealand. They are an incredibly talented and passionate bunch, and I was lucky to have been a part of the energy that I felt for the year I was there. I'm pretty sure the world will see some amazing creative projects come out of that office in the next few months to years on top of the great pieces that have already been seen. I'll miss the people there a lot.
But at the same time, I'm happy to still be in the DDB family here in Sydney. It's only been a (busy!) few weeks, and the Christmas holidays are around the corner, but I can tell 2016 is going to be big.
Below are a few photos of the DDB Sydney office - it's a really interesting space and a great place to work.