Taking stock

What a nice day. Someone acknowledged a heartfelt compliment, good work has been done among wonderful colleagues, a villain was nailed, a great project settled. Now I set off for a trip to the capital.

Facing Facebook

I have joined the thousands or so netizens who are playing around with Facebook these days. There is something very compelling about this environment, and it’s worthwhile to ask what exactly makes it so compelling. First, of course, there are the people. But compare this to Xing, for example. Xing also has the people, but Xing is work life and bureaucracy, Facebook is hanging out. Xing is dead meat.

On Facebook you are primarily showing your leisure time persona. Look, here are my party pics, here are the books and movies I like. And hey, I’m happy today! There is something very adolescently soothing in this: I’m defined by all these attributes: My playlists, my pics, my emoticons. (As if any of these mattered!) Whoo, look what a cool guy I am!

So, the people on Facebook are not primarily potential employers, contractors, nuisance. They are just those nice people I want to meet in the lobby, at the dinner table, in the bar. I might talk business with them, but then I might as well not. Probably not.

People on Facebook are My Big Audience. And my Facebook home page is my stage and living room. Its my living room made my stage. I can show off my book shelf and my CD rack, I can offer gifts and drinks. I sport light-hearted, easy-going conversation. Now that’s a place to stay!

Of course the killer application on Facebook are the groups. Groups provide the serious benefit. They are the value adding superstructure on the sweety-pie chitty-chatty communicational groundwork that defines Facebook.

Will this work out in the long run? Groups are what might make Facebook last. But still I’ve got my serious doubts, mostly because the applications are not good enough. It’s Yahoo! all over again. Everything is there, but it’s not really state of the art. Why should I bother to feed my 350 DVDs into some Facebook app when I cannot use the resulting database in any serious way? Of course, the applications will evolve over time. But then, we are all impatient. Until Facebook has matured, somebody else will have given us a nicer toy to play with.

(Somebody who knows a little more about online communities than I do has similar doubts.)

Noise

dsc00196_200×267.jpg Demolition work always cheers people up. Whenever there is one of these modern equivalents of a Tyrannosaurus Rex eating away at some concrete structure you can be sure to see boys and girls standing around showing genuine delight. It all comes down so easily.

Rules of Engagement

I’ve been thinking a lot about User Experience recently. What sounds like just another buzzword at a closer look turns out to be one of these magical concepts that decide about the success or failure of such different things as websites and relationships. (I’m not going to elaborate on the latter.)

Problem is, there is no such thing as magic. So basing your product development on user-based experience is not a simple ‘just-add-water’ type recipe. It is hard work, demanding lots of empathy, continuous attention and the ability to abandon established convictions and do experiments.

The CJR article about Talking Points Memo that I recommended yesterday proves the importance of this point: The success of TPM depends not only on the original quality of the content. It is based on a very close link between Josh Marshall and his team and their readers, an evolving relationship to the benefit of the user of the site.

In a presentation in July at our biennial “OJ-Tag” conference I talked about the two-year-old “Experience Study” of the Readership Institute in Chicago. The institute developed an ‘experience-based’ newspaper prototype for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, trying to make the paper more attractive to young readers. The researchers tried to identify types of user experience that would result in an engagement of the reader. See how even this concept already points in the direction of interactivity?

There is a lot to learn from the Study’s results, these people have developed some very interesting and even funny ideas – like basing the editorial division of labor not on only classical topical departments, but also on the different previously identified positive user experiences. So there were specific teams overseeing the production of content that:

  • gave the users something to talk about;
  • looked out for their personal and civic interests;
  • turned them on by surprise and humour.

The prototype turned out to be highly successful. One item that the readers especially liked was a ‘need-to-know’ box on the front page, presenting five core news items the knowledge of which would make them look smart amongst their peers.

A benefit of this development strategy is that it leads to highly audience-specific, original products. I think German online media could use a healthy dose of this pioneering spirit. We need new products with convincing profiles, not another wave of those commodity-type Spiegel Online clones we have recently seen spreading across the country.

Gender

    Ships at a distance have every man’s wish on board. For some they come in with the tide. For others they sail forever on the horizon, never out of sight, never landing until the Watcher turns his eyes away in resignation, his dreams mocked to death by Time. That is the life of men.

    Now, women forget all those things they don’t want to remember, and remember everything they don’t want to forget. The dream is the truth. Then they act and do things accordingly.

Zora Neale Hurston, via Zadie Smith

“The DNA of the future of journalism”

Talking Points Memo (TPM) is a blog-turned-online-magazine from New York City. With their mixture of news aggregation, investigative reporting and commentary, Josh Marshall and his small, young team have pioneered a new type of political online media: the perfect answer to the ongoing debate about an alleged opposition of blogging and journalism. The current issue of Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) includes an empathetic and informative portrait of the project. I especially liked the idea of incremental reporting. Marshall is said to envision his staffers as “‘narrators’ of complex, slowly unfolding stories”. Nothing could be more suited to this type of journalism than a blog. Not only the stories evolve over time. The whole product has developed (and probably continues to develop) as work in progress. “We have been inventing this as we went along”, CJR quotes a former TPM reporter.  Go read the article.

Staring At A Wall

workplace_400×300.jpg

My improvised work place at the living room table provides me with a cinemascope view of the opposite house front in modernist yellow-greyish colour, a hue like the Beijing sky during really bad smog. But here a piece of the sky can only be seen in the reflections of the upper office windows, it’s all dark and gloomy. A heavy downpour and the shattered guitar chords of Steffen Basho Junghans complete the melancholy panorama.

Clouds Concealing the Lunar Eclipse

Re-establishing myself in Frankfurt. A randomized Epitonic archive and praschl’s Last.fm station provide an ample soundtrack to my grimly resolved attitude. It’s going to be a long winter, of hard work and cunning.

But there is some entertainment. The nephew has arrived from Brussels, slim, smart, and eager. Tomorrow (today) is going to be his first day at Deutsche Bundesbank: 7:30 am, Frankfurt Dornbusch, wearing suit and tie. And in the afternoon there will be Ye Ying, aka Bird at the airport, transiting to Antwerp for fashion purposes, who shares my love for Pina Bausch.

Scarlatti Time

I’ve updated this blog to a newer version of WordPress and a different appearance. Meanwhile, its patron saint, Domenico Scarlatti, has had his 250th death anniversary. Daniele Dell’Agli‘s well-informed and thoughtful essay about this great composer had been rejected by all major german-language papers, thereby providing justification for its author’s low opinion of the german “feuilleton”. In the end it was Perlentaucher‘s Thierry Chervel again who not only published the text but also paid an unexpected royalty for it. May all his enemies wither.