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Saturday, June 30, 2007

iPhone report

Got the iPhone -- and, after this post, I'll return to writing about writing.

The wait was 12 hours at an AT&T store at a mall north of Seattle, and mildly amusing. The folks in line were geeky, but gadget freaks rather than Mac aficionados. Everyone had friends and relatives coming and going during the day for entertainment and to hold their places in line, which made for a congenial atmosphere. There were two security guys (one in a black suit, with sunglasses and a crewcut!) assigned to keep an eye on us and pretty soon a sort of "reverse Stockholm Syndrome" took hold, with much sharing of snacks and talk about the local club scene. The AT&T store staff were really revved up; they got a briefing on the phones from an Apple rep at 4:30, and at 5:30 came out to let us play with some of the accessories (ear pieces, cases) that would be on sale with the phones. It wasn't quite as posh as the scene at one California Apple Store, where the store staff treated those in line to coffee from a nearby Starbucks. We had to buy our own.

At 6 p.m. the doors opened and the AT&T store sold us the phones in sealed boxes in sealed bags. I brought mine home and activated it through iTunes in about three minutes. I'd had my landline forwarded to my old cell phone during the wait, and forgot to take off call forwarding, so my first clue that my mobile number from T-Mobile had shifted to the iPhone was when I started getting calls. The iPhone had synced my contacts from my iMac, so it recognized the callers and displayed their names.

Those of you who like Apple products will be delighted to hear that the iPhone takes user friendliness to astonishing new heights. Those of you who are sure the iPhone is an over-rated piece of crap wouldn't believe a single thing I'd say about it, so I won't bother. Really. This is a writing blog, not a technology blog.

From a writer's perspective, the iPhone is not going to be a significant tool. The touchscreen keyboards (one for alphabet, one for numbers and punctuation) are fine for composing short text messages and adding info to a contact file. But you wouldn't want to take notes or blog with them. The process is crystal clear, but the tapping is slower than with a traditional mini-keyboard.

From a business person's perspective, an iPhone could become an essential. Today I found myself using the phone, the text messaging, Google Maps, and the web browsing capability as I headed off to brunch with Chris Barnes (another ex-Apple person) and then went in search of a store that sells Tom Bihn bags. It seems odd to call it a phone, because it feels more like having a computer in my purse.

Chris and I ran into Monica Guzman, who blogs about the Internet for the Seattle P-I, at brunch. We demo-ed our iPhones for her, and then Chris used the Apple website to locate nearby stores at which iPhones were still in stock. Monica's off on vacation for a few weeks, but I'll be watching her blog when she gets back to see if she's iPhone-equipped!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

iPhone camp-out

I'll be covering, and likely participating in, an iPhone "campout" in the greater Seattle area Friday. Frankly, I'm curious to see how people make use of tech devices and online services to communicate during the event. And I'm curious to see who participates (the Mac faithful? iPod devotees, independent of platform? Buyers? People who just want to check one out?). If I actually manage to purchase an iPhone (rather than just order one) that would be nice, too.

The reason I'm hedging on making a promise to participate is that, in some cities, people are already camping outside stores in anticipation of the Friday, 6 p.m. product release. That's not for me. I've selected what I hope will be a relatively low-key location in the Seattle area (so, not an Apple Store) and will be poised to take my place in line at 5 or 6 a.m. If there's a line of 100 people around the block at that point, I'll still have a story, but not a shopping expedition. If, by the dawn's early light, the line is minimal, I'll bivouac with a portable chair, a thermos, some energy bars, and all the necessary recording and communications gear.

Flickr groups for photos of campouts are being set up. Since the Apple Stores have wifi, expect lots of live reportage. Not sure what the AT&T locations will offer.

In Olympia, WA, a enterprising person has posted on Craig's List offering to camp out in line for you. The hitch? You have to buy him/her an iPhone, too -- complete with usage plan. (If the stores are limiting purchases to, say, one phone per customer, anyone involved in this deal could be in for quite a surprise.)

ADDED WEDNESDAY: I just received an email from AT&T inviting me to come buy an iPhone Friday. And it notes "limit one per person." (Hmmm....shouldn't there be a colon between "limit" and "one"?)

Friday, June 22, 2007

Why iPhone?

The rumor is that iPhones will be in limited supply at AT&T and Apple stores on the 29th, so it may be a long time before we actually get to play with an iPhone.

What do these pricey gadgets really do?

This 20 minute video demonstrates, step by step.

So, what do you think?

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

120+ resources for bloggers (from Mashable)

Is your blogging bogging down?

The folks over at have compiled more than 120 resources to take your blogging to the next level. Best of all, these are grouped by type, and Mashable gives short descriptions of each so you can quickly compare and decide which one best fits your needs and interests.

If you've been meaning to spiff up your blog, energize your blog writing, etc., this is the ideal starting point.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Creative and production

Creative and Production. In your organization, it might be called Marketing and Operations. Or writers and publishers. Or dancers and stage crew.

But you get the idea: One group is supposed to be doing something artistic. And the other group is supposed to be mediating between the artist and reality in such as way that the artistic expression can connect with a sizeable audience.

Finding the perfect balance between the two is an art in and of itself. The concept "respect" usually figures prominently -- even when there's a lot of swearing going on.

Friday night I was involved on the production crew for the installation of the artworks for a highly ambitious performance art event. The artists were putting the final touches on massive pieces. The production crew was going over schedules and handing out radios and flares that would be involved in rolling the artworks a mile through town to a display area.

The artistic director sprang onto a stage of sorts and began rallying the crowd, talking about the impact of the upcoming performance and the uniqueness of the work to be presented. There was cheering and applause. Music came on; dancing started up; the performers were ready to roll.

A few minutes later, the artistic director, partially costumed and clearly inhabiting his performance persona, approached one of the production crew chiefs. He called out "Let's go! People are ready to move; let's not lose this momentum." The crew chief looked up from his clipboard and said firmly, "Got it. But we still have one key person to get into place. We'll move out when it's safe to go."

Friday night was my first time working with this community, but I've heard that exchange between Creative and Production hundreds of times in my career. It's a sign of organizational health when both speakers are calm and full of conviction. (Whining, muttering, and tantrums are signs that Something Is Wrong Here.)

I was thrilled to see that this was a good group (and the rest of my weekend experience with them bore this out).

What didn't thrill me, I must admit, was to find myself on the Production side of the event. Throughout my career I've moved back and forth between Creative and Production. I was discouraged to find myself entering yet another organization on the Production side when I want to be in the Creative end of things.

Next year.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Who's driving the bus?

Some years back, I had a close friend who drove a bus for Seattle-area Metro Transit. His career came to an end as a result of an incident in which a gun-wielding thug commandeered the bus in the middle of downtown Seattle.

The hijacker allowed other passengers to leave the bus, then ordered my friend to drive on, at gunpoint, without stopping. Metro Transit police were eventually alerted, began following the bus, and after several blocks the hijacker was coaxed out of the bus -- without carrying through on his threat to shoot my friend if he stopped the vehicle.

My friend took a few weeks off from work, met with some mental health counselors, then went back to work and suffered a major panic attack the first time he sat in that driver's seat with his back to a bus full of what were, in his view, potential hijackers. A few months later he retired on disability.

In the past couple of weeks, I've been thinking a great deal about how commercial websites, and other small businesses, get hijacked by "bad guys."

At the first Seattle Lunch 2.0 (organized by Josh Maher and hosted at WetPaint), Rand Fishkin of SEOMoz talked about "black hat" SEO practices that come under the heading of "link spamming" -- ways that the bad guys drive traffic to their websites by placing unwanted links on other sites (such as yours) or loading up their sites with inaccurate or redundant keywords to trick search engines into seeing their pages as highly relevant. (You'll find a link to Rand's excellent PowerPoint presentation in this SEOMoz blog post.)

The audience voted to hear that presentation (Rand, a prolific presenter, offered a choice!) not because we're a bunch of link spammers but because many of us are involved in protecting our websites from that sort of predation.

On a personal website or blog, it's easy to put a stop to link spam. Simply turn off comments. But for a commercial website, that's not a choice. Web 2.0 pretty much mandates the highest level of reader/customer participation you can handle. Thus a commercial site needs to devote resources (human or technical) to screening comments before they are published. And there needs to be aggressive, legitimate SEO work, including keywording, to make the site as visible as the sleazy sites earning their rankings through the sorts of tactics Rand was describing.

The issue I'm most interested in here is karmic: The danger of getting really, really good at protecting yourself against hijackers is that you start thinking of everyone as a hijacker...and treating them that way. Paranoia may or may not be justified, but no one wants to spend time (online or off) with a paranoid.

The day follow Lunch 2.0 I was shopping at one of my favorite stores in Ballard. The couple who own the store were talking with another local retailer about a skirmish with a professional shoplifter that morning. The shoplifter, a man, appears frequently but unpredictably, always carrying boxes and bags and wearing a bulky jacket. He prowls around the large store for about an hour. One of the owners (the husband) keeps an eye on the suspect. Of course, this ends up diverting him from helping customers, running the cash register, answering the phone, or supervising shipments coming into the store. That morning the husband had relaxed his surveillance to help a woman with a large piece of furniture, only to have the shoplifter grab something small and valuable and waltz out of the store with it. The store can't afford to hire a security guard to deal with this one criminal, and they were unwilling to cause a big chase scene in the store (generally filled with female customers). "We estimate he's getting out with about $100 worth of stuff every time," I heard the wife said, a shrug in her voice. "It's a cost of doing business."

I thought sadly about how much less fun the store would be if vases, candlesticks, CDs and such were kept in locked cabinets rather than artistically displayed on tables and shelving. Just as a lot of websites are less fun (and less usable) because of all the security hoops you need to jump through just to leave a comment.

I've been giving some thought recently to starting a quasi-commercial website, one that would revolve around reader participation and comments. One of the biggest obstacles I'm grappling with is what to do about the bad guys. I don't want a hijacking incident, but I don't want to become a professional security guard, either.

Monday, June 4, 2007

PR in the 21st century

Guy Kawasaki has been facilitating a fascinating discussion on public relations. It started when he posted material from a PR person about "The Top Ten Reasons Why PR Doesn't Work." Unfortunately, several of the reasons the PR person put forth seemed to boil down to "because the clients are dim and clueless."

Needless to say, this got quite a few comments. The CEO of the tech company Redfin sent Guy his top 10 reasons why a company should do its own PR.

Both posts, and most of the comments, are recommended reading.